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Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven.

—Genesis 1:14



Crockery smashed downstairs and angry voices came down the corridor. Josh Crewe woke, eyes staring at the darkened ceiling, afraid. He swallowed hard and listened, carefully gauging the swell of the fight as his parents savaged each other with accusation and recrimination. He didn't understand the words but he didn't need to. What was important was their intensity. If the fight grew bad enough there would be footsteps on the stairs and the lights in his room would snap on so Mother could drag him out of bed to use as a living example of his father's failures before God and man. It would mean no sleep, perhaps getting smacked in the face by his father when the hurt and humiliation finally overcame the man and he lashed out himself. That was minor. Father's anger came and went with a single blow, predictable and so not dangerous, however painful. It was Mother who really scared him. Once she had nearly drowned him in a scalding-hot bath because he'd tracked mud into the hallway, another time she'd made him kneel in the gravel driveway all night, praying for forgiveness for bringing a toy to church. Mother was unpredictable, and therefore dangerous.

The voices rose higher and more crashing came from downstairs. He slipped out of bed and dressed himself, quickly and quietly, then went to the hot-air register beneath the window and removed the grille. He snaked an arm down the vent; the fit was almost too tight now that he was twelve. An adult wouldn't have been able to do it, which is why he used it as his secret hiding place.

He'd grown, and his biceps caught painfully on the sharp-edged metal before his fingers found what he was looking for. He stretched, feeling the metal dig in and ignoring the hurt until he touched something—the end cap of a prescription medicine bottle. He teased it closer with his fingertips until he could grab the bottle and drew his arm out. The bottle was transparent plastic, one of many kicking around the house that bore the white sticky label reading Crewe, Evylin, Primodone, 50mg 3x daily. It was stuffed full of money, coins and bills. He had hoarded it carefully, some saved from his allowance, when his parents remembered to give it to him, more stolen a bit at a time from his mother's cigarette money. His emergency fund.

And the emergency was now. He took a pair of packed book bags from beneath a pile of clothes in the mess that was his closet, picked up his shoes and padded across the hall to his sister's room. She was sound asleep. "Susie." He shook her. "Susie, wake up."

She stirred and her eyes opened. He saw in her face the immediate recognition of the situation. "Are we going outside again?"

Josh nodded. "Yes." He didn't tell her the whole plan.

She nodded and dressed without words, tension in her face as the shouting downstairs grew louder. They went back to his room, slid the window open and climbed out onto the veranda. The jump from there to the maple tree was a frightening one for a twelve-year-old, even more so for a ten-year-old. For a moment Josh was afraid that Susie would freeze there, as she had one night before, tears running down her face as he tried to coax her across.

That night had been bad. They'd been caught, and for the first time Father's anger hadn't vanished with the first hit. Something had snapped in him, and he'd beaten Josh, knelt on his arms so he couldn't protect himself and smashed his fist down over and over, until his nose was broken, his face bruised and bloody. It had been terrifying, more terrifying even than anything his mother had done, because his prediction had been wrong. Something had changed in his father, and there was no telling what that would bring. It would have been better if they hadn't been caught, if they'd snuck back in at daybreak, after the fight had burned itself out. Even if they'd been found missing in the middle of the night, nothing would have been said. Nothing was ever said afterward, it was as if the fights were a secret the Crewe family kept from itself.

He dropped the book bags over the veranda. The tree was there, dark in the chill breeze of an autumn night, and he put a practiced foot on the railing and swung a leg across and felt for the broken branch stub that was the only foothold on this side of the tree. He braced himself against the veranda rail and pushed off, balanced for a brief second only on the foot on the branch stub, and then he caught the tree trunk. At least it hadn't been Susie beaten that night. Josh had been angry at his sister for getting them caught. It wasn't fair that he was the only one punished, and the injustice of it burned deep in him. It was always that way, he was the scapegoat and she the favorite. It was his own fault, he took the blame, protected her, diverted their parents' attention away from her transgressions, because he was older, stronger, tougher than she was. It was what he had to do, he didn't know why, and the knowledge of what he was doing didn't make it hurt less.

He scrambled down the tree trunk, balanced on the fence for a second and hopped to the ground, then turned back to look to see if Susie was following him. She edged out around the veranda railing and stopped. For a moment he thought she had frozen again, but she had learned her lesson and reached her foot out, feeling for the branch stub. She was shorter than he was, and it was a harder stretch for her. Her foot found the branch and then she was straddling the gap, fifteen feet up. She moved to shift her weight to grab the tree trunk, swayed dangerously and clutched at the veranda railing to steady herself.

"I can't, Josh." He could hear the fear in her voice.

"You've done it before."

"I'm stuck." She was on the verge of tears.

"I'll come and get you." He couldn't do anything for her, he knew, but he had to show her he was trying. He climbed up the fence and shinnied up the tree, reached out for her.

"Here, just grab my hand."

She looked at him, her eyes large and frightened. Angry voices came from inside the house, muffled by the walls, and she moved all at once, suddenly motivated. He grabbed her wrist and pulled, and then she was safe in the tree and they were climbing down, the rough bark tearing at their hands until they were on the ground.

"Are we going to the park?" She was calmer now as they walked down the driveway, leaving the scene behind them. The park was where they usually waited out the fights.

"Somewhere else." He picked up the book bags and handed hers to her, then slid a hand into his pocket to verify that the medicine bottle was still there.

"We'll get in trouble when we get back."

"Not this time." He helped her slip the straps over her shoulders.

They walked down the familiar street in silence, past the old, towering trees and the lit windows of the neighboring houses, feeling a sudden nervousness. Getting out when he had to was something he had been ready for, just a variation on the familiar theme of getting out of the way, but as bad and frightening as things were at home, they were also known quantities, and the world opening up before him was vast and unknown and full of threats he could only imagine. He resisted the urge to turn around and look back at his house, knowing he would never see it again. Something tugged at him, the desire for warmth, for comfort, for safety. The house was all those things, when his parents weren't fighting. When they weren't it was even a nice place to live, bright and spacious. Everything he owned was there, his friends lived in the neighborhood. He fingered his cheek, it had been months, maybe longer, though the memory of the flaring pain of his father's fist never seemed to leave it. He blinked back tears that came too easily at the memory. It was dangerous for him to stay now, because next time would be worse. He had to leave, and he couldn't leave Susie behind to face their parents alone.

"Where are we going?" Susie's question was plaintive.

"Far away."

"How far?"

To tell her or not to tell her? They were out of the house now, it was too late for her to go back. "We're going to Aunt Krista's."

"On a plane?"

"On a bus." They turned left to head toward downtown.

He had expected her to balk at that. Her answer surprised him. "Is that far enough?"

"It's far enough," he said, but his confidence that it was far enough was rattled just by her uncertainty. What if it wasn't? What if Aunt Krista made them go back?

"I don't like it when they're mean to you, Joshie." She slipped a small hand into his, holding it tightly.

"They won't ever be again." Overhead, the streetlights flickered and went dark, evening blackout. Most people avoided going out after blackout, but Josh was used to it; the darkness was a friend that helped him hide from danger.

"Can we go further? If we had to, I mean?" Susie was looking over her shoulder, worry written on her small features.

"If we have to, we can."

"How far could we go?" The question took him aback and he stopped to look at her. Her face was open and worried and he saw her real question written there. Can they ever take us back?

And he didn't know the answer to that, and he didn't want her to see his own fear and uncertainty. He pointed up to the sky, frosted bright with stars and a brilliant half-moon now that the competing city lights were gone. "See that star?"

"Which one?"

"The bright one." He picked one at random and pointed more specifically. "That's Alpha Centauri. It's got a planet just like ours. We could go there. They could never get us back from there."

"Can we really?"

"They could send a ship. I read about it."

"I want to go there now."

"We can't yet. Maybe later."

"If we can't stay at Aunt Krista's, can we go there?"

"Yes." Josh squeezed her hand reassuringly, not mentioning that the book on space in the school library had said it was unlikely people could live on any of the distant worlds discovered so far, or that the ship that could carry them there existed only in a speculative chapter at the book's end. They trudged on in the chill night air, and mentally he rehearsed what he would say at the bus station. I'd like two tickets for Sacramento please. That's in California. The bus company wouldn't let children travel unaccompanied, so he'd tell the driver his mom would be along shortly and with luck that would get them on the bus. It was a three-day journey to California. He had enough money for their tickets, enough for food for that time, barely. They had enough clothing in the book bags and they would sleep on the bus or in the bus stations. Three days of fending for themselves, and then they'd be safe. Reflexively he patted the back pocket of the backpack, felt the reassuring crinkle of paper. He'd looked it all up and written it down, the schedules and fares and timetables, maps of the area around each bus terminal, and most important Aunt Krista's full name and address. If they got stopped anywhere, the police would get involved, eventually, and he would tell them that Aunt Krista was their mother. With luck that would get them to Sacramento just as well, two runaways returned to their family, but it would be better, far better to arrive in Sacramento on their own and plead their case to Aunt Krista on her doorstep.

He glanced overhead, at the star he had named Alpha Centauri. Aunt Krista would look after them, he was sure, and if she couldn't, well, they would just keep running, as far as they had to. He squeezed Susie's hand again, was rewarded with her brave, trusting smile and felt a sense of pride overtake the fear and uncertainty. She was his baby sister, and he would look after her, no matter where they went, always.


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