The Day Earth Disappeared

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I was five the day the Earth disappeared. My father had gathered us together beneath a late night moon, and when he had our attention, he said:

“The Earth is no longer safe for us. We have to go.”

“What?” I was devastated. I had friends. I went to a good school. I’d just started to settle into my new life as a human, and now he was telling us we had to go.

“I’m sorry,” my father continued. “If there was any other way…” He trailed off, gazed toward the star-encrusted sky. “Perhaps the next world will be more accommodating.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but my father had already uttered the sacred words, and any further argument was quashed by the surging, hurricane-strength wind that swallowed the world and cast us into darkness.

Through stars and empty space we tumbled. Time stood still, and our souls, once more without shape or form, slipped and slid from one part of the universe to the next, drawn by an unseen gravity toward whichever world would become our new home.

“I hate you!”

Now, as an adult, I understand that my father was looking out for us. But my five-year-old self couldn’t comprehend the brutality of the situation, and as far as I was concerned, it was all his fault.

“I’m doing this to protect you,” he said.

“No,” I replied. “You’re doing this because you don’t want us to be happy. I hate you. I wish you were dead.”

I felt the collective gasp of my mother and sister beside me, but I stood my ground. In that moment, I believed all the worst things about my father, and I hated him as much as any other child who ever hated his parents for taking something of value away.

I thought he would argue, that he would threaten me for talking back. Instead, he gazed upon my undefined features with such love and commiseration that the raging fire within me began to cool.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and the sincerity and conviction in his voice reduced me to silence.

I brooded the rest of the journey. Love and hate waged a bitter, violent war in my heart, and I couldn’t bare to look at any member of my family.

Then our new world came into focus. There was the sensation of stretching as we passed through the cosmic veil—like a thin, rubbery membrane that wrapped itself around our souls. Thought and will coalesced into flesh and blood once more, and when I opened my three new eyes onto a bright, vermillion sky, I broke down at last.

“I’m sorry,” I bawled. I reached for my father, who was lying on the ground beside us, and let him take me into his thick, alien arms. “I’m sorry, Daddy.”

“I know,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, too. We’ll find peace and happiness soon, son. I promise.”

I nodded, face wet with tears and snot, and got to my feet so we could behold the unfamiliar landscape together.

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too.”

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The Man With No Name

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A ribbon of pipe smoke curls into the air, and not for the first time, I think of my grandpa, who would sit at the back of a musty kitchen, puffing his pipe, pondering a world that passed him by long ago. The memory is vivid, visceral, and it almost sends me sprawling into the distant past.

The man who sits before me now, The Man With No Name, is not my grandpa. He died eleven years ago. Though The Man With No Name would have been around when my grandpa was still alive, as well as when his grandpa was still alive. He gestures to me with his pipe before returning it to his mouth.

“Sit, Michael.”

I do as I’m told. I have no idea why he’s summoned me. I only know I was home, heading upstairs for bed, and when I reached the top I realized I was no longer ascending the wooden steps in my house, but the ancient wrought iron steps that lead to his personal chambers. Yet I’ve learned in all our dealings not to ask questions but to listen. He always has his reasons, and my family and I have come to trust them.

The candelabra that hangs from the high stone ceiling glows a dim flickering orange. It makes me feel as if I’ve crossed the threshold into another world, and for all I know I have.

“Michael, I’m going to get right to the point. I’m dying.”

Dying. It took a moment for the meaning of the word to resolve.

“But how?” I can’t believe what I’ve just heard.

“My kind live long by your standards, but contrary to what you and your family may believe, I am not immortal.”

I feel as if everything I’ve been taught has been a lie. All of Grandpa’s stories about The Man With No Name, about how he helped the family, once poor, prosper and succeed. He was not just a saint to us, he was a god. Now, I’m learning that even a god can die.

“Don’t look at me like that.”

I must have been staring. I gaze down at my feet, crestfallen. The world falls apart around me. I feel like throwing up.

“I served your family long before it had a name, but now my life draws to a close and I’d like to put things in order before I go.”

“But, what will we do without you? We’ve relied on you for so long. I don’t know how we’ll survive.”

The Man With No Name leans back. A grimace sours his features like rancid milk.

“I spoiled you. I should have been more discerning in my aid. Ah, well, that’s love. Michael, there comes a time in every person’s life when they have to leave the protection of their parents and strike out on their own. This is true of children, and it is also true of families. I’ve been with your kin for more than a thousand years, teaching and guiding. Now, it’s time to take what you’ve learned and make something of yourselves.”

“You can’t leave us.”

“I have no choice. My time in this world is finished. I’m ready to flee the shackles of my body and discover what lies beyond.”

Shock begins to thaw, and despair begins to take its place.

“Make me proud, Michael. You and your family are capable of great things. You no longer need my help, and you haven’t for a while.”

“But I don’t want you to go.” My voice cracks.

“I know.”

The Man With No Name opens his arms, and I find myself running into their embrace. I cry. The arms close around me.

“Goodbye, Michael.”

When I pull back, I’m standing once more at the top of my own stairs. For the first time in my life, and in all the centuries of my family’s life, I know what it truly means to be alone.

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