“Tell me a story,” she said, crawling into her father’s lap. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. It had been a very long day and every part of him screamed with pain at the movement. Her light-brown hair was matted with dirt and sweat, he wiped sticky stray strands off her face.
“Aren’t you a little old for stories now?”
“Today was really hard,” she said, looking down at her torn jeans, her left knee had been cut earlier and dried blood caked at the edges of the tear. She closed her eyes, a few tears, not of sadness, just exhaustion rolled down her cheeks. Her dad snorted that way through his nose that she liked, “Yeah it was, wasn’t it.” She rested her head on his shoulder and reached out and squeezed his right hand. She could barely see his skin beneath the dirt and grime caked on it.
“It’s your birthday you know, you sure thirteen isn’t too old for a story?”
She shook her head.
“What story should I tell?”
She shrugged, looking out in the darkness, it was beginning to fade, the sun would soon be up. They could see the dark clouds of smoke drifting up like skyscrapers all over the city. Los Angeles was smoldering but it would be okay, the world had been saved, time would heal everything eventually.
“There’s a big mountain,” he began.
There’s a big mountain out there in the ether. Out there in the space between dreams. Not everyone sees it and when some people see it they are too afraid to go exploring. I was only fourteen when I saw it. I didn’t think it was scary at all. It was an adventure. I climbed the little roly-poly hills. I found a path, it twisted and turned through the pine trees, it followed a stream. That path took me higher and higher. The air got thinner and colder. I kept going, something kept pushing me forward. I couldn’t stop. I had to know what was at the end of the path.
I came around a bend and there was this beautiful valley with the sun shining in and reflecting off a picturesque lake. I had to stop and admire the vastness of it all. The little path took me along the shore and it came to a split in the way, one fork went up higher to the mountain peak, the other twisted off and weaved its way through tall grasses to the steps of an old building. Great spires pushed up into the sky, giant columns held the structure up. I had to choose which way to go. I decided I could visit the temple and come back and finish the trek up the mountain later.
The building was circular and at the center was a small elevated platform. Six pillars with six golden flames encircled the platform. I climbed up the few steps and found a pedestal with the biggest book I have ever seen. The pages were a shiny silvery blue, the writing was a deep gold. When I climbed the giant chair that stood before the pedestal I felt like I was a toddler. The chair was made for a giant, the book was a giant’s book. At first I couldn’t read the strange writing but it seemed to move, to change, it became liquid and words began to form. I ran my hand over part of the page, trying to touch the letters, my hand was barely bigger than a period. One of the pages lifted up and flipped over making a deep thud as it landed. The new page was a list of names, I could read them all, they were strange and weird and yet familiar. Names like Eon and Sierra and Ciernan and Senka and Madison and Hiro. I just glanced over them, they were not important to me, until, one name, a name I felt like I had always known. A name that was buried deep in a part of me I had forgotten. I can’t explain it, it was my name but it wasn’t my name, it was part of me and yet not me. I reached out and touched that name. It sparkled, it moved, it spread across the pages, it pushed everything else aside.
“Do you know what that name was?” he asked.
“It was my name,” she whispered.
I reached out and grabbed it with both hands, it wiggled, it twisted, it lifted from the page. It pushed back and I fell of the chair. When I looked up the name was there floating, changing, it grew brighter and drew in upon itself, forming a little dot of light. And that dot of light divided and divided and divided until it was a little tiny baby. That baby fell into my arms and looked up at me for just a second before beginning to scream. It was so loud. I had no idea what to do but that was okay. All I cared was that I had you. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else ever would. You were my kid. I looked at all those other kids in that book and I picked you. I knew you were perfect.
“But oh man did you scream so loud.” He did that snort again but it turned into a cough and it was a violent cough, it shook her and she sat up as he coughed. She winced at him when she saw the little drops of blood on his lips, he wiped them off and shook his head, waving his hand away, like it was nothing. She could see pain in his eyes, she frowned at him.
“I am okay.”
“You don’t look okay.”
“I have survived worse.”
“Yeah, that’s not what I am worried about.” She chewed on her lip and looked around, “We can’t out run it can we? I mean, like, a nuclear blast has like a 10 mile radius right? And there’s no cars and you’re hurt and even if we ran…” She trailed off when she saw his face, he was about to loose it.
“I am sorry it took so long for me to get to you, I just, it was pretty hard.”
“I wasn’t worried,” she shrugged, “I mean, you like a superhero or something. I knew you’d find me.”
He reached out and hugged his daughter, she hugged him back. He whispered, “I am so sorry, I should’ve done more, I didn’t know they’d have that thing,”
She pulled back from him. He was crying, she cried too.
“Oh, dad. You did what you could. You did what you were supposed to.” She reached into her pocket and took out a little metal box, she held it up. “It is your job to save me, you let me worry about saving the world.”
That box, he recognized it, a year ago he had been sent a book from one of those spooky government agencies, a book all about bombs. He had read it and left it on the table in his office. It had been open to the page with a diagram of that box on it. He remembered his daughter glancing at it one day, randomly, bored, talking about school. She’s just like you, he thinks, she remembers everything she sees.
“You stole the arming mechanism for a nuclear bomb from a group of armed terrorists.” he said, slightly aghast.
“It was pretty easy, there was like this big distraction, some crazy guy looking for his kid or something.”
She grinned at him.
“You’re the coolest kid in the world.”
“Hell yeah I am.”
Two helicopters buzzed overhead and they looked up to watch them fly by.
“Worst birthday ev-ah.”