“The power to wish for everything is what leaves us with nothing.”
Atzil Chen – The second to last survivor
Words have power, especially when strung together. I had never spoken more than one at a time; until that day. My sweet brown dog, Choco, was dead. I threw my little body on top of him and cried, pulling at his collar, pumping his chest. “No. No. No. No. No.” My parents, Atzil and Nehama, and sister, Sara, leaned in, blocking the flickering torchlight in our cave. They shuddered every time I spoke.
“I… wish…” I felt the slap on the back of my head, knocking me off Choco to the ground.
Father glared at me, panting, with a manic expression in his eyes. After a moment he calmed, pointed at me, and clamped a hand over his mouth. I nodded, turned, and exhaled. Tears gathered in the corner of my eyes.
I felt his hand on my shoulder. He pulled me up and hugged me, then sent me to the firepit to help Mom and Sara cook. We would have meat tonight.
Two days later, I saw them from the cave entrance, a group of eight teenagers hiking around the mountain on the ancient paved road. I tapped the wall to summon my family. Once for attention. Then three times for strangers. Dad smiled when he saw them, breaking his frown lines. These were the only travelers in two years. I remembered as a little girl crawling to the cavemouth and watching the groups pass. Mom and Sara hugged.
Dad pulled Sara to the cavemouth and indicated that she could follow them. Sara took a deep breath and released it, straightened her spine, and nodded. She knew this might be her last chance to find civilization. Sara promised to come back before Midwinter night.
She left hours later, carrying a worn backpack stuffed with our best foodstuffs and the sharpest bone knife. Mom hung her heavy ruby necklace around Sara’s neck. I watched my sister trail after the group until they disappeared into the deep forest.
I missed her. Soon summer passed. Chill winds heralded winter. We would sit for hours each day, eyes peeled for movement on the road. But none came.
The world survived three wishes. First, the moon turned red. But the only thing I noticed changing was the taste of wild blackberries, sweeter and juicier. Soon leaves fell from the trees. Next time, the wild boars shrunk to the size of rats, and it became harder to breathe. But we got used to it, moving down from our mountain to the start of the forest. We built a treehouse suspended between two great oaks. The third time, the sky flared right before winter. Mom and Dad went to gather food to survive the cold months, out for longer than usual. When the sun reached its zenith, it doubled in intensity, and the trees and plants burst into growth, shoving our treehouse high up into the peaks. I screamed, but nothing else happened. The air remained breathable. I waited for two days for them to return, then went searching. But I found only birds and bugs. I wondered who had spoken. I was alone.
Into a pack went the last berries, dried meat, and nuts. I went down the trail. Maybe Sara was still alive.
The path narrowed as it wound through the forest, reaching the width of my hips where the sun barely made it through the tree canopy. At night I curled up in the roots of oaks, shivering with each howl of a wolf or hiss of a snake.
Then my food ran out, and soon my feet wore raw. I felt despair creep in; this path would never end. I would die alone and miserable.
I felt the wind cutting through the trees. And a gap ahead; I was out of the forest. I burst into the sunshine and shivered; the snows were here. The path ended at a massive frozen lake ringed by tall mountains.
A ray of sunshine bathed the ice, revealing a ruby glitter beneath the surface. My hopes sunk to my hollow stomach. I had nothing left. Mom, Dad, Sara, all gone.
I took a deep breath. I had no more reason to remain silent.
“…to be with my family.”
The mountains shook, the lake cracked, leaves flew from the branches into the roaring wind, the sun flared. Then it happened. My first wish.