“One Thousand Paper Cranes” by Julie C. Day

October, 2026: Remembering the Past Part 1

There is a story Elijah likes to tell himself. This story is set long before the fire, more than ten years ago, back in 2015.

Elijah was the younger brother, only eight years old, and Callie was the older sister who sent handwritten notes to the dead. Callie had long curly hair that frizzed in the summer till it was just like Elijah’s. Her skin was pale Irish, shades lighter than Elijah’s. Elijah had never met his father, though their mother claimed he was Caribbean-American. From Antigua, she always added, as though that last detail made it magically true.

Callie and Elijah’s mom paid the rent close enough to on-time, bought the food, and slept in the largest bedroom in their apartment. But it was fourteen-year-old Callie who tucked Elijah in at night and told him bedtime stories. She told him stories when Uncle Eddie, or Uncle Arthur, or Uncle Whoever stopped coming round. She told him stories when Mom stumbled through the house, tinfoil and lighter in hand, already too high. And when he wanted to go outside with her and see the plasma-fueled stars, Callie told Elijah stories about how each one of her younger selves had found her place “somewhere up in the sky.”

Call it basic neurobiology. Call it cellular death and chemical rewiring. The brain is constantly rewriting memories and cutting off unnecessary neurochemical connections, allowing the next version of a person to step forward. Dried lizard skins. Caterpillars forgotten in a flurry of butterfly wings. People are never who they were before. Callie’s story of star-bound younger selves was as good a description as any for the part that is lost.

And at eight years old, Elijah needed his bedtime stories.

“Some people believe if you really want something all you have to do is wish on a thousand paper cranes,” Callie told Elijah. She adjusted his covers and settled herself against his feet. Elijah could hear Mom crying, the noise traveling through the closed bedroom door. This time the guy hadn’t even made it to Uncle status.

“Yeah?” Elijah replied. Wishing paper sounded pretty good. And Callie knew all about folding cranes.

“All bullshit,” Callie said.

“Callie!”

Callie waved away Elijah’s little-boy gasp of outrage. “Point is, even if we fold a million cranes, fate still wins. It’s biology that makes us who we are, Elijah. It’s our very own bodies that force us to change. Not even the most powerful wishes can fight that.”

Elijah couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t know this particular bedtime story. According to Callie, genetics was a slow-growing slime monster inside each and every brain. No matter how much Mom decided or learned or tried to feel better, the monster had its own plan written in little squiggles called DNA. Biology, Callie said, was merciless. In the end, the body was “DNA’s bitch,” pruning away memories and dreams, constantly warping the mind into something new.

“Those old Elijahs and Callies are gone,” Callie said. “We can’t change that.”

It made Elijah’s head hurt to think about it: all those old versions of himself lost for good no matter what he did.

“But then why do you keep making all those wishing cranes?”

“Jesus, Elijah.” Callie’s tone was full of well-practiced disgust. “Hopeless doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Sometimes, you know, that’s kind of the point.”

“Okay.” Elijah often found Callie confusing. He was tired. Maybe in the morning it would all make more sense. Or maybe the version of Elijah who worried about understanding would have already floated away.

* * *

June, 2021: Remembering the Past Part 2

Callie hit her genetic fate when Elijah was fourteen and she was twenty. Scabs under her toe nails, missing teeth like shadows in her mouth. Her skin yellowed, as though she’d been shooting iodine rather than Mexican ice. Life and her addict-prone biology knew just how to fuck things up.

It was 10:00 PM. Callie lay stretched out on the bathroom floor while Elijah brushed his teeth. “Help me, Elijah,” she whispered. “My old selves are dying faster than mayflies. Poor things hardly have any memories to keep them company.”

“Callie, people change. Cells die. End of story.” Elijah’s eyes were on the mirror, the toothbrush grinding its way across his teeth.

“Bullshit. Look at you. Your brain is reworking a goddamn million neurons. This you is definitely gonna be dead by morning.”

“Callie, can you please, just this once, shut up?” All those library books and NOVA specials Callie had made him sit through, and this was what the two of them ended up with: bullshit fantasies about dead sky-bound selves.

“Elijah.”

“I’m tired.” Elijah headed down the hallway, locking his bedroom door behind him.

A shuffle of feet and then a fist. “Elijah, God damn it! Let me at least say goodbye before this you flies away.”

Elijah could hear Callie’s pounding fists slipping down toward the ground. He could almost see the accompanying slide of her body, her forehead now pressed against the cold wooden floor as she tried to peer through the inch-high gap at the bottom of his door.

And then the first paper crane sailed through the opening.

“Elijah,” Callie murmured, “please, don’t be afraid.”

A flurry of paper landed against the sky-blue rug, the bed frame, the bottom of Elijah’s faded Star Wars curtains. Elijah closed his eyes, pressed his head against the door frame. But the tears came anyway, Elijah crying as he stuffed those paper cranes under his mattress, behind his bureau, inside the winter boots that didn’t fit him anymore.

Broken Callie with her paper cranes and Elijah not that far behind.

* * *

October, 2026: The Almost Miraculous Future

Elijah isn’t a kid anymore. At nineteen, he listens to the news reports and reads the blog posts. He even pays attention when Callie’s case worker comes to call. A few months later when his own court-appointed lawyer makes her pitch, the story is a well-worn favorite.

The medical community, in tandem with the State of Connecticut, has a solution for Elijah and Callie and every other scramble-headed sinner. Chemical reclamation is the official term. Helpful, the newspapers and talking heads say. An actual solution to societal ills and personal pain.

Scientific advances happen all the time. Five years ago Connecticut and Massachusetts, along with Vermont and New York, came together to fund the Emotional Literacy Project. The goal of the project was rehabilitation through chemically regulated, restricted-environmental-stimulation therapy (CR-REST).

In this world there is no magic. Instead, through the miracle of designer drugs, the state can now provide the equivalent of years of psychotherapy in just a few days. As everyone keeps repeating, this is most definitely not a punishment. It is an insta-cure.

People are always trying to fix electrical devices and eradicate the unwanted glitch. Of course they think they can reboot a person and fix the world. Elijah knows he’s nothing special; with a little help from his court-appointed medical team, Elijah’s Anger+10/Despair+15 rating will disappear. New Elijah will be more than happy with the results. All those hard and ugly feelings — gone.

Bureaucrats like their processes and procedures. Even with all the evidence of Elijah’s crime — the smoldering remnants of the apartment building and the sirens and all the rest — the court-appointed doctors are thorough. They write reports and present findings. Elijah has no brain lesions, no neurochemical imbalance. His microbiome — his gut flora — is of a recognized type. Elijah is on the negativity spectrum, but close enough that intervention is statistically likely to have an effect. Intervention, Dr. Kensington states from the witness stand, is key. Intensive therapy will help both Elijah and society.

Neither Callie nor Mom are sitting in the courtroom. Too traumatic, his lawyer explains. Instead, Elijah stands alone in front of the bench, determined not to cry.

It only takes two words for the judge to pass down his sentence: chemical reclamation. As far as the court is concerned, Elijah is just another stupid asshole who likes fire. Just another asshole who refuses to fly like one of Callie’s paper cranes and find his peace.

* * *

2015: Elijah’s First Flying Lesson Part 1

A paper crane takes thirty-two folds. A few are unique. Most are nothing more than careful repeats of a previous step. In a house full of overflowing trash bags and almost-empty cupboards, in a neighborhood full of people screaming through thin apartment walls, Callie learned the quiet art of folding from one of their mom’s revolving door of boyfriends.

That Saturday in early May, eight-year-old Elijah sat curled in his usual corner of the couch. His legs were folded up against his chest while a rerun of his favorite cartoon, Teen Titans Go!, danced across the TV screen. Cyborg and Beast Boy were singing, all bright greens and bold grays, while they taught Starfire the Pee Pee Dance.

“Step to the left, then step to the right.”

“Put your knees together, and squeeze real tight.”

A few feet away, Callie sat at the kitchen table, her head bent over a notebook. Behind her stretched the apartment’s hallway with its closed bedroom doors. Even with the TV volume turned up past twenty, Elijah could hear his mother’s side of the latest phone call. “Ray. Please, Ray. Don’t be like that.” And then she was sobbing, again.

“Mom always could cry like a boss,” Callie said, loud enough to be heard over the song.

“Shut up, Callie.” Elijah’s eyes were on Cyborg and Robin, his ears trained to Beast Boy’s laugh. Mom’s sobs were nothing but background noise. Mom’s sobs had nothing to do with Elijah at all.

“Elijah, you twerp, did you even hear me?” Callie wasn’t working on her notebook anymore. She stood next to Elijah, bending down so that her face was level with his.

“Huh?” Callie’s face was so close. Her curly black hair was tipped flame-bright orange. Her lips were a matching shade of neon pink. Callie was brighter than any Teen Titan.

“Come on, Elijah, we’ve got crane work to do. Go get me the scissors.”

“Okayyyyy.” Elijah let a smile slip out, and miracle of miracles his teenage sister actually smiled back.

But sitting at the kitchen table wasn’t all that great even with Callie’s notebook laying open in front of both of them.

Callie frowned as she chewed her pen. “It’s hard to get the words right. Our old selves don’t always carry a lot of memories. They can be easily confused.”

“Yeah?” Elijah glanced at the notebook full of Callie’s cramped swirls. He could tell they were actual words, but none of it made much sense. He tried: he waited, he kept still, and then another “I love you, Ray. Oh, God” erupted from behind Mom’s bedroom door, followed by gut-ugly sobs.

Elijah reached for Callie’s pen.

“Quit it.” Callie didn’t even look up as she pinched his upper arm, twisting the flesh tight.

“Callie — ”

“Don’t fucking whine.”

Elijah started to scratch at his skin, a hard back and forth, new red welts crisscrossing older scars. The pain felt good, filling up his head and pushing out all those other feelings.

“Jesus. Elijah.” Callie tore a sheet of paper from her notebook, slipped it into his hand. “Here. Why don’t you draw us like we used to be? Help me remember who I’m talking to.”

Elijah nodded his head and made his best serious face. Then he drew the fuck out of those old selves: sad Elijah, raging Callie, a superhero duo — brother and sister–with big muscles and monster faces. Callie continued working on her blue-ink, swirly words.

“Done,” he declared after some unknown number of minutes.

“Okay.” Callie slipped an arm across Elijah’s shoulders and carefully looked over at his work. “Perfect. Just awesome. Hand me those scissors, little dude.” Then layering the drawings underneath her own paper, she carefully cut her double-stacked notebook pages into squares.

“Now, it’s magic time.” Callie smiled for the second time that day.

Even at eight years old, Elijah knew enough to make damn sure he smiled back.

* * *

October, 2026: Medical Rituals Help Us All

After the judge pronounces Elijah’s sentence and all the lawyers clear out, Elijah finds himself in the back of a sheriff’s van. It is a Tuesday morning. 8:00 AM.

Elijah lies on a gurney with metal rails, wearing a hospital johnny and a pair of cuffs attached to his ankles. The officer who escorted him to the center’s examination room stands by the door, careful not to make eye contact.

The room is a study in contrasts: white johnny, white sheets, putty-colored floor against the red scars that run along both of Elijah’s arms, a history of self-inflicted scratches. The scars look like shooting stars that have lost their way, wavering back and forth even as they travel forward.

Elijah’s face is pale and creased with deep shadows. His sentence may last only a couple of weeks, but with the CR-REST chemical alterations, it will feel like years. He’ll be alone with himself for a chemically subjective ten years. CR-REST therapy is like a series of scratches deep inside the brain. The scars will be deep enough that this version of Elijah will have no choice. He’ll have to let go, fly away — just like his Callie did a few months before.

The medic inserts a needle into the crook of Elijah’s left arm and attaches a second tube at the base of his neck. The guy is maybe twenty-two, just a couple of years older than Elijah. He has wispy brown hair and hazel eyes. There’s a tiny patch of missed stubble on his cheek.

Elijah watches blood trickle out of his arm and through the tube, disappearing in to the medical pump that sits next to his bed. The machine hums gently as it pumps the chemically altered blood back into his body. It doesn’t hurt. Not really. But Elijah is sweating. Goosebumps rise along his arms.

“Can I get a glass of water?” Elijah asks.

“Sorry, man. The water would mess up the ratios.” The medic attempts a smile.

“Sure.”

And then they both are silent, watching the last of Elijah’s recycled blood return to his body.

A second medic enters the room, pushing a trolley with bottles and assorted clippers. This one is wearing gloves.

“You’ll need to stand and strip,” he says after the guard unlocks Elijah’s ankle cuffs.

Elijah’s case worker has been very thorough in her explanations. CR-REST relies on “meditative isolation without any external stimuli.” In other words, before he enters the reclamation cell, every organic way of marking time must be removed.

The medic moves the clippers over every inch of Elijah’s naked body, even his balls, and then follows up with some sort of depilatory cream. As the man focuses on his task, Elijah can see a small bald spot peeping through the hair on the crown of his head. The guy probably doesn’t even know it’s there.

Elijah is hairless and once again cuffed to the gurney. Like a chemo patient even his eyelashes are gone.

It’s the caseworker’s turn. She looks at Elijah with her brown limpet eyes. “I’m here for you,” she murmurs.

“Okay.”

She sighs and then, after a pause, continues. “Is there anything you want to discuss?”

“Nope.”

“Are you sure?”

Elijah doesn’t even bother to respond.

“Then it’s time.”

She holds out a paper with a blank signature line and far too many words. Elijah shrugs, signs, hands the woman back her pen.

Primed. That’s the word the medic uses when he hands Elijah over to the guard. “Primed and ready to go.”

* * *

2015: Science Class

At fourteen, Callie was the girl who demanded answers. Weekend mornings, while Mom was still asleep, Callie dragged eight-year-old Elijah out of bed to look at glossy library books with titles like Cosmos, Portraits of the Mind, and Neurobehavioral Anatomy. The illustrations were alive with glowing synapses and webs of gossamer filaments.

“Elijah, remember when I told you about supernovas and black holes?”

“Yeah.” Not angry but not looking Callie in the eye. It was Saturday. They were sitting on the couch. The Cartoon Network was waiting.

“Yeahhhhhhh, dummy.” Callie smiled and flicked Elijah’s cheek with her thumb and forefinger.

“Yeahhhhhhh,” Elijah repeated, this time dragging out the “eh” sound at the end. He only managed to half-stifle his grin.

Callie pressed herself against Elijah’s side and kissed his forehead. “Pay attention, fool.” She pointed at the picture in the book. Glowing blue and orange brain cells with all that black space in between. “Our brains are just like the night sky, Elijah. Exploding, reforming, tossing aside neurons along with their store of emotions and memories.”

Whether it’s due to chemical reclamation or life scars, in the end it doesn’t matter. Like all discarded selves, the Elijah that cares about his storytelling big sister will soon be cut loose. The loss of feelings will make everything so much easier.

* * *

October, 2026: Lock Up

Elijah’s cell in the State Reclamation Center is small, no more than ten feet in either direction. The air smells of sour sweat — Elijah’s — and an intense minty scent — the guard’s, used to cover up whatever the guy huffs on his breaks. Not that Elijah blames him. The guard spends his days setting up not-always-entirely-willing reclamations, and walking out yet another post-procedural result. Elijah would huff, too.

“Are you ready, Elijah?” the guard asks from the doorway.

“A cakewalk,” Elijah replies, feeling it, really feeling it for the first time. This guy and his graying, walrus mustache will be the last face he sees for ten years. “Will I be awake the whole time?” The words slip out.

“A kid like you,” the guard said, “you’ll be fine.” His gaze is not unfriendly. “Best thing for your type, sometimes.” Then the man and his mustache are gone, the door locked. There is a hum that wavers for a moment, followed by something even stranger — absolute silence.

Elijah’s sentence has begun.

The cell is a CR-REST version of a sensory deprivation tank. But despite all their research and reports, they somehow forgot about the smell. Most of the time it hovers between antiseptic swabs and bathroom cleaner. But every once in a while it shifts to burning leaves on a gray, autumn day. Sometimes Elijah can feel the heat from the burning paper cranes that he and Callie used to toss into the night sky. It’s at those moments that Elijah knows that he is almost ready.

Stay inside, Mom used to say before leaving for wherever it is moms go.

Stay inside and I’ll stay with you, Callie would repeat. Pink-streaked hair, or black nails, or later, brands along her arms: the outline of a pipe or fleur-de-lis. Even when she sat with Elijah folding her cranes, it was as though Callie were preparing her body for what was to come.

“Pretty cool, huh?” she’d ask, nodding her head at the latest oozing wound, as though anyone could see the smooth shiny shape waiting to appear.

“I guess,” Elijah muttered. Those flaming crane wings hurt his fingers, and they didn’t even leave a mark.

Years and years of staying inside with Callie and her scars, sending signals to all those lost selves. Making sure they knew they weren’t forgotten and entirely alone.

“She’ll be back,” the caseworker promised just before she drove Callie away to the Reclamation Center. As though this new version of Callie with her court-mandated therapy would love her broken, little brother just the same.

* * *

August, 2026: Callie Reclaimed

When the doorbell rings, it’s Elijah who opens it, even though Mom is sitting on the couch. She’s stayed home just especially.

There are two people in the doorway. One of them is Callie’s caseworker. The other has dark curling hair and a fleur-de-lis on her right bicep. She is twenty-five years old, six years older than her brother.

“Hey, Elijah!”

Her enthusiasm makes the caseworker grin.

“Callie. Hey.” Elijah doesn’t like the look on his sister’s face. The way she smiles at Mom as much as she smiles at him. The way she glances at the stacks of dirty dishes and piles of trash, the lip gloss and forgotten notebooks. She looks so content. After her treatment, she looks like someone else entirely.

* * *

September, 2026: One Thousand Cranes

Back before she was reclaimed, Callie and Elijah had a mantra they repeated as they launched each of their paper cranes. “Burn all you want. I’m never letting go.” Callie inked those words on each of the cranes along with all the other things she needed to say. As Callie repeatedly explained, wishes only work if you commit, really commit, to your one true wish.

Reclaimed, Callie might be finished with her little brother and paper cranes, but Elijah had a plan, and following his sister’s original advice, he was going to commit the fuck out of it.

Step one was simple: unlock their apartment door and let himself in. Once inside, Elijah set down the two red plastic containers he’d picked up at the gas station. He’d waited until dark to fill them up. If the neighbors noticed, they could ruin everything; he only had this one sliver of time to get it right.

Inside the apartment Elijah could feel the slither of history. Mom and Callie were at some court-mandated, post-procedure review, but their discarded memories were stamped across everything. The couch, the scratched-up coffee table, even the glass-topped kitchen table with the big chip in one corner all had stories to tell. And then there was Elijah’s eighth-grade art project hanging on the kitchen wall. He’d spent hours sketching himself, Callie, and Mom into a family tableau. If he looked carefully, Elijah could still see the grid marks that he’d tried to erase once the sketch was done.

No time for that now. Elijah pulled the picture from the wall, prised open the frame, and pulled three of Callie’s flattened cranes from the back.

“One, two, three,” he muttered. He needed to be certain. The count had to be right: he needed at least one thousand cranes to leap into the void.

Underneath all the mattresses, taped to the bottom of the kitchen drawers, tucked in behind the mirror that hung on Callie’s bedroom door. It took Elijah over two hours to track down and count all the cranes: one thousand two hundred and fifty-four. Another two hours to make sure the right words were scrawled on each and every crane.

And then it was time for the final step: the one that would force the scientists and courthouses and all those special therapies to give him wings and finally set him free.

Elijah poured the gasoline, knocked the smoke detector off the wall. He locked each window and made sure the bars were secure. Finally, he flicked the lighter and lit the two thousand five hundred and eight wings scattered throughout their home.

Committed. Despite the smoke and the ache inside his throat, Elijah screamed the right words straight at those flames: “Don’t worry, Callie. I’m never letting go.” He watched as the fire rose up along the living room’s polyester curtains. A handful of cranes rose up on an updraft created by the heat and swirled about the burning room.

“Never letting go,” he chanted under his breath, even after he stepped back into the hallway and locked that apartment door.

* * *

October, 2026: Elijah Reclaimed

The cell door opens, though it takes a few seconds for Elijah to notice the change. New Elijah doesn’t track things like he used to.

“Ready to go home?” Walrus Mustache asks, peering round the door. The guy’s eyes look bloodshot. For some reason he avoids looking at Elijah directly even as he holds out a scrap of notebook paper. “Someone left this for you.”

“For you,” Walrus Mustache repeats. He waves the paper impatiently in Elijah direction. “Take it.”

Poor guy. He’s starting to look angry or maybe nervous, one of those worry creases rising between his eyebrows. “Sure. Okay.” Elijah reaches for the piece of paper. It’s a piece of notebook paper, flat and uncreased. Blue-inked words are written across it in straight even lines, each word completely legible.

Elijah knows that at some point the unfolded paper and block print would have bothered him. But that feels like a long, long time ago. “Welcome home!!!” the words say. “Call us when you get in.” Below the words is an address: 83 Belmont Street Apt. 3G. It’s not the address of their old apartment. Of course not. That apartment is gone.

“Guess you got people meeting you at home,” the guard murmurs. “That’s good.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Elijah smiles. Callie will be there, probably Mom, as well. After all this time, it’ll be great to have the three of them together again.

* * *

2015: Elijah’s First Flying Lesson Part 2

“Callie, how many more?” Elijah asked. He could hear the creak of Mom’s door opening and the sound of her feet shuffling down the hall. He and Callie had been folding squares of paper for what felt like forever, the results piled into an open Shaws’ grocery bag.

“Soon. We’ll leave soon.” Callie was frowning, but Elijah knew the frown wasn’t meant for him. It was meant for Mom.

Mom stood, swaying in the middle of the kitchen. Her hair was pressed up into over-sized waves and bumps. Black flakes of mascara and eyeliner trailed down her cheeks. “Any food around here?”

“Nope.” Callie’s eyes remained trained on the inked paper in front of her. Thirty-two folds per messenger. At least one thousand cranes for one true wish.

“Right.” Mom opened the refrigerator door, then stood, staring at the empty shelves.

“Maybe you should go back to bed, Mom,” Elijah offered when the silence got uncomfortably long.

“Good idea, baby. Well, goodnight…?” She stood for a moment longer, then closed the refrigerator door, turned, and wandered back toward her bedroom.

“Callie, I’m hungry,” Elijah whispered.

Callie placed her final blue-inked crane in the grocery bag, stood, and then seemingly magicked a box of Pop-Tarts from one of the kitchen cupboards. “Here. Take one. Then go put your coat on. Quick! Quick!”

The best dinner ever.

It was night now. Elijah clutched the grocery bag while Callie locked their front door. The street was all dark sky and puddles of light that spilled from uncovered windows. A couple of guys stood near the 7-11 a half-block down, but other than that the street was empty.

Wishes. He could feel them pressing in from light-spilling windows and flickering TV screens. All those trapped wishes. At least he and Callie knew what to do. He and Callie knew just how to make things right.

“Let’s go, kid. Those cranes are itching to fly.” Callie slipped the key into her back pocket along with a lighter, and the two of them started down the street in the opposite direction of the 7-11.

Laughter nearby. The slam of a car door and the heavy tread of male feet moving quickly along the sidewalk. Two men Elijah didn’t know headed straight in their direction. One of them was smiling.

“Hey, baby,” he said.

Elijah could feel Callie stiffen and reach for his hand. He couldn’t see her face, but he could tell something had happened. “Fuck off.”

The guy stopped smiling. “What the hell?”

“Come on, Denis. Leave it,” the second guy said.

The men moved on. And so did Callie and Elijah, walking quickly, three blocks north and five blocks east, finally stopping at an empty lot surrounded by parked cars and blank brick walls.

The lot was like any other discarded space, full of tall weeds and a scattered collection of objects: faded candy wrappers, Miller High Life bottles, gross bits of latex Callie called condoms, even the occasional forgotten shoe. Elijah thought that the shoe wearers were probably like Callie’s cranes, flying up into the air, but somehow losing a sneaker as they launched themselves.

Forget the shoes. It was time to launch their own messages to all those lost and lonely selves.

“Thirty-two folds and one lighter full of fire,” Callie cried as Elijah held out the first crane. Then she flicked the lighter and ignited the tail and both wings, tossing the bird toward the sky.

Instead of flames, the wings started to crumple into ash immediately, the crane barely taking off before it hit the trash-strewn ground.

“No problem, we just have to get the message right. That’s all.” Callie smiled encouragingly at Elijah. “We have plenty of cranes.”

Another flick of the lighter, another set of wings smoldering their way back to the ground. And then another. Each messenger to a lost Elijah or forgotten Callie was blessed with different Callie words.

“Our one wish: we hope you are well.”

“You were special and strange.”

“You are magic, even in the sky.”

“We miss you. Please come back.” For a moment, Elijah was sure that last message would work. He watched as the wings flickered with orange flame, the crane rising ten or fifteen feet before tumbling back down. The grocery bag was almost empty.

“We’re going to figure this out, I just know it. Elijah, it’s your turn.” Callie wasn’t smiling, but she didn’t have that worry frown that creased up her forehead either. She looked fierce. “Got your message ready?”

“Ummm — ” Callie was the one who always knew exactly what to do. Now, she needed Elijah. He wasn’t going to let her down. “Got it. Yeah.”

In seconds the lighter sparked again.

“Burn all you want. I’m never letting go,” Elijah howled. Callie’s voice joined his, repeating the incantation as he heaved his arm back and up. He didn’t let go of the crane right away. Elijah waited until the fire caught against his fingers and his skin began to sting, then he released that bird straight up into the sky. Instead of smoldering, the crane and its message shot up on flaming wings, traveling upward even as the wings curled into dark sheets of ash.

Still, Elijah and Callie took no chances. The two of them jumped up and down, chanting “never letting go” until the crane was completely transformed. Then Callie grabbed Elijah’s hands, spinning the two of them round and round as her flame-colored hair streaked out behind her.

Without knowing it was going to happen, Elijah tilted his head back toward the spinning night sky and started to laugh. They’d done it: that fire-lit crane was flying somewhere up and beyond, carrying their message. Bringing some measure of hope to all those forgotten Callies, and all those forgotten Elijahs, as well.


black-widow-baby Julie C. Day has over two dozen stories published or forthcoming in magazines such as Interzone, Black Static, Farrago’s Wainscot, and Electric Velocipede. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine and a Masters of Science in Microbiology from the University of Massachusetts. She loves the sound of coyotes at night and the shiver that always follows. Her first collection is forthcoming from PS Publishing.
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