Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light
When Sally died...it changed everything. I often wondered how things would have been if she didn't die. A part of me still wishes that this is a nightmare. That maybe I would wake up again at the age of 8, ready to walk to school with her. If I knew it had been her last day alive, I would've changed everything. That day started off so well, so I never saw it coming.
Sally: Hey Ivan! We waited for you! Let's walk to school together!
She giggled as she waved at me, holding the stuffed rabbit I gave her for her last birthday in one arm. I blushed as she acknowledged my presence. I saw her every day, but I still couldn't help the feeling of butterflies I got every time she said my name.
Ivan: Thank you for waiting for me! I don't like walking to school by myself. I know it's not far from home but I still get scared.
Sally: No need to be scared! I'll kick their booty if they mess with us heheh..
Neil: No one will mess with us. We are too boring to get kidnapped.
Sally: Psssshhh the only boring kid here is you, Neil!
Neil: I wouldn't be boring if I wasn't bored of your stupid ideas! How come I never get to pick what we play?
Sally: Your ideas aren't fun!
I held onto the straps of my backpack tighter as the moment became tense. I closed my eyes and hoped to myself that they wouldn't try to mix me up in their argument.
Sally: Ivan, I'm right aren't I? Pretending to be zombies while he shoots us isn't fun, is it?
I sighed knowing I wouldn't be able to escape the situation now that she asked.
Ivan: Uh...well..Being zombies can be fun sometimes but I think it would be fun to play something that isn't about killing...
Sally: See?! He doesn't like games about killing! That's why I get to choose. I have better ideas!
Sally stuck her tongue out at Neil as he rolled his eyes. When we made it to the school, Sally placed her stuffed rabbit in her bag.
Ivan: Hey Sally..?
Ivan: Why do you bring the bunny to school?
Sally: She gets lonely! I can't keep her out of my bag though because our teacher says I can't bring toys to school.
Ivan: Oh, okay.
It wasn't the answer I was hoping to hear, but I couldn't be upset about it. As much as I would have loved to hear her say "because you gave it to me and I like you", I shouldn't have expected her to respond that way. Sally looked towards the building as the bell rang for school to start.
Sally: Come on! Let's go to class!
I walked with Sally to our classroom. Neil had a different teacher than us that school year. Though it was a bummer for our usual group to be separated that year, I wasn't going to complain because it gave me an opportunity to spend more time with Sally without him arguing with her. There was only one problem...
John: Hey Sally!
This kid was always trying to talk to Sally and take her attention off me. It was pretty frustrating because I wanted her to like me and I felt like she had more interest in him when he was around. Since it was May, it was near the end of the school year. I felt like he had taken up most of my time with her in class that year.
Sally: Hi John!
John: Look at this drawing I made! Isn't it cool?
Sally: You're so good at drawing! I wish I could draw like you. Can you draw me a bunny?
Sally: Can you draw me something else too?
John: What is it?
Sally leaned in and whispered in his ear before giggling. He nodded and agreed to the second drawing request enthusiastically. They talked all the way till class started and I'll admit, I was pretty jealous of how often they talked in class. However, I knew at the end of the day I was always the one she spent the most time with and I was the one that she had been friends with for her entire life, so I tried not to let it get to me. The rest of the day seemed to pass like normal; nothing too exciting happened in class. We met up with Neil during recess, went back to class afterwards, and then got ready to go home when class ended. The day seemed so ordinary, I wouldn't have expected anything bad to happen at all.
That day, Sally and Neil had come over to my house to play after school. My mother greeted us from the couch when we walked through the front door.
Jessica: Hey kids! How did it go?
I'm not sure what she was watching on TV, but she quickly changed the channel to cartoons so I assumed it was probably something scary. I looked at her and shrugged as the background noise changed from ominous ambience to silly cartoon noises.
Ivan: School is the same almost every day.
Sally: Unless we go on field trips! Then it's super fun!! Jessi, look at this picture John drew me!
Sally swung her bag off her shoulders and started digging around before pulling out a drawing of a bunny and hopping over to my mom playfully to show her. My mom pushed her glasses closer to her face before carefully taking the picture to look at it. I smiled nervously as she glanced at me for a moment. I knew right then that there wasn't any hiding it, my mom knew I was a little jealous.
Jessica: It looks wonderful, Sally! Did you tell him thank you?
Sally nodded happily as she grabbed the drawing and carefully placed it back in her backpack. My mom then looked at Neil, who was still standing by the front door.
Jessica: What about you Neil? What did you do today?
Neil: I don't know.
My mom raised a eyebrow as she stood up from her seat.
Jessica: What do you mean you don't know?
Neil: Ivan is right, school is the same almost every day. I got bored and fell asleep.
Mom laughed and walked to the kitchen, motioning for us to follow her.
Jessica: Try not to fall asleep often, your mom would be pretty upset if your grades start dropping! Would you guys like some chocolate milk?
Ivan: Can we have the silly straws?
Jessica: Of course you can!
She prepared the chocolate milk and grabbed three straws varying in color and bendy shapes.
Neil: Can I have the green straw?
Jessica: Of course!
I was about to ask for blue, but then Sally spoke up.
Sally: Can I have blue?!
I kept my mouth shut and let her take the blue straw. It didn't bother me to let her use my favorite straw. My mother nodded as she handed us our chocolate milks and our straws. As we were about to take them to the kitchen table, she tapped my shoulder.
Jessica: Hey Ivan, I just want you to know how proud I am of you! You're the best son I could ever wish for. You're so good at sharing!
I smiled and placed my purple straw in my drink.
Ivan: Thanks mom, you're the best mom ever!
Being extra careful not to spill my drink, I gave my mom a hug and sat down at the table. Sally, Neil, and I then discussed our plans to play outside while drinking our chocolate milk.
Neil: Can I pick today?
Sally: I don't know, it depends on how cool your idea is!
Ivan: I think it would be cool if we mix our ideas! What are you thinking, Neil?
Neil: I want to be a monster destroying a city! Maybe you could be a super hero?!
Sally: I want to be a queen! Instead of attacking a city, you could attack my kingdom of rabbits as a dragon!
Neil: I'll destroy your kingdom! I want to be a monster with 2 heads, 6 legs, and 4 tails! And big scary wings!
They both laughed gave each other a high five before looking at me. Though they both seemed to agree this time and was able to come up with a compromise, I wasn't sure how to feel because I didn't know what part I would play.
Ivan: I don't know what I should be..
Sally: You could be my knight!
Ivan: Your knight? But I'm not good at being a fighter!
Sally: I guess my kingdom will be destroyed and I'll die then!
Sally's giggles echoed through the house as Neil playfully attacked her, shaking her by the shoulders while imitating a monster roar.
Neil: Time for bunny soup!! RAAAAAWR!!
Sally: Oh nooo!~ He's killing me! Save me, my knight!~
Seeing that Sally seemed adamant about me being her knight, I decided to agree. I grabbed the straw out of my drink and pointed it at Neil as if it were a sword.
Ivan: Prepare yourself, beast! No one kills my queen! Once I'm done with my chocolate milk you're going down!
I stuck my straw back in my drink and took a sip while Sally clapped. Excited to play our game, we finished our chocolate milks quickly and ran outside. I grabbed a stick as a pretend sword as Sally hid behind a tree and pointed at a few other trees
Sally: From these trees to the fence is my bunny kingdom. Okay?
Neil and I nodded. I looked for something to use as a shield and eventually went with a trash can lid. Neil started stomping the ground and roaring as if he were destroying small houses.
Sally: Knight! Knight?! Where are you?
I ran over to Sally in a flash, standing tall and proud with my stick and trashcan lid.
Ivan: Yes, Queen Rabbit?
Sally: A monster is destroying my kingdom! Save the kingdom and I will make you my king!
I blushed furiously as she announced the reward for his defeat.
Ivan: A-are you sure?!
Sally: Of course I'm sure! Only the strongest warrior could help run my kingdom! Now go! Hehe!
Feeling determined to be claimed the king, I turned around and started my playful battle with Neil. With each swing of my stick, I made sure to be extra careful to not hit him for real. Neil wasn't as careful about accidentally hitting me, but it didn't bother me since he still wasn't hitting me hard enough to hurt. As our battle continued, I could hear Sally cheer in the background.
Sally: You can do it! Save the kingdom! Save me! Save my bunny!
She held up her stuffed rabbit while shouting out her cheers. While I was distracted by Sally, I tripped over a rock and fell backwards with my trashcan lid in front of me, still blocking Neil's attacks. With my back to the ground, Neil roared one more time before jumping over me, hoping to make his last attack to win the game. Thinking fast, I swung my stick gently and tapped his side as if I were cutting a monster on half. Recognizing that he left himself open, Neil playfully roared and tumbled to the ground while twitching.
Neil: You may have defeated me now, but I'll be back! I'm cursing your kingdom of bunnies and I will come back to destroy it again! May all your carrots rot until my return!
With his final words as the monster said, he then stuck his tongue out and made a "bleh" sound to indicate his pretend death. Sally jumped towards me happily and gave me a big, excitable hug.
Sally: You saved me my knight! You're my hero and now my king! Welcome to ruling the kingdom!
Sally giggled and kissed my cheek. It felt like all air had escaped my lungs at that moment. I stood there frozen for a second while she released the hug and smiled at me. As I stumbled with finding the right words to say to seem cool in the situation, I saw my mom waiting by the door with a curious smirk on her face. My face became scarlet as I realized she may have seen everything that happened. I waved at her, trying my best to not seem suspicious.
Ivan: H-hi mom!
Sally: Jessi! He became king and then defeated this monster! See?!
Sally pointed at Neil when telling her about the pretend monster. He was dusting off his clothes while laughing and made another roar.
Neil: Next time I'll destroy the kingdom though!
Jessica: That's wonderful, kiddos! Sadly I've come to tell you guys that it'll be getting dark soon, see?
She pointed at the sun. Though it wasn't setting yet, we knew it wouldn't take long. Though we were disappointed to end our game, we knew we could always pick it up again later. At least...that's what we thought we knew.
Sally: Ivan! Next time you'll get to rule the kingdom with me! We'll rule our kingdom together, okay?
I smiled and nodded, feeling my heart race again as I remembered the small kiss she left on my cheek. Sally and Neil grabbed their backpacks and headed for the front door.
Sally: Oh wait! Before I forget!
Sally turned around and happily handed me her stuffed bunny.
Sally: I want you to hold onto her for tonight! It's your reward for being rabbit king! Is that okay?
I looked at her bunny and smiled at her.
Ivan: Yes! She can stay with me tonight and watch cartoons with me!
Sally skipped out the front door with Neil following shortly behind. My mom and I stood by the door as they left.
Jessica: I know you live pretty close, but the sun is starting to set. Do you need me to drive you home?
Sally: We can walk home. It will be okay!
Jessica: Alright then, you kids be careful!
Sally and Neil waved at us as they walked down the road.
Neil: Bye Ivan! See you tomorrow at school!
I waved back before my mother closed the door. Once the door was shut, she looked at me with a smirk on her face.
Jessica: What was THAT all about, huuuuuh? Does my little man already have a girlfriend? You're only 8 years old!
My face became red again as my suspicion of what she saw was confirmed.
Ivan: N-No! It's not like that! We were just playing a game!!
Jessica: Son, I'm just teasing you haha..calm down. If it were any other girl I wouldn't be okay with you dating so young, but you've known Sally your whole life and she's a good kid!
Ivan: Moooooom! I said it's not like that! I think she likes John at school anyway!
Jessica: Oh honey, trust me, she totally likes you. She's not going to kiss your cheek if she doesn't have some kind of crush on you.
I hid my blushing face in Sally's stuffed rabbit and tried to change the subject.
Ivan: Can I watch cartoons? I don't have any homework tonight.
Jessica: Of course! I won't be watching anything anyways, I still have to make dinner.
That evening proceeded like most. I watched whatever played on the cartoon channel as my mom spent her time making dinner. After about 15 minutes, my dad returned from work.
Jessica: Welcome home! I'm making dinner!
Mikhail: I can smell it. It smells great.
He sat down on the couch and looked at me. I was sitting on the other side of the couch with Sally's bunny and the TV remote in my lap. He held out his hand toward me and waited. Realizing he wanted to change the channel, I handed him the TV remote.
Mikhail: Thank you.
Feeling a bit bummed about the channel being changed, I decided to see how my mom was doing.
Ivan: Is there anything I can help with?
Jessica: Your father took over the TV again, huh?
She started to laugh as I nodded.
Jessica: If you would like to set the table, you would be such a big help!
She handed me some plates and silverware. After setting them in the usual spots at the table where we would sit for dinner, I took Sally's bunny to my room and waited for my mom to call everyone to the table to eat. Once dinner was done, I left the bunny on my bed and ran to the kitchen enthusiastically.
Jessica: Wow, you sure do seem hungry!
Ivan: Your food is always the best, mom! Way better than the food at school!
Jessica: I see!
Mikhail: Your cooking is better than anything I can cook either.
My mom started to laugh as my dad quietly started to eat his meal. Though he seemed so quiet and strict with me, somehow he always managed to say the right things to make my mom laugh. I wasn't sure how she got along so well with him, but seeing her so happy with him was my favorite part about spending family time together like that.
Ivan: Hey mom, do you think you can teach me to cook?
Jessica: Of course I could! Maybe we should wait until you're a little older though, okay?
I started eating my meal as my mom and my dad started talking about his day at work. When we finished eating dinner, my mom put away the left over food and started washing dishes while I wiped down the table with a washcloth. My dad left to take a shower. Suddenly a loud knock was heard at the door. My mother looked at her dishsoap covered hands and turned to me.
Jessica: Could you get that, sweetie?
I stopped what I was doing and headed for the front door. The knocking continued, getting even louder as I heard muffled screams on the other side. I became a bit anxious as the knocks turned into loud banging. Then I heard the voice on the other side very clearly.
Neil: Let me in! Ivan! IVAN!! PLEASE!!
I opened the door slowly. Even now, trying to remember that moment...it seems like some foggy nightmare I had. None of it felt real, yet it was very real. In front of me stood Neil, eyes wide with fear, with blood splattered across his face and clothes. Over his shoulders was Kyna's red jacket, which had been too big for him to wear properly.
Ivan: Neil?! What happened?! Is..that blood?!
Looking around Neil, I noticed he was alone. I felt my heart beat faster, and it felt as if my head were spinning. I started to panic.
Ivan: Where's Sally?!
I knew I shouldn't have asked that question, but I did it anyway. As they say, never ask a question you don't want the honest answer to.
Neil: Sally..is dead.
I started to cry. I hoped that it was some kind of weird, twisted prank, but I knew in my gut that Neil wouldn't pull a prank that serious on me. I left the door open and ran to get my mother. Trying to tell her about Neil at the door, I started to hyperventilate. Seeing me in such a high state of distress, she put down the dish she was holding and tried to calm me down, kneeling to get closer to my eye level and placing her hands gently on my shoulders.
Jessica: Woah, it's okay, Ivan! What's wrong? Who was there?
I tried to speak. I really did...but every time I opened my mouth, I felt like I couldn't breathe. The only sound that could escape were screams. All I could do was scream and cry. My mom pat my back gently and stood up, walking to the front door. I fell to my knees and started crying harder on the kitchen floor as I heard her shut the front door and talk to Neil in the living room.
Jessica: Neil? What happened? You need to tell me, okay? Where's your mom and Sally?
Neil: I don't know..
Jessica: ..You don't know?
Neil started to cry as he struggled to get the words out.
Neil: W-we got home and mother wasn't there so we looked for her. Then we t-thought maybe she went to run a l-late errand and decided to stay at home, and then I heard Sally scream and she was dead-
Jessica: What?! Who was dead?
I could hear Neil cry harder. I couldn't help but do the same, hearing him repeat the words of Sally's death.
Jessica: Neil, I'm going to need you to stay here for a moment, okay? Don't move, I promise I'll be back.
My mom came back to the kitchen and helped me pick myself up off the floor. She dried some of my tears as she looked into my eyes and spoke to me in a serious tone.
Jessica: I know this is very scary right now, but do you think you could go keep Neil company on the couch? Mommy needs to call the police, okay?
Though I was still crying, I managed to nod my head and somehow make my way to the living room. I sat next to Neil as we both cried in the silence of my living room. I'm not sure how long it was, but I'm sure for both of us it felt like time was moving slower than ever as my mother talked on the phone. After she got off the phone, I could hear a faint sound of her talking to my dad, but the sound was drowned out by Neil's crying along with my own. Eventually my mom made it back to the living room and hugged Neil and I together close to her.
Jessica: They'll be here to help soon..just hang on a little longer.
My mother started to cry as she held onto us tighter. She didn't let go of us until the police arrived. Looking back on it, I now see how strong of a person my mom was and I wish I could be that strong. Her best friend had gone missing and everything suddenly took a turn for the worst..yet somehow she was able to focus on what needed to be done, never showing her fear or pain until after she did whatever she could for the situation...unlike me. All I've ever done is cry from the start.
May 6th was the day life changed for the three of us, crying in that living room. It felt like the end of the world. Nothing could cause more pain...at least that's what I felt in that moment. We didn't think it could happen at that time, but it would only get much worse from there.