Nobody was going to catch Abby this time.
She was almost back to the clearing where the Visitors always picked her up. Her lungs were on fire and her legs were like toothpicks, but she kept running, clutching Anthony closer to her chest as she did so. She wasn’t going back to the hospital. She was finally going back to Apolexa, the planet the Visitors took her to, and maybe this time, they’d let her stay, especially if she explained the gravity of the situation to them. There wasn’t any other option. She had promised Anthony.
Abby had been abducted by the Visitors at least three times now. Each abduction lasted about a year in her mind but when she got back home it always turned out she had only been gone for a week. Of course, that standard Earth week was enough time for her family to lose their minds wondering what could have possibly happened to her. They never understood when she tried explaining where she had been or that she was never in any danger. Her third visit to the hospital was when she met Anthony.
It was after a particularly frustrating session with her doctor. He kept using phrases like “mental divergence” and “paranoid delusion.” He kept asking Abby if there was any sort of trauma at home that she was trying to avoid.
Abby was perfectly happy at home, but unlike her stuffy parents or sister, she actually wanted to get out of Bryson City every once in a while and see the world.
“Why go anywhere else in the world when you’ve got everything you need here in Bryson?” her mother once asked without the slightest bit of irony in her voice. It was enough for Abby to kidnap her, throw a bag over her head, and drive her outside of the state just to prove how wrong she was.
Anthony was sitting on the other side of the visiting room that evening. Like Abby, no one had come to see him. Abby was sure her family was just too busy. Anthony knew his had conveniently forgotten to show up. So while everyone else hugged family and loved ones, Abby and Anthony sat in a corner of their own and Abby told Anthony all about Apolexa while Anthony’s eyes glazed over in a mixture of wonder and disbelief.
“Everything is green on Apolexa. The grass, the trees, even the trunks of the trees. There are oceans of emerald green water, and you’d think that would look gross, but it sparkles in the sunlight, which is actually still yellow, like here on Earth. The capital city of Apolexa is made entirely of crystal and glass, just like The Visitors. If you put your hand on the back of their head, you can see it refracted from the other side. The buildings stretch up so high that when you stand on the balcony of the tallest tower, you can not only look out at the entire planet and take in everything but if you lift up your hands, your fingers can graze the edge of the planet’s atmosphere, and if you’re tall enough, like me, you can touch the stars.”
“God, that sounds incredible, but… I don’t understand how it could be real.” Abby’s face fell, realizing not even Anthony believed her. He caught her eye and quickly corrected himself. “No, no, like, I mean, I do believe you, it just sounds too good to be true. If I could see it for myself, well, that’d really be something.” His gaze drifted off a bit when he said this. Abby realized at that moment just how kind his eyes were.
“Someday I’ll show you. I promise.” She took Anthony’s hand and smiled at him. He smiled back. What had been the worst day in the hospital for Abby quickly turned into the best evening.
But things didn’t go quite how Abby or Anthony planned. Anthony ended up leaving a couple of days later. Abby was being kept for another two weeks at the very least. He gave her his contact information before leaving, but there was something sad hidden behind the kindness in those eyes before he turned and walked out the door.
The day after Abby got out, the first thing she did was give Anthony a call, but he never picked up. She visited his house, only to find out from his mother that a week after getting out of the hospital, Anthony had died of a brain aneurysm.
Abby was furious, heartbroken as well, but mostly furious. It wasn’t fair. Anthony was supposed to see Apolexa. She promised him, and Abby had never let a promise go unfulfilled her entire life. She wasn’t going to start now.
During the funeral reception, Abby realized what she had to do. She made her way across the living room, slowly, so as not to catch anyone’s attention. She picked up the urn containing Anthony’s ashes. Before anyone could stop her, Abby was out the door, fleeing down the road to where The Visitors would be waiting for her. She could hear the shouts behind her but she never turned around.
It was dusk when she reached the clearing. She looked up to the red and purple sky and held her breath waiting for the Visitors’ beam to pierce the purple clouds. She could hear the angry voices growing louder through the trees. She saw something twinkling up above. A layman would mistake it for a star, but she knew what it was. A grin spread across her face and she hugged Anthony, rocking back and forth.
“I told you I’d show you” she whispered. She was taking her friend to a world where if you reached high enough, you could touch the stars.