Maya was sitting on the bedroom floor with her friendship bracelet kit. Being home schooled at eight years old, she escaped into her own world and imagined all her friends wearing her creative art. The house she lived in was on the outskirts of town, so she had no close neighbors to keep her occupied. Most of her playtime was spent with Cooper the family dog. They had moved into the house less than a year ago and were still adjusting to its solitude. The property had once been a prosperous apple orchard and several old trees still dotted the landscape on top of golden hills that rolled downward and to the west. Maya heard the grinding of the earthen stone driveway and the soft squeal of brakes. She braced for her father’s entrance, hoping he had a good day. The arguments would always start with a few bitter words. Then, mom’s refusal to give in unleashed an onslaught of emotions between both of them. This time the house would echo the full release. Maya had a fragile heart and could no longer bare the sound of the harsh tongues. She ran down the stairs, into the kitchen, and out the back door. The storm door slammed shut, drowning out her mother’s call. Maya ran through the backyard, stepping on one of Cooper’s squeaky, toy bones, and down the hill. She ran for her life, escaping reality once again. She pretended to dodge the waking dead, with their rotting arms outstretched. She could see their fists burst from the ground, hoping to grab her by the legs. She escaped each grab and disappeared into the bluestem prairie. Now she was too far from home to give in to the cries of her sympathetic parents. Maya knew where her heart was racing toward. She reached the top of Sundown Hill and absorbed the brilliant red and orange rays of the setting sun. The hill was her favorite hangout for inspiration and for release. The summit was dotted with blue and white asters hiding among the meadow grass that changed colors like a chameleon with each season. The outward view was spine-tingling. She only had tears and never words to describe its immensity. This time, her sorrow poured down her faultless, pure complexion as she thought of her parents. Maya cried until her lungs ached. When her whimpering stopped, she picked up the pitter-patter of her tears. At her feet, she noticed a slab of rose quartz. The slab was thin and rectangular. When she flipped it over, there was no surface. Well, at least not of anything she recognized. She thought the object was similar to a mirror that reflected nothing. She touched it. She was surprised as her finger responded with sensation. Little silver ripples moved to the right. She touched the right side and the ripples moved left. She touched the center and vanished.
Maya suddenly found herself on a dark street. On the other side, a man in a raincoat was leaning against the wall. Maya slowly made her way across the street. She stepped around puddles formed by the uneven cobblestone. When she approached, the man turned to face her. He was without eyes. Maya froze as her mind thought only about those eye sockets and how they looked like the tablet’s liquid silver surface. In her frightened state, she closed her eyes and found herself back on Sundown Hill, kneeling over the tablet. She was quivering with a cold numbness, as if she had been out too long at night gazing up at the universe. She ran home and when she entered the backyard, Cooper was there barking and welcoming her back. Her parents stepped outside.
Grabbing her arm, her mom said, “Maya, where did you go? You know better to run off like that.”
“I was only gone ten or twenty minutes,” said Maya trying to downplay her actions.
“You were gone for nearly two hours!” her father said with disapproval.
“I must have lost track of time watching the sunset on the hill.”
“Honey, we can see the hilltop from here and you were not there,” said her mom hoping to get the truth out of her daughter.
Maya washed up and changed into her pajamas to settle in for the evening. Since she missed dinner, her mom brought a homemade bowl of chicken soup up to the room. As she lay on her bed, she thought about her experience. She replayed the sequence of events in her head and convinced herself to go back to the hill tomorrow. Once again, she would wait until evening. This time, she would not be afraid of the man with the silver eyes.
After excusing herself from dinner, Maya went outside. She knew it was best not to go straight to the hill. That would draw suspicion from her parents. She wandered around the yard, whistling back at the calling birds pretending she was Rue. Slowly, she disappeared into the tall grass and moved up the hill. She set her alarm on her cell phone to remind her when to use the tablet. Once she reached the top of the hill, she could not immediately locate the tablet. She became fixed on the setting sun. Its warm, yellow rays bounced off the tufts of the high bluegrass and her confidence grew. Her alarm went off and she crawled around furiously for the tablet. She grabbed the tablet, turned herself toward the sun, and gently put her index finger dead center into the nothingness.
Without fail, she emerged at the same damp, cobblestone street. She walked over to the man and tugged on the right cuff of his raincoat.
“What is it that you want from me, young girl?”
“Pardon me sir. I think it is you that wants something from me.”
“Yes. Please call me Sam. Can you see the world for me?”
Immediately, he turned his gaze upon her like a snake striking swiftly. Maya was prepared and looked directly back. It was like a game of cat and mouse, each waiting for the other to flinch. Their heads began to sway back and forth. Maya was put into a trance and became tired. She found herself slipping into his world.
Sam was out of a steady job and living with his brother, Henry, and his family. He was reminded every day that he was a burden. Specifically, the burden came down to money. More food, more cleaning. Higher utility bills. Maya watched and listened as Sam returned home. Although, this was not Maya of the flesh. Maya had been placed in Sam’s projection, separate from the actual Sam that walked the earth. She was unaware of whether she could be seen or heard. Through his eyes, Maya could see he was nothing more than a scapegoat. Sam actually earned enough at daily odd jobs. He did not sit with the family at dinner. He even did his own wash. He kept the spare room he occupied neat and clean. The problem was no one gave any attention to his coming and going. Sam arrived at his brother’s home, opened the refrigerator door, and placed his leftover sandwich inside.
Olivia, Henry’s wife, marched into the kitchen and said, “There’s nothing in there for you. Go on and mind your own business.”
Maya watched Sam, exhausted and downtrodden, walk up the stairs and shut the door behind him. Maya heard some activity in the kitchen. Thomas, the family’s youngest son, was begging his mom for a snack.
“Go on and eat that half of a sandwich your uncle brought home,” said Olivia. ‘It’s about time he gave something back.”
“Hey! That’s not yours,” Maya exclaimed but her cries could not be heard.
Thomas took the sandwich and ran outside. Henry and his wife began to argue about Sam and money. Henry was tired and did not want to discuss the matter, so he left the room. Maya slowly peeked around the doorway and noticed Olivia taking money from the savings jar. She pockets some money. Then, Maya moves swiftly to her backside. She bumps Olivia’s arm just as she tries to place the jar back in the cupboard. The jar tumbles off the refrigerator and smashes on the counter. Maya is already through the kitchen and up the stairs. Henry rushes into the kitchen and sees the smashed jar. Olivia tries to lie and make it look as if she was just cleaning the cupboards and she dropped it. Henry counts the money and realizes twenty dollars is missing. He forcefully reaches into Olivia’s apron pocket and pulls out a twenty dollar bill.
“It’s been you all along, hasn’t it?” Henry shouts with anger and disappointment.
“You’re the burden and you have been blaming Sam!”
In that moment, Maya stepped out of Sam’s projection. The projection dissipates and she looks over at Sam sitting on the bed.
“Look at me, Sam,” says Maya.
Sam’s eyes were no longer silver. Instead, they were clear and radiating amber rays. Instantly, Maya finds herself on Sundown Hill watching the most beautiful sunset she had ever witnessed.