art by M.S. Corley
Such Days Deserved
by Lee Hallison
The Empty Lot on Annie's block was hot and dusty-dry in the summer, luminous with possibilities. Spiky shrubs caught bits of litter, strange jars and cans nestled among pebbles and behind rocks, and grownups rarely came by. Magic happened all the time. She unearthed a real fossil when scraping out one of the crawling paths between shrubs that they called "war tunnels." Another time her friend Grace found a skinny old snakeskin. And when Annie punched Tommy Canallee in the stomach for picking on her brother, his nose bled.
Her father took her there one night to watch the eclipse of the moon. He held her upright when the stars dizzied her in their vastness, pointing to possible planets and filling her mind with more magic than she ever imagined. The lot seemed to shimmer after that.
The Empty Lot was bumpy and too littered be good for stickball. That happened on the street, hearts racing faster than feet, sound ceasing in the moment of terror before the tag. Summer narrowed down to the block, the Empty Lot, and the crew-cut boys and stringy-haired girls who hollered and fought for their idea. Stoop Ball. Stick Ball. Red Rover. War. Lightning bugs begging to be chased at dusk. Annie flopped into bed, flush-faced and limp, every night that summer, and greeted each morning with the innocence and openness such days deserved.
And then they dug a fort. A hole in a soft bump of a hill perfect for digging. Covered by a rusty piece of sheet metal Johnny found on the curb. Big enough for three at a time, dirty knees up, squeezed in tight with triumphant grins. Annie bossed the others into special club rules for taking turns, and they invented games only played near the fort.
And then it showed up. Annie knew it was an alien. She'd found books hidden behind her father's bookcase, a curious stash of small paperbacks with pictures of women riding rocketships and googly-eyed aliens brandishing strange looking guns. She'd been watching and waiting for aliens to come, and now one had.