Hettie lay flat on her bed with her heart pounding as shadows drifted through the bedroom. At twelve her parents thought she was old enough to get over what they called her “irrational” fears of the dark. So far nothing bad had happened but she wasn’t sure she could count on that; it seemed that since her birthday a month ago they had become denser and now she could hear whispers as they moved around her bed. Faces occasionally loomed into focus and then disappeared before she could catch a good look at them.
“Hettie May, wake up! You’re going to be late for school.”
Her mother’s frowning face came into focus above her bed. “What is going on with you, girl? Were you up reading that book of your grandmother’s again?”
“No, Mama,” she lied.
“Tomorrow is the beginning of Christmas vacation, you can dawdle then.” Her mother left the room and Hettie heard her mother’s heavy boots thump down the stairs.
She ran to the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face, her mind on the dreams, if that’s what they were. She reached under the bed to retrieve the leather-bound book, bringing it close to her nose to inhale the musty aroma mixed with the spicy fragrance of her grandmother’s perfume. She couldn’t figure out the markings that covered each page but she was sure if she studied it long enough she would get it. When her Gammi was around it was as if a light had been turned on inside her heart.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you what to do or what to think,” her grandmother told her. “No one knows you better than yourself. Let the seeds of thoughts grow before you share them, Hettie. They have to be strong enough to stand up to doubting minds. You’re like me,“ her Gammi continued, a smile lighting up her gray-green eyes. But Hettie had never found out what her grandmother meant by that statement.
“Write your letter to Santa, Hettie,” her mother instructed distractedly two days before Christmas.
Hettie didn’t believe in Santa but it was fun to write down what she hoped to get. But this year dolls didn’t interest her and she had received the bike for her birthday. She sat poised, her teeth clamped around the top of the pencil. Her grandmother’s face appeared in her mind--the one thing she couldn’t have since Gammi had died the year before. Before she could register the empty feeling that always accompanied the memory of her grandmother, her hand went to the paper and made a bunch of strange marks.
“What’s this?” her mother asked, looking over her shoulder.
“I don’t know.”
Her mother looked worried. “Well you better write something sensible or Santa won’t bring you anything.”
A whispered voice woke her. It was Christmas morning and her Gammi was standing next to the bed. “You figured it out.”
“Gammi!” Hettie hugged her hard.
“Can’t let your mother see us,” her grandmother whispered. “You’re old enough to come with me now.” her grandmother glanced out the bedroom window. “Twelve is the magic number.”
Hettie followed her grandmother’s gaze into the pre-dawn light where a silver spaceship hovered just above the trees. “What…?”
Her grandmother smiled. “We don’t belong here. Our world is many light years away.”
Hettie had always had a sense of not belonging. She had wondered many times if she’d been adopted, since she looked nothing like her father or her mother with her sharp chin, slightly slanted eyes and dark hair. Her parents were blue-eyed blondes, their features soft and rounded. Staring out the window at the light bouncing off the silver ship, she thought of the recent change in her parent’s behavior toward her. And now that she thought about it, the refusal to meet her eyes, the furtive glances exchanged between the two of them, had begun on the day she turned twelve. Several nights they had locked her into her room as though she might try and run away. She’d never considered this since she had nowhere to go. She brought her attention back to her Gammi, gazing into the slanted eyes so like her own. “Will I be able to come back?”
Her grandmother shook her head. “I won’t force you to go Hettie, you have to decide for yourself.”
“I want to be with you.”
Hettie watched the pink feathery trees fade as the ship climbed. The twin suns had risen now and the light was blinding. Below her, Leptorals were coming out of their holes to feast on the purple grasses, their chartreuse pelts shimmering in the sun. Soon the Kooloops would be chattering, their purple beaks pecking holes in the trees as they searched for their breakfast of grapples and sunpliks. Yes, she would miss the creatures here as well as her parents, but it felt like this was always meant to be. “What is it called, this place where we’re going?”
Her grandmother turned from the controls. “It’s known as earth.”