It was a terrible sight. Yes still, Rebecca couldn't take her eyes away. She had seen terrifying things, but none this terrifying.
None as terrifying as a sunrise.
A cloud of warmth fell over the city, burning through the roofs of houses and spreading a blanket of heat atop the sleeping bodies. In houses all over town, people rose with a feeling of pleasantness at the touch of the sun's warm hand against their skin, caressing their rain hardened limbs. The feeling did not last long though, for a few seconds later realization would dawn upon them like a lion on its prey, and they would rush to the window to be met by a soft orange sunrise that made tears spring from their eyes and wails escape their lips.
Children trickled out of houses and onto the street, shouting and pointing fearfully at the sun. Their parents screamed at them to stay away from the burning star, but the children left their warnings unheeded. It had been a whole year since they saw the sun. The beautiful, bright, warm sun.
The deadly sun.
The clouds parted and the sun rose into the sky, as yellow as a flaming sunflower, and towered over the city like a monstrous beast. The streets began to fill with a fire like warmth, flames of fever licking up the side of houses and churches. Kids screamed as their skin turned red and prickled with pain. They ran inside, screaming and crying, the sun's rays eating at their skin like vicious leeches.
Rebecca turned to see her son by her side, his thin face grim and ghastly. His eyes were dark, empty pits, the only light being the reflection of the sun in his pupils.
Rebecca slammed the curtains shut, hugging her son. He was too young for this. She knelt in front of the ten-year-old and grabbed his thin shoulders tightly.
“Listen Callum, don't go out there,” she warned, her voice shaky and broken.
“I know,” he broke away from her grip, “you tell me that every summer. But you can't protect me forever you know.”
Rebecca said nothing as her son turned and fled the room.
The moment her son's footsteps faded, Rebecca lurched forward and stumbled into the kitchen, frantically wiping away the tears on her cheeks. Grasping the edge of the counter, she felt the desperation that came every summer sink into her empty core. With a cry of defeat, she released her clenched fingers and buried her face into her work-hardened hands, sobbing into her palms.
Reluctantly, she peered between her thin fingers at her reflection in the sink, glaring at the face that stared back at her. Her eyes looked hollowed from all the fear that filled them.
There had been a lot of that since school let out for summer holiday, since the moment kids returned from the last day of school with a gloomy, dragging gait. There had been a lot of that every morning as the town woke up, praying to not see the sun shine upon them.
Summer. The greediest season; taking their food, water, comfort, Each year, it demanded more people to take, more children to pull into the sky.
Rebecca was the one of the only ones who had seen the sun take someone and lived to tell about it. Her little brother, who was no older than Callum at the time, was playing football with his friends when the sun attacked, sudden and unexpected. The rest of the boys ran inside, already screaming from their blisters and burns, but Rebecca's brother stayed. He couldn't take his eyes off of the sun as it beat down upon him, sending whiplashes of heat down on his back and face; he couldn't move.
He had looked at Rebecca, who watched from inside the house with fear. He smiled happily, contently, peacefully.
He started to say something to Rebecca, but before he could, a ray of pure, blinding light shot down from the Heavens like an arrow, piercing her brother in the chest. He began to rise as if he was standing on a giant, growing sunflower that pushed him into the clouds.
Rebecca's parents screamed, she screamed, but he didn't come back down. Not that year, not the next, and not any years after.
Rebecca didn't want the same fate for Callum.
Before she could think, she found herself moving towards Callum's room, her steps slow and unsure.
She pushed the door open to find her son lying on the ground, his eyes staring up at the tiled ceiling.
"Summer..." he whispered hoarsely, his eyes glazing, "Do we have enough food?"
Food was a rarity during the summer. The heat burned all their crops, which was the town's only source of food. Only a few families, such as Rebecca, were able to store enough food to last the entire summer, and even they had to eat less than the norm to feed themselves everyday.
"Why does summer have to exist?" Callum seethed. “I wish there was no sun, no summer, no holidays! I hate summer...”
“We all-” Rebecca started, but was interrupted.
"I HATE SUMMER!" he screamed, springing to his feet so quickly Rebecca didn't even know what happened until Callum was halfway down the stairs.
She leaped after her son in a flash of panicky fear, but she was too late. Just as she threw herself down the last step, the door slammed shut, Callum already gone.
"No, no, no..." Rebecca murmured to herself, fear rising in her chest. She burst into the street, stumbling around trying to catch a glimpse of her son anywhere. She refused to stop running, no matter how hard the sun beat her, for physical pain was nothing compared to her fear. When she found Callum, her eyes were blurred with tears but she could still see him clearly as he raised his arms up towards the scorching sun as if embracing the heat.
She launched herself at her son, taking hold of him. She pulled him into her arms, crying into his blonde hair.
"TAKE ME, WON'T YOU!" he screamed at the sky.
Surprising even herself, Rebecca stood completely still, holding Callum tightly. It was their time to go; she could feel it in her bones, spreading through her body like a sheet of ice and snow. She felt calm, quiet, almost at peace. The heat didn't burn anymore, and her skin was beginning to cool as if it was drenched in cold water. The feeling was pleasant, comfortable.
She smiled, finally realizing why her brother looked so happy when he left.
She felt a giant hand plucking her out of the street, into the air. Her arms were still wrapped around Callum.
The feeling of such light weightiness made her stomach turn in an almost delightful way. Her feet no longer felt heavy, her muscles no longer clenched and tightened. She was flying.
It made her laugh.
She remembered the feeling of the cool air through her hair, the cold clouds soothing her burnt body. She remembered the happiness.
That was the last thing she remembered.
The first thing Rebecca saw was her brother. He was grown up, with a leaner face and shadow of a beard just appearing, but his eyes remained the same soft brown, his hair the same wild mess.
“Adrian...” she caressed his cheek lovingly, “I never wanted anything more than to see you again, even if I did have to die for it.”
He laughed. “You didn't die, Rebecca!”
Confused and disoriented, she sat up and rubbed her eyes. She looked around for the first time, taking in her surroundings. She was sitting on a bed in the centre of small circular room with white walls and a white chair next to her in which her brother sat in.
Memories swam in her head. The sun, the light, the flying.
“Adrian, where am I?” she said fearfully.
“Earth,” he replied. He reached for her head comfortingly. “The place where we were born was Mercury, the planet closest to the sun. A few centuries ago, a bunch of humans were placed on Mercury as an experiment, a test. Of course, being so close to the sun presented terrible conditions, but still we survived. It wasn't until a couple decades ago that they realized how much we were suffering and began to move us back to Earth, though they could only do a few per year because of limited technology.”
“So every summer, when someone is taken by the sun...” Rebecca trailed off.
“They're brought here,” Adrian finished.
It took Rebecca ten silent minutes to process everything. For ten silent minutes, she held onto Adrian and cried. Her tears soaked his shirt, salt and water mixed with happiness for herself, fear for others back home. It took her another fifteen minutes to calm down.
“Come on,” Adrian gently pulled her up, “your son is waiting outside.