Flashing pearls guided us through leaf and limb, over mounds of dead foliage and past oak skyscrapers. A harmony of cicadas rattling, clicking and chirping sung from all around. A minty freshness perfumed the crisp air and the scent followed us all the way to the forest’s edge. From there the ground dipped down, bowing toward the sea of golden blinking eyes and the ghosts of civilisation. Another explosion tore apart the horizon and it quickly healed, not even the hint of a scar. And then another. And another. And another.
A haunting silence bled between each thundering crack and the temperature had slipped below tolerable. Violent shivers wracked my body. Clouds streamed from my mouth.
I noted my brother standing solid as ice, his hands hiding in his pockets and his chin high. He looked careless. Untroubled.
Seeing him like that, I had this overwhelming urge to copy his exact stance. To fold my hands into the crooks of my elbows and stand with one knee arched. To hear his thoughts. To feel what he felt.
To be him.
“You ready for blast off?”
He was already digging out the fireworks from his bag, before I could answer. I tried to get closer, to watch how he did it, but he flapped his arm, waving me away.
“Wait for me behind that tree over there.”
“But I want to—“
“I’m not lighting it until you move,” he almost yelled.
I did as he said.
He lit the fuse, immediately grabbing his bag and shooting toward me with the sturdy confidence of someone who’d done this many times before. Just as he rooted in the gap beside me, the firework shot to the sky, streaming to a halt and then breaking up into thousands of tiny shooting stars. It rung out, like a gunshot, like nothing I’d ever seen.
I felt my whole body thrashing along with my heart, the frosty chill in the air now replaced by a burning sensation running through my veins. I didn’t notice my mouth breaking into a smile until my cheeks were already aching. I faced my brother. He faced me. And then we both toppled over one another, scrambling around in piles of leaves and twigs. Laughter belting from us like untamed animals freed from their cages. My stomach clenched tight, tired from the pulsing giggles. Tears spilt from the corners of my eyes, ran streams down my face and dampened dry Earth. I found myself lying next to my brother. On our sides, we stared at each other, close enough to share breath. We were panting. Our faces red. Our hair tousled and wild.
“How about…I give it…a go?” I panted between breaths.
He laughed, but this time it was different. Almost sour. “Not a chance, little bro. Not a chance.”