After my daughter went to bed last night, I decided to write a second draft of her story. Enjoy!
The Lila-takers drive down the center of a well-lit road at midnight. Closed shops line the sidewalk, and streetlights illuminate small patches of drunken fog. The passenger sticks his head out of the window like a dog with its tongue lolling. He looks up: the streetlights block the stars. A man stands dead center in the bed of the pickup, a baseball bat hanging at his side, as if the truck were his chariot and the baseball bat his faith.
Mice scatter along the curbs. A police car hides in an alley, and its officers, waiting for speedsters, watch the Lila-takers pass. They exchange a look, and turn their eyes to their coffee cups, ashamed of what they’ve become. The driver puts the car in reverse, and with headlights off, the police back farther into the alley.
Lila celebrates the success of her cat’s eye surgery with her cousins. They dance to pop music and drink sparkling lemonade. As she twirls beneath the ceiling fan in the living room with her cousin Maddie, she doesn’t know there are such things in the world as Lila-takers.
A second car, a deep purple, refurbished sedan, pulls out of a sidestreet and alongside the pickup; the drivers don’t acknowledge each other. In the passenger seat of the sedan, a woman with long purple hair and small purple sunglasses stares straight ahead, her right hand curled around the doorhandle, tensed and ready. The sedan and the truck drive on, together, a motorcycle now pulling up fast behind them, its overweight driver dressed in baggy black, her rounded black helmet hiding her identity, a baseball bat strapped to the side of the gas tank. She revs the engine, pulls along the other side of the truck, and all three vehicles exit the city.
Lila’s cousin, Caleb, takes her onto the patio to look at the stars. Out here in the country, the stars sing to her, a choir of light calling her to attention: look up!, they sing, look up! Caleb taps her shoulder. She turns, and she follows his finger up toward the North Star. It feels like home, calling her forward, calling her upward — ascend!, ascend! She takes a step.
The Lila-takers turn down a long dirt road, their headlights like scarecrows crawling across the night. A bump lurches the truck upwards, its wheels caroming off the ground, exposing its shocks. The man in the center of the bed bends his knees, adjusts his balance; his feet don’t move. He taps the baseball bat against his thigh, always hitting the same space just above his knee, a dead-eyed tap with no logic or rhythm, a slow motion twitch, deliberate in intent, illogic in manner. The truck rolls on; the sedan and motorcycle follow.
The edge of the wood surprises her. Caleb calls out somewhere behind her, a distant voice in the darkness. She looks over her shoulder. The house lights hurt her eyes, and she shields them with her hand. Caleb calls out again, and she sees him, his silohuette on the edge of the patio, calling toward the other side of the lawn, unaware of where she might be. She turns back to the wood. Above her head, the stars shimmer through the shadows of the branches, sing to her through the blanket of black leaves. Caleb calls out again. She takes another step, not caring how she got here.
The Lila-takers stand at the end of the driveway, their engines quiet, their headlights off, their baseball bats in hand. The overweight woman dressed all in black pulls a coiled rope from the saddle of her motorcycle and walks toward the house. The man who’d stood in the center of the truck nods to the others, and they fan out behind her, all except him: the last line of defense.
Lila reaches her hand toward the next limb and pulls herself higher into the tree. The North Star doesn’t come any closer, but the stars sing stronger now, each individual melody sung in harmony with its neighbors, and behind it all, the crackling white noise of the North Star, calling her with its intelligence. Her hands and feet find the limbs without her having to give them her attention. Her head dodges around this branch, her shoulders swoop under that branch, her path twists around the trunk. She climbs with the ease of an experienced roofman ascending a ladder, unconscious and trusting, up and up and up.
Her cousins cower in the corner. The man who stood in the bed of the truck enters the living room. His eyes scan the work of his Lila-takers: the overthrown sofa, the smashed window in the patio door, the plants ripped from their pots and thrown against the wall, the overturned cat tree. One of them, the oldest one, glances toward the patio door, looks back at him to make sure he sees, and glances back at the patio door. The man turns and walks across the back of the living room, over the smashed glass of the mounted television, and out the door. He looks up into the night sky. The North Star. He calls out to his crew and charges north across the lawn. This one will not get away.
Her head pushes through the canopy, and she pulls herself into the crown of the tree. She finds her balance, one foot on the tallest nub of the trunk, the other resting gently on the middle of the highest, youngest branch. She feels the tree surging beneath her feet, pushing her higher and higher still, each moment struggling to channel its energy into, through, and beyond its tallest nub, its highest young branch, its Lila. Her arms outstretched, she feels the entire Earth cycle itself into, through, and beyond her, surging up one side of her body, cresting out of the crown of her head, then splashing back into her and surging down the other side of her body, back into, through, and beyond the roots of the tree, surging out through the dark soil and back into the oceans, where it dissipates into a crackling cloud before coming back together on the other side of the waters with so much tremendous force that it thunders through the continental shelf, over the desert, under the mountains, back into the soil, up the roots of the tree, into her right foot, and back out of her head, cresting over and over in waves, pushing her, pushing, until she finally looks down and sees that the tree is far beneath her, and she’s riding upwards on an umbrella of light. She turns her eyes heavenward, and sails toward the North Star: ascend, ascend, ascend.
The Lila-takers stand at the bottom of the tree, their bats at their side. “Fine,” says the man who stood in the bed of the pickup. He turns toward the house. “If we can’t take her, let’s take her dog.”