SPARROW, middle-grade fiction

     One quiet night, in the little city of Candela, at the beginning of a winter so preposterous historians have since pooh-poohed it as merely a legend, a boy, sound asleep in his bed, heard a whispering in his ear.

     “Sparrow,” came the voice. “Sparrow, wake up.”

     The night was cold, the room chilly as a tomb, and there was nothing the boy wanted less than to leave his somewhat warm and reasonably comfortable bed. But only one person had ever called him Sparrow – one loving, wonderful person. Although it had been a long time, he still remembered her voice.

     Again, she called to him.

     “Sparrow.”

     Her voice tugged at his lonesome heart.

     “Hurry, Sparrow. Wake up!”

     And so, full of hope, the boy forced himself awake.

     But when he blinked open his eyes, his hopeful heart dropped away inside of him. His mother was not hovering over him as he had imagined. She was not, it seemed in that instant, anywhere at all.

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     “Oh,” the boy mumbled to the close, dark ceiling. “It was only a dream.”

     Disappointment washed through him like ice water, causing him to gulp at the lump that had tightened his throat.

     He lay still for a moment in the silence, until, again, clear as birdsong, his mother’s voice came to him.

     “Sparrow, be quick! Before it’s too late. You must go to the window and see!”

     The boy couldn’t be sure he wasn’t still dreaming. He thought maybe he was. His head was groggy, and he was mixed up with a sort of middle-of-the-night confusion, but the urgency in his mother’s voice caused him to act automatically. He threw back the quilts, swung his legs out of bed, and placed his stocking feet on the cool wooden floor. In the next breath, he stepped over to the window and looked out.

     A maze of rooftops lay below him in the near-darkness, their chimneys smoldering. Above it all – above the slumbering, unsuspecting citizens of Candela, above the thin fog drifting ghostly in the streets – lay a sky full of stars.

     Almost at once, he saw it.

     There!

     In a flash, a single meteor blazed a bright blue path across the sky.

     Then it was gone.

     As quickly as that.

     The boy let his fingertips rest on the frosted glass. He knew just what he needed to do now. When he was still quite young, his mother had taught him the proper procedure for wishing upon a star. He understood that time was of the essence. A great cosmic clock was ticking, and an opportunity was already preparing to slip back into oblivion.

     And yet the boy faltered.

     He paused.

     Not because he was unprepared. Certainly not! Hadn’t he been carrying his greatest wish around with him forever? Hadn’t he been poised for this exact moment’s arrival? Yes. He knew for sure what he wanted above all else in the world, but he couldn’t, in this moment of truth, make himself utter it to the sky.

     “I wish…” he began. That was all he could get out. “I wish…”

     The problem was that since the last time he had seen his mother, the boy had accidentally become practical. It had snuck up on him without warning. It wasn’t his natural way of being. Indeed, it isn’t natural for any boy. But through certain circumstances, it had happened, so that now he found himself torn between the two extremes of what he truly wanted, and what he felt he should want.

     “I should wish for…” He could hardly make himself say it. “I should wish for ‘the return of the world’s love affair with feathers.’”

     It wasn’t his own phrase, but, rather, that of his uncle. The boy winced at how absurd it sounded on the frosty air.      “That would fix our family’s muddle, but…”

     The boy couldn’t make himself wish for that. Much as he felt he should, he could not. Neither could he make the unlikely wish that he wanted most of all.

     “I wish…” he said. “I wish…”

     The words just jumbled up at his teeth.

     How could he be sure that his mother was anything more than a dream?

     Maybe his wish was just too impractical.

     How could he know what was the right thing to do?

     “Maybe if you could tell me,” he said hopefully, speaking to his invisible mother.

     She didn’t answer. She had gone with his waking. The moment of her whispering had passed and was already a fading echo.

     “Oh,” said the boy. He nodded to the window. “I see.”

     The stars waited patiently in the sky.

     Planet Earth held itself perfectly still.

     “Well,” said the boy, finally. “Well, I guess I wish that…”

     He nearly gained courage enough to say what he wanted. He tensed his muscles and squared his thin frame to the window, but right at the moment of offering it up, he trembled.

     And then, shoulders slumping, he sighed.

     “I guess I just wish that it would snow.”

     The stars, if they heard his feeble request, made no indication that the boy could discern from their business-as-usual twinkling.

     The world, which had been holding its position – waiting, idling – began, again, with an imperceptible jolt, to spin slowly on its course.

     “Kid’s stuff,” said the boy, and he tried to laugh, but couldn’t.

     He shrugged at the window, and then turned and went back to bed. Pulling the blankets over his head, he forced himself to forget his dream, his mother, feathers, and everything else in the whole wide world. It was just too much bother.

     He muttered to his pillow. “It’s too hopeless to hope.” 

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     But you can be sure the sky had heard.

     Those ever-listening stars.

     So, as the little city of Candela slept on through the night, and as Sparrow slipped back into his own restless sleep, all the universe set itself to the task of making the boy’s dubious wish come true.