A Short Story

It was a heady day when Amber realized she could unbelieve anything from existence.

Mosquitoes were the first to go.

One moment they were there, sucking great welts onto her skin. Next second they were gone. All of them.

That night Amber danced around the house, happy as a seven-year-old could be, and quietly unbelieved a few of her brother’s toys into non-existence.

In the morning, Amber did what she always did and took Deeohgee into the yard for his morning poop. But when he bounded away, the grass crunched underfoot. And when Amber looked real hard, it seemed to her the grass glistened with broken glass — just like the day her brother broke the window pane hunting aliens.

Amber bent down and scooped up a dragonfly, wings beautiful as spun sugar … and just as lifeless.

Amber ran into the house. “Mom! The yard is covered in dead dragonflies.”

“That’s too bad.” Amber’s mother poured milk into the cereal bowl. “They must not have enough mosquitoes to eat.”

Amber ate her cereal. Each crunch of Crunchy-Ohs echoing the brittle sound of dragonflies under Deeohgee’s paws. I’ll have to be more careful, she thought as she crunched. Unbelieving is a tricky business.

At school, Amber was careful to not unbelieve any of her classmates, even though Elijah pushed her off the wobbly bridge at recess and made her skin her knee. That’s just the kind of thing Elijah did. And Amber remembered the dead dragonflies.

“Don’t cry Ham-ber.” Elijah marched up and down the bridge, pivoting at each end like a soldier. “Kings of the castle make the rules.”

Amber didn’t cry, but went with her friend Lucy to wash her knee.

Lunchtime, though, was a whole other matter. Nothing bad would happen if I unbelieve broccoli. Amber narrowed her eyes, examining the dreaded, grainy trees. My lunch would be finished and I could get my after-school treat.

Amber thought and thought, remembering everything she knew about broccoli. There wasn’t much. But surely, Amber reasoned, no animals eat only broccoli. If broccoli was gone, they would just eat other things. And I could, too.

Broccoli was unbelieved, and Amber’s lunch was finished.

Amber’s mom smiled when she unpacked her kit after school. “I’m glad you ate all your lunch.”

Amber dunked her cookies in milk, savoring each sweet bite.

That night, her dad made stir-fry for dinner with snow peas and orange peppers. But no broccoli. No one seemed to mind.

Amber even checked the newspaper the next day. Missing broccoli did not make any headlines.

Amber put on her fairy wings and watched her dad finish getting dressed. “Dad, what things don’t we need?”

Amber’s dad struggled with his tie, face turning blue before he yanked it loose. “What sweetie?” he croaked.

“There must be things we don’t need. Things that make people upset.”

“Humph.” Amber’s dad grunted, his hands tangled around the strands of his tie. “I’ll tell you what we don’t need. Suits!”

Amber tiptoed around him, thinking. The bells on her fairy wings tinkled, tink-tink-tink-tinktinktink as she tiptoed faster and faster.

“Fairy time somewhere else, Amber,” her dad said, and Amber tink-tink-tinked out of the room.

Then she unbelieved suits.

When her dad came out of the bedroom, he was dressed in jeans, a shirt with a beaming sun, and a smile of his own.

Amber went to school, where the teachers wore a rainbow of skirts and shorts and even the principal had a bow in her hair.

At recess, Elijah pushed Lucy off the monkey bars, making her nose bleed. “Don’t cry, Loose-leaf!” Elijah stood on top of the monkey bars. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

Amber didn’t unbelieve Elijah, because even though she was angry, she knew it would be wrong to unbelieve a whole person. So she took Lucy to the nurse instead.

When she got home, Amber put on her crown and had cake with sprinkles.

Her dad walked in the door like he had springs in his shoes. He didn’t sigh out of his suit jacket, because he wasn’t wearing one. “The stock market rose 600 points today!”

Amber didn’t know what that meant, but it made her dad happy, and that was good. They had noodle casserole without broccoli, and Amber went to bed with her crown on.

For weeks, Amber didn’t think anything else needed unbelieving. She had her after-school treat. Her dad liked work. And dinners had never been so delicious.

Then it was three weeks until Christmas. “I’m going to get a new bike.” Elijah smacked a ball into Metro’s face. “I’m going to get a quad and drive circles around you babies.” Elijah ate Brodie’s cookie, crumbs spraying as he listed his long, long list.

Amber narrowed her eyes. Elijah doesn’t deserve a Christmas morning with all his wishes under the tree. Bad kids didn’t get gifts. But, mostly because of her brother and the broken window two years ago, Amber suspected Santa was not as all-seeing as the songs chirped. She couldn’t leave this to chance. But what could I unbelieve?

Not his tree, because Santa will still come.

Not his house, because he has brothers and sisters, and maybe some of them aren’t bad.

Amber put on her tinking wings and tiptoed and thought.

She put on her crown, and danced in circles and thought.

Amber worried she would have to unbelieve Santa. But that would ruin Christmas for everyone.

At last Amber decided to unbelieve Elijah’s letter to Santa. So the day Elijah proclaimed he had mailed it, she unbelieved it. Amber prepared to face the consequences. If Santa didn’t bring presents for her, at least Elijah would not have his.

On Christmas morning, Amber got her presents. Everything she asked for. It was a perfect Christmas. But even when she was playing with her most favorite new doll with pink hair, tinking around in Amber’s brain was a tiny grain of worry.

Was I bad to unbelieve Elijah’s list?

Or was I good?

When school started again, it was worse than Amber feared. Elijah had a perfect Christmas too. Everything he asked for.

It was too much.

At recess, when Elijah tried to push her off the wobbly bridge, Amber unbelieved that she slipped, and stood her ground. If I can unbelieve things everyone can see, like suits and broccoli and mosquitoes, then I can for sure unbelieve something invisible.

His nostrils flared and his beady eyes glared. “Oooh, Ham-ber’s trying to be a big kid!”

Amber smiled, even though she was so angry she could have unbelieved Elijah’s whole tongue right out of his mouth. “I know something you don’t know.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re not king of the castle anymore.”

“How come?” Elijah gave her a little shove. But her feet still didn’t slip.

“Because I don’t believe it,” Amber said.

“Me either,” Lucy yelled, glaring at Elijah from the monkey bars.

“And me either.” Metro tossed the ball at Elijah’s head, but Amber, who after all was a tinking fairy and not a scary fairy, unbelieved it into bouncing the other way.

When the angry, unbelieving eyes around Elijah became too many, he stomped off, grinding the gravel with his boots.

Amber smiled and plunked down on the wobbly bridge, swinging her legs while a happy chaos of kindergartners played beneath her.

It was a heady day when Amber realized she could unbelieve anything from existence.