By Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
The girl slipped away unnoticed from her parents and into the field. It was mid-afternoon; the sun burned in the white sky and only the sound of her mother’s sobbing broke the silence of still, stale air. She knelt in the dry earth and held out her hands, cupped in invitation. In supplication.
The grasshopper quivered, its leaf-like wings shining translucent. She would not have seen it but for the desiccated stalks of wheat stubble stretching to the horizon; a sharp contrast to the lime-green body that had once provided camouflage.
Leaning forward with all the subtlety and care a four-year-old can spossess, the girl pushed her hands closer. Again, the wings fluttered, but the grasshopper stayed anchored to the earth, as if its body was too heavy to lift.
The girl could feel the rocks biting into her knees through the cotton of her dress. It was a birthday present – the first and last time she would wear it. It didn’t matter that the dirt would stain the pristine white with its ochre brown; a thing couldn’t be ruined if it wasn’t to be kept.
Her father was shouting at her. “Get out of the field! It’s time to go.”
Quickly, she darted forward and scooped the grasshopper from the dirt, her tiny fingers clamping together to prevent its escape. Raising the dome of her clasped hands up to one eye, she prised away a thumb and peeked inside. The grasshopper lay trembling on her palm, wings shivering.
“Now!” The girl’s father stood beside the car, arms folded and thunder in his face. He turned his glare to his wife who clung pitifully to her sister. Leaving was to be a ‘quiet, calm affair’, he had demanded the night before over dinner, swirling his vintage red in one of the crystal glasses they never used.
Standing up, the girl pushed her hands into the right pocket of her dress and let the grasshopper fall to the bottom of the fold, quickly cinching it closed in her fist.
She hurried back to the car, sandalled feet crunching on dead grass, passing her father wordlessly and clambering into her seat. With her right hand still securing the fabric of her pocket, she wriggled and pulled with her left until her seat belt was buckled.
Her father slammed her door and turned to the two women crying in the driveway. “Enough,” he said roughly. “They’ll be waiting for us.”
The girl closed her eyes and wished she could take away her hand to press her palms against her ears. Instead she hummed, little vibrations tickling her lips. She chose a happy tune, one she thought a grasshopper might like.
Finally, the remaining car doors slammed shut and the car rumbled to life. “Don’t look back,” her father had said the night before. “Never look back.” But, as they pulled out of the driveway, the girl opened her eyes and silently bid farewell to her house and her bedroom and all her belongings left abandoned inside. Ripe for her cousins to claim when her uncle brought them over in his ugly green van.
The smell of dust seeped in through the air-conditioning vents. Outside, empty and dilapidated buildings sped past in lines of colour, creating the illusion that people still lived and worked in them.
“You could have been nicer to my sister,” the girl’s mother seethed in the passenger seat.
“I’m giving her my fucking house, how much nicer do you want me to be?”
“Why did we have to leave so suddenly, anyway? Why couldn’t we have taken the next flight? It’s only a year away.”
The girl’s father banged his hands against the steering wheel, causing the girl to jump and tighten her fists. “Because this is the first flight. No-one remembers the runners-up, any more than they do the losers. History only immortalises the winners, the ones who come first.”
“But, it’s never been tested. What if something goes wrong?”
“Look around! Something already has gone wrong. That’s precisely why we are leaving.”
At first, the launch station appeared like a white flash on the horizon, emerging slowly from the desert brown like an egg hatching. Its massive metallic body radiated light even as it cast a shadow to engulf their car in a heavy grey.
Just before they reached the security checkpoint, the girl’s father turned to her, his fierce features enough to still her fidgeting. “You will do as you are told. You will be silent. You will not ask any questions. You will not cry. You will not cling to your mother. Do you understand?”
The girl nodded, looking down at her lap, hiding the tears already trembling at the corners of her eyes.
“It’s alright,” the girl’s mother murmured. “We’ll be there when you wake up.”
After the processing, the long waiting in queues, the medical checks and pricks of needles to take blood, the girl was escorted to the sterilisation chamber. She did as her father instructed – she did not talk or ask questions, did not cry or cling to her mother, even though her body shook with the desperation to do so.
Inside the cool, metal pod, attendants slipped her white sandals off her feet and pulled her cotton-dress over her head. Only when she stood naked and trembling did she remember the grasshopper.
Running to the nearest attendant, she snatched the dress out of his hands before he could throw it into the incinerator. Carefully, she reached into the pocket, lifting out the small, green body that had seemed so heavy and burdened when she had found it.
The grasshopper was still, the one wing left attached to its body all crumpled. As if someone had drawn a picture on it they no longer liked or wanted. Her little fingers poked at the head, lifted the antenna, caressed what legs had not been amputated.
“Can I take it with me?” the girl asked, defying her father again.
It was a small request; a yearning for a keepsake of the dying world they would leave behind. But the attendant shook his head—there was no place for a mangled grasshopper in this sterilised room with its sterilised chambers—and he threw her dress and the grasshopper into the fire.
About the Author:
Mikhaeyla Kopievsky is an Australian speculative fiction author. She is the creator of the Divided Elements series and author of an upcoming gothic novel set in Tasmania. She was longlisted for the 2019 EJ Brady Short Story Competition, and her debut novel, Resistance (the first book in her completed dystopian trilogy), is currently a semi-finalist in Hugh Howey’s inaugural SPSF Competition. Her short stories have also appeared in a number of Australian and international anthologies.
Born in Sydney, Mikhaeyla now lives in the Hunter Valley with her husband and son, two rescue dogs, four Australorp chooks, a hive of cantankerous bees, and the occasional herd of beautiful Black Angus steers. When she is not writing or reading, Mikhaeyla enjoys cooking with the produce harvested from her kitchen garden, going to the beach, stargazing, and training to be a ninja. You can connect with her on Twitter (@MikhaeylaK), follow her on Bookbub, and learn more about her writing at www.mikhaeylakopievsky.com