The Divine Nine - Award-Winning Short Story By Amy Coomer
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
The sun was angry.
That was what I told my two-year-old brother, Bren, when he questioned me about its sudden transformation. He wasn’t alone in his curiosity. Every man, woman and child in the northern hemisphere had descended into mad hysteria since they awoke to a blood-red sun. By that point, however, I knew that word had spread all around the globe. While one half of the planet was living in fear beneath a reddish glow, the other was holding their breath in collective anticipation for night to wane into day, to experience the foreign sight for themselves. Then there was the media, who I liked to believe was a separate faction altogether, amplifying the chaos through their trivial ‘expert quotes’. Their chief theory: we were all going to die.
Did I agree with this hypothesis? Perhaps. I may have also believed that the sun, beyond any scientific rationale, might very well have just been angry. I could neither entertain nor dismiss any notions. This was unlike any event in our history – an anomaly in centuries of sound existence. For thousands of years the sun had risen and set, and, when tasked with the job of drawing a sky, perceptive children reached for the bright yellow marker within their colour packs. Its being was fact – one that we as a human race had come to depend on.
So, there was really only one thing I was absolutely sure of.
I was scared.
So scared that I couldn’t bear the sight of my neurotic mother phoning every relative we had in tearful succession any longer, nor the sound of my father’s worn rocking chair squeaking back-and-forth as his eyes stayed glued to the TV. After retreating to my room to grab a very important piece of paper, I made a move for the back door.
My brother was playing with his toy trucks on the patio as I stepped into an eerie red reality. I planted a kiss on his head as I walked past, opting for the fifth time to ignore his question of: Who angered the sun, Jack?
I swung my legs over the fence, slipping on my dark shades and feeling like I’d just propelled myself into a dreamland. This feeling only heightened when I saw her.
Molly. A small girl with dreamy eyes. A vision of light brown hair and bold femininity. Equal parts salt and sugar, madness and beauty. The face that she was my neighbour was the starkest thing about her, but it was always the best thing about me.
“So,” I called out to her. “Have you heard the news?”
Part of me suspected she was involved somehow. Every extraordinary thing always led back to her.
She looked at me, startled, and I saw the fear in her eyes only for a moment. “And what news would you be referring to?” She sniffed, turning her face away and returning with a drawn smile. “That of my new Birkenstocks, or humanity’s impending death?”
I gasped. “You got new Birkenstocks?”
She laughed as I lifted myself onto the back of her dad’s truck, sitting next to her. “Yes, and I’m very upset. I was planning to wear them until my feet grew out of them, or I died; whichever came first. I feel cheated by the universe.”
“That is upsetting,” I agreed. “Although, you do know that beneath every red cloud…” I trailed off, reaching for my piece of paper I’d stuffed in my pocket, “is a silver lining.”
“Oh my god, Jack…”
”Put on your dancing Birkenstocks, baby. The time has come.”
“The Divine Nine,” Molly sighed fondly. “I can’t believe you still have it.”
“Can’t believe I…? Oh, Molly Polly, don’t tell me you lost yours. Does the hallowed spit shake mean nothing to you?”
She grimaced, casting her eyes away. Then, just as I was about to surrender myself to the formidable red sun above, her face lit up as she whipped out a matching piece of paper from behind her back. “As far as I’m concerned, I took an oath that day in the treehouse. With mutual spit I vowed to complete The Divine Nine before we both keeled over.”
I released a breath, clutching my heart. “Thank God. Nine items in eight hours is a feat for two. I would’ve never gotten through this list on my own.”
“How are we doing so far?” Molly asked, comparing the two of our lists together.
“Surprisingly… awful,” I finished bleakly. “We’ve made exactly zero progress in ten years.”
She huffed out a breath, leaning back to look at me. “Not even your one?”
“Nope.” I swallowed. “How about you?”
I nodded. The Divine Nine was a list of nine items that Molly and I created in grade school. We each contributed four things that we wanted to do before we died, however separate lists were created to account for a mystery item that would remain secret, even in death. After all these years, I still had no idea what Molly’s was, and she didn’t know mine.
“Well, we’d better get a move on. What’s first on the list?” I looked down, then scoffed. “Go to Italy.”
Molly nodded, jumping down from the truck. “Alright, let’s go.”
Admittedly, when Molly said we were going to Italy, Molto Delizioso was not the first place I though of. It was an admired quality but, stuffing my face full of pizza and pasta at the new restaurant across town, I’d found a new appreciation for Molly’s imaginative mind. I, on the other hand, was highly deficient in this area.
“What are you doing?” Molly laughed. She stared around the restaurant, mortified despite the fact that it was nearly deserted. Most of the places in town were closed today.
“Molly Ann Krieger, will you marry me?”
“You did not just propose to me with a taralli.” She shook her head, sobering herself. “It’s perfect.”
I grinned. ”Be proposed to: check.”
Our next stop as a newly engaged couple was the local Tiffany’s jeweller, and I stared in dismay as Molly ate the taralli right off her finger. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” she said between chews.
On our way to the park, we came across a man playing the violin. Today there was no open case, no pleading for anything in exchange for his gift. “Front row at a concert,” Molly whispered in my ear, leaning her head on my shoulder. We listened to him play three sets in silence.
“Learn to fly? Really, Mol?”
“I was seven!” she shouted over the wind. Her hair was captured by a sudden gust as she leapt off the swing and into my arms.
After swimming with dolphins – the shark’s friendly cousin as Molly contested – and winning a small stuffed elephant at the local fair that was “pretty much a gold medal”, the two of us bought two lobsters from a restaurant uptown. We brought them down to the local pier where we set them free, thereby saving a life, and then prepared to die ourselves.
“Wait,” Molly cried as the wind was picking up – a sign of our impending fate. “What was your number one?”
I looked at the fiery red sun in the sky, then into Molly’s eyes, and I kissed her. Hard and passionate. “You,” I whispered. “You were always number one.”
At some point in our embrace, the wind stopped. When we looked at the sky, it had faded into a swirl of pastel.
That was the first day of the end of my life.
I never believed love to be so black and white. That it was a mad, inexplicable thing beyond any psychological reasoning. But I’ll never forget that day out on Bloomfield Pier, the water a reflection of the rosy sunset, when I looked at her. Just looked at her. And I knew, as surely as I know anything true, that I loved her. I felt it in an instant – the moment my body surrendered to the feeling, and I felt the warmth of my chest travel to my face, and I laughed.
The sun was yellow for the rest of our lives, which were long and full. People still talk about it – the day they witnessed blood in the sky. They continue to theorise, to attach religious connotations and try to make sense of something inexplicable. Me? I retired my curiosity long ago. In the end, all I had was gratitude for this divine intervention. For this subtle communication between us and the sky. The universe, after years of being questioned, was merely questioning us back. And for those of us wise enough to listen, we found that golden light shone far brighter than it ever had before.