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Empire Day

By Quin Cooper

Scifi

Blurb

Sharing your birthday with your least favorite holiday can be rough.

Empire Day

The first fireworks launched into the clear night sky went completely unnoticed by Ezra Bridger. The beauty of their shimmering golden trails was unintentionally ignored as he tried to push his way through the numerous pairs of legs that blocked his path. The daunting crowd of strangers hadn’t seemed nearly as scary when he had first waded into it, clinging to his mother’s hand for guidance and reassurance. The safe comfort her hand had provided had only lasted up until the point that he had tugged his own hand from her grip and chased after a stray loth-kit he had spotted in the distance. Now he had lost both the kit and his family, and he didn’t know what to do.

One of the fireworks reached its apex and paused for a brief moment, waiting for the onlookers to suck in a breath of anticipation before exploding in a shower of brightly colored sparks. The loud noise caught Ezra off guard, eliciting a frightened yelp from the boy as he leaped backwards and landed on someone’s foot. The man shot him an annoyed glare before returning his gaze to the display. It was a fleeting glance, but it was enough to send Ezra scampering off, clutching his ears in a vain attempt to block out the loud noises. By the time the next firework went off, he had disappeared into the shadows.

Ezra ran as fast as he could through the crowd, jumping every time another firework exploded. The crowds loud cheering did nothing to calm him as he pushed his way through the gathered beings, desperately searching for a way out. There were strangers everywhere he looked. The throngs of beings seemed to stretch on forever, leaving him lost, alone, and terrified.

Then, quite unexpectedly, he was free. Two pairs of legs parted before him to let him fall unceremoniously to the ground. His surprised squeak is drowned out by another explosion, and his alarmed glance at the sky results in him being momentarily blinded by a flash of red. He blinked furiously to clear his vision, and after a few seconds he was on his feet again, stumbling away from the crowd as fast as he could go.

He could feel his eyes beginning to sting, causing him to shake his head vehemently and preemptively try to wipe away the tears that had yet to fall. He couldn’t cry! Babies cried, and he wasn’t a baby anymore. His mom always said that he was all grown up. He wouldn’t cry. He wouldn’t!

His resolve lasted until he rounded a corner and skidded to a halt when he realized that there were even more strangers up ahead. He stared at them for a moment before the reality of his situation came crashing down on him with enough weight to knock him to the ground. The unpaved road was quick to cover his clothes with dirt, but he didn’t care. The only reason he had stayed clean in the first place was because his parents had wanted him to look presentable, but what was the point if no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to the distraught boy?

His tears were flowing freely now, creating a dark, speckled pattern in the dirt on his clothes and the ground around him. He had been so stupid! Why had he decided to run off on his own? Why hadn’t he gone looking for his parents as soon as the loth-kit had darted out of sight instead of wandering aimlessly? Why did he always try to act so grown up when he knew that he was just a dumb five-year-old kid?

Another firework went off, causing him to clutch his ears tighter and whimper quietly. The loud whoops and cheers from the crowd rivaled the explosion in volume. He knew he couldn’t handle the constant noise for much longer and that he needed to get away, but he couldn’t force himself to move. Everything was too overwhelming, so his body’s solution seemed to be to curl in on itself and hope that everything stopped eventually. Maybe it would and maybe it wouldn’t, but he didn’t know what else to do. Scooting back until he bumped into a wall and pulling his knees to his chest, he tried to prepare himself to get through the ordeal.

He was so intent on ignoring the cacophonous noise around him that he almost the one sound that he had been hoping to hear. At first, he thought he was just imagining it, but when it repeated itself even louder he knew it was real.

“Ezra!”

When his mind finally identified what he was hearing, he began frantically looking around in hopes of spotting the familiar face that matched the voice amongst the abundance of beings around him. He didn’t think he had ever been as relieved as he was when he caught sight of Mira Bridger making her way towards him. “Mom,” he whispered quietly to himself. Realizing that he needed to be louder if she was going to have any chance of finding him, he stood up and shouted, “Mom!”

Once she caught sight of him, it wasn’t long before she was scooping up his small body in a relieved and happy hug. Ezra would usually complain when she did this in public, but at that moment he was too happy to comment. He was safe again.

The warm feeling of comfort still wasn’t quite enough to stifle his fear of the fireworks. Mira must have felt him flinch when another explosion ripped through the air, because she shifted him around so she could look at him. Worry was clear in her gaze, reflected in the bright blue light that bathed the streets for a few seconds before fading away. There was a question in her eyes, one that she easily conveyed without trying to make herself heard over all the noise: Are you okay?

The nod he gave was quick and unconvincing. He knew that she saw right through it. To stop any further prodding, he suddenly shifted and buried his head in her shoulder. He didn’t want to talk about how scared he had been. He didn’t want to say how much he hated Empire Day. He didn’t want to listen to her gently explain how it was also his birthday, as if that somehow made everything better. He just wanted to go home.

They stayed like that for a few minutes until his father found them. Then the three of them walked away silently, leaving the celebration behind them as the sky continued to flash vibrant colors to commemorate five glorious years of the Galactic Empire.

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