"Did I ever tell you the story about the hummingbird and the firefly?"
She frowned. "Nuh-huh. What's it about, Mama?"
Megan balanced her weight on her bicycle as she fastened the clasp of her helmet. The cool night air brushed across her face, toying with her red hair as it blew over the town. Nights like this, where the only light came from the moon and the occasional house-window lights, were perfect for things like this.
She pushed off, going at a rather slow pace for now, watching as people drew their shutters or turned out their lights, so that one by one the houses blinked out as she passed.
"Well, one day, the firefly was zooming along….Bzz, bzz…"
She giggled. "Fireflies don't make that sound, Mama!"
"They don't? Ah, what was I thinking?" her mother smiled. "What sound do they make, then?"
"They don't make sound!" she grinned.
The sound of her tires skipping over small pebbles in the dirt road seemed so much louder in the empty street. She was the only one out here; everyone else was inside or asleep. There was the brief thought that she should be one of them, but she brushed it away without a second glance. Give up an opportunity like this?
"Keep going, Mama!"
"Alright, alright. The firefly had just landed on a rose to rest after a long evening. He'd been visiting all his friends in one trip, and he was tired. Then a hummingbird flew up to him. 'I saw your blinking light,' the hummingbird said. 'Are you in trouble?'
She'd made it outside of the town and was now riding through a deep expanse of trees, all of them thick, dark, and rustling with wind. Her bicycle clattered over tree roots and branches struck at her helmet. She breathed the sweet smell of pine and exhaled, picking up speed.
"'No,' the firefly said. 'I'm just resting, is all.' The hummingbird smiled. He knew what that was like. Even hummingbirds had to rest sometime because they get tired too."
"But they're so fast!" The little girl raised her arms and flapped them up and down. "Like that!"
Her mother chuckled. "Alright little hummingbird, let me finish the story before you fly away, okay?" She paused for a minute as her daughter settled back into bed. "The hummingbird looked at the firefly and asked, 'How about you and me race before you rest for good?' The firefly said, 'But you're so fast! There's no way I could possibly beat you!' The hummingbird chuckled. 'Now,' he said, 'How do you know that if you don't even try?'
Megan pedaled up the hillside, breathing hard as she reached the top. Her eyes scanned the path up ahead, scattered with buildings, stores and shops with neon signs. And there was no one on the road.
She pushed off, pedaling fast, the wind rushing in her ears.
" 'To the hill, okay?' the hummingbird said. The firefly agreed, and after taking a moment to catch his breath was ready to race. On the count of three, they both shot off. The firefly was fast, but the hummingbird was much faster. He was beating the firefly."
Looking behind her, Megan saw the house lights becoming much farther away, disappearing behind the trees, nothing but fading, blinking shapes. Up ahead of her, the bright signs approached quickly. She closed her eyes.
"What happened next?" the girl asked.
"At the end of the race, the firefly was very tired. But the hummingbird was still as fast as ever. 'You raced really well!' the hummingbird said. The firefly panted. 'Not as well as you, friend.'
"Just then, a few of the fireflies' friends came over. They were other fireflies, but they were all different colors: red, blue, orange, pink. 'Why are you so tired?' the red firefly asked. 'We were racing,' the normal firefly answered.
'Well, why were you trying to beat a humming bird, silly?' the blue one admonished. 'He's much too fast for you!' The pink and orange fireflies nodded in agreement before looking at the hummingbird. 'You'd be too fast for all of us!' they chirped. The hummingbird looked thoughtful for a moment, looking over the hill. After a moment, he said, 'Then we won't race,' and then he turned his back to them. 'Hop on my back.' The fireflies looked at him, confused.
'Hop on your back?' the orange firefly asked. 'Why?'
'Because I want to show you something,' the hummingbird said. 'So you can be fast, too.' All the fireflies grabbed the hummingbird's back, eagerly awaiting the surprise. The hummingbird made sure no one would fall before speeding down the hill."
She opened her eyes and grinned, letting out a laugh.
"The hummingbird and the fireflies flew together, making the most beautiful colors you could ever imagine," her mother finished.
The girl paused as she settled against her pillow. "Mama, can I see the colors?"
"Of course you can. But you can only see them at night."
She tilted her head back and let herself be engulfed by the blur of neon lights, by the ribbons of color, whizzing past her, swirling around her. She unclasped her helmet and let her hair blow out behind her as she joined the hummingbird and the fireflies in their flight.