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The Wishing Map
Chapter Three: Aviar
Previously: Gina watched in astonishment as her brother Zack suddenly vanished.
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Zack thought it was that thing that sometimes happens when you’re first starting to fall sleep: you feel like you’re falling, you reach out to grab something, anything, then your hands hit the covers and you realize you’re still in your nice, warm, safe bed. So he reached out to grab the covers.
There were no covers. There was no nice, warm, safe bed. There was only darkness. He was hurtling downward at an insane speed (as if there was a sane speed to be hurtling downward at). Perhaps because he was still in his swimsuit, he thought of the “Black Hole” at Wild Waters in Centerburg, the nearly vertical plastic tube he’d become tall enough to ride just last year. Only this was that times infinity, and without the water; there was just frigid air rushing past him.
It must be a dream, it had to be a dream. You don’t just fall out of your sister’s bedroom into… What? As his eyes adjusted, he began to make out grayish-white shapes like clouds. No, not “like” clouds, they were clouds. Wait—light! He twisted his body and saw a bright yellow light. Good—a light. He reached for it, but couldn’t touch it. It was out of reach.
About 290,000 miles out of reach.
It was the same double moon that had disappeared after Aloysia left last June and then reappeared this afternoon when… Moon? Clouds? But that would mean he was really—no, it was a dream, it had to be a dream. It was night (how did it get to be night?) and it was cold, unbelievably cold. If only he’d put something on before he’d, what, started dreaming? Of course it was a dream, it had to be a dream. He tried to relax, tried to wake up. He couldn’t. He was freezing, and he was falling, falling through the night sky into—no. Absurd. Hah-hah. Falling. Oh, sure! He started to laugh, but even before it got out, the laugh betrayed him and turned into a scream:
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! Help! Gina! Dad! Mom! God!”
The words shot like bullets from his mouth and were gone just as fast. There was no one to hear him, no one; even his voice had abandoned him. The reality engulfed him like a tidal wave:
It wasn’t a dream. He really was falling, and he really was going to die. He let out a series of guttural yelps, like an animal in a trap, half moan, half screech, and began clawing at the air around him, nearly dislocating his limbs in the process. He gnashed his teeth, sobbed, clawed some more, then finally managed to choke out a few semi-coherent words:
“Oh, Gah…I don’t under…why…please…oh, Gah…” These shot away just like the previous ones had. He tore at the air for a while longer, irrationally hoping it would slow his pace the way it might have if he’d been tumbling down a grassy slope.
He screamed louder and longer than he’d ever screamed in his life:
He repeated the words “help” and “please” at least a hundred times. After what felt like days, he had to stop because his throat was so raw it actually made him forget about falling.
The moment he stopped, he thought about the absurdity of screaming for help. What could anyone do, catch him? Grab him out of the air? He began to laugh, but it wasn’t a real laugh, it was a string of primitive barks full of aching loss over the things he would never do: never publish his Zachary Zinn comics, never travel to another planet, never stare pure evil in the face and laugh at it, never see his sister again, or his parents, or…
“God?” he sobbed. “Why?”
And then he just fell…
Was he really falling? It didn’t feel like falling anymore. How long had he been falling? Two hours? Two days? His whole life? Zack had lost the strength for terror.
He tore into a cloud, the ten thousandth since he began falling, but this one was different, solid somehow, almost as if he could grab hold of it. So he did, and for a moment he actually slowed down! But then the bit he’d grabbed tore loose and he continued falling with it in his hand. It was fluffy like cotton candy, but not sticky, so he ate it.
This is insane. I should be freaking out. I’m about to die, and I’m eating a cloud! It was insane, but everything was so surreal he couldn’t think normally anymore. The cloud dissolved into pure luxurious water in his mouth, the best he’d ever tasted. It was amazing. How could water taste so good? Well, at least he wouldn’t die thirsty.
Just before he broke through the bottom of the cloud, he thought he saw a face, an almost human and decidedly female face, curious and sweet. Then the cloud and the face were gone. He must have imagined it. It couldn’t have been a girl, could it? A girl in a cloud? Oh, come on, how could that be? But then…
How could he be falling for, what, a year?
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Thoughts: Have you ever had a close call with death? What hopes or regrets consumed your thoughts?
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