Note: To read The Wishing Map from the beginning, click here.
The Wishing Map
Chapter Eight: Liulah
Previously: Gina befriended the orphan B’frona and was waylaid in her search for her brother Zack. Meanwhile (Episode 23), Zack had hiked up his courage and jumped back into the Map looking for her.
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Zack’s second fall was less disorienting than the first, but even more traumatic. It was morning, so he could see where he was going, which is to say that he could see the curvature of the Ismaran world with its continent-spanning clouds. He wasn’t exactly warm, but jacketed and gloved he could tolerate the stratospheric lows. He assumed he would slow when he reached the ground, like he had the first time.
In the meantime, he had nothing to do but steel himself to face the giant bird, to plan the words that might somehow convince the creature not to bite his leg off and to help him find his sister!
Just as he broke through a thick layer of clouds he saw a sudden flash. “Woah! What was that?” He initially thought it was lightning, but the second and third times it happened, he realized each of the flashes was a different color, and that they were neither sharp nor hot like lightening bolts, but curved at the ends like—
This is totally ridiculous, he thought, but they look like shepherd’s staffs. Are they actually guiding the clouds? This impression was verified when the cloud Zack was passing through was suddenly yanked away. He could see it moving off at several hundred miles an hour, pulled by a creamsickle orange light-staff. This was obviously not a natural occurrence. Somebody was doing it! But who? And why?
He’d just broken through another layer when he noticed a particularly thick cloud moving toward the space below him, almost as if it were rushing to meet him. It looked like the cauliflower cumulus he’d grabbed a piece of the first time he’d fallen into Ismara. He fell into the on-rushing formation. It was just the way he remembered, only this time it did something it hadn’t done before:
It grabbed him! He felt himself being swung upward by his right arm and deposited onto a spongy bed of white. But that wasn’t half as jarring as what happened next. A girl roughly the same age as him stepped onto his chest, looked down, and said:
“You really are beautiful! What’s it like to walk on the ground?”
He stared up at her, unable to think of an answer.
“Oh, no! I got a mute one. I knew there had to be something wrong. A human falls out of the sky into my cloud, and he turns out to be defective. Oh, I wish you could talk, if only you could talk, you’d be perfect. Maybe I could teach you to—“
“I can talk.” It was obvious she was not the kind of girl who leaves pauses for other people to speak.
The girl sat down on his chest; she weighed almost nothing. Her dress was made of cloud stitched together with light, and seemed somehow to be part of her; her face was round and sweet, her skin pale and tinted the same creamsickle orange as her light-staff (which simply appeared in her hand when she wanted it); her hair was white gold with streaks of sunrise in it. Most striking of all were her eyes: they were soft and round and skyfull, which is to say they actually seemed to be made of sky.
“Ah!” she screamed with delight. “You do talk! And your voice is all warm like dirt, just the way I thought it would be, only a little squeakier. Why is that?”
“Well, uh, my voice is changing because of…you know…puber—“
“What’s it like to walk on the ground? It must be amazing to stick to the earth and to see the sky over your head and to touch flowers and rocks!”
“Well, not exact—“
“I’m Liulah!” And then, as if Zack were a stray puppy, she added, “I’m going to keep you!”
“What? But I can’t stay with you. I have to find Gina!”
Liulah scrinched her face in mock concern, then launched into her version of what Zack had just said: “Puber, puber, blah-de-goo-be-doo-de-boo-bee!” Then she rolled off of him and began flailing her arms and laughing uncontrollably. Zack knew he should be offended, but there was something so adorable about her little string-of-bells laugh that he simply could not work up a proper sense of indignation. Still, the fact that she perceived everything as a joke or a game was problematic. He had to find Gina, right?
Why did finding Gina suddenly seem less urgent than before?
“This is serious…” he began.
“No, it’s cumulus,” Liulah chortled. “That’s cirrus.” She pointed out hole at a wispy cloud strand nearby.
He continued to protest, insisting that he had to find his sister before something terrible happened, but conversation was difficult because Liulah never stopped moving. Zack tried to jump out of the cloud a dozen times, but each time Liulah hooked him with her light-staff and jerked him back inside.
She simply could not imagine that he would want to leave, and to be truthful, he really didn’t, because as loudly as he protested, he was terrified of facing the near-certain amputation that waited below. So Liulah interpreted his reluctance as teasing, and played along, jerking him back each time…
While Zack self-loathingly resisted less and less.
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Thoughts: Have you ever been so drawn into someone else’s orbit that their will began to replace yours?
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