Note: To read The Wishing Map from the beginning, click here.
The Wishing Map
Chapter Eight: Liulah (Continued)
Previously: Trapped in a cloud by Liulah, a cloud shepherd, Zack slowly began to forget about his mission to save his sister.
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More and more Zack’s body seemed to bounce back on its own. Eventually, as they walked, his feet completely ceased sinking into the cloud chamber floor. Still, he weighed more than a sylph. That was what Liulah and her kin were, sylphs, or as they were more commonly called by groundlings, cloud shepherds.
Liulah chattered on as Zack, finally abandoning all attempts at escape, settled into posing FAQs: “Everything looks the same. How can you tell where you’re—“
“Only at first. We’re going to my favorite watching spot.”
“For watching the ground, silly!”
Almost from the moment Liulah pulled him into her cloud, Zack noticed he had an unquenchable thirst, so as he stumbled after her he tore off chunks of cotton candy cloud and popped them into his mouth. In the beginning it all tasted the same, like impossibly delicious water. “Clouds are nothing more than mist,” he observed.
“Oh, yes, they are. Much more!” There was an odd mix to Liulah’s expression, half smile and half something else. Guilt?
And so it went. Zack traversed Liulah’s cloud with her for several hours—it was five miles wide and ten miles long. He was relentlessly single minded for the first hour:
“I have to find Gina! I have to save my sister!”
But Liulah continued to ignore him—no, not ignore him, laugh at him. It wasn’t that she was insensitive; the words Gina and sister simply had no meaning for her, so she giggled, assuming he was making funny noises to amuse her. “Blah-de-goo-be-blah-de!” she would gleefully reply.
Zack finally gave up, and began focusing on getting his cloud-legs. Oddly, his anxiousness about finding Gina decreased as his appreciation for cloud life increased: He began by thinking, I’m never going to find Gina until I leave this place! but after he’d eaten a huge volume of cloud matter, he began appreciating the different tastes and textures of the cloud. “Hey, wait! I want some more of that spicy berry stuff!” As he bounced over to the “spicy berry” patch, he noticed that he barely slipped through the surface; the cloud was beginning to support his weight.
Or was he actually beginning to weigh less? Nah, how could that be? Maybe I’ve changed. How long has it been, anyway? He’d lost all sense of time. “Hey, that cave over there is massively cool!” He pointed to a particularly colorful grotto. How could he not have noticed it before? Maybe it’s like being in a cavern, he thought, only the opposite because instead of getting used to the dark, your eyes have to get used to the light.
“We’re here,” Liulah chortled, “My favorite watching spot!”
Zack bounded across a fifty foot chamber in just six steps. “Woah! I didn’t know I could do that! That was amazing!”
Liulah was lying on her stomach looking down through a hole in the cloud floor. “That’s Spalgreff, the highest village in the world. The people there have big round chests!”
Zack flumped down next to her. Liulah smiled coyly and scooted closer, brushing up against him. He felt weird, sort of hemmed in and happy all at the same time. After staring at Liulah’s white gold hair for a long while, he forced himself to look down. The view was miraculously clear: he could see alpine houses built into boulders and extended out over nothingness, and the moving shapes of Spalgreff’s citizens.
Many seemed to have come out of their houses to watch a lone figure dressed in a cowled cloak walking down the main street. As he passed, they showed great deference, bowing deeply, offering gifts of bread and toogle (Gerdan beer). One woman held her baby up to him. The cloaked figure patted the child’s head, and then moved on. The woman dropped to her knees and kissed the baby, as though it were somehow worth more now. All Zack could see of the stranger’s face was a glint of violet gold. Could he be made of metal?
His mind was suddenly assaulted by images of cloaked figures cutting open living animals with violet blades. The vision was so intense it caused him to roll sideways, moaning like a beast with its leg in a trap. Have to escape! he thought. Have to stop them! But the moment Liulah touched his face with her rain-cool hands the scene dissolved.
He meant it. The vision had vanished, along with the sense of urgency he’d felt.
“Look, a louppdag!”
With no more effort than you might exert in swinging a tennis racket, Liulah thrust out her creamsickle light-staff, hooked it onto a bank of fog, and pulled her cloud closer to the ground. The louppdag (loupp herder) was tending a flock of loupps that flitted like winged sheep from rock to rock, grazing on spiky plants, their velcro-like hides harvesting the plants’ wooly white blossoms.
Zack’s eyes were drawn back to the mysterious person in the cowled cloak. It was clear now that his or her metallic face was some sort of mask or helmet. “Who is…“ he started to ask, but before he could finish, Liulah had hooked her light-staff onto another cloud and begun pulling them southward. He watched as the crestline came into view. At this elevation the trees were like muscular wind-blown sculptures, trimmed with glaucous green needles, daring the elements to attack them.
“I like to look at trees,” Liulah said. “I see faces in them.”’
“Hah! That is totally demented! I like to lie on the ground with my sister, uh, what’s-her-name, and look at the clouds and see faces in them! I always thought how cool it would be to walk around in the clouds, and now I am!”
Liulah stared at Zack as though he’d jarred something loose in her, but then her face brightened. “Can you actually touch trees, or do they only look solid from a distance?”
Zack burst out laughing. “Duh! Trees? They’re as solid as you and me.” His voice trailed off as he caught sight of his own hand. It had become pale like Liulah’s. Even more unusual, he seemed to be growing a garment of cloud. It was intermingled with his own red snow jacket at this point, but was slowly replacing the latter.
“Look, I’m changing!” he chortled, then jumped up and began experimenting to see how many summersaults he could do.
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Thoughts: Have you ever changed (for good or for bad) without noticing, and only later realized that you’ve ceased to be who you were?
To read The Wishing Map 31, click here!