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The Wishing Map
Chapter Eight: Liulah (Continued)
Previously: Feeling guilty about having kidnapped Zack, Liulah dragged him into an immense cloud. But why?
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By piercing their way through several dozen walls Zack and Liulah finally came to a huge chamber at the center of the expansive parent cloud.
Liulah stepped forward and spoke: “Father, Mother, this is Zagg. He’s my friend. He’s human.”
“Zack,” Zack corrected, but then reconsidered, “Or maybe it is Zagg. Yeah, let’s go with that. It’ll be my sylph name!” Why is she talking to an empty room? he wondered. Oh, well, it doesn’t matter, nothing matters except that I’m in a giant new cloud that’s waiting to be explored! “I’m Zagg the cloud shepherd and I live in the sky!” he shouted as he bounced off the soft crystalline walls. “Zagg rode his cloud like the wind!”
He landed at the base of a large mound in the center of the room, and was about to climb it when it suddenly began to move! He back-pedaled frantically.
“Hush,” said the lump, gesturing with a vague semblance of an arm. “Let the quietude enfold you.”
“Yes, dear ones,” said another lump, gliding forward on legs that seemed to be part of the floor. “Whatever it is that disturbs you…does not matter.”
“But it does!” Liulah replied.
“Right,” Zack said, “I mean, no, I mean, right, nothing matters.”
The cloud beings nodded approvingly.
“Zack, this is my mother, and this is my father.”
Zack reached out to shake their hands, but there was nothing to shake, so he waved at them. Their eyes were mere holes, much less human than Liulah’s. They had no noses at all, and their mouths were little more than slits. Both had benign, unchanging expressions that were profoundly peaceful. They stared at Zack and Liulah in blissful silence, not, Zack realized, because they couldn’t think of anything to say, but because nothing mattered, so nothing really needed to be said. And it’s true, isn’t it? Zack thought.
He knew there were things that used to disturb him, but in Mother and Father Cloud’s presence he couldn’t remember what those things were, or why they should matter.
“Father, Mother,” Liulah said, pressing on, “I made a mistake. Zack is human…and he doesn’t belong here.“
“But, I…I want to be here,” said Zack.
“He wants to be here,” Father Cloud echoed.
“But he didn’t choose it!”
“He must have, or he wouldn’t be here,” said Mother Cloud.
“Observe,” Father Cloud added, “how swiftly he is changing. It is because he has chosen to be a sylph.”
“No, he hasn’t! He was falling from the sky when—“
Mother and Father Cloud began to chuckle, if you could call it that (they sound like amused bicycle pumps). “Humans can’t fall from the sky,” Father Cloud explained. “Peace, gentle daughter. All is as it should be.”
“Yes,” Zack soughed, sounding less than ever like the human boy Liulah had yanked into her cloud two days ago.
“Oh, shut up!” said Liulah. “You don’t even know what—“
“Everything is as it should be.” Mother Cloud spoke with fathomless calm. “Everything is always—“
“That’s not true! I watch people on the ground and sometimes I see bad things happening: children crying with no one to comfort them, people cheating each other. Once I saw a man stab another man with a knife and take his money. I rained on him, but I couldn’t stop—“
“Hushhhhh,” said Father Cloud. “Peace. What happens on the ground does not concern us. We move with the wind, we make the rain, what happens on the ground is not real.”
“Yeah, it’s not re—” Zack began.
“It’s real to them!” Liulah shouted. Father and Mother Cloud seemed strangely alarmed.
“But you are no longer a hu…” Mother Cloud began, but trailed off, resuming her look of expressionless bliss.
A wind of understanding suddenly whirled through Liulah’s eyes—they were instantly less skyfull, and more earthfull. “I came from there, didn’t I?” There was no reply. Or rather, the reply was in the silence. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We didn’t hide it from you, little one,” said Father Cloud. “You forgot. Forgetting is one’s act of kindness towards oneself.”
“I don’t under—“ Zack began.
“Why would I need to be ‘kind’ to myself?” Liulah pried.
An aching silence filled the chamber. Mother Cloud finally answered: “You had what humans call a brother. Human attachments can only cause pain.”
“I don’t get it,” said Zack. “You’re her parents, right? So her brother would be your—“
“No.” For the first time Father Cloud’s peacefulness was marred by a note of sorrow: “We found her.”
“On a hilltop,” added Mother Cloud, a shadow of grief passing over her placid countenance.
“Her brother was her only family,” Father Cloud said, “and he abandoned her.” A flurry of anger filled his eyeholes. “But it doesn’t matter. We came to the ground, she stepped into our cloud, and now she is a sylph.”
“And all is as it should be.”
“No, it isn’t!” Liulah said with a resolve that stunned Zack. Was this the childlike girl he’d met only…
When was it? Or had he always known her? Wait, is Liulah my sister? I’ll ask Mother and Father Cloud.
“Mother, Father…” he began.
“Yes, son?” they replied with knowing smiles.
In a microsecond, Liulah had grabbed him by the arm, nearly ripping it out of its socket, and jerked him through the wall and out of the great chamber.
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Thoughts: Has anyone ever rescued you from yourself?
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