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The Wishing Map
Chapter Ten: Lost… (Continued)
Previously: With the help of the immense bird Aviar, Zack resumed the search for his sister. Meanwhile, Liulah the cloud shepherd was rediscovering her humanness.
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Aviar swept down over the foothills and then, gliding on thermals, swung out over the steppelands of southern Gerd. They flew so close that Zack could make out patterns in the tall grass. He watched stately elk lope across the hilltops, the grass parting around them like waves in the sea; he saw goat-like creatures bounding on heavy kangaroo legs toward protective stands of trees, and was a bit rattled when one looked up and cursed in an actual spoken language.
Neither Zack nor Aviar had had any idea where to look. They knew Gina would not likely be in the Northern Mountains, so they headed south. Once they reached the grassy plains, Aviar approached his feathered brethren. It was no use speaking to the smaller birds—they would faint dead away at the sight of a giant Sheya—but when he saw a hawk or a raven, he would call out in reassuringly throaty “ch-wooks” and “ch-roos.”
Once the creature was assured he meant no harm, he would execute a falling gesture with his wing, and make sounds that represented “human” and “girl.” Each answered with a discouraging “no.” They flew for hours, but always received the same reply: “Girl-falling-from-sky? No.
Liulah had encountered more revelations than most sylphs experience in a lifetime: she’d captured a human boy and thought, at least for a time, that he might be hers forever; she’d learned that she herself was once human, with a brother who, according to Mother and Father Cloud, had abandoned her; and in the process, she’d discovered that Mother and Father Cloud were not her real parents. Come to think of it, she’d never actually heard of a sylph giving birth. Did all sylphs (cloud shepherds) start out as humans?
She’d always wondered why the younger sylphs seemed so human while the older ones, like Mother and Father Cloud, seemed so, well, not-human. The oldest sylph, the one known as Great-Grandfather Cloud (only younger sylphs have names), had no body at all, just a wandering set of eye holes. Other than that, he was indistinguishable from his cloud, and seemed to like it that way—if a sylph could be said to “like” anything, for the goal of all sylphs is to rise above temporal feelings, just as they rise above the earth.
All sylphs but Liulah, that is. Letting go of Zack had been the hardest thing she’d ever done. On the one hand, it seemed appropriately sylph-like to release something she cared about—care was attachment, and attachment was bad. On the other hand, she’d done it for the wrong reason: it had been for Zack’s sake, not her own, and far from feeling detached or peaceful, she’d felt horribly empty inside. But maybe, she thought, I can be cured.
There was a daily non-gathering for young sylphs. Liulah had gone to it regularly at one point, but the Facilitator had suggested she stay away until she developed an appropriate sense of detachment. Now, ironically, Liulah thought she might be able to gain a sense of detachment by attending the non-event.
By the time she arrived at the nimbulous chamber, a dozen young cloud shepherds were already there. They ranged from early to late teens. Most were staring placidly, enjoying being in the presence of others while remaining completely unaffected, but a few were speaking softly among themselves. Liulah knew she should emulate the detached ones, but she couldn’t help herself; she ambled over to the conversation group and sat down.
“Mmmm, I feel so deliciously alone,” a thick-bodied female susurrated.
“Keep it to yourself,” a willow-thin boy whispered.
“If you were truly experiencing your own peace,” a bluish female corrected, “you wouldn’t even have noticed hers.”
“I said it for the benefit of those who have not yet arrived at the level I’ve attained.”
“Shhhh, I’m forgetting…” the original speaker admonished. Silence ensued for several minutes. Finally the bluish female opened her eyes and said:
“Yes, what?” the boy inquired with urgent disinterest.
“Now you have to tell us,” a fourth girl said, “so that we can forget about it too.”
“Rain it, girl!” Liulah blurted. The others shot offended glances at her.
“Well, yesterday,” the thick-bodied female said, “a human was seen falling from the sky into the Frengan Light Forest!”
There was a collective gasp. The boy said, “Falling from the sky? But that’s imposs—“
“Shhhhh! Quietude!” the Facilitator impered.
“Girl or boy?” Liulah demanded. Disinterested heads popped up all around.
“G…girl, I think,” the thick-bodied female replied. “All humans look the same.“
“It’s Gina!” Liulah screamed. She, jumped to her feet and ran across the chamber, shouting, “It’s Zack’s sister!” Then she let out a piercing, “Woo-hoo!” a noise no sylph had ever made before, and jovially explained, “That’s what humans do! You all used to be human, you know!” She exploded out of the chamber through the cloud wall.
After a few moments of stunned silence, the Facilitator made a gesture with her finger tips to symbolize removing troublesome thoughts from their minds and throwing them away. The young sylphs nodded and quickly re-entered the stream of perfect peace. Only now the quietude was even more delicious…
Because now they had something really juicy to forget.
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Thoughts: Have you ever concluded that your system of beliefs (or non-beliefs) might be founded on falsehoods? If so, what did you do about it?
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