Photo by Corey Rich
Zack was about to die! How had it happened? He’d been standing on the Map in his sister’s room and— That was it! He must have fallen through the Map into Ismara! But why would Aunt Aloysia give them something that would kill them?
Just then, he caught sight of a substance whiter and more solid than clouds. Snow. On mountains. The most massive and beautiful mountains he’d ever seen. He’d once heard the Himalayas referred to as “the rooftop of the world.” These must be the rooftop of the rooftop! he thought.
That was stupid. He wouldn’t repeat that to anyone, especially Gina. If he lived. Which he wouldn’t. In a few seconds he’d be frappéd on some cold, blue mountain top. “Heeeeeeeeeeelp! Auuunt Aloysiaaaaaaaa!” It felt like his throat was being dredged with a fork. Shrieking with pain, he clutched his neck, let out a string of sobs, and began grabbing at the sky again. Only by now he’d lost any hope of slowing his descent, so it was only a pantomime, the final desperate dumbshow of a dying boy.
Feeling twice as cold as before, he looked down at the cobalt blue mountains, and thought, with the resolve of a lunatic, If I could only be warm, I’d be OK with dying.
The cerulean peaks thrust violently upward at him. And then, as if going from fast forward to play, his body began to stall. And before he could even fully comprehend what was happening, he’d landed, feet first, on a rocky outcropping.
It was like stepping down onto frozen stone with bare feet. No, not “like,” it was stepping down onto frozen stone with bare feet. Ow! If only he’d had his sneakers on. Ow! If only he’d had anything on! Ow!
It suddenly occurred to him that he was whimpering over sore tootsies when just a moment ago he’d expected to be smashed into a trillion pieces. “Hah-hah-hah-hah-hah…!”
His relieved-happy-crazy laugh pinballed across the rooftop of the rooftop of the world. Even though laughing hurt, he didn’t care: his raw throat was proof he was still alive. Alive after being certain he was going to die! He threw out his arms and rasped, “Yes!!!!!!!!! I’m ali…”
He didn’t finish because the moment he flung open his arms, he lost his balance, and when he put his foot back to catch himself, there was nothing there!
I just fell like ten thousand miles! What could a few thousand more feet matter? Plenty. He sensed this was different, that if he fell this time he’d die for real. He threw himself onto his bare chest and grabbed the snow-spattered strata in front of him. His lower body was hanging over the edge. Of what? He pulled himself forward, scraping his elbows and knees in the process, and then got up and turned around. Oh, a ledge.
A 19,000 foot high ledge! He moved away, afraid the icy shelf would break off and take him with it. He turned. By the light of the double moon he could just make out a big half ring made of sticks and rocks. It looked sort of sacred, religious, except half of it had fallen away, the missing half he’d stepped back onto a moment ago!
Just beyond this half-a-holy-place he could see a big bowl-like area padded with straw and dry grass. It must have been forty or fifty feet across. It looked thick and deep and warm. Zack suddenly remembered how cold he was. He may have survived death by falling, but if he didn’t get warm soon he’d experience death by freezing!
He dove into the straw. The deeper he burrowed, the warmer he got. About three feet beneath the surface he touched something that felt like sticks. In the straw-filtered moonlight, he could see that they were white and smooth and brittle — like bones.
He should have been concerned, but his brain and body were too exhausted to…anything. He needed to shut down. Right now. Just before he went into hibernation, Zack pulled a long, warm object over himself. It was soft but stiff, like a heavily starched towel, or jeans, or…a feather.
A feather the size of a surfboard.
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Thoughts: Have you ever thought you were going to die, then experienced a sudden reversal of fate, and rediscovered how wonderful life is?