Image by Henry & Co.
The moment Zack wished himself home his downward plunge ceased, his head jerked upward, his feet pointed downward, and he shot up into the sky. His fall into Ismara had been weird, but nothing compared to this. After all, he’d fallen down before, but he’d never fallen up. His lips peeled back in an involuntary grin and his eyes acquired the shape of reverse teardrops; his elongated body ripped through the clouds as he rocketed upward. Once again, he caught a glimpse of a sweet girlish face as he passed through a particularly thick cloud. But before she could say anything, he was gone.
His return trip took a fraction of the time his fall had. His theory was that the initial plunge had broken a whole gob of natural laws, so his return “flight” was a sort of reset.
The final second was the freakiest of all. Looking up, he saw the bottom of the Wishing Map with all its words in reverse, and beyond it the ceiling of Gina’s bedroom; it was like looking out from inside a mirror.
And then he popped up through the Map. He thought for a moment he’d ripped it, but he hadn’t, he’d simply squeezed through a glowing blue circle, and then stopped. It felt like when a roller coaster comes to a halt. Only his body didn’t lurch; instead, it re-gathered itself into the position it had been in just before he left, almost as if it didn’t know it had been gone. There was a vacuum beneath him, like a tide sucking at his feet. And then everything was quiet, except for the groaning of Gina’s medieval box fan.
It was a sticky August evening, just as it had been when he’d left yesterday. He was trembling from a mix of strained muscles, frozen skin, and residual fear. He collapsed onto his knees and began hugging the tongue-in-groove floorboards. “Good old floor!” he laughed as he petted the wood. It smelled of home and Mom and all things clean and lemony.
He looked at the clock beside Gina’s bed: 5:32. Huh? Seven minutes after he’d left yesterday. He wasn’t sure why, but it occurred to him that it might actually be yesterday. Everything seemed the same: Gina’s room, Gina’s clock, Gina’s box fan. But something was different, something was missing…
Before he could examine this fact, Mom called up the stairs: “Gina? Zacky? Your dad’s running late, so we’re going to be irresponsible parents and feed you popcorn for dinner!” She giggled. “And Dad’s going to pick up some root beer from Crullers!”
Zack forced his brain to process: What to do? Act as though he didn’t just hurl through space and hadn’t almost had his leg bitten off by a giant bird!
“Zacky? Gina? Are you—?”
“Good! Twenty minutes, OK?”
Why weren’t Momandad freaking out? If he’d been gone since yesterday there would have been cops all over the place, and Gina would be trying to explain to them how her brother had fallen into a giant map and—wait.
“What day is it?”
Mom chortled, “Has being out of school rotted your brain?”
“It’s Friday, silly.”
“Is Gina down there?”
“No, she’s with you, goofball. What’s your surprise?”
“Gina, what’s the surprise you were talking about?”
Zack answered in his Gina-voice: “Um…if I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise.”
Amazingly, Mom bought it. “OK, you two. Be downstairs in twenty minutes, and don’t forget to wash up.”
So it was still yesterday, and only a few minutes had passed since he’d fallen into the Map! But where was Gina? Had she fallen into the Map too? No. He’d seen the look on her face when he started to disappear. She’d tumbled back on her bed and—aha! He jumped up and ran around to the other side of her bed. But there was no Gina waiting to shout, “Gotcha!” Only the remains of her latte, now well-soaked into the comforter.
No, no, no, no! This was massively bad! Zack walked back to the front of the bed, and then he saw the note peeking out from under the edge of the Map:
“Zack: Went to find you in Map.”
Thoughts: Have you ever been in a situation so unique there was simply no way to determine what to do?
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