While searching for his sister, Zack had been snatched by the exuberant cloud shepherd Liulah. Now she was pointing down at a high mountain village below.
The view was impossibly clear: Zack could see alpine houses built into boulders and extended out over nothingness, and the moving shapes of the village’s citizens. They’d come out of their houses to watch a lone stranger dressed in a cowled cloak moving down the main street.
As the figure passed, they bowed deeply, offering gifts of bread and toogle (Gerdan beer). One woman held up her baby; the cloaked figure patted it on its head and moved on. The woman dropped to her knees, kissing the baby as though it were now worth more. All Zack could see of the stranger’s face was a glint of gold. Could he be made of metal?
Zack’s mind was suddenly assaulted by images of cloaked figures cutting open living animals with violet gold 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.
“Nothing.” The vision had instantly vanished, along with the sense of urgency he’d felt.
“Oh, look, a louppdag!”
Liulah thrust out her creamsickle-colored light-staff, hooked it onto a bank of fog, and pulled her cloud closer to the ground. The louppdag was tending a flock of winged sheep-like loupps that flitted from rock to rock, grazing on spiky plants, the loupps’ velcro-y pelts harvesting the wooly blossoms as they went.
But Zack’s eyes were drawn back to the cloaked figure’s metallic face—it was some sort of mask or helmet. “Who is tha…?” Before he could finish, Liulah had hooked her light-staff into another cloud and begun pulling them southward. Zack watched as the crestline came into view. At this elevation the trees were like muscular wind-blown sculptures, trimmed with glaucous green needles.
“I like to look at trees,” said Liulah said. “I see faces in them!”
“Hah!” Zack reacted. “That’s totally demented! I like to lie on the ground with my sister, uh, what’s-her-name”—why couldn’t remember her name?—”and see faces in the clouds! I always thought how cool it would be to walk around in them, and now I am!”
Liulah stared at Zack as though he’d jarred some disturbing memory in her, but then her face brightened. “Are trees solid, or do they only look solid because they’re far away?”
Zack burst out laughing. “Duh, trees are as solid as you and me!” His voice trailed off as he caught sight of his own hand. It was becoming pale like Liulah’s, and a garment of cloud was slowly replacing his red snow jacket.
“Look, I’m changing!” he chortled, then jumped up and began experimenting to see how many summersaults he could do. He’d forgotten altogether about his sister…
Thought: Have you ever changed, for good or for bad, and only later realized you’d ceased to be who you were before?
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