Photo by Johannes Plenio
Zack was turning into a cloud shepherd, and in the process had forgotten about finding his lost sister.
He’d embraced the change. And yet somewhere in the deepest part of his mind he knew he was sacrificing something—or someone—in exchange for security and pleasure; he just couldn’t remember who.
They played for two days straight. Not that they sensed it. Sylphs don’t experience time like humans do, Liulah the cloud shepherd explained. Neither do they sleep. But they do think, and sometime during the second day, Liulah seemed to be thinking very hard. She spoke the word “sister” over and over again. Then she said “brother,” and in an instant some long-lost synaptic pilot light seemed to pop on.
“Hey!” she screamed as she jerked Zack out of the air and threw him to the ground. “You said you had a sister, and I think I had a brother once!” Speaking the word aloud almost seemed to cause her physical pain. “I shouldn’t have taken you. I just wanted someone to play with.”
“I know,” Zack glissed as he jumped up beside her, “and I love it! So now we can play forever and no one will ever try and stop us or make us act like grown-ups! We can—”
“What’s your sister’s name?”
“Your sister. What’s your sister’s name?”
“Oh…uh…I forget. It’s not important.”
“Yes, it is! You said you came here to save her!”
“I did? Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. Now we can play forev—”
Liulah grabbed Zack’s arm and dragged him across the cumulus courtyard into a misty gray chamber, the floor squishing beneath their feet as they walked. Then she stopped and threw out her light-staff. It became flat and dotted with spikes. She pressed it into the floor. Zack heard a SLOOOOSH like the sound of a bathtub emptying, and noticed the floor growing whiter and dryer.
“Did you just make it rain?”
“Uh-huh.” She grabbed his arm again and began pulling him down a long hallway.
“But what about thunder and lightning? Don’t you need those to—”
“‘Dunder and lyning?’ No one has that kind of magic.”
“The Gerdan Tinkurs tried to make dunder and lyning once. Father Cloud said they almost destroyed the Kingdom of Gerd trying! That’s why we’re here: the sylphs move the clouds and make it rain. ‘Dunder and lyning!’ Those are just myths. Rain can’t make itself, you know!”
“It does in Middleton. Hey, I think maybe I was from there once.”
“Well, Miggletom must be more magical than here.” Liulah grew sullen again. She pointed out a hole. About thirty miles away was a mountainous stack of cumulonimbus. “We have to go there!”
Liulah hurled her light-staff across the sky. It arced like a rainbow and then hooked into the immense cloud formation. Zack felt a jolt as they began sailing toward the Matterhorn of mist. A minute later they bumped into the larger cloud like a dinghy docking against an ocean liner.
“Cool!” Zack said. “This’ll be an awesome place to play!”
“No it won’t! My parents live here.”
“‘Parents?’ Hey, I think remember those…”
Liulah grabbed Zack’s face and pulled it toward hers. There was rain in her eyes. “I had a brother once!”
“So what? That’s not important because—”
“Yes, it is! And you have a sister! What’s her name? Think!” She stared at him, as if willing him to remember.
“G…Gina. Her name was Gina. Wait, was or is? I’m not sure. Why can’t I remember?”
“Because you’re turning into a sylph!”
Zack fell backward, but he didn’t drop to the ground like a skinny almost-thirteen-year-old human, he floated down and stuck – like a sylph. He glanced at his arm and noticed that his red jacket was almost completely gone, replaced by a garment of cloud. “Cool!”
“No! It’s not ‘gool,’ it’s bad! And it’s my fault!” Liulah jerked him to his feet and dragged him through the cloud wall into the interior…
Of the mountainous cloud next door.
Thoughts: Have you ever manipulated someone, and then felt remorse? Did you fix that bridge? Or did you burn it?
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