Image by Ben Kane
After kidnapping Zack, Liulah the cloud shepherd decided to restore his humanness before it was too late.
Zack gave no real resistance, because nothing really mattered. He smiled blithely as Liulah dragged him back to the place where she’d first yanked him into her world.
“Hey, this is where you drive your cloud, isn’t it?” he said. “Oooo, can I do it? I mean, I don’t have a license, but—”
“Shut up! I have to think. Let me look at you.” Liulah grabbed his ears and pulled his face within an inch of hers.
Zack sprouted a louppish grin.
“Good. Your eyes aren’t completely skyfull.” She looked down at his arms. There were patches of red jacket still showing through his cloud garment. “Maybe you can go back.”
“Back to Mother and Father Cloud?”
“No! You have a sister, Zagg! Try to remember. You have to remember!”
“Oh, yeah. But, wait, you’re my sister, right? Even though that’s kinda weird because when I look at you I feel—”
“No!” Liulah slapped him hard across the face. “I’m not your sister!”
“Ow, Gina! That totally hurt!”
“Yes, Gina, your sister’s name was Gina! And I’m Liulah. Remember?”
“No. Maybe. Sorta. But it doesn’t matter—nothing matters.”
“Yes it does! You have to save your sister and go back up or down to wherever it is you came from!”
“What? No! This is my home and you can’t make me leave!”
“But, you…” Liulah began shoving him in the direction of the nearest hole.
“Stop it, Gina! I mean Liulah!” Zack floated toward her like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade blimp.
He grabbed her shoulders, then flipped himself over her head and glided down onto his bottom behind her.
Liulah whirled around, seized him by the hair, and started dragging him toward the hole. “I don’t want you to go, but you have to!” Mist was forming in her eyes.
“No I don’t!” Zack grabbed her wrists and yanked as hard as he could. She rolled head-first over his chest and landed on her feet in front of him. He jumped up. “Gina…” he began. “I mean, no, Liulah – why do I keep forgetting—?”
And then she kissed him.
On the mouth.
It only lasted four seconds. But they were the gigantic-est four seconds of Zack’s life. His eyes doubled in size. He stepped back, looked at the glowing cloud girl, and in a voice half an octave lower said, “I have to find my sister, and you are definitely not my sister.”
“No, I’m not,” she replied, her cheeks flushing like a creamsickle sunrise.
Liulah steered her cloud back to the place where she’d kidnapped him, during which time Zack’s memory slowly returned: he recalled his old clapboard house, his real mother and father…and his recurring vision of the dark-cowled Tinkurs. Then he remembered how he’d determined to save Gina no matter what, even if it meant losing his leg!
When Liulah’s cloud stopped, they stood staring at one another for a long time. Zack finally broke the silence: “Well, I gotta go.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
“I don’t…” Seeing the rain in her eyes, Zack stopped talking and hugged her instead. She melted into him as though she were trying to become a part of him. It was the strangest sensation he’d ever felt. He slowly pulled away, then stepped into a hole and went…
Thoughts: They say love makes you crazy. But sometimes it has the opposite effect. Sometimes it reminds you who you really are.
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