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January 28, 2018

6. Where The Earth Meets The Sky

We’re walking in the air, We’re floating in the moonlit sky, The people far below are sleeping as we fly, 

We’re walking in the air, We’re dancing in the midnight sky, And everyone who sees us greets us as we fly.

“Walking in the Air” by Howard Blake

* * *

The boy missed his mother. She was nearly all he thought about.

The wind blew the hills of grass in waves, an ocean of green. It was a beautiful spring day with huge clouds gracing the sky. The sun was friendly and near. Towers of white fluff on foundations of a crisp blue. In casual steps he stretched his fresh legs through the warm grass. His hair shifted in the whispering breeze.

He didn’t know how long he’d been walking but it didn’t occur to him to stop or rest. He felt like he’d only just began his journey.

The grass began to give way to moments of rock and less forgiving ground. Some hills in the distance came closer and were suddenly within his next steps. He saw the mouth of a cave and approached it.

The cave exhaled cool air. It throbbed and hummed with a life of its own. Standing at the entrance, he could feel the cave was more than stone—somehow it seemed alive.

The boy stepped in and heard the noise of the stones under foot echo and echo down the long, vacant chamber. He was fearless and took every step as confident as if it were the spring grass under foot.

He looked back as if it regain his sense of direction. There was only forward or back. He moved onward.

As he walked carefully through the cave, avoiding uneven rocks, he saw the tunnel seem to narrow and tighten further down. The air became cooler and continued to move in breaths and waves. He looked back at his entrance and it seemed so small to him now. He must have been walking these precarious rocks longer than he thought. He kept his eyes mostly down to watch his steps. His eyes had mostly adjusted but he could not trust himself to simply look up and ahead.

He did look up. And realized there was an end. Some finality to his little excursion through this cave. But it was light. This was some tunnel, not a cave deeper into the earth.

As he approached the exit, a soft mist curled around his feet. It was so white and pure he thought of how people describe a white light at the of a tunnel and he thought about death. He thought of his mother.

He made a full exit of the cave and into the whiteness before taking a true look at his new surroundings. He was no longer in a cave or outside but now he found himself in a cloud. This must be a thick fog he thought to himself. Condensation and fog behavior is a strange thing. But he considered himself in a cloud.

He walked a bit further out, away from the cave and toward a clearing in the fog. He stopped abruptly and audibly gasped. He was now nearly 10,000 feet off the ground. The fog did not sit on the surface of the ground but this was a real cloud—in the sky. And he was in it. He crouched low and composed himself. Close to the ground he realized there were no rocks or grass or moss but only more cloud. More fog.

This must be a dream, he thought to himself. This can’t be real. He pinched the soft flesh just under his eyes and it stung. He was not dreaming.

Once inside the cloud was mostly featureless. Being inside a cloud was just as beautiful as seeing it from the ground, only with less visibility from all the wispiness around. The fog obscured most of the immaculate view. The boy again ventured closer to the edge to see the landscape. Could he see his house from here? Perhaps he could see his mother from here.

After only a moment he realized the cloud was moving—as it should. Nonetheless it was startling to see yourself slowly floating away from home on a cloud. He began to panic. He was now inside a beautiful cloud floating away from home with no control or way to get back home. Again he thought of his mother. All he could do was rest. The cloud was a womb of comfort; he laid his head on the softness of the cloud and quickly fell into a deep sleep.

He awoke rested and relaxed. He knew his condition but felt much more confident and capable than when he fell asleep. Standing, he looked around at his little cloud airship. It had grown, or expanded, or something. His cloud had become an enormous mansion of puff and wisps. He understood he truly needed to get home.

He decided to take another glance at the land below to understand his surroundings. But he was over water now. A vast body of water. As he had been sleeping the cloud had crossed all sorts of lands and water and was now approaching a new coast. He could see the ground appear closer than before—perhaps they were descending.

The cool air in the cloud had warmed a bit. The water below was a beautiful azure as some of the whitecaps crashed on the shore. There was a certain serenity in this new atmosphere. Across the new body of land he could see lush greenery climbing high rock walls that separated the beach and coastline from the rest of the land. Beyond the green flora the boy could see brown and tan begin to consume the landscape. Where the green began to taper, the monochromatic desert began to rule the view.

They had quickly passed over the coastline and were approaching this desert landscape. It seemed endless even from so high in the cloud.

As the boy wondered how he might get home from his helpless position the sight of some strange animals on the land caught his eye. Camels. About twelve in a neat line. The boy laid on his belly, propped his chin on his elbow, and stared at their unique shape and beauty. Their humps were enormous—they must have just filled up on water, he thought.

The cloud descended even further and the approached the camels. The boy realized he could see the hairs on the camel’s backs they were so close. He got a little closer to the edge—the nearest to the edge he had been so far. So close to these camels! Without thinking he threw his legs over the side and his body followed. He leapt softly off the safety of the enormous cloud and onto the forgiving back of the last camel in this organized line. It gave a little huff acknowledging the boy but did not skip a step.

The boy looked over his shoulder at the cloud he had just left. His eyes widened. It was incredibly high in the sky. How had he jumped from such a distance? He looked forward, down the line of camels and relaxed his shoulders. He leaned forward on the massive neck of the camel and again, dozed off.

He was falling. He could feel it. The weightlessness. Fear clutched him. Thud.

He opened his startled eyes to instantly realized he had only fallen a few feet from the camel’s back and onto the soft and hot sand. The sand stuck lightly to his sweaty arms. The camels were passing a brick-lined water well in this unending landscape and did not seem bothered to leave the boy behind. A real water well. Some antique well in the middle of the desert. Had this been abandoned or was this frequently used? How could he tell?

Water. The boy was utterly parched and had not realized how hungry or thirsty he was until he saw the well. The camels moved on uninterrupted.

The boy moved closer to the well. He thought of a long drink of cool, fresh water. He looked down into the well and only saw a dark hole. No water was immediately evident. There was a wooden frame that attached to a crank, some rope, and—presumably—a bucket submerged in water.

With nothing to lose and wanting to press onward, the boy secured a hand on the wooden frame and put his legs over the side of the well. He pull the rope taut and began a slow descent into the inverted chimney. 

He thought he could hear the softness of water below. He felt a cool breeze blow from below—it vividly reminded him of the coolness that blew from the cave. The rope swung and swayed lightly as he descended. The weight of the boy lightly moved from side to side as he nimbly moved downward. But then it simply leaned toward one side. He could effectively walk down one of the walls until it eventually leaned so much he felt like he was crawling. He was crawling. This was strange. The boy had descended a well and now felt himself moving laterally, on his hands and knees through a brick-laid tunnel. And just like the cave, the darkness at the end of the well had turned into a light. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. He crawled forward.

The boy could feel the temperature drop. He had been sweating in the desert, the well had cooled him off, and now he was getting cold. The sweat on his skin was evaporating and dropping his temperature. And the well had gone from cool to very cold. The stone siding along the well had also gone ice cold. His fingers felt the pain.

The end was very near and he realized he was now climbing up. The sidelong tunnel had tilted further upward that he was using the bricks as footholds. His hands clambered up the sides for any purchase.

What started as a simple descent for water had inflated into a complicated and exhausting climb for life. And finally his hand reach up and over and edge. His other hand reached up and pulled his weight onto flat land. His hands were covered in snow. The land all about was frozen and a light drift of snow was falling all around. He stood up and took a deep breath. His exhale wafted away as some bygone white ghost. 

He thought of his mother.

His only option in the vast emptiness was to walk. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, he knew that. So on he walked toward a setting sun, westward.

His legs began to truly feel the weight of his body and his lungs began to sting from the unforgiving temperature. Minimal wind is a kindness in the biting cold. He remembered the dry heat of the desert and dreamt of sweating again one day.

He approached the edge of land where the dark water lazily lapped up on the edge of the icy land. Just off the land there were several small bodies of ice floe. He looked around. He thought back to where he had just been and where he had come from. He turned back around and gauged the little patches of floating ice. 

The boy picked one out and made two giant leaps to land one it. The ice patch wobbled and settled even and drifted away from the mainland. Ever so slowly it caught a current that pulled it out into the larger ocean.

His lungs strained and his body ached. He had traveled so far. His little hands were blistered and sore. The ice was cold but the sun shone bright. He looked up at the sun and thought of the little darknesses that had turned to small light—and how that light had grown into true lightness. The sun was now warm on the boy’s face. He smiled. Flat on his back he closed his eyes and fell into a comfortable and relaxed sleep.

Here he was with her.

This simple story has seen many iterations in my notebooks. In most versions, a boy climbs a tree and hops on a cloud that takes him for a ride around the world to different climates and seeing different wildlife. I never quite had a proper conflict or character to develop. In another version I wrote from the perspective of the cloud, descending to earth to pick up the boy to take him on an adventure.

I would like to further explore this story so I might rewrite it and post another—very different—version one day.