Flight - by Andy Bain

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Scott has a secret: he can fly. After the deaths of his parents and brother, however, he doesn't use his gift. He can't bring himself to be happy while his brother is dead. He just continues existing, unmotivated and apathetic, consumed with sorrow.
Then, an energetic, cheerful girl named Sophie barges into his life...

Submitted: May 15, 2012

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Submitted: May 15, 2012

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Flight

The Story of Me, the Flying Boy

Nobody ever looks up. They all go about their day with their heads down and their eyes and ears closed. They don’t notice the amazing patterns in the clouds, the majestic birds, or the boy flying over their heads. Well, it helps that I’m very speedy when I fly. I once flew as fast as I could past one of those radar speed signs, the ones that tell cars how fast they’re going, to figure out my top speed, and it said I went 42 MPH! Of course I can’t use my ability in races because I’ll be noticed. People are unobservant, not blind. Some people are blind, but they usually pay attention to everything. Phillip’s Phillip was blind. He’s He was my older brother. He couldn’t see, but he was so sensitive that he could detect people by their body heat, if they got close enough, or by their sound the rest of the time. Unfortunately, that didn’t help him avoid the drunk driver who knocked him off the bridge with his car. There’s a river with a small bridge for cars and pedestrians to cross over it. The drunk guy was driving on the sidewalk and Phillip didn’t have enough time to move out of the way before the car pushed him up and over the rail. I watched him fall, in the panic forgetting that he couldn’t fly as I could and wondering why he wasn’t saving himself. I haven’t gone for a joyflight since the funeral. I used to spend my free time after school exploring the skies, and once I found an awesome tunnel in the mountain that was inaccessible to all but the most reckless and expert mountain climbers. The mountain must have been one of those an extinct volcanoe volcano ones that are empty in the middle a batholith*, because after only a minute of flying through what I thought was a cave, I came out the other side. There was light shining down from a hole in the mountain and the walls were lined with crystals. It was like being in a giant jeode geode, but with light. The ground was covered in crystal graval gravel. I didn’t land because I didn’t want to cut my feet, and I never fly with shoes on because it’s more comfortable without them, so I was barefoot. The crystals gave the light their colors colored the light, so being in the room was like being in a rainbow fog, but without any of the dampness or other sensations that you get when you fly or walk through fog. But I don’t fly for fun anymore. I can’t get the image of Phillip out of my head, falling, unable to fly and save himself. If he couldn’t fly when it did matter, why should I fly when it doesn’t? Now, I only fly to get home. I live in a treehouse that I built myself. There’s no way up to it except to fly. People on the ground would probably wonder how the house got up there, but they never look up.

I looked at my clock and decided that it was too late to continue writing. It’s an old alarm clock, no plugs or batteries required. Phillip gave it to me after Mom and Dad both died in that train wreck so I would be able to wake myself up to fly to my elementary school on the late start days when Phillip was already at his middle school and couldn’t wake me up at home. I put my book-in-progress in my nightstand drawer with a note to check the library for the real name for the cavern. I knew it wasn’t batholith, and I wanted the story to be perfect. Phillip deserved it to be that way. I closed the treehouse windows and roof door, and reached for my blanket before I remembered that I had thrown it away. It had gotten wet when the roof leaked in the rain and some worms had burrowed into it. I was lucky it was summer time. In the winter, it gets so cold at night that I probably would have gotten frostbite without my blanket. I still had my pillow, though, and my pajamas were thick. I curled up tight on the wood floor, reached out and turned off my camp lantern, and fell asleep.

The next day started out as a completely normal day. My alarm clock rang and woke me up. I got out of bed, opened the roof door, and flew to the waterfall. The small town I live in is at the base of a mountain. I’ve flown over every inch of it. There’s a small alcove a little ways up the side, only a few minutes away from my treehouse, with a tiny trickle of a waterfall. I flew there to shower, and then flew back, drying myself and my wet pajamas in the wind. I laid my pajamas on the roof to dry and changed into my day clothes. I would probably have to clean them in a few days. Then I floated to the ground and started walking.

“Yo, little buddy! How ya doin’?” Jeremy waved to me as I entered the diner. Since I don’t have parents or a kitchen for myself, I always get breakfast there. Jeremy was a cool guy, I guess. He gives me free meals because I don’t have parents and because I stop by after school to do his cleanup shift for him. Even when school’s out, I come back to help. He’s usually pretty cool, but whenever his friends are around, he turns into a jerk. Yesterday his buddies stopped by and thought it would be funny to keep tripping me while I was cleaning. Then Jeremy tossed a tablecloth over my head so I couldn’t see and I ran into a window and smeared food from the half-empty plates onto it. He kept spraying me with window cleaner when my back was turned while I was cleaning the mess.

“Hey Jeremy.”

“What’ll it be, Scotty?” I hate being called Scotty. Phillip called me that. I won’t let anyone else.

“My name is Scott.” I muttered under my breath. I didn’t want to directly challenge him, and he wasn’t intentionally bothering me. He probably thought that it was just a cool nickname. He probably thought I appreciated it. Out loud, I said, “The usual.”

“All right, one hot chocolate, side of toast, and scrambled eggs coming up!”

“Don’t forget the syrup.”

“You got it! Scrambled eggs with syrup, coming up!” I went and sat in my corner booth. The diner was pretty empty. There were two tables with groups of old people sitting at them, but I didn’t see anyone my age, but I wasn’t really looking anyway. It turns out there was someone my age there. A girl with long, brown, curly hair and a huge smile approached me. She was tiny and had a very bouncy type of walk, as if she had the energy of four hyperactive kindergarteners contained in her small body.

“Hi!” she announced brightly. “I’ve seen you here before. Why do you always sit alone?”

I gave a short reply. “Because I am alone.” I thought that if I just kept my answers short and didn’t look up, she would leave.

She didn’t leave. Instead, she sat down and leaned forward. She was constantly moving, tilting her head, curling her hair around her finger, sitting up straight and then leaning forward again. “Well, why don’t you come with friends?”

“I don’t have friends.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t need them.”

“Yes you do. Everybody needs friends! You should smile more! That way people will want to talk to you. I’ve seen you here every day and you never smile. I bet you’re an interesting person. What’s your favorite animal?”

She spoke very quickly. Before I knew what I was doing, I found myself saying, “Eagles. I like eagles. Their wings are so powerful, the way they hit the wind. They hit at the wind, you know. A lot people think that birds just magically float, but they actually have to use a lot of strength to fly.”

“Wow!” she breathed. Most people use that word to mean “I wasn’t really paying attention and that wasn’t too interesting, so please move on to something cooler,” but she seemed genuinely impressed. “I never thought of that! I like birds too. I hanglide, so I know how they feel being so high up in the sky. It’s so beautiful! It’s an amazing feeling to soar without opposition, although it’s also cool when you have to fight the wind, and you can see all the details of the clouds and the ground and the birds and planes and houses and…” she continued talking sky to me. I realized that I was smiling. I was surprised. I couldn’t remember smiling since Phillip died. I quickly stifled my smile. She froze mid run-on sentence. “Why did you do that?” she asked accusatorily. “You were smiling. Then you stopped. Why?” I honestly did not have an answer.

“So…” I started, “how long have you known how to hanglide?”

“Since I was five. I’ve been flying for five years.”

“So you’re ten.”

“Yep! How ‘bout you?”

“Eleven.”

“Cool!” Just then, my Jeremy came with my food.

“Hey, looks like you’ve got a little girlfriend, Scotty!” He laughed and walked back to the counter to serve the couple that had just walked in.

“Ooh! Scrambled eggs and syrup! That looks delicious! Can I try some?”

“Sure.” I replied dully.

I slowly ate my toast. She snatched a bite of my scrambled eggs and wolfed it down, proclaimed it delicious, and then proceeded to devour the rest. I didn’t mind. I wasn’t that hungry anyway. I was more focused on the strange girl. Suddenly, she jumped up and said, “Well, I’ve got to go! Remember, smile! You look cuter when you do.”

She was gone before I could even ask her name. I sat there for a while. For the first time in a long time, I started to really think. I had been living on autopilot ever since Phillip died, existing but not observing. I just followed my routine without thinking much about anything. This girl had jarred me out of my stupor. Jeremy came over and cleared my plate and cup. He must have seen me lost in thought. “So, I guess you’re really in love, huh?” he teased. I was too busy thinking to let it bother me. Also, I was used to his gentle jibes. “What’s her name?”

“I don’t know.”

Phillip took care of me after my parents died. They died in a train wreck. Four other people were injured, but no one else died. The news reports said it was a miracle. I don’t agree. A miracle would have my parents still alive. A miracle would have been not having a crash in the first place. It was a really bad crash

I stopped writing. “It was a really bad crash,” I said to myself out loud. That phrase was weak. I dropped my head into my hands and tried to focus. I can think in big words, but for some inexplicable reason I can never get them onto paper. There had to be something different that I could write.

It was a really bad crash. It was a horrible, tragic disaster. There was a picture in the newspaper that showed pieces of the train everywhere. It looked like a bomb had blown up inside it. It had crashed because someone had put a piece of wood on the tracks, and when the train hit it, it pushed it forward until it spun and caught on a piece of track and turned up twisted upwards and jammed a wheel. The train went off the tracks. The engine burrowed into the ground while the cars detached and tumbled away. The investigators estimated that the car my parents had been in rolled 39 times. They didn’t know why the wood was on the tracks.

That’s how I lost my parents. I still had Phillip, though. He was a good fantastic older brother. He taught me how to take care of myself when he wasn’t around. It’s a good thing he did, because now he’s “not around” for good.

I tried to plan out my next sentences, how to write about the things that Phillip did for me, but my mind wouldn’t work. I started to get angry. I needed to make this perfect! My parents deserve it. Phillip deserves it! Why can’t I write well? Frustrated, I slammed the paper and pencil back in its drawer and rammed it shut. For some reason, my thoughts wandered back to the mystery girl at the diner. Somehow, she had made my thoughts clear and mixed up all at the same time. I had talked more to her than I had to anyone else since Phillip’s funeral. I felt ridiculous for letting my guard down. It made me mad. Who gave her permission to trick me into talking? But as I turned off my camp lantern, I couldn’t stop another thought from zooming around my head. Why was my guard up in the first place? What am I protecting? As I fell asleep, her words echoed in my mind. “You were smiling. Then you stopped. Why?”

The next morning was a Sunday, when I make my weekly flight. After my standard morning routine of showering and getting dressed and everything, I took off out the roof door and flew towards the top of the mountain. On the way, I swooped down low and skimmed the grass growing in a little outcropping to grab a flower. I kept flying around the mountain until I found two more, and then I continued upwards.

The graveyard was empty. I landed next the Phillip’s gravestone and set a flower down among the twenty-five others that were already there. I put the other two on my parents’ gravestones. There were two piles of flowers by each one. One was Phillip’s and one was mine. We couldn’t keep adding flowers every week because the mound of flowers would grow bigger than the gravestones, so we just replaced the oldest one with a new one. Phillip was the one who came up with the idea of weekly visits with flowers. He had lots of ideas like that. He knew how to make everything special. Before we would leave, Phillip and I would always say “You’re still with us” to the gravestones. Four months later, I was still replacing my piles. I left Phillip’s piles alone. Even though they were dying, his flowers reminded me of the things we’d done together, and he hadn’t left behind many other tangible things for me to remember him by, so every little thing he had left was special to me. I turned to the three gravestones and whispered, “You’re still with me.” Then I flew away, not planning on returning until the next Sunday came.

This time, the moment I entered the diner I saw her. She was sitting in my corner booth. She was eating scrambled eggs with syrup. “What’s up, Scotty? The usual again?” Jeremy greeted me. I nodded, not paying much attention to him, still staring at the girl. She was playing with her hair. I walked halfway to my booth and stopped, unsure. There were plenty of other empty booths, but that one was mine. It was my little isolated territory, one of only a few constants in my life. But now she was there, and I didn’t know what to do. I knew I didn’t want a different booth, because that one was mine, but I was also apprehensive of sitting down at table where someone else already was. I don’t join groups anymore, even if it’s only a group of one. She was different, though. I cautiously approached. Her head suddenly snapped up and she gave me a big, food-filled smile.

“Hfff! A ntfced thut you…” she rapidly chewed and then swallowed. “Sorry about that. Hi! I noticed that you usually use this booth, so I decided to wait for you here!” I sat down. It was weird sharing a booth with someone else, especially since I was not the first one there. It made me feel like I was imposing but doing her a favor. Definitely not a feeling I was used to. “I love your scrambled eggs and syrup combination! How did you come up with that?” I didn’t answer. She was unfazed by my silence. “It’s delicious! Hey, your name’s Scotty, right?”

“Scott.” I muttered.

“Oh, okay. I’ll remember that. By the way, I’m Gracie. Hey, how come you never need to pay for your food here?”

“I work.”

“Me too! But not here. I do camera work for some of the high school students. Do you have any idea how many students want to make movies with aerial footage? It doesn’t matter if it’s a zombie film for a school film festival or a documentary for a school project or an amateur film for fun; they always want some shots from the sky. I’m the only one who can do it for them. Have you ever been hangliding?”

I laughed inwardly. She thought that she was the only one who could fly! She was getting so close to my secret without even realizing it! It was funny, in a way. “No, I’ve never been hangliding.” I put emphasis on the “hangliding” part.

“Well, it’s awesome. There’s nothing quite like flying.” I smiled to myself as I silently agreed. “Hey, I was right!” she suddenly announced.

“What?” I asked.

“You do look cuter when you smile!”

I had never really thought about cute before. It wasn’t something that I had ever tried to be. I had never called anyone cute, and nobody had ever called me cute, until now. It warmed something inside of me. I couldn’t quite figure it out. I didn’t know what to say, either.

“Thanks, um…you’re cute too.” I just said it as some sort of reflex, without really meaning it, but it was true.

“Thanks!” She said, and smiled brightly. I smiled back. I couldn’t help it. Her smile was contagious. We talked some more and finished our food. I mostly ate and listened. She jumped from one thing to another with almost no pauses, which made it a little bit hard to follow the conversation, but I didn’t mind.

I know that she didn’t mean to hurt me, but what she said next tore me out of that tiny, happy bubble and brought be back to reality. I was angry with myself for getting caught up in the delusion that everything was okay. “So, do you have any siblings?” she said. I had a sibling, and he was much more than that, but he’s gone! Phillip was a friend, a mentor, a guardian, a hero! He never failed at anything. He carried me past the grief of losing Mom and Dad. He was all I had left, and he made me better. And now he’s gone! Grief rushed into me, pushing out the happiness I had felt for a small moment. I felt tears rising. I didn’t want to break down in the diner in front of other people.

“I have to go,” I told her, the last word choked off by a hoarse sob. I pushed away from my chair and ran for the door. I heard a plate fall and break behind me. It was probably mine. Jeremy would make me pay for it. I ran out the door and, not bothering to check if anyone was looking, took off and flew for my treehouse. I cried all the way as I flew over people on the sidewalks and cars in the streets. They probably thought it was rain. They never looked up.

I cried myself to sleep that night. I didn’t even open the drawer where I kept my story. I had built that nightstand in the treehouse because it was too heavy to carry. All the materials were salvage from the fire. Even though Phillip was blind, he still knew how to cook. I was too impatient to wait for the cookies to finish baking, so Phillip and I went on a walk. We did that a lot. He set a timer on his watch so we would be back in time to take the cookies out of the oven. The car hit him when we were on the way home. I was able to drag him out of the river and fly to a pay phone to call an ambulance. He was dead when they got there. I couldn’t handle it. I flew away. When I went home, there were fire trucks spraying water at what was left so no hidden embers would restart the fire. The treehouse was also built from the wood and nails that had been left undamaged. The only other thing that survived the fire was a family picture. Everyone in it was scorched except for me. It seemed symbolic. I hated it. It seemed like life was rubbing it in that I was the only one left.

When I woke up, I decided to skip breakfast. I didn’t want to go to the diner. She would be there. I opened the drawer and started to write.

and when he was around, he did everything for me. I loved him. I loved my parents too. But now they’re all gone. This book is going to be about me, but you have to know about my family first. My family was all that really mattered, and now they’re gone. I’m fading away too. When I fly, nobody looks up. I feel like I’ve been removed from life. It’s not the same as my family, but I find comfort in it.

A thump on the roof broke my concentration. I had no idea what it could be. Then I heard a voice from above. “Hey, how do you get in?” Gracie’s voice. “Oh! Never mind, I found it! Wow, this is a cool place for a door! When I grow up and get a house, I’m going to have it built so the door is in the roof and you have to use a ladder to get to it.” The door opened and her tiny body dropped down through it. I was too surprised to yell at her to leave. How did she know that I lived here? How did she get up here?

“That was awesome yesterday when you flew! You were like, woosh!, and I was like, whoa, cool! I tried to run below you but you were way too fast. This morning I got an idea. I could get my hanglider and fly in the same direction and maybe find where you went! Luckily for me, you must have gone in a straight line. I found your treehouse. This is so cool! Who built it?”

I gave a blunt answer. “Me.”

“Do your parents know about this, or is this a secret?”

I snapped. “My parents are dead!” I roared. The tears were coming back again. “Why don’t you take your hanglider and fly back home to your own?”

“My parents are dead too,” she said, suddenly quiet. “And my sister.”

This stunned me. It was the first time I had heard her sound sad. There was a long pause. “But…why don’t you cry?”

She looked at me with a confused expression.

“You’re always so cheerful. How can you be that way?” I asked.

She took a deep breath. “Because we loved each other. My sister kept me going when my mom died. Dad helped me when Kate died. All of my memories of them are happy ones. Why shouldn’t I be happy too? Besides, being happy makes you a happy person, and happy people aren’t bothered by stuff as much. I…yesterday I was going to ask you why you were always so sad, but I guess I know now.”

I broke. I just dissolved into crying. I didn’t know who or what I was crying for. Phillip, my parents, her parents, her sister, the memories, life, death, everything. I just cried. And then I suddenly felt a warmth. Gracie had her arms around me, her face buried near my shoulder. I hugged her back, and then I felt a warm tear soak into my pajama shirt. “I do cry,” she whispered.

We held each other for a long time. Eventually I let go, and she did the same. Her face was puffy and her eyes were red from crying, but she was smiling again. The sun shone down through the open door and illuminated her hair.

“I…I’m sorry. About your parents. And your sister. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

“Crying is good,” Gracie replied. “Being happy doesn’t mean I’m never sad. It just means that I don’t let it get in the way of enjoying life.”

“I’ll try that.” I meant it. She was like Phillip. Somehow, being with her, everything was a little bit better. But that was just her cheerful radiance. I was just borrowing her happiness, the same way I had relied on Phillip’s. It was time for me to have some of my very own.

“Well…” she hesitated, “I…I have to go now. I need to fly a camera for Jeremy and his buddies at the high school field. See you tomorrow?”

I nodded. I helped lift her up to the door. She unsecured her glider, which she had tied to a branch, and flew away. I watched her go from the window. I started thinking, really thinking, about happiness. Phillip had been my happiness for me. I had used him as a crutch. He had sacrificed himself every day to make me happy. But I had never done anything for myself. I had just borrowed his happiness. It made me feel better, but whenever he was gone, I was sad again. And now he’s gone for good. I needed to recover on my own. I didn’t like it. It made me feel as if I was devaluing all that Phillip had done for me. But I thought about what Gracie had said. He loved me, and I loved him. All of my memories of him were happy ones. He had helped me to survive. I needed to keep going to make his sacrifice worth it. I had never thought about it this way before, but it gave me comfort. It wasn’t fair for his death to be a wall, stopping me. It wasn’t fair to Phillip. I made a choice. I would get better. I would make myself be happy. I would move on. I realized that I had an answer for Gracie about why I didn’t smile. I was afraid of moving on. I was afraid that it would be unfair to Phillip’s memory. But now, I realized that moving on didn’t mean forgetting him. It meant furthering our brotherly love, even though he was dead. In a sudden rush of emotion I yanked open the drawer and drew out my story. It wasn’t about me. It was about sorrow. It was about the death of my family that I loved keeping me from moving forward. That wasn’t fair to them. I tore the pages apart. No more sadness! I would make myself whole again! I thought of Gracie. A friend. I needed to break out of stagnation and get back to living! That sounded really good when I thought it, so I wrote it down on a scrap of paper from my story and wedged it between some wood in the wall so I would see it every day. Then I launched myself out the door that had been left open, not bothering to close it behind me, and soared towards the high school.

I was flying really fast, so I caught up with Gracie pretty quickly. I tried to yell to her, but the air snatched my words away. Flying makes it seem really windy, but it’s actually just you moving fast through still air. I soared closer until I was right beside her. She had her eyes closed and was smiling, enjoying the flight. Hangliders are much slower, so the air probably felt like a gentle breeze to her, but she was going fast enough to make her long, brown, curly hair stream behind her. I slowed down and glided beside her. “Gracie! Hey, Gracie!”

She opened her eyes and saw me, and her smile grew bigger. “Scott! You look happy! That was quick!”

“What was?”

“Well, you were still sad when I left. I thought that it make take a while longer, you know, for you to change. I was going to leave you alone for the next few days, just in case. But I guess I don’t have to, do I? Or do I? It doesn’t matter. I’ll be with you even if you are sad and it bothers you. That’s what friends are for!” She laughed. I think she thought she was making a joke. I didn’t get it. But I laughed too, because she was laughing, and because I was happy.

“You think we’re friends?” I asked.

“Aren’t we?”

“Yes, yes!” I said hurriedly. “It’s just…I’m not used to having friends. All I had before was Phillip. But that’s going to change. I’m going to be happier now! I promise, to myself and everyone else, I promise to get better.”

“…for that is your quest, and you shall not fail!” she added in an exaggerated dramatic tone. “Scott, mighty warrior, who promises to ‘be better,’ you are our last hope! But the path will not be easy. Here, take this sword!”

“I have no need of such a weapon, for I have slain dragons with my bare hands.” I replied, joining the game. “All I need are my fists. And some food. Dost thou have pancakes or macaroni and cheese, my lady? I doth greatly require provisions for my quest.” We laughed.

“Hey, we're getting close to the high school,” she pointed out. “Jeremy and his buddies are probably waiting. Do they know about your flying powers?”

“No. I better land somewhere else.”

“All right. See ya later! You have a really funny laugh. It's cute. You're awesome! Fly safe! Good luck with thy quest! Don’t accept rides from strange pigeons, they might kidnap you!” I laughed again as she kept rattling off funny lines. I didn’t miss the part where she said she liked my laugh, either. I laughed again, just to hear it myself. It felt good to laugh. It felt good to smile. It felt good to just feel good.

I landed behind the high school's gym. It was close to the field, but still kept me out of sight of Jeremy and his buddies. I recognized Cameron and Jeana from the diner. They would sometimes hang out with Jeremy after school while I did his job. I think Jeremy likes Jeana. He's normally a little bit different when he's around his friends, making his voice deeper, teasing me more, embellishing or making up stories, but when Jeana was there, it was almost like he was a different person. I wondered why his other friends didn't notice, but then I realized that the older kids probably had some sort of school-wide unspoken understanding that it's expected for a person to act differently around someone they have a crush on. Anyway, I was out of sight, so my secret was safe. Thinking about flying, I decided that, in a symbol of my new outlook, I should go on a joyflight. I remembered the crystal cavern that I had found. I was starting to feel a little bit unsure of myself. Was it really possible for me to change so quickly? Am I just fooling myself? No, I firmly told myself, I will be happy from now on! I walked out towards the field. Jeremy and Cameron were flicking little black rubber pieces from the turf at each other. Jeana was watching from a bench. Jeremy noticed me. “Scotty? What’re you doing…” Cameron took advantage of the distraction to dump a handful of turf rubber down Jeremy’s shirt. “Cut it out!” He bent down to grab a handful of turf grass and flung them at Cameron. The green turf stuck to his shirt. “So, Scott, what’re you doing here?”

“Yeah, Scott, do your parents know you’re out here with the big boys?” My thoughts instinctively flashed to that news article about my parents’ deaths. I almost got sad, but I stopped myself.

“Shut up,” I said, using the same tough-guy voice as he was. “I’ll be in middle school in a year.”

“Ooh, wow, you’re almost an adult, then. You can be our designated driver at the next party.” Jeremy said.

“Come on, that’s not nice,” said Jeana. “Give him a break.”

“Besides,” added Cameron. “You’ve never been to a party with alcohol. You’ve never been to any party, actually!”

“For your information,” Jeremy shot back, “I out-drank everyone at Alisha’s end-of-the-year party last year.” That was a lie. He had actually been playing video games with friends the entire time. I knew because he wouldn’t stop bragging to me about it. I had heard of the game, but I had never played it before.

“That girl’s here,” Jeana announced. Sophie glided in to land perfectly in the center of the field. She took off the glider and ran towards us.

“Hey, it’s Scotty’s girlfriend!” Jeremy teased. I felt like saying something, but I didn’t. “Congratulations, Scotty, you know the most popular girl in high school.”

“Hi guys!” Sophie yelled. “What movie are you making? Where’s the camera? It’s a really rough flying day today. The thermals are all over the place. It’s going to be a fun challenge!”

“Aww, come on, it can’t be that hard,” Jeremy said.

“Here’s the camera,” said Jeana as she handed her a small video camera. “We’re doing a video for the school film festival. We just need you for the intro. Just get some video of the clouds, and then the ground going by, then circle lower and focus on us. Make a few circles or something. Basically, we want it to be like that intro in The Four-Sided Triangle. Oh, actually, you wouldn’t have seen that movie, you’re too young. Anyway, just make it cool.”

“Yeah, not like that movie. That sucked. I hate chick flicks!” Cameron complained.

“Hey! That was not a ‘chick flick!’ That was a deep movie about complications in relationships!” insisted Jeana. I walked over to Sophie while they argued. It sounded like a friendly thing. I didn’t think that they were seriously debating a movie.

“Sophie, I have a question. How do you take off?” She pointed to the three-story tower at the high school. It only had a few classrooms.

“I jump off the roof! It’s not high enough to get some really good flight time, but it’s enough for me to do some simple camera work.”

“But how did you get to my treehouse?”

“Thermals!” she exclaimed brightly. We talked while we walked to the tower, with Jeremy and his friends following behind us. Sophie jumped from topic to topic. We started by talking about the fun things you can do with magnets and ended up telling pun jokes about animals. It was easy to be happy.

“Wait, why did you guys follow me up here?” Sophie asked Jeremy when she reached the top of the tower. There was enough roof on the second story for her to climb out the window and use it as a platform.

“You said that hangliding was tough,” Jeremy answered, “and I wanted to see how tough it really is.”

“Hangliding isn’t hard, it’s just that the wind’s a bit shifty today so it’ll be harder for me to make good circles when I’m filming.” Sophie explained.

“Whatever, I want a try.”

“Do you know how to hanglide? It takes practice if you’re taking off from a low altitude like this. You have to be really good at finding thermals or you’ll crash. And…”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve been hangliding since forever.” Jeremy cut in. Sophie gave him the hanglider. He got it on all right, but I’m pretty sure he was lying about himself hangliding before because when he jumped off the roof, he flew straight into the ground. It had slowed him down enough so that he wasn’t injured, but he was really upset. Sophie was speechless. I don’t think that that happened very often. We ran down the stairs and back to the field. Jeremy was cursing. Cameron was laughing. Jeana ran to him to see if he was okay. Sophie just stood next to me, looking at the hanglider. It was broken.

“That was a gift from Dad. He bought it to keep my mind off Katie’s death,” Sophie said quietly. She was still cheerful, though. “He knew he was going to die soon because he was really sick, so he set aside a lot of money for me in the bank in case something happened. I think he wanted me to save it for college or something, but there’s enough for me to buy a new hanglider.”

I don’t know how she could always stay happy no matter what happened. She was like the embodiment of happiness. If I hadn’t seen her cry only a little while ago, I wouldn’t have known that she could ever be sad. Looking at her, I had an idea. “You know, you’re kind of small and light. I bet I could carry you.”

“Really?” She looked up at me with a huge smile and bright eyes. “But I thought you didn’t show other people your power? Besides, I don’t think they’re going to finish the film today. They don’t seem to be working well with each other.” She grinned at her understatement and pointed at the older kids. They were yelling at each other. I don’t know why they were arguing. It was Jeremy’s fault. I guess he just wanted to save face. Phillip would have taken responsibility. Actually, he would have been smart enough to listen to Sophie’s warning. He did to crazy stuff like that, though. He didn’t let his blindness stop him from bungee jumping or windsurfing. I would act at his spotter to make sure he didn’t hit anything, because the ocean made it so that he could only find boats by sound or smell when they were right on top of him. He said that boats had a very different smell from jet skis because they burned fuel differently. I couldn’t tell the difference.

“I was thinking of flying you somewhere else,” I told Sophie.

“Where?”

“It’s a surprise!” I couldn’t wait to show her that crystal cavern I had discovered that long time ago. “It’s really beautiful. Like you,” I added.

“Thank you! And you’re awesome!” Sophie said. I smiled. “Do you want to leave right now?”

I hadn’t really thought past giving the invitation. “Um, sure! Yeah, it’s not that far.” She got on my back, like a piggy-back ride, and I took off. I hadn’t thought about the extra weight making my slower, so my takeoff was very noticeable. Once I got going, though, I was able to add some speed. Sophie laughed as we flew away.

“Did you see their faces? They looked over right as we left. That one guy, not Jeremy, looked like he was going to pass out!” She laughed again. “This is so fun! I’ve never gone this fast! The wind is pretty sharp. Aren’t you worried about them knowing your secret?”

“I don’t care anymore. The whole world can know! Why should I hide it? It’s cool!” I replied.

“Yeah! That’s the spirit!” Sophie cheered. Then she asked, “What does that phrase mean, anyway? Why spirit?”

“I think it’s because spirit means emotion or energy. Like, you have a really happy spirit. That means that you’re a really happy person who is always cheerful.”

“Oh! Now it makes sense. I thought...hey, look at that bird!” she interrupted herself. “Did you know that birds are kind of like sharks? When you’re underwater, a shark won’t mistake you for a seal and it won’t eat you. When you fly, birds realize that you you’re not some freakish land-bound scary thing and they let you fly with them. Have you ever flown with birds?”

“I used to.”

“Let’s fly closer!” I soared nearer to the bird. It was a hawk, but I didn’t know what specific kind of hawk it was. Sophie reached for it and it moved away. I followed it. Then it turned into a game. The hawk evaded back and forth as it zoomed in front of me. I chased it, sometimes catching up only for it to peel off to the side and make me turn around, other times falling behind and having to make it think I was slower than I actually was so I could trick it. I was gaining on it, almost close enough to touch its tail feathers, when it stopped suddenly and fell like a rock. I dove after it, exhilarated by the chase and the speed.

Then it stopped being a game.

I was so caught up in the fun of chasing the hawk that I forgot Sophie was on my back. She wasn’t prepared for my sudden dive. I felt a weight disappear from my back and heard my name being screamed. I turned in the air and saw Sophie falling towards me. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. With what seemed to be agonizing slowness, I maneuvered myself into a place where she could catch me and hang on. I was off by a little bit. She reached for me as she passed me.

I was able to barely reach her hand. I grabbed it and hung on tight. Her momentum pulled me down, but I had a firm grip on her hand. I tried to find a place to land. I couldn’t hold on for much longer. I looked up and saw that, incredibly, the entrance to the tunnel that led to the cavern was right in front of me. I hadn’t even noticed how close we had been getting to the mountain during the bird chase. With effort, I was able to drag us through the air towards the tunnel. I made it. We tumbled inside and I couldn’t hold on any more. I got a few bruises, but was otherwise fine. I could see dimly from the light behind me at the entrance. Sophie was sprawled out on the ground a few feet further down the tunnel. “Sophie?” I called, worried. “Sophie, are you okay?” She rolled over and groaned, coughed, and then started to laugh. I laughed too. I didn’t really know why. I was just really happy that she was okay.

All of a sudden, it hit me that I had saved someone from a fatal fall, the same thing I had failed to do four months ago. Both people were important to me. Both had made me happy. It seemed almost symbolic. I saved Sophie from the same situation that killed Phillip. I had decided that I would no longer dwell in sorrow. It was as if I had saved my own life instead of hers, and this was just a reflection of my choices.

Her cheerful, babbling voice broke into my thoughts. “That was awesome! I’m okay, it’s just a few bruises. Are you hurt? This place is cool! Echo!”

“I’m okay,” I responded.

“Let’s keep going!” she said, grabbing my hand and running forward.

“Whoa, hey!” I protested good-naturedly. “I’m supposed to be leading this adventure!” She let me go forward, but I could tell that she wanted to run ahead.

“It’s okay, go ahead. It’s not like you can get lost. Just don’t run into a wall!” She gave a cry of excitement and dashed forward. I followed at a slow walk and thought.

I soon caught up with her. She had stopped, staring at the cavern in awe. It was as bright as I had remembered it. It was like a giant geode. Crystals lined every surface. Light bounced around, creating rainbow connections from crystal to crystal. “This is incredible!” She stared in awe at the beautiful cavern. I smiled in pride of my special discovery.

“This mountain is a batholith.” I explained. “It’s what happens when a volcano dies. There are gas bubbles in the magma, and when it solidifies into rock, the bubbles stay there, creating areas like this.”

“So this used to all be lava? Wow! I can’t believe that no one else in the entire town has explored here!”

“Well, it’s not very accessible. Remember? We had to fly in.”

“So we’re the only people who know about this? This is so cool!” Suddenly, she hugged me. It just came out of nowhere. It was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. I hugged her back. It felt good. “Thank you for showing me. And thanks for catching me, too.”

“Why wouldn’t I have? It’s not like I’d let someone fall to their death.” Well, I had let Phillip fall. But that was because I was in shock and didn’t react quickly enough. I argued with myself and then pushed the thoughts from my mind. I was not going to dwell on death anymore. I would only remember the good things.

“I want to get a crystal! I want to explore! Can I go out there, or is it not safe?”

“I don’t know. I never actually landed on the floor. It looked too sharp and I used to fly without shoes.”

“But there’s a lot of space between the crystals. I’m going to walk down there.”

“How will you get down?” I asked. “It’s a bit of a long drop from this ledge to the ground. I just wanted to show it to you, not explore. Let’s go back.” I waited to see her expression, and then laughed. “Just kidding! Sure, I’ll fly you down there.” I carried her and floated down to the ground and landed between two large, colorful crystal spikes as tall as I was. She looked up at them in awe.

“This is just so amazing!” I nodded in agreement. She wandered the ground while I flew towards the opening at the top of the mountain, where the light was coming through. I wanted to try and see a way to get in from the top. The only points of reference I had were the graveyard, the waterfall, and the tunnel opening, and they were all near the middle of the mountain. I wanted to see what it looked like at the top. Just for fun, I pretended I was a glob of magma, shooting forth from the top of the volcano as I burst out into the open air. The view, to my surprise, was not very beautiful, especially when compared to the crystals below me. Clouds blocked my view of the ground, so all I could see was empty sky. It seemed particularly empty today. I turned around to dive back down into the crystal cavern. That’s when it happened.

I guess that there had been another bubble in the magma under the one that formed the crystal cavern. They most have been close to merging, because the floor between them was very thin at one point. Sophie took a step, and suddenly there was no ground beneath her foot. She stumbled forward, slamming into the ground. It gave way. I dove at the fastest speed I had ever gone. The cavern beneath the crystal one was almost a complete opposite. Instead of crystals, the walls, floor, and ceiling were lined with stone spikes. Everything was in shades of grey instead of rainbows of color. I could identify some of the black stone as obsidian. The rest I didn’t know. I rocketed downward, racing against terminal velocity. Sophie was screaming. The wind was howling in my ears. The colors of the crystals swirled around me in chaos as I shot past them. I was close enough to see Sophie close her eyes as she fell towards a grey stone spire. It seemed out of place, as if it had been intentionally put there. I stretched as far as I could and added more speed. I reached for her foot. I would have to time it right so I could pull away at the moment I grabbed her so she wouldn’t pull me downward and impale herself. My hand closed around her ankle and I reversed direction at top speed just before she would have hit the spike. That’s when I heard it:

SNAP

The End


© Copyright 2019 Andy Bain. All rights reserved.

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