#1: silence

on a late june evening, the seven of us were lying on the pier with our legs dangling over the edge. i was at the end of the row, and as we giggled and squirmed i wondered if i’d fall into the lake. when i stretched them far enough my toes could skim the surface of the water. the lake mirrored the sky’s brilliant blue-gold fire, and the hills across from us were outlined in pink. for a few precious minutes silence descended upon our group. that brief moment seemed to expand to infinity; the entire universe was before us, deep and contemplative and enormous, and it gleamed with the sun’s last light.

dream (7)

“Why are we here?” I ask.

Johanna and I sit beneath a large oak tree growing on top of a giant wooden pole. The pole, a papery white birch trunk, measures fifteen feet in diameter and rises seven miles above the ocean. From where we are the waves look grey and flat, as if we could press leaves on them.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be here? This place is awesome.”

Heavy green-gray clouds envelop us, and my stomach churns. “Everything looks wrong,” I reply. “We shouldn’t be able to see the ocean this high up.”

“That doesn’t matter. This is so much better than Oakland, anyway.”

I remember this dream. We’d lounged in the sun on the edge of the pier and watched pedestrians chat in the open-air restaurant or build sandcastles by the beach. The dream had been cheerful, warm, lovely, and sun-drenched – the complete opposite of this dreary isolation.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Oakland was beautiful.”

Johanna scoffs. “Really? I couldn’t stand the heat and the sweaty tourists. It was disgusting!”

“Better than now.” I rub my hands together and shudder. “I’m freezing.”

As we speak, the ocean seems to shimmer. One moment water surrounds us, and I’m convinced we could dip our hands into the sea just by reaching over. When I blink, however, the ocean turns into grass. Hills roll into view as raindrops fall softly from the sky.

“I recognize this feeling.”

“What?”

“My classmates and I had to drive downtown to shoot a video project once, and we filmed in front of the capital. There were tons of people so we couldn’t get as close as we wanted, but then it started to rain. We barely noticed it at first, even as the area started to clear out, and suddenly it started pouring. Just before that, the rain was like this. Gentle, almost forgiving.” I frown. “Almost like a mother singing her child to sleep.”

“Weirdo.”

“Says the girl who prefers the middle of nowhere to California.”

“Whatever. But hey, does that mean it’s going to storm soon?”

“Maybe. Nothing else here is familiar, though, not even the hills. I just find the rainfall soothing.”

“You’d think everything in your dream is just a mashup of stuff you experienced while awake.”

“I doubt it. I’ve never seen Oakland in my entire life. Also, I would never imagine talking to my sister on the top of a humongous pole in the middle of the ocean. Why are we here, of all places?”

“Well, I can only remember whatever you remember, so I don’t know why you’re asking me. Besides, it’s probably just a random setting your mind generated. It’ll be perfect if it does storm, anyway. Then the waves will be high enough for us to swim in.”

“How long do you think that’ll take?”

“Maybe a week or a few days, if we’re lucky.”

“Will we dive off together?”

“Obviously. We always do.”

Beneath us, raindrops batter the waves as the ocean starts to roar. I already feel hopeful we’ll swim in the ocean after all, just the two of us, the way we never did when Johanna was alive and I was awake.

~

pair the story with this song.

a/n: i originally wrote this two years ago, but it felt strangely fitting for how i currently feel about our future right now – lost and apprehensive, but also hopeful. remember that you are amazing, that you are loved, and that you have the ability to act and the right to be yourself. i think that, no matter what happens from now on, we will be able to power through these troubling times for the sake of human dignity.

where ghosts live

Lovely’s room, which was at the far end of the house, had the best light. The curtainless window stretched from floor to ceiling right in front of the bed, allowing sunshine to pour in uninhibited. Today, however, there was no sun. Snow fell instead, gentle but insistent, and the light that trickled through was dying. These days, a fire roared in the hearth to keep Lovely from getting chilled.

“Good morning,” Ethan said, setting down Lovely’s customary breakfast tray next to the bed. Lovely’s eyes were closed, and Ethan carefully brushed his limp bangs from his forehead. The bedridden boy’s skin was cool to the touch and almost translucent – pale blue veins could be seen running just beneath his fingertips while bleached-bone antlers protruded from his silver hair. Ethan loved those antlers. They grew outwards like the branches of a tree, and Ethan liked to imagine them wreathed in garlands of flowers. Maybe I can make some when spring comes, he thought.

Ethan couldn’t remember when he’d moved into the house. It was a grand old thing reminiscent of a castle, set deep into the hillside and surrounded by residual trees from the forest’s edge. It had stone walls and huge floor-to-ceiling windows in all the rooms, though most of these were permanently covered by curtains. (He had vainly tried, one bright summer afternoon ages ago, to remove those heavy drapes. They refused to budge. After extensive exploration of all the rooms, he found only one with bare windows. The first Lovely moved in a week later.) Ethan felt like he’d always lived in the house, the intricate layouts of both the dark hallways and winding garden paths ingrained in his memory since day one.

Lovely lived in the house as well, but he spent most of the day sleeping, so Ethan passed the time by taking long walks through the forest. The world was still here, save for the light crunch of leaves beneath Ethan’s shoes. It reminded him of a poem, something simple yet stirring. Something about the woods, dark and deep. He couldn’t recite exact lines, though. It felt like certain hours dropped from his day and created gaps in his memory while his ability to recall details dwindled, too. One moment he’d be at the house, in Lovely’s room; a minute later, he’d find himself in the middle of the woods, following a path he knew intimately for unknown reasons.

 

“Ethan.”

He looked down. A boy’s face, ghostly and wide-eyed and brown-haired, stared up at him from the snow. The tip of what looked like bone protruded a few inches in the ice above the boy’s head, close to Ethan’s foot. Ethan forced himself to stare back at him.

“Why aren’t you at the house, Elliot?” he asked, keeping his voice level. He stooped down to brush flecks of ice from Elliot’s cheeks, then spent the next few minutes digging out the rest of his body. Ethan was familiar with this routine. His fingers gripped the fabric of Elliot’s jacket, which was nearly frozen solid, and he cursed himself for not bringing gloves. He forgot them every time.

Elliot tried to wipe at his mouth with one shaking hand. “Ethan, I’ve come – to make – atonement,” he managed to say. “None of this is – I’m sorry. I abandoned you.”

This, too, Ethan had heard before. He had never understood what Elliot meant, but by now it didn’t matter. Elliot was merely delirious from the cold. He took the shivering boy’s hand and began leading him back towards the house. “You mean, I’ve come to get you out of the snow,” he replied, not looking back at Elliot’s face. Their fingers intertwined, and Ethan relished the way Elliot’s grip tightened. “It’s freezing! How did you end up here?” Elliot didn’t respond, but Ethan hadn’t expected an answer, anyway. He focused instead on what to do next.

The first time he found Elliot in the snow, he’d deliberately avoided taking him to Lovely’s room even though it was the warmest in the house and Elliot was half-frozen. At the time, he treated Lovely’s living space as something sacred. But when Ethan checked on Elliot that night, his hair had already turned silver. Lovely’s bed was vacant; all that was left was a pair of white antlers.

(Now Ethan had a full closet of antlers. They gleamed in the dark and looked beautiful in the spring, when he strung flowers over each branch.)

Since then, Ethan had learned the pattern. Elliot – or at least, ghosts who looked and acted and spoke almost exactly like Elliot – would find him. They’d argue with him and try to convince him he was dreaming.

“It’s my fault. I created you and this house and – all of this! I still don’t know why, but you got stuck here. I’m sorry, Ethan.” Each Elliot would cover his face with his hands. “Your body’s nearly gone. I wish I had stayed with you, back then.”

But why would Ethan believe them? The house was all solid wood and stone. He knew each step in the staircase and every ridge in the wall. One time, he’d stuck his hand close to the fire in the hearth – just to prove Elliot wrong – and nearly burned himself for it. The proof for reality was definitely there.

“But the seasons aren’t changing!” the latest Elliot insisted now. He stood by the couch. Ethan tugged at his hand, but the antlered boy didn’t sit. “Think about it. When was the last time it wasn’t winter? When was the last time there wasn’t snow?” His cheeks flushed red.

“I don’t keep track of those things,” Ethan said patiently. “I don’t particularly care for time.” And I’ve seen spring, too, he added silently, because Elliot was too confused right now to understand. Winter would end, as all seasons inevitably did, and spring would come. The sun would shine. Elliot would be Lovely, and petals would tumble into his hair when Ethan finished making his flower garlands. Maybe this time Elliot wouldn’t leave him. Ethan thought of the pair of detached antlers lying on a cold pillow upstairs, waiting for him to collect.

“I have a spare room,” he told Elliot. “There’s a fireplace, and I can grab some extra blankets. Why don’t you spend the night here?”

(more…)

déjà vu

There are people everywhere.

Crowds of pedestrians surround you and spill out into the street. They’re all dressed fashionably, either vividly colorful or blatantly monochromatic, and they seem to hurry from one destination to another. You try not to feel dowdy in your jeans and sneakers as a woman with dark red lips and towering high heels glides past you with the grace of a dancer. Stop being so self-conscious, you tell yourself. You should be used to this by now.

You’d dreamed of escaping to the city for ages. Mom had fed you countless horror stories about the Big Bad City (“A college freshman got pushed onto the subway tracks, you know! And another girl got stabbed in the neck in broad daylight!”) to try to dissuade you, but you didn’t take her cautionary tales seriously. Millions of people lived in the city, you’d reasoned, and why couldn’t you do the same?

Now that you’ve wandered onto an unfamiliar street, however, homesickness starts to creep in. Dimly, you remember a surreal summer evening, at the edge of dusk, when you and Penny had stood in the center of an empty road and felt day-old heat against your bare feet. (Penny had still been your best friend back then. Hooking her arm into yours, her eyes faded from blue and pink to purple to black as she watched the sky fall asleep. Your heart thrilled when she turned towards you and smiled. You had never loved anyone more.)

It’s impossible to go barefoot in the city, though. There seem to be teeth everywhere. Shards of glass line the gutter, and sharp pieces of metal glint in warning. Odors rise from mysterious brown puddles while piles of trash clutter the sidewalks. The thought of walking through all of that without wearing shoes makes you want to vomit.

“Watch where you’re standing!” someone shouts, elbowing past you. Jostled out of your reverie, you keep moving, blood pounding in your ears as you stare ahead and take care not to step on anything too revolting. Cigarette smoke curls high in the air and almost looks beautiful in the sunlight, but the stench reminds you of shriveled black lungs.

Despite the noxious fumes and the waste and the dirtiness, however, you love the city. You love the energy that thrums off the crowd with the regularity of a beating heart. You love how streets weave in and out of each other, how you can walk from the library to the market to the gardens in less than ten minutes and take the train for any distances greater than that. The city’s so different from home, where everything had felt languid and drowsy. Even after a year, you still marvel at the novelty.

Penny would have loved it here, too. You try not to think about her nowadays. You left home to move past your grief, after all. But the city constantly reminds you of her. You can imagine her sitting on the roof of your apartment at the crack of dawn, waiting for the city to wake up and come alive. She’s dancing effortlessly through swarms of people, her hums and laughter ringing above the noise. She’s leaning against you on the subway ride home from campus, breaking the general quiet with stories until it’s time to get off –

Penny’s not here.

Like the city, Penny could never stay still. She’d first disappeared from the school you both attended, moving on to university two years ahead of everyone else. Less than six months later, she vanished a second and final time on a plane that flew into the ocean.

You’d felt so lost at the time. Why did she leave home – without you? How could she leave you behind and not look back? And how could the world swallow her so cruelly? You fled to the city when home, the place the two of you had explored since you were four, became too unbearable to stay.

You still miss her like a phantom limb, but the sadness is briefer now. She’s finally stopped haunting your dreams; you feel relief and a twinge of guilt when you wake up without tears drying against your cheeks. Maybe I can keep going without her, you dare to think that morning, and you feel a little less hollow.

Sometimes, though, you try to catch pieces of her from faces gleaming in the crowd. You see someone with her eyes, or her laughter, or her birthmark just above the jaw. It’s silly and impossible to find her, of course, but you do it anyway. You only give yourself a few seconds at a time – you’re not allowed to stop, to stare, to search.

Today, you lock eyes with her.

Your stomach does a flip. She’s standing on the other side of the crosswalk, waiting for the signal to change. You blink once, twice. She’s still there, and her gaze, appraising and familiar, is on you. You recognize the quirk of the lips, the sharp chin, and the dark eyes set against high cheekbones.

It can’t be Penny. She fell into the Atlantic years ago. But this lookalike crosses the street with the same confident step, her arms bare and her hands resting comfortably in the pockets of her track pants. Her hair’s pulled back into a russet-colored knot at the base of her neck, rather than cut into the straight, short bob you remember Penny wearing. The two of you continue to watch each other over the din of the crowd, her eyes never leaving yours as she draws near. She’s already breaking the rules you’d set for yourself when you first came to the city. No staring! you think frantically, but you can’t tear your eyes away.

The two of you are only a few feet away now. Now that you’re closer, you realize with a pang of bitter disappointment that the doppelganger’s eyes are green, not the warm brown you remember. Her cheeks are smooth and devoid of any birthmarks.

She’s really just a lookalike after all. You almost laugh. Leave it to the city to find Penny’s ghost.

Just as you glance away and pass her, she stops and seizes your arm. You jerk to a halt.
“Are you who I think you are?” she asks desperately. Your mouth opens, closes. “I’ve missed you,” she continues in a rush, stealing the words from your mouth. Her eyes shine. You swear they look brown at that moment.

“Penny.”

Your voice cracks on the second syllable. You can’t believe she’s actually there, standing with you in the middle of the sidewalk.

“Let’s talk,” she says, taking your hand. Everyone else seems to melt away. When she tentatively offers you the same smile from years ago, you can’t help but hope that this isn’t a dream after all.

joanna

You walk down a gently sloping hill towards a field. The sun turns dusty, waist-high grass into gold. Joanna’s singing is unpolished and lovely, leading you forward as if she’s taken you by the arm. Her songs are full of strings. You can’t separate harp from harpist – her voice swings and creaks, studded with notes plucked by deft fingers. Somewhere in the distance, an orchestra swells like the tide.

When you’d first heard her you were startled by how childlike Joanna had sounded, but you know better now. She may sing sweetly, and animals may populate her songs, but her voice belies her wisdom.

One moment you watch a bird fly across a breathy sky – the next, an angel flaps its wings. The universe looms, and you suddenly face the staggering weight of the stars. All the while, Joanna’s harp sings; her voice scratches out high notes.

She offers you one story, a second, a fifth. Hens and horses and lions flicker in and out, half-hidden in the grass and entranced by the light. You could never resist her poetry.

You let her lift you out of your loss and offer you hers in solidarity. Her verses struggle to contain the chaos of life and light and allusion within them, and the music expands to fill the gaping hole between your bones.

Each story bleeds into the next like water. The river she conjures runs against time’s gradient while Joanna’s voice surges and cracks with raw emotion. Ursula splashes her way into the night sky. Ocean waves yawn for a moment, and you glimpse the beautiful remains of a sunken city. You imagine sprawling buildings and solid stone ramparts, marble columns that withstood sea currents and bridges that held fast no matter how much they swung and creaked underwater.

Joanna’s music rings in your ears. It’s steeped in sunshine from above the water’s surface, but you know, deep down, that its light is meant to swallow grief.

Closing your eyes, you remember walking towards a field of dusty gold. As words fail you, a harp sings and creaks and pulls you close, wrapping you with warmth.

~
(more…)

placeholder nine

you find the book quite early one morning and laugh at bad puns. too many too little, not enough time, thyme, a clockwork garden, a hot summer’s day with the water shut off and broccoli dying under the sun. environmentalism, what is. what is not is the brief hope that this will last a while longer because this is finite, unstoppable, because now is the time to throw words out and bring colors in. this is when hyphenations like ‘sun-kissed’ and ‘sun-drenched’ and ‘sun-strained’ come to mind, when air grows cool and trees shed seas of flaming leaves at the end of january. every other sentence is a lie, with the rest lifted from a stale repetitive repository. remember bridges. step into the courtyard, careful not to trip over the ledge where your grandfather broke his leg and his heart. everything is stone. cold: the fishes quiver. a motorcycle last used in 2005. remember to keep your chin up when you swim through a rainwatered living room. remember fruit candies, beaded numbers. remember not to cry when the smell of urine hits like starvation. everywhere is water. compared to others, your book tastes like viciously luscious cake. the architecture is the same; so are those tears. sight, a privilege, wanders permanently when lost. someone breaks open a guitar and takes the sounds inside. dancing ensues.
(eventually you’ll learn to love these floating faces. you’ll learn to love your dreams.)

dream (5): an unknown practice

When it begins to rain, you tell yourself, I love the rain, and I’m not going to drown. In the first dream rain pounds against the house, but nothing leaks so you say, it will be all right because I love the rain. By the second dream water seeps through the window and beneath the doors, and your living room resembles a muddy pond as rain still pours outside. Your conviction wavers ever so slightly, but you reassure yourself again: I love the rain, I love the rain, and it will be all right. Rain continues to fall. The world blurs into wavy patterns, and green melds into blue as trees bend into themselves under the weight of water. I love the rain, you repeat, but now your body’s numb, your skin’s completely soaked, and you live in a swamp of slowly decaying furniture and liquid sediment. Each morning is a gasp of air as you break the surface of the water and tell yourself, I love the rain, and my dreams aren’t real. Each morning you kick with all your strength and propel yourself upwards, relieved for a moment, alive for another day, while at night you’re gradually sinking towards the bottom. You’re up to your neck in water by your penultimate dream, but the torrents haven’t ceased. You don’t pray to the skies anymore, nor to yourself, and you just hope you’re lucky enough to survive until you wake up. You try to wade out, but you’ve forgotten how to swim. At the end you realize, as your head submerges and a liter of water fills your lungs, that infidelity was not what drowned you; you remained devoted to rain every morning, when you woke up and ran your fingers through your hair and sighed a love song to the storm clouds behind your eyes. You died because the rain loved you back. It continued to fall, without end, until you no longer pledged your adoration and began to fear it instead.

(When you wake up with your face buried in your pillow, you sit up and breathe once again.)

The Novel: a confrontation between the Writer and her Protagonist

“Please stop following me.”

She felt ashamed of the whine in her voice and the desperate tone of her words, even more so when the Protagonist cast her a look of pity.

“You were the one who dreamed of writing a Novel.” Such cold words.

“A rejected novel,” the Protagonist continued, draping herself across the empty desk, “will always be better than an unwritten one.” She reached over and seized the notebook sitting silently beside her, and casually flipped through it. “Empty pages,” she said, with a hint of contempt. “What will you do, my dear Writer? Do you even deserve your title?”

The Writer trembled, and suddenly thrust another notebook at the Protagonist. This one bore a dog-eared cover, and held pages smudged with lead. “I did write! I planned out the entire novel!” the Writer cried, blushing furiously. The Protagonist stared at her, then nodded. Quiet prevailed for the next hour, save for the rustle of paper as the Protagonist carefully turned each page, pouring over the writing as though it were Scripture. The words were hastily scrawled for most of the notebook; the Writer didn’t want to lose any ideas, since they rarely came to her.

“Lovely stuff,” the Protagonist murmured when she finally shut the notebook closed and gazed at the Writer. “A sprawling plot line, with rather vague descriptions. You cleaned it up quite nicely at the end, though. Why aren’t you writing the actual Novel now?”

The Writer bit her lip.

“I’m…” She paused. “I’m afraid. Of writing. Because I don’t think I could ever properly convey the Novel with my lackluster skills. The ideas are too grand and brilliant for me. If I were to write it, they would never reach their full potential. If only another Writer could take my place instead…” She buried her face in her hands and choked back a sob. The Protagonist regarded her silently. A shame that my Writer is such a small mouse, she thought, scrutinizing the Writer’s small, thin frame and disheveled hair. When she looked up again, tears threatened to fall from the corners of her pale eyes.

“I’m sorry that I created you, only to give up,” she whispered.

The Protagonist had had enough. She leapt from the table and slammed the notebook into the Writer’s chest, ignoring the latter’s cry of surprise and pain. “You haven’t given up at all, shameful coward!” she cried. “Just look at all the outlining you’ve done! Stop wallowing in self-pity! Get some confidence and start writing! I won’t stop following you until you’ve finished the first draft.” The Writer nodded nervously and dried her eyes. That’s right, she thought. I need to put an end to my spinelessness. “Now?” she squeaked, noticing the time on the clock, and how dark the room’d become. The Protagonist merely rolled her eyes. The Writer chided herself for putting off the daunting task yet again, sighed, and opened up the blank notebook.

And thus began the story of the Writer, the Protagonist, and the problems they faced while creating a Novel.

~

[note: nanowrimo starts next week!!]

coping mechanism

Miranda is twelve and angry with the world. So when she leans over the battered music stand and aligns her lips with Annie’s ear, she’s not sure how to continue.

“Guess what,” she breathes. She’s never done this before, and she’s afraid of sounding insincere.

“What?” Annie replies, grinning as she leans unsuspectingly towards her. (Suddenly Miranda feels dizzy and lightheaded. How does she move forward?) 

I love you. A straightforward confession, but an ambiguous one as well. The love of sisters and blood ties, the love of best friends forever, the love of strangers who seek passion and acceptance. Tie a blindfold over her eyes and have her point to one (maybe to two, maybe pick all three and more). Everything is so complicated and messy. Miranda wishes that they could all turn into flowers and photosynthesize together. Then she wouldn’t have to do this.

I might move soon. The keyword here is ‘might.’ That implies an off-chance that Miranda might not move and switch schools, that she’ll stay until the end. That provides hope, and Miranda knows that Annie would cling on to that and ignore everything else. So there’s no need to say that yet, no, not until ‘might’ solidifies into ‘will.’

But the words Grandma died last week (the very last thing she wants to say) are the ones that slip from Miranda’s mouth. It’s an ugly truth, and the effect is immediate. Annie’s eyes widen first with disbelief, then with a rotten mixture of shock and grief.

“…What?”

Miranda realizes how horrible it must sound to have a mismatched chord slammed against the keys in the middle of a nocturne. She backpedals accordingly. “April fools,” she whispers with a forced smile. Today is the first day of the month, and she doesn’t want the person she loves most to cry. There had been a funeral, but all Miranda can remember are rain (there is always rain, soft and grey and sad) and flowers, still fresh and bright yellow against the dark earth. There were no tears, and there will be no tears. Within a numb Miranda float well-hidden secrets and quiet restraint. I’m an awful friend, she thinks. How lovely it would be if everything remained static.
For her, the death of an angel is the biggest April Fools lie of all.

dream (4)

everything is slanted.

all the houses here are tall and pastel-colored, their roofs and driveways sloping down in the same direction. luckily, my house is near the top of the hill, so it’s easier for me to just start running. i begin at the edge of the sidewalk, my eyes on the downtown buildings far across the road, and then i’m off the ground. running isn’t about how quickly i can run a certain number of miles. instead, it’s about how long i can run, and how much i can cover before i stop. when is it safe to keep pushing myself? when should i stop?

today, however, is different. i reach the outskirts of downtown much quicker than usual. as i slow down to a jog, i notice an old man crouched near the gutter, pouring water into the street. when he sees me staring, he beckons me to come closer.

hello, i say, a little out of breath.

he nods and continues to pour water out of a glass pitcher.

do you know how to run, he asks. his eyes seem to glow, even in daylight. i hesitate.

i think i do, sir. i run every morning. the old man drops the pitcher. we watch as millions of tiny fragments scatter across the ground, gleaming under the sun.

no, the old man says, there’s a much better way to run. you have to jump.

jump, sir?

yes, jump. reach for the sky.

but – that isn’t running.

he nods again. that’s right. it’s better than running. jumping will let you touch the stars. try it.

when i jump for the first time, i’m not in the air for very long. the old man vigorously shakes his head.

that’s not how you do it! you’ve got to get a spring in your step.

i try again, rolling onto the balls of my feet as i push myself off the ground. this time, i fly up and reach the third-story windows of a nearby building.

how does that feel, the old man calls up to me.

i can’t answer him at first. then i find my voice.

amazing, i shout down, my response feathered by the wind. amazing!

the old man chuckles when i finally float back onto the sidewalk. do you ever want to run again, he asks, when you now know you can fly?

not at all, i answer. he grins as he pours more water from his pitcher. the glass shards in the street have disappeared.

good luck, he says.

i don’t ever go back to running. i jump instead, relishing the extended periods of time i spend in the air. jumping is addicting. i do it all the time, not just in the morning. i can fly over a flight of stairs with a single, well-planned jump. i can swim through the air, too, and do all sorts of flips and twists. but the sensation of floating in the air is even more addicting.

soon, i can’t even sit still. i’m jumping, always jumping, always looking for the highest place to reach. a few months after meeting the old man, i find myself at the edge of a seaside cliff, preparing to jump again. i can smell the salty ocean zephyrs as i propel myself into the air with ease. seagulls encircle me in awe as i fly past them. i’ve never felt so liberated, so free, in my life.

but something’s wrong.

i’m not coming down.

it’s been ten minutes already, but this jump shows no sign of ending.

i keep rocketing into the sky, reaching the clouds. i try to swim back down, panicking, but it’s useless. i fly higher and higher until i’m among the stars.

eventually, i burn just as bright.