Rosalyn was paralyzed by surprise. Had he slipped and gone under? No, it wasn’t deep enough. Besides there was not even a ripple on the glass surface of the puddle. The only evidence that he had been there was his backpack humped on the curb. She rushed forward and looked in, seeing to her horror, a ship far below, its masts sticking up like twigs, white sails tiny triangles of white, minute dark figures moving about on the deck. Rosalyn tilted her head up to double-check against reality that there wasn’t someone flying a kite of a schooner. There wasn’t.
Turning back to the puddle, a splash of red and yellow caught her eye, growing smaller as it fell toward the ship.
“Jason,” she shouted, panic rising in her chest. “Jason!” He’ll land on the deck and break his neck she thought, or what if he misses and just keeps falling? Is it water? Will he drown? Irritation was replaced with a sickening fear because at that moment, alone on the deserted street, she knew she would have to go in after him.
“I’m coming! Don’t worry!” she called down into the depths of the puddle. She looped the left strap of her backpack onto her left shoulder, leveling it and then turned to put Jason’s on across her chest. Securing her armour of backpacks, she held on tight to both sets of straps and closed her eyes. “One, two, three,” she counted for courage but she couldn’t get her feet to lift of the curb.
Opening her eyes, she saw the ship was no longer beneath her, but had moved off toward the right. Had it picked up speed? Where was Jason now? Her view was obscured by clouds, the same bright white fluffy ones she saw when she looked back up to check the sky. In fact, the puddle was reflecting everything just exactly the way it was, except for that dark smudge of a ship. She couldn’t make out any details now—a cloud was casting a shadow on it.
She’d have to jump to the right to make sure she would land on the boat. She stepped sideways, trying to calculate the amount of space she would need. More clouds had gathered in the minute or so she’d been staring at the puddle.
Taking another deep breath, she pinched her eyes extra tight and said to herself, “One, two, three.” This time the balls of her feet pressed into the pavement and she jumped, squeezing her elbows to her ribcage to try to lessen the impact.
What happened next she could never remember exactly. There was a whooshing sound that became a brighter whistling as she fell. It wasn’t like riding the DropZone, the free-fall from eighteen storeys that made you feel you had left the roof of your mouth back at the top. This was more like going down a metal slide in summer, the skin of your legs sticking to it and slowing you down. In fact, opening her eyes a sliver, she didn’t feel like she was moving at all. It was all white around her, brighter than fog, but just as dense. She couldn’t see blue sky below or the boat or Jason. She seemed stuck on a wispy mass, like mist on a morning lake, shimmering around her ankles. She tilted her head back and above her was definitely sky, with a tiny darker patch in the distance, possibly the puddle. But she was not moving now, or at least not moving down. Was a faint breeze was causing her to drift horizontally?
Out of imminent danger, she tuned in to her surroundings. Could she have landed on a cloud? Logic said that clouds merely looked solid but were only vapour. Perhaps anything could happen in a place where wooden sailing ships traveled the skies.
Rosalyn wondered what she would see over the edge and she heaved off the backpacks, lay on her chest and inched forward cautiously to what seemed to be the diaphanous edge of the cloud. Craning her neck, terrified to lean too far and pitch forward off the semi-solid security of the white surface, she saw directly below her more cloud, fluffy and light, looking as innocent and inviting as marshmallow cream. She would have to try the other side if she wanted to see anything. Pushing back from the edge—the substance of the cloud felt soft but with a firmness like fresh play dough, though not as dense—she swiveled on her belly and began her commando crawl toward the other side. Her canvas shoes felt damp and she was now glad to be wearing a sweater.
On this side of the cloud, she could see something below, looking more distant than it had from above the puddle. “Jason!” she called, her voice dulled by the mass of cloud around her. “Can you hear me?” Straining to hear, pointing her ear in the direction of the moving speck she guessed was the ship, she was disappointed to hear only the gentle shushing of breezes, the currents she hoped were carrying her in the same direction as her little brother.
She moved toward the centre of the cloud, sat up and crossed her legs, her hands helpless in her lap, at a loss for what to do next. She unzipped the front pocket of her backpack where her embarassingly old emergency flip-phone was. You actually had to text using the number pad, pressing and pressing until the right letter came up. She started to key a message to her mother with both thumbs but after she had written, “Will be a little late. Went to” she noticed there were no reception bars on the top of the screen. Frustrated, she snapped the phone shut and dropped it back in the outside pocket.
Now what? She was completely and utterly alone. The irony struck her—wasn’t this what she had been craving just a few minutes ago? But now, fighting back the pricking of tears behind her eyelids, she felt terrified. No way of getting in touch with her parents, Jason somewhere in this bizarre skyscape, and no clue where she was in time and space. It occurred to her to check again to see if the puddle was visible. Directly overhead there was nothing but more sky, yet over to the right there seemed to be a more intense patch of blue. Had she traveled this far already?
“I’m going to die,” she thought. “The cloud will start shrinking, then I’ll start falling and end up at the bottom. I’ll starve to death, or break every bone in my body.” This was turning into a very bad walk home from school. She unzipped the pouches of her backpack again. Her iPod, a granola bar, a half-full water bottle which could keep her going for a little while if the cloud didn’t shrivel up and send her to her doom. Her mind was inventing all kinds of scenarios. Perhaps another ship would come by and take her aboard or she’d float down toward land if the cloud became a mass of fog. Well, there was nothing to do but wait, she though philosophically, hugging her knees to her chest.
She seemed to be seated on an lumpy oval surface, the contour of which was in a constant state of change. Wispy tendrils, like steam on a bowl of soup, were either coming off or joining up with the edge, she couldn’t be sure. With her right hand she scooped up a handful of cloud. It had the same barely solid feel to it as it felt underneath her but when she blew on it, it floated off her hand like a dandelion puffball. No matter how big a fistful she grabbed, there was never a big enough hole in the surface for her to see through it. Even when she put her arm in up to the elbow it felt the same all the way she could reach, her arm feeling chilled when she pulled it out.
As a matter of fact, her bottom was beginning to feel damp through her burgundy cords, so she slid Jason’s backpack underneath her. Still at a loss for what to do, she retrieved her iPod from her front pocket and untangled the cord wrapped around it. She had just put in the left earbud when she heard a faint whooshing sound.
Whoosh, pause, creak.
Whoosh, pause, creak.
Was it her imagination or was the sound getting louder? She slid over to the side the sound seemed to be coming from.
Below her and some distance away, she could make out a figure in a rowboat approaching.
“Help!” she cried, cupping her hands to her mouth. “Help, over here!”