In the belly of the clouds

I woke up determined for it to be a gorgeous day. It wasn’t. Heavy clouds covered the sky, trapping every shred of bright or blue. I told them to push aside! and they pushed. A little. The sun lanced through for a moment, and patches of sky opened up.

I went out into the recalcitrant day. From the inside, the house looked simple and familiar. From outside, it had a grand and foreign air, augmented by a posh triple decker bus waiting in the wraparound driveway.

Robby and I boarded the bus, exclaiming over the pale blue velvet upholstered seats and the ornate detailing around the bars and banisters. A grumpy businessman passed and I wished him a good day. He didn’t seem to think there was any chance it would pan out that way – but he didn’t know I could bend the whole world to my wishes! From a window, I noticed the clouds had rolled back over the sky and told them again to go away.

The bus began to move as we climbed to the roof deck. Some of the roof was partitioned for seating but a narrow aisle ran along the right side. I followed it around to the front feeling positively giddy and looked out over the city streets below.

Nineteenth-century style brick buildings crowded close on both sides, sketched stark by yellow light. The bus jostled along rude brick streets lined with rustic shops and taverns. It was beautiful in its own way… But still stubbornly cloudy. I tried for a third time to clear the sky, again to no avail. Why could I control everything but the sky?

A little man appeared on the rail around the roof deck. “Because this is hell!” he explained with a gleeful grin. “You’re in hell!” Suddenly it all made sense. I couldn’t make the sun come out because there is no sun in hell. The devil changed forms and disappeared into the city of Hell.

It sure didn’t look like hell or feel like it. There was no fire or brimstone to be seen, no torment or misery – unless the businessman from earlier represented the overall mood of the place. Maybe it ground you down slowly. But people sure seemed comfortable there, with their shops and foot traffic and pretty buildings – so comfortable it might have been just another old city someplace on earth.

The people had forgotten where they were and why they were there. Worst of all, they had forgotten what they were missing. They didn’t remember sun. They didn’t remember God. They knew only the city of brick and the half-lives they lived under the belly of the clouds.

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My side of the mountain

Branches weave a woody back to bear the cloak of snow. You and I pass words back and forth in hot white clouds, borne on the cold white air. Then the forest opens its mouth and spits us out into a lush green field and I stand bewildered, up to my hips in vegetation, while you walk on as though the world has revealed nothing just now. But the universe has torn its own veil and I can see everything as if I’d made it myself.

have made it myself. This is a dream. I made the snow, I made the flowers, and I can make anything that magnetizes my heart. My feet, to spite gravity, let go of the earth and I float a few yards, wondering what to build with this new and infinite freedom.

Back to the snow, then; to the summit! There is no one on my mountain. It rears its powdered head for only me. I strap the board to my feet, flirt with the crest, and plummet.

The nose angles down while my back foot pumps furiously, checking my speed. I rocket toward the base. Now only one thing stands between me and the perfect run: a wrinkle in the trail, as if someone seized it by the base and shook it out, or as if a cat crawled beneath the smooth sheet of snow and fell asleep there. I crouch low to the board and the white earth shoots me into the sky, bottoms up. I cartwheel through the air and land with a graceful, satisfying piff.

Black diamond trail, you have been conquered.

Behold: a dark horse

The car rolled into the cul de sac early in the morning. The passengers had been out all night. No one was all that tired, but the sun was up and it was time to go home.

Suddenly I hit the brakes. There was an obstacle in the road I had never seen in this neighborhood. At first, judging by its size, I thought it was a wild turkey, or maybe someone’s lost rooster, but it was only an oversized hen. Lucky, actually. If the hen laid eggs on my lawn, they would be mine! We pulled into the driveway and ran to the yard to see. Sure enough, the giant hen was laying giant eggs right in front of my house! I bet I could make a whole omelet with just one of them!

But eggs weren’t the only thing the hen left on my lawn. She also left a treasure chest. Leaving my friends with the eggs, I started pawing through the contents of the chest. I found the usual gold coins and vintage jewelry. There was also a small, perfectly ordinary skeleton key in the box, and I knew as soon as I touched it that this key would unlock another world. The treasure chest held everything I needed to reign over this other world. The key was half the puzzle; the other piece was somewhere…

Then something else strange happened – strange, and frightening. I felt it first in my heart. A dark foreboding welled up within me and the sense of being watched pulled my eyes from the treasure. A dark horse stood over me. His flesh was knit of shadows, and though he had hooves and a tail and a horn and wings, the intelligence housed in that shadow-skin was human, and the evil therein was greater than any human could wield. He didn’t speak. I simply knew that he wanted the same thing I wanted: the key, and the other object that would entitle him to rule over the other world, whatever and wherever that might be.

Grasping the key tightly, I fled for the house. The others had already gone in. The horse, a creature of evil, had to abide by certain rules: he couldn’t come inside unless invited, so we were safe there – we just couldn’t go out until he left. And he wasn’t leaving.

I expect what we had on our hands was a Night Mare, one of the dark alicorns that poison the dream world from my Myriad novels. This Night Mare, a product of the world he wanted to rule, held half the key to Myriad. I couldn’t let him take the other. I’d never seen the world, never known it existed till I found the key; it wasn’t my home nor my responsibility. Yet I still cared about the people there. I couldn’t allow this demon to seize control over them.

But I couldn’t do much to stop him, either. He had us under siege and he was a creature of powerful magic. The boundaries of our sanctuary repelled him, so he spoke through the walls. His voice boomed through the hallways, inescapable, deafening. It crushed all hope and strength to resist. If I hadn’t been quite clear on what he wanted, I was sure of it now. The others in the house didn’t know exactly what was going on, but they were on my side and helped me resist. The house fell back into silence, and we still had the key.

When the Night Mare learned his attack hadn’t worked, he tried a more terrifying approach. I caught sight of him in a window – a decorative window, completely isolated from the outside. Disturbed, I pulled a curtain across it, only to find him in another window, and in the mirrors, and in every reflective surface in the house. He couldn’t enter the house physically, but we couldn’t escape his watchful eye and the looming image of his face.

We covered every window and mirror in the house. Safe again… but for how long?

Not very. I slept fitfully that night, afraid of sleeping so heavily I missed the Night Mare’s next strike. I woke up to toss and to turn. Around five in the morning, I woke up to find every light in the room blazing bright. I must have slept more heavily than I meant to, because I was groggy and disoriented. I thought I had left those lights on. I thought that maybe we’d lost power the night before and, in the dark, no one had thought to flip the switches off. The horse was the farthest thing from my mind as I dragged myself out of bed and went around the room, switching off more than a dozen lamps.

I came back to the first lamp, a little reading light above my bed. It was back on. But surely I had shut it off… I turned it off again, only to see the next light pop back on, and the one after that, until the room was ablaze once again.

Okay, something was definitely wrong. I went to the person you always go to when something is wrong and you’re afraid a demon is trying to kill you: my dad. I brought him into my room to show him how the lights wouldn’t go out, only to find the room dark: now the lights refused to come on. An even more terrifying predicament when dealing with Night Mares, who thrive in the dark and shadows.

We still had the key, and the sun would rise in less than an hour… but would it be soon enough?

Stay tuned for if/whenever my brain decides to finish this dream.