By Rebecca Demarest
There had always been stories, stories told in whispers around the evening meals, rapidly hushed as the adults came close because we were not supposed to know them. The stories they told us contained horrific images of decay infested cities and the dark ruinous end they had come to. Greed and betrayal of your fellow man featured heavily, as well as laziness and broken morals. But the stories my friends would whisper talked of music and dancing that would last for days, giant buildings where people could go trade and barter for food, and giant gleaming machines that carried you through the skies like birds.
It was these last myths that captured my imagination. To be able to soar above the clouds and be free of the dirt stained fingers, it seemed a dream made up by my year-mates to tantalize and tease. Instead, we were trapped on this island, our ancestors having destroyed all their landing craft and machines in an effort to start our society afresh, without all of the failings of the ancient Romans and Americans. Machines make you weak, make you complacent and lazy, so we toil by hand. Ownership makes you weak, the basis of pride and envy, so we share and no one goes without. A study of philosophy and history makes us strong, so we better understand that our way of life is perfect.
But to be able to fly.
One day I noticed as I strung the laundry to dry on our lines that the water-weighted fabric caught at the wind and ballooned, straining against the line. I pulled it tight, feeling the resistance strengthen and pull me forward. I let the sheet go and it whipped away, once more at the mercy of the breeze.
That week I went to the rag baskets in the laundry and took some scraps I thought no one would need for some time and painstakingly stitched them together as the foot pedal I rigged (not really a machine, I told myself) churned the butter.
I took dowels meant for beans from the farming supplies which would not be missed until the next growing cycle to construct a frame, something to hold the bit of cloth tight against the wind, just like the sheet had done on the line. It was not stealing and owning, I told myself, I would return it to the stores when it’s use was through.
Then line. I needed a line to hold the whole thing steady, to anchor it to me, so that it would not go soaring away forever. A ball of twine from the laundry sufficed, though I wasn’t so sure this one wouldn’t be missed. At this point, though, I would have happily subverted all our laws just to watch my project fly.
Finally, it was ready. I stole out to the beach during a rest period and waited for a breeze to catch the patchwork, but it stayed rooted in the sand, quivering. I tried throwing it into the wind, only to have the wind throw it back in my face. I hadn’t cried since I was six, but I wanted to now. This should work, should fly, just like a bird. If I couldn’t get this bit of cloth into the air, how could I ever build something that could carry me up and away? But the bell tolled the end of the rest period. If I didn’t run, I would be late, and someone would ask where I’d been. So I ran.
And it flew. Straight up into the air, out of the sand and into the breeze, soaring against the clouds. I laughed, crying now in earnest as I watched it sway and dip at the end of my string. I tugged and watched it respond, zigging and zagging across the sky. It was flying. I knew it would be only a short while before I figured out how to get myself up there as well.
I didn’t realize how long I stared at the sky until an older brother came to find me. He cried out and ran towards me as I hastily reeled in my flying cloth, afraid he was going to tell the elders.
“Give it to me!”
I hid it behind me, ashamed to be caught, terrified of the expression on his face, something I had never seen before. But he was older and bigger and in a blink I was on the sand and the contraption was in his hands. He threw it in the air but it fell, slamming into the sand.
“Make it fly,” He stomped over to where I’d fallen and hauled me up. “How did you make it fly?” He shook me hard enough I couldn’t remember what I’d done that had made it take flight, and I just shook my head, mute.
He growled in frustration and threw it in the air again, and the wind threw it back at him, gashing his face, hard. “Damnit! You must have bewitched it! You’re...you’re using science, aren’t you?” His face contorted in disgust at the thought of the old contaminant, the brain poison that killed whole societies. “Show me how to make it fly for me, or I’m turning you in.”
I couldn’t stop crying and shaking and he struck me with the wood and cloth, sending me back into the sand, splitting my scalp and breaking its frame. “Heretic! Throwback!” He threw down the ruined fabric and ran back to the village, screaming accusations at the top of his lungs all the way. I pulled myself across the sand, dashing blood from my eyes and tried vainly to piece the frame back together.
About The Author
Rebecca A. Demarest is an award-winning author, book designer, and technical illustrator living in Seattle, WA with her husband. Together, they maintain a household jungle, cater to a dog-like cat named Cat and a Portuguese Water Dog named Teal’c. When she isn’t writing, you can find her at the Bureau of Fearless Ideas teaching the youth of Seattle how to get their ideas onto the page, crocheting, embroidering, and playing lots of Dungeons and Dragons. She is currently working on the sequels for everything, so, before you ask, yes, you’ll find out what happened to Benny, Sophia will keep sticking her nose in dangerous places, and Thea will find the seedy underbelly of Oz.
Rebecca’s website: http://www.