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by Miriam English

1 - flying

The sun was just setting and she was hurrying home. She was running down the dirt path coming out from under the trees onto the grassy, open hillside. What had been just a breeze in the forest became a stiff wind in the open. She was running hard against it and finding the weirdest thing -- her footsteps were coming longer and longer apart as she leaned into the wind. She had the lovely feeling of the wind supporting her slender frame. Her steps became bounds, and with her body angled forward into the wind she lifted higher each time, until she found that using her hands and arms just the right way, she could glide for several meters down the slope before touching down briefly and leaping off again into the air. Soon she found that she could achieve a balance between gravity and the wind's lift. She was gliding!

This was exhilarating!

Home forgotten now, she wondered how high she could go, and concentrated on moving her arms and, to some extent her legs, to shift the angle of her body with respect to the wind. By moving her arms back her head would dip down and she would speed up. Stretching them out to each side once more, her head would be buoyed up and she would slow and rise. Keeping her left arm out and moving her right arm back a little caused her to sink and turn toward the right. She was able to steer!

She could feel the wind becoming stronger as she lifted higher -- away from the drag of the trees and the ground, she guessed. With greater speed she gained even more lift and could let her body lie almost horizontal. Up here she could see for kilometers! She could even see her home, snuggled among the darkening trees only a couple of hills away. Her parents had already turned on the houselights.

She wondered how high she could go. The air was becoming quite cool up here, but her ecstasy blazed so strongly that the cold felt refreshing. This was fantastic! Tacking left and right across the wind she drove upwards, higher and higher. The trees below looked like distant moss, the scattered houses like small pieces of gravel, the roads like ant-paths. All below was in blue-gray twilight, and she suddenly popped up into the last rays of sunset! She whooped and laughed with pure delight, and feeling like a firefly lit by the sun's warmth she joyously looped and tumbled, glided and soared.

She felt like she was born to do this! This was absolutely the greatest!

"Christine?" Her mother's voice. She looked around. The pink clouds were still far above. No birds were near. She must be more than five hundred meters up. How could she hear her Mum up here? She remembered that she was supposed to heading home, so she turned and dipped toward her house, just a dot far below.

"Christine?" This was very puzzling. Why could she hear Mum's voice? "Are you getting up?"

Up? In the air?

"Breakfast is ready. Get up or you'll be late for school."

She realised then that it was a dream. No! She didn't want to wake up; she loved her flying dreams. But even as she thought it she could feel it slipping away around her. Now she felt her warm bed, her eyes were closed, and her mouth felt gluggy and tasted yukky. Darn! She opened her heavy eyes to her ordinary room and another ordinary day in her ordinary life. Oh bother! She closed her eyes again and tried to will the dream back, but it was no use. It was gone. She was disappointed, but even so, she couldn't help smiling. She'd had another flying dream. She loved those. What a great way to begin her day! She lay in bed for a little longer, basking in the afterglow of pleasure from the dream.

It was a glorious, sunny day. On days like this she felt very lucky attending such a beautiful school, set amid trees and flowering shrubs out here in the countryside. There were always plenty of colorful birds in the trees too. She could hear a noisy bunch of parrots nearby, the sweeping song of some other bird a little further away, and the lilting warbles of currawongs in the distance. What a gorgeous place to learn! She felt so pivileged here. Some of her friends in the net had sent her pictures of their city schools and she could hardly believe how drab they looked, bare of greenery-- just gray concrete everywhere. She rounded the corner and saw Anita waiting for her at the school gate as usual, reading in the shade of the golden wattle tree. They waved to each other. Christine was looking forward to telling her friend about the dream. The two girls looked similar and dressed the same, as did all their classmates -- white, short-sleeved blouse, dark green, knee-length skirt, white socks up to the tops of their calves, and black sandals. No uniform was required. It was simply understood that this was how girls of their age dressed.

Anita switched off her book and got to her feet, brushing down her skirt. She pushed her long, straight, dark brown hair out of her face, and walked forward to meet Christine. "Why are you so happy? You're positively bouncing with each step."

"I had another flying dream!"

"You lucky thing. I wish I had them."

"Maybe you do. You only remember a dream if you wake up during it." Christine, conscious of the protocols of politeness, changed the subject to her friend's book. "What are you reading?"

Anita looked down at her tablet briefly, "A weird old book. It's Pre-Unification, so you can imagine..." she made a face and shook her head. "So, tell me about the dream."

Christine hugged herself, her eyes closed in pleasure, "It was wonderful! It started the same way it usually does, with me running down a hill into the wind and gradually realising I can fly. This time it was late afternoon and I was able to fly way up high, into the light from the setting sun. The wind was cold, the clouds rosy and purple, the ground far below in the shadow of early evening... it felt so real."

Her friend smiled wistfully, "It would be nice for it to be real, wouldn't it."

She sighed deeply. "Unfortunately completely impossible. Physics is pretty unforgiving. We don't have the surface area for the wind to support us." She shrugged. "But at least I have the dreams. They don't have to obey reality."

"Don't you mean we're too heavy?"

She shook her head. "An airplane is way heavier, but gets lift from its large wing surfaces. It's the ratio of weight to surface area that's important. Well... also how that surface area is shaped; a giant, light sphere won't fly either. You need something like wings so the wind doesn't just blow you away, like a leaf. And that's another thing -- in my dreams I can fly into the wind by aiming myself at it. It feels like a controlled dive, with me balancing the wind's lift against how fast I'm falling forward, but even if I could somehow get aloft in a strong enough wind I doubt I could steer into it. I think it would just carry me backwards."

Anita said, "You've given this a lot of thought."

"It... uh... bothers me." She smiled.

There was a flash of red and green as some of the parrots screeched and swooped playfully low then back up into the branches of a nearby red-flowering gum. Their fellow noisy tribe members clowned about, shredding flowers, stealing each others' prizes and having fun.

Anita looked up at them. "Birds are so amazing. What it would be like to be them?"

Christine peered upwards too. She smiled but didn't say anything. In her heart she knew how it felt. It was utterly amazing to be like a bird, even if only during dreams.

"Do you ever get scared in the dream, being up so high?"

She shook her head. "Maybe it's just part of the dream, that I accept it, you know? Or... when you watch birds hopping along a branch up in a tree? They're fearless. They know that if they slipped, all it would take is a flap or two and they'd be fine. Or at worst, they could just glide easily to another safe perch."

"My guess is it's the dream environment. Fear of heights is instinctive."

Christine doubted that. "How could it be instinctive? In the dreams the height feels genuine -- for all intents and purposes real. If it was instinctive I'd be scared there too."

Anita laughed. "It is instinctive. We learned that in psychology classes way back in primary school. Remember?"

Christine gave an uncertain smile and nodded. School was, of course, beyond question.

Together they turned and started walking down the shady, sundappled path toward the school buildings. It would soon be time for morning prayer, and Christine liked to sit in the front rows. She loved her physics and computer science classes, but morning prayer was her favorite. It was normally the emotional high-point of her day. Today her dream took that primary place, however she still looked forward to the devotional and the way it always suffused her with pleasure.

They took their seats amid the background of chatter from the hundred girls in the auditorium. Christine didn't talk. She had developed a technique of relaxing and slowing her breathing, that she found heightened the pleasure of the morning prayer. Eyes closed, she waited, feeling her cares drop away. The conversation died away letting her know the Nun leading the service had entered, and Christine felt her smile grow in anticipation as she opened her eyes.

Mrs Marder was dressed in normal clothes, all Nun-gray, which accentuated the pink of her face and darkness of her hair. She stood at the podium, before them all and waited for a moment in the silence, then began to sing, loud, sweet notes. On the second chorus all the girls joined.

Christine felt her heart swell and soar. Goosebumps rose on her arms as she sang from the very core of her being. At times, especially on sustained high notes, she felt her eyes roll up with the sheer pleasure. She swayed with the music and feel giddy with joy, caught in the present with no past or future, just an eternity of now. It never felt like an hour and was always over far too soon. When it was finished she was always light-headed, breathless, and unable to stand for a few moments, her legs weak and wobbly. She must not be the only one so affected though; there was never much conversation in the audience while getting up and leaving morning prayer. The other girls' faces were flushed and shining with a light sheen of perspiration, as she imagined hers was too.

She and Anita had different classes in the morning so wouldn't see each other again til lunch. Anita went to History, while Christine went to Computing.

Just before lunchtime, Christine was given a note by Mrs Denby, her Math teacher. It required her to go see the Head Matron. Mrs Denby arched an eyebrow and said, "Not trouble, I hope." Christine was surprised, but smiled and shook her head answering that it couldn't be. She took her leave of the class and went to see Mrs Archen, the Head Matron, the woman who ran the entire school.

Walking down the halls between the classrooms, her mind buzzed with concern. Why would she summon her? Had she accidentally committed some infraction of the rules? No. That was surely impossible. Perhaps it had something to do with her school-work. But she couldn't see that either, as she was neither substandard nor exemplary. She exited the building and crossed the grassy region between large gardens kept well-stocked with bright flowers. Maybe there was a message from her parents. But that was unlikely too as they would simply send a message to her tablet computer, which would have flagged during lunch. So what could be so important that she must be pulled out of Math class? That worried her.

She entered the small administration building, showed the secretary the note, and walked to the Head Matron's door. She stood there in trepidation for a moment before knocking timidly.

A few moments later Mrs Archen opened her door, beckoned Christine in, and indicated a chair. Christine obediently went to it and waited til Mrs Archen rounded her desk and sat in her own chair before sitting herself, knees together, hands crossed in her lap, eyes down, waiting.

"Relax Christine, you're not in trouble."

She looked up to see Mrs Archen looking a little amused.

"Christine, I've heard an interesting rumor. It seems some of the girls are saying that you believe you can fly. Can you tell me why they would think this?"

"Oh!" She gave a short laugh and was immediately embarrassed. "Excuse me Matron. I was surprised. No, I can't fly. I do have dreams on some nights in which I am flying, which I enjoy very much. In fact I had another last night..."

"Which you related to your friends. Ah, yes. I see. I, myself, used to have flying dreams when I was younger," she frowned slightly, "but haven't had them in quite a while now. It hadn't occurred to me til now what a long time it has been. I used to feel wonderful after them." She smiled. "Thank you for the reminder of past pleasures, Christine."

Christine brightened. Mrs Archen thanked her?

Matron continued, "I think it's easy to see what has happened. You've told your friends and they've passed it on to others, who then it spread further. Along the way somewhere it changed to you believing you can actually fly. The remedy is simple, of course. Continue to enjoy your dreams, but resist telling people about them. You're a good girl Christine. Your grades have been consistent and your teachers speak well of you. We don't want your good reputation damaged by silly rumors, do we?"

"Yes Matron. I mean, no Matron. I mean, yes, I'll keep them to myself from now on. Thank you Matron." Christine beamed, her cheeks red.

Mrs Archen smiled, stood, and walked around her desk to Christine, who also stood. The Matron opened her door and put out her hand for Christine who, rather surprised, shook it. "Remember Christine, a reputation is easily damaged, not just by what we do, but by what people think we do. It is not enough simply to do the right thing."

Christine was awed. "Thank you Matron. I'll remember that."

"Now I must get back to work, but it is so close to the end of period that you might as well go straight to lunch. Have a pleasant day Christine."

"Thank you Matron. A pleasant day to you too," she said automatically, then added, "I hope your flying dreams return to you. They are such fun."

Mrs Archen surprised Christine by laughing. "Thank you Christine. I hope so too."

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