In the Shadow of Cloud Nine

Lying in the grass, love-sated and pollen-doped, she shades her eyes against the morning sun and points to a towering white cumulus. ‘I would like to live with you in that castle,’ she says.

‘It’s a fortress. There’s no way in,’ he says.

‘You could make one,’ she replies.

He stretches out his hand, sculpts turrets and crenelations; his right forefinger creates a pair of iron-bound gates.

‘Look, there’s a rabbit!’ She points to another cloud, her voice shiny with wonder.

He reaches up, cups the rabbit gently in his palm and rests it on the grass between them. It lies still while she strokes its ears and quivering whiskers, then lollops away into the undergrowth.

‘How did you do that?’

‘It’s magic,’ he smiles. ‘I’m an enchanter.’

‘Which one is cloud nine?’ she asks, only half teasing.

‘Count them.’

The clouds drift and merge, coming together in soft kisses then separating reluctantly, leaving wispy trails of regret. She counts several times to be certain.

‘That one,’ she says. He follows her finger and plucks a tattered shred of candyfloss cloud, placing it on her tongue. The warm air is redolent of toffee apple and popcorn.

The sky darkens as he grasps the sun and squeezes dribbles of honey and melted butter onto her lips. The intense sweetness burns her mouth.

The afternoon when it rains, she wants him to part the clouds to let the sun through, but he shakes his head, scattering diamond raindrops around them. 

‘It will pass,’ he says. ‘Come.’ He leads her into the darkest part of the storm. ‘Wait.’

When the rainbow appears, he pulls her up the arc to the highest point. They sit for a while, their legs dangling over nothingness, looking at the world below through a kaleidoscope of colours before they slide down the other side. She searches for a pot of gold but doesn’t find it.

The night he leaves, she stands and shrieks her pain at the moon. Unthinking, she seizes the bone-white disc and hurls it across the sky. She rearranges the stars with the sweep of her arm, grabs the edge of the ink sky and shakes it furiously until they fall to earth like crystals from a broken necklace. 

In her grief she flings handfuls of the gleaming fragments into new patterns and shapes, leaving no glimmer of what was there before. Exhausted by tears and rage, she surveys her handiwork, the reordered worlds she has created. 

When dawn pushes at the edge of her sorrow, insinuating its rays into the blackness, it reveals what she could not see before: that he was no enchanter and that the magic is in her, where it has been all the time.

Author: Hilary Ayshford is a former science writer and editor based in the UK. She writes mainly short form fiction across most genres from humour to historical to horror. She is also working on a novella-in-flash.

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