The Virtual Red Couch is hosting a collaborative short story project. Each week, a new author will continue the story. Check back every Monday to see how the story unfolds!
Written by Madeline Alvarez
Emma jumped and reached out to Daniel.
For all the looking over his shoulder he’d done before, Daniel couldn’t bring himself to do it now.
Emma looked at her brother and saw the fear in his eyes, the cockiness gone now. She remembered, then, that he was only twelve and that it was not fair for her to always turn to him for protection just because he was a little taller than she was. She squeezed his knee, and showed three fingers, hoping he’d know what she meant.
Daniel did. He wanted to protect his sister, but it made him feel better when she let him know she was there for him, too. He held up three fingers, and they counted down together, then turned around.
“Finally. I was beginning to think you hadn’t heard me, and I didn’t really want to repeat myself.”
Standing before the siblings was a short, white figure. It had no face or limbs, and its shape was rather like a blob. Moreover, it did not look altogether solid, but had a wispy sort of edge to it.
Brother and sister looked at each other again. Although the being was unsettling, it was not necessarily frightening, and it was easier for Emma to find her voice than she would have thought.
“I—see you’re right, s-sir.” She tried to be respectful, but realized she didn’t actually know what this thing was, and didn’t want to offend it, so she trailed off the last part of the title and hoped the being wouldn’t notice. “The tracks stop here. But could you tell us why? How did we not see the—whatever made them as we walked this way? And what did make them?” The thought that they might have passed a huge animal and not have known it both thrilled and frightened her at the same time.
“Silly girl,” the figure said, moving slightly on a breeze that blew across the field. It was then that Emma noticed it was floating and not touching the ground. “From all those fantasy books you read, one would think you would have the ability to figure these things out on your own.”
The girl gasped, but the white form seemed to not notice.
“Still,” it sighed and bobbed up and down a bit, “I do love when I am consulted and I won’t pretend I don’t know the answers. The reason you did not see more tracks on your way here is because the beast did not continue walking from this point, because he met your brother here. Since he is a Griffon, he decided to give him a ride in the sky—to show off, I suppose; Griffons do that sort of thing. And, yes, you most likely did pass him, but he was above you, so—”
“Wait,” Daniel broke in. “Did you say our brother?” His suspicions of this character were growing by the minute. “Just who are you, anyway? Do you know where James is? And how do you know what Emma likes to read?”
“If you’re going to interrupt someone,” the thing said in an exasperated tone, “there are a number of ways you can do it that are not so abrupt and rude. Yes, I know all the answers. Although, I will say it seems rather silly to ask me when you could—”
“Yes, we know,” Emma cut the white blob’s words short. “‘Figure it out for ourselves.’ But the fact is, we have an emergency on our hands. We lost our brother in the bookstore and we can’t just let him wander all over in this place by himself while we waste time trying to be clever. Tell us where the Griffon took him and where we can find him.”
But the figure—which had been snow white—had now turned a few shades darker into a grey, almost black. “If there’s one thing I hate,” it said, quivering, its voice growing louder and louder, “it’s not being taken seriously and passed over.”
The children were growing frightened now. The white form swelled in shape to match its thunderous volume and began to rise higher and higher into the air and farther and farther away from them. Finally, it seemed to bump into the sky as a balloon hits a ceiling and when it did, a loud clap sounded, the sky grew dark, and rain started to pour.
The siblings instinctively covered their heads with their arms, but this, of course, was useless. They were soaked to the bone in a matter of seconds.
“Quick!” Daniel grabbed his sister’s hand and pulled her after him as he ran back the way they had come from, hoping it was the direction James had been carried off to. He tried to keep an eye out for a tree or some kind of shelter, but it was pretty hard to see with water streaming down his face, especially because of his glasses. For now, at least they were—he hoped—getting closer to their brother and farther away from that awful being, whatever it was.
“The thing’s a Cloud!” Emma said, panting, as lightning flashed. She had let go of Daniel’s hand and was running shoulder to shoulder with him now.
Beside her, Daniel felt stupid for not having realized what the thing was sooner. “Yeah, well, duh,” he said, so she wouldn’t think she could rub in her superior detective skills later.
Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the downpour ended. Emma and Daniel stopped running and put their hands on their knees, trying to catch their breath. When they’d recovered from their sprint, they looked up and saw the sky was quickly returning to a summer blue.
“I do apologize,” a familiar voice said from overhead. The Cloud was returning to its lighter color and smaller shape and was descending to meet the children again. “I can be quite terrible when provoked and, well, you didn’t deserve that.”
Emma put her hands on her hips. “I can’t believe you threw a tantrum like that!” If James had behaved that way, she thought, he would have been grounded from ice cream for a week.
“As I said, I apologize,” the Cloud shifted (uncomfortably, it seemed to the girl). “Allow me to continue, ahem, helping you. I believe you wanted to know where your brother was, yes?”
Daniel wanted to give an impatient reply, but checked himself. Who knew what else the Cloud was capable of? Could it create a snowstorm or even a tornado? Still dripping from the rainstorm, he pulled his glasses off and tried to rub them against his shirt to make them more clear. “Yes, now tell us,” he said, then put his spectacles back on his face. The “cleaning” had made them worse.
“Very well,” the Cloud said, once again sounding bored. “The Griffon has probably taken him to the Silver Mountains. It has its nest in a cave up there, you know. And because it is partly my fault that the boy is here since he followed me, I shall take it upon myself to lead you there.” With that, the figure began to move forward.
Daniel and Emma, full of questions, followed after the white, wispy blob.