Danielle gave the nod and the boys let go. The wooden car moved slowly at first, but as it eased down the hill momentum picked up and she was soon outpacing Dario and Jake as they tried to run alongside. The bumps began to throw her from the wooden seat but she gripped the steering wheel tightly with grim determination. If she was going to go flying out, it would be after the ramp. The ground was soft and sandy after the jump. Besides, she didn’t feel like trying out the new helmet just yet. Her ears still rang from the last go and she was going to have to come up with some kind of story about to explain the lump on her head.
She heard the boys’ footsteps fade behind her as they slowed to watch. The ramp was directly below her now, and she could see Kim standing ready with her camera. Danielle took a steadying breath. This was it. She aimed for the center of the ramp and braced herself. At the moment the nose of her wooden car tilted toward the sky it felt like her insides sank all together into a tiny knot. Then she was floating, and trying to time the best moment to let go. She’d wait until the car began to separate, then she’d push it aside and get ready to roll in her landing. The trouble was, the car didn’t separate. She and the car continued to rise.
Up and up she went, and she was glad for the borrowed goggles when the wind began to whip her braids against her face. Kim was small now, down below. Her mouth hung open and her camera sat forgotten in her hands. Dario was shouting something and waving his arms from halfway up the hill, and it looked like Jake was running as fast as he could, trying to catch up to her. Fear set in then, along with unanswerable questions. What had just happened? How far would she go? When would she fall, and from how high, and would she survive? If she did, would it hurt?
In a field ahead Danielle watched an ancient, lonely old tree grow closer and bigger. And bigger. And bigger. She was headed straight for it, but that wasn’t the most surprising thing. The very most surprising thing, the thing even more surprising than all of the other surprising things happening to her at that moment, was that it wasn’t just the tree that kept getting bigger. Her wooden car was getting bigger, too, and her helmet and her clothes. The whole world seemed to be getting bigger. Either that or she was getting smaller. And smaller. And smaller.
The steering wheel became too much to hold onto and Danielle watched as the wooden car fell away, arcing down toward the tree’s long wide trunk. Her helmet slipped off and so did her shoes. She flew toward a branch, and as the tree and the branch grew bigger still, so did a hole just above the branch.
Danielle held on to her shorts and shirt to keep them from flying away as she shrank down enough to slide through the neck hole of her shirt. Trailing flapping fabric, she shot into the hole and skidded to a stop. A family of birds chirped in fright and the next minute the small cavern was filled mostly with flapping. Finally, one bird’s voice overcame the others and stillness fell. Danielle sat in a nest of her clothes, clutching them tightly to her.
“Oh, what a delight,” said a sing-song voice.
It took Danielle some squinting before she was sure that the words had come from the bird she guessed to be the mother. She was larger than the rest with a large round chest and sleek brown feathers.
“H-hello,” Danielle said.
“I didn’t expect my wish to work so well,” the bird said, hopping toward Danielle and peering at her first with one eye and then with the other.
“What wish?” Danielle asked.
“It’s a game,” the bird explained. “I was the lucky recipient of a long tongue for a day last week because a toad wished to share his joy. I don’t know what wish he received, but I tell you a bird with a tongue is quite a surprise to big, juicy insects. My children at well that day.”
On cue, the younger birds began to chirp and hang their beaks open expectantly. Their mother gave them a warm chuckle.
“Did you wish something on me?” Danielle asked.
“Well yes,” the bird said. “You got to fly. And now it’s your turn.”
The chirping from the young ones was growing loud and insistent. The mother bird hopped toward the opening. “Alright children, I’ll look for another worm. The sun is high so no promises.” She turned back to Danielle and heaved a sigh that sounded happy somehow. “I don’t recommend waiting too long,” she added, and the opened her wings and soared away from the opening.
Danielle gazed at the empty opening in stunned silence. When she looked back at the baby birds she found all of them watching her. It felt suddenly like a good time to go. She waddled to the lip of the opening and peered down. The branch was large and wide just a little below her, but beyond that the ground was dizzyingly far away. She gulped through a suddenly dry throat.
“The bird said I could fly for a day,” she told herself, but it did little good calming her fears.
She shuffled forward, tugging along her heavy clothes. She lost her balance when a snag under her shirt gave way and tumbled down onto the branch, her clothes landing heavily on top of her. She lay there listening to her heart pound and counting her blessings, until she noticed the slow movement of her clothes as they slid over the edge of the branch.
She scrambled against the rough bark but her clothes were too heavy and she was too entangled. She was pulled over the edge into open air. There was a moment of indecision, almost like in those silly cartoons she sometimes watched. She felt a lift, a calling into the sky, take hold of her. The clothes weighing on her limbs did not respond to the same call, and soon she was sinking with them, sometimes hanging up as a breeze caught her shirt like a parachute, other times plummeting as if tied to a stone.
Danielle awoke at the base of a tree a good twenty feet beyond the soft sand of the jump she and her friends had so carefully constructed. The wooden car was smashed to bits and the new helmet had come off. Her shirt was torn in a few places but over all she didn’t have much more than scratches, and a lump on her head that she swore had been there already. It didn’t matter. Dario had run and gotten her parents, and from there bad just turned to worse.
They were all grounded for a week. The jump was taken apart and there would be no more talk of building any kind of moving vehicles. What was worse was that over the next couple of weeks, Danielle couldn’t shake a growing sense of urgency, as if she had some great task she had to get done, and the longer she delayed the more pressing it became.
Her nights were filled with one falling dream after another, the kind that jerks you awake. Her days were filled with strange daydreams of flying and talking with animals, so much so that her teacher complained to her parents about her attention and she was in trouble all over again. Still she felt that there was something important she was supposed to do. She found herself searching the skies for it on the playground and trying to spy it in the underbrush during her walk home from school.
“What’s gotten into you?” Kim complained when they were finally allowed to play together again. “You’re far away.”
“I don’t know,” Danielle sighed. “I just wish…”
A funny thing happened when she said that word. Her nerves prickled as if something exciting and important were just about to come into view.
“I wish…” she said again, savoring the feeling.
She hadn’t felt this alive in weeks. What did she wish? She wanted it to be something big. Important. Meaningful to match the way the word felt on her lips.
Kim laughed her light, musical laugh. “You are a walking daydream, Danielle,” she said. “You should see yourself right now. Are you sure the doctor said you were alright?”
Danielle smiled. Her best friend’s laughter was one of her favorite things.
“I wish I could share how amazing it is to laugh,” she said suddenly, “with someone who doesn’t know how.”
Kim laughed again and shook her head.
“Of course you’d wish something like that,” she said. “That’s you all over. Come on. The boys have been working on a heavy duty kite or something and they made me promise not to tell any parents. You in?”
“Yes!” Danielle beamed, and she followed her friend with the feeling of someone walking lightly after a great weight has been lifted from their conscience.
The next morning as Danielle let the dogs out to use the yard before school, there was a strange sound coming from the bushes behind her house. It was stuttered and gutteral but somehow light and uplifting all in one. She pulled the leaves aside and found a porcupine.
She gasped and looked quickly for the dogs. The last thing she needed was to get in trouble for letting the dogs get a quill in the snout. They were busy sniffing one of her mother’s rose bushes though.
“I don’t know what’s happening to me,” the porcupine cried, blinking up at her with pleading eyes. “I feel… happy. So happy. And this noise keeps coming out of my lungs. And the more it does, the happier I feel.”
Danielle, gave a laugh of astonishment and leaned down.
“Well little porcupine,” she said, “you’re in for an interesting day. I have a little story to tell you, about a game of wishes. And I recommend that you don’t wait too long before passing it on.”
Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome! Please help support this indie author by telling your friends about this short story blog at http://www.farsideofdreams.com and buying W. C. McClure’s books at http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!