Sleep That Burns
He was given to episodes of spontaneous flotation. It had happened three times in his twenty-three years, but not once in the past five.
Whatever it was that lifted him, some unseen hand or invisible tether to the sun - had deserted him finally, or so he hoped. He never thought it would happen again. In fact, he'd convinced himself the three flying episodes were the waking fantasies of an over-imaginative child.
Twice he'd been plucked from a seated position and bounced against the ceiling for several minutes. All alone, he'd tried desperately to steer clear of the fans. His organs, usually solid and weighting within the confines of his skin, were suddenly lighter than air. He suspected it was his flesh, more than anything that hindered his progress through the ceiling and beyond.
Once though, at night, as he lie on a hill staring up at the stars, he was lifted again. He hadn't realized it at first. The stars so very far away seemed just as distant ten feet off the ground. He'd been on the verge of sleep and was jolted awake by the brush of a tree branch against his leg.
He'd swooned upward, beyond the tree. He kept his eyes on the Plaedies - his favorite constellation - and refused to twist his neck to look down. Chills tickled him as he pushed through a light fog. He'd reached the clouds. They were nearly translucent but icy cold and like water on his skin.
He wondered how high the hand would take him. Lifting him up, up, like a mother lifts her child off the floor and into her arms.
And at last - because he believed the hand would not drop him - he looked down at the earth and gasped. Floating higher than he'd imagined, he recognized the contour of the river that ran through town, blinking with lights on either edge.
Something low droned in his ears. He squeezed his eyes shut and thrashed his head about. The droning wouldn't stop. And then he turned - a pair of white lights, set within a pair of red. A plane, but did it share his altitude? Could he really be that high?
Rolling over, his stomach faced the earth. He pointed his head in a dive position and willed himself downward. Nothing happened. Still, the unseen hand carried him higher, and he was finding it difficult to breathe. He rolled over and the plane soared above him, its huge gray belly like a whale leaping in the ocean.
It will kill me, he thought, closing his eyes to the stars he so loved. It would take him beyond the atmosphere and he would implode or explode or whatever it was organic bodies did in a vacuum. He weighed the cons and pros of both briefly, until a knot in his stomach sent him into another roll. He was on his way back down.
The hand dropped him onto the grass and the shock of his own sudden weight sent him face first into the soil. He coughed the potent air back into his lungs and laughed, his fingers kneading the grass.
Flipping over he looked up at the sky. How high had he been? Twenty-thousand feet? Thirty? Surely he would've died if he'd been that high.
He couldn't move for an hour. He lie on the ground like he'd just consumed a gigantic feast. If someone had looked up to see him, what might he have looked like? A dot? A dot with arms and legs flailing? Could they have seen his breath?
That had been the last episode and since then, he'd convinced himself they'd been dreams. He'd always been a vibrant dreamer.
But it happened again - on a day he felt very much alive. He never believed in love at first sight until now. And when he spoke with Priscilla it was if he knew what her every response might be, exactly the tilt her head might make and the very wattage of gleam in her eye.
Love had never found him before. Never in his twenty-three years and he knew it was love. This pleasurable nausea had to be love. He couldn't stand to be around her for fear of fumbling and yet he couldn't take his eyes off her. He found this dichotomy strangely fascinating and his last flying episode sparked in his mind -- yes, love reminded him of it. The hatred of the loss of control coupled with the pure freedom of being set adrift.
Priscilla was standing next to him when it happened. He felt the tell-tale buoyancy of his body rising. He walked but his shoes fell on streets of air.
"What's happening?" Her eyes bent in worry as he fluttered beyond her. He reached for her hair, held it for a moment and let go. Strands of it curled in his fingers. He brought them to his face and breathed in her scent.
"Hey!" she shouted and he flipped over. He watched her hair stream behind her as she ran.
The hand had never plucked him outside in the daytime. The sun burned into him and he preferred looking down. Priscilla waved her arms but soon her arms were indistinguishable from her body, and her body from the ground. His lungs ached and as he sucked in the weakened oxygen it only made his lungs burn more.
Sunlight massaged him with warm, pulsing rays. Now, at this height, he could see the curvature of the earth. Would it forget to put him back down? Would it abandon him up here forever?
He knew now, that this was no dream. The iciness in every cell, the contrasting unrestrained scorch of the sun proved it to him. And he'd known love, if only for a few moments, he'd known love.
The nurse held a damp washcloth to the man's forehead. His cheeks blazing with heat and moisture. He spoke in a fevered state, words she couldn't understand, words that meant nothing. Her hair had come loose beneath the tiny peaked hat and she uncurled the blond mane to shake it free.
The man was young, and, she suspected by the soft creases of his face, angelic, virginal. She bent and embraced him with long, lovely arms, then kissed his mouth. And to him, it was like falling into the sun.
Tricia Urlaub has been writing all her life. The past nine months have brought a flurry of successes due to her more focused commitment on getting
published. While not writing she cares for her two young sons in Upstate New York,
whose carefree and imaginative minds are often the fuel for her stories.
Other credits include "Escaping the Dark" in Ralph's Review and "Jack Carver" in Frightwriter.com. Another story, "Dead Flower Petals," is slated for publication in Dark Petals Magazine. She is currently working on a novel.
Check out Tricia's author's webpage at:
"Death by Disease" in the Twilight Times Archives was Tricia Urlaub's first online published story.