Castle in the Sky

‘This is a bad idea,’ said Maria, wringing the front of her skirt. Hussein laughed.

‘What’s the worst that will happen?’

She opened and closed her mouth a few times; it was such a stupid question that she didn’t know how to answer it. Hussein carried on his work, double- and triple-checking his equipment.

‘Well you could die for one, and then I’d be stuck out here in the middle of nowhere.’

Hussein shrugged.

‘There’s the truck,’ he said.

‘I can’t drive. You know that.’

He shrugged again, bigger this time. Maria recognised the meaning of that: I offered to pay for lessons.

‘I’ve got to do this,’ he said. Maria snorted.

‘No you don’t. We’ve got a good life. You don’t need to go chasing after castles in the sky.’

Hussein stopped what he was doing and turned to look at her. His expression was entirely serious, and Maria recognised the meaning of that too: I don’t want to talk about this any more.

‘You know who pays for our good life, my love. I have to do this.’

They stood there for nearly a minute, looking into each others’ eyes. Maria could see some fear there – it was hidden well, and anyone other than her would never spot it in a thousand years, but it was there. Of course Hussein knew the risks. His brain could be fried by the lightning, or his soul could be ripped out of his body, or they could follow the signal here. That would be the worst outcome – that would mean a death stretching over decades for both of them.

Maria broke first, looked down at the floor. She wanted to scream and shake him. She wanted to hug him and tell him it would be OK. She turned and walked out of the door, unable to do either, suppressing tears of fear.

The landscape was beautiful, if monotonous. There were fields of white flowers stretching out as far as Maria could see, and no sign of people in sight, save for their little shack, their truck, and the twin tracks of crushed flowers they had made on their journey here, three weeks prior.

The air was warm and humid. Dark clouds were forming overhead. The storm that Hussein was going to use as cover was almost upon them. Maria crouched down and picked a flower; she held it to her nose and sniffed. It smelled of nothing at all. She looked up at the object in the sky: it almost looked like a cloud itself, the upper part of an hourglass hanging impossibly in the air, but Maria knew better.

‘The city of the gods,’ she said, and wondered if its inhabitants even had a sense of smell. If they did, why had they made these sterile imitations of life? As a joke?

Thunder rolled in the distance. Maybe he’ll find out, she thought, and turned to go back inside.


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