Sam was already missing his glasses, and squinting against the wind made it almost impossible to see what was going on. Everyone was looking up at the sky, and Lachlan was pointing, but at first, Sam couldn’t make out what they were looking at.
He finally saw it–a faint black scar in the fluorescent blue sky that seemed to be expanding, growing wider like some kind of demonic grin.
Then, the sky opened up.
The blue parted, opening like a hinged dome to reveal a second black sky beneath. His ears popped again, and the warm air seemed to freeze around him.
The wind grew stronger.
When Sam was little, his dad and grandma had taken him on family beach trips every year. When he was eight, their trip had been cut short when a hurricane had suddenly shifted its course toward the North Carolina coast. He’d woken up to the sound of waves crashing too close to his room, and as his dad had rushed him to the car, the wind had picked up.
It had been unlike anything he’d felt before. Palm trees had bent, and one had snapped with a violent crack and crashed to the ground. He’d clung to his dad, terrified he might blow away if he didn’t hold on tightly enough.
The wind that now battered his face and threatened to tear his jacket from his body made that hurricane seem like a refreshing breeze.
The ground fell away from him as he was lifted into the air, and he reached for Lachlan, realizing too late that he’d reached with his right hand.
To his relief, Lachlan’s hand closed around Sam’s wrist, strong and sure.
Sam tried to replicate what he’d done when he’d moved through time–to stop their ascent and pull everyone back to safety–but he didn’t even know where to start. It was like trying to trying to bend one of his missing fingers. His brain knew the right signals to send–he could even feel the absent finger bending sometimes–but nothing actually happened.
He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting to feel an impact as the wind threw him against a tree or back onto the ground, but it didn’t come. The wind was relentless, carrying him higher and higher as he clung to Lachlan like a lifeline, even though his hand wasn’t very good at clinging anymore.
Just when he’d started to wonder if the wind would blow them upward forever, it began to ease. It didn’t stop, but it weakened enough that it was no longer carrying him upward. Instead, it blew around him, ruffling his jacket, as he hung suspended in midair.
His nose was still bleeding, but the blood wasn’t dripping down his face anymore. It pooled inside his nose, filling it with a copper smell and taste. He felt a few drops escape and drift away without rolling down onto his lips.
How did this make any sense? For gravity to be low enough that his and Lachlan’s combined mass could float like this, there couldn’t be enough atmosphere for this much wind.
Sure, he’d been able to fly before, but that had been different. He‘d been different.
He opened his eyes and looked down, expecting to see the garden from far above. He saw only absolute darkness. He gripped Lachlan’s arm tighter, until that strange, prickling pain shot through his right hand.
He looked up at Lachlan, checking that he was still there–that his firm grip on Sam’s wrist wasn’t a phantom sensation like the twisted pain in his lost fingers.
He was there. It was almost too dark and windy to make out his features, but he was there–an anchor in the cold, empty void.
Sam saw Jen’s blurry silhouette too, the wind lashing her long hair across her face. She stretched her hand toward him, calling out something he couldn’t hear, but she was too far for him to reach.
A voice boomed around them, cutting through the wind and reverberating through Sam’s bones. It was a voice like that of the skull squids, but somehow even more distorted. Even less human. Sam wanted frantically to cover his ears, but he fought the urge. He couldn’t risk letting Lachlan slip away. He couldn’t lose his anchor.
“Who dares intrude upon the sanctuary of Bathsheba, wife of She-Who-Wears-the-Stellar-Crown?”