At the terminal of a busy international airport, a small girl stood with her extended family and a large pile of suitcases. The adults were bickering about uninteresting things like baggage and ticket information and whether or not they should eat now or on the plane.
The girl slipped her hand out of her mother’s hand and quietly stepped a few paces away; far enough that the noise of the conversation was lessened, but not so far that her mother would call her closer.
She gazed into the vast sky in the distance and noticed an orange speck. It looked like it was moving towards the airport in her direction. Her heart raced for some unknown reason. She ached for it to come closer.
The speck gathered volume and speed. It swirled and curled and came to rest high above the control tower. It was an orange cloud.
“Does no one else see the cloud?” the girl thought.
She looked back at her relatives, still arguing. She looked around at the hurried people coming and going through the terminal. They were all looking down at their luggage or looking down at their watches or looking down to avoid having to talk with anyone.
“Surely the people in the control tower see the cloud,” she thought, but there was no sign that anyone had noticed.
The girl looked back at the cloud. It extended a short cloud tendril and directed it toward the ground, then curled it up again, absorbing it into its orange mass. It extended the tendril again. This time, it came half way to the ground before returning. It reminded the girl of someone playing with a yo-yo. Upon the third extension, the tendril came all the way down and landed on the ground in front of her. She reached out to touch it, and felt fear in the pit of her stomach.
“What was I thinking! Why did I want it to come?”
The tendril retracted and the cloud rose a bit higher into the air.
Immediately she regretted her fear. “No!” she thought. “I am so sorry. Please come back.”
The cloud lowered a bit and extended its tendril again. This time, a fluffy orange scoop formed at the end of the tendril and gently lifted the girl towards itself. She rose high into the air.
The girl’s heart swelled. She felt that she had wanted this her whole life then thought, “What a silly thing to think, as I’ve never had any idea of such a thing before.”
The cloud pulled her closer and made a little orange couch for her out of itself. She had a perfect, comfortable view of everything below her. She could see her family and the suitcases and the airport.
The cloud rose higher and headed away from the airport. The air was cold and damp and the wind was rising. The girl felt a little dizzy from the height and uncomfortable with the cold.
“Can you cover me?” she thought to the cloud.
An orange mantle folded her up inside and she felt warm and safe. She couldn’t see anything, but she could tell that they were still moving forward. The swaying motion was comforting and lulled her to sleep. She fought the sleep at first, but trusted that she was safe and that the cloud would take her to whatever place she needed to be.
The girl awoke and stretched. What a wonderful sleep! She remembered where she was and a warm feeling spread from her head to her toes. The cloud had stopped moving, and somehow she could tell that it had landed. A thought crossed her mind and her body tensed up. “What if I can’t get out? Maybe I am stuck in here.”
The cloud opened up an orange door in its side just large enough for the girl to exit, and seemed to be patiently waiting for her do so.
“I did it again,” she thought. “I got scared and stopped trusting the cloud.” She sat up and pledged, “Orange Cloud, I know I can trust you. I will not doubt again.”
She stepped out of the cloud and into a lush green field. She looked up at the sky. It was a shade of violet usually reserved for sunsets, but she could see by the sun that it was midday. Her eyes scanned down to the horizon; there were blue mountains in the distance. They were much richer in color than things usually are when they are that far away. In fact everything was a richer, more vibrant color than what she was used to. Maybe it was because the last place she had seen in her world had been so dull and grey.
Scanning now to her left, she saw rabbit-like animals hopping in the field. Under a nearby tree, a young boy was slumped over a book. He looked up and his eyes caught hers. He smiled broadly and she walked over to meet him.
“Hello!” said the boy. “My name is Terrance.”
“Hello!” said the girl. “My name is Rose.”
Terrance glanced behind her and said, “I see you’ve arrived here by cloud.”
Rose turned to look at the cloud. It was swirling upwards in the shape of a waterspout. It climbed until it reached tree-level, reassembled itself in its natural cloud shape and flew off. Rose wasn’t as alarmed as she thought she’d be. Perhaps it was because of her resolve to trust the cloud.
Terrance turned his gaze back to Rose. He looked directly into her eyes. Rose returned his gaze and saw that he had kind, brown unblinking eyes.
Terrance spoke to her with a smile. “Come sit down under this tree with me and tell me about your cloud adventure.”
Rose sat down facing him in the lush grass. They crossed their legs so they could sit nearer each other. Rose proceeded to tell him about the airport, the orange speck, and her trip in the orange cloud. She even confided in him about the fears and doubts she had had during her adventure.
Terrance was a very good listener. He looked at her with his calm unblinking eyes as if he had all the time in the world to hear her story. He seemed to take it all in, and didn’t scrunch his face up in disagreement, like her mother did, or look away in boredom, like her father did.
After she told her story, she just sat there for a moment under the tree, staring into Terrance’s eyes.
“Terrance,” she asked, “will you tell me your cloud story?”
“OK. I lived in an orphanage complex in the heart of the city. It was not a nice place. I got lonely a lot and it didn’t feel very safe there. One day, I was walking alone on the exercise field. The wind was cold and damp, and the sky was overcast and threatening to rain. In the distant sky, I saw a bright blue speck.
“At first, I thought it was a balloon that had gotten loose and floated away, but it seemed too large for that. I watched as it came closer and seemed to grow in size. It slowed and hovered above the field, and I felt like I called to it somehow.
“It lowered itself slowly until it was level with my face. It seemed, I don’t know, almost shy. I said hello to it, and it swirled around me. It reminded me of a puppy running circles around me, only slower and gentler. It came closer with each round until it started to envelop me. I looked up and could see the sky above me closing off. Finally, with one last puff, the sky was obscured and I realized I was inside the cloud.
“I was scared, but a kind of calm came over me, like the calm of the cloud was infusing me. I thought, well, anything is better than another day at the orphanage. I fell asleep just after that thought. I don’t even remember being lifted by the cloud or carried here.
The next thing I remembered is waking up here in this field with the cloud resting at ground level next to me. It seemed to be guarding me. When it saw that I was awake, it funneled like your orange cloud and took off into the sky.”
They sat in silence once again.
“Terrance?” Rose asked dreamily.
“Yes Rose?” responded Terrance.
“Why do you think our clouds brought us here?”
“I don’t know. No reason, maybe. I haven’t really thought about it in those terms.”
“Did you make a wish before the cloud appeared?” Rose asked.
“Not that I can think of,” said Terrance.
“Maybe the cloud grants unspoken wishes,” said Rose.
“Why do you think it has to do with wishes?” asked Terrance.
“Because the clouds care about us. I feel like we called them somehow, and that they came to our aid and are trying to help us in some way,” said Rose.
“Well, maybe you are right. I did feel safe and loved when I awoke next to the blue cloud. Let me think….if I would have made a wish, it would be for a big family and a safe place to live. But I’ve been here for several days, and although I feel safe here, I haven’t met anyone else besides you.”
“Let’s suppose you were brought here for a reason, and that maybe you have to figure some of it out for yourself in order to get the wish.”
“That feels right. I wonder why I didn’t come up with that on my own,” said Terrance.
They took each other’s hand and headed in the direction of the distant blue mountains, though neither had suggested that particular direction.
They stopped when they got hungry and ate the many fruits and berries that grew on the local trees and bushes. Rose asked Terrance if they were safe to eat. He said he hadn’t thought to ask himself that question when he had first arrived. He had eaten things that “felt right” to eat and that everything that he had eaten had agreed with him. This didn’t make sense to Rose, but she trusted his intuition.
They walked for hours then sat down on the shores of a slow-moving river to watch the sunset. It reminded Rose of a rainbow. The colors changed in bursts every few minutes as the sun went behind lines of clouds and eventually set behind the blue mountains.
They camped by the river, nesting in the tall sweetgrass that grew in clumps along the banks. In the morning, they both awoke at sunrise. They had a bit more fruit and walked on. Neither spoke. Neither had spoken for a long time.
By noon, they had arrived at a bamboo grove. They heard a trickling and followed the sound to a bubbling spring. After drinking deeply, both children lay amongst the bamboo and relaxed.
“Where are we going, anyway?” asked Terrance.
“I’m not sure. I just know that we’ll know when we get there,” answered Rose.
They heard a bird call from a nearby branch.
“I’ve seen a lot of creatures in this land,” stated Terrance, “but I’ve yet to see a bird.”
They got up and followed the sound of the song.
The birdsong would sound, and just as they seemed to be getting close, it would sound again a little way off into the distance.
“What should we do?” asked Terrance.
“I think we should follow the birdsong, don’t you?” replied Rose.
“I guess we haven’t anything better calling us.” decided Terrance.
They followed the sound, sometimes near, sometimes far, through the bamboo grove and into a beech wood, then through that into a fir wood. With each wood, the trees grew closer together and the light was less.
They followed the song until the fir woods dead-ended into a wall of blue rock.
“This must be the base of the blue mountains,” said Terrance.
“What shall we do now?” asked Rose.
“Listen!” whispered Terrance.
Rose could hear the faint sound of the birdsong, but it sounded muted and echoey. The children flattened themselves against the blue rock to push past the fir tree limbs. A little way in, they arrived at the mouth of a cave. By this time, all was almost completely dark, and Terrance grabbed for Rose’s hand so they would not get separated.
“Yes, Terrance. Whatever we are after is through that entrance. I can feel it.” answered Rose.
Inside the cave, there was a dim blue light wavering in the distance. The sound of the birdsong echoed off the walls. They found a little cobblestone path and followed it deeper into the cave. The song rang out again. It seemed to be coming from the blue light. They squeezed each other’s hand in silent agreement and headed in the direction of the singing light.
The children passed over bridges, through underground fields of mushrooms, and steaming swamps filled with the smell of sulphur. They passed through large caverns and smaller antechambers and long tubes of volcanic glass. Always, the singing blue light wavered ahead of them.
“How long do you think we have been in here?”
“I’m not sure, Rose; maybe a day, maybe a little less. Are you tired? Would you like to stop and rest for a while?”
“No. It’s strange. I am not tired or hungry or thirsty. Let’s keep moving, unless you need to rest.”
“No. I am not tired or hungry or thirsty either.”
So they walked on for a while longer. At some point, they lost the sound of the bird. The children both stood stone still. They strained their ears listening for the birdsong and strained their eyes looking for the wavering blue light. Nothing made a sound for the longest time.
Then, the song returned from far off and the blue light appeared. Another song and a second blue light appeared. This second song was slightly different from the one they had been following. A third song with accompanying light joined them, then another and another until the room was filled with a rich complex song and hundreds of blue lights swirling above the children’s heads.
By this time, the light filled the chamber and the children could see the path to the other side of the room. The doorway on the other side opened, and a line of people filed through.
When they reached the children, the man who led the procession spoke, “Greetings, children. My name is Barek. These people are from my clan and we’ve come to meet you.”
One of the birds landed on the man’s shoulder and Rose could see that it was the shape of a star and its whole body was a translucent glowing blue.
The man knelt down in front of Terrance to get a closer look at him. Terrance was drawn to the man immediately and returned his gaze. Rose saw that the man had the same kind, unblinking eyes that Terrance did.
Terrance spoke, his voice wavering, “Am I from here?”
“Yes,” answered Barek. Tears were streaming down the man’s face.
“How did I…get lost? How did I end up in that other place?” asked Terrance.
“Years ago, a small group of clan members set off to the high mountain to collect some medicinal herbs that only grow at the snow line. You and your mother were part of that group. You were so young that your mother carried you on her back. A rock slide occurred. Several members of the party lost their footing and fell from the cliff. The others reported that a blue cloud appeared suddenly, swallowed up the falling people, and disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
“We had no explanation for the event, and though our shaman traveled in dreams to try to find the lost ones, he was never able to do so until a few weeks ago. The shaman started having dreams of the blue cloud. Whenever he had a dream, the next day, one of the fallen ones would return to the village. They each had stories about their adventures in the other lands and told how the blue cloud returned them to our home.
“Until now, everyone else but you had returned, so the clan has been anxiously waiting for you. The shaman had one final dream that the blue cloud had reappeared on the other side of the Blue Mountains. Since you were so young when you disappeared, we were afraid you would not know how to get home so we sent a search party of star birds in hopes of finding you. We felt we had waited long enough, and have come ourselves to find you.”
The man was choked with tears at this point. He could resist it no longer. He extended his arms and pulled the boy close to him in a warm embrace. “You are home at last, my son. Your mother and I have been so worried.”
Terrance held his father. He was home. He was with his family.
When Barek was finally able to let go of Terrance, he stood up and looked at Rose. “Who is your companion, Terrance?”
“This is Rose,” said Terrance. “She arrived by an orange cloud a few days after I did. She has been a good friend. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have started looking for you.”
“Welcome, Rose,” said Barek. “Thank you for helping my son return to us. Come. Let us return to the village for a celebration.”
The group traveled through the caves illuminated by the star birds. Not long had passed when they came upon the blinding white entrance to the outside. Stepping into the fresh air, Rose‘s eyes adjusted quickly and she saw a green valley surrounded on all sides by the Blue Mountains.
They entered the village to a cheering crowd. Barek lifted Terrance onto his shoulders and paraded him through the crowd. Terrance’s mother ran towards him and the crowd parted for her to pass through. Terrance got down from his father’s shoulders and hugged his mother.
“How could I have ever forgotten you,” Terrance said sadly.
“Do not be so hard on yourself. You have been away a long time. Come, let us get reacquainted,” said his mother. She took his hand as they walked towards the village center.
The clan threw a feast to celebrate the returning of the last of fallen ones. Terrance and Rose were given a seat at the head of the table and they feasted and danced and sang with the clan.
That evening, Terrance’s mother showed Rose to a cozy hut not far from the festivities.
“Thank you,” said Rose. “I am getting a bit tired. It’s been a long adventure.”
Rose was fluffing up some sweetgrass into a pile to get ready for bed when Terrance knocked on the entrance.
“Thank you Rose! Thank you for helping me find my way home. It seems the cloud has answered my unspoken wish. But what of your unspoken wish? What is it that you desire, Rose?”
“I am not sure. Part of it was to be really heard and listened to. And you granted that for me, Terrance. You listened to my story and you listened to my intuition about the clouds, and I want to thank you for that. I am not sure that is my deepest wish, though,” said Rose.
“Maybe you didn’t get your wish yet. After all, this is the Blue Mountains and the cloud was blue. Perhaps you will one day go to an orange place and that will be where you will find your unspoken wish fulfilled,” said Terrance.
“Thank you for that, Terrance. Right now, all I can wish for is a peaceful night’s sleep. I hadn’t realized just how tired I have become from our adventure.”
Terrance gave her a hug and kissed her cheek.
“Goodnight, then, Rose. Sweet dreams.”
After Terrance left, Rose flopped down on the pile of sweetgrass. This was going to be a wonderful sleep, she thought. But as comfortable as she was, she couldn’t fall asleep. She lay in bed listening to the sound of the celebration. It eventually died down until all that was left was the sound of crickets, or perhaps tree frogs. She did not know what chirped in this world.
Maybe a short walk and a look at the stars, she thought. Rose exited the hut and walked a little way into the open space. She looked up. Very strange constellations met her gaze. She did not recognize any of the shapes. She imagined that one cluster looked a little like the rabbit-like animals she had seen on the first day of her arrival.
Rose connected the dots in her mind. Right where the face of the rabbit was, she could barely make out a brownish blur. No, it was not a blur, it was a puff of some kind. And it wasn’t brown, it was orange, and it was growing and heading towards her.
No, not now! she thought. I want to stay here with the clan and my new friend. She felt herself tighten, then relaxed. She trusted the cloud, she had resolved to do so. If it was time to go, that was that.
The cloud came closer until it landed next to her. It opened up a little door and as soon as she had crawled in, it closed the little door up and she could feel the cloud lift into the air. Now she slept, and deeply. She didn’t even remember it dropping her off. Rose awoke the next morning in the hotel room and looked across to see her parents in the next bed.
“Good morning, Rose!” said her mother sleepily from the bed. “Don’t worry, I am not mad at you, though you certainly had us worried last night. Sneaking off at the airport without telling us! We had so many people looking for you. What were you thinking wandering off like that?
“Where did you find me, Mama?” asked Rose.
“You were curled up on an orange couch in the children’s playroom at the airport. You were so exhausted, you didn’t even wake when we put you on the plane, and still hadn’t awakened when we deboarded and went to the hotel. I put you to bed, and good thing you slept through. Your father’s had enough time to let go of his anger.
“Come now. We are in France. Let’s put the past behind us. Look out the window! It’s going to be a beautiful day!” said her mother.
Rose looked out the window and it was indeed a beautiful day, but she couldn’t help but look off into the distance to see if her cloud was anywhere in sight.
She didn’t see any sign of the cloud, but she wasn’t sad. The cloud would return and take her somewhere else some day. She knew this in her heart. She trusted the cloud.