Chapter 1

Once upon a time, there was a boy and girl who lived for Dragoncon. They saved up all year for it, worked hard on their costumes and fan fiction, and sharpened their videogame skills. For years they’d spent every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, acting like crazed insomniacs. They were science-fiction/fantasy geeks at a convention of 60,000-plus, and lots of their friends were there too.

They’d started their day at a parade, visited with all their friends, went to a few workshops and panel discussions, met with more friends for lunch, partied a lot, went to a screening, played in a tournament (the boy), met more friends and went to a party, went to another party and met more friends, went to a costume ball and won a prize (the girl). Then they went to another party. The night was still young. The indie film or the drum circle?

The boy got a wild hair, and they spent a lot of effort getting onto the roof of their hotel. The boy ran up the stairs from the 47nd floor; the girl struggled behind him, complaining. He felt a draft in the stairway down on the ground floor, and insisted all the way up the elevator that there was a reason for it. And there it was: the door to the roof was wide open, propped open. And that was surely a miracle, because what job-fearing employee would even unlock the roof access door during Dragoncon?

The boy and girl walked out into the balmy night, crunching over the gravel roof, the tops of other skyscrapers visible beyond the parapet. The wind was the loudest sound, but underneath they could hear thousands of costumed partiers in the streets of the hotel district. Sirens, gunshots or firecrackers, laughter, shouting, singing, the car horns of frustrated drivers. It was after 2 a.m. but this part of Atlanta was up all night.

Which is why the roof was such a great idea. They were alone at one end of the vast concrete roof, a block-long skylight glittering down the middle. “This is perfect,” the boy said, and sat down with his back against the skylight pediment. “Okay, then. Let’s get fucked up.”

This is what they did. The girl sat down next to him and pulled a couple of beers out of her backpack. He fished around in his pockets and found his pill bottle. She rolled a joint. He selected tonight’s entertainment from a fistful of different pharmaceuticals, and they shared mushrooms and ecstasy, with half an ambien to ward off the speedy jitters. Then they settled down and waited for the drugs to kick in.

Time passed.

The breeze was nice.

***

The girl realized that something was poking her. She shifted around to get away from it, but it kept nudging her side. Annoyed, she cracked her eyes open to see what it was, then sat upright in surprise. A giant hand was floating in the gloom of the rooftop, glowing softly, repeatedly jabbing her with its index finger. The fingernail was ragged and chewed-looking, and the size of her head. A real hand, not some smartass in a costume. And not some animatronic thing on a crane, either.

The finger continued to come at her. She hit it and scrambled away, and it started poking at the boy. Once they were both paying attention, the finger turned and began putting up graffiti on the retaining wall. It scrawled something in wild style, long and intricate and really hard to read, glowing and sparkling in the night.

They were arguing about what it said when they noticed the script beginning to fade out. “Quick,” the girl said, rummaging in her backpack, “retag it before it disappears.” She handed him her can of JIC spray paint and he ran over to trace the glowing letters, while she grabbed her phone and took a picture of the hand swirling along the wall.

The finger got to the end of its message, and turned to point at them, floating in the air. Then it twitched violently, and blasted them with sparkly stuff. It pointed at the wall, and suddenly they could read the message. “Second star on the right and straight on ’till morning,” they read. They turned to look at each other.

“Oh, please,” the boy scoffed. “Peter Pan meets Omar Kayyam.”

The girl started wiping the sparkly stuff off, then stopped and looked at it shining on her skin. “Wait,” she said slowly, “maybe this is, like, pixie dust.”

“Yeah, right,” he said, but stopped smearing it around his face. “Hmmm. Maybe if we thought happy thoughts…”

They stood there and thought for a moment while the hand bobbed in the breeze, waiting.

“How did it work in the movie?” the boy asked. They thought about it. Then the boy jumped up in the air, flinging his hands above his head. “Christmas!” he shouted. “Candy! Chocolate ice cream!”

“A free vacation!” she yelled, bouncing on her toes. “Canceled student loans! Bank error in your favor!”

They were both jumping up and down like children. “Minecraft!” “Guild Wars!” “World of Warcraft!”

The hand sagged onto the roof. “Maybe it wants us to get on its, um, back, and it’ll do all the work,” he suggested. The hand edged away.

The girl looked at the edge of the building, the parapet glowing in the darkness. “You’re not thinking straight,” she said. “It’s fifty floors down if it drops us.”

“I’m never wrong,” he said, sticking out his chest and rising gently into the air.

“How did you do that?” the girl demanded.

He floated a foot above her head. She reached for his feet but he bobbed away, ignoring her. “I’m the best,” he said softly, and rose a little higher. “I’m fucking awesome,” he shouted, and went zooming across the roof. He stopped at the very edge, his foot catching the top of the wall. He teetered on the edge like a balloon on a string.

“Be careful,” the girl shouted, running after him. “Grab onto me, I’ll save you.” Then she rose into the air herself.

They were flying. Sort of. They were hovering in the air, slipping slowly down until their toes scraped the roof. And then they were standing there, looking at each other.

“We can fly?” she asked.

He started jumping again. “Think happy thoughts.” But nothing happened. “Maybe we should try something else besides happy thoughts,” the boy suggested. He looked around and saw the cap of a vent system. “If we got up onto that and jumped off…”

The girl walked over to the edge of the building and looked down at the happy partiers wandering the streets. “What are we thinking? We’re hundreds of feet up. We can’t fly, we’ll just kill ourselves.” She shrank back, dizzy, feeling sick from the height. She felt foolish, and perhaps dangerously over-medicated.

“Yeah, but this is just a dream,” the boy reminded her. “We’re not really awake.” The boy pointed out their sleeping selves, slumped against the wall with their empty bottles around them.

The girl checked the time on her phone. Barely an hour after they left the party downstairs. “Oh.” She couldn’t come up with any good reasons why not, if they were really just dreaming. “Okay,” she agreed finally.

They gradually figured out how to control their movements, running the length of the rooftop, flapping their arms and jumping up, swimming thru the air kicking their arms and legs like frogs.

“This is the shit,” the boy said, grinning, and he flew over the edge of the parapet and kept going.

“Don’t look down,” she advised, still cautiously flying back and forth over the roof, but the boy didn’t hear.

He was staring down at the street. “I wish somebody would look up,” he said. “I wish someone would come out on their balcony to see this.”

“I’ll take a picture,” the girl offered, and the boy posed as Superman while she grabbed her phone and took a shot.

He landed next to her on the roof. “Let’s do something fun,” he said.

“Like what?” She looked at their bodies, and went over to twitch her sleeping self’s shirt into a more attractive drape around her waist.

“How about straight on ’til morning?”

They turned and looked at the graffiti. She walked over and peered down over the edge of the building. “You’re sure we’re asleep…”

“We’re either asleep or tripping, or both. What harm can come to us? Have you ever died in a dream?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, I have.”

“And?”

She thought. “I went into another dream,” she said. “Okay, fine.”

They launched off the roof and aimed for the nearest skyscraper. The girl had trouble keeping aloft. She kept sinking, closer to the ground every moment. When she was scraping the tips of the branches, she saw that people had noticed her descent, and were coming to catch her. She turned her face to the sky and kicked and pulled with all her might, imagining happy thoughts with a determination born of panic.

She was out of breath and exhausted when she finally landed on a tiny little platform at the top of the next skyscraper. The boy was waiting for her, smiling broadly. He’d been tagging the rooftop while she was fighting her slump toward the street and felt really good about his accomplishment.

They rested against the rooftop pillars. They boy scraped pixie dust off his arm and collected it in his hand. “You think maybe you didn’t get enough?” he asked, offering to shower her with it. She shook her head. It wasn’t the dose, it was the attitude; she could feel it. He looked at the pile of pixie dust for a moment, then raised his hand to his nose and snorted it, coming away with a sparkly face. “Wow,” he said, lying back on the roof. “I’m full of stars.” His body dissolved into galaxies and suns.

The girl watched the boy’s molecules spin for awhile, fretting about how they were going to get down off the building, and what the cops were going to say about their being up there. She felt herself shrinking into a tiny little worried clump inside of herself, like something she pulled up out of the bathtub drain.

After a few minutes, the boy condensed back into a single human body and sat up. “We’ve got to get flying,” he reminded her, standing up. “I don’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere when morning comes.” He peered for the second star to the right, which seemed a little dimmer. There was a faint blue line on the eastern horizon.

“But we can’t really fly,” the girl insisted. “We were stupid to try it. And I’m all out of happy thoughts. “

“Well, I’m not,” the boy declared. He stood up and walked to the edge. The girl gasped as he dove off the tower. Thirty seconds later he was back, zooming circles around the platform where she sat hysterically crying. “Here I am,” he said. “Why don’t you take a picture. Think of what our friends will say when they see it on Facebook.”

So she shot a picture of him hanging in the air, and one of his tag on the roof, and that made her feel better. Until she looked down again. There was no room on the platform to get a good running start; she was going to have to launch herself right off the edge of the building, and that scared her. Her feet were like ice, and her stomach had seized into a knot. “I can’t,” she whispered.

The boy landed beside her and took her in his arms. He kissed the top of her head and rubbed her shoulders while she breathed in his warm smell. It always calmed her; their fights always ended with her nestled into his chest, overcome with the comfort of him. It was probably the pheromones, she thought. He broke away and took her hand. “We’ll go together.”

She looked at him wide-eyed, thinking about suicide jumpers, and tried to snatch her hand away, but he wrapped himself around her once again and gave her a big deep kiss, a kiss he meant, and by god she felt herself rising up off the roof.

Happy thoughts.

***

They flew on and on for hours.

They flew and they flew until they didn’t have anything else to talk about.

They flew and flew until they started to get hungry.

It was 4:30 a.m. and there was no sign of dawn. The second star on the right was still stubbornly ahead of them.

So they concentrated, and closed their eyes, and wished as hard as they could to be there already. And when they opened their eyes again, the second star on the right filled half the sky. It was blindingly white, and the sky around it was the darkest midnight blue.

“We’re almost there,” the boy said, and sped up. It was definitely a sun.

They flew closer and realized it wasn’t a sun, but a planet. They got closer, and saw it changing focus, rather than size. One moment they were looking at a huge ice planet that took up half the sky, and the next moment it was a rocky moon taking up half the sky.

They kept flying toward it, and it became a really large cloud-covered island, surrounded by a deep blue ocean. Then it looked more like a small sandy islandette in a big circular lake. As they got closer, it became more like a little ornamental gazebo on a hump of dirt in the middle of a large pond. And then it was more like a float in a swimming pool.

“We’re getting too close,” the girl said, as it resolved into a dark blue dinner plate with a lump of mashed potatoes in the middle. But they couldn’t stop, they could barely slow down. Now it was more like the kind of bubble kids blow with soap and a wand. They could see themselves reflected in its surface. And they were still heading straight at it at millions of miles an hour.

It was now the size of a cell, and they could see cilia waving on the fringes. Then it was more like a molecule, and the void began to have stars in it again. “It’s like the Incredible Shrinking Man,” the boy whispered. “We’re going into another universe.”

The girl nodded. “It’s an atom now. We’ve got to get out of here.”

They pushed back with all their might, and slowly the second star on the right reversed itself and began to get bigger, growing from atom to molecule to cell to soap bubble. They slowed to a stop in front of the large white continent surrounded by its dark blue ocean, then argued if it was really a planet sized object or a large blue marble. In the end they saw clouds swirling over the horizon and settled on planet.

They landed on a cloud, which continued swirling and sweeping across the continent below. The boy danced around, kicking up trails of cloud, while the girl kept sinking into the mist, and had to ask the boy for a hand. They never noticed the stranger flying in until he landed next to them on the cloud and arranged his robes neatly around his feet.

They gawked. He allowed it for a moment, but waved off a photo when the girl grabbed her phone.

The boy gave a thumbs up. “That’s a great costume, man.”

The girl asked, “How’d you attach the wings? Magnets or straps?”

He had expected to see shock in their eyes, followed by reverence and awe. He drew himself up. “I’m an angel,” he explained, drawing his fiery sword to intimidate them.

But they weren’t falling to their knees and hiding their eyes. He was astonished. They came up and actually tried to touch the sword. “It’s going to burn you,” he warned, moving it out of their way.

“Yeah, yeah,” the boy agreed. “I know it’s real fire and all, but it’s a prop, right? What I want to know is how you got that great orange flame – are you using calcium chloride?”

The girl studied it. “Maybe it’s virtual. Do you think it’s more like the fiery greatsword in Terraria, or the flaming sword in Oblivion?”

“Where’s the switch, under the guard?” The boy tried to take the sword from the angel, who twitched it away. “Can you adjust the flame? Does it have extra features? What’s it cost? I want one.”

The angel backed off the edge of the cloud and stood in the clear air. “I didn’t come here for you to covet my stuff. You can have your own stuff if you want.”

The boy pointed down to the continent. “What’s all this, anyway?”

The angel sheathed his sword and came back onto the cloud. “Okay. Just listen. That’s the Garden.”

“More like a frozen waste, but okay,” the girl observed.

The angel ignored her. “I”m supposed to give you your birthright in the form of mighty gifts and burdensome duties.” They looked blankly at him. “Your birthright comes with the Garden, here.” They didn’t understand. “There’s a quest,” he explained.

“Okay,” the boy said brightly, looking at the girl, who nodded. “What do we do?”

“Just wait. There are things I”m supposed to tell you.”

The girl interrupted again. “Are you an NPC?”

“What?” the angel snapped.

“Never mind,” she said.

“Be silent and listen.” The angel cleared his throat and continued. “I taught you to fly…”

“You did not!” The girl snorted. “We could have died.”

“That was you? The finger?” the boy asked. “Up on the roof?”

The girl looked at the angel’s hand. “Yep, same ragged fingernails.”

The angel slid his hands into his sleeves and cleared his throat again. “The power of flight. That’s part of your birthright.”

The boy looked hopeful. “There’s more?”

“Yes. You control the land and the skies and the waters. You rule over the Garden. Your powers are such that you will but think it and it shall be so, and you will but desire to go and you shall be there. You can take any form and accomplish any goal, and nothing can overcome the exercise of your will. You have the powers of the gods.”

The boy turned to the girl. “Okay, that’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, plus unlimited agility, strength, vitality and defense. Also infinite intelligence, with magic, luck and charisma. What am I leaving out?”

“Flight, teleportation, energy manipulation, shapeshifting,” she ticked off, “manifestation, weather manipulation, healing, regeneration, power amplification and negation.” She looked at the angel. “Did you say something about heavy burdens?”

The angel harumphed and fluffed out his robes. They were idiots. This was beneath him. “No doubt you will discover the limitations of all your newfound powers, and will come to feel the burden of all you create, and understand the chain of events that spring from each wish you make, and the loneliness of power.”

“No, that’s cool,” the boy said. “We already understand all that, and we’ll be just fine. Now, about that quest…”

“We’ll get to that later,” the angel replied, more irritated by the moment. “First I want you to go down and inhabit your dominion, discover your powers, and create. Since you know so much already, I will prepare to be surprised and amazed by your results.”

“Damn straight,” the boy agreed. “I’ve already got some ideas.”

The girl was silent. Nothing occurred to her. Maybe she could create something to eat. She turned to ask the boy if he was hungry, but he had already plunged off the edge of the cloud and was on his way to the surface. She turned to the angel instead. “Everything will be okay, tho, right?” she asked.

The angel made a face. “Maybe,” he said. “You two aren’t exactly the perfected beings I was expecting, but maybe you can pull it out of your ass before I get back.”

“You’re going?” she asked, panicky. “What are we supposed to do down there?”

He shrugged and began preening his wings. “Create. Make worlds. Use your powers to make it all wonderful.” He frowned and nudged a feather back into place. “There was one proviso, tho, let me think.”

“Don’t eat any apples?” she offered.

He snorted. “They’re organic heritage apples with no pesticides and no GMOs. You can eat all you want. No, the prohibition is about wasting time.” He walked to the edge and hiked up the bottom of his robe, glancing at her before launching into the air. “Don’t waste my time,” he said with a frown, and dropped below the cloud.

The girl was left alone, on top of a cloud swirling in the atmosphere, high above a large oceanic continent, traveling on a smallish planet somewhere in the universe. She took a picture with her phone. Then she wondered what she should do next, as she began sinking slowly thru the cloud. For a long time nothing happened. She wondered if she was between dreams, and maybe if she opened her eyes she would see the boy sleeping next to her on the roof. But if she was on the roof, it must be raining, because she was soaking wet, and cold, and water was running down her forehead and stinging her eyes.

She came out from under the clouds and saw a huge gray landscape – everything from mountains and valleys to deserts and plains and tundra. As she floated lower, she realized that there were no cities, no roads, no ships on the water. And no sign of the boy. There was no way to spot him in all that vastness, and she’d never find him if she searched on foot. So she pulled herself back up to a good height and tried to feel his presence, focusing her attention outward, searching for the imagined hint of his location. She picked a direction at random, closed her eyes and visualized him waving at her.

***

She opened her eyes, and found herself speeding thru the air. There he was, in the middle of nowhere, sitting on a couch in a field of rocks, a plasma screen in front of him, an array of videogame controllers and remotes on the ground around him. She tried to land on the couch beside him, but crashed into the table he was resting his feet on, scattering equipment.

“So much for the impressively sophisticated landing, eh?” he smirked. He could fly so much better than that.

“The angel told us to create worlds,” she said, settling down beside him. “Where’d all this come from?”

“I don’t know, I guess I created it,” he shrugged. “I wanted to play Grand Theft Auto, and here it was. But now I’d settle for lunch. And a doob.”

So they concentrated, and wished up their favorite lunch. When they opened their eyes again, there was a buffet in front of them.

“Okay,” the boy said, reaching for his bacon cheeseburger, “I don’t know about all this other stuff. Collards? Sweet and sour soup?”

The girl felt embarrassed. Who knew she was such a pig? She examined the bounty carefully and picked a spinach salad.

After lunch they spent a lot of time exploring their godlike powers. They created a bunch of animals, mainly from memory. Then they did a bit of terraforming, pushing up the distant mountains, manifesting a plunge pool beyond the plasma screen, making some trees which shot up to shade height. They whipped up a nice fresh breeze, and parked a thunderstorm where they could watch it but not get rained on.

They concentrated on creating a world, and when they opened their eyes, there was a little globe, about eight inches in diameter, spinning in the air between their outstretched hands. The boy stuck his finger underneath and mugged while the girl took a picture with her phone. Then he flipped the world into the air and it stuck, growing in size until it took up half of the sky, clouds beginning to form and curl as it rotated.

“How…?” the girl asked.

The boy tried to look nonchalant. “Just incredibly talented, of course.” He waggled his fingers at it, and cities formed and ships ventured across the oceans. “We’ll just let it go on for awhile and see what happens,” and turned his attention to hybridizing animals.

They made a few more worlds, materialized more food and drugs, messed with a few more animals, and then got bored. The boy went back to his video game, the girl wandered around making flowers grow.

***

The angel found them in a clearing of avocado trees in the middle of the Garden, watching a movie on the plasma screen. Hyenas fought over leftover food a short distance away. He looked around. There were animals cowering in the cleft of a valley, being threatened by dinosaurs with ugly teeth. In the other direction, an elysian field burned and smoke fouled the sky. Several created worlds hung in the sky above the Garden, in various stages of decrepitude. There was trash on the ground.

The angel stood in front of them and cleared his throat. The boy and girl passed a joint and ignored him, the boy waving him out of the way with his remote, the girl leaning sideways to see around his wings.

The angel fumed. He took out his fiery sword and gestured toward the plasma screen. It crackled and blew up; the plastic emitting a gungy black cloud that drifted toward one of the worlds and began wrapping around it. The world’s inhabitants wailed, making a squeaking sound, like millions of mice suddenly crying out in terror.

The angel threw a fit. “Look what you’ve done to this paradise…I turn my back for just…I can’t believe you’d be so…” he sputtered. “Do you know what you’ve done?” He waved at the maimed animals and smoking ruins. “Don’t you know what all this is for?”

The boy and the girl just looked at the angel. “Dude,” the boy said finally. “You brought us here.”

“We’re kind of waiting for you to tell us,” the girl added.

The angel was stunned. Were they all this lazy and self-centered? And clueless? Maybe he just didn’t explain it properly. Maybe he was just enabling them; maybe it was his fault they had no ambition. “I thought I told you to create worlds and learn to use your powers,” he began reasonably.

They waved at their half-hearted efforts. “We’ve been very busy,” the girl said brightly.

One of the worlds picked that moment to launch an interplanetary war against its neighbor. There were fireworks. “These are godlike powers I’ve given you,” he said. “And you’re showing the skill level – and maturity – of preschoolers. It’s not good enough,” he waved at the chattering spider monkeys in the avocado forest. “It’s not an improvement on anything. The poor things can’t even eat properly.”

Words formed in the angel’s mind – responsibility, compassion, giving a fuck – and he considered possible solutions, like imposing schedules and routines, and requiring reports and benchmarks. But the boy and girl were gazing at the place where their plasma screen had been, and idly passing the joint between them again. They weren’t going to follow any of the rules he might set for them, he realized. They would drag their feet and miss deadlines, with only lame excuses and out-of-proportion crises as reasons why not.

The angel lost his patience. “God sent me to tell you that you have to pay for all this,” he said, waving his sword at the destruction, which caught fire and disintegrated. “You owe him rent, too.” That got their attention. The boy and girl started to protest, but enough was enough, and the angel threw them out of the Garden. He used his fiery sword to raise up a barrier, then explained that they weren’t getting back in until they’d finished their quest.

“Yeah, but you’ve never told us what the quest is,” the boy insisted.

The angel paused with his sword ready to prod them along. “Oh,” he said, and dropped the sword point, scorching his hand as the flames crept up the guard. “Just answer a simple question,” he said, blowing on his burnt wrist. “Ow. What’s the point?”

“Don’t feel bad,” the girl said sympathetically. “Do you want me to kiss your booboo?”

“We all get frustrated,” the boy added. “You can’t let it get you down.”

“What’s the point of the game,” he clarified.

“Oh.” The boy and girl thought about it. “What game?”

The angel gestured to include everything.

“Oh.” They looked around, stumped.

“Okay, it’s a world management game, right? So the point would be…points?” the girl asked.

“Winning,” the boy suggested.

“What is behind that curtain?” the angel tried a metaphor, feeling overwhelmed and distracted by the pain in his hand.

“Huh?”

“Just answer Yes or No!” he yelled, but they didn’t understand.

The angel sighed, and waved the sword at them with his other hand, prodding them away from the fiery gates and into the bush. “You’ll figure it out.” The boy and girl stood outside the gates, whining, while the exhausted angel materialized a boulder, quenched his sword in it, and collapsed on the couch with his head in his unburnt hand. It started to rain.

“Let’s go, I guess,” the girl said, and started off in a random direction.

“No, wait,” the boy said. “I’m not leaving. He has no right to kick us out of there.”

“So? Who are you going to complain to? I’m hungry,” the girl said, wiping rain from her face. “I’m wet.”

The boy stood back and examined the fiery wall. Then he took a running leap and flew over it. The girl followed him, singeing her feet mid-flight as she dipped too close to the flaming wall.

The boy landed by the rock that held the quenched sword, and pulled it out easily. “Cool,” he whispered, looking over at the angel, who was still hunched over on the couch. “I wonder how you turn the flame back on.”

The girl spotted a feather from the angel’s wing nearby and picked it up. “We’d better leave before he notices.”

“Let’s go,” he agreed, and they flew out of the Garden and out into the landscape.

***

At first it was just a barren continent full of gray rocks and gray skies. The boy and girl did some redecorating, and fashioned vast forested mountains and lush valleys, rich grazing lands, wet jungles, gurgling waterfalls, shallow seas. They tempered the violence of the storms and decreed that the days would be mostly sunny and mild. Having played god games before, they knew better than to compete, because when you put two cities in a world they always end up going to war with each other. But the cooperation couldn’t last. Where the girl saw happy animals and peaceful coexistence, the boy saw resources he could turn into industrialized city-states. So eventually they split the territory between them. The world was enormous, and they could just do-over any mistakes; so they thought.

They ranged over their territories, creating settlements on the coast, going inland to plant cities next to suitable rivers, plopping nomads down in the desert and prospectors in the mountains. Wherever the girl swept her feather, people sprang up, families and tribes and civilizations spread out. Wherever the boy touched his sword, castles appeared, fortresses and walled cities, with vast armies on the march. All this took a very long time, and was very tiring. The world was so big that by the time they crossed the continent, things had gotten dicey in the earlier settlements, and they had to go around again, tweaking the conditions and intervening in the crises.

It was much more complicated than a videogame, and much more engaging. They’d never been busier. The boy and girl hardly ever crossed paths, but they were in constant contact inside their heads, and could watch and comment on the other’s progress. It was like all the great games rolled into one, with exciting adventures and challenging battles on every level.

As the world advanced into real trouble, they tired of always having to fly out to stop the latest catastrophe. It wasn’t fun anymore. But they couldn’t rest, because there was always something horrible about to happen to their world, and the boy and girl began stressing out over every boss fight. They couldn’t just give up playing, either, because the angel put them in charge and expected results. And they still had no idea how to complete their quest.

After awhile it became a blur. It was all very significant, but they stopped being able to recall the specifics. Lots of running around doing things. At some point the boy said fuck it and began fighting everyone he met, and he won every battle because he had the angel’s sword. He grew rich and powerful, and was feared and respected. The girl, feeling somehow responsible for the boy’s attitude, went around bending over backward to help everyone with her magic feather, and grew beloved and a little sanctimonious.

In time, his lands grew despoiled and his people sickly, and he cast his eyes on her rich and fertile lands, and her happy, healthy people. He massed his armies on her borders. She waved her feather, and the weapons grew heavy, twisted out of the soldiers’ hands, and turned into trees. His soldiers disappeared into the forest, and she was left facing him.

They fought. It was epic. They both ended up killing each other.

While they were dead, they could feel their bodies disintegrate, merging with the land beneath them. They felt themselves growing as big as the world, their bodies stretching out to the horizon and beyond, to the stars. They felt all the creatures of the world running around on top of them, tickling, and felt all the players swarming around their bodies like little cells. They witnessed the progress of civilization over and over again. The eons passed and the players enacted their human dramas in life after life after life.

Then all the drama ceased, and it was quiet for ages, just the boy and girl floating without bodies. Stars being born, growing old, dying. They gradually became aware of the angel, asking them if they knew the answer. They did, they just couldn’t put it into words. There weren’t any words. It was all just awareness.

An infinity dawdled past.

***

They remorted in the stairwell of their hotel at Dragoncon, with their empty beer bottles beside them. They were still lying curled up together, the way they’d been on the roof all those millenia ago. How did it get to be the next morning? How did they get all the way downstairs? The girl had a headache from a kink in her neck. She checked the time on her phone. It was after 9 in the morning; there were panel discussions to attend, and she needed a shower and some coffee. She nudged the boy, who was still holding on to sleep.

Her phone beeped a new message. She didn’t recognize the sender, and showed it to the boy.

WTF?” he wondered, reading: “Nw qst. Make teh gema. Sord/fthr.”

The girl shook her head. “IDK. New quest. Make the game. Sword/feather. No idea. From the angel, do you think?”

“Wow. A text message from a hallucination. Cool.”

“What?” the girl said, looking sharply at him. “How annoying. That was a really meaningful vision we just had. Don’t dismiss it as a drug-induced hallucination.”

“But it was,” he said reasonably. “I agree, tho,” he continued quickly, backing off. “It sure seemed real at the time. Maybe we can play it again sometime.”

She looked at him, wondering. “Maybe we should make it ourselves,” she said.

“Yeah. Like we can possibly make a videogame like that.”

As they collected themselves to leave, they looked back up the stairwell toward the roof. Fifty flights. There was a tiny spot of light at the top, where the door was still propped open. The gloom was filled with sparkly motes of dust, floating down toward them. And in the next moment, a feather dropped out of the darkness and landed on the concrete floor of the stairwell. The girl bent to pick it up.

“No,” said the boy, and pulled her back. “It’s just a pigeon feather. It’s probably diseased. Leave it alone.” He turned to go thru the stairwell door.

She scooped it up and hurried behind him.

***

In a computer-filled basement lit by multiple monitors, a security tech watched as the boy and girl materialized in Stairway C-8 of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. He played the clip several times, then made a notation and forwarded the clip to his superior officer.

**********

read chapter 2

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About jeanne

artist, grandma, alien

Posted on August 6, 2012, in Chapter, fiction and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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