by Line Henriksen
Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing that you’ve been standing here for quite some time now. It’s the traffic lights, isn’t it? They take forever to change.
You know, there is a faster way for a pedestrian such as yourself to travel through this city. One with no traffic lights, no cars, no accursed cyclists. Just you and the open road. Wide open road. Missing road, some might say, but not me. No, I’d never say something like that. Ridiculous thing to say, really. I’ll be quiet and trouble you no more. I swear, you won’t hear another word from me.
Not a word.
Not. A. Word.
Is that an umbrella there, under your arm? It is! What a coincidence. Who’d have thought. In light of this, I feel obligated to tell you a little more, for your own safety. Umbrellas are dangerous things after all. I mean, this city is crawling with them, and nobody seems to know how to use them properly! Can you believe it?
Humour me for a second, if you will, and open your umbrella.
What people seem to forget is that as soon as you open your umbrella and place it above your head – like you did just now, excellent – the sky shifts. For all you know, it may have gone completely. And for all I know, you may be right. This is not a problem, of course, it’s just part of the umbrella experience. However, if you want to travel with umbrellas, you know, really travel, there are two more steps you’ll have to take. Now listen. Shush. There it is…
Can you hear it? Yes, yes, it is thunder, but where from? The sky, you say? You are right of course, but remember: the sky has shifted. Listen again. Listen closely and think about the sky. Not the one above. That sky may be lost for all you know, standing here, underneath your umbrella. No, I’m talking about the sky below.
Oh, the light has changed! Hurry, hurry, away we go.
Can you feel it? The rumble beneath your feet? This is a sky that umbrellas do not shield us from. Oh no. They embrace it. They open their wings to it, to the dark and the deep and the deep dark of an upside-down sky. This, my friend, is when you get a chance to hit the open road. As soon as you hear that thunder, you jump! It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to lift both your feet off the ground, and when they land –
Well, that’s the thing: they don’t. Instead they’ll be dangling over a boundless abyss of swirling thunder as the world rearranges itself around you, and your umbrella steers you towards your destination, quickly, quickly, and you’ll find yourself home in no time, I swear! And this is all perfectly safe of course. Perfectly! As long as –
As long as you don’t look down. You need to keep looking ahead, no matter what happens. And something may well happen, I won’t lie – I’m no liar! – but it’s quite preventable. You see, as the dark and the deep and the deep dark of the shifted sky is opened, some… things… may appear too, and not all of them are kind. Yes, let’s go with that. They’re not kind, and they’ll notice that you’re floating across the void, carried only by the fragile wings of your umbrella, and they’ll want to –
How to put it.
They’ll want to plunge you into the abyss! Yes. No! No no no, much too dramatic. But yes, that’s what they’ll want. And they’ll soar up from beneath your feet, and they’ll try to make you look down, so they grab you by the ankle and say something like “Are you waiting for someone?” or “Excuse me” or –
Wait wait, I know what you’re thinking! I know! You think: “That’s what this stranger said to me when we first met,” but never fear, never fear, I’m not from the abyss.
Or am I?
Hahah, no no no, only kidding my friend, only kidding. Yes, I am. Anyway, they’ll say something along the lines of “excuse me” or “beg your pardon” – most of them are if not kind then at least polite fiends, you see – and then, when you look down, your umbrella will collapse, and you’ll no longer soar but fall straight into the dark and the deep and the deep dark, never to be seen again.
Mind that loose tile there.
Now, I wish I could tell you more, I really do, but I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. Except, it appears the rumbling has grown louder. Do you feel the ground? No? Oh dear. Well, this is the trouble with travelling with umbrellas. One cannot always decide for oneself whether one wants to or not. Open your umbrella on a night of abyssal thunder, walk with a bit of a spring in your step or jump over a loose tile, and all of a sudden the shift is made. But at least now you’ll get to travel fast and –
Don’t look down! Have you not listened to a word I said? Now you must keep looking ahead, no matter what happens. Keep looking ahead, keep looking ahead! Can you feel them grabbing your ankles? Asking you to wait? Yes, yes, me too, but never fear for there is your house already, and you are home, alive and well! Now, remember, don’t look down. Don’t ever look down. What was that? When you’ll be back on solid ground? Why, never, of course. You’re travelling with umbrellas now! Never let it go, never look down, and you’ll be moving so quickly that –
Oh, we’ve passed your house. Ah well, you can always return home later. Now there’s just you and the wide open road. Missing road, some might say, perhaps even I. One learns as long as one lives, right? And one lives long and lonely here, in the deep and the dark and the deep dark. Long and lonely indeed.
Anyway, I’d better get going. People to see, tricks to teach. And no no no, no need to thank me, my friend, I insist!
No need to thank me at all.
About the Creator
Line Henriksen lives in the cold, dark depths of Denmark. She has a PhD in monster theory from Linköping University in Sweden, so rest assured that all her claims concerning monsters are completely true and thoroughly peer-reviewed.
This story was originally published in Andromeda Spaceways.
She has a Twitter: @_linehenriksen_
World’s Shortest Creator Interview
If, due to some very poor logistics, you had to survive several days in some random tropical wilderness, what would you do to find food, and what species would your imaginary companion be?
I hardly know what’s safe to eat in a supermarket, let alone in the wilderness, so I would probably end up overthinking everything and worry so much that my intrusive thoughts would take physical form and follow me around like a second-guessing ghost. “Are you suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuure about that berry? Like really, really sure? Even if it’s not poisonous it’s… healthy.”
If your brain were an extinct animal or mineral, what would it be and why?
A woolly mammoth. I’m pretty sure I have the tooth of an embryonic twin lodged in there somewhere, and judging from my headaches, it’s definitely a tusk.
About the Artists
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and he has a janky retro JRPG on Steam. He does the Space Squid illustrations, editing, and other squid stuff.