In The Sky

The opening chapter to the branching contest. There is something in the sky, something that might mean Izalla's boring life is about to change... forever.


1. Darkness

The doors to the train rubbed against her as they closed. Something faintly human and familiar in the feel of her bare arm against the cold metal. She hated to be confined, even in the space of the train carriage with the askew windows. It brought flashes of a memory she couldn't grip on to, a memory from before she came to London. But today she was visiting her dad in the centre of the city and had to remain calm. She couldn't call the school from any middle-of-nowhere train station again - they couldn't know she had gone.


Purposeful steps took Izalla to a seat opposite a couple immersed in the same newspaper. She creaked open the window as wide as it would go to breathe a little more of the outside and touched her hand to her face and then her eyes. Gripping for that elusive memory and, when it wouldn't come, pushing it far away from her thoughts.


Twenty minutes passed and she relaxed at the half way mark. Soon her dad would pat her awkwardly on the shoulder and then smile and hold her small body to his. Soon everything that had passed in the last year without him would float away in that hug.


She watched the world go by through the scratched windowpanes. Always her eyes were drawn to the clouds. Finding images and symbols in the white fluff, watching the wind move them about like building blocks. When she was alone for a weekend at the school, she liked to imagine that it was her dad spelling out words in the sky for her. Sometimes it felt like she could almost understand something, that there was some alphabet there only she could decipher.


The couple reading the same newspaper got off the train and the woman looked at her long and hard from the platform. For a second Izalla thought this woman knew she had run and had to remind herself that she was now sixteen. Was old enough to make decisions and go where she wanted. It was not like the times before. 


The train had still not pulled away from the station, waiting for a minute or two, and the woman jumped back on. She walked back to where Izalla was sitting. Izalla who had now forgotten the letters in the sky and was crunched into the corner of the chair, remembering why she hated being in confined spaces so much. But the woman simply picked up her phone from the floor where it must have fallen and walked back onto the platform.     


Only ten minutes until she could get off the train. Ten more minutes in the clouds. 


Turning her attention back to the outside, she saw something etched into the window. On this train, travelling through a somewhat dangerous part of London, that was not uncommon. But it was not someone's tag or girlfriend's name. It was not the untidy white lines etched by the sharp tip of a pen or knife. It was beautiful, like a flower with straight edges, but not like a flower at all. Impossible to describe but so clear, so vibrant in her mind. A hieroglyph.      


And then two things happened that changed everything. Almost at the same time, or at least it seemed that way to Izalla.


The cloud that she had earlier been focusing on, something between a giraffe and a clown's shoe, moved in an instant. Faster than if a storm had cut right through it. It formed that same hieroglyph, just as clear and a hundred times larger. And the lights went out, not on the train, but in the sky, on the ground, everywhere. The shouting from behind her made her realise she hadn't gone blind. Acting on an instinct she didn't know she possessed, her hand reached out to the etching on the window. Feeling the smooth glass until it bumped against the cuts that meant she had found the hieroglyph. 


The world lit up again, refocused as if it was brighter now. As if it would always be brighter…


From behind her was just quiet, the shouting had stopped and people were quick to dismiss the darkness as a fault with the train. About as uncommon as window graffiti. But Izalla knew it had been totally black, as black outside the train as in. She did not think about the confined space or the woman or her dad for the last five minutes of the journey, she had other things on her mind.


Had she done that?  




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