For the first time in many years, Wednesday had no idea what to do. A complicated mixture of unfamiliar emotions swept over her. She felt indignant, and hurt, and disappointed. She felt angry, and she felt afraid. But mostly (and this was most surprising) she felt small.
Maybe I am only a small bird, she thought.
The little brown sparrow with the long blue scarf leapt up and hovered in front of Wednesday’s face and struck at her again and again in a blur of wings. The raven stumbled back and tried to protect herself, and Ella kept her fierce blue eyes fixed on the raven and advanced and pushed her further into the Tower. Behind her, Ella heard her mother shout, “Stop!” and she did not stop—not at first. Ella beat at the raven’s eyes and drove her back and away from her mother and into the darkness and up against the complicated machinery that powered the clock. Ella looked down at the raven and saw two ferocious, blue-eyed sparrows reflected in her eyes. The sparrow reflections snarled and screeched, and with each attack looked a little less like birds and a little more like tiny monsters. And the whispering breeze rolled by and wrapped around Ella and carried her mother’s voice from faraway and again she heard her mother say, “Stop.”
She dropped to the floor and landed in front of the raven and stood there and stared and breathed hard, terrible breaths, and it took a long moment until her face changed and grew soft again. Wednesday stared back at her with fear in her eyes. She lowered her great black wings carefully, and then raised them again quickly and stepped back. Her left claw caught on something behind her. She pushed down and couldn’t free herself. Wednesday pushed down harder, and then harder again, and finally there was a loud, sharp snap as the wooden chess piece jammed in between the machine gears popped free.
Deep inside the clock, something began to hum.
Ella stared into Wednesday’s eyes, and the two little blue-eyed sparrows stared back at her. They blinked. The wooden pawn dropped to the floor and bounced and rolled away, and the machine gave a loud click as the first cog fell back into place.
“I’m sorry,” said Ella.
At that moment, the clock exploded into life.
The people at the base of Tower peered up in the bluest hour and stared at the clock.
Frances said, “Something is happening up there.”
“The dream was true,” said Madame Alouette. “Everything is changing. Everything is happening.”
Change, he thought. Change has arrived.
I’m going to be a good detective now, thought Weisell.
I’m going to live, thought Wilhelmina. She took the musician’s hand.
I’m going to tell my mother the truth, thought the young apprentice.
“I’m going to take a bath,” announced Edward.
The first cog clicked the second, and the second cog clicked the third, and the great clock woke suddenly and violently from its year-long sleep. Every moving part began to quiver and shake. The gears and wheels and pulleys and cables spun frantically to catch up to the current date and time, and a year’s worth of chimes began to strike. As the battery of bells rang out, the army of automatons shook off their dust and raced away around the tracks. They gyrated and convulsed and announced a never before seen simultaneous celebration of twelve month’s worth of holidays. Doors fell open, mirrors shot out, the mechanical conductor hurled himself from the mysterious innards of the clock, and three symphonies played at ten to twelve times their normal speed. The grinding wheels roared to life and whirled faster than they should havefaster than they had ever previously spun. A blast of sparks illuminated the interior and poured from the top of the Tower. The entire structure rattled and bumped and quaked and juddered, and the raven’s collections shook and collapsed and bounced away with the vibrations. Parts of the collections rolled out as far as the tracks, where they were immediately plucked up by the automatons and carried to the Tower entrance and hurled into the air. Objects began to rain down.
Edward stood at the foot of the Tower and watched them fall. He knew what to do.
I’m a man of action, he thought.
“Don’t worry,” he said to Frances. “I’m used to this.”
A crowd of automatons collided in their haste and crashed next to Ella and the raven. Wednesday stood stunned and frightened and frozen in place, but Ella leapt up and out of the way of the falling statues. She landed on top of an automaton as it sped past. It was the tiger with the broken tooth.
Below her, Hurricane sat in the tiger’s open mouth. He had the ring over his shoulder and the blue-covered book in his arms. Hurricane looked up at her and grinned.
“What are you doing?” shouted Ella. “Where are we going?”
“Same as always,” shouted Hurricane. “Soaring into the arms of adventure!”
He gave a whoop as they careened around a curve and headed for the Tower entrance.
Up ahead, Ella saw her mother standing wide-eyed as she cringed and pressed against the wall. Wiggling trees, dragon slayers and juggling squirrels whooshed past her. Sparks rained down, miscellaneous objects flew dangerously close, and bells clanged as if the entire city was on fire.
“This is my stop,” shouted Hurricane.
“What?” shouted Ella.
The two automaton dancers ahead of them pirouetted and pranced at breakneck speed and kicked a mechanical frog head over heels into the air. Ella ducked as the frog flew past.
“I’m going to get off here,” shouted Hurricane. “I’m going to jump off the Tower.”
“That’s a terrible idea!”
“I can’t keep riding around like this,” shouted Hurricane. “You know what to do, right?”
I have no idea, she thought. I’ll suppose I’ll make up something as usual.
“You have to fly!” shouted Hurricane.
The dancers in front of them spun into a blur as the music played faster. They kicked and dipped and leaned back, and the second dancer flung out an arm as they swung around the curve and onto the ledge. The metal arm caught Ella’s mother from behind and lifted her up. As the dancers rounded the turn, Ella’s mother flew off into the air. She tumbled from the ledge and disappeared.
“No!” shouted Ella.
The tiger shuddered around the curve and Ella leapt away and folded her wings tightly against her body and shot out into the air. She too followed her mother over the ledge.
Hurricane steadied himself. The book, he noticed, had not grown any lighter. He squeezed his eyes half-shut, but quickly opened them again.
Now, he thought, was not the right time to squint.
There were two options. He could either ride the book down through the air like a surfboard, or he could hold it above him and parachute to safety. Both options, he noted, contained the same two disadvantages:
- Possible failure
- Possible death
What would a hero do? he wondered.
It was hard to decide.
As they approached the curve leading back inside the Tower, he leaned back and prepared to jump.
“Our hero leaned back and prepared to jump,” shouted Hurricane. “Would he make it? Not even he knew for sure. He quickly considered what final words he would give his adoring public.”
My last words, he thought. Huh.
He cleared his throat.
“I just want to take this moment,” he shouted, “and send out a big hello to my mother. Hi, Mom! Thanks for everything.”
Hurricane leapt from the tiger’s mouth and out into thin air. He kept a tight grip on the book, and as he flew out and away from the Tower he flung the covers open and held the book above him.
The first thing he noticed was how little the book behaved like an actual parachute.
An actual parachute, he thought, would slow his descent.
He also noticed that instead of dangling gracefully with his feet outstretched in the air, he was pressed in-between the pages and mashed up against the book’s spine.
Hurricane clambered out from under the fluttering pages and climbed up on top of the book. He pulled it shut. The book now lay beneath him, a little less like the surfboard he had imagined and a lot more like an ungainly raft. Still, as he stood in the middle of the book with his arms outstretched and his whiskers blowing in the wind, he thought to himself: This must look very heroic.
On the ground below, Edward busied himself by catching the various watches, coins, writing instruments, and large number of miscellaneous blue things that fell from the Tower. The others ducked and dodged and held their hands over their heads.
“Madame Alouette!” shouted Edward.
Madame Alouette looked up into the sky and saw a dark rectangular object headed straight for her. She leaned back and held out her doughy hands, and the blue-covered book dropped down and landed in them with a soft splat. Hurricane bounced up and somersaulted back into the air, and everyone except Ming Zhao caught their breath at exactly the same time and said, “Oh!”
Zhao stepped forward, and as the mouse flipped through the air Zhao reached out his hand. The mouse landed in it with a graceful thud.
Hurricane leapt to his feet and raised his arms high.
“Ta-da!” he said.
He brushed himself off, turned to Edward and presented him with the ring.
“I believe you were looking for this,” he said.
Edward reached out slowly and took the ring from the mouse. Zhao looked at the blue-covered book in Madame Alouette’s hands, and back at Hurricane. No one said anything. They all stared at the little mouse, and their mouths hung open wide with surprise.
Hurricane looked up at the Tower and shrugged.
“I will admit,” he said, “I was a little worried there for a moment.”
Ella zipped over the edge and spotted her mother, and twisted her body in the air and sped down to meet her. Ella grabbed her mother’s feet with her own and locked onto them. She stretched out her wings, and the two sparrows began to spin together through the air. They fell a little slower than before, but not nearly slow enough.
“Don’t” began her mother.
“I also forgot how to fly today,” interrupted Ella, “and for half the day I couldn’t remember. I had to dig down into my memories until I found that rainy day when we stood in the nest and you said to me: Do you really want to know how to fly? And I couldn’t remember for the longest time what had you told me, which was: We throw ourselves into the air and flap our wings as we fall.”
Ella’s mother raised her wings. She flapped them a little.
“I’m not flying,” she said.
“No,” said Ella. “I couldn’t eithernot at first. It’s not enough to know how to fly. You have to know why.”
“But I no longer know why we fly,” said her mother. “Everything is so difficult.”
“There’s no one good reason,” said Ella. “There are only lots of small ones. We don’t have to fly. We could just give up and fall like we’re falling now. The world is wonderful and complicated and painful and hard to understand. It’s inconceivably right, and inconsolably wrong. We fly because we’re free, and because we love the sky, and because we love the whispering breeze. We fly because we want to challenge the storm and champion ourselves. We fly because the enormous view from above changes our perspectives on the ground. Maybe the best reason is this: flying is one of the small, beautiful things that we can do, and it’s the small, beautiful things that make all the rest worthwhile.”
Ella’s mother looked at Ella, and looked away, and closed her eyes. She loosened her grip and spread her wings. She let go.
Ella let go too, and together they lifted up through the blue air and headed toward the stars.
“I’m flying,” said Ella’s mother.
“Yes,” said Ella. “We are.”
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© 2018 Colin Lewis · Brought to you by Unlikely Objects