Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 3 - Flying
Flying is freedom; it is the experience of movement combined with the ability to choose any vantage point - including one so high as to be free from any particular context or reality and observe it openly from the outside. One can even be free of oneself: sleep is one such mechanism, death another. A mage has more options.
- Movement and Awareness,
Rose, Lucy and Eric decided to take a class together after all. The sun was high in the sky and the students were sitting at the bottom of a tall cliff. Kyle and Lyle did not come; they claimed to have more pressing business to take care of at the Playground.
"Flying is easy. You don't need talent or even much skill to fly. However, what you do need is big brass buckets of courage."
Annie began her class without much ado and went straight to the point, much like a swift hawk swoops in for the kill. More than a dozen kids attended the class, forming cliques of their own.
"In dreams, the only thing keeping you from flying is your own fear. Behind the fear of flying is the fear of falling, and behind the fear of falling is the fear of being painfully splattered on the ground."
Annie-the-teacher was a bit different than Annie-the-caretaker, and this was the first time Eric encountered this side of her. She's kind of scary, but she still has that warm smile. Hmmm.
"That's all the knowledge you need. Do you know how birds learn to fly? They get kicked out of the nest. I won't kick you, but I'll make you go on top of that cliff and see if you have the courage to jump. Don't try to fly yet - just go ahead and hit the ground."
Did she say hit the... Eric went mentally blank. A shiver ran through his spine. Did she just say what I think she said? It can't be. A few moments later the cold sweat came. Oh my god, it's my first class and I'm going to die! Eric tried to convince himself it was only a misunderstanding.
Lucy's face went pale as it drained of blood. She gulped and said with a flat tone: "She has a point."
Rose did not show any expressions, but her smile disappeared.
Eric shook his head in disbelief.
"Hey, why do you all look so scared?" Annie asked. "This is a dream; you won't die when you hit the ground. Okay, maybe a little bit, but it's not so terrible."
Annie's consoling words had the opposite effect. A murmur waxed among the students. One boy stood up, looking all nervous and ready to leave.
"Wait! I'll just show you," Annie gestured for them to sit and muttered to herself, "I hope I didn't forget how to fall..."
Annie stood in front of her students one moment and on the top of the cliff the next one.
"Up here!" She waved to them... and jumped. Her long hair floated, reflecting the sunlight, and she was smiling all the way down. As she hit the ground, her form flattened and dispersed into magical mist - and then there she stood in front of them once more.
"See? It's not a big deal. Don't think about it, just do it. Up you go!"
A path went around the cliff leading to the top. Eric's feet started walking, but his mind was elsewhere. The cold sweat had its own rhythm: it drew his fear to him, pushed it away, then drew it back again.
How could I jump? Eric envisioned all the terrible things that would happen to him if he jumped down from up high in the real world. First of all, he could die. That's an outcome so fatal and absolute it was beyond his capability to imagine or fear. Worse than that, he could be maimed, in which case he would be married to pain and disability for the rest of his life. This fear was the tugging, nauseating kind of fear - one that causes the cold, swirly feeling in the stomach.
Is it possible to feel pain in a dream? The most straightforward fear in his mind was about the moment of impact. He imagined it again and again and again. It was painful just to think about it. My imagination is working against me! The realization didn't help since he couldn't stop visualizing these horrible experiences. This is my dream, my mind, I should be - no, I have to be the one in control!
Tiny rocks crackled beneath his feet.
Before he knew it, Eric was on top of the cliff, staring down from the edge. For a moment, he wished the cliff was higher so he would have more time climbing to the top. The depth was ominous and welcoming.
This is it. I have to jump. Knowing in one's head that the dreamworld has different rules than the real world is very different from knowing the same thing in one's guts. His eyes were playing a trick on him; the bottom drew closer, then it expanded to even greater depths. He rubbed his eyes, but it didn't help. Jump! Jump! Jump! Was he saying that to himself or was it the height calling? Eric lost his track of time, and wasn't aware of the others around him either.
He stood there without a sound, transfixed.
A soothing voice spoke to him: "Don't think, just do it."
Eric grabbed a name out of the back of his mind: 'Annie'. Determined not to be ruled by fear, he drew air in his lungs, silenced his mind for no longer than a second, and jumped.
His mind and his fear came right back. He was falling down with great speed. For a fleeting moment, he noticed a scream. Am I screaming? He didn't have the time to figure out the answer, since he hit the ground with a big thud.
The pain! For a moment of timeless time, only pain persisted in his awareness. Hey! Who's feeling the pain?
Eric opened his eyes and saw himself standing at the bottom of the cliff - no injuries. The recent memory of pain was also a kind of pain in itself, but it faded away as he regained his senses. He took a deep breath and sat down to collect himself. After several heartbeats, a triumphant grin snuck up on his face: I did it!
"Good job!" said the soothing voice. He sensed Annie's arm around his shoulder. "When you're ready, go do it again!"
Eric felt as if he found a well of boundless confidence. He nodded.
Going up the cliff the second time around wasn't as gloomy. His steps weren't weighed down by fear anymore and gained their youthful spring back. Eric saw his classmates at the top of the cliff; all lined up on the wide ledge and staring down as if they were frozen solid. A few of them were sobbing.
Eric took a deep breath and jumped for the second time. He felt fear grip him for a moment, but he purged it as soon as he recognized it. He was screaming again on the way down, but this time it was a release and it felt good. After the 'thud' at the bottom the pain lost its edge as well.
I'm getting the hang of this.
On the way up Eric heard a cry: "I'm the best in my class at school! Why can't I do this?" It sounded like Lucy's voice, but he wasn't sure.
She's going to be fine... Annie will help her.
When he got to the top, Eric jumped again, but there was no 'thud' this time - he landed on his feet and got to climbing up again.
He jumped time after time, not falling, but floating down gently. The paralyzing fear was completely gone. After about the twentieth time, he walked out the top edge of the cliff, but forgot that he was supposed to fall down.
Eric was levitating in the air; enjoying the gentle breeze and the radiant scenery below.
After mastering the knack of throwing himself at the ground and missing, it didn't take much for Eric to figure out that flying wasn't too different from controlled falling in any direction. Why fall down, why not fall up? He swooshed around a bit, but when the possibilities of his newfound freedom hit him, he got a little dizzy and decided to take it slow.
He noticed Rose and Lucy walking up the incline. Joy should be shared! Eric thought about making a grand entrance and showing off, but he floated gently towards them instead.
"Hey airwalker! Was it your screams we heard first?" Rose continued before Eric could respond, "Just kidding! I didn't even hear my own, haha! Congratulations."
"A few more jumps and we will catch up to you!" Despite signs of recent crying, Lucy had a wide smile on her face.
Eric thanked them and accompanied them to the top.
"See yaaaaaaaaa!" The girls jumped, and screamed loudly on the way down for their own enjoyment. Gleeful, Eric waved to them and laughed.
* * *
Eric was floating high up in the air. He didn't want to go too high or too far from the cliff, since he wasn't sure if the class was over for him or not.
Eric felt exhilarated, but it wasn't just because he learned to fly. He felt a kind of serenity as well. A barely noticeable breeze tugged at him gently, and he let the soft currents carry him.
What was it that he felt? Fulfillment? Sort of... Eric felt wholesome, as if a part of him that he forgot about came back to him. He was still thinking as a landwalker who happened to fly, but that was changing slowly. Perspective? It's not only that he saw the world differently, but also that he saw himself differently in this world that became a bit more magical to him. His possibilities... the pathways he could take through the world... opened up. It was fresh air, both for his mind and lungs.
As his mind was mapping out and pruning possibilities, and his heart was doing its best to take all these precious feelings in, along came a modest revelation: I'm barely scratching the tip of the iceberg.
Eric was slowly picking up the little things about flying. It occurred to him that his way of controlled fall was powerful, but crude. Turning and adjusting his path mid-flight wasn't easy. He was mostly cutting through air in a string of straight lines - it was technically flying, but at his current level there wasn't too much finesse or elegance to it. I guess flying is one of those 'easy to learn, hard to master' things.
He noticed that, for some reason, flying towards something was easier than flying away from the same thing. That doesn't make any sense. If I'm flying towards something, I'm also flying away from something else that lies in the opposite direction. Right? Eric wasn't quite convinced by his own reasoning.
With all these thoughts in his head, he got a bit dizzy and decided to rest. He picked the tallest tree he could see and flew towards it. Touching the ground, even if indirectly through the branches of the tree, was a similar experience to that of the lift-off. Maybe... one is like going home, the other like coming home. The touch affirmed him in a way.
Eric enjoyed the view. From up here the trees seemed to have a special arrangement. When the wind picked up in strength for moment, the way the sunlight reflected on the leaves changed, and the pattern he saw shifted slightly as well. His classmates were jumping, floating and flying around the cliff. No one was staring down the depths anymore.
Lucy, Rose and Annie flew leisurely towards Eric. Rose twirled in the air, and Annie was explaining something to them. When they grabbed ahold a few of the stronger branches, the treetop shook and swung noticeably.
"Hey!" With both hands, Eric held onto the branch he was sitting on.
"Hey yourself!" Rose said with a grin. "Is this great or what? I used to have flying dreams when I was little, but this is so much better than I remember! I don't know why I didn't think of doing this sooner!"
"Perhaps because of the whole, you know, 'we're gonna die!' thing?" Lucy ran her hand through her somewhat ruffled hair, but it remained ruffled.
"Yeah... that," Rose said.
"How did it go?" Eric asked.
"I was very scared at first... but then I realized it has nothing to do with being afraid. If I want to fly, I have to jump. Simple logic," Lucy said.
"I'm very proud of all of you," Annie lauded. "Everyone deals with the fear in their own way, and you didn't let it rule you."
"Did everyone make it in our class?" Rose asked.
Annie's smile faded away. "Sadly, no. Four students quit this time, out of the eighteen. Hopefully they'll try again later, either in class or on their own." She shrugged. "Flying is my most popular class, the turnout is great, but I can't get everyone to fly. I used to explain everything beforehand, but it confused and scared my pupils even more. At least my success rate is substantially higher with this method. In the end, it's up to each person to take the leap." Annie sighed. "I would gladly take it instead of them - but I can't."
Rose put her hand around Annie's waist and snuggled. "I think you're a great teacher. You did what you could."
"Thanks, that's what I keep telling myself." Annie's smile returned. "Do you have any other questions? I don't have anything else planned for this class; you're free to go if you want."
"I have a question," Lucy said. "What is that boy doing?"
Eric looked to where Lucy pointed. He saw a small boy in a square-patterned shirt jumping down the cliff, and then flying back along the exact same path as he fell. Eric observed the little boy doing this several times in succession.
"Which one? Ah, I see who you mean." Annie smirked. "It's a rudimentary time-travel method some kids subconsciously use. He doesn't notice the flying back part; that's only visible to us. I bet he plays a lot of video games. You know, with extra lives and save points? It's an elegant solution to the 'awareness to ego-image' recreation problem, but it may have complications of its own."
A look of worry appeared on Annie's face. "In fact, I better go check on him and make sure he doesn't glitch into a loop... See you guys later! Have fun!"
Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 3 - Flying