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Gabe and the Sky Sandwich
When my head finished throbbing with confusion, I allowed the sensation of numbness to pulse through my veins.
Can numbness even be classified as a sensation? I pondered this in an attempt to distract myself from my surroundings, but an impossible question such as that can only steal a person’s attention for so long. Once I affirmed that all of the thinking in the world cannot provide an answer, I had no choice but to give up.
Besides…sooner or later I had to come to terms with my condition.
I looked up, down, to the left and then to the right. And then I did it again, and again, and one more time after that.
So here’s the deal:
I am hanging suspended in the whirling sky. Clinging to the darkness in the atmosphere’s bone-shattering grasp, I thrash around uncontrollably. My head shakes violently from side to side, my arms puncture the air with incredible force and my legs swing back and forth as though they have separated from my body. Sweat runs off the tips of my sopping black hair and travels down my bare chest. I shiver at the realization of my nudity and for a brief moment my cheeks burn.
I tell my lungs to inhale, but they refuse. My attempts to detach myself from the suffocating clouds prove to be useless. The powerful force that is holding me in place grips my body tighter and tighter with each movement. The more I squirm, the more difficult it becomes to move until the tiniest twitch of my finger prompts my complete immobility. I tell my brain to clench and unclench my right fist, but it refuses.
I cannot feel any physical pain, but the fear ignited in my stomach is enough to make me cry out. No sound is emitted. Being alive without access to feeling is proving to be more excruciating, more horrifying, and certainly more frightening than even death could hope to be.
The only sense that is still intact is my sight. I take advantage of the use of my eyes to try to determine where I am. I shift my vision to the ground below me. I am approximately fifty feet in the air, floating above a burning building. Angry orange flames consume a small house accompanied by thick clouds of black smoke drifting into the air. I can see a formation of fire trucks whizzing around the corner to the site of the fire as people from the neighbourhood are leaving their homes to witness this mind-blowing destruction. Shingles are peeling off the roof, the garage door is melting in inconceivable time and flames are pouring from the windows. The house will surely be burned to the ground before the firefighters can even extract a hose.
I recognize this neighbourhood. The people below look very familiar, too. I wonder for a second if they can see me. I immediately dismiss this thought when I recall the layers of smoke that are separating us. But why, then…can I still see them? Could the smoke possibly be transparent for them if it is for me? There are many people watching down there. Wouldn’t at least one person look up to witness the smoke being carried away, and then in turn, notice the little boy sandwiched between the skies?
And then almost as if I was punched in the stomach, a realization hits me. I know those people down there. The little girl crying in the woman’s arms is my sister. The woman is my mother and the man holding the woman is my father. The house that is being decimated is our home…the home we’ve lived our entire lives in.
Why am I stuck up here while they are down there?
Mama, please look up!
They must know that I am missing. Why aren’t they looking for me?
The scene becomes unbearable to watch anymore. I close my eyes and try to cry, but I can’t. As I struggle to imagine myself somewhere else, a flash of memories overtake my mind…
It was a cold evening in early December and my mother and father were outside. My father was shovelling the driveway and my mother was watching my six-year-old sister play in the snow. They were to come in shortly because it was nearly dinner time. I was in the living room playing with my birthday presents. I turned ten just the day before and I couldn’t wait to open my news toys. I was in the middle of deciding which one I liked best when I heard the pounding of boots on the cement porch and the turning of a door knob.
“Hey big guy!” my father hollered from the foyer. “Are you planning to come outside with us? Kenzie wants to play with you!”
Oh, great. That’s just how I’d like to spend the rest of my day. As much as I love my little sister, I have better things to do than roll around in a snow bank.
“Tell Mackenzie that I’ll play with her after,” I yelled back. “I’m just testing out some of my birthday presents. Are we still going sledding?”
“Gabriel Alexander,” my father started. “You promised her.” I could hear him wiping his boots on the mat and beginning to take them off. I groaned.
“Okay, okay! Just give me ten minutes!”
Silence. I decided I should ask my previous question again.
“Are we still going sledding?”
“Only if you get your butt out here to enjoy the freezing cold with your family,” he said as he trudged into the kitchen. His glasses were foggy and his tuque was covered with snow. Pursing his lips with his gloved hands on his hips, I started to clean up the mess I had made in the living room. “Ten minutes, Gabe.”
As soon as I heard the front door slam, I began to stuff my presents back into the gift bags. I would have plenty of time to play later, I remember thinking. Besides, the present I had been meaning to test out most of all was the big blue sled my dad had made for me. He had agreed to take me tobogganing on the hill near our house before dark.
A little over five minutes later, I had all of my presents put away. I grabbed my coat, snow pants, gloves and tuque from the hall closet and brought them into the living room to get dressed. I wanted to get ready as fast as I could. The faster I got outside to play with MacKenzie, the sooner everyone would come in for dinner and the sooner I’d get to go sledding.
I was just about to sit down to put my boots on when I began to feel light-headed. I could smell smoke coming from the kitchen. Hesitantly, I turned my head around slowly to affirm my suspicion: fire. The curtains above the stove were ablaze and the flames were consuming the oak cabinets.
I wiped my hand across my soaked forehead. The sweat that was accumulating beneath my snow suit from the excruciating heat had drenched my clothes. My eyes crossed as the fire continued to dance along the cabinets. I was completely frozen for what felt like hours rather than seconds, entranced by the yellow glow of the hypnotizing flames. I couldn’t move, couldn’t scream, couldn’t react. They were closing in on me.
My heart was pounding hysterically in time with the fire alarm and I wondered why my parents couldn’t hear it. With every breath I could feel myself getting weaker. I had been taught in school to get low to the ground and crawl because smoke rises. I did as I was told. I crawled as fast as my legs could carry me to the back door. Just as I was nearly there, something yanked me back. The leg of my snow pants was caught on something, but I couldn’t see what it was because the smoke was far too thick. I shook my foot desperately with every bit of strength left inside of me to try to break free, but I couldn’t.
“Mom! Dad!” I choked out between coughs. Gathering enough air was becoming impossible, but I continued to frantically search for what few molecules of oxygen were left. Kicking and pounding on the wood floor, I could feel my body shutting down with each futile jerk.
I tried to scream in hopes that my parents would hear me, but they didn’t. No one came running. No one found the little boy heaving and crying on the floor until it was too late.
That was when it all went black and the numbness set in. I was falling through an abyss of nothingness until I ended up here, watching the story unfold in the background. My little sister is now wailing into my father’s chest and my mother is curled up in a bank of snow with her head in her hands. My father is trying to comfort her, but shortly gives up and joins her atop the tiny mountain of ice.
But I’m right here! All they have to do is look up!
Mom, dad…why can’t you see me? Why aren’t you looking for me?
Just then, I see a firefighter run out of the house with something cradled in his arms. It is a little boy with dark hair and black ash covering his face. He is wearing a snowsuit and his body is limp. Before I can think for another instant, the scene starts to become less and less visible. Something is pulling me upward: higher and higher into the clouds until all that is left of my family are three tiny specks.