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The umbrella, it stood foreboding on the horizon as the small girl leaned out the window. The stale breeze half-heartedly stirred the strands of her hair against the pallor of her snowy white face. Her wide, eager eyes followed the all-encompassing arms of the umbrella, until she could no longer follow it across the ceiling so far above her head. Eventually the veins in the dull glint of the shade disappeared into the mist of the clouds that eternally shrouded the home of all the girl knew. In the child's lap, sat an old storybook. She dragged her fingers across the worn old cover with closed eyes. She relished the luxurious feel of the faded old cloth that bound the book's spine, and the slightly concave lettering that once shone like mama's eyes. It opened to show a world without a grey ceiling. A world where the air went on forever outward. There were clouds, too. Not the melancholy clouds that only brought rain, no. These clouds were different. They were cheery and white as the snow that fell in the deepest of winters. They floated lazily in the vast embrace of the air. The world in the lovely old book showed that the world above their heads was not grey, but blue. A surreal shade of blue, a blue that could not exist. She shut the book abruptly, realizing that book made her ache. Deep in her chest, she WANTED the blue. She wanted the blue not of a faded children's book, but the blue of a real unending space that hung above our heads. She wanted Sky.
She walked through her childhood with that longing for Sky. She told anyone who would listen, and was mocked.
"Sky," scoffed a wiry boy with narrow, distrusting eyes. "That's not a real thing, stupid girl. It's a story. You are gullible, and your mind is as empty as your storybook."
The other children laughed, but the little girl bit her lip. She clutched her most prized possession to her chest. Safe, under her umbrella. Of course, one much smaller than the one that covered her world.
"Is that your precious truth, Sky-Girl?"
She looked away, and began to cautiously step back.
"No, no, you needn't go, I want to see your Sky."
She felt hope, hope in the grey people of the umbrella. Perhaps, if they wanted Sky, they could take away the umbrella...
She carefully opened the book, to show him the vivid blue of the air, full of birds and clouds and the promise of an eternity. The boy took the book into his small, grubby hands, and for a moment, she had hope. Hope in the faith of the grey, shaded people. The girl held her breath, as he held the truth with fingers as brown as the mud on which they stood. Please believe.
The boy ripped off the delicate cover of the book, his eyes cold. He dropped the book in the inevitable mud that came with the unending rain.
"There is no Sky, Sky-Girl. Grow up past such childish dreams." he laughed a steely laugh, and sauntered off with his cloud of children. Children as pale and gray and delicate as the ashes on the hearth, blowing away in the feeble wind.
She fell to her knees, and she wept. She wept and mourned the loss of her hope of Sky of birds, of joy. She tried to collect the muddy mess through tear-blurred eyes, but only succeeded in ripping the delicate, wet paper and catching a final glance of the pink, smiling faces of the children with the Sky.
There was a boy, when she looked up. His hair was dark, and he looked as if he felt nothing of the piteous scene that had just gone to pass. He was growing rapidly wet, his hair clinging to his face. She had never seen him before.
"If you want to laugh at Sky-Girl," she said, bitterness thick on her words, "please let me alone. I've had quite enough."
"No, I want to take you to the umbrella. To Sky."
Her eyes widened, but she soon sobered.
" You are teasing me, there is no way. Here, there is only Umbrella. Sky is far, if it IS at all."
"No, dumb girl," he said with slight annoyance. "I can take you, it is not a joke, nor a game. I am much too old for that."
She got up slowly, very damp and even muddier.
"How am I to trust you?" She asked with a shiver.
"I haven't the faintest... but if you turn me down, you'll never see. And then you would feel dreadful."
"That's no proof," she replied stiffly.
"You don't need proof, you believed a children's book."
The next morning, the hopeful little girl said goodbye to her mama with the sky in her eyes. She will show her when she returns, maybe it will take away the film of hurt around her. She walked away from her usual dreary route to her classes, away from the other ashen children. She walked towards the shabby dwelling of the boy, with the hair like the inky night. She walked with him in silence, leaving the usual imprints in the soggy earth as they walked.
"Have you seen Sky?" She asked abruptly.
"No," he answered quietly after a moment."But I remember once, someone did."
She wanted to inquire more of this curious story, but she walked quietly ahead, instead.
"where are we headed?" She asked after another quiet moment.
"Look up," the boy mumbled, his patience clearly wearing thin. The ribs of the great umbrella, were coming to meet at a thin rod, far ahead of them, nearly shaded by the mist. It was the base, what held up her ceiling. It was the umbrella.
They walked for what felt like an eternity, the soft pitter-patter of the rain above them being the only showing the passing of time. Well, that and the nearing of the great rod. It was not nearly so thin as it looked from a distance, but just very tall. As they neared, she understood the scale of what they were witnessing. It was as wide as house, and what up for what felt like forever. Before them, there were doors. Double doors, rusted and covered in dull peeling paint. She yanked at them, hope swelling again in her chest. They rattled, but did not open. The boy took her place and pulled and pulled. The rust scraped away at his feeble, white hands, but he didn't care. The vivid red seemed very out of place in the monochrome world in which they stood. At last, the weakened metal gave way to their efforts. It tore, leaving a jagged edge, and they passed through the great, dark opening. The inside was dull concrete that echoed each of their tiny footsteps. before them stood great spiraling steps that went up for as far as the little girl's eyes could reach, within the near darkness. She didn't lose hope, but fear reared its ugly head as she swallowed the lump in her throat. The two children began to ascend the seemingly endless staircase. The boy lit a match to fight off the darkness and they climbed. They climbed for hours, days, it could have been years. Within the umbrella, time was meaningless. Even the rain didn't reach the core of the structure. Inside it was very narrow, just enough for a spiraling staircase and the still, musty air that surrounded them.
They soon were so fatigued and hungry that they had to sit on the icy steps and catch their breath for a moment. They couldn't indulge though, she was sure the Sky was there, at the top. It had to be.
Soon, be it minutes or hours later, they came upon the end.
They saw the stairwell come to a halt at a narrow hallway. The girl gasped, despite the ache in her chest and the dryness of her throat. It was so close she could taste it. She raced to that little hole in the concrete, tripping over her thin, aching limbs, ghostlike and gaunt. Her heart sped up and felt as if it would burst her chest. The boy shadowed her, a bit steadier, a bit steelier, but he too was beside himself with joy and hope. It was too lovely, too lovely to be real. If it were to be a dream, the girl's heart would break.
The boy, unable to idle a moment longer, seized the door by its handle. he pulled with all of his strength, his hands yet to heal from his last effort. He bled and pulled in vain, for this door didn't budge. Didn't budge an inch, no matter how hard he tried and no matter how hard he prayed. After what felt like forever, he went to the steps, and he wept. Bitter tears rolled down his white face, lit dimly by yet another match. The little girl left him, spurred by a strange hope. She carried the match through the hallway, the feeble light illuminating the twisted spent bodies of its brothers. The door stood there, looking like the sealed gate to heaven itself through her wide, childish eyes. She leaned against the cool door, and grasped the handle. She shed a single tear, turned the handle, once more. As she said another prayer, she gently pulled. The door creaked, and her companion fell silent. He leapt to her side, eyes wide. They pulled together, hand over hand, and the world outside dazzled their filmy, umbrella eyes. The light was unlike anything. There were small lights peppering the sky, as far as the eye could see. Lazy, wispy clouds nestled in the rich blue of the eternity above them glinted in their direction.
"This.... this is Sky?" Breathed the little girl, her breath taken by the sight.
"I suppose it IS a sort of blue," said the boy, his tone reflecting wonder and confusion.
"It's lovely," she said.
"Look!" the boy cried, and beckoned to the horizon. far, far away, over the long metallic expanse of what once was the end of the known, a mysterious light seemed to emanate. It turned the blue to a sort of grey. The girl sat in wonder, and cried silently, for it was too lovely to disturb. From far away, she heard funny little whistling sounds. They echoed all around her, all different sounds and tones. An d the light grew brighter. The sky became pink, then yellow, then finally, the long awaited blue. The children were in a warm embrace, as the sun showed its face. they tried to look at it, without so much as shading their eyes. They realized the pain and had to shut their eyes and look away in shame. what a pity to waste that sight...
As the expanse above them grew more and more vivid, the more the girl felt. The skin on her arms and face was so warm. She was sure she felt this in a dream, once. The smiled at the sun, and let her eyes slide shut as she allowed her white skin to soak in the yellow glow. The girds sang around her, darting through the sky.
"Impossible," Muttered the boy. It was clear in his shaking voice that he too wept. This was Sky. No, this was Heaven. As she sat, leaning against her companion, a drowsy sort of curtain fell over her mind. she looked to her companion, and asked, "Say... what is your name, boy?" he looked befuddled for a moment, then thought. After a long moment, he replied, "It is bird, I think. That is what I remember, as 'Name', I think. And you, girl?"
"I shall be Sky," she said, not quite able to pull up that word that she knew was hers, somewhere in her head. Yes, sky was lovely. Sky was heaven.
the two children sleapt, facing sky. But they did not awaken. Their white skin could not protect them from the sun, nor the icy air that they had never breathed. Forever the friends would lay, facing eternity, with a peaceful smile.