Clouds hung low like dragons in the sky on the day she vowed to take back her life. They leaped from peak to peak across the crests of the mountains in the distance. She lay under the cherry blossom tree, watching the clouds, and they reminded her of her childhood and all the warm summer days spent under clouds in a very different sky. She lay under the solitary tree, watching the foggy beasts ripple across the mountains, and decided to reclaim her freedom.
He built this world just for her. Many years ago, he crafted the cottage that would be her home, unfolded the cot that would be her bed. He planted the sapling that would become her only friend. He coaxed the grass from the barren earth, calling rain down from the heavens to nurture the sapling and to pool into a vast lake, a moat to encircle the island, miles deep and miles wide, a barrier to contain her. He forgot one thing—her memory. That, he could not take or change. When he imprisoned her on this island, he left her with but one power—the power to remember.
She stood and brushed off her dress. She squinted up into the canopy above her and took hold of the lowest branch, hoisting her weight into the tree. She lifted herself from one fork in the branches to the next until the limbs grew slender beneath her bare feet and bowed under her steps. She pushed aside a bough heavy with gentle, pink blossoms, leaned out toward the lake, and closed her eyes. The wind tumbled over her, tumultuous but kind. It batted her to and fro from her perch, playful, comforting. Something about it made her feel at peace, made her feel closer to freedom. As it rushed over her, her gaze swept across the land beneath her. Waves curled up from the moat and dove back under the surface, driven by the strength of the wind toward the distant shore. The grass cascaded against the white cottage walls and the wind whistled through the gaping hole in the roof. She considered for a moment. Her hair whipped across her face and she tucked it behind her ear, nodding to herself in resolve.
She climbed back down the trunk and dropped to the ground, landing deftly on steady feet. She ran to her cottage, forcing the door open against the unruly wind and letting it slam shut behind her. She wiggled out of her dress and pulled on a pair of pants, into which she tucked a button-down shirt. Over that she tugged on a leather jacket, easing her hair out from under it. She swept her wild curls into a low ponytail and fastened it with a red ribbon. She pulled on a tight leather helmet, gloves, and tall boots. She snatched her goggles from their hook by the door and fastened them around her head, resting them securely on her forehead. She hurried around her workbench, sliding piles of metal scraps and tools and crumpled blueprints out of her way with her feet. She leaped over her cot and halted in the back room in front of her vessel.
It was magnificent. Its hull was built from dismantled roof beams, its sails fashioned from repurposed curtains, its oars carved from the wooden dining table. Her craftsmanship was meticulous. Every wooden seam had been brought together, fastened, smoothed, every board had been sanded, every frayed fabric edge sewn. She had filled every gap, checked every design, tested weights and strengths, measured lengths and heights. It was perfect, and it was going to prove itself that day. She stood before it, hands on her hips, and she smiled.
Striding past it, she unhooked the wooden bolt along the back wall and pushed open the swinging doors. They were just large enough for her craft to pass through. She propped them open against the wind and returned to her vessel. She braced her legs against the dusty, wooden floor and heaved against the sides of the craft. It slid across the floor on oiled wheels. She eased it between the doors, wincing as its hull scraped the doorframe. She guided it out onto the grass and out of the shade of the roof. Gazing back at her cottage for a moment, she grinned and snagged the rope ladder as it clattered in the wind. She pulled herself up on the rungs and jumped onto the deck. She unfurled sails and secured ropes, pulled in the oars and seized the wheel at the helm as the floral curtains caught the breeze and the vessel began to roll down the hill. She shifted her goggles over her eyes to protect them from the biting wind and bent over the wheel, gripping it tightly in both hands, gaze ahead of her riveted to the rippling water. She breathed slowly in through her nose and out through her mouth. The wind’s howling deafened her and snatched at her voice. It stole her shout of joy when the craft flew past the cherry blossom tree.
She cranked the wheel to the right and steered the vessel toward a ramp that she had built and placed at the bottom of the steepest part of the hill where the lake lapped at the supporting stilts. The craft rushed toward the ramp. As she reached it and the wheels thumped onto the wood and click-clacked over the boards, she howled in glee and jerked on one of the ropes, arching a sail gracefully down to capture a forceful gust of wind. The nose of the vessel swooped upward with the curve of the ramp and it launched into the air, slicing the breeze and barreling forward over the water. She cheered and locked the wheel in place and began rushing across the deck, hauling sails up and down, making adjustments, wrapping ropes around posts, expertly tying knots, freeing the cloth on the oars and shoving them out into the air. As their canvas fins unfurled, the wind surged beneath them and the vessel soared higher above the crashing waves. She grasped the oars in firm hands and forced them forward and down and back and up, rowing through the air, gaining height with each stroke. With a glance over her shoulder, she noted the distant cottage and the shrinking cherry blossom tree, and turned back to face her future.
The craft rose higher and the clouds above drew near. The mast disappeared into the pale mist and the air pierced her clothes, freezing her neck and face and wrists. She pulled in the oars and dashed to the wheel, squinting into the fog ahead. The rushing wind quieted and her world grew silent. Restless, she shifted the wheel gently back and forth as the whiteness swallowed her. The sail fluttered above her. The wheel nodded listlessly to the left. Nervous, she locked the wheel and darted from edge to edge on her ship, straining to see beyond the nothingness of the cloudcover. She fell when her feet slipped on a shiver that tore through the craft and she screamed as a mass appeared by the prow and scraped the side of the craft. Chunks of wood cracked off the hull and tumbled into the white abyss. The wood splintered and creaked. She scrambled to her feet and stumbled to the wheel. She veered the ship away from the mountain and the sails flapped in the wind, driving the ship away from the jagged rocks. Before it could escape, the cliffside chewed through the right side of the ship, snapping the oars into pieces, splitting one of the masts, fraying and severing ropes. The ship listed to one side, off-balance from the missing sail, and she lost her footing and slid toward the edge.
Screaming, she flailed about, grabbing frantically at ropes and beams as they evaded her grasp. Her feet cleared the edge of the deck. She hooked her arm around the railing and her body lurched overboard. Her muscles wrenched and stung in sharp pain and she kicked wildly in empty air. She grabbed the railing with her other hand, clutched it fiercely, and struggled to heave herself back aboard. The side of the craft peeled away from the mountainside and it keeled to the other side, throwing her into the air. She floundered for a moment as her grip loosened, and then her vessel tipped once more and hurled her free.
She shrieked, spinning away from the craft, tumbling through the open air, plummeting. She couldn’t close her eyes. She thrashed around as her body plunged through the clouds. Droplets of water gathered on her goggles and slid across their glass surface. The wind crushed all the air from her lungs so she couldn’t scream. Beneath her, the ground became visible. She had made it past the hill and the moat and the mountains and now she was free. She had escaped the island and, as she hurtled toward the grassy meadow beneath her, she wondered if death had always been the way to freedom.
She burst through the clouds and rose on the gentle current of the wind, her wings pushing the air with ease and driving her forward. She dove toward the valley below, spiraling down to the wildflowers and tall, yellow grass. She spread her wings and pulled up at the last moment, sweeping the ground with her tail and rising back up toward the mountains. She passed the mangled wreckage of an airship lying discarded beneath a peak. The sun glinted off her crimson scales and she admired her reflection as she flew over a lake encircling a tiny island. On the island rested an empty cottage with a broken roof and a cherry blossom tree. The area seemed somehow familiar, but she couldn’t find it in her memory. She flapped her wings and soared among the low-hanging clouds, passed over the island, the moat, and the mountains, and headed home.