“Is this… really me?”
Eric soared through cotton clouds. High above, a blanket of stars turned the sky into a glittering canvas. Below, an endless body of water stretched across the horizon as far as Eric could see. He reached up and ran slender fingers through a head full of long, thick hair. Those same fingertips traced a slow path across his soft skin and plush lips.
As though he’d been flying his entire life, Eric descended through the clouds until he skimmed the water’s surface. He looked down at an unfamiliar person in the water’s reflection; tears welled in the corners of his eyes. Surprised, Eric blinked, and large hazel eyes with thick lashes blinked back at him. With a quivering hand, Eric reached down to touch his face’s reflection.
It was a pretty face. Thin, round cheeks formed dimples when Eric’s smile grew wide. A slim, curvy body lay hidden beneath a white shift dress. It contrasted with his dark, mocha skin and sparkled in the moonlight. Unable to hold back any longer, Eric released a loud laugh as the tears welling in his eyes spilled down his new cheeks, but the laugh escaped as an excited giggle.
Eric clasped his hand over his mouth in disbelief. After hesitating a few seconds, he released his hands and giggled again. Like an infectious fire spreading through him, Eric giggled uncontrollably as he twirled through the air. He brushed his fingers across the water and closed his eyes, content to simply hear his own voice. It seemed as though hours passed before Eric stopped and hovered with one foot resting on the water’s surface. He looked around; for the first time, he realized he was alone.
The water beneath him suddenly stirred. Tiny waves distorted the ocean’s surface, and as Eric looked for any sign of another human life, a dark blot on the horizon rolled across the water toward him like inky smoke. It covered the sky in all directions. As it drew closer to Eric, the wind and waves intensified, but the wind and waves weren’t emanating from the dark clouds. Rather, they drew toward it as though being sucked into an aerial maelstrom.
“Eric…” A deep voice rumbled from the black cloud like thunder. Eric’s heart clenched in his chest, and he instinctively floated away.
The voice repeated, closer this time. “Eric…”
Eric shook his head. “No, no! Stay back!”
“Eric Reginald Thompson, Junior! You get up right this second or so help me I will tan your hide! You’re going to be late for school!” A distant familiar voice invaded his dream.
Eric snapped his eyes open, and for a second he didn’t recognize his own room. Slowly, he sat up in bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
“Ngh… Mom?” Eric groaned sleepily.
“No, my child, it’s the tooth fairy come to grant you magical wishes. Now, get up, get dressed, and grab some breakfast! You missed the bus, so I’ll have to drive your butt to school today! I declare, Eric!”
“Sorry, Mom, I had a weird…” Eric finally realized that he no longer felt a round, smooth face beneath his fingers. He pulled his hands away from his face and stared at them. “… dream.”
Eric’s mom, Mariah, appeared in his doorway. Her shoulder-length brown hair curled in thick, bouncy spirals next to her cheeks, the tips of which were dyed a dark blond. A blue knee-length skirt clung tightly to her hips, and a white button-up shirt tucked neatly into it. An imitation pearl necklace hung from her neck giving her an air of sophistication.
Mariah’s face softened, and she walked in three-inch heels right up to Eric’s bed. She sat down next to him and placed a hand on his knee. “Was it a bad one? Do you want to talk about it, baby?”
“Actually… it was really amazing. I was…” Eric began. He almost gushed his dream’s every detail, but when he saw his mother’s concerned face, he stopped. “I was flying,” he told her the partial truth. “But some dark cloud rolled up and kept saying my name…”
Eric’s mother lifted a brow at him. “And you thought that was amazing? You’re a weird child.”
Eric offered his mother a wide, toothy smile. The two shared a soft laugh before Mariah patted Eric on the knee and stood from his bed. “Time to get moving, baby. Those teachers of yours already don’t like me; I can’t have you late for one of their classes.”
“They’re just not used to someone talking to them so fiercely, Mom,” Eric said flatly as he made his way to the bathroom to get ready. Eric washed his face, brushed his teeth, then stared at himself in the mirror. In his mind’s eye, he still saw himself as the beautiful young woman staring up at him from the ocean’s reflection, but the image didn’t last long. Reality sank in, and Eric found himself face to face with his actual reflection.
His wiry hair fell to his shoulder blades. His face was dark and thin, and his brown eyes with green flecks stared sadly at his bony shoulders. Eric knitted his brows together, but when he caught his mother’s reflection standing in the doorway, he forced a smile.
“Well,” Mariah said softly, “I wouldn’t talk to them fiercely if they weren’t incompetent. My baby’s a junior in high school now! Bullying shouldn’t be a thing when you’re getting ready to go into the adult world in a mere year and some change! Those other kids should be held back until they grow up! And don’t get me started on your teachers. How could they just let it happen?”
Eric winced with each word; as Mariah vented her concerns, he reached back and gathered his wiry hair in preparation to put it in a ponytail. Just before wrapping it up in an elastic band, Eric glanced over at his mother’s styling iron. He bit his lower lip and looked pleadingly to her. “Can I?”
Mariah stopped her rant long enough to follow Eric’s gaze to the hair straightener. “Baby, there’s no time. You’re already late…”
Mariah sighed. “Has the bullying stopped?”
“Yes,” Eric lied.
“Make it quick.” Mariah stepped forward and placed a kiss on her son’s forehead before disappearing from the bathroom.
Even though Eric nodded and smiled, once his mother was gone he took as much time as he dared to straighten his bristly hair. When he finally finished, Eric put his new sleek, straight hair into the ponytail. Rather than the ends fraying out like branches, the tail curved down obediently and ended at the nape of his neck. Smiling, Eric marched into the kitchen and started wolfing down his breakfast: a plate of eggs, bacon, and toast. He made a face when it wasn’t piping hot.
“It’s your own fault for sleeping in so late!” his mother barked when she saw his face. She huffed and picked up a pair of pills on the table then swallowed them along with a full glass of water that sat next to them. “Unlike yours, my breakfast was hot and delicious!” She smirked, scooped up her dishes, and deposited them in the sink.
“Everything you make tastes delicious, even cold.” Eric chuckled and happily finished his food.
“Uh-huh. You’re just saying that because I let you use my straightener.”
“Oh, look at the time!” Eric exclaimed with an exaggerated inflection. “We should probably go; I don’t want to be late for second period, too!” Eric followed his mother’s example and placed his dishes in the sink.
“Smart aleck!” Mariah playfully swatted Eric on his head. Eric laughed before gathering up his school supplies; his mother put on a blue blazer to match her skirt and they were out the door.
Cloud IX Volume I: Welcome to Cloud IX – Available Soon!