Part 22: Chapter 17
He didn't remember hitting the ground. Shortly after the drop, the sudden velocity and the sheer realization of what had just happened caused him to black out. When the rope snake let go of the ladder, time seemed to move so slowly for just a moment. He had so many thoughts go through his head, and he remembered them all so clearly. What would happen to him and his friends; how they were going to survive the drop; will he ever see his father again; and how much he missed his mother.
For an eternity and one second during the plummet, he got the clearest of glimpses at his friends and his dog, as they all fell out of the sky, and they were all thinking the same thing. Who they were going to miss and what they regretted doing and not doing. He remembered his dog giving a bark and someone giving a shout once they all realized what was about to happen.
And then darkness. He remembered nothing after that.
So then he must be dead. He felt no pain or hunger or nausea or anything, really. He lay flat on his stomach, on top of a cushiony blanket of something with his eyes lightly closed. He played the last scene, just before the fall, over and over again in his mind, yet whenever he thought about it, he felt no tension from the memory, as though he only just made it up. He was at a total calm lying on the blanket, wanting for nothing but one thing: to get up.
Ever since the Pigmasks had invaded the Nowhere Islands, the sky wasn't as clear as it was. The factory and the warehouse churned out their own clouds at a constant rate, which provided their own rain, but it was acrid and corrosive. Their rain destroyed crops and killed forests. It was cloudy more often, and truly beautiful days were rare to come by the past few years.
This was one of those days. The sky was the brightest shade of blue he had seen in months, and the clouds were as white and fluffy and real as he remembered them when he was younger. The sun beat down on a field of sunflowers, stretching all the way out into the horizon in all directions. The field was completely featureless aside from the rows and rows of yellow heads upon healthy green stalks, and he was stuck right in the middle of it all.
He checked himself over. He still had everything he was wearing and everything he was carrying: his favourite shirt and shorts; his worn socks and shoes; an unopened cup of noodles a Pigmask had given him; and a bright-red, well-respected yo-yo he had taken from Thunder Tower, among several maps and one pamphlet for a band. At the very least, nothing up until now was just a dream.
He turned in place a few times, trying to see if there was some kind of landmark he could use to pinpoint where he was. But no such luck: not even Mount Oriander, which was normally visible everywhere on the island, was anywhere to be seen. It was only him and the sunflowers.
With no direction and no destination, he simply did the only thing he could do.
The flowers pushed to the side from his footsteps easily, offering no resistance. He only took a few steps before he stopped, looking around the immense field once more.
A gentle breeze swam over the area, caressing the flowers against his skin soothingly. Their petals were very soft and healthy, and their sweet scent did not overpower his nose like he thought they might. Their collective scent was very easy to handle, and just one small whiff caused an array of memories to resurface almost immediately.
He remembered being in their house, at the south of Tazmily, many years ago. In fact, he should have been too young to remember them at all, but it was so clear and vivid that it may as well have happened yesterday. Their house was brand new and didn't have a lot in the way of furniture or materials, but it had one thing it needed the most: a loving family.
He heard someone say his name. A beautiful, motherly voice. It had been so many years since he had heard it before, and, instinctively, he reached out to it, trying to grasp it, to never let it escape him again. He found himself taking a few steps forward, seeing the sunflowers but only realizing his home and his place in it.
He wanted to hear her say his name again. He remembered the voice, but, because of the years between then and now, he did not remember the face, and in his daze, he did not remember the name. If he just heard it once again, he could remember.
But cruelly, he was brought back to the dreamy reality of the sunflower field, the memory being so crisp and tangible just a moment ago returning to a fuzz. His hand had reached out and grasped at nothing, his eyes at the soft clouds drifting lazily high above.
He racked his mind, trying to piece the voice to a name, but everything came up blank. He just knew that his heart yearned to hear it once again, and his mind pleaded for an end to its forgetful torment. It was so important, he knew as much, but every attempt to solve its riddle was met with nothing.
He stood still, trying to put the picture he had just conjured back together, but nothing recaptured the same content he felt just a moment ago. His calm demeanour from when he woke up was beginning to waver as he became more and more upset that he wanted to see the woman that spoke to him, if only in his memory, but he could not.
But before he fell apart, he heard something else. Not the voice he was asking for, but rather, a quick, saddened bark of a dog just to his side. He turned in its direction, and there in the field sat a lump of brown fur, looking away, panting in exhaustion and upset that it was alone in the fields.
He wasn't about to leave his best friend alone in the middle of nowhere. He put the woman's voice to the side for now, tending first to his pet - his friend and family, a dog that would follow him to the ends of the island and beyond.
It heard him approach from behind, and gave a few happy yips at seeing its best friend and master approach through the sunflowers. He ran his hand through the fur on its head, kneeling down, wrapping his arms around it in a loving embrace. The dog returned the affection with a lick across the cheek, but was clearly distracted; the moment he let go, it turned around again, whining at something off in the distance. He stood at its side, watching for whatever had gotten its attention.
It was only a moment, but he saw it too: a phantom of his past, conjured for a split second as it walked away from them down the sunflower fields. A tall woman with shoulder-length, flowing hair and a familiar red dress going down to her ankles that rippled and swayed in the breeze.
All at once, he felt the content he was searching for with his lost memory, and drifted away in its feeling at the ghost's sight. It wasn't until after it disappeared that he thought to call out to it, to ask it to wait, to beg it to turn around, but it had left them once more. He turned to his dog, which had pulled itself to its feet, its tail wagging happily, clearly having seen the same thing he had just saw. Was it a figment of their imagination? Was everything he was seeing and feeling and smelling an act to cushion the horrible truth about the fall from Thunder Tower? Whether or not it was, he was teased with the chance of reclaiming what he had lost, and he was going to try and get it back.
The sunflowers seemed to sway out of his way, to make the path as easy as they could from him as he chased his memories. For another few minutes, there was nothing: a flat land of flowers meeting into the blue sky with no hint that what they had seen would reappear. But, aside from each other, they had nothing else, and they would keep up their chase for as long as it would take.
It wasn't too much longer when his dog began to yip and bark excitedly once again, and once again, the phantom reappeared, keeping up her walking pace away from them, leading them. He remembered to call out to her this time, trying to get her to stop and to look at them, but the moment he blinked away the pollen from the breeze, she disappeared once more.
His dog was just as anxious to see her as he was, and, excitedly, it galloped after the ghost, barking all the while, running past its master and into the sunflower field ahead of him.
He picked up his pace as well, desperately wanting to see her again. Her image was fresh in his mind, and he knew she meant the world to him, but still he could not remember her face! His heart began to quicken and his fingers began to jitter; it had been years since he had felt the peace the ghost gave him, and with each memory and with each time the ghost reappeared, he was given a short, tantalizingly short, reminder of what he wanted to regain.
His dog's barks grew quieter and quieter the farther it managed to pull away from him - not that he was worried. It would have been difficult to get lost in a plain as flat as this, and he could understand its urgency. He followed after it, sprinting through the fields as quickly as his legs could take him.
His prayers were finally answered when the ghost ceased her chase, reappearing once again in front of him, her back still facing him. He called out to her once more, asking her to turn around, to look at him. No matter if she answered his pleas now or not for another three years or another three hundred years, he would chase her through the sunflower fields until she did.
He didn't have to wait that long.
They said nothing. He looked up at her, getting as good a look at her face as he could with the short time she had given him. Her round chin and soft cheeks; her petit nose and thin lips; the blue eyes he had taken after so prominently. He could see a lot of himself in her, from the way she looked to the gentle way she carried herself. He remembered so many things about his mother that he blushed, ashamed that he had forgotten them all. And she smiled warmly, looking at the strong, handsome young man her son had grown up to be.
His mother loved sunflowers. Since they had lost her, his father had been growing their own patch near her grave in her memory, and her resting place sat over an expansive field of the flowers, reaching on and on until they hit an uncharted area of the Sunshine Forest. But after all his walking - had he been moving forward all this time, or in circles? There was no way to tell in the infinite field - this was clearly not that same patch: there was no forest anywhere for miles.
There was only a moment between them while they watched the other, waiting for someone to say or do something between them. She made no other movement than to appreciate her boy, but he wanted more: he had heard her speak and he had seen her face. If he could just hold her, just for a minute, he could accept his heaven without regret.
Cautiously - as if she were just lights made in the wind and a sudden movement would blow her away - he took a step forward, then another, wanting to get closer, to fulfil his own wishes, when, almost meanly, she turned back around and walked away, disappearing into the ether once again. He didn't care if her intent was to lead him somewhere; all he cared about was having his old life back, just for that one moment.
It wasn't too much farther, but the endless sea of sunflowers finally came to their end, petering out to a small patch of grass before ending at nothing. The field of flowers met their end and the endless clouds had their beginning, and there, waiting at their border, was his mother, waiting patiently for her son to catch her.
He saw how the ground simply stopped; how he couldn't see below the clouds and how there was no guarantee there would be anything safe to land on if he made the jump, but none of that mattered. Dead or alive, heaven or not, he and his father had been robbed of their mother and wife for the last three years. The world had taken everything from him, and he was so close to getting it all back.
She beckoned to him, even knowing that he would come to her by himself if she didn't. He did not think about his dog and if he had made the same jump off the field. He just...wanted to be with his mother again.