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Shift

By Ray Dangel

 

Wendell Kendall was always a loner. Even as a toddler he happily played by himself for hours, arranging and rearranging his blocks and other toys. When eventually he was bundled off to school, it shocked him to be forced to sit in a room with other children, and then be forced to play with them at recess, and twice a day to be forced to ride with them in a noisy bus.

He hated it all, and especially he hated it when they made fun of his name.

Wendell survived in the vicious world of school only because of his vivid imagination. For as long as he could remember, he slipped into fantasy when life troubled him. Over time, what the boy did was more than the usual daydreaming. He so badly needed the escape his mind provided that it became his reality.

His favorite place was the African jungle. Wendell would close his eyes and think hard for a few moments, and the shift took place. Like a miniature movie emerging from the blackness of his eyelids, huge trees appeared and stretched high above him. Birds crisscrossed like rainbows through the branches, chattering raucously. As his eager nostrils drew in the perfume of the exotic flowers surrounding him, Wendell was safe and content.

The boy's mind shielded him not only from his classmates' cruelty, but also from simple boredom. The moment he tired of a situation he would shift. He grew expert at it, and later obsessed, until now at age 12 he spent most of his time in fantasies and that inner world was more real than the outer one he fled.

One Sunday in August he was lying on the grass in a city park, watching a hawk riding summer thermals in the blue, blue sky. It came to him that he had never tried flying, and he wondered how it would feel to be inside the body and mind of the hawk. He focused his thoughts on it, and in a moment he shifted.

Wendell felt the warm wind rushing past his face. He heard himself making the shrill cry of a hungry predator. On the ground far below, the buildings were toys and the people were silent ants. He soared, spiraling up until the air grew cooler from the height. Shifting his weight, he swooped to glide silently a dozen feet above the park lawn from which he had admired the hawk a few minutes ago.

Giddy with this new ability, he flew toward a group of picnickers. As he reached them, they scattered and ran, stumbling in their haste to escape.

One man's voice boomed out: "Noooo!"

Suddenly Wendell realized they were really afraid of him, and that thought broke his concentration. Panic forced a scream from him as his muscles went limp. The ground rushed up sickeningly fast and he plunged onto the lawn with awful force.

He felt no pain but he was unable to move. A chill spread over him. It came to Wendell that he was dying and this was not a fantasy. Mercifully his fear left him and he lay calmly as his life spark flickered.

With the last of his fading vision, Wendell saw the man who had shouted "Noooo!" stooping to peer at him.

In a moment the man stood and spoke in a hushed voice to the others. "What was he doing up there? People can't fly!"

 

 

 

Story copyright © 1998 Ray Dangel <radangel@eazy.net>

Illustration copyright © 1998 Romeo Esparrago <public@romedome.com>


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