I wrote the following story for a flash fiction contest for the online magazine 10Flash, which has since folded. It did not get chosen for publication, but I still like it.
When Zinda asked, “Where does the rain come from?” my first thought was to show her the water cycle.
I conjured an endless ocean first, then the shining summer sun above so that its rays glistened on the gently rolling surface of the water. Into the middle of the blue-green expanse I summoned an island. It was covered in emerald rain forest save for the narrow, pearl white strip of beach at its edges, the towering spire of snow capped mountain at its center, and the ribbon of rushing white water that connected the two. In the sky I made clouds — big, white cumulonimbus clouds that drank the moisture as it rose from the sea.
Zinda observed what I had created with polite attention. I prepared to give my explanation of evaporation, condensation and precipitation, but stopped. I felt her interest evaporate as surely as the sea water below. So, ,instead, I lifted the world until we stood on the beach. White sand filtered between our toes, blue ocean stretched forever out before us and the mountain loomed above, its peak lost in the clouds. I allowed the rain to fall lightly on us and asked Zinda, “Where do you think it comes from?”
Zinda pointed up at the shrouded peak and said, “There!”
“Well, then,” I said, “let’s go see, shall we?”
Zinda’s delight was like an explosion of light and song and we were suddenly racing into the forest. It would have been easier, of course, to simply be at the peak of the mountain, but Zinda found delight in the going. I too, I must admit, was refreshed by the terrestrial sensations of earth and branches and breath and sweat. I opened up my creation as we ran, sharing it with Zinda.
At first, we raced along a barely perceptible game trail. Reeds and branches slapped and stung us as we went. The sound of the river grew ever louder until we came to a wider, well trod path. It wound ever upward, with the river on its right. I marvelled at the frothing water as it leaped up and over the rocks, ever climbing toward the peak even as we did the same. That is when I gave Zinda all control over the microcosm: to be surprised for once was so exhilarating, I dared not ruin it with my own editing.
We climbed the steep trail for what seemed like hours. We had stopped for breath and a refreshing drink from the river when a great, snarling beast burst from the forest. I barely had time to grab a fallen branch to use as a spear as it pounced on me. Its many jaws snapped inches from my face and its fins and claws and wings beat at me. Zinda cried out, not in terror but in excitement, as I battled the creature. Finally, I thrust my makeshift weapon into its thorax and then hefted it, sending the beast tumbling over a precipice and down to the forest far below. We laughed as I panted for breath, and then we were off again.
Further still up the trail the clouds that hugged the mountain became a thick mist around us. We came to fork in the trail, where the one-eyed ape riddled us. “What always runs but never walks, often murmurs, never talks, has a bed but never sleeps, has a mouth but never eats?”
We scratched our heads and gnashed out teeth, certain we would fail the test, until the answer came upon me like dawn upon the shore. “A river!,” I said. That King Seer bowed to us and bid us take the right path. He did not deceive us: this was the true way, but was itself not without peril. We fought the armies of the Golden Horde and found ourselves wrapped in the soul-webs of the Spider Queen. Over these obstacles, and many others, we prevailed until finally we arrived at our destination.
We emerged from the wall of white mist into the brilliant light of the sun. The summer wind blew warm, driving the cold damp of the clouds as we climbed the last stone steps. The river rushed and splashed up the mountain beside us but calmed as it neared the top. The peak of the mountain was a reaching arm, nearly flat and extending for at least a hundred paces. The river was a lazy brook there, and we followed it across the mountaintop. Zinda picked pretty golden flowers as we went and I basked in the light of the sun above, for all the clouds were beneath us.
We walked to the edge. The lazy river grew faster as it neared, becoming a torrent again just as it spilled over the side. Zinda said, “Come, look. See. This is why it rains.”
I edged gingerly to the precipice, my knees shaking. I was so given over to Zinda’s creation, I had forgotten my own invulnerability. At first I saw only white below, but then the wind blew and the clouds parted. Through the break I saw the great gleaming expanse of the sea and the emerald mosaic of the forest. The falls were as beautiful as the world onto which they rained.
“And that is why it rains?” I asked Zinda.
There was a pause, a moment of utter sincerity, then: “Of course not!” sang Zinda. “That’s just a story I made up!”
We laughed, and as I took control back from Zinda, the mountaintop fell away. Once again, the ocean, the island and the clouds, all gilded by the high summer sun, were laid out far below us.
“Do you see that?” I asked Zinda. “That is a cumulonimbus cloud.”