The ship climbed the open, empty sky as if it were a mountain. Blusterous winds rippled through the fabric of my dressings and pushed me, my shoulder blades hugging either side of the mast. Oliver calmly stood at the helm, spinning the wheel on whimsy.
“I can barely hang on!” I wailed.
“Oh?” Is all he said. I almost could hear him whistling amidst the ambush of wind.
I braced myself firmly against the tall, sturdy pole. “When does it let up?”
“Anytime you like.”
“This isn't just some illusion!” I cried. “I'm going to fall!”
He spun the wheel playfully. “Really? What for?” He then changed his stance curiously. He looked back at me, his head flat on the deck. He steered with his booted feet.
“Has anyone ever told you that you're completely insane?” I shrieked. “What use is there in having crutches if you don't even need them?”
“But, I do need them.” He kicked his knees to the side, the ship narrowly avoided a flock of nappy-tailed harpies. “Just not here, remember?” His eyes switched to that of the dragon's.
The weight at my chest seemed to lighten, but the ship was going no slower and climbing no less steeply. I wiggled my body off the mast and found my footing on the deck. Still, I was like a newborn on unsteady legs, but I could stand. Each time I remembered my earlier fears, the pressures would increase and my dressings would flap like broken dragon wings in the wind. But, each time I remembered the storybook fiction of my reality, my steps became more certain and the winds would die down.
Oliver grinned knowingly. He resumed proper stance and pointed to the star in the distance. “There she is.”
I rested my hand on his feeble shoulder and gazed out at the glowering yellow sun. “It's so far.” I said. And then, for the first time, I saw the dustlink beneath us. My heart skipped a beat, and it was like the boat was skipping along with me.
“Faeah! Faeah! Relax,” he said, “you're burning holes in the dustlink. You need to calm down.”
“We're riding on air! We're riding on nothing!”
The ship tried to buck us. He held on to the wheel and I onto his poncho.
“It's not air, Faeah! It's not air. It's dust. You almost can't see it, but it's there. Imagine it's there. See it, in your mind.”
The threads of the poncho were tearing. The mast was creaking and the sails roaring with overextended effort. “But it isn't... I can't...”
My fingers slipped away from the poncho. I slid, without resistance, without interruption, to the other end of the deck. I hung, with my fingernails gripping the bulwark. My legs shook violently, it was only by sheer luck that I hung on.
“Faeah!” called Oliver, he seemed so far away. “It's a story. The dustlink's just a story, like you, like everything in your world.”
The ship rattled and shook more violently than before.
“But that doesn't mean they aren't real!” He backed himself against the wheel and stood upright, holding on tightly. “You were never supposed to be conscious, but here you are! Boring holes in in the fabric of your world. I don't know how it happened, or why, but I know that you are the key! Everything on this world, in this Universe, could be as real as you or me. But you have to be patient! You have to believe in them!”
“Believing doesn't make it true!” I shouted. My fingers were nearly breaking with the effort of holding me on board.
“It does for you!” he shouted. “All you have to do is...”
My grip slipped. I was falling. The ship kept on. And, all sense of time seemed to distort.
I watched him watching me fall. His poncho blowing in the wind, the sails blustering and the mast leaning, threatening to crash. He did not flinch. Not one muscle. He wasn't alarmed. He knew. All of space seemed to be the backdrop and he was the subject. He knew this was only a story, and he knew I could never die.
I hit the dustlink and it felt like a bed made just for me. It held me, encircled me, washed over me. For a time it felt as though I'd splashed into a river, and I fought hard, and valiantly, and nobly, against the pull of the waves. I hoped I had fallen back to Earth – my Earth, but as I opened my eyes I saw I was still in space, as if floating on nothing. But, I did not believe that anymore. I believed in the dustlink and therefore the dustlink was strong. And, that's when I stopped fighting the waves of dust pushing me away, because I realized that they were trying to take me home.
I remembered the story of the old man who washed ashore because he did not struggle, because he trusted in the nature of the universe. And, I realized where trusting the universe had brought me. Where no one from my world had ever come before. Far out in space, floating on a river of moon dust and comet guts, gazing at the Earth as it sat between my feet.
I turned over in the dust, using little force. I looked back at where I'd fallen from. The ship had picked up speed, the mast seemed to settle itself back in place. Oliver was calm, poised, a still shadow cast by the sun. The journey still looked so far.
But, what was far? There was no star and there was no ship and there was no distance. I had been caught in the dustlink by believing in its strength, what was distance to a traveler from a world beyond my own? Nothing but an illusion.
Just at the moment I completed the thought, I felt the heat of the sun at my face. It was rushing toward the ship and the ship toward it. The light became blinding and whiter than it was yellow. I don't know what I had been expecting or what I had believed, but I was not prepared. The ship blasted at once into the sun. At once the dustlink strengthened. At once the ship evaporated. At once Oliver disintegrated into nothing.
The air was lost from my lungs, a pang hit my heart.
The dustlink dropped me. I was falling toward nothing but absolute black.
And, that is when I stopped believing. There was no world, and therefore no home to return to. There was no sun, only a bright illusion in the sky. There was no dustlink. There was no ship, and no Oliver. And, no friendships lost. There was no family that I belonged to. I was falling out into space, until I realized that space was a lie too. And, so was I.
But, what if I wasn't? That was the thought that came, somehow, to mind. Though there should not have been a mind to think with in the vast nothing of non-existence.
What if I wasn't a lie, a fiction, a farce?
What if I was real?
And then, there was a body. And a mind. And a consciousness.
My weight settled into the fabric of space and time, I saw a silver flash pulsate from point of contact and I saw the ripple of the web that held together all of existence. It snapped back at me, and it sent me hurtling through space.
But, where was I going? I thought.
And then, there was a planet colored with blues and greens and browns. And, I called it Earth.
As the world stood before my eyes, I remembered day and night, and I remembered seasons.
I set the Earth at a tilt and spun it on its axis. And then, the sun appeared.
When I felt its warmth against my skin, I remembered friendship and kindness. I remembered the broken-winged dragon that had befriended and set me free. The dustlink sprang from the sun and it lassoed around the Earth, hugging it tight. And then, a ship sailed the moon dust out of the depths of the sun.
Oliver grinned at me, he played with the steering wheel and whistled to himself in the twilight of space, between the sun and the Earth. His poncho blew gently from the wind he told me should never have existed.
I drummed my fingers at the black of space and re-imagined star systems and galaxies far and wide. I looked around as I danced on the fabric of space, and I saw that it was good.