An IN THE AIR Excerpt: “Float” by Alex Zalben

As the wind whipped and pulled at Laney’s hair, she paused on the last snap. If she did this—really did this—that was it. She was gone, forever. But honestly, who would care?

Her heart pounded, blood rushing over the wind in the park.

Do it, she willed herself. You coward.

Was this cowardice, though? Giving up? Flying away like a paper bag instead of staying and facing her problems? Maybe, but it was all too much, too hard, every single damn day. The taunts, the names, the snickers, and laughs as she passed by in the hall at Truman High. They all commiserated with each other, looked at her, and it just wasn’t worth it. Why wake up every day, trudge to a place where people hated her, then go back home to parents who felt burdened by her? It had been this way for sixteen years, and she was tired of it all.

She fiddled with the snap again, crouched in the middle of the park. She hadn’t taken off the harness outside in years, been too scared by what happened when she was a child. The memory strong, her mother’s screams of terror fresh in her ears. Furious whispers in the night from her parents’room, and trips to the doctor.

Then, the harness.

The goddamn harness that consumed every waking hour of her life and made her look like a freak.

Years earlier, she had a group of friends, chanting for her to take off the shoes for the last time. At least the shoes had been relatively discrete if they looked like part of a suit of armor. But since the day she took them off, her parents hadn’t trusted her. They held tight to her, tighter than the harness itself. No going out on her own, no sleepovers with friends…

Which meant no friends.

Lonely and heartsick, Laney didn’t want to exist. She flicked the snap open, but the harness held tight. One more step, and she would be free.

The harness wasn’t comfortable. At all. It wasn’t heavy like the shoes, but it bit into her skin and left marks that didn’t fade until morning. At night, she took the harness off, carefully, and strapped herself into bed. Inside the house, her parents didn’t take chances. They only had one child, and even if that child was a freak, they weren’t letting her get away.

Laney hated them. Sometimes. A lot of the time. Certainly, she felt a pure, burning fury toward them more often than love. How could she love these people who stifled her, set so many rules, and held her back? Who treated her like a wild animal in a zoo instead of their own child?

Would anyone miss her at all? They’d find the empty harness sitting in the middle of a field and instantly know what had happened. But Laney suspected they’d feel relief that she was gone. They wouldn’t have to care for her anymore. The travel books that packed their bookshelves gathering dust would finally get some use—you can’t take a walking tour through Italy with a child who might disappear into the air at any moment. Hell, they couldn’t take a calm walk around the block.

Honestly, it would be better if she just left.

And the students at school wouldn’t care, either, other than missing their punching bag. She was so sick and tired of being called Balloon Girl, or Floaty Laney. She’d walk through the hall and feel someone flick a snap open and laugh. Doing this, letting go…

On one level, it felt like giving them what they wanted. Letting them win.

But she was so tired of losing.

Laney shivered. The spring air wasn’t cold, and she wore a light jacket—she’d be cold soon enough. But her decision was enough to make her teeth chatter and arms break out into gooseflesh.

 

 

48416177_2008938705839504_8094266344947580928_nAlex Zalben is the author of an all-ages comic book series for Marvel, “Thor and the Warriors Four.” His short fiction has recently been featured in Splickety Magazine, Gypsum Sound Tales “Thuggish Itch” anthology, Third Flatiron’s “Galileo’s Theme Park” anthology, and an issue of Enchanted Conversation Magazine. For the past decade he’s hosted the live show and podcast Comic Book Club, which has been profiled in the New York Times. He currently works as Managing Editor at Decider.com, with previous bylines on TV Guide, MTV News and more.

 

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Featured Photo Credit: Floating girl by Mishel Vermishel

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