At the top of the world, I approached a cloud that had come to rest on the tallest mountain peak. Though a rocky path indicated this as a thoroughfare, the cloud had remained for days and days, obscuring passage and worrying the locals, who asked me to climb up and negotiate.
“The people need to pass this way,” I told the cloud. Wind eased around my clothes and tugged chill fingers through my hair. “Please return to the sky.”
Foggy particles of moisture thickened, blocking my vision until I could no longer even see my feet. I had the cloud’s attention.
“If I go, they will come with me.” Its voice was muffled, like someone speaking from beneath a blanket. It sounded big and old. “Whisked away to the clouds yet too heavy to float upon air.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Follow their calls.”
I heard nothing but my own breathing. But then, distantly, thinly, a sound reached me; a damp cry of distress. Following it, I found I had to leave the guiding safety of the path and plunge into the blank depths of the fog.
“Can you not release them?” I asked, hesitating.
“They are enthralled,” the cloud replied, “following wherever I move. You must lead them out.”
I stepped off the path, making scuff marks in the mud as I went, to follow back. Down the mountainside, huddled beneath a bank of rocks, I found people, shivering and miserable. The slack in their bags showed they had used up their supplies.
A hollow-eyed man gazed pleadingly at me. “Help. We’ve been here so long.”
On the way back, my scuff marks had filled with rainwater, as if the cloud wept. It vanished as we passed out of its boundaries, relieved to at last be freed from the ground.
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