Cool air was blowing up, testimony to the conditions up there, a momentary comfort for Skinner. That’s the same, he thought, but it’s different. Nothing was ever exactly the same.
Tanker asked, “What are you thinking? Let’s go.”
Skinner knew this was no different from other times. That’s the theory. The clouds looked so damn thin, though. He doesn’t see how they can support him, even though they always had before. But he always had his Dad or Mom with him to walk the clouds. Their presence was encouraging and reassuring.
He stepped out out the few final feet from the cliff side toward the oh so ordinary appearing clouds. They looked like the same kind of clouds he’d walked with his parents. It’s just that his parents weren’t here.
“We won’t always be here to do this with you, Skinner,” his father had said just a few days before, in a place very much like this one, but different.
Shifting sounds behind him made Skinner look back at Tanker. Tanker had composed himself for a long wait and was looking bored and tired. “You take your time, Skinner. Do what you need to do.”
Skinner remembered his father speaking. “You can take your time, but that’s part of the test. The test isn’t just about walking on the clouds, but your belief and confidence that you can do it. You know you can. You’ve done it with me. Other matters will be in your head, too. You’ll know that everyone is watching. You’ll know it’s a test. You’ll know it. I know you’ll know it because I was there. I was tested for my belief, too. I know what was in my head then, and you’re just like me. You, me, and your grandfathers, we’re all the same, so I know what’s in your head, Skinner. Believe me, I know.”
A sharper wind knifed over Skinner’s face. He turned back toward the clouds. White and gray, and lined by sunlight, they were pretty. Some thinned, parting ways. Clouds are always saying hello and good-bye. The separation exposed the creek running through the park below, and the trees. If he didn’t believe, he would crash right through these clouds and down through the tree branches, into the hard green and brown earth below. Maybe he’d land in the water. Maybe he’d land on one of the big granite boulders. Maybe he would live.
But he believed.
He stepped off onto the cloud.