Human beings are not, as most of us believe, the only creatures in this world, or even that our world is the only world there is, for there are in reality many worlds. And there is a world very near ours, just a fraction of a dimension over, which is home to the creatures known as cloud-children who live on clouds as if they were solid. For in our world clouds are mere vapor, but just a little twist in space lends solidity to them, and they can be lived on as we live on the earth. But humans like us could not live on the clouds, even if we could travel to that world, for we are not cloud-children. And that is as it should be.
The cloud-children jump on the clouds as if they are a trampoline, and walk on them as if they were grass, and when they are tired they can pull out a fluffy bit of cloud to use as a pillow and a thin sheet of cloud to use as a blanket. They are always merry and eat cloud-fruit which comes in many colors and flavors and grows on cloud-trees. And they are looked after by the cloud-mother, who did not give birth to them as our mothers gave birth to us, but she is nevertheless as a mother to them.
Our story concerns one particular cloud-child called Ariel. It starts when the cloud-mother was telling all the little cloud-children a story of Earth. For other worlds know more easily than ours that other worlds than theirs exist; but our world is one of the hardest from which to think of other worlds.
The cloud-mother was telling the children all about the human beings who lived on Earth, when (most unfortunately) Ariel said, “I think humans are not as good as cloud-children, and I should hate to be one!” Then the cloud-mother took Ariel aside and said to her: “Who are you to judge the inhabitants of another world? It is in fact that humans have something which cloud-children have not: an immortal soul. And when humans do wrong they are able to shed tears of repentance, but cloud-children do not have this ability. And you have done a wrong, so now you must become human, until you are able to feel fully sorry for what you have done.”
Ariel felt very sorry for herself and felt she surely did not deserve such a punishment, but she did not say this. She said, “How can I become a human?”
“To become a human you must slide down the rainbow, and you will be given a human body.”
So Ariel slid down the rainbow. When she got to the bottom, she was a human, with dark hair and pale skin. She was naked, and found herself sitting on the ground on something hard, much harder than cloud. She didn’t like it. An odd sensation washed over her, which was not very pleasant. The word came into her mind, cold. It was raining. There was never any rain from up on the clouds, though sometimes the clouds shook with rain. Rain from the ground was a completely new experience. Ariel hugged her knees to her chest in an attempt to keep warm.
She could hear voices now. Human voices, she supposed. They sounded odd. Ariel realized she was very wet. Wetness was a new sensation, which she was not sure she liked. Just then, another human came by on a strange contraption. He was wearing something yellow and shiny and carried a large brown paper bag.
“Hullo, there. Why are you not wearing anything?” Ariel perceived that he was a human child, a boy. “It won’t do to be out here naked, especially in this weather. Here, take my raincoat.” He took off the yellow thing. “Put it on.” Ariel saw the tubes which were for arms and put it on. The boy helped her to button it.
“I’ve never seen you around here before. Are you lost?”
“Lost,” she repeated. Was she? She didn’t know what she was, but lost was as good a description as she could come up with.
“Well, then,” the boy replied. “I think you’d best hop on my bicycle. Here, you can ride in the basket.”
“Thank you,” Ariel said, surprised. So the strange contraption was called a bicycle! She would have to learn the names for many things, now that she was human.
The boy’s hair was getting wet without his raincoat, and Ariel was already soaked. “I’m Timothy. What’s your name?”
“I’m Ariel,” she said. Speaking in a human voice was so different!
“We’re almost to Grandmother’s house. She sent me out to get bread at the market. It’s pouring out here, but at least we won’t starve!”
And finally the bicycle stopped. They were in front of a little cottage. “Here we are,” Timothy said. He ran to the front door while Ariel stayed in the basket. “Come on,” he said, and Ariel came to the door. “Grandmother, I’ve brought someone,” he called. A kindly old woman stepped out of the house. She was wearing an apron and had long grey hair braided behind her back.
“Come in, come in,” she said. “What is your name?” she said to Ariel.
“I’m Ariel,” she said, nervous. That was all she said. But Grandmother was extremely wise, even more so than most old grandmothers, and she happened to know all about cloud-children, and many other things which few humans knew about. So she knew what Ariel was, and did not ask why she was naked.
“You look very wet. A hot bath is what you need, and then some food. So Grandmother ran a hot bath and Ariel got in, and afterwards Grandmother just happened to have some lovely clothes which fit Ariel just right. She did not ask why the old woman had the clothes, but felt strangely comfortable with her. The bath was wet, but it was an entirely different wetness from the rain outside; much more pleasant. Ariel thought Grandmother reminded her a bit of the cloud-mother – but, she added in her head, not as good as the cloud-mother, for she was only human.
Then the two children ate hot chicken soup and bread with butter. Ariel decided it was very good, but very different from cloud fruits. It had a taste that was not sweet, but still good all the same. Savory, came the word in her mind. There was also another thing that could go on the bread, called jam, which was even sweeter than cloud fruits, and which Ariel decided she didn’t like.
The days went by, and Ariel lived with Grandmother and Timothy. They were good people, though Ariel always added in her mind that cloud-children were much better, of course. Ariel learned about many different foods humans ate, though she was always trying to decide whether she liked them as much as cloud fruits. Timothy shared his toys with her, and they played together every day, and with the other neighborhood children.
And yet, not everything in the human world was always pleasant. Some things were bad. There was such a thing as pain. And deep in her heart, Ariel wondered if humans were not braver than cloud-children, for all they suffered. But this thought was not strong enough to cause her to shed tears.
One of Ariel’s favorite things to do as a human was to look up at the clouds. She would often imagine what cloud-children lived there and what they were doing. One day she and Timothy were out on a sunny day to buy bread. Ariel was looking up at the clouds, wishing she were there (even though it was a perfectly nice day). She heard Timothy’s voice, but did not hear what he was saying. She was standing in the middle of the road. Timothy yelled and finally shoved her to the ground, off of the street. Startled, she suddenly realized why. There was a fast-moving trolley coming, and she had not seen it. It would have killed her. But Timothy did not get away in time, and the trolley crashed into him in a blur of wheels and sounds.
The trolley was passed now, and Ariel dragged Timothy out of the street. He was not moving, and there was a cut on his head which was bleeding rather badly. And suddenly Ariel understood how mistaken she had been. “I was wrong! I thought cloud-children were better than humans, but Timothy has saved my life! And now he will die,” she said. And she began, for the first time, to cry real tears, tears of repentance. “If only I could make him better,” she thought. “Then I would never be so prideful again!” And she heard the voice of the cloud-mother, “Ariel, you may come back now and be a cloud-child once more. You have met the requirements.”
“But I don’t want to, not anymore! Not unless Timothy will be all right.”
The voice was now tinged with sadness. “There is a way,” she murmured, “to heal your friend. But if you do it, you will never be a cloud-child – or for that matter a human – ever again.”
“I don’t care,” she said. “I can’t just let him die!”
“Then put your hand over his heart and give him your life-force. You shall not be a cloud-child after that, but something else.”
Ariel did this, and felt herself dissolving into light. Timothy’s eyes opened. “Ariel?” Then Ariel began to float upwards – to the clouds? No, she was headed somewhere else. “Wait – don’t go!” Timothy cried out. He grabbed hold of her hand, and the light spread into him. They were holding hands, floating upwards, until they were high above the clouds, and they were a pair of stars. And maybe, just maybe, this was the best of all. Grandmother watched the whole thing, and felt sad that Timothy had gone, but also proud, because of course she knew all about children becoming stars. And for many years, children would wish on this pair of stars which circled around each other in eternal merriment. And their wishes always came true.
By Bethany Butterflygirl