The Silver Cloud

I was only seven when I saw the silver cloud. It was the summer of 1997, and in the midst the vast, winding highway my family and I went from going back home after a great vacation in Virginia to becoming utterly lost. Crunching gravel, and the static of the radio were the only sounds inside our little capsule of a van. Cool fumes coming from the vent in front of me blasted my face and made me drowsy. Outside, the sun had gone from a glaring, mean yellow to a more mellow deep red blaze. The sky, once so blue and clear, was now a fiery orange. There was a swamp along the road we drove, and the dusky light played upon the deep green of the water, turning it to a dazzling liquid flame.

But the silver cloud defeated all other scenes, in terms of sheer beauty and amazement. It had caught us by surprise, because from a distance it was invisible, like a looming specter of a long gone loved one. It rose from the ground, and towered above us, like a wall. As we raced at it going sixty mph, it did not move, not even one inch. It was as if it dared us to try and get past, as a test of our courage. A scene reminiscent of the mighty vagabonds storming the fortress in an all-or-nothing gamble to destroy the demon king; where the only thing they could loose was their lives. I was afraid; fear beat my heart until it was throbbing, and tied my stomach in a unbreakable knot. I wanted to call out to my parents, but they seemed so calm, placid, as if they were in the grip of madness.

When the cloud finally swallow us up, I did not die. In fact, I felt more alive than I ever did. The cloud was not one entity, but thousands, maybe even millions. Tiny, almost microscopic creatures, floated all around us like snowflakes that were not bound to fall by gravity. Instead of smashing against the windshield, they took our vehicle's shape, as if they were not a solid entity and immune to the most powerful laws of physics. From inside the van, it was like a torrent of these things passing us; and when the light of the sun played on them as it did the water, we found ourselves suddenly cast in a tunnel of burning silver. When you summed up all these scenes it was as if we had somehow transcended time and space, found a hole in the universe out of nowhere, and followed it into another world entirely. A world of fire, where everything burned in the most glorious display in the universe.

I opened the window next to me, letting the sleeping gas of the air conditioner escape and replaced by the warm summer wind. I could smell the fire-swamp, it's odors smelling so much like pond water despite it's apparent transformation. Without the tint of the windows, the sunlight hit my eyes full blast, so that the after shadow was embedded into retina when I closed them. I stuck my hand out and reached up, just to touch one of the silver specks, to see if I would catch fire. I hung out there, looking so foolish, like a dog when it hangs itself out the window of a pick up truck. Finally, one managed to land on my index finger. But it was not a speck, it was a creature. An insect, slender and translucent, a living thing. As I stared into it's multi-focal eyes, it seemed to stare into mine; as if, even though I knew we had never met, it could see into the deepest reaches of my very soul. The encounter only lasted a second, before the summer wind took it, and it was gone.

The entire experience only lasted a few minutes, and then it was gone. The silver cloud, the cloud of mayflies in bloom, and that whole other world. My mother and father were indifferent, as if they could not see it, all the beauty and the fire. Maybe they really could not see it; perhaps it's like those old stories, where these things only appear to children. Some days I wish I had had a jar ready when that mayfly, that creature of flame, perched on my finger. So that I could take it back to my world, and watch it glow at nights before I went to bed; and have dreams of that world. A world where the sun was blazing deep red, and the sky was burnt-orange; where water was liquid fire and the mayflies were silver specks that floated and burned and were alive and breathing. Where life was a silver cloud that stood in the middle of the road, waiting for any vagabond who dared to discover it's beauty.