“Cindy!” Miranda was stuck hanging, completely weightless as Cindy tumbled away.
Miranda’s mind raced. She blinked and the reality strings popped back. Strings down to the giant eye and the purple landscape, strings that represented air and strings that represented weight. She yanked a string and gravity clicked on for her. She fell.
A few more string pulls and she wasn’t falling, she was flying down at Cindy like a jet. The reality strings spread out like wings extending from her fingers. She grabbed a string connected to Cindy and Cindy slowed. Miranda swooped in, grabbing her around the waist.
Cindy just kept screaming.
With a last tug, they stopped midair. Miranda squeezed her harder. “It’s all right, we’re okay.” She didn’t feel like anything was going to be okay, but she didn’t know what else to say.
Cindy stopped screaming, but kept her eyes squeezed shut. Her breath came out in fast huffs, like a horse after a run. She was hyperventilating.
“Try to breathe through your nose.” She brought Cindy’s face against her shirt.
“I’LL BRING YOUR WHOLE FAMILY! IT’LL BE SO MUCH FUN!“
Miranda yelled over Cindy’s shoulder. “Stop!”
Something rotated them until Miranda faced the giant eye again. “SO MUCH YELLING.“
She swallowed. “Sorry.”
Miles below, another hole expanded and the ground was replaced with a uniform matte black landscape.
“Do you think we could come down to the surface?”
The giant eye looked up and down, then back to Miranda. “OK.“
Air rushed by so fast that Miranda’s face vibrated. If Cindy was screaming, Miranda couldn’t hear her.
Strings interlaced everything. She took one that connected them to the ground, with a gentle tug, she folded it upon itself.
Suddenly they were on the ground. A ripple of black dust radiated out from where they stood.
She let out a huge breath. Cindy slumped against her.
A flurry of butterflies swirled up from the ground. “HERE!“
Miranda leaned down and set Cindy on the ground. It was so spongy Cindy sank into it like a soft bed. It took Miranda a second, but she realized the ground was literally made of sponge, soft and full of perfectly symmetrical holes. The trees looked fake too. The entire world was a model.
She didn’t have time to think about that. She moved hair out of Cindy’s face. Cindy’s eyes fluttered.
“WHY NOT HAVE YOUR FAMILY HERE?” The god’s voice sounded strangely young, confused. The more time Miranda spent with the god, the more she became convinced it wasn’t smart in a normal way, just very very powerful. She turned to the swirl of butterflies. She was tired and cold and sick of this already. “We should be in our own world.”
“YOU’RE JUST A DREAM IN MY HEAD. IT’S ALL THE SAME.“
She put her hands on her hips, just like Alice used to. “It matters to us.”
The butterflies spun faster in a tighter cylinder. Its voice sounded petulant. “FAMILY, FAMILY, FAMILY. I COULD MAKE YOU A NEW FAMILY.“
The butterflies formed into a man’s shape, her dad’s shape. The writhing fluttering face of Dad shouted, “I COULD YELL LIKE A FATHER!“
The butterflies formed into Alice. “I CAN SMILE AND COOK AND–” Alice’s shape had a knife in its hand.
“Stop it! Stop torturing her!”
Cindy sat up, jabbed a finger at the form. “You should be ashamed!”
Miranda shook her hand at Cindy. “Don’t make it mad.”
“I’M NEVER MAD.“
Cindy pushed herself up. “I don’t care, I’m sick of this.”
The swirl of butterflies formed into a square, then a sphere. “I SHOULD JUST WAKE UP.” Something like a face turned to Miranda. “SHOULD I JUST WAKE UP?“
Miranda blinked to see reality strings. The landscape, the trees, everything ran strings to the god. She started to notice that the strings were subtly different colors. Certain strings were brighter and more solid looking.
There was one string in particular that ran up and off way up the curve of space to the cluster of holes. One hole in particular beamed bright. It expanded and a cloud floated by.
Miranda knew what she’d do next. She cleared her head before the thought could fully form.
The god was now a cylinder, somehow looking like it was studying Cindy, like she was a particularly interesting bug. The cylinder’s top tilted, like a dog would tilt its head.
Miranda wasn’t just the daughter of a god. She was the daughter of Alistair McGee–or Jane Smith, whatever Mom decided her name was. Miranda didn’t just have the mad god’s powers.
She had mom’s too.
The mad god tilted its head at her. Miranda cleared her head.
A couple backwards steps on the spongy ground and she was backed up next to Cindy. She didn’t even have to look to see the strings behind her, she could feel the ones to Cindy.
The god said, “I’LL JUST MAKE A NEW FAMILY. WE’LL GET RID OF YOUR OLD ONE.” It puffed out into spikes.
Miranda pulled a string that stopped the god. Whatever magic it had planned evaporated into smoke.
It seemed shocked. “WOW.“
Miranda shifted so she was between the god and Cindy. The strings weren’t just physical things. She could pull a string that would change the ground’s color. There were strings for thoughts and ideas.
The cylinder winked and the ground was neon green.
The message was clear. Whatever Miranda could do, the god could do better.
Mom got it wrong. Tricking the god, would never last. Making it go asleep wouldn’t last. The god had workarounds for everything.
Cindy touched Miranda’s back. Miranda reached behind her and Cindy took her hand.
She’d let Cindy down. She’d let them all down. Miranda wished she could just crawl into her hiding place in the bushes.
She barely had the thought when she yanked a string that stopped the god from hearing it.
That was interesting. She could hide her thoughts.
The spikes swirled like a tornado. “ARE YOU THINKING?“
She thought about the hiding place in her drawer for her poison testing kit. She yanked another string and that thought stayed in her head.
“YOU’RE HIDING SOMETHING! EXCITING!“
There were strings that made her think clearer. There were strings that made her smarter. She yanked a string learned how to use her powers better. It was almost too easy.
“I’m your daughter, right?”
The top of the spikes cocked again. “YES? TRUE.”
Miranda said, “I have power too.”
“OH YES, I CAN FEEL IT! LEVELING UP!“
She turned to Cindy. “I realized something.”
It took a second for Cindy to take her eyes off the god. “What?” She looked almost too afraid to think.
Miranda squeezed her shoulder. “I made you, but one second later you changed. You grew.” She touched the top of Cindy’s head. “You make your own decisions. You are you.”
Miranda pulled a string and a door opened under Cindy. She suspended there for a second, like gravity couldn’t decide which way to go.
Which made sense since Cindy’s driveway extended underneath her at a ninety degree angle.
Mom and Cindy’s dads stood just off to the side of the portal. Their legs were barely visible. Cindy’s garage door looked like a ledge, ten feet below her.
The second she passed into the other world, gravity caught and she rolled on the concrete. Bill ran to her. Cindy looked up and reached out to Miranda.
For half a second Miranda considered following her.
She flicked the door shut.
The mad god swirled with excitement.
Miranda rolled her neck until the synovial fluid in her joints made a satisfying pop.
“Let’s see what else I can do.”