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The wind was at his back now. It was a good indicator of a fine glide ahead. To Alden Moss it felt like a benediction as he stood at the cliff's edge, making fists with his toes and letting the dry sandy soil float away in little puffs that receded into the nothingness below.
Alden knew there was ground there. He'd hiked it, and landed on it, and brought a cute local girl down to it to make out. But on mornings like this, when the light hadn't reached the canyon floor, he liked to pretend it wasn't there, as if he were about to step off and master an abyss as endless as space.
It wasn't quite sunup yet, but the first streaks of dawn were leaking in to stain the pearl-and-cobalt clouds. It was easily bright enough for a boy with good eyes to see. He checked the straps on the rig one last time, the way his father had taught him years before, and jumped.
The rushing of the wind filled the glider. The tops of the cliffs were golden now, and they seemed to stretch forever—an endless fractal sea of storied bluffs, spiraling canyons, and sere plateaus: a geological wonder unlike any other.
Alden pulled up, skimming along at cliff level, breaching in and out of the sunlight like a fleet fish leaping upstream. Behind him were the concerns of school, his parents, the draft… the other draft. All that was back on the ground. Up here, with the wind pushing into his lungs, stretching the glider, and roaring in his ears… Alden was free.
The sound, when it came, was so quiet beside the roar of the wind—a faint noise, and distant. Yet it cut to the marrow of Alden's bones as no other had in his twenty years.
This was wrong. The air was his! His mind should be clear, his heart untroubled—master of the abyss! And yet it came again, louder now—
—behind him. Alden craned his neck around, but the sun was at his back, and the great spreading wings of the glider, those wings that he had thought of as his, now seemed to him unendurable blind spots. What could be up here with him so early?!
It was the sound of a nightmare, of a nameless, ancient thing found in a fever dream. He dove now for the cliff, desperate to fall and land in his own bed, drenched in sweat and only half remembering this unhomelike noise! If only he could see it!
The shadow passed over him, and he heard the furious rustle of leathery wings, a gnashing, and a wetter note of wriggling flesh quivering in anticipation.
Alden screamed as It appeared, as he looked upon the face of terror, the loathsome, scarred maw of his nightmare. And his scream and the horrible cry of the creature became one seamless sound—
—until teeth found flesh, and silence took the canyon.