Chapter 2 of The Floating Luminosity


The girl who found the body was named Maddie Jenks. A bubbly six year old, Maddie had blond hair that stuck out wildly in all directions, blue eyes, and a scrawny body that was mostly sinews and scabs. She liked to chat with everyone she met, including babies, animals, and plants. She believed God lived in the very highest clouds. Maddie pictured him sitting on a cloud chair, eating cloud ice cream, while he watched the world below to make sure everything was going okay, if not perfectly. She believed God kept her deceased father company and regretted His decision to kill Luke Jenks two years earlier, in a motorcycle accident.

On the day she found the first body, Maddie was playing in Gideon Park, on the east side of Wake. She was running from her older brother, Freddy, who’d promised to count to twenty before he came looking for her. The sky was clear, and the sun was still climbing above the park’s many pine and fir trees. Their mother, Holly, sat on a bench nearby, reading a book. Dry pine cones crunched under Maddie’s sneakers as she ran into a thick grove of trees, pushing her way into a darker section of the park. Freddy always found her spots during hide-and-seek, but maybe not today. Maddie sat at the base of a tree, raking dead leaves and twigs with her fingers until they covered her legs and shoulders and stuck in her hair. She closed her eyes and sat back against the tree, smiling at how deliciously hidden she was. She could picture her brother scowling as he looked for her, slapping away branches and itching his elbows.

A branch snapped close by. Maddie opened her eyes, but remembered not to move, that he’d be able to see her easier if she moved. She wondered what part of the park this was. They’d played in Gideon Park for as long as she could remember, but she didn’t recognize this area. This was a lot of trees.

Another branch snapped, and this time Maddie could hear her brother saying a naughty word not too far away. She clapped her hands over her mouth and this made her start giggling as much as her brother swearing. She kept it quiet, though. This time she was going to win, no matter what. Freddy was nine, three years older than her, and he always thought he was so smart. She was sick of it.

“Maaaa-deeee, where are you?”

More twigs and branches snapped. Freddy was picking through the trees like a dog. Probably sniffing the ground like a dog, too.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

The noise in the trees stopped. Maddie could hear her brother breathing and wondered if he saw her already and was waiting to scare her more. She imagined herself rolled up tight, like a snail, like a rolly bug, until she vanished out of sight. She said a fast prayer to the god of hidden things.
Her brother coughed theatrically.

“Oh, there you are.”

Maddie remained still. She knew this trick, and it was a good one. It was what her brother always said when he couldn’t really see her but wanted her to move, so then he could see her. This trick had worked on her for a long time, but she’d figured it out recently and it wasn’t going to work anymore.

“You really think I can’t see you, Maddie? You’re right there.”

Maddie closed her eyes and tried to breathe as quietly as possible. Finally, more branches snapped as Freddy continued through the trees, moving away from her. Ha. He hadn’t seen her at all. Maddie opened her eyes and looked up. Some kind of big bird’s nest sat in the branches above her head. Really big, like an eagle’s nest. Did Oregon have eagles? Maddie looked around the underbrush for signs that her brother was still close by. When she was sure he was really gone, she stood in an open spot and brushed off the dead leaves and twigs. She found a strong branch to step on and started to climb the tree. She was a good climber, the best she knew, and it didn’t take her that long to go up the tree and reach the bird’s nest.

Except it wasn’t a nest.

It was a man, sitting on a thick branch.

He was sitting slumped, so that his shoulder leaned against the tree, and his eyes were closed. Maddie thought he looked old, but not that old. Maybe as old as her mom. Maddie climbed a little higher and touched one of his shiny brown shoes.

“Mister. Hey.” The man didn’t open his eyes. She pushed harder and made his shoe swing in the air. His skin was pale and tinted purple and reminded Maddie of a salamander’s belly. She didn’t know why anyone would want to climb up this far and fall asleep, but it must be dangerous. What if the man turned when he was dreaming, thinking he was safe in his own bed, and fell out of the tree? He’d break his arms, or his head. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty back together again.

Maddie stepped a branch higher and wrapped one arm around the tree trunk for an anchor. Her face was level with the sleeping man’s knee. He was wearing light brown pants, like business people wore to work.

“Hey. Mister. Wake up.”

The man’s eyes stayed closed. How could he be such a deep sleeper? Maddie shook the man’s knee. This time his body shifted a little, leaning forward like he was thinking about jumping down.

“You don’t want to do that. It’s a long ways down.”

Something rustled in the underbrush below the tree. Maddie remembered Freddy was still looking for her. She’d never made it even this long without being found. He probably hadn’t thought to look up into the trees.

The branch the man was sitting on cracked and drooped lower. The man leaned further, his body loose as a doll’s. Maddie tried to keep him from falling by pushing up his knee, but he weighed too much, and with one final slump he fell off the branch. Maddie’s eyes opened wide as she watched the man fall, snapping more branches as he went, and she winced as he landed on the ground with a thud. But still, the man didn’t make a peep. It was Freddy who started screaming after he burst out of the bushes, shouting I got you, I got you, and tripped over the man.

Maddie started climbing down from the tree as her brother began screaming in a new way that made the back of her neck tingle. She hoped she wouldn’t get in trouble for this.

She’d tried to warn the man.


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