Windenbrough Hustle
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The smell was not what one would expect from such a high altitude. It resembled nothing of the crisp sky air and cotton scent commonly associated with images of several clouds drifting in the clear day sky. Instead, it was similar to that of a dynamic city, or at least a small town, full of smoke, pollution and semi-metallic dust flung up from passing cars.

The vibrantly coloured diagram of inter and inner island lines looked as if someone meticulously redesigned a 5-year-old child's first collage made of yarn: chaotic. In one intersection, three lines met, but a fourth one, seemingly headed to nowhere, came out. Sometimes there would be stops mid-air, and 'people' (an umbrella term we use to call all semi-sentient beings here) would appear and disappear from nowhere.

And there was me, also from nowhere. Well, nowhere as in a metaphorical sense.

One bus lane headed downtown in my town, which stopped at stops like 'Old man Jeong's house' and 'Lady Lee's rice field.' Sometimes the stops would be renamed when the former owner died and passed their properties to their young. In contrast, the bus lane didn't even have a name; it was 'the bus' in town. When I went to school, I'd pack my bag and ride the bus that'd always wait in front of my house, which wasn't even a bus stop. Then it'll head downtown with the kids and drop them all off at an elementary-middle-high school. The school staff consisted of four teachers, each for one class, minus the principal. There were no mandatory late-night schooling like in the cities since there was a very real threat that wild animals like boars can attack us.

Like many other kids in school except for the mayor's daughter, I'd plough the fields whenever my dad called, and that was accepted as a legitimate excuse for absence. I was never fond of farming, though. The smell of fertiliser made from human waste was disgusting, and the constant work made my clothes all dirty and sometimes left bruise marks on my arm. To ease the pressure, I'd often focus on the dug up soil and see how the ocher-rich soil beneath differs from the topsoil that covers it. But even that was tougher than going to school.

Back when I was young, when I missed the bus, I'd be late for school and probably get hit in the calf with a wooden stick a few times, but still be able to go there. Nowadays, suppose I step out on the wrong station or transfer to the wrong bus. In that case, I'd be lost on an island several kilometres from the university. Worse, several points could go wrong, and if it went wrong, it went horribly wrong. The trains I'd take weren't the run-of-the-mill trains, but those that will run a magically appearing track in mid-air and stop at invisible stations. Even with the almost demonic technology, no train would scoop me up in front of my door and drop me off in my college yard, so I had to transfer three or four times in an hour, depending on the day of the week.

When I head to school, I often remind my younger self, overwhelmed with the joy of going to school and grin in nostalgia. I'd then think to myself: Oh, boy was I wrong. Today, I'd do the same thing, but without the grin, and with a different line that goes something like this:


I watched in terror as the train that I boarded suddenly plummet to the ground in full force.

They say there are five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.= First, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Then I felt anger at the confusing lines that tricked me into riding the wrong line. Then I frantically calculated how to amend my mistake. My emotions breezed through it for the first five minutes until I reached acceptance and looked out the window, appreciating the different layers of exposed rocks and sediment of the floating islands, peacefully accepting my impending doom.

Geology always tickled my sense of curiosity ever since I was very young. Once my school would take us on a field trip to a birch forest nearby. While my schoolmates were dazzled by the mesmerising patterns that covered the tree barks, I was drawn to the exposed undersoil from a small landslide. The teacher would curiously(and slightly sarcastically) ask me what is interesting about some upset dirt. I replied with an awkward grin and a shrug, but in my mind, the earth was much more fascinating than the life it harbours.

Simple things from Minecraft to a plastic bottle of Finnish xylitol gum can show you boring images of birch trees again and again. The smell of refreshing pythoncide the trees expelled was so freshening that they compressed it with liquefied petroleum gas and sold it in metal canisters. However, this very arrangement of strata unique to this region couldn't be seen anywhere else. For everyone else, it was just dirt. Still, for me, it was a one-of-a-kind history book Gaia wrote on silicone dioxide pages specifically for me, begging to be read. How could I resist the temptation?

There was no reason to resist the alluring sight of floating rocks now. I looked out the window and looked at the islands near and far.

It has been quite a while since I appreciated the whole beauty of this place. Each island had its various tints of grey and brown, with magic circles and concrete tunnels that spew out giant creatures and flying vehicles. All of them added to the pages of what was given to them from mother Earth in real-time. The rapid urban lifestyle was not much of a plus to me, but the densely interconnected public transit lines and scenery were definitely better than my hometown. And those two combined, minus the creeping time limit? I could wish nothing more.

I felt a mild vibration in my pocket. I pulled out my phone and opened my inbox.

To: Jiseok Kim(||89miksj) and 37 others
From: Professor Liam Alabaster Stone(||36enotsmaiL)
To students, I hope this message finds you well.
Today's lecture for 038BW-ADVANCED STRUCTURAL GEOLOGY 2 has been cancelled due to the professor being ill.
I hope you all stay safe and have a wonderful day.
Best regards, Professor Liam Alabaster Stone


To be continued…

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