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Beyond the West  by Ellynn

Author's note: Big thanks to Irena for translating and to Larner for beta-ing. *hugs*


She did not like airplanes. The thought of being somewhere high up in the air, with no control over her own destiny, in a small aircraft helpless against the whims of the atmosphere and in which many things can go wrong, filled her with unease. But sometimes they were simply unavoidable, because sometimes, when she had to travel long distance, the other means of transport were much too slow and impractical.

Today was one of those days, when she had to take the airplane. She shifted nervously in her seat for the hundredth time, trying to find a position in which she would be comfortable, but in vain. Not even the fact that she had a window seat the seat many passengers longed for nor the beautiful view below and above her helped to improve her mood. A red sun was setting beyond the waves of the Atlantic. The big, dark blue ocean stretched as far as the eye could see. The western horizon was bathed in golden sun rays, the light blue hues of the sky there harbouring a few small white clouds.

"I often fly, and I also often go into the mountains, but I am certain I have never seen such a crystal clear sky," an elderly grey-haired man sitting next to her observed, leaning in front of her towards the window. "It must be because of this morning's storm, which made the atmosphere a lot clearer and more diaphanous. It usually happens after the rain. This is really beautiful, wouldn't you agree?"

A storm. Well, isn't that great! What if it decides to start again? These and similar thoughts immediately created disaster scenarios and the image of an airplane in the midst of a thunderstorm in her mind, so she forgot about her fellow passenger. As she wasn't responding to him, the man simply turned aside and reached for a book.

Having heaved a deep sigh, she fought the urge to look at her watch again. She knew that it had only been a few minutes since she last checked the time, and that she was only halfway through her journey so far. Reading usually did not help her kill time; sometimes it even caused a mild nausea during flight. Listening to music also couldn't help chase away the unease. So she continued to look around, searching for any detail or curiosity that might keep her occupied, at least for a while.

And then her wandering gaze drifted away through the window again, towards the western sky, and her attention was drawn by some sort of unexpected sparkles. She looked more closely and noticed a pale glimmer high up in the sky; it stretched like a ribbon that faded into the distance. She frowned confusedly, trying to figure out what it was. Those must be ice crystals in the atmosphere, reflecting the sunlight, she thought to herself. But their form was fascinating: it was not an amorphous cluster as would be expected were it a cloud, but a long, thin line that reminded her of a road. Still confused, she turned to her companion, wanting to ask him if he saw the same, but he was looking straight ahead of him, his nose almost touching the book he was reading. She looked back at the sky, towards the place where the miraculous glimmering vanished into the distance, and opened her mouth in wonder.

What a strange cloud, she thought, astonished. It was straight and long, entirely white and translucent. It seemed as if the patch of the sky beneath it was a different blue than its surroundings, as if some faraway sea were washing a long sandy shore there. And above it blended with yet another cloud or is it the sky, but of a more unusual colour? the thought crossed her mind. How can the sky be greenish? Or a cloud? And yet, she was certain her eyes weren't deceiving her. She saw something green.

Whatever atmospheric phenomenon this is, it's really beautiful, she thought. She looked around, trying to spot if there was some other curious phenomenon, and seeing there was not, she looked back at the unusual clouds. And opened her mouth once again. In the part of the sky which reminded her of a faraway sea, she saw another small cloud, of white-gold colour, smaller than the one above it. And as weird as that might sound, she could have sworn it looked just like an island in front of a far green land.

"Fantastic," she whispered, speaking to no one but herself.

"Yes? Did you say something?" her fellow passenger asked loudly, closing his book in an exaggerated gesture.

"Um... yes, I did." She turned towards him with an enthralled smile on her face. "You are right. I have never seen anything like this... the atmosphere is really special today. You have to see this."

She raised her hand in order to show him which direction to look in, but she stopped in mid air. When she looked through the window again, the glimmering was nowhere to be seen, nor were the clouds of unusual colour or shape.

"Oh!" she breathed perplexedly. She blinked, then squinted a little, as if trying to focus her gaze, but nothing helped. The sky looked completely ordinary of an even blue colour, without a single cloud or detail she had seen earlier. "Nothing," she muttered disappointedly and shook her head. "There was a nice play of light and shadow on the clouds, but now it's disappeared... maybe the sun rays are coming at a different angle now and that's why you cannot see it anymore," she concluded disappointedly. Somewhere deep, her subconscious knew it wasn't the right answer... just like it knew it did not understand the phenomenon itself.

As her companion returned to his book, she looked outside again. The sun had just set below the horizon. The sky was still quite ordinary. But the image was still alive in her memory. Reliving the magical few seconds, she smiled, not realizing why the sight made her feel so happy.

And then she discovered another thing. She was no longer afraid. The flight no longer made her feel uneasy, and again she couldn't say how or why. But she didn't even try to figure out the answer. She just closed her eyes and smilingly reinvoked the image of a faraway land and island, as well as of the glimmering road leading toward them. No, it was not a real land and road, she corrected herself. I am imagining things. Those were just quickly dispersed clouds, of course.

Just clouds... but the image remained in her mind. As well as the feeling of happiness and serenity.

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