This time, after we reached the coast, we continued to hurtle inland.
"Tornado alley is about a hundred-and-fifty miles to the east," Windboy said. "It'll take us about two-and-a-half hours to fly there. I could get us there faster, but I don't like to create hurricane-force winds over land."
Ugh. Two-and-a-half more hours of getting blown around like a ragdoll. I was beginning to feel windburned already, to say nothing of the cold. All I had on was a light long-sleeve sweatshirt. A jacket or even just a windbreaker would have been a godsend right now.
I needed to keep my mind off the wind chill. "Um, so, Windboy," I began. "You said something about your parents a while back. Does that mean you were, you know, born?"
He looked at me with a trace of disgust.
"I mean," I tried to explain, "I've never met anyone who can do what you do. Your powers seem supernatural. Are you a human being, or a god, or a space alien, or . . . ?"
Windboy said, "I've never met a physicist before. Does that mean you're not human, Jason?"
My face turned beet red. And not just from the windburn. "I'm sorry, I — I just . . . I mean, physics is just a skill that anyone can learn in school. Regular people can't . . . I mean, I don't think it's even possible for anyone to just learn how to talk to the wind."
"Well, it's true that I've never met anyone else who can do it," Windboy said. "I don't know if it can't be learned by other people, though. Maybe there's some kind of trick to it that I just stumbled across when I was a baby."
I was too embarrassed to press the issue. That's why it surprised me a minute later when Windboy said: "Yes. I'm a human. And so are my parents. And I really miss them both."
Oh. Oh no. He'd explained that he could only experience life in 17-day spans, about 300 years apart. He'd made it clear that he couldn't make long-term friends. It didn't occur to me until this moment that he'd be permanently cut off from his parents, too. "Do you want to talk about it?" I asked.
Windboy looked at me, in a way that made me think this wasn't the first time he'd explained it to someone. "When were you born?" he asked.
"1943," I replied. "Right before the baby boom."
"I was born in 2529," he said. He let that sink in for a moment. "It's as different from 1967, as 1967 is from 1127. I learned how to fly when I was 4 years old. Every time I got curious, and flew off to look at something new up close, my mom and dad were worried sick about me. I must have caused them no end of worry. They couldn't exactly chase after me. But I'd always come back to them, and they'd always tell me how special I was to them. I can still remember my mom tucking me in bed, and my dad telling me bedtime stories.
"Then in 2534, the time-warp hurricane appeared off the coast of Madagascar. They'd predicted it well in advance, so my parents took me on a special trip to see it up close. Once-in-a-lifetime event, you know. We were there, watching from a balcony on the beach when the two counter-rotating hurricanes collided. All I knew was that the flashing lights looked pretty, and the roaring wind was telling me of its vast power. I wanted to get closer. I was five years old, and I wanted to get closer to a time-warp hurricane. So I flew toward it. My parents tried to stop me, but I was able to make my own flight-winds that much stronger thanks to the twin hurricane nearby, and I slipped from their grasp. I got closer to the hurricane, and closer, and closer, and before I knew it the winds were too strong for me to pull away. I got sucked in.
"It was there, in the eye of the 2534 time-warp hurricane, that the wind told me I was cursed. That I had to be in a time-warp hurricane when it ended or I'd die. But it also told me about the other time-warp hurricanes, and how leaving the eye while the hurricane was still around would let me visit those other hurricanes, in other times and places."
"So," I tried to digest all this, "You were five when this started? How old are you now?"
"In subjective time," Windboy said, "I'm 10."
"So you've been . . . resetting, every 17 days . . . for 5 years?"
Windboy nodded, solemnly. "Each time after the first few resets, I went back to 2534 to see my parents again. Each time, they didn't remember my last visit. They were the same parents who had just lost their little boy to a hurricane. Each time, they thought the hurricane had just spit me out or something, and that their same little boy had just miraculously returned to them a few hours or days after he disappeared. Each time, I tried to tell them about the reset, and that I had to get back to the hurricane before it went away. Sometimes they believed me, but sometimes they didn't. Finally, on the seventh or eighth visit, they locked me up to try to keep me from leaving them. They thought I'd endanger myself, what with all my talk of going back into the hurricane. I barely managed to escape and return to the eye of the hurricane in time.
"That's when I realized I had to stop visiting them," he said. "That was . . . that was the last time I cried."
That hurt me, like a punch to the stomach.
"I did eventually start visiting them again," Windboy continued, "When I turned 7. I'd grown up enough in the meantime that my parents could tell. Now at least they knew I wasn't the same little boy who'd just fallen into a time-warp hurricane. I could be with them again, I could tell them about my adventures with other people in other times, I could get tucked into bed and hear dad's bedtime stories — but the same connection wasn't quite there, like it was as before the curse. And every time, the best I could hope for was to replay the same 17 days over and over again.
"Oh," he added, "And on one visit, I convinced them to make this super hero costume for me." He pinched the silky white covering on his right forearm. "It's made from a fabric that doesn't exist in your time."
"Why did you decide to become a super hero?" I asked.
He shrugged from atop his column of supporting air. "I figured it might make it easier for people to like me," he said. "If I can't belong, I can at least stand out in a good way. And sometimes I even feel like I'm helping. I've done everything from rescuing cats stuck in trees, to holding up collapsing bridges, to completely messing things up and wishing I'd never gotten involved. I know the consequences will never last more than 17 days, for me, but I like to think that all the previous timelines I've visited are continuing. Even if I can never see them."
"Do . . . do you still see your parents?" I asked.
Windboy closed his eyes. "Only from a distance. By the time I turned 9, I looked so different they didn't recognize me any more. They don't believe I'm me when I see them. And the more I try to convince them, the more it scares them. They will always be grieving parents who'd just lost their gifted son, every time I see them."
I didn't know what to say to all this.
After a few seconds of silence, Windboy spoke up again. "The friends I had when I was 5 are still 5, too. They don't recognize me either. Even if they did, I could never play with them again the way we used to. I tried to be an 'older brother mentor' to a couple of them on a few occasions, but Jeffy was the only one of them who wanted anything to do with me. I managed to impart a few life lessons to him, and I hope they'll help him out in his own timeline. But when I came back and everything had reset and he was just doing the same things again, and I started saying the same things to him, it . . . it didn't feel . . . worth it any more."
I mulled this over. "Is . . . is that why you want to make new friends here in 1127?"
He smirked. "It's why I want to make new friends in every time period I visit. New friends are the only kind of friends I can have."
The green-clad lands of merry olde England scrolled by beneath us. We flew high enough to avoid being spotted, or at least to avoid being made out as people. Here and there, a village or a farm dotted the ground. If I hadn't felt so cold, wind-whipped, and fatigued from having to balance myself on Windboy's gale-force air currents, it might have even been beautiful.
I also wished I'd eaten a bigger breakfast this morning. My stomach was starting to rumble. But, I reassured myself, in a couple of hours I'd be back in 1967 with Denny's and Sambo's and A&W and Shakey's Pizza. I just had to tough it out 'til then.
I lost track of time then. I felt lost in an eternity of cold, windy, hungry, precarious sameness. Until, at last, Windboy set us down. The solid earth beneath my feet again was one of the most welcome feelings I'd ever experienced. I looked up and, for the first time, noticed that the sun wasn't shining any more. The sky was completely overcast. The cloud cover had actually started an hour ago, but took 'til I was on the ground to register with me. And right now, where we were standing, some of that cloud cover looked positively ominous.
Windboy sampled the air. "Perfect tornado conditions," he said. "Making a regular one will be easy." He gestured with the fingers of one hand for a second or two, and sure enough, a funnel descended from the cloud and reached to the ground. "Now for the backward-spinning one," he said. "It has to be going at just the right speed to send you 840 years into the future." He gestured again, and blew gently, then stopped, looking puzzled. A few seconds later, he nodded, and gestured-and-blew again. This time, he pointed at me, and made a few gestures I hadn't seen before. Then I swore I heard wind chimes coming from all around us.
"The wind was worried," he explained, "When I asked it to make a time-warp tornado that went more than 16 days into the future. I had to assure it that the tornado was for you, not me, and that you needed it to get home. For 840 years, it'll need to spin about this fast." He held up two fingers and moved them in a rapid circle. I counted seconds in my head . . . one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thou—
Three-and-a-half rotations per second. I did the arithmetic in my head. That worked out to a wind speed of . . .
"A hundred and fifty-five knots!" I exclaimed. "That's within 2 knots of the wind speed I calculated a time-warp tornado would need to have, to send an object 840 years into the future! How did you know?"
He smirked. "Sometimes the wind's pretty good at figuring things out for me."
He held out his right hand and made the same two-fingered swirling gesture. He closed his eyes and concentrated, as though conducting a symphony. A second funnel cloud formed, this one spinning in the opposite direction as the first. Then his left hand came up and, with a slow movement of each, the two tornadoes converged and collided. The thunderclap was deafening; the initial flash, blinding. And as my sight and hearing recovered, I could make out the rhythmic pulsations and the time-reversed wind noise that heralded a time-warp tornado.
"You should just be able to walk right into it safely," Windboy said. "No special precautions necessary. It should just dump you off in this timeline's 1967." He took a deep breath. "I just hope I can find the time-warp hurricane again on my own."
I was ready to leave until he said that. I still yearned to escape this alien past, but . . . "I . . . I hope you do too."
"If I do," Windboy continued, "I'm sure I'll visit 1967 again. But it'll be the reset 1967 where you've never met me. I'm going to miss this you, Jason."
"I'll . . ." I couldn't say it. I'd miss him, too. He projected the persona of a wisened super hero, maybe because he wanted to help people; but underneath he was just a little ten-year-old boy, forced to grow up and be on his own before any kid should have to. And now, even his time-hopping — the only long-term companion he still had, besides the wind — had been taken away. If he'd been stuck in 2534, or even 1967, there'd have been all sorts of people around who could've helped him find the time-warp hurricane. But in the 12th century?
Face it, Jason. This kid was in much more dire straits than you were. If he was going to have any chance of saving his own life, of finding the hurricane that was his only sanctuary — Jason, you were the only one around who had even a remote possibility of helping him.
I turned to face him. "Maybe . . ." I started to speak, then hesitated. "Maybe, maybe it is possible to build a radio detector with 12th century technology. Maybe I can help you find that time-warp hurricane. Or maybe not, but I won't know unless I try. Let's find a way to get you home, Windboy."
He stopped gesturing, letting the time-warp tornado dissipate, then ran up to me and threw his arms around me. He hugged me tighter than anyone had ever hugged me before. "Thank you," he said. "I need this so, so much."
I hugged him back. I needed it, too.