The wind rushed through the boy’s hair. Shoots of green plants and slender bladesof grass were passing closely to either side, narrowly avoiding impact. The ladybug skimmed at supersonic speeds through the wilderness, and Howl had only the insect’s antenna to hold onto for safety. Riding on his friend Lady had seemed liked a fun idea a few moments ago, when he’d been standing firmly on the ground, but now he was not at all sure he’d made the right choice. Lady turned her black head and shouted something.
“What?” Howl shouted against the wind. He bent his head closer to hers.
“We’re about to hit a Glinderflux up ahead! One of those gates I told you about. It might feel a little strange in there for a human…”
Howl didn’t quite know what to say to this, but the need for a response was soon taken from him. More sudden than thought, there came rushing up a cold blackness in front of them that swiftly swallowed all sensations.
No longer could he feel Lady’s antenna gripped in his hands. Howl tried to look down in surprise before realizing he had no hands… Indeed, he had no eyes to look at his hands with. And now, if he had been a something a moment ago, he could no longer remember it.
For awhile, the blackness existed in solitude, with nothing to differentiate experience from personality, or vice versa. Gradually, a pinpoint of light grew into being, and it continued to grow until it became a wide-open window into a changing panorama of experience.
There was a sea of faces… rolling into, under, over each other. Each face had its mouth opening and closing, every one speaking in a deafening, almost understandable language, a cacophony that kept growing into a blinding light—
The bright sunlight shone down on a single hill of dirt, which breathed in time with the earth underneath—flowers, grass, shrubs, insects; all blossomed and covered the dirt hill, only to faint back in death, decomposing into the dirt hill; a bare hill once more. An eternal, inexorable rhythm, life breathing in and out endlessly—
Countless experiences were passing through Howl’s mind, each one so all-encompassing and landing with such a feeling of grave import that he had long since forgotten that he was a boy, much less that he was still riding Lady through a Glinderflux. Now he was a toddler licking his first caramel-apple pop; now he was a caterpillar going through all the awkwardness of growing a cocoon; now he was a vast redwood forest trembling with the foreknowledge of death, approaching in just a few short centuries—but slowly, slowly, the window of experience began to remember that he was Howl, a small boy, riding a friend who was a ladybug.
Slender blades of grass rushed by to either side, Lady’s wings beating steadily around him. “It’s a bit of a rush, isn’t it!” she shouted over her shoulder. “Sorry, I should’ve warned you about those… Ladybugs fly through them a few times a day. You kinda just get used to it.”