The House That Ivy Built - Book 4

Excerpt 1

(from The House That Ivy Built #4, © 1997-2024)

Excerpt 1
Excerpt 2
Excerpt 3

[NOTE on this excerpt: Ivy is flying on an airplane from California to New York to meet a guy named Max, who claims to have a power similar to hers. Ivy has had minor problems with feeling "closed in" before, but she could always escape every other time. This is the first time she has ever actually felt trapped, and had a full-blown claustrophobia attack. She mentions Drew at one point—he is the janitor at the Grant Institute that helped her get the information to find Max in the first place, and he is actually very intelligent but puts on an act that he's stupid so no one suspects him of snooping.]

Book 4, Chapter 12, Begin excerpt

       I was going to fly without flying. What a concept. I was going to be thirty thousand feet in the air, yet at the same time I would be warm, dry, and able to breathe. Most unbelievable of all, I was going to be in New York in around five hours, when it would take me about five days to fly there by myself.

       Ruben got me to the plane. He steered me around the bustling maze of an airport and got me to the gate, where he waited with me until they called my plane. I only had one small bag; I liked to travel light, and I didn’t want to mess with baggage checking, which Ruben had told me was a pain. I could take this with me and put it in the overhead compartment if I wanted, he said, just like we had on the bus. Finally, when they called my plane, he bid me goodbye and told me to call him when I got there. I walked down a funny-smelling hall until I got to a narrow, humming room full of seats. It hit me that this was the plane. It sure wasn’t anything like I’d imagined. It had this weird, closed in feeling, and before I even sat down I felt like I was going to be sick. I felt like there was a strange pressure radiating from the walls; I couldn’t breathe when I saw how small it was. The ceiling was incredibly low—I could reach up and touch it without even extending my arm all the way—and the tiny oval windows were double-layered with a solid, transparent plastic that revealed the thickness of the walls. I was scared silly that I was going to throw up or start screaming uncontrollably, but I managed to stifle myself until I found my seat. Then I sat down and shut my eyes, clutching the handle of my duffel bag. I started to sweat and breathe rapidly, and soon I was dizzy and sick. I dropped my bag between my feet and began to bite my nails, still squinching my eyes shut. Was someone pressing their hands against my temples? It felt like it. A strange, silent burst went off in my head, and suddenly everything was black.

       I woke up with tears all over my face and a new seatmate. I opened my eyes to see who was beside me, noticing as I did that I felt a lot better.

       When my vision cleared, I noted that the person sitting in the next chair was female and strange-looking. Her features reminded me of how Drew had looked while putting on his “stupid” act. I thought she would be prettier if someone hadn’t chopped her hair until it didn’t even cover her neck. She just looked like something was wrong with her, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was about her that gave me that impression. She gave me a strange, wet grin when she saw me looking at her.

       “Are you afraid to fly? I’m not afraid to fly. I’m not afraid,” she crowed in a syrupy voice.

       “Um. . . . ” She didn’t seem all that interested in my reply, so I didn’t give her one. I wondered why I didn’t feel sick anymore. I tried morbidly to recall my claustrophobic feelings by running my eyes over the low ceiling and the cramped compartments. The queasiness didn’t return. I breathed a sigh of relief and began to examine my surroundings.

       Above me was a light panel and a set of air conditioning nozzles. I gleaned how they worked by touching them discreetly with my energy; for some reason I didn’t want people to see me playing with the controls. To my left side there was a squared-off oval window with a pull-down shade, and on the chair arm to my right there was a button. When I depressed it with my thumb nothing happened. Hmm. In front of me was a fold-out tray and a pocket holding several magazines. And finally, farther up in front of me, there was a little television. The plane was a little classier than the bus had been, with a thin carpet on the floor and a more cushiony seat.

       Passengers were still boarding. Most of them were well-dressed, and I felt a bit out of place in my purple tee shirt, jeans, and ball cap. Having a million dollars hadn’t made me want to dress like I was rich, but suddenly I wished I blended in. I pictured myself in a classy pants suit, or a plaited skirt and a blouse with high heels. I hated high heels, but I knew I looked nice in them. I remembered that if I were dressed up, I would still have to wear a hat of some sort with whatever nice outfit I was wearing, and most of the outfits I pictured would look stupid with a hat. I had used my hair to cover my ears in the past quite often, but I had to think about that so it was a pain in the butt sometimes. I preferred using a hat or a scarf, since those pretty much stayed put regardless of whether I was asleep. I watched all the people getting on the plane and rated each one’s clothes on a scale of one to ten. Nobody impressed me enough to get more than an eight.

       Soon enough the shuffling quieted down, and something started to happen. The humming sound around me got louder, and some ladies dressed in uniforms started walking by to close the overhead compartments. A voice started to talk about regulations and emergencies, and a video at the front of the plane started acting out what the voice said, pointing to signs and windows and telling us what to do if the plane failed. It was extremely weird, but I supposed without the little demonstration I never would have figured out the seat belt.

       The ladies, who were flight attendants according to the recording, began to go to the back of the plane, and they all disappeared from my view. After a few more minutes the plane started to rumble alarmingly, with a noise that hurt my ears. I wondered if we were going to blow up. With my index fingers jammed in my ears, I looked out the window and saw that we were moving very slowly along the runway. I watched, fascinated, as the plane began to go faster and faster, until the speed frightened me. Then we lifted off and I watched the ground float away. It seemed almost like a movie; it was too unreal. Every time I’d flown by myself, I could feel the wind and the air’s moisture, and the gravity was different in here. It didn’t seem like we were flying at all. I could barely feel the lift. But the window showed the ground getting smaller, so I had to believe it. Once we were off the ground I could stand the noise enough to take my fingers out of my ears. I took note of our speed and gulped. I didn’t feel like we were moving, but my eyes told me that we were doing so very fast. It was dizzying. I looked away from the window.

       The familiar pressure of speedy ascent built up in my ears, and I assisted the transition with a practiced opening motion in my throat, a sort of half yawn. My ears popped smoothly, but apparently the lady beside me was experiencing some discomfort. She was making funny noises and sticking her fingers in her ears, grimacing. I was about to tell her she should try to yawn when the guy next to her got her attention and told her chewing gum would help. The guy gave her a stick from his package, and she chewed it happily. I supposed that fixed it too. I wondered why.

       I leaned back in my seat again, trying to relax, and amused myself by braiding a piece of my hair. I had to do it discreetly because I didn’t know how to braid with my hands. When I finished the braid, I unwound it and did it again. It got boring quickly. I peered out the window and looked at the clouds. We were in a peculiar place in the sky, hanging between a thin shelf of clouds below and a thicker ceiling of them above. I reached out of the plane with my energy and dragged my mental fingers through the lower clouds to touch the feathery wetness. My wind left little ovals in the cloud. That, at least, was amusing. I did it again, petting the clouds with my breezes. It was extremely refreshing, feeling like at least some part of me could be outside, not trapped in this weird metal and plastic hot dog. I bathed my brain in the clouds until I tired myself out, and then I sat back contentedly. I felt deliciously like I’d just drunk glacier water, or poured it in my ear. I closed my eyes and waited for the icy dew in my head to melt.

       The woman beside me had pulled out a hand-held video game and was now playing it, making sounds and laughing. She sounded like a little kid even though she was at least twice my age. I figured she must be retarded, whatever that was. I tried to tune out her noise and read a magazine. It was boring, so I just looked at the pictures.

       The captain came on and talked to us, giving us some incidental comments on our altitude and the weather. I wondered if it was hard to talk to us and still fly the plane. When he mentioned lunch, I felt my face light up. We were going to get a movie too! This was going to be cool.

       I looked out the window once more. The view was pretty breathtaking. “Thirty thousand feet,” I whispered to myself. I’d been maybe about this high once in my life, against my better judgment, at night. It had been so cold I was numb, and I was barely able to breathe, but it had been worth it. I remembered the cloud pillow blanket underneath me and the star-studded heavens over and around me, and the feeling like I was in some fantastical crystal ball. The air had been icy, stabbing my lungs with icicles when I tried to breathe; here in the plane it was warm, almost stuffy. And there was plenty of air; I had no trouble breathing. It was interesting to see the view from this height during the day and in perfect comfort. Disorientation had a party in my head. I wondered if all the humans around me had any idea that this wasn’t what flying was really like.

       A little cart began to make its way up the aisle, pushed by a flight attendant. I watched her give plastic cups full of ice to the people across the aisle from me, along with tiny alcoholic beverages. I hoped that wasn’t all they had; alcohol and I did not mix very well. The lady began to ask our row what we’d like to drink, and finally she got to me. I got a soda, and then she asked if any of us wanted peanuts.

       “What kind of peanuts are they?” I asked, having tried salted and pre-shelled, unshelled, and even boiled. The last had made me nauseous, but Ruben had said they were an acquired taste. I wasn’t interested in acquiring any tastes, so I thought it better to ask.

       “Honey roasted,” the stewardess said shortly.

       “Are they any good?”

       “Here you go.” She tossed a pack onto my tray. “See for yourself. Is this your first flight?”

       I frowned. “Well, no,” I admitted, “but it’s my first time on an airplane.”

       If my statement confused her, it didn’t show on her plastic face. “I thought so,” she said as I opened my peanuts.

       “Peanuts are a standard on airplanes, I take it?” I asked. I couldn’t imagine any other reason why she would ask me if it was my first flight.

       “More or less.” The stewardess took her leave of me and pushed her cart up to the next people. I ate a peanut and it was delicious. I scarfed the whole bag down and wanted to ask for more, but decided to wait until lunch. I wondered what lunch was.

       I got used to the feeling of looking down at the clouds while sitting in a seat. I knew it would never feel normal, but at least it had stopped freaking the hell out of me. I wondered where we were. I began to entertain myself by pondering how the airplane worked. Its wings didn’t flap or anything, so I wondered how it was staying aloft. It was like some invisible force was keeping it up, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with that. I was used to seeing things held in the air invisibly, but it was always my invisible force, not some unknown one. I felt creepy knowing I was being transported by something I couldn’t comprehend. If humans could make planes fly, how come they hadn’t used the same technology to transport themselves individually, to fly like I could? I couldn’t figure it out.

       Lunchtime came, and I was handed a partitioned tray with weird food on it. It looked like a TV dinner that was trying to dress gourmet style. I opened up the sandwich to make sure nothing nasty was concealed within, then decided it didn’t look too bad. It tasted all right. I had a strange-tasting pasta salad that I regretted eating afterwards, a helping of dry corn sitting in a puddle of pale yellow juice, and a square of white cake. The cake was my favorite. I finished the meal with a package of crackers and patted my full stomach.

       It wasn’t long before I had to go to the bathroom. It turned out to be like a tiny broom closet. The toilet looked like nothing I’d ever seen, and the lighting blinked with the rattling of the plane, making me nauseous again. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw that the light in here made me look sort of green. I was going to barf, I just knew it. The smell of the pasta salad’s oil on my breath made my stomach turn over, and I groaned. I grabbed a handful of water from the sink and rinsed my mouth out with it so the smell wouldn’t be right under my nose anymore. My lips were trembling like I was cold, but I was hot.

       The thought occurred to me that maybe I was feeling like this because of the closed-in space of the bathroom. Could I really have a problem with claustrophobia? Me, the invincible Ivy, afraid of closed spaces? It suddenly hit me how the opposite could be true for other people. I didn’t actually fear that the walls would close in on me—I logically knew they couldn’t—but my realizing that didn’t stop the choking feeling in my throat. Zeke had told me long, long ago that he was acrophobic, and the idea of being afraid of heights was so ridiculous to me that I’d thought he was kidding. If flying with me back then had made him feel anything like I felt now, I had a whole new respect for him, especially since he’d done it voluntarily plenty of times since his first horrible experience.

       I had to get out of this itty-bitty room. I moved to open the door, but an image of what I was going back to flashed into my head: My cramped seat by the miniature window, in a hot and stuffy metallic tube. I couldn’t stay here! I put my hands over my mouth to hold back my panicked scream. There was no way out of the plane. I was thirty thousand feet in the air over who knew what land, and no flight attendant in her right mind was going to let me jump out. They wouldn’t believe I could fly on my own. Maybe I could show them and they would let me out . . . oh, but what would I do then? How would I get to New York, or even back to L.A.? My lunch became a rock in my stomach and it wanted to come back up.

       I knew getting off the plane wasn’t very practical even if it was possible. I had to stay here, but how would I stand it? How had I stood it so far? I thought about touching the sky with my energy, how that had calmed me down. The thought of doing that again made me anxious. I didn’t want to just swirl the wind around; I wanted to be in the wind. I wiped my tears away and tried to think.

       I took a deep breath, and then I shut my eyes and cleared my head. Concentrating fiercely, I managed a powerful wind with the still air and blew it against myself. My skin prickled happily as I simulated being in the sky. I kept my eyes shut and levitated off the ground slightly, letting my feet dangle to heighten the effect. I’m outside, I told myself stubbornly, and I put a cloud background in my brain’s theater. Desperation fed my imagination, and I began to believe it. Cold water from the sink added realism to my private play, and it was almost like I was really flying outside instead of cooped up in an airplane bathroom like a caged animal. I soaked my hair and my face with the water and blew my wind until my hair flew straight back. My hat fell on the ground and the wall-mounted tissue box spewed all its tissues out with the force of my wind, but I didn’t care. I felt right again and that was all that mattered. It bothered me that I couldn’t turn sideways or speed upward like I was really flying, but there wasn’t room, so I made do with floating upright.

       After the wind had dried my skin and I felt tired, happy, and normal again, I let gravity have its way with me. I opened my eyes and surveyed the damage. Tissues and paper cups littered the room, some even stuck by moisture to the ceiling. I whistled softly.

       “I’m a maniac,” I told myself as I scraped my mess off the walls and dumped it in the little toilet. I plucked my hat off the floor and returned it to my head, checking the mirror to make sure it hid my ears just right, and finally I unlocked the door.

       A flight attendant was nearby. I told her the bathroom was out of tissues.

       I didn’t feel claustrophobic at all back in my seat. I hoped it wouldn’t start again, thinking maybe next time it happened I might actually throw up. I wasn’t sure if I could handle that. My seatmate was asleep, drooling on her own shoulder. I closed the window shade and relaxed, and soon I fell asleep too.

       When I woke up I felt funny vibrations. The plane was bouncing. I flipped my window shade up without touching it, then cursed myself for not remembering to use my hands in public. What I saw when I looked out caused me to curse again. We were in a thick cloud, and it apparently didn’t like us too much.

       The captain’s voice came on the intercom and informed us that we were going through some moderate turbulence.

       “Oh, no shit,” I said under my breath, rolling my eyes.

       The lady next to me woke up when we hit a violent bump. She looked around worriedly, then began to make the anxious noises she’d made when her ears wouldn’t pop.

       “We’re crashing!” she yelled thickly, looking like a scared animal.

       “We’re not crashing,” I reassured her, but she didn’t seem to hear me.

       “We’re gonna all die when we crash,” she said in a warning tone, then looked at me as if it was finally sinking in that I’d spoken to her a moment ago.

       “We’re not crashing,” I repeated, feeling responsible for taking care of her for some reason. “It’s just turbulence, the captain said so.”

       “He didn’t say anything!” she yelled. People were starting to look.

       “Shh,” I urged. “It’ll be okay. . . . ”

       “No,” she howled. “We’re craaaaashiiiiiing. . . . ”

       I tried to think of something to do. This lady was obviously not a normal adult or she wouldn’t be crying like a kid. I wondered if the same techniques I’d used for distractions with my old roommate Neptune would work on this lady. Neptune was considered autistic, and she never spoke loudly or sludgily like this woman, but I thought their minds might be similar. I decided to try for the sake of our peace.

       “Don’t worry about crashing,” I told her, trying for a soothing voice that wasn’t at all my style. “We can’t crash because, uh, God is watching over us.”

       She seemed to consider that. “Planes crash sometimes. Wasn’t God watching them too?”

       “I . . . well, I guess not,” I admitted.

       “Then how do you know God is watching this one? You’re lying!”

       “I’m not lying, I know because. . . . ” I thought fast. “Because I’m one of his angels.”

       “You are?” She looked more like she believed me than not.

       “Yes, I am, and he told me he won’t crash this plane. You think he would crash one of his own angels? You’re safe.”

       “Angels can fly,” she said accusingly.

       I choked. “I know.”

       “So why are you on a plane if you’re supposed to be an angel?”

       “Planes can fly faster than I can,” I said truthfully.

       “I don’t believe you, you don’t have any wings,” she burst. “You’re just trying to make me shut up!”

       “I can do a miracle for you to prove it,” I offered wearily.

       “Like what?”

       I sighed and reached for a magazine. I opened it to an ad and tore it out, then put it on my eating tray.

       “Watch this paper,” I instructed her. She locked her eyes on it, and I slowly folded the ad into a paper airplane using my teekay. When it was done, I made it rise off of the tray and hang in front of my face.

       “This is our plane,” I said. “With me on board, it will fly just fine until it’s time to land.” I flew it across the space between us and landed it gently in the lady’s lap.

       “Okay, I believe you,” she said dreamily. Then she leaned back in her seat and almost immediately fell asleep again, with the paper airplane still in her lap. I wondered if anyone had been watching what I’d done. I sure hoped they hadn’t. In any case if they had, no one asked me about it.

       A flight attendant came by handing out headphones for the movie. I went ahead and bought a pair, curious about what movie it was but not asking. I figured out how to plug them in and then found I couldn’t wear the earphones and my hat at the same time, and when I took the cap off and covered my ears with my hair I immediately started worrying that I was going to forget or fall asleep. I rolled my eyes. Why the hell did everything have to be a hassle for me? Why did I feel so self-conscious about a dumb thing like the shape of my ears anyway? A stupid sullen feeling rose up in my chest for no reason. I decided being entertained wasn’t worth being uncomfortable and left my earphones in my lap.

       When the movie started up I kept looking at the screen and wondering what was going on. Finally I just muttered, “Aw, screw it,” and put the earphones back on. I scowled and watched the damn movie, and it got interesting very quickly. I wished I had some more honey roasted peanuts.

       The retarded lady woke up again halfway through the movie. I heard her talking next to me through the noise. I looked at her and took off the earphones.

       “I can’t hear what’s going on,” she was moaning. “The movie doesn’t have the sound on!”

       “You have to have the earphones to hear it,” I explained.

       “Where did you get them from?”

       “The flight attendant gave them to me—”

       “I want one tooooo. . . . ”

       I rolled my eyes for the millionth time. She was a spoiled brat.

       “Angel, get me some earphones pleaaaaase?” she whined. I felt tickled at being called an angel, and I decided it couldn’t hurt to help. I remembered about the call button on the panel and pushed it with my teekay. A flight attendant responded like a robot. I guessed she wasn’t very busy.

       “Yes?” she asked, standing at our row.

       “Could she have a set for the movie, please?” I asked, taking out another bill.

       “Certainly.” The lady disappeared, then returned with a pair for the lady. I paid the flight attendant, not caring about wasting a few measly bucks, especially now that I was pretty well-off.

       “You don’t by any chance have more peanuts, do you?” I added.

       “Sure.” She gave me two packs. I felt like a queen.

       The retarded lady hit me lightly on the shoulder. “How did you make her come?” she asked me.

       I spread my hands as if to say, “What do you think?” She didn’t ask again and just slipped the headset on. I adjusted my earphones back over my own ears and leaned back, trying to catch what I’d missed of the movie.

       When it was over I went to the bathroom again. I used the toilet and washed my hands and looked at my green reflection in the glass. My eyes looked a bit puffy from watching a screen too long and overall I looked a little bit sick, but at least I didn’t feel bad. I hid my ears with my cap once again and returned to my seat.

       I wondered if we were getting dinner. I supposed not since no one had mentioned it like they had lunch. I slept some more.

       When I woke up I was cold, and the ground was dark. How had that happened? This was only a five-hour or so flight, and I’d left California at noon. Had the plane gone on to somewhere else without letting me get off? Was this some kind of sick joke?

       Counting on my hands, I realized it would be five o’clock or so now. There was no way it got dark at five on a September day! Then the answer hit me: Time zones. I was missing the obvious. If it was five in California, it was . . . eight o’clock here. I felt like someone had stolen time from me.

       The pilot came on and started telling us numbers, times, and weather conditions. We were in New York, and soon we would be landing in the city. My ears popped again as our airplane descended. Finally, the ground came up and surrounded us with its trees and buildings, and I had survived my first airplane flight.

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