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Isabelle the Stupendous

Kate Heartfield is a journalist and fiction writer in Ottawa, Canada. Her stories "Cattail Heart" and "For Sale by Owner" were published in Daily Science Fiction. Her stories have also appeared recently in Crossed Genres, Lackington's, and Spellbound. Her website is heartfieldfiction.wordpress.com and she is on Twitter as @kateheartfield.

Isabelle fell back and kicked forward as hard as she could, looking down the length of her body to where her Spiderman shoes pointed to the setting sun.
The swing chains wriggled like pond frogs in her hands. Her tummy lurched just like it did when the plane took off on their trip to see Grandma.
"Half an hour," her mom said from the picnic table.
Sand clouded around her feet. Three more kicks and she felt the chains go slack just for a second, as if they weren't holding her weight any more.
She could pull those chains right up to the top, if she got going fast enough. She knew she could. She had been trying since she was little, and one day she would go up, up, all the way around. It might be today.
A few more kicks and she would go higher, past that spot where the chains weren't tight anymore. She would go up and all the way around. She would have to hold on but she was good at holding on.
She held her breath and kicked with every bit of her power.
"Look at you go, sweetie!" her mother called. "Not too high, ok?"
This time the chains wiggled and groaned. They didn't know what to do.
Another kick and her bum slid out of the black rubber swing for a second, then she settled back into it. Hang on, she told herself.
Another and she was hanging on, head down, eyes shut, sick to her stomach, upside down.
When she opened them the chains were taking her weight again and she was zooming back toward the ground.
She had done it. Up and over.
"Isabelle!" her mom screamed.
She swung up to the sticking spot but not past, this time. A few more kicks. One. Two. Three and she was up again, and she looked at the parked cars on the road upside down and then she was back right-side up and she said, "mom, look at me" but her mom was standing and looking already and this time Isabelle was going fast enough that she kept going, all the way to the top and around again.
Her feet swooped higher off the ground now because the chains had wrapped a couple of times around the top bar. Could she make it one more time? She pushed her toes forward, leaned back like an astronaut and went up into the clouds, and around, the chains twisting and clicking.
Her mom was gone. The kids were gone. A man and a woman stood watching her.
She bent her knees to slow herself and the chains buckled.
She twisted around, looking. Nobody. The swing went higgledy-piggledy, one way and the other, slowing down but too slowly. She jumped way out and fell on her hands and knees. The ground shook her body.
"Come with us now, Isabelle," said the woman. She was wearing high heels. She was smiling but it was the kind of smile her mom used when Grandma gave Isabelle treats before dinner.
"I'm not going with anyone," she said, brushing the sand off her hands. It stuck in the pink dents the chains had made. "My mom is here with me."
"Your mom is not here," said the man. He was wearing a shirt with a little picture of an alligator over his heart. "She cannot be trusted with you. She let you do something you can't do."
"Who says I can't?"
"The universe has laws," said the woman. "We are custodians of those laws. The law says you can't swing all the way around. Not on Earth, anyway."
Isabelle looked behind her at the swing still wobbling and twisting. Where had all the other kids gone? Where were the parked cars? The street was empty.
"But why can't I?"
"There isn't enough tension in the chains to allow you to maintain sufficient centripetal force to overcome gravity," said the woman.
Isabelle considered this. It sounded like something her mom would say, firm just like that, then change her mind about if Isabelle asked questions. Her mom would say, there isn't enough time to walk on the curb as if it were a tightrope, because we're in a hurry. And then after a question or two: oh, all right, go ahead and do what you like, Isabelle.
"But why is it like that?" Isabelle asked.
"It just is," said the man.
"But why?"
"You have to come with us," said the woman.
Isabelle crossed her arms. "I am not going anywhere until you tell me why."
The man squatted to look her in the face. He had a smooth face without any bumps or hairs.
"It is better this way, don't you think? What if--what if the other children saw you, Isabelle? Imagine a young one, making it up to the top and then falling on its little head, smacking into the bar of the swingset. Ouch."
"Little kids do dumb stuff all the time. That's not a reason."
The man sighed and straightened up.
"We don't have time for this," the woman said.
Isabelle shook her head. "Give me one good reason why I can't do whatever centripetal force I want."
Her mom was fond of asking Isabelle to give one good reason why she wouldn't get into the bath.
"Because you just can't," the man said.
"Come with us now, dear," said the woman. "We're going to a kind of school. You like school, don't you?"
Isabelle could run fast in her Spiderman running shoes. She had been trying to run fast enough to fly since she was a little girl. One day, she was going to do it. It might be today.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Author Comments

This story is for my niece, Isabelle, who knows her own mind.

- Kate Heartfield
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