Through the Hoops (Short Story)

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[This story was first published on The Tomorrow Project website. It's one of the stories in my collection, Rainbow Lights.]

My parents met on a concrete gargoyle. Dad was tracing the level forwards, where you climb up the column, and jump off the gargoyle at the top. Mum was on the reverse bonus level, where you have to jump across to the gargoyle and climb down. Most people wouldn't make it, but no one could jump further than her.

Everyone knew I'd be a tracer. I looked just like Mum, only a bit darker. Same face and build. Same sprung-loaded legs. It was a lot to live up to, but I'd been born for this.

The first stage of this level was easy. The hoops floated between the pillars. All it took was a standard jump from pillar to pillar, and going through the hoops was pretty much guaranteed. Each one pinged and disappeared. The notes lowered each time, so I'd know I was taking the trace backwards.

I landed on the final pillar. The gargoyle sat on a column a little bit up and away from me. Its head was lowered down, as though watching for tracers. To get there, I'd have to jump out, grab the horns and pull myself up. After that, it was easy, as the final hoop hovered over the gargoyle's back.

I took slow breaths, keeping the adrenaline down, focusing on the moves I'd have to make. It's about knowing your own body. Knowing what it can do.

There was no room to run up to the jump. I crouched down as low as I could and pushed up. I sailed through the air, extending my arms at the last moment. My fingertips brushed a fraction away from the gargoyle's nose.

~Almost had it, Retro!~ floated in the air in cheerful pink letters as I plummeted.

Falling was the calmest time of tracing. It had to be. People who panic, they break their necks. I shifted my position, checked down to make sure the landing was clear.

I smacked into the street, rolled and came up on my feet. Most of the people barely glanced my way, but an old guy carrying shopping bags stopped to stare. I forced myself into a run, so I wouldn't have to deal with the embarrassment of sympathy.

The pain hit as I got around the corner.

* * *

Dad didn't freak out when I limped through the door. He got some ice for my bruises and made me tea. I added way too much sugar and settled on the sofa with my icepacks around me. My first big fall, I'd broken a leg, but now it was only bruises and grazes. I knew how to roll.

Rita sat in the armchair opposite, reading. With her usual sisterly care, she looked up at me, sighed, and went back to reading. It was hard to believe she was thirteen today. My thirteenth, I'd been up at dawn, ready to head out for my first official trace. But Rita had never been that into it. She spent most of the day locked in her room, making techno remixes of Hindustani classics.

"What're you reading?" I asked.

"The history of tracing," she said.

That was new. She liked fiction and music history, but not much else. I'd had a massive dinosaur phase some years back, but Rita hadn't cared. Not unless dinosaurs could sing.

"Are you enjoying it?"

"Did you know, they didn't have hoops and scores in the past," she said. "People traced because they could. Imagine, going where you want, hoops or not. We could go anywhere. The Singh sisters, redefining tracing."

"You're worried you'll fail the tutorial?"

Another sigh. "You've got no imagination."

"Yeah, well... you better get dressed. I'm not taking you in the dark."

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