The Strange Condition of Emily Morris

Emily Morris had a condition. The doctors called it libris natarius. Emily’s father called it “Emily’s grounding problem,” usually with a chuckle. Emily’s grandmother called it “the floats,” which made the most sense to Emily. Emily herself, however, just called it a nuisance.

The condition first manifested itself when Emily was five. She was just beginning to sound out words then, and she loved to take down the giant picture dictionary and see how the letters all joined together to make a twin of the picture below. For the most part she would sit on the floor with the heavy book on her lap, conveniently weighing her down, but on the day of the incident, she decided to lay with book in front of her. So engrossed was she in the combination of words and images that she did not notice anything until the babysitter came into the room and screamed. The poor girl had good cause. Emily’s feet and legs had floated right up off the ground and were hovering at least two feet in the air. Only the girl’s tight grip on her beloved dictionary kept the rest of her planted. Emily’s father being on a business trip, her grandmother was quickly phoned. She closed her shop and came over immediately to find the babysitter in hysterics and Emily calmly hovering. Quickly assessing the situation, Mrs. Morris closed the dictionary and sat with Emily in a firm grip until the effects had worn off. On that occasion, it only took about twenty minutes.

Emily’s condition worsened as she learned to string together sentences and read entire stories. At the age of seven, she developed a passion for fairy tales, and things reached a state of crisis. The more wonderful the tale, the higher Emily would float. It became a common occurrence to enter a room and find her up by the ceiling, and if the story had captured her imagination completely, it would be hours before she touched ground again. This made it very difficult to keep caregivers, as even the most highly skilled of childcare workers are seldom trained in the difficulties of floating children. Emily began to stay at her grandmother’s shop while her father was at work. There is some question as to the wisdom of this, as her grandmother owned a book shop, but though Emily spent most of her time there up near the antique light fixtures, she always stayed in back room, so the customers were none the wiser. Nonetheless, disaster was inevitable.

On the forty-fifth day of second grade, it struck. Emily had discovered the loveliest tale of two fairy sisters in the library at school. She sneaked a small peak during class, but not enough to do more than make her legs bump uncomfortably against the bottom of the desk. She was hooked, though, and having no more self-control than the average second-grader, she eagerly pulled the book out on the walk home and began to read. It was the first time Emily had ever read a story out under the open sky (her father having been quite careful on that point). Her feet left the path almost immediately. Emily continued to read eagerly, and unbeknownst to her she also continued to float progressively higher. It wasn’t until a particularly thrilling moment of the story caused her to sigh and look up happily that she noticed where she was. When she did, she nearly dropped the book. The ground was so far away that the roads looked like little ribbons and the people like ants. Even the trees and buildings were beginning to look like toys. For the first time in her life, Emily Morris forgot all about the story she had been reading. For the first time in her life, Emily Morris was truly afraid.

It was the fear that saved her in the end. With her heart pounding in her chest and her mind filled with the questions of where she would end up and how she would ever get home, Emily gave no thought to the words she had been reading. Her brain was consumed with panic, and she began accordingly to drop toward the earth. The rapid fall made the panic increase, also increasing the speed of her fall. If she had not recently read a story in which the heroine survived a harrowing hot air balloon accident, Emily probably would have crashed into the ground at full speed. Fortunately, just in the nick of time Emily thought how similar her situation was to what the heroine had suffered, and she wondered if she, too, would be saved at the last minute by a handsome man passing by on a hang glider. Thinking off that thrilling moment, Emily’s descent slowed to a stop. She hovered for just a moment, until worry about being lost overtook her again and she dropped with a crunch into the upper branches of a convenient tree.

You can imagine the panic that was caused by Emily’s failure to arrive home after school. Hours passed before she was located, and by that time Emily, her father, and her grandmother were all thoroughly terrified. After that, Emily was taken to several doctors, who diagnosed her condition as previously mentioned but were unable to prescribe any cure other than the most obvious one. That cure was the one that Emily was simply unable to take, giving up books altogether. Not even her father, who was genuinely concerned for her well-being, could find it in himself to enforce such a terrible treatment, for what good is safety if it comes at such a cost? Instead he commissioned a saddle-maker to design a set of harnesses to keep Emily safely tied to the physical world and a cobbler to make a set of shoes lined with lead to weigh her down as she walked. Of course, this made normal walking quite tiring, but Emily considered it a small price to pay.

So it is that Emily grew up, and her condition grew with her. In her teenage years she briefly rebelled against weighted shoes and had a few more outdoor floating incidents, but happily she was always able to catch herself on the branches of a tree before anything truly dangerous occurred. In the end she learned to manage it, taking regular breaks from even the most engrossing stories to think about practical things and get her feet planted on the earth again, but it has never fully gone away.

And to this day you may walk into a room and find Emily Morris hovering a few feet off her chair, a book in her hands and a smile on her face.

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