Callie had a dandelion stuck between her toes. Somehow the head had got caught between her big toe and the next and had been torn out of the ground. She was surprised at how much had come along for the ride.
Reaching her right hand down, she lifted her left foot up to meet it in the middle and plucked the flower and its stem out of her sandal. The juice from the dandelion smeared her fingers with its white resin.
She shortened the stem and wiped off all the sap she could before tucking it behind her ear. Looking up the gentle slope she was climbing she noticed the trees were thinning out and getting shorter. The grass was long and wild—hence the dandelion getting snatched up by her foot.
She’d wanted to see what The Edge looked like and had started out this morning determined to reach it and look over. She hadn’t told her mother—she would’ve forbidden it.
“Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission,” her Dad always said. So here she was.
Callie made her way further up, passing a pine tree on its little island of needles and a small blue-green cedar. Its sticky blue scent touched her gently as she walked by.
Checking the path ahead again, she saw an enormous spreading oak. It was still short, but the density of the branches and twigs seemed twice as much as the others that were down on the flat.
It looked exactly like the one she’d decided to head for when she’d set out more than two hours ago. It’d been hard to keep in sight. Was she nearly there? If so, The Edge couldn’t be too much further on.
Callie began to feel excited and quite nervous. She’d have to take care now—she didn’t want to fall off.
She had to go around the oak tree, which took some time.
As she rounded its rightmost edge, she looked ahead at the bluest-of-blue skies and something made her stop and stare. It looked wrong. The join between earth and sky was too abrupt, somehow.
After a moment’s pause, Carrie continued on, but slower—each step carefully placed. And she could see the join getting closer and closer. The sky now reached down below her feet. The nearer she got, the darker the edge of the sky became: the lightest of blues through to near black.
This was it.
The thought stopped Carrie completely and fear took over. There was endless nothing beyond The Edge. No stop to the fall.
The fear brought her to her knees and that movement brought some comfort. The land was still there, under her. She could feel it. It wasn’t going anywhere.
So she placed her hands down as well and, determined to finish what she’d started, walked them forwards, her knees following suit.
By the time her fingers curled around The Edge of the World, Carrie’s head was low to the ground and her body nearly completely flattened against the earth beneath her. A few more wriggles and the top of her head eased out over…nothing.
Carrie’s eyes widened as she stared straight down. The blue of the sky turned completely to black and she could see stars. There were stars below her. During the day.
Craning her neck out a little more, she cast her gaze down the side of the world. Grass, roots, soil, and then a few metres below, there was rock. She could only see so far, because the light didn’t reach all the way down there.
If she squinted, she could see the faint line where the stars were blocked out by the roots of the earth.
Looking back and forth, she discovered The Edge wasn’t uniform. To her right, down in the rock layer, there was a jagged outcrop reaching out into the stars.
The dandelion fell out of her hair then and plummeted, continuing on and on, down and down. Carrie watched the little yellow spot until she couldn’t see it anymore.
She shuddered. Imagine if she’d fallen.
Okay, she’d seen it now. That’ll do fine, thank you. Time to go.
Just as she was sliding back, she heard scuffling and shouting not far away and she froze to listen.
“No! Stop, please! I didn’t do it, I swear!”
Carrie peered over the top of the long grass and saw a small crowd of people. The one that stood out the most was the judge at the front, all in black, his jowls wobbling back and forth in his effort to get up the slope. It wasn’t that steep.
The next one she saw was a thin, ragged youth. He was flailing about in the grip of two burly men, struggling to free himself. He slipped one arm out of the thick hands of one man, only to have his ankle grabbed by the same man, who tipped him up.
He was yelling the whole time, pleading for his life: “Please, ask the matron, she’ll tell you. Please, don’t do this! I didn’t kill him! I didn’t! Please!”
There were various other characters, some Carrie knew, some she didn’t. All had grim looks upon their faces.
They reached the top of the slope and stopped a little way away from The Edge. The young man continued to struggle and beg as other men came forward to help control him.
There were a number of red marks on the captive. His skin was so pale, they showed up easily. His hair was a dull ginger, his ears protruded. His eyes, wide open, were green and turning every which way for a way out.
The judge took a minute or so to regain his breath and then approached the youth, who babbled on desperately.
“Be quiet!” the judge bellowed.
The doomed man’s pleas faltered and stopped, his gaze coming to rest on the judge’s implacable expression. He swallowed.
“You are sentenced to death for the murder of Blain Dewfall. Do you have anything to say before your sentence is carried out?” asked the judge.
Carrie could see the realisation on the boy’s face: they were really going to do this. She could see his body relax and he stood up tall, though his breath came in great gulps.
“Sir…” he began, but then had to swallow again, his eyes were misting over, “Sir, and gentle people.” He looked around at the small group, “You will not get a confession from me.” He stood up taller still, determined to have some pride before them, “I do not envy you any more. You’ll feel such terrible guilt when you realise you’ve killed an innocent man.”
He wasn’t allowed to continue as the judge rolled his eyes and shook his head, “Carry out the execution.” He ordered, before retreating downhill.
The two men holding the youth stepped apart and the group around them pulled back as well, giving them plenty of room. They dragged the boy at arms length as close to the The Edge as they dared go and then threw him off.
He struggled, of course, right up to the end, attempting to grab hold of his captors to prevent his fall. He failed and disappeared over The Edge.
His scream was surprisingly short.
As if disgusted with their own act, the executioners immediately began walking back the way they’d come, the crowd around them, the judge in front. The group were soon out of sight.
Carrie was left shaken. She’d never witnessed an execution before. What a horrible thing. She pondered the young man’s words at the end. She would have believed him. There must have been some reason they hadn’t.
She leaned back and then, on a whim, squirmed back to The Edge to behold the emptiness once more.
It was almost soothing, until she spied the young man clinging for dear life to the small outcrop of rocks she’d seen before.
The yawning emptiness stretched out behind and beneath him.
He was managing to claw his way back up the rocks, tiny handhold by tiny handhold. But what he would do when he reached the end of them, she couldn’t say.
Suddenly, she wanted him to live.
Carrie scrambled over to the recently trampled piece of ground the crowd had occupied for such a brief time and then poked her head out over The Edge again.
He’d nearly reached the sheer wall that was the World. Once he’d arrived, he stopped, panting, and looked up.
Their eyes met and he stopped breathing for a moment.
“Don’t worry,” she called down to him, “They’ve gone.”
He relaxed and nearly lost his hold, but just managed to regain it. He looked back up at her.
“You don’t have a rope or anything, do you?” he asked.
Carried frowned, “No, sorry.” There was no flax in this area, either. Besides, he probably wouldn’t have the strength to hold on long enough for her to make one anyway.
She saw him make sure his perch was reasonably secure before he reached up and tried digging himself a handhold in the dirt just above him. The soil that came out of it fell back onto him before disappearing forever below. He actually managed to use the handhold to pull himself up a little farther, but only because the bottom part of it was rock. That wouldn’t work for the rest of them.
But it gave Carrie an idea.
She called down to him again, “Hey. Why don’t you just keep digging into the dirt down there? Then you could make a hole and you could sit on the rock as you dug further in and then maybe up?”
He stared at her, and then through her as he thought about her idea. A smile grew on his face and he nodded.
She continued to watch from above as he cleared more dirt from the top of the rock layer and further into the earth beneath her.
Beneath her. The thought made her move to the side of where he was digging. She didn’t want to end up in the middle of eternity because of a landslide.
He worked quickly. He probably could feel his strength ebbing away. She could see his other hand, white knuckled, clinging frantically to the meagre outcrop.
He finally cleared enough of the ledge to pull himself up into the cavity he’d created. He didn’t have a lot of headroom, she imagined.
He lay for a while to rest, his head and most of his legs sticking out into the endless space. But he was relatively safe.
Carrie could see his right hand. The nails were scratched and bleeding.
He needed something to dig with. She looked around behind her on the ground and then searched her own clothing.
Her necklace. It was a big, flat shell that her father had brought her back from the sea in The Centre. She found some long grasses and, taking off the necklace, tied the thong to one piece of grass, which she tied to another, and another, until she thought the line was long enough to reach him.
When she got back to him, he was already trying to dig the ceiling out of his alcove.
“Hey!” she called out. He didn’t hear her so she tried again, louder, “Hey!”
He worked his way around and looked up at her. His face was covered in dirt.
“What’s your name?” she said, “I can’t keep calling you Hey.”
He huffed at her and managed a smile, “Dohar.”
She grinned at him, “I’m Callie.” Holding up the necklace, she went on, “This is a shell. It’s got a good edge and it’s hard, you could use it to dig with.”
She lowered it down to him. The grass string was only just long enough if she lay on her stomach and stretched her arm down as far as it would go.
Grabbing it he tried it out for size and nodded, “Thank you!”
He went back to his digging.
Callie decided to help him and so, trying her best to measure where he would come up, she tore away the grass and roots and then burrowed at an angle towards Dohar. Pity they didn’t have two shells.
She dug for ages, creating a shallow tunnel, until she came across some dirt that talked, “Ow!”
The place she’d just been scratching at pulled back, taking quite a section of dirt with it.
“You scratched my fingers.”
Carrie saw the glint of light off Dohar’s eyes just as he broke through the gap between their two tunnels.
They were face to face in the dim light. Callie could feel his breath against her lips. They paused, looking at each other. They were both covered in dirt.
“Why are you helping me?” he asked.
She looked into his eyes. He was so close.
“Did you kill him?”
Dohar froze, stared straight back at her and then spoke.
She believed him.
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