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The Edge of the World

by Sarah Ann Watts

There are calcified dragons in the rocks. The dragons were not flesh like us. They had engines that spewed fire and smoke and leaked black pools of oil. When they died they spilled rusty entrails, broken coils and springs. It is true that some could fly. I know it is forbidden to disturb the burial grounds. A sickness hangs over them like a miasma; it chokes your lungs and makes you cough up blood.

I stand on the broken cliffs and look out to where the water used to be. Sometimes I think if I stare at the horizon I can see a flicker of blue. The swollen sun hangs like a baleful eye in the sky and at night there are no stars. The dust obscures them all.

I have built a shelter on the edge of the world and at night I light my fire to keep away the shadows. Sometimes the others gather and we tell stories. There is an old one among us who can read and she is teaching us to remember what the books say, so we can tell the children when they come back.

We listen as she spells out the stories and interprets the sacred symbols for us. She shows us faded pictures and is angry when we forget the names. She tells us that once apples grew on trees, makes us tally pebbles on the beach. It seems pointless to me — there are so many — how could we ever count them all?

We know there are fewer of us every year and the hands of five dwindle — we are less than six now though once they say there were sixty. When I asked her how long ago that was, she shook her head at me and signed that I should go hunt with the others, though my foot is lame and I cannot run.

Sometimes I think she has forgotten what the books say. She is older than all of us now and can do no other work. I am afraid for her — there is little enough to feed those of us that are left and sometimes we have to make sacrifices to get through the winter.

That is why I am slow to learn the tales and tell her I forget, though at night when we are alone I will trace the symbols for her and whisper the names and we both pretend that she is the one teaching me. She strokes my hair and lets me call her by her secret name, Mother, the word she only ever told to me — that no one else can use until the children return and all are blessed.

Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Ann Watts

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