Bewildering Stories

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Made It Way Up

part 21: Kelly

by Ian Donnell Arbuckle


She was trying to hide. Black skin and black eyes and green fingers like tree branches. She was standing like a tree. Just two feet away from me. (A poem is not supposed to rhyme.) She didn’t see me, but I watched her. I was scared she would feel my heart beating through my back, into the ground, and up her legs.

It started when she didn’t bring them cider anymore. When she decided that it was more comfortable in front of the TV, even though they scream so much in there. When she started wearing shoes again. When I had to sit there in her room and hide my eyes because they were spitting lightning. When she stopped trying to be the green lady. I hate her. She taught me how to make nothing out of words.

As I lay there, trying not to sleep, I heard her muttering. Nothing was words. After a few minutes, when my heart was nearly still again, she turned and scraped away. I opened my eyes and didn’t notice much of a difference. Just the stars.

I wondered, Why are they so important. Not why are they so important but why are they so important to see close up. Back here I guess they’re beautiful. But a book I read said that up close they’re terrifying. It’s stupid to go chasing after them. I dreamed about the train and it going off a cliff and I was screaming, How stupid, at the engineer, but that didn’t even feel like a baby of me ripping at the grass and wanting to throw it at dad.

I’m way further than they are. She wants to turn around and he wants to sleep and I want to move on. The constellations change when you move. So people in Africa are shooting at completely different stars. I got up and started walking toward the trees. A completely different sky. And a ceiling.

I had to walk slowly. There was nothing to see, so I closed my eyes. They were getting tired. One afternoon, a few months ago, I had come out here when Essa was done with me. I found the stream and started to follow it down. There was a falls I couldn’t crawl down, so I stuck out both my arms straight and held one still and turned until they were together and then walked off after them. I was way out of the pictures, now. I knew all the plants, even the little ones, closer to home. I didn’t give them names, but I knew which ones not to feed Nine. I found some of the same ones without names, but they had different shoots, leaves at different angles. There was devil’s poison club which dad said would give me a rash. I had never had a rash before. I picked it and rubbed it on my arms. My skin tingled and that was it.

I smelled like dirt, or I smelled dirt. Then the trees stopped. I took one step on thick moss and then another step on flat dust. It was still the hillside, just emptier. There were stumps in a few places, but mostly holes. Holes I could fit inside. I got on my hands and knees and peered down into one, hoping to surprise a family of foxes or a baby deer at least. Just more dirt. I like dirt, but it’s better when there’s water, too.

I made little explosions when I walked. There was a twisted stump crouching at the bump of a little hill. If it had been lifted up, it would have left a hole big enough for a truck to slip into. It was sideways instead of up and down. I saw a mouth and a fin and the way the grain waved made it look as if it was swimming.

Knots and crosses made good foot holds. There were splinters sticking everywhere out of my hands, but they only hurt if you ignore them, and they feel better if you press real hard.

I built a city out of clods and sticks. It was a port town, built high into the cliff side on a planet with muddy oceans. To get their supplies from the harbor, they would let down miles of green vines, twisted together until they turned brown. Then the ship masters could attach pallets of food and barrels of water and the people of the city would haul at the lines to bring it all into reach. The sailors never saw the people they were selling to. The ocean was more interesting than the city. I traced mudwhales and mudsharks and mudmaids and had to take off my shoes and walk on tip toes so I wouldn’t squish anyone.

While I was playing, it got cloudy, and then it got dark. I couldn’t see the forest, or where it ended. I ran in the only direction I could see, which was into the middle of the desert. And I didn’t scream that much. I had my eyes closed, like last night, because it didn’t matter if they were open or not. Then Essa told me to open them, and I did, and she was carrying me through green.

She said I had an allergic reaction to something and my hands were all swollen. I couldn’t make a fist, but that just happens.

Last night, I didn’t go near so far. I got to the stream — its bubbling got louder with every step and I wondered if I’d find the loudest step or if it would just keep roaring on forever more urgent — and I stopped there. I didn’t turn around, I didn’t look up. I put my fingers in the water and pretended my super power was clear. Then I remembered that all of that is silly, anyway. That she isn’t a hero. That power doesn’t make you a hero, whether it’s green or bright orange. It makes you dead or it makes you scared or it makes you run out of things to say. She ran out of things to say. She was muttering. I doubt she could even understand herself.

I found my way back to the house and slept until dad came home.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Ian Donnell Arbuckle

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