By Louise Norlie
When you wandered toward the border of the village, toward the thin rim of darkness, your mother said whatever you do - don't look down, don't go close. Yellow tape and orange cones were all around. Neighbors spoke in hushed tones, held the children back.
But when the bells pealed and the cymbals crashed from beyond the hill, from the shadowed valley where the sun never shone, the village was transformed. Your mother rushed you inside, hid you under your bed. She crouched to the ground beside you and her clammy hand held yours. A thunderous rumble approached, then diminished.
“When you are older, you'll understand,” she whispered.
One day the bells pealed while your mother was in the yard, hanging the laundry to dry. You never saw her again. You were afraid to ask any questions. By now there were so few people to ask.
You couldn't understand the rumors. Grab onto one of the ledges , frightened voices hissed. Crawl into the caves which line the cliffs. But beware: strange people may live there, with long beards and the gaunt eyes of doomsayers. They never reach out their hands to catch, only to devour.
It was a calm sunny day. After picking berries you fell asleep in the warmth of an open field. You woke to the clanging alarm you had come to fear.
A strange man pulled you to your feet. “Come on, it's time,” he said.
“Wait! My basket!”
“You won't need it.”
You were dragged stumbling toward the cliff, your shoulder nearly pulled from its socket. His grip was iron and would not be loosened. Villagers rushed past, grotesque expressions of joy on their faces. Sweating, shrieking incomprehensible words, weeping and laughing, they plunged over the cliff. Their echoing cries grew fainter, less frenzied.
“Please, let me go!” you cried. The man's face was stern and resolute.
Finally you shook free and ran against the flow. Buffeted by flailing arms you fell, scraping your knees. The man caught you, hauled you up by your other arm.
“Stop! Stop! What are you doing?” you screamed at the hysterical throng. No one listened. Helpless, you neared the precipice.
But at the cliff's edge the man released your hand.
“No,” he said with a leer. “I will not have to force you.” At this he stepped off the ledge and vanished without uttering a sound.
From behind a rock you watched masses of people leap into the void in hypnotic waves. The cymbals kept crashing, louder than before.
The silence that followed was unlike all other silences. It sucked at you, drained you of hope. The village was deserted and the doors swung open to empty homes. The stream had become a trickle. A strong wind blew scraps of refuse in a whirlwind of disarray.
One way or another, you would be alone. Absolutely alone. The choice was not yours, had never been.
For eternity you hurtled through the air, weightless, never reaching bottom.
By day, Louise Norlie plows through miles of traffic to crunch numbers and shuffle papers in a windowless cubicle. By night, she dreams of better things. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Dark Reveries and Bewildering Stories. For more information see http://louise-norlie.livejournal.com .