I press my hand to the pit wall, feel it purr like it wants me bumbling half-blind in its gut. But I want out.
“Why we down here, papa?”
“You think I got answers, you’re loopy, Star. One day your mama and me was living happy, next we’re tossed from home, you plopped out right along with us, just a squirming little thing in our arms. Could be ‘cause we didn’t approve the law. Could be ‘cause our strung-up laundry didn’t shine bright enough. Who knows?”
“I wasn’t born down here. How come I don’t remember what’s up top?”
“Memories fog when left in the dark and the sun don’t shine down here.”
“If it weren’t for the tendrils, I’d forget what light looks like. Why can’t we touch them, see what happens?”
“Those twisted ropes poking down here might look like freedom lines, but they’re peeved snakes ready to strike, sensors of some alien being. Touch them and you’re snatched out to a salvation that looks awful lot like hell. Don’t touch those ropes and don’t let ‘em touch you.”
I shuffle best I can from papa and vow to keep my mouth shut. Still, in the Pit there’s just enough room not to get elbowed by a neighbor and enough lack of space to have people reading your thoughts.
I wonder if the tendrils really lead to despair. I ache to touch one of those lines, see what happens if not to get out.
Mama sits up, listens to our love spats, smiling and rubbing her hungry belly. Food drops in bundles time to time, dressed up like stork-delivered babies, enough for my family of three and the two elders who share the Pit with us.
Old Luna and Old Sky munch on stale bread delivered express this morning or night or whenever it was. My parents go to join. With all occupied, I make my move.
The tendril I choose lies against the earthen wall, lusting for company. I extend a hand with my eyes shut and feel a gooey mess of flesh. The sensation slithers through my body, making me gasp and forget about shutting out my surroundings. I open my eyes on – sky.
I’m in the sky, tendrils still draped about me. Looking up they go on forever; looking down they end in shadow. I’m on a smile shape, only it’s lope-sided, too long to fit on the largest of faces – the moon. I wouldn’t know I was in the sky if not for the burning orbs around me, furious with the dark and unwilling to abolish their flames.
“Anyone out there!”
My shout leads a couple stars to me, flying without eyes. Pulsing, each of them says one line in turn:
“Climb to the heavens or return to the ground.
Seek your salvation or succumb to sound.
Down is up and up is down.
Chase your fate or dare to drown.”
The two stars implode and leave me with their twisted puzzle to piece together.
I ruminate over the stars’ words. If down is up and up is down, I figure there’s no wrong decision. I take my familiar tendril in my hand again. No thrill courses through me this time and I move to begin my ascent.
Suddenly, my ears are molested by a high-pitched screech. I scream, releasing the tendril to shield my ears. Red skies shroud my vision and a tight pressure fissures through my head. One disturbance cuts off the sound’s power, coursing with its own electricity – screams. From below they sail on the wind, cries of my parents and my elders. Soon as I notice them, all sounds are cut – the screams, the annoying screech, even the shushing of the wind.
Seek your salvation or succumb to sound.
I can’t climb up and can’t scroll down. I’ve escaped one trap to stumble into another. On my slanted crescent, I ponder. The structure feels plusher than moments before and I know the only true escapee here is time.
“Da-da-do, da-da-dee, time has run out on me,” I sing, a cherished hymn of the elders. I can’t recall the next line.
As sturdy pudding becomes shaky jelly beneath my feet, the stars skim one hemisphere to another. I gaze upon one that gets caught in a tendril, stretching the gold line till it can’t take no more; but the tendril doesn’t snap, just snaps back to place, flinging the star with untraceable speed. It gives me an idea, and triggers old memory.
The elders huddled together one ruthless night. Old Sky swayed with his life-mate singing, “Da-da-do, da-da-dee, time has run out on me.”
Old Luna joins in. “Da-da-do, da-da-day, nothing keeps me at bay.”
That was it. I scribble the stars’ words from my mind. I look about for the closest star. Target sighted, I leap.
My hands catch the star around its warm, staticky body. It tries to pull away but I hold tight. “You just try to buck away from me, you little sprite.” The star reads my mood and petrifies. From it I hang, not a thing to break my fall. Good thing I don’t plan on falling.
Another star comes into view and to it I swing. On and on I carry on like this, free-flying then suspended then flying again. A platform shows itself in the dark. I land. I’m in a sea of wispy green fingers dancing in the breeze. I pick up a tendril on this level, not gold but green as the vital blades that tickle my toes, toss it over the edge. It sails through sky to the nothingness where my old home lays, that hole in the ground.
I pray the green line has penetrated the dark to find purchase in the Pit. I pray my parents and elders brave touching it, seeing where it leads. I pray nothing keeps them at bay.