Thursday, April 28, 2005

 

the child, fifty-five


It started with a scream, high-pitched, wailing, painful. At the onset of that sound, everyone descending the steep slope stopped instantly, turning to see the source of the sound.

Everyone stopped - but one. And that one...

That one was falling. Tumbling. Skidding. Shrieking. But who?

Stone scanned the living statues on the face of the slope below them, trying to recognize who wasn't frozen in place and watching the faller in horror. 'It's Joy!' he shouted grimly.

And then he was on the move, skidding a bit himself as he tried to get down there as fast as possible. 'Stay here!' he called back to Starr.

She nodded, still too shocked to move. Others, though, were coming out of their momentary paralysis and, like Stone, were now scrambling to try to reach the helplessly tumbling girl. Forest. The three angels. Lucy.

A stab of jealousy pierced Starr. They hadn't all acted like that when she had been the one falling! But then memory kicked in: she had fallen silently. Not like this.

Not like this.

Joy went on screaming. Falling. Tumbling. Out of control.

'No!'

Starr strained forward, holding out a hand, as if somehow from where she stood high on the slope, she could reach all the way to Joy and snatch at her, catch her, protect her, prevent her...

From going over the edge.

Joy vanished over that knife-sharp edge, her scream still calling out to the others. Three seconds later, the scream vanished as well, cut off abruptly by a sickening, heart-stopping thud.

Starr's stomach lurched. Oh no!

'Joy!' Forest screamed. He was closest to where she had gone over the edge. Reaching that place himself, he leaned over to look, calling out to her, 'Hang on! We'll rescue you! Just...'

And now there came a new noise, a gravelly rush of rock and dust on the move. And suddenly Forest vanished as well!

A second sickened thud echoed back up to them all.

'Forest!' That was James, sprinting to the spot where the young man had disappeared. The others were converging on the same place right behind him.

'Stay back!' Stone thundered, skidding down the slope towards the rest. 'Don't go near that edge! It must have crumbled under Forest. It won't bear your weight!'

Starr, above, crammed her hand against her mouth, praying they would hear Stone's warning and heed it. And even as Stone came to a rock-scattering halt near the others, Lucy moved still closer to the edge, ready to peer over as Forest had done.

And Malachi caught her arm and pulled her back.

Starr watched as the woman snatched her arm out of the angel's grasp, scowling at him, her mouth moving. No doubt she was saying something very sharp to him. But she moved no closer to the edge now, and that was what was important.

'We need to get down there,' someone was saying.

'That's a long way down, though,' someone else replied. 'And the edge - Stone's right. The edge won't hold us. How can we get down?'

General pandemonium now. One saying one thing, another saying another. Arms waving, gesturing. Voices raised. Tempers flaring. And nothing helpful getting done.

And as Starr stood above, crying - she saw that Maccabees was looking up at her. Seeing that he had caught her eye now, he looked towards the bottom of the slope, then back up at Starr.

What...? She didn't comprehend what he was telling her. Not at first. And then it hit her. She remembered...

The two of them standing below the slope, with her leg freshly bandaged. The angel turning her around and pointing back, back towards the side of the precipitous slope. To the smaller valley coming in from the side.

The smaller valley. Yes!

'Wait!' Starr called out. 'Wait!' She started down the slope herself now, every skid in the rocky dust sending her heart into her throat. Oh, please, Master! That I may not fall as well!

Stone came rushing back up the slope to her, also calling out, 'Wait!' He reached her, his hand fastening firmly round her forearm. 'Didn't I tell you to stay there?' he asked, his face ashen. 'I don't want you falling too!'

'I know how we can get to them!' she replied. 'Safely, I mean. So no one else gets hurt.'

'You come flying down this slope, Starr-girl, and someone else will get hurt! And that someone will be you! But I've got you now.' And carefully, protectively, he led her down to the rest, keeping himself just below her all the way down. If she should start to fall, he was ready to break that fall with his own body.

But she didn't fall. Neither of them did. And so they came to where the others still stood, still arguing.

Breathlessly, Starr said, 'I know how to get them.' But no one heard.

So she said it again, louder. And still no one heard.

A shrill blasting whistle cut through the arguing voices now, shocking everyone into silence. They all turned to look, to see where that noise had come from.

Stone.

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