10.21.2003 by , every Tuesday.
This story isn't finished; I'm completely stuck for an ending. It's fairly rough, but there are bits in it that I really like.
Let me know what the conclusion might be. Since I'm pretty sure the comments form is still broken, try me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Remember, Faffyd,” began Grandmother, for the hundredth time, the thousandth, the millionth.
“I know, I know,” groaned Faffyd. They said it in unison; the young girl’s voice ran like smooth honey over the cracked old woman’s. “Keep away from the ridge.”
Grandmother nodded. She bent to fasten Faffyd’s coat-ties. “I can do it,” complained the girl. Her fingers, less chubby than strong and defined, were now an older girl's fingers. They tied the jacket tightly and expertly. Faffyd pulled on her woolen hat, and soon she was encased from head to toe in skins, furs, and leathers, padded with down and silkweed fluff. She sweated in the warmth of the cabin.
Grandmother surveyed the girl. She grinned, her eyes disappearing in an ocean of wrinkles. “Take care, Faffyd. Sunshine of my life.” She held the door open.
Faffyd shouldered her pack, full of teas and jams Grandmother had prepared, and also a few yellowing bills. She would exchange all of these things for a long list of goods at the general store in the faraway Village.
There was a wind, and snow billowed in from outside, glittering brightly in the sun. Grandmother raised a hand to shield her eyes as Faffyd trudged outside. A few steps from the doorway, the girl turned and waved to Grandmother. The old woman grinned again, her cheeks glowing like evening suns.
There was no path, but Faffyd knew the way as sure as she knew her own hands, or the ties on her jacket. Endless, pure, unbroken snow lay on all sides, sometimes hunching in drifts, the tops of them swirling and eddying in the wind. They gleamed in aching brightness. Faffyd reached for her blinkers with a clumsy mitten and lowered them over her head to protect from ice-blindness. Silence descended, but the day seemed to hold its own music, in the cheer of the sun and the dancing wisps of white. Soon the scrunch of the girl’s boots against the virgin snow added a soft beat.
After a time Faffyd paused and turned around, but she could no longer see the cottage. She stifled the inevitable pang of loneliness. As she resumed her trek, she was heartened to see the sparkling forms of snow-rabbits leaping and burrowing ahead. Curious, they approached her, and followed her for a time, leaping in arcs and disappearing under the snow to swim in zigzags in the wake of her passage. Whenever they surfaced, they watched her with their sky-blue eyes, warily.
“Pax,” said Faffyd. She turned and made the respectful sign with her hands that Grandmother had showed her time and time again.
The snow rabbits were pleasant and fun to watch, and, as far as anyone knew, they were harmless. Faffyd felt strangely lonely when they lost interest and dove away through the snow. She continued on as clouds began to pile before the sun.
Two hours or so later, the wind had picked up and clouds had drifted before the sun. Faffyd was reaching the first of two trials in her journey. It was a grove of gnarled trees, black as a crow’s wing, and dead. Grandmother said they had once been called maples, and they had grown lush and strong, and the wind had sung in their branches. Now the trees’ unnaturally thin limbs bent and scratched themselves in frightening contortions.
Two of the trees had developed strange black spheres on their trunks before finally expiring. The pair of spheres looked like eyes on stalks rising from an enormous head buried beneath the snow-plain. Faffyd’s path took her through the grove, as the terrain there was the most level. She was still careful to keep her distance from the trees. If she got too close she could hear the straining branches make soft metallic screams.
Faffyd had resolved to be brave. She trudged evenly, if shakily, through the grove and out. She blocked her ears with her mittens. Once free of the trees she broke in to a run; she hated to feel the cold stare of the black eyes at her back.
The first trial was over. Faffyd’s chin went up, and there was a bit of a swing in her step. She began to play at jumping in the thicker snowbanks. Round the edge of one mound, she heard a familiar sound, chirka chirka, like the ringing of bells blended with the harsh grit of a handsaw.
Faffyd approached cautiously. Chirkas were mostly harmless, but she must take care not to disturb their nest, which must be buried within one of the nearby snowbanks.
As Faffyd watched, a skein of silver Chirkas lanced from a hole in the snowbank and arranged rapidly into a chevron pattern. The saw-toothed birds reminded Faffyd, as always, of toys - the slightly corroded metal planes her Grandmother had given her one year, vestiges of an older time. Faffyd skirted the bank slowly, her eyes up, watching the Chirkas run aerial drills against the greying sky. “Pax,” she whispered.
The sky was now piled with clouds and a light snow began to fall. Faffyd mounted a low rise, where she paused for a moment, looking ahead for the pass. She could hardly make out the way ahead through the thickening veils of approaching snow. Pulling down the flap of her woolen hat to shield her face, she trudged onward.
The snow began to fall thicker, and the wind to stir it, until flakes hit her coat with small tapping sounds. Faffyd felt a moment of panic; was she on the right path? The blizzard-masked terrain seemed so uniform. A moment later, though, the pass that marked the entrance to the gorge loomed ahead, and she chided herself for her foolishness. Here were the only spots of colour on the snowplain: two rough piles of red rocks, each forming one wall of the pass. Whatever the weather the rocks were always red. Snow that struck them dissolved instantly.
The girl slipped through the pass and began to descend into the gorge. The snow lessened here, which was fortunate because the next trial now loomed. It was not so much a trial of fear as one of temptation, although Grandmother would have been much upset to hear Faffyd say as much.
As Faffyd travelled through the gloom of the gorge, her eyes strayed to her left, and up. On either sides of her path, high ridges reared against the snowy sky; they were identical, but only the ridge on her left was of consequence. Every child of Faffyd’s generation, and her father’s generation, and perhaps even Grandmother’s generation had been warned not to climb the ridge.
There were dragons, the elders said, beyond that ridge. Lovely and tainted monsters. To Faffyd’s knowledge, none of the elders had even seen them; indeed, it was likely that no one had laid eyes on them in decades. The elders said the ridge-monsters were deadly. Most of the land was free of the taint that had, decades ago, warped the trees and made the Chirkas and snow-rabbits, but the elders maintained that the land over the ridge was still seething with contamination.
Grandmother said that the dragons had become one with the taint, that it kept them functioning long after their physical parts had worn away. She warned Faffyd that she would find instant death if she strayed toward the ridge. The warnings always seemed silly since climbing the ridge would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.
Part of the legend had always captivated Faffyd: how could the hideous ridge-monsters also be beautiful, as the elders said? Secretly, she doubted they were storybook monsters. Perhaps there were ancient machines over the ridge, of the type whose parts the children discovered occasionally, warped so that their original function was unintelligible. Machines could be dangerous; their parts could certainly be sharp. Perhaps the machines still worked!
Faffyd blinked and looked down at her feet. They’d stopped moving. She stood in the middle of the gorge, shrouded by heavy shadows. As she faced the left ridge her eyes settled on something she’d never seen before. There must have been an avalanche over the edge of the cliff; the boulders of ice piled in the gloom formed a jagged staircase, heading up. They peaked just beneath a low-slung lip of the ridge. It looked like fate. Faffyd could not help but imagine herself scaling to the top of the ice boulders, a perfect platform for which to just snatch a glimpse of the top of the ridge.
Demon-possessed by curiosity, she flung her pack aside, dropped to her hands and knees and scrambled up the snowfall. Diamonds of ice snarled in her mittens. She became hot inside her heavy coat, until she could feel trickles of sweat running down her chest and back. The silence in the gorge was almost a sound. Each small scrape of her boots against ice was like a thunderclap across the rift.
Halfway up the cliff face Faffyd stopped, suddenly panicking. She could see her pack below, tiny and stark like a pebble on a snowfield. She thought of Grandmother. A strange new feeling filled her, a curious embarrassment and shame that she was unaccustomed to, young and brave as she was. She suddenly wanted nothing more but to scurry down the rough ice boulders to home and the safe circle of loving arms.
Yet when she lowered a leg to begin the descent, Faffyd realized that she had no clue where the footholds were. After several frighteningly dangerous abortive attempts she lowered and huddled on her ice boulder, shaking. The shock of her actions began to penetrate. She felt very cold.
Shivering moments passed, and then Faffyd began to feel a curious sensation fill her body: she was warm again. Not only warm, but strangely free. She was vaguely aware of a chill soaking her bones from the frozen air outside, and another chill pouring outward from some sort of panicked inner source, but she felt removed from it. There was no way down, so her path was decided, and she felt filled with a sort of pleasant resignation. Faffyd stood and began to climb slowly.
At the top of the icefall there was a smooth flat platform of snow. Faffyd paused and considered this formation. The whole shape of the pile of debris made no sense according to the textbook laws of Physics, but children of Faffyd’s generation were taught to take Physics with a grain of salt, since it seemed so seldom to apply.
She pulled herself up onto the platform, crawling, and placed her hands on the flat wall of the cliff. Slowly, slowly, she inched herself up against the wall, until she was standing against it. Then she rose shakily onto her tiptoes. Still she was just too short to see over the edge. She pulled off her right boot and began to use the sharp front edge of the sole to dig footholds into the cliff.
The work was exhausting, and her hands felt very raw. The naked foot burned in the cold air. Faffyd used her fingers to scrape into the footholds until they seemed wide enough. Finally she threw the boot over the edge and scrambled up, foothold to foothold.
She threw herself over the edge. She was panting fast, her fingers and her right foot ached, and every muscle in her body felt stretched to its limit. And a little snow plain stretched ahead of her, a glittering, flat plain like every other she’d seen.
Faffyd donned her boot and crawled across the plain. It was short, and ended sharply, but what came beyond it ripped the breath from her lungs. The terrain dipped sharply into a gigantic bowl. It was made of grey rock, but smooth as the mixing bowl Grandmother used for making ration bread; it was so deep that the bottom was fuzzy to Faffyd’s eyes, so long battered by ice flecks.
Her mind tumbling into shock again, Faffyd drew herself up into a sitting position, dangling her legs over the edge of the bowl. She swung her legs back and forth absently, and waited.
Suddenly there was a sound like the lilt of panpipes, pulled taught and twisted, strangled. Three white shapes wheeled in over the right of the bowl. They moved fast, slicing the air, three white check-marks, three boomerangs. Faffyd felt her heart hammer fast. Dragons! Come closer, she willed, and rubbed her nose.
As if mind-reading, the monsters careened towards her. Soon she could see the ice-white curve of their wings, now held taught, cupped a little to net the wind. Their eyes looked dark. Faffyd clenched her fists. The dragons swooped up, and then they were three yards from her, two yards, one. At the last moment they turned in perfect formation. Faffyd caught a perfect look at them in a shivering eternal moment, and her mind raced to process what she saw.
They were massive, as large as her cottage, but thin like teardrops of frail blown glass they’d hung from the mantle on holidays. She could see every bone in their bodies. The wings were broad, but they looked slight as paper, transparent hide stretched over a delicate architecture of bones. The dragons charted the winds with slender heads. Their eyes swirled in a delicate, spiralling sea of dark markings, and they had strange arched eyebrows, with black ribbons and squiggles extending past the edge of each eye.
. . .