As long as I’ve lived, the Leaf has shielded us from wind and rain. It shines bright green in the daylight, turning our faces and hands the color of spring, and at night darkness pools beneath the Leaf until the world seems to disappear into nothing.
Night is still at least an hour off this day, but a rain falls above, drumming and echoing throughout underleaf. At the edges, rain drips into troughs and barrels. People run past me shouting and waving, heading out to help with the water. But I walk the other way, toward the center of our city, the stem.
The hollow stem descends from far, far above to sink into a bed of rich soil that we feed with horse droppings, fruit rinds, and dried grasses. Carved into the thick, living stem, two pillars made to look like angels welcome me to my father’s office.
“Surya, sit.” He points to a carved bench. Above us, a clear glass bowl of glowworms casts a comforting greenish light in the room.
“Three tears and fifteen holes,” I report. I don’t have to look at my notes — the numbers have been running through my head all day. As the President’s eldest child, it’s my duty to regularly walk the length of the leaf, checking for damage.
For most of our lives, this has been a ceremonial task. The walk happened once every season at best, accompanied by a parade and dancing.
Now, I go out every morning before the sun rises. No one person could walk the entire leaf in one day, so I work in quadrants. I hand my father the map, where I’ve marked each mar on the leaf’s surface. Some have grown from my last walk.
Elms and Reggie, my father’s advisors, rise from their desks and come to get a closer look.
“Dad, I mean, Mr. President, the southeast quadrant is worse than last week.” I point to the largest clustered patch of five holes. “And I’m sure there are new ones forming that are too small to see from the ground.”
“Must be citizens of nextleaf,” growls Elms. “I say we mount an attack.”
“No, no. Such small yet alarming damage can only be a warning from the angels to work diligently and respect the leaf,” says Reggie, around a mouthful of papaya.
I have my own theories, but no evidence yet, so I let them bicker. My father’s eyes dart from one advisor to the next, but I can tell from the way his fingers drum on the table that he agrees with neither of them.
His hope rests on me.
I look up at the glowworms, so easily ignored. Right now they’re not moving, but early in the morning, they feast on bits of grass and old fruit.
The next morning, I set out as usual, but rather than walking my usual zig-zag pattern from stem out to edge, I head straight for the edge. Near the stem, no human could throw hard enough to hit the leaf, but at the edges… it might be possible.
I reach the far northern tip when the sun is just peeking over the horizon, seeping under the edge in a fiery orange glow. Here, the leaf dips the lowest and the damage is the worst: a mess of misshapen holes and tears, their edges yellowing to brown in places.
I stare up, watching, waiting. Looking for movement. Nothing.
My neck begins to ache, and I wonder if Reggie was right, the angels are testing us.
Then I see it, a white shape pokes into one of the holes.
“Gotcha!” I grab a stone from the ground and throw as hard as I can. Miss. The thing eating our leaf doesn’t budge. My next toss hits right on the mark. The tip of the leaf trembles, and the creature tumbles, spinning through the air. I jump back, and it lands with a splash in a puddle left from yesterday’s rain.
It doesn’t look much like a glowworm, even if a glowworm could grow to twice my size. It has hundreds of tiny legs ad bumps all along its back. The legs grasp and claw at empty air. The mouth opens and closes.
I want to retch. Doesn’t this monster realize what it’s doing? It’s destroying our world.
“Hey!” I shout at the top of my lungs, and a child exploring the edge runs home for help. Soon I’m surrounded by a crowd of edgedwellers.
They all want a look at Leaf-eater. But there’s only one person I want to talk to – my father.Image by Taro_leaf_underside,_backlit_by_sun.jpg: AvenueDerivative work: Avenue (Taro_leaf_underside,_backlit_by_sun.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons