Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | April 6, 2008

To Fall Forever

West Hollywood, California. March 16, 2008.

Photo by Samuel Shaw (see more here)

It was a long way to fall.

Falling down, that was OK.  But this was up.  It was a long way to fall up, and Kuy wasn’t sure she could make it.  A breeze from above pulled at the fine fur on her back, arms, and tail.  Folded  between her arms and sides, etched all over with a spiderweb design of blue and pink veins, were thin flaps of skin.  The closest English word for these would be wings, but Kuy’s kind had never really been able to fly, only to fall, carefully.

In a world of trees as tall as mountains, and ground so far away that the word was blasphemy, the mere idea of it was just a story to scare children at bedtime, such fall-flying was the only way to  get around.  Kuy learned to drift down between levels of her home before she even learned to crawl on the branches, or scamper straight up the rough bark, using her tail for balance.

Her tail wouldn’t help her now.  This fall was straight up, and the sky, the leaves, and the branches were there peeking at her from the very top.

This place was the very bottom.

Kuy knew the word for ground, but it was a curse word, a word for the hell that waited for those who lied or stole or killed.  Kuy had done none of those things, but she was accused of all three.  The punishment was always the same, to fall forever.  Those who fell from the outermost branch of the Home tree, they never returned.  Kuy’s children believed she was still falling.  That’s what she had told them before she left, tail low and eyes clouded with tears, “I’ll drift in warm breezes forever, and I’ll always think of you.”

She hadn’t given them the satisfaction of pushing her.  She proclaimed her innocence one last time, then stepped from the edge herself.  As the Home tree drifted past in bursts of green and pink and gray, she stretched out her flaps of wing and groped and twisted her body in the contortions she learned as a child.  “Grasp out and catch something, anything.” She heard her mother say.  But there was nothing to grasp.  This was the end of the world, the endless breadth of sky.

The smooth white thing came into view after hours of drifting, when her wing-flaps ached so badly she imagined folding them in and falling recklessly, like the young ones sometimes did in play.  But she didn’t dare hit whatever may be below, if anything. As the white thing came closer, she flapped herself up as much as she could, afraid of what it might feel like to touch this place, this very bottom. She didn’t dare use the word for ground, not yet.  Ground was something darker, something hot and decaying like the dead leaves that sometimes fell.  But this was a structure, built like the largest towers of the Home tree, but with such unimaginable, immense size that the Home towers seemed like nothing more than insect cocoons in comparison.

She touched down, and slid along the cool surface until she lay, eyes wide, tail stiff, staring up into nothingness.

She’d never before looked up and not seen branches.  She’d never before looked left or right and not seen trunks, those safe pillars that marked her world.

She was at the very bottom, and all she could think was, there has to be a way to go back up.


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