This is what our mothers tells us, although we’ve never seen the Edge before. We’ve heard about it, of course; every mother tells their children cautionary tales before bed, when the air is deep violet and spongy, and spoken words float like soap bubbles. We are close to the Edge, getting ever closer. This is because Earth is shrinking; it has been for thousands of years now. When we hear the word “Earth”, we think of flatness, of contraction, like pancake batter spreading across a greasy pan, in reverse. ...
We are a small town, Madison, population 365, stamped in fading grassland and dirt, trapped under glowing sky and sun. Every year, our parents till the Earth, grow shriveled corn, tend to shrunken vegetable gardens. Our siblings, the youngest children, scavenge for rusted door handles, deflated bicycle tires, and wind chimes buried in Earth. A few years ago, Bennie, who was three grades ahead of us, found two flat, glassy rectangles that our parents say were once called phones, from some long-gone era, hundreds of years ago, when Earth was wider. … Now it is August, and we sit in the playground of Madison Elementary, hands cupped around sweating glasses of lemonade. Every summer, our neighbor Mrs. Rollins—everyone is a neighbor in Madison—squeezes fresh lemons and stirs in crystalized sugar, water, and ice. She wakes up at dawn each morning to put a pitcher and a few stacks of glasses on the porch for the children before padding back into the bowels of her house.
We are quiet, remembering the burning days years ago when we woke early, ran barefoot to Mrs. Rollins’, tripped and skinned our knees on the pavement, didn’t care. The worst feeling on Earth was when we arrived and saw only a line of watery yellow and shreds of skinned lemons at the bottom of the pitcher, curled like dead leaves. Lily turns to us now, sucks on a slice of lemon, and drops the rind on the ground, grinding it with the heel of her sandal. “I’m so done.”
“Me too.” Byron rubs his eyes.
“I wish something would happen here.” Lily keeps grinding the lemon rind with the bottom of her flip-flop. We all nod, too tired to talk. Sweat soaks our hair, tiptoes down our necks, sluggish as yolk.
“Don’t you guys just…want to leave? Go somewhere, anywhere, except for here.” Lily holds her head in her hands and begins to rock back and forth on the faded red slide. “I just…I don’t want to grow, like, vegetables, for the rest of my life, and sit under the stupid sun, and fade away like everyone else here. I want to go somewhere.”
“There’s only grass and corn for hundreds of miles,” Vivi says. “The nearest civilization is more than two hundred miles away. There’s nowhere else to go, Lil.”
“I know that. I’m not stupid, Vivian,” Lily says, rocking faster on the slide.
“Don’t snap at me,” Vivi says.
“I didn’t.” But Lily is still rocking like a manic swing, eyes shut, corn-yellow hair swaying like a pendulum. We worry for her.
… Lily is not in bed the next morning. She leaves a torn note on lined paper, blue ink soaked between blue lines. I need to go. The population of Madison is 364.
It is a hot August day, so similar to yesterday that maybe it is yesterday. But there is no lemonade at Mrs. Rollins’, no pitcher, only the glasses, sparkling. And there is no Lily. We imagine Lily running to Mrs. Rollins’ at dawn, barefoot, without us, taking the pitcher of lemonade, a little sloshing over the edges, and drinking sips of yellow as the sun pours over the Earth. We imagine Lily running through the shuddering heat, through the fields, yellow hair lifting around her shoulders, glass held against her quaking chest. We stare at the faded red slide, the last place where we saw her. We stare as hard as we can, try to find her secrets imprinted in the plastic, the rind of her lemon still crushed in the weeds like a broken moon.
“I wonder where she is,” Amelie says.
“Maybe she went to civilization,” Byron says.
“Do you think she would be crazy enough to do that?”
Amelie quiets, waits for our response. In our minds, we see Lily’s sky eyes that were always too wide and her corn hair that was always too wild and think, yes, she was crazy enough to do that. And then we think, what if she didn’t go to civilization? What if she went the other way?
Vivi bursts out, “Do you…do you think I made her go away? After I snapped at her?”
“No, you didn’t, of course you didn’t,” Byron says. He slings an arm around Vivi and looks like he wants to kiss her, but doesn’t. “She was bound to go off some time.”
“Yeah, don’t be silly,” Amelie says, but her voice shakes, ever so slightly.
For weeks after, we sit. We drink lemonade. Mrs. Rollins produces another pitcher from her house, but this one is cracked plastic, nothing like the fancy glass one from our childhood.
We wander in the corn fields, see the empty husks, the shriveled meat inside, and we remember her corn-yellow hair. We sit in our houses, lie in our beds, but we see scraps of lined paper everywhere blowing on our hot white sheets, soaked with words written in sky-blue ink caught between sky-blue lines. I need to go.
We always end up wandering back to Madison Elementary, to where we sat in wooden desks and were taught about the Day in grade six, the Day that the Earth would finally become so small that only one person could stand on it, then none, and how there would be bodies and chunks of Earth falling perpetually, rotting, flailing like beetles turned on their backs.
We meet again at Madison Elementary. Amelie reads from a history book about Earth before the Edge, but her eyes only skim over the page. Vivi sits on the swing, feet dangling, while Byron pushes her from behind. She clutches the rusty chains in her fists, as she rises higher and higher, ash-black hair flying. At the height of her arc, Vivi jumps, curving through the blue air like the moon, rising and setting. And then, suddenly, she cries out and falls back to Earth, stumbling.
“Are you okay?” Byron says. He runs to her, touches her arm.
Vivi shakes her head. Her voice trembles. “I think…I think I saw it.”
“Saw what?” Amelie says.
We look towards the horizon and shade our eyes from the sun, yellow as a coin nestled in cornflower silk.
And then we squint, coldness trickling down our faces, and wonder, Are we dreaming? For the endless grasslands, the endless cornfields, are coming to the end, as if something has swallowed them, perhaps a great mouth with teeth, dull and rusted as the abandoned tractors our parents found in the fields years ago.
The cornfields are disappearing, rows at a time, simply falling over an edge. The Edge.
Perhaps it is not real. But the town of Madison, population 364, is suddenly louder than it ever has been, and the people bring out thick knives used for butchering chickens and wooden baseball bats and even ancient pasta strainers from hundreds of years ago, corroded red. The children wield silverware in tiny fists, and they shout, as if they can fight off Earth’s crumbling, as if they can fight the Edge.
Vivi collapses onto the faded red slide, where Lily sat weeks ago, and rocks back and forth, tears leaking down her cheeks. “What…what if this is my fault? What if it’s all my fault? I made Lily disappear, and now this is happening; it can’t be a coincidence, it can’t…”
“Did you ever listen in school?” Byron snaps. He jumps up from the seesaw. “The Earth is crumbling anyway. It has been for thousands of years. It’s not anyone’s fault.” He turns to us. “We need to do something, guys, we need to go, we need to move.”
But Vivi is still rocking, back and forth, like Lily.
“Vivi, come on!” Amelie says. She tugs at her shoulder.
Vivi looks up at us. Her eyes are so light that the brown looks almost yellow, like lemon rinds mixed with dirt. “I hear her calling. Calling over the Edge.”
The corn fields peel away from Earth. The Edge is only a mile away now, an invisible thing, the ghost of a hand taking, crumbling, as a toddler crushes cookies in its fumbling fists.
The people of Madison hold up their silverware and pasta strainers, beating the sky with their fists. They say, You cannot fight us! We will beat you! as if there aren’t posters inside Madison Elementary saying the Edge is unavoidable, that it cannot be broken.
Byron shakes his head and tries to scoop up Vivi, who resists him, still rocking on the faded red slide. But Byron gathers her in his arms, and we start running, our feet vibrating on the ground, the sound of Earth falling so loud that it becomes silent, just watery sky and corn fields. We try to run past the people of Madison, but suddenly we are caught in the fray, in the sticky web of hysteria.
The Edge nears, closer still, the corn fields shorn off the face of the Earth.
Then it is here.
It arrives right on the doorstep of Madison Elementary like death, and the building, the schoolhouse where we first learned about the Edge, where we were taught order of operations and the lifecycle of frogs, where we drank lemonade and drew on dusty chalkboards, simply disappears, here and then not here, as if everything is on a moving conveyor belt, and it has fallen off the back, forgotten.
The Edge arrives at the playground next, and Vivi trembles, choking on her tears. The swing set falls over, disappears into sky, into blank blue space, and then the seesaw falls next, and then the sand pit, grains sifting through empty air like an hourglass. And finally, the faded red slide collapses, last of all.
Vivi screams again, something that sounds like I’m here, Lily, I’m here, and tumbles out of Byron’s arms and runs to the Edge, as if she can stop it, hold it back. And for a moment we think she can; we think the Edge has paused, as if considering if it wants this mad girl, this girl with her black hair streaming behind like silk, like charred ashes.
Then it eats her too.
The population of Madison is 363. Four becomes two, and Byron falls onto the Earth, because he loved Vivi, for years, and never told her, and Vivi is gone, and Lily is gone. Next to him, Amelie cries, real tears, even though Amelie never cries, and hasn’t since she was two.
The people shed cold, bright tears, and one by one they approach the Edge, soldiers, an army, holding silverware that glints and smiles that glint too, as if together they can beat the Edge into submission.
But the Edge comes, greedily, steals their shoes. Their bodies teeter on fallen Earth. And right as the people begin to fall, fear sneaks in and squeezes their hearts. They want to run back, but they cannot. The Earth crumbles. They plummet into the sky, screaming, utensils still gripped in calloused hands, all of them, the children who collected wind chimes and the parents who told cautionary tales and even Mrs. Rollins with her heart of sweet lemonade.
The population of Madison is now 2. We stand in front of Mrs. Rollins’ porch as homes tear off Earth cleanly, disappearing like Lily, existent, then not. There is no one else around us, only deserted houses, empty plastic pitchers, ghosts of blue ink. It is silent. The Edge creeps up to us, as if it is almost regretful, almost sorrowful. It laps at our scuffed sandals like the ocean we read about in school. Together we peer over the Edge.
We see crumpled Earth and empty corn husks and utensils sparkling, falling into unending blueness. We see bodies, overturned beetles, and somewhere, we see flashes of black hair like charred ashes and the shadows of faded red like plastic slides, and if we hold our breaths and concentrate, we hear two voices, fading quickly: I need to go, I need to go, and I’m here, Lily, I’m here, overlapping, joining, dry as corn husks rubbing against each other. If we squint, until our eyes are closed and we do not even hear our own hearts beating, we can see, just barely, a flash of blue-inked eyes and wild corn-yellow hair.
The Edge is getting impatient. We can feel it. We breathe, let our prayers flit, half-heard, into the sky, let them sink into the Earth.
Then we fall over, backwards, as if on to our beds, as if just to retire for the night. But we continue falling.
-- Hannah Han is a student from Los Angeles, California. She has received recognition for her work from the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of the online literary journal The Stirling Spoon.