There is a place where the leaves fall far from the tree.
Our little town is quiet, pets move away, blown off to the glitter of Brightvale,
that ever-greener somewhere else. And when they are gone, the tree cries, shedding
its leaves. I cry too, beneath its bare branches.
Then, I look at the sky and spin, spin until
I forget it all. It's a ritual, a sort of funeral.
But funerals aren't for those who leave. They're
for those they leave behind.
* * *
Ruth leans on the rotting fence, her delicate
arms splayed carelessly across the beam. She stares at the ground as if she
could will it to dry and harden before her eyes.
"Maybe we could fix the broken fence post," I
suggest, sliding the curtain of waterlogged Cybunny ears from my face.
"Nothing to fix it with," she sighs. "All the
wood by the barn's rot too, sinking in a puddle."
"We could move it."
"Good point." I look around at the marsh that
was once Meri Acres. The fence is sodden and mossy, sagging sideways in the
sludge. The soil, once silt, is cold clay, wet and pliable; I can squish it
between my paws. The whole town seems shorter, somehow. Across the field, neighbor's
cottages look like faerie houses, sunk so low in the mud that the windows almost
touch the ground. The effect is almost comical; there is a large Yurble lumbering
into a house short enough for a Miamouse.
Surveying the hills, all I can think of is mush.
I imagine the potatoes a few feet under mine, no longer a vegetable but a green
rotting piece of mush. There's hundreds of them, rows of rotting potatoes stretch
out before me. I close my eyes and conjure the touch of the sun, but I can only
"Let's walk to the creek," I say, and pull Ruth
away, breaking her gaze. When she moves, she leaves two large holes where her
boots have sunk into the ground.
The creek is wide and swollen, its banks submerged
under torrents of run off. I notice large pieces of junk sweeping down river,
bobbing up and down in the angry swells. What looks like a bicycle wheel races
by, spinning and bucking in the black current.
"Look, there's Sandy," Ruth cries over the rush
of the rapids. She points at the wily Blumaroo, hanging upside-down from a branch
bent precariously over the water. We race across the bridge to the fallen tree,
near the Rubbish Dump. The lot is nearly empty.
"Sandy," I shout. He waves, motioning that he'll
come to shore. "What happened?" I ask as he wades toward us up the bank.
"Bouncin' Blumaroos, she swelled up overnight
like a Skeith's belly," he says, rubbing the spot between his ears. "Banks got
so slick, zip bang the whole thing plonked right in, it did. The water's full
As he speaks, I glance at what used to be the
Dump. A few broken toys tumble into the creek and disappear.
"Hey, look Roody," he continues to Ruth, "if
you hang down from that felled tree, you can grab things out of the water. Wan'
Rolling her eyes, Ruth takes his hand and they
make their way across the mire to the fallen tree. I follow slowly.
We spend hours pulling junk out of the creek,
letting the blood pound through our upside-down heads. Our paws are numb, and
Ruth almost slips right off the trunk into the frozen eddies.
"Don' worry Roody, I'll jump in after ye if ya
fall," Sandy says. Ruth rolls her eyes again and giggles.
We finally bore of this game. Sore and shaking,
we tread home. As we cross the bridge, Ruth points across the dump, "The marrow's
"A field of squashed marrow, blimey that'd stink
like a rotten tater."
Ruth laughs. Looking at the massive soggy vegetable,
all I say is, "Another field of mush."
* * *
"We're going to drown," I say, scratching my
rusty eyes. Beyond the fields, the mountains slumber on, oblivious to the wind
that wracks the trees, and the storm clouds rushing inland.
"Everyone's leaving," Ruth says.
"Soil can't keep them anymore."
"It can't keep me either," she says fiercely,
kicking a fence post before heading inside.
"The land's a part of us, Ruth. You can't leave
yourself behind, can you?" I tell her. I perch myself on the fence like a tin
scarecrow, and just sit there for a long time, rusting.
* * *
I take them to the place where the leaves fall.
Sandy follows, dragging his feet.
From the top of the hill we can see the retreating
figures of Sandy's brothers. Sandy raises his paw and tips his straw hat, as
if his brothers will turn around and wave back. But they can't see us anymore.
They're too far away.
Two leaves fall from the tree and land at my
"They're really gone, aren't they?" Ruth asks,
looking at the solemn figures on the ground.
"Course they have," says Sandy. "They're smart
aren't they? Going to make it in Brightvale, start their own shop, or even become
knights, if they make it. They're getting out of here, and that's the point
"What's all this hating the place you come from
all of a sudden?" I ask.
"Look around, Sarah. We're nowhere. This place
is falling into the ground. Sinking Acres."
"There's plenty to like. Lots of space."
"Space. Outer space," Ruth chimes in.
"Fresh air," I counter, glaring at Ruth.
Sandy sniffs and wrinkles his snout. "Rotten
taters and moldy marrow?"
"You can't hate the place you come from. It's
"What's not natural is wanting to stay somewhere
diseased. I'd rather be anywhere but here," he yells, and runs back down the
hill toward the farm.
I turn to Ruth, demanding, "How can you encourage
him? This is our home." But she doesn't reply.
Suddenly, I feel claustrophobic. "Let's spin,"
At first, she only watches, noting the way my
feet brush the grass, the tilt of my head, and the whip of my ears. Then she
too begins to turn, slipping on the wet grass at first but then gathering speed.
The world falls away. We whirl, together, around and around and around, until-
We hit the ground, tail first. My body is sprawled
on the grass but the rest of me is still spinning. Blood pounds in my ears and
I look up at myself in the grey clouds spinning, forever spinning. I don't want
to stop but the image slows in my brain, and, like a windmill without wind,
I spin slower and slower, falling back into my body.
The sky is at a standstill.
Sitting up, I shudder as the wind blows into
my damp fur. I notice Ruth is still staring up at the grey sky in wonderment.
The bottoms of the clouds fall out and it starts to storm. Thunder grumbles
and lightning flashes, but I don't move. I just sit there and feel a great-calm-in
all the noise.
Finally, Ruth sits up, rubs the rain from her
eyes and whispers, "That was realer than real."
I take her paw and we walk home. We don't say
another word all evening.
* * *
Ruth has soft, thick fur the color of Tyrannia.
Spots of white flour speckle her brown coat as she kneads dough in our small
kitchen. With every pounding of the dough, a fresh cloud of white powders the
air, like dust kicked up from the ground.
Bowls of it. Mounds of it.
Back when the soil was firm and dry, Ruth and
I scampered across the hard ground in bare feet, filling our bowls with seconds,
thirds, and fourths; red tomato paste stuck to the roof of my mouth.. There
were longs rows of picnic tables lined across the field. It was the Meri Acres
Festival, and the whole town had showed up, eating the fruits of the harvest.
Pa had just won the marrow contest, and Sandy's brothers clapped him on the
shoulder by way of congratulations.
As the sun set, torches were lit, staked into
the ground in a ring.
"Music," cried Mr. Pickles, the pudgy Festival
Coordinator. A jumble of paws hastily cleared the tables, shifting them out
of the light to make room for a dance floor. Charlie, Sandy's burly brother,
unpacked his banjo while Sally, a slight Aisha, made her way to the band platform,
a picnic table on one side of the floor. Pa grabbed his fiddle and so did a
reddish Cybunny named Violet.
Everyone stood on the edges of the floor, watching
as Violet slowly picked up the fiddle and bow, twisting the end of the bow,
tightening the strings. Her jaw quivered above the chin rest. She had a flower
tucked behind her ear.
Then, her chin dropped, and she played a long,
low note. It started softly, lulling, and then grew, climbing up the scale.
As it peaked, the sound whooshed out and fled into the night, escaping our ring
of fire. Then it stopped. I held my breath. The night did too.
Then she tilted her head, and looked at my Pa.
She lifted the bow, and began to play again. The notes ducked and swayed, twisted
and pulled, spinning around me. Then Pa joined in, with his lively beat. Then
Charlie, and soon Sally's voice sprang up, high and strong. Ruth grabbed my
paw, and we headed onto the dance floor, right in front of the band, in front
of everyone. We too began to dance, to twirl, to spin. Our bare feet hit the
ground, kicking up a cloud of dust around our ankles. Then other pets joined
in, some clapping and stamping on the sidelines, leaving scuffmarks on the ground.
The Meri Acres festival is cancelled this year.
Mr. Pickles moved away. The ground is cold and wet, and the picnic tables are
sinking. We'll all be swallowed eventually.
* * *
There was a note tacked to the tree with the
falling leaves this afternoon. "Meet me here at midd-night. Imporrant bissness.
Important business, it said. What did he mean
by it? Ruth and I look at each other, confused, as we climb the hill, holding
a lantern between us.
Sandy is already there. His face looks ghoulish
in the half light.
"What's all this about Sandy?" Ruth whispers.
"Here we are, in the freezing cold, in the middle of the night. It better be
"I'm leaving," he says.
"Leaving?" I ask. "Like your brothers?"
"For good?" Ruth says.
"Yes, for good. I'll be gone in the morning."
"You're crazy," I argue. "You're not old enough
to go out on your own."
"My brothers did."
"Yes, but they're older than we are."
"No, they're just smarter. I don't care what
you say, besides, I'm leaving tomorrow at dawn and that's the end of it. You
comin' or not?"
"You've gone mad," I protest. But he stands there,
defiant. Not the smartest of blumaroos, I think to myself for the hundredth
time. "You can't possibly think we're crazy enough to come with you. What are
you going to do for food? For shelter? For neopoints? You haven't thought this
through, it's madness."
"I have some neopoints saved up. I've been thinkin'
about this fer a while. There's nothin' here for me no more. Not without my
brothers. They've gone, and I'm goin' too. And you can come with me, if you
like. Can't you see? There's nothing here no more. It's dead. Diseased."
"There's nothing out there either," I shout.
"Things will get better, you'll see." My cheeks burn, for some reason I feel
as if he is insulting me. He comes from this town too. How can he just leave?
He must see the determination in my eyes, because
he takes a step back. "Fine, that's you, Sarah. What about you, Roody?" He turns
"No way is she coming with you," I lower my voice,
threatening. "You'll have to go alone." But to my surprise, Ruth shoves me from
"Let me speak for myself, Sarah," she says.
"Fine, you tell him."
She turns to Sandy. "I'll come with you," she
I don't believe my ears. My sister, leaving.
Sandy smiles. "I knew you would."
"You can't. What will ma and pa say? What will
they do?" I stammer, confused. "You can't be serious. It's dangerous, Ruth.
"Just because you don't have the guts to leave,"
she says, looking at me fiercely.
"You're right. I have the guts to stay." I am
angry now, so angry I could slap her. We stand there, quivering, like taut arrows.
I let loose first. "How could you? How could
you leave where you come from? It's not natural, not decent. You come from this
land. We come from this land. Our parents are here, and our friends. Our whole
life. Why would you leave?"
"There's nothing here, Sarah. It used to be home,
but it's changed. Things change. There's a whole other world out there. I want
to see things, get out of this nothing. You'll never understand. We're too different."
"Don't leave. Please." I look at her small delicate
face. My sister. Leaving me behind.
"I'm going." She sounds angry, but she looks
sad. Then she turns to Sandy, "Okay, let's go get my stuff."
"Bye Sarah," he says, and they disappear down
the hillside. I stand there, frozen in shock.
* * *
The dark clouds choke the sky, like creeping
vines on old walls. I smile at the familiarity. I've climbed this hill before,
I've seen the way the wind moves the grass, soft as the bending bristles of
a paintbrush. I am here tonight, yesterday, last week, tomorrow, on the first
day of giving and the last of feasting. The past and present spin around me,
in endless circles, only seen in certain light, like dust passing by a window.
I am back at the place where the leaves fall.
The trunk is thick and its limbs reach out to touch the yellow sky. A breeze
rattles the leaves; they shudder and clink like a wind chime made of bones.
My eyes are red and wet; Ruth is gone. Gone to seek adventure, gone away from
this town, this quiet life. I look up and two leaves fall down, spinning to
the ground: Ruth, Sandy.
The colours are different, but the shape's the
same. The same five points, the same smooth stem, the same veins, the same damp
crinkled surface that crumbles in the heat. The same long ears, the same fluffy
tail, the same clumpy black fur, but I'm different somehow. I've learned how
to say goodbye. How to deal. How to smile as my sister drifts farther and farther
away, blown out, like smoke from a candle.
I count the friends at my feet. It is yesterday,
tomorrow. The grass dances in the wind, tossed like the frantic stroke of a
paintbrush. My tears fall like leaves, spiraling to the ground. It is raining.
It is a million years ago, my movements are ancient, cemented in the tree's
rings of growth. Higher, higher, I am on fire, dancing on dark cloud vines across
the sky, choked with ash. Around and around I spin, until I too am far away