From the top of the cliff, she jumps.
As she falls down, the wind batters her. Lolly had told her that falling this way would be graceful. The cool day would grasp her, caress her, while the soft sunlight would envelop her in its golden hallows. It would be peaceful, Lolly said. But Lolly had been wrong. This fall, this fall into nowhere - it was anything but peaceful.
As she drops lower now, the fierce day smacking her, the raindrops biting into her fur, she closes her eyes. She is cold and wet and miserable; this nothing like she’d imagined it would be. The ground below her is fast approaching, and she can smell the wet earth underneath. At the last moment, she snaps open her eyes and looks. The jagged rocks are no more than a metre down.
She smiles. Not because of the ground below, but because of what is above.
Pulling air into her lungs then, she thrusts open her wings.
And then, she flies.
It doesn’t start this way. Before the time of leaping and flying, she is just a mousy striped Kougra with long auburn hair and a quiet demeanour. She lives in a house somewhere near nowhere, a petty existence for a petty girl. Once upon a time, there was an owner and a sister, but they’ve left her now, bound for Bigger and Better Things. Also once upon a time, she cared – but now her life of grey futility has left her indifferent, and her passion is starved. Her only concern and worry now is Lolly, the green Elephante who delivers her mail. Lolly has many years under her belt, but she hardly acts old. And although the Kougra doesn’t know if the mail carrier returns the sentiment, Lolly is as close to a friend as she’s ever had.
The Kougra lives for her visits. They come every day at about a noon, just as she finishes her lunch. Even back when her sister and owner were around, she never got any mail. No one in the family had ever really received any letters, but her owner and sister had gotten a whole flurry of newspapers and magazines. However, they’d left before the subscriptions had run out.
The Kougra had never meant to renew them. When the year was up, and the distributors sent frenzied letters imploring her to update her subscriptions, she had planned to ignore the notices. But by then she was lonely, and Lolly’s visits were already the highlight of her day. So she changed her plan, and she filled out the tiny postcards with her information. She sent them in, and soon, she was safe for another year. Now Lolly was guaranteed to come by her house.
But today Lolly is late. Noon has come and gone, and the Elephante still has not showed up. The Kougra had prepared lunch early, but she still nibbles on it now as the clock ticks on. Her stomach is flopping, and her hands are cold. The corner of her cucumber sandwich feels like rocks as she swallows it down, and she stands up and paces slowly over to the kitchen window. She has peered beyond the lace curtains a million times in the past hour or so, and the derelict view outside has never differed, but the Kougra hopes now for a change. She hopes now to see Lolly ambling up the front path, rain boots covered with early winter slush. She hopes to see the telltale navy blue bag, brimming with letters, and the age lines on the Elephante’s crinkled face softened as she cracks a smile.
But there is nothing.
The Kougra frowns and walks back to the kitchen table, sitting gingerly down in her chair. Normally, she saves Lolly a bit of whatever she’s having for lunch, but the sandwiches are growing soggy, and the hot tea she’s prepared has gone lukewarm. She feels bad for throwing it out, but at the same time, she doesn’t want to reduce Lolly – wonderful Lolly – to this kind of food. She is better than it. So she dumps the tea into the sink and drops the sandwiches into the bin, hoping that Lolly will not be put off by her poor hospitality when she finally comes by.
But there doesn’t end up being a chance for Lolly to be put off, because the Elephante never appears that day. The Kougra waits all through the afternoon and evening for her, but she doesn’t come. Maybe, the Kougra decides, there was no mail to deliver. Or perhaps she was ill – a little cold or winter blues. Lolly has never missed a day before, but there’s always a first for everything. Therefore, the Kougra tries not to think much of the Elephante’s absence.
She goes to bed with only a vague worry in her mind.
Then Lolly doesn’t come by the next day, either. The Kougra makes soup, to complement the blustery snowstorm that has kicked up outside, and she keeps it in a thermos for when the carrier drops by. But noon again passes with no visit, and even as it grows dark out, the Elephante still has yet to come.
The second night, the Kougra goes to bed nervous.
Around ten in the morning on the third day, the doorbell buzzes. The Kougra is moping somewhere in the living room, reading a book by the fireplace. It’s still cold out, and she’s sullen, but when she hears the familiar noise, she brightens. Lolly has never come this early, but perhaps the Elephante has gotten a new route, or maybe very few people in the Kougra’s desolate neighbourhood have any deliveries today. Whatever the case, all that matters is Lolly’s return. Despite being distantly annoyed with herself for not preparing any foodstuff for the Elephante – although she never could have anticipated such an early arrival – the Kougra jumps up and rushes over to the front door.
It’s not Lolly.
As her eyes trace over the pet on her front porch, she darkens. It’s a weedy blue Xweetok with a post office issue overcoat, and he’s clutching a navy blue mailbag with a death grip. When he sees the Kougra, he wipes a band of cold sweat from his forehead and lets out a frosty breath.
He begins to speak, but the Kougra cuts him off. She says in an accusing tone, “Where is Lolly?”
The Xweetok grabs a bundle of mail from his bag and shakes his head. “I don’t know. My name’s Paul.”
The Kougra shakes her head right back at him. “This is Lolly’s route. Where is she?”
He just smiles. It’s a manufactured grin, completely unnatural; the Kougra can tell this. She begins to call him out on it, but he interrupts her. “This is my route now,” he says firmly. “I was just hired.” Then, almost darkly, he adds, “This might be a wild guess, and somewhat of a depressing one. But well... you see, I’m new to this job. However, I heard through the grapevine that another mail carrier just passed on. It could be... perhaps it was this Lolly you’re talking about?”
The Kougra clutches at her temples, unable to grasp the information. The Xweetok’s words are all just rumour, rhetoric. He doesn’t know what he’s saying. He can’t know what he’s saying!
“A-are you okay?” he stutters, his fake smile replaced with a look of genuine worry.
“No.” For some reason she can’t even understand, the Kougra reaches out and snatches the bundle of mail from the Xweetok’s arms. He steps back, obviously worried, and watches as she tears through it.
On the top of the pile is the normal stuff – two magazines, the latest issue of the Neopian Times. The Kougra glances at them for only a second before dropping them to the ground. She is left only with a fat package, sealed sloppily with packing tape. It has her name on the front, but there is no return address. Shaking from both the invasive cold and downright fear, the Kougra rips it open.
A clunky faerie paint brush tumbles out, and right after it wafts a letter scrawled on fancy stationary. The Kougra leaves the paint brush to fall but grasps at the letter before the wind can yank it out the door. Unfolding it almost manically, she is trembling so much that she can hardly focus on the words.
Every house became the same after a while. Yours never did. Thanks for the food, the warmth, and the years. I don’t think you ever truly knew how much your company meant to me. So I’ll say it now: you were priceless. Enjoy the paint brush. I recall you once said your sister was painted faerie, and you always longed to fly. Now’s your chance. I’ve had a little pile of Neopoints saved all these years, and now that I’m gone (I assume, anyhow, with you receiving this letter)... well, there’s no one who deserves this more than you.
PS – Be nice to the new carrier, whoever it may be. I know they’ll appreciate it.
The Kougra stares down at the letter and reads it again. She recognises Lolly’s usual fun, lighthearted tone, but now it seems foreign. This has to be a fake, an imposter note. But then she remembers the conversation the letter had referenced, the one about her sister. It had occurred on one of her down days, not long after she’d been left all alone. Back then, she was still receiving her sister and owner’s subscriptions, and her conversations with Lolly were mostly petty. But she’d been feeling particularly sullen that day, so she spilled her soul to the only person in Neopia who was there to listen.
“My sister’s wings were beautiful,” the Kougra had said, her tone almost bitter. “We would all go out to cliffs – wherever we could find them – and watch her jump down. Then, at the last minute, she’d whip out her wings and shoot upward. She always seemed so happy that way.”
Lolly hadn’t said much at that time; her relationship with the Kougra then was barely existent. She’d simply stood on the porch, softly smiling, and said, “I’ve always heard it’s so peaceful and graceful – jumping like that. So warm. The wind holds you, and the sun illuminates you.”
The Kougra had nodded, wanting to believe it. “I wish I could fly,” she said distantly.
“Maybe someday you will.”
“A-are you okay?” the Xweetok asks now, snapping the Kougra out of her reverie.
She grabs the paint brush up from the ground and looks at it, and then she looks at him. Tears have welled in her eyes, and as the cold wind continues to gust into her house, she wipes them away. It’s real. She doesn’t want to believe it, but deep down, she knows. This letter is no lie.
“No, I’m not okay,” she simply says to the Xweetok, and then she slams the door in his face. She knows Lolly has instructed her to be nice to him, but she can apologise some other time. For now, she is mourning.
The Kougra spends the next few hours crying in the living room, clutching the paint brush with all of her might. Eventually, she wanders back to the foyer and finds the letter wedged under the front door, trapped by an invisible weight. She is lucky it hasn’t blown away, and with a sniffle, she leans down and picks it up. She’s already read it more than enough, but she looks at it again anyway. She can almost hear Lolly’s voice in her head as she makes sense of the words yet another time.
She spends the night with the paint brush and letter on her bed table, and through the darkness, she stares at them. She doesn’t know why she’s even trying to sleep; slumber will not come tonight. Her mind is racing, and her throat hurts from sobbing so hard and so long. Lolly had said in her letter that the Kougra was important to her, and this in itself makes the Kougra cry harder. She had never even known if the Elephante considered her a mild acquaintance, and here she’d gone and left her a faerie paint brush.
In a way, the Kougra doesn’t want to use it, but as morning approaches, she decides it’s only right. Lolly wouldn’t want such a beautiful item to go to waste. She wouldn’t want the Kougra’s dreams of flight to rot away forever.
So she goes to the Rainbow Pool and immerses herself in the liquid, holding tightly onto the paint brush as she enters. She emerges quickly, and a pair of wings now jut out of her. After studying them in the pool’s reflection, she flaps ever so slightly, only to be overmatched by their power. Rather than becoming airborne, she topples over, her fragile body abruptly meeting the tightly packed dirt surrounding the Rainbow Pool.
The Kougra practices flight several times that day, but she doesn’t reach the air. She flaps and runs and yells, but nothing works. Her fantasy of being coloured faerie has come true, and she can’t even become airborne. Lolly’s gift is in vain.
But then she thinks. She thinks back to her days with her owner and her sister, the days at the cliffs. Her sister leaping and flying, giving herself to the wind. The Kougra recalls again Lolly’s vision of falling, and for the first time since the letter and paint brush arrived in the mail, she smiles. Lolly’s selfless gift will not go in vain after all.
So she finds some of the cliffs she’d gone to back in happier times, and she carefully climbs up to the ledge. It’s the warmest day in a long while, but that warmth is offset by the sharp raindrops that have begun to pelt from the sky. Howling wind rips through the atmosphere, and the sun overhead is masked by perilous storm clouds.
The Kougra cares about none of this.
She takes one step forward and looks down to the bottom of the cliff. Jagged rocks line the ground there, little spikes of warning. The Kougra briefly tenses, but she fights off the feeling. And then she steps forward one last time.
She tries not to think of what might happen, what the horrible rain and callous wind might do to her. She tries to disregard the dangerous landing, the one she will be forced to make if her wings still prove useless. She tries not to think of any of this.
All she puts in her mind is Lolly’s description of a fall just like this one, her lovely description. “I’ve always heard it’s so peaceful and graceful – jumping like that. So warm. The wind holds you, and the sun illuminates you.”