Falling Feet First

Delicate silver wires formed leaves that wound into a basket. Plump berries oozed crimson juices that stained the wires and puddled on the stone table beneath it. The scent of ripe fruit permeated the air, begging for a passerby to pluck one from the bowl and pop it between lips.

The wall shimmered and a man with almond-shaped turquoise eyes, dusky skin, and long coppery hair passed through. Behind him, a boy with sandy hair and dull brown eyes followed him in, one hand clutching the trailing shirt hem, the other shoved into his mouth.

The man lifted the boy, setting him on one of the stone benches in front of the massive table. “Remain here and touch nothing. I shall return in a moment.”

The boy shoved his hand further in his mouth and nodded. The man studied him for a moment before stepping through another shimmering door that appeared in the wall. When the man passed through, the wall sealed behind him and glowed the same soft green as the other walls. The boy sat still for what felt like an eternity before he pulled his sticky hand from his mouth. He shoved himself to his feet, leaving a damp smear on the bench and looked around the room from his new vantage point. The floor looked like a dangerous leap away.

He stretched out his chubby legs beneath him. A glance to his left showed that the wall the older man had disappeared behind remained firm and glowing. He shoved his hand back in his mouth and began to run down the bench, giggles muffled. At the end he turned around and ran the other direction. This time he did not stop, instead he pulled his hand free, let out a cry and leapt. His feet slammed into the floor and buckled, bringing him down to his knees which slammed hard against the floor.

The little boy yowled. He kept up his shrieks until his throat was raw and still no one came to his aid. He rolled over onto his back and then slowly sat up, inspecting his knees. He flexed them. Satisfied that they did not hurt any longer, he rose to his feet. Upon finding that he did not immediately fall over in pain, he bravely walked back to the giant stone table. Next time his landing would be perfect.

He flung his torso across the bench, grabbed hold of it, and then swung up one leg until he was mostly upon the bench. He wriggled and wriggled until he nearly pitched off the opposite end of the bench. First he pushed himself onto his hands and knees. Then he grabbed the edge of the table and finally he was on his feet once more. He drew in a deep breath and took off at a run once again. This time his legs only buckled a little bit when he landed. A couple of staggering steps and he was running back to scramble up the bench of the table.

On the third attempt, he had a perfect landing. When his fourth was flawless as well he knew it was time. Once he reached the top of the bench, he kept climbing. Without the opposite edge of the table to wrap his fingers around, pulling himself onto the table took even more effort. Eventually he lay proudly on the table, his heart thudding loudly and his cheek pressed against the cool stone.

He drew in a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the fresh berries. His stomach gurgled loudly and he looked over at the stained wire bowl with longing. It had been forever since his daddy gave him a plate of chicken nuggets, steaming hot and a little soggy after coming out of the microwave. They were shaped like dinosaurs and the T-Rex pounced on the stegosaurus, ripping off its head. He only ever ate whoever lost in the dinosaur battles. The last dinosaur standing remained as an offering to his daddy. That night his daddy had to leave before the last stegosaurus felled the mighty T-Rex.

His babysitter yelled at him to eat the damn nugget or he wouldn’t get dessert. He watched her eat his tiny candy bar in a single bite while his stegosaurus lay uneaten on the plate. The woman shooed him up to bed an hour early and he fell asleep with his hand in his mouth. At least his daddy would have the dinosaur to eat when he came home.

Immediately after he shut his eyes there was a knock on the door. Then the nice man led him through the wall and told him to wait here.

He wished he had his candy bar in his pocket right now. He stared longingly at the bowl of fruit. Surely when the nice man told him to touch nothing, he didn’t mean the berries?

No, he was a good boy who listened and obeyed his elders. To resist the temptation, he scooted over to the edge of the table and peered over. It was a long way down. That landing might actually hurt. He chewed on his lip, knowing that once he stood, that distance was only going to increase. That drop was higher than he was tall.

He sat up and dangled his legs over the edge of the table. Maybe for his first step he would just drop straight down. That would prove this wasn’t scary. That he could do it. He pushed off with his hands and immediately realized the flaw in his plan as he tipped forward and plummeted straight down, his knees leading the way and his face following close behind.

He slammed into the ground with a thud and then his head thunked hard against the stone floor. He didn’t even have time to cry.

He lay there, disoriented, for several minutes before he roused himself. His forehead felt sticky and when he brushed his hand against it, his fingers came away red.

Tears welled up in his eyes and he began to whimper. He drew his knees to his chest and began to cry softly. His forehead stained the torn knees of his jeans. As the blood dried into an itchy layer and his eyes crusted, he looked up. He was still alone in the room.

His mouth was parched and barely a second went by without his stomach making itself known with an aching rumble. Nobody was ever coming back for him. The nice man had left him somewhere his daddy could never find him.

The boy shoved his bloody hand in his mouth and sucked on it. The coppery taste turned his stomach and he yanked it out. He spat several times, trying to clear the bitter flavor, but it didn’t help.

He stared up at the top of the table, then looked around the room at all of the solid, stone walls. Touch nothing, the nice man had said. But hadn’t he also said to remain where he’d been left? Was he really going to get in any more trouble for touching things than he was for moving?

He grabbed the edge of the bench. Then he pulled himself up onto the table. He crawled over to the bowl of fruit. Kneeling in front of it, he wiped his bloody hand on his pants. Once it was scrubbed clean, he shoved it into the bowl of berries and raised a handful to his lips.

The wall shimmered and the nice man walked through. The boy turned around, his lips stained crimson and his eyes shining topaz in the dark room. “What have you done?”

The boy shoved his dripping hand behind his back. “Nothing!”

The nice man massaged the bridge of his nose. “There is no helping it then, come, I will introduce you to the others.” He held out his hand to the little boy.

“Then will you take me to my daddy?” The nice man did not answer. He led the little boy out of the dining room and deeper into faerie.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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