Rise and Run

by Erik Amundsen

We lived in their hous­es and slept in our cages, long enough that none of us remem­bered one of us who remem­bered liv­ing free. That kind of life; mov­ing on from house to house over a shift­ing car­pet of shed leaves, and when we were defi­ant, unruly, some­times, we were made to crawl.

I only remem­ber autumn from that time, or some awful com­bi­na­tion of spring and autumn, where leaves bud­ded, unfurled and fell, piled up and rot­ted below to return through the trees as leaves again. Nev­er fast enough, though, we were always clear­ing and the piles always got high­er, heav­ier, wet­ter under­neath. At night, the corpse can­dles hov­ered over the piles, and there were times when a big gas pock­et would explode in flame when we turned it. Pil­lars of fire; they were pale copper-green.

Under a shift­ing car­pet of shed leaves, the ani­mals hid and watched us with our pitch­forks and our col­lars. I grow my beard and my hair long; I have since I had the choice and I will as long as I am able. I no more want to see the scars on my neck myself than show you. When we were defi­ant or unruly, there was always a gaff to grab and catch and twist, always a barb on the inside to dig in. I knew some who moved their col­lars so that a twist would bring the real blood when they couldn’t bear the life any longer. We lived in their hous­es and slept in our cages, every­one except our sav­ior; she slept beneath the leaves with the animals.

She was always defi­ant and always unruly. I nev­er saw her stand­ing while I knew her. When we were defi­ant, unruly, some­times, they made us crawl. She had a col­lar that was weight­ed, when I first met her. Then it was a wood­en col­lar like a bar­rel lid with a neck hole in the mid­dle, hung with weights on chains, a col­lec­tion always grow­ing. Then it was the size of a table, and plowed the shift­ing car­pet of shed leaves before her when she moved. Then it was a mill­stone. Then it was made of iron. But we all knew, one day, our sav­ior, she was going to rise and run. So we wait­ed for that day, and we lived in their hous­es and slept in our cages. And always, some­body had to go out and feed her, for her mouth could nev­er reach food or water on its own, encum­bered as it was.

I was the one they select­ed, because I was rarely defi­ant and nev­er unruly. I turned leaf piles and worked in their homes and slept in my cage and I nev­er turned my col­lar, not in my dark­est heart-cor­ners. They con­sid­ered me the best of us, and for that, now that we are free, I hope there is an after­world of fiery oceans where I can go and learn to swim. So I gave her water, I spooned the thin soup of pump­kin and lentils and pep­pers into her mouth and the oth­ers asked me when she was going to rise, when she was going to run. They were run­ning out of things to weigh her down, and her back rip­pled like water, her hands were thick and hard. 

The oth­ers used to ask me from their cages to ask her, and I nev­er did, not for a long time, because I was what passed as the best of us, and I felt the twist of the gaff less often than any­one; I pre­ferred that. I brought her the water and the thin soup and sat on the shift­ing car­pet of leaves, as ever more fell, and I asked her noth­ing. And the wood­en col­lar grew, and then was stone, and then was iron, and in the night, the oth­ers asked each oth­er when it was that she was going to rise and run. 

I nev­er would have asked her on my own, I don’t think, but the oth­ers were insis­tent, and they would ask when they could be over­heard, and then ask again as the blood shed like leaves from beneath their col­lars and pooled in the hol­lows of their shoul­ders. When would she rise? When would she run? She crawled under the weight of a ton or more of pig iron, but we saw that she could hook those horn fin­gers under it and break it like a milk-soaked bis­cuit. Between the bars of the cages, ask­ing, always ask­ing; over the shift­ing car­pet of leaves, no mat­ter who was lis­ten­ing. When I asked her, it was because I was con­di­tioned so, to hold noth­ing back, to deny noth­ing, to resist noth­ing. The oth­ers wore me down; it only took as long as it did because they asked me to do some­thing forbidden.

When the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of the oth­ers come to me, I tell them that the only hon­or I deserve in all of this is a mat­ter of luck; free­dom has to be stolen like veg­eta­bles from a gar­den, and some thieves are cun­ning, clever and strong, some just arrive and leave with­out notice. 

The day I asked her had done noth­ing to dis­tin­guish itself from any oth­er, the falling leaves, the pre­ced­ing night full of corpse can­dles, float­ing and whis­pered ques­tions. I lived in their house and slept in my cage, and I took water and thin soup to our sav­ior, where she crawled with her iron mill­stone, now trail­ing a dozen weight­ed chains in a long train behind her.

I nev­er expect­ed her to answer me. She had few words for any­one, then, least of all me and my unstained shirt. I always think of her face blank; the mask that we all learned. It’s ter­ri­fy­ing to me, these years lat­er, to see you smile, laugh, cry, see your faces twist when rage takes you. I expect them to come and col­lar you, to take the gaff and twist until your lips are gray. I asked our sav­ior when she would rise and run.

She spat. Then she told me that she was weight­ed down, and could not rise or run. I remem­ber think­ing this was exact­ly what I expect­ed to hear, but I knew, too, that if I didn't ask about her strength and the weight, the oth­ers would just prod and wear me down again. I asked her if the iron mill­stone was final­ly enough to hold her to the ground and for a moment I thought she would strike me. She told me that it might be weight enough, indeed. And then she hooked her strong fin­gers under my col­lar. It was not so heavy, she observed, and asked when I would rise and run.

I told her I had no desire to rise, and no courage to run. It all seemed to me and at the time, point­less. For a moment, she said noth­ing, and the leaves shift­ed. Then she told me, she agreed; it was point­less for her to run; no one else would run with her, just throw their spir­its on her back to carry. 

Spir­its are very heavy, she said to me.

I laughed. It hurt my face and chest and bel­ly to laugh, those mus­cles were unused to the move­ment, and I told her I was lucky not to have one, if that was so. Anoth­er moment passed, anoth­er spoon­ful of soup, anoth­er swal­low of water. The leaves fell. Some of the oth­ers paused to lis­ten. Our sav­ior smiled at me. It was a slow smile, like a shoot uncoil­ing from a seed-shell.

“You must be the fastest run­ner of all of us, then.” I had noth­ing to say to that. Her fin­gers pinched through my col­lar like tin snips and it fell into the shift­ing car­pet of leaves, which swal­lowed it, whole.


And then I rose.

Erik Amund­sen lives in cen­tral Con­necti­cut. He is always Chaot­ic Evil.

4 Responses to "Rise and Run"

  • **Such** an excel­lent story.

    1 Asakiyume said this (August 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm)

  • Oh, very well done.

    2 Virginia said this (August 2, 2011 at 1:11 pm)

  • Beau­ti­ful and the end­ing gave me chills.

    3 Miquela said this (August 3, 2011 at 9:39 am)

  • Won­der­ful sto­ry, gave me chills!

    4 Brittany said this (August 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm)