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)