Zero tilted her head, shielding her eyes from the sun. It all looked so familiar, so much like her dream, that she wondered if she might be sleeping again. She took a step closer and stared off over the edge. The cliff dove down into a thick bank of clouds, through which nothing could be seen. Up above hung dark grey clouds; the sun shining through them only as a spot of light amidst the sea of gloom. Zero glanced back behind her. The plateau on which she stood stretched away to the horizon, an expanse, grand in its monotony, broken only by a single tree which stood leafless against the heavy sky.
She folded her arms about her chest and returned slowly to the tree. Standing under its stark limbs, which were twisted like the bones of a great, arthritic hand, she took a deep breath and thought about her dream. She had had it so many times that it had become something of a ritual in her sleep. It had become comforting in a peculiar way; familiarity often breeds such contentment, even when that which is familiar ends badly. And the dream did end badly. At least, it did half of the time.
The edge of the cliff marked a line between safety and danger. At first, Zero had avoided going near it. Just thinking about the fall made her stomach turn. Night by night she became braver as she grew more accustomed to her fear. Dream after dream, she ventured closer to the cliff until at last she could see the drop. The first time she saw what lay over that precipice, she immediately ran back to the tree in fright, and for nights afterward she would not leave the cover of its gnarled branches. Soon, though, she was back at the edge. She would sit facing away from the drop, looking out toward the barren plains which spread their vastness behind the tree until in the distance they seemed to join with the brooding clouds in the sullen sky.
The desolation was absolute. Nothing poked up above anything else, not so much as a pebble, not one blade of grass, so that everything was simply flat. Finally, after nights of watching the plateau for signs of change that never came, Zero turned back toward the cliff. She put out her leg and stepped off into the air. The last thing she saw before she fell was a crow circling high over head. She woke in her bed with the certain knowledge that she had fallen to her death. The next night, she stepped off the cliff again.
Some nights she did not fall when she walked off the edge. She took one step out into the open air, then another. On these nights, she saw a dove wheeling above her when she looked up. Zero hesitated, she felt the pull of gravity tugging hungrily upon her heels and the tips of her toes, and as she watched the dove turned as black as if a pot of ink had been poured over it. With a great caw and a flap of its wings that broke the silence like a clap of thunder, it descended upon her and in the moment her feet fell out from under her. She tumbled, the clouds below the cliff sped at her, and then she found herself in the darkness of her bedroom. For weeks afterward, she stayed on the cliff. Once she had worked up the courage to step off again, though, she never stopped. Some nights she saw the crow, others she saw the dove. Most nights she saw which ever she most expected to see.
Zero lifted her face toward the wind that ruffled and teased at her hair. She did not remember this wind in her dreams. It whistled and hummed across the plateau. Blowing from somewhere beyond the clouds, it carried with it the scent of freshly harvested fields, the smell of warm summer rain, the cool fragrance of mossy creeks, and the dark, sharp aroma of cities she could not see. Zero closed her eyes and took another deep breath, leaning back against the trunk of the tree and resting her hand against its bark. To her surprise, the bark crumbled away when her fingertips touched it, and opening her eyes to see, she realized that the entire tree was dead; decaying so gradually into dust and dirt that she had not noticed it was rotting. She backed away from it.
In all of the dreams she had ever had about this place, Zero had never felt any revulsion toward it. As she looked around her now, though, she saw that the grass that grew on the plateau was dried and yellowing. Even the pebbles were slowly breaking down into powder and grit. This was not safety, not contentment, it was its own kind of danger; a cancerous, stagnant growth. Made of hopelessness, it mouldered before her eyes.
Zero continued to back away from the tree until she felt the brink of the cliff underfoot. A little stream of dry dirt and pebbles fell away beneath her, disappearing downward, obedient to gravity. Steadying herself and taking a half dozen steps away from the edge, she looked up toward the gloomy skies, where a crow and a dove turned lazy circles around one another, their wings nearly touching.
Zero spent a long moment watching the birds as they flew together, then she set her jaw and turned to face the cliff. Behind her, she heard the limbs of the tree begin to crack and fall, but she denied them a backward glance and instead began walking toward the edge. The wide world appeared before her in its somber shroud of heavy clouds. Zero hesitated only for a instant before stepping out into the air. Whatever lay before her, fall or fly, it must be better, she decided, than dreaming of living and dying alone on her empty plateau. For that brief instant, she was uncertain what would happen, but she knew that it did not matter, because she had finally chosen to try.
Above the plateau, the clouds drifted away and the sun shown down on an empty cliff. Below, the mists cleared revealing freshly harvested fields, cool, mossy creeks running with warm summer rain, and sharp, shining cities with their spires lifted to the big, blue sky. Green grass and tall flowers swayed on the plains. Where a dead tree had crumbled away there grew a tree in bloom, and in its branches there perched a dove and a crow.
Roggen Wulf, 2014