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Cloud to Cloud
Flash fiction, 900 words. For Iron Age's Nov. 8 prompt, "The Vennels."
“There’s no more wood.”
Lamian sounded sour, and well he should. Society depended on planks. The last tree was felled. They walked on borrowed time.
His children bore wings. His children carried time with them. But one day, Lamian and his wife, Samantha, would step on the wrong plank. There would be a creak, a crack, a shriek, and that would be it. He could only hope the planks lasted long enough for his children to be educated and grown.
“They’ll find more. They always do.” Demis was his superior. He was an authority figure. He drank light. He was perpetually drunk upon thin air.
The two men wove their way from cloud to cloud. Lamian knew the perils because it was his job to mitigate them. He carried a hammer with an embossed silver head. No tool marked higher status. No job took him higher. No responsibility put him at risk of a greater fall.
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Once there had been ground. Earth, tilled, broken, piled, ravaged, worshipped. It lay still, beneath the clouds. If Lamian fell he would reach it.
Society depended on the planks. The wending alleys rose higher every year, reaching, reaching, for the Last Temple. But if there was no more wood, that was it. They would never reach. Lamian and Samantha and Demis would die unfulfilled.
May the winged succeed.
“There are too many paths. Every man with ambition built one,” tittered Demis. “We’re taking them apart, my friend. We’ll take every plank worth the word and keep building.”
“The clouds will have their due.” Lamian wasn’t convinced. Moisture was the enemy of this enterprise. As was time. As was gravity. As was poor craftmanship, bad judgment, and a lack of nails.
“We will reach it. We will see it with our eyes, as in our dreams.”
Demis was a dreamer, felt Lamian, in more ways than one.
They reached their destination. The plank path stretched upward, like a yearning hand, but touched nothing. Lamian knelt and took his hammer in hand. Demis stood behind, ready to grab him if something went wrong.
Lamian worried a nail. It was a good one, not rusted, not bent, so he was careful. He removed it and placed it in a sack at his hip. The one next to it was in poor shape. He took that one, too, but gave it to Demis. In times past, they would melt and recast them. But there was no longer enough wood to make a fire hot enough.
The Last Temple was up there somewhere, in the clouds. Lamian knew it was because someone had reached it, once. Someone had built a path to it, had sent word of its existence. But the path had fallen apart, broken, tumbled to the dirt far below along with everyone’s hopes.
He removed the rest of the plank. The twin girders stuck out into the air like arms reaching.
“I don’t think this one is any good. It won’t do well,” he said critically to Demis. The older man examined it with a sigh and nodded. He tossed it over the side. The precious wood fell, fell, fell, beneath the clouds.
But that we too, had wings, thought Lamian. We could join our children one glorious day and fly, fly, fly.
“Let’s see how the next one is.” Demis was cheerful despite the setback.
Lamian obliged. But this one cracked when he pulled it off the girders.
Demis didn’t even need to look. He’d heard. Lamian tossed it over the side. It was too bad that wood didn’t contain seeds. That acorns didn’t hide in the knots. If they could grow a forest from the dead …
“In the Last Temple grows fine fruit trees,” sang Lamian softly as he worked. Demis hummed behind him. “In the Last Temple grows beloved cedar that never fades, that never dies. In the Last Temple all things live.”
Over the course of an hour, even Demis came to understand that the path which they walked was not going to give them useable planks. It was a small miracle that they’d walked to the top.
“They’re all like this,” Lamian whispered, despairing. The beauty of his silver hammer mocked him. “We haven’t found a useable patch in months. We’ve waited too long. All the planks are rotting too badly to reuse. We have no good wood. And without it, we can’t reach the Last Temple.”
Demis knelt beside him and patted his shoulder.
“Perhaps. But our children will.”
Demis stood and stepped back. There was a creak, a crack. Lamian did not shriek, but gasped and reached out toward his superior.
Demis had been caught dreaming. Too late he grasped for Lamian.
Lamian fell. He fell and fell and fell. They’d find him, eventually. Whether they could recognize him would be another matter. Then they would bring him to join all the dead.
Demis finished the song. It was all he could do for his friend. These were the last words Lamian heard:
“Reach it with stone. Reach it with wood. Should all of nature fail, gather your dead. Use your skins as spans and for girders your bones.”
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