[What you are about to read it not a great story. It’s not even the best story I wrote this week (if I am any judge of such things, and I am not certain that I am.) So why am I sharing it here today? Well, it’s like this: I like this story. It might not be the best story I wrote this week, but it was for sure the most fun. And I can only hope that if it was fun for me to write then maybe it’ll be fun for you to read.]
“Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” That’s what they say. But I stepped all of them and mother lived to a ripe old age with nothing more than the occasional backache.
Not that I wanted anything to happen to her mind you. But I had to step on the cracks. Because I didn’t want to fall through.
I don’t know how the crack thing worked exactly. Lines worked well too, parking lot lines, different colored tiles in the grocery store…all of them worked fine. Sometimes though if there were lots and lots of little cracks I would feel the ground start to get mushy under my feet, so I suppose it might have been variation that was necessary to keep me planted firmly on the ground.
I was careful my whole life, and I only fell through once. But once was enough, let me tell you.
I was about ten years old walking in the parking lot behind my mother taking big steps between the lines that they paint so the cars will know where to park when it happened. Mother was crossing the aisle, and she called me to stop messing around and hurry up and help her load the groceries. I could tell she was mad, so I didn’t waste any time even though I knew I had just stepped off of the yellow line and there were no cracks in the asphalt so running across the aisle was going to be dangerous. I knew this you see, like you know how to balance. It wasn’t something someone had ever taught me. It was just there, part of me.
I made it almost all the way across before I slipped. I can’t describe to you how horrible it is to put your foot down on what should be solid ground and finding nothing there. There was a moment when the ground was coming up at me far too fast and then I was through it and…beyond somewhere.
There wasn’t any pain, I was past that now, but there was a sense of fear, at the sudden change in scenery. I tried to get my bearings.
Somewhere above me the ground was pale and translucent like a ghost, and up beyond the asphalt my mother, groceries scattered around her, bending over…me. My body at least. I don’t have to tell you what a shock that was. But then I looked down and saw where I had landed. The ground beneath my feet was uneven, but firm enough, and as I got to my feet I understood that this was the true ground, the one you could walk on forever and not have to worry about falling through. There wasn’t much light, but somehow I could see a great way off. And what I saw was a robot riding a spider.
Oh, that’s the problem you have with this story? You can believe I fell through solid concrete, but robots and spiders are too much? Well I can only tell what I saw. I came riding up to me at a terrific pace, and he seemed very agitated. “You’re early,” the robot said, “Far far too early.”
“I tried not to fall through,” I told him.
“Oh for goodness sake we’re not ready. Please don’t have them deactivate me.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to do anything to you. I just want to go back to my mother. She seems dreadfully worried about me.”
The robot look up, and then back down at me. “Yes,” he said thoughtfully, “Yes, that might be an idea after all. Follow me.”
He took me by the hand and drew me up onto the giant spider, and made a clicking noise. The spider took off over the uneven ground in the direction of the grocery store. Underneath there I could see all kinds of interesting things, like pipes and wire that had been run under the concrete and the places under the shelves where canned goods had fallen and spoiled swelling up with gas. But up ahead toward the back of the store I saw something down on our level, a flight of stairs that wound up and around into the men’s bathroom.
“These stairs will take you up to the overworld,” the robot said. “But do be careful not to fall down again. Otherwise things might be a bit messy.”
I promised I would, dismounted the spider and climbed the stair.
I walked through the store, being careful to step on every crack I could find. It was the strangest thing though, because none of the shoppers could see me, and one woman pushed her buggy straight through my body, and that felt very strange indeed. Once I was out in the parking lot though it was easy to reach my mother. There were others gathered around her by then, but I just stepped through them, and went back into my body, don’t ask me how, I just knew somehow.
That was when everything went back to normal. Mother said she was certain I had died, and I’m not so sure she was wrong. But I remembered what the robot said, and I’ve been careful to step on every crack I come to, so as not to disturb the underworld before my time. But sometimes…sometimes I want to see more of that place.Sometimes I wonder what it will be like when I finally slip, and fall to rise no more.