Alex Vonn

Notecard_AlexKithara beamed its light across the Dreman Shallows from its position at the horizon, creating long shadows behind every rock. A grove of fruit trees glistened with frost along the base of the Sunlo cliffs, where cobblevines grew in the direct sunlight. Two teenage boys, Alex Vonn and Cale Biedrik, prodded a cow out of the trees toward a nearby watering hole.

“This is boring,” Cale said as he poked holes in the mud with a stick. The cow pushed its nose through a thin layer of ice and slurped noisily from the pond.

“Yeah,” Alex replied. “We should climb the cliff.”

“I dunno,” Cale said, looking nervously at the vertical rock faces. “We can’t keep the cows out of the grove if we do that. Besides, Dad said I’m not allowed up there.”

“You’re not allowed on top of the cliff,” Alex clarified. “We can still climb the tiers if you tell the workers you’re picking cobblegrapes for your mom.”

Cale mumbled under his breath.

“What?”

“As long as we don’t go up too high, I guess.”

“We’ll just go halfway, then,” Alex said, ending the discussion. He slapped the cow’s rear end and watched it trot away.

“Do you miss Celestial City, Alex?”

“Not really. My professors give me too much work. And the militia doesn’t like me very much.”

“Why?“

“I don’t follow their rules,” Alex said. “It’s not a big deal. They just don’t like it when I run on the wall.”

“You run on top of the city wall?”

Alex nodded.

“At least you get some excitement. All I do is keep the cows from eating pears. Mom says I can join you at the university when I graduate basic school next year. Would that be okay?”

“Sure,” Alex replied. “I thought you didn’t want to go to the university, though.”

“Not really,” Cale admitted, “but it’s boring when you’re not around causing trouble. ”

“Why do I have to be the troublemaker? You should try it sometime.” He watched the cow amble into the rusted spaceship at the edge of the farm. “Come on!” They ran down the path that led through the grove.

Alex stopped at the bottom of the cliff to examine the spongebushes that grew there. It was cold in the shadow of the grove. Cale exhaled large clouds of vapor and put his hands on his knees to catch his breath, but Alex hadn’t tired at all. “Think anyone would notice if I jumped off the top?”

“Don’t even think about it!” Cale wagged his stick in Alex’s face. “There’s always someone watching, so you’d…”

“These bushes are supposed to catch people who fall off. It’s not like I’d get in trouble.”

“Yes, you would! And I would, too!”

“You said you like it when we get in trouble,” Alex replied.

“I like it when you get in trouble,” Cale explained, “not we.”

Alex didn’t wait for Cale. He found handholds in the rock and free-climbed the ten meter distance to the first tier.

“Don’t go up there!” Cale hissed, looking around nervously. When Alex didn’t slow down, he ran to a nearby ladder and started climbing after him. “Stop!”

“Relax, Cale. This cliff is easy.”

When Cale reached the second tier, he looked down and gulped. “This is far enough,” he insisted. “We can get a few here. Then we should leave.”

Alex had already reached the third tier. He rolled his eyes, climbed back down to meet Cale, and together they started picking fist-sized grapes.

Someone above them screamed. Cale froze, thinking they’d been caught, but Alex knew that wasn’t the case. He looked up to see a man plummeting from the top of the cliff, nearly sixty meters above them. The man fell past the two boys in a blur and disappeared into the shadows below. Alex looked back up to see a man standing at the edge of the cliff. Cale had seen more than he could handle – he seized the ladder and squeezed his eyes shut.

Alex maneuvered around Cale and slid down the ladder, his shoes acting as brakes on the outside edges. He found the man lying next to the spongebushes, dead. He hadn’t missed the bushes completely, but glanced off them to land on the ground in a heap. Alex stared at the man’s purple and splotchy face. He wasn’t bothered by the sight, but didn’t know what to do next.

The bushes had already resumed their original shape by the time the man from the top off the cliff arrived. “Go get help,” the man ordered. He laid the corpse flat and felt its neck.

“He doesn’t need help,” Alex told the man. He pointed at Cale, who still gripped the ladder twenty meters up the cliff. “He might.”

The man looked up at Cale. “Better see to him, then. I’ll take care of this.”

Alex nodded and climbed back up to find Cale shaking with fear. “Hey, let’s go.”

Cale shook his head, eyes still shut.

“Come on,” Alex repeated. “You need to get home.”

“Is he…?”

“He’s dead,” Alex replied, not understanding why Cale breathed faster at the news. “I don’t think he died from the fall, though. I think he had a heart attack or something.”

“I can’t move my legs.”

“Why?” Alex knew that Cale was not physically hurt, but didn’t understand what was wrong with him. “Want me to carry you? It’ll be easy. I do it with weights all the time.”

Cale didn’t answer at first, but tears formed around his closed eyes as he whispered, “Yes.” He shakily climbed onto Alex’s back, never once opening his eyes. Alex then descended slowly to the bottom, careful not to make any sudden movements on the way. When they got down, Alex looked at the scene of the accident. The man and the corpse were both gone. “We’re down,” he said over his shoulder. “It’s safe.”

Cale climbed off Alex’s back and opened his eyes. He saw his mom and dad running towards them and burst into tears. They hugged him.

“We heard somebody fell,” Cale’s dad said.

“We were so afraid for you,” his mom cried, and hugged him tighter.

Alex watched them take a long moment together, not understanding why they were so upset. When Cale’s dad noticed him standing alone, he walked over to stand by him.

“Are you okay, Alex?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We saw you bring Cale down. You’re a good brother.”

“You mean foster brother.”

“Close enough. Let’s go home,” Cale’s dad said. He put his arm on Alex’s shoulder and led him back to join the other two.

As they walked away, Alex thought about what happened. The dead man hadn’t fallen off the cliff – he jumped. For such a deliberate act, he didn’t manage his descent very well. It didn’t make sense, but neither did Cale’s reaction. He followed the Biedriks home, thinking all the way about improving on the dead man’s trajectory.

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