This “short short” originally appeared in Millennium SF&F in both their online and print versions. It is perhaps one of my most popular published works. Hopefully not merely due to its small word count. : ) This story also opens my collection Within and Beyond: The Realms of the Sun.
Bruce S. Larson
Connor sat on the cooling grass with legs folded. The Southern traveling sun had just set completely. Its Western roaming sibling had dropped below the edge of the plateau, but was still sinking into the true horizon beyond. Its light reflected across the wasteland surrounding the plateau, tarnishing the sky dusky bronze. Most people were in their homes now. The domestic noises mingled with the sound of the wind across the plateau’s jagged sides. Connor’s people had created a small world close to the clouds. Their immigrant culture fused tradition with the abandoned artifacts and housing they found after completing the treacherous and deadly climb up. A long‑falling trickle of water spurred their desperate ascent. Connor made the climb when very little. Then, dream images of sleep and awake were the land and water high above. Now, Connor looked out across the path of the Southern sun, and wondered what new dawn it made in lands below and far away.
Before the upheavals, this shard of civilization once connected to the rest of the world. Crumbled streets ended at the sharp edges of the plateau. The surrounding land below became an expanding waste. On top became a near paradise with hard work. It was peaceful. It was prison if your imagination strayed over the distant, true horizon. Few boundaries restrained the dreams of the strong of limb and mind. Connor was now strong enough to carry the family sword. By now, Father had taught his eager offspring all he could. Connor knew this. The lessons had grown shorter, repetitive, and farther between.
Connor drew the sword and brandished it to the sky. The blade reflected the evening light. Its length looked like the wings of the giant pterodons flying in the intense bright of midday. Typically then, people stayed inside from the heat and fear that the high‑soaring beasts would find them easy prey. However, Connor watched the sky‑giants soar south. Singular purpose seemed to propel them. Or perhaps the pterodons were guided.
The Southern sun over the outstretched wings made their skin translucent yellow. Western light cast faint, fleeting shadows across their underbellies as that sun hinted at descent. Connor was certain harnesses crisscrossed the sleek, avian breasts. Such rigging would have to be vast, and require industry. Industry on the plateau was small, but plateau culture manufactured constraints of its own.
Suddenly the earth shook. The ground cracked deep and sundered into smaller masses along the widening crevasse. Heat and the scent of burning soil singed Connor’s nostrils as rocks burst skyward like volcanic missiles.
Another upheaval? No!
The deep and savage cry betrayed the monster before it burst through the convulsing surface. It glared down at Connor as rubble cascaded from its massive, scaly shoulders. It opened its hideous, crocodilian mouth and roared again. Flames spewed forth and seared the earth as if cast from both suns. Connor tumbled aside. The ground burned to glass from the creature’s assault. Connor leapt to the beast’s chest, and quickly ascended the razor surface. Connor’s hands bled, but the beast must never get the chance to burn and rampage to the city’s heart.
Massive claws swiped at Connor as the sword slashed deeply between wide, emerald scales. Thick, acrid blood flowed out like magma. The monster motioned to scream, but Connor’s further slashes denied even sound from its savaged throat. The beast fell. Connor leapt from its plummeting body. There was no sound as Connor saw the house collapse under the monster’s dead mass. There was no cheering. The monster faded as the daydream ended. If the monster had been real and not imaginary, only the few people of the plateau would have sung Connor praises. No other peoples would ever hear of the epic deed.
Connor glanced at the doorway. The youngest of the family, brother Wil, had watched the steel glint in Connor’s hands. Wil smiled from the opened door. Connor slid the sword back into the scabbard and smiled back at Wil, then looked back to the setting point of the South wandering sun. Social barriers that held back dreams of wandering had shattered like the landscape in the apocalypse. Migration became a way of life itself. Before that, people were everywhere. They enforced the unseen barriers with courtly smiles and knowing glances that were the surface reflections of deeper expectations. Connor saw these reflections anew on the faces that looked at Victor who lived near. Victor’s duty to his family was expected to be clear. Perhaps these human artifices healed in time, just as the plateau’s land began to flourish anew.
Connor looked again into the house. Family members darted past the doorway. There was enough food, and enough hands to collect it. With five, children were of no shortage to Connor’s parents. The family would be deprived of only the razor‑edged heirloom, now rightfully Connor’s. The stars began to dominate the sky, taking over from the reluctant Western sun finally submerged under the horizon. Soon sleep would call. Connor resolved to make both the dreams of sleep and awake a reality. New images would fill the searching mind. Perhaps even stranger ones than fiery beasts erupting from the ground.
The next afternoon, when the suns were ebbing, Victor watched his fated love leave for an uncertain destiny. Proximity atop the plateau predetermined the beautiful young Connor would be his wife. There were few other women to know, let alone love. Now, that fate grew less certain was with each of Connor’s steps to the plateau’s edge. Victor was certain Connor could make the climb down. There would certainly be no stopping her. Victor, however, had his brothers to raise. Yet, once that was a mother’s task. He began to look to the Southern sun, and wondered. Should he go after her? Connor left few others to take her place, be they beautiful or otherwise. Later, Victor would dream of his own path under the arc of the pterodons, pursuing his own desire. Connor herself became the stuff of dreams.
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