I 've found a way up.
I remember, so very long ago, when you and I looked up to the heavens, and we saw the stars, floating, moving, and we thought it might be possible to get there, and it might be fun to try to get there, where there is light.
I've found a way up.
I have three of these large stones. I am writing on one of them; the other two are unmarked. Going up is as simple as this: I put the bottom-most step at the top of the topmost, over and over again, rising higher and higher into the dark sky.
The idea is simple, but it takes a huge amount of effort: these stones are heavy; I strain nearly half an hour each time I lift one to the top, fumbling and twisting, and my fingers are raw and scarred from trying to grip the corners. I have more than once pinched my fingers in between two stones, and I lost part of my third finger in a bloody mishap. There is no getting a good handhold on such monstrous pieces of stone. But yet I keep edging upward, a stone at a time.
When tired, I rest on the three stones laid side by side; it can take over an hour for me to place the stones so that they create a passable bed. I sleep lightly for fear of tossing and turning, because now I am miles above our pond and swamp. It might take me days to hit the ground, and the stones make a narrow bed.
It is just as warm and moist as it is down there, but it has been so long since I've swam or felt water on my skin. We are born in water and can live outside water only for brief periods, or so I thought. Once I found these stone steps I was unwilling to turn back, and so my skin hardened, and the slime that once coated my body became like wax and then harder, so that I couldn't move for days. I just laid on my stone bed, looking up at the stars moving, wondering if I would die there paralyzed by my own skin.
But at last the hard wax began to crack and peel and I could move slowly. Over weeks I molted: at first a layer came off my legs, each a whole piece at a time. Then my arms and my torso. My face, which I did not move as much as the rest of my body, took longer, but it itched and itched until I removed it with my fingers. It came off in long strips and for the first time I saw a shadow of what I might look like to others. If there was anyone to see me here, in the sky.
I eat a hardy lichen that grows on the stones; they must be carried on the moist air here because there is no lack, and each day the stones are covered except where I have peeled some off. There must be water, too, in them: I am always thirsty but I stay alive.
A few years ago I reached the stars. We think of them as hard, light objects, but they are not objects at all; they are, in fact, will of the wisps with no physical form. Some have passed through me, so I know from experience. What we saw from below were not the wisps themselves, but their tracks across the sky: up close I can see them as points, blue translucent candleflames with no candles.
Living among them for some time, something very strange happened: without my wishing it, my skin, a dark blue without the yellow slime that makes us green, began to glow in response to these wisps. A wisp may come by and flash, and after a few moments the nearest point on my body will, as if in answer, glow a faint but unmistakable blue. If this means something to the wisps, they do not show it, for they do not respond but keep on their way. It must happen even when I am asleep: I have woken to my chest or arm flashing before.
And so we flash, the stars and I, and I continue up and up. I have seen the stars and so I do not know why I continue on, but all day I set the steps one on top of the other, over and over, straining, straining, until I feel the draw of sleep tug at me. Some days it is hard to continue, to place the stones one over the other, again and again, my muscles aching and angry. I have spent days just lying on the stones, hoping something would happen to take me away from it. Maybe if I rested the stones would be easier to lift, or I might feel less the crushing weight of them and find them lighter. But it is always a battle and the stones are always so heavy, so heavy.
In my dreams I think of swimming, of our pool. How we used to glide in the waters, and walking on land we felt so ponderous and slow, until we slipped back in the water and found ourselves agile again. But it is so long ago, as if in the memory of my ancestors, that I cannot fully remember, and the bite of grit on my hands as I hold onto massive, dense, and solid, is all I seem to feel anymore.
Sometimes I think of the white stoat we used to talk about. We both used to dream of it, remember? You first told me of it, and then I dreamed of it myself. A white stoat, a white stoat that embodied a coolness we have never felt in this dark, musty air. I have never even seen a stoat, and I guess you haven't either, but I still dream of it, and the cool, brisk air that it brings with it. An air that might have killed us in the waters of our pool, but for me now might just be cool enough to dampen the heat of this work, placing stone after stone each day.
And then I reached the top of the sky.
I could feel it more than see it as it grew closer that last day. Wisps came near to it and illuminated it: a heavy iron dome, rusting in the heat and moisture. It spreads for miles above our old pool, and I don't know how many years I've been climbing up to reach it. It must be nearly fifty years since I left. All that last day I looked up in awe, catching the occasional flash of light as I urged the rocks up and up.
And then I reached it. I touched it, drops of water condensed and ran on to my hand. I rapped my battered fingers against it and it made the softest 'ting' in the silence. I slept.
For days I stared up at the rusted black of the sky. There was nothing else to do.
I rapped on the metal. 'Ting', it said.
Then one day it said more. I could hear, on the edge of hearing, the faintest scratching. Then it wasn't on the edge of hearing, it was truly heard, if only from far away, scratching. It continued, off and on, for days. The wisps blew around me, and I listened and watched with my entire body. I finally figured out the direction of the sound, and I began to work my stones toward it, making a floor underneath this too-close sky. The scratches almost immediately began to move away and I was worried I had misjudged the direction; but though it never got closer, it was never further away. The stones were heavy as always and I made painfully slow progress, but it was progress.
Then I saw a metal bump in the metal sky. It began to get cooler as I got closer to this bump. More surprising, I saw a light I had never seen before, the light of my dreams: a white light, the white light that gleams off a white stoat. I only saw it reflected in motes of dust, but it was so very different from the soft blue light of the wisps.
And then I was there. At the bump the sky was torn, as if some great stone had broken through it, and I saw as I worked towards it a world beyond the sky, a world of white light.
And there, at the edge, was a white stoat. It looked over the edge now and again, and then would disappear for hours. But it seemed to be waiting for me.
I positioned the stones below the hole. At this point I was the coldest I had ever been; but the cool air gave me strength and I felt as if I had been tired all my life and only now was awake. I reached up, and there was the stoat, looking at me. I grabbed hold of this new earth and left behind forever the gray stone and black, rusted sky.
When I got up and beheld this new world, the stoat skittered off. I thanked him as I watched him go.
Above my head was another sky, this one a dark blue. A tiny star was above, very small, but solid; it did not move. And it lit this whole world: the wisps that came to the surface here could barely be seen, and my reflective skin was hidden while the star was up.
In fact this star did move, but not like the wisps: it was so slow that it was imperceptible, until it reached the horizon and disappeared. Then it was dark again, and I worried that I may never see that light again. In fact, though, it rose again; I had stayed up all night waiting for it, so I slept near the hole.
I cannot describe this world to you, because it has things you have never seen. Colors not seen under a rusted sky. My hole went through the rent iron, through a soft earth, to a world covered in colors. Things grow in every direction here, and they all seem to depend on the light.
The stoat returned today. It looked up at me, then turned away, then turned back again. I decided to follow it, and it took me to the edge.
The edge of a pool. But it was not water, it was harder than anything I have ever seen. The stoat walked very carefully out, and then it ran, and I saw that though it was not running any more, it continued to move. The surface was so slippery that it did not need to work to cross the pool. It slid on and on, until it disappeared.
It showed me what I needed to do.
I've carved my story into the stones, but they only go up. So I'll leave you to find your way up, and hope you'll see one day the ease and thrill of sliding across the open expanses. The stoat never returned, but he showed me what to do, and now I'll slide and slide, forgetting the grit and dirt and sweat and hesitation.