After a week of complaints, he was found dead in his bedroom.
Dreams of falling had plagued him all that time, his roommate told them. It had woken him up. He was afraid of hitting the ground. The roommate had told him to talk to someone about it – maybe it was caused by stress. He had an appointment set up for tomorrow.
She wished she had a cigarette to bite down on. Not because she smoked, but because she felt the need to fit a role she wasn’t filling right now. “What caused this, doctor?”
The coroner looked up at her, then at the ceiling. She could jump up and reach it, it wasn’t a big room. “Falling.”
The mangled body said he had fallen from a vast height, hitting the floor of his room fast. All evidence pointed to that.
Except for the fact there was a ceiling here.
The ash had fallen for month, piling up like snow. They wore a kerchief over their mouth, often wet to catch the ash before it could enter their mouth. The water dripped down their chin. They didn’t remember the last time they were dry. They didn’t remember the last time they had breathed good air.
“Is the mountain going to fall down?” their friend asked, as they had every morning.
They pushed the branches aside, ash sliding off to float to the ground, as it had every time the branches moved. They looked out, as though the mountain might actually move. It stood there, silent. As silent as the ash.
They tried not to swallow. Water, ash. Tired of both. “Not today.”
When the rain fell, he fell too. Not as prettily, mind you, with more a splat than a drip, but if anyone had said that to him he would have been appalled. Right now he was more appalled because of the rain falling on his head than anything else. He knew it was an instinctual reaction, when he really should have been more worried about the ground and how he had landed on it.
He could hear them shouting above him, from the window. He debated getting back up, but if he moved at all they might come out after him. Instead of risking that, he remained exactly where he had fallen, loathing each raindrop which landed on his back, in his hair.
It wasn’t too long before the other man arrived. His voice almost sounded panicked, until he reached his side. “Wha… you’re all right?”
“Darling, you look a mess.” He pushed himself up to his knees. “My outfit’s ruined.”
The merchant scowled, checking him over despite pretending to seem unconcerned. “Your outfit will be more than ruined when I’m through with you! You were all right and you just lay there?”
He shrugged. “You don’t look like that much of a mess.”
They got out of the rain, all he needed. Other than that, it was just another Tuesday.
The night was not dark or stormy. If it had been, perhaps they would have been more careful. As it was, the three of them stumbled right into the hole and fell.
The eldest’s lantern broke, the middle’s extinguished, but the youngest’s light still shone. Mainly because she broke its fall by bashing her own head against the ground. The world swayed around her.
“Are you all right?” the middle sibling asked. He brushed his hands over her hair, coming away with blood. He grimaced.
“Take her light,” the eldest instructed. He did so. She wanted to protest, but her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.
Her eldest sibling picked her up. Cradled in their arms, she felt all arguments fall from her mind, replaced by a new sense of clarity.
“Can we climb back up?”
“Not like this. We search for another way.”
It’s just a hole, she wanted to say. But as she felt them walk, continue to walk away, she realized it couldn’t be a mere hole in the ground.
They had found the entrance to the Vault.
To defy all expectations, she stepped off the roof. It was cold, falling through the air, the drag of it stinging her cheeks and eyes. There had been no time to hear the sounds of shock and protest from those she had left above. Once her choice had been made, she had decided that she would simply act upon it. Not her usual action, but perhaps they would later forgive her.
She approached the ground quickly. It took a lot of effort not to shut her eyes.
With a smile, she turned herself upright and placed her feet on the ground. She checked the armlets that had been strapped on both wrists. What did they know, it worked just as she had told them it would. Looking up, she saw someone following after, though they were just an increasingly larger and larger silhouette in the dawn light, swooping down on her.
She would get an earful, but it would be worth it. And they all knew it.