Jim Thorpe ambles up the gentle incline, over moss-covered rocks and old, fungally-inclined logs. Cresting the hill, he stares down the sharp cliff into the great twisting valley below. Fields of trees like bushy dots on a green canvas far below him, moss and grass and other such things blanketing all he can see, to the horizon and beyond. He wipes a sorrowful tear from his eye, and begins to walk along the cliff-edge.

‘Why so glum, friend?’ Asks a passing badger, slowing to take the air with the wandering man.

‘Look at it all, down there. There is nothing but life. Green and great and beautiful.’ He mutters.

‘Not all that grows is green, chum! I’m black and white, for instance, and I’ve met a bear who was bright brown! Anyway, why should such a prosperity of life be so depressing to you?’

‘It’s not, it’s not. It’s what it means, what it represents.’

‘Life? Not sure I follow, friend.’

‘You don’t need to.’

They slowly circle a huge oak tree. Its thick trunk stretches out over the precipice, and roots dangle from the earth below. As they disturb the serenity, a few more grains of dirt fall into the abyss below.

‘I’d like to, but fine. Why’re you up here, anyway? Why come here? This is an old place, human.’

‘Why not?’ Jim retorts, glancing down at the furry creature with which he is conversing.

‘OK, you’ve got me there. But why? What purpose does this place serve, to you at least? This behaviour is unlike your kind.’

‘My kind?’

‘Right. Sorry.’

‘I’m it, badger. I’m the last one. What purpose is there anywhere for me, when I am the very last of my kind?’

‘Well then perhaps your purpose is to live. Just to live; to live out your days in whatever manner you deem best.’

‘I’m not sure I agree.’

They pass a bed of flowers, propagated naturally by a small bluff of stone, gathering wind and throwing seedlings hither and thither.

‘I’m sorry, human. Your people didn’t deserve what happened to them.’

‘They deserved every last thing that happened. We all did. We almost tore this world apart at the seams; we almost took all your old places from you.’

‘But you didn’t, so it’s OK.’ The badger whispers, looking at the last sorrowful man.

‘No, we didn’t. We tore ourselves apart first, and when the dust settled I was all that remained.’

‘Aye. So now you’re here. Why is that again? Why come here at all?’

‘Again, why not?’

‘Your people rarely frequented this place. Why now?’

‘Look down, badger. This place, this old place, it is unequivocally yours. Moss and grass and plants and life have prospered here, in this little sanctuary.’

‘Yes, the old places are our dearest treasures. I love my little home, here.’

They arrive at an outcrop, a sharp stone jutting out into the sky and falling away with the cliff to the oblivion below.

‘This place will grow now, badger. You know that, right? Your old places will grow and prosper and spread in ways you can’t imagine. Soon there’ll not be a place on Earth that isn’t like this.’

‘Perhaps. Your people’s influence was great, it’s true. Now they’re gone I imagine a lot will change. But you’ve not answered my question, human, why are you here?’

‘I like you, badger. But had I been born to one of the old places, had I been born inhuman, I think I’d have liked to be a bird. I do so like the wind.’

The man walks slowly away from the cliffs edge, and the badger follows. The man continues to speak, ‘My people are gone, badger, and they aren’t coming back. I am the last memory of what we were; what we did.’

‘Human…’ The badger pauses, ‘You are not your people. You cannot place their weight on your shoulders.’

‘I don’t. I am not what they were; but I am still a part of them. I am the last tether you and your old places have to what was. To what we were.’

‘I don’t follow.’

‘Soon, your old places will stretch across the world. I’d love to see it, badger, but that pleasure is yours, not mine. It’s time to stop placing new tread marks on our legacy. It’s time for new things. New places.’

‘Human, what are you saying?’

‘That is why I came to this place; to see what it will be like. To taste the air of your new kingdom. And perhaps to fly, just once.’

Jim Thorpe turns about on his heels to face the outcrop over the cliff, and begins to run.


Illustration by Merle Made Tales

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