Word Count: 476
The Reluctant Funambulist
By Maggie Robertson
I stand on the precipice and eye the single rope that stretches across the valley. This rope is our village’s sole connection to the rest of the world, and our protection from it. Our village cannot be reached any other way, which is the precise reason our ancestors’ chose this location. The isolation is by design and at times unbearable. Almost nobody can visit us.
The rope is our protection, our ancestors’ plan to keep our village safe. There is no way to cross it quickly; one strike with the ax and would-be marauders plummet to their deaths. Of course, getting the line back in place is no small feat, and could take weeks to restore our connection.
At the same time it provides protection, it makes our village vulnerable. One individual with nefarious intent can cut us off for weeks, so it is important that our reserves are well-stocked. We need to be self-reliant for those times when the outside world becomes hostile.
From a young age, every member of our village must become a funambulist. We are required to cross that rope for any connection to the outside world, to get any supplies we cannot produce ourselves, to freshen our gene pool. When our children come of age, they must cross that line to attend secondary school. I remember balancing over that valley, one foot in front of the other, my books cinched tight on my back so they would not shift out of balance. I could cross without even thinking about the height. I think it must be akin to how a soldier keeps fighting, by not looking down at the humanity below the battle. Sometimes in the morning the valley mist would make the rope damp, and shroud the entire world. In the evening, we hurried to return before dark, weary, sometimes with the extra supplies that were needed for home.
Once I tried to bring a friend home with me after school. She pleaded with me, begged to come home with me. She assured me, swore to me, she could walk across that rope. Despite my better judgment, and a lifetime of my Elder’s warnings against such temptations, I acquiesced. My friend lied to me.
I have not crossed the line in years. Fear now grips my soul, and this treacherous bridge does not tolerate fear. Now, I fear I cannot delay any longer. The message came a while ago: I am needed on the other side. I look down. I stare into the abyss. I long for connection, but I wonder, do I even remember how?
I take a tentative step, and slide forward. A sudden gust of wind whips across the valley and pushes me out of balance. I lunge back to the safety of solid ground, the security of self-imposed isolation. Message be damned, the world will wait.