Chapter 1 The Failure
No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible. – Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
He took one step forward. It did not land firmly on the ground. It wobbled. Had he stumbled on a stone? He was very tired. But no, it was not his foot trembling, it was the whole world. He shot a worried look up. Overhead an eagle tipped its wing to him and gave a shrill cry. “Warning!” Looking to the right, he could see nothing but gray, unyielding rock. It was a very steep overhang he was walking under. Was there another earthquake about to happen? They seemed to be coming more frequently these days. Better to keep going and get past this cliff as quickly as possible. He waved to the eagle and stepped up his pace, walking as fast as the uneven ground would let him.
The rosy sun had just begun to peek out over the mountain when Mr. Kruger, the head of the orphanage, had shaken him awake that morning. “Get up,” he had said, “It’s time you were starting off.” The long, thin fingers dug into his arm.
Nemo rose and pulled on his jacket; it was still chilly for spring. Mr. Kruger was next to his bed; arms folded impatiently. “The cart is waiting for you outside. Here’s the package. Don’t mess this up.” Nemo nodded and quickly put on his shoes.
He went outside to find the horse and cart was saddled up and ready to go. He had approached the cart warily. A heavy-set man in a dark green, padded vest sat on the bench with the reins in his hand. Mr. Grantle. He didn’t give any sign that he had seen Nemo. Probably still unnerved about the incident with the cow. Nemo crossed behind the cart and began to clamber onto the bench next to the man, when Mr. Grantle gave a quick jerk of his head and pointed a fat thumb behind him to the pile of hay in the back. Nemo realized that he was not going to be allowed to sit next him. Instead he would have to ride in the back; invisible as usual. Or as nearly invisible as they could make him.
Nemo barely had time to scramble into the itchy hay before the cart took off with a stagger. All that day he had bumped up and down and swayed side to side as they journeyed to Medford. All the while Nemo clutched the precious package. Mr. Grantle never turned around to see if Nemo was still on board. Never said a word.
At noon, he had pulled over to the side of the road and climbed down. Taking a picnic basket from under the bench, he sat down on a grassy verge and began to unpack a lunch, slowly eating it. Nemo felt parched, but knew it was no good asking for anything. He had climbed down stiffly, feeling like a rug after its been beaten by a carpet cleaner, and made his way to a small stream nearby. A cool drink later he heard neighing. “Leaving!” it signaled. Mr. Grantle would probably depart without Nemo, payment or not, if he didn’t hurry and get back on. Sure enough, Nemo had barely grabbed hold of the back of the cart before the horse began pulling forward. As the cart lurched, he fell face down into the sweet-smelling, spiky hay.
All the long day, the mountains drew closer. The driver had stopped once more to rest, but Nemo hadn’t dared get out for fear he’d be forced to walk. At last they came to a staggering halt at the bottom of a very high cliff. A thin, erosion-carved path was visible passing under the impending crag. “Get out,” rumbled the driver.
“H-h-here?” Nemo had asked. “How much further to Medford?” his almond-shaped eyes widened in worry. He knew there was a short expanse of desert to cross as well. What if he didn’t make it in time?
Mr. Grantle didn’t answer. He just jerked his thumb in the direction of the path and waited silently, as still as the stones around them. Nemo climbed down and jumped quickly to the side as the cart turned around. “Presbyter says your good at getting things done, so, yeah, here,” he muttered over his shoulder. Nemo was left standing alone with his package.
Hours later, Nemo was still trudging through the mountain pass. Ahead was the city of Medford in a shallow, oasis valley. He was almost there. Once out of the pass, only an hour’s walk through the dry desert-like terrain separated him from his goal. Looking down, he could see his dirty toes sticking through the thin, leather tops of his shoes. A large, gray lizard scuttled up and paused looking at him. “It’s coming,” it seemed to say and then hurried on. He scanned the sky with anxious eyes. After all, an animal that could lick its own eyeball shouldn’t be ignored. The sky was filling with dark clouds. He could detect a pungent zing in the air. Nemo felt like the world was closing in on him. If only he could get past this steep cliff.
Suddenly, the earth gave a mighty shake knocking his feet out from under him. Splayed out on the ground he thought, “I must not stop!” He clambered up using the nearby stones as support, panting and looking around with wide-eyed fear. He could see little trails of stone and dust tumbling down the cliff side. A gray-furred pika frozen next to his hand mirrored his apprehension, “One of those boulders might fall!” The ground continued to rumble like an angry tummy, just on the verge of an upset. Still clutching the stones, he half crawled, half jogged on. “I must hurry.”
The overcast sky loomed above. “If the mountain were to fall, it might be days before I was freed. Then, I would be too late.” He had an important task, given to him by the Presbyter of his village. He had not been chosen because he was strong or mighty or from an influential family. No, not at all. In fact, he was Nemo, a nobody; a foundling left on the doorstep of the chapel. No one knew who his parents were or if he had any family. No one really cared. He was a burden, someone to be tolerated; just barely. As he walked he wondered why he had been picked. The Presbyter’s son had been busy repairing their earthquake-damaged barn, it’s true. He fantasized that he was selected because he had a knack for completing difficult jobs. He ignored the ugly word “expendable” that was beating its wings in the air. “I must not fail!”
All the Presbyters were being required to send their G.L.O.B.E.s, or Glowing Light Orb of Ballot Eligibility, to the capital to show they were entitled to vote. The G.L.O.B.E had to arrive in Medford seven days before any election to be verified. To be late, or horrors, not arrive at all, would make the Presbyter of Wickliffe ineligible. A special election was being held for Validian to decide if it wanted to join the United Continental Congress. Nemo had been chosen to take Wickliffe’s G.L.O.B.E. to Medford.
No one else could be spared, everyone was still clearing up after the earthquake. Maybe it was just desperation that made them choose him, but he was going to seize this opportunity and turn things around. Being successful might make the village think more kindly of him. “I know I can do this,” he thought. Day dreams of adoption by some kindly couple dazzled by his amazing success danced in his head.
Another jerk of the earth and more loose stones tumbled down the mountain face. Now a loud rumbling could be heard overhead. The eagle, the lizards, all the animals were gone. The sky was filled with cloud, dust and haze. The earth vibrated like a stringed instrument being plucked. The rumbling became a roar. “I must not fail! I must not fail!” muttered Nemo knocked down to his knees with his arms over his head.
But it was not to be. With a terrible crash, trees, rocks, stones and dust plummeted down burying the path, Nemo and everything.
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