Shane had never seen the sun so bright and clear. It’s disk cast a crisp circle in the morning sky highlighting the reds and yellows of the horizon. As he sat on that bench taking in the beauty for the first time he couldn’t help but think back on the events leading him to that morning.

It had only been a month since he’d learned about the Upside. As he turned to look at his wife next to him calmly grasping her cup of tea, the steam rising to join the morning air, he knew he had made the right choice, the only choice. While dangerous at times and filled with deceit and pain he now stood on the cusp of something truly amazing, a new world. He didn’t know if he’d survive another day or week in this foreign place but to see things like the sun rising over the horizon made him think that for the first time in a long time anything was possible.

“I love you,” he paused and smiled at her. “I will always love you. But just promise me one thing.”

“Anything,” she said as she placed her head onto his shoulder.

“Promise me that you’ll never shoot at me or hold a gun to my head again,” he said. She leaned back smiling and gently punched him on the shoulder. Looking into his eyes she leaned in and kissed him. “I promise,” she said as she leaned into him looking again at the sun as it rose through the morning mist.

“How did they keep the Upside from us for so long?” she whispered. “How were we so blind to the world around us that we didn’t realize there was something more? Something beyond the ceiling of those blasted caverns.”

“Religion and years of lies are powerful, they can blind anyone to the truth,” he replied. “If we hadn’t stumbled upon the book we wouldn’t be standing here today.” He looked down at the book he was grasping so tightly in his hands. He slowly turned it over in his hands, gently brushing his fingers over its surface. The cover was torn and weathered so much that the title was barely legible. The lettering was distinct and beautiful, written with a precision and craftsmanship that was beyond that of his people.

Shane thought back to when he’d discovered the book …

Climbing upward was always forbidden. You’ll get too close to the gods the priests told them. You’ll be burned by the liquid fire the ancients sent to remind us where not to tread. He never really intended to cross the river of fire, he used to come here as a kid to see what it looked like. Now he just came here to clear his head, to ground himself after a long day of smarg hunting or plowing in the fields.

As he made his way along his usual route he was thinking of new ways he could outsmart those bloody smarg when he spotted it. He hadn’t ever seen it before, it was something new, something unusual. There on the other side of the river of fire was a container. Just inside a small cavern he’d never noticed he could see it. It’s surface was reflecting the light from above. As he looked up he noticed there were more Lichen above here than usual. Perhaps Fungi, the God of the Lichen was testing his dedication.

Or perhaps the Gods were showing him this to aid him in battling the smarg? He had to know what was in it. It obviously was put there for a reason. The gods wouldn’t have lightened this spot on this day had they not wanted him to see it. It was a sign he could not ignore.

Over the years Shane had thought of many ways to cross the river of fire but had never once tried, he knew better. Today was his chance to put his best idea to the test. He didn’t waste any time sprinting to the largest boulder he could find. Then he began to use his walking stick as a lever to roll it. It was a delicate operation and took many hours to navigate the boulder to the right position.

His idea was a simple one. Roll the boulder into the river and then use it as a platform of sorts to leapfrog to the other side of the river. He didn’t need much space but he knew he only had seconds to get to the other side and back before the fire from the river overtook the boulder. He only had one chance to perfectly roll and place that boulder.

He exhaled and quickly said a prayer to the God of the Lichen thanking him for this challenge and hoping he was worthy of the gift. He leaned into his walking stick and pushed with all of his might to start the boulder tumbling down the small incline. He needed enough force to roll it part of the way in but not so far that he couldn’t reach the boulder.

His timing and pressure was perfect as the boulder stopped precisely where he wanted. With little thought he was sprinting down the hill as the boulder was just coming to a rest and beginning to slowly sink. He skillfully leapt onto the boulder and with all of his strength and momentum he threw himself up and forward toward the bank on the other side of the river.

He landed hard wincing in pain as the stone tore at the flesh on his side. He didn’t have time to feel the pain however because the clock was ticking. He sprinted toward the cavern slightly staggering from the effects of the harsh landing. As he approached the cavern his heart was pounding and his hands were shaking. He reached for the container hoping to grab and go, sprinting back for the return leap. But what he didn’t plan on was what happened next.

As he grabbed at the shiny satchel resting there just inside the cavern entrance something fell from it. Stumbling to a stop and losing all momentum he reached down to quickly grab whatever had fallen. As his hands touched the surface he knew this was something special, an ancient book.

It’s surface was weathered and torn and it was made of a precisely cut and amazingly thin parchment. On its cover in the most beautiful script he’d ever seen read were the numbers … 1984.

Word Count: 1085

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