On the Crag

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On Stoners Crag, amid the wet wilderness and slumbering snails, lived a pixie by the name of Cerridwen. Her avocation was in preventing hikers and stragglers from joining the rocks which habitually tumbled down the cliff.

It was a thankless duty; she spent her days fortifying loose rocks just as wayward walkers placed their feet on them, creating ominous airs to deter risk-takers from uncharted paths, and sending up great gusts of wind to push them back from the edges they insisted on broaching.

All this she did without acknowledgment, but simply for the humans the elders were so fond of.

Despite the diligence with which Cerridwen approached her duty, there were those who slipped through the cracks. And when they fell, when they were no more, she joined the loved ones in their mourning, weeping and keeping vigil on the spot until an elder reminded her of her duty to the Crag. But even then, even when she resumed her fortifying of stones and defensive measures, she would return to those spots of bereavement – if only to lift the bloom of memorial flowers or protect notes from the rain.

It was early fall, and the sun was bright, though the elders warned of a heavy rain in the course of the day. No stranger to the fickle weather, she set out on her morning chores, flitting through the dips and folds of the hills, strengthening loosened stones while pushing others to fall while no one was there to be injured. Cerridwen shaved nettles from the paths and nudged lazy snails into the undergrowth as she waited.

Soon enough the humans began puffing their way up the path, slowed by inadequate feet and weighed down by packs and bags of all sorts. Cerridwen kept to the shadows, out of sight but ready to aid a wayward foot when needed.

She watched a gray-haired man slowly make his way up the steep crag. He wore trousers and a thick sweater the color of the taupe stones he climbed. Cerridwen paid particular attention to the elder humans for they tended to do quite a bit of stumbling. She watched as he stopped, took one of those black cubes from his bag, and snapped at the scenery; then he turned and snapped at the bouquet of flowers set against the stone, pausing to read the note before carrying on.

Cerridwen turned her attention to a young family coming up the other side. A mum and dad and two wee ones that the pixie paid special attention to, as they – like the elders – were unsteady of foot.

The girl’s fine, blond ringlets shimmered in the sun like autumn morning on a loch, and the boy’s fire hair was a beacon Cerridwen tracked with considerable care as the group clambered up the side of the Crag.

She went ahead of them, perching on a small stone at the top. The old human arrived first – red faced, breathing labored – as he scaled the final set of steps. He gave a loud sigh of victory as he took in the view.

It really was quite a splendid view, though Cerridwen, who’d never been anywhere else, tended to take it for granted. Rolling, green hills rippled out from the crag, and the great human city was spread out like a meadow of stone down below, stretching its limbs to the still waters in the distance.

The clouds were closing in as the young family managed the last bit of stone and mulch and made their way onto the summit. The dad gave a whoop of triumph, echoed by the higher, tinny voice of the boy.

Cerridwen stilled her wings and smiled as the children scampered about. The mum and dad were keeping them far from the edge, and so the pixie turned towards the old man who had descended onto a small ridge that jutted out the side of the cliff.

Cerridwen felt the crackle in the air, the spiky wind that brought storms in its wake. Looking up to the dark sky, she winced as the clap and boom rang out, startling the children to their mother’s side.

The rain fell, a heavy downpour that flattened the grass and soaked the humans. Cerridwen hovered around the gray-haired man, blowing short bursts of wind to aid him as he scurried back up to the summit. She saw the dad reach down a hand to help and breathed a sigh of relief when they all stood, safe, on the summit.

The wind shot across the flat, rain blowing, sharp as nettles, and the children began to wail. The sky was black, and a frightful tempest descended, tilting the humans this way and that. They moved towards the center, the old man huddling close to the family while Cerridwen fluttered about their feet, glaring at the clouds.

After some time the air calmed; the wind dropped to a breeze that barely lifted the wee girl’s curls. The clouds rolled on, and the rain died away.

The humans laughed – those short, halting laughs Cerridwen had come to recognize as relief. They agreed that descending was the wisest course, though the pixie – if she could communicate with the behemoths – would have advised staying put until the air cleared entirely.

But she couldn’t; and so Cerridwen watched and hovered as the five inched their way down. She could still feel the crackle of the passing storm and worried the tempest was merely resting.

She fluttered in the humans’ wake, keeping her eyes on the wee ones who seemed to have recovered entirely from their earlier fright and were hopping from patch to patch.

It all made Cerridwen terribly nervous, and she was torn between wishing they’d remained on the summit and wanting them off the crag.

It happened too fast and yet, to the pixie, time seemed suspended. As Cerridwen glanced a few paces back at the gray-haired man, he stumbled on wet earth and tumbled off the edge with a harsh, plaintive cry. Her wings buzzed and she turned to halt his fall, pausing when a piercing scream rang out. Turning in place, she saw the mum and dad rush to the edge where the wee girl had slipped.

Cerridwen, moving too fast to be seen, flew out over the face of the crag. Her head whipped between the old man and the girl. Both were in perilous positions; the old man, injured, was slipping further down. A bit more and he would reach the second edge, after which it was a straight fall to the rocks below. The wee girl was in more danger as she was lighter and was rapidly drawing nearer the drop.

As Cerridwen tried to work out a way to get them both, a spark ignited at her side.

‘Just the man,’ the elder pixie said, barely glancing to the falling humans.

She knew the folly of questioning the elders, but couldn’t help protesting, ‘I can get them both.’

Sharp, emerald eyes flared from an indistinct face. ‘Just the one today. Take the man.’

She watched as the two humans slid further. The dad was scrambling down after the girl, but Cerridwen knew he wouldn’t reach her.

With a high sob of despair, she beat her wings towards the gray-haired man, blowing a wind up his back to plaster him to the stone. He managed to grab hold of the rocks, and Cerridwen set about fortifying the ground beneath him, trying to ignore the high-pitched scream of the falling babe and subsequent wails of the mother.

***

It was a dark and wet night, and the train was due any minute. The old man pulled his taupe tweed tighter across his midriff.

The platform was a riot of sound, full of screeching youth and booming conductors. He’d had a long and fretful journey and wished for nothing more than a cuppa before the fire.

He sighed and leaned on his umbrella, looking down the tracks at the train lights. He glared at the screaming children weaving in and out of the crowd and wondered whether they ought not be leashed as people were compelled to do in the case of their – often better behaved – dogs.

The train whistled its approach; the sound mingled with that of a high scream to produce a most unholy utterance. The old man’s eyes widened as a wee girl tumbled off the platform, her red ringlets igniting like flames in the train’s lights.

The approaching behemoth whistled again in distress as the girl’s mother leaned over the edge for the daughter she couldn’t reach while others on the platform screamed for help.

The old man stepped over, dropping to his knees, which popped in protest, and leaned over. He held the umbrella handle out to the child. Tears ran down her cheeks, but she grabbed on, screaming as the train whistled louder, its lights bringing into focus the stark terror in her blue eyes.

He pulled on his end, and aided by hands appearing at his side, they lifted the girl onto the platform and into her weeping mother’s arms.

***

The great behemoth rolled through the flatlands, giving off a lazy burst of steam. It was later than usual, the pixie thought, looking up into the impenetrable night.

The air crackled around her, but it was of little consequence as the gentle slopes and knotty hedges were of no interest to humans.

At the foot of Stoners Crag, amid the wet wilderness and slumbering snails, lives a pixie by the name of Cerridwen.

Her penance lies in shaving nettles from the paths and lifting the blooms of wildflowers.

Copyright © 2012 Layla AlAmmar