Ripe for the Picking
Oliver stood at the edge of the world the cold wind pulled and tugged at his hair and he wrapped his coat tighter around himself, as if the thin material would be a barrier to the biting chill that mother nature gloried at here. He stared down at the dark, stormy water; his toes instinctively curled in his shoes, as if trying to grip the edge of the cliff on which he stood, through the tough soles.
He scanned to the left, and then right, and the world was only water. Behind, down the hill he had climbed to reach the cliff, that the residents of Pendu Plat called the end of the world, sat the sleepy town that clung to the cliff edge – at a somewhat healthy distance.
The sky was darkening, turning the same grey-bruised colour as the water far below. Oliver stood still and rigid against the buffeting wind awaiting the call. Before he even heard the voice call out his name he had turned and started to move back down the narrow winding path that lead to the cliff edge.
He strode past Margil without so much as a glance. “I know, I know,” he said, irritated, waving a hand behind him in Margil’s direction.
He heard Margil’s foot steps follow closely behind him. The dirt path transformed into stones as the buildings sprouted up on either side – squat, stocky buildings, huddling together as if sheltering from the wind that tortured anything foolish enough to live along the cliffs of the coast of the Empire.
“What were you doing?” Margil’s words were dragged away with the wind, so Oliver had a hard time hearing him.
A pocket watch was thrust into Oliver’s face from behind him.
“You’re almost late!” Margil said, anxious.
Oliver whirled around, causing Margil to take a step back, quickly, tripping on one of the large unevenly spaced cobble stones. “I said, I know!” he shouted over the groan of the wind which had increased.
“But-“ Margil started. Oliver ignored him and picked up his pace.
He pulled his pocket watch out from the small pocket his vest. “I know I’m late for court,” he said to himself, the wind hiding his words from anyone nearby.
He pounded up the hard, wide steps of the building. The marble above, supported by rows of columns stated the obvious in deeply carved letters: Court Pendu Plat.
His feet slapped loudly against the smooth shining marble and then pushed the large wooden doors open with a bang. A roomful of faces looked sharply in his direction.
A man, raised above them all from a chair on a dais, stared down, glaring at Oliver over thin-rimmed narrow glasses.
“What is the meaning of this, Mr Cargill?” Judge Superior Martingale said, his voice clipped with barely contained anger.
Oliver had no excuse, and said so. The edge of the world called to him, and he lost track of time when looking out at the water stretching to the horizon and beyond.
“You do realize what day it is, Cargill?” Martingale said.
Oliver nodded. He did indeed. Everyone in town knew what today was. Today was the day that Pendu Plat disappeared. It was being wiped from all maps in the Empire. People believed it was cursed. Probably because a large number of people died, or disappeared from Pendu Plat. Most, Oliver thought, flung themselves from the cliffs in the dark of night. After all, it wasn’t the town’s fault where it was situated, was it?
The founder, someone by the name of Plat of course, though Oliver couldn’t remember who exactly, he had little interest in history had his reasons for placing a town in such an isolated part of the country.
People disappeared, it was true, but how was erasing the town’s existence on everything from maps, to pamphlets, to road signs that lead carriage here going to stop that? Oliver wondered as he took his seat at the table on the right hand side of the court room. It wasn’t just visitors to the town that seemed to disappear, but residents as well. People who claimed to hear voices, calling to them on the wind, from the waters below. Sometimes, people whispered in hushed tones in taverns, they heard singing. Singing or wailing, it was hard to differentiate.
That’s what Oliver heard, anyway. The singing. He glanced to the table situated a few feet away from the one at which he sat, and looked at the large man sitting in the chair too small for him. The man he was fighting against. It was a cool day, but the man, a representative for one of the founding family members of Pendu Plat, was sweating profusely. He stood and cleared his throat. “The reputation of our town has been tarnished. We need to erase it from people’s memories. Doing that will save lives.”
Oliver smiled widely and bit back a laugh. “No, it won’t.” The court room faces turned to stare at him as one. “We shouldn’t hide. We should be proud. We should encourage visitors!”
A voice piped up from somewhere in the back of the room. “But people are dying.”
Oliver raised a finger, halting the person from saying more. “No. People are disappearing. There’s a difference. Pendu Plat has been chosen.”
“Chosen?” Judge Martingale and the Plat family representative said at the same time, confusion etched on their faces.
“Yes,” Oliver said confidently. “Come, let me show you,” he said moving toward the tall double doors before anyone had a chance to respond. Margil hovered anxiously at the door and followed Oliver, taking the place of his shadow.
“Where are you going?” Margil said as Oliver strode swiftly up the narrow, winding path towards the end of the world.
“I’m going to prove a point,” he said, clearly, fighting the tremor in his voice. He reached the edge, his toes instinctively curling in his shoes. A pebble fell.
He turned and faced the assembled faces of the court staring back at him.
He waited, listening, until he heard it. A high keening sound.
“Listen.” He cupped a hand to his ear. “They’re singing,” he said, as he faced them all, and then leaned backwards, letting the wind catch him in its arms.