The Edge of the World
Summary: To baby, it is beyond him, much greater than him, and therefore a god… Beyond the veil, there is fire. First place winner of the November Literary Magazine.
Disclaimer: I own this take on possibly one of the most-used oneshot topics in YYH history, but not YYH itself or anyone within, thank heaven.
'The Edge of the World' received first place in the November Literary Magazine prompt challenge under the title of 'Baby'. Text has been edited slightly from its original submission parameters.
Author's Note: Taking shameless advantage of the November prompt 'red', I removed names and references out of a story I had floating around in my head, crossed my fingers, and hoped neither of the editors were YYH fans, because Kokoro recognized who I was writing about right off. She did, however, encourage me to post this. As if every YYH fan in history hasn't considered, tried, or succeeded at taking a shot at this topic, I end up adding my subjective piece 'The Edge of the World'. All right, enough of this…
ON WITH THE SHOW!
Baby knows the world is evil. Mama has told him so.
The first full phrase he learns at his mother's breast is this: 'people are evil and will hurt you if they find you'. He will remember this for all his life. He knows the world stops at the walls. Outside the walls the world is waiting to catch him, and he snuggles into his mother's embrace as an extra shield against what monsters may be lurking beyond their home.
Baby has never seen a monster, and he has never seen an animal, so baby thinks of the monsters in his fuzzy, milk-saturated vision as cold. They have no shapes but they are cold. Baby is not often cold. There is a small, pale fire burning in the main room, and no matter how far he is from it, he does not get cold. In the other room, where he and sister and mama sleep all together and warm, there are heavy blankets and mama's warmth. But he remembers, because it hurt, when he was very little, and very sick, and was cold. But then he had mama, and his twin sister, and Grandma, to warm him.
In baby's universe, there are four people. There is himself, and he is fun. Has ever a child been so entertained within himself? The baby plays for hours with his toes, or with learning to crawl, and then learning to walk. Baby watches the ceiling and wonders vaguely how it got there, and how it doesn't fall down to the soft pale rug like he does when he tries to walk like mama and grandma.
Baby cries but little, for when he does, mama is afraid, and tells him not to let the monsters hear him. So he does not cry, and he is slow to learn to speak, for he does not want the demons to come and make him cold. When he does weep, mama makes the world smaller and he sleeps within her arms, or grandma's arms. Mama cuddles him, and his twin sister, and her children pat each other quiet and play meaningless games. They giggle together, but even this is muffled, because if the monsters hear the children laughing, they will come to see who is having so much fun.
If baby has a name, he has forgotten what it is, for mama never calls him or his sister by their given names. To her they are 'baby' and 'angel' and that will do, for when there are only three other people in your world, one doesn't need names. All baby needs to know is that he loves his mother and his sister and they love him. And baby is happy.
Baby has beaten the darkness and the ice without even trying. Because the endless world outside is full of hate and evil, but the little world in here is warm and filled with love.
Baby reaches for the fire, blazing whitely with just the slightest tinge of gold, through the formerly polished grille, now flaked with ashes, looking for something he has no words to express. Before his tiny, reaching hand, the flames seem to grow larger when seen through the narrow view of the grille, stretching a hand of its own back.
Sister watches him, sitting up precariously, wide eyes as blue as the rug, and much cleaner, for it is, after all, a house with two active babies. Her plump infant lips part in awe as she stares at her beloved twin.
And baby learns a new word that day, though he is miraculously unburned. That word is 'dangerous' and it is something he is NOT to do. Mama reinforces this with the statement with 'Dangerous is like the world, baby dearest. It will hurt you.'
Baby is older now, and has learned to walk and to speak a few words, and with this comes a new rule.
On the growing list of things that are evil, and bad, and wrong, and dangerous, is put doors, now that they can reach. Doors to the outside world will let in the monsters. Mama assures them (and grandma agrees) that the monsters will reach in through the open door and drag whichever silly child dares to pull on that handle out into the malicious, hurtful world.
The only person allowed to go through the door is grandma, who braves the outside world before the candles that serve to illuminate their home are put out and comes back when they are lit again. When she opens the door, cold reaches in. The monsters grope for baby, and baby learns to hide when the door opens, because that is when the monsters come for him.
So baby hides. Baby is silent. And baby watches the world within the walls and wonders.
Mama holds her babies, and sings to them, and tells them forever of how dangerous the world is. And baby and his twin believe her, for if they knew the word, mama would be God. She knows everything.
But baby is curious. Baby is reckless. And the same impulse that led him to reach for the golden fire leads him to reach out again, for the dreaded door.
Behind him, sister toddles frantically, reaching for his clothes with clumsy hands. She is scared. Brother is leaving! He is going where the monsters will get him!
Balancing carefully on unsteady feet, baby turns around and stumbles. He uses the fall to catch his sister and hug her. He assures her in child's words that he won't let the monsters find him.
Sister stares at him, thumb in her mouth and eyes rounder than twin moons that baby has never seen, as he leans on the door and reaches upward for the handle. And baby turns the doorknob, and totters into the cold.
The demons of cold swirl all around him, and before he can lose his nerve, the door swings shut behind him, blown by the wind. His escape thus cut off, he gathers all his innocent courage and sets off into the snow. The cold doesn't seem to bite at him as much as it did in that first shocked second.
He doesn't know it's called snow, of course. There are plenty of things that he doesn't know the names of. But he catches some of it, and stares in helpless surprise and awe as it melts almost instantly in his warm hands. A grin spreading across his face, he scoops some more from a heap of the stuff and enjoys the power of the white stuff vanishing at his command. Thus is power, and baby learns how much fun it is to control your surroundings.
All around him, shapes loom up as the wind dies slightly, and he quivers with fear, falling back to all fours and curling into a ball with terror. But as a few rapid heartbeats pass, he realizes that he has not been struck, and looks up in curiosity. Realizing that the monsters that scared him so are only walls much like the outside wall of his own home, he giggles in relief and keeps going.
No longer afraid of the walls, seemingly immune to the cold, he stumbles on as the snowstorm begins to abate. And at the end of the village, he finds the edge of the world.
Past the cliff, there is nothing. Nothing at all. Baffled at this, he sits down with a thump and stares in helpless reverence at the void. Past the edge, clouds boil slowly. Below them, there is a land that moves. It trembles and shudders and is grey and blue like the storm.
Baby does not know the word sea. Is it a thing? Or a place? To baby, it is beyond him, much greater than him, and therefore a god.
He could have sat there forever despite snow melting around him, soaking the seat of his pants, even though he hates being wet more than anything, had not a miracle to trump all miracles occurred.
The clouds that had hidden the sky are finally blown away by the fleeing, spent storm. Past the clouds that he had previously thought defined the end of all things is the greatest god baby will ever know.
Beyond the veil, there is fire.
No tame fire this, tinged with gold and orange over pale, pale white, kept behind bars and slave to the living, to be moved at their whim to candles and such, and put out as they will. This is pure and elemental and brightest, richest red. Intricate and powerful, it lances into his eyes brighter than anything he has ever known, but baby does not blink. Baby holds his breath for fear of blowing the red fire away, but knows that nothing he can do can ever tame this fire.
But baby wants to own the fire. The red must belong to him. In his child's mind, he vows to hold the red and make it his forever. Baby will conquer the sun.
Suddenly frightened lest the fire should hear him, he leaps to his feet and flees from the edge of the world, promising himself even as he does to learn to master the red. Baby loves the red.
And as he enters the village again, passing the snow-shrouded houses, baby's fear is made complete as a giant looms in the distance. It looks like mama or grandma, but is neither, and baby panics. On top of the red, the idea that there might be other people beside his family is inconceivable, and he dashes to the house he remembers as his, half running and half crawling, scrabbling at the door until it opens again, and does not emerge from beneath the heavy bedcovers even when sister wobbles in demanding to know what's wrong.
The very next day, baby is condemned to die.
Baby sits on mama's lap as sister dozes in her arms, looking at the little fire and wondering how he could have ever wanted to touch that insignificant glow now that he has seen the red. Mama cradles her children and hums a quiet song.
All three look up as the door slams open and the cold rushes in, bringing with it wind and snow incarnate. Like grandma but colder and harder, they snap words baby doesn't know, all but a few. He knows 'bad' and 'children'. In terror, he clings to his mother, and he does not see the hands that rip him away from her, but he does hear mama's screams as her children are taken away.
Ice and snow and the cold assail him, and the former two melt away at his command. If he looks for approval, he will find none, for the demons hiss in fury. Surrounded by them with only his sister for company, they cling together, an island of mutual fear in the midst of hatred.
He does not understand the words, but he will remember them, and repeat them to himself in order that someday he will know what they mean. He comprehends when his given name is demanded from mama, but when she gives it and his sister's to the unforgiving circle, they do not use it, but only 'this thing'. Baby trembles, and is afraid. For the first time, within baby burns a small flame of hate. The flame is red.
The verdict is pronounced, and his mother is taken away, weeping and screaming her children's names, pleading to no avail. If he lives to translate it, baby will remember that her death is only suspended, for a girl-child needs her mother until she matures. Then mama will be taken away forever.
And baby? Baby receives no extra time. Sister, already weeping to match her mother's tears, begins to scream in a child's high pitch as her brother, too, is ripped from her arms and carried away. Her cries follow him, and this too he remembers for always.
Baby falls through the void at the edge of the world, and his eyes reflect the redness in the sky—red as blood, red as fire.
Afterword: Well, apparently no one in the Literary Magazine, writers or staff, is an YYH fan. Everyone had their own interpretation, and I got all-around approval. Even my mom likes it. I must confess: I didn't have the heart to tell them the truth…
If enough people like this, I'll try for the other two-thirds of the miniseries, which are titled but indefinite at this time. My serious YYH fic is almost ready to broadcast, so stay tuned.