The Edge of the World

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Over the next ten days we will be publishing the ten finalists from the 2024 Voorheesville Short Story Contest. The theme of this year’s contest was “But There’s a Catch.” This, the third of our ten finalist stories, made it to the final round of judging with our guest judge, Laurin Jefferson. Today, enjoy Nate Reno’s story, “The Edge of the World.”

The edge of the world feels cold and still. Soft gusts of wind dance on the ice and carry its loosest shards in the air. The frigid sky glows with opaque emerald light, and purple smolders slip through, scattered across the floating sea of green. Behind me is an endless glacier, soaking in the boreal heavens and gleaming all the way to the horizon. Ahead of me is the end of everything. 

The edge of the world. 

When the vast expanse of ice comes to an end, it converges into a thin berg and falters. Past that is an infinite ocean of bright, ceaseless light. It doesn’t seem to have a surface, or a center, or anything that would define it as a physical “thing”. It is simply an unending field of light, radiating from itself, like a sort of bottomless, vacant space. Not like an abyss, because an abyss is dark and frightening and suffocating, but more like a stretched out oasis, radiating warmth and homeliness. It’s as bright as the sun itself and white like the tops of mountains, yet it doesn’t hurt my eyes to look at. Instead, it brings me peace, standing at the edge and peering down.

I think back to before my journey here. So many moments that led me to this dry, frozen tundra. I think about growing up in my hometown, with my grandma. I remember all the little moments, like going fishing, driving down to Salt Lake City for vacation, Ma’s funeral… I think about making friends in kindergarten, and middle school, and everyone who’s come and gone and stuck by throughout the years. 

One time, a couple years ago, I went hiking with my friend Peter in a lush, overgrown valley. We journeyed along the trail through the forest until the trees parted to reveal a vast field of white, lavish dandelions, coating the grass with pale tranquility. I walked through the field for a minute, letting the flowers brush and caress my ankles. As I bent down to study them further, a large gust of wind ripped through the field and snatched the seeds up, casting them into the sky. I watched them frolic in the air until they blew out of sight, raining life down on a new home; once devoid of breath, now polluted with hope. I remember the moment as one of the last times I felt content, happy, at peace. I wonder what Peter is up to right now. Maybe he would try to stop me if he knew what I was doing.

I bring my knees to my chin and place my hands on the cold rough ice, sit down, and then hang my legs off the lip of the surface and let them sway above the light. It feels comforting to tease the gravity with my body, and already I feel its weight being too great for my mind. All my thoughts and worries and guilt pour from my brain and wash out through my ears and nose down into the pool of light, and my head becomes as weightless as a balloon. I lean forward slightly, and feel the light beckon me as I gaze upon it, and the pressure of the green sky massaging my back, and the wind whispering guidance to me.

As I stand back up, I hear a slink echo beneath my ears, and I feel a new weight not in my head, but around my arms. I turn around, and see what’s holding me back. Iron links wrap around my arms from my wrists to my shoulders. The ends are split up in different directions. The chains drag along the ice for long enough that I can only see blurry silhouettes of what they’re attached to on the other end through the dusty winds. Pale figures stand motionless across from me, their unintelligible faces pointed in my direction. Something compels me to get a better view, so I start to move forward, my focus slowly dissecting the contents of their visages. 

When I realize what I’m seeing, my body seems to shut down, and my eyes widen in revelation. The faces of my life stare past me into the ceaseless sky. My grandma, Peter, everyone I know – their necks are bound in iron, and their chains grasp my arms and squeeze them tight. They don’t look right at me; in fact, I quickly realize that they don’t seem to really be looking anywhere. They’re like lifeless, motionless zombies, puppeteering the people I once knew. But as I scan the small group of bodies, I realize something else. Many faces I thought should be there are missing; my Ma, my Dad, old friends that have long left my thoughts; so many people aren’t here. And the people that are here are the living, the ones who still stay in my memory. These aren’t the people I knew, they’re the people I know; the ones who know me, and talk to me, and spend time with me, and take care of me. These are the faces of the life I live right now. 

My final realization comes as I pull my right arm back towards the sea of light. The motion is surprisingly effortless, and the little mass of bodies lurches forward as the chains reel them in. The weight that I previously thought I felt is now gone; these human bodies are like paper clips tied to my wrists by strings. I’m confused at first, but then I realize what this means. These bodies with recognizable faces aren’t going to stop me. I can pull them right along without resistance, and meet the light with full willingness. But these chains won’t come off, either. I can jump, but if I dive into the ocean of light, everything comes with me. I can’t leave them behind; my life will follow me into the void.

In the end, I can’t really say why I chose to turn back. I could’ve let gravity take its power over me, and offer myself to the restful light. It would’ve been easy, and freeing, and maybe even would’ve brought me true peace. But I didn’t do it. All of the people in my life, the ones who still know me, who still care for me; their zombies didn’t pull me back, but in a way, the real ones did. And so, as the endless light stays beckoning, and the verdant sky still glows on the glacier, I walk away from the little dancing ice flakes, and into the flourishing green valleys, where dandelion seeds blow in the wind.

About Nate Reno 452 Articles

Nate Reno is a junior at Clayton A. Bouton High School.