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The Day The Ropes Fell From The Sky

The day the ropes fell from the sky

Estimated reading time — 11 minutes

The sun had not shone on us for more than ten summers. This carcass of a place. This barren, discoloured, non-space. Life shaken down to its last seed. Its potential is all spent. The heavens and that wide blue yonder above, now hard boiled into a permanent blanket of grey that asphyxiates our globe. Imagine brewing a migraine inside a cauldron and you get an idea. Every breath drawn may as well be sucked from an exhaust pipe. For now, the smoulder is only ever broken by swirling voids of superstorms; that either drown, freeze or blaze us to death. The very dirt beneath our feet crushed beyond repair. An arid, blistered vacuum. Soil petrified into a pinky parchment. No force of creation pushes through this earth. It is an in-between region in which we dwell. Neither purgatory nor hell.

Take your pick of what destroyed the world; war, warming, viral concoctions – It doesn’t matter how it ended. All that matters is what happened after.

The day the ropes fell from the sky, suspended from the very clouds themselves, everyone who still could, crawled out of their caves to witness the impossible miracle. Tribes who had spent their whole lives drawing weapons against the other stood shoulder to shoulder, awe in their eyes and hearts. Their bodies, which had been falling apart for so long, became reassembled and recharged at the challenge and the promise that dangled before them. A hundred thousand of these ropes covered the landscape. Stretching as far as vision and light would allow. Each strand swayed with such inviting innocence and each could bear the weight of any individual, who chose to wrap their hands around these threaded necks. The people waited a cautious hour to see if any form of malevolent life would come scurrying down these lines. Invaders from another world perhaps? – Ready to enslave. But no such threat arrived. A wind from the east made the army of cords dance in the breeze, and with it a faint whisper seeped in the minds of all. A mental scent. One audible word. Climb.


All came and heeded the call. Even those who had remained in the dead cities, full of dead machines and dead hives. Burnt out shells, giant hollow boxes, still smoking and melting like ashtrays the size of lakes. Each person reacted in a different way to the ropes; Some spared not a thought on the matter, and ran full pelt to the nearest line, wiggling up the thing one desperate lunge after another, ready to escape this reality. They didn’t last long. They were the first to fall. The first ones I had to bury. Others took time to study and prepare for their ascent. They gathered supplies, extra clothing and spent hours roughing their hands upon rocks to build up a protective callus. The smartest ones knew how to coil the rope around themselves as they climbed, granting them a harness, in order to rest their arms between exertions. I watched them scaling upwards until their outline was but the size of a flea, blurred against the smoky sky. A dozen or so made it all the way through the low clouds. I call those ones, ‘The Skyscrapers’. But now there are fewer and fewer who can reach such a height, and eventually they all fall too.

Why do so many climb and risk an uncertain fate? Well, what else was there to do? A trip into the unknown, some form of excitement and adventure, was an offer not to be refused. Our species, formerly known as humanity, was circling the drain. The mundanity of everyday survival was only broken by the spilling of blood, be that innocent or guilty. We have forgotten ourselves. Reason had evaporated from the heat of conflict. There is no trust, and barely anyone speaks now. For what really is there even to say? I am one of the few that still cling onto their wits, who can form thoughts, words and scripture. As for the others, it would be generous to compare their intelligence with that of a dog. Infected with de-evolution, they be.

I remember seeing one such mad man take a torch and spend the whole night setting fire to the ropes. When he was done the sky looked like it was leaking fire. He screamed at the top of his lungs until his voice went hoarse. At dawn’s light he was sitting in a pile of ash, eating the charcoal remains of his victims. But his efforts were for naught, he barely made a dent in their numbers. They carried on drifting and people carried on climbing.

I stayed below to bury the bodies. I was too old to climb anyway, with my fingers being knotted with arthritis and withered down to dry stalks. In my rare dreams I fantasise that I can climb, that I perforate the withered whiteness above, where I am greeted by a spectre of stars. I hope they still exist.

I choose to cling onto the old faiths that many have since discarded. A belief that the dead should not be left on display. They deserved a ritual and a ceremony of some sort, to pass them over to whatever lies beyond. I make each grave the same – six feet long, four feet across, and as deep as I and my loyal shovel can manage. It is a very messy job and one that I will never ever finish. There are too many fallen for me to cover alone. On a good day, at full strength, I might prepare ten fallen corpses for burial, but have three times that number fall by sundown. The animals take whatever I don’t get around to. Miracles are a thing of the past, so I wonder how I have escaped being crushed by a falling angel, like so many others have been.

You eventually become numb to the way a body splatters into the ground. Seeing everything a person ever was, laid out before you in forensic detail. An autopsy that offers a true insight into how fragile a creature we are. Just bags of blood and bones. I do my best to restore what I can for the funerals. Faces are nearly always bludgeoned beyond recognition, but sometimes I can piece together the structure of the nose or the curve of a mouth back into proportion. I consider those times a rare blessing. Strangely, their hands always stay intact, somehow shielded from the impact, the palms ablazed crimson with burns. Fingerprints scrubbed clean of their markers. The eyes too, they remain. Separated from the sockets, their beauty is even more striking. Comparable to the rarest gems and with more sparkle than the sharpest diamonds. Some of the mad ones collect them, trade them, and play marbles with them. Disgusting beasts. Have they no respect.


Once or twice in a month some pattern of the wind, or grace of gravity, balances a faller in such a way that they survive their initial plummet towards the earth. A lucky young girl fell from what appeared to be a mile up. She hit the ground, bounced off it twice like a drop of water, then stood back up and within a few minutes began her climb again no less determined.

Nothing can shock me anymore. Even the first time I saw a mother start her climb, with her baby strapped to her back, I did not react. The child looked at me, with bright blue peepers that glistened against the dirty rags it was wrapped in. The mother had fiery orange hair, and bruises upon her face where rosy cheeks should be. Perhaps she was escaping more than just this place? A few days later I found the Mother’s fallen remains, recognisable only by that fiery hair, now dyed amber from her blood. Strangely, I could not find any evidence of the child’s body, nor did I find it in the immediate area. Maybe she had time to secure the child to the rope before she succumbed to her fatigue. Death would be certain either way. My ears sometimes play tricks on me, and I catch the sound of a baby crying from above. It must be the wind, I assure myself.

The ropes did not only lure people to their deaths. There were some opportunities for joy. The few children in our population would use them in an endless number of games; be it tying several together to make a giant swing, testing each other’s strength at tug of war, or cutting away the loose strains to fashion hair braids and primitive jewellery. I taught a few of the more interested children how to thread and knit the material into crude dolls. They’ve almost become a ‘gadget’ for these dark times. An object of one’s statue. The little ones feel no desire to climb. They are smarter than any of their seniors.

One morning, I decided to take a break from my duty and journey across the open scrublands. No destination in mind, just a wander with my thoughts. There are less ropes out in this section and thus, fewer bodies. I try to remember the last time I heard such true and perfect silence. My mind settles in peace, before a black bird suddenly screams down from above, swirls around my head and lands upon a mound of rags – formally a person – a few yards away. Just another fallen free meal. But as I approach, I see the bird struggling to release something gripped within one of the bodies’ intact hands. I shoo the beast away with my walking stick, soak up the pain from my knees as I bend down, and prise open the dead grey fingers. The rigamortis was strong, but my will was stronger. There in the palm, nested like a pearl, was a ball of screwed up dirty paper. Although it was obscured I could see there was writing on the page, an artform I hadn’t seen in years. My curiosity wouldn’t stop clawing at me until I picked up the ball and unveiled its message. It was barely legible. Who knows how this person wrote this so high up, while they clinged on for dear life. I read it, and despite the blazing heat that day, my blood ran cold.

It read: ‘Do not climb. I reached the end and there was nothing.’

I showed the message to no-one. Most wouldn’t comprehend it anyway. I tore the paper into pieces the size of baby spiders and let the wind dispose of the evidence. It was a few days later before the teeth of the note’s truth took a bite of my spirit. Apparently, some avenue of my mind still held onto the hope that there did in fact exist some form of utopia at the end of those ropes. And even if only one of us reached the top, that would be enough to justify the struggle, and my part in the proceedings. A new depression took hold. Not the standard misery that we have all come to suffer on a daily basis, in this afterbirth of an existence. No, this new dejection is sharper, it stops me from rising in the mornings, or taking the time to feed and water myself properly. I hide away from others and put no effort into my work. When I do happen to dig, the earth seems to fight back at me, refusing to give up any more real estate for the dead. I hammer at it for hours and hardly scratch the surface. Each rejection runs the wick of my life’s candle down ever more.

Finally, one dark evening, my ankles collapse and so too does my shovel, splitting in two against the rock soil. I crash into the rot and prepare to take in my last conscious thoughts and images. The obvious occurs to me – this’ll be the last grave I dig, and it turns out to be my own. A manic noise fills the air. It takes me a while to recognise this sound as my own laughter, so long has it been since I have had any use for it. I pray for the mad one’s not to take my eyes.

Soon after I am weeping, not for my own life, but that of my dead shovel, pathetically, the only thing I could call a friend in this world. It deserved better. My sight becomes a slowly closing tunnel and I am gone.

But that is a lie. My candle lights anew. I awaken to the noise of soft speaking and surrartions. My sight is awash with blurs, but I can just make out two small figures crouching down beside me, their hands busily assembling something. My movements startle the pair and they scatter off. As slowly as the oncoming fog, I raise myself off the ground and rub my injured body back to health. One strained scuff after another I walk towards the object the figures were playing with. It is my shovel, now repaired, lying on the ground with several lengths of rope fixed around its broken body. It’s even tied in a bow, the same way people used to offer each other gifts. I hold it in my hands, stab it in the ground, push down and lift the soil. It works well, if not better than before.


A giggle echoes across the wasteland. The children stand in a V formation, watching me like prey. The social reaction to wave might scare them off. So I just nodded gently and smile with my eyes. They let loose another happy screech and disappeared into the mist.

An idea sparks in my head, something new and exciting. Those children, the ones who I taught to make toys and braids from the ropes had actually learnt something from me. They had innocence, yes, but more than innocence. There was once another word to describe such a feeling – they had freedom of thought. And If the note I found is true, then I need a new vocation.

From that moment on, I decided to focus my efforts on tending to the living, not the dead. The bodies still fall through the sky like heavy snowflakes, but I ignore them. Whatever happens to them is their choice, but the people below – they are the reality. I commit myself fully to teaching those who I would usually discard. I set up a school of sorts and relay the basics: simple methods of scavenging food, how to seek out clean water, an introduction of the alphabet and numbers. Obviously some still reject me, even beat me, and climb the ropes regardless. But others do take heed, listen closely and start to see the possibility of a different, less crushing version of life. I press upon them the need to teach others in the same way, for I will not be here forever.

What fruit will my students bear? The future keeps the answer to that question under lock and key. As is only right.

I had never questioned the purpose of the ropes, or what their true meaning, if any, would be. But there was one theory presented to me, in startling fashion, one evening after I had finished my daily lessons. I saw an old man, somehow even older than me, walking across the wild spread carrying several large rocks in his silvery arms. My curiosity clawed at me again and I followed after him. He took the rocks towards one of the far away ropes and I watched as he stacked the chunks of sediment, flat upon one another, creating a platform. With one last strain he placed the final rock upon the top of the pile and stood back to size up his creation.

“Finally enough.” He said breathlessly.

His tower completed, the old man scrambled up onto the platform, planting both feet firmly on his new altar. It held his weight, but only just. He then seized the rope in his hands and whipped it into a knot – a horrible knot, an evil, disgusting assembly. It became a founding symbol that was used often by all societies in the final days of peace on this planet. The hangman’s noose drops around the old man’s head and he embraces it the way one would receive a medal. He sees me stalking him and miniature storm clouds begin brewing in his eyes.

“You hear? You speak?” He barked at me.


It had been so long since I had heard another person talk so clearly. Such a shame he couldn’t have delivered nicer words.

“I do both.” I replied, with thick scorn.

He nodded, and then let a river of words spill from his mouth.

“These ropes were not intended as an invitation to rise. They were instruments for mercy killings. Painless euthanasia, directly from the heavens above. A blessing, if you like. By what force, or direction, I do not know. Even those who peek beyond the veil of clouds cannot tell us. When, and only when, your soul has left your body can you truly climb. Your physical self must stay below. We are too dangerous an animal to ascend in any other way. And unlike gods, we must learn to die for our creation.”

With his sermon complete, he jumped from the rocks and ended his life. It neither looked merciful or painless, and I saw no evidence of a spirit leaving his body, so I can only conclude his presumption was wrong. But then, we have all been wrong before. I did not cut him down. Let him hang for this cause if he must, and if others follow, then that is also what they must do.

I however stand strong in defence of our new terra-firma. The lessons continue to go well and we had our first ‘gathering’ recently. Everyone brought an offering to contribute to the meal. It would be a pitiful hill of beans when mirrored against the old worlds’ standards, but that can only be a good thing. The event was more humble, more aligned to the spirit of good intentions. The cost was proportional. For a race who once suffered in abundance, we have quickly learnt to thrive through deficiency.

I take a deep breath, and somehow the air tastes a tiny bit cleaner. The screams of the falling people grow quieter by the day, replaced instead by new songs and laughter, which rise up from our land below in glorious harmony.

Credit: Alex Blackwood

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