They walked along a rope bridge and looked at the ground far below. The bridge was more than ten meters high so red and yellow leaves down there seemed to be just small bright spots of a large forest floor. Kids loved it. Too bad it was impossible to get down to run around and throw armfuls of leaves, or just lie on the ground, having fun as only children know how.
The land was contaminated. Coming closer than several meters was considered life-threatening for almost fifty years. During the war new chemical weapons were used on one third of Earth; water and wind brought chemicals everywhere. People had to build their homes on high stilts, or directly on trees. They drunk rainwater, hunted birds, and the lucky ones ate fruits and nuts.
Number of people on Earth shrank up to nothing. Small settlements that survived had virtually no contact with each other: construction of rope roads was too complex and lengthy process. People could no longer intervene aggressively in the ecosystem, drain natural resources, change riverbeds or massively exterminate animals. And they could no longer walk on land too. Because of their own fault.
Five children 9-12 years old were fascinated by autumn forest, holding fast to the railing of the bridge. Autumn was particularly kind to them this year: warm weather and the brightest colors around. A small breeze flushed the children’s cheeks; the sun needled crowns of trees and created shining islands of leaves on the earth. Just then one of children suggested trying to get down.
Of more than a hundred adults in their settlement only four couples had kids. And they were lucky – many other “tribes” had only one child at all. It was much easier to get food in the woods, and it meant more free time for games and ploys. Besides, the wood was very beautiful, especially in autumn. Children loved to go together in the most remote corner of the settlement for a whole day, collect colorful leaves, or sit in a big tree and share dreams about the future. And sling squirrels running by.
The eldest boy went first. He gently touched the ground with his toe, hesitantly put his foot, then the other – and froze. Nothing happened. He laughed and waved to the others. The children began to descend quickly one after the other.
They were told that the one, who touches the ground, will face pain and death. But adults often frightened children with fables; and they all saw how deer, squirrels and other animals run along the ground peacefully. The children decided that the adults had some other reasons not to let them on the ground. Now little ones were having fun hurling armfuls of leaves, just running and jumping in joy and feeling happy as never before in their lives. It was the first time they felt real freedom.
Adults have noticed their absence soon enough, but no one could figure out where they went. After several hours of searching all settlement was on the move. And then, at the far end of the forest, when the evening sun began to gild the autumn leaves magically, they were found. Small bodies of five children lying on the ground motionless. They were unnaturally rigid, as if life has left them suddenly and they have become a part of the place, abandoned by adults long ago.
Screams and moans sounded from above. More dispassionate began to argue what to do next. No one noticed when one of the children slowly opened his eyes, stretched out, and sat staring at the raging crowd over his head. Then the kid smiled – his world changed forever!