There is an iron canyon where I ran, long ago when I was young and foolish. The light would become trapped there, between the walls of melted sand. I would move through it, in it, around it. It gave me pleasure.
One day, as I was making my way through the canyon, one of the land-walkers stepped off the edge and passed right through me.
At first, I thought, Ah, she has wings like a bird; she will fly away. But they were not wings. They were outstretched arms, and they were useless. They did not stop her fall. They did not even slow her down.
I followed her for a while. I called to her, but her kind had forgotten our words long ago. She did not hear me. I wrapped my arms around her and held her close to me, because perhaps, if I could only slow her down a little...
But I could not. The poured stone came up to meet us too quickly, and her body split apart and left a pool of rust upon the ground. That which had made her a land-walker went away. All that was left was meat.
I had seen many creatures die. Before I came to the iron canyon, I moved through the forest. There is always death in forests, along with life. It did not bother me, that the girl had died. It was odd; I had been in the canyon for many summers, and I had never seen a land-walker fall from such a height; but I did not feel sadness for her, any more than I did for the mouse eaten by the fox or the fox eaten by the worm. She had been interesting as she fell. Now that she was fallen, she was not.
The land-walkers on the flat stone seemed to think differently. They screamed and cried, and some of them ran away while others gathered close. They brought their smoke beasts, the ones that wailed the loudest, and they gathered up the meat and took it away like it was treasure, or refuse. The land-walkers who had seen held one another close. I saw their fear and their sadness, but I did not comprehend it.
I followed the meat on its way through the many paths of the canyon and then past it, where the iron and stone were only hills and not mountains. I was curious. I had never seen where the land-walkers took the meat, and I thought that perhaps they would eat it, as the wolves do.
I did not think to follow it into the hill. I did not know that the barrow mouth would close after it had been opened. I waited for a very long time for it to open again, playing in the smoke and ash rising from the metal tree. I made it into the shape of the falling girl and wondered if any of the walkers below noticed.
What had the girl seen, as she fell? Had any of my brothers spun shapes in the clouds for her?
A group of the land-walkers came, holding each other and crying. A boy, smaller than the others, walked behind with his head bowed. I went to him and touched him and asked him if he had known the girl, but like her, he could not hear me.
I followed them into the cavern. I had never been inside of one before, and I will never go into one again. Strange, dead currents tugged and pulled me to and fro, trying to rip me apart. Thin slabs of metal and glass opened and closed like flat teeth, cutting me into smaller and smaller pieces. I do not feel pain in the way of the flesh-and-blood, but I weakened. I was a gale no more, and the longer I stayed, the harder it was to move through the world.
For the first time, it occurred to me that I, too, could die. I began to understand why the watchers had clung to one another so tightly.
I followed the boy into a cold, still, chemical room. The land-walkers gathered together, and they pulled part of the wall away. The meat appeared, and the tall woman fell to the ground, pulling the man with her.
The boy reached out and touched the place where the girl's face had been. His fingers came back red and grey. The other man, the one who had been waiting in the cold room already, put his hand upon the boy's shoulder. The boy turned his head and vomited on the man's shoes.
I did not understand his pain. He was not the one who had died. He was not injured. He was whole, and alive, and he had no reason to be afraid. No reason to be sad.
The meat-girl's hand fell off the edge of the metal slab, and the woman pressed it against her face and cried.
I followed the boy out of that place and back into the light, the warmth. I thought, Perhaps this will make him feel better. It certainly helps me. I made the swirl of smoke into a bird for him. He looked at it, but he did not see.
I followed him to another hill, one full of cracks and holes for me to move through, if I so desired. I did not follow him inside, but he did not go very far. He sat just inside, where the soft wool-moss floor began to rise, and put his head in his hands. The others did not look at him as they passed.
The dead girl stood with him in many places, smiling and laughing. They stood together, perfectly still. He hit one of her with his fist, and together the two of them fell. It was an image, like the smoke. Like the meat. It looked like her, but it was not her.
She was lost, and he could not find her.
Neither could I.
It has been a very long time since then. I have been to many, many places. I have seen many things. I have looked in many places where the land-walkers cannot. I have not seen the boy. I have not found the girl.
But I will.
There is no place the wind cannot go.