JA Howe

When our people first arrived here on Dor, it is said there was a mass of water, more vast than anyone can imagine. Evil things with no names lived in that water, which was full of salt, and the sun was always golden. The water made a swoosh-swoosh sound.

The first creatures who spoke with us on our new world were the invisible Dorites. Yet, they were very obviously the ones in charge as they spoke with such authority. Our people greeted their new lord by bending from the waist. He in turn, it is said, enslaved them. In his graciousness, he let us of the past hundred years or so walk upright, but the damage was done; we all walk with a limp and have hunchbacks. At even a foot tall, this is a burden.

The Dorites aren't mean to us, they just see us as good for working. Wouldn't you, when presented with a three-feet-tall walking stick? We're all limbs. But we don't have to eat much, because our rulers have been kind enough to inject us with stuff to make us photosynthetic. Even under this orange sky, we can mostly get our food from the sun far away.

A lung-lizard puffed its throat brilliant red as I passed it, sunning itself on a rock. Apparently they were good to eat but the Dorites considered them sacred because of their odd ability to change hue. We just laughed at them; there were legends of creatures like that on the world from which we'd come too. I folded down a giant leaf spotted in purple and green, and marched onward.

The high-pitched piping of the Dorites hit my ears, and I quivered. It was antagonism about there being Stickies late to the fields. I can't run; what do they think I am, a --

With a lurch, I found myself hauled upward. I flailed wildly, but only tumbled in farther to an unknown, and very fruity, end.


_It must be a test_, I thought. We were not allowed to go near fruit, or anything of the kind. Fruit was something hissed of in the tiniest of sounds, in dark crevices far from the shore. And then you faced danger from the Jaw-things, who have a million teeth and scare young at night. No, I could have no fruit. Stubbornly, I set myself to _not_ eating of the wonderful orbs of all color all around me.

More jostling. What was this? I went from a realm of red and yellow to one of green, green, green -- but definitely fruit, all the same. The sides of the container were hard, I discovered.

So was the top.

I pounded on the top in panic, with my front legs. Surely someone heard me? But all I got was more jostling.

I woke in the dark, and wondered if it was still night, or what. I was moving, but I wasn't -- it made me very queasy.

There was a large Flat in the bottom of the thing, I found, after some careful examination. It touched antennae with me in a disinterested way, and buzzed, "Hurl, then."

I tested out the sounds: yes, they made sense. The wavelength was just different than normal. "Hello," I squeaked hesitantly. "Rice fields?"

The Flat eyed me in that way they do, as if we make no difference to them. "Oh. A Walking Stick."

"Rice fields?"

It made a buzzing sound. "No more for you. I don't expect you to understand this, but you're going north. To the colder lands."

No more Dor creatures? The Flat were known to be the most intelligent insects around, so they must know, I thought. They were supposed to be older than the worlds.

"This is a transport," it added.

My heart froze. We were going to another world, one where I'd never see my family again, never watch the storms blaze when we got days off, created by the Dorites.

No more Dorites?

The "transport" stopped abruptly. "I'd keep low if I were you," said my companion. "Big Ones don't like us in the fruit."

More of the "no fruit" policy. I was used to that at least. I crouched low in the container as it was jostled and bumped amid new howling noises that were very unlike the Dorites' sounds of order and displacement. Slam. Thunk.

I hid in the fruit, but I looked out at the new world as it went by. It was cold here, very cold, and very colorful. It reminded me of a Lung-lizard but in tree form. Were all the trees here some rare kind of Lung-lizard? Or were Lung-lizards miniature trees, waiting to mature in the cold lands?


We passed through some opening that went "swish", and it was a bit warmer in here.

I quickly learned the routine of my new home. Every day, a Big One would come in and make the sun (I didn't know they did that). Then, I'd need to hide out among the rafters, high up in the gray tree that was shaped oddly. I had to listen all day to the chirping on and off that was clearly fake; it had a very different wavelength than that of Chirpers or Tweeters! I had to smell all day the fruit and vegetables that the Big Ones seemed to live on here. When the Big Ones made the moon, I could come out. I'd be ravenous by then, and I'd feast with the others in the back of Stor.

I did like staring out the pane as much as I could, though. It was so soft, and felt like a leaf from back home. And outside -- So many colors! It brought something to my mind, a tale told among us of a land full of flowers -- there were flowers in the world of the Dorites, but we were not allowed on them. Work, work, work, was all. So much not allowed, and now finally I could do what I wanted.

The other insects seemed amused by me. They'd quiver antennae whenever I said something, or they would outright say it: "There goes Skinny, sitting in the window again, waiting to be squished!" I didn't understand that. There were no Jaw-creatures here, and no Dorites, no Sky Screechers either, as far as I could tell.

There was also none of my kind, other than me. This was the land of Stor, and here there was fruit in abundance, all I could eat, and safety, no enforced labor, but no prospects of ever seeing my own kind again. I didn't like that much. I didn't understand it whenever one of the others talked about "being in hiding" or "taking some room of our own on this world." As far as I could tell, they already had.

One day as I sat in the pane, watching, one of the brilliantly-hued things beyond the pane fell. A soft thud followed. Soon, that tree had nothing on it at all. I'd never heard of such a thing: the only trees I knew without leaves or flowers were dead ones.

So, I had to see this up close. Abandoning all sense, I raced out into the cold, because frankly I'd forgotten that it was cold here in Stor. This cold region, though, was where I wanted to go. I needed to see what wonders could possibly --

I heard a squawk, an unfortunately familiar sound, and looked up to see my black-feathered fate. But the Sky Screecher only flew off with me, and tapped on another pane. It swished open quickly and the Screecher was gestured inside with a Big One's huge white fingers.

We were in a different section of Stor now, one full of jars and containers. Ruled by a Big One.

My new overlord was kind, and treated me well. He gave me lots of fruit, and I could now sit and listen to the Chirpers and Tweeters going at it in the evenings, holding concerts just like they did at home. Brilliantly-colored leaves covered the floor of my own container. The entire place was smoky and warm, and full of insects of various kinds. He wandered among the containers all the time, it seemed; he knew his way around them as well as I knew my old route to the rice fields.

The Big One keeps me here, and I'm not sure if he is being kind or wants to kill me someday; no one has ever been sure of these creatures. They exist on the Dorites' world as well, but the Dorites say to just ignore them. Still, he doesn't force me out by the Orange Time like they do, to work their rice fields -- there aren't even any fields here!

The Chirpers sing of a time called "Autumn". I wonder if that's now or if it is some time in the past, or something to look forward to.

No one will tell me; I'm just a Walking Stick.


Votes for: Orange.


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