Delphine looked down at her feet. Her blue, glossy gumboots, her favourite gumboots that she had bought two years ago at a flea market, were speckled with mud. There was a cricket in front of her that was struggling around the edges of a puddle, spinning and bouncing as if it didn’t know which direction it had to take to save itself. Good luck. Delphine stepped carefully over him with her right foot. Without looking up she leant forwards to find that her left foot had followed her right, then came her right, then her left again and soon she had built up a washing rhythm. Patch! Patch! Patch! Patch!
The path was covered in wet palm fronds, decaying branches – oh look, there’s a feather! – greyish streaks of clay and smooth rocks, possibly from that stream she could hear but not see. The light dimmed and she felt the rain again on the back of her neck, a single drop took the trail down her spine and made it halfway down her back until it soaked into the fabric of her shirt. They had told her to go to the forest, that there she would discover the path, the forest escalator. This was no myth they had assured her, Ol’ Dang Dang had found it while on a mushroom tour, he didn’t dare set himself on it of course but ran home without his mushrooms and shut himself inside for a week. A rolling monster of a thing, he had said, moving upwards like a lumber mill, sending wood chips flying into the canopy above. “Why don’t you go in and see for yourself?” They roared in chorus. Delphine had wanted to kill them where they stood, smash their woolen caps into their custard faces, but she didn’t. After all the cyclical arguments, the spitting, avoidance and blackballing she’d learned that it was not worth pushing back. So she slammed her glass on the bar and left without saying goodbye, without pausing to consider where in the forest she should start looking.
Heavy rain. The type of rain that sounds like the applause after the end of an orchestral movement. The trees stood staid looking down upon the girl as she stumbled along the thinning path.
“Another one?” the tall mossy tree asked. “Why, it was not last week that one of them came through.”
“I didn’t see nuttin’,” said the old gray tree.
“You ‘didn’t see nuttin’?”
“Nope. Not a single scrap of ’em.”
“I hope at least one of them makes it this time. The forest needs more of their kind, not like the insipid blunderers that live in that colony nearby. They’ll burn us down before they take the escalator.”
“I sure hope they don’t do that,” said old gray.
Delphine was so deep in the forest now that her boots no longer appeared blue, but a dark purple, which made her feel nervous. The colours of nature were turning on her, consuming and making her a part of her surroundings. She had reached the end of the visible path and there was no indication which direction she should take, nor could she take orientation from the seething thrum of insects; there were only the trees, like bands of tar stretched from the ground that seemed to be herding her to the left. But in the distance there was something: something moving silently upwards in a steady rhythm, green phosphorus lineaments spaced evenly apart.
She noticed that she had started to run and, contrary to what she had expected, the escalator did not remain hanging on a point in her vision like some mirage but was approaching, accelerating in fact towards her, and in a few minutes she was standing before its glowing form. I’m going to take this ride, take it all the way.
There were stairs of deep red wood, streaked with rays of light and they were genuinely rising upwards to a point that Delphine could not see.
“Well, she done and come this far,” said the gray tree. “Why don’t she just climb up the thing?”
“I don’t believe it’s as simple as that,” the tall tree said. “At least not for them. They have to have the choice to do it and, at the same time, to know that they have no choice but to have the choice to do it. Nothing to do with moral compunction, you see? Going up that path for them means releasing the payload of one’s understanding, it sounds rather frightening. Do you follow me?”
The mossy tree shook his leaves and sighed. “It doesn’t matter.”
The moment the gumboot set on the wooden step the thing began to roll faster. Delphine felt her other foot being lifted from the ground. Too late! She lunged for a railing but could not find one, instead her hand hit a slippery invisible barrier, as if the escalator was encased in an invisible tunnel that was now snaking through the trees. But this was not like any airport travelator she had taken: there was no apparent end to it, no signals or signs of the origins of its design, yet it propelled its cargo with some muted purpose. She thought of her brother, how his broken body lay on the grass, how his mother had retreated in shock. She spoke her father’s name, the ‘Reverend’ who had defined a hell on Earth for them that made the wicked place of his sermons seem like a place of relief. She thought about all of this, but did not cover her face this time or shut her eyes, she laid no blame on invisible dictators or on he books that were thrown at her nor did she find herself clenching her fists to her lap in shame; the escalator was bringing her beyond all these feelings and the higher it took her, the brighter and lighter she felt. It was an alien sensation, but it was the truth, that much she was sure of and regardless of whether there was an edge to this procession, a chasm of white or a drop to her demise, she couldn’t wait to return and do it again.