It was a quarter past one and the post-lunch carbohydrate langor was setting in. Ruthie stared down at the open spelling book on her desk. The letters were all squiggles, and she fought to keep her eyes open. The teacher was at the front of the class going on about something or other. Ruthie tried to block out the sound of his nasal voice. She squirmed in her seat and wished she was closer to the bank of windows on one side of the classroom. At least the kids on that side had the option of looking out the windows and...
She awoke with a start. Her head was on the spelling book, drool was pooling on the page, and the teacher was still droning on. The kid behind her was giggle and poking her with the eraser end of a pencil. She sat up and turned around, and glared at the kid. She was a mousy girl that Ruthie couldn't remember the name of. Ruthie narrowed her eyes and silently bared her teeth. The mousy girl retracted her pencil and looked down at her book. Ruthie turned back to face the front and raised her hand. The teacher took a moment to notice her.
"Yes Ruthie?" asked the teacher.
"May I go get a drink from the fountain?" she said.
"Uh, sure, okay," he said, then resumed droning. Ruthie got up and walked up the aisle then out the door and into the hall. She walked slowly to the fountain. There was more muffled droning coming from the other classes. She stopped in the middle of the hallway and admired the relative quiet. She looked at the fountain, then the doors at the end of the hallway. She looked at the fountain again, and then the doors. She looked over her shoulder at the door to her classroom. It had a window which was bordered in crenelated paper. The name of her teacher was written over the frosted glass. Through the glass she could see an outline of blobs that were the other students. She thought that if she went back in, she would be not much more than a blob either.
Ruthie walked to the doors at the end of the hall. She pushed them open, hoping there wasn't some sort of alarm, but nothing happened. She stepped out into fresh air, and walked across the yard to the chain-link fence at the back. She stood there a moment, her hands on the galvanized metal. On the other side was someone's backyard. There was a tire lying on it's side, with tall grass growing out of the middle. There was a sun-bleached child's plastic playhouse that looked like it had been there for a few decades. Ruthie looked back at the school. It was a pile of bricks and mortar from this distance. The people inside were now small.
Ruthie climbed the fence and hopped over into the back yard. This yard was not fenced in, so she crept quietly to the house and around to the front, and out to the sidewalk. The road was quiet, and few of the driveways had cars. She decided to go left, which led to a dead ended road. At the terminus, she stood and looked at a 'No Trespassing' sign posted to decaying fence. Behind the fence was a deciduous forested area. She breathed in the smell of it and sighed. She climbed the fence, and hopped down into some lovely soft moss.
The forest was dark and calming. She picked her way through the undergrowth, ferns and berry bushes and young saplings. She touched leaves and smelled flowers and stopped for a few minutes to watch a snail navigate a fern frond, it's antennae swaying this way and that. As she walked further on, the forest seemed to get brighter, and then she came to the edge.
"Where's the rest of it?" she wondered out loud. She put her hands on her hips, confused. Ahead of her was a vast field of blue. She looked down. The forest floor dropped off. She couldn't see where it picked up again, so she got down on her stomach and peeked over the edge. There was nothing but more blue.
"That's really odd..." she said. She inched further out. There was exposed dirt and tree roots going down about three feet, but then there was more blue sky below. She inched out further, trying to see more. The ground caved slightly with her weight and she slid over the edge. She grabbed onto a tree root as she flipped over. Her legs now dangled into the blue. She looked down at clumps of dirt that fell down into the blue sky.
"Help! Help!" she yelled half-heartedly, knowing no one was around to hear her. The ground above her gave way some more, and the tree whose root she was hanging onto was starting to slowly sink down. She was low enough now that she could see below the ground. There were more tree roots, and far beyond that, the bottoms of basements, sewer pipes, and assorted cabling. She wondered if the adults new about this.
The tree started to sink faster. Almost all of it's roots were now exposed. Ruthie climbed up the roots and reached over to the embedded root of a different tree. She grabbed it and swung over. She felt grateful for all the time she'd previously invested on the monkey bars out in the schoolyard. The boys had always teased her about using them, but now she felt smug. She brachiated from root to root in the direction of the nearest basement. After a minute or so her arms were extremely tired, so she rested. Behind her, the first tree slid down completely. It's branches made loud cracking sounds as the tree scraped through it's hole. She looked back and saw a spray of leaves. The tree itself got smaller and smaller until it was just a dot, then it disappeared.
Ruthie's fingers were by now shaking and cold. She readjusted her grip, but couldn't go any further. She started to panic and hyperventilate. She thought about trying to dig her way back up, but it seemed impractical. She looked down at her feet and they immediately tingled. Then she heard a large crash of branches then a thud above her. Bits of dirt and tiny bugs shook loose and fell.
"Oh," she said, relieved. She let go.
Ruthie watched the ground recede above her. Wind whistled past, ruffling her clothes. She did a couple of somersaults in the air, then looked back up. When the Earth was just a dot, she looked down just in time to see the tops of trees filling her field of view. She quickly put her arms up in front of her face and she crashed through leaves and landed on her stomach on the large limb of an oak tree, knocking the wind out over her. She rolled to the side and slid down, then jumped down to the ground. She laid there for a few minutes, getting her breath back and working through the pain.
"Ow," she said finally. She sat up and examined herself. Nothing seemed to be broken, but she imagined she would soon have a large bruise on her chest and abdomen. She got up and looked towards the edge. She sighed, and turned back towards the fence. It didn't take her long to walk back to the school. She opened the doors and walked slowly down the hall. She stopped at the fountain and drank deeply, then she wiped the water off her face with her sleeve, and went back to the classroom. The teacher was still droning as she took her seat. The other children were still fighting off sleep.
Ruthie put up her hand again.
"Yes Ruthie?" asked the teacher.
"I just wanted to say..." said Ruthie, "that I like being in your class. I mean, sort of."
"Um, thanks," said the teacher, slightly confused. He resumed droning, then stopped a few seconds later. "Why are your hands dirty Ruthie?"