The Edge of the World
"No one truly knows what lies beyond the edge of the world. I have met some brave souls who set out to see for themselves what tragedies we are sheltered from. But none of them ever returned to enlighten us."
The Edge of the World is set in a futuristic version of Earth. The globe has been split into two parts by a wall that crosses right through the seas.
In the West humans are technologically enhanced. The poor souls who dwell in the East, they are told, suffer terribly. Their nations have fallen into decay, illnesses pick them apart and they are at risk of losing the innovative nature that has enabled the human species to thrive for so many centuries. They want nothing but to find a way to the West.
But in the West not everyone is happy with the way of the world. On a winter’s night, a rebel’s daughter witnesses an interview with a survivor from the East that is so out of character that silent rebellion no longer seems to suffice. When people close to her start vanishing and a mysterious novel emerges, she finds herself on a dangerous path. An undercover quest to find out what happened to the man who was silenced on state television, to the doctor who always tended to her but disappeared and to his wife who set out to explore what truly lies beyond the edge of the world.
The East is oblivious to the West. Everyone knows that ships that sail too far away from the shores, return empty. That planes need to steer clear from the clouds that hover over the roaring tide. That mysterious, no-man’s land that moves closer year by year. Stories are told about the other world, which swallows fortune seekers and only allows true heroes to return. The land of faeries, treacherous as a passage through a marshland.
A parentless daughter knows her mother did not walk away. She knows her father’s end was more than a tragic error of judgement. That her grandparents didn’t vanish overnight, leaving their child behind. It’s not without reason that she was brought up listening to the legends and sagas of the other world. It’s not without reason three faeries came to visit her once she was left alone. She realises that the mysterious West has chained her family with a curse. A curse she must break at all costs so that she will not be the next person to vanish. Yet the faeries insist she must travel towards the heart of danger.
Mother knew many of the tales of old. People gathered in our house to hear her spin words and weave replicas of long forgotten worlds. They would come through the backdoor, pretending to be a neighbour on a mission to return a borrowed charger. Or they might ring the doorbell and enter as a government official in disguise. Sometimes they would simply appear. When she talked everyone listened in silence. All eyes would rest on her as her words killed the empty nights of winter. But there was one tale she would never tell. A story she would never recite, because she could not possibly have.
When was the beginning of it all? Most often she answered that question with a deep inhalation, a spark of imagination and a once upon a time. The rest would sprout from there. Naturally, like our subconscious tendency to breathe in a regular rhythm and my awareness that I was destined to recite the lore once she no longer walked the earth. It was a truth I never questioned, until I realised that beginnings are not agreed on until after the very end. Ever since, the question of when it had all started had played in my head like an endless song. Was it when mother had first opened her eyes, or before that, when she crossed paths with my father? Or had it started when they conceived me, as was expected of them? I went back and forth, pondering over the details, but I knew that none of these options truly qualified.
Looking back, I believe the beginning of this tale arrived when we least expected it. I like to imagine it was waiting for the right time to strike in the crevice between the windowsill and the edge of the curtain. It would have witnessed many of our gatherings and waited patiently until we were home alone, the three of us. I can picture it clearly. My mother holding a glass of water in her hand, resting her head on my father’s shoulder as she so often did. Her golden hair glittered in the light of the screen we were looking at. Father sat up straight and I behaved like a picture of perfection. At a first glance it would have looked like an innocent moment of domestic bliss. A young family spending time together. No forbidden activities in sight, no sneaking around. But an eye paying greater attention would have noticed the uncontrollable frown that cut deep into father’s forehead and the gloomy look that clouded mother’s eyes. Or the restlessness that was flowing through my veins and made my legs twitch. We stared at the screen, intently, because it was what we were supposed to do. “It is best not to draw unwanted attention when we can avoid it,” father used to say and so we watched the programme that had been announced with great grandeur.
I must have noticed then that something about the man they interviewed was not conventional. That his sea-green eyes oozed too much passion. That his facial expressions did not quite match the words of gratitude he uttered. Yet what I remember most clearly is the sudden change, the sudden ending to it all. The sentence that stopped halfway-through and my irrevocable intuition that it would remain unfinished. I understood at that very moment that he had been one of us, even though we had not known him personally. And we never would. Because on that winter day, his eyes were shut forever and nothing would ever be the same.
I wrote the first version of The Edge of the World in Dutch. Upon completion, I submitted the manuscript and after three months of waiting I received an email with a response. Opening that message was one of the more anxiety-inducing experiences I have ever had. My eyes immediately fell on the word ‘rejection’, but once I managed to read past that, I saw paragraphs of feedback. That’s when I realised that The Edge of the World is still very much a project in progress.
In the years that followed I struggled to detach myself enough from the story to rewrite it. So I let it rest. Until I decided to challenge myself to start writing in English in March 2019. I have since rewritten around 20,000 words of the story and I’m working my way up to the 25,000 mark.
“Come away, oh human child
to the water and the wild
with a faery hand in hand
for the world's more full of weeping than you can understandl”
Stolen Child – William Butler Yeats