THE EDGE OF THE WORLD  

by Warren Scott Foster

illustrated by Adrienne Potter

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Copyright Jan. 2000by Warren Scott Foster

All rights reserved.

            Bohideus spent several days exploring this new wilderness. Many times he came across groups of monkeys, and he soon learned to follow them to learn where they gathered their food. The monkeys were experts at climbing and swinging within the vines. It seemed that the vines connected everything to everything else. The monkeys were very fast, and Bo couldn't begin to keep up. Still, he tried. He soon found that even the smallest vines were amazingly strong, and though they stretched and sagged, they easily held his weight.   When the monkeys traveled downward, they did so in breath-taking leaps of fifty to a hundred feet at a time. They would land in tangles of vines which sagged and stretched like a net, easing them to a near stop before the next hair raising leap.

            Bo was astonished to find that he could do the same thing. It was terribly frightening, and he went ever so slowly at first, picking places to leap that weren't very far below. Soon he found that it was easy, safe, and didn't hurt a bit. The vines were thin and flexible enough that they were easy to grab. Once he misjudged his distance and missed the vine he was aiming for. Down, down, down he fell, sprawling through the trees.

            So this, at last, was the end. The final end. The end he should have had when he went over the falls and miraculously escaped death. "Oh, well," he thought. "I knew it would happen sooner or later."

            Bohideus shut his eyes, bumping and crashing through the branches, desperately waiting for the final, life shattering thud as he had that first day when he went over the falls. Instead, he was gradually slowed to a stop! Thanks once again to the giant tree leaves, he once again escaped, frightened but unhurt. In fact, the only painful part was it took hours to climb back up.

            Before long Bo realized that this was an easy place to live, with everything a person could possibly need to be happy. Everything except one. The wild fruits were plentiful and easy to find, once he got the hang of traveling through the strange, all-directional jungle. But Bo was lonely. He missed his friends. He missed his own home, and the loving company of his mother and father. True, they treated him like a little boy too much, but Bo was homesick, and now he felt that maybe was still a little boy, at least inside. How would he ever get home?

            As the days wore on, Bo became an expert at climbing up and down through the jungle. Going down was fast and easy, but climbing up was hard, and his arms and legs grew stronger than he had ever believed possible. Moving horizontally could be easy at times, at least if there were enough hanging vines to grab. The branches of the great trees overlapped one another, or were connected by vines, and formed trails through the air. Sometimes the growth was so thick it was nearly impossible to get through. Still, if he couldn't go around, he could always go up or down to a different level to get to where he wanted to go.

            Bo relied upon the juice of the fruits for water, until one day when he found a stream. It was the strangest stream he had ever seen. He was walking along a great branch when he heard what sounded like a small waterfall. Yet it wasn't constant. The sound was on again, off again, a great splash, then dribbles and another splash, then silence. And then the sound repeated. As Bo followed the source of the sound, he found a tiny waterfall running off a giant tree leaf far above. He soon realized the water collected in the middle of a giant leaf where it formed a small pool. When it became too heavy, the leaf would bend under the weight while the water fell down through the jungle in dribbles and splashes.

            Bo climbed up to the pool on the leaf above his head, and wondered about the source of its water. Ever curious, he climbed still higher. It was then that he found the stream of water coursing its way down through the giant tree. For two days he climbed higher and higher, living off the fruits of the jungle while he searched for the source of the stream. It was a difficult climb, but he grew more and more curious. "What on Schmeeky, or I should say, OFF Schmeeky, is a stream doing clear up here in the trees high up in the air?" he wondered aloud. "Where does it come from?" The light within the trees grew brighter and brighter the higher he climbed, and he realized he had gotten used to the soft, diffused light of the jungle. He hadn't yet seen the ground below where he was sure it must be pitch black. Neither had he seen the sky since he fell, and this was his first trip back up to the top.      

            Finally Bo found the source of the stream. Several great leaves had overlapped each other, pressed against the large branches by the weight of collected water. The water had accumulated deeper and deeper from daily rains until it formed a lake upon the leaves. A steady flow of water leaked out from the bottom of the leaf-lake in a steady stream which ran or fell from leaf to leaf, branch to branch, until it reached the waterfall he had found two days before.

            Bo was amazed. The lake was actually quite long and wide, and certainly deep enough for him to dive into. And there it was, suspended in the tops of the great trees, miles above the ground! What a great place it was for bathing and drinking!

            In the days that followed, Bo found many similar lakes, streams, and waterfalls. The rain came frequently, drowning the tops of the jungle with its steady downpour, until everything was dripping. By the time the water dripped down to the lower jungle, however, it was channeled into small streams and waterfalls. Many ran constantly, for by the time they began to dry up the next rain would come.

            Bo spent several more days exploring the branches before he finally reached the main trunk of a tree even larger than the one upon which he had landed. Judging from the size of their branches, he had known that all the trees were huge, but nothing prepared him for the awesome sight of this tree. It was as if suddenly a great wall or mountainside stood before him. Only by backing up some distance could he tell that it was even round! Huge bumps and ridges in the bark stuck out farther than most trees are tall! Between the ridges lay ravines in the tree bark down which water ran. Inside the ravine the bark was green with moss which thrived in the constant flow of water.

            Bo leaned back and stared up at the giant tree trunk, letting his jaw drop. He realized it must be tens or even hundreds of thousands of years old! Up, up, up the tree trunk climbed, as high as he could see, until it disappeared in the green canopy above. Hanging from a vine, leaning far out over the side of the great branch he was standing on, he could see far down the tree trunk. Down, down, down it went, growing ever wider, yet seeming to narrow in the distance because it was so far below him, until at last it disappeared in the blackness of the jungle depths.

            Bo spent the better part of a next week climbing to the top of the ancient giant. As he neared the top, he was able to look out over the tops of most of the trees, and he soon realized that "his" tree was one of the largest in the jungle forest. Here the sky was bright, and the colors of the jungle were brilliant in the light. The jungle reached out as far as his eyes could see. The leafy overgrowth of the tops of huge trees rippled like mountainous waves in a giant green sea.

            Bo spent a full day climbing around to the opposite side of the tree to look in the other direction. As he neared the end of a branch, suddenly his eyes were dazzled by a most incredible sight. Once again the jungle sprawled for what had to be several miles. But then it stopped abruptly. In its place rose a giant wall, too huge to be called huge, too great to be called great. It was as if it were the wall of an entire planet. Or the wall at the end of the universe. It stretched as far as his eyes could see, both to the left and to the right, until it faded from view in the haze. Mountains and valleys were clustered below the cliff, but then the wall rose straight up...forever, it looked like, for the top was obscured in clouds and haze.

Far below to the left, near the bottom of the cliff, was a blue, cone-shaped mountain. It appeared to be a giant heap of ice-blue rock. It was difficult to see clearly because of the distance and the trees, but it looked like a great lake might lay beneath the blue cone. The hazy mist of the jungle cleared for just a moment, and then that it was, indeed, a lake. A break in the jungle outlined what could only be a river running out of the lake.  

            Suddenly, as Bo watched, an enormous chunk of blue...pale blue rock...fell from the sky and landed with a crash near the top of the mountain. It shattered into pieces which showered down the mountain on all sides. Bo wondered at the silence, for it seemed a tremendous event, until a moment later the sound reached him. A great crash of thunder rolled and echoed in the distance, vibrating through the trees, causing a frightened squawking among the birds and animals.

            Above the blue cone mountain the clouds became much thicker, and he couldn't see very far up the cliff. The clouds seemed to move away continually into the distance, and far away they fed a heavy downpour of rain. Bo knew that some distant part of the jungle was getting watered. There was more thunder from the blue mountain when he was looking elsewhere, but he realized that another blue rock had fallen. Ice blue. Now Bo remembered where he had seen that color of blue. These weren't rocks at all, but ice! Icebergs! It didn't take long for him to figure out that the blue, cone-shaped mountain upon which they fell might well be nothing but blue glacier ice!

            How could there be icebergs and glaciers in this hot steamy jungle? Bo wondered, then suddenly realized the answer. Old man Schmoe had been right all along! In his bewilderment and shock after falling off the great cliff, he had not even stopped to think about it, but now the pieces of the puzzle gradually began to fit together. This was the great cliff Schmoe had spoken of. The villagers thought it was the edge of the world. Here at the bottom of it, Bo saw that it was, indeed, the edge of the world but in a different sort of way. It was a formidable wall, a barrier he could not pass, and it might as well be the edge of the world, he thought.

            Bo now knew that a river spilled over the top of that wall, HIS village's river, forming what Schmoe had said was the greatest waterfall in the galaxy. Schmoe was right, Bo knew. He had just fallen over it! But why couldn't he see the waterfall?! It had to be there somewhere! Then Bo's mind began to work furiously. What was it Schmoe had told him? Think, Bo, think! And then he remembered. Schmoe had said that drops of water could fall no faster than "eighteen miles per hour"--whatever that meant, Bo wasn't entirely sure, no matter how much Schmoe had tried to explain it to him. As water droplets fall through the air, Schmoe had said, they break into smaller and slower falling droplets.

            Eighteen miles per hour. That was what Schmoe had called the "terminal velocity" for a drop of water, or the fastest speed it could possibly fall. Free fall, that is. In a waterfall, it could go much faster, because instead of pushing through air, the water would be following other water in a steady, downward stream. Then the air alongside a large waterfall would flow downward along with it, creating less resistance for the water. Terminal Velocity. Schmoe had strange words for things. Why didn't he just say "the fastest speed water can fall?" Bo looked up at the cliff. When water fell for over a hundred miles, like this waterfall surely did, it was bound to break up somewhere along the way.

            A smaller river, falling such a long way, would evaporate and disappear all together before it reached the bottom, Bo realized. This waterfall, however, came from a huge river miles across and hundreds of feet deep. As the water fell for hours through miles of warm air, it did break up, and much of it evaporated. But with so much water, the air became saturated and condensed as fast as other water evaporated. Then the waterfall would become a heavy, downward rushing cloud of densely misty air, flowing like a great, wet, cloudy wind down the cliff. That cloudy wind was, in turn, acted upon by other winds, depending on the ever-changing weather of the jungle forest. They would cause the first cloudy wind to blow in all different directions as it traveled down the side of the cliff.

            Wherever it blew, it carried the heavy cloud of waterfall mist with it, until the cloud fell upon the jungle in the form of rain. It would rain in different places at different times, depending upon the direction of the wind. Bohideus knew something about wind and air currents. Schmoe had taught him. He knew that cold air is heavier than warm air. He realized that the warm air which rose up from the jungle had to take the place of the cold air that came down with the waterfall. With all those square miles of cold wind rushing downward, somewhere else there had to be warm air rising! Something jiggled in his brain. Sure enough, far above and across the jungle, away from the cliff, Bo's eyes finally found what he was looking for. Giant thunderclouds reaching high up into the sky. Schmoe called them...What had he called them? Oh, yes, cum...cumulon...cumulonimbus clouds. That's it. If only Schmoe were here to build one of his gliders, he would be able to ride those air currents home! Bo sighed. It was not to be.

            The icebergs that floated down the river, which he knew came from glaciers far away, even farther away than his own village, were so heavy they would fall straight down through the wind. They were carried over the cliff along with the river, but as the water dispersed and blew away with the wind, the icebergs continued to fall straight down by themselves. They landed in a pile which, over the years, had formed a gigantic mountain of blue ice directly beneath the waterfall. As the old ice melted, new ice landed, continually building it up.

            Under the ice, a moraine of rocks and sand was left behind when the icebergs melted. Bo knew something about these moraines. Schmoe had taught him. The moraines were made of sand and rock which would constantly be pushed away by the glacial-like movements of the ice mountain, forming small hills around it. The older moraines were already grown over, covered by plants and trees as the jungle forest claimed new territory.

            Bo shivered as he thought how cold the lake and river must be below the ice mountain. He realized now that the lake and river were made up of icy blue glacial water...flowing through the heart of a hot and humid tropical rain forest! No wonder the weather was so confusing in the jungle down below. No wonder the winds were so great up above. No wonder the wind had tossed his canoe about so busily as he fell downward with the waterfall. And now he realized that it was the winds of the cliff--mixed with the jungle winds and currents--that had carried his canoe so far away from the cliff. That was what had saved him from landing on the mountain of blue ice! The winds!

            Bo was hungry. He realized that a fish or two had to land somewhere on the cone-shaped mountain. Occasionally, at least. He realized in the same instant, however, that it would be a foolish risk to try to go find one! In fact, probably no mountain in the world would be as dangerous a place to be as the blue ice mountain at the foot of the great cliff, beneath the falling icebergs!

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Chapter 1

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