We stood so much that birds built nests in the couch cushions and took showers in the kitchen sinks. When we weren't standing, we were jumping up and down. Fleas were parasites, and nobody wanted them anymore. Instead, we wanted to believe that there would be a day when no one would take anything from us. We were suckers.
The fleas made it so we could no longer sleep; beds sprouted leaves, working toward a tentative peace with nature. I listened to the radio at night, waiting for a sign. A block away we saw the first tall man on stilts, his head bobbing above the rooftops, headed in our direction. He had built them from the picnic table that had become useless furniture in his backyard. We had all given up on sitting.
His features were smaller up there. A young boy said, He's made a fedora from the clouds. From our spot on the ground, we watched the fleas beneath us surrender or change strategy. It all happened in an instant.
Then we raided the hardware stores.
A neighbor sawed down the addition she'd made to her house, just for the wood. Platforms were added to buildings so we could order coffee without climbing down from our new perches. Stop signs were raised several feet so we'd remember the intersections in the neighborhoods. We parked our cars, agreed never to drive again, and forgot about them as they became sculptures.
When most of the town was up on stilts, the divisions began.
We fell down and got back up. Bruises healed; there was evidence to prove it. When the fleas began to disappear, those of us who'd fallen off our stilts in the early days came down once more. Most of the others stayed on them even when they didn't need to any longer. Maybe they banished us. Our small group believed in the power of gravity so much that it's possible we had already decided to leave together.
We created a tiny city somewhere off in what used to be the distance, a dot stretched thin into the horizon. No one here uses stilts anymore; we sit around at night and watch the trees grow, waiting for the public health official to make the rounds again, to see if we change our minds about being the only ones back on the ground. He warns us of foreign travelers, visiting our new city for the annual philosopher's festival. He warns us the fleas will be coming again, and everyone will be vulnerable.
One by one, we turn our eyes down to the earth, and settle into our shoes with that much more resolution.
Matty Byloos's first collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss, was published in 2009 by Write Bloody Books. His work has been published on or in: We Who Are About to Die, The Nervous Breakdown, The Fanzine, Orion Magazine, Pop Serial, Sparkle and Blink, The Portland Review, among others. He is the editor and publisher of Smalldoggies Magazine, and co-hosts (along with Carrie Seitzinger) the Smalldoggies Reading Series in Portland, OR, where he lives and works.
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