If you haven’t read Part I, of this Yarn Tale, you should do that first.
To buy your own one-of-a-kind hand-knit Iris stuffed zebra, click here.
To buy your own one-of-a-kind hand-knit Iris stuffed zebra, click here.
I am excited to present to you the second installment of Iris’ story. I hope you’ll forgive me that this installment still doesn’t conclude the story. As I write more in the children’s fiction genre, I am beginning to see that it was naive of me, a beginner writer, to expect to write a short story with a great ending right off the bat. Endings are hard! I’m getting more and more involved in Iris’ world, as I write but I have no idea how I’m going to pull together all the threads of this story into a perfect bow and make a satisfying ending. Hopefully you’ll appreciate the process, and each story installment for what it is, a chapter in something longer.
Again, I love your comments, ideas or suggestions in comment or email form. Thanks to those of you so generous with feedback last month. Without further ado:
IRIS THE ZEBRA OF FLYING ISLAND
Part II: Iris’ Coming-of-Age Ceremony and a Dramatic Accident
The Elder Zebra’s voice boomed over the assembled crowd. “Welcome, welcome one and all, dear members of our Flying Island Community. Today we come together to honor a very special, very unusual young zebra as she reaches the age of ten and will henceforth take part in the water-collecting labor that is the center of our survival and livelihood. Iris, please come join me here on the stage.”
Iris and her family had been ushered to the front row as soon as they got to the amphitheater, before the ceremony had even started started, so all it took for Iris to join Elder Zebra on the stage was to take a couple steps forward and turn to face the crowd. Nonetheless, her legs felt a bit wobbly and she cast her eyes downward –it was easier to look at her own hooves than at all the eyes looking back at her. Being the center of attention was awful! She was sure that everyone was thinking about how “unusual” she was, as they looked at her on the stage. Even her earlier, excited plan to go incognito in the middle of the ceremony just seemed foolish now. What had she been imagining that she would do? She was a bright pink zebra, in the spotlight, as visible as a neon sign. The idea had been absurd.
“We’ve all noticed Iris since the day she was born,” Elder Zebra was continuing with his speech. “How could we not, with her beautiful, unique coloring. She has always been so striking, so visible.” In the coming-of-age ceremonies for her schoolmates that Iris had attended, she had always watched and listened as each young zebra was praised for his hard work in the community garden, his great potential on the soccer field, or his creativity in painting. Those were things zebras deserved praise for, because they had chosen them, worked hard for them, Iris thought. Those things weren’t about how a zebra looked. But for her, it seemed that all that the zebras see was the color of her stripes.
The crowd was stomping its hooves –the zebra form of applause. The little island seemed to rumble with it. Elder Zebra nodded gravely to Iris. “Iris,” he said, “we welcome you into the adult community, and we thank you for all that we know you will do to make us strong.” He held in his front hoof a ribbon, the deep indigo color of a sky just after sunset, and Iris stuck out her front leg so he could tie it on. Each zebra received a ribbon at her coming-of-age ceremony, an important symbol because the ribbon’s color indicated where on the water-collecting net the would take her place. Iris now knew that for the rest of her life, she would stand with the other Indigos, only a few steps away from the violets at the edge of the net. If Iris hadn’t been so preoccupied and upset, she might have been happy with the color she was assigned. Indigo was deep –it had a beauty that required some sophistication to appreciate.
At that very moment a bell rang over the island. The water-collecting bell. “Well this is remarkable timing,” Elder Zebra called out to the crowd. “Iris, as our newest active worker, lead us to the net!” He nudged Iris forward. The crowd cheered.
Although Iris had never participated in water-collection before, she knew where the net was kept –every baby on the island knew that. And although it was the last thing she wished to do after that horrible ceremony, where it was so clear that all everyone thought about her was how striking her stripes were, and where she had given up on her plan to go incognito like a weak chicken, without even trying, nonetheless, she turned in the direction where she knew that the shimmering rainbow net lay folded in its shed. As she began to walk, she heard the whole zebra community turn and follow her.
Iris lead the group of zebras across the island, filled with frustrated emotions. The Elder Zebra was trying to be welcoming by asking Iris to lead the zebras. Iris knew, he probably expected her to feel proud and grateful. But she wasn’t really a leader to them, she was just a neon sign. They just liked looking at her because she was so different.
She had tears in her eyes by the time she reached the shed, so she didn’t stop moving but knocked open the big, swinging door. She hoped that if she kept facing forward, no one could see that she was crying. It seemed to work, because as the other zebras caught up and entered the shed, they spread out to her right and left without saying a word, lining up in position according to the color of the band each wore around his or her ankle.
Iris was feeling so sorry for herself, and working so hard to keep the others from seeing her tears, that she hardly noticed as zebra with a red ribbon on his ankle, the very first in the row, kicked open door on the back side of the shed and the space was flooded with light. The shed stood on the very edge of Flying Island, and, with its back door open, this was the only space on the entire perimeter with no safety fence.
“One! Two!” The first red-ribboned Zebra shouted, and everyone joined in for the “Three! Now!” Collectively, the zebras of Flying Island gave the net a shake, and it unfurled in a wide swath of colors. Hundreds of feet long, it sailed over the island’s edge into the thick of the rain below. The zebras all stood firm with their hooves on the top edge of the net, fighting the great weight that pulled downward.
Iris was still crying even as the net was unfurling, and the sudden weight of it as it hung in the rain caught her totally by surprise. Her knees buckled and she lost her balance, summersaulting forward onto the Indigo cloth. She saw for only a flash, the shock and fear that filled the faces of all the zebras standing in a row, before they disappeared, and she realized that this wasn’t any simple trip and fall that she could get up from, brush grass stains off her knees and try to forget, no, she had tumbled too far and was over the edge of the island, sliding down the net head over hoof with no way to stop herself from tumbling until she had fallen all the way down to Earth.
Surprisingly, the fall was not too painful. The net was kind of soft and springy, so the experience was almost like jumping on a bed. The second half of the fall was quite wet, but that didn’t hurt, it just felt cold. In less than a minute, Iris was rolling off the rainbow and coming to a stop on solid ground.
She was more stunned than anything else. For a minute, she lay sprawled on the ground just feeling her own shaky breathing, before getting her legs a bit unsteadily underneath her and standing up. She looked around. She was on a sandy stretch of land. About a hundred feet ahead of her was the edge of an ocean or a lake, its water surged in and out in a movement that was hypnotically beautiful to Iris, who had only never seen a body of water bigger than a cistern, except through binoculars from high above. She stared at it for a couple of minutes, so that by the time she remembered her predicament, and spun around to look for the water collecting net to grab on and let herself be pulled back home, it was high, high above her in the air, growing fainter with each passing second. After a stressful day of emotional anguish, Iris found herself in a new world, stuck, alone and afraid, but maybe, just a tiny bit, excited.