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When the world tilts

Claire Leng is working as a senior consultant for one of the Big Four firms. Writing speculative fiction has always been her passion and an outlet for her imagination. She has been publishing sci-fi shorts in Chinese and this is her first published work in English. When she is not creating new stories, she enjoys traveling to different countries and playing video games.
Mother told me that she wrapped me in black plastic wrappers when I was born into our building. That wrapper was flapping on one of the window frames for a long time. She begged all my fathers to get the plastic for her, only one agreed. She told me that she is almost sure that man is my biological father.
Everyone knows to fetch something tied to the window was an outrageous operation. You are not supposed to hang yourself outside of the building. You either stay in your building or you half crawl and half jump to another one when your building tilts. There's no in-between. If you fall to the street while dangling on the window and don't die immediately from the unthinkable impact, crying foxes on the streets would come out and make sure they devour every inch of your existence in this world.
The good thing is, crying fox never enters our building, for the building doesn't have a ground entrance, the lowest opening we have in our building is on the tenth floor. Crying fox can be swift as the wind, but their strong legs still can't support them to jump ten floors high. Another good thing; I've never seen a real crying fox eat anyone before, so they almost don't exist as far as I'm concerned.
My mother and fathers feed me the mushrooms they grow in the farm rooms. Sometimes they even harvest green mosses from the floor, a rare treat that's bitter-sweet and tender. I only get to taste them every once in a while if I perform my walking, climbing, and jumping moves in absolutely perfect form. We keep the food surplus in the bank in case anyone's hungry. Mother told me that we can't afford for anyone in the building to starve to death--that would mean we lose precious body weight; the worst-case scenario is that we won't have enough weight to tilt our building. If that happens, we will have to wait for other travelers to jump into our building to regain our mobility.
The worst part of being a child in the building is to deal with boredom. I run the building up and down a lot so the night can come quicker, and I can go to sleep easier.
I am doing my daily routine: climbing from the tenth floor to the highest floor without taking a break. To me, each floor has its colors and smells. When I half run and half walk through the stairs, I can get a glimpse of what every floor's people are doing. When I run fast enough, all the views blend together, and I can see adults laying on the floor chatting, trading, wrestling with each other, and making babies; children chasing each other or taking the training classes from their parents and siblings to prepare themselves for the leaping.
The more floors I run through, the more I realize something is shifting in the air. On the fiftieth floor, I see adults in a small group near the center. My mother has taught me that tilting action occurs randomly; it starts when a small group of people happens to get together and it has enough weight to wave the building a little. When its neighboring floor senses the movement, the people there may or may not decide to gather as well, and if they do, the wave trickles up and down to other floors. Once buildings gain enough weight to bend to one direction, people from other floors have no choice but to form into a group as well.
I decide to go back to the twentieth floor where my home is. By the time I reach twenty-eight floors, a large group is already marching towards the southeast corner.
"No! Wait!" I yell at the group, "I have to go back to my floor! I don't know if my mother's going to jump or not today!" No one seems concerned about me, the huge group has gained its own united will and is slowly moving to the corner.
I try my best to run down faster but step on the false stair as the building sways. I twist my ankle and fall to the twenty-fifth floor's connection entrance. I know once the tilt has started, there's no stopping until enough people have jumped to another building. I scramble to stand up, another sudden shake forces me down to the ground again. Tilting has begun, I can see the east building become more visible through the fog, and their windows become larger and closer. Some people are already riding on the windows, hands grabbing the frames, preparing for their travel.
I start sliding down as the floor becomes a downward slope. I wave my hands to grab something, but to no avail. Everyone's belongings are swept against the wall, there's nothing I can hold on to. Before I know it, a huge opening window appears in front of me. I let out a desperate cry for help, extend my leg as wide as I can, in attempt to stick myself between the window frame. No one from the large group inches away from me offers to help. They stare at me without any facial expressions. These people aren't my father nor mother, I'm not their liability.
Wind roars through my ears, a bright light strikes my eyes. I begin flying, my feet lifted higher than my head. I miss the window from a nearby building by a large distance; my last option. Weirdly, I forget to cry. All I can do is fall, fall to the abyss I've been staring at for many years.
I don't know how long passed until the backache awakens me. I am surprised to be alive, but soon the fear of what's about to happen outweighs my pain. I'd rather die before the monsters hidden at every corner tear me apart. I try to stand but am horrified to realize that my legs refuse to listen to my brain. I flip to my belly, which triggers waves of pain through my whole body. I stay in the same position for a while, shaking, huffing, and sweating. Eventually, the pain eases. I pull myself forward little by little using both hands. It feels safer to get out of the open street.
When my hands finally touch the nearest building's external wall, I lie down, hot tears pouring down on my face. I think about how heartbroken my mother must be, but at least she can produce another baby with one of my fathers. I close my eyes, waiting for the crying fox to come to end my life, but they do not come. I wait and wait, until the sun breaks the dawn. Nothing comes.
Through the sunlight, I see a mass of tall blocks standing one next to another, I am almost certain the wall I'm leaning against belongs to my building, but I've never seen it from the bottom--I'd never know. A few of the buildings are tilting; tiny shadows jump to another world with hopes and dreams. Compared to me, who is starved and thirsty and in unbelievable pain. I cry a little more and fall back to sleep.
It is dark when I awaken. I start getting angry at how crying foxes haven't eaten me yet. I am so hungry that my stomach keeps growling. My mind is foggy. I could do anything for a bite of fresh mushrooms. Then, I hear a panicked scream nearby: the sound came from the top and descended. I take a deep breath, move my hands on the floor as fast as I can, pulling myself closer to the source of the sound. Is it someone dropped from my building? Is he from one of the groups that didn't care to save me? He might as well have been eaten by monsters. I lick my dry and split lips, shivering at my thoughts.
A faint bone-cracking sound tears through the air, and the crying foxes appear out of nowhere. I've finally seen who they are. They make the saddest wailing and rush towards the unfortunate dropper. One of them is dashing on its right and left hands, too, but way faster than me. It stops by me, slows down, smells my legs. Weirdly, I'm not scared.
Once It finishes checking my broken limbs, it rolls under my body, carries me on its back, and resumes charging. We reach the haunting ground with other monsters. I can't reason why I am here, as all I can think of is crying, crying out of hatred, despair, and hunger.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, November 15th, 2019


I often find my story ideas from my dreams; this story is not an exception. I dreamed about this bizarre world constructed of tilting skyscrapers and thought it would be fun to turn it into a story. I hope you're happy with the result.

- Claire Leng
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