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The Boy Who Stayed Out

“Close your eyes,” said the grizzled man between the bars.

The guard ignored the prisoner, maintaining the perpetually bothered frown that plagued the faces of those who worked in a prison.

The man wasn’t deterred. “Come on, entertain an old man, would ya boy”.

“I’m not supposed to talk to inmates”

“Then don’t speak, just listen…it all began years ago-“ the prisoner was cut off before he could finish.

The guard responded in a guard-like manner, “I get to go home in 20 minutes, I’m not gonna spend that time listening to the ramblings of a man on death row”

The man flashed a toothless grin, “ears are funny in the sense that you cannot choose what to not hear, I’m going to spend the last twenty minutes of my life rambling away, and you’re going to listen because you have no choice”

The guard grunted.

“There once was a town” began the man.

The guard scoffed, “if you’re going to tell a story then at least do so properly. Where was this town? When does this story take place?”

The man flashed that same toothless grin, “ I thought you weren’t going to speak. The town was located in a place that no longer exists and a time so long ago that it is no longer remembered”. The man paused and acknowledged the fact that the guard’s eyes were filled with humanity’s innate trait, curiosity. “Close your eyes”

The guard shifted his feet but obliged.

“What do you see?”

“Nothing.”

“That is what the people of the town saw. The town was different from the modern civilizations of our time in the sense that they lived in darkness, a world without light. The people of the town were normal people who lived normal lives. There were farmers who tended to crops and there were soldiers who guarded against wild animals. No one could see further than their outstretched hand because of the ever-present darkness that shrouded the town. The faint light which they received came from the moon and the stars, and so they used that faint light to build their town and live their lives. Mothers sewed clothes under the stars and blacksmiths hammered iron under the moon. And for the little light that the moon and stars offered, they were revered by the people. For if not for that light then they would be in total darkness. And so, when the moon and stars would begin to fade, the people would disappear along with them. As they saw the sky turn a fiery red and the horizon began to bleed, the people of the town would lock their doors and sleep until their beloved moon arose again.

In this town lived an ordinary boy, who was cursed with the gift of curiosity. The boy would walk around the town under the cover of the moon and ask the townspeople about their crafts. He would ask the farmers about their harvest, the soldiers about their posts, and the blacksmiths about their forges. The townspeople identified the boy by the thick goggles that were always around his eyes. After one of his journeys around the town, the boy followed the rest of the people as they fled from the burning sky. It was then that the boy questioned, “why do we run from the burning sky?” And so, the very next time the moon came up the boy made his rounds around time with a different purpose. First, he visited the farmers: “why do we run from the burning sky”, the boy asked.

The farmers looked at one another, “do not ask such questions boy, if you stay out past the moon and the stars bad things will happen”

The boy could not accept this answer, so he continued his round throughout the town until he came across the soldiers. “Why do we run from the burning sky” the boy inquired.

The soldiers shared an uneasy glance then said “surely there are terrible wild animals that roam the lands with the blood sky, it is best not to question such things child. If you stay out past the moon and stars bad things will happen”

Once again the boy could not accept this answer, and so he continued on to the town’s patriarch. “Why do we run from the burning sky” the boy questioned.

The elderly man sighed: “we have survived our whole lives following the path of the moon and the stars, and so it is best not to go against our ancestors. If you stay out past the moon and stars bad things will happen”

The boy could not accept this, and so he decided to face the burning sky himself. That fateful night, as everyone else retreated as the horizon began to bleed, the boy pulled his goggles over his eyes and steeled himself. Disregarding the townspeoples’ warnings, the boy stayed out past the moon. The fiery sky grew crimson as the boy watched with awe. He stood, starstruck, as the world illuminated around him. For the first time in his life, the boy saw the town he grew up in. He saw the uneven houses built by carpenters who could not see. He saw the crooked roads paved by blind eyes. He looked upon himself as he saw the uneven patchwork of the clothes on his back. The boy wept, the boy wept as a man weeps when he reaches the top of a mountain. The boy wept, as a mother weeps when her child marries and grows up. The boy wept, as a blind man seeing for the first time weeps. The boy wept for the people of his town, who will never be able to see”.

The prison guard opened his eyes, and he found himself to be crying. “What does it mean,” he asked through the tears.

For a moment, the inmate said nothing, and it seemed as if he wasn’t going to reply, but then he flashed that mischievous grin again: “that’s the beauty of a story, isn’t it? It can mean whatever you need it to mean”

The prison guard stood there, turning the inmate’s words over in his head. He stood there for long after his shift ended. He stood there as the doctor, the priest, and the warden walked in. And he stood there, still weeping, as he heard the silent scream of the grizzled man. 

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