FROM THAT DISMAL WORLD, HE FLED. It asked too much and gave too little, nothing at all, in fact. True, there were friends and family but, while they cared and were kind, he was different. He had known this for as long as he had known anything. They tried to bring him into the fold, to help him join the world, but they didn’t understand the damage they were causing. They told him what to think, how to feel, and what to want, but in their eyes he could see the truth.
They were miserable, locked into a stagnant and sterile process called life. It was unfathomable to them to think he wanted no part of it. It was essential for him to flee, to break the stifling chains – even if only for a little while. His mind, his heart, his very soul needed to escape before he withered and became like them.
So he would grab his fishing pole and scurry off, down the train-tracks to a piece of the world that was as of yet not corrupted. What a contrast was made between the gentle curves of the river bank and the way the tracks cut savagely through the hillsides, leaving ragged walls of sharp and jagged blades. The trees stared in silent shock at the void where their fellows once stood. But just down the hill, behind the evergreen and ever vigilant watchers was their secret, his favorite and only place in the world.
They welcomed him with the hiss of the wind through their leaves. The murmur of the slow water called out its greeting. The sandy bank was a cushion no king had ever known, the pebbles at the water’s edge were gems that sparkled in the golden light of the sun. Here were the only friends and family he ever needed, the only treasure in all the world that mattered.
“Come and hide!” they all seemed to cry, knowing exactly what he desired. They crowded in to shelter and shield him. They loved him and, with all his heart, he loved them in return. He loved them so that he wished he might never have to go.
The fish were jumping happily and within moments of casting his line, there was a strike! Right away he knew it was heavier and stronger than anything he had ever caught before. It was hidden by the cloudy depths, but, little by little, he was hauling it to shore. As it rose from the deep, he saw that it was massive, and with horror he realized it was no fish, but the body of a girl.
He stood frozen as her pale face broke the surface. She looked like a life-sized doll, perfect and flawless. He had never known death before, but here she was radiant and brilliant. Her beauty and youth magnified the tragedy before him and left him still and silent for many moments.
He knew he must get help, that he must leave her, but he feared the waters would carry her away as quickly as they had produced her. With trembling steps on the slope, he inched down toward her, terrified but wanting to pull her to shore. The instant his fingers touched her, she spat water and began to gasp. As he watched in disbelief, having thrown himself back into the muddy bank, she sat up and began to cry. In a heartbeat he was beside her, patting her back, trying to comfort her.
She turned to him and the meeting of their eyes was magic. Hers were deep and dark, a wonderful earthy brown. They were strangely familiar and comforting, like his bed after a long and difficult day.
They said nothing to each other and yet said everything with nothing more than their breaths and the pounding of their hearts. They smiled and he was sure it was the first time in his life he had ever really smiled.
He took her hand and started up the bank, but as she tried to stand, she stumbled and pulled him into the water beside her. Even as he splashed up, she was beside him, her arms lifting him and the worry on her face nothing less than proof of genuine love. Her closeness was maddening and he could not keep his arms from returning her gentle clasp.
“Come with me,” he pleaded. But where, he wondered, back to the world I despise?
“I can’t,” she whispered, with the sadness of a truth that cannot be denied. “But you can come with me…”
Then her lips touched his, soft and sweet, and together they played and swam forever in waters dark and deep.
story by Joe Stanley