Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chains - A Short Story
See, over there, a young girl walks enjoying the beauty of creation. Now and then she stoops to admire a flower or reaches up to feel the leaves of a tree. As she walks, she is not mindful of her proximity to her home and doesn't notice the weeds that are beginning to grow up here and there among the flowers. 
Suddenly, she looks up and beholds a large building of curious design. Her curiosity is piqued and she walks towards the building and in through the door. She wanders around, marveling at the strange implements she sees there, but she has little idea of their purposes. At last, as the light of evening begins to fade, she remembers that she must get home for her evening meal.

As she turns herself about trying to find the door, a stern, authoritative voice orders her to stop. A tremor of fear courses through her body as she remembers her father's instruction to not wander so far that she could not make it home in time for dinner. She wonders if this might not be her father, who has found her where she ought not to be and she looks sheepishly at the man's feet. Without softening, the voice commands her to enter one of the rooms near where she stood and to pick up the chains and place the metal bands about her wrists. In tearful dejection, the young girl does as she is told for she knows she is in the wrong and realizes that she does not deserve mercy.

All that night, the girl lies in the corner of that room, miserable, cold, and alone. Now and again, the voice of the man returns to remind her of her failure to obey her father, and her inability to do anything right. At last, she falls into a fitful sleep, plagued by ugly dreams.

When morning comes, a new voice wakes her from just outside the room. It reminds her of all the times she has failed her father, and recommends that she clean the room from top to bottom in order to possibly win back her father's approval. The girl in silent resignation looks about her for a broom to sweep the floor. She finds nothing, but then she notices a few twigs lying on the floor in a corner, so she binds them together with the ribbon that held her hair and begins to sweep the dirty straw and clots of filth towards the door.

At this moment, she realizes a new problem. The chains that bind her wrists prevent her from removing the debris from the room. She throws her whole body into an effort to sweep the dirt towards the large crack under the door.
Finally, exhausted, she lies down in her corner and cries herself to sleep. Several hours later, a harsh voice wakes her from her dream and she finds several mouldy pieces of bread have been flung to her. She picks at them, and wishes that she hadn't disobeyed her father.

After several days of this a new voice speaks to her from the other side of the wall. “I know a way out,” it whispers. Another voice croaks back, “Don't be ridiculous! Why would she want out? We're fed and sheltered – what more could we want?” The first voice shushes the second with a hiss and continues, “There's a secret nail or floorboard or something in there that if you find it and push it, your chains will fall off, and the door will fly open.”

The girl is somewhat encouraged and she begins looking for the secret to escape. Days turn into weeks and she continues to scour the room within the reach of her chains. Sometimes she finds a loose board or nail and her heart leaps within her in hope one moment, only to be dashed the next as nothing happens. She continues to eat the dry bread and drink the muddy water the guard brings to her, and clean the cell, always hoping to get it clean enough to be let out. At times, she is plagued by guilt for trying to escape her father's just punishment and she stops looking for the secret to escape and redoubles her cleaning mission. Other times, she is so tired and discouraged, she does nothing.

As the months roll by she becomes jaded and begins to forget the beautiful gardens of her father and her longing for his food fades as she forgets what it tastes like.

Early in the morning, she hears a far away voice singing a song of peace and goodwill and she recognizes it as the long absent voice of her father. She knows that she loves him, and suddenly she realizes that he would never sentence her to prison – his punishments had never been unjust before. She no longer has any reason to believe that her father is punishing her. She stands up and demands to see the prison guard. The surly voice yells at her from outside the room, demanding her silence. She cries out all the louder and shakes her hands in fury – the chains fall off. Not stopping to wonder at it, she runs to the door, wading through the pile of refuse, and pushes on it until it swings open. She stands there a moment trying to remember which way is out and suddenly sees a little man running down the corridor.

With purpose in her steps, she walks through the halls until she reaches the exit where she stands blinking in the sunlight for a few moments, then she begins to run towards her father's house – she does not want to miss another meal!

When she arrives home, her father starts up with joy, “Where have you been, my child? Many a long day I have waited for you to come home!” She runs to him sobbing and begs him to forgive her for staying out too late. “I forgive you, Child – you had only to ask!” He holds her at arm's length. “Child, what are those marks on your wrists and why are you so dirty? Come, it is a bath for you and then dinner!”

And so, the young girl was reunited with her father, and she enjoyed his company as much as he enjoyed hers. Sometime later, she remembered the voices of the others she had heard in her imprisonment and asked if he could help her free them. The next day, they set out for the prison. As they went, her father cut down the thorns and pruned the trees and shrubs that grew along the path. When the arrived at the place, they found a little old man in a suit and tie sleeping on a chair in the sun's warm rays. Her father approached him and found one of his old servants whom he had released from service because he had caught him stealing.
“What are you doing here, old man.” He said and prodded the man with his walking stick.

The man awoke with a start and sullenly replied, “Nothing as concerns you, Master.” He glared at the girl. She remembered his voice as being that of her guard and whispered that information to her father.

“Go, old man, before I put you in prison for wrongfully accusing and detaining my child. If I ever see you in my country again, I will do so and more.” The man spat and scurried off in surprising rapidity.

Father and daughter walked hand in hand into the shed and walked through the passageways, looking through each door. When they reached the room where she had been held for so long, the girl wept in anger and shame at her own foolishness. Her father gently embraced her and reminded her that he would never leave her no matter what she did nor would he punish her unjustly. He then picked up the chains and showed her how they did not even have a lock – she was only held by her own imagination.

They left the room and continued their surveillance of the building. At last, they reached a room where two people lay sleeping on the dirty straw. One held a bent nail in his hand and the other a crust of bread. Their clothes were in tatters and their hair fell in mats about their shoulders. A stench rose up from a pile of straw and rottenness that lay near them. The one pillowed his head in the pile, the other's chains were so strained as to hold him away from the filth.

“Wake up, sluggards!” Her father laughed and the two jerked upright in a daze. “Come with me, my merry men, and we will make you clean!”

“I think I'll wait for dinner,” said the one from the filth. “Besides, I like it here.” He glared suspiciously at her father.

The other cowered in terror, “Master, I must confess I didn't mean to try to escape your judgment. I'll work the rest of my days! Just don't kill me, please!”

The girl reached out gently to the latter, “It was not Father's judgment that brought you to this place, nor would he kill you for trying to escape. See, there is no lock on the chains! They will come off, if you only twist a little.” The poor man wept as she helped him remove his chains.

“Now you,” the girl turned towards the first man, “do you remember the fine dinners of meat before you came here? The smell of fresh baked bread and the sweetness of fruit? Come, what better dinner can you find?”

“Do not tempt me, witch!” The man pulled his chains closer to him, and burrowed into his pile of filth to protect himself from some perceived curse. “I am where I should be and I will not leave.”

“Come child, leave him. He will not starve for I suspect his guard will collect him and remove him from the grounds before morning. If he wakes up, he will return to my country.” And with that, father and daughter helped the other man to stand up and walk from that place. When they had regained the light of day they wiped their feet of the filth in that place and began their journey home.

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