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The writer sits, facing his adversary. The paper is so white it almost seems to make him snow-blind. It would, but his eyes are closed in thought, his brow wrinkled, creased with strain. The room around him is plain as can be. A spade, dirty from the day’s work, sits in the corner, stoic, silent. The shelves are filled with books, and the walls are painted white. His writing desk is wood, made by his own hands. It has been a bad year. The crops are having trouble growing, and his cat, Todd, is sick. The house is clean, but ragged—it needs repairs.
The writer continues to think. He appears to be 80, but is only 47. But 20 or more years of hard labor have taken their toll. His hands, caked with dirt, are callused in a thousand places. He walks with a limp to the hoe, the consequence of a horse kick when he was young. He grasps the hoe, hands wrapping instinctively around the shaft. He has done this too many times. He thinks, pausing, and sets the hoe down. He hobbles outside.
It is getting dark. He sits on his rocking chair, slowly rocking, back and forth, mimicking the river flowing gently beneath him. He stares up at the moon, shining down with brightness on the world far below. The writer holds a stem of wheat in his mouth. His white hat shines in the moonlight, reflecting off the river where the alligators float like logs. The sounds of the swamp are all around him—his little wood shack seems small and feeble beside the huge swamp. Somewhere, off in the distance, a harmonica plays. The writer attempts to ignore the sound, but it washes over him. He had retreated to this swamp to find refuge from all other people, and yet even here, slowly more people came. Soon, he would have to find a different place to live.
He looks one more time at the swamp, illuminated by the moonlight. It looks eerie, almost magical. He dashes inside. He has an idea. He sits down and begins to write.
And suddenly, his head is not filled with worries and problems and the thought of other people. His head is filled with castles, dragons, knights. He sees it all in vivid images. The princess is tied to a stake. The knight rushes into battle. The dragon, huge and mighty in all of its mystery, comes out of its cave and roars. It is a deafening roar, so loud the writer can hear it. The knight hears the roar, but he could also hear the princess screaming, and rushes at the dragon. The dragon belches plumes of fire from his mouth, and the knight has to dodge to the side to avoid being burned alive. He runs towards the dragon, but the dragon flies into the air. High, high, higher the dragon goes, and then starts to dive back down. The knight, experienced in dragon fighting, stands still until the last second, when he suddenly falls and rolls. The dragon is angry, and starts to slash with its claws. The knight once again runs at it, and this time, drives his sword into the dragon’s leg. The dragon roars in anger and picks up the knight with one giant claw. He roars and toasts the knight alive. The knight doesn’t stand a chance.
The writer stops, looking at the story emblazoned on the paper. He hears the harmonica and wants deeply to forget it. He wants all other people to leave him alone. He thinks desperately for another idea, so he can forget all of the other people encroaching on his swamp. And then it hits him.
The writer thinks about the future this time. He imagines a time when there are things made of metal, giant things that fly through the air like birds. Men fly around on these, flapping giant wings in order to fly. He imagines candles that never burn out, cups that refill when you want them to, a device that lets you talk to people far away without having to shout. He doesn’t want these to happen, but he imagines them. He writes.
A man wakes up in a bed made not of straw or wood, but of a soft material which is light and comfortable and makes it so sleep is not an effort, but easy to come by. It is almost magic, but not quite. This man, however, is used to this amazing comfort, and is able to tear himself from it. He walks into a separate room where he has a sink with water that does not need to be carried in a bucket, but instead comes out of a pump. Again, it is almost magic, but not quite. The man goes outside, where he has another house for the flying machine. He gets into it, and flies off. He lands in the center of a town filled with people—the writer shudders, but continues—and the man goes into a general store. But it is not just a general store. It is a multitude of general stores, each selling different things. The man goes into one of them. This is where he works. He goes into the back and changes into a different outfit for his work. He goes back out, and stands behind a counter. People bring items up to him, and he is expected to know exactly how much they are. This man is in high demand—people as good at math as he are very important for these kinds of jobs, and are paid a large amount of money.
Hours pass, and he continues to do this math. It is very hard to keep interest up during these long hours, but making mistakes could cost the company a lot of money. The items they sell are expensive, making every sale important. After five hours, he has not made a mistake. Then, finally, mercifully, the shop closes. He changes back into his normal clothes, and walks back outside. The sky is filled with flying machines and large buildings. The streets are full of carts that move without horses. The man runs across the street, narrowly missing a speeding cart, and is on the other side of the street. There are thousands of people walking this street, and the man must walk through the swarm in order to get to a restaurant for dinner. He finds on, and walks in. A waiter comes up to him and he orders. In five minutes, his food is delivered, and he eats it quickly, hungry after five hours of complex math. After he finishes, he goes to a place filled with people. There are many pretty girls there, and he dances with many of them. But this is a different dance than the waltz. This is a quick, suggestive dance. He meets a very nice girl, and he brings her home. They spend the night together, lit until two in the morning with the eternal candles. Then, he gives her a small device that will fit into the larger device, so they can talk and arrange to go on further dates. He has no work the next day, and so he is able to relax. He flies to a lake, far away from the city, and talks to the girl. She flies to the lake, and they spend a day having a picnic and watching the evening sunset.
Now the writer snaps out of his frenzy again. He hears the harmonica. He grasps for an idea. One comes to him, an eternal candle flickering above his head. He stares down at the paper again.
And this time, he goes deep into the past, into the time before the Romans, before the Greeks, before even the Egyptians. He thinks of the time when man was still almost an ape. There is an ape-man walking across a desert. He is chasing prey that he has been chasing for many days now. He is hungry.
He is chasing a deer-like animal. He has kept it on the move for many days now. It is now close to death. If he can keep it moving, it will not be able to continue to evade him. When that happens, he can chase it down and kill it. It will provide meat for all in his group.
Now he hears the cry of the deer. It is a cry that means it is closer to death than he thought. It will be a matter of hours, not days. The man sits and waits.
Finally, after waiting for seven hours, the man judges that the deer is tired. This man is patient. It is a quality that helps him greatly, and is a large part of the reason he is the best hunter in his group. Many of the younger men try to complete the hunt too quickly, and leave with nothing. This man works alone, because he always gets the kill. He sees no reason to get others to come with him, because they might jeopardize his chances, and he does not care for their company.
The writer stops, and smiles at this. He likes this character more than the others.
The hunter starts to creep toward the deer. It makes no movement, nothing to show that it has seen him. He moves slowly, surely, taking his time. This deer is close. He will get it if he waits.
He is within 20 feet now. The deer still has not noticed him, or maybe it is already dead. But the hunter will not take chances. It has taken him five days to get this far. He will not mess this up.
He is within 10 feet. A little longer, and he can get the deer with his spear. He crouches, shuffling forward silently. He strikes.
The man strikes the deer through the heart. It is dead instantly. He begins to drag the carcass back to his settlement.
Now he is back at his settlement. The other group arrived before him, filled with young hunters. However, they had no meat—the youngsters had chased it all away. The tribe is hungry. But he is back, and has food for all. He is a hero, once again.
The writer sits back once more. He needs another idea, he needs to stop thinking about his life; all of the boredom and the work and the people encroaching on his swamp. He looks down at his latest story for inspiration. Halfway through the page, the writing stops. He darts a look at his inkwell. There is no ink in it.
And now the writer faces a decision much more difficult than a word choice for a story. Now, he needs to decide—will he come out of this exile that he has had for so many years in order to buy ink? Or will he stay in this swamp forever, without a way to forget the sound of the harmonica? He sits, his eyes closed, his brow creased in thought.