Pericarp This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

June 1, 2012
Ten. The number of fingers we’re born into the world with. The number of days ancient warriors spent training until they were considered combat-ready. Combat. That’s what it took. One man’s combat. Combat to break it. To break ten. One man’s selfless raging of psychological war on the shackles that held back generations from becoming the thinkers and philosophers and revolutionaries of old. Old. Before ten.

Ten was, long before anyone can even pretend to remember now, the number of words we were allowed. All of us. They were carefully rationed from the moment that the our initial cries escaped our lips. Our parents chose our first. They coaxed it out of us. From there, interference was forbidden. They wanted to see what we could do with ten. We were guinea pigs. Those who chose to be nurses learned simply “This way please” and “The doctor will see you now” on their own. Of course, these could be bent into any shape they liked. “Now please, doctor!” or “You see this?” We were told that such exertion of free will was a luxury, and we believed it. Rather than let any trace of disappointment creep into our visages, we relished the fact that we were given such choice. It was positively lovely. Like picking a prom dress.

Then He was born. He was born, and from that instant, the combat began. Of course, nobody understood the magnitude of the situation. The midwife assigned His mother let out her obligatory screeches of “Push!” as the poor woman writhed in silent agony. The room was still, shrouded in more still a silence than any of its inhabitants had ever experienced. Doctors became uneasy. Her husband glanced awkwardly at his watch. No one used verbal methods to note the tension. It was foolish to waste speech on something like this. The stillness justified itself when finally He appeared, covered in afterbirth and glowing an icy blue. The cord had constricted His airway. Panic broke out. Alarms erupted into a frenzy. He was almost lost, but He prevailed. Just as He would when He saw the other end of His life, He fought and He won.

His parents became worried as He grew from an infant with icy blue skin to an adolescent with an icy blue aura. They had gifted Him “life”, in hopes that His other nine words would enable Him to share the story of His birth; unaware, of course, of the real story He was hiding inside. He would not have it. He was constrained enough as an infant. Ten words would not do. How could He begin to understand the beauty of the world He saw in ten simple words? What was He to call the brilliant winged creatures that floated above Him as He walked to school? The hard blocks which He seated Himself on daily? When He was old enough to learn that there were only nine more (a message conveyed to all by specially trained bureaucrats who learned “You have nine more words. I would make them count.”), He refused to speak one. Thought was required in a situation like that. He had “life”. What could He do with life?

After years of bitter, defiant silence, it hit Him in a day: He would spin tales. He heard about them in school. The men who wrote those mysterious books, now forbidden entirely for fear of their psychological damages to the general population. He carefully scribbled on his notebook the alphabet which He had learned years ago. “Once, there was life. We loved it. All things must—”…and He hit a dead end. End. That’s what He wanted to say, but His hand simply refused to go any further. He cried that night.

The next years of His life saw Him telling every person he could find, “Once there was life. We loved it. All things must,” perplexing nearly everyone. But not me. I found Him on a corner, dying of what could only be described as a terminal frustration. I heard His sentencing from across a park in which I often sat and read. Books. Books which I had purchased illegally from friends of mine who had connections. Books full of concepts and words completely lost on me. But his words were the words of the men in the books. Perhaps he could help.

Of course, the dying are not of much help to anyone. I used my “Hello. Rodney. How are you today?” (my parents had the good sense of gifting me my name, something overlooked by many). He coughed. His eyes looked distinctly sad and terrified and mournful all at once. I was the first person that had ever approached Him before. The first to listen. He didn’t know what to do. As He reached His hand out to give me a spiral bound notebook bookended with leather, His lips trembled out the word “eleven” before the mist of life cleared from Him entirely. I stood, in shock. I counted on my fingers the words He said earlier with what He just managed to…

“Eleven.” My hand flew to my mouth. “ELEVEN.” I gripped the notebook, noticing the word “End” scribbled across the front. Inside was everything. His story. This story. All meticulously cut and pasted from the dictionary taped to the leather lining. The dictionary with the peculiar word circled. “Pericarp”.

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