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Last night, the little village by the old oak forest burst into flames and burned to the ground, and no one will ever ask why. It was an act of the gods, a punishment for their sins, they will say. But it is fine that they do not ask, because even if they did, I would not answer.
The little boy would have said, you’re just bad at talking. And then he’d have laughed.
I’d have told him it was because they were all filthy pigs anyways. And he would have laughed some more.
The little boy had no name, but his hair sparkled like sunlight and his laughter rang like a bell. I told him once that he couldn’t be human—he must be an angel. But he had only laughed as usual, saying that he was no angel, just a dirty little orphan. An orphan? I asked. A person with no parents, he told me. But there was nothing wrong with that. Angels didn’t need parents.
The little boy once told me about a wonderful castle in the forests I guarded. A fortress of clouds with gorgeous roses in full bloom twining around each spiraling tower, straining for the heavens! They wanted to fly into the sunlight, high above the mountaintops, he said, and I saw the longing in his eyes as he spoke. I told him that as long as he laughed, it would be enough for me. Wasn’t that enough for him, too? Of course, he said, but didn’t I ever wish that I could fly? Everything was more beautiful from above. That was what he said.
I once asked him what I looked like to him. He looked at me with serious eyes and said, a flower. A flower? A flower, he nodded, but he didn’t explain any further. Sometimes he was just like that, but he liked flowers, and so did I.
When other people look at me, they scream.
When other people look at me, they run away.
Why? I asked him, but he had no answer. You’re just too beautiful, he said. He couldn’t think of any other reason.
His laughter always lit up my woods, day and night; rarely did I see him return to the village. That was fine with me; he was the sunlight that my flowers always reached for, and I was happy. I liked it that the other villagers had stopped coming into the woods, and I liked it that the little boy had stopped going back. I was all he needed, and he was all I needed. That was fine with me.
One day, he told me that the cows were dying. The cows? I asked. There were no cows in my forest. There were squirrels and foxes and fish and deer, but no cows. Cows, he said to me. They chew grass slowly with a thoughtful look on their face. The pastures are their universe and they the sages of its secrets. But now they have no water and no grass to chew on, he sighed sadly. There is no rain. I nod. That is true; there is no rain.
When will the rain come? He asked. I shrug because I do not care, as long as I have my sunlight. But I am uneasy as well; my trees are starting to wilt, and my flowers are starting to wither. The fish may not have enough water to swim in soon. Still, if I can keep my sunlight, then that is enough for me.
That night, for the first time in many years, a villager entered my woods. He stomped around and trampled on my flowers, so I sent him away before the dawn broke. I did not like him. He brought with him a cold feeling, the sharp frost of a dark winter night. But everything was fine, I told myself, because I had my sunlight and laughter and that was enough.
More of them came the next night, so many that I could not chase them all away. They stormed and raged, killing my fish and dyeing the streams red. They crushed my flowers underfoot and shook the trees until they screamed silently, bleeding scarlet leaves as they fell. What did they want? Why did they bring the winter into my forest?
Witch! They cried, waving torches that stained the ground with flickering red firelight. Harsh, ugly light, cold as fear.
Witch, they whispered as they stumbled upon my heart, deep in the fortress of leaves. I shrank back because it would hurt, but I wouldn’t die. I knew that. And as long as I had my sunlight, then it was fine with me.
I saw the laughter as it lit up the forest one last time, heard the bright sun running through the dead trees. The little boy with the golden hair, now drenched in the blood-red torchlight. Silent, brave, alone. I tremble and reach toward him, but I cannot touch him, cannot protect him as the red flower of death blooms slowly on his heart, its petals blocking out the fading sunlight. If I lose my only sunlight, what am I to do? But he just smiles. There are flowers that bloom in the dead of night, he tells me. And then he disappears.
That night, the village burst into flames and burned to the ground. Monster, they scream at me as they flee from my forest. I’m not the monster, I tell them. They are the monsters. But that doesn’t matter because soon there is no one left to scream. That’s fine. If there is no laughter, there’s no need for any screams, either.
That night, it rained for the first time in years. When will the rain come? The little boy had asked, and now it is my turn to laugh. It cannot rain when the sun is out. The sun will not come out when there is rain. Why? I ask, but no one answers. No one laughs with me.
No one will ask why the village burned. It is simply the will of the gods, they murmur. The will of the gods is unfathomable, but the virtuous will be safe. All the same, no one dares step foot in my woods, and that is fine with me. No one else should look at my flowers. No one else should laugh in my trees.
Where is the castle you spoke of? I ask the little boy, but there’s no reply. I look at the sky and raise my fingers. The rain has already stopped, but still the sun does not come out.