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When children die
There are children sitting on a log near a stream. One of them looks up at the sky and says…
“It’s too bad we’re dead.”
The other children look around without much expression. They agree, but not enough to actually say anything. The other kid talks too much, plays too much, smiles too often. They don’t know his name; none of them know any of their names. They forgot them long ago. So, named for his playfulness, they call him Rash. Rash takes it as a compliment, but the oldest and most sensible of them, Practical, thinks Rash is a nuisance. Pest is a better name for him, he thinks.
“Really guys, don’t you wish you could still fly kites?” Rash asks. He completes a cartwheel and lies on his back, staring at the tops of the trees and the blue sky beyond.
The word sparks memory in the heads of the newer children, but the older ones just brush away the thoughts. Like they would a fly.
Rash sighs a big sigh and crawls over to the river, running his hand through the water, pretending he can feel the coolness. A flash of orange and black catches his eye. “It’s a fish! Guys, come over here! I see a fish!”
Practical sees the brightness in Rash’s eyes and decides to stomp it out. Even if he is a nuisance, he owes him that much. Practical opens his mouth and the others stop staring around languidly and focus on Practical. Practical’s the oldest of them, and worth listening to.
“Rash, there is no fish. And you know it. This is The Place of Dead Children; no animals can make it here. I’m older than you, so respect my wishes and be quiet.”
Rash looks away childishly. “I’m nine! Older than any of you guys!” Rash is still sore over the fish, but his boyish pride won’t let Practical, who is five years younger than him in the alive world, boss him around. He wants to fight, but he knows Practical won’t engage him. It’s a miracle he said anything in the first place. He looks at the log of twelve children, all different ages, none of them over nine. All of them not really there.
Rash decides to be rash and walks up to Practical, deciding to broach the forbidden subject and ask Practical how he died. If anything could start a fight that would. But Rash doesn't ask. He notices Practical’s eyes are shining, and focused.
Practical’s attention has locked on to the stream.
Rash gasps. “You saw it too, didn't you?!” Practical seems shocked out of his reverie and looks at Rash with honest surprise. The other children stare at Practical. “You've been here over a thousand years! If anybody else could have seen a fish, it would be you!”
Practical stands up, little fists curling at his sides. All the other children gasp. Practical hasn't stood up in forever. Rash is the only one still new enough to want to walk around, but even Sour, the second oldest will walk every now and then. But nobody, ever, has ever seen Practical stand up.
And he’s mad. “So what if I saw a fish? It doesn't mean anything! And it was way before any of you got here! I saw animals all the time before you guys showed up and ruined everything!”
Rash’s face mirrors the others. But there’s not much expression to mirror. Every single face on that log is wide eyed and blank. Wary, a girl, who’s only been at the log a hundred years longer than Rash, tears up. “You blame us?”
Practical stays standing. “So what if I do? None of you actually care, anyways!” he crosses his arms and stands in front of the rest. He’s about to say something else, but Rash steps in front of him.
“Yeah! ‘Cuz none of you guys care about anything! And even if it was a fish just now, none of you would know it! You’re all just blank! There’s no fun here, even if it is really beautiful.”
Now that he mentioned it, the others glanced around. It was beautiful. The tall trees stand behind them, the blue sky reflects in the water of the stream and the sun beams down at them. Yes, it was very beautiful.
Rash continues, “But all of you just sit there! Day and night. It’s so boring!” He grabs Sour and Wary’s hands, and then pulls them up off the log and onto the ground. Stunned, they roll across the grass and tumble into a pile, Wary’s little blue dress can’t stain, but it picks up plenty of grass. Rash continues to yank child after child off the log and toss them to the ground.
He stands in front of Practical, daring him to fight back, as he grabs his wrist, but Practical simply shakes him off and walks calmly towards the other children. He helps them pick themselves up off the ground, and they all stand in a small group, opposing Rash.
Practical walks over to Rash and stares him in the eyes. “You can’t win. There’s nothing to win. We are going back to the log now.” Practical ushers the other children past Rash and they stand behind him, waiting for Practical to come lead them. “Rash, I don’t know what you think you’re going to accomplish. I-”
Rash grabs Practical’s shoulders, and shoves him in the stream.
Practical lands on his back with a splash, and a greatly undignified look on his face. Rash stands, arms crossed, and triumphant.
The other children stand shocked. They’ve never seen Practical like this. So… Un-Practical. They wonder what he will do. Will he stand up, and go back to the log? Will he punish Rash?
He sits, in the water, silent. Then Practical looks up at Rash and starts to laugh. Boyish giggles mix with the laugh that would come with thousands of years of sitting on a log. It’s an age old laugh, but still the laugh of a little boy. The group is stunned.
But not Rash. He laughs right back, and it’s just two little boys sitting by a stream laughing.
Wary is the first to laugh along. She runs and jumps into the water. Soon, all twelve children are laughing and splashing each other. Although they cannot really touch the cool water, it still feels good.
To the amazement of the children, an orange fish with black spots jumps out of the water, breaching the space above their heads. It seems to hover as it reaches the apex of the jump, water forms a misty ring around it that glows in the golden light of the sun. When the fish lands, its tail slaps the water, spraying droplets over the children, and when the water lands on their cheeks, they feel it.
Practical looks over at Rash, “We’re going to have to start calling you Hope.”