The Cost of Freedom

Published on Sep 12th, 2010 by

Imagine you’re in a forest. The trees, tall and full, whisper tales of the evening. Wild flowers are sprinkled across the luscious carpet of grass. It is summer. The sun’s rays shine through the boughs, gradually thinning to fine points as it sets, the sky ablaze with fire. Erratic birdsong punctuates the air, moments of choral bliss between nature’s silence. You are barefoot. Each footstep leaves no imprint, the grass springing back up behind you to cover your trail. There is no discernible entrance to the clearing. You are just here, and the arrival or departure is of no consequence.

Over by a copse of trees, some rustling, then the hurried sounds of an animal fleeing. You approach, maybe smile, the sun’s rays are warm against your skin. The ground at the base of a tree has been disturbed, foraged by that unseen creature. Summer’s ending now, Autumn’s coming in, maybe the animal is preparing to retire for the Winter. You turn, still smiling. You didn’t notice before, but the clearing contains a small pond, beside which is a fallen tree. You move to this now and sit down, facing into the clearing.

Near the fallen tree lies a fox. It is dead, and has been for some time. Its mouth is open, frozen in rigor, its teeth bared in a grin. There is a hole in the fox’s belly, the flesh torn away amongst the remaining patches of red fur. Flies skitter about the corpse’s surface, taking off then landing again, never straying too far from this bounteous sustenance. The fox’s remaining, glassy eye stares up at the canopy of trees above.
Still smiling, you turn away, around on the fallen tree to face the pond. Its surface is still, undisturbed by plant life or aquatic creatures. It shimmers black, the forest and yourself reflected in the dark water. You watch this for a long time, not noticing the chill that creeps into the air, or the fading light.

Eventually, you notice you’re not alone. You’re unaware of just when the man sat down beside you. He’s out of sight, not reflected in the water, and you don’t turn to look at him. A feeling of peace descends over the forest.
“Do you like it here?” the man asks.
You tell him that you do.
“This is a bad place,” he says. “This is the place where Hope comes to die.”
“But it’s so pretty,” you say.
“It wasn’t always pretty,” he tells you. His voice is soft, kind. “One day, they came. The men, with their dogs. Searching.”
“Did they find what they were looking for?”
“Do you think they found what they were looking for? We’re still here, aren’t we?”
You glance over your shoulder at the tree, at the disturbed ground beneath it. “I guess we are.”

“Do you think they’ll come back?” you ask.
The man puts a hand on your shoulder. It’s comforting and warm. There is no pain, no fear.
“I don’t think so,” he tells you quietly. “They’re not looking any more.”

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