Stillness lay over the face of the gently eddying water as it flowed across the barren wasteland. Shadows crept across the gently swaying cattails as a small flock flew over the river in search of fish. Among the waves, a twig floated down river. On that twig was tied a piece of paper that had writing that resembled English, but made little sense to me when I found it…
Two years earlier-
A firm knock sounded on the door. The father rose to answer in, half expecting it to be his angry neighbor, but was hailed by a small elderly man wearing spectacles and a faded, rather worn black suit. The man put his request straight forward, not begging, but simply asking if he may stay the night at their fair home. The fathers reply came straightway, “Er, um sir, the wife and I would be happy to let you stay the night under ordinary circumstances, however, my son has a fever and I wouldn’t like you to catch it…”
“Is that what you tell all the people you turn away?”
The father looked on dumbfounded. “Whatever are you talking about?”
“Your only son is just now playing by the reeds.”
“You can’t know this. What’s your game old man?”
“I am a messenger, and I have a message most grave for you. Your only son has a disease that will leave him unable to move in one and one half year. You have refused the cure, now he will pay the price.”
“Surely you jest, or perhaps you are insane. Either way, you are not welcome in my home. Be gone, and do not come back.”
“As surly as I stand here today, I will not be back, even though you will want me.”
As they watched, the old man hobbled down the road and disappeared into the red setting sun.
When Charles came home just after dark, his mother scolded him sharply and sent him to bed, but not before his father questioned him on every activity of the day. Finding nothing unusual in the boys’ replies, William put his mind at ease and slept soundly. His wife didn’t sleep quite as well, but Charles’ sleep was the worst.
That night, Charles had a dream that he had been bitten by a spider and that he was trapped by its web. When he awoke the following morning, he felt less alert. Over breakfast, the young boy shared his dream with his parents…who pretended to ignore it, branding it as a dream only.
In the following months, little changed about the boy, so his parents assumed that the dream truly was coincidence and stopped worrying about this imaginary disease and the crazed old man who had invented it…
Ten months later, the disease set in at full force, leaving the boys body mostly useless by the eighteenth month. The parents offered a reward to whomever could cure the disease, but to no avail. The child’s condition worsened until he could only communicate by writing. His handwriting, easier to understand than his speech, was to say the least, difficult to cipher. The one thing that he made quite clear was that he wished to be buried by the river. His wish was honored on the nineteenth month anniversary of his dream.
His other request was that all of his writings be thrown into the river. His parents hated this request, but they honored it in memory of their son. Not wishing the treasured writings to be destroyed by the water, they covered them in wax and wrapped them around a twig before casting them into the water…
Two hundred miles downriver, I saw this twig and pulled it from the water. Curious, I traveled upstream and, upon coming to a town, asked what this paper might mean. I happened upon a doctor who told me of the condition of the boy and where he had lived so I followed the river until I found his parents. They were overjoyed to have their sons’ writings back and rewarded me for finding them, but it seemed hollow to me after I learned the full story. What left me sad was that the parents were angry with God. It seemed that they had learned little from their sons’ death…but it occurred to me that very few people ever truly understand death; and therefore cannot understand life.
This I learned from watching the river.
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