“They disowned me, declared me sinful and discarded me. I owe them nothing.”
“The system is flawed, horribly so,” Thomas answered, arguing well-worn phrases. “But if you leave, you can’t help change it.”
“Change only comes from the inside – yeah, we’ve heard that before.” Peter sighed and glared back across the fire. He was tired of arguing. He just wanted to be free, but he wanted Thomas’ blessing before he left. After all, Thomas was the closest thing to a father he had, or chose to remember. “But what if I want to change me and not the system?”
Thomas sat quietly on a log on the other side of the fire. He was tired too, but hoped against hope that this time he might convince one of the children to stay. He had lived in the woods, outcast, for nearly two decades and it was all he knew. After every ceremony he found the child newly sent to the woods and offered his help, and a home of sorts. Most accepted his offer, though occasionally a child was too distraught, or too sure of their own place in the world to want any help. On their own, the children usually didn’t survive for long. Those Thomas took in learned and lived. But they never stayed.
Peter quietly said “I know what you would have us believe and do, but what if I’m not strong enough?”
“I am not a priest or any kind of wise man. What do you think I would have you believe?”
“That we were chosen by men, not God, to bear an unfair burden. That each person is responsible for their own sin, no matter what the teachings say. That the village still practices this barbaric custom as much out of habit as belief and that if we can find the right people to convince we can bring the whole thing crashing down. Then we could go back home.”
Three others sat around the fire listening quietly. The oldest was 13.
“That’s right. And you’re more than strong enough to fight.”
“But what if you’re wrong, what if we can’t change it? Why should I stay here and help the people who willingly abandoned me?”
“Where else are you going to go? There’s nothing out there. You know that.”
“There’s nothing out there for a week’s travel. You’ve never gone farther because you didn’t want to risk not making it back. What if I travel and week and a day and I find a new place - a new home? Somewhere they won’t care about the brands, or have any idea what they mean.”
“Such a place may not exist.”
“Or it might.” Peter wanted to shake Thomas, to make him understand. “If I stay here, I am what they made me and that’s all. If I leave I can be anything.”
“You could be dead.”
“It’s a possibility. I’m 17. That may not be the age of adulthood in the village but we grow up fast. We have to. You know that.”
Peter stood up and walked a few steps away from the fire. Sarah was crying quietly and he wanted to scream at her to stop and hug her at the same time. He should have known that Thomas would never agree. He had watched others leave when he was smaller, wondering why anyone would want to go. But now he understood. He had no home. He was responsible for no one’s sin but his own, and no one’s life but his own. Every time he stepped into the village to show himself he proved that a lie. He had to leave.
Thomas stepped up next to Peter, and they stood looking at the last bands of color from the sunrise. “You know if you leave they’ll have another ceremony. Mark some other ten year old and send them out to this.”
Peter looked resolutely forward. He couldn’t let Thomas see the tears in his eyes.
“I can’t protect everyone Thomas. Not the way you do. Since you’ve stayed the number of ceremonies has dropped. Children survive and stay to be seen and counted, for a while. I know what leaving means, but I have to go. When they choose some other child to take my place, that sin is on them, not me.”
Peter walked forward and picked up the pack he had spent weeks putting together. He turned back to Thomas. “I’ll send word back if I find somewhere else for us to be.” Thomas nodded at him. All those who left had said something similar. He had never heard from any of them again.
Peter took one last look around their clearing, and then turned and walked into the woods. In a few minutes he was gone.
Thomas looked back at the others and saw them cleaning up from breakfast. Today he had promised them a lesson in plant identification. He would have to go through the things Peter had left and see if anything could be useful. And in a few weeks, when it was obvious to the town elders that Peter was gone, Thomas would sneak into the village. He had found a spot to hide with a good view of the town square. He would watch the high priest say a name, and curse another child. And he would meet them in the woods, offer them a life. Perhaps this time they would stay.
***This is yet another piece of the story in the same world as previous LJ Idol entries ‘reprobate’ and ‘adored’. This week was an open topic so we could write about anything we wanted, and this story is stuck in the forefront of my brain. Thanks for reading.***