An Arrow in the Throat

Once upon a time there was a man and a woman who hoped to have a baby boy but got a girl instead.  As she grew older, she didn’t seem to care enough about anything.  Her parents tried to make her learn how to be a seamstress but she was too lazy to be good at it.  All she wanted to do was go for long walks in the woods and over the hills.  She was always running away when she was supposed to be working.  And the village took the side of her parents and said the girl was useless.  They gave up trying to find her in the woods and just let her roam.  And when she returned they told her to eat the scraps from the garbage heap.  

This made the girl even sadder for she could not resist the urge to run away from any work her parents or the village wanted her to do.  Even when an old woman asked her to help carry some sacks of grain, she’d eventually drop it and run for the woods.  The girl became like a ghost to them.  People stopped talking to her or noticing when she was around.  This hurt her feelings even more because next to wandering in the woods, she loved talking about walking in the woods and now nobody listened to her.  

Then one day whilst walking in the woods, she saw a frightful army of invaders creeping toward the village.  So she climbed to the top of a hill overlooking the village and screamed louder than her little body ever did.  So loud it shook the needles off some trees.  So loud it made the old lady drop her sack of grain.  So loud her parents ran out of the hut as if the village were on fire.  So loud everyone in the village looked up and saw her wildly pointing down the hill where they saw dark shadows moving amongst the trees.  

Her warning gave the villagers enough time to gather their tools and weapons and fight the invaders until they killed most and captured the rest.  Then it dawned on them that if the useless girl hadn’t screamed they might all be dead.  They looked amongst them and she was not to be seen.  They searched the woods and climbed the hill and found her with an arrow stuck through her throat.  Her fragile body pinned against a tree.  Her little purple tongue dangled out the side of her mouth as if it were trying to limp away to wander in the woods.

The whole village looked at her face and wept.  They wept for weeks and not just for what the invaders had done but in far greater measure for how they had treated her.  Those who had said the most hurtful things like “she’s just another mouth to feed” and “maybe she should never come back” felt the pain as if they had an arrow in their throats that they had shot into themselves.  From then on, the villagers said, “you’ve got an arrow in your throat” if anyone talked bad about someone else without seeing that person’s bigger purpose or contribution to the entirety of their existence. 

The Spoiled Brat

Once there was a prince who was the most spoiled prince of all. When the king would not give him one thing that he wanted, it would be the first and last time because the prince did not know how spoiled he was since the king had spoiled him so completely.

But somehow the prince had a gut feeling that the king might say “no,” so he asked for his wish in front of the entire kingdom. And the one time the king put his foot down, it felt like an elephant’s foot stepping on a pampered pup and the audience witnessed his little beating heart pop out of his little spoiled puppy dog chest.

All the innocent prince had wanted was to house the poor and sick in their castle in order to care for them as a member of their own family. The kingdom heard the prince’s wish and cheered for his charity and felt his love in their hearts with his spoiled request.

This made the king so irate that he called his son a spoiled brat before all of his subjects and in that moment the king looked like the most spoiled brat of all to his entire kingdom. It was as if his own son had split him in half with a sharp diamond-edged sword. One half his self-image made by him wobbled at the other image of him made by his kingdom. Caught between the betrayal of his son and his kingdom and his own betrayal of them drove the king mad. The prince thereby ascended the throne and became a king who spoiled the poor and sick until they were neither anymore.

I wrote this tale because “spoiled” is such a loaded word. Call someone spoiled and it is extremely offensive. But it also has this boomerang effect. For example, parents who spoil their children seem to be prone to calling their children spoiled. Or politically-minded people seem to thrive on the idea that their opponents are the spoiled ones, while their opponents think the same of them. Spoiled people do not think they are spoiled but are quick to point out someone who is more spoiled than they. Lastly, the word can have a pleasurable connotation. When you spoil a child or a pet rotten and they exhibit spoiled behavior at you who spoiled them, you can get this feeling where anger at being taken for granted crosses its wires with your absolute devotion for what you love and the result fills the chest and flares the nostrils with a certain joyous mischief.

Blame’s Only Solution

Once there was a boy and a girl who went into the woods but only the boy returned.  The villagers went looking for the girl but only found her clothes drenched in blood.  And when they demanded that the boy tell them what had happened, he could not speak a word.  

Some of the villagers blamed the boy for killing the girl and demanded that he give up his life in return.

Other villagers blamed the boy’s parents for not raising him correctly and demanded that the parents pay the ultimate price for the endless sorrow of the girl’s parents.

And others blamed the girl for going into the woods with the boy and said she got what she deserved.

And some even blamed her parents for not teaching her better and thought they also deserved to go in the woods and never come back with their self-inflicted sadness.

One villager said that they all were to blame for this tragedy because they should’ve prevented the boy and girl from going into the woods in the first place.  But the rest of the villagers blamed him for blaming them for something that did not involve them or their children as they saw it.

And that night, suspicions grew so wildly that some villagers set fire to the homes of those they blamed.  And they in turn torched the homes of whoever they blamed. Eventually the entire village was on fire.

In the morning, the villagers were ready to kill each other when the missing girl stepped out of the woods.  

And they blamed her for destroying their village and so they knew they had to sacrifice her.  They decided it was best to sacrifice the boy as well for not talking, even though the boy pleaded that he did not talk for the very reason that he had seen them do this before.  

And after they burned them at the stake, the villagers rebuilt their homes together and lived in brief harmony until the next outburst of blame and it’s only solution.

The King’s Stone

Once there was an old storyteller who became one of the most powerful people in the kingdom.  He had found a way to tell stories so that anyone who listened could accept them as the absolute truth.  Except those who the stories were intended to harm, of course.

The old man never forgot anything. That is partially why he was such a convincing storyteller. But it was also why he was so spiteful about any offense he suffered, like a village he visited once. In his eye, the people were not polite enough to him by the way they served him food and put him up for the night in an uncomfortable bed. All of which he thought was done on purpose. So he told a story many decades later and the king increased their taxes, and when they rebelled, their village was burned to the ground.

One day, the king’s spy overheard the storyteller boasting about his power. He found it amazing that people took his words as if they were written in stone and were so willing to act upon something as fleeting as a hot wind. But his real mistake was when he boasted that if he wished, he could spill into the king’s ear at the perfect moment the right combination of words about a hidden betrayal of his trust that would send the queen to her doom.

That night, the old storyteller awoke from a frantic nightmare – running from village to village with no clothes on while people hurled rocks and mud at him – to a wet bed.  He got mad at himself for pissing in his bed again until he heard the voice of the king sitting in a chair across the room.

As the king told him why his wife would never betray him for she had sacrificed her own traitorous brother, the storyteller realized that it was not his urine that soiled the sheets; he was bleeding from a mortal neck wound. When he tried to utter a word, liquid sounds sputtered out.

The old storyteller’s mind wandered in his last fleeting moments.

He remembered a fountain from his youth where the folk used to throw stones into it for good luck. And it was there that his storytelling began at a single question: what was the story of each stone? And he pulled them out one by one. Followed their stories wherever they led him. Afterward, the heft of each stone seemed to increase in weight with its story.

At that time, he used to say that everybody had a heavy stone in their heart. A stone so heavy that it settled in the fountain of their chest. But he had forgotten that sentiment. And lost himself in the power of stories to influence others. He had taken all the stones out and learned how to rearrange them to convince by spectacle instead of seeing their worth and unlocking their heft.

And so the king’s heaviest stone, the story of his wife’s sacrifice for his sake, sank deeply in the king’s chest. Something never to be pulled out. Sacred to him.

Simulation of Sacrifice

In Death Valley, forms appear to mimic the hands that sculpted them. As Jean Baudrillard noted in America, “Death Valley is as big and mysterious as ever. Fire, heat, light: all the elements of sacrifice are here. You always have to bring something into the desert to sacrifice, and offer it to the desert as a victim.”

In this strange mirror, a mirage produces a liquid permanence. And this ancient landscape becomes a future landscape as well as a launching point to terrains on other planets, other realities, and other existences, in addition to the seemingly inevitable sacrifice of human existence which as yet does not have the capacity to transcend this landscape. In that way, whenever I go to Death Valley, it’s immensity presses on me and makes me feel like eternity is under the feet of that which it feeds and consciousness appears as some strange simulated virginal sacrifice.

The King’s Finger

Once upon a time a king had a brilliant idea.  He had inherited a kingdom with many problems that he cared not to solve nor did he think could be solved anyways by any other king.  And with some bad luck the problems got so bad that the king knew there were subjects plotting to usurp him, not to mention the peasants had already marched to his castle with pitchforks and torches and demanded solutions he could not come up with.  

The king divided his power amongst his court as widely as he could.  He spread his actual responsibilities as thin as possible while keeping enough power to enjoy his wealthy habits like hunting and fireside concerts and lavish banquets and playing hide the finger with various subjects in his court or even by himself while taking a hot bath overlooking his vast countryside.  After all, he thought to himself, who doesn’t enjoy the pleasures of this world over the pains? And who would think it even possible to eliminate the pains altogether?

His brilliant idea for any problem was that he would put somebody else in charge of it so that when the people and the others in the court were fed up with that problem, they demanded that he cut off the head of the one in charge.  And he did so with ease because he knew that it was in exchange for his own. But he played reluctant and pretended to hold the burden of executing someone. And he shrugged as he pointed his finger. What else could he do? He had succumbed to the burden of leadership.

Anytime someone came to the king with a problem, all he had to do was point his finger at whoever he placed in charge of that problem.  The executions satisfied the kingdom’s anger and a new person in charge of that problem gave the kingdom hope again until the next execution. Before anyone could figure it out or do anything about this cycle that satisfied their feelings but solved none of their problems, the king passed away from natural causes after a long life of more pleasure than pain.