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Stories from the City

When were they coming? They should be here already. But wasn’t this always the trouble with pre-cogs? You saw the future and had to live into its completion until it finally happened.

Evan knew this forest before anyone else did. He knew how it would produce the trees that would be felled and shaved and sliced to make the house. That house. The one where people went to die.

But it wasn’t time yet. The house hadn’t been imagined, much less designed. The community didn’t know they needed it, didn’t know there was a problem to be fixed. Not until the town meetings, where one by one, amid hushed conversations during the breaks, never during the group meetings, people confessed to their secrets.

There was a lot of death in that town, and a lot of it was the same. A lot of overdoses that weren’t talked about, for fear of bringing shame to the family. Too, there were a lot of middle-aged people dying decades before their time due to legal addictions. So much substance-abuse in that little town. They never thought it would come to them, but it did, slowly, trickling in like a dirty fog. It came in from the big towns, the boomtowns, the towns where nobody knew your name.

Lawrenceburg thought it could never happen to them, but Evan knew better. Nothing surprised him because he’d seen it before in his visions. The future passed before his eyes like a dance of ghosts, half there, indistinct and yet somehow certain. He’d had the sight all his life, yet he didn’t know he could see any different from anyone else. Nobody else in his family had the sight – or if they did they didn’t say. It wouldn’t do to get people talking and wondering. Fear of the unusual got people burned way back when. Now it just got them committed. And nobody took you seriously after that.

That wouldn’t do for Evan. The messages he received were too important to be dismissed. So he had to tell, but do it carefully. So he wrote stories. People liked stories. It is why Jesus used parables. Stories got down under the skin and started to change you, make you think and act in new ways. Stories were how you reprogrammed people. Not rules. Not laws. The most unrepentant criminal would break the law just because, to prove he could. Deep down a lot of criminals and bullies never got past the terrible twos. With stories however, that was another kettle of fish. Stories would change a person without them even knowing.

Evan wrote stories about the town, but he changed all the names.  Too close, too much like fact and nobody would listen.  He read them out loud at any gathering he could – county-fairs, book signings, coffee house meetings of poets and upstarts.  He sold his books to people who wanted to read them for themselves, of course, but the real work was in the hearing.  Heard stories slipped past the brain and went right to the heart – or the stomach, depending on the aim.  This is the secret truth of stories which all successful prophets and revolutionaries know. 

Evan had started telling his story a decade ago, when he first saw it play out before his eyes.  He could tell by how it reeled out that he would have to start softening the people of his town immediately.  Some visions could wait, but not this one.  The town would be a husk by then, a ghost town.  Those who weren’t actually dead would be darn near enough, wasting away from cancer or zoned out on benzos or fentanyl.  The walking near-dead – all of them, just biding time until the grave.  Evan had to work long and hard if he wanted to avoid that.

His visions were not set – but simply shadows of things that may be, rather than those that will be.  The certainty of the future lay only in the course of non-intervention. If he did nothing, his vision would play out. No matter how small his action, it would improve the situation.

The house of death that was to be built was oddly named.  Everyone who entered left at the end of their term on their own two feet – not feet first.  What died were their bad habits and old ways.  But in order for this house to be built, he had to keep the forest intact.  Too many forests were being leveled in the name of “progress”.  New subdivisions or grazing land for cattle or acreage for yet another mall that looks like a little town kept appearing while the old-growth forest kept disappearing.  You didn’t need to be a prophet to see where that was headed.  But you did need to be a prophet to steer the community in the direction of its own healing. 

 (Inspired by artwork by Dan McCarthy, of the same name)

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