Putting the Cat Back in the Bag

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Well folks, there’s no reason to beat around the bush for this one. The young man you see up there? Before you reach the end of this story, this young man will be dead. I’m sorry you had to find out this way, but to be honest, if you’ve read a few of these island yarns already and are expecting something pleasant to come out of this one, I’m not really sure what to tell you.

 

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I know, it’s disappointing to say the least. I mean, just look at him. So full of pep and vigor, so optimistic. He must have drifted onto the island not long ago, or else the onslaught of time would have certainly ravaged his spirits by now.

 

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It would all be kind of adorable, actually, if it wasn’t so grotesque, if I wasn’t already cognizant of his ultimate fate. When anyone else in his situation would have abandoned hope, there he is, ready to face the new eternal day, and whatever no surprises it has to offer him.

 

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Oh good Lord, look at this. He’s even resorted to calisthenics.

 

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I mean sure, whatever, you don’t want to pull a muscle when you’re stranded on a lonely hell island. Now I’m sort of starting to feel sorry for him. For all the exercise he’s doing now, by the end of this tale this poor young man will have no need for fitness. Or breath, for that matter. Because he will be dead.

 

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Look, I get it, people like stories because they want to believe an everyman can beat the odds, conquer death, get the elixir and come back home to tell everyone all about it. Well, if you think you’re discouraged, how do you think I feel? I’m the narrator, I have no choice but to recite events that are completely out of my control.

 

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I’d stop him if I could, believe me. Have you ever seen a bleached-white skeleton, picked clean through the years by carrion birds? I have, in real time, and I don’t want to see another one just as much as you don’t. I’m not a monster, after all.

 

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But such is my lot, and such is the undeniable call to adventure for this poor doomed young man. I don’t know, maybe we can find something positive out of the story as it goes on. You know going in that Romeo and Juliet kill themselves, and people seem to like that one, right?

 

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There he goes, walking the notorious, perpetual circumference of the island, keeping an eye out for food, or a potable water source, or some decent shelter, all with a smile and a skip in his step, with the question in his heart never if he’ll find any of those things, but always when (a heart which, and I have to stress this, will stop beating by the end of this story.)

 

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Oh, you gotta be…

 

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Well, there’s nothing doing now, is there? He noticed the apple, I suppose I have to bring it to your attention as well.

 

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No doubt you may have taken this as an auspicious sign of good things to come (as certainly this soon-to-be dead young man has). Oh, he’s looking for food, and food comes to him almost immediately, you thought, right?

 

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However, if I were a betting narrator, I’d wager the symbolic significance of this apple was just as lost on you as it was on this poor sap. Apples, of course, are the classic symbol of curiositas, the dangerous curiosity of medieval tradition, the desire to know things that should be left well enough alone. It was a forbidden apple, after all, that doomed all of mankind, out of the eternal garden of paradise and into the world of suffering, toil, and death.

 

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When was the last time you ever heard a story where someone was offered an apple and it wasn’t a sign of horrible things to come? Snow White, anyone? Oh, but what does he care, go ahead and take it young man. Chomp chomp away, enjoy that free food, you’re going to be food for something else soon enough.

 

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Now I’m sure you’re wondering, why should you bother reading on, if I’m so insistent that this young man is not even going to survive your own attention span for this story? Well, I’m not like other narrators, who overwhelm you with tales of woe and yet implore you to look away. Go on and read, or don’t for all I care. I guess I let the strain of the job get to me, but if you do indulge me I think there’s a good lesson to be learned here.

 

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Besides, it’s only a sad story if you think it’s all about him. It’s not. It’s actually all about him. You remember him, don’t you? Well, make no mistake, he’s the real reason we’re even here in the first place. He’s been hiding his mangled features ever since that mishap with his face (whether to protect himself from hungry birds or the shocked gasps of others, who can say), and now there’s a chance that he could be our usual protagonist, or he could be the other man. But much like that cat in the box who’s both dead and alive, we have to assume it’s our main character as much as it could not be.

 

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Well, here we are. Let’s get this over with.

 

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Oh look, a stranger. I bet he’s thinking something like, ah, I didn’t know there were other people here! Perhaps there’s an opportunity here to make a new friend!

 

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Imagine his surprise, this utterly credulous child of a young man, when upon greeting the stranger, introducing himself, and asking him for his name, the other man simply grumbled and disregarded him with a huff.

 

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That being the first time since he got on the island that something didn’t immediately go his own way (and who knows, maybe the first time in his whole life. It wouldn’t surprise me), he of course couldn’t stand for it. There had to be a way to reach this unhappy man, and he was determined to find it.

 

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Where to start? For one thing, there was that paper bag on his head. While it might offer him a bit of shade against the oppressive sun, for the most part people don’t usually cover up their whole faces like that unless there’s something that needs to be hidden. Or maybe, something the sad man only believes needs to be hidden.

 

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So that was it. Whatever it was under that bag, he’d uncover it for all the world to see. Maybe it was just that the stranger needed a little more confidence in himself.

 

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And what could be under there anyway, that’s so terrible no other man can see it? So he’s disfigured. Well, his face might be hard to look at, but it can’t be that bad if he’s still alive, can it? As long as he was alive, he vowed to himself that he’d learn to live with him, and even grow to cherish his friendship, no matter how long they would live together on the god-forsaken island (not very long at all, it turns out), and no matter what was underneath…

 

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Well. Looks like it’s not his self-confidence.

 

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The young man, when before his heart was full of compassion and kindness or the stranger, now only felt frustrated, offended even (and good for him. I mean he should appreciate feeling anything in his heart right now, since, you know, he’ll be dying soon). What gruesome secrets awaited him in there? Bits of sagging flesh? Eyeballs hanging from sockets? Visible bone, or even an entire bare skull? He had to know for sure now.

 

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He grumbled for a short while until a stratagem finally came to mind. Being a man, he assumed the stranger would thus have to sleep sometime, no matter how disfigured he was. It was when the man would take his daily slumber that he would have his chance to look under the bag.

 

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He let out the heartiest and most-convincing fake yawn he could muster and feigned an afternoon nap next to the stranger. It would only be a matter of time before his companion would follow suit.

 

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It turned out it was a matter of time. Several hours of time.

 

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It seemed the man did not eat often, did not get up and walk much, did little to pass the day other than periodically pick up handfuls of sand and wring them in between his hands, as if grinding his palms with the stuff as an act of penance.

 

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I mean sure, it’s another appropriate metaphor for the subject matter at hand. We all really are just handfuls of sand falling through the fingertips of God and blowing away in the winds of fate and time, aren’t we, and no one more so than this young man, who of course will die very soon. But still, it’s a real drag to have to sit here and watch this. You’re lucky if you’re out there reading this, you can just assume with the magical suggestive power of one juxtaposed image to another that a lot of time has gone by, but not me. Nope, I have to wait this all out. How else can I know to tell you it happened if I don’t?

 

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Finally, the stranger let out a faint yawn through his bag and set down for his afternoon nap.

 

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It’s a wonder the young man didn’t also sleep through his big chance. Believe me, he’ll have plenty of time soon for long stretches of sleep, those long stretches lasting roughly… forever.

 

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But no, here he is, his chance finally within his grasp.

 

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He could almost taste the anticipation like the apple he just had. Sagging flesh? Droopy eyes? Bits of skull? The secrets of the man’s horrible visage would be his at last.

 

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Get ready. It’s going to happen any time now.

 

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Yes, better make sure the coast is clear, on a deserted island.

 

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Looks like you’re all set on your right flank as well, young man.

 

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Alright, here goes nothing.

 

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Well, there you have it. Turns out, whatever his face was underneath the bag was so horrific it frightened him into a massive coronary arrest. I’d say the only thing he’ll be accomplishing from here on out is pushing up daisies, but I don’t think daisies can grow in this tropical climate and in sand, so no, I don’t even think he’ll be able to do that.

 

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You know, the funny thing about the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” is it’s actually incomplete. The full saying is “curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” In this case, however, only the first part is true, because the young man is a man, and men don’t come back to life when they die, satisfaction or no. And now that I’m really thinking about it, neither do cats. They don’t really have nine lives, even though the saying says so, so cats also stay dead when they die. Damn, this guy really didn’t have a chance, did he? Well, let’s not worry about him anymore. Let’s instead go back to our main character.

 

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That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along, you see, it’s all about him.

 

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The young man of course won’t go on, but he will, and so will his story. He’ll have to live with the fact that he can instantly kill a man simply with one look at his horrendous disfigured face, and he’ll have to live with the fact that he once did exactly that.

 

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Oh, I’m sure he feels very bad about it. But what’s he proactively going to do about it? It seems a little unfair to me that he just sits there, probably taking up valuable resources that other people on the island could put to good use, to just feel bad all day that his face makes wildlife scatter and souls fly out of the mortal coils of men. And while it’s true he technically didn’t intend harm to come to this young man, how culpable is he for his untimely passing? Anyone could stumble on the bag and dare a peek (indeed, who knows how many already have?! I’m sure he’s not telling anytime soon). He should put up a sign of warning before he sleeps, or I don’t know, maybe, not sleep. It’s awfully selfish of him, isn’t it, still choosing to live a life incapable of joy, of cooperation, even of human interaction at all? Simply using up food and water and air for no reason other than he is simply too much of a coward to rid us of himself.

 

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I did warn you that someone would die by the end of this story, but maybe… maybe it was the wrong person who died in the end. But who really knows, I’m just the narrator, after all.

 

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