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Across the Border




Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side.

– an American proverb


He woke up surrounded by mist, unable to see anything past the thick wall of gray. His back was cold and ached. He placed his hand beside him, felt the packed, damp dirt, and realized he was on the ground. Groaning, he pushed himself up, his bones cracking as if he had been asleep for a millennium. His limbs did not feel like his own, and he stumbled drunkenly around until his gait stabilized. Movement was weird, like his legs were stuck in mud, like gravity was heavier. Snakes of mist danced around him as he swam blindly through the fog.


Eventually, the fog thinned enough for him to see his hands, paler than he remembered them, though perhaps that meant nothing because he didn’t seem to remember much at all anymore. He kept walking across the bare dirt, not knowing where he was going, yet knowing exactly which way he should have been going. At last, an unfamiliar riverbank, flanked by tall black reeds, faded into view. The steely river water was fast and turbid, crashing out of the fog, then back behind the swirling curtains of gray as quickly as it had appeared. He did not know where he was, and could not see what was across the raging waters. But, he knew that where he needed to be lay just on the other side, and felt an inexplicable urge to cross the dark, angry river.


A tall, hooded figure paddled slowly down the river in a wooden raft, undisturbed by the dangerous waters inches below him.


“Sir, could you please bring me to the other side of the river?” the boy asked.


The figure stopped the raft and turned to face him. The boy standing on the riverbank could not see the face beneath the hood.


“Sir, I would like to get to the other side of the river. Could you give me a ride?”


The figure craned his neck until the boy stared directly into the blackness under the hood.


“Why do you want to cross the river?” His voice was a whisper that hugged the boy, reverberating through the boy’s chest and warming his organs. The boy was drawn to the voice.


“My home is across the river, sir. I belong on the other side.”


“There is no room for you across the border,” the hooded figure replied. “I cannot take you. You are neither wanted nor needed there.” He turned around and reached for his paddle.


“Sir, I should be on the other side!” the boy pleaded before the tall man could float away, “I don’t feel right here. I am stiff and tired and the air is funny. My arms and legs are heavy and my feet are cold. I don’t know how long I’ve been here nor how I got here but all I know is that I never looked to come in the first place and I’ve already been here for too long. I do not like this fog and I need to get across!”


“There’s fog across the border as well.”


“But the fog there is different – it’s better.”


The tall figure pulled his raft close to the boy and leaned in until the boy could feel the icy breath rushing in and out from under the hood.


“Do you know where you are asking to go?” the figure asked.


The boy didn’t. But he knew that across the river was where he was meant to be and felt an irrepressible need to go.


“No, but I have a feeling – I just know – that the other side of the river is where I need to go. I know I have friends and family there, my mom, my dad, maybe brothers and sisters, who are all waiting – have been waiting. I don’t remember their names anymore but I know I have a home there. Dreams to live out. A life to fulf-”


“You don’t know what’s on the other side of the river do you?” The figure leaned in closer until the boy saw nothing but dizzying, swirling blackness. He felt a pair of eyes narrow, but could not be sure for he could not see.


“Once you cross the border, dear, you can never come back. Are you sure this is where you want to go?”


He was sick of being stuck on this side of the riverbank. The mud was crawling up his legs, wet and itchy and uncomfortable. The mist pressed against his lungs, laboring his every breath as he struggled to breathe, kept alive only by the sharp, frigid air flowing from under the hood of the black-clad figure before him. The air caressed the boy’s tired lungs and soothed his aching heart. He was positive that he needed to get away from where he was to the opposite riverbank.


“Yes, sir. I would like to cross,” he responded without hesitation. “I am ready to go to the other side.”


The hood backed away and the air around the boy seemed to suck back into place. It was easier for the boy to breathe now, but his limbs felt like noodles and he wanted nothing more than to flop into the cold, slimy river mud that was slowly inching upwards, encasing his weightlessly heavy body in a suffocating blanket of slush. From here, the darkness of the hood no longer seemed so black, nor as tall or looming or hard and ominous.


“There is a small fee for the service, my boy.”


The boy pulled a coin from underneath his tongue, and the ferryman lowered his hood.

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