Salt: A Modern Fable

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I’ve never written a fable before, but when I caught a headline on Politico yesterday, this story jumped into my head. I wrote it for 2-Minutes-Go.

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Salt

More than his gold-plated golf clubs, more than his collection of celebrities on speed-dial, more than any of his trophies, the man loved his salt. He’d cultivated that salt with a patience he’d bestowed on no human in his life. He’d traveled the earth looking for the best location to harvest it, the ideal climate, the primo seaside sunbaked leeward cove, where the big-league crystals collected. But it still was not good enough, the haul too paltry, so he spent a million dollars of his fortune on a magician’s spell to make the minerals more powerful.

That was the ticket.

The salt colonized and crystallized and concentrated and sparkled. The ocean and magic combined to imbue it with the bitter tears of mermaids in mourning, the revenge of white whales, the last cries of drowning mariners, the shaking fist of Atlantis. He brought no one there except his favorite son, on secret missions, telling his wife they were going to the circus, or hunting tigers. The first time they reached the cliffs, the boy looked confused, and the man indulged in a wolf’s smile.

“Someday,” he said, clapping a small hand to the boy’s shoulder, “this will all be yours. It will be your legacy. It will be the salt to rub in your enemies’ wounds.”

The boy didn’t understand, and the man was angry, and the boy grew quiet. But he kept bringing the boy to the cliffs when he traveled to check on his salt, to make sure the enchantment still held, to make sure there would be enough. For he had a lot of enemies. He’d hoped to push some sense into the boy. Like his father had done to him.

During his next visit, as they beheld what the family fortune had purchased, the boy asked, “Is it time yet?”

The man lifted his chin and felt the sea breezes on his freshly exfoliated face. He licked a finger and raised it in the air. “Oh,” he said, relishing what was to come. “It’s time.”

And he took off his expensive shoes and rolled up his expensive trousers and picked down the rocks to where the salt deposits lay, all the while wincing at the pain in his soft, small, pedicured feet. The boy followed his lead, carrying the golden bucket, and soldiered on under its weight as the man filled it to the brim.

The salt was beautiful, and it was his, and the man felt a touch of pride as if it were another child.

When they returned to the city, he climbed to the highest tower, the boy in his footsteps, and opened the windows where the people gathered below. From their shouts he knew that most of them hated him, were envious of all he possessed and of the victories he’d claimed, but he waved and smiled, told a few jokes. Drawing them closer.

Then with one mighty hurl, he emptied the bucket over the ledge, but the wind blew the salt back at him. He tried to duck the onslaught—too late. The last thing he saw before the crystals blinded him was his son, standing behind him, smiling. A wolf cub’s smile.

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Flash Fiction: A Call to Prayer

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A Call to Prayer

The heavy footsteps came closer, echoing through the cool stone corridor, and stopped in front of Aaron’s cell. A man grunted the short, guttural words he’d come to associate with the delivery of a meal, and he waited for it to clank through the hatch at the bottom of the door. By the slant of light through the tiny barred window near the ceiling, and the last time he’d heard the call for prayer, Aaron expected dinner: lentils or rice with a bit of meat. Over this meal he’d say his own prayer, thankful for what he’d been given.

The tray snapped through and there was no dinner. No lentils or rice or meat he could not recognize. Only a black hood. He said another prayer, put the rank cloth over his head, and waited. The man called out a question. Aaron said yes and the door creaked open. By his own arrogance, he’d once learned what was on the other side of the hood—a guard with a rifle—and didn’t think it would be wise to tempt fate again.

He let the man nudge him out and down the hallway, their footfalls ringing in lockstep. Each heavier than the last. Aaron’s heartbeat stole the air from his lungs, the saliva from his mouth. He thought of Jesus on the cross, of that iconic prayer: Fatherforgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

The guard stopped him. A door swung open. He was led forward. Made to stand in a certain place and pushed down at the shoulders. That meant sit, and a hard surface awaited him, and his hands were tied behind his back.

The hood was removed from his face and the door clanked shut and he was alone on a blue plastic chair in front of a flat-screen television. He knew what came next. The interrogator would come and turn on the set and watch with him. When the cloaked men got through their litany of crimes against the accused, the end was mercifully swift; he prayed that his compatriots had not suffered long. Then he would provide the same answers to the same questions he’d been asked so many times. No, he didn’t work for the government. No, he wasn’t with the military. No, the church he claimed to represent was not a front for a ring of American spies.

Part of him prayed that he would be taken next, just to have it done with.

The door opened again. It was not the same interrogator that had sat with him the last two times.

This man gave him a sad smile, almost one of gratitude. “You are Aaron Westbrook?”

“Yes.”

“You are the same Aaron Westbrook who went to Syracuse University in 1980?”

Aaron blinked. “Yes.” This man didn’t look old enough to have even been a sparkle in his father’s eye all those years ago.

“You saved my uncle’s life. He was going to university there. Some men pulled him from his car and called him terrible names and beat him and stole his wallet and left him for dead in the street. He says you took care of him. He speaks of you often. How you got him a doctor and let him stay with you and…”

“Saleh?” Aaron smiled. He hadn’t thought of his old friend for so long. “Speaks? He’s still alive?”

The man nodded enthusiastically. “Yes. In fact, he is the reason I’m here. He recognized you on the news and asked me to find you.” After a quick glance at the door, he started working on the ropes that bound Aaron’s hands. “Come with me. I know a way out. For both of us.”