Note from the author: I wrote this piece in 2012 for an introductory creative writing class at Western Kentucky University. The story plays off the plot of an original short story written by Ursula K. Le Guin titled “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”. I love this piece, even though it represents a raw and dilettantish form of my prose. Because of this, no revisions will be applied to this story. If you decide to check it out, then I hope you enjoy it too. Please consider this story fan fiction.
The Ones Who Flee From Omelas
What was it like outside the utopic city of Omelas? Was it analogous? Or ordinarily divergent, a world where the remaining fragments of humanity dwelled in the damage of their flawed beliefs? Unlike Omelas, nobody had the luxury of living lavish at the cost of one, single soul. Many had fled their own villages, carrying ideals that opposed their former leaders. Outside civilizations weren’t advancing; most of the world was still unknown. The curious theorized what may be beyond their towns, but only the valiant or desperate would set foot outside their village radians. But then there was John Smith—a lone man both frantic and doughty—who burdened a vital decision: flee or die.
John Smith grew up in a very rigid society. He grew up in the working class, trading the sweat of his brow for crumbs of bread and polluted water. John had been caught pilfering from the noblemen of his city. He knew he’d be tried and executed; it was his fault for gambling his life for a loaf of bread. So John fled, he packed a small bag and escaped days before his trial. He cautiously lingered through quiet, desolate terrains, grief his only companion as he explored the unknown. If it weren’t for his adept survival skills, he’d have died of starvation or malnourishment like those exiled or fleeing before him. He then remembered that if he hadn’t heard of the stories told of those wanderers, he would have never primed himself for this very day. Hunting food and gathering supplies was enough to live, but the solidarity drove him closer to the edge—his breaking point. John feared becoming deranged, but this changed once he heard the bells of Omelas chime, mending his sense of seclusion.
To John, Omelas was needless to say, perfect. He wasn’t sure if it was because he’d just converted from far underprivileged to extravagant, or if he had in fact lost his grip on reality. Nevertheless, John was happy. The townsfolk were accepting of his company; they even offered to let him stay in a house more luxurious than he’d ever dreamt of. He fell in love with these people. They were so advanced, compassionate, and full of life. John had hoped he wasn’t hallucinating; he intuitively sensed there had to be something conflicted with this city. So he searched for this alleged immorality within Omelas. Much time passed, and John was on the verge of undermining his instincts, until he heard an anguished cry from the distance.
There was a man in tears, sobbing aggressively. He was a lumberjack, John could tell by the man’s attire and the hatchet he wielded. The man brutally bashed the hatchet against a tree. As the man bellowed in grief, he swung again with more fierce and ferocity.
“Are you okay?” John muttered. He kept his distance, vigilant of a man so large and overwhelmed with emotions. Even without the hatchet, the man appeared very dangerous.
The lumberjack hindered his next swing at the tree as he rose, scrutinizing John. “Excuse me,” the man irately said. He dropped his hatchet, and quickly strolled off deeper into Omelas. John couldn’t help but to follow, calling out to the man. The man ignored John’s calls until they had reached the edge of the city, where the man finally showed signs of acknowledgement.
“Why are you leaving?” John asked, worriedly. “It’s perfect here!”
The lumberjack finally acknowledged him. “Perfect? You’re naïve newcomer.”
Though weary and confused, John wasn’t going to let the only answer to his questions escape. “Show me why it isn’t,” John requested, recalling his instinctive doubts when he first arrived in Omelas.
The lumberjack released a deep sigh, and after a long pause softly conceded, “Fine, but you’ll wish I hadn’t.” He paced back towards John, leading him to the core of the city. They both shared determined expressions as they approached an abandoned building. The lumberjack stopped before the entrance, looking back over his shoulder at John. “I’m not going in there again,” he claimed, “Whatever you see down there, just note that if you help him, it’ll be at the cost of this entire city.”
“Help him?” John immediately asked, “You’re not making—” The lumberjack, without another word, drifted back into the night. “Any sense…”
John opened the door that led into the abandoned building. No sooner had the door shut behind him, when John heard a child whining, babbling off cries of unintelligent, primal pain and loneliness. The cries were faint; John knew the source lied within another room. He heard the cry again, coincidently spotting a door to a cellar as he turned towards the sound. He opened the cellar door where another scream was heard, louder and clearer than the first. The cellar led to a small dungeon lit by torches. John’s eyes bulged in woe as he analyzed what he witnessed: a tormented, shattered, little boy.
John had committed many crimes, but what he had observed was out of his imagination. He lamented, slowly contemplating his options. Should this child suffer to glorify the lives of others? John knew suffering, he knew what’s fair, and he particularly knew right from wrong. He gazed at the child, noticing that the child shared a similar, concerned look as his own. It was slightly disturbing. Why was the child so interested in John? I must, John thought as he wiped his forehead free of sweat, I must free him! As he reached to breach through the corridor standing between him and the child, he hindered at the child’s change of expression. It was a smile, the child smiled at John. John was muddled, but resisting all hesitation, he courageously latched onto the door.
As John opened the door, he was struck by a vision of the city around him beginning to corrode and crumble. Everything was suddenly silent. Not even the consistent tunes of the flutes played by children could be heard within this anomalous depiction of a destroyed civilization. The door somehow conjured an envisaged display of Omelas’ doom. So the man was right, John confirmed, quivering in trepidation. If I save this child, I destroy the town. John then understood why the lumberjack simply fled the city; he didn’t want to experience the guilt of ruining others’ lives. The child stared at John, such hope in his eyes. John then stared back, seeing the faces of all of the wretched, underprivileged children he remembered from his old home within the child’s. John knew what was morally right. He clinched onto the handle, heroically tugging the door open in determination. John knew he wanted to save the boy.
“That’s enough. Close the door.” The boy said sternly, his perfected articulated English was far from normal for any child of his age. The world around the two began to quake; the foreseen outcome of John’s decision became a reality. It scared John; he didn’t know what to do but listen and seal the door shut. The quaking stopped. Was the boy some type of psychic, or maybe a demon? Whatever he was, John knew it was in his best favor to escape. But John felt unusually invoked to comply with the boy’s command.
Another vision suddenly clouded John’s mind, it was off the first settlers of Omelas. They too were outsiders, not that different from John. They found Omelas similar to John did, but decades ago. John observed quick flashes of every human soul visiting the child, and leaving him to his fate. Some even went too far by brutally abusing the child. The boy stood, brushing off the excess debris and dirt from his body. John regained his sight. He noticed the boy’s pitiable state didn’t affect his ability to stand in perfect poise. “What is your name?”
“John… John Smith.”
“John Smith,” the boy repeated, “Such a generic name for such a remarkable man.” His voice was distorted, and his eyes began emanating a sinful glow. John convinced himself the boy wasn’t human. “Your soul is pure. You’re the one who shall lead Omelas.”
“You want me to lead Omelas?” John timidly asked, apprehensively worried of his own fate. “I’m in no shape to lead an entire city!”
The child displayed a brooding look on his face. “John, have faith,” he pleaded. “These townsfolk of Omelas,” he continued in a more austere tone, “Are arrogant, selfish, and to be… punished for their sins.”
John knew none of this sounded reasonable. At the very cost of rescuing this child, he had to enslave thousands of others in a world all so familiar to his past’s? No, he thought. “Why?”
“Indulgences,” the boy dictated. “This was simply all a game casted by the maker himself.”
John felt slightly more comfortable conversing with this strange being. He figured the child was passive, well in a sense. John believed the child needed him, so he asked, “And if I say no?”
The child peered at him in displeasure, “If you decline you’ll have to join the others in perdition.” John was shaken by the child’s taunt. The boy sounded so assertive, yet so calm. John wasn’t going to recklessly gamble his life away again. He knew by talking in circles with this strange entity, he’d be digging a deeper hole than he is already in.
John deeply thought. He noticed the child growing impatient. His memory took an adventure back to his former home, the night he had been caught pocketing the bread. He could recall perfectly why he made the decision; it wasn’t a selfish deed or an act of ending injustice. It was to relieve the many growling stomachs, the emaciated children and women whom have been abandoned by their entrusted families. John didn’t care for recognition for his good deeds, but if it weren’t for those starving families, John wouldn’t be here in Omelas nearly bowing down to some tyrannical bastard. Was this the reward for those who commit great deeds? He didn’t think so; he was finally ready to answer: “No.”
The kid regretfully smiled. It was pretense, somewhat like a demi-smile, half-ass and downheartedly. John knew his fate at the sight of the boy’s facial expression. The boy then slowly opened the door to his chamber, calmly stepping foot outside of the pen. Suddenly a bright light shined, scaling across the entire cellar, and eventually the remainder of Omelas. The light was paranormal and too vast to escape, it was anything beyond John’s imagination. He and the rest of the townsfolk reluctantly collapsed, encumbered by the glow.
John couldn’t see a thing; all he could hear were the weeps and cries of hundreds of people around him. It was like he was in a nursery, one that sheltered all ages. He then took a deep inhale, coughing out detrimental toxic fumes he wouldn’t have dared to take in if he could see how potent it was around him. Now that he thought about it, he also heard the coughs of many encompassing him. He began regaining his vision, haunted by what he speculated: a vast wasteland of pestilence and famine. The men performed manual labor, while the women were escorted to their homes by strange entities. Everyone shared etched, doleful expressions; they have lost all hope. John gazed up at the new, towering fortress that rested at the core of Omelas; it had to be the home of the child. It all reminded him of his old town, but the atmosphere here was much worse. He uplifted, trying to rally those around him before ordered his own labor. He exasperated, encouraging others that compared to Omelas now, the outside wilderness was far better. It was no surprise the people were still consternated, mourning the inevitable revelation. Some listened and others didn’t, but nobody followed. When it came down to it, John knew he must do one thing: flee.