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Fiction #524
(published February 3, 2011)
Born Free
by Eric Suhem
The chanting increased in volume as the communal group passed around the bowl of plums. A tiny person in a mask continued playing the sitar in a corner as the monthly ceremonies commenced. Each person in the group took a plum and consumed it, some quickly, some slowly, all with reverence. One of the plums was the ancient plum, which passed on a strange knowledge to the person eating it, a wisdom designed to lead the group in harmonious, fulfilling directions. In the subsequent dreams of that person would be revealed the location of the next month's ancient plum, which he or she would have to bring back to the group. In each dream, the plum would be in some unlikely location: on the outskirts of town near a drainage ditch, or on top of a yellow compact car in a public garage, etc. This month, a hatless man in the northwestern quadrant of the room swallowed the ancient plum. He immediately decided to go out and buy a hat.

The man quickly found a 'used hat' store, and within the store, found a hat that appealed to him. It was a sporty plaid bowler, with the name 'Hans' printed on the inner headband. There were, in fact, many souls in the hat he purchased. When the man wore the hat, the lives and experiences of those who had worn the hat before were pressed against his head. He felt very savvy in his hat. He walked through the city, and headed into the mountains, settling for a nap under an incongruous plum tree in a high-elevation meadow. Despite the snowy weather, from which his head was protected nicely by the hat, a lone plum hung from the branches. It soon fell onto his hat, and he didn't notice, though from then on, he would sense a subtle, mysterious difference in his life. The man snored under the mountainside plum tree as the falling snow drifted around him. He woke up an hour later and felt an indefinable pull toward the mountain. The man started to climb, drawn upwards by his hat. In a surprisingly short amount of time, he arrived at the summit.

On the other side of the mountain, an adventurer named Hans cheerfully snow-shoed to the top. "YOH-DOO-LEH-DEE-HOO!" he yelled jovially upon reaching the apex. At the hilltop was an outhouse. "What a stroke of luck!" beamed Hans. He unfastened his snowshoes and stepped quickly through the door. He instantaneously burst into song, overcome by the emotion of the moment. "BORN FREE, AS FREE AS THE WIND BLOWS, AS FREE AS THE GRASS GROWS, BORN FREE TO...." His echoes burst off the mountainsides, joyously reverberating as he sang of his exploring triumph. Also in the outhouse, oddly, was a bowl of plums. "Another stroke of luck!" boomed Hans, as he masticated lustily. Upon finishing his business, Hans rose and attempted to exit the outhouse, rattling the door, still humming to himself, "Born free...." But the door would not open, fastened shut by a glue that Hans would never know. "BORN FREE!...." he sang encouragingly, as the door would still not open.

The man in the hat wandered along the top of the mountain, and eventually viewed the outhouse. He approached the outhouse and released the metaphysical lock, unleashing Hans, who emerged with a bright gleam in his eye, chewing a plum. Hans briefly recognized the hat, then snow-shoed down the mountain to soon release something into the world, not necessarily evil, but nevertheless highly annoying. The releaser of the lock stared into his hat, looking for answers, finding none.

Eric Suhem lives in California and enjoys the qualities of his vegetable juicer. He can be found in the orange hallway.

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