The Burden

The day Daniel was born, even the shadows brightened. His first smile, bald and toothless, made the darkness dance. When he gazed upon the world, the night became fresh and new.

Daniel could see them even before he could tell the difference. He spent his childhood playing with creatures invisible to others. Nobody bothered because most children have imaginary friends.

One night when he was ten, in the middle of summer, something happened. When supper was over, Daniel’s father got up and went to the open window.

“What a sudden chill in the air! Let me close the windows,” he said.

“I hope you aren’t coming down with a fever,” said Daniel’s mother, worried.

“Mama, it’s not the fever. It’s because of the stranger in black who’s with Papa,” said Daniel.

“What do you mean, son?” asked the father.

Those were the last words he spoke. Daniel saw the stranger in black embrace his father for one whole minute. Then he released him, and Daniel’s father slumped on the floor. In an instant, Daniel had become fatherless. He had also learned all his invisible friends were not always friendly.

In his thirteenth year, Daniel became an orphan. One afternoon, he was sitting on the floor, staring at the wall before him. His mother had retreated into herself after the death of her husband. She seldom talked to her son anymore. But that afternoon she asked him what he was staring at.

“There’s a black mass crawling on the wall. It looks like a giant slug,” said Daniel.

“There’s nothing. It’s time you stopped seeing what doesn’t exist, son.”

“No, Mama, I’m not lying. There’s a monster moving on the wall!”

“If it’s there, I don’t see it. But I must be able to feel it!” said his mother.

She walked to the wall and brushed her right hand all over the place.

“No, Mama, no! Please don’t! I am so scared, Mama! It’s squirming towards you!” screamed Daniel.

He saw her wince. A look of horror came upon her face. She felt her fingers prodding a cold jelly-like substance. She tried pulling her hand away, but it stayed glued to the wall.

“Help me, son!” she cried.

Daniel sat frozen as he saw the black mass creep up his mother’s arms and pull her inside. Like molten tar enveloping pebbles, the slug swallowed her and vanished.

The judge declared Daniel innocent. But there were many who blamed him for his mother’s disappearance. As the years passed, he became a recluse and lived alone at the edge of town. One morning, walking in the woods, he met an old man. The stranger appeared to understand his burden of seeing the invisible.

“A great power is in you and me. It’s both our glory and our downfall. We’re the unblockers. We can see things which remain blocked to others,” said the old man.

Daniel listened to him with a sparkle in his eyes. He felt the old man was like himself.

“Son, it’s good we can see the invisible. But you have to be careful. Sometimes it’s not what’s before you that you’ve to fear, but what’s behind you. Be on the lookout, son. And remember we don’t have eyes on the back of our heads!”

Daniel never met the old man again. He often pondered over his words but was unable to decipher their meaning.

One evening, Daniel was taking his usual walk in the woods. A policeman accosted him, pointing a pistol.

“You’re the kid who ate his mother, aren’t you?” He laughed, while Daniel slouched in fear.

“Raise your hands. Stay where you are. Let me see what tricks you are up to!” said the policeman. “Hey, Andrew, come over. Frisk this killer kid.”

Daniel raised his hands in the air. He heard Andrew approaching from behind. Then he saw the menacing black mass again. Like a monstrous cloud, it hovered above the policeman, as though it was about to engulf him. Scared out of his wits at what might happen, Daniel lowered his hands. He swung them to and fro, shouting, “Move, you are in danger, move!”

The policeman squeezed the trigger, imagining Daniel pulling out a gun. He missed. But Andrew, who was now close to Daniel did not. It was not the bullet before but the bullet behind that struck Daniel. He finally grasped the old man’s words as it pierced his heart.

Sometimes what we fail to see matters more than what we cannot see.

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