February Short Story Winner

“The Wall” – Graeme Tolley, Chester, England 

The Wall dominated the boy’s world.

Its presence loomed over his daily life, an eternal feature as he ate and washed, played and helped with the household chores; it consumed his waking thoughts as whichever way he turned his vision seemed always to be drawn towards that imposing barrier. At night it crept into his dreams imprisoning his subconscious in dark images and shadows that entrapped and enslaved his imagination in a cave of oppressive silence.

The cracked and hardened surface of The Wall appeared to the boy as though a map of suffering had been etched across it marking the contours of his young life and the ordeals of want and suffering he had already endured. At first glance The Wall seemed to be monotonous in its uniform and perpetual existence but to those who lived under its shadow the cracks, crevices and crumbling concrete mirrored the timely weathering of their lives. Each individual that survived beneath this barricade felt their own mortality and insignificance reflected in its permanence; the minor defects of its exterior only serving to mock their own limitations and frailties. The boy, not having lived long enough to feel acutely such affects, yet sensed his own irrelevance when contemplating such an unworldly obstruction. At these moments his life would seem small and fragile; inconsequential to the grander schemes that were being played out by giants in a world of ants.

For long periods the boy would persevere in his daily routine with a determined will intent at ignoring the presence of The Wall, pretending that no such structure existed in his life, and then he would turn but one way and in the periphery of his vision he would catch a glimpse of that tall, endless obstacle and the illusion would crumble as the oasis of his mind became parched of all comfort. This return to stark reality would inevitably spark a train of thoughts he had pondered a thousand times before: Why was it there? What purpose did it serve? Was it to restrict his movement- for at such times the boy’s thoughts would be selfishly introverted- or was it to prevent the entry of others?

The boy realised that the world was one of relativity as he existed within the confines and angles of numerous walls; the walls separating the small rooms of his home, the walls that divided his families property from his neighbour’s, those which disclosed the outer limits of his community, and yet more which demarcated the surrounding fields. But these were mere pauses in breath, fragments of seconds, compared to The Wall, which signified an abrupt halt in time itself as if neither history nor the future could exist beyond its limits.

He would spend hours contemplating the possibilities that might lie on the other side of The Wall. Would it be the same languid, monotonous and barren wasteland from which they scratched their survival, or would it be a bounteous, rich and plentiful paradise full of life and vitality? He favoured the latter, utopian vision as children’s imagination are likely to do, but then with such thoughts came the gloomy realisation that if this were true then for some reason they were being prevented admission to such a wealthy land. Were they being punished for a past crime, one so heinous that all future generations were doomed to suffer incarceration and forced to serve penance within a life of futility and dust shrouded dreams?

If only, the boy thought, I could grow the wings of a bird with feathers the pureness of which were as sunlight glittering from the waters of a mountain lake, then I would soar up into the blue infinity of the sky, free from the shackles of this earth and the torment of this cage of ignorance, and casting my sight down upon the other side allow the reality of my vision to be complete.

At such moments the boy’s head would raise upwards and his eyes would glitter with hope until the shifting shadow of The Wall would fall across his face and his eyes would once more return to its cold concrete surface causing him to raise his sun cracked hands to cover his wearied vision. It was at such times that The Wall seemed to consume his spirits causing a deep melancholy to flow over his senses, lethargy to seize his limbs binding him to the yellow earth and pervading his mind with thoughts of pessimism unbecoming his tender years. The barrier became an impediment that was internalised within him, stifling his progress, his aspirations, and the very core of his being.

But even in the bleakest of days when the entire world appeared to be one large prison for the soul, the boy would glean a moments inspiration or delight from a solitary beam of sunlight flickering across the surface of The Wall causing an ethereal pantomime of nature along the most unnatural of barriers, and the boy’s spirits would be uplifted. He would imagine The Wall as a seemingly impenetrable mountain range, never before scaled, and he playing the heroic role of the courageous mountaineer striving against all odds and impediments to reach the summit of his dreams and to cast away all fear and darkness as he gazed down upon a valley of light for the first time. His mind would flitter along on the winds of such daydreams as the dreariness of his existence was blown away in a blaze of untold possibilities and magical opportunities which his mind would create for him, his family and the whole community.

As his mother called to him for his evening meal, the boy delivered one last thoughtful glance at that impregnable barrier and even as he turned his back on it the long shadow of The Wall seemed to stretch out endlessly in front of him as it continued to dominate his world.