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Bondage by Scott J. Ecksel



Iwatched the young girl playing, stacking cards. She stacked them with great care, flipping each one over and then placing it directly atop the pile. Sometimes she would gaze into the face of the card for several moments before reaching for another card. When she ran out of cards, she would start again, without shuffling, going through the exact same sequence and motions.

I watched her for three hours, until I got bored and decided to leave. She hardly glanced at me as I stood up and walked away. I could see her in the mirror just before I closed the door and left the room. She was still stacking cards. She had outlasted me, and I entered the outside world deeply disturbed by her.

All around me there were people in motion. Everyone seemed to be doing something different. One woman was diving into the river, fully clothed. A child was tossing a shoe into a tree. A group of men were doing somersaults on the grass near the temple. I thought about the young girl in the room, and I couldn't understand why she wasn't outside, participating in this great wide world of activity. How could she sit there for hours and hours, doing the same thing over and over again? I climbed the rocks that were piled against the side of my house and hoisted myself up to the rooftop, and I looked out over the land, trying to find an answer in the sky, in the clouds and trees, in the life so evident all around me. I watched the doorway, expecting the girl to emerge.

After a while, after some time had passed and she hadn't emerged, I decided to climb back down to the ground and to reenter the room. As I was reaching for the door, a man came running up to me. He grabbed my hand and started gesturing with his other hand. I couldn't understand what he was trying to communicate to me, so I yelled at him. I shouted for him to just speak, to just tell me what it was he was trying to say. But he just continued to gesture wildly, and then he released my hand and ran off into the distance. He vanished behind a tree, and I shrugged and entered the room again.

The girl was still there, still stacking cards. Nothing at all had changed. Still frustrated from my strange experience with the gesturing man, I ran up to the girl and kicked the cards aside. I lifted her up and shouted in her face, telling her to stop wasting her time. She looked at me with a blank expression, so I held her under my arm and ran outside with her.

But as soon as I stepped out of the door, I was stunned to see that everything had changed. The woman diving into the river was gone. The child by the tree was gone. No one was doing somersaults by the temple. In fact, no one at all was about. All the people had gone. Everything was quiet. The world itself had changed. The river had been vibrant, so full of life, and now it was stagnant. The pile of rocks I had climbed had collapsed. The trees had lost their leaves. The sky and the clouds were brighter, and the air was hot and filled with choking dust. The sun itself seemed to have expanded. It had a blue tinge to it. It was oppressive, a great eye peering into the shadows, exposing everything that once was hidden and secure.

The young girl was struggling in my grasp, and I set her down on the ground. My attention was consumed by what I saw around me; I had no more time to think about the girl. I forgot her existence for a moment, and when I remembered her, she was nowhere to be found. She had vanished.

I crouched on the ground, holding my arms up to block the sunlight from my eyes. I felt my eyes fill with tears. I crawled towards the door of the room, my heart broken. Everything had been destroyed. My beautiful world was lost. I reached up to grasp the handle of the door, and this time there was no gesturing man to stop me. If only I had heeded him. If only I had taken the time to understand his gestures.

I entered the room. It was the same, except that the young girl was gone. I crawled across the floor and collected the cards I had earlier scattered about with my feet. It seemed so long ago. I collected the cards into a pile and turned them over one by one. I found myself absorbed by the numbers and the symbols. The jacks and queens seemed to speak to me. I could gaze at them for hours. I turned them over one by one. When I reached the end, I felt a great sadness. I turned them over and started again. After so much disappointment, I once again felt fulfilled.

I stacked the cards. I keep stacking the cards.



Scott J. Ecksel lives in Washington, D.C., where he writes fiction and poetry and spends his spare time watching the Sloth Bears at the National Zoo. Currently, he is working on a novel for young adults.


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