The Carbonaria Kingdom
A SHORT STORY
Peppered moths are polymorphous insects that usually appear dark or light-colored. And, depending on whether they live in a polluted region or not, one or the other form will thrive. In polluted regions, the dark-colored peppered moths, known as carbonaria, thrive because they use the soot-covered trees to camouflage from birds that prey on them. Hence, the more polluted a region, the more the carbonaria peppered moths.
A writer discovers parallels between this phenomenon and his homeland, a place crawling with lepidopterous gargoyles masquerading in the polluted corridors of officialdom to plunder its resources and feast in gluttonous opulence, while the people perish from genocidal poverty. He, therefore, writes a storyabout an allegorical kingdom ruled by a carbonaria king determined to keep it mired in soot so that it may continue to flourish after a devastating attack by birds.
Shortly after his story is published in The Plebeian Voice, his nation’s only independent newspaper, the Prime Minister is shot and killed by a young cadet. As he pulls the trigger, the cadet screams: “Death to The Carbonaria Kingdom!”, a catchphrase from the writer’s story. Consequently, he is accused of complicity in the murder and, along with the cadet, tried and sentenced to death.
While they await their executions, the writer experiences a veridical blurring of the line between his literary musings and the brute reality of his beastly corrupt homeland. He becomes convinced that The Carbonaria Kingdom was more than a mere figment of his imagination because he was living in it.
Therefore, he resigns himself to the deathly fate that looms but the cadet wishes to live and implores him to accept an offer to spare their lives. The writer, however, repudiates the offer. He sees it as a malevolent ruse by the country’s megalomaniacal leader to assuage his image and perpetuate the status quo. However, when the cadet reveals his reason for killing the Prime Minister, the writer empathizes with him, viewing him as a poignant embodiment of the atrocious destitution bequeathed to the people by their rapacious leaders.
The Kingdom Lives!
“Why did you write this seditious story about our glorious nation?” the Interrogator brayed, wagging a copy of The Plebeian Voice in the Writer’s face.
The Writer batted his eyes from the waft of the newspaper. His hands were handcuffed to the spindles of a glistening stainless steel chair that was bolted to the floor in the middle of an interrogation room whose walls were daubed with an insipid gray coat of paint. Perched directly above the chair, an incandescent light bulb dangled on an unsheathed electrical cord protruding from the water-stained ceiling. Carbon residue nestled in the bulb, but the Writer could still make out the President’s portrait on the wall, the same omnipresent one that adorned buildings across the nation since a decree made doing so mandatory.
“Did you not hear me ask you a goddamn question?” The Interrogator’s Special State Security uniform bristled like it could stand on its own accord without him occupying it. The Interrogator circled the Writer, and he heard his shinning black boots thumping the ground.
When he came back around, the Interrogator stood with arms akimbo in front of him, blocking the President’s portrait with his right elbow. The Writer loosened his grip around the chair. Now, the President’s piggish double-chinned face was not fleering down at him. Despite donning a generously-tailored black jacket, the President’s red tie lurched forward where his chest and stomach met, thwarting his attempt to camouflage his bloated abdomen.
“My son, what I wrote is nothing but a fantastical tale about birds and moths,” the Writer said, looking up at the Interrogator. Their eyes met. For a moment, the Interrogator blinked and looked away. Then, the Writer saw his chest heave as he gulped down a load of air. The Interrogator stepped closer, glowering at him. The Writer started to turn away when, just above the Interrogator’s bowed right arm, he spied the President sneering at him again.
“Well…,” the Writer said, clearing his throat, “unless, of course, you mean to insinuate that this glorious nation of ours does, after all, bear an uncanny likeness to The Carbonaria Kingdom?” A broad smile cut across his face and he returned the Interrogator’s glare.
The Writer saw The Plebeian Voice fall to the ground as the Interrogator’s fingers balled into a fist. Almost simultaneously, his left eye pulsated with a searing pain and his face crumpled into furrows of anguish. He lifted his hands to massage the pain away, but the handcuffs’ chains went taut, jerking them back down.
“The Prime Minister has been murdered because of your seditious writing and you sit there grinning?” Spittle flew out of the Interrogator’s mouth and his jugular veins bulged like they would explode.
“How dare you?”
Clenching a fistful of the Writer’s hair, the Interrogator pelted him with more blows, inundating his mouth with blood. The Writer choked and coughed. Releasing his hair, the Interrogator hopped backwards, but he was not quick enough.
“You will pay dearly for your treasonous effrontery against our dear leader,” the Interrogator cried, scowling at the splotches of blood on his crisp uniform.
With his head limping between his knees, the Interrogator’s voice rose like the echoes of someone shouting inside a canyon. Blood oozed out of the Writer’s mouth, forming an amoebic puddle that blotched The Plebeian Voice, which had fallen at his feet.
The people in the Writer’s homeland were perishing from genocidal poverty because their leaders plundered its resources to feast in gluttonous opulence. And, at 49, he had endeavored over the years to convey the people’s anguish through his writings, hoping that their avaricious leaders would be touched and change their ways. But, if the Writer ever harbored any doubt about the veracity of the saying: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, it had now been bludgeoned out of him.
Could it be that the stratification of decades upon decades of the soot of corruption, which has been spewing over my homeland, has now osmosed into the very corpus of the land, causing a diabolical mutation in our leaders’ traits? the Writer wondered.
The line between The Carbonaria Kingdom and his homeland was blurring as the throbbing pressure in his head intensified. He felt like his brain was swelling and ripping his cranial sutures apart. The Writer clamped his eyes shut.
Surely, our leaders must be afflicted with corruption melanism!
Before his arrest ten days ago, and all that he’d been through since: the interrogations and beatings to coerce a confession out of him, and his show trial for sedition, the Writer couldn’t have fathomed that his literary musings would become incarnated with such a rancid gust of reality.
The War of Pepper Birds and Peppered Moths
“All is set for our attack on The Carbonaria Kingdom,” said the colonel of the Revolutionary Army of Pepper Birds, unfurling the diagram detailing the plan of attack.
The General leaned over the table to review the plan.
The Carbonaria Kingdom was a realm of peppered moths that flourished right under their beaks because they used the soot-covered trees that were abundant in the region as camouflage. But, now, their cover was blown and the pepper birds wanted to cleanse the region of their presence.
“We will encircle them with two columns of our elite commandos,” the colonel explained. “And, once they are completely hedged in, the first column will attack, while the second one tarries to ensure that any moth that gets through the first column does not escape.”
With a long twig in his beak, the colonel traced the circular sketches of black dots representing the two columns of pepper bird commandos. The General’s eyes followed the path of the colonel’s twig. He studied the region enclosed by the pepper bird commandos, which was meticulously labeled: the royal chambers, the sentries’ quarters, the nativity ward, along with every nook and cranny where the moths hid.
When the colonel finished, the General kept nodding without looking up.
“We need to assign a special force to focus its attack here,” he finally said, pointing with his beak to the sector labeled: the royal chambers.
“Roger that, Sir,” the colonel replied, sketching blotches of peppered bird commandos around the royal chambers.
“The day has come for us to vanquish The Carbonaria Kingdom and rout those wretched moths from our land,” the General said, scanning the plan once more. His eyes converged on the colonel’s new sketch and he smiled.
“Wait until I sound the battle cry before launching the attack.”
“Yes Sir!” The colonel saluted.
Already smothered by the pitiless darkness which had devoured the moon, the flame of the candle in the middle of the crescent-shaped mahogany table quivered as the peppered moths descended, fluttering their scaly charcoal wings. The members of The Assembly of Carbonaria were gathering for a meeting, rousing shadowy images that slithered on the walls of the solitary thatched roof hut in the woods.
Once landed, each peppered moth made the rounds, ritually rubbing its spiny antennae against the others’. As the last arriving peppered moth descended, it flapped its wings so hard the candle flame shuddered like a mortally wounded animal about to let out its last breath. Then, thudding into the ground, it lumbered about the room, grazing the floor with its engorged abdomen. The other peppered moths prostrated before it after the ceremonial rubbing of antennae.
“I greet you in the Name of the God of Carbonaria.,” said the King, who sat in his golden throne at one end of the table. Across from him sat the 53 Assembly members, each representing vassal nations within the Kingdom. In one chair, lay a wreath, in memory of the Assembly member who was killed in the pepper bird attack on his nation a fortnight ago.
“May He continue to shield us from our enemies,” the Assembly members replied. Then, standing on their hind legs, they lifted their antennae to caress the darkness lurking overhead, while holding a moment of silence for their fallen comrade.
“Brothers and sisters of this glorious Kingdom, we continue to face a dire threat to the survival of our species,” the King said, staring at the Assembly members who were bobbing their heads like bearded dragons.
“The massacre in our beloved comrade’s nation is another tragic reminder that the potential remains unacceptably high that the soot, which shields us from our enemies, could vanish away.” The King’s proboscis juddered and the fluff of hair around his thorax bristled.
“I propose that we adopt a resolution calling for a mass migration to a safer location,” interjected the Assembly member who was the first to arrive. Her nation bordered her fallen comrade’s.
“I agree,” seconded another.
The others nodded. The massacre had unleashed a noxious pheromone of fear that permeated the whole Kingdom.
“There will be no such thing!” The King slammed his snotty proboscis on the table, sending globules of slime in the air. Some landed in the candle flame causing it to fizzle and hiss.
“But we cannot just sit around and wait to suffer the same fate as our comrade,” challenged another Assembly member, pointing to the chair with the wreath.
The King lifted his antennae and calmly sliced through the darkness. He felt the soothing thickness of the night rubbing against his antennae. Closing his eyes, he basked in the night’s ethereal intimacy, reinvigorating his faith, which had been rattled after hearing the account of the massacre’s lone survivor.
“The sun was just breaking through the clouds after a heavy downpour when we first noticed more pepper birds than usual hovering over the woodland. Then, we saw them descending in a circular formation. And, when they were at the level of the tree trunks, we heard a loud cry: “Death to The Carbonaria Kingdom!” That’s when the attack commenced and we realized that our cover was blown. Many sentries laid down their lives defending our leader but the attack was too intense,” the surviving sentry recounted. His wings bore large holes in them and one antenna was severed. “In the end, they broke through our defenses and when they laid their beaks on him, they tore him to pieces. They attacked with such meticulous ferocity to annihilate us, they even razed the nativity ward.”
“Your Highness, I believe it would indeed be prudent to relocate to a safer place, even if only temporarily, until we assess the situation to ensure we are safe from another attack,” pressed another Assembly member, interrupting the King’s intercourse with the celestial darkness.
Drooping his antennae and resting his proboscis back on the table, the King gazed at the Assembly members. Most were thrashing the air with their antennae, waiting for his response.
“I have been reassured by the royal scouts that the chimneys around our Kingdom are still showering the land with abundant soot,” the King said in a measured voice. “So, there is no need for a mass migration.”
Talking about migration caused his heart limp. He only wished the deceased Assembly member had heeded his advice.
“Then how come our comrade’s nation suffered such a devastating attack?” another member prodded.
“Several months ago, our beloved comrade informed me that the chimney in his nation had stopped spewing forth soot and, against my advice, he decided to wait and see if the situation would change.” The King’s voice quivered. His passionate fondness for the deceased Assembly member blistered in his heart.
The Assembly members started murmuring among themselves.
“I have called this meeting to request that you step up your vigilance to ensure that the chimneys in your nations remain operational,” the King said. “For, I assure you, as long as the chimneys are spewing forth abundant soot, our Kingdom will continue to flourish.”
The Assembly members’ antennae shot up to caress the darkness on hearing the King’s reassurance. Despite the shroud of insecurity blanketing the Kingdom, their nations were, after all, still immersed in abundant soot.
“Long live The Carbonaria Kingdom!” shouted the Assembly member who had spoken first.
Pumping their proboscides in the air, the others repeated the refrain.
Then, stretching over the table, the King pointed his proboscis at the withering candle flame. The others followed suit.
“Go in the Name of the God of Carbonaria,” he said, and together, they blew out the candle flame.
A tranquil darkness, only disturbed by the sound of wings beating the air, enveloped the room.
The Plebeian Call
The Writer vividly remembered the moment he received the news about the Prime Minister’s assassination. He was sitting at his desk writing the sequel for The War of Pepper Birds and Peppered Moths when his red Ericsson rotary telephone rang.
“The Prime Minister has just been shot!” The voice on the other end of the line crackled through the handset with a high-pitched resonance that belied a male voice.
“What…what are you talking about?” the Writer stammered. Only select friends had the number to the red Ericsson rotary telephone but he did not recognize the caller’s voice.
“Who is this?”
“It’s me…it’s me,” the caller said, gasping for breath.
The sound of commotion flooded the Writer’s handset. People were wailing and chairs were being overturned. He then heard voices burst over the din: “The shooter ran that way!” followed by stern voices ordering people to stay calm. It suddenly dawned on him that the caller might be at the scene.
“I said who is this?” the Writer asked impatiently.
“It’s me, Albert.” Albert was the publisher of The Plebeian Voice, his homeland’s only independent newspaper. He and the Writer had been friends since high school.
“Did I hear you right?”
“I know, I know,” Albert sighed. “It’s unbelievable.”
“Where are you?” The Writer could still hear murmurs of wailing coming through the line.
“At the Executive Palace. The Prime Minister was holding a press conference. He had just started speaking—maybe for ten minutes,” Albert spat out, dicing his sentences with snippets of details. “A young officer—he couldn’t have been more than 25 years old—suddenly rose from the crowd and started shooting at the podium…”
“Lord have mercy!” the Writer exclaimed.
“I was in the front row—about 10 feet away,” Albert continued, as if he didn’t hear the Writer. “When the Prime Minister was hit, his thick black-rimmed glasses flew off his face. At that moment, I ducked to the floor and noticed the glasses beside me. Crack lines were stretching across both lenses like spider webs.”
“And, when I looked up again, he was staggering away from the podium with one hand clutching his chest, and the other pointed accusingly into the audience. His eyeballs simmered with utter disbelief as he crumbled to the floor,” Albert said, conjuring up lucid details more to record them to memory than for the Writer’s hearing.
“Is he dead?” The Writer swallowed a lump of saliva, which seemed to have calcified as the gravity of the situation sunk in. The Prime Minister was the President’s son.
“I don’t know,” Albert said with a despondent timbre in his voice. “He’s surrounded by his bodyguards.”
“He shouted: ‘Death to the…” The sound of wailing siren drowned out Albert’s voice. The Writer again heard the men with stern voices hissing at the people.
“What were you saying?” the Writer asked, as soon as the siren sound ebbed away.
“Just as he opened fire, the young officer exclaimed: ‘Death to The Carbonaria Kingdom.’” Albert repeated the shooter’s screaming words as if speaking with clenched fingers around his neck.
“Death to The Carbonaria Kingdom?” the Writer muttered, mimicking Albert’s guttural dolor.
A strenuous silence echoed over the line as both men waited for the other to speak.
“Oh, my wife is calling,” Albert blurted out. The incoming call was a welcome interruption.
“Sorry, I’ve got to go.”
Even though Albert had dropped the line, the Writer was still holding the handset to his ear, as if the monotonous beeping tone were a Morse-coded message bearing the answer to Albert’s anguished tone.
When the Writer finally placed the handset back on its rest, he stroked the phone. Besides the framed black and white picture on his desk, it was his only keepsake of his lay preacher mother who died when he was 15 years old. She used to spend hours on it lamenting with other church members about this or that thing they believed was leading people astray.
He found out about one of those things when he returned home from school one day. As usual, his mother wanted to know what he had learned, and when he told her about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, she threw her hands in the air, hollering the Lord’s name.
“The scriptures say that God created Adam and Eve and all the animals. That is the be-all and end-all to the creation story. My child, do not believe any of that devilish prattle about evolution,” she had admonished him. And, as soon as she was done with him, she dashed for the red Ericsson rotary telephone to call the other mothers.
So, the next day, even though the biology teacher had promised to show them a film on the school’s newly donated Kodak Brownie 500 Movie Projector, the Writer and his Sunday school-bred classmates’ enthusiasm was dampened.
As the projector spluttered, a bespectacled Caucasian man with greying moustache was beamed onto the white screen, traversing the woods and inspecting nets under the trees. Trapped in the nets were moths, which he collected. When the film ended, the teacher asked for a show of hands of those who knew who the man was but not a single hand went up.
“That man you saw there is Bernard Kettlewell, a British lepidopterist. His experiments with peppered moths validated Darwin’s theory,” the teacher said, widening his eyes.
The students threw glances at each other.
“Kettlewell discovered that depending on whether an environment was polluted or not, peppered moths predominately reproduced offspring with the color trait to thrive in a given environment. And this phenomenon is called industrial melanism,” he explained to his class of doubting Thomas’s.
The Cadet’s Plea
The metal slab door of the Writer’s cell rattled, startling him from his slumber. Someone was tugging at the shoot of the crude barrel bolt lock to wrench it from its staple. The morning light, which had only begun to cajole the darkness away, trickled through the aperture that passed for the cell window. The Writer dragged his body off the floor, gingerly leaning his flagellated back against the concrete block wall. Then, tilting his head, he peered at the door through his swollen eyelids.
When the shoot was finally pried from its staple, the door groaned as it swung open. The silhouettes of two persons filled the jambs. Stepping over the threshold, they walked into the flicker of light pinching through the window. The Writer noticed that one was wearing a Special State Security uniform and the other, a black and white striped prison garb.
“Your execution is scheduled for noon today,” the officer pronounced with clinical nonchalance. He was clutching the arm of the prisoner who was slumping over.
“The President, in his unadulterated benevolence, announced during his speech at the funeral of his beloved son that he would grant you a reprieve if you confess to your dastardly crime and plea for clemency,” he spat out in a mechanical crescendo.
The Writer sniggered at the officer’s syllabic enunciation of unadulterated benevolence. It was as if the words had been programmed into him.
What does that lepidopterous gargoyle who presides over the pillaging of the people’s resources, leaving them to perish in genocidal poverty, know about benevolence? The thought pummeled him with bilious gall. The Writer spat.
The officer paused, shuffling his feet. He could barely see the Writer in the corner, but he was sure he had heard muffled laughter. Pointing his chin up, he straightened his collars.
“The choice is therefore yours, whether you live or die,” he punctuated, like an actor delivering the final verse in a recital. Then, releasing the prisoner’s arm, the officer marched out.
The prisoner slumped to the floor and, as soon as the door was shut, he started whimpering.
“I don’t want to diiieee,” he wailed.
The Writer had scarcely seen the prisoner’s profile in the blur of his distended eyes. And, now, all he could see was the lump of his body coiled up like an armadillo.
“Please save me,” the prisoner cried, unwinding his body and crawling towards the Writer.
The darkness of morning had slithered away, allowing more light to seep through the window. The Writer squinted to get a better look at the prisoner. It was the Cadet. But, his face was pockmarked with livid welts, leaving scant vestiges of the young man’s rough-hewn features.
“How could I save you, son?”
Tears welled up in the Cadet’s crimsoned eyes, zigzagging down his peak-and-trough face. Like a fox caught in a foothold trap squeals and shudders, knowing the hunter will arrive any moment to finish the job, he wailed and convulsed, frothing at the mouth.
“They told me that all we have to do is sign a prepared confession and the President will commute our death sentences,” the Cadet spluttered.
Slobber exploded in the Writer’s face. He wiped it off with the sleeve of his prison garb. The Cadet was staring at him with beseeching eyes that festered with the same feral desperation cloaking the faces of mothers in his benighted homeland, who had to endure the groans of their stick-figured children with distended bellies, because of the atrocious destitution they had been bequeathed.
“I will do no such thing.”
“Then we will die,” the Cadet shrieked.
“So be it.”
The Cadet threw a puzzled glance at the Writer. Then, kneeling, he clasped his hands to his chest like someone in prayer.
“Sorry for testifying falsely against you,” he said, wildly shaking his clasped hands. “They promised to be lenient with me if I did. Please, forgive me and sign the confession.”
The Writer reached for the Cadet’s quivering hands, cupping his hands around them. A flicker of hope sizzled in his bulging fiery eyes. The first time the Writer saw the Cadet was when he testified as the State’s prime witness in his two-day trial before the special tribunal.
“Treasonous!” the Writer recalled the prosecutor bawling on the first day after reading an array of readers’ letters to The War of Pepper Birds and Peppered Moths drawing parallels between the President and the Carbonaria King.
“This scoundrel has essentially reduced our dear leader—His Excellency, The Imperial President—to a mere moth in the eyes of these gullible citizens,” the prosecutor barked, waving the stack of letters in one hand and pointing over the judge’s head to the President’s portrait with the other.
The next day, when the Cadet took the stand, the Writer couldn’t help but notice the spasmodic bouncing of his protruding Adam’s apple.
“Why did you shoot the Prime Minister?” the prosecutor queried him.
“After reading The War of Pepper Birds and Peppered Moths, I grew angry with our leaders for keeping our homeland shrouded in corruption, much like the King and his Assembly kept The Carbonaria Kingdom immersed in pollution,” the Cadet replied in a flat voice.
“Is that why you screamed “Death to the Carbonaria Kingdom,” when you shot the Prime Minister?”
“Yes,” he muttered, avoiding eye contact with the Writer.
“Speak louder for the court to hear you!” the judge bellowed, striking down her gavel.
“I said yes, your Honor,” he exclaimed in a quivering voice.
“Will you sign the confession?” the Cadet prodded.
Creases burrowed into the Writer’s brow. And, taking a deep breath, he stared into the Cadet’s blazing eyes.
“Son, everyday a multitude of people—just like you and me—perish in a genocide of poverty orchestrated by our leaders who loot the nation’s coffers to indulge in an orgy of opulence,” the Writer said in a guttural voice.
“Do you really believe your life matters to these rapacious brutes?”
The Writer dug his fingers into the Cadet’s clasp hands. Wincing, he pulled his hands away. Whatever glimmer of hope there was, was eviscerated from his eyes. Slumping over, he laid his head on the Writer’s thighs and sobbed. The Writer stroked his head.
“Why did you kill the Prime Minister?” he asked when the Cadet’s sobbing subsided.
“To revenge my sister’s death,” the Cadet said, sniffling. Then, sitting up, he leaned against the wall beside the Writer. “She died because the Prime Minster forced her to have an abortion.”
The Writer turned towards the Cadet. His head was tilted back and he was staring forlornly into the ceiling.
“What was your sister’s name?”
“Her name was Eve,” the Cadet said in a creaking voice.
The Writer took his hand and squeezed tenderly. Tears welled up in the Cadet’s eyes as he told the Writer about Eve.
She was his twin and they had been raised in an orphanage after their parents died in a car accident when they were seven. Then, two years ago, when they were 15, Eve was awarded The Prime Minister’s Scholarship because she excelled in school.
“She was introduced to the Prime Minister at a reception organized for him to personally meet his scholarship recipients,” the Cadet said. “That’s when he took interest in her and our lives changed for the better. He even helped me enter the Special State Security Academy.”
The rising sun’s golden streak beamed through the cell window like a floodlight. And, as if emboldened by the receded morning darkness, the pepper birds’ chirping grew more intense, but their sonorous piping was muffled by the Cadet’s doleful sniveling.
“However, when I visited her three weeks ago, she was distraught. She hesitated to tell me what was wrong, but when I persisted, she revealed that she was pregnant for the Prime Minister and that he had threatened to stop supporting her and have me kicked out of the Academy if she didn’t have an abortion,” the Cadet said.
The Writer shook his head. He had heard many salacious stories about the Prime Minister’s meet-and-greet sessions with his scholarship recipients where he picked those he wanted and if they refused, they were dropped from the program.
“But, Eve reassured me that she would talk to the Prime Minister and that I shouldn’t worry,” he said in a raspy voice. Folding his legs to his chest, the Cadet clasped his arms around his shins.
“Then, a week later, I received a call from the hospital that she had died from complications during surgery. No one would tell me what the surgery was for, but I already knew in my heart,” the Cadet said, tucking his face into his folded legs.
Just then, the rumblings of someone again tussling with the locally-made barrel bolt lock filled the cell.
“I will sign the confession,” the Writer whispered into the Cadet’s ear.
When the door opened, the Writer saw a guard standing with pen and paper in hand. The guard hesitated, swiveling his head side to side, before entering the cell. The Writer turned towards the Cadet, but his face was still tucked into his thighs.
“Albert said to give you this to write your last testament so that he can publish it. Please, hurry up before my commander returns,” the guard whispered, handing the pen and paper to the Writer. Then, slithering back outside, he closed the door without sliding the shoot into its staple.
“Please, let me tell Eve’s story to the people,” the Cadet said, lifting his head and extending his hand for the Writer to give him the pen and paper.
“If you do, it wouldn’t matter whether I sign the confession.”
“Eve’s story must be told,” the Cadet said, steadying his gaze on the Writer.
As the Writer handed him the pen and paper, the Cadet’s face radiated and the chirping of the pepper birds rose ecstatically, inundating the cell. The Writer smiled.
Closing his eyes, he recalled his mother’s words: “My son, when you stand up for what is right, you too will glow with the Light of Righteousness, like the Lord radiated on the mountaintop.”