Sealed, by August Williams
Barnabas Waring was generally seen as an oddity in a town of oddities. He was one of the few children not to take advantage of Captiva’s First Choice educational system, opting instead to spend his days inside the one-room schoolhouse, his pencil dancing across the pages of the ancient textbooks passed down from his grandfather’s generation. He helped his father harvest shellfish from the coasts, and he helped his mother weave her baskets, sitting more quietly than any island-born child the gossips had ever seen.
Everyone in Captiva knew Barnabas, but not from any of these things. They knew him because of his cage.
One day the square was empty; the next day, awake before even the sun, Barnabas crept into the square with his willow stems and did not move until the cage was finished. The villagers gathered and whispered. Barnabas kept his head down, his fingers wriggling with impossible precision.
Days passed. Barnabas’s mother, wrung-out Harriet, brought him lunches. A few kinder townfolk left gifts of food or drink or trinkets, the latter of which went untouched. After a week, the number of curious spectators had evened out, with the boy weaving to an audience of four or five at all times.
A few minutes before the cage was finished, as Barnabas perched on the sides of his feet with his legs crossed, Felicity Tiller arrived. She was his age too, just shy of ten, but they had never spoken; Felicity’s mother had convinced her to engage in the hands-on education provided by the gentle but probing woodworker Jim. Even today, she was only in the square to escape the glances wandering to her bare legs.
She adjusted the back of her dress and swayed in place a while, but Barnabas did not look up. Finally, she asked, “Whatcha doin’?”
“I’m trappin’ the world,” he said, and for the first time glanced up at her. A tiny smile wriggled into the corner of his mouth. “You’re pretty.”
Even in her newfound maturity, Felicity did not feel threatened by the compliment. She blushed. “Thanks. How you gonna trap the world in a basket?”
“It’s a cage,” Barnabas said, and with a flick of his wrists he tied off the wicker and stood up. Without backing up to inspect his work, he stepped into the cage and squatted down until only his head was poking out. Now he looked fully at Felicity and beamed bright teeth at her. “This’s where I’ll be safe.”
“Safe from what?” She picked up the lid leaning against the cage and turned it in her hands. “I can still poke you.” Her lips pinched in a mischievous smile and she proceeded to demonstrate exactly that fact.
Barnabas laughed. “Well. But now the world’s trapped, and I’m not.”
“What about me?” Felicity threw out her arms and twirled, her dress billowing out around her. She laughed, lightly, the first tremble of happiness in months stirring in her throat. “I’m not trapped. See?”
The boy’s eyes grew very serious. “But you are. You could not be trapped too, if you want.”
“Oh.” Felicity stopped moving, her hands clasped to her heart in a mimicry of prayer, a music box unwound. “With you?”
“Oh,” she said again.
“Please,” Barnabas said. “I don’t want you to be trapped. And you believe me.” His eyes grew even sadder. “Even my mum and dad, they don’t believe me.”
“I—I think I do,” Felicity said, and she stepped forward and put her hands on the lip of the cage. There was not much room that was not already occupied by Barnabas, and she was finally aware of the skeptical eyes prodding her to step away, to be a rational island-born child. She faltered, and he saw it.
“There’s not much time.” It was with all solemnity that he dropped his voice to a whisper, his lower lip trembling. “If you don’t—”
“Well then,” Felicity said breathlessly, and she hopped into the cage with a grace even her breath caught to see. His grin wider than ever before, Barnabas propped himself against the edge and snagged the lid.
Felicity crouched down beside the boy as he pulled the lid over their heads. She turned her head to try and look him full in the face, and it was then that the world was gone.
Everything went quietly, a flash and a silent shattering, a camera bulb born and dead in an instant, and the island wasn’t an island anymore, because there were millions of islands everywhere, sucked upwards and then inwards and together.
The cage floated free of the world, and Felicity held tightly to the bars with one hand. She looked down to see that her other was clasped tightly in Barnabas’s. He tightened his lips and for the first time could not meet her gaze.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “There wasn’t time.”
“I know,” Felicity said. She began to shake, and the boy gathered her up in his arms and let her cry until she was exhausted.
She turned her tearstained face and gasped. The cage had whirled away from the remains of the world and was angling towards something new: a beautiful globe, small enough she could have reached out to hold its pinks and reds and blues in her hands.
“Look,” Barnabas said unnecessarily, “a new world.”
Felicity reached around him until her hands met. “Can we go to it?” The quaver in her voice was not gone, but she felt a surge of hope change the tenor of her trembling.
“We can go anywhere,” Barnabas said. “It’s ours, ‘cause we believed.”
He rested his chin on the top of her head as the two children and the cage spun towards the new world.
(Thanks to Buzzfeed for the inspiration!)
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The draft of this story has been posted solely for the purpose of critique and feedback, which may be used later in editing. This should not be considered a publication of a final work.