No one talked about the affliction. They just put him away in a back room and let him deteriorate. No one was concerned when he first told them he was infected. He saw the signs: blemishes, weakness, fatty deposits, memory loss, incontinence, and many more — all signs of aging — but he was only twelve years old. When it was no longer possible to overlook the signs, they put him away. He didn’t understand anything about the affliction or why he was locked up. He remembered something his mother used to say, “out of sight, out of mind” — and guessed the admonition applied to him. The affliction progressed. He had trouble remembering anything about his life. He forgot his name. Food was delivered through a hole in the wall. When he finished eating he put the tray back into the hole. There was a wash basin and toilet in the room. He stopped wearing clothes because they quickly became soiled and he didn’t know how to clean them. He saw himself in a cracked mirror — the reflection kept changing — he could no longer identify the image in the glass. From time to time he became lucid and remembered bits and pieces about his life: walking through the swamp outside his home — the awful smell of dead things — the twisted trees that shrank from his touch. He remembered the metal building that was called a school … and the teacher who wore a brown uniform and carried a switch to beat the hands and buttocks of misbehaving children — bad memories. He realized he didn’t want to remember anything — most of all he wanted to forget his family who were always cold and indifferent. The boy retreated from what used to be familiar and began to imagine a different life and new experiences. He started hearing voices — one particular voice filled him with great pleasure. It was coming from a small alcove at the back of the room. It was the voice of an opera singer played on an old recording machine. He never heard something so sweet before.
The music was like a vivid dream or hypnotic trance. He began to see colors that appeared to dance to the exotic music. The boy knew his body was breaking down — the affliction separated the soft tissues and internal organs from the rest of the body. He was growing older at an increasing pace, but his brain was producing experiences that brought pure joy. When he was lucid he realized parts of the truth: soon, the elders would come to collect his organs: kidneys, eyes, stomach, heart — everything. He remembered rumors he heard long ago about sacrificial lambs, the children who were given the affliction so that their organs could easily be harvested — dropping like fruit from a rotting tree. The body parts of afflicted children were used to extend the life of important leaders who worked for the “greater good” of the City. The boy realized he never had a name. No one paid attention to him as long as he did what his parents demanded. He always tried to be good … and “being good” led to a cage in the backroom of his home — waiting to be harvested. His blood and heart belonged to the Red City. In his darkest moment when he heard the ravaging beasts at the door, the boy’s brain gave him music and art: opera, symphonies, glorious paintings and sculpture — a doorway was opening into another world.