Note: If you have not read the original Hugo-winning The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula Le Guin track it down and do so now. It — like this non-canonical sequel — is short: less than four pages.
Still sickened and silent by their own witness, the children – now come of age – for the first time in their well-trained lives forgot to recite the ritual prompting of “Again!”
I smiled and patted the hair of the nearest one. My benevolence served two purposes; an early salve for this horrific vision, and a goad to remind their hearts of one important thing:
The Ones Who Walk Away are legend. They are myth. The Ones Who Walk are not startled children, their lives turned inside out, their homes bound together by the torment of the innocent. The Ones Who Walk are Gods, not little mortals. The Ones Who Walk never were.
My fable reminds the children that they are small, that they are wards, that Walking Away – which is what every one of them wants to do right now – is just as much a dream as was their Childhood Before.
But childhood ended today for them. They can no more Walk Away from Omelas than they can Walk Away from the Vision of Torment – the Child we brutalize in a Closet for the good and joy of our community.
My empathy for them is boundless, and that is why my fairy tale that twists them so – twists the knife in their eyes, twists it to their hearts – is so important for their new life ahead.
The children dispersed and as I took humble satisfaction in their mute growing pains, one child remained in the storytime square, whose ancient shin-deep blood-stains served as reminder of the lesser, older ways of sacrifice.
The boy kicked a book between his feet like it was a ball.
“Where did you get that?”
“It was mine. I found it on the library porch.” Odd, that a book could still be found – in all places, the prestigious library!
Omelas, of course, had few prohibitions, and only those of a most serious nature. Things as pointless and frivolous as books were, of course, allowed. They were also, of course, curious.
“Ah-ha. But now you see how you have wasted hours with it, when the superiority of the oral tradition is all around you?”
“I hate it.” He pouted and punted the thing against the rust-red wall of the old inner pool. It’s noisy pages fluttered like a wasp.
“Good. But don’t be hard on yourself. Boys and girls do silly things. Then they grow up. You grow up when you learn, and you learned many things today.”
“It lied to me.”
“Yes. It is what books do best.”
“It said they were coming back.”
“Yes. Now you know. Legends. Merely legends.”
“It said they were coming back today.”
I rushed the child off. It was important that he ruminate on the vision he’d been allowed to see, not the lies of some stupid book. I picked it up. My hands went cold, then my lips.
The book was plain, but inside, the pages were filled with handwritten ink.
On the back page was yesterday’s date.
Above that, a final word: “Tomorrow.”
Not possible. Books lie.
A deafening blast shattered the top of the sandstone fortification. I hit the ground, shivering like a tuning fork, the thunder rolling through me.
I ran, clutching the evil talisman in my left hand.
I knew Omelas; every alley way and cul de sac, and knew a story for every step of the way, but the invaders had not forgotten the pathways even after all this time. A pack of the marauders billowed out of a sidestreet like a cloud.
I shrieked and turned, face first, into the chest of a warrior. Instantly I fell, cracking my knees on the cobblestones and raising my hands for mercy. The book dropped from my hands.
The woman held her impaling staff aloft, its stake poised for my eye.
“So,” she said, “you received our warning. Yet you sent no one out this morning to negotiate?”
“Neg- no, only just now have I even seen this thing. I know nothing!”
“We sent a score of them over the wall yesterday. I doubt very much the Council is unaware.”
“Don’t kill me!” I begged, “I am – I have told your tale these many years! A tale of hope! You are legendary warriors, returned! Gone so long!”
The group of women laughed.
“Had the warriors found you first, you wouldn’t have spat a single word. And yes, though it took our people longer than we had hoped to muster, we have lived just beyond the city walls all this time, building this alliance. We have come with the Warriors, but we are not the Warriors. Indeed not! We are the Nurses.”
My trembling only intensified. “I’ll take you to the Council. I’m sure they -“
A blast split the temple top, and I cried and shut my eyes.
“Fair enough,” she said.
I choked as they pulled me to my feet by my tunic, and marched me backward through the square.
Stumbling upon the city steps, I cracked my forearm against a stone, and looked up. The beloved, familiar faces of my friends and colleagues looked down on me, but they were grim and foreign.
“See!” I cried out to them. “Tell them I have told the stories honoring the Ones Who Walked Away! I have kept faithful to their memory!”
The city Master himself sneered at me. “You never said they would come back. You lied about them all this time. You said they were happy, far away, that they would not be coming back.”
“No, it was an allegory, a hope-story. You didn’t understand it.”
The Master’s face turned pink, his styled hair in a disarray. Bending down while two other colleagues pinned my arms, he hauled me close enough to smell his wrath. A small, savage whip in his hand danced at my ear.
“Storyteller, you’ve told too many stories. You lied, and now a thousand arrows are poised against my head. Because of you! YOU!”
I shook my head and wept. “My friends!” I cried. “My friends, oh my friends!”
A loud conversation among the nurses erupted. The Child! The tortured Child! They had found it! The Nurses fled to take it from its hiding Closet, leaving the entire city-state to its hopeless fate, but I could not think of that for the moment.
I had to take my chance.
I broke free against the line and ran through the space the Nurses had just emptied. The invaders lined the street, but they were my only prayer. “Mercy!” to them I cried. I begged them for my life.
A broad shouldered seargeant with blood running down his spear bent to me, his eyes full of compassion. “Mercy is not ours to give, Omelasite. Go to your own.”
Hands – the hands of my friends – dragged me back. “We have already worked something out,” hissed the Master, and they took me forward to the white Reformation complex, which contained the Closet. Was I to take the place of the Chi – no! Madness. Impossible.
Indeed, it was impossible.
Instead, before that flung-wide doorway of the tallest structure in Omelas stood a new structure, black and smelling of fresh-shaved wood.
I turned to see the Master and his guild, and my colleagues at either side smiling – smiling! – at my fate, though arrows were a drop of sweat from loosing at their throats.
The steps rattled as I dragged my feet against them.
“Don’t make this so hard for the rest of us,” they said, finally with some soothing in their voices. “You won’t swing forever.”