The Man On The Wall

“Come along, Junior. Time to see the man on the wall.” The father leaned down and scooped up the young boy. He adjusted the child’s hood and touched the tip of their noses together.

“No. He scares me. He’s mean.” The boy pouted.

“You’re ready to face your fears,” said the father. The boy threw his arms around his father’s neck and buried his face in the older man’s collar.

The father carried his son through the glade, his feet swishing through fallen leaves. It was a short walk to the wall, and in the crisp morning air, they had the path to themselves. Most people from the village avoided the wall; some refused to acknowledge the wall even existed. The father of the boy was not one of them. He believed in objective truth, in correcting ignorance through direct experience. The world, according to the father, required participation.

As they exited the trees, the father slowed. The rocky wall, twenty feet high, and at least as thick, extended in both directions as far as they could see. At the top strode a lone figure wearing a wolf mask and carrying a long rifle. The man on the wall stopped walking and turned to face them.

“He’s scary. I’m scared,” the boy said, nuzzling his father again.

The father gently turned the boy around toward the man on the wall. “You see him up there. He can’t possibly hurt us down here, so nothing to be afraid of.”

The boy shook his head.

“Go ahead, look at him.” The father pointed up to the man.

As the boy looked up, the man on the wall set the rifle down and reached up with one hand to remove the wolf mask. Underneath, the boy was terrified to see, not the face of a man, but the face of a serpent.

The man’s forked tongue slithered in and out of his mouth. He replaced the wolf mask over his face, picked up his rifle, and continued walking along the top of the great wall.

“There, you see? Nothing to worry about.” The father smiled down at the boy who had gripped his father’s pant leg. He adjusted his own mask, his father mask, before picking up the boy and started walking back home. The boy began to cry.

“Stop,” said the father in quiet tones. “You’ll get your mask all wet.”