I examined a row of spiked strips, all of different colors. Each strip was labeled with an emotion.
“These are the heart of the village,” he replied. “The feelings encoded on these strips are our emotional DNA. New children born into the village will only be able to feel the feelings on these strips.”
He pointed at several of the strips. “Joy, strength, love, perseverance, excitement, anger, delight… I wonder what delight feels like.” He stroked his long, grey beard. “I created delight when I was but a young man. My granddaughter tells me it’s somewhat like joy.” He beamed.
“This one looks new.” I pointed at the blue strip labeled ‘melancholy.’ “Did you create it, too?”
“No,” said the chief. “No one knows where it came from. It just appeared this morning.” He smiled, shrugged, and walked on.
“Interesting,” I replied, trying to keep the edge out of my voice, hoping the chief would not notice that my hands had begun to tremble.
Later that night, I returned to the visitor’s yurt and feigned sleep, trying to make sense of what I had seen.
The villagers sometimes got angry, but it passed quickly. They felt sad, but it didn’t linger. No one in the village had ever suffered from depression. No one had ever been unable to force themselves to face the day.
What kind of villain would poison these healthy people with melancholy?
I must take matters into my own hands. I will steal the melancholy strip, and destroy it.
“…and that’s the last entry.” I sighed, closed the journal, and brushed the remaining dirt off its cover. I handed it to Emory, who had assisted me with the dig.
“I guess she didn’t succeed, then,” Emory said.
“No, that much is a matter of public record. She was caught attempting to break in, imprisoned, and died during her third escape attempt.”
“So what’s it like? Melancholy?” asked Emory.
“It’s like sadness, but… deeper. And… grey instead of blue, if that makes sense. It doesn’t have an obvious reason and it doesn’t go away easily,” I replied.
“Do you ever wish she had… you know? Destroyed it?”
“I’ll answer your question with a question,” I said. “Have you ever felt like your life was all wrong? Like there was something missing, something just out of sight out of the corner of your eye? And at first it drives you crazy, and you think there’s something wrong with you, and then after years and years you realize no, there’s something right with you and there’s something wrong with the whole world? That this feeling of wrongness was, after all, not a curse but a red alert, a warning bell, trying its best to take you by the shoulders and shake you awake?”
Emory looked at me with her big round eyes, and smiled. “Nope! Can’t say that I have.”
“Would you want your child to experience that feeling?” I asked her.
“Heavens no! It’s good to have a warning bell when there’s actually something wrong, but to have it go off when everything’s perfectly fine? That sounds horrible!”
“So everything’s perfectly fine in your village?”
“Yes, of course! It’s perfectly fine, it’s always been perfectly fine, and it will always be perfectly fine!”
“Of course it is,” I replied, reaching into my pocket and running my thumb across the blue spikes of the strip that was going to mysteriously appear in Emory’s village tomorrow morning. “Of course it is.”
Photo by Kyeli Smith