Chain Letters

When the fence went up around the outskirts of our village, I did not think much about it. It was not our personal property and had little to do with me. I still had my relatives and family, the ones who would protect me from the dangers of the outside world.

I would play with my friends, leaping and bounding through the thickened sand dunes dragging my fingers over the metal chain links. I was told not to touch the fence for fear that I would cut my finger across the protruding metal. It was an adventure to run across the sands. We even tried once to dig to the bottom of the fence but one of the adults from our village came over running and shouting.
“If you ever try that again, I’ll shoot you myself,” he thundered before turning us back to our homes.

When guards started patrolling the other side of the fence, we would always run over to the edges of our side, pointing in excitement. I made friends with one of them, who offered me pencils, smiles, and whatever he could wherever I saw him. I asked him once why he carried a gun.
“Have you killed any bad guys? I have one just like that,” I told him boldly, pointing at his gun and smiling, trying to show off. He didn’t smile back for the first time since I had met him. I forgot to tell him mine was plastic.

The links in the fence felt thicker as I grew older, less malleable to the touch of my fingers and more stubborn, more fixed than they seemed when I was a child. There were holes through the fence that were patched up with reinforced metals, and more warning placards as the years went on. Once the watch towers went up, we stopped visiting the outskirts of our village. It was unnecessary and unsafe. My parents scolded me when I told them I had a friend on the other side. I wasn’t allowed to go back to the fence until I was much older.

I recently visited the area. There were no guards on duty and the towers seemed all but abandoned. The holes in the chain links were not patched. I wanted to run back and call all of my old friends to tell them it was safe, that we could go back there, that there was no more danger. I looked down at my phone but I had no one to call who would share in my excitement. There were hardly any people left anymore in my village.

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