A Boy Named Num

Once upon a time, there lived a boy named Num, who had stopped feeling.

As a child, Num had a cruel stepmother, who would often tickle him until his eyes bugged out and tears streamed down his cheeks. He would beg for mercy, but received none. This treatment commonly occured in his land, where the government saw the merciless tickling of children as a brutal necessity to keep them aware of their lowly place in the order of things.

Most simply accepted this peculiar brand of torture, but Num impetuously decided to do something about it: he constructed a special protective suit, that covered every inch of his body, making him almost impervious to the sensations of the outside world (and most specifically to the savage tickling of his stepmother). Now of course, like a snug-fitting pair of boots, he could still feel things somewhat, but it all felt dull and remote, and thus easier to ignore.

In this way, he endured the cruel attacks of his stepmother for many years, until the day arrived when he came of age and left his home to find his own fortunes in the world. He had become so used to his protective clothing, that he had forgotten that he even wore it. He bathed in it, he ate in it, he worked in it. And so when he left the cruel domain of his stepmother, he continued to wear his protective suit, although he no longer needed it. Travelling through his muffled world, he got by, and experienced success in the trade of beekeeping. And though his clothing prevented him from ever sharing any real feeling with another, he did manage to find a bit of dulled happiness through all the layers that protected him.

One day, a time of revolution came to Num’s land. The populus had begun to criticize the governments many harsh habits, its pollution of the sky and sea, its policies of death and domination. They wanted to live in a new way. And then a most terrible secret came out: the government at last admitted to its aggressive extermination of the Tutch, the people who had once dwelled in this land, before it became annexed for the growing population of Num’s people. They had easily wiped out this former culture, for every last member of the Tutch had no eyes. This ancient people simply felt their way through the world, and became easy targets for weapons that could kill from a distance.

Soon after this startling revelation came another one: the government had long hidden a fantastic tome written by the Tutch, called “The Book of Life”, a book that revealed an ancient and wonderful way to live, a way that excluded the abusive tickling of children, a way that supported happiness of the people. Some magic property of the book prevented anyone who read it from explaining it to anyone else; it became clear, to learn the teachings of the book of life, one had to read it for oneself.

And so Num heard of the book, and excitedly traveled to the museum where the government, after much public outcry, had finally conceded to put it on display, under guard. There he joined the bustling queue of hopeful readers. At last, after long days of waiting, the person in front of him stepped aside, revealing the magical book of life. Greedily Num opened its heavy cover, and looked at the first page. Confused, he flipped frantically through the book, until he got to the end.

“My god,” he said, “It’s BLANK!”

Moments passed. Impatient noises drifted over from the line behind him. Looking up at the scholar who sat nearby, he said angrily “No wonder no one can adequately explain this book…it has nothing in it!”

The scholar looked at him carefully. “Citizen, a book with blind authors will of course have no letters which you can see. You must FEEL the surface of the pages with your hand…only by feeling the the message of the book can you learn it.”

Num felt the page of the book with his thick gloved hand. “Poppycock! I feel nothing!” he said.

The scholar grimaced, saying “Take off your glove. You can’t feel the subtle bumps on the page through all that.”

Num grimaced back, and replied “Perhaps you’ve gone as blind as the Tutch. I don’t wear gloves. And any teaching worth knowing would lie in plain sight, for only with the power of sight can we adequately evaluate such a teaching from an objective distance. I see now that the government has simply masked one conspiracy with another…you can keep your silly blank book!” Annoyed, offended, and thoroughly disappointed, Num turned around and marched off.

The shocked scholar sat for a few moments, deep in thought. Then, recovering, he turned to the head of the line and spoke.

“Next, please.”

Written by Willem