CURIOSITY HAS THE ability to kill more than just cats. In fact, its threat to us is much greater still, for it thrives in the complexity and the potential of our minds. And in the midst of comfort, the pull of curiosity becomes strong enough to prove deadly.
CONSIDER A GIRL raised in luxurious and unimaginable splendor. Every razor's edge was dulled to suit her soft, grasping fingers. Every hard base was smothered with linens and feathers and fabrics that gently stroked her delicate frame. Every stair she would have climbed she was instead carried, lifted and held so as not to chance a fall. Every rough surface was polished until it was left without even the slightest hint of texture to be felt. Every sharp corner was smoothed to shelter her from the slightest bruising. Even the very words around her lacked their natural potential for harm as they had been dulled, smothered, lifted, smoothed, polished, and cleaned for her. Just like everything else. It was something that she could not have escaped, even if she had known enough to try. Every breath of the air she breathed was clean and tinged with fragrances to please and calm. The temperatures that surrounded her at every turn were so perfect that they meant nothing to her. She knew not the existence of pain, hunger, fear, or thirst. Indeed, there was only one thing that plagued her as she followed her scripted routine with such effortlessness that it exhausted her-drinking in the flowery words, the smooth silks, the perfumed baths, rich delicacies, and elaborate carvings.
And that was curiosity.
Her mind was a wandering, imaginative thing. Never resting and ever shifting, it consumed information like flames consume fuel-with a constant need for new and unused material to feed its predatory appetite. She often conjured up situations of excitement as she passed through her days of lifeless perfection. In her daydreams and nightly fantasies, she was dangerous and driven, illusive and mesmerizing, powerful and yet somehow unfailingly faithful. To exactly what, she never knew. But these illusions, however wonderful and thrilling, could only satisfy her mind for so long before creativity grew too thin to sustain her flame and dark reality burst in to stifle her once more.
Similarly, her heart blazed with a passion that had no outlet. Without a direction for such intense emotions and feelings, her passions burned further and further into the darkest depths of her being, smoldering there in wait. They remained hidden away, lingering there for a chance to explode and thus shatter their prison. That which would be her greatest strength was slowly withering from lack of use. It needed an excuse to break free and burn without restraint. Only a small excuse-almost anything would do-but the need was absolute. And so it stayed there, weeping and dying slowly there inside of her as the days stretched on without change.
Yet in the end, it was her soul that suffered most. Her spirit flamed and seethed inside of her, writhing ceaselessly. It longed for something it did not yet know, and since the unknown is an impossible thing to obtain, its suffering continued, stretching through each day and into the weary night. It never tired, but the girl was constantly fatigued by its struggle. With no relief to be found, she was dragged into the depths of her own desperation. It was so dark there. Cold. Completely devoid of warmth and light and life. It was possible-even probable-that she would have died there.
But for her curiosity.
It was her savior, and her demise. It was the key that unlocked every chain that held her, the key that pulled her out of the darkness, carefully and meticulously salvaging the remaining ashes of her being
only to throw her to the merciless waves before she'd a chance to catch her breath. She would fight to keep her head above the waves for the rest of her life, until she would look back through her terror and wonder whether the eventual death of her spirit would have been preferable to the water's absolute embrace.
Despite all of her inner turmoil, which contrasted sharply with her easy living, perhaps the greatest cruelty was her confusion. The sheer lack of knowledge, experience and words to recognize or even describe her pain caused her to curl deeper into herself. At that point, she could have suffocated in the antiseptic air of her privileged status, but her curiosity gave her a goal. And suddenly, all of the passion and imagination and restless nature had something to occupy them, fuel them. She immediately became obsessed with one thing:
If there was anything this girl was deprived of, it was a shortage of reminders of who she was. Ornately carved walls draped with the finest tapestries and paintings in the kingdom fenced her away from the rest of the city, confined her within the rich realm of her birth. At every turn, she found little ways to conquer every boundary that encased her in this palace of grandeur. By demanding the nearest servant she could find to take her to the uppermost rooms of the palace's structure, she could open the windows and rush to the balconies' edge and see beyond. And there, high above everything she knew, with the light breezes threading through her hair and the sun kissing her skin and the maid gasping in startled horror there behind her, her eyes squinted and her neck stretched as she sought the edge of her world. The hope born in that solitary glance stoked her inner fires so that they burned brighter than ever before. It did come to an end, this place-this life-that she knew, and it was at that vantage point, high enough to touch the clouds, that she could see where her world touched another. Even before the servant dragged her away from that glorious edge, she could see glimpses of things she knew nothing of. Foreign colors and sounds jumped to her attention as quickly and as numerous as drops of falling rain. Tiny specks milled around in frenzied patterns between structures of wood and mud and stone. She would feverishly suck in any and every detail she could, drinking it all in, as she fought the arms that pulled her back to sickening safety. And though the scenes of unfamiliarity would alter and shift and change with each passing, there was always one thing that would arrest her attention every single time.
It was the one thing keeping her from that alien world, walling her away in her extravagance. This wall that held her so irritatingly well was not as beautiful as the others surrounding her, but even so it made all others shrivel to such a level of insignificance that they nearly ceased to exist altogether. She became obsessed with evading it. She was fascinated by the enormity of such an abstract thing, by the sheer strength of its existence that it could so effectively trap her and detach her. It stretched into every corner of her life, forcing her away from the world beyond. But it wasn't the enormity of it, nor how simplistic it was, nor even the wonder of its ability that caused it to take seed within her. It was the challenge it offered. At least with her immediate walls, the palace walls, she could see past them. However, there was no point that existed, neither high nor low, that would allow her to see beyond her who she was. It defeated her attempts to sooth her insatiable curiosity so completely that it posed a sort of mocking air. If there was one thing that she truly could not stand, it was restraint. She strained for freedom as ceaselessly as a flame strains for the sky. She could have gone mad with the frustration.
She was cursed by birth to forever live her life wedged within the voracious grip of her own pride. It was what formed and shaped her obsession, for she could not find it within her to surrender and admit defeat. She had to find a way. She had to reach beyond her world.
No matter what.
NOW, IT IS possible, however uncommon, to contract the same disease by way of separate symptoms. There was one such individual who had such a misfortune.
CONSIDER A BOY raised in stifling and frightening scarcity. Every harmless edge was sharpened to its deadliest point in hopes that he might happen upon it. Every gritty street was so stiff and unyielding, so absolutely covered with dirt and disease, that it hardened his small body, in more ways than one. Every corner was a chance for peril and ambush and it had to be cautiously maneuvered. Every stair was a luxury not often afforded by his position, a fact which begged more creativity to get to each destination, forbidden or otherwise. Even the very words around him were crass and angry, manipulative and cunning; they became his greatest tool and greatest worry, as they were just as deadly, dirty, dreary, and dangerous as the rest of his world. Every breath of air choked, leaving an acrid taste in its wake. The temperatures that surrounded him were things he could not escape and so he was forced to constantly manage their extreme embrace. He knew nothing outside the existence of pain, hunger, fear, or thirst. Indeed, there was only one thing that offered him hope as he was dragged exhaustedly through the labyrinth of back streets, barely surviving the cutting words, the hidden knives, the rancid waste, rotten scraps, and brittle stones.
And that was escape.
His mind was forever focused and sharp. Never resting and ever shifting, it sifted through information like water through sand, with the ability to purify content and cut through any material given enough time. His thoughts were always organized, his methods consistent, and his systems flawless. It was his way of survival. He had no room for anything else. Everything he saw, heard, or even sensed was stored away, categorized, and saved. After all, that which was most adaptive was most likely to survive. Just as water fit itself to the atmosphere, changing its very essence if necessary, he did whatever it took to live. It mattered not to him whether his means were necessary or unnecessary, honorable or dishonorable, moral or immoral. If it improved his living, secured a meal, or recovered a coin, it was worth changing himself for. And so he formed his life around these fragmented facts, derived truth from every lie, and found value in the dirtiest, filthiest things life had to offer all because of his calculating mind. But these methods and systems, though they kept him alive more often than not, were not enough to give him life. After all, anything that becomes too restricted will fade away with time.
He inwardly longed for more. After all, logic and reasoning and analysis, without any passion behind it, easily fell to nothing. No action would come of thoughts without purpose, and action was what he needed. Even though he had all the potential strength that he needed, he lacked that which was necessary to put it into motion. A river with no movement has no force and no power, and becomes as gentle as a puddle, vulnerable to the thirst of the earth and the heat of the sun. It was his hopelessness and uncertainty that kept him stagnant. His waters needed hope and purpose to stir them if he was to have any chance. Until then, he would remain in this cursed heat, evaporating to nothing under its insufferable weight. It was possible-even probable-that he would have died there.
But for his escape.
The escape was his salvation, and his damnation. It was the downward tilt that gave him the momentum and power he needed to crush every obstacle, to be taste freedom, to escape certain extinction
only to land into a desert where the sand soaked up his life, threatening to absorb every last part of him. The prison that held him now was only a semblance of the fortress that would ensnare him in the future, leaving him to wonder in the end if a quiet death as a shrinking puddle would have been preferable to the desert's unforgiving warmth.
Yet, even so, it was the one opportunity that life afforded him. As he scrounged for every scrap of clothing, every shred of food, every drop of water, that one thought drove him to survive. It was his reason for living. It gave him strength to persevere. It gave him the means to seal himself away beneath the surface, and the strength to wait patiently for a chance-one chance-to take advantage of, and it would give him the verve he needed to eventually break the dam. His escape gave him a goal, and that was all he needed. Suddenly, all of the calculations and information had something to occupy and fuel them. He immediately became obsessed with one thing:
He was more than willing to leave his life behind. There was nothing tying him down, nothing keeping him there. He had never known family, nor had he opened himself to the risk of friendship. To be so completely alone was crushing, but bearable because of his obsession. Instead of filling his mind with the hunger that twisted his gut or the cold that cut straight through skin, muscle, and bone or the wounds that ran deeper than flesh or the thirst that burned like fire from the tip of his tongue to the back of his throat or the bruises that flared with the lightest whispering touch, he focused almost exclusively on his escape. It was the last string of thinking before the nightmares took his mind and the first conscious thought that accompanied each rude awakening. It followed him through every moment of every day. It never left him; he never left it. It was his only belonging, his only companion, and yet it consumed him entirely. Yet it was often unclear whether it was what threatened him most, or whether it was the only thing sheltering him. One thing was certain-he could not live without it. Only one thing stood in his way.
This fabricated power was so limiting that it caused all other boundaries to shrivel to such a level of insignificance that they nearly ceased to exist. It was status that became his goal. He was fascinated by the enormity of it, by the strength of its existence. It stretched through the entire city, encircling everyone in its oppressive shadow and boxing every individual into separate, inescapable worlds. But it wasn't the curse of its tyranny that caused such an obsession to take seed within him. Rather, his fixation rested in the hope that it offered. The endless possibilities that could exist outside the confines of such a thing made him shake with excitement. He only had to surpass it, though its strength seemed absolute. Try as he might, the boy could find no weaknesses to exploit. It defeated his attempts to sooth his persisting despair so completely that it posed a sort of mocking air. It dammed him inside the city that persecuted him. It gave him no choice but to survive. If there was one thing that he could not stand, it was restraint. He searched for freedom as ceaselessly as a river searches for the sea. He could have cried with the frustration.
He was not sure what lay beyond his pathetic life, but it could be no worse than what he faced locked within the boundaries of his wretched birth. He had to believe that. He had to reach beyond his world.
No matter what.