The lonely island
Once, a very long time ago, when the continents were scattered in a pattern rather dissimilar from the one we know today, there was a lonely island at the end of the world. It stuck out in the middle of an enormous ocean and was so remote from any dry land that its inhabitants thought they were the only living beings in the world. In appearance they were exactly like us, but they also had horns. Another thing in which they differed from us was the way they smelled. It is hard to explain why that was so, but it was probably due to the water which they used for drinking and for washing. Although the island was surrounded by water on all sides, it was so salty that the islanders could neither drink it nor wash anything with it. All the drinking water came from one source ― the mountain that rose in the center of the island. There, from the top of the mountain, a powerful fountain sprang which ran along the slopes in torrents branching into a multitude of streams, creeks and brooks that flowed into the ocean. Was it because it came from the bowels of the earth or because it sprang from the top of the mountain, the water of the fountain wasn’t pure and transparent like ours, but was turbid and rusty like the water flowing through an old cracked pipe. Having no other water, however, the islanders drank it and washed everything with it. This imparted to them a slight swampy smell which, as time passed, gradually grew stronger, but having got used to it, they were not aware of it. They became conscious of it only when they came in contact with babies because babies had almost no smell, but hardly a few months passed and the babies also began to acquire the smell so the whole matter was forgotten. Besides, the lack of smell was considered a defect indicating immaturity so nobody gave it another thought.
It was much the same with the horns. Babies were born without horns. The horn appeared when a child got very angry and was gripped by the urge to pierce another child or the thing that had triggered its anger. Upon the first occasion of anger, a small horn came out, but then it grew bigger and bigger as the provocations increased. After reaching its full size, the horn stopped growing, but after each use its tip became thinner and sharper. In the end, when the person had reached old age, the horn became so thin and sharp that it stabbed like an arrow by just touching the object. The piercing could not actually cause death, but was harmful enough to weaken the victim and render him practically useless for some time.
All people had horns but not all horns were equally thin and sharp. Those whose horns were the thinnest and the sharpest, were the ones most highly regarded by all. Everyone admired them, everyone bowed down to them and everyone flattered them, but everyone also feared them. Nobody dared to contradict or oppose them. Most people avoided talking or doing things with them, lest they said or did something to infuriate them. As a matter of fact, fear was an integral part of the life of that society. Everyone feared everyone else ― everywhere, every day, in every way. Sometimes it so happened that a person made several people angry at the same time and this resulted in him getting pierced just as many times at once. The wounds were slow and hard to heal and the person needed a lot of time to get fit for life again.
The fear of piercing was great, but not as great as the fear of disappearing. Though not too many, there were people who started hating piercing, so they stopped the practice. As a result, their horns gradually diminished in size until they fossilized. At the same time, I don’t know how, their sense of smell sharpened and they started to perceive the swampy smell of their bodies and of all the things that surrounded them. The smaller their horns became, the more acutely they perceived the smell. In the end, they could no longer stand the smell and decided to do the only thing that seemed possible for them to do: jump into the ocean. But the moment they left the island woods and stepped on the ocean’s shore, ready to jump, they disappeared and never appeared again. As this happened to everyone who made the attempt, the people did not dare walk there and lived only in the interior of the island. That is why they had no ships and they knew neither the ocean nor the lands beyond the ocean.
They didn’t know that the island was actually the upper part of a huge mountain and the shore wasn’t flat or sloping but a vertical cliff so that everyone who walked out of the woods instantly went down flying. But he did not die. This was because, as it turned out, the cliffs were covered by nets on all sides with a special signaling system which was activated the moment the person fell into the net. It was connected to ships which were constantly patrolling and which immediately arrived on the spot to take the fallen person out and attend to him. Once on board the ship, the person was washed with clean water inside and out and his fossilized horns were removed with a special device under full anesthesia so that he didn’t feel any pain.
When he came to, the person looked and felt like a new-born baby: his skin was clean and fresh, and his body emitted a pleasant scent. The people around him also emitted a sweet fragrance. What’s more, each of them had a unique scent which combined with the scents of the others as the fragrances of flowers in a bouquet.
Later, after living with them for some time, the person found out that the people from the ships patrolling around the nets were people like him who had escaped from the island with the intention to die but who found salvation instead. The first people saved were caught by the Lord of the World who had created them originally. Then their ancestors had no horns and their bodies emitted only a sweet fragrance. All lived in peace and harmony until a stranger looking very much like a goat with horns appeared and started playing queer tricks. The tricks somehow worked and people were fascinated by the idea of having horns. So they wanted to have them. The Lord of the World warned them that horns can cause harm and pain but they were so insistent that he finally acquiesced and granted them their wish. But since there were no creatures with horns and a foul odor in his world, he sent them to live on the lonely island to save the rest of the earth from being polluted by them. Knowing, however, that there would be people who would not like the horns, after experiencing the pain from being stabbed by them, he put up nets on the cliffs and patrolled around the island with a ship to catch everyone who would choose to die instead of to stab like a knife.