Words

“Words bring the life out of nothing, Ranger.” The elderly man chuckled. “Just look at that rock over there; what do you see?”

My eyes followed the man’s gaze to a marble-sized rock a few feet in front of us.

“It looks like a rock.”

Old Henry laughed.

“Of course it’s not just a ‘rock,’ Ranger! Think further than that! This rock has a story—-a whole life—-that can be smothered in words, smothered into anything you can think of.” He leaned forward and picked up the rock. By the look in his eyes, you’d think he was picking up a rare gem. “No, you see, the importance of this rock dates back thousands of years. Some famous person loved this invaluable rock. Do you remember his name?”

I didn’t.

“Was it Jim?” I joked.

“Why yes it was! Good memory!” Henry fiddled with the rock in his hand, dancing it to some silent rhythm. “You see, I’m just making stuff up right now. I could do it all day. That’s what we did here at the news station; we made stuff up. Obviously people fell for it for a while, but they eventually caught on. So we thought of a better plan… ” Henry cracked the rock open to reveal a small piece of gold.

I gasped.

“Well would you look at that! What are the chances that I would find this? There are no chances, of course, because I put this here earlier. I planted a story. I planted a lesson.” Henry laughed and tossed me the rock, catching me off guard and causing me to awkwardly drop it.

“That’s what we do here now, Ranger. We put the life into nothing. We create stories, we make stories. If they cry out for evidence, we give it to them. Everyone’s happy, and we get to go home with peace knowing we can provide for our families.”

It was suddenly very quiet. I looked at Henry and realized he was waiting for my response. My joyful response? It looked like he was happy. Did he want me to be happy? Because I wasn’t. Deep down my stomach turned at the thought of them creating scenarios just to make money off of telling stories. Maybe he only meant the good stories about ordinary men saving children at just the right moment. Sure, it’s fake, there’s no hero and only a cast of paid actors, but that’s probably the only thing they do, right?

“That’s interesting,” I found myself saying. “You only do this for some of our stories,” I stuttered. “It’s not like we’d organize a robbery or… ” My mind went blank and I said the first thing that popped into my head. “…murder someone.”

There was long pause.

Old Henry starting laughing again. That cackling roar echoed through the air. He patted me on the back and turned toward the office door. “Loosen up, Ranger.” The door shut uneasily behind him.

I sighed and looked down upon the open rock at my feet. What had I gotten myself into?

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