No one ever really mentioned it. Most of the villagers just thought the boy must’ve been troublesome from a very young age, but nonetheless, found years of punishment a bit extreme. It wasn’t just the length of his sentence; it was the sentence itself that deterred the village from the boy and his family. “Putting a boy in a cage,” they would say, “A baby boy! It’s outrageous!”
The boy’s parents heard the gossip and tried their best to put things right, but it was hard to explain the boy being born into a golden cage of his own DNA. It was hard to believe; even as they had witnessed it. They were determined to not let the cage or the other villagers affect the boy they would name, Galileo, but still very small, their worries were cast away as the boy was able to steal the hearts of the village as every other new child had.
As a child the other kids in the village would take turns playing with Galileo, climbing through the bars to spend time with him. Time and time again, Galileo was met with his unfortunate circumstances, when the child that had climbed in climbed back out and Galileo was just too big to follow. Around the same age, the boy’s father wrought with worry for what the future held for his son worked night and day trying to destroy the bars that held the boy.
It took many weeks before his father was able to remove a small portion of the gold plate covering the top of the cage, allowing Galileo to really see the stars for the first time. His younger brother had tried to explain the night sky to him before, but could never seem to find the words to shape the right images in Galileo’s mind. This night, Galileo understood. He sat in awe, devouring all his senses could handle, until the sun rose, cutting ribbons through the bay and the night sky was folded up once more.
As he grew, he began to figure out how to adapt himself to the environment of golden bars by sleeping curled up in a ball and upon waking, poking his arms, legs and head through the front bars, which allowed him more mobility and independence; meaning more playtime and games. His favorite pastime was spent with his brother, James. After his first night of stargazing, he rarely spent his nights any other way and soon James would accompany him each night. They would sit outside in a field next to the village and would silently wait as the sun set for the stars to scatter across the stratosphere. Seeing their enthusiasm, their mother often joined in on their stargazing efforts in order to share her knowledge of the constellations with them. Though it was limited, this knowledge entertained the boys as they would watch the constellations in the sky and create stories about the figures that were depicted.
Over the course of many nights sitting next to James, Galileo grew increasingly infuriated with the small space through which he could see the sky. Currently, James had to a identify a constellation and then help Galileo position the cage just right so that he could see it too, and while Galileo was overwhelmingly ecstatic and intoxicated with just this ability, he dreamed of seeing a full sky of stars or even better to be completely surrounded by them. Reaching his breaking point, he decided on a course of action and told his brother of his plans: he was going to sit amongst the stars.
At daybreak, on little sleep but fully inspired and motivated, the boy gathered his things and bid farewell to his family with a firm handshake from his father, a warm worried hug from his mother and one last playful tackle from his brother. He poked his arms, legs and head through the front bars, tightly grasped two of the bars resting on his chest until his knuckles turned white and then hoisted the cage up on his back as if carrying a hiker’s pack. By the time the sun had fully risen and the rest of the village was waking up, Galileo was well into his trek.
He headed towards the mountains seen from the village and began his journey of constantly seeking new heights. He began climbing hills until those hills became mountains. Each climb and each peak he reached, he felt his body growing stronger as it collected steps in new places, and he felt his stride growing faster and quicker all while waking up each morning in the dew, was beginning to weaken and seemingly lighten the load of the cage on his back. Every morning, he woke up more inspired and motivated than the day before. Galileo fell in love with the trails that he climbed each day. He fell in love with the sound of different terrain under his feet and the fresh air; he mostly loved the feelings of comfort and safety the forest seemed to give him.
He climbed a mountain a day for months, finishing each at the top waiting for the constellations to dance into the night. Nearing a year away from home, Galileo grew increasingly discouraged having not been able to reach the stars just yet and his motivation began to dwindle. Knowing his family was probably worried, he decided to begin wrapping up his excursion with three more mountains; three more chances.
The first mountain, he enjoyed the challenge of the climb, but the nighttime view was, again, a disappointment. When he woke up the next morning and was gathering his things to head to the next mountain, he saw a mountain off in the distance and all his plans changed. It was the largest mountain known to exist by the people in his village though no name could be given to it. No words were known to describe such a thing. Legends told it to be the most inhospitable climb as a relentless steep ascent, barely left any place for rest. The few people who had supposedly made it even close to the top, rarely, if ever got down. For some reason he knew he had to try. None of the past mountains had gotten him remotely close enough. This was his last change. It would take at least a few days to just reach the base of the mountain but the only thought crossing his mind was, “I’d better get started.”
By the time the night rolled around again, he was probably about three quarters of the way there. He had traveled much faster than even he had expected. Enthusiasm had driven him forward and hopefully it would drive him up the next day. Finding a seemingly good place to rest, the night grew particularly dark and stormy. He relocated, finding a strong tree under which he attempted to take shelter. This worked great until the ground he was sitting on began to flood. Desperate to get out of the wet conditions and rest his exhausted body, he climbed the tree and placed a branch through the cage. Feeling exceedingly clever, he let the cage hang from the tree, with him inside of it allowing him to completely rest and even be rocked to sleep by the wind.
Waking the next morning, feeling slightly more refreshed than usual, though still soaked, he found his way back down to the ground. Upon looking up at where he had climbed down from, he saw a single golden bar lodged between two branches. He inspected the cage and noticed how taxing that storm had been on it. Only eight bars were effectively connected anymore and if he really tried, Galileo could probably climb right out.
He began walking again towards the mountain and thought long and hard about whether or not he should leaving the rusting cage at the base of the mountain. He knew he had an arduous climb awaiting him; one that the cage would put him at a disadvantage compared to others who had attempted the climb before him, but he thought of the cage as an old friend. He knew how the cage moved and breathed, and in a way, it protected him. He also recognized the fact that the cage had sent him on his journey in the first place and so, made the decision that it would come out with him in the end.
As he began his climb, he realized just how arduous the climb would be. The ascent was so steep, it seemed as if you had to keep your center of gravity in your head and had to keep moving forward or else risked falling down all you had climbed. He could see how the mountain could have devoured those that tried to conquer it, but he also found that what he originally thought would put him at a disadvantage, would probably be the single advantage he had. When he grew tired, he would grab hold of a strong looking tree and hang from it in his cage like had during the storm. This way he could completely rest without any worries or sliding down the rocks or losing his balance from an overly taxed body. He would wake up feeling ready to tackle the next portion of the mountain. As the ascent grew steeper, his hope for success did too.
It took him an entire week, but eventually he woke up late in the morning of the day he would reach the peak. He began to climb and by evening he was on flatter ground and was walking out of the forest onto the rock and snow that characterized this mountains altitude. He turned to take a look at where he’d come from and saw the moon beginning to chase away the sun over the layers of ascents he had conquered during his journey, all illuminated by golden light. He collected the new terrain under his feet, until he made it.
He hoped his eyes could capture the landscape and hopefully the night sky to come as they had that first night, his father removed part of the plate on the top of the cage. He took out his pencil and paper to write to James about his trek and about the view he was seeing then and about how even if the stars didn’t show, this view would be enough; and it would always be enough.
He was so deep in thought; he had to be shaken from his work by the reflection of different colored light on the single bar that had not yet been entirely tarnished by rust. He looked out beyond the confines of the cage and saw colored lights dancing all around him that he could just about reach out and touch. Through the small opening in the top of the cage, he saw more stars than ever before and made the decision to grab hold of the rustiest bar, snap it from it’s place and step outside of the cage for the first time. He stretched his body and his arms straight towards the sky and wept with the joy of the moment he had worked for and the
joy of the Aurora Borealis and then joined in on her dance beneath the celestial sky. Looking up he was astounded with the view with a number of stars, not even a small child would attempt to count but would be rendered as speechless as anyone else. With a deep breath the boy laughed a great laugh, for he was sitting amongst the stars.
When the boy woke at the top of that mountain, he was almost surprised he wasn’t covered in ash from the burning lights he witnessed the night before. He smiled remembering how the stars had kissed his lips and how he felt only hours prior, but he knew that feeling would never really go away. He would just take it and place it in his hiker’s pack instead of keeping it in his pocket.
He honored his promise to bring the cage through the journey with him by traveling back on the same paths he had traveled out in order to retrieve the fallen bars. He then returned to the village carrying these bones of the boy who no longer was.
He greeted his mother with a bear hug and his father with a hearty laugh. The villagers cheered, “He’s free!” “He’s done it!” “He has escaped!”. The boy smiled but could not seem to acquaint these worse with the cage, for he had not escaped. The bars had not been placed around him to keep him in, they had been placed to drive him out to the mountains; to bring him to that peak. With this understanding he had his father help him reconstruct the cage, his old friend, in order for him to move and breath once more.
While excited to see the village and his parents once more, Galileo longed for nothing more than to see his brother James. He inquired to his father, as they began to reconstruct the cage, about the whereabouts of James. His father responded by telling him that James had a cage he had to go break open too, but James’ cage lived inside and encased his heart instead of his whole body. He was out conquering his own mountains and climbing his own trees, and one day would return carrying the bones of the boy they had known, but would be a more complete version of him too. The same way his parents had to become reacquainted with him after casting away the cage, Galileo would have to become reacquainted with his brother when he returned as well.
When James did return, his father had been right. Each had new peaks and new valleys to share with the other. They identified new constellations and created new stories about the figures that they depicted, all while the children back in the village were told the tale of the boy who sat amongst the stars and of the boy that ran across deserts, both of which could sometimes be seen in the sky carrying the weight of the who he had been and who he would be; but nobody could quite understand the tales as they did.