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The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
Final Web Papers
On Serendip


Haley Bruggemann

This was how it all began. In the past, in the darkness, with an idea. As the idea's light crept over the shadowy contours of the landscape, delved into the deep crevices and scraped the soft edges, it created a new world. A mind. And into this new world fell more ideas, until the new edges were worn rough with age and use.

Cade's mind was born on the darkest hour of the darkest day. His brain was born long before. Only one story belonged to him then, the story which had brought him into the world. A biological story.

"You have a beautiful baby boy," said the doctor as he turned back to place the screaming infant into the woman's arms.

'I have a beautiful little story,' said his mother to herself, the very first time she laid eyes on her new son. It was the last time he saw her.

It was unfortunate then, that he had been born into a world of sacred tradition, of irreversible faith. In this new world, stories were not allowed.

"Stories are unnecessary," his father told his son when he was old enough to understand. "They are useless. All they bring is pain." If you could avoid telling a story, you did. This was how Cade grew up. He did not ask why the sky was blue. He did not ask his grandparent's names. These were all stories, and stories were dangerous.

He existed in this world for five years. On his birthday, he made the mistake of asking why he had no mother. "A story killed your mother," was the answer. He never asked again.

When Cade was six, his father caught him telling the boy next door a story about how he had planted the garden behind their house. He had been locked in his room for hours on end. He wrote stories about the birds flying overhead on the back of two boxes of rice, he made a stalk of celery into a hero who needed to get to the other side of the room before he died of thirst.

"This has to stop," his father said. "No more stories." But the stories continued, unchecked but not unnoticed. Cade could make a story out of anything, a butterfly floating by, the shape of a cloud, the sound of the coffee pot in the morning. By the time he was ten, it was painfully obvious that his father's worst fear had come true. Cade was a storyteller.

"A storyteller," Cade's aunt declared. It was a very serious offense. People were placed in categories, and if there was one thing you didn't want to be, it was a storyteller. People looked down on you, because at any split second, you might be the end of happiness, the end of control, the beginning of purpose and choice. "You should destroy him," the woman told her brother. "There is no other way around it. He is a leper. He just doesn't belong here."

The father knew that this was not right, but there was no such thing as right in his world. He had never heard of the concept of morality. Stories of noble doings had never reached his ears. But when he confessed he could not hurt his only son, his sister sent Cade away. "It will be better," she said. "They have places for boys like him. Reform schools. Places to cure them. He will come back changed."

Cade was thus spirited away in the night, without any knowledge of where he was going. At the school, no one spoke. Speaking gave way to storytelling. If the teachers caught you writing a story, you were whipped. "There is no room for stories," was the mantra they were taught. But Cade still dreamed, and in his dreams were stories, fantastic stories that he saved for when he felt lost and alone.

The most dear and beloved object to him in all the world was the plain yellow box that reminded him of his mother. There was the comforting smell of coffee, which Cade was sure she must have loved, and the box was torn in several places because he had a habit of turning it over and over in his hands. The box was a puzzle to him. It was blank except for the big black inky letters that spelled out "Coffee". The empty space challenged Cade. It made him want to pick up a pen and write a story on it's worn surface. He resisted, knowing he must learn how to function in the world he had been born into. He must not be a storyteller. Those days were behind him. So was his childhood. He placed the box in his pocket, and there it remained.

The disciplinarians at the school wore the same suits and talked in the exact same tone of voice. It was a monotone which grated harshly on the ears. If there was an informal leader, it was surely Mr. Hoskins. At six feet and four inches, Mr. Hoskins was by far the tallest, and the most feared. His step was so light that not even the guard dogs heard him coming. His eyes were beady yet deceptively sharp. They could spot a spider moving on a wall from several feet away, and most importantly, they could read a child's handwriting from across the room. They never saw him eat, or drink, or sleep. He appeared to be indestructible and immortal. He was simply not human.

Cade's friend George knew Mr. Hoskins well. George had been caught reading just about every pamphlet he could get his hands on in the black market. On this particular day, George had a pamphlet on altruism, which he was reading aloud in a spirited voice. A group of children gathered around him, all of them listening intently. They were all reformed storytellers, and they had gone so long without stories that the pamphlet was a miracle to them. They hardly noticed it's faded cover or the tape that held it together in the middle. To them, it was vibrant, alive with ideas, bursting with knowledge. They had never been more thirsty for it. There was a great big commotion as they all learned of the pamphlet. Soon, a large crowd had formed. Aware of his audience, George spoke even louder. His voice rang across the courtyard, through the hallways, into the dormitories. "Are you stupid?" asked one of the older boys. "Do you want Mr. Hoskins to hear? Do you want to die a painful death, bleeding out your ears?" All the children knew Mr. Hoskins would make him eat his words, in one way or another. He would make it so he could never see or hear again.

George had already gone too far, and everyone knew it. It was too late to stop. The smile on his face was too wide, his position too relaxed. He had fallen in love with the story. The older boy turned away, disgusted. Here George continued reading on the origin of morality. The premoral world was just beginning to take shape in the their minds when Mr. Hoskins, who had long since taken notice, burst into the group and pushed anyone who was smaller out of his way.

"How interesting," he said. They were simultaneously spellbound by the words and frozen with fear. "Give me that," Mr. Hoskins demanded at last, and not a soul moved.

George rose to his feet, as if he were going to keep the pamphlet by running in the opposite direction. He placed his beloved piece of paper into Mr. Hoskins' hands. Tension dissolved, but only for a moment.

"Come with me," Mr. Hoskins said, and he took George by the back of his shirt. George looked calm and peaceful. He gave Cade a brave smile. "Don't worry," he mouthed.

Cade was horrified. "Do you think he'll come back?" one of Cade's friends whispered, if you could call them that. His friends were storytellers like himself, but, forced to live in an environment without stories, their sense of right and wrong had all but disappeared. They had never heard of neighbors helping neighbors, people risking lives for others, caring for each other. They had been taught from a early age that the self was most important in all enterprises.

"He was reading aloud," answered one boy. "He was reading about altruism. There is no worse crime."
Cade had never heard of altruism. "What do you think they'll do to him?" he asked after George and Mr. Hoskins had disappeared inside the depths of the school.

"I don't think we'll see him for awhile," the boy said lightly, almost condescendingly. And he was right. For exactly three weeks, George's bed was empty, and his notebooks untouched.

On the day that George was back at breakfast, a peculiar thing happened. The coffee box fell out of Cade's pocket on his way to the dining hall, and Mr. Hoskins, whom Cade had not heard approaching behind him as usual, picked it up. "You had better take care," Mr. Hoskins said, and his eyes narrowed. Cade gulped as he inspected the box. It was a rule that they were not supposed to have any material items whatsoever, especially if they inspired stories.

"Coffee beans," Mr. Hoskins continued, but now his voice fell into a whisper. "These probably came from Brazil. The rainforest. Do you know about the rainforest?"

Cade shook his head, incredulous. "The rainforest?" he stammered. Was Mr. Hoskins attempting to tell a story? Something told Cade to step away.

"I'm late," he said. He ran through the double doors, forgetting that Mr. Hoskins still held the coffee box, and Cade's only memory of his mother.

George was unusually quiet at breakfast. They were allowed to talk about the food, but not it's preparation. They were allowed to talk about the weather, but not to compare it to days past. "It's warm today," Cade commented.

But George was silent. He barely ate anything. After breakfast, he excused himself from Cade's side and went back to the dormitory. For once, Cade did not follow him. A change had taken place in his friend, and he was not exactly sure what. It was something he just couldn't put his finger on.

Cade went through the motions as he usually did, going to class, writing down the simplest of observations. His teachers taught him that the world they must learn to fit into was based on resolution. Stories ended. Conflict ended. Everything was tied up in a neat package, and there it was left, to sit for all eternity. Wrapped up, finished. Done with.

His classes related to him the ideas he would need to understand to survive in the real world. They tested them on these ideas, played games with the ideas, sang them and held debates. The ideas never seemed to stick to Cade's soul. They clung, almost like burs, for days at a time, before Cade wrested them forcefully from their places. They would fall, until Cade felt inclined to pick them up and try the process all over again. He hated them with a dark passion. He still longed for stories, for words, for an open-ended future. He wanted to be an agent, not simply an inactive piece of matter who had no say in his life. His fingers longed to shape words, his mind longed to be free. Free will was not overrated, as his teachers told him daily. Free will was not given nearly enough credit. How could thought end? How could any process be ended too soon? He realized he would forever be a storyteller. No reform school could fix it, no teacher could teach it.

That night, Cade returned to the dormitory to find George, his head bent over his work, muttering incomprehensively.

"Why do they put us in boxes George?" Cade asked, for it had been on his mind all day, ever since he had pulled the burrs off and stamped on them for good.

"Boxes?" George asked. "Boxes!" He continued to whisper softly to himself, and he did not turn to acknowledge him.

"Boxes. Categories," Cade said. "What kind of a life is that? A life of endless stereotyping and categorization? I am no more than a storyteller to these people who want me reformed. I've been placed in a storyteller box. The only thing people see of me is whatever preconceived notions they have."

George still did not answer. Cade drew closer to see what he was working on. "You can't put us in a box," he continued. "Maybe you can categorize feelings, but you can't categorize people. If you did, what would be left? We'd all be forced apart and separated." When he described himself in his mind, Cade thought of someone who was more than just storyteller. Could peoples' dependence on boxes ever be overcome?

George was obviously not in the mood for a debate. The older boy was scribbling furiously, his eyes darting quickly across the page. There were at least fifty pages of writing lying on the desk next to him.

"What are you writing George?" Cade asked. It couldn't be homework. The ideas didn't take that long to write out.

"Nothing," George said. "I'm writing nothing."

Cade moved closer still, until George snapped the paper to his chest and recoiled as if Cade were a rattlesnake. "Don't!" he warned. "Get out of here!"

"Were you writing a story?" Cade stammered. "A story?" What had happened to his friend? What was going on? Why was George writing a story, after he had been whipped so mercilessly for reading the pamphlet only three weeks before? Where had he been for those three weeks? And why hadn't he told Cade anything about them?

"Where were you the past three weeks George?" His voice fell into a hushed whisper. "What did they do to you?"

"It's none of your business," George snapped. "Get out,. Now." George was taller, and stronger, and when he rose to his full height, he towered above Cade almost menacingly.

"Don't make me hurt you," he said, and Cade thought he could hear some softness to his tone. "This is important." His whisper grew more urgent. "You will learn soon enough."

Cade stumbled out of the dormitory in a daze. He had never felt so alone, so utterly abandoned, so confused and so left behind.

He was so dazed, in fact, that he did not hear the stealthy footsteps of Mr. Hoskins, who had slipped into the same hallway only moments before. He ran head long into him, and fell to the ground with the wind knocked out of him. "Hello Cade," Mr. Hoskins said.

Cade trembled. Mr. Hoskins held out the yellow box. "This belongs to you, I think," he said at last. "Well, go ahead, take it." He pushed the box towards Cade, who was too shocked to reach out a hand for it. "Go ahead," Mr. Hoskins said, this time in a more persuasive voice.

Finally, Cade felt his strength returning to him. He reached out for the box. Mr. Hoskins grabbed his hand. "Come with me, Cade."

Was he in trouble? The thoughts that ran through his mind were terrible. He thought of death and war, stories he had never heard of before. He thought of pain and loss. The corridor seemed longer than ever. Each step fell heavy in his ears and in his heart. He could not end up like George. He would not end up like George...he just couldn't.

Mr. Hoskins opened the door to a room and pushed Cade inside quickly. "You must be quiet," he said softly. As he switched on the light, a wave of something Cade had never before smelled came wafting towards them.

Cade found himself in what could only be described, for readers living in a world of stories, as a giant, fantastical library. The new smell was the smell of books: old books with yellowing pages and new books with pages so new that the ink would smudge on your fingertips.

"Have you ever read one of these?" Mr. Hoskins asked.

Cade shook his head slowly. He had never been so enthralled.

"Wait here," Mr. Hoskins said, as if it were dangerous for Cade to take even another step forward.

Mr. Hoskins climbed the tallest ladder and removed a small book with a worn green cover. "You've been living an unconscious life, Cade," Mr. Hoskins said as he descended. His voice, which Cade had always read as cold and alien, was suddenly warm and familiar.

The book felt heavy in Cade's hands. Mr. Hoskins opened it to the first page. "Read," he said. And Cade read. For the next three hours, until the sky was dark and his soul deeper. He read about the Amazon rainforest and the harvesting of coffee beans, and when the jungle had come alive before him, and he could smell the scent of moisture in the air, and the feel of palms as they brushed past his face, he put the book aside. He read past circuses and pyramids, the frozen tundra and the Serengeti.

When Mr. Hoskins returned at the end of the night, Cade had read so many books that he was a completely different person. "Before this," Mr. Hoskins remarked, as he began to pile the books back up. "You had a brain. And without stories, you were nearly unconscious. And now, my boy, now you finally have a mind."

Cade was exhausted, and his memory started to slip, back to when his father had told him about the uselessness of stories. "Why am I here?" he managed to ask. He was not sure what had happened over the past few hours, or why he wasn't bruised or bloodied.

"This is a school," Mr. Hoskins said. "But I can't really categorize it as just a school." He stood up. "I'm trying to end the lies, but I have to work slowly. We have to work slowly, that is."

Cade listened as Mr. Hoskins described his recruitment of boys and girls, storytellers, who would write and share their stories with the world.

"I want you to write your story, Cade," he said at last. "Your box convinced me."

Unconsciously, Cade's hand went to the faded yellow cardboard in his pocket.

The box. The box was full of memories, of stories, of songs, of sadness, of love and hope. In the box he had carried around, Cade had stored everything that he could not share with his world. It was his dream box.

"Give it to the world," said Mr. Hoskins. "After all, how can one thing be truth? The world, this asking you to believe in a story. How can you believe in just one thing, one story? Their story is that there are no stories. But a world cannot be without stories. Everything is a story."

Cade returned to the dormitory with a heavy heart. George was sprawled across his story, for that was what it was, all two hundred pages of it. His breathing was soft and shallow.

How could he, Cade, fight against something he had tried to force himself to believe in all his life? He went to sleep, and his dreams were terrifying. He dreamt of a cultural revolution, of the posters he had seen when he was a child. His father had covered his eyes. "Those people are not right in the head," he'd told his son. Cultural freedom. Stories as the vector that transferred ideas, that carried on a cultural evolution. He slept restlessly, fitfully, tossing and turning.

In the morning, the cold air flicked across his face only minutes before the sun rose. George was poised over his notebook, his pen flying across the page.

"You're awake," he said, when he heard Cade stir. "Have you decided then?" The awkward silence between them suggested that George knew the whole of it.

"No," Cade said slowly. "I only know that I have to leave this place."

And so it was arranged that Cade, the reformed storyteller, went back to the house of his birth that very afternoon.
His father and his aunt welcomed him home with open arms. They sensed he was different, very different, and this pleased them.

Cade was quiet for weeks on end. The day his aunt had visitors in the house, he finally broke his silence. And he began to speak. Of coffee beans and his mother, and how she must have loved the smell. He talked of the rainforest, the Nile, hot air balloons and adventures in space. His aunt's friends were shocked. Not one of them stopped him. Not one of them said, "Stories aren't allowed."

"It's been so long," one of them whispered. They wanted more stories, more conflicts, more dramas.

"Now," Cade said, when he was finished and his voice was tired. "Now will you tell me what happened to my mother?"

Cade's father, who had been watching him from the doorway, found the words at last. 'Yes," he said. "Now I will tell you."

Cade waited for his father on the porch. He was wearing his old school jacket. A sheet of paper was crumpled in his left pocket. "Science as absolute truth," it read. "Ideas and stories destroy the sacred. Universal acid." He ripped the sheet of paper and threw it into the wind.

Then he felt for the box, in it's usual pocket. "It's open now," he said. "No more categories. No more boxes to be put in." He tore the box in half, as if destroying the box meant destroying every last stereotype and every last category. "I've let my story out at last," he said.

He watched as a butterfly flew from it's perch, into the blue sky beyond him.

"Yes," he said softly. "Yes, I live in a world of stories."


Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002

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