An excerpt from my fairytale retelling of "The Country Where Death is Not." In my version, a young man hunts for a place to bring his dying mother. He is seeking a place to call home, a utopia, you might say. But what he finds is much darker than he expected.
This is the original tale, from Sudan:
The Country Where Death Is Not
There was a man with his mother. The mother was much afraid of dying, therefore she wished to go into a country where there is no death. The son said, "Where is a country without death?"
She answered, "Well, there is such a country, bring me there!" The woman was very old.
So they traveled into a very, very distant country to reach the country where there is no death. They turned into a village and asked for water. When it was given them, the son asked, "Is there death in this country?"
The people answered, "Dear me, where do you come from that you ask such a question concerning death?"
He answered, "My mother is afraid of dying, so she wants a country where death is not."
The people said, "Why, go away!"
They went and turned to another village. There they asked again and received the answer, "Why, what kind of man are you that you ask about dying? Go away! There is death here."
Then they went to a very distant country and asked, "How is your country? Is there death in it?"
The answer was, "No, people do not die here."
The mother was very glad, she said, "Well done, my son, you have brought me to a country where there is no death."
Her son had a friend in that town, and to his home he brought his mother. He said, "Here is my mother, let her live with you. I shall go to our country, and after three years I shall return to see you and my mother." His mother was satisfied.
So the boy returned to his native country and stayed there for some time.
But his mother became sick; she got a headache; she said, "Friend of my son, I have a headache."
On that the boy arose and called the people together. The people came and sat down. The boy said, "I have called you because of the mother of my friend, who is here. Now collect money, that we may give it to her son when he returns. For she says her head is aching; and because of her sickness her meat will spoil. For that reason," he said, "she must be killed at once."
When the woman heard this, she began crying, "I am not sick! I have no headache!"
But the people said, "Never mind, seize her, or her flesh will be spoiled." So she was caught, brought, thrown on the ground and killed; her flesh was divided among the people, and they ate it. The next day they collected money and brought it to the friend of her son.
And her son came back. He sat down, they gave him food, and he ate. He asked, "Where is my mother?"
His friend answered, "My friend, your mother was seized with sickness, so we collected money, -- here is the money! -- and killed her, lest her meat should be spoiled. For as for us, we do not die in our country; if a man is seized with sickness, we kill him."
The boy replied, "Why, should I sell my mother? Never!"
Then he said, "I will but go."
His friend said, "You are angry?"
He replied, "No, I am not angry."
In the meantime the people came and wanted to eat the boy too. His friend therefore went to him saying, "Go, or you also will be eaten like your mother." He accompanied him into a distant country.
When the boy came home, he said to his people, "My mother has been eaten by a lion."
That is all; and the people said, "Your mother was a sinful woman. Is not death in all the world, and should there be a place where there is no death?"
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Holly Lyn Walrath is a freelance editor and author of poetry, flash fiction, and short fiction. Find her on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath
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