By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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A boy was born in a hospital. All around him were children in little wagons.
The boy wanted to get out. He wanted to go to the moon.
When he grew up he did go to the moon. He liked the moon — it was soft and shiny and grey. But he decided he’d rather go to the sun.
So he went to the sun. It was pure light, at least at first. He liked it a lot.
Then he decided to go to the waterfalls in Africa. The water pounded on his head. Wham! He heard drums.
So he went to India. He lived in a cave. A man came by every day and told him the time. Then the man stopped coming.
The man in the cave became very quiet and still. He understood the moon. He understood the sun. He didn’t understand the hospital.
He went back to the hospital and became a baby. He cried.
When babies are born, they cry.
A child was born underwater. No one knows how this happened. The mother must have been underwater, too. No one knows.
The child swam up and came into our world. There she met an old woman.
The old woman raised her as her daughter, and also as a princess. The old woman believed she was a queen, and she wasn’t far wrong. Her mother had been a queen, but she had not been in the line of succession.
The girl grew up thinking herself a princess. Her friends also believed it more or less. She looked like a princess, or someone special. She had a fan on top of her head, like a lizard, that shined silver, especially in the sun. She was very erect, and when she was still she was very still. She was capable of very deep love.
She grew up and retreated into a tower, where she lived for 20 years. No one understood this. Her friends thought perhaps she’d gone mad. When she emerged, she could fly. Everyone was very impressed, watching her fly over the sea.
Then she stopped flying, and never flew again.
She went to the king and demanded to be made queen. He refused because she was not in the line of succession.
She left quietly and traveled into Spain. Some people said she’d become a nun. Others said she’d become a gypsy.
Lightning struck the king’s castle. No one was hurt.
The woman came back, more beautiful than ever, now 50. Her mother was dying.
“I love you very much,” she told her mother.
“I know,” said her mother. “You have been everything I hoped for.” Then she died, with her eyes closed.
The woman buried her mother and stayed in the town, worked, saw her friends, fed the poor.
One day she dived into the sea.
There was a fellow named Rob who wanted to be a writer. He tried, but he couldn’t do it. Rob knew nothing about grammar. His sentences were all nouns, or all verbs, or three adjectives and one adverb. “This is no good,” he said, and stopped writing.
Then he found a book called Short Stories by Chekhov and started copying stories out of it. He showed them to his friends and they thought they were pretty good. They suggested he send them to a magazine. He sent them to magazines and they liked them too. They printed his stories.
Rob became famous. He was known all over the world as a great writer.
Eventually he ran out of stories by Chekhov. He had to write them himself.
The stories came out as they had before. They sounded like this:
Snow. Molecular orthography. Musical warts frame Cincinatti. Calvin Coolidge. Bounce bounce bounce.
This divided his public. The literary critics felt he had far surpassed his earlier work. The mass of readers felt betrayed.
Rob kept writing. Gradually he learned how to write sentences. Then he learned how to write stories.
One night Chekhov appeared to him in a dream, standing over his bed in a large black overcoat, holding a rope.
“I started as you did,” said Chekhov. “My first thirty stories were copied out of a book by Turgenev. No one suspected. Slowly I learned to write.” Chekhov smiled and handed Rob the rope.
Rob woke up and started writing. That day he wrote better than Chekhov.