The most dangerous place in Jaon was the open stone court where the philosophers claimed their favorite seats between the pillars.
Fallon thought that it had once been outside the city limits from the way the streets twisted and knotted to avoid the court. A long time ago, maybe, it had been quiet and inviting for anyone who wanted the space to throw ideas around with hitting passersby. Now, it fought for elbow space with the morning market, while tall buildings leaned as close as they dared from either side. Men and women used the wide, flat paving stones as shortcuts and they were the only things in the city that seemed unaware that this was a place better left alone.
The court’s borders were easily crossed, but Fallon got lost between them in all the wrong ways. Happily lost. And her skin only crawled after she had reoriented herself.
It was the way the philosopher’s talked: like madmen who picked things up and never felt the weight, who hefted the world onto their shoulders, one hand braced inside an ocean and the other gripping the mountain ridge. They were too large for the pillars they stood between. The small textures that every one else had memorized smoothed to nothings for them, while the faraway arcs broke apart, distinct and jagged.
“There is an infinite space in this court,” one said, and pointed helpfully to either end of the flat stones. His students might chuckle because a person could not put a fingers down on the edges of infinity, but they could not prove him wrong.
Fallon walked across the breadth of the court, passing the midpoint and the hundred thousand, million, infinite midpoints it took just to reach that one, and grinned to herself. An immeasurable distance in each stride.
Another said, “We prove our own existence by doubting it. Doubt requires a doubter. But we cannot prove the existence of the one standing beside us. Perhaps the doubt we hear from their mouths is just an echo of our own. Perhaps everything is an echo and we imagine everything we see.” Her students know that they exist, or Fallon assumed that they quietly proved to themselves that they were there, but they couldn’t confirm that their neighbors were more than imperfect mirrors. They couldn’t prove her wrong.
Fallon smiled up at the sky, arms out to feel the breeze, not caring if it was a reality or an echo. If she invented it, she was proud of herself for coming up with something like “blue.”
“I carry with me everything I own,” said a third philosopher, with a smile that Fallon did not understand. There had been a hundred different times Fallon walked down a street with everything she owned in her pockets. There was a sort of thrill in it, but nothing that inspired a smile.
“I own nothing I don’t carry,” she said. Spreading her hands, she displayed empty palms as she slowly smiled wider. Looking over each person in front of her, she glanced at Fallon, her eyes nothing if not full.
And Fallon understood. If that was owning, then the woman couldn’t be robbed.
And Fallon smiled back. Because if that was owning, then Fallon couldn’t steal.
For five whole days the philosophers had her striding through the city believing she was not a thief. She carried their reasoning like a trick in her sleeve, better than the knife sheathed below her elbow, or the picks strapped to her wrist. She played with their words the way she would play with anything that fell into her hands, teaching her smart, quick fingers to be quicker and smarter. She slipped through doors and nicked things that belonged to no one. Putting them in her palms never made them hers. She stole nothing.
For five days, it was her iron confidence. She couldn’t remember what it had seamlessly replaced, and their reasoning cracked, she didn’t know what to fit over herself next.
She only knew that the box she had snatched behind the man’s back was heavy in her hands, and every tiny carving along its edges left their distinct textures on her hands as she gripped them, too tight.
Fallon felt a little sick and swallowed hard. She wasn’t sure where she had gotten lost.
But it was somewhere between those pillars.
I’m not a thief (that feels awful strange to say at this exact moment), but my friends are! They stole the first line of this piece to write fictions of their own. Be sure to check out the other dangerous philosophers.