Everybody dies 

Alternative interpretations of the castle doctrine, and other bedtime stories

This is how the story really goes: The night-lights by the beds of the three children continued to burn clearly, but another light a thousand times brighter began to rummage through the dresser drawers. When it came to rest for a second you could tell it was a fairy, no bigger than your hand. A moment later, the window was blown open by the breath of the stars and Peter dropped in.

"Tinker Bell," he called softly, after making sure that the children were asleep. "Tink, where are you? Oh, do come out of that jug, and tell me, do you know where they put my shadow?"

Tinker Bell pointed to the chest of drawers and in a moment Peter found the shadow inside. He expected it to attach to him but it didn't, not even when he used a bar of soap to help it stick. Defeated, far from his home and the Lost Boys in Never Never Land, he curled up on the floor and began to cry. Wendy, awakened by the sobbing, sat up in bed. She wasn't afraid to see the stranger there, only curious. After all, he was just a boy.

"Boy," she said courteously, "why are you crying?"

Before she could get an answer, the sound of heavy footsteps came from the stairway and the nursery door opened. In came Wendy's father, Mr. Darling, having returned early from the party. He held a gun in his hand, which he raised excitedly before shooting four bullets at the stranger who had trespassed into the house. Afterward, when the children's screams had subsided and Nana the dog had scurried outside in fright, the boy lay unmoving on the floor. Inside the chest of drawers, Tinker Bell's light slowly dimmed.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY JONATHAN MARQUIS
  • illustration by Jonathan Marquis



At approximately the same time, in the countryside thousands of miles away, a young amateur detective named Nancy Drew was called to the Triple Creek Farm to try to find a hidden message in a parchment painting. When she and her friend Junie showed up, they realized the farm's sheepherder had been knocked out cold in the pasture. Knowing that there was danger lurking all around them, the two girls scoured the painting only to find one message that read, "Man's home is his castle." When the shepherd awakened he pleaded with them to leave the mysterious parchment alone, lest they too be subjected to violence. The girls weren't afraid, though. That evening, they headed out to find the original owner of the parchment painting, Mr. Rocco, a paranoid man with a rude disposition. At the last minute, Nancy and Junie decided to sneak onto his property to see if they could find more clues before confronting Mr. Rocco face-to-face. Climbing over the fence, Nancy looked up to see a loaded gun in her face. The force of the blast threw her to the ground and one Mary Jane shoe tumbled across the field and into a rabbit hole.




Meanwhile, as the sun set on the river nearby, Huck Finn and Jim climbed into a raft and headed downstream. Huck felt certain he could help Jim run away to one of the free states, perhaps Illinois, so he wouldn't be sold off to a nearby plantation. They had gathered some accoutrements and food scraps together, but that wouldn't last them long, and so Huck decided he'd grab a few chickens from a house on the bank of the river. After all, Huck's father had always said that it wasn't stealing if you planned to give whatever you took back. Had he lived long enough, Huck would have learned that taking the chickens was, in fact, stealing. But when the owner of the coop flung open the back door and shot into the warm summer air, hitting Huck in the chest, that was the end of the story.




Over the next week, more people died. Scout and Jem Finch were taken out by Boo Radley. Oliver Twist, who was forced by the horrible Bill Sikes to invade his own home, was shot to kingdom come by his adopted mother. (She was upset about it, she later told the newspapers, but he was sneaking around the house, and she feared for her safety.) By the weekend, Jean Valjean and every single member of the Joad family were put six feet under, and in the following months Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel, Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, the Baker's Wife, every kid detective who snooped for clues and every prince who scaled a castle tower to kiss a princess had expired. Within a year, we had collectively said goodbye to the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. As the expansion of the castle doctrine snuffed out literary intruder after literary intruder, book shelves became bare. There were no more adventure stories, no more mischievous protagonists, no more tales of youth learning from their mistakes. No need. Everybody knew how stories ended.

Children stayed inside. On starry nights, they curled up in their beds under windows secured with surveillance cameras. They closed their eyes, some of them dreaming of the day they'd own a gun, some of them still trying to remember how the stories began.

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