Liz Middleton has been writing stories ever since she could draw. She began with taped papers and worked her way up to actual typed manuscripts, mainly focusing on fantasy and young adult stories as her subjects. She hopes to publish many books and share her stories with others one day, but on the side–it won’t be her main career!
In the earliest hours of the morning, in which the moon still commands the sky, two men stirred from dusty beds and woke to the chill of a spring morning. The inn was silent as the two men, one young and one old, made their way down to the lobby and out into the cold air of the dusk. The older man glanced down at his companion and gave a commanding jerk of his head in the direction of a stable. “Get the horse and the cart, Damon,” he said in a rumbling, benevolent voice.
The waning light of the moon glinted off the lone eye of the old man, creating luminescence in its iris of silver grey. The other eye, glazed over by a milky film, gave off only a suggestion of a moonlit glow. A thick, dark beard hid the lower-most part of his face from view as he looked at the young man.
Damon, who had been following his senior with considerable idleness, hunched his lean shoulders and let out a long, resigned sigh and ran a hand through his night-dark hair. The old man’s beard made his expression indiscernible. “Sal, maybe I should return home. After yesterday–“
“Do not be so irresponsible.” Sal’s voice lashed at Damon like a whip, earning a wince from the young man. “You will continue as my apprentice, fool or not. Now ready the wagon.”
The dark-haired boy trudged away at his master’s command without another word, although his shoulders remained hunched from the sting of Sal’s tongue. Sal regarded him with worn patience as he moved about the stable. With the good repute which the young man’s father held in their home village, Sal had expected more out of him in such short time. The previous night had proved the man wrong when the young man had been blatantly swindled in the dealing of some of their goods. The incident had caused not only severe repercussions on Damon’s part, but public humiliation on Sal’s as the master and teacher.
Sal’s troubled thoughts were dispersed by an alarmed cry from the stable. Grumbling under his breath, the old man ambled stiffly into the shelter where he found Damon gazing in frustration upon the fractured wood of the back left wheel, the wagon sagging pitifully towards the ground.
“Now what have you done, Damon?” Sal growled with an undertone of disappointment.
“Nothing, sir! I came in to ready the wagon as you told me to, and I found it as we see it now.” Damon knelt beside the cart for further inspection of the damage.
Sal heaved a somber sigh. “Better move aside, boy. My eye is bad and it will take longer to set off, but I will be able to fix it. Now grab me some tools from the wagon.”
For a moment, Damon remained perfectly still from where he crouched next to the broken wheel, his lips stilled into a thin line. “No, Sal,” he said with a slow, steady voice, “I will fix the cart.”
The old man raised a wintry brow in mild surprise. “Alright, then,” he muttered, gazing down at his young apprentice with a keen eye. “Get to it.”
Although Damon had never before performed such repairs and had gained some cuts and bruises in the process, the cart was ready for travel in half the time it would have taken Sal with his one old eye. After the pair had climbed into the driver’s seat of the wagon, Sal taking up the reins, the old man passed Sal a brief, pleased glance. “Good work, Damon.” Sal clicked his tongue and gave the horse a flick with the reins.
Knowing that the praise warranted no response, Damon simply leaned forward, elbows on knees, and grinned. His eyes danced with life and his chest warmed as he thought on the recent events. The smile on his face widened upon the realization that he had done something praiseworthy. He thought even further back to the night before and realized that perhaps his slip-up had been necessary for his current ambition to learn and improve. He glanced up at the sky, which was wide and blue and scattered with clouds that threatened to obscure the horizon, but was endless nonetheless.
As the rose dawn covered a small upcoming woodland town in a warm glow in the earliest hours of morning, soft tufts of mist began to float into the sky from a picturesque glass lake. The houses were dotted like puffs of cream perfectly along the sloping hills above the lake, filled with beautiful doll-like people with ivory satin skin, eyes the green of an emerald, raspberry lips and hair of heaven-woven gold. The dolls began to stir for the rising day, as if they came to life with the sun. Inside every house, there was not an article out of place—no toy was left abandoned on the floor by children, no dish left astray and unwashed, no shoe left in a heap next to the door. Even when a child’s fingers slipped on a knife preparing breakfast and scarlet blood disrupted the sparse floor in thick drops, no one worried and nothing was ruined. The blood was washed and the child’s finger bandaged. Everything was perfect—pristinely, carefully perfect. But as the sun continued its path into the sky with the town stepping into the day, something began to change.
Along a smooth path winding through the woods, Sal and Damon’s wooden cart appeared. Rickety and uneven, the cart shuddered with age as it clopped and clacked over the glass-smooth dirt, sinking deep into the earth and leaving ruts in its wake like steps on foreign soil. Woodland creatures stared out at the passing cart in wonder, and, like the leaping of a lit flame, music arose from their throats. The weaving of the cart awakened a forest symphony as if from slumber.
As music rose behind the back wheels of the cart, Damon’s eyes of lapis lazuli moved across the forest with a questioning gaze that eventually turned to Sal. “Does the forest not seem loud today?” His warm voice carried the harmony of the song in the trees.
Sal’s cryptic eye momentarily flitted to the boy’s face. “Dreaming again, you are, Damon,” he murmured, his eye returning to the road.
Damon fell silent to ponder the forest himself. Sal also said nothing more, surrendering the cart to the melodies that rose in volume behind them like notes falling above a crescendo. The notes grew louder, higher, flying and circling through the branches and leaves of the trees until they spiraled into the sky, wheeling gaily above the turned earth and rippling further into the world.
A few minute’s rest to water the horse and take stock on the contents of the cart took the two men to a brook. The gliding of the waters was so smooth there was not so much as a babble to speak of, no lapping of boots or splashing of rocks whatsoever. The air was as velvet-smooth as silence, softly and gently probing into the ears and soothing the mind into a cooled muddle of comatose sleep that dropped heavy eyelids onto soft cheeks.
The silence worked the horse into a state of bliss. Lowering its thick tree-trunk neck to the water to drink, its velvet lips skimmed the water in quiet tranquility.
Damon’s black hair gleamed as he knelt beside the white hide of the horse, contrasting starkly in the light of the day. The two colors became the balance in nature, the contrasting forces of yin and yang. The horse drank in silence, and Damon’s hands reached into the water with a slight splish that tainted the water with filth. Murmurs of music shimmered brightly and merrily from the dirtied water like the sun that suddenly broke into dancing upon the surface of the lapping and clapping brook.
Water trickled down the pink skin of Damon’s cleansed hands, running down along his strong wrists and veins like the life that traveled in his blood. His fingers tingled with the cold that sank deep into his skin. “Do you not feel it, Master Sal?” he whispered in awe, more to himself than his companion. “Does the world not feel more alive today?” The tradesman gave no reply.
Back in the doll town, the angelic people had begun to feel a difference in the air. They heard the birds singing in jubilee like they had never felt the blessed rush of song, and they heard the river running in torrents and cataracts so loud that it was like the floodwaters of a dam had burst forth for the first time since Eve. For the first time, their minds slowed in idle watchfulness.
At last, the tradesman’s cart appeared at the edge of the mechanically perfect town. Despite their slowed work, the people continued on as usual, going about their day like clockwork. Even as the horse pulled the cart nearer to their town they did not cease in their work. On and on they worked, as endless and unbreakable as the cycle of day turning into night and repeating into eternity.
Tradesman Sal pulled the horse to a halt on the very outskirts of the town, raking an expectant eye over the nearby people. There was not so much as a glance from the adults. Children stared in still silence, regarding the travelers with empty, unblinking eyes and hushed mouths. When someone had yet to step forward to invite them in after two minutes, Damon glanced up at his master. The man’s omniscient eye still bore its gaze upon the town, his mouth pressed firmly into a thread-thin line that spoke disappointment.
Damon himself turned his eyes to the town and to the dolls. Experienced in people-watching from the often tiresome days of his trade, he looked for a common light in their eyes that would tell him the personality of their village, the life by which they all lived. But as he looked upon them, he came to the shocked realization that they had none. There was no life. Like jellyfish, they moved their limbs, but to no purpose or joy.
Damon cast another glimpse at his master. A sadness clouded his eye, and he seemed to not see his apprentice at all. Moving slowly so as not to disturb the thoughts that robbed Sal of his attention, Damon reached into the pocket of his worn jacket and produced a wooden object that was worn smooth and riddled with holes. He dropped to the dusty, perfect ground, and made his way into the bustling town.
“Damon!” Sal called out, coming back to his right mind upon seeing the young man stepping amidst the angelic people.
The apprentice cast a sheepish look at the tradesman, but he vied to keep his ground. Without sparing another look at the surrounding dolls, he pressed his instrument to his lips and shamelessly began to play a lively, upbeat tune.
Regardless of Damon’s belief, the people did not really begin to change when he began to play his fearless music. Oh no, they began to change much before, even on his first step amongst them. He had interrupted their order, corrupted them entirely of the honeybee-like rhythm by which they had lived and been crowned in perfection for centuries. Before they even realized that they felt, they lived, they breathed, they were dancing to Damon’s music.
Locks of one of the doll-like girl’s golden hair fell away from its tidy bun with the rhythm of her feet to fly in front of her face. It danced before her eyes, lightly brushing and tickling her nose so that a smile stretched across her face. She reached back for the bun atop her head and tugged it loose, tousling her hair with her fingers, feeling the waves of gold flying about her face and shoulders as she danced. She tipped back her head and laughed.
A child, clumsy on his toddler feet, tripped over himself in his dancing and fell sideways to the ground. Tears of pain flushed into his eyes and rouge filled his face as he let out a wail of surprise and anguish. His mother, hearing her son’s distinct voice through the sea of dancing people, rushed to his side and scooped him into her arms, holding him close and whispering soothing words as she kissed his injured cheek. She anxiously checked his face and arm for wounds. Finding none, she breathed a sigh of relief and set the boy down once his tears had subsided.
The tradesman Sal beheld the scene with a bemused eye, his mouth twisted in irony. He had never thought that he, the master, would be taught by his apprentice. “Nothing is learned through perfection,” he murmured, turning his omniscient gaze to the skies. Up in the trees, a lone white dove cooed.