- Stuff Only I Care About:
- Thunk. An ax soared through the air before landing cleanly between two halves of log. It sat affixed in the stump for a moment, wedged in between two tight chops it had already made in the wood as the log halves clumsily tumbled into the two piles on either side. The ax's wielder worked it free, and reaching beside himself grabbed another section of log.
Thunk. The dull sound echoed through the clearing of wood yet again today, but it carried no farther than the trees around. The gentle calls of birds and the song of those daytime insects keep noise from travelling, not that they would need to so actively silence it. This was a new place born to bear the sad weight of old dreams in a realm that no longer needed them- eight years ago, the people of this place actualized their earnest dream. As the two halves again fell into place, Alexander sat another log.
[*]Thunk.[/i] Freedom. They dreamed of freedom. Alexander was not there when they had stopped dreaming. He had been away somewhere. Where didn't explicitly matter any more. What did matter is that Alexander had regained some semblance of normalcy when he was away. Gone was his boundless strength, gone his apparent immortality. His cursed remained but became benign after his visited that place where secrets slither on their bellies like worms and serpents in the mud. But knowledge led to loss again. It always had for Alexander. The pile was overfull as these two rolled back behind Alexander's stump, but if he had noticed he didn't seem to care. He simply set another log on the stump.
Thunk. Alexander stopped momentarily as this log too was split in twain, working the ax free from the stump as he formed it back into a hand. His metallic fingers touched his face and ran back through his long hair as he wiped sweat from his shiny brow. It poured from his face, not from any heat but activity. It was only eleven in the afternoon by Alexander's guess, yet he had been chopping wood since the morning. This had been a pattern of his for the last few years. He would wake up promptly at four in the morning, and from then until late until the evening some days he just chopped wood.
Thunk. It must have been to stay sane, he had figured. There was a compulsion behind the behavior, something decidedly unhealthy to the fixation. Or perhaps that was merely how it looked- chopping wood placed no particular physical strain on Alexander beyond what he anticipated as normal. He certainly didn't mind to do it. And though he was oddly compelled to chop wood, it was the result of something he started doing over half-a-decade ago. He had wanted to find his place in this new, strange and wonderful world order he returned too. But, had he already done too much to atone?
Thunk. He paused again, ruminating as the sun gleamed from his sweaty upper torso. Then, like a machine, he resumed. This was Alexander's morning and afternoon by and large, spent endlessly on the same mundane task. And at the week's end, he would pick enough firewood to last himself the coming days and nights and the rest he took to town, hitching them up on the back of an old truck he had acquired some time ago from an acquaintance in a world that maybe should't have been. The old beater was a faded blue color patched with rust over many areas, the windshield cracked from a storm that blew through only a few months ago. Alexander didn't mind its flaws. He admired them, really. They added character to the vehicle.
As it so happened, this day was a friday- Alexander's last day before he hauled all this lumber to town again. The routine itself had become no different than brushing his hair or teeth- it was simply something Alexander did, an essential property of his days. The evening drew closer and Alexander had already picked out his pieces, loading the rest into a bed and a trailer. Despite its apparent age, such a thing was still new in concept to the realm of dreams. They used to use horse-drawn wagons and chariots. Few motorized vehicles if any inhabited the world.
Alexander wouldn't have allowed it on principle, but he was also young then. As open minded as he was, he still was awful particular about how he liked things to work. Still, his reluctance faded with time and understanding. The convenience of this vehicle over a horse was not lost on him, especially because he had originally been using a horse, before a bandit's arrow found her one night while she was stabled. She lived for a good few months still, but couldn't pull another wagon. The truck was a gift, but also a saving grace. It was a small wonder Alexander came around so quickly after getting one.
Alexander settled himself that night, sipping tea in comfortable night clothes with a book in his hand. He had worked a hard day of labor, yet on this night he was unsettled. Alexander feigned disinterest to himself well enough for some minutes, before he heard a scratching at his door. It was a soft scratching, like something sharp was being repeatedly drug against his door. Alexander stood up, recognizing immediately the barely audible yet still instantly knowable sound, to him at least, of a metal utensil marking against wood grain.
As soon as he stood up, soundless as he might have been, the sound stopped. He was motionless, considering the event carefully. It wouldn't likely be any sort of trouble-making kid this far out. In fact, anybody out here just to do some minor vandalism and go away would have to be several kinds of mentally unwell. The sound hadn't resumed, but after putting out the candle beside his chair Alexander crept to the window just to check. It could have been an animal, he supposed. Perhaps he had exaggerated the similarities between two different kinds of scraping. Could that have been it?
Alexander's eyes narrowed as he faced the darkness. He traced over the different silhouettes the moonlight created when the clouds allowed it through, picking apart each movement in a tree or drifting cloud in the black sky. His senses were on alert now, piecing together the outside world as it stood within the glass frame like a moving picture. Then the scrapping resumed. Alexander took another step away from the window, and quietly headed towards the door. Outside, he could hear nothing but the faint scrapping. Alexander took another step closer. Once more, it stopped.
There was a moment where Alexander's breathing ceased. His eyes fixated on the door handle, his teeth clenched lightly. He appeared totally relaxed, but his metal hand curled into a fist as something slithered around underneath the skin of his back. He took a step forward. Silence.
Crash. The thing charged through a splintering door.
Saturday morning, Alexander headed towards town as per usual. He set up shop on the outskirts, deliberately avoiding most of the citizens in the town. They remembered him. Well, they remembered enough of him to have mixed feelings. Alexander was the one who united everybody in the Castle of Dreams over a decade ago, having taken the formerly empty world and making it a refuge for people whose homes had been devoured by darkness and were looking to rebuild. Most of the people in this village today felt they owed him something for that, though Alexander disagreed.
Yet, perhaps it was that they felt like they owed him that they felt like they could forgive him, but not forget his actions as the so-called "Blue-Man". Alexander had been a comparatively good ruler in the old days, compared to all the people who has staked flags in worlds just to display their power. Maybe Alexander wasn't really all that different, but he'd like to think so. He spent a lot of time with his people to build them up so they could help with building their world. And... he did it. They did it. That they were here now, thriving, was proof. The Castle of Dreams didn't need a king.
Alexander unloaded his wood from the truck and trailer in small bundles, having bound them as he placed them for transport. They were stacks of six to seven pieces of wood based primarily on visual size and loosely on weight. Alexander sat dozens of these wooden stacks out, low prices on all of them to be sure. Ever since the horse passed, he hadn't need to buy nearly as much food. It turned out that feeding a motor vehicle, even an old pick-up truck, was far cheaper than feeding a horse. Yet another thing he had come to understand about vehicles.
Alexander was there for some time as people passed him by, their idle chatter bleeding into his own world as he zoned in and out. He had noted sometimes earlier a peculiarity for today- there were far fewer people on the outskirts than normal. True, he was here to avoid seeing most of the townsfolk, but still. He yawned as exhaustion from the prior night took him, placing a hand in front of his mouth to prevent his germs from spreading to any unconcerned observer. "...heard it was bandits..." was all Alexander needed to perk up, even though he missed most of the conversation.
As he strained his ears a customer approached him, cutting off his attempts to catch the latest gossip. Not that he particularly minded, but it seemed particularly curious. He let it slide, his attention turning fully to the young lady before him as she greeted him with a small 'hi.'
"Hello miss! Now, I don't suppose I can guess what you've come for?"
"Well you know your selection is so wide here, what with the wood and the... more wood. Wood for days," she laughed awkwardly as she scanned the bundles.
"Wood. For. Days," Alexander repeated back to her playfully. "That's literally what I'm selling, so if that's what you've come for?" He shrugged his shoulders smugly. "I don't mean to toot my own horn or anything, but-"
"Whoa, neat arm." Her forwardness caught him off-guard, and his face lost its smile for a minute as he was overcome with confusion and a bit of self-consciousness. The young lady immediately realized her potential social faux pas. "Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to-"
"It's fine, really-"
"But it's no-"
"You're hardly the first. This is just the way my arm is." Alexander pulled back his sleeve from his bicep and revealed the entire arm, casting a sheen in the light. The girl relaxed as she looked it over as if she were amazed.
"That's such a nice prosthetic. Where did you get it?"
"A friend made it for me."
"Does he do commission? My dad lost his leg a while back and-"
"He's no longer with us, I'm afraid."
"Oh." There was an awkward silence.
"But I can make prosthetic limb, if he needs one. I won't charge anything. It'll be really good."
"As good as yours?"
"Maybe not that good."
"But it would be free?"
"Completely. The only thing I'd have to ask you guys to do is make it out to me for measurements, and I could have him something well made in a few hours at most."
"That sounds fine, I think. Do you live near town?"
"Not particularly." Her face seemed to drop. "I'm not that far out... close to an hour by horse."
"In the woods," she replied plainly. "I don't know... it's been getting dangerous around there lately. It isn't even safe to travel during the day any more."
"Is it not?" Alexander laughed wryly. "I make the trip about once a week."
She looked in the direction of Alexander's truck, an accusing smile. "When they invent a horse that outruns a motor I'm sure you'll know."
"Fair point. But it isn't like I'm tearing through the forest in this thing." His metal hand patted the hood, and the bumper tilted slightly as it broke free from the tiny jostling. "Huh. Well. Thanks for demonstrating."
The girl laughed again. "Is it possible that I could just bring him to you, and have you do the measurements here?"
"Sure. I don't know if it'll be perfect, because I don't have any of my instruments here for measuring things like that... but I can get it close enough for him to have a leg next week when I come back through."
"Are you sure? I don't want to put you on the spot, but I don't know when I'll get to ask somebody for a free fake leg again."
"Just bring him to me when you're ready. I'll be here until the sun starts to set."And so she did. The girl ran off to retrieve her father, while Alexander continued to try hawking his wares. The girl had already vanished in between the buildings, and with her voice silent Alexander resumed listening to the passerby. He could hear little tidbits of conversations that walked by him, keeping his head low as he stayed primarily within the driver's side of his truck, the door open so that he could perch in it until customers came through. A decade, and so many of them had placed his face in the back of their minds. Or perhaps, it was always there.
"...Ariel was murdered..."
"...heard about the..."
"...rash looks worse..."
Alexander was out of the truck as the first rumor resonated. He approached the two people talking about it- two younger men walking nearby, flagging them down. "Excuse me! Sorry, I heard some of your conversation. You said somebody named Ariel was murdered? I wanted to offer my condolences." The boys looked off guard- they didn't seem to think they'd been heard. At first, they seemed reluctant to answer him, but he pushed. "Will there be a service?"
The taller one was at a loss at what to say, when his short, lanky friend cut in. Yes sir. Ariel Stedman, it was. She was our teacher."
"That's terrible. I'm sorry for your loss." He bit his lip, and tapped at the dirt with the tip of his boot. "Might you know when the service will be?"
"Not yet sir," the lanky one replied sullenly. "There hasn't been much talk about it around town... I think people aren't ready for a service yet."
On his way back to the truck, Alexander bit his bottom lip. Ariel Stedman. It was in fact the Ariel he had feared it might be. The early days of the Castle of Dreams were odd in structure, and nothing better exemplified that than Alexander's relationship to his servants. He hated to recall that it was a master-servant relationship, so he gave them autonomy and treated them fairly with the condition that they, of course, fulfill their duties. If Alexander was the landlord of the Castle, then the others who lived in it before the village was repaired were his tenants. They paid to live in the Castle by performing certain duties or tasks- guards, gardeners, cooks, maids, butlers, and of course your standard servants. Ariel was one of the first servants he had acquired, seeking refuge from her fallen world. She even found love in Alexander's employ with another servant named Michael. Once everybody moved to the village, they had been married.
Alexander's thoughts turned to Michael. I hope he's okay. Gears turned in his head as he contemplated. "A murderer in the Kingdom of Dreams? How rare..." He mused over the landscape before him as he tasted iron in his mouth. He had bit his tongue while thinking. Alexander lived in the forest, far away from the problems that the people he once fiercely protected now faced. He let the sentiment go, for now, and simply resumed waiting by his wood.
The future is not fair to the past because by definition it has already surpassed it.
"There was a sickness."