Friday, December 22

The Understanding Price

Try Wordsmiths Unlimited; it's fun. Case in point: this unusual and difficult challenge, including prologue and picture provided by Wordsmith Tiff. My cumbersome and pretentious drivel follows.

"A loud rapping at the door awoke me from a deep dreamy sleep. It was early, too early to be awake, and certainly too early to be out in the streets pounding on doors. I thought that there must be some emergency in town and ran to the door to find out whatever news there was from whoever was there. Much to my surprise, there was no-one at the door ready to identify themselves and their message, and yet a package with my name on it had been left at the door. It was a most curious circumstance, and yet I saw no real harm in it, because secret gift giving was the hallmark of the holiday season. I myself had delivered many a gift in that manner over the years. The package was heavier than it should have been from its size, and once I had it indoors I eagerly opened it to find out what it was and who had sent it. Alas, there was no identification of the giver, and more's the pity because what was inside was a most remarkable carved wood box, worked with figures of animals and dragons all over, in a magnificent shade of red. Whoever sent it to me must have been a prankster, though, because I could see no way into the box, no clasp or lock announced itself, no hinge or platen presented itself as a means to the inside. I was locked out, and most frustrated by this unfortunate turn of events."

This is a work of fiction. Copyright © 2006 Rumba Creative. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this work may be copied, retransmitted, reposted, duplicated,
or otherwise used without the express written approval of the author.

The Understanding Price

Who would deliver something on Tuesday before sunrise? Angry from an unexpected awakening, I examined the ornate wooden box. Sinuous red dragons wound around its curves. It was beautiful, curious, the subtle and commanding work of a master craftsman, a puzzle requiring ingenuity to open. Why was it left on my doorstep? I had no time for further musing. A shower, coffee, and the commute demanded my attention.

The next day began with the familiar persistence of the alarm clock. I stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee, shaking sleep. The box was as I had left it, but now it was orange. Dragons were replaced by monkeys, tails linked, long limbs outstretched, reaching toward me. I attempted to find the manner of opening it, but failed again. Stumped, I prepared for another workday.

That evening I sat peering at the box, when a knock came at the door. My neighbor across the hall asked to borrow a screwdriver. I invited him in, asking his opinion of the mysterious treasure on the table. When we entered the kitchen the box was nowhere to be seen.

Thursday came, and the box returned. It was a deep brown. Intricate carvings of trees festooned its curves. Buttressed roots claimed the base, intertwined branches supported the top, like columns in a cathedral. After work, I inspected every crevice with a magnifying glass. For all my efforts the manner of its opening remained secret.

I refused to look at the box the next morning. Over dinner at night, I could not ignore that the box was now green. I held it in my hands, turning it over and over. A progression of bears sauntered in an upward spiral. Small at the bottom, each succeeding bear was a little larger than the last. The graceful parade terminated with one great standing bear stretched across the top, a silhouette of fierce confidence. What had I been given? What was this enigma that shifted its reality, teased me with its riddles? That night’s sleep was troubled by visions of birth, death, and the billion states in between.

Saturday morning dawned with me already awake. I stared at the blue box before me, not daring to touch it. Perhaps if I pondered and meditated and believed enough, I could open it with thought alone. A thousand fishes shimmered and swirled across the box, a hypnotic ballet that held me entranced. The day passed by. Life passed by. Transfixed, I watched the box, waiting for it to change.

Sunday. I raised my head from the table. I had fallen asleep. The box before me was now black. Its surface was an obsidian mirror, a dark anti-color opalescence. In the depths blood ran and spilled. Creatures rested and killed. Stars blazed and died. In a sudden cracking the box split in two, exuding a thin smoke, acrid and overwhelming.

Only then, at the precise moment of my expiration, did the box, and everything else, make perfect sense.


Anonymous said...

KF, I look forward to reading your first book. This was a very enjoyable read.

Merry Christmas, Happy holidays to you!

Skully said...

When I finished reading I noticed that my neck was tense. The imagery was great.

tiff said...

skully - I felt the same way! Wonderful job - so many questions remain to be answered. I like how only the most brief mention of time and place are made, and yet one is made aware that this is a modern story. The states of the box were wonderfully described - I could see each of them very clearly.

The neighbor's interlude might detract from teh flow of the story, introducing practicalities as the tale reaches into fantasy or twisted reality. I wonder if there's some less concrete way to mention that the box has the power to disapparate at will?

Now I have to go figure out the symbolism of each iteration, and try to figure out the great mystery for myself.

Darn you KF, for making me think.

Biff Spiffy said...

Darn you? Tiff, such language. Tsk.

It's way past my bedtime and I was drawn into this story like your character to the box. I really enjoyed the imagery; each scene shift became richer and more interesting. Great pacing on the shift from frustration to fascination. Love the bears' and fishes' roles, given the themes in your site! I was grinning out loud.

The neighbor scene was a bit distracting. One would expect a reaction - a call for the men in white coats, heavy drinking, a fistfight - something. If there's a way to leave him out of it, would be cleaner.

The ending was a sad surprise. Reminds me of real life.

I wonder if the box's opening was the cause or effect of expiration?

Wish I didn't have to wait a month to see your next story.

Marisol said...

Like Skully before me, I found myself leaning toward my laptop's screen.

Even with the random neighbor visit great story!...IMHO I'm with the rest, the neighbor felt like a tiny speed bump in the story (really tiny though).


the only daughter said...

Not much more I can add, except fantastic.

What a treat.

Sea Hag said...

I didn't think that the neighbor scene was distracting as others did, honestly I thought it was interesting to have another person put into the story who couldn't see it, because then it opens up the story to several possibilities: is this all in the narrator's head? Is it a magical item? Is he the only one who can see it?

I thought the first paragraph was a bit repetative, though, the confusion of receiving the box had already been established in the prologue.

Kingfisher said...

Thank you all.

I intended this story to make sense on its own, without having to read the prologue.

The neighbor was a device to establish the box as "attached" solely to the protagonist.

Vague symbolism and unanswered questions were intentional. I know what the story means, but it was an exercise for me not to tell it, letting the reader draw their own conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff.

You sure do like to kill your narrators, don't you? OK, so this is only the second time, I think...

I liked the concept of the progression. I loved the changable box.

Didn't have a problem with the neighbor.

Although I liked the story, it was a little abstract for me. I like a little neater ending.

Good stuff, though.

Rosie said...

You have an admirable command of the English language. I like the idea of using the box as a forshadowing device of impending death. I like the symbology of something that is best left a mystery. That's a very powerful and ancient theme in literature.

I'd like to see more surgical precision in your use of language and more levels. You have wonderful imagery, but I'd like to see a bit more restraint in its use. I'd like to see something in the middle of your story that shows me rather than tells me and sweeps me along to the dramatic conclusion. It could be action...or maybe something else.

All said and done, "think" pieces are notoriously difficult to get going and have a tendency to drag. You've done quite well here.