A/N: This was my first ever short story. I hope you do not cringe at it as badly as I do.
It was generally agreed upon, through an indisputable vote of all confidence, that Mondays were a terrible invention. Perhaps not for a billionaire philanthropist, or the CEO of an international corporation, but almost certainly for the incontestably average Mr. Smith.
Because of the inherent apathetic nature of the office, his first name was irrelevant. This, of course, stripped him of all particularity. Mr. Smith didn't much mind it; his office work was his passion and his coworkers were his closest friends (friends being a relative term). Thus it came to be that slowly, but surely, Mr. Smith's first name not only became irrelevant, but unnecessary. His professional life had the happy coincidental convenience of also being his personal life, and as such, his friends, too, called him Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith worked at an average office, using an average computer (adorned with an average amount of dust), and worked with a set average amount of customers. When it came time to return home--something he was always slow to--he got into his normal car, and returned to his normal house.Mr. Smith's abode was perhaps peculiar in the regard that it was free of any distinct characteristics from the other homes in the suburb. The hedges were perfectly rectangular and an acceptable palette of green. It would seem that his shrubbery, too, adhered to a strict rubric imposed by the monotonous tastes of their keeper. The plants also referred to Mr. Smith as Mr. Smith, but in private and with discretion, so as not to violate the policies of normalcy they subscribed to upon their creation.
As a courtesy to the esteemed Mr. Smith, it was with much difficulty that the hedge community of Gallow Street withheld from voicing its outrage at a most brutish oddity. The cause for their anger being a tremendous ravaging of the sidewalk, gray like the sky, by way of a piece of paper.In as dignified of a manner as he could, Mr. Smith rushed his way to the valorously rebellious debris that was foolish enough to defy the order on his property. He grabbed the paper and chose to inspect it.
Looking at it for a long while, he discerned its contents. Mr. Smith was startled by what he found within. It seemed to be a sort of map. This of course, was an irksome matter. Maps had no place in this suburb, nor in such times as these. Indeed, the map had no place there at all. It would seem, however, that the suburb had a place on the map.Mr. Smith was not long to come across his street address; it was circled heartily in red and notched at the end of an arrow that pointed towards another circle---drawn with an equal measure of gusto--that encompassed a crude drawing of a tree. A very large tree that, of all the greenery in the town, was alone in being untouched by the urbanization of recent days. It grew freely and its great branches stretched towards the sky, taking no particular shape or order except that of being sun-bound.
He looked up from the quaint piece of paper and fumbled for his keys as he unlocked the door and grabbed a newspaper at the foot of the entrance. Stepping inside, he dropped his briefcase by the door and put his coat on a hanger. The whole while he stared at the paper, and it wasn't until he had arrived at his living room that he placed it down on his counter.
Mr. Smith loosened his tie and grabbed a ceramic cup, one of the few in his cupboard, as well as a bag of tea and an accompanying kettle. The process was quick, practiced, and methodical.
As he waited for the kettle to announce that the water had reached a satisfactory temperature, Mr. Smith once again looked over the map. He found it a strange thing, a very strange thing indeed, and he could see no reason for its existence, and he was all the blinder as to why his home had been featured so prominently on it.
As the kettle sang its song, he settled on a theory. Surely it was the doing of some child with a great imagination and a bountiful amount of idle time. He found it in his heart to forgive the nameless prankster. After all, at least the young person that made the map was a tremendously gifted cartographer. But it was a prank nonetheless. He tossed the map into a bin and went about preparing his tea.
When the ritual was finished, he took his cup and sat down at a table with his newspaper and proclaimed the readings to himself as he sipped on his tea. He flickered through to the section about the town committee and unspooled the words on the page. There was nothing much there to discern. It was all awfully petty, but one proposal did catch his attention.
There was a motion in the committee to get rid of the park tree, one that he found, at first, to be a ridiculous notion. But as he read through the opinion pieces, he found it to be a more reasonable idea than before. Some parents had complained of children hurting themselves in attempts to climb it. But was that not the result of bad parenting?
Mr. Smith decided it was of little consequence to him. Although the tree had offered him the wondrous fruits of adventure and joy in his childhood, those times were now long past. The committee would vote on the matter that very evening, and they would have a decision posted on the next day's paper.
He flipped through more pages but found little more content of interest to him. Still, it was a part of his schedule and he would hardly part from it.
Once more Mr. Smith approached the bin and with a flourish, he granted the lonesome map some company.
Soon after he indulged himself with the consumption of television, and the television indulged itself with consumption of him. When he tired of the exchange he allowed the monitor to rest. Finally, with a fluid movement, he rose and retrieved his briefcase. He brought it to the table where he had sipped on his tea, where there was only one of everything. One man, one chair, one purpose, and one task. He began his work.
The work was of such a nature that there was hardly any person in the world that could quite understand exactly what it consisted of except for, of course, Mr. Smith. All that could be said of it is this: it was a dull and tedious work, and it was of an infinite nature in all aspects of its being. It was infinitely terrible, infinitely long, infinitely torturous, and infinitely enjoyable to our dearly beloved Mr. Smith.
He forwent his evening meal and sustained himself with the inventory of his briefcase. And such was his merriment that infinity came to a close infinitely too soon, and at promptly nine in the evening, he reported to a tiresome meeting with his mattress.
The morning sun came to consciousness upon the awakening of Mr. Smith. A common happening. But that particular morning, an outrageous, obscure thing occurred. It was typical of Mr. Smith to lull the day into dawn with the gentle songs of the kettle, but this morning the day was awoken with an urgent gasp, and it was not even from the kettle.
Mr. Smith had opened his eager eyes and reached for his glasses when he found himself in a precarious position. His hand had not found what it searched for, but instead introduced itself to a familiar foreigner on the nightstand. For Mr. Smith had not found his glasses but, instead, a piece of parchment. He looked it over and was very much startled, and very much more afraid to find that it was the map from the day before.
But how? It could not possibly be some mere prank. Whoever had made the map had gained entrance to his home.
Perhaps he had left the door unlocked? No. He hadn't. Besides, the culprit must have known, in some way, that he had thrown out the map. Did someone want to hurt him? No, that couldn't have been it either. They'd have done it already if they meant to. So what was the game for? What sort of person would have pursued so much trouble simply to irk him?
And although his life was perhaps, in grave danger, Mr. Smith did not pay it very much mind. The matter would have to wait. After all, nothing was worth being late to work for. Particularly not something as childish as this. It almost felt like an adventure, the sort he used to have in his youth. But no, he would not indulge these games any longer. He had meaningful things to do now, and the sooner he got to the office, the better.
With as hearty a hop he could muster, he got out of his bed and went about his morning routine. Mr. Smith did not take long in this as he always prepared the same meal, drank the same tea, and wore the same clothes. Before leaving, he located his glasses and, now gifted with clarity, took a long look at the map. At last he grumbled and grabbed it, folding it into his pocket as he walked out of the front door, but not before locking it. With his briefcase in hand and the map in his pocket, Mr. Smith went to work.
The office clock ticked at him balefully, as if clucking its tongue at him and shaking its head. It was not a good day for Mr. Smith. He had hardly gotten any work done at all, and that was an issue. A very grand issue. He found, for the first time in all of time, that he could not focus on his work. Not one bit. Mr. Smith resolved to will away the distraction by way of tapping his pencil against his desk. Then his foot. It intensified. At last he stood in frustration and silently fumed as he made his way to the coffee machine. For Mr. Smith, coffee was something he scarcely ever touched. It was a terribly disgusting invention but he found himself hungering for energy that no amount of earl grey would ever provide.
With a cup in hand he stood before his desk. He stared at his drawer for a long while. He knew what to do. Casting his cup aside, he pulled on the lever to his drawer and took the map in his hands. He stared at it and with a "hmph" brought it to the paper shredder. He glared as he inserted it and listened to the machine whir with delight. It was done.
Feeling immensely relieved, Mr. Smith made to get back to his desk when the clock struck four and everyone began to pack up and leave. He was tremendously unsatisfied with his day, but he was more tired than upset and so collected his things and left the building.
Upon arriving home he found that he was filled with more anxiety than before. What would happen if he opened his mailbox? What would he find? He thought that maybe it would be best to leave the mailbox closed for the evening. He could always check in the morning. He took two steps forward, then stopped.
"Enough!" He spat.
Mr. Smith stomped towards the whimpering letterbox and pried open its mouth with all of the gentleness of a rhinoceros. He found nothing but the newspaper. Mr. Smith smiled. The paper shredder had done wonderfully. He'd be bothered by all of this silliness no longer, he declared to himself.He closed the mailbox and took a step back. He heard the slow and agonizingly loud sound of a paper crumpling. There was hardly any reason at all in looking down, but he did so anyways. It was the map.
Mr. Smith picked it up and, urged on by the accusatory staring of the letterbox, he rushed inside. He locked the door once, twice, and thrice. Leaning against it, he dropped to the ground. What could any of this possibly mean? He looked searchingly at the map as he sat there with his knees held up to his chest like some child. The arrow pointed at the tree in the park with an even more remarkable redness than before, and the circle around it seemed all the more eager. Standing, he brought his briefcase with him to his table and placed it down gently. The map was given a spot next to it but was treated less honorably. It didn't seem to care all that much. Mr. Smith went to his kitchen and prepared his tea.
When that was done, he pushed aside the newspaper and picked up the map instead. Clearly someone wanted him to go to the park tree. He'd not have even considered going at any point had he not been as weary as he was at the moment. But he did consider it. And the longer Mr. Smith considered it, the more he wanted to go. He imagined that if he went then all of it would stop. And so Mr. Smith made a decision. The next day, during his lunch break, he would go to the tree.
So long did he mull this option over that when he rose the sun had begun to cast a grey shade into his room as it dipped down into the horizon. He put his tea away, made himself something quick to eat, and was soon one with his mattress. He left the map on the table.
The next morning he returned to his scheduled behavior. He did not shriek the sun into stirring awake as there was no surprise. The map was not on his nightstand. It was, as he discovered after getting prepared for the day, exactly where he had left it.
And so Mr. Smith went to his work. And he worked hard that day, and he interrupted it solely for the purpose of eating lunch, which he ate across the street in the park. It was mercifully empty and he was able to acquire a seat on a bench just across the tree. It was a worn and old bench, about the same age as him. But, like him, it was a tremendously average object and wasn't all that peculiar. Sometimes a bench is just a bench.
The tree was as tall as ever, and as beautiful too. Its roots on the ground were accompanied by small flowers sprinkling the area around the tree. It was complimented by a small pond just to the left of the bench. A pond he remembered well.
As he sat down with his bag of lunch on one side and his briefcase on the other, Mr. Smith was overcome with an overwhelming anxiety. Whoever drafted the map could have been any one of many things. A prankster looking to humiliate him? Or some murderer intent on playing with his psyche before killing him off?
Mr. Smith shook his head. These sorts of things didn't happen in this town. Everything was perfectly normal here. He looked at his watch. It had already been twenty minutes and he hadn't even so much as touched his sandwich. He was suddenly rather taken by hunger and he began to eat his food.
By the time he had finished, nothing had yet to happen. Nothing at all. Mr. Smith took the map and saw that it had no new wisdom to offer him. He looked around in confusion, and was tempted to search the tree for answers, but he was acutely aware that he had to return to the office.
And so at last Mr. Smith stood and he went back to work.
Such did the next day pass also, but not the one after.
That day, Mr. Smith found more while sitting in the park bench than solely reminiscence of a time long past. He found another anomaly. Something stranger, perhaps, than even the map.
The daffodils all leaned towards the tree, as if straining their entire body to hear a whisper that was always just out of reach. Mr. Smith found this to be an astonishing thing. Certainly someone must've noticed this. He looked to the pond for answers. It offered him a question. The waters of the pond, despite the absence of wind, rippled towards the tree, also eager to hear its secrets.
Mr. Smith was prepared to abandon the park altogether. Strange things happened here, and he was not accustomed to strange things. But despite himself, he found his feet urging him towards it. Finally he stood right in front of the tree, staring at its long, wide, twisting trunk. It was the most unusual tree he had ever seen, and deeply beautiful despite its asymmetrical nature. He ran his hands down its knotted base. Mr. Smith had not touched the tree since he was still a child. Since his grandfather had died.
He remembered the times spent here all at once and every memory that arose offered another and another until his reminiscence branched out like the tree itself into a glorious growth. In particular there came to him a recollection of time spent sitting inside of the comfortably large hollow at the base of the steadfast timber as his grandfather read to him. Those were good times. Times when he had a name.
Moved by his emotions, something that was not a common occurrence, Mr. Smith reached into the hollow, where--in his youth--it was typical to find some note or some drawing that someone had left for others to discover. Mr. Smith did not find a note.
Instead, much to his horror, he found himself touching a liquid, and that his hand had disappeared entirely. He wrenched it back with such intensity that he was launched onto the grass. Some pedestrians stared at him, and he was perfectly embarrassed. He got up and muttered an apology. He looked quickly at the hollow, which he now noticed shimmered a dark shade of blue, and retrieved his briefcase. And, as Mr. Smith always does in times of trouble, he returned to his work.
For three long days Mr. Smith did not return to the park during his lunch break. For three long days Mr. Smith had not even spared a glance at the map. For three long days Mr. Smith could not bring himself to work with the vigor he usually did. For three long days he pretended that nothing happened. But indeed something had. And it was interrupting his work. Mr. Smith was a placid man, but if there was one thing in the entire world that he would not forgive it was that.
On the first day away from the park he had put it off his mind completely and forgot its existence entirely. The solution was simple. He would never return. But on the second day his unfocused demeanor had taken its toll and his work suffered. Still, he was obstinate. It was not until the third day when he admitted to his bathroom mirror that he had some sense of curiosity about the whole thing. The mirror looked at him demurely and he went to sleep.
On the fourth day he went to the park during his lunch break, but he did not bring a lunch bag. There would be no pleasantries. He walked up to the tree with his briefcase in hand and, fearless as he's ever been (which is to say he was quite afraid), he reached into the hollow and once more felt his hands engulfed in a thick water-like substance. It was warm, like touching the glass of an automobile on a sunny day. He felt nothing there. Until suddenly, harshly, he was pulled in completely. And yet he did not drop his briefcase.
The sun comported itself with the enthusiasm and gentleness of a child awaking his parents on Christmas Day as it roused Mr. Smith into a semblance of awareness. Mr. Smith found that he did not like waking up in such a way. There was no kettle's song, no tea, no paperwork to do. It was all rather terrible, really.
But Mr. Smith had yet to open his eyes, and when he did all of his senses came to him in a rush, as if they had been caught in traffic on their way to work. They stuttered clumsy apologies and got to their positions awkwardly, knocking over all sorts of things in doing so. Such was the origin of his headache. Despite this his vision blurred back into clarity, and he saw his surroundings. Such was the origin of his wonder.
He was not in his town anymore.
It was a most handsome place, and he found it to be so familiar that he couldn't help but feel uncouth when he didn't remember why it seemed so substantially recognizable.
The air was thick with joy the likes of which he never knew, and the waters of a stream nearby hummed calmly, and the forest buzzed with the songs of spring and the bees danced their ballad across the flowers that grew there. They were a tall and precious and delicate sort of flower, that needed not the grace of the sun's light for they glowed of their own beauty.
And so he walked to a nearby pond, and he found in doing so that even the ground was gentle in its being and was as soft and perfectly kind as it could be, even when he stumbled dizzily. At last he arrived before the pond and was met with a reflection of himself that was alone in being the only normal thing in the place. But even that was not true. The reflection was too sharp, too crisp. There were ripples across the surface, but the reflection was perfectly mirror-like. And so it came to be that Mr. Smith grew cognizant of the fact that he was in a place quite unlike his home.
He dipped his hand into the surface and brought it out in a cupping gesture. The water he had collected in his hand was like some sort of liquid mirror. The gold-streaked red sky smiled in the reflection, peeking out just behind his head. He dropped the liquid back into the pond and stood up.
Try as he might, Mr. Smith could not bring himself to panic, as the land did not allow for such emotions; it took them and smothered them in light until they could be no longer. And so Mr. Smith sat amongst the flowers and contemplated the obscure things he had beheld that day. He had made little progress in his contemplation of recent events aside from affirming that they were indeed obscure, when he was interrupted.
"Did you know," said a soft voice behind him, "that I've been expecting you for quite some time?"
Mr. Smith stood and turned around. The voice was unfamiliar, but the face, like the place, was known and yet unknown to him.
It was a quaint old man. He was not tall or imposing, nor small and meek. He was proudly holding out a hand in greeting. He wore bright blue robes that swept in the mellow winds and large round spectacles, covered slightly by a hood.
Mr. Smith, well acquainted with the art of making a good introduction, took the man's hand firmly and shook it twice then released. "My name is Mr. Smith, my fellow. It's nice to meet you."
The old man smiled brightly and began to walk away towards a path out of the clearing they were in. Mr. Smith realized that they were in a forest, and if he didn't catch up soon he would get quite lost. He extended his legs as far as he could and, with as much grace as he could muster while still somewhat dazed, he walked towards the forester.
"Say, do you know where we are?" Mr. Smith asked.
"No, I can't quite say I do. But I think I know where we're going."
Mr. Smith was perplexed. "And where exactly is that?"
"Home, I believe."
"We shall see." The man in the blue robes stopped shortly and turned around. "Now look, we can continue down this path, or we could go down this one. Neither presents any danger," the old man grinned, "I think."
Mr. Smith was fairly lost. Things were happening much, much too fast for the poor man. He steeled his nerves. "Neither. Not until I at least know your name!"
"Mr. Smith is my name." Replied the old man serenely.
"Nonsense! I am Mr. Smith!" Mr. Smith exclaimed. That is to say, the real Mr. Smith. After all, there could hardly be two Mr. Smiths.
"No, I don't think so. I have never known you by that name."
"Well I have never known you at all. I demand your true name, sir!" Mr. Smith announced in the most commanding tone he'd ever used (it wasn't all that commanding).
"Very well, very well. My name is Gregory." The forester said.
Mr. Smith was positively confused, more dizzy than when he landed. "And how can you know me? I've never met anyone named Gregory Smith."
"But surely you remember acquainting yourself with your own grandfather?"
This gave pause to Mr. Smith. "Grandpa Greg?"
The man laughed and opened his arms. "It took you quite some time to figure it out. Has it been that long?"
There were no words for Mr. Smith to say, so he simply embraced the man in the blue robes. He found himself, for some unknown reason, becoming acutely emotional. They walked together down a path of Gregory's choosing.
"You know, my grandson, you stumbled across this place rather quickly. We were not expecting you so soon."
Mr. Smith had gathered his bearings and was immediately overtaken with a sense of wonder. "Was it you? Did you send me the map?"
Gregory laughed, and the trees laughed with him, shaking as the winds picked up. "No, not I."
"Then do you know who?"
"Yes I know him quite well. We're steadfast friends, he and I."
"Well, who is it?" Asked Mr. Smith.
"You'll see." Gregory stated simply. "Now look here, do you see them? The tents?"
They had just passed through the forest path and into an opening. Mr. Smith beheld a shining market, surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of homes made of stone and oak. The market tents stood tall and proud, immensely prideful of their wares. Some were bold enough for red, others just shy enough to opt for shades of blue. But they came in millions of other colors also.
Mr. Smith heard it then, all the noise of people. There were no cars, no trucks, no beeping. Just music and laughter and shouting and horses neighing. And off to the side was a castle. It wasn't a terribly large castle, but it was a castle nonetheless. The banners were of the same shade of blue as his grandfather's robes.
"I see it."
Gregory nodded. "Come along then."
Soon they were in front of the castle. There was a moat around its perimeter, though it was much more pleasant than a moat ought to be. The water reflected the sky's pink-streaked golden haze and the torches on either side of the drawbridge burned bright as it was lowered slowly with a groan. Finally, they were granted passage into the grand estate. They walked past the drawbridge and nodded towards the guards.
Gregory stepped aside as they reached the main doors and allowed Mr. Smith to pass first. Mr. Smith's hands touched the wooden surface and he pushed both doors inward. They followed the command eagerly, and allowed Gregory and Mr. Smith entrance to the main hall. A blue carpet stretched itself across the room and satisfied itself with stopping just in front of a grand golden throne. A golden throne where there sat a king.
Mr. Smith and his grandfather walked the length of the room. Courtiers danced about on either side of the carpet, but the two Smiths stayed their path. At last they arrived before their king, and Gregory bowed, but Mr. Smith did not. He needn't to, for he recognized the king.
"You wouldn't bow to a child?" The sovereign accused. "That's awfully petty, my good sir knight."
Mr. Smith stuttered before he decided on a response. The courtiers did not stop dancing. "I hardly need bow to myself."
The younger version of Mr. Smith grimaced. "Fine, but it's really rather rude y'know!"
The king hopped off his throne, he was too short for his legs to reach the ground. "C'mon this way, me. I really wanna show you something!" He paused to giggle. "You're me and I am you. Isn't that weird? Anyways!"
Mr. Smith looked to Gregory who only pointed his hands vaguely towards the child-king rapidly running off to some other part of the castle. Mr. Smith ran off after him. He discovered quickly that he was in desperate need of exercise, and that the castle was much, much larger than he had originally thought.
He chased after himself until at last the king stopped in front of a set of stairs. "That was fun! But I think I won way too easily."
Mr. Smith just wheezed, briefcase still in hand.
"Alright, alright. Let's go old man. We've still got to go up these stairs."
And so they did. It was a long and rather tiresome trek, but Mr. Smith did not grow weary of it. The king spoke without end about all sorts of things, and it was a comfort as they went up the tower. But at last they made it to the top, and the child king opened a door.
Night had already befallen the kingdom, but that did not damper the beauty of what he beheld. The stars sprinkled the night sky and twinkled in coordination to produce moving images of knights and of horses and of dragons.
The moon watched over the scene with a solemn silver shimmer, and it illuminated the land and cast a glow on the purple night sky where the clouds floated lazily. The moat, as well as all other the bodies of water in the distance, reflected all of this; but the most beautiful of all the sights were the villages and the towns and the markets that littered the lands. They shone brighter than the stars.
The king sighed. "It's really neat, huh? I really like it up here and I thought maybe you might too."
"I do." Said Mr. Smith. And he did. There was nothing abnormal or terrible about it, only familiar.
It was quiet for a time but there were questions that needed to be answered.
"So, it was you who sent the map?" Mr. Smith ventured.
The king bobbed his head up and down enthusiastically. "Yeah! Did you like it? It took me forever."
Mr. Smith nodded his head, "Yes, it was neat. But why did you send it?"
"Because I saw you one day. Through the tree. You looked awfully miserable walking to work. It was sad."
"No, no. You must have seen something wrong. I love my work. I really do!"
"Kinda, I guess. I just think you don't have a lot of other options. You're not what I expected you to be like, y'know?"
Mr. Smith grew irritated. "Yes, well there's no space for knights in the real world. They don't exist."
The child-king rolled his eyes. "Okay, whatever you say."
This only served to fluster Mr. Smith even more. "And besides, I don't know what you mean. My life is perfectly fine, thank you."
A giggle and a toothy grin. "Oh sure. You really like throwing tea parties with just yourself, don't yah?"
"Oh be quiet. None of this is real anyways. I'm just having a bad dream."
The child-king laughed even harder. "Must've been all that tea."
"Shut up. Go away! I want to wake up now. I'm tired of this. How do I get out of here?" Mr. Smith tried to shut his eyes a few times. It was a futile attempt.
"That's really not how that works, mister."
"Then how, exactly, do I wake up from this terrible dream? What is this place anyways?"
"It's not a dream!" The king said heatedly. "You're at home."
"This," Mr. Smith pointed vaguely at the expanses on the horizon, "is not what home looks like. Home is...It's...it's..."
"More boring?" The child-king offered.
"More normal." Mr. Smith said sternly.
"Well it's not your home. Not right now, anyways. It used to be. This how you saw the world, once, when you were like me." "And what does that mean, precisely?"
The child-king shrugged. "It's the same place. You just see it different now that you're an," he made a face, "adult."
Mr. Smith contemplated the notion. "And you're just a figment of my imagination?"
"Nope!" Exclaimed the king mockingly. "Can't have a figment without an imagination!"
Mr. Smith glared at him. "So how did you come to exist? You're not part of my world. The real world."
"This world's been around as long as you have, sir. And I think your world is the fake one. All the concrete and glass and cars and," another face was made, "even the trees and grass are fake sometimes. It's weird."
Mr. Smith did not say anything.
"I think you should totally stay a while. Oh! I know! I'll host a tournament and a feast in your honor? It'll be so much fun!"
"I don't think that I should-"
"Preparations will take a while, of course, since it's sorta short notice, but I'll invite everyone!"
"But I don't want to-"
"Anyways we should probably send a letter out right now if we want the dragons to-"
"I want to go home!" Mr. Smith yelled out.
"Wait, what? Why?! It totally sucks over there and it's positively one hundred percent awesome over here. You'll change your mind when you see the dragons. Watch. Some of them breathe fire and..." the child-king trailed off. "You're serious aren't you?"
Mr. Smith nodded sadly. "Yes. I need to go back home. I don't know how long I've been here but I must go to work and-"
The king was dejected. "Fine... We were going to have a lot of fun together y'know? I wanted to take you to see the giants tomorrow."
"Perhaps another time?" Mr. Smith compromised.
The king's watering eyes cleared up and he bounced up in excitement. "Heck yeah! That'd be super cool. You could come back any time, really. As long as the tree is there. And that tree's always been there so we're all good."
Mr. Smith smiled at his younger self who said "Okay, we'll take you back home tomorrow morning, but you should stay the night. There's a room for you here."
They walked down the stairs, and the child-king led him to his room. There was still music in the castle but it was dying down.
"Okay here." Said the king. "This is your room."
"Thank you, my king." Mr. Smith smiled down at him again.
"My house is your house too. Technically." He jumped up and embraced Mr. Smith warmly. "Thanks for coming. See you tomorrow!"
And with that he ran off to some other part of the castle, and Mr. Smith was left alone.
That night Mr. Smith did not sleep, for he hadn't had his evening tea, and this caused a tremendous discomfort within him. So he clambered back up to the tower and sat out in the cool night air and stared at the stars.
For hours he watched as the stars enacted great battles and dramas and tales of love and loss, and he was utterly entranced. For he indulged himself in consumption of the sky, and the sky indulged itself in fulfillment of him. The tales were not interrupted but instead enhanced by the sound of a familiar voice.
"I expected to find you out here tonight."
"Hello grandfather," Mr. Smith greeted as the old man sat down next to him on the cobblestone floor and joined his watch.
"You've changed quite a bit, young man."
"No more than you have. You're alive now, which is quite a big change I'd say."
"I've always been alive. Here. In this place."
"And what is this place exactly?"
"I believe you've already been told what this place is." Gregory said calmly.
"Yes, yes, but I don't quite get it."
"You're in your heart, child."
"And yet it's a real, physical place?" Asked Mr. Smith.
"Indeed." Said Gregory.
"So I could stay here for some time?"
"Yes, I think you could. I dare say that you ought to. You could learn a lot here. Really live, for a while. Or forever. It really is your choice, my dear lad."
"But I have a job at home-"
"Tell me, do you really care for it that much? Does anyone there even know your true name? I don't think so."
Mr. Smith sighed. "I suppose that's true."
Grandpa Gregory shrugged and stood. "Think about it."
Mr. Smith did think about it. He thought about it often as he spent the next month and a half inside of his own heart. He explored the beauty of it all, he traveled to distant mountains and fought many a foe. He served his king proudly, and he made many a friend.
But as all good things, his time there came to an end. One day, more particularly beautiful than all the others (as each day there seemed to be), the people of the land felt a distant rumbling taking the ground.
The king called council and all the nobles gathered in confusion. They discussed the possibilities of what it was, but no one had the faintest clue. Mr. Smith watched the despair of the people with some measure of sadness. None of them had so much as experienced an earthquake.
He watched as couriers ran about yelling "The news! The news! The world is ending!" One of them had passed right by his side when it all clicked. He knew what had caused the earthquake. Mr. Smith ran to the king and Gregory.
"I have to go back home!" He announced urgently.
They looked at him in confusion.
"You can't possibly be leaving just because the ground shook!" The child-king protested.
"That's not it. It's the tree, they're going to cut down the tree! If I don't stop them..."
Gregory understood. "Let's go."
"But..." The king whispered. "I don't want you to go."
Mr. Smith kneeled down and hugged the boy. "And I don't want to go. But that's what it is, the whole point of being an adult. It isn't about me anymore."
The child-king began to cry, but he was valiant.
"I..." He turned to Gregory and with a shaky voice gave a command. "Order preparations for a procession, grandpapa. Our hero will leave with honors."
He turned and went about giving orders.
"Let's go get ready." Said the forlorn king.
Mr. Smith nodded. He went to change into his normal clothes, and it felt strange to abandon the robes and tabards and cloaks he had grown accustomed to wearing. His regular apparel felt cold, empty, and unsubstantial.
At last it was time and he stepped out into the throne room with the king and Gregory by either of his sides. The throne room was full of people, and they all cheered his true name, and the trumpets sang for him. They threw flowers and handkerchiefs of all colors and types, but it did nothing to lighten his mood. He would be leaving his home.
The trek towards the clearing where Gregory had found him had been eerily silent. The trees seemed stiff and the flowers seemed washed out. The songs of the birds were muted, and the shine of the sun was overshadowed by storm clouds. And yet, it was still of immense beauty to Mr. Smith.
They arrived at the clearing much too soon, where the tree stood as tall and proudly knotted as always, and where the pond was as deeply reflective as it could be, as if it meditated on the changes within Mr. Smith.
"I'm going to miss you terribly!" Exclaimed the child-king.
"And I." Said Gregory.
Mr. Smith could not help but feel great love for them. He drew them both into an embrace. "Thank you for everything, you two. I-"
"We know." Gregory said gently. "But now, you must go."
Mr. Smith nodded and disregarded the irksome lump in his throat. "Do I go the same way I came?"
Gregory shook his head. "No, they're detached. You must go through there." He pointed at the pond.
Mr. Smith nodded and took a step towards the water before he stopped. He turned around and walked up to the king. He handed him his briefcase. "So that you remember."
The young boys eyes freely released tears. He opened the briefcase and pulled out the map. He handed it to Mr. Smith. "So that you r-remember me."
And with map in hand, Mr. Smith walked into the pond and was soon enveloped entirely in its warmth.
It was the gasping that he heard first. Mr. Smith opened his eyes as he walked out of the pond dripping wet with cold, mucky water, and saw that another group had gathered to greet him. Though this one was much less admirable. People stared at him in horror and disgust as he made his way to the tree, by which a group of woodchoppers were ready to get to work. He was well aware that everyone thought him to be some freak. He didn't particularly care.
Finally he arrived at the base of the tree and sat among its roots with his back against the trunk. He sat there for quite some time before anyone even dared to move or speak.
The first was the mayor of the town. "Excuse me, mister-"
Mr. Smith looked at him expectantly. "Yes?"
"It's just... well, you see, we're about to cut down this tree and in order to do that we're going to need you to move."
Mr. Smith pretended to evaluate the option for a while, and he stood up. Everyone sighed in relief and the woodchoppers began to load up when he spoke again.
"Actually I think I'll stay right here."
And so he did. They all bargained and pleaded and pretended to reason with him, but it was to no avail. The town council, so as to keep up appearances, refrained from having anybody use violence, and as such Mr. Smith stayed in front of the tree. They decided on out-waiting him. Surely, Mr. Smith had to eat and sleep at some point. He was human, after all.
And so there he stood. One man, one purpose, one tree, one task. That was the beginning of his work. The work was of such a nature that there was hardly any person in the world that could quite understand exactly what it consisted of except for, of course, Mr. Smith.
All that could be said of it is this: it was a noble and loving work, and it was of an infinite nature in all aspects of its being. It was infinitely satisfying, infinitely valorous, infinitely worthwhile, and infinitely enjoyable to our dearly beloved Mr. Smith.
For days and nights and years and decades he forwent all meals and rest, as he sustained himself in the worthiness of his deed. He did it all for the place. And such was his love that he stood before that sky-yearning tree forever. And he was self-sworn to protect the place, and he was self-sentenced never to return to it.
Such was the tale of