The Mirror Man

Once there was a village who came together every night and danced around the bonfire in a great circle.  Young and old alike danced as they watched the fire’s mysterious power to transform anything it touched into a dazzling display of light.  And it made them feel empty inside and ready to fill themselves with tomorrow.  

And then the mirror man came with his wagon of mirrors for sale.  He had been to other villages like this one and knew just what to do in order to sell as many of his mirrors as possible.  First he got permission to set up mirrors around the bonfire and the folk let him without thinking anything of it as long as there was enough room to dance.  But that night as they danced he got some of them to look at the concentric circle of mirrors. And when they did, suddenly the fire lost its power and they looked at how they were dancing instead.

Some stopped dancing altogether.  Others changed their dance according to how they wanted their reflection to look.  The next day most of the folk did not feel as refreshed as usual by their transformative dance.  They knew something was wrong and the mirror man offered them his solution: buy a mirror for your hut to improve your dancing in addition to such things as table manners, appearances of hair and clothes, and much more for when you look into a mirror because you see the truth.  

Even the folk who didn’t want to look in a mirror and knew in their gut that it was better to live looking at the fire instead, had to give in when the rest of the folk got one and insisted that they do the same.  Soon after, the folk quit dancing around the fire and held dances during the day for more light to focus on how their bodies moved. And they built a stage and held competitions to judge each other with a harshness that seemed harsher than the day before.  When anyone tried to argue against it, the mirror man convinced them that they had greatly improved and were better than any other village he had ever come across..

A few of them cried themselves to sleep at night when they remembered the time they danced around the fire and how great they felt in unison with the whole village.  But this mirror divided everyone with a strange sense of some truth. One time, a girl was angry at how she was judged and she broke as many mirrors as she could. Soon after it was forbidden to break a mirror or else suffer the punishment of seven stones thrown to break bones.  

And so in every home a mirror showed each family what was wrong with it.  And the more they tried to improve their reflection, the more they saw wrong with themselves.  The kids never had enough manners. Workers never did everything the right way.  

Mirrors were put everywhere so that anyone could look into any home to help criticize whatever they saw.  All the folk spent their extra time watching everyone else. It was as if the world outside the village disappeared and the one that used to exist in it.  Everything was in the mirror now.

As usual, the mirror man moved on to the next village to change it with his tool for the sole purpose of his gain, for he did not feel anything bad about this because he had lost himself in his mirror image long ago.  He had learned to see how others see himself through the mirror and that told him what was more important than what he saw in himself. So he became rich by selling what seemed a harmless or even helpful trinket without ever warning his customers of what was to come.  For any consequence of his product was not his fault but the fault of whoever chose to purchase it. And so he lived without blame as he burned each village he visited to the ground in its mirror image.

Maps of the Spirit

Once there was a king who had become bewildered.  A mysterious ailment made all his bones ache and his blood boil so that all he could do was groan in his bed.  And this condition made him more passionate than ever about spreading his kingdom to new territories. So the mapmaker became his most favored servant and he found a success he had never known.  As long as the king’s knights kept discovering new lands.  

But one day the knights came to the mapmaker and told him that they could no longer find any new territory.  They told him that they sailed to the end of the sea and found nothing but sea. The mapmaker knew that such news might kill the king by killing his spirit.  And so the knights agreed with the mapmaker to keep their beloved king alive with whatever maps he created and the tales they would tell about it.

The mapmaker made maps of new places that didn’t exist except in his mind.  And the knights told the king tales of these lands. And the king listened more intently and become more passionate than ever about his growing kingdom.  And the king’s pleasure drove them to invent more elaborate maps and more epic tales. And it strengthened the king’s spirit so much that one day he got out of bed and walked into the garden to tell the mapmaker and his knights who were busy conspiring over their new batch of tales and the king told them to ready the ship because they were going to tour their newly acquired lands.  In shock and horror, the mapmaker and the knights did as the king said.

They sailed out to sea and kept sailing where they had found nothing before.  The mapmaker and the knights caught themselves even hoping that the lands they created would just magically appear.  They tried to blame it on the tides and the winds. And after sailing in the nothingness for months and with supplies running low, the king demanded that they return home.  

On the return trip, the king did not leave his cabin and did not ask to see anyone except those serving him food and drink.  It seemed like the longest trip the knights had ever taken for not a soul uttered a word. They looked at the mapmaker with evil eyes because it was his fault for getting them into this mess.  And the mapmaker looked at them with disdain for not having somehow taken them somewhere that might’ve resembled the amazingly accurate maps he created, even though the accuracy was all in his head.

Back at the castle, the king invited them all to a lavish feast.  When they saw how lavish it was, it worried them that the king had something evil in mind for them.  And he raised his chalice and they theirs. And the king told of their new conquests. And his men chimed in.  And never did they have such a night of revelry.

The Laughing Woods

Once there was a king who locked himself out of his own castle.  The castle was built with only one entrance, a single door. No windows could be reached from the ground.  Surrounded by a moat and a rocky shore, there was only enough space to side step around its perimeter.

Some of the king’s subjects walked in and out of the castle but the king was too embarrassed to follow them in because he feared that they would learn the truth about his mistake and they had already laughed at him quite enough.  As soon as he decided to forget the whole thing and resigned himself to hiding in the woods for the rest of his life, he was disrobing to go for a swim in the lake when the key dropped right out of his pocket, but he did not see it fall on the shore.

Naked, he went for the best swim of his life. Never did he feel so free. He floated and swam as time flowed without a care until he got to shore and saw the key there.  His heart sank as he picked it up. He put his robe back on and the royal cloth felt heavier than ever. More like a suit of armor than a robe. He thought of returning to the castle but it appeared to him now as a dungeon built out of fear. He didn’t want to live in a house with only one door and one key anymore.

His imagination could hear his subjects laughing at him already but that laughter turned into a fit of laughter that overcame him.  It was in fact his laughter now! He tossed the key into the lake and disappeared into the woods without his robe.

Eventually, some other fool found the king’s key at the bottom of the lake and put the king’s robe on and went to the castle to rule the kingdom. Not even the queen recognized that the king was someone else, but everyone heard a strange laughter coming from the woods, as if it were laughing at them.

The King’s Finger

Once upon a time a king had a brilliant idea.  He had inherited a kingdom with many problems that he cared not to solve nor did he think could be solved anyways by any other king.  And with some bad luck the problems got so bad that the king knew there were subjects plotting to usurp him, not to mention the peasants had already marched to his castle with pitchforks and torches and demanded solutions he could not come up with.  

The king divided his power amongst his court as widely as he could.  He spread his actual responsibilities as thin as possible while keeping enough power to enjoy his wealthy habits like hunting and fireside concerts and lavish banquets and playing hide the finger with various subjects in his court or even by himself while taking a hot bath overlooking his vast countryside.  After all, he thought to himself, who doesn’t enjoy the pleasures of this world over the pains? And who would think it even possible to eliminate the pains altogether?

His brilliant idea for any problem was that he would put somebody else in charge of it so that when the people and the others in the court were fed up with that problem, they demanded that he cut off the head of the one in charge.  And he did so with ease because he knew that it was in exchange for his own. But he played reluctant and pretended to hold the burden of executing someone. And he shrugged as he pointed his finger. What else could he do? He had succumbed to the burden of leadership.

Anytime someone came to the king with a problem, all he had to do was point his finger at whoever he placed in charge of that problem.  The executions satisfied the kingdom’s anger and a new person in charge of that problem gave the kingdom hope again until the next execution. Before anyone could figure it out or do anything about this cycle that satisfied their feelings but solved none of their problems, the king passed away from natural causes after a long life of more pleasure than pain.

A Princess’s Paradise

Once there was a princess who knew all there was to know about royal life and yet yearned for something else so she disguised herself as a sailor and left with a crew heading for tropical seas.  On board, she learned the trade and was quickly promoted. But soon, she found the sea-life as confining as the castle-life. And as she was staring at the horizon, she fell overboard and washed ashore on an island.  

She searched the island for other people.  She saw the island as a garden with plants and creatures she did not know.  There was ample fruit for her to eat. And a beautiful lagoon to swim in. She wondered if she had this paradise all to herself.

She decided to walk the perimeter of the island to complete the idea of it in her head.  But she quickly came upon a rocky shore that barricaded her from exploring one side. So she walked the other way which was as perfect as any island she ever imagined until she came upon some creatures in the distance that were grotesque and dangerous looking.  Like dragons without wings, these creatures were devouring something fleshy. Quietly she backtracked and decided that they could have that part of the island.

There were dark caves in the mountains but she thought it better not to explore those.  Rather, she made her own hut near the lagoon. But soon enough, the trees changed in appearance to her.  The trees looked like bars locking her in. She wondered if there was such a thing as paradise anywhere in this world of one kind of jail after another.

On the hottest day, the princess got really drowsy until she thought she saw the most brilliant ship sailing toward the island as if it were a golden chariot riding in on a team of white steeds.  She swore she could see their nostrils flaring in the whitewash, until there was nothing but sea again. Though it disappeared before her eyes, it was a vision of what she needed to do.

She set to building rafts which slowly became boats until she made one seaworthy enough to take her as far as she needed to go.  And she left paradise as simply as she had come to it. But as she sailed away, she swore she saw some wild horses galloping along the shore.  

The ship that had lost her once crossed paths with her self-made boat and took her aboard.  But they did not recognize her as the sailor who used to work with them. Instead, she appeared to them as a goddess of the tropical seas.  Her bleached blonde hair radiated as brilliantly as the sun. And her natural fragrance put the entire crew under her spell. When she was a sailor, they barked orders at her and she had to prove herself.  She laughed off the difference and was only concerned with what she wanted to do when she got home.

Back at the castle, the king and queen rejoiced at having their princess back and alive.  And they immediately talked about a prince she could marry. But she insisted that they let her learn everything there was to know about horses instead with the intention of taking over all of their equestrian operations.  And for a moment, the king and queen were unsure of what to say until they simultaneously thought of the prince, their son, who sat around all day and stared at walls, and suddenly they eagerly agreed.

The princess became an expert on anything to do with horses and she could ride as well as anyone in the court or their army. Not a day went by without her riding her horse on the shore where mid-gallop she would find her brief paradise on this planet.  

The Queen’s Walnuts

Once there was a queen who built a castle large enough to fit her entire kingdom in it.  Every one of her subjects had rooms more spacious than they had ever known. Everyone seemed to have as much space as he or she desired.  There was even more space in the castle for her kingdom to grow as big as she wished.

Until the day everyone found out the purpose of the castle, and then it felt like it shrank to the size of a walnut.  In fact, she had gotten the idea from the chambers of a walnut she had cracked open once on a lonely night. The queen had corridors, peepholes, and secret doors with which she could access any room whenever she wished.  And so she enjoyed slipping into the intimate spaces of her subjects and considered them all her little walnuts, to be watched and visited as she pleased.

She interrupted dinners and interesting conversations.  She popped in during heartfelt confessions. She even stepped in on lovemaking a few times.  Of course, this angered her subjects but they did not show their anger for the queen had provided them with this place to live and their abandoned villages were in ruins now.  

Eventually, though, they stopped paying attention to her spying and did their best not to care about her intrusions anymore.  They carried on with their lives because they figured she would eventually too. But the Queen hated this feeling of becoming a ghost in her own castle and found it insulting, so she kicked them all out.  And they had to return to their villages and rebuild them. And they bonded from their mutual needs and they vowed to never return to the Queen’s castle again.  

Feeling even more like a ghost in her empty castle, she went from village to village to beg them to move back in.  Whatever village she visited would empty out. Everyone hid from her. She banged on doors and demanded that they let her in. Not a door opened. And not a subject could be found.  So she decided to go back to the castle and get her guards to crack these huts wide open and make them move back in with her. But the guards had moved out of the castle too and she did not know where they had gone either.  

All of her servants had disappeared as well.  She swore she could hear them in the corridors and sometimes she’d chase after them but never catch them.  The empty kingdom felt to her like when a walnut shell gets cracked too hard and all the nuts shoot out and hide in places where they cannot be found even though you know they are there somewhere.

Prison Walls

Once there was a prison built with only one wall dividing the guards from the unruly prisoners.  The longer the prisoners languished in this holding tank, the more they yearned for walls to separate them from the other prisoners.  They complained to the guards. This complaint pleased the guards and they laughed off the request.  

The prisoners wrested stones loose from the floor and piled them into a wall.  When the guards saw them digging out the stones, they accused them of revolt, and made the prisoners put the stones back in the floor.  

The next day, the prisoners took off their clothes and draped them for barriers.  And the guards punished them for their nakedness and made them put their clothes back on.  

After that, the guards found the prisoners sitting in the order of a grid on the stone floor.  And when the guards asked them why they were sitting so orderly together, the prisoners refused to speak.  This went on for months until the guards felt so uncomfortable with the silence of the prisoners sitting in unison that it gave them nightmares.  The wild fantasies of what the prisoners must be plotting drove the guards mad.

Out of anger, the guards built walls around each prisoner.  After the prisoners got what they wanted, they broke their silence and became unruly again.