The Accidental Labyrinth

Once there was a bricklayer who had a daughter as beautiful as any princess, but he was a poor bricklayer. And men from the village were always trying to sneak into the house. So the bricklayer did the only thing he could do and laid down walls within the room and a hallway within a hallway that led to his room first.  It was very uncomfortable for her because the windows were walled over and the room within the room was considerably smaller. And the hallway was so tight she had to side step it.  

But the men kept coming. The bricklayer had a most beautiful daughter and no choice but to build more proxy hallways and rooms that once the men entered, he would wall up and seal their fate. He built the walls so thickly that nobody could break them without the necessary tools. And so he put up hallway after hallway and room after room to trap every man who dared woo the daughter he loved more than anything else.

Thirsty for revenge and hungry to protect his precious gem of a daughter, the bricklayer stayed focused on building his traps but failed to keep in mind any overall plan. Eventually, he trapped himself with suitors on every side and had lost track of where he might even be in relation to his daughter’s room.

The bricklayer’s daughter worried when her dad did not return but when she exited her house she found herself on the outside of her dad’s accidental labyrinth. She knocked along the outer wall and each one claimed to be her father.  

As she sat down to cry, a man approached and asked if she had lost her father.  She was choked up and just nodded. The man promised to get her father out only if he could marry her. Taken aback by the rings on his finger and the handsome robes draped from his broad shoulders, she told him that he didn’t understand. She couldn’t marry him because she didn’t want anyone to save her father. She was crying tears of joy.  

And she shamed the prince for offering such a promise that by the very offering made the opportunity of shrugging off her dad’s self-imposed fate a little harder for her to swallow and this somehow made her feel like it was the prince’s fault.  The prince insisted that she did not know what she was saying and insisted that he ask her father for her hand. At once, she saw her father in this prince. He wasn’t listening to anything she said. He wasn’t royal in spirit but another bricklayer who wanted to do the same thing her dad had done to her.

She showed the prince the sledgehammer and he ripped a hole in the roof where her father was. The prince extended his hand and lifted her father out of the hole. But dad pushed the man in and sealed the roof back up.  

The bricklayer returned to his daughter’s empty room. She had escaped. And her poor father did not understand why. A heavy sleep overcame him. And he slept for days in his daughter’s bed.

When he finally awoke, he found himself wearing his daughter’s dress. When he saw his reflection, the bricklayer didn’t know what overcame him but he could not stop dancing and laughing at himself. And this silly joy attracted men from all around who wanted a dance with such a fun girl. When he tried to tell them that he was a man also, they laughed even harder. When he stopped dancing, the men chased after him to gain his hand in marriage.

The bricklayer walled himself back up in his house. He really wanted to be outside in this dress and dancing and laughing for the sake of nothing but fun in any space without walls (his whole life had been about lousy walls, he screamed in his mind), but he couldn’t with all these serious, deranged men around looking for property to own at all times. And then it dawned on him what he had done to his daughter. He hadn’t protected her. He had imprisoned her. Worse, prepared her for another man to imprison her as well.

To make amends, the bricklayer tore down all the walls he had built. He destroyed the accidental labyrinth. Released all of its prisoners. And became a carpenter who built a nice house of wood with plenty of windows and doors. And he planted a garden and spent his time kneeling beside his plants in the sunshine. He yearned for nothing anymore except the freedom of wide open spaces.

His daughter returned one day but she didn’t recognize her father. She demanded that this man in one of her dresses tell her what had happened to her father and the labyrinth that used to be here. He stroked his beard for the right words to say but they never came. Instead, he brewed her a tea from his garden and asked for her forgiveness. Then it hit her that this was in fact her father so she accepted his heartfelt apology.

She found the new house inviting with all of its doors and windows. And she moved back in. And whenever a man came to visit, if dad didn’t wear him out with dancing wildly in the fields or by showing him everything in his garden, his daughter could easily slip out any window or door if any man let his possessiveness ruin the situation.

The Old Man’s Return

Once there was an old man who wanted to return to the village where he was born one last time before his passing.  He had left his home long ago by following one type of work after another and in so doing lost track of how far he had traveled away from the home of his childhood.  

His life appeared to him as the strangest dream from which he had awoken.  He was so far away that he was unsure of how to find his way back home. So he retraced his steps and went form place to place where he had worked.  But after a few places he got lost. Because he was so old, some of the places where he had worked were abandoned or destroyed.  

He asked anyone he could if they had heard of his village and people told him that nobody called it that anymore, not in many years, but they told him the new name.  And when he came to the village by a different name, he was sure that it wasn’t his old home at all. There were no familiar or friendly faces and the village didn’t even look the same. So he moved on.

He did indeed come upon the village of his youth eventually.  And he spoke with his folk and they smiled and smirked at each other as they heard his stories. He swore that they hadn’t aged a bit. All the sweet faces he had longed for were before him now.  They thought him a peculiar old man who told them he came from there, when they knew he never did.  They took him in anyways and cared for him. His last days were spent in bliss.

A Blind Duel

Once there was an old man who thought he was young and there was a young man who thought he was old.  The old young man challenged the young old man to prove who was the youngest and who was the oldest of all. 

They agreed to hold three competitions. One to see who could row the fastest across a lake. Another to see who could outwit the other at a game of  trivia. And the third to see who could woo a lady.

The first proved that the young man was much younger than he thought. The second that the older was a lot older than he had hoped.  But the third ended in a tie because the lady could not be lured by the strange display of decrepit youth or stupid maturity. Of course, the young man was offended that she had called him stupid and the old man was also very insulted when she uttered that foulest of words, decrepit.  After she told them that they had gotten her insults backwards, neither understood what she meant at all.

Furious at their unwillingness to admit the obvious, she lead them to her bedchamber and for a moment both men thought he was the winner. Instead, she stood them before a mirror.

The young man called her a witch when he saw a baby-faced reflection. And the old man called her a sorceress who commanded the dark arts to conjure up such an image of a frail and haggard old toad. 

Thus, the competition solved nothing because fools only try to prove what they believe at the cost of rejecting a simple plain truth.

Wood Shavings

Once there was an old woman who swept the wood shavings from the floor of a young carpenter.  She brushed the shavings aside into a pile before scooping the pile into a basket. The floor had not one shaving left on it for the next day.

In the morning, the young carpenter would come in and work all day and not think about the shavings spilling all over the floor because they would disappear by tomorrow.  The old woman thought nothing of what the carpenter made because every day new shavings would appear for her to sweep.

The young carpenter saw people as wood for the making, but the old woman had already been made long ago and now saw people as they were: not as the woodwork but the shavings from the woodwork meant to be swept away.

The Queen’s Tapestry

Once there was a queen who had some trouble ruling her kingdom.  One day whilst walking through the market, the queen came upon a poor old woman who made tapestries with intricate images that nobody could decipher. 

When the queen insisted that she tell her what her tapestries meant, somebody had to tell her that the poor old woman had lost her ability to speak long ago.  The queen pitied her for this and wondered what tragedy she must’ve suffered in order to never speak again. And the details of these fascinating scenes in the tapestries transfixed the queen and she saw how others scratched their heads when they looked at these mysterious things.  

The queen took the poor old woman and gave her a place to live where she would be taken care of for the rest of her life in exchange for her tapestries.  The queen had them burned without the old woman’s knowledge, and had her make a single giant tapestry for her. And she put it up in her court.

The queen had subjects who thought they could better rule the kingdom and this had plagued her for years with constant second-guessing.  So she challenged them to decipher her tapestry and whoever could tell her the exact meaning would gain the power of the throne.

Her subjects, of course, could not guess the meaning of the tapestry and so it left them feeling as if she knew something they didn’t.  And this feeling grew into an obedience. So the tapestry worked in getting her subjects to stop challenging her.

Until, the good fortune of the old woman somehow returned her speech to her.  And she rushed to the queen to tell her how grateful she was to the only person who showed her kindness since she stopped speaking and to tell her what the tapestry really meant.  And she told the queen in front of her subjects what the ornate images in her tapestry stood for and the subjects could see that the queen herself had not known all along. Now that her plan had backfired, even the queen had to admit that this old woman was far greater in mind.

The poor old woman became their new queen. She ruled the kingdom as she made her tapestries, with rich detail and meaningful acts whose images sat in her subjects’ minds like perfect orbs in the sky.

A Sliver of Truth

Once there was a girl who knew every nook and cranny from which to spy on her folk.  And she spied on everyone. She spied so much that she rarely spoke because she felt she knew too much about everyone else and it made it difficult to speak without accidentally spilling the beans.  

One day she spied on a girl who she hadn’t seen before because all she did was stay in her room and talk to herself.  She looked so lonely that it made her really sad. She might as well have stayed in her room too since she’s always hiding to eavesdrop on people.  She tried to stop spying but she couldn’t resist knowing a sliver of the truth about anyone she tried to befriend.  

Eventually, the whole village knew about her habit and didn’t care about what she heard for they were good people and felt they had nothing to hide, so they decided to play a trick on her.  They told each other tall tales and stretched the truth as far as it would go. And one villager told another that the girl was going to have both her eyes poked out for peeping and her ears plugged up for good but they weren’t going to cut out her tongue because she needed to start spilling her own beans.

She peeped through a hole in her imagination and saw herself wandering through the village blind and deaf and spilling beans everywhere.  This was not just a sliver of truth. It felt more like a spear straight through her ears. How could they want to do such a thing to someone as innocent as her?  Off to the rival village she went and told them everything she knew about her village in exchange for a place in theirs.

While she told stories about her folk, they heard what it said about her.  The slivers of truth had gathered into a jagged mass of exaggerations and loose connections. In fact, to their ears, it was difficult to distinguish even a grain of truth in what she had to say let alone a sliver.  The rival village quickly told her that they would rather she go back and stay in her village and not live with them.  

With nowhere else to go, she returned home and begged that they show mercy for what she had tried to do.  And they told her that they were never going to harm her, but they were trying to scare her into doing something better with herself than spying on them. 

Finally, this sliver of truth struck into her heart. They actually cared about her. She saw how she had taken what she thought was a sliver of truth and ran with it when it was not the truth at all.  And this thought reverberated through all the other times she spied on them. The slivers of truth appeared differently to her now. Less about them and more about her fantasies. From then on, she stopped spying and began to understand more about her folk by interacting directly with them.

The King’s Stone

Once there was an old storyteller who became one of the most powerful people in the kingdom.  He had found a way to tell stories so that anyone who listened could accept them as the absolute truth.  Except those who the stories were intended to harm, of course.

The old man never forgot anything. That is partially why he was such a convincing storyteller. But it was also why he was so spiteful about any offense he suffered, like a village he visited once. In his eye, the people were not polite enough to him by the way they served him food and put him up for the night in an uncomfortable bed. All of which he thought was done on purpose. So he told a story many decades later and the king increased their taxes, and when they rebelled, their village was burned to the ground.

One day, the king’s spy overheard the storyteller boasting about his power. He found it amazing that people took his words as if they were written in stone and were so willing to act upon something as fleeting as a hot wind. But his real mistake was when he boasted that if he wished, he could spill into the king’s ear at the perfect moment the right combination of words about a hidden betrayal of his trust that would send the queen to her doom.

That night, the old storyteller awoke from a frantic nightmare – running from village to village with no clothes on while people hurled rocks and mud at him – to a wet bed.  He got mad at himself for pissing in his bed again until he heard the voice of the king sitting in a chair across the room.

As the king told him why his wife would never betray him for she had sacrificed her own traitorous brother, the storyteller realized that it was not his urine that soiled the sheets; he was bleeding from a mortal neck wound. When he tried to utter a word, liquid sounds sputtered out.

The old storyteller’s mind wandered in his last fleeting moments.

He remembered a fountain from his youth where the folk used to throw stones into it for good luck. And it was there that his storytelling began at a single question: what was the story of each stone? And he pulled them out one by one. Followed their stories wherever they led him. Afterward, the heft of each stone seemed to increase in weight with its story.

At that time, he used to say that everybody had a heavy stone in their heart. A stone so heavy that it settled in the fountain of their chest. But he had forgotten that sentiment. And lost himself in the power of stories to influence others. He had taken all the stones out and learned how to rearrange them to convince by spectacle instead of seeing their worth and unlocking their heft.

And so the king’s heaviest stone, the story of his wife’s sacrifice for his sake, sank deeply in the king’s chest. Something never to be pulled out. Sacred to him.

Watery Windows

Once there was a hermit who had watery windows in her home.  Whatever she looked at through those windows had ripples flowing around it that told her everything she thought she needed to know.  The watery windows magnified anything small or far that she wished to see.   

One day, the hermit wondered if it was only she who saw the ripples in her watery windows, feared that it might be a curse forbidding her from leaving her home, and so she invited some people over.  But when she opened her door to let them in, there were no people at all, but a raging sea, instead, with treacherous currents and ominous waves. 

Her home was a ship and her sea legs wobbled at the realization that she had been out to sea so long that she was seeing ripples around everything. 

Back in her warm cabin, she pulled the shades over the windows. She made a pot of tea. And formed a cave with a blanket for her cat to purr in. Soon her mind came to a rest. And she became the calm in the eye of her storm.

Toy, Caca, Magic

Once there was a queen who visited a village known for three kinds of art.  And she went in order to choose one to lend her support.

First, the queen was taken to a studio which was also a toy store where an old man made the most incredibly inventive toys.  His craft was unparalleled and his toys intricate and full of tricks. He also made silly toys and stupid toys for whoever played with such things.  None of the toys elicited from the Queen more than slight amusement for there was nothing in it but craft. This was fine but not interesting enough to be deemed art in her mind because the toy maker had nothing meaningful to say about his work.

So the Queen went to the second studio.  And it was a barn. And in the barn there were mounds of dung.  And the artist explained many things about the mounds that he called natural sculptures in the barn that he called his studio and gallery all the same.  The queen watched others, a sampling of some common folk from the village, as they stared at the poop. And never had she heard someone speak so artfully about such common waste.  He said weird things like all excrement has been excreted before so best not to utilize anything else but that which already was and never will be anymore except as fertilizer for the mental terrain.  It was plain to see that the others didn’t get what he was talking about at all, partially because of the smell of his work was so strong.

The queen visited the third studio.  It was small and meager and in the back of a hotel where the artist also had to work.  She was dressed in plain clothes and painted miracles of vision and wonder and talked to the queen and the others about the nature of seeing and showed them another way of looking that felt enriching to them.  As the queen left through the hotel, she saw her paintings everywhere with people blabbing and stuffing their faces while paying not a lick of attention to the amazing work hanging right over their heads.

The queen went back to her castle and mulled it over.  The toymaker was great but it was mere craft and not art.  And clearly the painter made the best work of all and really opened her eyes to how the artistic process can be an investigation.  It was magic.

But she chose the dung maker or poop proliferator or whatever it twas that he called himself simply because anything could be said about his work and the common folk who cherish what little wealth comes their way could never develop such a taste for his style of caca.  It was clearly the most elite of all because of the power it let her keep.  

And the winner gave his speech at the ceremony where he said that kids play with caca, and artists are kids, so artists need to only concern themselves with the emptiness of the most fundamental movements.  The audience looked at him in utter confusion but they saw the queen nod with approval, so they applauded the new standard of what could be called the art of the kingdom.

The Cheese Sculpture

Once there was a kingdom of cheese makers.  These cheese makers knew everything about any kind of milk and knew how to make any kind of cheese.  They held festivals of cheese for which people pilgrimaged. They even built a house of cheese once a year for kids to eat through the walls and floors.  Not one of these cheese makers had any muscle tone. All of them looked like balls of cheese with legs and arms like toothpicks and little round balls of cheese for heads.  

Other kingdoms traded with them except one.  This one kingdom was made of people who thought of nothing but hunting and war.  They spent all their time making blades of every kind. And this kingdom loved to eat so much that they had become cannibals.  And they had tasted the meat of the cheesemakers and it was like a steak marbled with a cheesy fat. Only the other kingdoms held them back from destroying the cheesemakers because they loved their cheese so much.

Whenever a cannibal carved through a cheesemaker, it was as satisfying to watch how the blade sliced through them as eating them.  But whenever a cheesemaker was cut, the smell that was released could knock a cannibal out with one whiff. In time, though, the cannibals could not be held back nor could they resist the idea of feasting on the cheese makers.  So they did attempt to attack the kingdom of the cheese once.  

The Great Cheese War, as the cheese makers called it, was won by hot liquid sticky cheese that the cheesemakers dumped on the cannibals.  The cheese cooled and solidified them wherever they stood. The cannibals could not eat their way out of that much solidified fondue and had to surrender under the stench of all the cheese they had cut.  After this, it was common for people to ask “who cut the cheese?” when someone passed away.

One year, as any other, there was a cheese carving competition.  And one cheese maker, Klaus, was an excellent cheese sculptor. He had won year after year.  But this year he concocted the wildest vision in a dream the night before. And so he chased after that dream and made a cheese sculpture that went beyond what he had ever done.  The attention to detail was mind-boggling. It was the most elaborate miniature cheese castle anyone had ever seen. There were aged Gouda curtains and Feta rugs. Brie beds and Roquefort chandeliers.

Of course, he won the competition but after that he never made another sculpture again.  Instead, he spent most of his time staring at his cheese sculpture. And he would bring it to the competitions year after year as it got moldier and moldier but nobody had the heart to tell him to stop.  The moldy clump, that was a Käseschloss, was still a brilliant castle to the cheese maker.  

Eventually uninvited from the competition, Klaus kept it at home and stared at it all alone.  Long after Klaus died, or cut the cheese, his story was told by the cheese makers as a lesson to not hold onto any achievement no matter how rich and cheesy.  And it became common for people to say to others “stop holding your cheese” whenever they needed to move on to making something new.