Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Unfinished Children's Story (Excerpt of the First Draft)

Here's as far as I've gotten....

Somehow, I can't settle on a satisfactory ending. Even so, below lies the very fragmented beginnings of "The Sorcerer's Assistant":

Once, in a place so far away to as to be like unto a dream, there lived a young man,t he apprentice of a kindly sorcerer. Now, this was no ordinary boy. Yes, he was gentle and patient, very easy to like. He listened carefully to that which was told to him and took pride in serving others. He was also, unfortunately, very curious; moreover, he had the unfortunate habit of rushing through his duties rather than taking the time to perform each task to the best of his abilities.

"Use your head, boy!" the Sorcerer would often scold him. "Think before you act!" It was of no avail. His bright but headstrong ward was forever getting into trouble....and the Sorcerer forever getting him out of it.

And this one sad fact led to the one tragic event which would forever shape his life.

Apprenticed at the age of seven, he began his service by learning simple tasks--cleaning up the work area, learning to arrange and maintain the many clay pots, tubes, and bottles containing a wide array of potions and chemicals, and dutifully running any errands his teacher might require. Though he could be headstrong at times, he was not a bad or willful boy, leading the old sorcerer to grow very quickly fond of him. Further, as the sorcerer had no children of his own and the boy had lost his own father when still an infant, the two fell into quite a comfortable arrangement.

Over the next three years, in fact, they grew quite close indeed.

All the same, it must be said, the assistance was a constant source of vexation for an organized, methodical old man who liked his life "just so".

One day, as the master chemist was away, the young apprentice, charged with putting the work tables in order, was impatient to be finished. "Think, lad think!" the Master Magician had admonished before his departure. "Think before you act!" Neverthelessm without that patient but watchful eye upon him, the young man was not as meticulous as he might have been. In his haste, he rattled pots and bottles, overturned glass tubes, and did not properly wash and dry small bowls and beakers used earlier that day. As he worked, a single fly buzzed steadily about his head, annoying him greatly. Perhaps this would not have bothered him but that a small albino mouse nibbled steadily at a dried crust of bread in a far corner; meanwhile, a tiny cricket, reveling in the warmth and peace of its place by the fire, lustily sang its chirrup of pleasure. All these things, plus his eagerness to get out into the sunshine of the bright, early spring day, led the boy to do a very foolish thing: with a cry of frustration, he hurled a large, shallow earthen bowl of water (used to wash out the soiled utensils and vessels of before) in the general direction of the three, persistent pests.

A great explosion shook the room. Sparks of blue, red and green lit the smoke-filled room alongside spectacular bolts of blinding white bolts of light. Though the boy scurried here and there, desperate for cover, he could not escape the small bits of hot debris which settled upon his and clothing. Cry out though he might, none could hear him over the incessant whistles and screams of pops, booms, and bangs. And, very soon, startled by the noise and calamity, the sorcerer's small, terrified assistant crawled beneath a nearby table--followed soon after by the fly, the cricket, and the tiny white mouse--where he tearfully awaited the return of peace.
But, alas, peace was not, for him, to be.

Never again.

When at long last the fireworks came to an end, it was late into the evening. The moon shown bright and full through the large, eight-paned window on the other side of the room. All around him was darkness. And quietude. The fly ceased its buzzing. The cricket chirped no more. The mouse fell silent. Still shaking, the lad dragged himself nervously from his small shelter, noting with great fear that he did not feel as he should. His legs seemed heavy somehow, determined to each move stubbornly and in their own directions. He also noticed an odd pulling sensation behind him, as if having been crouched near the cold stone of the floor for so very long had somehow left him tethered to something beneath the table.

Still, so happy was he for a chance to escape that he paid little attention to these annoyances. As soon as he was able, he sprang to his feet and ran from the small, stone building ass fast as he was able. Only later, beneath the silver-white glare of the moon, did the poor child realize that something had gone horribly, miserably wrong.
Now, the sorcerer himself did not deal in harmful magic. He was not a man of wicked spells or evil incantations. He did, nevertheless, practice magic of all sorts, especially those requiring the use of potions and powders--which held for him a great fascination. Even so, he was always quite careful to keep his small workshop tidy, his tools and supplies in order, his bottles clearly labeled, and his instruments meticulously clean. For that reason, he often had reason to scold his young assistant, who was known to rush through his work if not properly watched and, in doing so, make any number of mistakes and blunders.

On this night, in mixing his wash-waters and failing to properly clean many of his receptacles, the lad learned a lesson he would, sadly enough, not soon forget; for when he looked down at his own body beneath in the moonlight, he cried out in sheer horror then burst into useless tears.

No longer was his right leg his right leg, but instead, an enormous fly. He recognized it to be the very same fly which had so vexed him before. No longer was his left leg his left leg, but rather a gigantic cricket. this he knew to be the very same cricket whose chirping had before filled him with such frustration. Although his head and arms were his own, his body was that of the hungry white mouse; moreover, behind him swished its tail. There they four were, locked together in a single, awkward form, undeniably one yet with thoughts, instincts and wills all their own.

Somehow, this miserable quartet managed to amble clumsily home to the tiny cottage the young man shared with his mother, younger brother, and older sister. When he arrived, it is sad to say, he was not met with sympathy or even a welcome. Instead, his own mother barred the door to him, shrieking:

"Heaven preserve us! A monster! A monster!"

His own sister, before his best friend and constant playmate, snatched up a broom, which she swung wildly about her. "Go away! Go away!" she sobbed. "Don't eat me! Please! Don't eat me!"
What hurt him most of all, though, was the instant his own brother--who had been the only father he had ever known--took the sword of their long-dead father from the wall above the fireplace and warned him, "Be gone, you evil demon, or I shall slice you in two."
It seemed he no longer had a home. He no longer had a family! Devastated, he and his companions scrambled back to the only place they could think to go: the workshop of the old sorcerer. As the hour had been well passed midnight, they curled as best they could in a ball in one, lonely corner, where they trembled and lamented until finally falling into an uneasy sleep. It was there the wise old man found them the next morning.
"By the stars above, boy!" he howled. "What have you done?"
Between his sobs and hiccups, above the chirping of the cricket, the squeaking of the mouse, and the furious fluttering of the fly's wings, he somehow managed to relay his pathetic tale. When he was finished, the sorcerer could only shake his head in wearied disbelief and set to work making things right. Try as he would, though, even he could not undo what had been so foolishly done; and there was nothing for the boy to do but accept his grim fate.
So it was he--for as time went by, the four companions began to share one another's thoughts and anticipate each other's moods almost as though one being...though not quite--was taken in by the wily sorcerer; and although his master could not pretend to be unaware of his strange and grotesque condition, he grew to love the boy in spite of it...in some cases, even because of it! As the years blew slowly, deliberately, inevitably away--like sands of an eternal beach stirred by the winds of time--they two became like father and son; so much so that neither could recall--even if he so desired--a moment when they had not been together.

Just because the sorcerer himself accepted the lad, however, did not mean the people of the village were as kind. Over the years, the lad had become the subject of much talk, the object of a great many fears. Albeit few knew the details of his grotesque transformation (many thinking him to be the actual son of the sorcerer brought to life, somehow, through the darkest of evil magic), nearly everyone in the surrounding area knew of him. And, even though he usually wore a great, thick velvet cape which concealed all but his head, arms, and--on occasion--his long, pink mouse's tail, all who lived near him (even if they had not seen it for themselves) had heard stores of his monstrous form. As such, the boy was referred to by many names. Some called him the Fly Boy, others the Cricket. Regardless, he was an object of fascination, feared and reviled by everyone around him.

Nevertheless, by his sixteenth year, he had become a fixture in the life of the sorcerer. Hence, because the Sorcerer himself was either loved or hated, feared or adored, known or known of by any and all, so--too--was his beloved son.

That is not to say, however, that the Sorcerer's Assistant had grown any less headstrong, and less determined, or any less reckless than he had been in his youth.
Now, it happened one day that the great Magician was called away to serve a wealthy family with ties, it was thought, to the king. Immediately, he attached his finest covered wagon (filled with his necessary supplies and potions) to his best horses (huge gray stallions with white-gold manes whose flanks gleamed even in the morning sun) and made ready to answer the summons.

One must understand that the old man was quite an important figure. His duties were really quite extensive. Being a man of many wondrous talents, when anyone had a problem or dilemma, complaint or illness, question or concern, he was usually enlisted to assist them. And his authority was never challenged--not even by nobles themselves--for such an impressive figure was he. Few, in fact, dared even to speak to him. Standing head, shoulders, and chest above the king himself with the eyes of a wily hawk, a flowing white beard, and thick white brows which some were sure might actually themselves speak when spoken to--he was rarely turned away from any door. Furthermore, any one who had need of his services never had reason to regret having called upon them.

When the Great man was away, he left his son in charge. By now, the Sorcerer's Assistant had learned a great deal from his teacher. And, though his startling appearance made him leery of venturing out on his own, those who knew of him were not opposed to speaking to him as a means to reach the sorcerer himself because of the Sorcerers reputation and renown. Now and then, the young man still made mistakes--either by hurrying or skipping steps, failing to listen or being distracted by his own curiosity. Luckily for him, his other "selves" the Fly, the Cricket, and the Mouse, were on hand to show him the error of his impetuous ways.

It was a cold, winter's morn when the Sorcerer departed on this fortnight's journey. As always, he was a bit uneasy about leaving the boy. Oh, it was not that he did not trust him...quite. No. As a man who dealt with magic, he knew well the havoc that magic could make. He also realized that even though his son grew wiser and more responsible each day, he was still quite young; furthermore, when making tough decisions the boy had trouble, at times, making up his mind...as would any one who had four minds to make up!

"You are sure you will be fine here alone," he asked with a wiggle of those living brows.

"Yes, my father." Underneath the cloak, the Fly began to impatiently flutter its wings.
The Sorcerer climbed up into his driver's seat and slowly took the reins. "There is nothing you would ask me before I go?"

"No, my father." And beneath the cloak, the Cricket rubbed together its long, shiny legs.

The old man stared at his son. There was much he would have said to him, had he the luxury; unfortunately, he was already past his time, and the matter that awaited him was one of some urgency. So,with one last tug of his long, curling white beard, he gave the reins a powerful flick. Four silver horses.

No sooner than the Wizard's caravan vanished behind that first hill did his Assistant hear an urgent knock on the door. At the time, he had been labeling vials and making lists of which potions and chemicals most needed replacing--a task which irritated the impatient Fly, made the Cricket jumpy, and caused the Mouse to argue with and correct him at every turn. So it was that unexpected intrusion annoyed him to no end. So exasperated was he, in fact, that he quite forgot to throw on his enormous black cloak before throwing open the heavy metal door.

"Who disturbs me at this hour of the day!" he thundered.

Outside stood a tiny little man. He wore a coarse, burlap tunic of coarse, raw-wool leggings and looked for all the world like a hungry hound cowering from its master's boot. The early morning sun shone from the top his his shiny red pate, and in his tiny little hands he hold a flat rectangle--taller by a full head than he--wrapped in thick brown paper and tied with rough yellow twine. This poor, bedraggled fellow (who had already worked himself up into quite a state at the prospect of having to face the towering Sorcerer) nearly fainted dead away at the sight of this horrifying, three-headed creature. So terrified was he that he dropped his delivery outright and fled without a word of explanation.

"Well, isn't this a fine thing!" muttered the apprentice, as he bent awkwardly to retrieve the bundle. Lifting things often proved difficult for his, as the Mouse--used to moving about on all fours, not upright--claimed it hurt his back, the Fly complained his legs were not strong, and the Cricket tended to leap and cavort about at the oddest times. Somehow, though, he managed to angle the heavy thing into the shop, where he propped it against a far wall. There it would have remained, untouched, had something fantastic not taken place.

The packet itself stood opposite the huge stone fireplace, which the work table faced. So, when the brown paper fell away, the light from the flames reflected on its polished black surface, filling the room with an eerie glow. Even though his back was turned, the Sorcerer's Assistant could feel the strange, icy glare of it against his bare, white fur, and he spun around to see what had happened.

"Why it was like a snake shedding his skin!" he said to himself.

The Cricket agreed.

Now, the Mouse wanted to run from it. The Fly buzzed and fluttered its wings, forgetting (as it often did) that it could no longer take flight at will (though it could fly, after a fashion, if the need arose). As for the Cricket, he tended to face every situation with good humor and a song; yet even he found himself just the tiniest bit leery of that ominous black glass.

The Sorcerer's Assistant, however, was curious. "Oh, don't be so foolish!" the boy snapped at no one and everyone in particular. "It's only a looking glass, after all."
With that, he drew closer, dragging the others through the sheer strength of his stubborn will. It seemed to the young man, as he moved nearer, that the black glass surface began to pull him in. What began as a solid, shining surface began to swirl, as though some powerful whirlpool lay just on the other side of it, sucking at not only the mirror itself but everything it held in its glare.

Now, anyone else would have immediately backed away. And, given the dire consequences of acting without thought before, one would have thought that he of all people would thought twice, then thought again before approaching it. Not so the apprentice.

"Odd," he muttered, then stretched out his hand to touch it.
The Mouse chipped angrily. The Fly buzzed its wings, nearly lifting them all off the floor. Even the Cricket stopped chirping and began to fidget and bounce on its great, spiky legs...all to no avail. The boy simply had to know what manner of glass this was, and what made it appear to be moving when clearly, it was quite still.

He lay his palm flat on its surface. No sooner than he touched it did the mirror grow fiery hot. He cried out in pain, but for some reason, he could not pull his hand free. Whimpering with fright, he pulled and twisted, tugged and jerked, wrenched and wriggled, but nothing he did loosened his hand from the glass.

This was not a good thing!

He absolutely could not face the sorcerer! Not having disobeyed his Teacher again! What would he say? What would he do? Surely even such a man as great as he would lose patience after a while. Surely even he could not forgive always.

He thought of the Teacher's disapproval. This made him tug harder, fight more fiercely. He twisted and turn, wrenching until he thought his arm would jerk free of his shoulder...to no avail. There was no question about it. He was stuck tight.

"Now what do I do?"

The cricket stretched one leg over the other and began to make shrill, screeching sounds that made the Assistant cry out and cover his ears. It grew louder and louder until the air itself seemed to be rent in two by the sharp, splitting sounds.
"Stop it!" the lad bellowed. "What are you doing?" And, with his free hand he swatted at the steadily moving legs. It was then that he noticed something remarkable!

With each note, the mirror throbbed.

It throbbed and pulsed, like the heartbeat of a living thing

Now, of all of them, only the mouse had no actual head. that was because, at times, he and the boy shared that particular part. At that very moment, the lad's glossy black curls became stark white fur, and a pair of powerful front teeth appeared, with which he gnawed easily through the thick hemp of the rope.

On the other side of that black glass, however, they were again four separate beings: the Fly, the Cricket, the Mouse, and the Boy.

The world beyond the black glass was dark and distorted. Even the solid things about him twisted and faded, as though made of wisps of smoke; yet to the touch, they were substantial...and very real.

He could not understand it!

"Think! THINK!"he could hear the Wizard reminding him. "Think before you act!"

As the light struck the Crystal Steeple, it exploded into a blinding spectrum of color.

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