When it comes to my personal writing, aggressive procrastination has become a skill that I have not only become quite adept at, I’ve mastered it. On the spectrum of irritating conversations I have with people, “I’m writing a book. What’s that? No, it isn’t finished, I’ve just thought of a really original idea” sits just below “Oh, in (insert country someone visited for a semester in college) they are so opened minded, not like Americans” and just above “You’re a vegetarian who doesn’t like vegetables. Why, what on Earth do you eat?” The answer of course is, copper wire and dry wall because without vegetables and meat, there is nothing.
But, I digress. Slowly, I’ve seen myself become the “I’m writing a book” jerk off without even realizing it. I hate that guy, I don’t want to hate myself. So, here we are.
Because of my lovely fiance, who found this challenge courtesy of MyCreativeWriting Challenge, I will embark on a 30-day marathon of creative writing. Most of it will be terrible, some of it will be passable and, if the cruel gods of fiction smile upon me, I might string together at least one coherent sentence to be proud of.
Day One: Re-write a classic fairy tale.
I decided to re-write “Tale of One Who Set Out to Learn Fear.” It’s a really terrifying little story about a young man who is either too dull or too brave to understand that everything is trying to kill him. In a true act of clever story crafting, I’ve titled my short story:
“Tale of One Who Set Out to Learn Fear”
In an ice-covered village far to the north, a chieftain had two sons. As the eldest son was born, the people of the village saw him grow. He was strong and sharp like a newly shaped blade. When the chieftain’s younger son was born, people gossiped that because he was born on a moonless night, he would be cursed with a terrible fate as dark and crippling as the night he emerged from his mother.
The two brothers grew hard and cold as the land around them. The eldest brother was the pride of his father, strong and brave as any of the village’s storied heroes. The younger brother soon grew jealous of the praise his brother received asking, “Brother, where does your courage come from?” To which his brother responded, “From fear, I’m brave as to not be consumed by fear.” How strange, the younger brother thought, he had never felt fear in his life. He had heard warriors of the village speak about the terror that gripped their hearts in the dark of the night when footsteps followed in stride with their own. But when they turned to face their stalker, nothing but ice capped hills surrounded them.
The youngest son drove his family to madness with his constant quest to find fear. After expressing his frustration about his son’s obsession with terror with the village shaman, the holy man offered to take the boy hunting to show him what terrors lay within the ice and snow and darkness of their frozen land. Once the shaman and the boy set out on the hunt, a great snowstorm separated the two leaving the boy directionless.
Seeing the boy in the distance, the shaman fixed the antlers of a stag to his head and bellowed at the youngest son, his voice carrying over the frozen wind.
“Who’s that?” shouted the boy in return, “make yourself known.”
Feeling he was truly scaring the boy, the shaman moved closer still letting out a terrible guttural roar.
“Show yourself or I will bash in your head,” threatened the boy now racing towards the shaman’s obscured outline.
The shaman lowered his head charging the boy in return hoping to frighten him into running away. However, the boy picked up a slick frost covered stone and brained the shaman instead. Crumpling to the ground, the shaman’s blood spread across the white snow staining the area around him with thick gore. Seeing now that it was the shaman, the boy fled back to the village confessing the murder to his father.
“You’ve destroyed the family name. Go before I gut you where you stand” his father threatened, waving a shining blade in front of him.
“Yes, I will go and I will learn fear and courage. I will return like my older brother,” the boy said racing through the door out into the black night. Having no direction, the boy walked towards the horizon muttering, “If I can learn fear I can be a great warrior and return home.”
Suddenly a thin man with a grey beard appeared before the boy naked to the waist. He pointed a long gnarled finger at the boy “come to me for fear boy” the old man whispered in a voice that the boy heard deep in his skull.
“Grandfather, I will follow you. Lead the way” the boy said drawing his blade and stalking towards the wrinkled apparition. The old man let out a high-pitched hissing noise and limbs began bursting forth from his torso. The old man transformed into a great ice spider with razor sharp legs and jagged pincers that gushed steaming fluid.
“Grandfather, you don’t look so well” the boy said “let me end your suffering.” The boy leapt at the monster slicing its head clean off.
When the boy studied the separated head, it had turned back into that of the old man, his eyes staring blankly at the sky. The boy continued on, still unable to feel fear in his heart yet seeking shelter. It was then he found a small village not unlike the one he was born in. The people of the village kept their heads down and avoided the boy’s eyes. The boy entered the village inn and asked the owner “why does such a darkness grip this place?” Moving closer to the boy, the innkeeper whispered, “it is a great darkness, our chieftain’s home is cursed with evil spirits. Those who have entered never come out again. It torments the chieftain so greatly that he has offered his daughter to any man who can survive three nights in the lodge.”
Hearing this, the boy sought out the chieftain proclaiming his desire to stay in the lodge, “perhaps I can learn fear there” the boy explained. Mistaking the boy’s proclamation for courageousness, the chieftain offered him three items for each night he stayed within the cursed home. The boy asked only for a fire, a hatchet, and a five-stringed lute, which was the most popular instrument in the region.
On the first night, the boy sat by the fire the chieftain had provided and quietly whittled a piece of firewood with his hatchet. Out of the shadows, several beasts with long wolf-like snouts and the bodies of beetles crept towards the boy. They hissed and snapped at the boy who steadied himself with hatchet in hand.
“Come, warm yourselves before we battle” the boy said gesturing towards the glowing flames. The beasts cautiously approached the fire turning their carapaces over and warming their undersides. As they did this, the boy grabbed them one by one thrusting their heads into the fire melting their eyes and igniting their furry manes. When the beasts were dead, the boy threw their burnt bodies fully into the flame where they gave off a thick acrid smoke.
As dawn broke through the windows of the lodge, the boy still had no better understanding of fear and was met by the village people with much cheering and adoration. As the second night approached, the boy once again bid the chieftain farewell and lay by the fire considering the true nature of fear. As he did this, an enormous bat creature flew from the rafters beating out his fire with its massive wings.
“You will fear me,” the creature wailed opening its massive mouth displaying its knife-like fangs.
The boy approached the creature and said, “If I am to fear you, first let me feel your flesh to know this true.” Grabbing the creature’s throat, the boy quickly hacked away at the beast’s body spilling its organs into the fire. They smelled sweet as they roasted in the fire and the boy ate them on a stick throughout the evening. Exiting the lodge on the second morning, the chieftain clapped his hands in excitement, shocked at the boy’s bravery. Once again, he promised the boy his beautiful daughter if only he were to stay one more evening in the lodge.
On the third and final night, no creatures or spirits visited the boy until the moon sank below the hills and the night grew darker than anything the boy had ever known. As total darkness fell upon the lodge, a massive man standing over nine heads tall rose from the boy’s fire, his skin the deep blue of someone frozen to death. His body creaked as he approached the boy.
“Now you will know death,” the monstrous man told the boy, swinging a giant axe made of black crystal.
“First” the boy said “let me play a song to guide my spirit to the next world.”
Nodding reluctantly, the man allowed the boy to play the instrument. His fingers raced over the strings as fast as lightning and as clear as thunder. The song mesmerized the creature as the boy continued to play with the ability of someone unafraid of slipping and missing a note. The enormous man soon began to weep dropping his axe to the ground where it shattered into thousands of glittering black pieces. With that, the boy rose to his feet and pulled the creature’s head back drawing his hatchet across its neck in a shower of crimson blood.
The next morning, the chieftain gathered the boy in his arms, “I felt it last night as I slept” the chieftain said, “The curse is broken.”
The boy was married to the chieftain’s daughter who was beautiful with skin the color of fresh snow and eyes as clear as a mountain spring. They lived together in the once cursed lodge, the same lodge the chieftain’s daughter was born and raised in. At night, the boy would tell his wife of his home and his brother and the great sorrow that brought him to her. In turn, she would tell him of the curse that nearly destroyed her father and drove her mother to take her own life. They shared these things and this home and each other.
The boy lay awake at night wishing that his father could see his new life. He wished for these things among other heartfelt wishes, but most of all he wished to feel fear. Even in his time at the lodge, he still felt no fear. Without fear, the boy still felt like a ghost merely drifting through the land of the living, not known, not mourned.
Lying next to his bride one evening, the boy confessed this to her. Without a word his wife rose and lit a fire where the boy had once sat alone during the three nights he spent in the haunted lodge. She returned to him now, her skin as cold as ice and blue as the Summer sky. She touched his chest, her long pale finger now tracing symbols in his flesh. “You will know fear,” she whispered softly gazing at him with eyes of smooth black crystal. “You will know fear,” she repeated. And the boy knew fear.