Four rivers run through Carapacho. Four rivers flitter and crisscross and wander and meander, bringing unbridled prosperity to the town and its inhabitants. Fish sail along the torpid waters, living bubbling, innocent lives despite the violent maelstrom that surrounds them. The town is an aquatic labyrinth, as four serpents form moats around the bank, splash the grocery store, drown town hall. It is a town surrounded by mountains.
You must login to vote
Carapacho is a tranquil place. Each morning, as the sun sneaks past the mountains, pushing away the moon and swallowing up the stars, the rivers glow with the reflection of a billion degrees. It is a reflection that blinds the people from the fish below – for 5 minutes a day, the water glows red, and orange, or yellow. Radiating fiery colors, like hot magma blazing from unseen cracks in the ground, consuming Carapacho without mercy, until, in a single instant, the sun achieves the exact angle needed to revert the town to its old self. Its peaceful self.
The population of Carapacho is 860, a number that has stayed relatively stable throughout history due to the complete lack of roads leading in and out of town. Immigration and emigration, importation and exportation – none are words in the vocabulary of the Carapachoans. Carapacho is hard to find, hard to leave, devoid of reason to leave, unwise to leave. Corpulent harvests, epidemic friendliness, desires slaughtered by fulfillment.
Everyone in Carapacho is always in a hurry. They bustle about, always with a purpose, never with delay. Despite the low population, Carapacho is a productive town. People’s tasks are done with efficacy and calculation. Arms pumping back and forth like pistons, blasting steam, hoisting materials to and fro. The town is like an enormous factory, always behind on the production schedule, never seeming to meet the quotas or deadlines assigned to it. It is a perpetual race to build and create, feed, clean and fulfill.
The work force remains consistent. Every man and woman, upon their sixteenth birthday, is expected to find employment, and always do. There is always a job available; nothing is too meaningless to work around. Yet even with all of its sharp efficiency and cold productivity, Carapacho is not devoid of art or creativity.
Paul Digne was a craftsman of clay. Every morning he would struggle out of bed, straggle to the riverbank, well, one of the many riverbanks, and wait for dawn. It was his ritual. When the sun emerged, he would reach his hands into the liquid inferno and dig his tired fingers into the soft clay beneath. He was a man of habit, of superstition. He had to collect the clay quickly; for once the waters became clear the clay became undesirable. Only the clay of the radiant, heavenly waters suited him. Today was no different.
The artist’s hands cut through the torrent of magma without reluctance. Nine fingers worked in perfect unison to scoop out the contents of the bank. One finger remained behind, left in the womb of his mother some fifty-three years ago. A birth defect some called it. It frequently appeared to Paul in dreams, taunting him, provoking him, motivating him.
“Paul, you will never become anything without me,” the finger might say, “Just give up and become a civil servant.”
Paul would wake up to see a tooth-gnawed, soggy stub gazing into his heavy eyes. “You cursed finger!”
He had struggled through a stage in his life, in his youthful days, when he grappled with his deformity. A clay prosthetic was his first attempt, an endeavor which failed with every broken molding. Opening a door or writing a letter, doing anything, his fake, facsimile fingers would crack and collapse. After he had thoroughly exhausted the possibilities of his first scheme, he moved on to denial. People would comment on his invisible finger and he would say, “What finger? I see no missing finger.” When various people disproved his logic, Paul adopted an irrational, aggressive perspective on his finger. As always, people continued to comment on his tenth finger. This time, he responded with, “Ten fingers? Preposterous! Clearly, humans have only nine fingers and it is you who are abnormal.” Paul soon realized that fighting back was not the answer and self-praise made its debut. Strutting down the street, Paul would proclaim, “I am Paul Digne, the Nonodigitoid! I am special! I am superior!” The last two made him about as popular as a blind dentist.
Nothing worked except acceptance. And sure enough, as Paul matured so did his oppressors. Comments on his shortcoming ceased and the finger was forgotten.
Paul loaded clay into a bucket and carried it back to the studio. No one stared as the nine-fingered man arduously dragged along the bucket, whistling an unrecognizable tune. They had seen it every day for decades – it was no longer a spectacle, but an ambience. Paul had merged into the apathetic subconscious of the town, like his tenth finger had years before.
“Donna, I had a dream last night.”
“I’m going to prove that damn finger wrong.”
Nine fingers worked like ten as the lump of clay rose from the dust-covered table and assumed a magnificent form. A shape emerged! A sphere…two fingers drove themselves in, forced an opening and pulled it apart. Nine fingertips slid in and out of the clay, pinching and pulling, smoothing, slipping, scoring, and carving. An urn became a vase became a cup became a bowl. The artist exhaled deeply, stepped back and admired his creation. He scoured the tiny crevices that snaked around the bowl like rivers, giving texture and beauty to the brownish mass, scrutinized the intricate fruits he had sculpted into the sides. His eyes glimmered with approval, his stomach rumbled from famine, and the volcanoes erupted once again outside, as the sun crept behind the mountains. An entire day’s work was finished as he proudly signed his name under the base of his masterpiece: Paul Digne. Nine letters.
After a rushed meal he collapsed on to his bed, eager to show the finger how wrong it was. “I’ll show you this time,” he said, slipping into his troubled dreams.
Nothing had worked except acceptance, except acceptance had only worked superficially. It only made the sculptor seem less obsessed – less crazed – fit him into society. In reality, Paul never really conquered the misery that plagued his mind. Since childhood the finger incessantly poked and prodded his brain, digging its untrimmed fingernail into the folds and layers of nerves and membranes.
The digit had transformed itself into his identity, and he loathed it.
Maple Wisen’s Store was the biggest store in town. With only three other stores to outsize, Maple Wisen had had an easy time making hers the largest during the town’s conception.
Made only out of wood, it still stood as an impressive edifice in the center of town. Four trees had fortunately grown in a rectangular formation, providing excellent corners for the building. They had been young then, but as they grew, the store grew with it, eventually escalating into a massive reach for the clouds. With shelves that stretched to the ceiling, the inside looked like a library of merchandise – piled with foods and clothes and crafts. Anything that any Carapachoan could ever want.
“Mother, where is the top of Maple Wisen’s store?”
“With Daddy, in the clouds.”
“Oh…so Daddy shops there, too?”
Maple Wisen’s descendent, Maple Wisen, had inherited her ancestor’s legacy and was the current proprietor of the ever-growing store. A savvy businesswoman, Maple kept her store sufficiently stocked through personal agreements with petty peddlers, starving artists, and assorted merchants. All of them welcomed the stability Maple provided them with, while she gladly accepted the low prices that they undervalued their stock with. Items and objects and things and stuff poured into her grasp, accumulating into a gigantic stockpile. Most times, this merchandise wasn’t sold, merely collected. The history of Carapacho was buried in the shelves of the store. Unfortunately, so was unsold, rotten food as Maple Wisen, too proud of her own entrepreneurship to hire any staff, never got around to discarding the putrid mess.
Maple was not money-hungry and miserly, merely concerned with profit. Not a single member of the community saw this as a fault for they were in denial. Anybody that could provide them with such exceptional prices and service could not be a crooked scrooge. Yes, it was ambition and unadulterated entrepreneurial spirit that drove Maple. Nothing was wrong with her sharp bartering and packrat nature.
Luck saved Maple Wisen, actually. She was lucky, for public interpretation of the Wisen business changed rapidly with time. Some generations dismissed it as a nuisance and shopped at “more wholesome venues” while others huddled to the store as if it were the only one in town. In one instance the community nearly banished the proprietor until a fresh, new generation took over and decided to exalt the Wisens as their saviors, instead. When the head of a Wisen peaked from the labial portal of its mother, it was as if another dice was thrown against the wall. A mother could only hope, or pray, “Carapacho, treat my baby’s business kindly.”
“Maple, I’ve got another piece for your fine store,” Paul told her the next day, smiling as if he had ten fingers.
“Well, would you look at that,” Maple was impressed, “Paul, this is great work – all this detail and texture!” She continued to praise the bowl as she carried it over to the front window and shoved it on display. “Here, it’s right where the whole town can see it.” Her eyes glimmered with approval. The bowl would definitely rake in a hefty profit.
“That’s a lovely bowl, Henry. Will you buy it for my birthday?”
“No, you already got that other bowl you wanted so much. I’m not made of bowls, honey.”
“Then for my next birthday?”
Such was the conversation that took place before the shop window each day. The bowl stood, collecting the sun’s rays and the envy of every person in town – anyone who ate, or collected, or admired, or appreciated came to desire the bowl but all were discouraged by the hefty price attached to it. For the bowl, Maple asked for a soul, or at least a monetary value equal to one; it was far too expensive for anything made of the gunk from the riverbank. No one was willing to spend a year’s pay for a dish, yet she had a sneaking suspicion that eventually, somebody would.
Six generations ago, Maple Wisen had sold town hall back to the town. It was a tale that had lived on among the Wisen legacy and brought immense pride whenever it was recited. Of course, that Wisen probably doubted that the hall would sell, too. It was all about the risky economics. The best deals always made others say, “I can’t believe they bought that!”
Maple returned to her store the next morning to find Dustin Everett, a boy of 15, standing outside. His head was bent down and his eyes were transfixed on something in his hands…something that Maple couldn’t see…until she walked to the other side of him…and turned around to say “hello” to him…and then saw…it was the bowl. The bowl? Did Paul make two of them? He must have.
“So Paul made you a bowl, too?” Maple asked curiously.
“No, I’m kind of scared to talk to him. I don’t want him to steal one of my fingers,” Dustin responded, his murky eyes still caught on the bowl.
“Ha! He’s pretty harmless…but then where did you get a bowl like the one in my store?” she asked, simultaneously noticing a void in her store window.
“I had this idea when I walked past your store this morning, Ms. Wisen,” Dustin began.
“I thought to myself, ‘instead of paying Ms. Wisen the money for the bowl, why don’t I just take it from the store without asking or paying?’” he continued, still focused on the bowl.
“That’s kind of a strange idea,” Maple replied, not knowing exactly what to think.
“Yeah, I thought so, too.”
“Can I have the bowl back now? I want to sell it…for money.”
“But I took it. It’s mine now, isn’t it?”
“I guess you’re right…well, tell your mom I said ‘hi,’” Maple turned around and walked into the store. She smiled and waved to Dustin as he headed towards his house on the other side of town. “What an interesting idea he had.”
Immigration. Emigration. Importation. Exportation.
“So, you didn’t sell the bowl?” Paul inquired.
“No, I never got the chance. Little Dustin Everett took it first…he’s such a smart young lad. Why didn’t I ever think of that?” Maple explained.
“So, no money?”
“I guess not…hmm, that’s sort of a shame,” Maple grew pensive.
“It is. I kind of needed that money,” Paul grew equally pensive.
They stood in thought for a few minutes, neglecting the customer entering the store. They continued to meditate silently as feet scuffed and shuffled around the store. Items were displaced from shelves, things fell on the floor and were picked up, replaced, carried. Heavy breathing.
It was Stuart Dyer, not that either Maple or Paul knew him by name.
In a town with less than a thousand people, it is hard to be unknown to so many people. Stuart did not try to go unnoticed, nor did he grovel for attention – the boy was just unaware of such matters. Familiarity was not a concept he was familiar with, and so he lived his life. If people took note of his life, fine, otherwise, fine. Only two parents, two brothers, two sisters, and one casual acquaintance really knew Stuart – or even knew of him.
Then again, maybe his anonymity was because of his hurry. Stuart was always darting around town, unsure of where to go, but always with a destination. In the hasty whirlwind of Carapacho he was an exception – zipping about at lightning speeds, beating all other contenders in an invisible race. Zooming up and down streets like a cheetah pursuing its prey. One could argue that he or she did not know Stuart because Stuart was an unreachable blur of movement, incapable of forming relationships at such high speeds.
“I’ll take these,” Stuart panted, interrupting the quiet contemplation of Paul and Maple. He looked up from his purchase to see Maple peering listlessly into his eyes. She spoke.
“You are paying me money for this, right?”
“Yes, how else would I get it?” Stuart was slightly confused.
“Well, this boy came to my store today, and he took a bowl…didn’t give me any money in return,” her eyes narrowed.
“Hmm…odd. Interesting, though.”
“Yeah, I thought so, too.”
Stuart sped off to his other, invisible endeavors, eager to accomplish his other, unseen goals. He left two as he’d found them, standing motionlessly in perplexity.
Not a word was spoken for what seemed like hours, until the light glowed orange and yellow, then red, through the windows and illuminated the room with an eerie glow that forced Maple to shudder. She uttered something and left the store, followed closely by Paul. They both proceeded to their homes in darkness, neither bothering to notice the door left open behind them. It was fine; the door might as well be open since it could not be locked.
The door to the store could not be locked because there was no lock. There were no locks in Carapacho.
Dustin took cereal he’d purchased from Maple Wisen’s Store and poured it into the bowl he’d taken from Maple Wisen’s Store. He gorged upon it at a frenzied pace. As the bowl was jostled about by his hungry hands the bowl’s intricate fruit carvings shot reflected sunlight into the eyes of Linda Everett, effectively capturing her attention. She admired the foreign bowl for a few seconds, wondering where it came from. Never had such a beauty graced her household.
“It’s a nice bowl, Dusty. How much did it cost?”
“No money, mom. I just kind of…took it from Ms. Wisen’s store window.”
“Did you ask her, first?”
“No, she wasn’t there. It was pretty early in the morning,” Dustin continued to eat his cereal without looking up.
Linda walked over to her son and gently slipped the bowl from his hands to examine it closely. Dustin could only glare at the wall as he suffered countless seconds separated from his meal.
“You’re such a clever boy,” she told Dustin, admiring the bowl. “Isn’t he, Adam?”
“He certainly is,” Mr. Everett glanced up from his reading material and smiled at Dustin.
“Such ideas…such vision… you’ll be mayor some day, Dusty. Won’t he be, Adam?”
“He certainly will be,” Mr. Everett didn’t bother to glance up from his reading material to smile at Dustin this time. “And the whole town will prosper from your great ideas.”
“Mayor Everett,” Linda repeated to herself, returning to her own breakfast after returning the bowl to its hungry, rightful owner.
Dustin resumed his delicious business.
The voice of Gilbert O. Dogwood was powerful and resounding – a voice that could not be forgotten. After repeated blows to the head, or nights of alcoholic revelry, it was a voice that would remain, persistently clinging to memory. Gilbert O. Dogwood’s voice was one that could overtake the voice of conscience and drown the nagging rabble of desire. Otherwise, Gilbert O. Dogwood was an unremarkable man laden with thinning, graying hair and a sallow, drooping face that melted into a large chin with a prominent cleft. He wore glasses and a tidy suit. His small, shiny shoes complemented his short, skinny body.
“We have called this town meeting at the request of Maple Wisen,” Gilbert exclaimed several times due to an immense echo. “She claims that something sensational has just happened!”
Maple was pushed to her feet by the force of Gilbert’s voice. She loudly confirmed his statement, interrupting him at the same time. “It’s true! As I was walking to my shop this morning, I noticed that little Dustin Everett was standing in front of it holding something. We got to talking, and I found out that it was a bowl from my shop! He took the bowl without paying for it! Without asking me for it!”
As soon as Maple finished her story, there was a vacuum of sound. Only the feint whispers of the four rivers were audible as they had their private conversations outside. Inside, dozens, maybe hundreds of people sat with mouths agape – as if stuffed with an invisible apple.
Maple Wisen had planted a bomb in the building…
An explosion of excitement thundered through the crowded room, spraying shrapnel of chatter and debris of conversation everywhere. There was not an inactive mouth in the room as each person turned to their neighbors and discussed the incredibly incredulous account of Maple Wisen. The rivers stopped to listen to the incoherent mixture of frantic voices.
“Excuse me, please,” Gilbert O. Dogwood spoke.
There was instant attention.
“Let’s discuss this…calmly and…one at a time,” even when the man lacked confidence in himself, his voice still boomed and commanded obedience. “You may speak first,” he continued, pointing to an elderly man in the front who had been staring at him anxiously.
“What an amazing idea!” the man exclaimed, taking off his hat in what seemed like reverence.
This time, it was an explosion of agreement. Gilbert coughed and there was silence. Gilbert again pointed and there was sound.
“How come nobody else thought of doing that before?”
“It seems so obvious!”
“Sure does! But I never would’ve thought of something like that!”
“It’s a good idea!”
“Good? It’s great!”
“The boy is smart.”
“He’s wise beyond his years!”
“He’s a genius!”
“The boy is a prophet!”
Silence, again. It didn’t matter who said it, but it had been said, and considered. There were a few minutes of pondering, a few more hours of fragmented praising including at least 200 variations of “good idea” and “smart kid.” When the meeting was adjourned the rivers were white with the Moon’s vain smile. The townspeople ran around from door to door, speaking of the meeting and how it had completely changed their perspectives on life.
Two important conclusions had been reached at the meeting amidst the constant agreements and approbation. One was that nobody was to disturb Dustin Everett after the meeting, until the next morning. He was a growing boy and he needed his sleep – everybody’s curiosities could wait until then. Secondly, nobody else was to copy the actions of the boy until they had fully investigated its implications and repercussions. They had to ask Dustin just how involved and influential his ingenious plan was.
As a result, Dustin Everett and his family slept peacefully that night. Paul Digne’s bowl (the famous bowl! The Bowl Without Recompense!) sat noiselessly in the sink, caked with dried milk and uneaten bits of cereal.
Paul Digne was a proud man. He was the creator of the first dustined item in history! Ironically, even though his bowl was the first and only object ever to be obtained without payment, its existence had made the price of his other works increase dramatically. It was the rebirth of his career! Since then, whenever he would drag the clay bucket back from the riverbank, people would stare and say, “There is the artist! The man who created a bowl beyond price! The bowl destined to be dustined!” Paul, pretending to not hear, would smile inwardly. His arms would bulge with confidence as his bucket became weightless. He would flutter between the river, his home, and Dustin Everett’s Store (which was still owned by Maple, but rededicated to the prophetic boy even after years of Wisen heritage). The artist had finally, personally, accepted the absence of his finger. It had not been left behind, stupidly forgetting to crawl out of the womb with its family. The finger had been divinely dustined by some unseen force. It was dustiny.
The rivers of Carapacho were flooding.