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Message to Readers

This is my first real attempt at writing a story so I will be ecstatic to hear any comments or feedback! Do I use too much or too little dialogue? Do the sentences flow well? Is the introduction on the town interesting or should I just omit it? Thank you all so much in advance! There will be two parts after this one.

The Woodcarver First Draft

August 26, 2020


    The town of Alric knew neither peace nor war. There existed neither enemies nor allies behind those Earthen walls; time simply passed. Each morning was introduced by the commotion of awakening livestock, each night the setting of the sun. Nothing existed far outside the households of Alric commoners, and that was how they preferred it. The only thing more alien to them than the oceans was strife. Just as these lowly folks knew little of the world, the world knew little of them; the smell of hog roast rising towards the horizon the only evidence the village persisted. 
   Varner Braun's name had been carried down generation after generation in Alric, his daughter Caelen the newest iteration. His ancestors graced him with the opportunity to live prosperously with his wife and two children, which he took full advantage of. Class was of little concern to the Braun family, as no name should ever ascend higher than another's in their little community. Mr. Braun led a respectably unremarkable life as a humble woodcarver. Whatever deficit there might have been financially was made up for by the happiness he brought to the town children, including his own. Frida was introduced to her father's craft at the age of three, the same day Varner discovered his number one customer, and after Caelen was born, supply could scarcely keep up with demand. Frida outgrew the wooden soldiers after a short time, but her sister was never without one.
    Caelen awoke with a cough on an early January morning. Helga arrived at her bedside with hot soup and comforting words. Varner and his newest line of woodcraft were close behind her.
    "This should help with your cold, baby. It's hot, so be careful," said Helga.
    "Thank you, Mama," said Caelen. She weakly reached for the steaming bowl. Her fingertips burning, she placed it next to her bed hastily. 
    "And this should help with your frowning face," said Varner. He handed her a finely crafted nutcracker. Its details and artistry were blatant enough that even a child could appreciate it nuances. And this child did.
    "Did you make this, Papa?!"
    "Just for you."
    Caelen clutched it close to her, despite its rough texture and oblong shape. Her parents left her to finish her soup and fall asleep, checking in occasionally to see how she was doing. Each time the door swung open, Varner and Helga beheld the same scene; their firstborn daughter fidgeting with the limbs of the wooden nutcracker, imitating movement and a loose interpretation of dancing. The following morning, Helga swung open the door once more, eager to see Caelen's smile and the nutcracker's choppy jig. Instead, the bowl of soup she had prepared fell to the floor, along with the rushing teardrops evacuating her empty eyes. Caelen laid motionless on the ground with her nutcracker standing tall beside her.
    It is now April. As spring blooms forth for the remainder of Alric, the Braun household remains locked forever in the decadent memory of that early January morning. Varner's creations lacked love and passion as of late. Helga stayed close to Frida for the better half of every day. Frida never said much in protest. She never said much of anything. But Chronos would not cease the flow of time just for a premature death of a single child; Mr. Braun continued his work, but his crafts were not harbingers of joy or love as they were before. They were harbingers of food and water.
    "Honey, are you coming to bed?" asked Helga. 
    "In a minute," replied her husband. With his drive diminished, his rate of production had declined, though his family's hunger had not. His longer hours thus affected his temperament. "I'm almost done. Just go ahead and go to sleep." 
    "Okay. Good night."
    "You too." The growing darkness demanded he retire, but Varner felt no desire to sleep. His dreams had been perverted the previous nights; peace could only be found in his work, sharing intimate time with what brought his beloved child's happiest smiles but now refused to do for him.
    The atmosphere of his quarters did little to shake his growing despair and frustration. Light existed only in a small circle around him, persisting only due to the tenacity of a small candle on the crafting table. What was beyond that perimeter felt taboo and distant. His chair hurt his back, the creaking of the floor reminded him repeatedly what a poor job he had done building it, the grey walls felt like a prison. It had always been this way, but the sadness inside of him drew attention to sorrows he never considered before.
    He held the wooden block firmly with his right hand as he jabbed into it with the carving tool in his left. There was a beauty in his craft, he believed; destruction and creation were not opposites but companions. The gouge was mutilating just as it was modifying, and the wooded block was not desecrated but reborn. Simple objects were given intricate shape, each individually manufactured at the hand of one master, all with the same purpose that could change at Varner's discretion. The lucky ones would go to children, the less fortunate might find themselves on display and thought of rarely. Either way, they served their master. Varner was a god. He created life from nothing.
    Physically, woodcarving was not so magnificent. Cramps and splinters were accepted as part of the job, wood chips lined the flooring, and the Braun house, comprised of bricks, smelled of a forest. Commercial production became repetitive all too often, and no eraser had yet been invented for those in the field.  Mr. Braun had a series of scars all across his right hand, scars he wore with pride. Having but one scar signifies failure, but multiple, perseverance. 
    The clock struck midnight yet still the household was active. "Damnit. I need sleep, I'm getting sloppy." He looked down at his table, three shoddy nutcrackers strewn about. His hand reached for one, though his mind could not say why. He held it and scrutinized it. None of the edges were smooth, one of its arms was noticeably longer than the other, and though it lacked eyes, Varner could feel it judging him. He cried. It was a torrential cry, a cry that had been contained in too small a cell for too long a sentence. A cry that condensed just behind his face, trying to split it open time and time again until the physical discomfort approached the intensity of the emotional. Until he simply couldn't take it. He wanted to cry out, but he lacked the composure to think of any words. "Caelen!" was all he came up with as he threw the accursed nutcracker at the grey wall opposite him. He turned his back to it and disabused his neck of the weight of his head, instead gifting that honor to the table, despite the effects his tears would have on the wood. 
    More time passed, though Varner could not say how much. It was silent when he rested his head and was silent still when he stood back up. Perhaps wanting to apologize, perhaps seeking more violence, he walked towards the nutcracker, but it was not below the mark it had left upon the grey wall.  "Sleeplessness is taking its toll," he thought as he scanned the wall again. "Whatever, it'll show up tomorrow morning." As he went to snuff out the candle, movement distracted him.
    To the right of the table was a scene that would instill horror in most. But the dancing nutcracker gave Mr. Braun a sense of wonder. Its unequally sized arms swung up and down rigidly as its legs forced as much movement as the tiny joints would allow. Varner rubbed his eyes caring not whether it would stop or continue so long as he knew whether it was or was not real. His eyes still beheld the nutcracker's pitiable jig after enduring several of his attempts to wash the sight away. Many thoughts came to his head, some horrified and some amused. What was it? An omen? A deity? Why would a deity use something so trivial to communicate with him? Why would a deity communicate with him at all? What would he tell his wife? Would he tell his wife?
    "It's... it's just like Caelen would..." This was the pondering that ceased all others. Nothing else was a concern, neither the hilarity of the nutcracker's movements nor the possible threat it might pose to his and the rest of his family's mortality. The tears returned, but they were different this time. It was joy and not woe that brought them. Hope, not despair. Relief, not anguish. Regardless how distant and peculiar a method it was, he was reunited with his daughter. Its movement stopped however when Varner grasped it with both hands and brought it to his chest. He let out a tragic sound as though he had just killed her, reluctantly placed it back on the floor, and scooted back to let it continue undisturbed. Emotionless, it began its routine for Mr. Braun to watch, like a performer on stage entertaining its massive and sobbing audience. 


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