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Hafter: A Fairy Tale

Part One: The Spiral

Hafter likes the feel of stones in the rain. He’s happier when it’s raining in the morning, and there’s no time for breakfast or pondering. He goes straight to work, grabbing his basket, still wiping the sleep from his eyes and last night’s dinner crumbs from his beard. Hafter heads toward the river.

The sound of the rain and the river pleases him. He drinks the river and rubs the rain and river water over his face and scrubs his beard. His lips are dry and flaking, and he chews on them until they are smooth and slick. Then, he begins his search.

Sometimes Hafter finds stones without effort, and sometimes he to focus in order to find them. There are flat stones he can knap and shape into points. When he finds the right stone, he feels it’s been waiting for him. Truly, he believes the stone has kept its place for him to find. Take me, it calls to him. I am perfect like the rain. I am yours. And Hafter, wooed by the stone, obliges. He picks it up and lets it slide around in his hands. He rubs his thumb over it, then tosses it into the air and catches it. He licks it. If everything feels and tastes accordingly, he places his new friend gently in the basket. Then he crouches down and draws a spiral in the mud where the stone used to lie. It’s his way of thanking the earth for giving him the stone, and his signature. Then, Hafter moves on.

He walks for miles. The basket becomes heavy with new companions, but if it’s raining, it doesn’t seem as heavy as when it’s not. He waves to the leaves in the trees and the leaves wave back. If a snake or lizard blocks his path, he waits patiently until it passes. When the animals of the forest trod by, he nods to them with respect. They recognize him: Hafter. Knapper. Keeper of Stones. Song-Singer of Rivers. Lover of All Things Green and Gray. Hafter chews on the bark of trees and makes tiny salads out of dandelion leaves when he’s hungry. Sometimes he hums, and his humming sounds like water, because it’s the only music he knows.

There is a place far down the river where Hafter only goes if it’s been raining steadily all day. The longer it rains, the farther he walks. He considers it a blessing if he makes to this special place, where obsidian sticks out from the ground like bean stalks. His father used to tell him a volcano erupted thousands of years ago, and it birthed the forest. When he reaches this sacred place, the memory of his father startles and grieves him at the same time.

Hafter places the basket gently on the ground and pats the pile of stones in it as if it were an infant. Then he gets on his knees and crawls among the obsidian. He prefers to be at eye level with this glass-like stone. It’s a matter of understanding; he wants to be where the stones are. He wants to see what they see. Hafter sniffs the ground, digs his hands into the wet mud. The rain is still falling, and he feels this will be a good day, because the rain is strong, and there is rhythm to sound of it dropping on the obsidian. A happy pitter-patter sound on the old volcanic rock. He giggles like a child, and prays for the sun to stay asleep behind the clouds all day, or even every day, if it can. There is a picture of heaven in Hafter’s heart, and instead of endless sun, it’s eternal gray. Since he was a boy, far too long ago, he dreamed of soft clouds shaped as a giant cloak. The dream continues to comfort him.

Hafter would have never noticed the green sheen on the one of the obsidian stones if he didn’t crawl. He sees it and gasps, clapping his hands together, mud exploding from his palms. The raindrops spill down his face like tears, and he feels like crying. Even without the sun, this stone shines. He gets up on his knees and surveys the top. His fingers stroke the rock and he does not notice any signs of chipping or striking by another hand. Even his father missed this stone, because his father never crawled among them.

He crawls around to find a strong, heavy stone to strike the obsidian. Then he raises the heavy stone and brings it down. His arms are muscular because he knows how to do this correctly, and he’s done it all his life. Chunks of obsidian break away and fall into the mud. The break is clean; the edges are sharp and straight. Hafter does not take all of it. He only takes what he needs.

There are two pieces that have the most potential. He holds them up. He lets them slide around in his hands. Hafter rubs his thumb over them, tossing them into the air and catching them. He licks them. Only one feels right. It is large enough that he can whittle it down into a fine spear point. It is strong enough that it will not break when he sharpens it. And it is more beautiful than any stone he has ever held. He kisses it gently, rubs it against his cheek. This one sings to his heart. He buries the other piece in the mud and draws a spiral over it. He walks back to his basket, and he places the obsidian on the very top.

Hafter picks up the basket begins the long walk back to the hut. He follows the river. He will not make it back until nightfall, but he hopes it will continue to rain.

***

He spends weeks thinking about his father after finding the obsidian. It doesn’t take long to make the spear point. There’s an obsession with finishing it, quickly and perfectly. Being such an expert on his craft, he could do both without sacrificing the other. He finishes, quickly and perfectly. He does not sleep for three days. By the end of the first week, the task is completed. Hafter takes one of the felt blankets on his bed, made from his and other animal hair, and wraps the spear point with it. He places it on a wooden stool near the door. And then Hafter stares at it. He dreams about shedding the cloud cloak and wrapping the spear point with the cloak. But Hafter is always so cold when he wakes up, and it has not rained since he found the obsidian. The sun has come out, full of dry air. The forest starts to wither into a dull brown color, which Hafter has always despised and feared.

***

He licks every stone he finds after that first week, and they all taste of rot.

***

When he tosses stones into the air, they bounce off his palm and land on the forest floor with a thump. No matter how many times he tosses the stones, he is unable to catch them. Hafter blames the obsidian. He blames his father.

***

The memories start to rush back into him, a river rapid with moments he thought he’d lost.

Part Two: The Raindrop

Hafter’s father did not draw spirals on the ground, but instead drew a raindrop. And the raindrops always looked different. Sometimes they were blobs, and sometimes they were circles. Sometimes they matched the shape of a falling drop, with one end pointed. Hafter had asked his father how he knew what the falling rain looked like, and his father had told him: If you want to know what the rain looks like while it’s falling, you have to live with the rain. You have to love the rain. You have to taste it, and cry in it, and be one with it. You have to stand in it until it leaves you, not until you leave it.

Hafter had taken this to heart. His father found him one morning, standing in the rain, naked and shivering. His mouth was open, catching raindrops. His eyes were red and swollen. His hands were pale and numb from being held up in the air for hours. His father saw him and said nothing. He went back into the hut and continued to knap stones. When the rain stopped two days later, his father carried him to bed. Hafter’s father never asked him if he knew what falling rain looked like. He never asked him anything. He only spoon-fed hot water and boiled leaves to his son until he was well enough to go out and find his own stones. Hafter started to draw the spirals after that. His father never inquired him about the symbol, or why he chose it.

***

Hafter hates the spear. Now it is like a thorn embedded and infected within his skin. A perfect thorn under a grimy toenail–that was his spear. His hut is a pile of sticks compared to its beauty. The obsidian seems to shine even with the felt blanket covering it. Hafter sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night thinking his hut is aglow with green light.

There is no one to hide secrets from except himself; and Hafter tries. He tries to tell himself he never takes the spear out of the blanket to examine it, touch it, caress it. Hafter tries to hide from his own mind that he does not cry over it. The spear is ruining him, ruining everything. The forest is loosing its green shine as if the spear was soaking it all up. The forest is beginning to look like a mess of brown, and the music from the forest no longer pleases him; It hurts him. Hafter’s eardrums feel raw, overused. Even the dandelions leaves became too bitter for him.

***

All Hafters are the same.

Hafter’s father had the same name, and so did his grandfather and great-grandfather. His father told him the tale of the first Hafter, called Hæfter.

The first was made of stone. His bones were stone. His nails were stone. His tears were stone. He crawled along the rivers of the world, and each motion of his limbs took thousands of years. The earth smoothed his body until it was shiny, marble-like. What began as a behemoth giant ended as a small figure, shiny and beautiful, with all the colors of all the stones in the world. Hæfter decided his millennia journey was complete, and he sat down to rest near the delta of the Great River. The deposits of the river, thick with minerals, became his blanket, and there he sleeps. The descendants of Hafters are said to have come from the wedding of Hæfter’s stone body and the Great River. This is why all Hafters love water and stone above all else.

***

The spear is an abomination to his forefathers, Hafter believes. He continues to stare at the bundle wrapped in felt, continues to dream of the cloud cloak, of his father and raindrops, and the Great River and Hæfter lying together. Hafter has not eaten in days. The animals that used to live around the hut have left him. The river is beginning to dry up. Hafter suspects he is being punished, perhaps for making the spear, something so perfect and full of green in the obsidian. Something so perfect and rare that he is not ready to have it, or the spear is not ready to have him. Hafter suspects the world outside the forest might be a better keeper for it. He becomes enraptured with the idea of giving it to the outside world. Let the world wrap it in its own blankets. Let the rest of the world stare at its magic and wither away.

He does not remember his father’s advice anymore. He beings to forget his father’s voice, and the voices of everything else. When he draws spirals on the ground in his hut, they are shaky, jagged. His signature begins to look like nothing at all.

***

Once, upon a stone, Hafter and his father carved their shapes with the sharp tips of arrowheads. Hafter remembers burying these marked stones somewhere in the forest, but his father made him forget where. Hafter wishes he could find the marked stones and find peace. He wishes he could be told the end of the story for this spear, which he has tried to break, but Hafter did not seem to have the strength injure it. He threw it in the river one night, and in the morning, the water was so low, the spear did not drift down river but instead was caught on the shore. The water was a timid trickle rather than a rush of waves. Hafter took it home and wrapped it in felt again. Hafter understood then that nature would not take the spear from him. Knowing this, he fell into despair, putting the spear in his own bed and slept on the floor. Hafter realized he was descending into the ground in some form or another, and his only hope drew from his desire that he himself would eventually turn to stone, like the Hafters of old.

Part Three: The Little Girl

Once upon a stone, a little girl found a spiral and a raindrop. She saw they were carved quite elegantly, and she appreciated art when she saw it. She drew up a stick and copied the same shapes into the mud beside them. She drew them again and again until the forest floor around her was littered with the designs. She felt she accomplished something by this, and continued along deeper into the forest, deciding to hum the music of the river, which was her favorite song.

When she found the river, she noticed it was withered and brown on the other side. She thought this peculiar and decided to wade across to see what the cause of this was. She took off her slippers and rolled up her stockings into a ball. She held them over her head as she crossed. The river was clean and cool, but it seemed so low compared to the other rivers she had seen around the world. Coming upon this river made her feel lost and lonely, and she decided she would be glad to leave this place, if she could ever find her way out.

She reached the other side of the river and climbed the bank. She used her stockings to dry her feet and then she put them back on, along with her slippers. She wrung her dress and then tried to wipe the dirt from the hem.

It was not just her imagination; this side of the river was truly withered and brown compared to the other side. She looked back the way she came and saw lush, green trees, emerald shrubs and vibrant berries. She kicked the rocks under feet. It looked as if a rainstorm of stone had covered this place, and all the rocks in the universe seemed to have trampled and destroyed all the green. The little girl searched the ground for a patch of green grass, but instead she found a pile of stones, set neatly in a perfect pyramid, with a spiral carved into the top stone. She picked it up and held it in her hands. It was smooth and perfectly balance. She wished there were a hole in it so she could make a necklace for herself. The spiral was almost as perfect as the first one she saw, on the other side of the river. This stone had a spiral that was slightly jagged at the end. It had scratches on it, as if the carver lost his or her balance with a chisel and it scraped off. Nonetheless, the girl thought, the stone was still quite beautiful.

***

There was a hut in shambles. It had been destroyed for some time. The little girl thought she was imagining it, but it almost looked as if there was a green shine over every piece of broken wood in the ruins. The little girl squinted, and she rubbed her eyes. She held her eyelids open until it burned. But the green shine still stayed, like ash after a fire. It was a remnant of something that was once there, powerful and seductive, but long gone. She decided to mourn the pile of sticks and stones. The little girl felt a longing for something she had never set her tiny hands on. She cried. She picked up pieces of stick and stone and rubbed them over her face to cover them in her tears. She said a prayer for the emptiness it brought her.

A bit about the author:

Lyndsie Manusos is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's MFA in Writing program. Her fiction has appeared in SAIC's annual MFAW publication, Collected. Her poetry has appeared in The Cortland Review, Columbia College Literary Review, and Eunoia Review. She lives in Chicago. Visit author page