by Halle Butler
This is a story about a man who stopped believing in linear time, a man who lives deep in the woods, a man who keeps company with animals and the rhythms of the universe—this is the story of: The Storyteller…
Arthur P Richmond was an average student at the town university. He wrote letters home to his mother on weekends—letters detailing his diet and grooming, letters about how well adjusted he was. He ate in the same five cafes and read the same nine books over and over, day in day out, until he was heartily satisfied with himself. "I do love these Canterbury Tales," he'd chuckle at the buxom waitresses of the cafes. "Ah, yes," he'd sigh.
Ah, yes, indeed, Arthur P Richmond. Ah, yes indeed…
On some weekends, after writing his letters, he'd open up the window to his second story apartment and amuse himself by looking at the passersby. Oh, look, Arthur! A monkey and an organ grinder! And there were school girls and priests, and old wrinkly nannies, too. He loved his street. One day, a Russian woman walked by with her baby in a stroller. "Papa," she instructed it. "Pa-pa."
Very interesting, young Arthur thought, that in two wildly different languages we might have the same word for Father. He put his chin in his hand and leaned his face out the window.
"Papa," he whispered.
Exactly one year later, Arthur P Richmond was living deep in the woods as the Storyteller. He was not in contact with the outside world and had aged remarkably.
One evening, during a customary walk through the woods (which often served as inspiration for his stories) the Storyteller came across a large tangerine tree in the middle of a clearing. Oh how the light played off its branches! Anyway, the Storyteller was drawn to it, as if by magical forces, and his steps didn't stop until he was face to face with a particularly handsome tangerine. "Archibald," he whispered. Yes, it was Archibald, his oldest friend and now no doubt a god of these forests. The Storyteller nearly wept, as he did whenever he met old friends. It was a beautiful sight, a sight of predestiny! The sunlight ached and spurted all over the clearing—it was the Golden Hour (the only hour recognized in these woods) and the patterns of the shadows on Archibald's taught, golden, dimpled skin evoked galaxies, villages, berries, mathematics, and all things eternal. The Storyteller brought his mouth gently to Archibald's face and he globbed it with his tongue and lips, humming as he did so. Oh, sweet friend we have met again, his heart sighed. And when Archibald severed himself from his mother-tree, the Storyteller danced a jig of elation in the beautiful golden light in the clearing in the woods by the magical tangerine tree that grew in the clearing in forest where he lived.
Back at home, Baxter Simmons was unhappy. When the Storyteller returned with a stupid-looking grin on his face, he knew there'd been just cause for his disquietude.
"Look, Baxter," said the Storyteller. "Look what I found in the forest!" So, Baxter Simmons the dog, not wanting to start a fight, got up on all four of his dog legs and walked across the filthy cabin floor to where the Storyteller was standing like an idiot, his hands cupped before him, bouncing from toe to toe, grinning.
"So what did you find in the woods?" asked Baxter.
"Oh, you just won't believe it! Here, have a look!" And the Storyteller lowered his hands and opened his palms.
"You found an orange," said Baxter, the humorless dog.
"No, no, Baxter, it's not an orange at all! This is my old friend Archibald and we've been in the woods all evening collaborating!" And with that the Storyteller giggled madly and tossed old Archibald up in the air, crying "Whoopsie Daisy!" He then walked into the kitchen.
"A new collaborator, eh?" called Baxter, but the Storyteller was too happy to hear him.
As it grew dark, Baxter Simmons drew a fire. "One never knows what might happen in the dark without a fire," Baxter said to himself. "Yes, yes, Baxter, it's true—it's like I've always said," said Baxter again in a fluttering high pitched whisper. He walked toward the kitchen to ask the Storyteller if he might want some tea, thinking he might offer to put on a pot of hot water for the both of them, when he heard:
"Oh-ho-ho, yes! Because the teacups belong to the senator! Oh, Archie, it's brilliant, are you sure you're getting this all down?" The storyteller was sitting at the kitchen table with his hands clasped to his breast and Archibald (that stupid orange) was sitting at his right hand side balancing a pen and looking down at a stack of rumpled paper. "You are simply slaying me tonight, Archie, simply—oh, hello, Baxter," said the Storyteller. "Are we being too loud?"
"No, not at all," replied Baxter as he slumped outside.
The view of the stars from the front porch was beautiful. He could see all of the constellations—Miffy the Loon, Jessica the Badger, and his favorite, sweet, sweet Allison the Banker.
"You look upset, I hope it isn't still about that thing last week?" said Nutface the Squirrel, who was running back and forth on the porch swing. "What thing from last week?" asked Baxter.
"You know, the thing where I was like, ‘Do you have any food left' and you looked at me for a second like you didn't know what I was talking about. And then I had to say ‘You know, like bread or oatmeal or pancakes?' and then you said, ‘Yeah, we've got some pancakes' and then I felt bad for beating around the bush and wasting your time. I'd been watching you two eating pancakes together and you looked so happy, you know, eating pancakes together, and I thought maybe the pancakes would make me happy, too—so, but I didn't want to ask for pancakes outright, which is why…"
"It's fine," said Baxter. "Don't even think about it. That's not why I'm upset."
Nutface ran across the porch to the kitchen windowsill, banged three times on the window pane, ran back to the porch swing and said, "Sorry, maybe I shouldn't've banged like that, looked like they were getting pretty hot and heavy in there."
Baxter cocked an ear.
"I mean, not like, traditionally speaking, but it looked like they were really yukking it up in there, I guess that's probably why you're upset, so maybe I shouldn't've mentioned it."
Baxter sighed and flopped on his back.
"Oh, man, now you're mad at me," said Nutface, as he pulled at his tiny, crazy ears. Nutface looked up at the sky and froze for a moment. God, Allison the Banker was beautiful tonight. Beautiful enough to make a man do crazy things, beautiful enough to make a man—Nuuutttfaaacce whispered Allison. He melted. He formed a plan, a plan that would restore his friends' beautiful family, for yes, he saw Baxter and the Storyteller as a mother and father at times. This plan would put him in the high esteem and good graces of Baxter—in higher esteem than he'd ever been held by his own mother, that's for sure.
He ran madly from the porch swing and climbed atop Baxter's slowly rising and falling chest. "You know what, chief? What if I told you I could fix all this nonsense, put things back the way they should be?"
"Can't you see the man's tired of me, Nutface?"
"I can see a lot of things, Mr. Baxter, and the thing I can see most clearly is when someone's up to no good. That tangerine, what's his name?"
"That Archibald's a plain madman. Know what I mean?"
Baxter considered this for a moment. "I think I know what you mean, yes."
"And what would you think if we all had to work with this Archibald fellow? Right now I bet he's convincing the Storyteller to go back to the city," he whispered. "I bet that's what he's writing in those stories. I mean, a senator? Since when has the Storyteller ever liked a story about a senator?" Nutface put his hands in his mouth and his shoulders tensed.
"This is true," said Baxter pensively, looking up at the crazed squirrel's face, lit up demonically by starlight.
"A lot of strange things can happen at night," said Nutface, and he turned his head quickly and ran inside.
Have I done the right thing? thought Baxter. Is my love any more deserving than the next man's? Have I condemned myself to a life of lies and secrecy? The Storyteller will know what I have done, he'll know it was my will if not my hand that put an end to his new beloved. A lot of strange things can happen at night, it's true. I could not have lived a life as second fiddle to that mad Archibald. And what if what the squirrel had said were true? What if he really were trying somehow to alter the Storyteller's true nature, to guide him back to city life? Oh, wishful thoughts, oh sinful thoughts! But, hark, what is this? thought Baxter. It seems as if the fire in our hearth has gone out! Slow, my heart, do not give away my thoughts by your loud and rapid beating.
"Baxter!" the Storyteller called from the kitchen. "Baxter, it seems as if the fire in our hearth has gone out!" Baxter did not respond, instead he feigned sleep on the porch beneath the swing. In the kitchen, the Storyteller turned to Archibald and said, "Well, I guess it was time for a break, anyhow. I'll blaze up the fire on my way back. You might even be impressed by my methods. I learned how to light fires back when I was in—well… Lets just say I learned how a very long time ago." Archibald sat motionless on the table, he looked like a sentinel in the lamplight, guarding what they had just written together. Archibald's resolve (for he would not take a break!) was almost like a mother's.
The Storyteller snatched up an old corn cob and headed out round back. As he passed through the porch, he saw Baxter napping beneath the swing. "Ah, silly old Baxter Simmons," said the Storyteller, and pangs went through the old dog's heart.
As soon as the Storyteller disappeared into the outhouse, Baxter heard a mad scurrying. Nutface the Squirrel had been hiding in the chimney, and it was now that he would meet his opponent properly for the first time.
The kitchen was painted green and the paint was peeling. Some old inhabitant of the cabin must've done it, or perhaps—who knows—maybe the Storyteller had done it himself. The room was dark except for the glow of the oil lamp on the table which cast a large, maniacal shadow of Archibald on the southeast wall. The color of his skin looked juicy, irresistible, and Nutface could hardly contain himself at the sight of it all—the way the orange glowed in the soft, pale green, the way Archibald's dimpled skin perfectly replicated the constellations outside.
"And now the night comes to a close, with steadfast friends and evil foes," said Nutface.
Oh my god, I'm writing poetry, he thought.
"Oh my god, Archibald, what have you done to me?" Nutface crept closer. "I'll not have you ruining my family, Archibald," he hissed. Archibald sat there, cool, peaceful, implacable. "I'll not have you ruining my soul!" he screamed, and then he lunged.
Out on the porch, Baxter waited tensely. He ruminated on whether or not he'd done what was right when, all of a sudden, he caught a sight that would stay with him for years, no doubt. A sight that chilled him to the bone. Nutface the squirrel came tearing out the front door with Archibald's head in his mouth. The bright orange orb was bigger than the Nutface's head, and he held his victim up high as he ran.
As soon as the mad squirrel ran off into the woods, the door of the outhouse opened and the Storyteller said, "What's that? What was that? Baxter, did you see that? It almost looked like Archibald was running off, even thought that's impossible. Archibald," he called. He hopped up the porch steps. Baxter felt as if he might vomit. "Archibald?" the Storyteller cried again, this time from the kitchen. "Archibald!?" Then came the sounds of rustling paper and opening and closing cabinets. "Archibald??" he called again. Baxter sat in the doorway to the kitchen and watched his friend search madly for the tangerine that had just been stolen by the squirrel. "Oh my god!" the Storyteller screamed, pulling at his hair, crouching down onto the ground and writhing. "Oh, tragedy of life," he moaned as he got into the fetal position. The Storyteller eventually dragged himself to the sitting room and tried to make a fire. "Perhaps I can make this fire, if my tears don't put out every lighting of the match!" He soliloquized about the pains of friendship lost and the difficulties of finding a soul who wouldn't judge or desert you. He blubbered and sniffed while lighting the fire.
Slowly, Baxter walked into the cabin and sat at his companion's side. With his paw on The Storyteller's knee, he looked solemnly into the man's face and said, "The Lord giveth and he taketh."
The Storyteller sniffled. "Ah, Baxter. So true, so true."
Halle Butler is a writer based in Chicago. She is the woman behind this.