The First Chapter

The First Chapter

A Story by The Scholar

It's the story of an old woman who wants to be forgiven but doesn't think she can be, a boy who learns to be a friend, and a little girl with lots of books who gets swept up in the adventure.


The First Chapter


There are a few very difficult things in life. To love someone who doesn’t know your name. To watch your friends disappear. And to forgive.

This is true.

What is also true is that, if you were to walk through the vast city of Haddington, weaving your way through its thrumming crowds and avoiding the shouts and beckons of street merchants desperate to sell their wares, you would �" eventually �" come to the very outskirts of the city, where, in a small, second story room on Twenty-Fourth Street, a certain Aunt Ebeny B. resided.

She was, as it is important to note, old enough to be someone’s grandmother, except of course, she wasn’t anyone’s grandmother, a fact she resented gravely. Her hair was long and dark, with a few greying strands about the temples, and her eyes were the kind of eyes you would look into rather than at, that seem to go back a long, long way and be brimming with strange, sad stories.

On this particular day, at this particular moment, her eyes were considering her own reflection in the mirror. She studied its movements as she passed a comb that was missing a few teeth through her hair, and she watched as loose strands fell onto her lap. Silently, she brushed them away.

“I’m too old for this.” She spoke aloud to her reflection. Too old to be living in a second-story room. Too old to be still working. Too old to be alone.

You see, reader, sometimes people forget that grownups are the same people as the kids they once were. They might change a little, or a great deal, but they don’t become different people somewhere in-between. They’re the same people, always.

Perhaps we should add growing up to our list of difficult things. Because growing up is hard, and it’s strange, and many people �" when they’re older �" still look in mirrors and see themselves the way they looked when they were twelve, or nine, or seven, with tangled hair and ripped stockings and muddy faces.

Of course, being a kid is hard too. There are chores and baths and much-too-early bedtimes. But some people look in their mirrors and wish they could have it all back, because it must have been better.

And maybe �" just maybe �" these people don’t like who they’ve become.

Aunt Ebeny was one of these people. She tilted her head to the side and squinted at herself in the mirror and she was a little girl all over again, terribly afraid to grow up. Not afraid to find a job or a house or to get married, but afraid to be all grown up and alone.

She looked at her reflection again, and she reminded herself of a ghost. A very short ghost, she added, perhaps to give herself something to chuckle over. I wonder if I’ll be a ghost, she thought then. I wonder if people become ghosts ever, if maybe they get to heaven and the lights are too bright or the music’s too loud, and so they just ghost back down to earth, because at least here they can be near the people they love even if they can’t touch them.

She thought then that perhaps she was a ghost already, or that maybe she was sometimes. You know those times when everyone seems to just talk right over you, as though you aren’t even there, or the times when that person you love walks right past you �" right through you? Well those are the times Ebeny was thinking of, and we should remember this about Ebeny always �" that people seemed to live around her all the time rather than with her �" because this kind of thing hurts people very, very slowly. And people who are hurt very, very slowly take a very, very long while to become unhurt again.  

In the distance, the bells of Haddington’s largest chapel rang their slow, hollow gongs, and Ebeny listened to them because they reminded her of the dreadfully slow beating of an old heart. One by one by one they rang until the last echo vanished over the horizon of sound. Then Ebeny stood up, and she placed her comb onto the chair she had been sitting on, and she procured her shawl from its hanger by the door, and then she opened the door and went out.

     The city was always cold in the morning, no matter the time of year. That morning it was winter though, and so it was especially cold. Little flurries of snow danced through the air and dusted the cobblestone streets and tilting rooftops. The pink sun was glazed over with a thin veneer of grey and white, and there were still stars to be seen in the sky if you were to cup your hands about your eyes and peer in their direction.

     Ebeny did no such thing. As she walked, she examined her raggedy boots as they plodded their way along the uneven stones. She watched a little trickle of water weave its way along the space between two stones and then pool in a bowl-shaped hollow. To her right, she heard the flapping of clothes being hung off of balconies and clotheslines to dry, and from her left came the unmistakable smell of breakfast foods.

     I should eat. She told herself, imagining breads and fruits and wines and desserts. She stuffed a wrinkled hand into a pouch hanging about her waist and felt around. When she withdrew it, it held only two small rusty coins. Frowning, she gripped them into a fist and continued walking.

     Eventually the big city began to rise ahead of her, the small, stacked houses falling behind and the overcrowded streets swallowing her up. Even at this hour of the morning, the Inner City was full of people, especially merchants, who seemed to compete with each other every morning over who could wake up and set up the earliest. Which was ridiculous. If everyone just slept for longer, no one would have to wake up so early.

     There would be a small bread stand on her right, Ebeny knew, and as she approached it she unclenched her fist and blinked down at the coins in her hand to make sure they were still there. You could never be sure, in the Inner City. The pickpockets here had mastered their craft even more so than the merchants had mastered theirs �" it was said they could steal the buttons off your coat from the other side of Town Square.

     “What will it be today?” a woman’s voice inquired suddenly.

     Ebeny looked up at the woman selling the bread. She was middle-aged, with a twist of auburn hair and a light sprinkling of freckles on her nose and cheeks. A little girl stood next to her, who Ebeny assumed must be her daughter, for she had hair just as red and a multitude of freckles, as though whatever contraption it was that was used to put freckles on little girls’ faces had exploded in the process of assembling hers. Her hair was arranged in a braided bun on the top of her head, but its thickness and length had caused most of it to fall out or stick off of her head at peculiar angles. She smiled.

     Ebeny was caught off guard by that smile, and she frantically thought to smile back, only she wasn’t sure she quite recalled how, so she deposited the coins on the counter and looked up at the mother.

     “What would you like today?” the mother asked.

     Ebeny paused for a moment. What I’d like, she thought, is to go home and to sleep and to dream. And maybe to go home with someone. And eat an enormous meal that neither of us will be able to finish. And then perhaps, we could talk about our lives and the things we’ve done, and the things we’re doing and the things we wish we hadn’t done. That’s what I’d like.

     “Just a roll, thank you.” She said. The mother handed her a roll, took her coins, and Ebeny walked away.

     Just as she was biting into her warm roll though, she felt a tug on her skirt.

     “Here.” It was the little freckle-faced girl. She was holding up the palm of her hand with two coins in it. “Mum says you should keep your coppers.” Her voice had a particular cadence and certainty to it, almost as if it were the voice of a much older girl. “She says someone paid us double earlier and she feels bad for it. Besides,” and by the way her shoulders straightened and her eyes grew serious Ebeny could tell she was speaking her own opinion now, “nobody should have to pay for breakfast. That’s like making people pay for air. I read a book once about people who were made to pay for air. I felt awful for them.”

     Ebeny waited patiently until the girl finished talking, then reached carefully and picked the coins out of the girl’s flour-covered hand.

     “What’s your name, sweetheart?” she asked.

     “Aldari.” The girl said, “But I have to go. Mum and I have to sell more bread now.”

     Ebeny nodded. “I sell inventions.” She told the girl, without really knowing why, “If you ever want one, come by. I sell them at the other end of the Square.” She chuckled, “Most people just laugh at them.”

     Aldari tilted her head to the side and raised a hand to shield her eyes from the sun. “Laughing’s good, isn’t it?” she queried.

     Ebeny shrugged her shoulders. “I suppose.”

     Aldari nodded confidently. “It is.” She smiled. “Goodbye! I’ll see you.”

     Ebeny watched as Aldari scurried off, more of her long red hairs falling out of their bun. Very long hair, Ebeny noticed. One strand even fell to the floor and brushed Aldari’s leg, and Aldari had to scoop it up and stuff it back into her bun haphazardly. It was beautiful hair, really. Very beautiful.

With a sigh directed at her own greying locks, Ebeny looked down at the coins in her hand and then back at the girl and her mother, who were hovering about the bread stand. She forgot her appearance for a moment and wondered why they had given her back her coppers. She could not imagine their reasoning. She hadn’t done anything to deserve them back, certainly. And she had not asked for them back. And she didn’t think she knew the woman or her daughter from anywhere.

     Yet they had given her a roll for free.

     Oh stop it. The voice in her head interrupted her, Look at you. You’re sentimental in your old age, you are. Go on now, your work is waiting for you.

     Ebeny listened to the voice and pocketed the coins. She turned and continued walking until she arrived at the other end of Town Square, in the little corner by the alleyway where her stand was partially set up. And then she set about unlocking the cupboards in the back of her stand and arranging strange-looking objects in a somewhat neat array.

There was an oddly-bent circular disk made of metal that apparently was supposed to make an agreeable sound when banged against another similar-looking disk. It only ever made her head ache though when she tried it; it was truly a wonder no one had bought it. There was a hat with all sorts of pockets in it for keeping trinkets and snacks, a pile of springs atop a small piece of wood that apparently was for catching mice �" as if cats didn’t do that job well enough �" a walking stick with a hidden sword blade which came out at one end �" Ebeny could never remember which and so never dared to test it �" an item for cleaning teeth that looked like a small hairbrush, a few purple bags of small pebbles meant to . . . do something, ten or so glass waterglobes with strange outlandish landscapes and cities inside of them, a myriad number of long metal tube-shaped objects which you could look through to see far away, and a rather fascinating piece of work made out of scraps of metal from old horse-drawn carts that �" by way of the hundreds of clinking gears and levers on it �" somehow could hover off of the ground up to one’s waist.

     She kept most of the inventions at home, with only a few ones kept in the locked cupboards, being that very few people actually ever purchased them.

     As she continued arranging the items, she noticed that one of the tube-shaped inventions �" scopes, she believed was their given name �" seemed to be broken. That would have to be fixed. Lifting it gently off its perch, she placed it in a sack on the floor behind her stand. Then she stood up, and her eyes were drawn immediately to a stand opposite her, where a man her age with light hair and a short beard worked over his own inventions. His eyes rose and met hers, and she smiled nervously, waving a hand. He waved back, then refocused his attention on his work.

     Ebeny looked at her own inventions. If only I really knew how to make these. She wished. Then maybe . . . She looked back at the old man.

Suddenly she shook her head. “Not today, not today.” She said aloud to herself, “No one will buy anything today.” She glanced down at the bag containing the scope. “And I’ve got to get this fixed.”

Hurriedly, and with only a slight annoyance at the futility of taking them all out to begin with, she returned all the inventions to their cupboard and locked it closed. Then, bending down, she picked up the bag, and, slinging it onto her bent back, she gave the old man one last aching glance before heading toward the outskirts of the City.


*           *           *


     This was the other outskirts of the City. The South side of the City was where all the little houses and taverns were, but this side �" the North side �" just sort of crumbled into trees and woodlands and rocks and hills. The people here were different too. There were always travelers from unheard-of lands and the infamous magic men who were outlawed by the city but frequented its outskirts. There were said to be little children who lived and played among the animals without any parents at all, and giants who didn’t feel at home among people much too little for them.

     All of these people, though, were passersby. All of the stories about them made it clear that they never stayed, that Haddington was simply a dot on their map which their journey passed through. Which was strange. And you know, reader, it would seem very strange to you too if you had lived in one place your entire life. Or perhaps you have. In that case, you must know how Ebeny felt when she walked through these parts.

She had never met any of these peoples �" though she at times thought she heard children laughing �" but she wondered how either terrible or wonderful it must be to always be walking. Were they looking for something, she thought often. Did they have a home and only needed to find it? Perhaps they were on an adventure of sorts. She didn’t know anything about what kind of world lay waiting outside the City, but it was odd to think that while she lived always in the same place, shapes and shadows and figures she knew nothing about moved always around her. Like her life was fixed and around it everything revolved. And she thought that somehow only fixed things could be entirely real, because if you were always moving, you were always part here and part there, and never entirely in one place at all.

Of course, these were only abstract things her mind wandered to when she walked alone through tangled grasses and under knobby trees in the earliest hours of the morning. She smelt the fresh leaves under the newly-melted snow, and opened her mouth to taste the crisp wintry air.

     “Are you hungry?” a tinkling voice asked from behind her.

     Ebeny spun, nearly dropping her bag.

     There was a cart behind her, and atop the cart were piles of old dusty sacks filled as though about to burst open. Atop the sacks was a skinny old man, and atop the skinny old man �" Ebeny saw �" was a drooping wide-brimmed hat. What surprised her most however, was that his cart had no horse attached to it, and yet it moved forward nonetheless, as though the man was guiding it with his thoughts.

     “You’re hungry?” that ringing voice asked again.

     “I’m not.” Ebeny lied, fighting to overcome her shock at this queer man. He must be one of the magic men. She thought, as though giving him a definition would make his less terrifying and more familiar. She noted with discomfort that it didn’t.

“You’re lying.” The man winked, “Here.” He held up a round fruit.

Ebeny narrowed her eyes but nodded, and he threw it in her direction. She caught it awkwardly, wondering why everyone felt obligated this morning to give her free food.

     “Care to make a purhase?” he questioned.

     She shook her head.

     He grinned. “Alright then. But I’ll be back. Never give up on anyone. That’s my policy.” He waggled a finger proudly. “I’ll see you.”

     As the cart began to roll away though �" she still had no idea how �" Ebeny caught sight of a smooth stone resting atop one of the bags and remembered someone saying something once about how, with the magic men, things are never as they seem.

     She pointed. “Is that just a rock?”

     “’Course not!” The magic man answered, turning his cart back around creakily to face her, “Nothing’s just a rock.”

     She raised her eyebrows.

     He laughed, and his laugh really did sound like bells, she decided. Not the hollow gongs of the chapel steeple’s bells, but the sweet splashing sound of little silver bells. “It’s just a rock.” He said in a woman’s voice, then smiled broadly, “You were thinking that, weren’t you? It’ll wake up if you give it something that makes it feel alive. That’s the way these little guys work.” He patted it as though it were alive and would awake any moment. “Interested?”

     Ebeny reached again into her pocket and withdrew the two coppers she had been given back. She held them out to the magic man.

     “That’ll do.” He smiled, beckoning her to come to the base of his cart. She did, and then reached up and handed him the coins. He tossed her the rock, and again she caught it clumsily. He sat back. “You don’t say much, do you? Oh well. Hum, let’s see.” Suddenly he looked excited. “Oh! I’ve also got some white powder here. It’s a bit of my own magic. Takes you from one place to another like that.” He snapped.

     Ebeny shook her head.

     The man frowned and scratched his chin. “Ah, alright then.” He said, only slightly disappointed, “Bless your day.” He tilted his hat and then turned away.

     As the carriage began to roll into the distance, Ebeny shifted the weight of her bag onto her other shoulder. “Thank you.” She called after him.

     He turned around. “No, thank you!” he called back, “More than you know.”

     At that, Ebeny turned and continued her walk, though her thoughts never strayed far from the magic man, his astonishing carriage, and his rock that was not a rock.

     Until she saw the tower.

     When the peak of the tall tower, grey against a blue-grey sky, rose ominously above the darkening masses of trees, then and only then, did she forget all about the magic man and think solely of her destination.

     And reader, you must know what it feels like when you’ve done something wrong but are having such a lovely time that you forget all about it and remember only the pleasant things in life, when suddenly, someone says something, or you see something �" such as, possibly, a tower �" and it all comes back. All the guilt and the pain and the disgust at yourself.

     That was how it was with Ebeny when she saw the tower again, for it was not the first time she had seen it. And remember reader, as we turn to this second chapter, that sometimes people make mistakes, and sometimes they regret those mistakes and that regret builds up inside of them and hurts them deep down in places no one sees. And yet there are people, reader, who keep making the same mistakes anyway because they don’t know how not to. These kinds of people have usually been very, very hurt. And do you remember what we said about Ebeny at the beginning of her story?

Yes, dear reader, she too had been very, very hurt. 

© 2013 The Scholar

Author's Note

The Scholar
This is the first chapter of my first attempt at writing children's/middle grade literature. Anything you can help me with would be wonderful, as I am entirely clueless here. :)
My one request is that you read it in its entirety before leaving a review. It's not that long! I promise! :D
Anyway, I thank you outrageously in advance. Hopefully even if it's awful you'll find it somewhat interesting. ;)

It's also sort of a reverse Rapunzel take... or not really reverse, more like turned on its head spun around three times and sent looking for its compatriots. But we'll see how it turns out.

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register

Share This
Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe

Advertise Here
Want to advertise here? Get started for as little as $5


Added on December 12, 2013
Last Updated on December 12, 2013
Tags: fairytale, fantasy, steampunk, story, forgiveness, love, friendship, adventure


The Scholar
The Scholar

Esco., CA

“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are MEMBERS OF THE HUMAN RACE. And the human race is filled with PASSION. And medicine, law, business, engi.. more..