A Tiny Tale by Kizzi
“…they were not like him. They were not made of such wild and free wood.”
“The wee one slipped away.” The whittler eased onto his hands and knees to peer under his workbench. His joints crackled at the movement, and he squinted to see in the low light. He ran his hands, still large and strong even in his old age, along the dark corners and baseboard.
“Ah!” He exclaimed as his fingers felt the familiar edge of the wee one’s foot. Grasping the little figure firmly so it wouldn’t slip away again, he shuffled from under the bench and onto his stool.
Adjusting his work light, he peered at the little man who always seemed to be disappearing.
He was the whittler’s most recent project. At just three inches tall, he was the tiniest man the whittler had ever carved, and he wasn’t quite done yet, but as soon as the feet had been carved, the figure had been difficult to keep in one place.
A cobweb clung to the figure’s three-point hat. When the whittler gently blew the web away, he was surprised to find the figure watching him.
“I don’t remember giving you eyes.” The whittler murmured. The figure’s carved eyes, open and sightless, stared through the whittler. “Humph. Must be getting old.” He chuckled.
“Alright now, I’m going to put you right here and don’t move.” He set the figure gently but firmly upon his work bench and turned to gather his tools. On the shelves above, hundreds of little figures watched him work. The lion, forever prepared to pounce. The juggler, never catching his final ball. The footman with no coach. The girl with pigtails and pointed toes, always waiting for a crowd that would never applaud.
And now the wee one. The tiniest of men taking shape under the whittler’s expert hand. Lovingly whittled, shaved and sanded, to be placed on a shelf and forgotten. The whittler hummed as he worked and the figures seemed to lean in, remembering when they had been given such attention. When he had hummed over them. When they had felt his worn hands work the wood and bring them to life. When he had smiled and tutted and called them each ‘wee one’.
They watched, in silence as always. Some having a better view than others as they were stuck in whatever position they had been placed. Older ones shoved to the back to make room for the new. They wondered over this new wee one. So much smaller than them. The wood, rich and warm, more alive than any of them had ever been, or ever would be again.
The whittler rolled his shoulders and lifted his head. He held the wee figure up and turned him this way that, appraising him from all angles.
His boots, made to look like soft leather, slouched and folded over at the ankle. His breeches tight from ankle to waist, gave him a comely figure. The tiny buttons on his shirt numbered five, and his coat, double breasted had ten. His fingers, delicately made, were meant for courting and supping and perhaps, at times, dueling. His cheek bones, high and chiseled, complemented his square jaw and serious lips. His brow, sharp and straight, shadowed his wide eyes.
The whittler didn’t remember giving the man such eyes but surely he must have. He did not touch them again, even though he wished to smooth the right one a bit, for if the tiny man were real, the whittler feared he would be blind in that eye.
The wee one’s hat with three points, cocked slightly to the left gave him an air of importance. The whittler imagined he might have black hair beneath such a cap.
The whittler took out a soft cloth and a bit of oil and worked the wood over in his hands. The figures on the shelves knew the end was near now. Soon the whittler would whistle, soft and low, smile gently, and set the tiny creation next to one of them where it would stay forever and ever.
They loved the end. Not when it had been their turn, of course, but when it was the end for another, that meant the whittler would look up. He would reach toward the shelves where they waited so many years to be seen again. His hands might brush against one or grasp another to move it aside and, for a moment, the figure would remember what it had been like to be held in the whittler’s strong hands. The figures watched, and waited, each one hoping the new tiny man would be placed beside them.
The whittler whistled and the figures trembled in anticipation.
His eyes lifted and the shadow of the light might have been the horse arching its neck or the sailor puffing his chest. A flutter of air and the girl in the bonnet dipped her chin while the maiden on the rocks batted her eyes. The creak of the door and the goat might have bleated or the curly coated dog whined.
The old man blinked, his sight bleary with age, and felt along the shelves for a spot to place the tiny man. He moved the figures gently but without much thought. They had been projects, loved at one time, but now they were decoration, memories for his shelves. Things to be put up and remembered only when he needed to make room for new ones.
He cleared the tiniest of spaces between the mounted officer and the woman at the well.
“Up you go,” he said. He nestled the figure high on the shelf, his fingers lingering longer than usual. This one felt different, the wood wild and warm beneath his touch. The wood, small and so dark as to be nearly black, he had found along the sea. He had carved many pieces from drift wood but none had felt like this. None had held his attention once they were carved and at last placed upon the shelf.
He continued to grasp the little man. He thought of putting him in his pocket and it seemed as though the figure thrummed at the thought. But no, though he was old, he was not prone to such sentimentality. The work was finished, the tiny man in his three-point hat would stand on the shelf and wait for the courtier who would never come and the man who would never duel him for her hand.
When, at last, the whittler switched off his light and closed the shop door, the figures sighed and settled in to return to their long slumber. They understood the man was old, and it might be a very long time before he stepped into the shop again. It had been many, many months, perhaps even years, for the figures were not so good at gauging the passing of time, since the man had last carved a figure.
The man in the three-point hat was not content to slumber. He sensed the figures around him, like him but so unlike him in their sleepy acceptance of the way their world was. He felt them slip away, even before the whittler was completely gone from sight. The tiny man was more awake now than he had ever been, ever since the whittler had carved his feet, he had been determined to return to the sea.
He supposed it had been good luck in some ways to have washed up and been turned into a fine figure, but his home was the sea and he would not be collected and forgotten as these others were so inclined to be.
It was unfortunate about his eyes though. Pushing himself about when only his feet had been carved, proved less than useless and when he had rubbed his face into the whittler’s tools, he had carved less than ideal eyes for himself. In fact, the right one was very nearly useless. He might have used his fine hands to whittle himself a better set, but he was made of wood after all, and though his hands and arms were perfectly made, they were perfectly useless. His feet were slightly less useless. They didn’t move exactly, but he could rock himself a bit and move after a fashion.
He felt the mounted officer awaken when he bumped his horse. Then the woman at the well startled awake too. Curious as to the strange behavior of this tiny man, they whispered until all the other figures were awake once more and watching, as best they could, the progress of the man.
The tiny man, sensed the others watching him, but he cared little for them as they were not like him. They were not made of such wild and free wood. They did not know what it was to be real.
They whispered that they might go with him. They whispered that he might find the whittler, that he might make them seen.
“Silence!” The tiny man said, and he, as were the others, found himself shocked to hear his voice. “I seek the sea. I wish only to be free.” He thought it a cruel joke that his voice worked so well while the rest of him was nothing more than decoration.
The princess made of pine whispered that he might take her hand, but he did not answer her. He rocked on his tiny feet in his tiny boots until he was very near the edge.
The cat made of burnt oak hissed that he would shatter from such a height, but he did not heed the feline. He rocked ever closer until he could see the work bench far below and floor even farther.
The eagle made of walnut clacked that he might carry him, and this did interest him. He rocked and wobbled toward the eagle not thinking of how he would climb upon the eagle’s broad back or how the eagle might flap his wings, forever frozen in flight.
The tiny man rocked his way along the shelf but he was made of wood, wild and free, and his right eye did not work so well. He tried to watch his path, but he was thinking of the sea. He imagined soaring from this room and splashing deep, deep into the dark waters.
He did not see the bear, with fish caught in its claws, tall and wide on his right side. He rocked into the bear and then back into the bowing dog, forever ready to play.
The bear tipped slightly into the cowboy whose lasso fell upon the rearing horse. The dog pushed into the beaver whose dam was made of finest fir, and when it shattered, the limbs rolled into the tall toy soldiers. Ever at attention, the soldiers tipped like dominoes.
The tiny man of just three inches made scarcely a sound as he fell. The other figures, tall and stout, great and heavy, crashed and yelped and fell with great clamor.
Shuffling feet in the hall moved more quickly than they had in many years. Another set of feet moved too. Tiny feet. Fast feet. Young feet.
The light switched on and the whittler gasped at scene before him.
Figures lay upon the bench, sideways on the shelves, and many even on the floor. Squinting, he could just make out the tiny man lying all alone on the table. As he reached for him, the small footsteps caught up and a child pushed through the door.
“Grandpa!” The child said. “What was that noise? What are these toys?” The child scooped up the bear and held it tight to his tiny chest. Then he picked up the cowboy and held him under the light turning him around to see his tiny spurs.
“They’re not really toys.” The whittler said a bit gruffly. But then his hand closed over the tiny man and the wood, wild and warm, calmed his thoughts. He thought of the sea, gentle against the shore. He thought of his work and the hours he had spent carving each of the figures. He remembered the joy he had felt as a boy, stumbling into his father’s workshop. The joy he had thought never to pass on, but here was his grandson, setting the figures upright and gathering them into his arms.
The figures whispered to one another excitedly. They felt the old man’s eyes upon them but the hands were not his. These hands were new and soft and young. These hands were full of life and love. These hands had not made them, but they knew them in a way that brought great joy. The wooden figures preened and swelled and tittered at all the attention.
The whittler ran his fingers over the smooth figure in his hand. The tiny man stared up at him, one delicate hand cracked but otherwise unharmed from his fall. His three-point hat still sat perfectly cocked and his tiny feet seemed ready to slip away if given the chance again.
“The wee one slipped away.” The whittler surveyed his shop where his grandson had now gathered up all the figures and was having quite the play time.
“I think you should stay with me.” And he slipped the figure into his pocket.
The tiny man rocked on his tiny feet, but he could not move from the pocket. He could not see the world. He could not feel the sea, but he could hear the other figures whispering and laughing and merry as the tiny child helped them move and dance and play.
I’m thinking of sharing more free-writing exercises because what fun is a story if it’s not shared? I did clean up any typos in the above work, but otherwise it is unedited. I knew I’d get a text from my most astute friend if I had any typos 😉
Thanks for reading and I would love to hear your free-writing response to the following prompt:
“When the engine died at last, she knew they were well and truly stranded.”
Free-write for a set amount of time (try 5 or 10 minutes) and share your response in the comments. When you free-write, don’t worry about punctuation, typos, or grammar. Just write! Let your mind take you anywhere and see where the story goes. I would love to read your writing!