The Boy Carved from Wood

The Boy Carved from Wood

There once was an old poplar tree tended by a woman even older than the wood. Its trunk rose tall and straight, and its branches began at the bottom and spiraled up like a staircase all the way to the crown. The old woman kept a garden over which this tree towered, each morning inspecting her flowers, pruning her vines, sucking the juices from the darkest of blackberries, or crunching the sweetest of apples. Beside the garden, an ancient lake gave water and life to the forest. Rumors and legends leaked from town to village and village to city about the lake, whispers about its magical powers, water that this old poplar tree, in particular, had soaked up to make it grow taller than any other. Every now and again, the old woman would hunch her back and pull up her shawl when curious travelers came asking questions, city folk trekking the treacherous miles to explore the lake, to get a glimpse of the miraculous tree even if they weren’t quite sure what exactly was so miraculous about it.
“What can the waters do?” the adventurous boys often asked, peeking out at the woman from the cover of the woods. “Will we live forever if we drink it?”
“Be gone!” the woman would answer, clutching an old staff carved from one of the poplar’s branches when the tree was young, “or I’ll turn you all to toads!”
They’d squeal over their shoulders as they ran home, “And what about the tree? Does it really drop acorns of gold?” Some others—the girls—would ask as they fled, “Can its bark really heal any wound?”
With the inquisitors chased away, the woman returned to her garden, caressing each leaf as autumn’s nascent breath began to sap their green, cradling the ripening apples as the perfect blush of red bloomed on their skins. A rustle unlike the patter of children’s feet crinkled from a thicket and the woman looked up. When silence returned, she retrieved a basket from her hut, wrapped a shawl around her shoulders, and set out into the forest.
Soon after, a deep voice called into the grove, “Hello? Is anybody here?”
When no one answered, a man entered the woman’s garden and crashed into a bed of roses, crushing the petals beneath his heavy boot. He looked about the grove, and his eyes widened when they came upon the poplar tree. “So this is the legend,” he breathed, stepping up and pressing a hand against the bark. “One with leaves of pure silver when hit by the sun, and wood than can be carved into gold.” He hefted the axe that swung from his belt and hacked at the lowermost branch, each chop sending chips spraying until the wood creaked and cracked, severed from the trunk.
“At last, I’ve gotten—”
“Gah! What have you done?” the old woman screamed, scrambling into the grove and rushing to the base of her tree, her basket dropped and forgotten, the gathered roots and herbs sprawling upon the hardening ground.
“Oh, my apologies.” The man stepped aside, lifting his quarry and resting it on his shoulder. “I meant no harm.”
“And yet your intention does nothing to lessen the harm.”
“What have I done? I’ve only taken a single branch. The tree will survive.”
She curled her lip. “You think you can just take what belongs to someone else, do you?”
“Woman, the forest belongs to no one.”
“And so it belongs to everyone.” She grasped at the fragments of poplar that lay fractured around the tree, a tear splashing against the ragged stump that jutted from the trunk. “Look, look at the damage you have done. How would you like if someone amputated a limb of yours?”
“You speak nonsense. A tree cannot feel.”
“And neither can you, it seems.” She straightened, using her staff to lift herself. “Yet the deed has already been executed and cannot be undone. I will charter a deal with you, then, if you desire this wood so greatly.”
“What if I refuse, and simply take it? I don’t believe you can stop me.”
A fire to match the sun gleamed in the woman’s eyes, and she gripped her staff which appeared to grow in length as a sudden gust rippled through the woods. The cackle of crows ripped through the grove, and a distant wolf’s howl punctuated the coming twilight. “Strangers should take care in these parts not to be so bold. It is a long way back to your city, stranger, and many dangerous miles through the darkest part of the forest. You have already erred in straying so far from the path.”
“The path is right…” The man whirled around. “Why I could’ve sworn…”
“Strangers must not lose their way, or else they might never return home.”
The man drummed his fingers against his axe as the howls grew louder. “What is this deal you speak of?”
“Tell me, and tell me quick, what is it that you value most? Is it wealth, or love; health, or beauty? A prized possession, perhaps, or the touch of a child?”
“Why love, of course,” he said with a smile. “My wife and my daughter are dearest to my heart.”
“And if I told you that in order to escape this forest with that wood, you must sacrifice what your heart holds most dear, would you accept the exchange?”
The man pursed his lips and scratched his chin. “I can’t quite give you my wife or my daughter. They’re still in the city, home at my workshop.”
“Not now will I require payment, but in the future, there will come a time when you must forfeit what you value most. Again I ask, do you accept this bargain?”
“Why not?” he answered with a slick smile.
“Be warned,” the woman said, holding up a crooked finger. “The forest reads not your mind, nor listens to your words, but sees your heart and knows truly your deepest desires. I ask a final time, do you wish to make this barter?”
He paused a moment, clicking his teeth. “Yes,” he answered, more quietly than at first.
“Then leave, and do not return here. You will not find so gracious a welcome the next time.”
With footsteps like a fox, the man slipped through the trees, flinching at each woodland cackle, the creak of a branch becoming a raven’s haunting cry, the whistle of the wind heralding heathen giants as the inky fingers of night crept across the sky. Slinking through the city gates, past the torches burning along the wall, the man pulled his felt cap lower, nearly hiding his eyes. He turned away from the few people he passed on the street until he reached his shop, the metal silhouette of a boot swinging above the door.
“Papa!” a girl cried when he walked in, carrying an old, headless wooden doll with a few limbs missing.
“Away, girl,” the man said. “I’ve precious cargo with me.”
“What is it? What do you have?”
A woman came from the kitchen, wiping her hands on an apron. “Did you find it? The tree that will make us rich?” she said with a sneer.
The man gingerly lifted the log from his shoulder and rested it delicately on his workbench.
“What makes you think this wood will be any different?” the woman said, her hands on her hips.
“I’ve carved much wood. There is something in this, some energy unlike I’ve ever felt before.”
The woman laughed. “What will you do with it? Carve it into the son you’ve always wanted?”
“I’ll carve it into gold to make me rich.”
“Will that be your burden tonight, then? I’d like to see what merchant accepts your wooden coins. Might as well take straw for all the good it will do. Or a strand of your daughter’s hair. Perhaps they’d be foolish enough to believe it real gold.”
“The moon must be full for the carving to transform,” he said, ignoring his wife. “Soon, my efforts will come to fruition.”
The girl inched closer to her papa, her eyes wide as she beheld the wood. “Can I touch it, Papa?”
“Leave me, girl, or you’ll go to bed without supper. Come to think of it, that will save us a few pennies. So go on. Continue to be naughty. You’ll find yourself with an empty stomach, and I’ll find my purse fatter.”
Rosalie clutched her broken doll and scurried off to a dark corner of the shop where she watched her father cobble, watched him piece together bits of old shoes to sell them as new, watched him check the loose floorboard where he stashed his coins, watched him pause every now and then to smile at the poplar log and caress it with a gentle touch. “Soon,” he whispered as his wife baked a loaf of bread and prepared a roast for him, “soon I’ll carve you into gold, and then I’ll be rich.”
*****
After dark, when the city slept save for vagabonds and the City Watch who never could catch the elusive bandits, Rosalie rose from bed with a gurgling stomach and a throat parched like sawdust. She unhooked the latch from the shop door and checked the buckets outside on the chance that some rainwater or dew had collected in them. Running her finger along their rim, she jumped when a rustle from the workshop disturbed the quiet.
“Hello?” She peeked into the shadows. “Papa? Mama?” The stillness of the night answered her, and she was about to return to bed when a clatter again shattered the silence.
“Who’s there?” her quiet, hoarse cry came. She gripped her doll until her knuckles matched the pale sliver of a near-full moon that snuck through the dirty window and landed on the poplar log. “Did you see anything, Master Wood?” she asked, creeping to the workbench.
Just barely tall enough to reach it, she slowly picked up her father’s whittling knife and drew two circles in the wood. “There, now you keep watch for bandits too.” She slid the knife back into the sheath, careful not to touch her skin to the blade, when the circles suddenly blinked. The girl rubbed her own eyes, shaking her head. “The shadows play tricks on me,” she figured, sneaking back to bed and hiding under the thin sack cloth as she thought about the log and what her father had said.
*****
“Master Cobbler, I’ve come for my shoes,” the city magistrate demanded, sweeping his cloak as he crept through the door. With beady eyes, he surveyed the shop.
“A fine product,” the cobbler said. “I’ve spent the past week on them!” He set the pair before the magistrate and wrung his hands. “You can see the effort I put into the soles. Took quite some time to get them perfect, but there you have it.”
“What’ll it cost me?” the man grumbled, plucking his purse from an inner pocket.
“Let me see.” He searched the ceiling as he counted on his fingers. “One silver piece per day of labor, so that will come to five silvers.”
“But Papa, you finished those in a day,” a small voice came from the corner of the shop.
The cobbler whipped around with venom in his glare. “Pay no mind to the girl. She constructs her fantasies with the imagination of a child, as you can see. To think work of this quality took only a day to produce…”
The magistrate clicked his coins together. “Quite.” He hesitantly dropped the silvers into the cobbler’s outstretched palm.
“Come again, sir, I always welcome your business!” the cobbler called as his patron tucked the shoes under his arm and vanished into the street.
Under his breath, the cobbler spat, “If you ever speak to a customer again, you’ll sleep out with the dogs. Do you understand me, girl?”
“Yes, Papa.” She huddled in the corner with her doll, singing a soft song to herself about birds and trees, tugging on a strand of her hair.
Like a flash thunderstorm passing through, the cobbler’s face changed when he examined the poplar log. “Soon,” he cooed, “soon you’ll fix all of my worries.” He scratched at the lines his daughter had carved, raising an eyebrow. But then he smiled, a gleam in his eye. “I’ll carve the first two coins here. As if they’re calling to me, showing me where to cut. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll carve, and then when night comes and the full moon shines, the wood will turn to gold!”
“Papa?” Rosalie crawled out from her refuge. “When will you carve me a new doll?”
“Be happy with the one you have,” he said, returning to another pair of shoes. “I have no time to spend on you. Go to your stepmother and bother her with your nagging.”
In the kitchen, Rosalie asked, “Can I have some of the roast tonight? Only a bite. It always looks so good when you and Papa eat it.”
“Of course not, girl,” her stepmother snapped, greedily licking her fingers. “What have you done to earn a piece of meat? It doesn’t grow on trees, you know.”
“What does it taste like?”
“Here,” she tore off a scrap of bread. “Be grateful I’m giving you this much.” She held it above the girl’s head. “What do you say?”
“Thank you, Mama.”
“Good girl.”
*****
Again when the silver rays of moonlight broke through the purple sky and struck Rosalie’s face, she woke and slipped out of bed, searching the house for even a crumb. She opened the cupboards she could reach, the ones where her stepmother always stood making bread, and found a piece that looked a little green around the edges. With her stomach grumbling, she stuffed the hardened heel into her mouth, crushing it between her teeth. And still the shadows called to her, every nook and cranny where a mouse might have stashed its ration. By only the light of the moon, she crawled about the kitchen, peeking and prodding, sweeping her hand along the floor. She came across a piece of gristle by the refuse pile, a scrap that missed Mama’s attention when she threw the bones and fat out to the dogs. Rosalie touched her tongue to it, then swallowed the fatty cartilage whole, cringing. Her tattered nightgown scraped along the floor as she ventured into her father’s workshop, sticking her finger in every crack along the wall lest she overlook a critter’s hoard.
Massaging her stomach, she stared out the small window speckled with dirt and sighed, “If only I was made of wood. Then I wouldn’t be so hungry.” She tiptoed to Papa’s workbench and quickly pulled his chisel from its sheath. She carved a misshapen oval into the poplar log beneath its eyes. “Are you hungry too, Master Wood?” For a moment, she thought it smiled, but then realized it must’ve been the shadows again. Her stomach still weeping, she impulsively tested the edge of the knife on her thumb and jerked her hand as the log slid and crashed to the floor. The cold steel sliced into her finger, drawing a drop of blood. Gasping, she stuffed the knife back into the leather and threw it onto the bench, sucking her thumb and racing back to bed, humming her song in the dark.
A distant wolf howled, but soon the steady, still blanket of night returned, and peace reigned until morning.
*****
Blazing like a furnace, the sun cast its fire upon the dawn as though vengeful of the night’s darkness. From the workshop, the cobbler thundered, “Girl! Come out here!” She hugged her doll as she faced her father, her eyes down. “Did you do this?” he asked, pointing to the log. “Did you touch it, even though I forbade you?”
“I didn’t mean to, Papa.”
“Didn’t mean to?” he roared, raising his fist. Trembling, he pointed to the door. “Get out!”
“Where…where should I go?”
“Wander the city. I care not. Search for scraps from the garbage to feed yourself. I’ll not house a disobedient, ungrateful wretch here.” He lifted the log, brushing off a speck of dust. “I want nothing to disturb me today. Gothel!” he called his wife. “Take the girl with you to the market. If she troubles you, leave her there.”
Gothel grabbed her stepdaughter by the wrist and dragged her along, nearly snapping her bony arm in two.
Alone with the poplar wood, the cobbler deliberately slid his whittling knife from the scabbard and ran it along a whetstone. He rolled up his sleeves, settled onto his stool, and ceremoniously prepared the log, clamping it into a vice. His hand shook ever so slightly as he held the knife over one of Rosalie’s circles. With a deep breath, he dug the steel into the wood when the log yelped.
Crying out, the cobbler fell backward to the floor, dropping the knife with a start. “What…what manner of witchcraft is this?” he marveled, putting a hand to his forehead. “The legends made no mention of a wood that made the sounds of men!”
A groan came from the malformed mouth, so persistent and grating that the cobbler grit his teeth and carved lips and a tongue so the wood could form words.
“Ahh!” the log squealed in what sounded like a boy’s voice. “Can you fix my eyes next, kind sir?”
“Eyes?” the cobbler said aghast. “What manner of creature are you?”
“I’m not sure,” the log said. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
“Well, I…” Shaking his head, the whittler gave the log eyes which blinked rapidly as they beheld the workshop.
“Can you make me like you?” the poplar asked. “I think I’d like arms and legs too.”
The cobbler frowned. “I was going to turn you into gold.”
“I don’t think I’d like that.”
“It doesn’t much matter what you’d like.”
“But wouldn’t you prefer a boy? One who could help you with your work. Think of what fun we could have.”
The cobbler stroked his chin. “An apprentice I wouldn’t have to feed or pay wages.” The man’s lips twisted into a smile. “Perhaps such an arrangement would be to our mutual benefit after all.”
With a deftness to be envied, the cobbler carved a head and ears into the log, then arms and hands, and legs and feet. “A perfect apprentice,” he said, admiring his work. “Ears to hear my orders, a mouth to answer ‘Yes,’ and the limbs to carry them out. A servant who won’t cost me a penny!” He clapped, and the wooden puppet imitated his new master. “Not quite gold, but a son nevertheless. And a cheap one, at that. Now, to outfit you properly.” He made a suit out of paper, shoes of bark, and a leather hat to fit his head. “And finally a name.”
“Wood, is my name!” the lively carving exclaimed.
“Wood, is it? I suppose that’s fitting. Come. Let’s have a little dance, you and I.” The cobbler lifted young Wood by his hands and they tapped their feet across the floor, the puppet no higher than the man’s waist.
The rest of the day, Wood helped his master cobble, fetching tools and material quick as a dash. And even when Madam Gothel and Rosalie returned from the market, astounded by the addition to the household, Wood only paused a moment to tip his hat.
“Did you make him for me, Papa?” Rosalie asked, running apace with Wood.
“Foolish girl, away with you,” he cried.
The puppet stuck out his tongue at the girl and hopped up on the cobbler’s lap. “Is there anything else you need, Papa?” he asked.
“Not for the moment. I’ve just about finished the High Councilor’s shoes, and with your help I’ve done it in half the time! When he comes tomorrow, he’ll pay a handsome price.” Rosalie looked up at the shoes, and her father waved her away. “Girl, go be of use to your stepmother in the kitchen.”
“I’ll help her, Papa.” Wood jumped from his lap and darted away, offering his hands and feet in whatever way Madam Gothel needed while Rosalie picked up her doll and slunk to her corner, the beginnings of a rumble starting in her head.
“That silly Master Wood is troublesome already,” she thought, picking at the scab forming on her thumb. “I don’t think I’ll like him very much.” But she scolded herself and reasoned that it was always best to give someone the benefit of the doubt, even if her Papa and stepmother crooned over him like they would a living boy.
*****
The next morning, before Rosalie could even enjoy her pitiful dollop of porridge, the cobbler yelled, “Girl! What have you done with the High Councilor’s shoes? So help me, if you’ve damaged them…”
“Papa, I haven’t done anything with them.”
“You think I believe your lies, you wretched girl? I saw you looking at them last night. Just like you touched the log. So tell me, where are they?”
“I don’t know, Papa.” Rosalie’s eyes widened. “I haven’t touched them.”
“I’m going to look for them now, and I tell you, if you’ve cost me the Councilor’s coin, it’ll be taken from your rations of food!”
The cobbler tore through the workshop, the kitchen, the bedroom. His face red as a beet, he lifted Rosalie’s blanket of sackcloth and uncovered the Councilor’s shoes, the soles scratched and the leather torn. “Girl!” he exploded, a vein throbbing in his forehead.
“But Papa, honest, I haven’t touched them.”
“Out of my sight, girl, before I strangle you. The law be damned!” He snatched the shoes and went to work repairing them as best as he could, while little Wood watched Rosalie, tapping his toes, his own shoes on the wrong feet.
Rosalie drew in her brows, scrunching her nose, her heart punching against her chest. “It was that Wood. I’m sure of it,” she said to herself. She bared her teeth at him, but he only grinned and leapt onto the workbench, kicking his feet over the side as Rosalie went without food the rest of the day.
*****
The soft pitter-patter of footsteps woke Rosalie on the first night of the full moon. She softly went toward the sound and ducked behind a wall as a shadow darted from the workshop to the kitchen. The creak of cupboards opening and the sharp crash of jars shattering split the night, followed by a wicked giggle. “Such fun,” the little voice said, “to explore my new home.” Rosalie considered stuffing him in one of the cabinets, but decided to wait. Running from one room to the next, Wood stepped on the cobbler’s loose floorboard and bent down to examine it. He lifted a pouch filled with shiny coins glittering in the full moon’s light. “Ohh, what joy is this?”
“Wood!” Rosalie called out. “Put that back. That’s Papa’s treasure, not yours.”
“Oh, hello little Rosalie.” Wood jumped, holding on to the pouch. The pale moon filled his face, revealing a small, white bump where the cobbler never carved a nose.
“What is that?” Rosalie asked.
“What’s what?” Wood looked around.
“On your face. Right here.” Rosalie poked his budding nose, her finger pressing a soft, fleshy lump.
“Ouch!” Wood cried as Rosalie recoiled.
Shuddering, Rosalie demanded again, “Put the coins back, or I’ll tell Papa.”
“No need to be mean,” Wood pouted, kicking the board with his foot, keeping the pouch in hand. “What a nice doll you’ve got. I think I’d like to see it.” Quick as a fox, he dashed over and snatched the doll from her hand.
“Give it back.” She stomped her foot.
“You’ll have to catch me first!” he taunted, hopping from one foot to the other.
She chased him around the workshop until he said, “This bores me. Let’s go out into the city.” Nimble as an acrobat, he dove from the workbench to the latch that locked the door.
“Wood! Come back!”
He laughed as he ran, and Rosalie—pausing for a moment and looking back at the bedroom—wondered if she should tell her Papa. But then, she figured, he’d likely only blame her. So she went after little Wood, into the darkness of the streets. She followed the sound of his giggle rattling off the cobblestones, gripping a handful of her nightgown and shivering as the brisk air cut her to the bone. Perhaps a policeman might see Wood and stop him. But what would the little puppet say? Likely that she was trying to steal his doll from him.
Before she went far, a fresh voice echoed through the street. Rosalie pressed her back against a wall and peeked around the corner. Wood talked with another short figure whose back arched like a cat. They stood just out of reach of the lamplight, but the sparkle of coins gleamed as Wood cleverly flipped one after another. Cupping a hand to her ear, Rosalie heard the figure say, “What pretty pennies you’ve got there. Where could someone like you have found those?”
“At the workshop. There’s plenty more, too.”
“Say, why don’t you tell me where this workshop is?”
“Why would I do that?” Wood skipped around the dark figure. “What’s in it for me?”
The figure snapped his fingers and another, tall man with hair orange as a fox passed quickly under the lamp. “Wouldn’t you like to join our gang? We’ve got quite an outfit. The freedom to do what you want without being told. No one to give you orders. You can go where you please, play with all the toys and dolls you like.”
“Sounds like great fun,” Wood said, spinning around. “When can I start?”
“First, there’s a bit of a…initiation ceremony. And the first step is telling us where you found these coins.”
“The cobbler’s shop.” Wood pointed. “Just down the road.”
“That miser? He’s sure to have a dragon’s stash hidden away there,” the orange-haired man cackled.
“Go back, little fellow,” the short man said, “and tomorrow night come back to this spot with the cobbler’s coins. Then you’ll officially be part of our gang.”
“Right you will,” the tall man said. “It’ll be a jolly good time. But how about you give us those few now just so we can get you something special? A welcome gift, let’s say, for tomorrow night.”
Before waiting to hear more, Rosalie ran back to her Papa’s shop and woke him straightaway. “Papa, Papa,” she said, jostling his arm. “Papa, wake up! Wicked Wood has just taken your coins. And he’s promised the rest away.”
The cobbler snorted and rolled onto his side. “What are you saying girl?” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. Regaining his wits, his face darkened. “You’d best have good reason to wake me. Now speak up. Has the shop caught fire?”
“No, Papa. Wicked little Wood has taken your coins from the floorboard. And he’s promised to steal the rest.”
“What nonsense are you talking about? He would never…”
Shoving Rosalie aside, he went to the floorboard and ripped it open, counting the pouches beneath.
“See, Papa! See, he’s—”
“Where is he?” the cobbler fumed. “Where is that Wood?”
“Here, Papa,” Wood called from the workshop bench. “Have I done something wrong, Papa?”
“Wood! Where are my coins? The girl says she saw you take them. I’ll snap you in two if that’s the truth.”
“Why no, Papa, I’ve been sharpening your knives here all the night long. See for yourself! All your tools are perfectly honed. If I had done as she said, I would never have had time to do all of this.”
The cobbler tested the knives, each one of them sharper than they’d been the day before.
“Maybe you should check the same spot where you found the High Councilor’s shoes. Maybe you’ll find your coins there,” Wood suggested.
Rushing to Rosalie’s bed, the cobbler ripped off the sheet and beat his fists against his chest. “So help me, girl, the little puppet was right. Here they are, a neat little pile of coins! How dare you lie to me, you little wretch. Lie to my face and steal my hard-earned money. Ungrateful, wicked, horrid girl. I dare say, I’ve had enough of your naughtiness! I’ll take you to the woman in the wood. And good riddance of you. Wood will take your place. A child who doesn’t cost me. A well-behaved boy nothing like you.”
Rosalie shrunk back, and when her father lifted her by the waist and slung her over his shoulder like a sack, she hit his back with her fists—but it did as much good as a feather striking a stone wall.
“I’ll stay here and watch the shop. It’ll be safe with me,” Wood cried, jumping up and down, rubbing the soft bump on his face that had grown larger.
The cobbler’s lantern lit the forest path where the moon couldn’t reach. At each rustle and cackle of the woods, he cursed the axe he had left behind, soon putting Rosalie down and dragging her along, crushing her arm. “I’ll let you go, soon. If you run from me, you’ll only lose your way in the forest. Which would be just as well, I suppose.”
When they penetrated the darkest regions, they listened to the leaves whispering ancient secrets, cocked their heads at the owls’ hoots, and avoided the yellow eyes that peered from behind the trees, the shadows that looked like little men before disappearing with a chuckle.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” Rosalie asked.
“Of course, girl. I can see the giant poplar through the trees.”
The gentle lap of the lake soon promised they had reached their destination, and the cobbler called out, “Hello? Old woman! I’ve brought you your payment!” His boots crushed the roses the old gardener had just revived, while Rosalie walked delicately around them. “Come out from your haunt and accept your prize, or I’ll leave it here.”
A simple cackle echoed in the grove, though the woman still did not appear. “I accept your payment,” the woman’s voice said. “Leave now. And may fortune be with you on the journey home.”
The cobbler grunted at Rosalie, taking the lantern and leaving her in the darkness. He crashed through the garden, trampling whatever blocked his way, and vanished into the trees.
Rosalie shivered like a frost-covered stem, blinking, her eyes darting from shadow to shadow. “Worry not, child,” a soft voice said. “All will be well.”
The sun suddenly began to rise as though time had sped up, filling the grove with orange light. The old woman stepped from the cottage, her face dotted with warts though they did not diminish her smile. “You must be afraid, child. Would this cheer you up?” The woman held out a freshly carved doll.
Rosalie reached out and examined it, testing each of the four limbs, studying the intact head. “It looks like my old doll when Papa first made it.”
“This place has a way of making old things new again,” the woman said. “Come. Let’s see how fortune has favored your old family.”
“Where are we going?”
“To the top of the tree.” She took Rosalie by the hand and lifted her onto the tree’s second branch, over the ragged stump, and up the poplar tower, round and round until they reached the crown. The woman waved her hand, and the city suddenly appeared in the sky, the image expanding until Rosalie’s old home came into sharp relief.
Rosalie watched the cobbler pace back and forth outside the shop, speaking with a policeman. His voice boomed, “It was just here. All my coins, gone. Wretched thieves. Find whoever did this. Find them!” The policeman nodded, glancing at Wood who crouched just behind the door, staring at his hands suddenly covered in skin. He prodded his soft stomach, the gurgle of hunger beginning to boil within him.
Rosalie laughed, and then laughed harder when the High Councilor marched down the street with the city magistrate, nailing a Cease and Desist order to the door of the shop, charging the cobbler with fraud and deception. The magistrate declared, “We hereby seize this workshop and remand it to the High Council, by order of the High Councilor.”
“Such shoddy workmanship,” the Councilor muttered, eyeing his shoes. “To charge a handsome price and conceal scratched soles and old leather with varnish that doesn’t even last a day. No sir, that rubbish will not be tolerated, not while I’m High Councilor.”
The old woman hummed, “You’ll have everything you need here in this garden while your old family must roam the streets, begging for food and searching for shelter.”
“Will I ever go back?” Rosalie asked, grateful in her heart for the old woman’s kindness, but at the same time already beginning to miss the familiar city streets.
“No, child, not for a long time. You’ll be happy, here, and I’ll protect you, keep you safe as your own mother could not.”
“Thank you,” Rosalie said, figuring that’s all she really could say in such circumstances. She twirled a strand of pure gold hair around her finger and sang her song to match the melody of the birds, trilling as she considered her new home, gazed down at the roses with both thorns and beauty while Wood’s nose grew and his stomach growled, the last bit of bark melting away from a face that no longer smiled, no longer giggled, trying to figure the difference between a life made of wood and one spent among the trees.

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