The Coffin Maker: Part 3

The Wood Cutter

Their life was glorious, golden and fragile like sunshine. Those days went by faster and faster, spinning top-like on the wind. The huntsman, in his previous life, had spent much time with death, but still he began to find his new occupation too cruel and, now that his skill had grown great enough to attract attention, when two children had been born to Juliet and him, he decided to take up work as a wood cutter instead.

The children of the wood cutter and his wife looked exactly like their mother. They were a boy and a girl of only a few years’ difference. The wood cutter and his wife doted on them, and always Juliet could be found leaping about in the yard with their son, teaching him to brandish the wooden sword that the wood cutter had made for him, or else kneeling in the garden with their small daughter, their pale arms caked with dirt. The wood cutter had, for his children, become an inventor. He built for them a castle, high in the trees. For his son, he built a wooden puppet, but the son traded it to a wandering carnival caravan. The boy cried with guilt when he saw his father’s face that day. The wood cutter was far to happy to have found the wandering child to care much for the toy, but children find much grief in the smallest things.

Often, the wood cutter would take the children with him into the forest as he worked to give their mother a few moments rest. Juliet’s beauty had softened with age. Where she had been stunning, her beauty now was the kind to grow slowly in one’s eyes, until one could do no less than stand enraptured by it. Her jovial nature had only ripened with wisdom. Their life was glorious, golden and fragile like sunshine. Those days went by far faster than any of them noticed.

So the day of her death was hung with shadow. The sky sat a blank gray without promise and the trees shivered nakedly in the wind. The wood cutter took his small children with him into the woods, the girl cradled in his right arm, an axe in the left hand, the boy riding high on his shoulders. He felt a giant among men.

Laughing at some childish statement, the three of them turned to wave to Juliet who stood bathed in cool, fading light, a smile perpetually frozen on her face. Everything else was hues of gray; pale roof, charcoal trees, ashy sky, deep gray smoke from the still burning fire coming out of the shadowy chimney. But Juliet, she was bathed in every scrap of light, seeming to capture it and turn it about like a prism.

As they entered the woods, the wood cutter left his heart with her, as he had done every day of every year passed.

A scream split the silence of the sleeping woods, and the wood cutter knew fear for the first time in his life.

“Stay here,” he told is children, giving them the lunch Juliet had packed for them. “I’ll be back as quick as I can.” He could not risk bringing them into danger.

“Father,” they cried. “What’s happened?”

“I’m sure it’s nothing. Everything’s okay. Just stay here. I’ll be back in no time.”

He ran--of course he did---but he still did not reach the house in time. His beautiful Juliet lay dead on the floor of their home. Her heart lay on a silver platter beside her. Gathering her close, the wood cutter gave in to his grief. Such was his pain in its purity, so silent and deep, that death, his old companion, felt for the first time, guilt. And some deep magic drew forth from the earth a mass of amethyst and topaz, obsidian and diamond which were given up as an offering of peace.

The wood cutter ran again, to the spot where he had left his children. But some part of him knew already they were gone. The sorceress was sworn to take from him all he loved, and so he could not expect any small mercy.

His grief that had before been boundless now folded in on itself, consuming all that he was inside. With his grief, the coffin maker made a resting place for his wife, mincing raw his hands on the jagged crystals gifted to him, for with her mangled heart, Juliet would no longer like a glass coffin. And he made a coffin for himself as well, as he doubted how long a man could continue on without his heart.

He buried her in her gemstone bed, satisfied that the earth itself had pledged to protect her. As night breached the horizon, the crystalline grave glowed with light that seemed dim in comparison to the beauty it housed. His eyes would never be able to comprehend the final sight of his love, and so he tore them from the sight.

The wood cutter set out to find his children. Juliet’s life with him may have been a stolen gift, but his children were subject to no such rule. He would have them back.

Now the children had inherited every bit of their father’s brilliance, and they had left him a trail from their lunch. He followed it with a savage intensity. Never had he been a man given to overt emotions, but in a short space of time he had become their slave. He was grief. He was pain. He was fear and anger and desperation. He was guilt.

When he found them, they cried, all three of them together, for the children knew instinctively the hard truth he had to tell them. They told him they had killed a sorceress, and he hoped they would take a sort of poetic justice from that, though theirs was not the same witch who had taken Juliet from them.

Again time passed in the forest, the children grew older and so did he. He was hardly half a man, but he could not bear to leave his children again, and death was no longer a friend of his, so he struggled on with a gaping wound in his chest.

He even added a new story to his legend when he saved a young maiden from a hungry wolf, though all that stuck in his mind was the crimson of her cape, stark red against the snowy wood. The tale hardly savored when he returned to a cottage where Juliet did not wait for him to share with. He ate dinner with his children who, though thoroughly impressed, could not stomach the gorier details. The wood cutter thought that death had given him an easy win anyway, but still he could not forgive his old companion.

With time, his children left him, both having an abnormal desire for adventure. His daughter went off to some enchanted palace in a distant and isolated land, and he rejoiced that she was free from sullying wars. His son hunted a knightly title with enough determination to earn it and spent his days slave to the love of a queen who he would never have.

Eventually, the wood cutter was hardly able to cut wood any longer, so frail had time wrought him, and so the fire in the hearth was mere embers more often than not. The nights were long and empty, and rarely did he have any cause to remember one day more than another.

His hands became stiff and painful, fingers aching with cold that seemed to seep from everywhere and cling to his very bone. There were many days in those emerald woods where he despaired of ever finding any semblance of peace.

In some moments, he even cursed his young and beautiful wife for leaving behind such an emptiness in his chest, for giving him a glimpse at joy and then taking it so suddenly. But immediately after those moments, he would be given over to ugly sobs of torment and guilt and his shudders would rock him to sleep.


Post a Comment