Rory’s Story Cubes, where a tale of self-examination and critique takes a decidedly Lovecraftian turn.
Once upon a time…
There was a middle-aged, out-of-shape man who spent many long hours working as a property manager: showing apartments for rent and arranging for new tenants, repairs, renovations, and turnovers.
It was after a walk-through inspection of an apartment with two soon-to-leave tenants when the property manager, alone and deep in thought, asked himself: “Is this what I really want to do with my life?”
Plagued with indecision and an unflagging sense of ennui, he elected to take a vacation. It had been far too long since he’d taken one, rationalized the property manager. He contacted his maintenance crew to explain his plans, gave his mobile phone and e-mail password to the crew lead, and before you could say the English alphabet backwards he was on an aeroplane, headed to paoints west.
Being an undocumented enthusiast of both mathematics and Asian history, he eventually landed in China. There, he resolved to become absorbed by his new environs and discern his true purpose in life, or die alone in this foreign, alien land.
A bus he elected to take to western China broke down (for the last time, it turns out) in the mountainous plateaus of the north-central highlands, west of the winding Yangtze River. With only his backpack and curiosity, he wandered along the pock-marked roadway until, just a short ways off the thoroughfare, he spied a small collection of cheerful huts, shacks, and fenced-off pastures dotted with the puff-ball forms of mountain sheet. Sensing a new adventure and a possible solution to his conundrum, he decided to investigate.
Cresting a sheep-saturated hillock, his next encounter caused him to gasp. There, beyond the herd’s pastures, lay countless row upon row of plum and apple trees.
The property manager was mesmerized by the brilliant greens and lavenders of the fruit, and honeys and ambers of the wood-bark that greeted his gaze in every direction. The fragrance of the blossoms was intoxicating, and with every step he spied a new and ever-more interesting formation, row, cluster, or copse of trees within the mammoth orchard. The sun began to sink to the horizon, but the property manager cared not a whim. Gently cupping a luscious, aromatic bough in his calloused hand, the property manager vowed to begin his life anew.
Eventually winding his way back to the village, the property manager contacted his crew chief as quickly as he could, stating that he’d be back home within a week. He then contacted the owners of his various properties and tendered his resignation to each and every one. Finally, he sought out the keeper of the seemingly-ancient orchard.
It turned out not to be one person, but a trio of women, all sisters, who had maintained the orchard themselves. In a short time, they appeased the curiosity of the property manager with tales of the origin of the orchard, which had been in the sisters’ family for over 10 generations.
Eager to begin an orchard just like the one he had seen on his sojourn through the orient, the man snapped off a branch of each variety of tree within the orchard, secreting them beneath his shirt and next to his skin. Upon bidding farewell to the three sisters, the man began to walk along the China highway, back to the bus’ last known location. Alighting the bus – which still needed repair – the man nestled into a coach seat for a fitful night’s rest.
Unknown to him, however, a voracious predatory worm had hitch-hiked on one of the purloined branches still snug beneath the property manager’s clothing. Upon anesthetizing the property manager with a venomous bite, the worm would soon burrow into the man’s flesh, hiding there until back in the ‘States. Once on foreign shores, the eggs laid in the man’s torso would hatch; the infant worms would feast on his heart, and he would die painfully, his dream never fulfilled.