The Village of Whealbrook
Sam Martone

Your father brings you to a village where everyone knows his name, where everyone has been anticipating his arrival, where everyone knows your name, too. They tell you how much you have grown, but you do not remember them, you do not remember this place. You do not tell them this. You stay silent, as you always do, as you must. You do not tell them that all you can remember doing, before the ship arrived at port, is dreaming. Maybe you were asleep when you were here before. Maybe you are asleep right now. There are strange things happening in this village, as there always are at the beginning: the world is too cold, much colder than it should be this time of year, and you realize you can’t remember ever seeing the seasons change—only in your dreams did you crouch in the cellar for cover from tornadoes, only in your dreams did you feel your feet sink into snow. You look around your house, your new house, your old house, and wonder if you will ever think of it as a home, or if, when you leave here, it will collapse in your mind, fold in upon itself, until it is reduced from a two-story structure to a single sentence, a thing you say if you ever say a thing: I lived there once; for a time I lived there. Your father builds a bed for you, a bed that can accommodate how much you’ve grown, from useless treasure he’s found on his travels, old books with thick and faded covers, hand-carved flutes that no one remembers how to play. He hangs a picture of your mother on every wall. He’s been keeping secrets from you. You follow him when he leaves the house, when he leaves the village. You watch him as he boards a wooden raft and floats down a stream that winds snakelike into a cave. You cannot read the warning sign warning of cave-ins in this cave and inside, you cannot find your father anywhere. His raft rocks empty in the stream, he’s dropped his sword in the dust, whatever he’s been searching for has been lost. You wander back to the village. You find a stone in a well. You toss it in the air and catch it. Nothing happens. There are some objects in the world that won’t be useful until much later, until you have almost forgotten you are carrying them. This, you think, must be for later, but no: this is for now. Do not skip the wellstone across the stream. Do not swallow it, even though it is smooth, the perfect size for your child mouth. Do not throw it through the church window. Feel the weight in your pocket and remember this moment when your father is gone, when you are alone. Remember the way he looked with a hammer in his hand and nails between his teeth. Remember the way he looked when he washed your cuts and scrapes, pulled splinters from your palm, when he told you that you were brave, braver than he ever could be. You find a man trapped in a tunnel. You find a secret world covered in snow, but it is not like the snow you remember, it is not like the snow in your dreams. You crawl into the bed your father built from stories and songs and his own two hands. He must have known this day would come, a day when you would fall asleep not knowing where he’d gone, not knowing if he would ever return. When you wake up, he will be where you last saw him, sipping orange juice at the kitchen table. He will tell you it is time now, it is time to go.

Sam Martone currently lives in Tempe, Arizona, where he attempts to beat the summer heat by hiding out inside and attempting to beat the final boss of Dragon Quest V.