Wednesday, March 18. 2009
Posted by Johnny Elbows in Playing a meta-game with the same theme
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"Darjeeling? Where's that?" Those were Damon's first two questions. His third question was the one that really mattered to him, though. "Why now?"
"It's the opportunity of a lifetime," answered his father. "Have you ever heard of the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park?"
"No, and neither have most normal people. Dad, this is my senior year. San Diego was supposed to be the opportunity of a lifetime, too, remember? I don't care if Noah called and wants you to cure all of the animals on the ark. I don't want to leave." Damon could tell from the deep breaths that his father was counting to ten. Knowing that it was the only way he could win, Damon spoke again before his father reached ten. "You know what? I don't care. You go ahead and do whatever you think you should. I'm just your son. My opinion's not really that important." With that, he turned and stalked out of the room, ignoring his father's attempts to call him back.
Darjeeling surprised Damon; for the most part, he liked it. His father had to call in a lot of favors to make it work, but he managed to get Damon enrolled in St. Joseph's School. As the only American in the school, he was a bit of an anomaly. After the initial novelty wore off, most everyone just left him alone. It wasn't anything like home, and sometimes Damon was lonely, but he had to admit that it was far better than the two years they had spent in St. Louis. Before long, he found himself wandering in the foothills of the Himalayas almost every day after school.
Early one Saturday morning, he left a note for his father. "Hiking Tiger Hill." He took a bus to Ghoom, and then began wandering up the hill. For the most part, he followed the Senchal road, but that morning, he was trying to escape, and his meandering path through the trees kept him away from any people.
He later told me that he was sure that the old woman was looking for him. "There was no way that anyone was going to run into me," he said. In spite of his protests, though, she quite literally ran into him. She was so busy looking over her shoulder as she rushed down the hill that she didn't see him at all, and plowed into him without even slowing down. As he helped her to her feet, she babbled something that he couldn't understand, thrust a dirty ceramic teapot into his hands, and ran on down the hill checking over her shoulder as she ran.
Glancing around, Damon stuffed the teapot into his backpack, shaking his head at the crone's strange behavior. The reason for her headlong rush down the hill became clear a few minutes later when several men charged out of the trees. "Have you seen an old woman?" one asked.
A second asked, "Which way did she go?"
Damon pointed down the hill wordlessly, turning to watch as they sprinted after her, quickly disappearing among the trees.
About an hour later, he sat atop Tiger Hill, staring at the snow-covered mass of Kangchenjunga on the horizon, and turning the teapot in his hands. He'd never seen anything quite like it. He fingered the delicate scales of the dragon's snout that formed the spout, examined the tiny clawed feet, and admired the way that the sinuous tail that made the handle had been shaped to fit comfortably in the hand. He didn't know anything about teapots, but he was sure that this one was a masterpiece. Instead of being in a museum, though, he had it in his hands. The dark brown clay was dirty, and the lid was held in place with a smudged piece of masking tape. More carefully this time, he wrapped the teapot in a jacket, and pushed it into his backpack.
Damon never told his father about the teapot. Several days later, he dug it out of its hiding place under his bed and took it to the kitchen to clean it. He was trying to dig some tar out of the spout when I appeared. "You're doing it wrong." Startled, he jumped, and nearly dropped the teapot.
"Who are you?"
"That depends on who you're talking to."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm very old. I've been many things to many people."
"You don't look that old."
It had been a long time since I had spoken to anyone. My words came tumbling out, pushed by the pent-up loneliness of three hundred years of solitude. "Looks can be deceiving. I was born more than five hundred years ago in what is now the YiXing region of China. I grew up in a monastery. I was supposed to become a monk myself, but it never really stuck. I didn't really care about learning. I just wanted to have fun. Whether I was stealing eggs or seducing local women, I was always in trouble.. One day, after a particularly bad episode, my mentor called me to his cell. I still remember, he was shaking because he was so angry. 'You are a disgrace and an embarrassment.'
"I interrupted him. That was probably a mistake. I said, 'Xi, I'm just not cut out to be a monk. My personality's too strong. I can't spend my whole life submitting to other's expectations and rules.'
"When I said that, a light came to his eyes. He was almost smiling when he spoke. He pointed to his prized dragon teapot. 'You see that teapot?' I nodded. 'I'm going to give you that teapot. It's going to be your home. From this moment forward, you will watch everything that happens. You will know about everything. You will learn the things that you have never wanted to learn. But who you are, and what you are, will be ruled by the wishes of others. They will push pictures down the spout of your teapot, and you will become what they draw. You will have no existence but the existence that they choose for you.'"
I stopped to see how Damon was taking my story. To my surprise he was looking at me like he was going to laugh. "Nice story. Really good. So, why don't we start over. This time, why don't you tell me the truth."
I found myself at a loss for words. "You don't believe me?"
"No, not at all."
"I didn't put any kind of picture into the spout. I was using a skewer to clean it when you appeared. That's your first problem. The second problem is that you're just plain full of it. You're trying to tell me that you know everything, but I'll bet you don't even know my name."
I have to admit that I was getting a little bit angry. "Fine. You want the truth? I'll tell you the truth. Your name's Damon Roberts. You moved here against your wishes from San Diego. Before that, you lived in St. Louis, Orlando, Washington D.C., Paris, London, Stuttgart, Philadelphia and Seattle. You and your father don't always get along. You tell everyone that your mother died, but really, she got sick of being put second to your father's career, and she left. You haven't seen or heard from her since you moved to Washington D.C. How's that for truth, Mr. Roberts?"
At that point, I had his attention. Staring at me, he asked, "How'd you get out of the teapot? I thought you could only come out if I put a picture down the spout."
"I hadn't finished my story."
"Oh," he said warily. "You can finish, if you want."
For a moment, we sat in silence. I found myself looking back over my long life, wondering. "He told me that there would only be one time when I would have my own personality. 'When you come to a new owner, you will explain how the teapot works. You will answer his questions, and then, you will wait for his command."
"So, now you have to answer my questions?"
"What happened next?"
"He sold me. A merchant was traveling through the region, and my mentor sold the teapot to the merchant in exchange for supplies for the monastery. When I came out to explain myself to the merchant, I cursed and screamed at him, but he just laughed at me. For years after that, he would take me to parties, and have his guests shove pictures into my teapot for fun.
"The merchant passed me on to his son, who passed me on to his son, and so on for about a hundred years. I was a party game, a laughingstock, a sideshow. Then one day, everything changed. My master was trading with a wealthy nobleman in Gaoyou, and decided to show them his magic teapot. One of the man's son's, Wu Sangui, was fascinated by the teapot, and offered my master a small fortune for the teapot. When my master refused to sell, Wu accused him of theft, had him thrown in prison, and took the teapot for himself. Unlike my past masters, Wu understood the power that I had."
Again, I stopped to see how Damon was taking the story. I could see the anticipation in his face as he motioned for me to continue.
"Wu didn't waste any time with his commands. He used me to gain power. By the time he was 27, he was already a full general. I helped him to escape when the Ming forces were defeated by the Qing. I became his advisor in his quest for power. I told him that his love had been captured by his enemies. I told him to open the gates of the Great Wall. I knew that if he cooperated with the Qing, they would reward him, and they did, but I knew that what I was doing was wrong. Because of my advice, my master was powerful, but my people were ruled by a foreigner.
"As the years passed, Wu forgot about me, for the most part. I was always included in his court, but he never asked me for advice. When Emperor Kangxi tried to force us to move our court to the land of his forbears, Wu didn't even consult with me before he rebelled. He called himself the Supreme General, and eventually even crowned himself emperor, but unlike me, he was mortal. He died of dysentery, and Emperor Kangxi had pieces of his body scattered over the entire kingdom.
"For some reason, the emperor believed that I was the cause of Wu's misdeeds, and he had my teapot filled full of tar and hidden. He said that one day, when I had learned my lesson from loneliness, a new owner would free me from my prison. So, for the last three hundred years, I've been stuck in my teapot. I still watch everything that happens, and I still know about everything, but I can't get out of the teapot unless the spout is unblocked. Congratulations. You're the first person I've spoken to in a very long time, and now you're my master."
"What should I call you?"
"I don't have a name anymore. You have to name me."
"Hmm. Well, for now, I'm just going to call you Genie. It seems to fit. I guess now, I've got to figure out what kind of picture I should draw. I'll warn you, though, I'm not much of an artist."
"You don't have to be. I can read the intention from the drawing." After that, I disappeared.
It took Damon several days to think up what he wanted to draw, and when he did, he wasn't much of an artist. But I knew what he was looking for, and that's what I became. For the next fifty-five years, Damon and I shared a friendship that became the greatest treasure of my life. I took various poses. I followed him as he moved from place to place. Sometimes I was a next-door neighbor. Sometimes, I was a buddy at work. For a while, I even posed as a preacher at a local church. Always, I was his friend.
One day, Damon and I drove to the Gallatin River. He took a large styrofoam cooler out of his car, and together, we walked to the banks of the river. Opening the cooler, he showed me its contents. My teapot sat there, cradled by a bunch of styrofoam packing peanuts. "It's time to say good-bye," he said. "I'm dying, and I don't know who I should give this to." I looked at him, and saw tears welling up in his eyes. I turned away from him so that he couldn't see the tears that were beginning to blur my vision.
"I could save you. I know how."
"You don't need to. You've done enough. You've been my best friend for fifty-some odd years now, and I'm ready to go."
"You know, I became your friend because you told me to, but you've become my friend, too, and I'll remember that forever."
"Forever's a long time."
"I know. Good-bye, Damon."
"Good-bye, Genie." With that, I disappeared. He put the lid on the cooler, closed it securely with duct tape, and threw it into the river. I drifted down stream to the Missouri, the Mississippi, and eventually into the ocean. I'm not sure why you found me, but I hope that destiny guided me to you. That's my story. Do you have any other questions before you start drawing?"
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Wow. What an awesome way to get the reader to think about the concept.
I actually got the idea from AoD. We were discussing second-person narration a while ago, and our discussion gave me the idea for my ending.
Now this is more along the lines of what I was "expecting." Good story. I think that this could easily be put in an english book of short stories for high school students. Not sure how you could get it in there though.
1. Print out story.
2. Wait outside the high school
3. When the kids are leaving find the target and go bully him into giving you his book.
4. Open book
5. Place printed story in book
See 5 easy steps.
"Damon" is an interesting choice for the name of the 'protagonist' - did your decision to use that particular name have anything to do with the story of Damon and Pythias/Phintias?
No. I had a frenemy growing up whose name was Damon. They shared some personality traits, so I named my character after him.
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