The First Person to Climb The Puufy Tree

The First Person to Climb The Puufy Tree

This is a short story which is set in a fictional location realized by my good friend Robert Congdon and I back when we were in the fourth grade.  I have provided a section of the original map which the Puufy Tree exists in.

When the man arrived in the village and said he wanted to climb The Puufy Tree, the villagers laughed at him.

“You’ll kill yourself trying!” said one.

“No man’s made it more than half-way up!” said another.

“Fool!” shouted the rest, before returning to their work.

The villagers left the man alone after this – it was not the first time a man had come to their village and declared hopes of climbing The Puufy Tree.  The Tree was the largest of its kind, a remnant of the ancient days.  It towered over the village and stretched so high into the clouds that most of it was lost from sight on a cloudy day.  No one quite knew how tall it was, though several had made guesses over the years.  A woodsman had come to the village one day, saying that he could divine the height based on patterns in the bark.  He had spent three days tracing his finger through the grooves of its ancient skin, as the villagers watched on in earnest.  At the end of the three days he announced dejectedly that he did not have a clue as to how tall it stood.

At least he was honest.  Others had come to determine the Tree’s height by less honest means.  A sorcerer had claimed that he could peer into his cauldron and see a vision of the Tree’s very top.  However, in order to do so, the villagers would have to place 50 gold pieces into the cauldron first.  To help clarify his sight, of course.  They had complied, eager to find out how high the Tree went.  In the wee hours of the morning, the sorcerer had begun his spell in the center of the village, surrounded by the awestruck eyes of the villagers.

He hopped around the cauldron for some time, chanting in a low, guttural voice.  Thick, grey smoke poured out of the cauldron and rolled across the ground like a churning wave.  The villagers choked on the smoke and their eyes filled with tears.  Soon smoke filled the entire area – a blanket of fog.  When it finally dispersed, the villagers found the sorcerer and his cauldron gone.  Their gold gone with him too.  After the sorcerer, the villagers began to distrust travelers and strangers.

Men came to the village often, to try their hand at climbing The Puufy Tree.  Most didn’t make it more than a quarter up before they either lost their grip or realized their madness and climbed back down.  Eaton, the villager’s mortician, had buried more bodies pulverized from the fall off the Tree than villagers who had passed naturally.

It was because of all of this that when the man arrived in the village and said he wanted to climb The Puufy Tree, the villagers laughed at him.

However, when the man made this proclamation, there was one among the villagers who felt excited for him.  It was Eana, the daughter of the butcher.  She liked the look of the man.  Something was different about him than the others who had tried before.  Though his dark cloak shrouded most of his face, she had caught a hint of a smile forming on his face when the villagers laughed.

Eana had a secret.  At night, when village girls dreamed of princes sweeping them up off their feet and carrying them back to castles, Eana dreamed of climbing The Puufy Tree.  She dreamed at standing at the very top and looking down over the land.  She imagined that it was so high up that she would be able to see the entire world from the very top.  Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when she was sure her father was asleep, she would sneak out of the house and go to the Tree.  She would climb, without ropes or supports, in the pitch-black night.  She wasn’t sure how high she climbed, but she was sure it was higher than many of the men’s best efforts.

The villagers paused a moment to watch the man begin his walk from the village to The Puufy Tree, and then returned to their days work.

The man set his pack up against the Tree and removed his cloak from his shoulders.  He put the cloak atop his pack and began to slowly circle the Tree, his hand brushing against the course bark.  It took him nearly three minutes to complete his circle.  When he arrived back at his pack, there was a young girl waiting there for him.  It was Eana.

After the man had left the village, Eana had told her father she was going to pick berries, and then made her way to the Tree.  She found his pack, but he was not there so she waited.  When he did arrive from around the corner of the Tree, she was struck dumb for a second.  He only had one arm.  The other arm, which had been hidden in his cloak, was a stump at the elbow.

“You’ll never make it up the Tree with that!” Eana blurted out, unable to contain herself.

The man chuckled good-naturedly.

That,” he said, emphasizing his stump, “is precisely why I’m climbing it.  I can do anything with one arm twice as good as a man with two can.”

“Are you going to climb the Tree?” Eana said, though it was such an obvious question she immediately blushed and felt foolish.

“Of course,” said the man. “I will be the first man to make it to the top.  Would you like to climb with me?”

“Me?”

“Yes you, girl.  Unless you’d just like to sit there and watch.”

Eana smiled and said, “race you to the top.”

They were a curious pair, the two climbing the Tree.  A girl not past her twelfth birthday and a man with one arm.  They made good time though, and were quite far up the Tree before any of the villagers noticed.

“Hey!” shouted one of the villagers, “Hey, isn’t that Eana!”

“It is!” said another.

“Someone get the butcher!” said a third.

Before long, there was a congregation of villagers at the foot of the Tree.  Eana’s father was in the center of them.

“Eana!” he yelled up at the climbing pair, “get down here right now! You’ll kill yourself!”

He continued to yell, but it was no use; his words were caught up in the wind and swept away from Eana and the man.  When Eana finally stopped a moment to catch her breath and look down, the villagers were merely tiny specks, and their village looked like a toy.  She looked up at the man, who was perched a few feet above her in the crook of a branch.

“Getting tired yet?” he said playfully, wiping his brow with his one hand.

“Please, I’ve made it this high in the middle of the night,” Eana retorted.

“Good, ‘cause we might be climbing through the night,” the man said.

Eana shrugged, and started to climb again with renewed vigor, hopping a few branches past the man’s perch.

The two were dripping with sweat by the time the sun began to set.  Eana had led the pace for a while, but soon dropped off behind the man after she realized how strong of a climber he was.  With each step he took, his limbs seemed to guide themselves to the next, and there was no stopping to find handholds or footholds in his movement.

The two climbed and climbed.  They rested and they slept, and then they climbed more.  They climbed in the dark and they climbed in the light.  Back down on the village, the Butcher paced anxiously.  Eana was a good girl, it wasn’t like her to do something like this.  He waited for her, night and day, and each sound outside of his house brought him to his feet, hoping that it was her, returned.

Eana never came back down the Tree.  The man didn’t either, and then one day he did.  He came back into view, shimmying down the Tree like a squirrel going for an acorn.  One villager spotted him, then another.

“Hey!” said one.

“It’s that man!” said another.

“Where’s Eana?” said a third.

“Go get the butcher!” shouted the rest.

The villagers were gathered around the base of the Tree when the man finally reached the bottom.  He looked around, surveying the crowd of villagers, but did not say anything.  Finally, the butcher busted through the circle.

“Where’s Eana?” he shouted, looking up and down like she was about to pop out from behind the climber.

The man took a deep breath.

“Eana’s still climbing.  I reckon she’s near the top now.”

With that, he collected his bags, which were still where he left them at the foot of the Tree, and went on his way.  The villagers parted as he passed, staring at him like he had four arms, or rather, one.  When the man reached the edge of the village, he turned back to look at the Tree.  What a beautiful sight it was.

If you’d ask me, I’d tell you that I think Eanas still climbing.  I don’t think she ever stopped.  But I don’t think she made it to the top, either.  Maybe that’s the point of it though, maybe in life you never stop climbing.  Because once you reach the top, what else is there?  In a world where so much emphasis is placed on doing exactly as others do, isn’t it nice to carve out your own meaning.  Eana didn’t want to marry a prince, she wanted to climb The Puufy Tree, and I hope you, reader, choose to climb The Puufy Tree too.

 

While I am completely content with this story and am quite proud of how it turned out, I believe that I need to revisit this world.  There are thousands of stories to tell about Atica(the world in question), and perhaps the Puufy Tree and the man with one arm will make an appearance in another story still to come.  Perhaps even Eana will return from the tree.

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