Writing Middlewalk

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
First, I wish to mention that I had not thought of writing the story of "Middlewalk", prior to my reading of "A farm in the forest" by Magically Clueless. But, suitably inspired, any player of Stardew will instantly recognize the outline behind "Middlewalk." Within the story of the game, there are plenty of cracks and crevices that can be filled in with a touch of magical imagination.

MIDDLEWALK-1

Monday morning broke forth bright and beautiful, and a half-asleep Lee had been dreaming of his grandfather. Work was so much different in his grandfather's time. Then, corporations were built like pyramids. One could start as a copy boy, and armed with loyalty, knowledge, and perseverance climb the structure. Then, there were many well-paid, skilled middle level managers and the man at the top was just one step above them. Today, everything was so much different. Now, companies were now built like horseshoe pits. The workers in the box were minimally paid shifting grains of sand, easily replaced, and the spike in the center represented the CEO, whose pay reflected a vortex of all those who were paid so much less. Joja Corporation was such a company, and as one of its grains-of-sand employees, Lee felt only numbness as he got up and hurried to prepare for the day.

As he drove through the blighted neighborhood, the massive white Joja corporate building came into view, squatting on the now cheap land like a medieval castle encased by the huts of peons. Parking his car at the edge of the lot he walked past the expensive cars with their assigned parking spaces, past the security guards, and waited for the elevator. Four flights up, he then proceeded down the corridor filled with row after row of matching cubicles. The one next to his was empty, cleaned out and posted with the dreaded terminated sign. He knew little about its former occupant. Joja had a strict no association policy between its employees. He remotely recalled that she was a single mother who desperately needed the job. At this moment, the loss of one person simply translated that the surviving employees would only have to work harder to take up the slack. Plopping down in his stiff-backed chair, he entered a string of passwords and stared at the computer screen. Lee's background was that of an analytical chemist, and today's assignment was to formulate a cheaper version of Joja Cola. The spreadsheet listed the ingredients - all water, flavored with an almost toxic chemical mix of Red dye #2, artificial this and thats, and a couple of acids. Opposite to the column of chemicals, were the results of a taste test panel describing their impressions of the resulting flavor. Years ago, Joja Cola had been stripped of anything of value, and the only solution to today's assignment was either to further water down the current list of ingredients, or to switch out one of the ingredients for a cheaper, likely scarier, substitute. Lee flipped to a series of screens listing those chemicals capable of eluding federal approval. Leaning back, he tilted his chair, and his foot accidentally kicked one of the drawers on the side, which slid open. His focus interrupted, Lee stared at the only item in the drawer, a bus ticket. For a brief moment, a mental image of his grandfather started to form, but Lee actively squelched it. Sitting up again, he quickly closed the drawer, and tried once again to rundown the list of names on the spreadsheet. Initially, if the plan was to water down the cola even further, he would need a darker chemical dye to maintain the color. The lists were long, the chemical names filled with gobbledygook, and Lee's concentration wavered. Like a tendril of smoke escaping from the drawer, an image of the ticket wafted in his direction, sparking and fueling suppressed rebellion. Lee had not worked long enough at Joja to yet lose his soul, and the memory of his grandfather remained a mute form of companionship whenever he felt alone. As in the distant third echo of an echo, his grandfather's reassuring words somehow remained audible above the clickity clicks coming from the other cubicles. His faith in his grandfather supplied additional words that his grandfather had left unsaid. Still, when it came to Joja, it is one thing to enjoy (are they wicked?) thoughts of defiance, it is quite another to have thoughts of the consequences. Pulling open the drawer again, he stared at the ticket, glowing like a hot lump of charcoal. As he looked, strains of music played in his head, Wagner's opera, "Die Walkure". The music of the moment was Siegmund's recollection of his father's promise, that in time of greatest need, a sword would be provided to him, and Siegmund was calling out, "Needfull! Needful! Where is my sword?" And then, there it was, in the tree, glistening like gold. Siegmund's ticket to freedom. And although once hidden away in a drawer, there it was, a ticket to freedom. Visions of escape opened wide, racing like light through the vastness of space between the stars, also (it must be admitted) diffused with only a teaspoon of knowledge. The morning's veil of vague numbness lifted ever so slightly, and as his head cleared, Lee wondered if he would go slightly crazy if he touched the ticket. "What am I doing?" He stood up, took the ticket, and walked away without looking back.
 
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Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
MIDDLEWALK-2

Hoppy loved his pond. Not only was he the biggest frog in the pond, he was the only frog. He surveyed his domain, relishing in the perfection of its features. The pond held water the year around. The Northern and Eastern edges were too steep to climb out of, but the high wall made a great jumping off ledge for quick escapes. The Western edge was wet and swampy, very tempting for careless low-flying insects. A fat lily pad floated at one end, perfect for resting, drying, and warming in the sun. The bottom was filled with the detritus of pollen, sticks, and leaves, blown in by the wind. Over time, decay had created an ooze, deep enough to squirm around in and hide whenever needed. Far to the South, Hoppy knew of another, larger pond, and when the night-time wind blew in from that direction, Hoppy could hear the songs of other frogs. Hoppy should have been relaxed and happy, for it was mayfly season, and the hatchling larvae were really slow, and absolutely tasty. But there was a problem. For a long time, the surrounding land had remained undisturbed, but today three humans were making noises over by the run-down cabin. As he crouched down, shielded by a tuft of grass, Hoppy's timpani rang with their vibrations of grunts and chirps. "So annoying. Please just go away!" The human on right must have been older, for his noises were deeper and slower. The one in the middle with the red fur on top must have been a female, since her pitch was an octave above the other two. At first, the human on the left looked all excited, and emitted loud noises. Then suddenly the red-topped female threw up her hands and let out a loud squeal. Reflexively tensing, Hoppy's first instinct was to high tail it for the water (although he no longer had a tail), but he hunkered down frozen, to watch what would happen next. Although on guard, Hoppy was quite aware that these were big humans, not the kind to chase frogs, unlike their smaller versions. To his great delight, two of the humans started walking away. Hoppy sent out a silent wish to the remaining human, "It's OK, you can go too." But no. The remaining human shed some of his outer skin in the warm sun, and began to make even louder noises. Hoppy could make out chip, chip, chips, and suddenly a distant tree tumbled over. Louder clang, clang, clangs, were unintelligible. Swish, swish, swishes, and grass flew into the air. The human suddenly was approaching the pond, looking like an avenging destroyer seeking out a submarine. Putting discretion in front of valor, Hoppy headed for deep water. Ker-splash! No, it was not a depth charge, but some kind of giant metal scoop into which water roared, sucking at the badly frightened frog. The scoop receded, and Hoppy could only wonder, "What was that?" He remained hidden, and waited for a full fifteen minutes before rising off the bottom and poking his eyes out on the surface. It was growing dark, and the human was walking towards the building. The human entered through a hatchway, and just enough of a soft glow of light from inside the cabin escaped to annoy Hoppy's night vision. Sighing with relief at his close call, Hoppy hauled himself out onto the lily pad and settled down, watching as a large owl flew overhead, heading South. Usually, about this time of night, Hoppy would sing, but too much adrenaline still raced around in his system, and he simply wanted everything to stop. Tomorrow was just a day away, and as his heart-rate settled down, Hoppy wished for a very different day than the one that he had today.
 

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
MIDDLEWALK-3

It was his second night on the farm and Lee was having trouble getting to sleep. His body ached from having exercised a host of muscles that he did not recall ever having. His hands were blistered. Days on the farm stretched out so much longer. When one is hurting, even the smallest irritant becomes greatly magnified. For instance, a very loud frog was wailing way outside his window that he wished would simply shut up. He scrunched up his pillow over his ears and tried to tune out the world.

Have you not wondered if somehow in some secret way, your path in life is already laid out? That yes, you are the master of choosing whether or not to brush your teeth in the morning (or in Lee's case, whether to dig his parsnip plot in the form a a square or rectangle), but that the choices you make are not those of someone in a corn maze, but instead are those of one who walks along a row of hedges, with tendrils of green hemming and opening a predestined path. We all come into contact with individuals and events that (just a touch outside of our conscious awareness or control) block our paths, or open new doors, who say "No!", or "Yes!". Following this red-light, green-light theory of life, let us take a peek and listen in on some of Lee's thoughts, as he pondered the question of whether or not all the world really was a stage.

Yes, I admit it. As I watched the city recede into the distance, I had serious second thoughts about what I had done. The bus flew along the road, and as the scenery whizzed past, I truly felt like I was moving down a tunnel, one in which the walls on both sides were pasted with pictures. My eyes could see the images racing past outside the window, but inside, my stomach was stuck, tied up in knots. Thinking back now, my intuition could definitely sense what only could be called a convergence of coincidences. The bus broke down as it came to a stop, as if one end of the tunnel had caved in, so that the opening to the past was forever closed, and that I was being pushed out the door. Two people met me. How did they know I was going to arrive? They welcomed me as the new farmer. What happened to the old farmer (or farmers)? The farm was just a short distance from the bus stop, which at least put an end to my fear of where was I supposed to go after getting off the bus. I was apparently at the right place, because later I found a partly covered up shrine near a large pile of broken glass with Grandfather's name on it. The tunnel walls hemming me in were gentle, always inviting me to choose a certain path. There were parsnips in my mailbox. For as much as I knew about farming, I could have tried to plant macaroni and cheese. I never, never, ever read directions, but I forced myself to peek at the back of the packet, and to my chagrin, all it said was to plant in the spring. Tilling the ground was surprisingly easy . . . z z z z . . . years of accumulated leaves had generated a thick dark soil . . . z z z z z . . . Hey, the frog shup up . . . z z z z z . . .
 

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
MIDDLEWALK-4

It has been a couple of weeks now, and I am starting to get used to the farm, the farmhouse, and to farming. My ears still ring a bit from the quiet. No cars. No sirens in the night. No helicopters. No decibels. I love the soft rustle of tree leaves in the morning sun, the rhythm of matter on matter. This morning, as I spread out a little bird seed, there were no grey pigeons, no grey doves, nor brown sparrows. Instead, I could see out the window real chickadees, a cardinal, and I know that in the tree about fifty feet from the cabin hide a pair of nesting orioles. I found a summons in the mailbox, reminding me of today's flower dance. I have even been invited to participate (Ha Ha). So far, I have hardly socialized at all, other than going into the village to pick up some seeds and a fishing pole. It is strange, no longer being the servant of a clock. For too long, my life ran on a fast-moving clock. Stop for a moment and suddenly you are running late. After taking care of my plants and feeding Weasel (the cat), I shower, change into some fresh clothes, and with ambivalent feelings, cut through the copse and head South of the wizard's tower. Strangely, I found an opening in the brush that I didn't recall being there last week. I walked along a roped off path festooned with decorations that led to a meadow where it seemed as if everyone in the village was gathered. Many were busy preparing for the dance, and being a stranger in a strange place, I headed over to Willy, one of the few people that I recognized. I also saw Robin, who smiled and waved at me from a distance, but I stuck with Willy and we talked fish.

Music sounded, and as the dance was about to start, everyone moved closer to watch the participants. The dance itself could hardly be called a dance. A series of choreographed movements recalled to me how one might dance for King Arthur or with Robin Hood in Merry Olde England. I almost expected everyone to grab onto a ribbon and dance under the linden tree around a Maypole. My eyes feasted on the line of pretty country girls, and I watched them as one might watch cheerleaders at a gridball game. Each wore an identical white dress, which masked their figures, but enhanced their faces and hair. All too soon the dance was over, and small groups of excited participants coalesced with parents and friends.

It is no secret that the life experiences of males and females are very different, and very much to the detriment of females. Born under a microscope, theirs is a life of constant judgement - the need for the right clothes, the correct posture, when to smile, when to listen, the shape of the bridge of their nose, which hair is out of place. To all the facts and flaws that they are aware of, a list of imaginary flaws seems ever-present, for we see in ourselves with all the more keenness what we wish others not to see in us. How unfair that her outward appearance dominates how she is perceived, all at the expense of any expression of her inner being behind the mask. We have no idea what toll the years of mistreatment took on Cinderella, but the Prince was eager to marry her at first glance after one dance. Keeping this little aside as a backdrop, let us return to Lee's thoughts, as he attempts to meet one of Stardew' bachelorettes.

It was now or never, and so with an inward sigh, I walked over to Robin, her husband Demetrius, and one of the young lady dancers, who remained dressed in white. Robin introduced me to her daughter Maru. Of course, I told myself to smile a lot, not to stare, and the truth be told, I was neither cool nor dorky - just . . . curious. Maru was not very tall, closer to five foot five than anything else. Her features were rather distinct, reflecting the genetic mixture of her parents, something that I found attractive. She moved in the shadow of her father, clearly a daddy's girl, again something that I really liked. But her hair style did nothing for me. She talked breathlessly fast, in an excited way, full of self-references. Perhaps Maru was still jazzed about her participation in the dance. Perhaps my tongue was slightly intoxicated, but I failed to say anything that even remotely connected with what Maru was talking about. Still, I'm a good listener, and at the same time, I pay careful attention to random intuitive thoughts that occasionally pop into my mind. Suddenly, despite all that was going on before and around me, I captured a rare intuitive thought - that Maru was not comfortable around me, or other males. She was both nervous and inexperienced, and I could feel the invisible threads of tension. It was time to go. The party was breaking up and dusk was coming on fast. I remember saying something commonplace like, "See you around" as they turned to leave. On the silent walk back home, admittedly, I had thoughts that contained some dreamy balloons, many of which were quickly popped with the sting of qualms. As I approached my door, the silence was broken by the loud singing of a frog.
 

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
MIDDLEWALK-5

The air resounded as Woody hammered. Further back in the tunnel, huddled in a corner, the terrified grub reeked of pheromones. There would be no escape. Methodically, little bits of wood flew apart and away; the bill growing ever closer. Peering through all three of his eyelids (which served to shield his eyes from dust and chips), Woody could see that this grub was big and sure to be tasty. The tree was a pine, one of Woody's favorites. He loved the smell of cedar, and underneath the outer layer of wood, there was a red center region against which beetle grubs would pause in their boring. One final strike, and breakfast was served. Woody and his mate Wilma considered themselves the guardians of the forest. And in speaking with their rhythm of woodland rustlings, the forest trees in turn, thanked the woodpeckers for their daily grooming. The still rising sun told Woody, that the time for his shift had arrived, and he flew South near the small lake where Wilma was sitting on the nest. The exchange took place wordlessly, as Wilma was hungry, and wanted food now. Woody gazed after her, and her crest gave him a breathtakingly lovely flash of red color as she took off.

Right now, egg sitting is easy. The greater challenge lay in the future after they hatched. The tree swayed gently, and Woody's eyes half closed. Recently a stand of mahogany trees had infiltrated into the forest. A branch had broken off from one of the big trees near the lake, and although the wood was close grained and difficult to penetrate, Woody had selected the scar and fracture of this weaker spot as the place to drill out the nest. Last year's nest was in the pine forest, closer to the ground, and had been taken over by squirrels. Now, Woody was enveloped in the exotic smell of mahogany, and he loved it. Looking down, he could see a pair of green slimes chasing each other in the underbrush. Their movements reminded him that a human had recently moved into the Northern edge of the forest. Most animals came and went without affecting the forest, but humans always brought noise and disturbance. Some mostly isolated trees along the edge of the Northern forest had been cut down, and geometrically shaped rows of small green plants had taken their place. But on the bright side, smoke from burning wood inside the human's nest would sometimes settle in among the trees, causing shadows to slowly reflect across the moon. In the morning, the sea breeze would blow the smoke inland, and fire beetles would backtrack the plume all the way to Stardew valley. There in confusion, they would cluster, searching for burnt trees, and wherever they landed, easy pickings could be had Woody would often take an extra shift on the nest just so that Wilma could splurge.

That night, the sky briefly lit up, and a large noise was heard in the Northern forest. Being rather curious, Woody cruised the woods the next morning and came across a still smoking large metallic rock that he had never noticed before. The human was also there, but after banging on the rock a couple of times, seemed to give up and walk away. Although surrounded by small trees, the falling rock had not damaged any big ones, and Woody too, soon headed off looking for breakfast.

Many millions of years ago, the impact of a much larger meteorite destroyed much of life on earth. As the planet recovered, angiosperms (ranging in size from beautiful flowers to large trees), established themselves in the empty land. Serving to spread the fruit and seeds of trees, a new type of mammal, primates, co-evolved with the trees, and both flourished in diversity. South America, at that time, was a continental sized island, and in the absence of primates, birds took over the role of tree guardians and seed spreaders. Later, as the climate changed, most monkey species died out, but birds adapted and proliferated. Now, after millions of years had passed, some of the last of the primates, called humans, still collected the fruits of cherries and apricots, and find an inner calm from sniffing the essence of essential oils. In open spaces along the edges of forest, seeds are everywhere, some dropped by trees and some spread by birds, in a continual process of regenerating the forest. Woody would sometimes laugh when a clumsy human would trip over them.

Two mornings after the meteor crash, Woody noticed a dark crow near the human's ripening strawberry patch. Woodpeckers have no fear of crows, still, crows are clever, and one should always pay attention to their movements. The crow hopped down to the patch and paced along its edge. A large scarecrow faced the crow, seemingly saying, "Beat it, dirty bird." Ignoring the threat, the crow stepped slowly back and forth along the edge of the berry patch as if counting. Interested in following up on what was taking place, Woody flew back to the scene the next morning and watched from a nearby perch. The crow was back and the strawberries were ripe. As the human stepped out of his wooden nest, the crow suddenly grabbed a big strawberry and flew off with his stolen prize. Apparently, the defenses of the scarecrow extended only so far, and the crow had reasoned out that one plant had been left unprotected. The human yelled, shook a stick in vain, but it was all too late.
 

Odin

Moderator
Staff member
You have a really great writing style, and it's interesting getting the story different perspectives like this!
 

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
Thanks, Odin. Hoppy and Woody thank you for giving them a little feedback. Your comments on all parts of the forum show a lot of wisdom and maturity.
 

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
"Cheering heard in the background." Thanks Wmark. It is great to have a new farmer join in on the posting.
 

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
MIDDLEWALK-6

After spending a good chunk of the morning watering plants, I headed off to the store to purchase some seeds. It was pretty warm for a late spring day, and as I walked along the path, I did what Willie would say, "Keep a weather eye out", for anything interesting. Nothing was on the ground, but in the trees near where the broken-down bus sat empty, I caught the flash of a large and pretty woodpecker. He eyed me, and I stopped for a moment to eye him, until he took off and disappeared. As I reached for the door to the store, it suddenly flew open and I sort of bumped into the shopkeeper's daughter Abigale, who gave me a brief but startled, "Hi", and zoomed off. It was then that I noticed a paper pinned on the bulletin board. It was a request from Alex, and read that he wanted a bigmouth bass. I just happened to have a really nice bigmouth, stashed away back at the farm. I find it useful to keep different fish varieties, some for cooking, and some just in case something unusual might turn up. Not having any pressing plans for the remainder of the day, I dashed back home, found the fish, and retraced my steps in an effort to find Alex. I knew that he lived in the house next to the store, and sure enough, there he was, resting by the fence that surrounded the dog house. He was looking a little despondent, but brightened noticeably as I gave him the bass. He picked up a grid-ball and said, "Go long . . ." I can be a good sport, so I ran down the walkway towards the graveyard, as he threw me the ball. As I looked back over my shoulder, the ball came down, right into my hands, and through my hands, and at my feet, which then partially kicked the ball away. I narrowly avoided falling, but being off-balance, I did an awkward one-point landing in a prickly berry bush, which probably saved my life from being impaled on the fence. "Maybe not so long next time," I asked, and we then proceeded to play pitch and catch from a shorter distance over and across Dusty's pen. I have never been the athletic type. Even in high school, I was much closer to the nerdy/brains crowd than to the jocks. That is how I ultimately ended up working for Joja. But I quickly mastered the technique of catching with my hands, and not with my body. It helped that he threw so accurately that I could have caught the balls in a peach basket. They were so beautiful to watch as they spun and zipped through to air. I saw him smile as I made a running leaping one-handed grab. I am sure that a slow-motion replay of the catch would show that a piece of paper could have been slipped underneath my shoes, so it must have qualified as a leap. Wearing my farm shoes, I was as slow as a super tanker moving through the Panama Canal. But I was having fun, and fun clearly gave me the confidence to chuckle at my personal insecurities. The only thing that I could not master was throwing the grid-ball. No matter how high I threw it, no matter how hard I threw it, it fluttered through the air like a wounded duck. A couple of times it ended up in Dusty's pen, and once one came breathlessly close to the Mayor's back window. I say breathlessly, because I know that I held my breath, and I am sure that Alex held his too. After that, in a blatant attempt to avoid future breathtaking moments, I simply walked the ball back most of the way to Alex. On my final catch, I "gracefully" jumped over a tire in Pam's backyard, and hauled the ball in. As twilight was coming on, I walked back to Alex, who was surprisingly generous with his praise. Clearly, the time I spent with him had brightened his day. I was surprised that I was not more winded; farm life must be doing something good to me.

By now, I was hungry, and since the saloon was right there, and home was far away, I opened the door and walked in. I'll be the first to admit that I am not the saloon type, but the inn-keeper Gus, called out to me with a hearty welcome, so I stepped up to the bar and ordered a pizza. Off to my right, Willie and Clint occupied a table, so I joined them. Both were sharing some of the little on-the-job injuries that they had picked up during the day. Clint had spilled some hot coals that dribbled off his apron and melted part of his pants. Willie had accidentally hooked his finger instead of the bait, and showed me the swollen red hole on his pointer finger. It did not take me long to realize that most of the male eyes in the building were drifting over to behind the bar, where a pretty barmaid was working. Willie whispered that her name was Emily, and just by hiring her, Gus likely doubled his sales every evening. She took her time with each of the customers, filling their drinks, taking their orders, and flashing a 100-watt smile at each and every one. As she bent over to place the pizza on our table, I thought that Clint either was in the midst of a heart attack, or had just peed his pants. But Emily seemed not to notice and simply asked Willie if he wanted a refill. Oblivious to the fact that she had flashed me that 100-watt smile, I was looking down at the pizza and trying to decide how to divvy up the slices. Gus really went all out on making this pizza, thick crust, probably triple the cheese, generous proportions of three different kinds of meat. Chomping away, I told Clint that I would be visiting him soon for a tool upgrade. I also told Willie about some of the fish I had caught, and he suggested coming by his shop and looking at some of the new poles. Afterwards, walking home in the dark, I marveled at all the pleasant and unexpected turns the day had taken.
 

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
Thanks again Jourilalom. Your name appears on my Hall-of-Fame list of 3 known readers. I have no plan or outline, so I cannot promise Middlemarch-7. Each chapter has seems to write itself in my imagination. I personally hope that Hoppy and Woody make further appearances, as most people can play the game without ever catching a glimpse of these characters.
 

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
MIDDLEWALK-7

Beauty is a lure. Imagine that you are a deep-sea fish, enveloped by pitch black darkness. Swimming here, swimming there, unexpectantly a glow appears in the distance. Lesson one from fish school is never swim towards a light. But there it dances, like a will-of-the-wisp. Can you blame curiosity as you move closer? Is it entrancement? Wonder? Your brain tells you that behind that light could loom something huge that is nothing but teeth and a tiny tail. But you feel your aloneness, here in the dark. Aloneness is painful. Aloneness is a clock ticking somewhere in your head. Aloneness can push you into situations that upon reflection are partly ignorant, partly stupid. So, you move ever closer . . .

Haley shines as the brightest lure in Stardew Valley. Other girls are smarter, braver, more artistic, but none of them wear the golden curls. Up until now, my interactions with Haley have been limited and accidental. Once, while carrying a load of goods for the Community Center, I took a short cut and saw her sitting alone by the water fountain. Trying to be friendly, I walked up with a cheerful, "Hi", only to be met with a quite sour remark about the state of my clothes. Ouch! Tugging at the harpoon stuck in my side, I thought that maybe we have a crabapple here, one that's rotten to the core. But then, I looked down at my clothes. And although mine had started out the day clean, time spent in the odoriferous chicken pen, raking hay and manure in the cow barn, picking mushrooms in a dank cave, and tramping in the mud watering two dozen rows of plants had all taken their toll. Not having been born under a rock, I understood that clothes often make up 79% of a girl's first impressions upon meeting someone. And right now, I'm clearly not prepared for the King's ball. Meeting Haley was only a matter of luck (perhaps bad luck for me, or perhaps clothes make for a rather superficial judgement). Putting myself in her shoes, maybe she could be the really, really honest type. I am always totally naïve when it comes to believing in others, and thus far, the environment of Stardew Valley has been a whirlpool, collecting interesting but nice people. Earlier, along the path, I had picked a perfect daffodil, so I reached into my backpack, plucked it out and handed it to her. Haley's eyes lit up and she exclaimed how much she like flowers (to be specific) and gifts (in general), and on that note, I hurried on my way.

My next encounter with Haley came when I found her talking with Alex at the ice cream stand. The normal valley breeze had become stuck between blowing in and blowing out, and the summer heat was roasting. Even the nearby stream was hot and sluggish. I love ice cream. But I was not going to eat ice cream in front of them, so I said to both, "Order up, my treat." I went for pistachio, Haley went for strawberry, and Alex scooped up something called Baseball nut (vanilla ice cream with peanuts and purple swirls). Apparently, because of my so-called wonderful grid ball skills, I was now unofficially part of Alex's team, because he went overboard piling the ice cream high onto the cones. The conversation was minimal, because everyone had their faces shoved into the ice cream, licking and rotating the cones so that the drips wouldn't get out of control. It was great, right down to the best part at the very bottom of the cone. Finishing up, I glanced over and saw Penny, Jaz, and Vincent hanging out in the grass. Slipping some cash to Alex, and whispering, "Three more," I waved and yelled out to them, "Come on over, Alex is giving out free ice cream." Never did you see three people switch so fast from lethargy to life. Feeling refreshed mentally and physically, I cruised off, leaving behind a bundle of excitement at the stand.

Despite the necessary chores of farm work, and in direct contrast to my former life, life in Stardew Valley offers what I call, nothing special days, where I am free to do nothing special. Today was one of those days, and I decided to head for Willy's pier and go fishing. Crossing over the little bridge leading to the sand, I ran smack into Haley, a very distraught and upset Haley, shedding tears. Through muffled breaths, she let out that she had lost a treasured bracelet, apparently a keepsake from her Grandmother. At the moment, she looked so helpless, that I found myself offering to volunteer and to help her look for it. Let's see, a golden bracelet, plenty of golden sand, sea gulls fond of trinkets, what could go wrong here? I decided to start furthest from the ocean, and work my way slowly down towards the outgoing tide. Much to my surprise, I found it rather easily, looking very much like a delicate sea shell. As I bent over to pick it up, I had a very clear moment of deja vu, but I was way too elated at my luck in finding the bracelet to be puzzled. Haley slipped it back on and held it tightly in place, as if not believing that it had somehow magically been restored. Haley looked up and said that she would not forget what had happened today. For the first time since my arrival at Stardew Valley, our eyes met. Her's were a sparkling blue, and suddenly, faster than the speed of light, countless messages passed. What they were, I haven't a clue. Perhaps they were a thousand images of childhood, of growing up in the valley, of fears, wishes, dreams, and disappointments, all compressed and packaged into a single moment. But as I walked on towards the pier, I felt the cheerful glow from having accomplished a good deed. Concurrently, somewhere deep inside, a stunned part of me could not shake off the impact of whatever messages had been exchanged.
 

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
MIDDLEWALK - 8

Incorporating a farmer into his life meant that Hoppy had to adjust to a myriad of changes, some spectacularly wonderful, others uncomfortable. Pre-farmer, Hoppy's pace of change had mirrored the seasons, something to look forward to, something that required such a gradual adjustment, that even big changes could take place without any accompanying anxiety. This human farmer, in contrast, was hyperactive, and burst into Hoppy's life like a thunderstorm, full of noise and excitement. The truth be known, Hoppy's life had been rather dull prior to the entry of the farmer; the boost in his adrenaline levels made him feel more alive, and in unexpected ways the changes to his kingdom all seemed to turn out well.

By now, Hoppy was used to the farmer routinely stealing some water every morning. Hoppy quickly learned to sit on the opposite bank and collect a few rays, while the giant copper scooper gulped and grabbed some of his water. Fortunately, the pond was large enough so that the daily loss of a little water had no discernable effect on the overall water level. The next change, in contrast, brought with it a different kind of stress and anxiety.

Shortly after the arrival of the human, a grey furry cat had shown up. The human called it, "Weasel". Hoppy thought that it was such an appropriate name, since it had weaseled itself into getting free food from the human, and it had weaseled itself into Hoppy's domain. Hoppy was well aware that cats are predators, and this one ranged far and wide, hunting all over the farm. When it came to insects, Weasel was after bigger game, like grasshoppers, whereas Hoppy specialized in the more active summer flies. Hoppy's official battle plan was to stay within three good leaps of the pond whenever Weasel was on the prowl. Already, there had been one close call. Chased by a grey wall of fish breath and talons, Hoppy had zigged for the pond, jumping left, left, right, plop! Safe in the pond, like an archerfish, Hoppy spit out a beam of water into the frustrated face of the disappointed fur ball.

Now using your imagination, put yourself into Hoppy's place. You are alone on a Star Wars planet, armed with a puny blaster, and are being chased by one of the Empire's four-legged armored terrain AT-AT walkers. Except that this one is not the plodding AT-AT that one sees in the movies, but a cat-quick AT-AT trying to stomp the life out of you. Looking back over your shoulder and above, you see the huge metallic foot dropping down. At the last possible moment, you dart to one side, as the earth shakes from being pounded mere inches away. Without cues from the force, you would be nothing by rags and grease staining the sand.

The fur wars were not completely joyless. Hoppy's battle notes also reported that Weasel's water phobia extended to rainy days, and the cat stayed indoors all day whenever it rained. Rainy days were Hoppy's favorite, not because of the absent cat, but because he loved the plop, plop, plop of raindrops rolling off his skin. Two days ago, in the midst of a summer shower, Hoppy made the rather considerable journey close to the farmer's house, where the cat's bowl sat unguarded. Feeling rather proud of himself, Hoppy left behind a small brown surprise floating in the cat's water. At night, when the cat tried to sleep inside the human's house, Hoppy would sing his heart out, wishing just for a moment to see a rather forlorn furry face peering out the window. Had he been able to, he would have chucked a few stones up against the window.

One summer morning, he watched as the human spent most of the day digging up the field to the West of Hoppy's pond. Seeds were planted and even more carefully watered, and Hoppy had to laugh when the next day it rained and poured. Apparently, unlike frogs, humans can not feel the weather. From out of the freshly tilled soil crawled myriads of worms, hordes of wiggling tasty delights, long and squiggly and packed with protein. Hoppy did not know whether to feel delighted or regretful in that he probably put on half a pound in weight overnight. Over the next few days, a field of sunflowers sprouted and grew. These were tall thin plants, reaching for the sky, each crowned with golden circles that waved in the breeze. The center of each orb hosted countless seeds. Birds came and scattered seeds and empty seed shells everywhere. Hoppy even tried one, "Bleh", hard, tasteless, Hoppy would never make it as a vegetarian. The farmer also installed a beehive in the center of the field of flowers, and soon a new bee queen moved in. After a few days, the skies rained drones, dull, dazed, and stupid bees that littered the pond and its surroundings. Hoppy took in the unexpected windfall. Eating just one bee was the equivalent of twenty mayflies, and these had none of the sting and sass posed by the everyday workers. Overall, the only drawback to the sunflower field was that the wall of green and yellow blocked his view to the West, which in turn, made tracking the cat more difficult. One day the farmer came, and the wall was gone, leaving behind a vast open stretch of dirt. Yes, adjusting to a human required constant creativity on Hoppy's part. Today, dozing peacefully on his lily pad, he felt more than equal to his new life full of surprises.
 
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Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
MIDDLEWALK - 9

Many of the villagers are living on the edge financially, and having acquired a plentiful supply of gold from several successful harvests, I'm more than glad to help out in non-obtrusive ways. I suppose that I could have written a check to Zuzu City public television, but I prefer to brighten the lives of those who I meet and know. I'm not trying to be popular, or even to be liked. For my own selfish reasons, I want the village to exist, to succeed, its timelessness to continue, and if tiny contributions grease the economy, so be it. Leah and Eliot are both artists, trying to live out their dreams, but with precious little income. On certain nights, when I know that Leah will be at the saloon, I will purchase Gus's largest Cobb salad, extra tomatoes, no bacon, with blue cheese dressing. As Emily is walking it to our table, I'll quickly make up a fake excuse like, "Oh, I forgot to feed my chickens. Do you mind sharing this salad?" Of course, as I get up to leave without even having taken one bite, Leah sees through the game, but I can also read the unspoken words, "Thank you" reflected in her eyes. During the afternoon, while I'm out fishing, Eliot habitually walks along Willy's pier. I'll start a little conversation, and during the midst of the talk, Eliot will peer into my bucket to see what I've caught. I'll quickly say, "Take the big one, so I'll have more room in the bucket." Usually, he ends up with a fresh salmon or albacore. Watching him head back to his shack is like watching a teenage girl, who has just been outside getting in some first kisses from a new-found love, hop and skip her way back across her yard to her door. To give but one more example, despite my many visits to Willy's pier and shack, I just do not think that he gets many other customers. Sometimes, after he closes for the day, we fish and talk together at the corner of the dock, and after a couple of hours, he good heartedly invites me to walk with him to the saloon. Once there, sitting at the boys table, I spring for pizza and something to help wash it down. It is likely the only day of the week he gets to eat anything but fish. Lots of times, while waiting for Emily to bring out the goodies, I'll drop a coin into the jukebox and press F7, Willy's favorite. The song's chorus is, "Down on the corner, out in the street. Willy and the poor boys are playin' the guitar's happy beat."

There are days, however, here in the valley when life does not turn out all peaches and cream. One summer morning, I went for my first visit to the desert. After a quick bus ride, I jumped out and walked over to greet of all things, a camel. The nearby shopkeeper had interesting stuff, but nothing that I could pay for. I then foraged around and visited another shop run by Emily's friend, where I purchased some rather expensive seeds. I recrossed the street, and headed for an interesting looking open cave entrance. Ignoring the skull warning on the door, I entered and boldly climbed down the ladder. By now, I was an experienced miner, having encountered and defeated plenty of itchy and scratchy creatures of the dim light, and I walked about with confidence. The mine floor had more open space than those back in the valley, and the light was better. What could go wrong, I thought, as I broke open a few stones, hoping to find geodes. About that time, I noticed an overly large spherical slime, cautiously rolling my way. It was about waist high, and I gave it a couple of pokes with my sword. I watched it, it watched me, and so I gave it a couple of serious slashes. Suddenly, it seemed to pop, leaving behind four normal sized slimes. These pesty guys were fast and aggressive, and two quickly jumped behind me, with the other two attacking from the front. I went into full cut and chop mode, whacking away at whichever one I could reach. At first, I was not overly worried, because back in the valley, slimes usually melted into goo after a couple of good hits. These, in contrast, were made of sturdier stuff. After they had gotten in a couple of good bites, I decided to backpedal for the ladder (which was still a good distance away). My progress was inhibited by constantly tripping over the two slimes behind me. To make matters worse, out of nowhere flew three giant mosquito-wasp hybrids, each the length of my arm, zipping in and out on the attack. I wonder if Demetrius would consider any of these an interesting specimen - strange how such a calm thought can intrude in the midst of anger and pain. After they did not magically disappear given a few hits from my sword, it dawned on me that I was in serious trouble. My arm was tired, I felt myself weakening, and my only plan B was to ditch the fight and try to make it to the ladder.

My next moment of awareness, was waking up in the Hospital, with Dr. Harvey looking me over. Everything hurt, and here was Captain Obvious telling me to, "Be more careful next time." After filling out the paperwork, paying the bill, noticing that my backpack had been ransacked, I dragged myself stumbling toward home. Unlike Hansel and Gretel, who left behind a trail of breadcrumbs, I left behind regularly . placed . droplets . of . blood. Somehow, I made it home, and collapsed on my bed. The next day, I awoke to find myself, if anything, in worse shape than the day before. Most of the pain medication had worn off, and I did not want to breathe or move. By some miracle, it was raining outside, and I could neglect my chores. I listened to the pitter-patter of rain hitting the roof, until the steady rhythm put me back to sleep again. On the second day after the mine disaster, I knew that I had to get up. I had to eat something before taking Doc Harvey's medications, so I melted a little cheese on toast and washed it down with a tall glass of milk. Still dressed in my torn and bloody clothes, I shed these and showered. Under the water streaming down, I could not help but think of a variant of the South Pacific song, "I'm going to wash that stupid right out of myself, and send it on its way." While brushing off two days of ick off my teeth, I dared to use the bathroom mirror and take a peek at my back. There were five big ugly circular splotches, compliments of the stinging insects, and all five were just out of reach and itching something awful. I also examined the stiches on my legs. Doc Harvey said that they would dissolve on their own after they were no longer needed. I looked and felt like a beat-up Raggity-Ann. Moving more like a stiff robot than a soft doll, I dug out some fresh clothes, and stripped the bloody sheets off my bed. Anything with blood on it went straight to the trash, and I suddenly felt a compulsive need to feel clean again and rid myself of anything having to do with the mishap. I even got down and scrubbed the trail of blood droplets left behind from the front porch to the bedroom. Surprisingly, days-old, dried blood is easy to clean up. I then checked my losses from the backpack. Thankfully, all my tools were intact, and only some forage items (the expensive seeds, of course) and rocks that I had collected that day were missing. As my brain started to de-fuzz, I wondered how I ended up in the hospital. Perhaps, somehow, I made it up the ladder and was picked up and taken back to the valley on the bus. Those thoughts seemed like quite a stretch. As I stepped out into the bright sunlight, chickens were clucking, the cow was mooing, the plants were drooping, everyone and everything needed my attention. Needless to say, It took quite a while to recover from my desert adventure.
 

Dr. eeL

Sodbuster
Thanks, Liochamb. I will engrave your name onto the golden plaque of 4 known Hall-of-Fame readers. Perhaps you and others have shared some of the experiences that appear in the story. I've now seen Hoppy dashing away, a couple of times when I'm out scything for fiber. And once you've seen the bright red crest of Woody, you'll never forget it.
 
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