Writing Middlewalk

Dr. eeL

Farmhand
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

Farmhand
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

Farmhand
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

Farmhand
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.
 
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