Your Online Cup of Tea
“I do not lightly take this tale to quill. A fairy-tale. Only called such to ease you into world that really is. In two parts I tell it, so that you can choose where the moral lies. Indeed the tale is yours and mine. If you’re not ready for this mirror to the soul then go. Do more pleasant things, and think on them. Not this. But if you will to see, more than you will to be safe then read. With strength I say read…”
There were once two girls born to a family, twins. In a town where two odd things happened. The first was that the twins, though at first difficult to tell apart, they soon could not be more different. With the oldest growing to be noticeably more comely than the other. The difference being so great, one would not at all think they were related. But what the youngest lacked in appearance, she had in abundance with intellect. The difference being so great that one would not think they were born at the same time.
The second odd thing was that in this town no one knew their name. In fact no one they knew in the neighbouring towns knew their own names either. It’s not that they didn’t have to refer to one another. But nothing really fit. A reality the twins came to realise fast. A reality that most desperately tried to ignore. In this way also the two sisters were very different. The oldest, choosing to be known as “Countenance” cared only about beauty, and saw others, particularly they youngest as inferior. All the while resenting the younger for her wit. Whilst the youngest, choosing to be known as “Prudence” obsessed with find out her name, sought after knowledge and saw all who knew less than her, particularly the oldest as inferior. All the while resenting her for her beauty.
As they grew with age, so too they grew apart in strife. Each year on their birthdays the Countenance would buy Prudence a broken mirror. Whereas the Prudence would buy Countenance a blank book with holes borrowed through it. This continued until their 17th t birthday, when a house fire destroyed their home, claiming the Prudence’s life. With the void of her sister, only increased the void of not knowing her true name. In order to forget she threw herself more into her appearance.
Soon after on one of her walks home, Countenance met a stranger sitting by a rock. Beside him was tall and majestic horse. Violet in colour, unlike any she had ever seen before. The stranger himself, struck her as terribly handsome. However beyond that, he had a drawing presence. As though she were almost compelled to speak to him.
“Curious?” he said smiling as she approached.
“You’re not from these parts. I would have remembered you,” she replied.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“What is your name?” she asked.
“I’ve had many names.”
“What name do you go by now?”
“Tell me,” he said, reaching into his satchel, “What do you seek after the most?”
But before she could answer he responded. From the satchel he held up a clear bottle. Containing a golden almost glowing liquid.
“Beauty. How do I know? I’m not like everyone else Countenance?” Startled, she took a few steps back.
“What do you want stranger?”
“Only to give you what you want.” As he opened the bottle, the air was filled with a sweet aroma unlike any she’d ever encountered. And immediately all sense of fear seemed to dissipate.
“Don’t let the smell fool you,” bringing the bottle to his lips, moments later the strangers face recoiled in disgust, “it tastes rather foul.”
“What is it?” she asked.
“The answer to everything you’ve ever wanted. I come from a place called the Land. Very few know about it. But everyone goes there eventually. There is no end to what one can have and enjoy there. The only thing is… you only bring with you what things you have the most of or enjoy the most. Once there, you’ll have that those things like never before. So if you don’t have it once you go there…. You may never enjoy it again.”
Countenance, filled with excitement dreamt only of what it would be like to have beauty magnified beyond imagination. The glory and adoration it would bring. She had to have it and would do whatever it took.
“How does the drink help?”
“Well,” he began, “people often go there unprepared and unexpectedly. This drink, it will help you attain and maintain your desire. So that you can leave with it. And have it a thousand fold. At least.” Holding the bottle up to her, Countenance took it from his hands, gleefully eyeing its contents.
“Be-careful child. As you drink it, it will commit you to those desires. Think carefully before you do. You’ll only have until the next time you see me to accomplish them. Drink only a little each day.”
“My mind is made up.”
“Wouldn’t you rather know your true name? Surely that is a far worthier goal?”
“My true name? Given to me by whom? I’ll make a name for myself.” And with that she took a sip, expecting the worst. Unsuspectedly it tasted sweeter than honey. Immediately she drank it all at once. As soon as she had taken last drop, it felt as though her stomach had been kicked hard repeatedly and her heart were on fire. In pain she fell and her face married the dirt as she rolled. Countenance looked up for the stranger, but without a trace both he and the horse were gone. How foolish. She thought to herself. To believe such things and take a drink from stranger. Moments later after what felt like hours, Countenance found the strength to walk, slowly walking home.
As time went on, Countenance started to notice something strange. In fact, everyone else did too. Almost a decade had passed since the encounter in the forest. Yet Countenance didn’t seem to age much at all. Indeed she grew in strength, in vigour and her beauty seemed only to intensify, with some even claiming that at times she would glow. People would travel from all over just to see her. Pregnant mothers asking Countenance to lay her hands on their bellies. Hoping that some of her beauty may pass on. When she had only begun noticing this change, Countenance stole money from her neighbours, in order to afford herself the greatest apparels and jewellery. She was caught a few times, and each time forgiven almost immediately. As though they couldn’t but help themselves. Soon she realised that anything she wanted was hers. Stealing wasn’t necessary, she had only to ask. The more time that passed, the more Countenance’s fame spread, the more intensely awestruck people were who saw her. And the more Countenance cared only about her looks. And nothing else. She didn’t marry, as she saw no one worthy to be with her. She did not have friends, only admirers, as she only enjoyed people for what she could get from them. If anyone ever asked her for any sort of attention that didn’t really interest her Countenance would say “One minute, that’s all the time I have for you today.” And she meant it. Her only regret being that Prudence was no longer around, otherwise she would have rubbed her glory in that snotty little face.
On the 70th anniversary of the day Countenance had first met the stranger, she decided to walk by the old path where it all began. To her surprise, there he was, with the same horse and same clothes as she had remembered it. And much like herself he didn’t look a day older. But this time he had another horse, a golden one with him. Smiling, Countenance got on it, knowing it was for her.
“How has your time been? Are you ready?” he asked.
“Oh I’m more than ready.”
“Beauty, is that still your answer?”
“Yes, yes. A thousand times yes. Now please. Let’s go before this elixir wears off.”
“Very well,” he said chuckling. They rode nonstop for what only felt like half an hour. But Countenance couldn’t recognise where they were at all. It was clearly day but the sun was nowhere in sight. The colour of everything around her also seemed richer. The wind too carried a melody as it passed by the various plants, and streams. As though nature itself were singing and she had only now heard the song.
“This is only the beginning,” he laughed, looking back at her. They approached a hill whereon sat a rather larger house. It almost seemed to have life of its own. Swaying ever so little with the breeze, yet without appearing unstable. It was surrounded with beautiful marble wall. But everything else about the house and the contents of the garden, where hard to describe in words. Some of the wonders she saw seemed too impossible to be.
Seeing this, he asked her “Do you want this?”
“Yes!” she said adamantly.
“Are you sure?” he asked, “it is not too late to turn around.”
Already with her mind made up Countenance went towards the house. The path leading up to it changed colour with every step. Leading to two large silver doors, which surprisingly opened with no effort at all. And they entered in, shutting out any light from outside. But as soon as they were in, she noticed how uncomfortably cold it was.
“There is no warmth in this house.” She shivered.
“Well,” said the stranger, “when were you really a warm person Countenance?”
Confused, she went into the next room looking for a fire place. There she found a large table, with every type of food and drink she could imagine. Overcome by the smell, she ran over, to try whatever was closest. But upon taking bites, she realised they had the foulest taste that she had ever known, anything she’d ever known.
“The food here is awful.”
“When did you fill your heart and mind with good things?”
She looked out the window and saw only the terrible things, nothing looked as pleasant or delightful as it did when she was outside. “That’s not what I remember seeing, when I was out there.”
“Well,” said the stranger, “to the pure all things are pure, but to the darkened mind even goodness is bad.” Horrified at this unpleasant happening, she went for the door, running out as fast as she could. Outside things were pleasant again, like how she had first seen it. Mounting the horse she rode as quickly as she could. Looking back, she didn’t see the stranger following and for a moment had hope of escape. But then one second she was riding the horse, the next she was falling through the front door of the house. She looked up to see the stranger’s smiling face. Quickly getting up and heading for the door. Except this time there was no door.
“Let me out!” she turned to him about to cry.
“You’ll find that you can only go outside once a day. For… how long was it for again? Oh yes,” he said snapping his fingers, “a minute.”
“What if people want to come see me?
“They can’t. Well technically that’s not true. Here only the people you love and those who love you can come to your dwelling place. But erm, since when did you ever let people into your life? There is no door, because there is no one to let in,” he laughed, “it’s rather quite funny when you think about it.”
Hitting the wall where the door used to be, she begged “But who will listen to me? Who will I talk to?”
“Fine,” he sighed, pointing to the end of the dimly lit hall he said “Over there is a room, where you can spend time with those you cared about the most.” Without hesitation she ran towards it, looking for a new face, someone she finally see. To her horror upon entering she saw a room full only of mirrors, “Is anyone here?” She cried out. “Is anyone here? Is anyone here? Is anyone here?” the room echoed back.
“This is not what I expected, I don’t like this at all. Any of this. Where are we?”
“This is you Countenance said the stranger. This house is you. This house is your life. Your soul. Your name. The one you made for yourself. The one you sought after with all your heart.”
“Please, can I leave please?”
“Sure, for a minute each day.”
“No please, how do can I leave for good.”
“Can you stop being you?”
“Can you go back into your mother’s womb?”
“I don’t understand, please, when can I leave?”
“When the Sun sets in the East.”
“But…” said the girl “it never does.”
And with that he vanished into thin air. Leaving her alone. In the cold. Dark. House.
Days turned into weeks, as Countenance wept in the house, longing to leave. She had taken whatever covering she could find to keep warm. And if she had the energy, would go to study room and read from the books that were there. The only past time she could find. Even then, the lighting was so awful that it was a strain just to read for any considerable length of time. Then there was the clock. The unforgiving keeper of time which would not speed up for her. Once a day she would run outside, run as fast as she could. Only to be found back in the house a minute later. She soon found out that she didn’t need to eat, but the desire to enjoy food was still there. The aroma and the delicious foods which never seemed to spoil or reduce in number would tempt her. But still she knew they were a lie. Their taste ever so horrid. Everything here only looked good, but on the inside, was as good as dead. Just like her. Just like her life had been, a lie. Every day she would smash every mirror and every clock, and run outside hoping that today would be the day, that she got out. But every day, the mirrors would find themselves fixed, the clock working and Countenance stuck in the house. Until the day the Sun would set in the East.