This is the first chapter of a work in progress called End of Days, which is written for older children about ten years old.
Wilfred Bonnywhack was the son of a lumberjack. He was fourteen years old and could swing an ax like his father. What he did was to find a good tree— out in the woods by the Lumen’s forest, a pine or poplar, with no twists and a good stout trunk— then he would tell his father, and they would both go out together to cut it down.
They would swing one after the other. It went faster that way, with Wilfred cutting down and his father chopping up, so that the tree was always being hit with an ax. Chips and shavings would fly everywhere. They would cut a big wedge, and then they would go to the other side and do the same thing.
Sometimes they spent a few days on the same tree. They would go out after breakfast and morning chores, then they would come home in time for supper. In the middle of the day, when the sun was high enough to find them through all the leaves, they would stop and crack walnuts for an hour.
That was when they would talk. It was Wilfred’s favorite time.
“Mister Bonnywhack,” that was what he called his father sometimes when they were out after lumber or in town. It made his father happy, because it was the way grown men would speak to him. “Do you think we will finish this tree today?”
“This is a four-day tree if I have ever seen one, young Mr. Bonnywhack.”
“Oh. Do you think the Lumens will bother us?” Lumens were lowly men, that is, they were savages that lived in the woods, doing strange dances, howling at night, and wearing strange clothes.
“It has been a long time since they have bothered anyone, young Mr. Bonnywhack.”
“How come, dear father?” Sometimes he called his father this even if they were cutting lumber, because his father liked it most of all.
“I do not know, son. Maybe they went down south and became civilized.”
They went home that night to their little cottage which was always big to Wilfred. It had a kitchen garden, cow paddy, a well, and two rooms with a fur-draped wall between them. It was big enough for Wilfred, but maybe not for his father, who was a tall man with a big brown beard, shaggy hair, green eyes, and a huge chest.
They ate supper and did not talk much, because there was no mother or sister. Wilfred’s mother had gone to the other life when he was born, and he had never had a sister.
The next day, when they were cracking walnuts, he asked his father, “Dear father, do you think I am old enough to marry?”
“Ah, I had not thought about that. This is your fourteenth winter? Then we should see you married come spring, in the marrying time.”
“May I tell Lundtilla?”
“I will speak to her father at market-day.”
Wilfred had been betrothed to Lundtilla the innkeeper’s daughter since his eighth winter, and he loved her. She was almost as tall as him, with blond hair and blue eyes, and she always spent time alone, quietly thinking to herself. Wilfred thought that other girls spoke too much.
They went home to supper, and Wilfred was happy.
The third day, when they were cracking walnuts, Wilfred was not happy anymore. Not that he was unhappy, but happiness and joy never last very long in this world. Even the big things like marriage and children make people happy for a day at most.
For Wilfred, it always made him think about the world, once he was done being happy. This was a very good thing. He said to his father, “Dear father, why do you think we never go south?”
“We are already civilized, son. Besides, down there everyone worships all kinds of gods, and it makes everyone confused.”
“Why do they do that, dear father?”
“Because, son, people need reasons to go out and work. So do we. That is why we have one god, the god of the village, named Simplicity. But down there, they have so many things to do, and they need many gods. For instance, there is Knowledge, and Money, and Nation, and Food, and Freedom, and Washing, and Flying.”
“That is confusing!”
“Yes, son, and that is why they are confused. They do more things than we do, but none of it makes any sense.”
“But who makes all these gods?”
“Well, I do not know. That is a very good question, son. But I think they have always been there.”
“Who tells them what to do?”
“I think they do whatever they want.”
“But do they always agree then?”
“No, son. Sometimes they fight amongst themselves.”
“How do they make peace?”
“I am not sure. But there is the Great Driver. He pulls the sun in his chariot, and he is stronger than the other gods.”
“Did he make the sun?”
“I do not think so.”
“Who did then?”
“I do not know. But listen, son, we can go back to this tree, and you can think about it, and tell me what you think out. We will be finished tomorrow, I believe.”
Wilfred thought about it as much as he could while he sweated and chopped at the four-day tree. He thought about it again at supper.
“Dear father,” he said, “what happens if we stop worshipping Simplicity?”
His father swallowed the cornmeal in his mouth and said, “Well, son, I imagine we will stop felling lumber.”
“He makes us fell lumber?”
“No, not exactly.” He paused, took a drink of water, and thought a moment. Then he said, “You see, our whole village worships him on the same day, and then we try and act like him. He only had one labor out in the country, but we do not know what it was. But so long as we think about him every week, it seems like everyone wants to do what his father does, or someone else in the village does, and the girls want to get married, and no one ever wants to leave.
“Now, take the Lumens. They worship one god, too, but his name is Passion. He never did a labor unless he felt like doing it, and he started wars, and he spent most of his time in revelry.
“So, therefore, they are savage. Because of what they worship. Do you see, son?”
“I see. But what if Simplicity goes away on his own?”
“It has never happened before.”
“What if it does?”
“Let us hope it does not.”