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The Folded Canyon

Rebecca Harrison | Terri Kelleher

Deep in a bustling city, a family lived in a narrow house. They cramped between chill walls as the streets outside stretched with cobblestones and crowds. From sunrise to twilight, the father trudged city corners seeking work. The mother and the grandmother sewed cloth from snippets to earn pennies. The family ate small meals beside thin fires as the son begged the grandfather for tales of the New World. And the grandfather spoke of swamplands and mountains, deserts and forests, until the boy sank into dreams.

In those days, the streets swelled with talk of the New World. Rumours of gold flowed from the ships. Whispers crammed the city edges as poor folk and rich murmured of faraway fortune. The father listened as he wandered alleyways and river sides begging for work. Heavy with thoughts of gold, he waded through crowds past taverns and palaces. At night, he paced the small hall as his family huddled in scraps of firelight.

And so the father boarded a ship for the New World. His son had pleaded to join him, but he journeyed alone. He swept through days of white sails and dark seas. Songs of ocean beasts and battles warmed the nights. He stared across the sea tops and watched the horizon as far waters came closer. When sailors spoke of the riches beyond the distant coast, he pictured his family in their dim home.

Weeks passed. The ship cast anchor and the father stepped into the New World. Men from faraway lands filled the walkways and spoke of gold in words he had never heard. Dusty roads led to bright plains. He followed the rumours through shadowless trails. He stayed in towns which smelled of gunpowder and sun. He joined the queues panning for gold, hard with silence.

Every day, the father scoured the grim waters below the hot skies. And every dusk, he trudged back to the inn without a fortune found. He counted his coins in night shadows, and chilled under dreams of his cold home. When new rumours drifted into the town, he packed his bag. He journeyed through sun stained winds to far settlements where crowds clamoured for gold.

He dragged between towns and plains, searching for gold in the warm dust. He chased rumours under mountain shadows and desert skies, while his coins dwindled. One day, he travelled to a canyon which stretched deep and vast, beyond his sight. He sweltered weeks below the dry sun, digging in the scorched earth. Passing travellers told him there was no gold there anymore and now folk were rushing to the distant north. But when the father counted his few coins he knew he could only go home.

He took his last walk by the canyon and thought of his son in the tight rooms. With no fortune to bring his family, he wished at least to give his son a gift from the New World. Red rock and blue sky wound to the horizon. He lingered on the steep edges and gazed into the stone depths. Acres of space and air dropped downwards. He knelt and began to fold the canyon up, piece by piece. It began to grow smaller. All day, he folded until the canyon shrank to the size of a dinner plate. Then he folded it five times more, wrapped it in his handkerchief, and pushed it in his pocket. He stood and gazed over the flat red plains. Then, he turned and headed for the coast.

The father sailed weeks through salt winds and high waves. In the blue nights, he looked at the folded handkerchief and tried to feel the canyon’s weight. Every dawn, he gazed over the sea tops seeking the white cliffs of the old world. One noon, the ship cast anchor and he stepped into the crowds of his own land. He travelled along hillsides and villageways. When the day darkened, he neared the city edges. He rushed between lamp light and street shadows, hurrying along the worn paths home. His didn’t notice as his haste shook the handkerchief from his pocket. He reached his small house and knocked on the door.

In the months he was away, his son had lingered over faded maps, picturing his father trekking through strange lands. He had named secret corners of the city after the faraway places from his grandfather’s tales. He had wandered by crowds, gathering rumours of gold and adventure. At night, he had gazed out at rooftops and soot and wished to see starlit vasts of the New World.

When the father knocked, the son was listening to the grandfather’s stories. He dashed from the room, pulled the door open and startled at his father’s shape. The father gathered him close as the mother and the grandparents hurried into the hall. He looked at his family’s thin faces and told them he had no gold. He reached into his pocket for his son’s gift, but found the handkerchief was gone. Yet with smiles and chatter they greeted him and huddled close as he spoke of the valleys and skies of the New World. The evening stretched with fire glow and laughter. They drifted to their beds.

Outside, the handkerchief lay in an alleyway. Wind unwound it. The canyon began to unfold. Streets dented and walls of cobblestones and glass plummeted downwards. The canyon unravelled through the city, from the slums to the cathedrals. Palaces stretched deep into the earth. Lamps glowed in the steep falls.

The son shook awake. He crept to his window and peered out. He gasped. Moonlight glided through the chasm of glass and brick. He gazed through the night hours until dawn tinted the canyon tops. The city had the canyon’s shape.

About Rebecca Harrison

Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and can be summoned by a cake signal in the sky. Her best friend is a dog who can count. She was a finalist in the first Wyvern Lit flash fiction contest. Her fairy tale 'The Folded Canyon' was published in The Story Shack in October 2014. Her stories can also be read at Literary Orphans, The Harpoon Review, Gravel Magazine, Pigeonholes Magazine, Maudlin House, and elsewhere.

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