As told in outline form, huge hat-tip to Dave Eggers
Written by Michael James Schneider
The Blacksmith, a blacksmith, lives in time unknown, odd combination of anachronism and technology so advanced it seems archaic. Steampunk? No, probably not.
Handsome (of course), rugged, eyes green but seem startlingly brighter because his face is always covered in soot. Salt and pepper. Something in there about how he will sometimes draw his forearm across his face to wipe away the grime, and gets even dirtier. (Don’t hammer this one too deep, though, people will get it..haha get it? hammer). He is a blacksmith because his father was also a ferrier. No, maybe his father was a sword maker, and Gray (the blacksmith’s name, but everyone calls him Plover) chose early on to be a simple smithy. Is this a cause of a rift? Maybe.
Does he have a wife and family? He does. No, he has a husband. He has a child, the stakes need to be higher. Is she 4 years old?
At the beginning of the story he is happy, is busy, town is large and has many horses that need shoes. Some shoes need a special metal because one breed of horses is humongous, maybe they can hold 4 people comfortably with a special saddle? Do these horses speak? Maybe they have a specific and separate culture, maybe they have an ancient, special arrangement to cooperate with people? They are called Equestria? Oh, this is really dumb. There are no big horses. This is not that story.
So Gray is happy and healthy, his family is happy, I don’t know what his husband’s name is but their child, a girl, is named Cora. They are not wealthy, but they are respected in the community, they have enough. The little girl is smart but not precocious. Maybe she is 8?
“Daddy”, she said, tugging at his soot-covered arm, his turning-fork in hand, “When are we going to the market/fair/(something I’ll put in later)?”
“Later, dear, I have 8 horses left to clad,” he would say, kindly, while the fiery chasm of the fire roared in the background. Was she helping instead of tugging on his arm? Yes, she would work the bellows against his wishes, he wouldn’t like her so close to the fire.
“But daddy,” she would counter smartly, “you only have enough blanks for 2 horses.” and he relents, sweeps her up in his arms, and they go to the fair have a grand old time. (are they even called “blanks”? Is this even a blacksmith thing? It sounds fine but might be inaccurate) Maybe she is 8.
A scare early on in the story when he thinks his husband has been trampled? Is that silly? It sounds silly. Never mind.
There is a leather tanner who lives nearby, who makes saddles. She is beautiful (of course). Her hands are slightly, but permanently, tan from working the skins all the time. Do they get along? They do, they are friends, when business is good they are happy together, when it is bad they worry together. I don’t know yet why she is here in the story. She is also kind. I do think Grey and Cora and Grey’s nameless husband and Roven (eh?) are good people in a hard world, because we like that. We like when the puppy gets the touchdown.
The Impossum. He is The Trickster. We know his face when we see him, because we have all met him before. He is not angry or deliberately malicious, but does not care about consequences of his actions. He is not mindful and not kind. Maybe he is much worse than this. He will be perplexed when people he does not know hold the door open for him. He is person-sized, looks a little like a possum, this startles no one. This is not a fantasy tale, but a parable. Although this did actually happen.
He comes to their door in the daytime? Yes, probably. He comes when people least expect bad things to happen. Or does he knock at night, so that they, being good people, try to prove to themselves that they should not be afraid just because someone knocks in the nighttime. No, the former. Already too many stories that teach distrust.
“Hello,” said the Impossum, “I am a traveler, I don’t know this township (maybe just town, township is a little precious), but I would like to stay with you for a day or two. In return, I shall tell you of a long-abandoned mine, with an abundance of metals.”
The Blacksmith is intrigued, and agrees to board the traveler. Something in here about Cora being suspicious? Did she see the Impossum in a dream? Did she see him while she was playing? Probably the latter, the less weird stuff the better. Paint a picture in here of her peeking around the corner, suspicious but devoted to her father, candles flickering against the cold air coming in from the outside.
Then the next morning during breakfast (why don’t you be an asshole and just call it MorningMeal?) the Impossum regaling them with unlikely tales of his travels, of the colorful people he has met, of the textiles that shone with a glow of their own, of creatures both great and terrible (including a talking serpent that turned out to be exceedingly polite and pleasant), of carved boxes so ornate that one needed to peer with a microscope just to look at the details. The smithy is quite taken, his husband is skeptical but humors the traveler, and Cora smiles politely but secretly is suspicious. Oh! She is definitely 10.
The Impossum then gets down to business and offers to show The Blacksmith where the mine is. Maybe Cora finds it strange that the traveler has never been to the township (stop it), but knows of a local mine. Maybe the mine is just far enough, maybe a days’ walk, that it doesn’t raise anyone’s concern. Hmm, maybe it’s not even a mine but an abandoned convoy, it’s mobile enough to be feasible, and it raises suspicion in the reader that the Impossum may have had something to do with it.
So they ride to the convoy (horses). Takes much shorter than a day to get there on horses (are they giant horses? No, stop it). They collect the metal. They go back to town. Does something happen there, at the convoy, with just the two of them there? Does the Blacksmith find a locket or something? No, don’t want to overdo it. There is no trace of personal belongings of the caravan occupants.
The metal appears amazing. malleable, strong, resilient, lends itself perfectly to the smithy’s purposes (it would be great for the Fucking Huge Talking Horses, wouldn’t it? God, shut up) He cannot believe his luck. He even goes to the town constable to let him know of the abandoned convoy. Wait, he probably does this before he uses any of the metal, he is honorable. The constable is hard but fair, and waits a few days to hear of any missing caravan report, or any claims to the property therein. (“Missing Caravan Report?” seems trite, maybe not this but something similar but serious sounding)
So he legally has the metal, still boarding the Impossum, and in the meantime the guest is charming them up something fierce. The Blacksmith decides to use the metal he reclaimed to use for the horseshoes and other things that are necessary for the town to function. He tries to combine the metal with other metals to stretch it but it will simply not combine. He tries to smelt it to see if there are unknown impurities but it appears pure. So he uses it.
The townspeople are happy, everyone is happy. Except little Cora, she grows ever more suspicious. And then something happens to the husband. Something life-threatening. It should be possible for this to be the Impossum’s fault, although the story never makes it clear, and no one accuses him. Yet.Roven, the tanner-friend, agrees to care for the husband during the recovery.
The rain comes. It is a seasonal rain, they all expect it. Or maybe they don’t. Have they been living in a drought? Yes, not extreme but manageable. So the rain is welcome. But it has a horrible, detrimental effect on the new metal, which slowly, but perceptibly, becomes weak once water has touched it (blacksmiths use water to cool down metal, wouldn’t it have touched the metal then? Maybe it wouldn’t have an effect while the metal is in its transitive state). So the metal sloughs off, literally drips and melts off of everything it has been applied to.
And the Blacksmith is ruined. The community is outraged. Grey scrambles to compensate everyone, but the damage is done, the trust is broken, and practically everyone in the community is affected in the extreme by the metal decomposing.The Blacksmith is noble. He makes the difficult decision to use the last of his existing, good metal to clad the town’s horses again, to repair completely the damage that has been done. He melts his own tools down, including his anvil (is this even possible?). He is now unable to provide for his family, but he has made things right with the community. He waits for their reaction.
Cora hears the Blacksmith and the Impossum arguing one night, he is mad at the Impossum, who insists that he knew nothing of the properties of the metal.
The Impossum says a few choice words and then slams the door shut, saying he is going to the tavern. Cora hears the blacksmith weeping. She is heartbroken, she has never heard her father crying. You never forget the first time you hear a parent crying.
She gathers her courage and dresses quickly, on impulse takes bread and a waterskin she was planning to take for a picnic the next day, and leaves the house through a window. She happens to see the Impossum in the distance. He is not going the direction of the tavern. He has a biddle that he must have concealed outside the house, and he is dressed for a journey. Cora thinks she knows where he is going.She makes a decision and follows him.
During the night, it is easy to follow the Impossum at a distance, but during the day it becomes more difficult, she has to hide several times, and even loses the Impossum once completely. She rushes in a panic to catch up, only to find out she has passed him while he stopped to eat. She is almost caught.
“Lucky, lucky, lucky girl,” she muttered under her breath, concealed behind the rock she had just hidden behind, as the Impossum threw his apple core and paper wrapping to the anthills, and repacked his biddle.
They finally reach the convoy that evening. She is exhausted but excited. Her excitement quickly turns to confusion first, when the traveler veers off to one side, and then horror and she discovers what is over the nearest hill to the convoy: a mass gravesite. The Impossum casually digs up a body, pulls something off of it, she sees just before he puts it in his pocket, it is a gun.Does she see something that makes her realize that he knew of the metal’s properties? She does.
She now knows the Impossum is not just deceitful, but evil. She suppresses her instinct to confront him, or even just to stop and rest, and instead turns right around ad starts off to the village. Her father will be worried sick about her.
She has a difficult journey back. She runs out of food, runs out of water. It has rained, so the cacti are fat, but she does not know how to survive in the wild, does not know how to crack the open for their water. She is strong, though, and determined to clear her father’s name.
She makes it back to the village, barely conscious. She has not slept in over a day, she is raw from the elements. She collapses when she enters her house, the last thing she sees is her father surrounded by the constable and the constable’s men, and she despairs as she falls unconscious.
She needn’t be concerned. In her absence, the combination of the Plover’s generosity, and her and the Impossum having gone missing at the same time, galvanizes the community back to the Blacksmith’s cause. They have already drawn the conclusion that the Impossum is ill-intentioned. The Blacksmith is overjoyed that Cora has returned.
Then the Impossum, not too far behind Cora, returns to the town. There is a confrontation. There is a gunfight. People die. Maybe Roven? The husband? No. No, I hate to say it, but the Blacksmith dies in the exchange. But he is redeemed in the community’s eyes. He saw his daughter return safely, she saw Grey one last time. I’m not trying to say it’s a happy ending. There might not be such a thing.
Oh God, now I hate the Impossum. He dies a fiery, horrible death. I don’t even know how. I don’t care, it should be Grimm-ish. Maybe an errant woodchipper? See, I really wanted the Blacksmith to come back in other stories, and now he can’t. I guess this was that kind of story.
Roven, and the widower, and Cora, have a good life. The widower learns tanning and Cora starts, slowly but surely, learning ‘smithing. And eventually she becomes the ironsmith of the town. It is hard, it shows in the cracks of her face later in life, but she is alive, and the town thrives around her still.
Yeah, it’s that kind of story.