Dream Quest One Third Writing Prize Winner -
of Brandon, Florida - USA
by Tyler Omoth
Manuel cried as he worked.
This was the last part. It was the end of his creation and therefore, the end of a life. He cried because the coffin he
was polishing stretched barely four feet. The screams of the Dixon child coming from the hotel pierced the hush
of the town. The boy, just eight-years-old, had gone mushroom collecting, and fell into a ravine, badly fracturing his leg.
After two days alone and weak from loss of blood and dehydration, he was found and brought home. The doctor worried that
infection would settle in to claim the boy’s leg or even his life. As they sponged the open wound, the boy cried out
in pain. The sound echoed through the night sky. Manuel cried because he knew things that he should not.
Manuel possessed an uncanny skill with woodworking. That worked out well for him. Living in a
gold-rush town in the Black Hills there were always things to be constructed. He created dressers and tables for coin, but
Manuel’s specialty was coffins. He worked the wood to create elegant designs that were pleasing to the eye and comforting
to grieving families. He knew just which type of tree would make the proper vessel for each individual’s journey to
the afterlife. But he knew more than that.
As a Mexican living in a
Midwestern gold town, life was hard enough for Manuel. His dark hair and skin sharply contrasted the local residents and
February landscape. Being a dwarf on top of it only made life harder. But he survived. People paid him well for his craft
and people feared him~ the man who built coffins for those who were not yet dead.
His reputation began to grow 3 years ago when the townspeople noticed him building
something that appeared to be far too large for a coffin. Of course, he tried to work in private, but privacy was not one
of the luxuries offered in gold towns alongside the cheap whiskey and dancing shows. His shop was little more than a tent
on a side street in the middle of town. It was good location for a business man, but a poor spot for privacy. The people
As that oversized project began to take shape, the onlookers began to mock Manuel. “It’s a coffin? Really?”
“Look at the size
of that thing! There’s no one around big enough to warrant such spacious quarters in the hereafter!”
‘1 could fit my cart
horse in that thing with room for my goat to boot!” It was the town baker who pieced it together.
“None, but one. .
. Tom Davidge.”
Eyes grew wide and faces turned to one another. Some of the women made the sign of the cross on their chests. It
was unheard of to make a coffin for a person who was not yet dead. It was unthinkable to build such a thing for a man not
even sick. Two days later, Tom Davidge choked on a piece of mutton and died.
After that it was the matching coffins for the
Martin twins. They took to the street for a duel over a girl and both lost. Before each brother hit the ground, his eternal
resting box was done. One by
one and sometimes more, Manuel sought out the proper trees in the forest to build
his next great work. Each time his work was a perfect fit, both in size and style, for the next person to lose their struggle
with this life.
Now, Manuel ran his fingers over the edges of his newly finished work, admiring the wood itself. White oak was
his favorite. It had a depth of color and character that the other trees just missed. It would do just fine. He sighed as
he gauged the size of it one more time. So small. He ran the cuff of his sleeve over a wet spot where a tear had escaped
onto the wood.
The Dixon child screamed as the doctor set the bone in his leg. Manuel winced at the sound of it. Despite his profession,
he hated suffering. In a way, he believed that what he created was a tribute to the end of such suffering.
He heard the sound of
boots scraping the dirt street. They were in a rush and headed his way. Manuel took a deep breath. They were coming to check
on him. That was always the way of it. When a life lay in the balance, those most affected stopped by to examine what he
was doing. He tossed a blanket over the undersized coffin and scattered some tools on top, trying to make it look like nothing
more than a work station. He turned to greet his guests.
“Charlie Dixon, et al, to what do I owe this surprise?” he said.
“You know damn well
why we’re here!” The man’s eyes searched his tent like a cat looking for a mouse that it knows is nearby.
“What are you working on?”
“Nothing really, just tidying up some odds and ends.”
There was a man on either
side of Charlie, each searching for the coffin.
“I don’t know, Charlie, maybe it’s gonna be okay” said one.
boy’s a fighter, Chuck” said the other. They looked at each other, exchanging shrugs, then looked back at Charlie.
Charlie was transfixed. His eyes locked on the coffin underneath the blanket. Slowly, he walked
over to it, grabbed the blanket and yanked it. Tools scattered loudly, a sharp contrast to silence that followed. Moments
passed as Charlie looked at Manuel with scared, sorrowful eyes.
“He’s my only
son” he said. “How dare you take it upon yourself to rob me of him? Just three days ago he was playing with his
friends in this street not thirty feet from here!”
It was then that the sad
eyes of a father became searing eyes of anger. Charlie grabbed Manuel by the collar and began dragging him towards the street,
but his nerves could not wait that long. He lifted Manuel to his feet and punched him in the face. The dwarf fell. Charlie
lifted him again only to beat him down once more. Seven times he followed this brutal pattern. One more, he thought, one
for each of the years my son walked this Earth. Bloodied and bruised, Manuel begged for mercy.
Charlie clenched his fist to his side and turned to walk away. Then he turned and unleashed all
of his fatherly love and anger, kicking Manuel in the head. Manuel’s body lifted off of the ground as he flew backwards.
With a thud and a crack, he landed next to the coffin.
As the blood ran from the
back of his head, soaking the dusty ground, Manuel looked at his final creation and thought to himself, White Oak was always
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About the author:
I am a mid-western transplant in the Tampa, FL area, soaking up sun and finding time to write beneath the palm trees.