An old short story I published two years ago in theStand Magazine. Thought it’d be an appropriate post on the eve of another new year. Enjoy your evening, folks!
The Night the Kingdom Lived | A Children’s Tale for Men of All Ages
On a cold and breezy New Year’s Eve, at the brink of another year, Hand was surprisingly relieved of his duty. This was not something that he, or anyone else, would have expected. After all, he had been doing this for quite some time.
When the night first started out, Hand was simply going about with tradition, doing what he was normally told to do on this holiday. Amidst all the busy affairs of the New Year, Hand would be stuck with the unsavory business of writing. Not that he dreaded writing–he was rather indifferent about the matter–but it was the fact that this particular task came after all the other fun activities, such as warming himself over an open fireplace or exercising on the remote controller, that would put him in a grumpy state of mood. (Not to mention his exhaustion from all the “handshaking” he would perform throughout the day.) But he really had no other choice.
“Whenever You are ready, Your Majesty.”
Without further procrastination, HEAD began shouting in no uncertain terms several resolutions that went through his mind:
“Number One. Resolved, to exercise by reading and finishing Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’! And, if necessary, I’ll walk through a huge chunk of ‘Crime & Punishment’. Number Two–Hand, a little neater, will ya!–Resolved, to follow a healthier diet by watching less television! No more than, let us say, thirty minutes a day–Got that? Number Three–”
You see, as a slave, Hand was subject to the rule of the one known as HEAD. And he was really no different from any of the dictators that you might have read about in other books. HEAD was enormous in size, pompous in character, and relentless in toil. There was never a reprieve when a task needed to be done and there would be no reprieve for Hand today.
HEAD would force Hand to take out a blank sheet of lined paper and neatly record on it all the resolutions that he could think of at night’s end. If Hand’s writing was too sloppy or better resolutions were conceived, HEAD would make him erase what had been transcribed and do it all over again. This had been the tradition ever since he could remember–and he really could not remember since his Majesty did all of the thinking, save the few hapless occasions when he did not appear to think much at all.
Hand, the poor scrivener, would also be a victim of HEAD’s jumbled thoughts and slurred speech on these nights. Since another part, Stomach, would absorb large amounts of turkey, the main dish of choice on this day, HEAD would be preoccupied with visitors from the land of Tryptophan. These hexagonal-shaped travelers made the task much more difficult for Hand, as a majority of the time HEAD was attending to these visitors and was consequently not to be found. His absence caused many of Hand’s duplicating blunders.
Although this task would have solicited grumbles from any other part, Hand never really complained. Through it all, he retained his role with diligence and obedience. He was shrewd enough to know that HEAD was the indisputable leader of the kingdom, and as it was, held the final word over his fate. Hand knew it would be in his best interests to obey, for he was once defiant, and HEAD punished him by prohibiting him from doing the activities he enjoyed most, such as climbing up and down the strings of the classical guitar or running wildly through the grand piano.
But if you were to ask some of the other parts in The Body–for that was what the kingdom was called–they would say that HEAD acted more like a tyrant than he did a king. Some considered him unreasonable, rarely allowing the Parts to do anything adventurous. Others resented the fact that all of the kingdom’s decisions were placed solely in his control; none of the Parts ever had any say about what places to go or games to play or foods to eat. And one fellow in particular, Neck, had a qualm about having to carry the burden of this ponderous man.
Most of all, these Parts disliked his ambitions for the kingdom, reckoning them too lofty and improbable. It never occurred to his Majesty how these plans would be executed or whether the resources even made them possible–he simply barked commands, leaving his subjects with the onus of performing them.
Some would point you back to a time when the rule was different, when the kingdom resembled something more like a republic. Not that these Parts would tell you about it openly, lest HEAD suspect any trace of treason, but it was hinted at every time Foot motioned as though he were still kicking the soccer ball on wet grass or every time Ear inched in a little closer when he thought he heard a cut of his favorite tune. This era was known as Youth, and it was about self-enjoyment as much as it was about work; the entire kingdom seemed to carry with it a natural, proper balance during this period.
“Numero Ocho!” his Majesty shouted. “Ah yes, the good ol’ eight ball. Let us see, what have we not yet covered–”
Just as HEAD was beginning to rattle off more overly ambitious goals, a thunderous voice shot out from the back of the room. “Halt, Your Majesty!”
HEAD immediately ordered a couple synapses to stop Hand’s writing. At a millisecond’s notice, all the room fixed their gaze to the one behind the startling intrusion. Who dare have such insolence, much less audacity, to ever disturb the king, they wondered.
“Why, it’s you!” HEAD screamed in reply, shaped by equal parts anger and disbelief. Most of the parts immediately recognized this fellow, for no one could mistake the huge red thing that was standing, pulsating, right before them all. It was none other than Heart. It was he who owned that great thunderous voice and the words that rang with undeniable cadence.
“Oh, to what do we owe this mighty displeasure?” quipped the king.
“Quite simply, your failures as a king, your Highness,” Heart retorted. “I would hate to ruin your festivities, but today is the day I have come to negotiate.”
“Your Majesty, I would daresay that our kingdom is better off without these silly resolutions.”
“No resolutions? Ha! You are insane!”
Although everyone knew about Heart, not everyone was well acquainted. Some thought Heart was nothing more than a large aortic pump that resided somewhere in the southern region, performing nebulous functions that were somehow pertinent to all the kingdom’s regions. Yet none of the parts could deny his presence the moment he stormed into the room. Each one of them felt something indescribable–perhaps good, but they could not actually describe it to you because they did not know what they were feeling themselves. Even HEAD felt it, though he would not tell you this outright.
“Is it, Your Highness? Or are you the one making a mockery of our kingdom with these ridiculous propositions!”
“Oh the insolence!” HEAD bellowed, as he was clearly throbbing. “So what are you suggesting? That I simply hand the kingdom back to you! I’m afraid abdication is simply not an option.”
“I am not suggesting anything that would not be in the best interests of this kingdom, whether that involves your rule or mine. But know this, I am not leaving until there is change.”
In that moment, all of the parts suddenly remembered–this was their king of years and memories long past! An impenetrable buzz began to fill the room.
“If I may, I suggest you consult your council as to what would be the best solution to this matter.”
HEAD was reluctant but eventually acquiesced. He summoned his cabinet of advisors to confer upon the matter. The council arrived promptly before him, its members consisting of all the various parts that comprised the Brain: Amygdala, Hippocampus, and the Brothers Lobe, Frontal and Parietal. They were all, in some mysterious way, shape, or form, responsible for storing and allowing memories from the past to appear in the present. The council was now asked to give an account of previous New Year memories and resolutions.
Hippocampus was the first to appear before the assembly. He addressed the king candidly: “Well, Your Highness, my case is founded on an incident that occurred nearly three years ago. As I might recall, Hand had written a resolution to ‘Find pleasure from foods that are lower on calories and sugar.’ But as you should know, Mouth subsequently ingested approximately 32 ounces of chocolate bars, thereby causing Stomach great ingestion pains. This incident took place only three days after the resolution was conceived.”
Amygdala next approached the stage. He presented physical evidence along with his speech. “This here in my hands is poor Nerve…may he rest in peace…with his sustained injuries. He was found severed after our war with another bigger Body two years ago. This was due to your failure to ‘settle all verbal disputes with civility and respect.'” During his speech, Amygdala became very emotional and had to be restrained by Frontal Lobe. He was subsequently carried away in tears.
Lastly, Parietal came forward on the cabinet’s behalf and spoke with great eloquence; his speech was perhaps the most rousing of all: “Your Highness, we have been with you since the beginning, and we know that you have been responsible for many positive changes within our kingdom. We have conquered Molecular Chemistry, soaring to the highest of heights in academia. We have mastered the art of speech and wooed many a girl. But your Majesty, we cannot perform everything, in particular, the things that you have requested of us. If you have not yet noticed, we practice what we do not want and do not practice what we resolve. We resolve not to fight but we fight, we resolve not to eat but we eat, perhaps even more. With all due respect, Your Highness, something is wrong with our kingdom and something must be done.”
A few momentary seconds of silence followed. It was deafening. Some thought HEAD would explode with anger. (He was thinking this to be a rather untimely inconvenience, since he was expecting a rather relaxing evening.) HEAD turned left and right, then left again, and after a couple gyrations, replied, “Well, I know that I am a rather clever man, and I know a good argument when it is presented. I know when a battle has been won, I know when it is lost. To my assembly, my apologies as a king. All I ever wanted was for our kingdom to prosper, to grow in frame, spirit, and reputation. But I’m afraid I was blind to our failures. For the sake of the kingdom, I believe it is proper that I step down…and see to it that Heart rules again.”
At this, the audience cheered uproariously. But to the surprise of all, Heart had other things in mind. “Wait, listen! I do not want the crown!” The audience appeared in for another mind game.
“Please lend me your ears, and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned,” he began. “You see, I am, quite frankly, no better a king. When I ruled in the past, we had a lot of passion and good intentions, but we never accomplished them. We concerned ourselves with pleasure, we cared for the wrong things, and we never grew in our knowledge of good. I am a great motivator, but I am too emotional. Your Majesty might be relentless, but no one is capable of dreaming up big ideas quite like him. What we need is balance. I suggest we assume a republic, as HEAD and I will cooperate to guard the operations within. But each part is and will be necessary–we must all work together for our kingdom to thrive.”
The idea was given to mixed reception as all the parts began discussing the issue. But after a few moments, Hand, appearing from behind, suddenly rose up to declare: “I will follow!” All the parts, one by one, arose to affirm their allegiance to the kingdom thereafter. Soon, the room was filled with the applause and cheer of all. At the end, HEAD and Heart were standing side by side, smiling in celebration as the rest of the kingdom rejoiced.
In the days following, Head and Heart commenced their operations as they worked together to resolve the kingdom’s problems. Heart had a knack for inspiration, getting down to the root of matters, while Head was adept in providing practical and sound blueprints for resolution. While these two directed, the rest of the kingdom performed. The Feet moved, the Hands danced, the Eyes read, and the Nose breathed. Little by little, the kingdom was growing and all of The Body appeared to be changing for the better.
There returned once again those old feelings of joy and hope, and they all rejoiced as the kingdom was finally starting to see real, lasting change.