The Carpenter was atop a ladder looking down on the clearing. The walls now defined the cabin, the places to think and sleep. He began work on the roof to shelter him from the elements. His tent served him for construction but did nothing to hide him from distraction.
This building was a difficult one to make on his own, but he could and would not bring another person into his life. There was a sharp correlation between who he interacted with and Their design. He couldn’t bear more to judge and a further strike at his humanity. The Carpenter would sacrifice time for solitude.
The pain that Marilyn’s memory caused spurred him on to finish, to be rid of the decision. It is strange but as he looked back on his life those few months in the institution were the dearest to him. He had time with her, and cherished those weeks. Remembering those times in isolation of what her life would become.
In the institution the Carpenter also found what would be his trade and identity. A kind doctor introduced him to woodworking, an organic creation. He wished he could remember the doctor’s name or face as gratitude. How his memory faded after all those years, if They deemed it unimportant then it would left to his human capabilities.
As part of his therapy, to bring him from Them and to the tactile world he was introduced to the craft. The Carpenter loved the feeling of taking something so still and quiet, and uncovering the stories it would tell for years. He was amazed that even after the tree was dead, the wood still lived. Moving with the season, changing appearance and texture.
He enjoyed the quiet that it brought. It was time he could be alone; from Them, the world and his thoughts. Each plank had its own personality, the way it cut or the figure it displayed. With each board he needed to uncover its secrets so that he could create the best with it. The Carpenter felt it his duty, to respect the sacrifice the fallen tree had made.
Woodworking was his saviour and income. When he came out of the institution he worked tirelessly on pieces, selling what he could. His parent happy with this obsession encouraged and supported him. His worked grew in quality and notice. He became self-sufficient living off his now found love. The thing that They couldn’t touch, while he was creating he was deaf to Them.
The Carpenter’s second subject came to him through his passion. Years after Marilyn, and a decade after his business was a success in it own right. He was contact by the Munness embassy, the president was on a state visit and wished to meet with him.
The Carpenter sat atop the cabin wall, pausing in memory. Herman Gorthel walked into his shop, he was a tall man at 6′ 5″. His shoulders were broad and his jet black hair cut short distracted from his piercing blue eyes. There were two security personnel with him as well as his assistant.
Ezra walked toward him with a sense of occasion in his stomach. The President extended a hand, Ezra expected a firmness that man in power often displayed to reinforce. Ezra was met with an uncharacteristic softness, and a warmth that the media had not shared.
President Herman Gorthel was viewed as an authoritarian by most western countries. He held a firm grip on power, those who betrayed him were killed. He had a great vision for Munness and would allow no one to come between him and that vision. He wanted his country to be great, his singular idea was the direction he believed they needed to move in.
“Carpenter you work is marvellous” he looked at his assistant and the man pulled out a folder from a black attaché case. “In my travel across your country, many of your rulers have your desks in their offices.”
“They would prefer ministers, sir. I think they aspire to rulers though”. Ezra nervous in the presence of this man.
The President laughed and slapped Ezra on the shoulder. “Well it would be an honour to have one of your pieces in my office.” He ran his hand on the top of an oak dinning table. “You must deliver it, visit in my country.”
The folder contained photos of the room that the desk would go in and $50,000. “Sir, it would be an honour to do this for you.”
“I will one day die” He took Ezra by the shoulders, “you make this for all those who will rule Munness. Yours is a gift for my country and its people.
Ezra travelled on one of the Presidents private planes to deliver the desk. It was opulent beyond what he expected, it was more akin to something a King would posses. No space was spared the garishness of gold, even the toilet.
He felt out of place working for the man who many considered a tyrant. Ezra had been commissioned by many people of note to build pieces. The fame or stature did not intimidate him, the evils that he was accused of did.
If it hadn’t been for the intervention of Them he would have turned down the opportunity. Years had passed since they last spoke to him. They did not perceive time like we did. Whilst it was still linear to them, the line would blur from time to time. Their attention waning usually caused this. They had missed whole millennia due to Their perceived unimportance of it.
Ezra wrote the letter respectfully declining the offer. Then he was struck by Them, he must meet with this man. Understand and learn what his story said about the human race. To them his title meant little as it was his deeds to be judged.
Again with a feeling that his life was not his own, he sat on a plane to meet a man who was responsible for the deaths of millions. Most of those he was responsible for in his capacity as President.
President Herman Gorthel stood beside the desk and made a speech about the importance of it. How the Carpenter from Australia gave a gift to the people of Munness, that from behind this the glory of their country would be realised.
President Gorthel sat behind it and signed his sixth term of presidency, unopposed in the election. The people in the room clapped, a standing ovation for their ruler. Ezra saw what control was, how everyone in this room stood watching the man. Many saw in him a saviour, others saw fear. They all clapped the same, and the man heard the noise indistinct.
There was a function and Ezra chatted with the most important people in a country beset by famine. The President shook his hand and again he was shocked by the warmth the man exhibited. “Carpenter the desk is fitting for a President” He chuckled at his poor joke, those around ever the sycophants.
“I must apologise for not bringing a gift for you signing your sixth term.” Ezra felt more uneasy as the night wore on and the people in the room displayed great fear of the President.
“Please don’t think twice about it.” He turned to the line of people wanting to congratulate him. “After they all have the chance to pat me on the back would you join me for a drink in my private room?”
“Yes of course” The President smiled and walked off, Ezra took another glass of the finest champagne. He looked out the window and felt guilty for taking such pleasures in a country of poverty.
President Herman Gorthel poured them bother whiskey over ice, they sat in leather chairs. If not for the President’s accent he could be convinced of being in a fine cigar bar back at home. He sipped the whiskey and the familiar burn warmed him. It was an incredibly fine drink.
They talked for a short while and then Ezra noticed a sash that hung on the wall. The President noticed the attention, “My boy that is a long story”, he took the bottle of whiskey and refilled the glasses. Then place the fine crystal decanter on the table between them. “Would you like to hear about it, it is the reason I sit here.”
“In that case I have hear it”, Ezra sipped the whiskey “that is if you’re happy to tell it”.
He laughed and it sounded like a grandfather, it was hard to imagine this man ordering thousands to their deaths. “Not many people want to hear my stories, they are more concerned with how to gain power through me or taking it from me.” he smiled looking at the sash. “That is my greatest possession, all the gold and finery that I have is nothing but a superficial mask. That sash is the truth of the man I am.
“Compared to your Australia my country is poor. Compared to our past we are rich beyond our belief.” he sipped the whiskey and his voice dropped in tone and volume. “It all started when I was a young boy. Our country had been at war for so long that we didn’t know there was another way to live.
“My father was a great soldier, he went into the army at the age of sixteen. My mother married him at fifteen and it was her great honour. To be married to a hero, he protected our country from many invaders. He was killed in defence of our country, and my mother and I were left on our own. I was seven and it was a soul-destroying event.
“The village held my mother with honour for a time. She was the widow of a great soldier but so were many others. The number of widows grew and the help they could receive disappeared. We didn’t have enough to eat, my mother worked all she could but women can’t make a living doing their work.
“The first law I enacted was to provide the widows of our fallen soldiers a living. My true wish would be to stop their loss but in our world that is not a reality”, he looked deep into his glass. “My mother should have been afforded such respect.
“For so long I felt as if I had no direction in life. My fathers loss brought on such sadness for my mother. It scared me from military duty, not because I would lose my life but that she would lose another.
“Through hard work my mother put me through school, she wanted a life for me. A better life than hers and my father. She believed that I was special, I suppose most mothers do. She never resisted telling me what potential I had, even she wouldn’t have thought I would be President.” The President smiled at the memory, sipping the drink so far removed from his struggles.
“School was difficult, I was poor and would be made fun of by the children. For the longest time I hated that place and could not understand why my mother chose to torture me like that.
“Then there came an assignment to tell your story and why you love your country. With the inspiration of my father and the belief of my mother I spoke true about our country. That I did not hate it because my father died for it but I loved it more. For that little speech I received a standing ovation.
“Seeing those little people standing for me, a poor little child, it made something wake. From that little movement I began to change from being the outcast. I spoke in the playground, I listened to the other children and stood up for them. Then at the beginning of the next school year I was elected class president. As big an honour as President I must say. The put that sash over my shoulder and my pride could not be contained.
“That sash showed me that my words and efforts meant something. That I could make a difference, that through perseverance and love I could change my country. I wore that sash with pride every day and every year campaigned to keep it, which I did.
“Then I went on and joined the army, I fought and killed many people. The sweetness of childhood died but a resolve was born. I know the rest of the world looks on with hatred for the deaths I caused. I am not under the illusion that blood should not be spilled.” There was a change in his demeanour, that softness gave way to a cold realism. Ezra knew that the President would kill him in the chair he sat if he believed it necessary.
“My time in the army took what I learnt in school and built on it. I grew my leadership skills and learnt that people could be cruel. In our south there was a group who believed that they should rule. Our government ignored them, they grew to numbered in the thousands.
“As general of the army I ordered my men in. I cleared the region of these people. For that I was kicked out of the armed forces. To this day I do not regret it. They killed innocent people, their own countrymen. They were traitors.
“My men fought for their country and they fought for me. We killed tens of thousands of people. They all deserved their end.” There was a chilling quality to the way he told the story. Convinced of his own deeds. “What would you do if you had to watch people be attacked by these men? Women and children attacked, things done to them that I wish not to repeat.” He paused and Ezra took a sip of the whiskey.
“The government for my service discarded me, pandering to the world and its weak views. Millions of people are killed and silence from the world, I could not be deaf to them.
“It was a dark time being thrown out of the military. It had become my life, all I knew and the only solace I could find. I arrived home and contemplated doing the honourable thing and ending my life. I looked at that sash and it stopped me, it reminded me of what I could do. How I could make a change.
“With the help of my other discharged military men we formed a governing body, a party for glory of the people. It took us two years and the support of our country men to place us into power. We were elected in a fair election unlike what the world would have you believe. No one opposes me because our country is united.” He stood agitated by the reports he continued to hear.
“On the day I was sworn in for the first time I wore that sash under my suit. It was next to the medals my father had won. A picture of my mother who died years before was pinned to it. She missed the realisation of her belief, I wanted her to share in that moment. I took the oath to bring prosperity and protection to our country and that has been my guiding principle.
“On that first day there was an assassination attempt on me. I was shot in the stomach, the hole down the bottom.” He touched the sash, showing the missing cloth. “My blood stained it, through the grace of god I was able to live. From my bed I ordered the army to find all involved.
“Thousands wanted my death, not for their country but for themselves. The treasonous attitudes needed to be stopped and we had them all killed.” He walked towards Ezra, motioning with a closed fist. “They are like a cancer, if you do not eradicate them you will be overcome by them.
“The man who shot me sat in jail until I was well enough to travel. In his cell I cut his throat, I wore that sash. It had saved my life twice and I allowed it to witness justice. His blood lives on it like a memory, so I never forget that evil lives.
“It is my wish that death could be stopped, that no more of my countryman would have to fall for us to prosper. This cannot be true, and we find those who have traitorous intentions and we end their lives.
“The world calls me the butcher, but I ask you what am I to do when someone threatens my country? I do not kill for fun or profit. I kill to ensure the safety of my people. No one person should be more important than the country.”
The President’s tone elevated to the powerful leader he was. Louder and more stern. “I will not allow our enemies to destroy what we have built. All must sacrifice and to many that means their lives.”
President Gorthel turned to the sash, “this simple piece of cloth was the start of my journey. It showed me that I was different, that my leadership was born in me. That is why I can do awful things that your country would shrink from.”
President Herman Gorthel poured himself another drink and looked at the sash. From behind Ezra the door opened. The Presidents eyes widened, his glass and the decanter fell to the floor. The man who entered ran to him, yelling out “traitor” and then cut the presidents throat.
He looked at Ezra, and in a language foreign shouted at him. Before he could take a step the President’s guards shot the man dead. Ezra sat there stunned by the blood. The President slid down the wall with sash in hand. Ezra knelt beside him and watched a tyrants life slip away. His grip on the sash strong to the end.
The guards picked Ezra up off the ground and dragged him out of the building. He was ushered into a car. The guard sat beside him silent. “What is going to happen” Ezra said in deep shock.
“I do not know”, there was a sadness in his words. “We need to get you out of the country, if they find you they will kill you. The President had a fondness for your craft. He held your work in high esteem.”
The guard refused to look at Ezra. He was a loyal servant, the tears were for a great man. “The country is in poverty and people see the desk as another example of corruption. It is another example of how the President saw himself more important than the people. That desk could have fed thousands, instead it sits still in the room where so many laws were passed.
“If they find you, they will kill you because in their eyes you are the President’s Carpenter and by his side you will stand in history.”
“I am just a carpenter” Ezra said in fear.
“From this day on in Munness you are the Carpenter”.
The Carpenter climbed down from the cabin and sat on the floor for a moment. Being put on a plane, the last one to leave the country was surreal. He escaped the collapse of a country, the destruction of its sovereignty.
Those who were pro and against the president fought. In the end, his memory was one of a murderer, the Butcher. He wanted to make his country grand but instead he destroyed it. Munness was no more. It broke up into three state that fought for history.
What does President Herman Gorthel’s memory tell us about humanity. About the ease of which patriotism leads to hate. What does it say that to make a country strong you would need to attack so many who were week.
What does it say when a good man must be evil to succeed. Herman Gorthel was not always the evil dictator. At one time he just wanted to be accepted by his classmates. Then he wanted to make his country better. All admirable qualities.
The Carpenter closed his eyes to sleep and could see the blood, the pain on the murderers face. To know that to so many he was the Carpenter of evil. How can he remove himself from the judgement of others?
Next time the Carpenter will relive the story of a man who lusted for the pain of others. Read A Lust for Pain
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