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  • Zsigmond Williams and Elliot Carmel

The Faceless Merchant: A Fairytale

There was a merchant who travelled far from home. He was always moving, visiting a million different lands. Any place you can imagine - he's been there, twice. He tasted spices, and soups, and salads -- climbed turrets, raced chariots, wagered with giants. No matter how many things he saw, he was never satisfied. But the thing is, he wasn’t an ordinary merchant -- he had lies in his blood. Every day he wore a different face, used a different voice and was a different person. He never told anyone who he really was, and no one ever realised.

Still, he wasn’t alone - every year, at the winter solstice, he went home to visit his mother. She lived in a teapot floating on a magic river -- it was made of pink lemonade and no matter how far the river carried her, she always stayed in the same place. They would cook, laugh and sing together, sitting by the fire while the winter passed. Only there he wore his true face, and so she was the only person who really saw him. But he worried that she wouldn't approve of his lifestyle, so he never told her the truth about how he lived, but the secret made his heart heavy. It never changed the way he felt about his mother, or the way she felt about him, but it was there anyway. As the solstice ended his visit to his mother ended. He doesn’t want to say goodbye but inside, he knew he had to continue his journey. Every year he said to himself: "I haven't seen enough so I must go on." So, he went on and on and on each year, just repeating what he did the year before.

But this year was different. He travelled through marvellous lands, raced cheetahs, fought silverback gorillas, swam laps with blue whales. That wasn’t different. When the winter arrived, he was excited but tired as usual; nothing could stop him from meeting his mother. So, he plodded up to her door step, rubbed off his dirty shoes covered in soil, gravel and sands from all over the world, and rang the doorbell. While he waited there patiently, he heard hurried loud blanket rustles. Shortly after he heard footsteps running to the door. As his mother opened the door with the largest grin on her face it slowly turned confused. The merchant went in for a hug, but she pushed him back lightly -- and yet for him that felt like a battering ram pushing back wooden doors. Then she asked him something that made him realise his horrible mistake:

"Sir, I'm sorry, but who are you and why are you coming to me with open arms like I know you?”

These words pierced through his skin like a javelin through his heart. He realised suddenly that he hadn't changed his face back to normal. Instead, he wore the face of a fair-haired, pale-faced northerner, with a long, braided beard and wispy hair. He hurriedly changed it to his original face, thinking his mother would change her facial expression to an inviting smile, but he was so very wrong. His mother was angry! She shouted and screamed at him:

"What is all this huh? Care to explain? You aren't the loving son I raised! You’re a fraud! I've spent eighteen years of my life providing for you and raising you to be who you are, and you come to me with a face that I don’t know! Get off my property now!”

He was speechless. It felt like he was spiralling into darkness. Time was moving slowly. He tried to say something, but a burning cold sensation caught his voice. There was nothing to say. So he turned and walked away slowly with his chin down.

That night he did not sleep. For hours he worked on the street, mixing and boiling, distilling and measuring. As dawn arrived, he stood in an empty alley holding a small, rounded glass bottle, filled with a slow, silvery fluid that looked like liquid moonlight. A potion for forgetting, to make things right. She wouldn't want him to do this, but she would never know.

A few minutes later he stood in front of their house. By the doorstep sat a crate of milk bottles, sealed with cloth. He cut a hole in one lid and poured in the potion, until the very last drop. Then, he touched his finger to the tear, making it disappear.

He returned to the alley and sat, waiting and worrying, three hours long, until he couldn’t stand it any more. Carefully, he approached the house, took off his false face, and knocked.

Moment later his mother stood in the doorway, wearing a dirtied apron and a wide smile.

“Hello! Good to see you!” she greeted him, beaming.

His heart leapt. Thank God.

“I’m Gertrude! And who might you be?” she continued.

No. It had worked, but far too well. It was all gone.

“It’s- it’s me, Mum! Your son!”

“My son is blonde. With a braided beard, and a pale face. I’m sorry, you must have made a mistake.”

All gone, with something wrong put in its place. Oh, no.

“Wait- wait! I can fix this,” he said, frantically flicking through his disguises.

A few seconds later he had found it, and stepped toward her once more with newfound confidence. She flinched back in shock and fear.

“What kind of demon are you? Where is my son? And why have you stolen his soul?!” she shrieked. He backed away.

She grabbed a pitchfork from outside the door, holding it up.

“Thief! Murderer!” she stabbed him, crushing his ribs and tearing apart his left lung. He fell to his knees, gasping raggedly, not understanding. He tried to staunch the bleeding with his hand, but the crimson spilled past and into the pink lemonade.

“Why? All I did was... lie,” he whispered, more to himself than to her.

She stared down in confusion and disgust, kicking his body over.

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