The fire in the iron stove was lit before Kurt opened his eyes. He awoke to a cave full of warm light, active light. The kind of light and warmth that made him want to snuggle deeper into his fur blankets and just watch the shadows dance on the rough walls till he dozed and the dancers seemed to be both within and without. Instead a gentle scraping sound dragged him into full awareness.
Across the chamber the large monster he called Ub sat on the floor, smoking his pipe and filing a milky green stone by the dancing light. Kurt couldn’t tell what it was supposed to be yet. In Kurt’s ten years he couldn’t count the number of times he had witnessed this process; it must be a million times. The monster would choose a stone. How Kurt could never tell. When he was a little kid he used to try and pick stones himself. He would bring the monster a pretty one that had caught his fancy or a thin sharp one that he thought would make a good blade but the monster would almost always reject them. Kurt had even gotten some books on rocks so that he could learn whatever the monster knew about them. But the books had so many words in them that he mostly looked at the pictures and picked his favorites. It probably didn’t matter anyway. Kurt believed that the monster’s glittering black eyes could see right into the stones and perceived some flaw in them that his blue eyes could not.
When the monster found one that pleased him though he would stare at it for hours, turning it this way and that and sometimes he would murmur as if talking to it. Then the monster would take this shapeless lump that had grown warm from being cradled in the monster’s hands and he would oh so carefully place his chisel against it in just the right way and at just the right angle and down would come the hammer! Sparks might sometimes fly, chips and fragments most certainly would. When the hammer’s violence was through the monster would pull out the saw, or sometimes, when the stone was soft enough, just his hooked thumb claw and pull away more shavings that didn’t fit his vision. Then came the file. Dust settling everywhere as he focused only on the stone, only it was no longer just a stone. Now it began to show the shape of the monster’s design. Along the way, even though he knew the answer, Kurt’s curiosity would get the best of him and he would ask, “What’s it going to be?” To which the monster would always rumble, “What t’was meant to be.”
Kurt hated the monster.
Lastly would come the polishing paper that would make the surfaces shiny and smooth but by then the mystery was normally over and the design was obvious. It t’was whatever it t’was: another piece of jewelry or some utensil or a dumb toy for his brother Tal. By then Kurt was bored with it. It was the forming that fascinated him. He wanted to know how to shape things to his will like the monster did.
The filing stopped. Kurt looked up to see the monster’s eyes on him, like two rocks themselves, hard, glittering and black as Obsidian. “Fair morn, early bird,” the monster rumbled, “Wash and wake thy brother.”
“Can’t I eat first?” Kurt asked.
“T’will break fast with the family. Wash.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Indeed? Does thy keen mastery of the obvious discern that I’ve now told thee twice to wash?”
“Yeah,” Kurt sighed.
“Yet there thou lay.”
Kurt hated the monster. But he got up and did what he was told before he had to be ‘told’ a third time. Third times usually didn’t involve words so much. He kicked off his blankets and drew a sharp breath. Despite the warmth of the stove, the cave was always a cave: damp and cold. Not like his friends’ houses. Their houses had thick walls that weren’t hewn from stone but smooth and insulated somehow. They didn’t heat with an old stove either. They had something beneath the floor so that the heat was evenly distributed and the thick, fuzzy carpets felt warm beneath your feet. Kurt hadn’t realized that he was poor until he started visiting his friends’ houses.
Kurt took a candle and lit it from the fire. He set it next to the tub, which he filled with hot water from the pipe that ran behind the stove and drew the curtain. He luxuriated in the steamy water probably longer than he should but it just felt so good after being chased from his warm bed. Besides, he could hear the filing again so the monster was not paying attention to anything Kurt was doing. He may have even dozed off again for he thought he heard the cuckoo clock from the main chamber but the silence of the gentle scraping continued unabated. He got out when it finally started to feel cool, found a stiff, old towel and hurried back in front of the stove to dry off and get dressed. The movement caught the monster’s eye. He looked up at the clock, flung the stone aside and growled, “Make haste, Lord Waste and leave thy brother to his slumber. Late be we in thy hope to circumvent grace with soap.”
“It’s not my fault! I can’t see the clock!”
“Sheathe thy tongue and thy shame! We put to foot!”
“But I didn’t get breakfast!”
“Thou chose to feed thy sloth instead.”
“Whatever that means.”
“Tis means thy belly shall be thy lesson, hie!
“Thanks, that cleared it up.” Kurt jammed his legs into his pants and looked around. “Where’s my shirt?”
“As if thou had but one.”
“My blue one, it’s not here.”
“Choose a lesser and be done with it!”
“I want that shirt!” Almost before the words left his mouth, the monster was across the chamber, in his drawer and with furious paws, yanked out the shirt on top and crammed it over Kurt’s head. Then, without letting him put his arms in the sleeves, the monster used the shirt to hoist Kurt up like a sack and carry him out the door.