The Actress Who Went to Utter North, and What She Found There
1218 words long
Hearts' desires are neither immutable, safe, nor reliably wise, but sometimes they're the only sure compass you've got.
Notes from the author:
Fairy tales are obliged to follow certain conventions. For instance, the language must be old fashioned. The characters must be archetypal, which is to say, somewhat two-dimensional. And the story must have a moral at the end. It might not be a particularly useful moral for everyday modern readers; it might not even seem a moral moral. (Exhibit A: “The Blue Belt,” whose moral appears to be either, “It’s better to be the person who picks up the magic item than the person who leaves it lie,” or, “Murder is monstrous in trolls but A-OK when done by the hero of the fairy tale.”) All the moral has to be is present.
I imagine this story being one of a collection called The Green Book of Hollywood Tales. (There would also be a blue book, most of whose stories would feature limousines. Because “blue book.” Never mind.)
Once upon a time there was an Actress who grew weary of cameras and press conferences and interviews and auditions, and she desired very much to be alone. (You may be thinking of a Particular Actress, and you can if you like. But, as you’ll soon see, she was not the first, nor will be the last. Indeed, this story might be about any Actress of sufficient Elevation.) So she summoned her army of attendants—for she was an Actress of the most Elevated Sort—and she bid them bear her far from Hollywood to some place of solitude.
They bore her north and north again, past where the polar bears drink bottled soda pop, past where the dream-workers hire penguins to pose for them frame-by-frame, past even where the elves crowd about their forges and lathes to make toys that neither they nor their own children will play with. They bore her farther north than that, farther than even the snow can find, past the very North Pole. They made their way so far north that you couldn’t see them with a telescope.
It was in the outskirts of Utter North that they came to rest. “Here,” the Actress said, “I shall be quite alone at last.”
The Actress’s attendants saw her comfortable in a deck chair they had brought along for that purpose. They draped her in a cloak of alpaca wool and wolf’s fur so that she would not be cold. They brought her mugs of steaming soup and pastries full of savory things. The Actress ate and drank and relaxed, reveling in the solitude that she had sought for so long. I am afraid she did get crumbs on her nice warm cloak, but she had attendants to tend to that too.
Now, you might well wonder how the Actress could consider herself alone while surrounded by a vast army of attendants. I will tell you it was precisely because there were so many. Such Elevated Personages come to consider their attendants mere extensions of themselves, for they respond to the directives of the commanding brain with as much alacrity as one’s own arms and legs. Oddly, this is not so for the lowlier sort who rejoice in only a small handful of attendants. The fewer the number, the better the chances of their commander coming to know each individually. So the Actress was fortunate that her legion of attendants was too vast for that, for she wanted to be alone.
The Actress spent some happy hours there, lounging in her deck chair, sipping spiced brandywine, entirely alone at last. But as she cast her eye contentedly across the plains of Utter North, she saw something move where nothing ought to be, there among a tumble of boulders some ten or twelve leagues away. She rose from her deck chair and summoned her attendants to accompany her thence, that she might see what impertinent Other had intruded upon her solitude.
Obedient to even those wishes that their Mistress had not yet made, her attendants produced a roll of red carpet and shook it open. Unrolling it ahead of her, they prevented the Actress from having to set foot upon the cold plains of Utter North. And it must have been a carpet of infinite length, for it kept unrolling and unrolling before her as she walked.
When they had traveled some ten or twelve leagues, they had still not yet reached the tumbled boulders, for what had appeared a tumble of boulders at twelve leagues began to resemble a mountain of stone at fifty. When they had traveled some forty or fifty leagues, they had not reached the mountain, and what had appeared a mountain turned out to be an exceedingly tall mountain, not just hidden over the rim of the world but constituting that rim, stretching from horizon to horizon and towering above them, a great smooth cliff face. In that vast face were uncounted windows through which uncountable throngs of people could be seen moving about and looking down upon the horrified Actress.
“We shall go in,” she declared, “and we shall tell this loathsome public to remove itself back south where it belongs. I came for solitude, and I will have it.”
Her attendants continued unrolling her crimson path ahead of her, right to the mountain’s front door. There the Actress halted and gestured her attendants to enter ahead of her, that they might encounter and put paid to any dangers that awaited.
As the door was only wide enough for two to enter side-by-side, it took a very long time for her army of attendants to enter the mountain. The Actress had little to do but watch. And as she watched, she noticed things she had never noticed before: the long, fiery hair of one attendant, the curious limp of another, the precious old brooch pinning the cloak of a third. Each of her attendants, she realized, had their own stories for which the Actress had never thought to ask. She had never been alone, not even in Utter North, not in company with all these stories. And now the Actress conceived of an even more powerful desire: She wanted to hear their stories, every one.
But the very last pair of attendants were even then passing into the darkness of the mountain. “Wait,” she called, and ran to join them. But the black of the cave’s mouth had become, with no visible change or movement, the black of a closed and locked door. The actress bruised herself running into it.
“You may not enter,” said a voice from above. One of the faces staring down at her, its details lost in a great height, was speaking. “You may not enter until you have served,” it said.
“I don’t understand,” said the Actress.
“This is Capitol of Utter North, the City Under-Mountain, where take refuge the unpeopled servants, those whose identities were subsumed into being the arms and legs of some Elevated Personage. It is a city for your attendants, but it is not a city for you.”
And the red carpet under the Actress’s feet began at once to retract itself, pulling the Actress back and back until she fell, an impossibly swift time later, into her own abandoned deck chair. The carpet finished rolling itself up and vanished out of the world. For the first time, the Actress was truly, utterly alone.
Some who tell this story say that this was her heart’s desire and she died of it, frozen and starved on the outskirts of Utter North. But I may tell you that they are wrong, and that her heart’s desire, having changed its skin, led the Actress south and south. The toy-making elves, the hired penguins, and the soda-drinking bears all helped her along her way. Each of them told her their story. And so, story by story, she returned to Hollywood. No one there remembered her name, so all that was left for her do was become an attendant to some other Elevated Personage. But this she did gladly, for her heart’s desire now awaited her in Utter North, and she would not reach it until she heard her new Mistress say, “I want to be alone.”
This has been the Friday Fictionette for December 2, 2016. It's also the Fictionette Freebie for December 2016, which means anyone can now download the full-length fictionette (1218 words) from Patreon as an ebook or audiobook regardless of whether they're subscribers.
Friday Fictionettes are a short-short fiction subscription service powered by Patreon. Become a Patron to get a new fictionette every first through fourth Friday and access all the fictionettes of Fridays gone by.