The days grew longer and the snows began to melt. The bleakness of the white landscape began to reveal signs of new life. The trees lost their white winter mantles, and plants began to poke up through the receding snow. Elan, Jake, and Justin decided it was time to leave their winter shelters. As cozy as these shelters had been during the cold winter, the boys remained committed to their plan to make their way across the mountains. They left their winter camp and travelled by day and some by night when the moon and stars were bright enough, and the way was broad and safe.
They scrambled over rocks and traversed ledges that were high above the valley floors. On and on, they walked. Up and up, they climbed. As they came closer to the clouds, they found they could no longer stand up straight. They had to bend in order to keep their heads from getting lost in the cloud ceiling, because, when they stood tall, with their heads in the clouds, they became confused and uncertain of their way.
Justin led his younger brother Jake and cousin Elan down a rock-strewn path where they found a rock that jutted abruptly up into the base of the cloud. As they came closer, they could see that steps had been carved into the rock.
“Justin, can you see up the steps?” Jake asked.
Justin tilted his head back to see how far he could see into the cloud. At the top of the stairs, he could see that the light was dim, suffused by the clouds. It was quiet. The steps’ risers were higher than normal but the steps appeared wide and safe.
Jake and Elan pushed passed Justin and headed up the steps. At the top of the steps, they found themselves enveloped in a misty haze that was lit by the sun overhead. The light from the sun was dispersed into a warm soft comforting glow, and in some places refracted into soft muted rainbows that floated in the mists. The mists flowed on soft breezes and moved with the grace of dancers and created ghost-like images that leaped and fell as they dissipated. Sound, like the light, was muffled and soft; the damp ground was surprisingly firm.
Justin spotted a path that made its way through a swampy looking area with mists rising off the surface of what appeared to be a body of water, but this was just an illusion created by condensation of the mist that coated everything in soft dew. The path seemed wet, but their feet did not sink, and the walk was soft and easy. Justin motioned to his brother and cousin to follow; both marched dutifully behind him. It wasn’t long before they came to a cottage that was shrouded in mist. There was a walkway to the front door, and a fence surrounded an ample yard. The fence had fallen over in places and appeared in disrepair. The yard was a mess. There were rocks, and broken chairs, a table standing on its side. Mounds of ashes and sticks piled haphazardly. There were bits of broken pottery and cans, and barrels, and wheels strewn everywhere. The garden was overgrown by weeds, and the grass was long and full of dandelions. Everything was in disorder. This was strange in what appeared to be an otherwise orderly, pleasant place.
“This place is a mess. I wouldn’t think anybody lives here,” Elan said.
“Let’s see.” Justin said.
Jake boldly walked up to the door, took the doorknocker in his hand, and rapped three times. The knocker fell off the door and crashed to the ground. He listened for footsteps and heard a strange rustling of paper and the scraping and banging of falling objects as if someone were wading through piles of junk.
“Who’s there?” Someone shouted. “No one ever comes this way. So, who are you, and what do you want?”
“I’m Jake. This is Justin, my brother, and this is Elan, my cousin,” Jake shouted at the closed door.
“We would like to know where we are, and who you are,” Justin said.
“Oh, that’s easy,” someone answered. “I’m who I am, and you are here, that’s obvious.”
And, so it was. Then someone opened the door. Papers and boxes and broken bits of chairs, rags and dust spilled out.
“Sorry, “ someone said. “I’d clean up the house, if I could find the broom. Come in if you like, but be careful where you step.“
The boys stepped into the cottage. They could hardly move. The house made the yard look neat. Someone stood before them knee deep in paper, broken furniture, broken boxes, books, blocks, toys, all kinds of junk. They were surrounded by chaos. The boys could see chairs identified by the tops of their backs poking up through the mess. The kitchen was unusable with piles of dirty dishes and glasses stacked to the ceiling. Justin, Jake, and Elan had never seen such clutter. The man before them was as unkempt as his home. His hair was gray, uncombed, and spread across his scalp in every direction. His shirt's three buttons were not properly matched to their buttonholes, and his pants were torn, frayed, and stained. His shoes were all muddy and worn. His face was hidden behind a long bushy gray beard that held what appeared to be remnants of something he had eaten. His old tired pale blue eyes looked sad.
“Welcome to my home, such as it is. People call me Messyman. I live in disorder, and I regret I get nothing done. I can’t find my garden tools, lost in the yard, I think. I can’t find the dish soap to clean the dishes. I seem to have misplaced my mop and my vacuum. Oh, don’t go in the bathroom. You probably won’t find the bathtub or the toilet, and the towels are dirty, piled haphazardly on the floor.”
Justin, Jake, and Elan looked around them. This would not work at home. How could you keep track of your things, get your home work done, get dressed in the morning if things were everywhere without any order. They couldn’t imagine their parents ever allowing this.
“How can you live this way?” Jake asked.
“How do your neighbors feel?” Elan asked.
“My neighbors told me I was disrespectful to them by not keeping my place neater. They eventually all moved away. They offered to help me clean up, but I didn’t feel worthy of their help. I didn't know what to get rid of and things just kept piling up. “
“Do you really need this?” Justin said, as he held up a mug he had randomly pulled from the mess. It had no handle and there was a large chip missing from the rim.
“Ooh," Messyman said, “I’ve been looking all over for that. Do you realize what a treasure that is? I got that mug when I was on vacation at the beach. If you hold it to your ear you can hear the ocean. Thank you for finding it. “
Messyman took the mug from Justin and held it to his ear. He appeared relaxed, transported to another place, as he listened in rapture.
“That’s so nice.” Messyman said. Then he felt around by the wall until he found a shelf under a pile of papers and placed the mug there. The boys watched the mug vanish into the general confusion.
“Messyman,” Jake asked, “have you always lived this way?”
Messyman looked away. He thought back to a time when things were in their proper place, a time when his head was not in the clouds.
“Yes, I believe there was a time when I could find the gardening tools, and the flower and vegetable beds were neat, and flowers came up in rows, and there was one section for tomatoes, and one for zucchini, and one for green beans. The halls in my home were clear and you could walk without tripping over a broken couch, or a misplaced trash barrel covered by old clothes, papers, and empty boxes. I think it all started when I decided I could never know when something old might come in handy, or become scarce, or valuable, or held some special meaning for me. So, first I filled my basement with these treasures. When I ran out of room in my basement, I started storing things in my living room, then my dining room. Things got out of hand in the kitchen, and I couldn’t get to the sink, reach the cupboards, or find the table. It takes a long time to accumulate this much stuff. “
Messyman paused for a moment, and a tear appeared in the corner of his eye. “I think it all may have started when I was a child long before I moved here.” He paused again to reflect. “When I was a child I left my room a mess, clothes, toys, school papers, books, everything was everywhere. It got so I had to sleep in the hall outside my room. Who could sleep in that confusion? No one. How could I find peace in that chaos? It got so I couldn’t find two things that went together. I couldn’t finish my school work because I couldn’t find my books or pencils, or rulers, or anything.”
“Didn’t your Mom and Dad tell you to clean up?” Elan asked distressed by Messyman's tale.
“Yes, of course they did. My mother helped me clean up, but eventually even she refused to go into my room. She said it was my responsibility to clean up after myself. But, I never got the room cleaned up – things were so messy that I didn’t know where to start. I would look at the wasteland that my room had become and just turn and walk away. I tried spending time in my brother’s room. But, when I started messing up his toys he kicked me out. I wasn't able to get anything done, not my homework, not my chores, not anything. That’s when they started calling me Messyman.”
“That’s very sad,” Justin said.
“Yes.” Messyman continued, “When I became old enough to leave home, my parents sent me off with a sack of essentials. It didn’t take long before my sack was overflowing with things that I picked up along the way, a hat here, a broken mug there, the end of a broom, an old newspaper. When I’d stop for the evening to rest, I’d unpack the sacks; they had quickly multiplied from two to four to eight. When I found the steps that lead into the cloud, I just followed them, and here I am, a messy man, who lives with his head in the clouds. Thank you for letting me share all this with you. It makes me more mindful. I want to do better. Yes, I dedicate myself to being neater." Messyman looked around. "Well then, let me survey this mess and see where I can start.”
Justin, Jake, and Elan decided it was time to leave Messyman while he looked over his mess and decided where to begin to establish order, much as he had many times before. They bid him farewell and headed back along the path that took them to the steps that would lead them back to solid ground. They didn’t talk until they crawled out from under the clouds.
“I don’t think Messyman was very happy living in all that mess,” Jake said. “Do you really think he will clean it up?”
“Living in that much disorder is not good.” Elan said.
“Not getting things done isn’t good either.” Justin added.
“I think of all those times Mom and Dad told me to clean up. I listened, didn’t I?” Jake asked.
"Of course you did," Justin answered, 'didn't we?' he thought.
Peter Barbour is a retired physician, former neurologist, who loves to tell stories. He lives in Allentown, PA. He is married and loves to fly fish, canoe, and fly RC planes when the wind is right. He published a short novel called "Loose Ends" in 1988, still available on Amazon.com. His first short story appeared in Being, M. Talarico and Daughter Publications, 1992, called "Things can Always Get Worse." He had four short stories published, in Raconteur, Susan Carroll Publishing, from 1993-1995. These works included, "The Fate of Dicky Paponovitch", which was awarded Raconteur of the Month, May 1994. He stopped trying to publish his stories in 1998, but started submitting stories again in 2014. He published three short stories at shortbreadstories.co.uk, "Fishing with Nick", "Dad Stories", and "Earl's Lake, Home to the Big Bass", 2015. He also published "How the Night Became Bright" at shortstory.me, 2015. "Messyman" is based on the mindfulness virtue of order and features the same characters in "How the Night Became Bright".