The days grew longer as the sun rose ever higher in the sky. Its rays pierced the morning ground fog that accumulated in low areas, cleared, and warmed the air that was now redolent with scents of flowers. Pastels of soft green, pink, mauve, and yellow made the hills around them glow as flowers shimmered in the gentle mountain breezes. The long cold winter nights were long forgotten. When Justin, Jake, and Elan stopped to rest at the end of each day, they slept under the stars and watched the moon go through its phases. The night air was still cold at this elevation and pleasantly damp. The boys would speculate about their journey and where it might lead them.
“Do you think we should settle for a time when we reach a place with suitable ground to grow vegetables, fruits, and berries? We could rest and replenish our supplies.” Jake asked.
“I’d like to find a spot where there is water and plenty of fish.” Elan added.
“And plenty of materials to build shelters and repair our tools.” Justin said.
They had finally crossed the mountain and found themselves about to enter a broad valley that sheltered a slow meandering river that appeared to spread out like a great hand with many fingers that emptied into a large body of water that stretched to the horizon. From the heights above the valley they could see for miles in the clear air. Towards the end of the valley they could see wisps of smoke rise above the trees. The three boys stopped and observed the magnificent landscape that spread out before them.
“Maybe there are people down there,” Justin postulated.
"Do you think they will be friendly?" Elan asked.
As they watched the smoke rise vertically and dissipate horizontally as it reached the upper currents, they thought back to their own valley that they left almost a year ago. They missed their families and Oscar the dog, who lived with Aunt Amy and Uncle Jon. They had met few people as they crossed the mountain, so signs of people in the valley excited them. Justin decided to follow the path that lead in the direction of the smoke and Jake, his younger brother, and Elan, their cousin, followed.
The path led them down in long gently sloping runs connected by sharp switchbacks. As they approached the valley they could see boats laden with piles of grain and hay on the river. They could see more smoke rising from around a central point they presumed to be a village hidden under the canopy of trees. The path leveled out and the sharp switchbacks became gentler. Hard wood trees began to replace the low shrubs and pine of higher elevations. The path lead the boys to a mountain meadow, green with grass, sprinkled with yellow and blue flowers that swayed with the grasses motivated by the gentle breezes. At the far end of the meadow sheep grazed peacefully. A dog guarding the sheep, immediately aroused by the boy's presence, positioned itself between the boys and the sheep. The shepherd, alerted by the dog, looked in their direction.
"We should wait here," Justin suggested, "until we are invited to approach."
The shepherd walked to where his dog was and called to Justin, Jake, and Elan. "Hello, and welcome," the shepherd called.
"Hello," the three returned simultaneously happy to be greeted so warmly.
"We've just come across the mountains," Justin shouted, as he, his brother, and cousin approached the shepherd. "We would like to learn about the people who live in the village we saw by the river," Justin continued.
"There is a village there and people who live in this valley. As you can see, I tend the sheep. My name is Have-Little," Have-little said as he extended his hand in greeting.
"That is an odd name," Elan said.
"Not so odd, that's what my neighbors call me. Although there are many who live here, I know of two others that are special, and you must meet them. One is called Enough, and the other is called Too-much. The names fit, and so they stick."
"How did you and these neighbors come to be called these names?" Jake asked.
"I will tell you why my neighbors call me Have-Little. It's pretty simple. You see. I have little. I tend sheep for Too-much. He never has enough. That lean-to by the meadow is my shelter, the ground is my bed, and the world is my home."
Elan, Jake, and Justin looked puzzled.
"Is that enough?" Elan asked, wondering if perhaps Have-little needed more.
"Sometimes, I would like more, but, then, I think I have enough. I would like more warmth in the winter, and a little privacy when I bathe and use the potty. That would be nice. I have wondered of late, maybe having little isn't enough. It is certainly simple, though not very interesting. My life is, perhaps, too simple. Life would be easier and more stimulating if I had more. Sheep are easy. People can be complicated, as can be love. So, I stay here in the mountain meadows, and tend the sheep by myself. But, I wonder, would I be happier, if I met my needs better?"
"Do Enough and Too-much feel the same as you?" Jake asked, sensing a degree of remorse from Have-little with the life Have-Little had made for himself.
"You'll have to ask them yourself," Have-Little responded. "They live in the village by the river in their houses. See what they have made for themselves. Ask them how they feel."
The boys thanked Have-little for his time, wished him well, good fortune, and then resumed their journey. They reflected on Have-little's simple life, perhaps too simple for them. The path flattened and straightened until it met the river and, then, took meandering turns as it followed the river's bank. They waved to the boatman on the river and greeted everyone they passed.
"We're looking for Too-much. Have you seen Enough? Do you know where Too-much can be found? Have-little sent us to look for Too-much and Enough. Do you know where they live?" they asked.
Most people just looked at them blankly and didn't respond. They eventually reached a village, but they still hadn't learned where to find Too-much or Enough.
"I'm tired." Jake said, and sat down by the side of the road. Behind him was a long majestic flight of steps that led to the top of a hill on which a stately mansion sat. A sign on the fence that enclosed the grounds surrounding the house contained the initials TM.
Justin saw the sign, and said excitedly, "Guys, do you suppose TM could be Too-much? I'm going to check this out."
Justin marched up the stairs and knocked on the door. A tall gaunt man opened the door. His face me was deeply lined, his brow furrowed, which made him look angry and distressed.
"Have you got something for me?" He said. "Be quick, I'm busy."
"We are looking for Too-much." Justin said.
"My neighbors call me Much, Too-much to be exact, especially by those who have little."
"Yes, we met Have-little on the meadow in the hills above town." Elan interjected. "He said we could ask you why they call you, Too-much."
"My hills, my meadow, my sheep. Makes life complicated, but look at what I have. I have to have things. I need to work hard to maintain what I have. If I get one of something, then I have to have the set, then I want two sets. Never enough. I wish I had more time, too bad you can't buy time, or I'd be able to better enjoy what I have. There is always something more to do, to get, and always a problem to solve. Now, do you have something for me? I have things to do, places to go. I'm very busy, too busy, and I never have enough. I have needs. Needs are expensive, so I have to make more and more."
The boys looked from one to the other and then collectively shook their heads. Too-much was finished, and angry with them for wasting his precious time. Too-much slammed the door shut.
As they descended the steps, Justin tapped Jake and Elan on their shoulders. "You can't always get what you want," he said.
"And, you get what you get, and you don’t get upset." Jake added.
"Do we bother looking for Enough?" Elan asked his cousins.
"I think so," Jake said. "But, where should we look?"
"Somewhere in the middle, between too much and too little; between too complicated and too simple," Justin said.
They searched all over the town. They asked for Enough and were mostly ignored. Finally, as they were about to leave the village, they came to a cottage with a simple white picket fence, a well kept lawn, and small vegetable garden. The house was small but adequate and appeared easy to maintain. This looked like enough. The three walked up to the door and knocked, with some trepidation given their last unpleasant encounter. The door opened.
"What have we here?" Asked an old man with white hair, pale blue eyes, and glasses. He was wearing blue jeans and a golf shirt. He seemed happy and content.
"We're looking for Enough," Justin said.
"Not too simple, not too complicated," Jake said.
"Not too little, not too much," Elan said.
"Just enough?" the old man asked. "That's easy. The key is low overhead. Just live within your means. Come in, and I will explain."
Bio: Peter Barbour is a retired physician, former neurologist, who loves to tell stories. He lives in Allentown, PA. He is married. 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. Since he retired in 2015. He's published three short stories at shortbreadstories.co.uk, "Fishing with Nick", "Dad Stories", and "Earl's Lake, Home to the Big Bass", 2015. More recently, he has had two stories appear in Short-story.me, "How the Night Became Bright" and "Messyman". Like "Messyman", "Simplicity" is based on a mindfulness principle, simplicity