Once, many years ago, though not as many as one would believe, there was a town. It was a town as lovely as a town in a fairy tale should be. It was in the mountains and had a lake a little ways from it; there were always white, puffy clouds in the air, and it was overall quite charming. The town had a cobbler and a woman who sold ripe fruit and nobody could ever remember a time that things weren’t just wonderful.
During a particularly auspicious day, a number of strange things happened. Early in the morning, those that worked near the bakery got quite a shock when something went wrong in one of the ovens and the roof was blown right off. This left everyone in the vicinity coated in the baker’s special sticky flour. The people laughed, however, because nobody was hurt, and nothing was so broken that they couldn’t fix it together while singing some lively music. What they did notice, though, was that the baker’s special sticky flour blend did not come off easily and left everyone coated with it a little lighter than everyone else.
About the time lunch was supposed to happen, many people had gathered in the town square to eat their meals. Meals in this town, weather permitting, were always shared together, as the townsfolk felt it was just more fun that way. On this particularly strange day, the town square fountain began to pump a strange, brown liquid. It was a little shiny as though some of the pipes below had rusted. Unfortunately, the plumber could not be called in time, and the fountain began shooting its water higher and higher. Before long everyone in the square had put their lunch away and was playing in the water. Work could wait, after all. Parents chased their children, and men and women danced together. After the fountain was turned off and the plumbers found the problem, the folks in the town square noticed that they were the color of the rusty water, despite how much they bathed. Nobody paid it any mind, however, and they went about their business.
Finally, in the evening after dinner, the strangest thing of all happened. A few of the shopkeepers on Main Street noticed a man whom nobody had seen before walking down the road. They waved to him, but he didn’t seem to notice. Now, in this town in the mountains, they rarely got visitors. So it was a rather big deal that he just walked right in. But, again, nobody really thought anything more about it.
The next day many of the townsfolk were helping the baker to repair his roof when the Stranger walked up. He asked if there were any specials, and the baker politely explained that since the accident yesterday the bakery would be closed for the next few days for repair. Instantly the Stranger became quite agitated. He accused the baker of running a shoddy business, to which the baker apologized and rummaged around until he found a day old baguette for the man. The Stranger left in a huff, but not before a few of the folks heard the man mumble something about ‘untrustworthy Powders.’
As dusk approached, the man entered the tavern and asked for the day’s hot plate. The lady of the tavern nodded and quickly brought the man a plate full of grilled vegetables, a baked sweet potato with butter and sugar, and a heaping pile of lamb chops smothered in savory sauce. The Stranger took a few bites and gruffly called the waitress over to ask if there was anything else on the menu. He loudly groaned and slammed his fists when she said that no, this was their finest dish. He became so upset that the lady of the tavern walked over with a meat pie left over from lunch that she’d warmed in the oven, wrapped it in brown paper, and said it was for him if he would like it. The Stranger gave her a rather rude look, with one eyebrow arched and both eyes looking down his nose at her. He snatched the pie out of her hands and left. Later on the lady of the tavern asked the waitress if she heard the man call her a “thankless Rusty.”
Several days passed while the Stranger made his way around the town. He visited the barber (who turned out to be an impudent Rusty) and the blacksmith (who turned out to have the Powder’s propensity for shoddy craftsmanship) and on it went. After a while the people began to feel that being a ‘Powder’ or a ‘Rusty’ wasn’t a very good thing to be. While the blacksmith felt his craftsmanship was superb, as had everyone else, he began to doubt himself. He became anxious and nervous when anyone asked him for new shoes for their horse or for a set of carpentry nails. One time he even told someone he just couldn’t make their item out of fear they weren’t going to like it. But, in the back of his mind, he thought, “At least I’m not a thankless Rusty.”
And so it went for weeks. The townsfolk became nervous, agitated even angry around one another. If one of the folks in line at the fruit cart took too long to select between the best pears of the day, one of the people behind them would mutter that they were a “dawdling Powder” or a “lazy Rusty.” Eventually, people stopped eating together in the town square for lunch, and the fountain was completely turned off as it was the source of the “Rusty problem.” In fact, many of the Powders in town said they would really like the whole thing removed.
Likewise, the baker had a hard time trying to sell his baked goods, because the Rusty’s began claiming his prices were too high. Though they were the same as they’d always been, the Rusty’s began accusing the baker of favoring the Powders because he was one of them. The same treatment was given to the lady of the tavern by the Powders and on to each of the businesses. Soon, commerce had come to a standstill, at least as far as certain businesses were concerned. The baker only sold to Powders, the tavern to Rusty’s, and so forth.
Soon the Stranger had been forgotten, which was fine with him. He went about his business seemingly unnoticed by the townsfolk. As time wore on, he decided he would leave. His time there had come to a close, his errands completed. With that decision made, he gathered up his traveling cloak and walked right back up main street, made a left-hand turn and was never seen or heard from again. Not that the townspeople, at this point, even bothered to notice his absence. They were too busy trying to figure out how they could get rid of one another.
At some point it was decided that the town should just split in two. A line was drawn down the middle of the town, with Rusty’s and Powders living apart from one another.
Seasons came and seasons went, the wheels of life turned, and the town began to look unrecognizable. The children that once played with one another were forced to keep apart, though they didn’t need much coaxing. Many of them had grown up hearing about the ‘criminal Powders’ or the ‘devilish Rusty’s.’One side of town learned to live without bread, the other without fruit, and on it went.
There came a time that a small child on the Rusty side found an old picture of her father with a Powder woman. She asked him who it was and the man gave a contemptuous look at the picture and said that it used to be her mother. Now, the little girl had never been told about her mother, and seeing that she had been a Powder woman was very odd. At first she felt afraid, but then she saw the two people in the picture were happy, smiling. There was a fountain bursting in the background, and everyone seemed to be dancing and playing.
The next day, with the picture in hand, the little Rusty girl made her way to the town border. After making sure nobody was looking, she tiptoed her way across the Powder side’s line. She crept down streets and peeked around corners, until she found the woman in the picture coming out of the cobbler’s shop. Equally frightened and curious, the little Rusty girl followed her mother from a great distance, so as not to be noticed. The woman came to a little house with white walls and a dark green roof with lilac shutters and a red door. The house looked quite charming, thought the little girl, and she scampered across the street.
Just then several people started shouting at the girl. They called her some exceptionally rude names and began chasing her. The girl was instantly frightened, and she fled from her mother’s house. But, her little legs just weren’t fast enough to keep her away from the crowd, and she was eventually scooped up by two big, rough hands. A Powder man had grabbed her, and a man and woman who were with him started yelling that the little girl should get Floured. The little Rusty girl didn’t know what that meant, but she was very sure she didn’t want it to happen, and she began to cry. This seemed to repulse the Powder people, and they took her by the hands and dragged her along as she struggled to keep up.
The Powder people took her to the baker’s shop, which had become their makeshift town center, and proceeded to poke her with their fingers and laugh at her tears. More Powders showed up and they all had a great laugh as the man who had scooped the girl up poured honey and soured milk all over her, ruining her pretty yellow dress. Once she was soaked and sticky, they covered her in flour and told her to get back to the Rusty side where she belonged.
The little Rusty girl fled the bakery, running as fast as she could back to the Rusty side of town and to her house with the brown walls and bright orange roof. When her father came home and saw the girl covered in flour, he erupted in anger. He brought the neighbors and other townsfolk to his house to see what the Powders had done. While a few of the women began helping the little Rusty girl to get clean, the men began gathering tools and riling themselves up into a rather angry mob. In less than an hour, with the girl lying in her bed in clean, dry clothes, the men were ready to march into the Powders’ side and rid the town of them once and for all.
The Powders must have seen them coming, because they were equally prepared with shovels and pitchforks. The little girl could see the two groups from her bedroom window getting closer and closer to one another, each yelling and holding their tools in the air as they taunted one another. The little Rusty girl held the picture of her Powder mother and Rusty father close to her, closed her eyes, and wept.
Just then she heard the yelling stop. She opened her eyes to see both groups of men halted in place. Mouths open, weapons raised, just a few feet from one another…they had frozen. As curious as a small child can be, the girl went to her front door for a better look. Sure enough many of the men were frozen mid-stride, and the air was eerily quiet. She turned to go back inside when she saw someone walking down Main Street, right down the middle of the line.
The Woman was cloaked in green with curly red hair that had bright spring flowers braided into it. She was so beautiful, and the little Rusty girl just knew she was a nice lady. She ran down the street to her and tugged at the lady’s dress. The beautiful Woman looked down, took the girl by the hand, smiling. Together they walked toward the two groups of men, Powders and Rusty’s on either side of the line. The little girl and the Woman stood there, looking at the two groups. The little girl stared back up at the woman with uncertainty and sadness in her eyes. The Woman had tears streaming down her cheeks, but looked down at the girl with a smile in her glistening eyes.
The Woman let go of the little Rusty girl’s hand and went from person to person, on either side of the line, and kissed them on their forehead. As each man was kissed, the look of anger fell from his face. He looked blissful, happy. When she had finished with each person in both crowds, she waved her hand and the village sprang back to life.
The Powders looked at the Rusty’s, confused, and each group mumbled to one another and then made excuses to get back to work. The little girl asked what happened to the men, and the Woman replied that things in this town were going to be different from now on. However, she told the little Rusty girl to run along home and get some sleep. She kissed the little girl’s forehead, and the little Rusty girl immediately felt tired.
When the town awoke the next morning, they heard someone singing beautifully. Everyone made it out to the town square, staring at this beautiful Woman clad in green singing in a foreign tongue. Some of the men clutched their hearts while they listened, and some of the women began to weep. Powder and Rusty alike stood together to listen to the song, and at the very end, right as the Woman was singing a note that sounded like the ringing of a thousand silver bells, the red-haired Woman raised her arms and the fountain burst. A tower of clean water kept rising until every townsperson was under its spray.
A stunned silence fell over the crowd as they just stared at the fountain that had been turned off for as long as anyone could remember. Suddenly, the little Rusty girl began to giggle and splash in the water. Soon, a few more children – Rusty and Powder – were playing, chasing one another around the fountain’s pool. The adults looked at one another, unsure of what to do. Then, all at once it seemed, everyone just began laughing right along with the children. The women began chasing the smaller kids and the men shook hands with one another and began dancing with their wives.
One strange thing did happen as the townspeople continued to frolic in the square, the water from the fountain seemed to be washing off the last bits of the baker’s special flour and the tinge of rusty water from everyone’s skin. Indeed, when the fountain had finally calmed down to its normal height, everything was as it had been before that very strangest of days had happened.
The little girl who used to be a Rusty noticed the Woman in green walking back down Main Street. With each step she took, the line dividing the two sides of town seemed to vanish beneath her feet. The little girl ran up to the Woman and tugged on her dress. The beautiful Woman turned to look at the girl and told her that everything would be much better now, that everyone was finally going to remember how much they had in common. The little girl asked why this all happened, and the Woman said, “A long time ago, the people made the mistake of listening to an angry Stranger, and they forgot the best parts of each other. Sometimes, we all need a little reminder.” And with that, the Woman turned, walked down the street, made a right hand turn, and was never seen or heard from again.
And the town really was better forever after.
Love and Lyte,