#18 – Mr. Onion

This all happened a very long time ago.

There was once a faraway land of verdant forests, rolling fields, and strong castles. It was ruled by a Duke, though both his name and the name of the land itself have been forgotten. Towers of concrete and glass are all that grow there now. 

But that is now, and this was then. Back then, there was a small farm on the borders of the duchy. A clear stream cut through the farm between the single straw-thatched home and the fields. There, a short wooden barn housed sheep, protecting them from the few wolves which lived in the forest. The stream itself went on to the woods, disappearing beneath the dark canopy. Midges hovered lazily over the surface of the water. It was late in the summer, and the fields were heavy with their crop. The harvest was soon, and though the Duke would have his share, he was not a cruel master. The farmers who lived in the straw-thatched house blessed him each morning for his kindness, praying for his health. The world was quiet and fair.

The heat had only just begun to rise when Gwendolyn rushed out the door. She had recently realized that, if she woke up earlier, she would have more time to play before her father and mother sent her to work the fields. Not for the first time, she wished that her parents had had a son. They had told her how they had prayed to God for a strong son who might help their farm grow, and instead He had sent a daughter. Gwendolyn had asked if they were upset with God, and both her father and mother had shaken their heads and said that they could never be upset that He had given her to them. 

Gwendolyn always had found this hard to believe. She stepped through the mud and clay on the side of the stream, feeling the squelching sound beneath her feet. She caught a glimpse of her face in the water, then turned away, ashamed by what she had seen. It wasn’t her fault that she’d caught a bout of the pox in her youth. Scars wreathed her face, and though her father and mother both assured her that she was beautiful, she knew they were lying. She wiped at her eyes, incensed by the injustice of it all. She was determined to help her family on the farm. The Lord had chosen to give them a daughter instead of sons, then stole away her beauty. What good was she now to her parents? She had spent many nights thinking about this. Her cot was quiet and filled with insects, just adjacent to the small farmhouse’s kitchen. She knew her parents were doing the best they could, and so in that implacable and itchy dark she pledged that, in the absence of a son, she would do the best she could.

This determination was what pushed her away from play and out into the fields on that summer morning. Gwendolyn picked her way through stalks of corn, looking for any diseased or infected ears. She uprooted a carrot to see if the crop might be ready, but saw it would need another week or two yet. Gnawing on the end of the undergrown root, she spied a gopher digging in the potato patch. Without taking her eyes off of the rodent, she picked up a stone. It was as large as the palm of her hand and smooth on all sides. The animal’s eyes tracked her, but its jaw kept working defiantly. Her arm snapped out, sending the stone careening into the gopher’s side. It scrambled away toward its burrow, squeaking all the while.

“That wasn’t very nice,” said a voice, gravelly and slick all at once.

It wasn’t a voice that Gwendolyn recognized. Frowning, she turned and looked for the speaker, but there was no one behind her.

“Down here, sweetheart.”

Gwendolyn looked down at her feet and saw before her a single red onion, a triumphant stalk crowning its head. A pair of wet eyes blinked up at her, and a wide mouth stretched across the bulb’s front.

Gwendolyn leaped backwards immediately, making the sign of the cross before her. “Demon!” She slipped in the mud and fell, too startled even to worry about her mother seeing the stains along the back of her dress.

Two thin curls peeled away from the onion’s side, lending to it the appearance of arms. They laid themselves flat, as if trying to reassure the frightened girl. “Now, now, girlie, I ain’t no demon. I’m Mr. Onion, and this is my patch!”

Gwendolyn said nothing, her eyes wide with terror.

“What? You ain’t never seen a talkin’ onion before?”

“Demon,” repeated Gwendolyn, though with less fire than before.

“Do you even know what a demon looks like, little girl? D’you think any self-respectin’ demon would be caught dead looking like this?” The arm-curls gestured along the face of the bulb. “I ain’t no demon, just an onion tryin’ to make a life for himself.”

“You’re not a demon?” asked Gwendolyn.

“That’s what I said.”

“Wh-why did you scare me then?”

“I was just tryin’ to get your attention. You were being a real douche to that gopher!”

“What’s a douche?” Gwendolyn had sat up now and was wiping the dirt off of her dress and elbows. Mr. Onion stood at her feet, but made no sign of coming closer.

“Ah, right. Forgot you don’t have those yet. That’s my bad. Whatever it was that brought me into this world gave me the gift of portent.” He said portent with an exaggerated o-sound, as if trying to add an air of mystery to the word.

“My father told me not to trust fortune-tellers and mystics,” said Gwendolyn. “He said that they were the servants of the devil.”

“I ain’t none of that! I just popped out of my little hole in the ground to give you a heads-up about a few small things. You can ask any question you like.”

Gwendolyn looked over the shoulder back to the farmhouse. The sun was still low in the sky, and no smoke floated yet from the chimney. The sounds of sheep stirring had begun to carry over the fields from their ramshackle barn, but they were intermittent and subdued. She looked back to Mr. Onion, who looked up at her with patient eyes. “Okay,” she said. “But quick now.”

“Great!” he said, and a smile broke across his face. “Where d’you wanna start?”

Gwendolyn considered for a moment, then asked: “My family is terribly poor, and my parents have prayed for a son for many years. Will he ever come?”

“Nah,” said Mr. Onion, “that oven is burnt out. You’re all they’re gonna get.”

The bluntness of this comment stung, but Gwendolyn did her best to shrug it off. If anything, the crassness of this small creature had convinced her that he was not a servant of the devil, whom she imagined would speak much more sweetly than this bitter thing. 

“Th-thank you,” she stammered. “I suppose that I could have guessed that.” She considered another question. “What about me?”

“What about you?”

“Will I marry? Will my husband bring security to my family’s home?”

“Girl, have you seen yourself? Yeesh! I wouldn’t count on it.”

Gwendolyn recoiled as if slapped. Why was this small creature being so cruel? And yet, though tears were beginning to form in her eyes, a certain curiosity lingered as well. Really, had she thought a pock-marked farm girl would ever find a husband? The little beast had done nothing but confirm what she already knew. “What about my farm? Will it be prosperous for years to come?”

Mr. Onion shrugged. “Who can say? There’s gonna be a lot of wars in this country in the next few decades, believe you me. Maybe you’ll escape, maybe you won’t. Maybe that Duke of yours will call up your daddy to fight and he’ll find himself with an arrow through his neck, far from here.” His smile broadened. “After that, well, I’d suppose it’d be just you and mom, right? Well, I’m sure that’ll be fine.” He waited for a brief moment. “Come on, ask me if it’ll be fine.”

“I shan’t. You are enjoying this.”

“I’m just sharing the knowledge, friend to friend. I’m sorry if you don’t like what you have to say.” 

“Perhaps I should be going. There’s a lot of work to be done, and mother and father will likely be awake soon.” She turned to go.

“Wait,” cried Mr. Onion, one arm-curl outstretched. His eyes looked up at her, damp and pleading. “I have so much more to say.”

Gwendolyn looked back. Uncertainty coloured her face. “Go on, then. Be quick about it.”

“Oh, where to start! Well, let’s see. In twenty years or so, the plague will return. Have you heard about that? Not sure what record-keeping is like these days. Don’t worry, you will. What else? Well, remember that war I mentioned? Your beloved Duke will lose, and his head will be tarred and mounted on a pike for all to see.” His voice began to increase in pace, and he began spouting items off rapid-fire. He spoke of plague and war and famine. He spoke of a world on fire. He spoke of lands beyond the sea where this continent’s disease and conflict would spread, and he did it all with a malignant kind of glee on his face. By the end of it, Gwendolyn was weeping softly, her body shaking.

“Why are you so cruel?” she asked. “Why do you take such pleasure in speaking such ills into being?”

Mr. Onion’s eyes widened. “What didja expect? I’m an onion–I’m gonna make you cry!” Then the grin returned, and he continued on, speaking of things that simply could not be:

“There will be a time when farms will shrink and disappear.”

“There will be a loss of faith in your beloved God.”

“There will be weapons that can destroy entire cities.”

“There will be wars that sweep the entire world.”

“There will be an era of prosperity, but with it will come the poisoning of the air and the water. Certain
animals will disappear, never to be seen again”

“There will be a time when families split apart, forgetting to love their fathers and mothers. They will only gather on Christmas, but only to give each other gifts, never to honour Christ himself.”

“There will never truly be an end to serfdom in the modern world; people will only be given the powerful illusion of freedom, but instead they will continue to be forced to work long and painful hours for people much richer than themselves, all to etch out a bleak and ragged existe—”

Gwendolyn’s foot came crashing down on Mr. Onion, caving in the top of the bulb. A spray of onion juice shot out across the loamy soil as the bulb sundered. There was a blessed quiet. She looked down, lifting her foot to see what was left. The innards of the onion had been forced through his mouth, effectively turning him inside-out. The stalk was flat, limp and dead. Gwendolyn sat down next to the corpse of Mr. Onion, prodding it with her toe. 

It did not move. She spat on the ruined onion. “Couldn’t predict that, now could you?” she asked. 

Gwendolyn picked herself up, brushing the dirt and mud from her dress. The sun was high in the sky now, a ball of fire in the clearest blue she’d ever known. The day was fixing to be hot, but the breeze was fresh and clean. 

Smiling, she raced off, ready to make the world her own.

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