Ham felt the sweat dripping down his back as he swung the axe overhead. In his mind’s eye, he could see the sweat clearing a path through the dirt and dust that settled on his back as he worked. He took some pride in the smooth play of the muscles in his shoulders, chest, and back as he continued to split logs for firewood for the village. Each time was the same – place the log end up on the splitting trunk, take the axe firmly – first with his left hand, then with his right – swing the axe around his right side and overhead, and then the solid, smooth swing downward ending in the satisfying ka-thunk as the log split in two.
Ham had been splitting firewood since he was old enough to swing his first, smaller axe, and it had always given him a quiet sense of satisfaction. His father had taught him the right way to grip the axe, the right way to swing it up and then down, the right way to place the log, and the rhythm that made it all move so smoothly.
On this day, as on most other days, his father – Horace – worked at his own splitting trunk not far away. Their rhythms worked in counterpoint to make a calming rhythm. Ka-thunk, ka-thunk, sometimes together, sometimes apart.
The work took no thought, so Ham used the time when his body worked so smoothly to think. This was one of the things that set Ham apart from the other Huddlers of the village of Dusk. In fact, Ham had always felt somewhat apart from the other Huddlers of Dusk.
To begin with, Ham had always been a bit taller than most Huddlers. Not head-and-shoulders taller, but just enough that he was always looking down on the other Huddlers. Because of the physical nature of his work, Ham’s shoulders began broadening early, and his back was strong and straight. All of this made him seem just a bit taller than he already was.
Ham’s hair was different, too. Huddlers, as a people, had lifeless muddy brown hair that always seemed to just lay there. Whether the day was calm or windy, Huddler hair found its place and gloomily stayed there. By contrast, Ham’s hair had a sheen – a slight golden tinge to it that seemed to catch every errant sunbeam or moonglow. So much so, that the other Huddlers in Dusk could see him coming from a distance. Not content to stay put, Ham’s hair moved with the breeze and flowed in the light.
And then, there were Ham’s eyes. Possessed of a warm radiance, they were like the eyes of the other Huddlers, only in that they were brown. But while the other Huddlers’ eyes were a muddy brown just like their muddy brown hair, Ham’s eyes were brighter. Sometimes, in the right light, small, floating golden flecks appeared.
Unfortunately for Ham, different was bad in Dusk. The folk of Dusk mistrusted different, as did most of the folk in the land of Dank.
The other children of Dusk avoided Ham in small and large ways. Sometimes, when he would walk by, they would just turn away, ever so slightly. At playtime, they would often deliberately exclude him.
Ham was never bitter or angry, but these slights did not go unnoticed and there had always been a small sadness in him.
As Ham chopped wood, this sadness would sometimes sing a soft song to him. As Ham smelled the rich scent of the wood, feeling the smooth play of his muscles and the sweat dripping down his back to plop in the dirt at his feet, he would listen and wonder why he was different.