The Merchant’s Wares

by Shawn Cowling

Kaia had spent her whole life under a thatched roof in a town barely worthy of being called a town. Where most towns had electricity and a few motor carriages darting about the streets, her community was a collection of homes surrounded by endless fields of corn and barley. Her place of birth was decades away from similar extravagance.

Every evening just before slumber, she would gaze out her window and sigh. The stars shone on a world full of opportunity, and she had the regular opportunity to push chickens out of the house. There must be more out there; more to see, more to do, and more to experience than what was in her tiny town.

“Perhaps tomorrow,” she would say before closing her eyes.

Kaia dreamt of the wonders she hoped would fill her real life. For years, her ritual was simply that: a mantra of hope without realization. She had nearly given up on any one tomorrow being more special than the next.

An unforgettable tomorrow began like so many others. A simple horse led a cart carrying a busker yelling of wares both rare and essential. Kaia had heard the speech before- all peddlers used the same lines- but meeting someone new was the rarest and most essential thing in the world, so she spoke with each merchant that ventured into town. The cart was plain, and the horse old. The merchant’s hair was tied above her head and looked as weathered as the gloves covering her hands, but the road and work had not stolen her smile. The merchant grinned ear to ear as she met a new face.

“Good morn’, young miss,” the merchant started. “You have a look of wonder about you. A brain bigger than your town, I see.”

The merchant hopped off the cart, walked to the back and rummaged through her wares. Only Kaia had approached the cart. The other villagers around at this hour made tried to avoid the merchant.

“Oh, yes. I dare say this is the perfect item for you.” The merchant stepped around the cart and smiled at Kaia. “Your way out.”

“A window frame?” Kaia said.

She examined the square wooden frame, ornately carved with flowers and symbols she didn’t recognize. An eye had been carved into the sun-bathed cherry wood at what appeared to be the top of the frame.

“Simple enough. But looks are not defining features, as you understand. This frame is made from wood gathered at the foot of a volcano, blessed by the mightiest gods of the region and carved with the runes of a civilization lost to history- but not to us. The eye can reveal many things. What do you think a window reveals? You will see everything your heart desires through this window. If you take it, the world is but a glance away.”

The merchant’s pacing hypnotized Kaia. She moved with a grace and poise that made her enchanting to listen to and watch. Kaia pondered the frame and wondered if she should sacrifice her saved coins on something so frivolous.

“How much do you want for it?” she asked with noticeable hesitation.

“For you? A dreamer, and a seeker of wonder? This item is yours, at no charge,” the merchant said.

Kaia’s smile matched the merchant’s.

“Go!” the merchant urged her.

Kaia ran home, clutching the window frame to her chest and dreaming of what spectacle awaited her. She entered her house, scooted a chicken outside with her foot and raced up to her bedroom. Kaia placed the frame against a wall and stared into the eye, waiting for something to happen. And waited. And waited.

“Silver-tongued merchant. At least she didn’t charge,” Kaia whispered.

She had given up hope of anything fantastical happening and turned to leave her room. The room rattled as she approached the door. She gasped; the window frame glowed an emerald green, and the space inside it moved. Kaia saw the world she so desperately wanted to live in. She walked to the window frame and stared, wide eyed, at the scene.

I wonder, she thought, Can I touch it?

Kaia put her hand through the frame.


Shawn Cowling writes shorts stories and genre fiction for fun and corporate training manuals for pay.  When not writing, he’s chasing around his two young sons and making bad puns.  You can find him online at his blog, or on Facebook.