By J.R. Packard
The tragedy of Margaret Lincoln is a difficult one to understand. Not least of all, by its unique and curious nature–but that it occurred to none other than the most innocent and random of young ladies, in the most innocent and random of places. And yet, despite the strangeness of it, it can be rest assured that when seen through the correct eyes, the events of her life were in fact, entirely, and perhaps metaphorically, true.
The homestead of this Ms. Lincoln was atop the grassy and wheat-covered hill of Winter County on the south end of the pacific Harrington Island. An old, small wooden house built by her late grandfather, it was a humble, perhaps most unattractive home on the island . There, she lived the whole of her eighteen-year life with her sister and mother. The sister, Mary, was their personal gardener. Introverted and dallying, she felt in all ways complete with her daily routine of planting the petunias, trimming the bushes, and watering the strawberries. Her mother on the other hand, was a prominent artist, whose work had never quite taken off. Though once a week on the same day and same hour she would frequent town to sell her work, it was a rarity to sell even a third of them. Ambitious in her youth, the spark of creation which once enlightened her being with self-assurance and purpose, had all but dimmed to a light ember. Indeed, the dream of Warhol-esque fame was instead replaced by the necessity of providing for the family, a small income an artist oft comes to expect. It was a small income, but an income nonetheless, and for that they were appreciative. Though under the guidance of the two, Margaret (who was a fair deal younger) would come not to desire a career of wealth nor that of a businesswoman as they hoped. It was she whom they felt could raise the state of their wealth and namesake–to succeed in the dreams which long ago failed them. Margaret, however, wanted none of it. She felt no desire to be renowned, and even less so to be rich. Yet that is not to say she lacked ambition. Margaret was a dreamer–having perhaps dreamt more than any of her peers, and the aspirations she desired could never be satisfied with the mere value of financial gain, a large house, or even a steady job. Such reflected her personality, and naturally, said lofty dreams would often be met with scoffs by her peers. The consensus was generally the same: too much hoping and contemplating was time unduly wasted; that she dreamt too much and lost sight of the present. For how can one find their place in the world, when they never escape their head?
“You should go to King Point college, Margaret. Mr. Peterson of the Buy-’n-Go mentioned it to me earlier. It’s not expensive and within walking distance. Mary and I have put aside some money for classes. It’s time for you to find a job and settle down, don’t you think? Make a living, Margaret–a name for yourself, and finally grow up. You cannot be a kid of this house forever. Dusk ‘til dawn your sister and I work. We’ve grown up.” Her mother said, while the three of them ate around the dinner table.
She sat quietly, staring at her mashed carrots recently harvested from the garden, and thinking over her mother’s words. They weren’t the words she wanted to hear, nor ones she agreed with, but they had to be considered. The drab life of being barred to one’s small home was a simple one, but it was without ambition, and certainly not one to fill the void of her dreams. After a bit of thought, her face lit with an optimistic smile and by any means necessary, she vowed to succeed in her aspirations and prove the fulfillment of them to her mother and sister.
“Alright!”, she declared, “I’ll make something of myself and will become neither a gardener nor an artist. I’ll become a symbol of hope for our quaint island. I’ll inspire them to do more than farming and fishing, and change the world for the better if I can.”
She then left the room without a second word. Her family, surprised by her quick change in initiative, and though doubtful, were thankful at the thought of her getting a job and at last contributing financially.
Incidentally, the change of Margaret’s mind came from the very heart of who she wanted to be–a conduit for opportunity. From birth she wanted to see the world. To go out, help people, and have fun doing so. Little did she concern herself with ego, money, and power; all of which she lacked. Instead, her focus was on the potential to experience all that lay outside of her creaky bedroom and well-tended gardens. Of these many world-experiences, one in particular did feel very keen on. Unequivocally, free of regret, it was to become a teacher. Being the mild, withdrawn girl she was, and there of course rarely being any on the farm, you understand, she was exceptionally disposed to not seeing children. She admired them for their innocence, and knew no better harbingers of opportunity. Teaching them valuable ideas could surely change the world, and none had more potential. Without any hesitation then, she threw on her jacket, settled onto her bike, and rode into town before dusk. Excited for a life beyond the quiet, old walls of her home, she eagerly rushed into the office of the town’s only primary school and filled out an application to become a teacher’s assistant.
As she rode home in the warm sunlight following this, her future of becoming a teacher for countless children was sure to come to fruition. She imagined the best teacher from her past–Mr. Brown–and speculated how to best emulate him while incorporating her own visions. And what more did Margaret possess, than a head filled with unbounded visions.
“Perhaps I’ll play music,” she thought, “and we’ll sing songs! If the kids have had a good, productive day, I may even bring them candy. We can write stories and think up our futures.”
So it was, that on the night before the first day of autumn, Ms. Lincoln went to bed in a happy state, and would dream dreams not unlike those which she’d always had. She imagined her future self: recommending books for young minds, and helping them to read. They were the dreams only the dreamers of dreams could stir up, and they glowed with a golden hue. When morning came, she rushed down to her phone where a message indicating that she had, in fact, gotten the job was left. Utterly delighted, she again put on her best clothes, and rode to the school as swiftly as the day prior.
As she entered, she was greeted with the scent of carved pumpkins, and a plethora of children welcoming her into their classroom.
“So good to meet you! I am Mrs. Andrus.” The teacher kindly exclaimed. “How are you feeling? Excited?”
“Oh yes, very much!”
“Glad to hear it. We’ve been carving pumpkins for the last hour or so, would you like to help? I see Katie and Michael in the corner are having some trouble.”
Margaret immediately jumped on the chance, and went over to help the children. The small seat she sat on reminded her of the years when, she too, was a student. The thought of it saddened her. It reminded her of the inevitability that all the children would one day grow up, and never understand the gift of youth until it is lost.
Now it was at about this time, when the oddity that would soon define her life, began to take a very serious and unexpected turn from normality. So mysterious in fact, that it has yet to be understood to this very day. At the moment she reached across the table to pick up a small carving knife, the object miraculously and inexplicably turned to gold at her touch. Astonished by the magic, Margaret remained in utter shock for minutes after. Truly, how could such a thing happen? What possible explanation could there be, and why purely out of the woodwork? Curious, she tried to pick up another, questioning if it too, would do the same.
“If such a miracle as this could happen, why not a second time? It’s not beyond the stretch of imagination.” She thought.
And as it just so happened, the second did in fact change its composition to a glimmering knife of gold. She stood from her seat, jarred and fascinated by her gift. At the same moment, Ms. Andrus noticed the wonder and cried in enjoyment for the children to watch–of course thinking it no more than a simple magic trick or slight of the hand. When the children became fixated on her, she simply played along with their speculation so as not to alarm them. The incident brought so much adoration, that even after offering candy, Ms. Andrus was unable to get their attention. For the rest of the day, Margaret was fortunate enough to successfully evade touching any more objects (of course to the dismay of the students). The second the final bell rang, she quickly rushed out the door without a goodbye, and ran home without her bike, fearing it too would come under her power and be useless.
On her way home, a friend of her sister’s–who was also a fellow gardener–stopped her and asked for assistance in tending to her flowers. Although in a hurry and still in shock from what had befallen her, she simply couldn’t deny helping the woman, and generously abided in planting a bushel of Morning Glories. For that was the kind soul Ms. Lincoln was.
The more she volunteered, the more exceedingly difficult the task became. The shovel and rake turned to gold, as did every flower and rock she came into contact with. Soon it was apparent she’d be more detrimental to the woman than of any aid, and so regrettably left, sad that she could not further help. Meanwhile, the lady was extremely elated at the sight of her new golden flowers, and rather than disappointed at Margaret’s sudden departure, she felt nothing more than utter gratitude. If she held any disappointment, it was not being able to properly thank her.
When she got home, she locked herself in her room and stayed in bed the remaining day. Without a word or explanation, her mother assumed the worst of her first day, and would worryingly check at her daughter’s door throughout the night. It was her interpretation that Margaret lost her job, and likewise felt it best let her sleep the grief off. But as her mother and sister subtly pondered over what could be troubling her, Margaret struggled tens of times over. No longer could she even lay in her bed alone–for that too (as well as her clothes) had turned to gold. And yet, though being gold, such were neither stiff nor hard. The linen which she wore, remained as soft and malleable as ever; simply the appearance had changed. It was as though the gold physically manifested the always-metaphorical grace of linen, and brought to the surface its true, inner beauty, which even the most pessimistic could no longer turn away from.
Once awake, all the previous day’s surprises were to culminate in a more unsettling effect. Margaret–who prayed while opening her eyes that the seemingly impossible miracles she knew were nothing more than a dream–found that not only were they very much real, but that now even her skin had turned to gold. When she stood off the bed, the floorboards did the same, as did the door knob, and as did her breakfast toast. Despite complete uncertainty for why this was occurring, and specifically to her, she still felt a deep longing for her ambitions. Not even a detriment of that scale would stand in the way of her dreams. She put on a dress and make up and decided to embrace the golden look as a performance–albeit unorthodox.
Now as hard as it is to believe, upon her mother and sister seeing their home turn to gold before their eyes, they were more happy than bewildered. Perhaps being so desperate for money, they cared more for having it rather than from who and where it came.
“We are going to be rich! Rich Margaret! We will never have to work again!” Her mother shouted with tears of joy.
As she tried to leave, her mother grabbed her and pleaded that she stay.
“Why go to that worthless job? Fate’s given us all the money and fame we’ll ever need right here! On our very homestead if you can believe it.”
But Margaret was fixed to see her children and kindly explained to her mother that she would return later that evening. Eventually she was let to leave and made it to the school, where the students immediately complemented her attire, assuming she had done so in celebration of Halloween. But when some of them went to hug her, their skin turned to gold as well. While the teacher became frantic in the mess, more and more the children wanted a turn, and they surrounded the miss. Not knowing whether to allow them the magic or not and fearing for their safety, she attempted to avoid them. Quickly Mrs. Andrus rushed out of the room and returned with the school officials who–not knowing what to make of the incident–proclaimed that Margaret was a health hazard and fired her not long after.
She left the school for the second time in a state of turmoil. Ms. Lincoln had not known what was becoming of her; but only that it was a terrible curse she could not shake despite how hard she tried. Above all, she was troubled by the old thought. The dream of never succeeding in the world the way she’d always hoped. For as she–one of the few on the island–knew, endless gold could not bring her the happiness she sought. When she arrived home (having now looked more like an elaborate circus than a house), every inch of the drive up and street leading up to it was filled by people eager to get their share. As though the house was an amusement park, and they were obliged to it. Customers and visitors from all corners of the island stood in awe and admiration, buying common household items from the mother, who appointed herself as the cashier.
“Margaret, Margaret, come here! Come take a picture for the newspapers!” Her mother yelled in excitement as dozens of reporters lit up the living room with flashes.
The moment the journalists left, she found herself trapped inside the living room. In front of the doorway spewed a thick line of people–all demanding that she bargain with them and answer questions. Although knowing no way to satisfy them, nor how to provide an explanation, Margaret understood their curiosity and humoured them as much as she could.
The first in line, were a series of wealthy bankers who promised to make Margaret a very rich woman if she would join their bank, represent them, and allow them to handle her assets. Not well-versed in financial-talk, she accepted, with the condition that all money given to her instead go to the people who needed it more than herself. The bankers, however, did not want said assets liquidated to the people. They wanted to hold onto all of Margaret’s gold. Once they explained this, they were turned down, and stormed out of the room infuriated.
Next, came hundreds of priests from every religion, and from every part of the world. Each one preaching that the lady could surely be nothing less than a divine messenger from their deities, or even God himself. Some bowed before her; others offered elegant gifts. All however, commanded that she return with them and join their followings.
“You can represent us. You can lead our people, you understand?” They each explained in different tongues. “Show humanity the true way, and overrule all the other false ideologies with your special power.”
But this power scared Margaret, and she would neither lead people she had never known, nor attempt to undermine those who disagreed with her.
When the endless sects of religious leaders saw Margaret was not to join their various factions, many spit at her golden feet and left angrily.
“You are a false preacher then! A false teacher and omen!” They obnoxiously declared, upon being rejected by the miss.
After, came the scientists, who wished to take Margaret for themselves in order to experiment on.
“She is most certainly not a god or messenger.” They arrogantly explained to others in line. “All can be explained through science, and this woman of precious metal is nothing more than a charlatan. The gold is either an illusion, or rare scientific phenomenon yet to be understood. We will find out, and provide answers for the people. We are the voices of reason, and the interested citizens should consult us, rather than her or other groups.”
To these people, she also declined.
“I am sorry. Though I wish to help you, I do not wish to be experimented on, and know full-well that this matter is beyond empirical science.” She calmly explained. But they too, scoffed at her.
Then came an older woman. Dressed ornately in fancy robes and jewels. She explained helplessly to Margaret that her children are ill and in need of financial assistance. She went on, that she was in fact very poor, and only had those clothes to sell off. When Margaret rationalized that were she to give gold to the woman, she would have to turn everything into gold for all who desired it. She insisted that the woman rather sell her lofty attire and use the money from that. The woman had none of it, and conceitedly ridiculed Margaret. She proceeded to slap her across the face, and walked away, stomping her feet. Not one in the room batted an eye.
Upset and with no direction to turn, Margaret closed the door to the house as her mother continued to entertain the crowd outside. She watched the news on television, which showed people all over the globe discussing her and the home. Word spread fast, as did those whose profession was to exploit others. She saw her information flash across the screen on every channel. Past friends of hers were interviewed. They explained her favourite foods, shows, activities, the type of bike she rode–even her address and phone numbers so openly. Many were the reporters skeptical of her abilities. But some out of these there were in the crowd, who went to see for themselves and became true believers. The channels differed significantly in their portrayal of her. Some supported Margaret, and claimed she was a hidden queen amongst mankind. Others pronounced these people as buffoons, and said she was but a fraud tricking the people. Some lied and said she obtained her gold through stealing from the poor and melting the metal down, while others described how she always gave her gold to the impoverished. Over and over, they obsessed over the miss and her quaint home. The more unbelievable they could spin the story, the unbelievably more people tuned in.
With every passing hour, the eye’s of the people widened, and the size of the crowd expanded. Soon the herd could not be tamed. The people, frenzied by the illusion of wealth, and angered by the selfishness of Margaret, broke through the windows. They wanted the golden objects of the Lincoln home, and they wanted the Golden Lady.
“Turn our objects into gold!” They demanded. “We deserve it! We will use it for the good!”
Equally curious to Margaret’s powers, was what happened when the greedy people touched an object of gold. Immediately upon placing their fingers to it, their objects returned to their original state and lost all their glint. When, for instance, the Golden Lady transformed a lampshade for a man, it became the raggedy lamp it’d always been once placed back into his hands. This was interestingly not the case with children. For they could freely handle the gold and keep it for themselves. A number of adults were an exception as well, though remarkably rare. These people then–once having caught the attention of the people–soon became targets of raid and robbery.
Margaret ran out her backdoor to flee, while the mob chased quickly behind. She ran across the city attempting to hide, but for every building that turned to gold, the people knew where she lurked. And by the early evening, a spectacular scene, one just as incredible as Margaret herself, was beginning to take place on Harrington Island. An entire city of brilliant yellow sparked through the salty air. Nearly every building, house, plant, animal, and child, had turned to gold and spread like a virus. All The While, the angered crowd of people tore through the city, reverting the miracle step-by-step.
The mob–which in every sense of the word, the people became–slowly began to turn into a revolt against Margaret. The greed and optimism they once shared together, was swiftly deteriorating into a blood-laden pool of rage and hysteria, from which any sense of consequence had been thrown away with the thought of infinite power and gold. They were crazed by poisonous thoughts, obsessed with the thought of such power and potential. They dreamt as they marched: the dark dreams of narrow-minded dreamers. They dreamed of the possibilities–to become rulers, to become the self-proclaimed enlightened ones, who by virtue of their illustrious possessions Fate had endowed them with sovereign authority. They were not to be stopped.
Eventually, Margaret got to the school which had still been untouched by the crowds. In it, huddled closely into the corner of two bookshelves, were her students who had turned to gold, frightened and sad. Presumably, they were left there the past day by the school staff, for fear of contamination. Their assistant teacher sat beside them and comforted them that they would not be found. Yet, by the nature and mentality that is a crazed group bent on revolt without reason, they were in fact found, and the locked door flew to the ground. They wanted the gold for themselves, and not being able to touch it while mere children could, infuriated them even more. Some so desperate, they momentarily calmed the flames in their eyes to gently sit beside the children and offer to be their parents.
They grabbed Margaret and the children and brought them to the top of the city’s highest building. They tied the Golden Lady to a pole and demanded she turn them without reverting back. Despite explaining to them the power was out of her control, and that she could not meet their commands even if she wanted to, the people were unrelenting and tortured her.
“I cannot turn you into gold, don’t you understand?”.
“Turn us! Turn us! Turn our possessions!” They cried. “Stop lying and turn us!”
“I cannot.” She explained, weeping. “Why must you be literal gold? Can you not present yourselves as golden, see things as though they were gold, and be equally happy?”
“But why must we be children? Why aren’t we allowed to have your gift?” One shouted.
“Perhaps because you must ask that; because you’ve lost all hope in the possibility of having it by your own motivation. My dream was to help you–it grew so much that it couldn’t be contained within me and leaked into the world. You’ve all suppressed your dreams and let them become so small within you, that you need ours; you need it for compensation. You need those whose dreams have not died, so that things in your world can still become golden. Why must your dreams be only the faith in the dreams of others?”
But as passionate and well-versed as the Golden Lady was, not one listened. The disgusting men and woman surrounded her in perpetual yelling and assaults. They were sure of nothing, but that she was lying. And indeed, when one has set their mind on such a strong conviction, there is no reasoning on Earth to persuade them otherwise. Around the pole were filthy faces smeared with dirt and soot. Their hair blackened, eyes reddened, and mouths shouted as maggots fell from rotting teeth. And at that moment, for the first time, Margaret did not regret what came of her. For if turning to gold made her in any way different from all those ugly beasts who cursed foul words at her, then she was very thankful, and would rather be in no other position than that of the one tied to the pole.
It could’ve been possible for the mob to stop and return to their homes. It could’ve been possible. But as the events were to unfold, and by the title of the headlines for the following day’s local newspapers regarding the incident–what would sadly come next of our Margaret Lincoln would be none other than that of a tragedy.
After terrible actions performed as a last effort for gold (which I will leave open for the reader’s interpretation), the pole was thrown off the building at the stroke of midnight. It was the only light which lit the city as it fell. Instantly, once the light went out, everything that had been turned went back to its original state. What remained was a normal city left in ruin. That is, except for the children and the few adults who had been turned to gold. Oddly enough, they remained–for the specific gold they wore did not leave with Margaret.
The revolt calmed, and the people watched as the splendor they lusted for so highly, evaporated before their eyes and by their dirty hands. They quietly thought throughout the remaining night how to deal with those still affected with the magic. They too could be tied up and forced to reveal their secrets, but as the Golden Miss showed, it would be fruitless. It was unanimously decided by the people, that a large ship from one of the ports would be fitted heftily with supplies, and the golden ones would be sent away from the island. They could be of no use, and would only torture the people with untouchable envy. The special ones were seen as a curse, and from that point onward, the revolt was declared their fault. Although, within it–however small and unspoken–did come a new sense of realization in the minds of the mob. That just as easily can people of innocence be turned into gold, so could they be tainted by the filth of greed. And once something as horrid as greed infects a one as vigorously as it does, there is little one can do to cure himself of it. Perhaps then, their subconscious’ celebrated the children’s futures.
When the next morning came, the special ones sat abroad their golden ship and dreamt of where it would sail. On the shore of the island, the people stood and watched as they departed–looking down in remorse, and knowing they would never be as rich as the children or that of Margaret Lincoln.