During her various explorations alone through the countryside, little Yunoo had seen the curious, forest-hidden fixture many times. So she was well-acquainted with it, except for having no understanding of it.
The object itself was a boulder of rounded sides and rough-hewn surface. The top, meanwhile, featured a shallow, circular recess of perfect geometry and smooth appearance.
Yunoo liked to imagine that before she was born (which was not a great many years ago), there must have been a sculptor whose talent was exceeded only by his foolishness, and that this fellow had sought to chisel a bird-bath from a boulder. This fellow would have to be a young man, because who else but a bachelor would have the time and muscle to waste on such exertion? Anyway, (in Yunoo's mind) this fellow expertly formed the 'receptacle' portion of the project, and only then realized that fulfilling the 'water' requisite would necessitate quite a hike to and from a river, and that this operation would have to be periodically repeated as a matter of maintenance. Coming to his senses, as well as losing his resolve, the imaginary sculptor then discontinued the work-in-progress, leaving it to obscurity in this unpopular corner of the wilderness; he had left not even a signature upon the stone, lest anyone ever link the forfeiter to his folly.
The epilogue to little Yunoo's hypothetical history of the unfinished installation is that due to it being abandoned in such an incomplete state, birds could not even recognize it as a bathing place for them, nor would deer get the idea of drinking from it, nor even would rain condescend to collect therein! But Yunoo was a cooperative and considerate child, so she also imagined that the misguided sculptor subsequently went on to craft a masterpiece for which he would become famous in some other place in the world, far from the scene of his shame. But that was a story in of itself, outside the realm of immediate relevance to our purposes.
In truth, it must be said that the stony fixture's bowl never being filled with rain was perhaps not merely an invention of the girl's imagination: indeed, when trickles and torrents occasionally fell from the sky, as was perfectly normal for any leafy forest, Yunoo would afterward observe the rough sections of the boulder glistening with dampness, whereas the smooth bowl seemed to have completely dried... or else never did get wet, in the first place.
The girl was now having one of her solitary picnics (she was an only-child) near the curious boulder, and got the idea to redeem the sad piece of stonework: if it could not serve as a bird-bath, then how about as a 'bird-feed'? So in resolution to witness an actual bird paying a visit for once, Yunoo selected a piece of bread from her lunch, as a donation. Holding this generous morsel above the stony recess, she let it fall from her hand, but it did not fall quite as far as she expected: rather than lying at the bottom of the bowl, the bread instead remained above it! as if supported atop an invisible covering.
She then poured a bit of water into the bowl, or rather, toward it; the liquid splashed upon the unseen surface and formed a soggy mess, as if in midair. As a final test, Yunoo then attempted to put her fingers downward through the soggy offering from her lunch, and found that though her vision still plainly perceived the smooth recess below, her hand encountered the sensation of a solid, rocky surface and simply could not enter the bowl.
This surprising discovery entirely changed her opinion of the sculptor whom she had imagined: the fabricator of this fixture was surely no mundane artisan of misguided endeavor, but rather, a master who had carved into the sight of the rock without removing the feeling of it. Such a feat was surely unprecedented! But the girl, now remembering her own youth and inexperience, resolved to seek a second opinion...
The curious boulder and its donated adornment were left alone for some hours. As little Yunoo was progressing in her return to this discreet forest locale, her father was following closely behind. This fellow did have a name of his own, but was so loudly and frequently addressed by his daughter as 'poppa!' (never mind what his wife tended to call him), that this narration will likewise make use of Yunoo's chosen utterance.
"Poppa!" the girl said. "Haven't you ever been here?"
"During my own childhood," the father replied, "I did wander these very woods, having an abundance of time and effort to spend at leisure. Adulthood, however, is another matter."
Gleaning only a simple 'yes' from what she had just heard, Yunoo arrived at the scene of the experiment and regarded the stony fixture with renewed enthusiasm.
"Even now, still as before, poppa!" Yunoo exclaimed. "How was it done?"
The father was confused by this question, for he failed to observe whatever phenomenon was eliciting such amazement from his daughter.
"You will, first of all," the fellow said, "have to point it out to me."
The girl then indeed pointed at the object of her attention, making a gesture which could not have been any more clear. All that her father saw, however, was a sad piece of bread sitting on a large rock; this struck him as strange, but not amazing.
"This was most likely done by hand," he carefully replied. "I furthermore suspect that it was not a complicated operation to place the bread there. In fact, it could even have been a certain small child who did this."
"It was me," Yunoo admitted with almost a feeling of guilt. "But don't you see where it is?"
"That was a perfectly good piece of food," the father remarked with disappointment. "When your mother, during to-night's dinner, notices your especial appetite, you and I will both know the cause of it, won't we? Somehow, I will be blamed for this."
Yunoo was now kneeling beside the boulder, in order to bring her eye-level down to the bread. She then began touching the area immediately around this piece of wasted food, and on each instance of her finger finding the sensation of solid rock, she made a tiny gasp of surprise.
"It really does feel like the rock is still there, poppa!" the girl announced.
By this point, the father saw little use remaining in attempting a serious conversation aloud, and so took to his habit of muttering to himself:
"More strangeness from this little one of mine. Yes, I think having one child will be quite enough. But how to convince her mother...?"
Let us not think that this good fellow was either lacking in attention or unreasonably obstinate, for indeed, he saw no rounded recess at all, but simply the top of the boulder as it felt to the touch: solid of matter, rough of texture, and with an abandoned piece of picnic upon it.
Observing his daughter's frustration at making herself understood (not an uncommon occurrence for this child), the father resolved to take a lighter stance toward this 'game,' as well as to extricate himself from it. Following the imparting of a few fatherly words, he returned homeward for the purpose of resuming his work, leaving little Yunoo alone for a bit more play-time in the forest.
With nothing but the curious boulder for company, the girl peered into its recess once again and observed that it was no longer empty! but now contained several small pieces of something. They were not quite kernels of corn nor acorns from an oak, but such common plant tokens were the best frame of reference for describing this inexplicable cluster.
Also strange was that there was now, lying upon the ground at the base of the boulder, a device which Yunoo was absolutely certain had not been there even a minute ago: it was a smallish wheel of stone, with a handle protruding from both of its flat sides. Though finding this tool to be a bit unwieldy, the girl did manage to lift it up to the top of the boulder, where the wheel easily rolled through the 'no-entry barrier' and into the recess, where it rested heavily atop the mysterious contents therein.
Indeed, the recess and the roller seemed to have been made for each other, and as Yunoo experimented with this customized arrangement, the strange pieces lying in the bottom of the bowl began to become pulverized into even smaller particles. Observing this progress, Yunoo worked with earnest effort to continue the crushing action till the point of completion.
She was expecting to end up with a small quantity of something akin to grains of sand or particles of flour, and then wondered how she would retrieve this substance from the bowl, without being able to reach her hand into it. Would a new tool (probably a scoop or a broom, or maybe a fan) inexplicably present itself to her, when the time came?
In the end, there was no residue or remnant to collect; the bowl was as clean and empty as before. Thus not only did a new tool fail to appear, but even more strangely, the rolling apparatus had vanished without a trace!
Had Yunoo imagined the impromptu minute of manual labor? She wondered about this curious episode, for the remainder of the day. She even described it to her parents, during dinner; their final verdict of 'mere whimsy' was inevitable, due to lack of any evidence which might support her case, as well as in consideration of the girl's well-known unreliableness as a witness.
That night, Yunoo went to sleep, blissfully unaware that the following morning would bring even more strangeness...
As Yunoo was strolling outside after breakfast, happily in pursuit of her own leisure, she observed several neighbors who were engrossed in conversation. Being a curious child of small stature, Yunoo's approach went unnoticed by the group, and what she overhead was:
"What a horrendous quarrel it must have been!"
"It would amaze me, if they weren't hoarse to-day from all the screaming and yelling."
"And to think that their own child was referee to that round of marital combat!"
Little Yunoo was obviously not supposed to be privy to such scandalous whisperings, which is of course why she found the sordid details so fascinating, and wished to join the conversation.
"Who was fighting?" she asked.
The neighbors only now realized the child's presence, and regarded her with surprise and pity.
"Oh! you poor dear," one of them said to her.
Another one remarked, red with embarrassment: "I surely must have somewhere else to be, just now..." and then took his leave.
The other members of the party quickly followed the first deserter's example, leaving Yunoo alone at the scene. She wondered why her simple, innocent question had elicited such a response. Had she unknowingly committed a breach of protocol, in such matters of how gossip is or is not to be spread around?
Shortly thereafter, the girl observed a different neighbor hurriedly approaching another one. These two fellows were in considerable distress over a mutual malady, speaking so loudly to each other, that Yunoo could not avoid overhearing them:
"I've just found out!"
"The sooner the better! for let us come to terms with it now, lest we labor under any delusion of filling our bellies for much longer."
Yunoo expected these neighbors to disband upon noticing her, as the first group had done. Instead, they brought her into the discussion, as an equal parter, though also under the incorrect assumption that the girl already understood the matter at hand. Wary of committing another conversational faux pas, Yunoo decided to let the topic become clear by its own volition, instead of by request.
"Everyone had better cut back to only one or two modest meals per day," one of the neighbors advised, "thus each resident will gradually become accustomed to persistent hunger, rather than bearing this descent of sustenance as an abrupt plummet into starvation."
"And this plan of frugality," added the other neighbor, "if sufficiently enforced, might even extend the final scraps of the current food supply until the blight has ended."
Yunoo was becoming quite worried, by this point; she had hitherto been unaware that such dreadful occurrences as broken homes and crop failures could afflict her own little countryside village. Under the weight of these startling realizations, there was only one thing which she could think to do...
"Poppa!" the girl cried, upon the very moment of reaching home.
But her father was not there, nor did he appear for quite a while.
When finally the fellow did arrive, Yunoo was so distraught over the specters of domestic destruction and nutritional impoverishment, that she hardly noticed the heaviness of her father's breath, nor the sweat on his brow, nor even the immense iron hammer in his hands.
"Poppa!" the girl cried again. "Our village is ruined! You have heard of the fighting and famine, have you not!?"
The father was not sure whether a chuckle would be prudent, at this time, for though his daughter's distress was plainly evident, he also knew that it was entirely misguided.
"Little one," he said, "there is no actual cause for alarm. In fact, our corner of the world is now in better condition than it was, yesterday."
He set the heavy hammer down and rested himself on a chair, before continuing:
"I should have been quicker than I was, to take seriously your remarks about that boulder in the woods. By the time I did give it my earnest consideration... well, here you are, along with a great many other people, suffering the effects of my doubt."
"But the quarreling and the blight...!" the girl exclaimed. "What does the weird rock have to do with anything!?"
"What you discovered in the forest," her father answered, "was something which I have long known to exist but had never knowingly seen with my own eyes: a rumor mill."
After a few moments of contemplative silence, he continued: "What a rumor mill grinds is not cereals into flour for baking bread, but rather, Kernels of Truth into... nothing, and this nothing becomes fuel for inflating falsehoods. This is how airy notions go about in the guise of solid fact. In this case, it was my mutterings about wasted food and your mother's displeasure. Neither you nor I will be unknowingly serving that stone's ill purpose again, nor will any deliberate miscreant, either, for I have just returned from breaking up the boulder and scattering its pieces."
He then pulled from his pocket a small shard of rock, which he handed to his daughter. She recognized it as bearing the color and texture of the bowl-topped boulder from the forest.
Her father added: "I am, however, at a loss to explain how you were able to spot the rumor-milling receptacle, in the first place, as well as to subsequently operate it so expertly."
Yunoo herself could not account for these curious traits of hers, and so remained silent.
"But do tell me, in the future," her father resumed, "if you discover some other weirdness nearby; I will try to give the matter my immediate and serious consideration."
"Oh! now that you mention it," Yunoo said, "there is a..."
She then glanced at the scuff-marked iron hammer.
"Actually," the girl concluded, "never mind."