It was on the day of Empath's 90th birthday that he had arrived home for his usual visit with his fellow Smurfs for a year. Papa Smurf and Empath's entire fellow Smurfs greeted him as usual at the clearing on the north end of the village.
Empath noticed that Papa Smurf's beard color had not yet fully surrendered
to the snowy white that it would become in his later visits, still
displaying patches of washed-out graying brown color here and there, even in
the moustache that framed his smile.
"How are your studies smurfing along in Psychelia?" Papa Smurf asked.
"As usual, this smurf is showing progress in learning the intricacies of mastering this smurf's third eye and its abilities, Papa Smurf," Empath answered in his usual flat tone, though Papa Smurf could tell it had a hint of loneliness.
"Well, this year will be different for you in the Smurf Village, Empath," Papa Smurf told Empath. He handed his young Smurf a brass key.
Empath was puzzled. "This smurf is not sure what this key is supposed to symbolize, Papa Smurf," he said.
"This key is to open a very important present that Architect will smurf you, Empath," Papa Smurf answered.
Empath followed Architect to the northeast corner of the village, where he was led to a Smurf house that had a chain bolted across its door. Apparently there must be something inside that house that Papa Smurf or the entire village wanted to give Empath as he unlocked the chain with the key and removed it so he could enter.
But as Empath looked, all he could see was nothing but a dresser, a bed, a fireplace without any logs placed in it, and some candle holders placed on its mantle. This was even more puzzling to Empath, who expected something more but uncertain of what.
Papa Smurf and the other Smurfs waited as Empath came back outside to tell him, "This smurf could not find any present waiting inside this house for this smurf, Papa Smurf!"
Papa Smurf chuckled. "That's because the present isn't inside the house, Empath…the present is your very own Smurf house!"
"Surprise!" the other Smurfs shouted in glee.
Empath was astounded. "You mean…you want this smurf to live in a house that belongs to this smurf…all by this smurf's own self?"
"That's exactly what I mean, Empath," Papa Smurf answered. "You and the other Smurfs are now old enough to smurf in a house that you can furnish to your own smurfening. Of course, this means that you must keep your house in smurf shape, though considering your long absences, we will make sure you would still have a place of your very own to smurf home to."
"But think of what you can smurf in a house of your own, Empath," Architect chimed in. "In there is your very own private inner smurftum where you can go to smurf away from your fellow Smurfs. You can invite any Smurf you want, whenever you want them to smurf inside, and you can also smurf them away at any time. You can turn your house into anything that smurfs your fancy, even a workshop or a studio. You can store things of your very own that you don't want other Smurfs to touch in there."
"No noisy Smurfs to bother you," Grouchy mentioned, glaring at Lazy and Harmony.
"No one to tell you to smurf up your messes," Sloppy said.
"No other Smurfs to smurf up messes from," Tidy countered.
"No other Smurfs to run into on your way out," Brainy spouted, looking at Clumsy stupidly smiling.
"No one to make you smurf out of bed when you don't want to," Lazy yawned.
"No one to smurf over your shoulder and make fun of your work," Poet added, who saw that Painter and Sculptor were in agreement with him.
"And no one to make you share your midnight snacks," Greedy said, popping a fresh smurfberry in his mouth, "so you can smurf them all to yoursmurf."
"To smurf it simply, having your own house is how growing young Smurfs like you learn to gain their independence," Papa Smurf concluded.
Empath didn't know what to think about himself now having a place in the Smurf Village as his own residence. He was used to sleeping with more than one Psyche sharing the same sleeping quarters in Psychelia, as did the students, instructors, medics, counselors, clerics, and guardians that have been sent off duty to rest. Basically, there was nothing the Psyches could claim as their personal possessions that they needed to store because they had no need for personal possessions. The Smurfs were different, since they were somewhat dependent on needing things to make their existences meaningful and productive. Handy wouldn't be much of a mechanic and builder without his tools, Painter wouldn't be a good artist without his brushes and paint, Tailor wouldn't be the best clothesmaker without his sewing kit, and Vanity would have very little interest in beautifying things around the village if it wasn't for his mirror. Apparently, to them, having their own house was another thing the Smurfs had come to depend upon for their self-identity and self-worth. Maybe that was also part of being a Smurf.
"This does seem interesting enough for this smurf to consider having, Papa Smurf," Empath finally said, looking into the vacant house and wondering what it would be like living in it by himself. "This smurf appreciates the gift."
"Good!" Papa Smurf beamed. "As soon as Tailor smurfs you some new clothes, we can start by helping you get settled into your new house."
Since Empath's old Smurf suit from ten years ago no longer would fit him, he was happy to relinquish it for the next bigger size, though he only wished it could have literally grown on him as did his Psychelian bodysuit. He felt the relief and comfort of having nothing more than a white hat and pants to wear, but now he had to deal with a dilemma of another kind -- his fellow Smurfs giving him advice as how they could help make his own house feel more like home.
Vanity brought in all sorts of material for making curtains and throw pillows, and gave suggestions as to what kind of pattern would best suit Empath. Handy showed Empath the furniture he made for his fellow Smurfs, including some that he had stored away for future use. Painter allowed Empath to browse through his selection of wall paints to see which shades of color he would wish to use. Architect showed Empath various floorplans for customizing Smurf houses to suit an individual Smurf's needs. And Hefty and Tuffy offered to help Empath move some things around in case he wanted some things from the bottom floor to be on the top, or vice versa.
All this information made Empath feel mentally overloaded, unable to decide at this point on how he wanted his own house to look and feel. Right now all he wanted was just to try sleeping in a place where there was only him inside.
"This smurf is honored to have you all helping this smurf out with trying to make this smurf's house feel personally comfortable," he politely said, "but this smurf is not yet ready to accept any of your suggestions." With that, he excused every Smurf out of his house and closed the door behind him.
Every Smurf felt disappointed and brought this up with Papa Smurf. From the looks on their faces, Papa Smurf knew they were just trying to help out Empath and felt like they were left on hold.
"Empath has the right to choose when and how he would want our help to make his house more smurfy, my little Smurfs!" he reminded them.
By evening, after the birthday celebration was done with and every Smurf had cleaned up and gone home to bed, Empath was still sitting on his bed in his new house, trying to read Brainy's latest book by candlelight. It was then he realized that some things in his house didn't feel quite right. The mattress on his bed felt too thick and stiff, the candles weren't giving off enough light, the windows looked very bare, and the walls had a texture that he didn't particularly care for. Empath never thought that Smurfs took that much care into making things that fit comfortably with their own sense of personal aesthetics. Hopefully over the course of his yearly visit, maybe even sooner, he could make the adjustments that would make his own house feel just as comfortable for himself. At the very least, though, he didn't have to worry about disturbing other Smurfs by staying up all night just to read a book. It was now another freedom that Empath could accept into his life.
But right now it was time for him to sleep. Empath yawned as he blew out the candle and settled into his bed, despite its stiff mattress, to drift off into sleep. He had not changed into his nightgown as did his fellow Smurfs since Empath felt more comfortable sleeping in his regular Smurf clothes. He had made up the bed with the blankets, sheets, comforter, and pillow that Tailor had given him earlier, but since the night was warm enough, Empath saw no need for slipping underneath the covers. He smiled as his eyelids closed shut.
Sometime during the night, however, Empath frowned, for in his dreams he found himself back in Psychelia again, looking at his fellow Psyches attending their studies and duties but ignoring Empath entirely. It seemed like the same type of dream he had back when he first visited the Smurf Village almost 20 years ago, where he ran to the Smurf Village as he heard Papa Smurf's voice calling out to him, only to find out that Papa Smurf had turned into a slobbering beastly creature, intent on embracing Empath and doing to him what the Psyche Master would call "immoral behaviors". That made Empath fear touching Papa Smurf or even allowing Papa Smurf to touch him in a harmless manner until 10 years later, when Papa Smurf was injured nearly to the point of death on a hiking trip and Empath invoked one of his "third eye abilities" that he never knew he possessed -- the linking of many Smurf minds to his own -- to save Papa Smurf's life.
From that day, Empath had gotten over the fear and the guilt of touching any Smurf in a friendly harmless manner, including Papa Smurf. But here and now, Empath still felt lonesome and isolated again. The Psyches had closed their minds from him, unwilling and unable to share any of their thoughts with him in the collective consciousness that existed among them. He felt more and more like a ghost that wasn't there, a mere obstacle for them to pass by and ignore.
It was among this silence of the minds when Empath heard music -- the happy voices of his fellow Smurfs singing the smurfsong out loud. Somehow Empath felt drawn to it, compelled to leave Psychelia and head off into the forest in the direction he heard the singing voices of the Smurfs from. The forest he passed through was as big as before, but it no longer seemed threatening to him.
Then, just a short distance away, Empath saw the Smurf Village and his fellow Smurfs working and playing, singing the smurfsong out loud, happy about themselves. He entered the village and tried to talk to his fellow Smurfs, happy to see them again. But just like the Psyches, the Smurfs just continued on with their own lives, oblivious to Empath's existence, their minds as equally silent and closed off from him as were the Psyches.
Empath felt worried, wondering why his fellow Smurfs would treat him this way when he saw Papa Smurf standing among them, directing them in their duties like a police officer assigned to traffic control. "Papa Smurf!" he called out, running straight toward the village leader. "It's Empath, one of your little Smurfs. Don't you know this smurf is home?"
But just as Empath was one footstep away from reaching out to Papa Smurf, two pairs of hands had grabbed his arms and pulled him back, preventing him from making any physical contact. Empath turned and saw that it was the Psychelian Guard Elite, wearing yellow tunics with brass shoulder buttons over their bodysuits to signify their importance.
"You are not to have any contact with your fellow Smurfs, Empath Psyche," one of the guards spoke, his voice hard and cold. "You are to return with us to the domain of the Psyche Master where you will be disciplined for your actions."
Empath realized that he was not supposed to run away from Psychelia when it wasn't his time to visit the Smurf Village. But there was something in the guards' eyes that just wasn't right. Their eyes glowed bright orange and they seemed to be flaming with a dark
indescribable power that made Empath fear something worse than being brought back to Psychelia.
"No...please, let this smurf go," Empath pleaded as he struggled in vain to release himself from the guards' steely grips. "This smurf belongs with the Smurfs now. It is not time for this smurf to go back to Psychelia now."
But the guards didn't hear him. And as Empath looked, he saw that they were entering a glowing portal that blazed with the same kind of power that their own eyes emitted.
"No!" Empath cried out louder. "I don't want to go with you! I don't want to go in there!"
But the glowing portal engulfed them, and Empath couldn't pull himself away from it.
"Leave this smurf alone!" Empath shouted in anguish, his eyes suddenly snapping open. He sat bolt upright on his bed and looked around, realizing that what he had seen, felt, and experienced was only a dream -- real only in his mind and composed of random thoughts that somehow gelled together in a very amorphous mental environment. But somehow it felt very creepy, and it made Empath cower in fear over the fact of being alone in the dark in such a place of solitude like his own house.