You're on vacation and take a walking tour around an ancient city in Europe. You stray from the group and stumble upon an old, winding, staircase. You're curious. Where does it lead?
Response by Amira Makansi:
Response by Amira Makansi:
Kira navigated the twists and turns of the cobbled city, stopping only occasionally to peer at a particular house or an old stone. She had long abandoned her tourist group and lost the main channels of storefronts and trinket peddlers. She found herself in a deserted alley with a little creek below the road, and next to it a water mill. While scrutinizing the mill, centuries old by her estimate, she heard a voice behind her, a man’s voice, buoyant and flecked with a strange accent.
“Looking for the castle garden?”
She jumped, startled, and turned to face the man behind her. But when she turned there was no one. No sight or sound of another human. There was, however, a twisted staircase, leading up above the city walls and–where? She hadn’t noticed the staircase before.
Kira turned full around and stepped upon the first stair. Where was the man? She had distinctly heard a man. Was he hiding behind the twist in the staircase? She stopped and listened. She could hear no breathing nor pattering of feet on the steps.
Nervously she stepped up along them, compelled to follow the stair but afraid to call back. What was the man talking about? There was no castle in this town. Just a little old medieval village, turned into a tourist trap for happy visiting foreigners like herself.
The voice spoke no more, and Kira began to wonder if she’d imagined it. She followed the twisting steps upward dutifully, but slowly, hoping she would not be caught unawares by the mysterious man whose existence she was, nonetheless, beginning to doubt.
Finally she found herself on the terrace of the town wall, ancient but reconstructed for the benefit of visitors and inhabitants alike. The sun was warm on the flat stones, buttered smooth through centuries of murmuring feet. She basked in it, staring around at the old city on one side of the wall, the newer, younger habitations built in more recent times.
The colorings of these old European cities always took her by surprise–bright primary reds, blues, and yellows, tempered all around by fertile browns and chlorophyll greens and above by azure blue, and contrasted against the dull greys of ancient stone. Kira looked up into the mountain the town nestled into, searching for a castle–the voice must have been a figment of her imagination–when he spoke again.
“So what do you think of our humble little town?” She jerked her head in the direction of the voice–towards the mysterious staircase–and found this time a small man with a rotund chest wearing the brown robes of a medieval friar.
“Who are you?” Kira demanded, taking a step back.
“That’s no matter,” the little man said with a friendly smile. He could not have been taller than she was at five foot five. “I just wanted to make sure you were able to see everything we have to offer. Most people come here, don’t bother to explore the nooks and crannies of the village. You, though- here, follow me.”
He turned and headed down towards the left, along the ramparts towards a small stone building with a door. She followed him uncertainly. He seemed unthreatening enough, and besides, what’s the harm? Anyone could hear me if I cried out.
The stone enclave he led her towards seemed to have no roof, and the man opened the plain brown wooden door without appearing to touch it. He beckoned her in with a welcoming smile, which she returned with the barest twinge at the corners of her lips. She stepped through the door, past him, careful not to touch him, though he barely moved and she felt somehow as though he wasn’t even truly there at all.
The courtyard on the ramparts – for so it was – was full to the brim with flowers, potted plants, and crawling deep green ivy that summoned her to touch it. The painted doors and walls of the town seemed to pale in comparison with this lush prism of colors along every possible frequency of the visible spectrum.
The floor seemed springy, and when she looked at her feet she found it not stone any longer but a thick carpet of moss. Here in this tiny space – no bigger than a large closet, really - seemed to be the wealth of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and Kira reached her fingers out delicately above and around her to touch the wealth of greenery that surrounded her.
“What is this?” she asked, filled with wonder. The voice behind her chuckled.
“I knew you’d like it. The monks of the town used to keep it as a place of prayer. Now it’s just a few diligent townsfolk who love their history.”
“Used to?” Kira asked, admiring a particularly beautiful bonsai lemon tree. “Why don’t you anymore?”
“We don’t exist anymore, child,” the portly man said in his belly-laugh voice.
“What do you mean?” she said, turning to him. But the man was nowhere to be seen.
She stared behind her for a few seconds, and then stepped back out past the brown door, looking for him. She didn’t call him – what would she have said? She didn’t know his name. She felt foolish and she retreated back into the sanctity of the little garden.
“Who are you?” Kira asked for the second time, but she knew she was speaking to the wind.
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