Everwander (teaser prologue for a new fantasy novel)

Just off the coast of Hreyn, the Byrgena fought its way through the storm. Her sails buckled and snapped in the wind, sending sheets of rain slapping down onto the deck where the crew worked desperately. The harbour was not far away now, and their long journey was nearly at an end, but the storm was pushing them wildly off course, toward the breakers that threatened to drown them all.

At the helm, the captain tried his best to command a safe route, but things were quickly falling apart. They’d already lost a deckhand to the waves, and he shuddered at the thought of what might happen should they sink and lose their secret cargo. He could hardly believe their luck. They’d been sailing for a fortnight and three, and had so far not encountered more than a stubborn lull in the wind for a day around the halfway point. But this… this was unexpected. And so close to the end as well. It was as though something didn’t want them to reach land. Curses, he thought savagely, now the gods have given up on me. He shook his head for thinking it – he was a pious man, for the most part – but a storm like this made you wonder…

The sun was still far below the horizon. The only light came from the moon and the lanterner’s lamps tied to the centre mast, but the reddish glow they cast over the scene was beginning to make things look worse. His crew were being thrown about like some child’s playthings, and he could just barely maintain his grip of the helm. Then, like a scream, the wind came in a great gale that nearly knocked him over the side. The sail ripped like a sheet of parchment and came tumbling to drape over the bow of the Byrgena like a cowl. They were headed straight for the breakers now.

The captain could hear his crew shouting, praying, looking for a command, but there was nothing he could say. He’d spent his whole life on the water, and had faced many storms before. He’d returned from pirate dens with kidnapped duchesses and a hull of treasure to boot. He’d single-handedly slain the leviathan beast that had besieged Gyrtown when he was just a teen. He’d slept in the jungles of Iri’kh and heard their nightmare tales of the dreaded Ga’bhak, the shadow demon. In his home country they sang songs of him in taverns and halls, and his name was listed among the great heroes of ages gone by – heroes the likes of Ithel, Alwin, and Uhlohi.

But, nodding, the captain agreed that there was little and less that he could do. There was a creaking and rumbling from below deck, and he knew then that their cargo had broken free. Grimacing, the captain removed his satchel and passed it to the first mate, who accepted it relunctantly.

“Abandon ship,” he commanded. The crew looked at him oddly – they would never have expected this to happen. Surely, they thought, he must know some way out of this. But the captain’s face was grave, and he commanded them again, in a quiet growl that was only just audible above the roaring of the wind,

“Abandon ship.”

“But, Captain,” insisted the first mate, “the lifeboats… we’ve lost them.”

The captain looked to his first mate who he’d known for years – whom he considered a worthy leader and a brave man. He considered him, above all else, a friend. He would trust him with his life, and had done so through many perilous journeys into lands unknown. He heard the rumbling sound from below deck again. The Captain looked to his friend of many years, then to the rest of the crew. He nodded. “Then swim. There is no hope here. If you stay onboard, you will die, and I will not have it.”

The crew still didn’t move, so the captain drew his sword from its sheath. It was curved and terrible, and seemed to reflect no light other than the light of the lanterner’s lamps, making it glow a blood-red in his hand. It cut the wind in two where he held it aloft, and the crew – even the first mate – shuddered when they looked upon it. Its name was as sharp as most blades themselves. The captain’s face grew dark, and he pointed his sword at the crew. “I command you to get off my ship. Jump over the side, or I will be forced to slay you myself.”

The crew listened. Fearful of the captain’s blade and his sudden change of character, they turned and leapt from the ship into the boiling waters below – even those of them who did not know how to swim. The last to jump was the first mate. He stopped and turned to look at the captain face to face. He knew the captain better than anyone else, and when he looked into his eyes, he could see that the anger was not true. The captain would never harm his crew – they were a family to him, and more precious than any treasure or praise.

And looking closer still, the first mate saw, with horror, that the captain was afraid.

“Go,” said the captain, and the first mate leapt from the bow.

Alone on his ship, the captain turned and descended the stairs to the deck below. In the darkness of the hull, he could faintly see the door of the great iron cage swinging back and forth with the swaying of the ship. Several chains lay broken on the floor – their links twisted and torn apart. The prisoner was loose, and was hiding somewhere in the ship.

The captain lifted his terrible blade to his face, thought for a moment, and whispered something to it. With a sudden vividness that put the lamps above to shame, the blade of the sword grew alight with a glow that illuminated the inside of the ship. Standing near the bow end was the prisoner, staring him down with a face like smoke. All that could be seen of the prisoner’s identity was their eyes – cold and silver, like scoured steel below the rust.

Moving like lightning, the captain dashed toward the prisoner, who was armed with a pair of swords from the rack. They met in a clashing of steel and light, and with a powerful slash, the captain cut the prisoner’s blades clean in two – their deadly halves clanging to the planks. The captain took his chance then, and plunged his own glowing weapon into the prisoner’s chest, nailing him to the wall. But the prisoner laughed, chanted some words, and the broken blades flew through the air to slice at the captain’s back.

Wounded, the captain rolled out of the way before turning to look at his opponent. With a scream like a hurricane, the prisoner grabbed at the blade buried in his chest. There was a creaking as it slowly loosened from the wood, but the captain knew he had a little time.

He staggered to the weapons rack and took the largest axe he could find. He whispered to it, and the axe head began to glow like the sword. He stared at the prisoner’s hidden face. The two met eyes for a second.

“Fool,” said the prisoner in a voice like venom, “I cannot be killed by steel and strength alone. You will meet your death this night.”

But the captain did not falter. Fear was past him now. He knew what he must do. He was a legend. He was a hero. He was brave. “Aye,” he growled at the prisoner. “I will.”

He ran and swung the axe with all the might that his bloodied shoulders could muster. In mid-swing, he chanted a word that seemed a thousand times louder than the raging storm. The axe crashed into the hull of the ship with an immense force. Cracks ran through the wood, sending splinters flying and water spouting into the ship. The captain yanked it free, and a great stream of water flowed through.

“Fool!” the prisoner shouted, but the captain did not listen. He stood back then swung the axe a second time, his chant slicing through the night like some greater thing than the weapon he wielded. The hull creaked and groaned as more splits ran through the wood. Water was gushing into the ship now. The captain was up to his knees.

As he pulled the axe free once more, the prisoner’s glare intensified. Through the smoky illusion that hid his face, the prisoner’s eyes were like chasms. Their lunar hue deepened, and the captain felt that he was not looking into the eyes of a man, but through a window into nothingness.

Then, raising the glowing axe high above his head, the captain chanted a final time. The axe in his hand and the sword in the prisoner’s chest glowed white-hot, filling the ship with an impossible light, and when the captain swung it was with a speed and strength that none had ever seen.

The axe struck like lightning, square in the prisoner’s chest – the force was so great that the hull behind him gave way to a yawning blackness. The water came rushing in.

In the early morning darkness, the first mate dragged himself onto the Hreynish shore and coughed up the briny water that had nearly drowned him. He looked out to the sea, and saw the Byrgena shudder with a sound like thunder. There was a flash. A scream. And then the lamps went out.

Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” (a review)

Dreams, memories, signs. Some things we experience passively, influenced by them but not focusing our attention on them for more than a moment. Looking without seeing, hearing without listening, touching without feeling.

Invisible Cities can have the same effect on you, slipping by your senses if you let your guard down. Be careful not to let the easy readability take advantage of you, because as a reader you are constantly at risk of being wooed and passing through the experience in a daze.

Contained within its slim binding are pastiches, dream-like notes on fantastic and exotic cities visited by the adventurer, Marco Polo himself, as described by him to the great Kublai Khan. Each city, bearing a woman’s name, is described to the reader in precise detail in the ways that make it unique. As we traverse the pages however, it becomes clear that we are not simply learning about the various cities Marco Polo has explored. Any of the descriptions could be taken to describe any city, the same city, despite their fanciful design.

What’s more is the cities are not things independent of their people, nor are they the products of their people. The cities we discover throughout these delightful pages are reflections, images of the people who inhabit them. These cities are made up of the same stuff that their people are made of, and we discover this through various mediums: signs, dreams, memories.

If you should have the opportunity to explore Invisible Cities, please do, but proceed with caution. You might just as easily have walked a dozen miles through a street whose patrons are quickly forgotten. Pay attention, slow down, and meditate – as the Khan might have – on the images throughout. It is a truly rewarding and uplifting experience.

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 19 – Guardian of Histories

“Will you help me with these histories, U’luk?” Krikka Kol I’khir’s seven foot frame was hunched under the weight of the massive load he was carrying. An enormous chest, made of leather and dark wood and large enough to serve as a youngster’s coffin, was strapped to his back. Under each arm he held a toughly woven basket, both filled to the brim with books, scrolls and even a number of tablets that looked to be carved from stone.

“Yah. Here,” said Rory. She accepted one of the baskets and was surprised by how heavy it was in her arms.

“What are you going to do with all of them?”

“Do? I do nothing with them. Only carry. And look after.”

“Well, where are we carrying them, then?”

“There,” Krikka said, nodding his head toward the High Keeper’s tower. “High Keeper wants to read the histories. Wants to learn about the old days. Learn for bad times, I think.”

Rory struggled to keep up with the Iri’khul, whose every step equalled two her own. “Whaddya mean, bad times? What’s happening?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, U’luk. Could be war. I hope not. Krikka hope for be gone before that comes.”
War. Rory glanced at the pale stone monolith and shivered. The orange-red beacon seemed as bright in the day as it had in the night. “Last time there was war, my people suffered.”

“All people suffered. My own too, U’luk.”

“Aye, but mine suffered here.”

It took them a while to make their way up out of the maze of the harbour. Before turning out on the cobble street, Rory glanced back at the water far below. The Cormorant was being tied to the docks, and she could see some of the city guards talking with her father. It puzzled her why he had sent her off with Krikka when Lhorrenhelm seemed such an easy place to get lost.

At a corner there was a man in ragged clothes selling pickled herring, two for a shim, and Rory bought a couple for Krikka and herself. Krikka’s face puckered when he chewed the whole little fish. He forced a smile and thanked Rory anyways, and they walked on. They passed other stalls. Two women with freshly spun wool. A one-eyed fletcher who promised his arrows would pierce even the oldest swile’s hide. An old crone selling charms carved from wood, stone and formed with clay. The streets were swarming with people of all ages, from children toting baskets of fish to elders shuffling three-legged on their knobbly canes.

Rory mapped out the city as they walked. On the seaward side of town, nearest the harbour, the streets ran crooked and narrow, and buildings in between were leaning almost haphazardly, like trees on a harsh coast. Here, the cobble was scarcely wide enough for a cart to be pulled in places, and there were points where Krikka had to stop and squeeze through openings that came almost to a point.

Everywhere where the sounds of life: children screaming and dogs barking and dishes clattering and breaking, followed cheers or shouts from pubs and miniature squares were merchants and beggars alike gathered and made themselves heard. There was a sort of healthy dirtiness to it – becoming unhealthy from time to time – that felt alive. And everywhere was the stink of smoke and fish. It reminded her a bit of a larger, more bustling Koppet, and Rory’s unease lifted gradually.

After making at least two complete circles, they found their way out onto the tower road. It was a straight way, and wide, that ran from the fields in the foothills right to the High Keeper’s tower at the cliff’s edge. From here Rory could see that the buildings on the western side of town were stronger, older, but no less weathered than the teetering structures on the harbour side. As they continued walking the tower road Rory noticed many of the buildings had foundations of solid carved stone that were older still.

At last, they came to the front steps of the Tower. A guard stepped forward, clad in oiled leathers. He was armed with a spear.

“Who are you, and what is your business?” he said. The guard looked at Krikka with disgust.

“How many of my people come to you in a year, guard?” Krikka frowned.

“Who are you, and what is your business?”

“How many in ten years, I wonder?”

“Who are you, and wh-”

“Krikka Kol I’khir, of Ohnk-bal. Of Iri’kh. Guardian of histories and left hand for La’k Kol Kha’zik, Hi’h Ka’yn of Ohnk-bal.” The guard looked at Rory and she nodded, pretending to know who or what a Hi’h Ka’yn was.

“Left hand?” the guard asked, raising an eyebrow.

Krikka smiled, smugly. “La’k Kol Kha’zik is left handed, guard.”

After a moment’s hesitation, he nodded. “And the girl?”

“This is my U’luk. Companion for today. She is daughter for Captain-”

“Captain Alvan Halk. Here at the request of the High Keeper,” said Rory. She was getting tired of introductions and something about the guard’s attitude was making her uncomfortable. She started for the door but the guard snapped the butt of his spear down hard in front of her.

“Yillon,” he called to another guard who was standing nearby. “Take these two to the Court Hall.”

“Follow me, then,” said the guard named Yillon, and he lead them through the giant doors at the tower’s base.

The first room they entered was long and narrow, and seemed more like a hallway than a room to itself. Still, it was larger on its own than any building Rory had ever been in, save for the dry dock at Hammerfall where she’d been in her youth. The only window was above the main entrance – a narrow slit carved into the pale stone of the wall. The long side walls were lined with smaller doorways, some open and some closed, and here and there were stairs that led up or down into shadow. They were heading towards the opposite end of the hall, where an open doorway led to a brightly lit room where it seemed many people were talking. Her attention wasn’t on where they were heading, rather on the surface of the walls and ceiling. There was something strange about the look of the place.

Here and there were pockets of air or protrusions of stone that didn’t seem to belong. The carved walls were more than rough – they were completely irregular. It was as though whatever people had been assigned the task of mining out the rock kept running into sections of stone that refused to be cut, like running a knife through meat and bringing it up in a bone. The more she stared, the more Rory felt as though she were not walking through a hallway, but into the gullet of some unfathomably large beast. She struggled for something to take her mind off of it.

“Do you know the name of the cliff?” she asked Krikka.

Krikka shook his head.

“Reef Head.”

“Part of me thinks I used to know this,” said Krikka.

“Wouldn’t surprise me. It’s a really old name. It comes from the war.” Rory stared cautiously at the back of the guard’s head walking in front of them. “They used to reef ships here. Light up the tower with mast lamps and lure them into the shallows. In low tide or a storm they’d break up on the rocks and then the city folk would go down and drag for goods. Collect the rest that washed ashore. You know what they did with survivors?”

The guard snorted.

Krikka drew a finger across his throat.

“Yep.”

They were nearly at the door when the guard named Yillon stopped and turned to them. “You will remember your place as guests of the High Keeper. You will speak only when requested. I’ll ask you to turn over any weapons before entering the Hall. Are you armed?”

Rory and Krikka both looked at each other before shaking their heads. Beside the guard on a sturdy table there was already a large pile of axes, knives, spears, a number of hunting bows and full quivers, and what looked like a pair of crude wooden crutches.

“Very well.” The guard stared at them for a long moment before finally stepping aside and snapping his spear down hard on the floor. “You may enter.”

The Court Hall was crowded. Four individuals who, Rory supposed, must be figures of authority were standing at the far end on a raised platform. In the center of the Hall was a group of very tired looking people. Some were holding toddlers or embracing, and more than a few were teary-eyed. Among them were an old man clutching a sack of maps, a triplet of women who must have been sisters, a young boy holding the hand of a crippled blonde woman, who looked only a few years older than Rory, and a man who could almost have matched Krikka in height. A few of the folk turned to look at them when they entered the Hall, but most went back to their conversations right away. All except one.

He was young – perhaps twenty – and was standing next to the crippled woman and another man of about the same age. He looked cold, tired and hungry. His heavy winter clothes were tattered and torn, his beard wiry and untrimmed. He had the slightly stunned look of somebody who had just been slapped in the face, and he was staring straight at Rory as though he knew who she was.

Tempest (a poem)

pilgrims, nomads, sentinels against the fury of the coast:
backs bent sidelong,
straining, still,
they sway with loving ease under the eye of that relentless ghost.
the ocean draws its breath.

that salt-stained silhouette of shore under a frosted glow:
a mirror pool,
watchful gaze.
thunderclaps of memory accost the tidal mouths below.
she smiles in her sleep.

in dreams aquatic, giants, titans cry their hopes and fears alike:
the air collapses,
crystalline.
the column pauses, dreading, waiting in anticipation for the strike.
and yet, the dawn arrives.

The Water’s Edge (a short story)

My grandfather showed me a trick, when I was a youngster, that he used to become the most successful fisherman in the world (so he claims). We were sitting on the end of the dock one hot morning while he sipped at his black tea and I asked him how it was that he caught so many big fish (and only big fish) when all the other fisherman used to bring home a wide variety of sea critters of many varying sizes. My grandfather only ever brought in cod, and no less than a half-fathom from nose to tail. They were always plump, strong-looking fish as well – the sort that were prone to untying jiggers and biting off lines and breaking the hearts of many young and boastful fishers.

The problem with fishing (he told me) is you can never get a clear enough view from the boat to tell where the big fish lie. To make things trickier, codfish like to lie near the bottom when they get lazy (as big, fat codfish are prone to do) and smaller, jumpier fish tend to get to the hooks before they have a chance to reach the big fish down below. What he would do first is go looking for a sharp stick. It had to be quite tough but also flexible, and needed to have a very particular wedge-shaped point. He would then walk down to the water’s edge and (very carefully, I might add) pry it up with the pointy end of the stick.

You had to be very patient, because the water’s edge is very slippery (an effect of it being so wet) and this made it very tricky to hook the stick under it, but if you drive it in at just the right angle with just the right amount of force, you could get some leverage and flip it up, creating a gap between the ocean and the ocean floor. The next step (and this part is key) is to work the stick in bit by bit (being careful not to break the surface tension) until you have an opening bug enough to slide into, and then drive the pointy end of the stick into the ocean floor to hold up the water’s edge like the flap of a canvas tent. Once you’d finished that step you were laughing, and the rest was child’s play.

My grandfather would get down on his back and wriggle his way under the water’s edge, sliding himself out under the ocean in search of deeper waters and bigger fish. Now, it was hard work crawling out under the water with all if that ocean pressing down from above because (as I’m sure you can imagine) it was very heavy, and also because the ocean floor could be very scratchy at times (I recall my grandfather often coming home at the end of a long day of fishing with friction burns on his forearms). You had to be careful not to get caught up on little pointy rocks or pieces of coral, because one could easily get one’s clothing torn or pulled loose while crawling and not be able to fix it while working in this awkward (but mostly manageable) environment. I recall my grandfather wriggling his way out from under the water one day with his pants across his ankles (much to the delight of his fellow fishermen, who laughed heartily at him and never let him live it down) after getting them snagged across a particularly jagged sunken log.

The view from the ocean floor was much clearer than from above, because there was no wind or waves to stir up the view, and everything was backlit by the brilliant sun from above, making the entire viewing experience quite pleasant indeed. Finding the schools of fish was easy, and once you had wriggled your way underneath them, it was as simple as pulling out your pocketknife, slicing a little cut in the oceans surface, and sticking in your arm to pull out whatever fish you desired. This little technique made picking out the biggest and fattest fish a walk in the park (a peice of fishcake, as they say), and once you had pulled the fish out (being careful not to get too wet in the process) you would simply lick the edges and stick the cut back together. One didn’t have to waste too much time licking the edges first because water (as a general rule) is already rather damp.

This practise served my grandfather well for most of his career, and he was able to retire at a young age while he still had his mobility and use of his faculties (for the most part), however, he did tell me about one experience he had that gave him a bit of a nasty shock. What you need to understand is that it’s very easy to lose your sense of direction down there under the water once you get away from the shore. Another thing to keep in mind is that codfish are very slippery when they are pulled fresh out of the water, and will even skip along quite well on the tricky and scratchy ocean floor when dropped. My grandfather found both of these points out when he dropped a prize fish in a moment of excitement and it went skidding and sliding away under the water off into a deep undersea ravine.

My grandfather (being the perfectionist that he was) couldnt bear to lose his catch of the day, and started off after it, crawling and scrambling along the ocean floor, occasionally stirring up confused flounders and scaring schools of sardines and generally being a nuisance to the variety of critters that lived in the area. Once at the ravine, he stopped to peer over the edge and could see the big fish down below, sliding at top fish speed over the rocks and bumps, deep, deep down into the darkness below, before promptly throwing himself in after it.

Now it’s one thing lying awkwardly under that big blanket of ocean at a depth of 15 or 20 feet, but it’s quite another thing when one finds oneself at a depth of 1000 feet and the weight of the water makes it impossible to move at all. This was the predicament that my grandfather found himself in, and lying there, staring across at his prize codfish (just out of arms reach), he decided that he might have bitten off a little more than he was capable of chewing at the present time, as they say. Lying down there, stuck in place, many brave fishermen would have given up and resorted to living under the water permanently, but my grandfather was a resourceful man (which is obvious, considering his discovery of the trick with the pointy stick at the water’s edge) and, seeing the jiggers of other fishermen bobbing up and down above him, he thought himself up a plan.

Taking his pocketknife and cutting a little hole in the ocean, he planted his lips firmly on the water surface and began to blow bubbles, sending up a little stream of Morse code to the surface where his fishermen colleagues intercepted the message and got to work in sending down a weighted rope. And so it was, on that memorable day, that my grandfather came to be pulled to the surface, holding the rope with one hand and his prized codfish with the other, and cursing gratuitously at his discomfort of having to get so terribly wet (the irony of the situation being he was much dryer and more comfortable when he was under the water than after he was rescued).

My grandfather carried on fishing the way he did for years and continued to be successful, but upon returning to the shore on that particular day, he couldn’t find the spot where he’d propped up the water’s edge, and that was disappointing to him because it had been an especially good stick (good sticks are hard to come by). Most people agree that the stick must have gotten kicked or blown over in the wind, but my grandfather was confident that he’d made sure it was good and sturdy before he went in.

So, if you find yourself walking the shoreline on a romantic excursion, and you should happen across a spot where the water’s edge has been propped up, it would be best (assuming you are not an experienced underwater fisherman) to avoid going in. And, if you and your date should happen to crawl in, in search of scenery that offers dramatic atmosphere and absolute privacy, always remember to carry with you a quality pocketknife (just in case).

Well, hello there.

Hi, readers. It’s been long time since the blog was last active, so first of all I’d like to say thanks for being patient. I’ve been working on a project that has taken up most of my time but now that I have a little more availability, I’m going to be posting on mmo ore regular basis.

Some things to watch out for in the coming months:

  • More short stories, both horror and otherwise
  • More poetry
  • More book reviews

Also, the thing I’m most excited about, which is…

More chapters of my novel in progress, The Keeping of the Light!

All of this, plus more, coming soon. Thanks all and, remember,

Keep writing.

The Town That Moved (a short story)

Up on the plateau over the Silver Valley, there’s a wooded ridge of hills that runs from the southwest to the north in a wide arc. During the autumn and winter, the sun only shines on the northern side of those hills in the evening, just before sunset, and the trees that live there grow slow and old. There used to be a little stream that ran down from that place long ago, winding its way across the plateau floor before finally diving down into the valley in it’s slow approach to the sea. The stream, they say, was clear as crystal, so clean and unspoiled that looking at the streambed on a calm day, sometimes it was impossible to tell whether there was water flowing through it. It was said that if you scooped up a handful of this water to take a drink, it would appear as though you held nothing in your hands but air, and upon swallowing there was no taste of earth or salt or mineral, only pure refreshment and a general revival of the senses that came with good rest.

The people that lived in the valley drank of the water every day, and it was said that many of the folk there experienced unnatural long life and good health. It was also said that as the years went by, the townsfolk gradually moved their way upstream and away from the sea. Their houses were torn down and rebuilt over and over throughout the years, until a point where it seemed that the whole community moved as a single, driven organism. They worked and moved with a purpose, drinking of the water from that perfect little stream and building and rebuilding their houses and working their way, slowly but with determination, up through the valley toward the plateau.

A few years after the movement began, travelers would come to the town in the valley but would stand in confusion when they found no people, no houses, no town, at the end of the lonely highway. They found only the little stream as it slid patiently between the stones of the streambed toward its eventual destination at the coast. These travelers would remark and shout upon hearing that, having made their way through the length of the valley and starting the climb into the highlands, the townsfolk had given up building houses altogether and now kept themselves in little huts that lent themselves more readily to the constant tearing down and rebuilding if those people and their habits. There came a time, as well, where the people found it more appropriate to give up their huts for the warmth and comfort of tents, as the stony plains of the plateau did not lend themselves to the building of foundations and wooden frames. They took up spears and arrows and dedicated themselves to the chasing and killing of the noble caribou, and fashioned their hides into coverings for those little tents that had become their homes. They ate of the caribou and became masters of harvesting their milk for the making of many fine cheeses and dishes, and there came a moment where the people thought to follow the caribou away to the south in their great migration. However, the people decided against it, for they could not bear to leave the little stream for long.

They continued upstream, raising their young and teaching them in the ways of building strong tents and hunting the caribou when they were near. Travelers came few and far between along that cracked and dusty road now, and when they did they brought with them great spyglasses and binoculars to glimpse the people from the roadside. They watched as though watching film, passively, never thinking to interact or interject; not knowing that they could ever reach those townsfolk who once lived so near to the sea. The travelers watched and read magazines and talked among themselves about what pretty, colorful houses the people used to live in back when this was a real town, and eventually they would pack up their cars and return home, leaving their names written on the road sign in permanent marker and leaving little bags of garbage along the roadside to be inspected by the birds and rats once they drove away. Eventually the travelers stopped coming to the Silver Valley altogether, writing it off as a waste of time after reading the poor reviews from previous visitors and choosing other, more interesting venues to explore.

It is only natural, then, that nobody was watching when the people stopped building their tents and began to sleep under the stars in the open air. No outsiders witnessed when they stopped eating the flesh of the caribou and started eating among the caribou, grazing slowly on their hands and knees over the ancient plateau, holding their noses high in anticipation when a whisper of wolves came whistling through the crowd. As with all things, the interest in those people returned, and the new generation of travelers found their way to the old sign post at the end of the broken road, signing their own names and leaving their own garbage and watching through high-powered telescopes as the townsfolk loped naked over the plains, chasing and playing and laughing in their learned language. Many of the travelers wrote stories about the townsfolk and their ways, using them as allegory in great, sweeping tales of fiction, but sales were poor and those authors eventually took up more fruitful careers in finance and advertising, but they continued watching with renewed interest because by that time everybody knew of the people that had once lived in the valley.

It is an unlikely turn of events, then, that nobody was watching at the moment the townsfolk reached the ridge of hills and disappeared into the woods, kicking off the last of their shoes and garments and they followed the stream into the perpetual shade of those hills to drink and sleep and play. Outcry came at the loss of the townsfolk, and the travelers slept by the roadside and wept, holding up candles throughout the night and calling their loved ones to say that it was all, finally, over. A few curious outsiders did eventually return to the old, rusted sign at the end of the dirt road, and wandered the valley in search of artifacts and trinkets to be kept in museums. Their efforts did eventually turn up little bags of petrified and ancient garbage, which were carefully tagged and organized and placed in glass cases to be photographed and studied for centuries to come in universities and colleges and internet forums.

Once the excavations were done and the crews returned home over the old path, the obscure few who returned to the valley sometimes searched out the little stream in hopes of drinking that clear, clean water that used to flow down from the hills, but with the passage of time it was hard to tell the streambed from the tracks of animals and excavating machines, and all of the water they could find was stagnant and muddy. The stream could no longer be found among the bushes and stones of the ancient valley, and as the patience of adventurous individuals waned, people stopped looking for it altogether, and instead turned to watch the rolling of waves along the coast with their backs turned to the memory of the little stream. Sometimes, they talk about the stream and the town and the people that lived there, and sometimes they still tell stories inspired by those poorly sold books of ages ago, but for the most part now, everybody is in agreement that it’s unlikely the stream was ever there in the first place.