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©Wordsmith Crafts 2006

Last updated on 20-nov-06

 

 

The City on the Hill

A raven circled down to perch on a withered tree, and surveyed the scene. A pebble clattered down the dusty mountain path. A wild cat chased its tail in a weird dance. Clouds of dust rose with the heat haze. The sun beat down on the mountain and the path. Light from the same reflected from the golden walls of a city that crowned the summit of the mountain. The golden glow shone as a beacon for miles around, and (except for some particularly dark sections) illuminated the path for those who travelled it.


Using hands almost as much as feet a figure hauled himself up a steep section of the path, then sank to the ground to rest. Looking up he saw the distance yet to be travelled and sighed. Then sitting back and taking a sip from his water bottle he looked at how far he had come and grinned. Phil took another sip of water, closing his eyes and savouring it for a moment.


He remembered the man who had given him the bottle. He remembered the sparkle in the man's eyes, the warmth in his embrace and the laughter with which he faced every task. That meeting had been right at the start of the journey, and the memory had kept him going as much as the water had. He remembered his bashful question, "How can you be so warm and friendly to a stranger?" and the answer:
"I've been to the city on the hill."


Phil stood again, and started up the path. At first the walking was easy as he followed a contour round the hill for a while. Then he began to climb again, and his pack straps began to rub on his shoulders. Sweat trickled down his back making his shirt sticky and the sun relentlessly baked his head. All the time though he was aware of the city, and when he next stopped he sat on a tuft of grass and faced it.


As he sat and stretched his tired limbs he remembered Amy. He remembered how she had been able to work the worry out of his shoulders and he missed the touch of her fingers. He remembered how just sitting in the same room as her would refresh his sense of being. He remembered their closeness and how they could hold hands, kiss, or even work without touching yet he could still feel at peace with her. "A desire-free passion," he thought, and laughed richly at the memory of it. Again he remembered the answer when he had asked her how she could be so wonderful:
"I've been to the city on the hill."


Dreamily he rose and set his feet to walking once more. As he walked occasional brief memories of people he had met flashed through his mind. Some he had been close to, some he had loved and some he had hated. His face coloured at some images and others made him want to weep, but all the while the golden light drew nearer and his feet carried him up and on.


It began to grow cold as the sun turned its attention elsewhere, leaving its station to the moon. Now the glow from the city lit the path. Phil sat for a while amazed at how stones in the path reflected light from the moon and the city, and his eye followed the glowing silver and gold trail the remaining distance to his goal. Feeling the night chill now he opened his bag and slowly drew a long patchwork coat from it. Each square contained a different memory, just as each had been made by a different person. The thought of the day when the whole group had given him the coat filled his mind and gratitude burned strongly within him.


He had been lost, diverted from his path and wandering in darkness when they had met him. Phil sighed as he remembered how they had accepted him as one of their own. Gently they had supported him, first by giving him space to heal then gradually more support and guidance, until finally they had given him this coat to help him as he left. Warming up now he laughed as he remembered how he had anticipated their answer when he asked why they were so helpful to a stranger:
"We've been to the city on the hill."


He walked far and fast this time, spurred on by the last of his water and the desire to see what such a wonderful city must be like. The cool of the night air refreshed him after the heat of the day and he almost ran through the velvet night air. As he drew closer to his goal he saw the demon shapes of his enemies and dark memories form round the city. They swirled and shrieked obscenities at it. He saw their hunger and hatred as they tried to devour it, and gasped in fear as they turned their attention his way.


But the city blazed strong in the night, and its glow spreading down the path inspired Phil. He defied the darkness and his faith in the city formed a shield around him. His path lay straight ahead now, and he felt as one with the city in opposition to the dark. He walked carefully down the light strewn path as if it were a bridge through a chaotic dark hole till he reached the dawn outside the city gates.


With the rising sun the gates opened and Phil walked out of the night and into the city. Hunger gnawed at his stomach and the once bright patches of his coat were dulled by dust. His leaden feet dragged on the flagstones and he fell to his knees with the weight of his pack. But the light of the city filled his mind. Gold paved streets spread out in front of him, trees lined the streets their boughs full of golden oranges. Fountains of crystal clear water flowed from the sides of houses with windows glazed with diamond.


Phil shrugged off his pack and wearily rose to his feet. Peeling of his coat and leaving it where it fell he walked to the nearest fountain to clean himself. He cupped his hand and caught the water to throw it over his face. Suddenly he cried out in pain as the cold froze his hand! Stunned he turned and fell against a tree. The force of him falling shook an orange from the branches above, and it fell in his lap. Hunger welled up again in his stomach and he struggled with his frozen hand, trying to peel the fruit. Hard as it was with all sensation lost in one hand, his desperation helped and he raised the sweet fruit to his lips. But oh! Grief consumed him, for as he bit the fruit grated on his teeth and became dust!


Coughing and nursing his wounded hand Phil struggled to stand, meaning to go to a house and ask for help. As he did saw he saw the back of a woman opening a nearby door. Her red hair curled down the deep blue of her dress and suddenly the beauty of her form shamed him so he fell onto the ground lest he be blinded by the sight of her face. "Help me," he cried, "and forgive me if I have tasted forbidden fruit, or let unclean lips sully the fountain of life." Not daring to look up he waited while he heard her turn round. But when there was no sound he glanced up, and she was gone through the door.


Confused he stood again and looked about the street. The people of the city had started to rise and now the paved way was scattered with a myriad of brightly costumed people. Phil staggered towards the nearest, desperate now. Horror seized him, the man he looked at had no face. Where eyes nose and mouth should be there was a visage of scarred grey flesh. Reeling in shock, Phil bumped into another figure and saw that she was the same. Very scared now, he fell to his knees in the centre of the street and wailed a cry of despair.


No-one noticed. After what seemed like an age Phil stopped sobbing and, nursing his hand, looked round again. The street was busy now, filled with people of perfect beauty and attire, but faceless. They ignored Phil, except when they walked into him, and then they would pause to wipe their clothes absently before moving on. Phil watched with horror, amazed that the city could be like this, and as he watched he realised that they did, in fact, have faces. Slowly he began to notice a nose, then a mouth, then a complete face. As he did so the people began to notice him, and slowly they started to crowd around him where he knelt on the street.


This did nothing to abate Phil's horror, and as his perception changed he saw that the features were worse than before. Caricatured, unfeeling expressions of pity and mannequin painted features of sympathy began to surround him. He became aware of a babble of inhuman noise from the people, and as the crowd began to circle round him the unearthly din increased. Slowly the feeling of cold in his hand spread and the hunger in his stomach began to eat him from within. His heart ached for the city he had searched for and he began to pray, his doubts mixed with his hopes and fears in an incomprehensible mix. His chest pounded with the emotion of despair as he was buffeted on all sides by the whirlpool of figures that surrounded him. Cries of pain mingled with his prayers as he felt fingernails tear at his face as the crowd reach out to touch him.


Beginning to lose consciousness to the agony, he closed his eyes, but in the blackness he was still surrounded by a weird dance of inanely grinning faces. "Why!??" he screamed as unfeeling eyes spun around him and mad grinning mouths mocked him with the words "I've been to the city on the hill." "Why!??" he screamed as blackness filled his mind and he slipped into chaos.


Phil felt warm. His cheek brushed against a soft silk cushion. Bird-song filled the air and he opened his eyes to see the sun reflected off a still blue pool of water. He sat up and looked around. He found himself to be in the heart of an oasis, sitting on his coat with his pack by his side. Before he had time to comprehend this he heard a noise behind him. Turning round he saw a bedraggled figure crawl in from the desert and collapse motionless by the first tree.


Phil jumped up and ran over. The man's clothes were torn and his skin burned by sand and sun. As Phil turned him over his parched lips let a soft moan escape and his eyes feebly opened a fraction. Phil saw fear and worry on the man's face, and realised that without help he wouldn't even manage to crawl to the pool.


Slowly Phil reached for his water bottle, and opening it he moistened the now unconscious man's lips. Softly he worked cooling oil into the man's skin, delighting in the feel of the texture of touch. With meticulous care he built a shelter for the man to rest in, and then sat back to wonder about the meaning of it all. As he sat though, he felt something through his cushion. Slowly reaching under it he pulled out a golden orange. Cautiously he peeled it, and with even greater caution he gently tasted it. The sharp but sweet taste was heavenly.

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