Hills & Valleys

There is a golden crown laying in the dust at your feet.
You look up to see a dozen or so star-stunned townsfolk, all gaping helplessly at the ground below you.
Amongst the smoke and din of the dimly-lit longhouse the air hangs still.
Everyone is holding their breath.
Without a second more, you reach down and snatch the crown up from the dust, and not chancing a further look spin on your heel for a speedy escape.
By your very first move the longhouse was reanimated, instantly teeming with moving bodies and scuffling peons all vying for a slice of instant fortune.

You jump through the open window and still, without turning, bolt down the grassy hillside and into the gully below.
Surely they are still chasing you.
With a clash of pebbles you vault the creek and land on the embankment, high and dry.
Within seconds this sound repeats itself as your pursuers ford the water , hot on your tail.

‘This cant go on much longer’ you think, struggling to climb the steep gully wall.
Desperation clears your mind and sight.
With no way out, and nowhere to run you turn to face the others.
They are nowhere to be seen.
None of them.
Baffled, you retrace your steps through the creek only to find stones undisturbed, and the waving grasses of the hill trackless, as if never crossed.

You peer through the open window.
Empty.
Not a soul in sight, the place is bare, stripped of its pots and pans. Even the fireplace sits cold and ash-less, as if it’d not felt the warm touch of the coals in many moons.

You climb through the window and stand around, confused and paranoid that perhaps this is some hoax, that any second they will pounce upon you, making escape impossible.
But nothing happens.

After composing yourself, you walk outside and stand in the courtyard.
Suddenly a noise shrieks from the woods behind you and you spin to face this new threat, tumbling on a loose stone to pound your head into the earth.
Everything goes black.

As light enters through your eyelids you realise you have regained consciousness, and peel open your eyes to reveal dull blurriness.
Your vision sways and stutters as if a poor connection is causing static, but eventually compiles itself into a picture.
To your surprise and disembodiment, you find yourself in an unrecognizable location.

Large stone pillars surround you, gathered and grouped in intricate formations amongst a sea of deep red sand, stretching over a vast open plain.
There are no trees or green, and the air is acridly dry and warm.
A lone figure ambles out from behind the stones.
He is dressed unusually, draped in black clothes of various darkness’ and design. Layers of shuffling darkness turn slowly, and begin towards you.

He stops a few feet from you and sniffs before clearing his throat.
“Do you know who i am?” he questioned sternly.
No
“Do you know where you are?”
No i don’t” you reply hastily.
“Good…” He mumbles slowly, “For you see child, this place is like no other place”
“I don’t care about this place, or ‘not-place‘” you retort.
I need to figure out how to get back…you! Strange man, how do i leave this place?
“Where is this ‘back’ you refer to, what is it made from? he queries curiously.
Why are you here!?” you scream, tears welling in the corners of your eyes.
He chortles and snorts. “For the very same reason as you are, my dear child”

With this he leans around your shoulder and begins to guide you slowly towards the nearest standing stone just a few feet away.

As you reach the stone, the man lays his hand on the pillar and wipes away a layer of dust and sand to reveal a small bronze plaque no bigger than a matchbox.
“They all have them” he affirms.
“Everyday i awake to more of them, standing around waiting to be read. They appear from nothing as if by a wizard’s spell or other sorcery, and once they are read, i wake the next day to find them vanished, and others standing in their stead”
How long have you been here?” you stare openly at the man’s ragged clothes and dirty locks.
“The pillars are quite long, yes, but they come in all sizes, the plaque seems to be the key..” the man replies apprehensively.
No, you misunderstand me. How many days have you been in this sand? Enough time out here’d drive anyone mad!

He stares blankly at you, then glances at the sun directly above.
He stares blankly again before slowly turning and wandering away towards a different stone.

You slump into the sand.
All around you is quiet, only the gentle breeze can be heard twisting through the stones.
With little other options, you decide to read the freshly-cleaned plaque;
.
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Terrence Fletcher. Born 23/7/39. Died 4/8/17.
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