Thorn stared at his staff. His time had finally come. He wore the fedora that signified his status as a Collector. As the sun set he began his adventure. His first destination was the far away Pyramid Mountains.
Thorn’s mother had been the last Collector to return from the Pyramid Mountains. Three other Collectors had ventured that way and never returned. Their fedoras had floated back down the river to the village. No one knew if they were dead or had simply been dazzled by whatever they had found in the sand swept landscape of the mountains. Thorn’s mother had never spoken of her time there. She had brought back the glass jar holding a floating silver hand. The silver hand sat collecting dust on the shelves in the town hall along with the dozens of other curiousities that Collectors had brought back over the centuries.
Thorn’s village was built close to the Shadow Mountains. His people foraged through the desert that surrounded and drank from the cold streams that bubbled out of the desert at the foot of the Shadow Mountains. They heated stones in the desert during the day in order to warm their small homes at night. Once or twice a year they would gather enough wood to have a large bonfire in the pit at the center of town. Last night had been one of those nights. Thorn had been chosen as the next Collector for the town. It was a great honor. His mother had sobbed while the rest of the town rejoiced. After the celebration died down, they returned to their small home.
The domed earthen structure had been the only home Thorn had ever known. His small bed was tidy in the loft. The small cooking area was sparkling like always. There were two rocking chairs next to the pile of warm stones that warmed the space. His mother sat in one, so Thorn sat in the other.
“Your father was the last Collector to leave our village, ten years ago. When he didn’t return, the elders decided to stop the journeys. He was a good man. I miss him everyday. Now you are going to leave me too.” She began to cry and Thorn was horrified. His mother had always been so strong. She had cried when his father’s fedora had washed up in the stream bed. Then she had dried her tears, pulled herself together, and found a way to provide for them. Her weavings now decorated half the homes in the village. Thorn put his hand on her shoulder.
“I will come back, Mother.”
She squeezed his hand and stood up. “He said that too. Don’t make empty promises. If you find a better life over in the Pyramid Mountains, I want you to be happy. If you send your Fedora through the streams, tuck a note inside so I will know you are safe. Please.”
Thorn smiled. “I can do that.”
His mother pulled herself up to standing. She walked to the cabinet on the far wall where she stored her weavings. After digging around inside it for a moment, she pulled out a length of golden fabric. “This is for you. I hoped it would be a part of your wedding attire but instead I give it to you for the adventure ahead. I hope it does not become your funeral shroud.” She handed the fabric to him and then went to the small room where her bed was. The door closed and Thorn was left standing alone.
The desert was cool at night. He was glad of the golden cloak his mother had given him. Thorn started walking. The further he got from the shadow mountains, the louder and brighter the night became. Brilliant stars shone over head and a nearly full moon made the sand sparkle as he walked. Strange warbles and songs came from the desert around him although he could not see the creatures that made them.
He stopped occasionally to drink from the glass jar of water in his pack. There was only enough for one day’s worth of walking. It was tradition to bring no more than that on a journey. A wind ruffled his hair and stirred the sands in front of him. Thorn kept walking. The distant Pyramid Mountains seemed to both grow closer and further away every time he looked. After a few hours he stopped looking at the mountains and charted his course by the stars instead.
The stars began to fade and Thorn was surprised. It was too soon for the sun to have begun its ascent. He looked behind him and no sun peeked above the horizon. Then he looked ahead and realized the lights were coming from the Pyramid Mountains. He quickened his pace.
He reached the base of the Pyramid Mountains as the sun began to rise. As the suns rays reached the mountain, Thorn was stunned to discover it was not a mountain at all. It was a village of homes stacked on top of each other. Thorn began walking the paths between the homes and was astounded by the square earthen homes built on top of each other. There were even dark doorways that led to the earth below the homes. As the sun rose higher, people began walking the pathways with him. It took him several minutes to realize they were all wearing golden cloaks just like the one his mother had woven for him. He looked like he belonged in this strange village.
The voices around him chatted and argued and flowed into a seamless patter so that he could not distinguish one word from another. Thorn stayed silent and kept walking. The signs around him were ornate and unreadable. He didn’t even recognize the loops and swirls as letters. Thorn turned down a pathway with fewer people on it. It ended in a dark doorway with a sign above it. He stepped to the side of the path and let the few poeple around him go through the doorway without him. They passed through and he heard the sounds of laughter echoing inside. Thorn stared at the sign and the loops and swirls receded. Between the swirls he saw the letters of his own language emerge.
‘Drifters Welcome’ it read. Thorn gasped and walked through the doorway. He stood on a landing and stairs descended to the left. The air cooled as he walked down the steps. A bead curtain hung across the doorway and he recognized his mother’s hand in the weaving of it. Thorn stepped through the curtain and found himself inside a small bar. Booths were carved out of the surrounding rock. A bar floated between stalactites and stalagmites along one wall. The bartender looked up from the conversation he was having with a customer and yelled.
“Son! You made it!” The bartender ran and pulled Thorn into an embrace. “At last. I’ve waited so long. I wasn’t sure if you would make it out.”
Thorn awkwardly hugged his father back. They moved to one of the booths in the wall. The day passed by as they were lost in conversation. Patrons came and went through the bar. Some stopped by their table to congratulate them on their reunion. As night fell the crowd thinned out but Thorn began to recognize faces from his childhood. Other adventurers who had not returned. The curtain rattled again and Thorn did not even turn to look at who had come through. He saw his father smile wide and get up to greet the newest customer. Thorn turned and his mouth fell open.
“Hello, Thorn. Finally we are all together again.”
Thorn’s mother stood arm and arm with his father. “But. Wait. What? How?”
His parents laughed and the three of them hugged. Thorn felt himself guided towards a doorway at the back of the bar. His mother spoke. “Come see your new home. Today is for family. Tomorrow we begin the revolution.”
The prompts for this story:
- Page of Wands
- flammable heart
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Copyright 2020 Klaudia Grady