Stars and a crescent moon stamped out holes in the velvety darkness. Purple night poured down, painting the pointed rooftops and cobbled streets. Pale yellow light flickered faintly from the bulb of a curious street lamp, its stem curving like a fresh sprout. At the edge of its glow stood an ordinary bench, upon which sat an ordinary young man, who perhaps wasn’t so ordinary. Gloved hands tucked themselves cozily into his ragged sweeper. Head back, eyes closed, white hair falling gently like snow in the night air.
Lonely footsteps tapped soft music through the silence of his mind. Humble broom in hand, the old man halted before the bench and before the gentle street lamp whose unselfish glow was all that burned in a forgotten sleeping town.
“I don’t know how you found this place, but you had best be movin’ along, there may still be time yet for you to get out.” He was gray, creased, and Ichabod-beaked, but surprise was evident in the slight quiver of his lips. Never had he seen a boy with stars in his eyes. His pupils were like drops of night sky, infinitely deep, sprinkled with stardust, bordered by bursts of perse iris. Taking a sharp breath. “Who are you?” The young man looked away before answering.
“A traveler. This is Il Sole, is it not?”
“How long have you been here?” The codger scratched his head with a bony finger.
“Hmm… Long time.” His eyes disappeared behind thick gray eyebrows. “Lot’s of sweepin’ to do, y’know. You had best be movin’ along now.” The traveler looked up quickly at the retreating figure.
“What made the city go to sleep?”
“Heh. Sometimes things just run out of steam, son. Sometimes things just… run out of steam…” Voice trailing, the old man faded away into the darkness beyond the street lamp. Standing, the young man revealed a peculiar image upon the back of his coat. A white circle face with a large red star for an eye and a wedge of jagged teeth clenched in a smile. Looking both ways, he crossed the street.
Down a narrow alley, a dog slumbered silently. Beyond crystal clear windows, bodies lay breathless in their beds. Food sat untouched on tables, untarnished by age. A mother lay in an armchair, storybook in her lap. Two children tucked into a bed before her. Young lovers curled up next to a dark fireplace in an eternal embrace. A grandfather, baby granddaughter in his lap. Blanket draping them both in a rocking chair. Their lives, their world, frozen in time, filed away, and forgotten.
Smooth stones inset the spiraling street before him, fringed on either side by house after eerily inviting house. Their eaves hanging down as if to whisper “welcome” in your ear. A snail’s shell city coated in plums, lavenders, and lilacs by the night’s dim radiance. Round and round his footsteps echoed through the town. Deeper and deeper he fell into its quaint charm.
Calm and quiet, the eye of the storm lay before him. There a barbershop, a candy store, a grocer, a tailor, a cobbler, even a jeweler. All silent now, devoid of the usual hustle and bustle, crooked signs reading “Closed”. Gently sloping toward the center, the path fell to a wide step. A circle of benches coupled by stoic lamp posts, who gave nothing in opposition to the night. Down further, a place where children frolic, faint chalk lines etching ancient glyphs across the muted stones. And there, at the center of everything, a magnificent fountain.
A menagerie of marble creatures, large and small, standing atop a pedestal, standing atop each other, reaching into the heavens. A creeping lazuli twisted and wormed its way around and through in the form of an iridescent ivy. Upon each their heads, a crown of dripping jade wisteria. Their eyes, emeralds, sapphires, amethysts and peridots, topazes, pearls, aquamarines and opals. Soaring above it all, a mountain of gears. Colossal and minuscule, cogs, wheels, and pinions. Racks, prongs, and teeth gnashing together. The monster slumbered.
Standing at the base of the pedestal, a plate-cast jester leaned forward offering a jack-in-the-box. The traveler stepped into the dry fountain and approached. Its face was fashioned from the finest white silver, gold bells hung from its hat, and its eyes were rubies that twinkled with reflected starlight. Reaching up, he grasped the hand crank. Slowly it turned, round and round until… Hahahaha! A ghostly laugh escaped the jester. The ground rumbled, signaling the traveler to retreat. High above, the mechanism groaned to life. Sluggishly, the gears began to turn upon one another. Water gurgled up from below, pouring from the creatures’ marble mouths, filling the fountain pool bit by bit. With great effort, the moon and stars rattled out of their resting places and began a slow descent toward the horizon. Dim morning light began to well up against the night sky.
In their homes, countless marionettes creaked into lifeless life. Rising from their wooden beds and greeting each other merrily with breathless voices. Soon shop signs flipped to invite eager customers as the streets gradually filled with energetic automatons. The traveler watched as mechanical children came out to play in the city center, running, jumping, drawing odd designs on the sidewalk. A tug at his sleeve, a little girl offering an apple.
“Thank you, mister.” He accepted the wax fruit and nodded. The little girl pursed her lips inward with a smile and dashed off to where the others were playing. Holding the apple up, turning it over in his hand, it almost looked real. The traveler smiled, pocketed the fruit, and started away.
Il Sole, a mechanized city created by a once great inventor over a century ago. In the years since, a steady decline into senility had robbed him of his past. Now he would wander its streets, greeted by kindly inhabitants, not knowing that they had been created by his own hands. After his passing, the town would continue on for perhaps another hundred years before winding down and once again slipping into a gentle slumber. And somewhere in the fading night, a weary street lamp dimmed away, content in its service, finally able to sleep.
© Tyler M Deal. All Rights Reserved.