Reminiscence

Nobody told you the road would be this steep. How anyone traversed it back when this part of town was still brimming with life remains a mystery. You are so lost in thought that you nearly slip and fall when the pavement suddenly ends and gives way to a deep chasm.

As if someone had broken out a piece of the city, a whole row of buildings and corresponding streets are missing ahead. A crater, but no visible rubble or debris down in the depths. Surgically removed. This first thought is immediately followed by another, more pressing second: What now? It takes you a while to see that the crater is split – in mid-air.

Thick knots of rope are wound around a battered old weather vane on a rooftop to your left and span tightly across the length of the chasm. They look secure, although the other end of the rope is lost in the distance. Your arms feel tired. Still, you realise turning back would be stupid, if not lethal. You sigh and start the ascent towards the roped vane. And hope that there is nobody waiting with a knife on the other side.

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Abandonment

As you pick up pace again, crossing the street without looking left or right, a sudden thought nearly makes you stop in the middle of the tracks.

Something has ended, just now, and you have missed it. You cannot tell what it was, but it has definitely passed you by.

There is no impulse to feel sad, no urge to stand still when there is so much more pavement up ahead. You try to leave your thoughts behind, as much mind as you can lose whilst still putting one foot in front of another. It can all be picked up later again. But not now.

Equipment

Always have the following objects with you no matter where you go: A lighter or matches (best both), a piece of rope at least three feet long, tea leaves, hair pins, powdered cobblestone or any other dry material, wax paper, needle and thread.

If possible, also gloves. They are not necessary but a good pair of thin leather gloves may save your life or your fingers at least if things get dire.

And we needn’t talk about boots, do we? Find the perfect balance between sturdiness and comfort – something you can walk around in for nights on end and that still provides enough grip to climb piles of rubble and jump over wire fence. And befriend at least one shoemaker. A real one, not those just messing with the soles.

Oh, and before you forget: Leather is edible.

Free for all

Emerald Market is open for everyone. This is not the problem. Emerald Market hides an immense sub-market for illegal or dangerous goods. This is not the problem either.

The problem is that many who enter the market think they need to bring something with them. It is a stubborn and tacit agreement, like a talisman or a superstition which is wrong at its very core but how can you be sure? And as if this was not bad enough, one of the most truth-resistant rumours out there says that the bigger the something you bring is, the luckier you will be. Yet who is going to buy a broken piano or a picture frame in the shape of a yawning lion from you? Thankfully, it is easy to spot those poor people from afar. Hapless elderly women schlepping carts with potted palm trees or boys who have managed to load their donkey with two radiators. You avoid eye contact because they’d insist on selling you their things for a bargain just to finally, finally be rid of their burden. They would turn you into them and even demand money for it.

Of course, there is a niche for everything on Emerald Market. If you want to sell off your household piece by piece, nobody is going to stop you. And if you do not know better after twenty-three visits… sorry, your problem.

Be that as it may, nearly all visitors and inhabitants of Emerald Market usually have a small trinket for sale with them. Just in case that the superstition is true after all.

Because you never know, do you?

 

The moment

And just like there is this moment at night when you suddenly wake up from a fleeting dream and do not realise where you are, sometimes you stop in the midst of walking. You know where you should be going but for the moment, sense and determination have left you alone.

It is in this blink of a second that even a sunlit and crowded street can be as dark and empty as the outer reaches of the universe.

The next step breaks this immersion. As you walk on, you forget about your momentary stasis. Because you do not want to fear that one day you might not find a way out anymore.

Over your shoulder

Keera felt it as she approached Moss Gate. The smell of the lichen and stones was not the same anymore. It had finally stopped raining, so she put back her hood and freed her hair, never letting go of the reins. Something in her told her to turn around, to stop and take a last peek behind her wagon at the outlands, the swamps and tundra that surrounded the city. Yet the convoy did not stop. What had been left of her father’s farm after it burned down was in the wagon and the only reason why she had come back at all. A few things might fetch good prices, the sewing machine or her old set of pliers perhaps.

But it felt all wrong coming here, a feeling that had become stronger ever since the city walls had come into view. Paradoxically, they seemed to be smaller than when she had left so many years ago, although they had lost nothing of their grim majesty. After withstanding thousands of sieges and several wars, a decade or two was but a footnote in the history of the walls. Not for Keera, though. She tried to find a common denominator for what was telling her to turn around, to leave again as fast as she could.

The gate guards waved her through, yawning at her cargo and the early morning in equal measure. The street became less step and took a sudden turn to the left. It hit her like a brick. At first, it was all one cascading murmur which echoed off the timbered walls and windows, unrefined noise to all senses. Keera tried hard not to cover her ears. If she did not get used to it now again, she probably never would. Besides, she hoped it would help her getting rid of the feeling that still haunted her better knowledge.

Finally, a scream broke through the cacophony and erupted into laughter. A faint voice advertising spotted grapes could be heard. The fluttering of wings above a closing window. She drew a deep breath. The city was coming back, falling apart under its own weight and thus becoming tangible. Slowly, she allowed herself to loosen her grip on the reins a little. A small girl was standing on a barrel at a corner and handing out pieces of sugar to the caravaneers. As she leaned forward and put a morsel into Keera’s hand, a smile stole across her face.

Keera sat back. Slowly, she realised that the feeling would never go away. She had forgotten about it over the years, but this feeling was part of the city, as real as the street beneath her wheels. It was the dynamo that drove people out or in or crazy, sometimes all three in various combinations. A certain uneasiness mingled with hope, although there was much more to it.

She crunched the sugar with her teeth, enjoying the first taste of civilisation after two months of black bread and jerky. There was no need to look back. She would find a way out again whenever she needed to. All she had to do was follow the feeling.

Thirty-Third Taman Street

There is a row of houses huddled together like old women in the rain up on Thirty-Third Taman Street. From certain angles, they seem to be one huge mansion with several sub-mansions, although its inhabitants assure that there are walls between their house and the adjacent one, thank you very much. Regardless of this, Thirty-Third Taman Street feels like a tiny village in midst of urban sprawl: It hosts a shop for daily needs, a tailor, even a small carpentry. And a doctor lives in a room on the topmost floor near the weathervane – in fact a dentist but you can usually count on her if anything else hurts. So next time you’re trundling along Thirty-Third Taman Street and counting the streetlights, greet your fellow villagers. They might invite you for tea to hear news from the outside world.