Another Short Story for ya. This one is based on one hell of a weird dream I had a few days back, so don't sue me if it doesn't make sense. Only Natalie knows the actual dream, so for half of you visitors it will be a new concept. Dedicated to James Stewart, the actor, 'cause I used his name.
They stare, They stare
The Stewart family were having an enjoyable holiday. Their guide, Ulric, was gesturing with his large hands to this and that direction at the devastated street. He was muttering something in his deep, growly voice.
To the left and right of Emma Stewart and her mother and father were 1940s-style buildings, square and dirty and completely devastated, thrown to the earth by various shellings in the Second World War. Around the buildings lay scattered clothes and toys, all remnants of the last dwellers in the houses.
A path had been cleared in the middle of the road for the tourists to be guided through, but apart from that the scene remained untouched, as if the catastrophic shelling had just happened yesterday.
Ulric stopped suddenly in the middle of the road, and turned round. Beyond him was a roundabout: similarly scattered with bits of brick and 1940s style furnishings that should have belonged in a house ten metres away, and sixty years ago. A road led off beyond Ulric, and one to the left and right also. Front the Stewarts' viewpoint, these roads looked just the same as the one they were in, though maybe slightly less destroyed as they were not as close to where the shell had landed. To the Stewarts, the whole town (well, more a web of preserved streets) set an eerie floor to the seemingly unending blue sky above them. Well, that was to be expected of the country.
Ulric's large hands fell to his sides. He became dead still, eyes wide open and ears metaphorically so. Emma Stewart, of only ten years, grabbed hold of her mother's hand as Ulric cocked his head to one side. Her mother's hand held hers back.
A steady wind blew past the foursome; a still vignette amongst the untouched houses. Modern plastic bags flew beside their feet.
"Ulric?" Emma's father said fearfully, his voice unusually high. "Are you alright?"
Ulric remained still as a post, the only sign of life on his tense body his chest oscillating jerkily. "Wait there," he stated in his gruff, local accent, "I must check something."
And so the tour guide walked towards the roundabout, arms still motionless. His walking was slow, restrained, controlled: more like a small march than a relaxed walk. At the roundabout, as the Stewarts watched on, he turned right with a swift movement. And walked on, to the right. As soon as he passed behind the houses on the right, still in the middle of the street, all went silent and still.
The wind stopped blowing. Plastic bags fell to the floor. The Stewarts stood paralyzed, waiting for the man's return.
After five minutes or so, Emma's father became seriously worried. He himself began walking towards the roundabout, and his family followed, Emma running forward to grab his hand. The wind had still stopped, the sky still showed not a fleck of white cloud.
And the three Stewarts met the roundabout in a surreal moment of shock. For, to the right of the roundabout sat a scene, as the writers would say, out of context.
As the Stewarts stared with wide eyes at the scene before them, Mr Stewart's camera dropped to the ground, many hundred euros in insurance now very much needed. Mrs Stewart's handbag dropped from its position on her shoulder. However, the soft toy lemur Emma grasped stayed firmly within her fist, fingers white with shock.
The street to the right was a paradox in time and space, or so it seemed to the Stewarts. A destroyed house flanked either side of the start of the street they saw before before them, but after that all was different.
After that there was no rubble, no debris, not plastic bags, no 1940s clothes, toys or anything else reminiscent of the rest of the expected thing to see round that corner. Not even any Ulric.
Instead there stood a long, straight road going up a rolling hill. The road was new, pristine, the grey tarmac glittering in the midday sun. And to the sides of it were endless houses.
But not the houses you and I have discussed.
These were white, clean, immaculate, with Greek verandas, balconies, white roof tiles, white pipes, houses that looked like they hadn't seen a day's bad weather in their existence.
And they hadn't.
The only style to describe theses houses is that of those in LA, in Hollywood, the houses of the stars, ones which you may see Brad Pitt outside of. But this is not that kind of story. In the street to the right there were no palm trees, no celebrities, no newspapers on doorsteps, no 4x4s.
Instead, the front gardens of the houses were grassed over with a clean stone path, flanked with high hedges cut into geometrically perfect shapes. All was clean and perfect in this paradise under the harsh blue sky. But that was not all that was in the gardens.
There were children.
Well, more teenagers than children. Tall children with long gangly arms and legs, boys and girls. All with black hair, and all dressed in the same white suits, loose-fitting trousers and long-sleeved shirts.
The teenagers were all busy playing around in the gardens of the mansions, many of them sitting atop the high hedges with objects like yo-yos.
All that could be heard was the soft 'phut's of footballs being kicked against mansion walls.
And the Stewarts took this all in. From the teenagers to the mansions to the hedges to the petrifying stillness and normality that softly covered the eeriness and surreality of the scene that lay before them.
Mr Stewart was the first to react, steadily pacing forward with Emma and subsequently his wife in tow. As they passed over the transition from dull 1940s devastated remains to pristine LA high-class living, the eeriness took a new high and things became seriously creepy.
"What is this place?" Emma whispered as the three silently strode along the road.
"I - I don't know..." Her father gasped. "But I'm sure we can get through this place. The people back at the tourist centre can he - help us out."
Now, in a normal circumstance, the stereotypical personalities of men and women would prevail and Mrs Stewart would say they should ask one of the teenagers for directions and help, at which Mr Stewart would scoff and get slightly grumpy and say no. However, it is universally agreed that, in some circumstances, this sort of behaviour is not necessary nor relevant.
This is one of those circumstances.
"Mummy," Emma whispered in a trembling voice, "where are their faces?"
And, true enough, Mrs Stewart also noticed that startling fact. All faces were hidden from the Stewarts: teenagers played football against the houses, their backs to the tourists. Other had their heads held low. All the threesome could see was the carefully combed black hair over obscured faces. If any.
So the three paced along the endless street, the eery bubble of the surreal scene closing in on them, and the dull red and brown colours of the 1940s remains becoming smaller and smaller behind them.
Sorry, gotta stop writing, and it's a good place to pause anyway, so I've split it into two or three parts and I'll try to get the next one done tomorrow. Hope you enjoyed that part!!