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The strangers.

The door was at the end of a long cobblestone alleyway. There were other doorways along this narrow path, and other windows above. Each door, ornately decorated with carvings and inlay, had no peephole. It was seen as a distraction from the aesthetic of the whole, and was in line with the beliefs of the culture.

Most of the citizens lived on the second floor, so when caller rang the tiny bell by the door, they would peer out at who was below. If they were interested in company, they would saunter downstairs and admit the visitor. Strangers were rarely allowed inside, so there were no solicitors in this town. The faithful had to find other ways to lure people to their gatherings.

This town had been rebuilt of stone after the second flood a century ago. Sure, the members of the fledgling town could have read the signs and chosen to relocate, but they had come to love the easy access to water for their entertainment and cuisine. There was nothing like a day by the shore and a grilled halibut to make a life complete. They weren’t willing to give this life up, in spite of the risk that came with a town so close to water. Plus they enjoyed being able to travel on a “road” they didn’t have to build to see other cities and other cultures.

For you see, they were perfectly happy visiting strange exotic people who lived a few leagues away, but weren’t interested in having anyone strange come visit them. Strangers weren’t seen as dangerous, or even odd – just simply not like them. And that kind of person might cause more trouble than it was worth.

The townsfolk were too polite to explain the rules to strangers, and in many cases they might not even fully understand them. Rules and customs had the force of law here, and like laws they sometimes made no sense but people followed them anyway.

It served no purpose to explain their particular rules to strangers – they had no desire to allow them into their lives. Strangers were shunned to the extent that they weren’t even allowed to become members of the community by any means. You could not marry into the town, or seek to transfer citizenship, or even own property if you were a stranger.

But then there were others, people who were not born in the town, people who visited, who were welcome with open doors and open arms. What was the difference? Somehow they knew the rules. They were seen as part of the community simply because of how they acted. You either got it or you didn’t, and if you were in you were in for life without question.

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