The RV belonging to the guy who knew everything was parked behind the old building supply place off River Road, and the line to its door already stretched halfway across the parking lot. It was just after 2:00 on a hot Thursday, and the sun blasted me as I got in line.
I was surprised at how quickly we moved, but as I got closer to the RV I figured out why: most people were being turned away. A tall Chinese guy in a cowboy hat stood at the door beneath a camera pointed at the line. Next to the camera was a loudspeaker.
The tall guy must have had an earpiece or something, because as each person came up, he’d tilt his head, then say “Sorry, he can’t see you today,” or just “Sorry,” or sometimes something like “Get out of here, you son of a bitch.” He spoke in a twangy accent.
Three people in front of me there was a skinny woman in her 50′s with red hair, and for her the tall guy just stepped aside. She went in silently. Two minutes later the door burst open and she ran off across the parking lot, crying.
The tall guy, expressionless, closed the door, then turned his attention back to the line.
“Sorry,” he said to the next lady, then to the guy after her, “No.”
The guy in front of me wasn’t having it. “I just–”
“Please clear off before we have to get rough.”
“Don’t you threaten me! I’m seeing him, God damn –”
A nondescript, midwest-accented voice blared over the speaker. “Chad MacIntyre is the one who defaced the war memorial last summer. The spray paint cans are still in his garage.”
The guy in front of me turned white as paste and began backing away across the parking lot. “That’s a lie!” he shouted. “That’s a goddamn lie!” Then he ran for his car, gunned the engine, and tore off.
I was next, and I looked up at the tall guy. He tilted his head, then looked back at me and grinned.
“Mike says go on in,” he drawled. “You get one question, so don’t ask why he’s living in an RV or anything stupid like that, OK?”
“OK,” I said, and stepped up to the door, my heart hammering. My question suddenly felt small and sad.
Remember, first of all, that this is no ordinary city. The wind bites exposed flesh — cover up, plan your route to minimise time spent outdoors, accept the inevitability that the clever wind will find its way to your wrists and cheeks.
The main attraction is the prison, a clever piece of stone and exquisitely painted wood that funnels the wind into a series of passageways. A century ago, prisoners were chained there, tormented for as long as their crime — or the need for information — dictated. Now, tourists gasp at the chain-stumps and shriek when the wind sneaks up their sleeves.
It is a unique experience. No visit is complete without at least an hour there.
Opinions are divided on whether you should do this first of all, or save it until last so that the rest of your stay is not as painful. However, this latter option means you might have accumulated too much pain from the preceding days and find the prison almost as torturous as its inmates did.
We recommend seeing it first. Overleaf, see a map showing the safest passageways, as agreed upon by our team of independent travellers.
Other major sights include the moaning bridge, the museum, the art gallery (the often surreal depictions of the wind on the second floor are excellent) and, of course, the palace.
Much of the former rulers’ home is in ruin, after the uprising of 1904 and the end of the city-state’s independence, but the preserved parts are worth viewing: throne hall, with spectacular granite thrones; various tiled floors; enough intact walls to give an impression of the shape; and, most eerie of all things in this city, fallen pieces of the wooden roof. Bite-grooves from centuries of wind flowing over the palace are boldly visible. No other buildings are made of wood in these times.
A favourite cultural experience is the basement club, where the city’s youth remove their armoured clothing and dance. Their pale skin, sluiced with the clever wind’s marks, is unsettlingly beautiful: their wrists, ankles and faces seem the epicentre of strange white and red jewellery. A few visitors consider the dancers’ ages, usually in the 20s, and wonder at the appearance of their grandparents.
It is a mostly cheap city, although we recommend paying extra for a thoroughly insulated hotel. Evzen Hotel is good. The following restaurants are especially fine: Damek’s, Vaclav Grillhouse, The Wind-Sliced Rabbit.
Some risk-takers skimp on clothing, to “experience the true city”. Do not copy them.
We’re changing things up a bit this week, giving you updates on cabalists you haven’t seen here in a while mixed with some microfiction pieces that are even more micro than our usual fiction. To read today’s update, just click “previous story” further down this page.
Amid the crushed remains of the Big Top and stands, the screams of the audience still fading in the distance, Big Bessie the Elephant’s trainer approached her cautiously with the bag of peanuts he’d been teasing her with before the incident, not realizing that Bessie, having realized her real influence around the place, was also going to demand her own dressing room.
Author’s note: this story is dedicated to my friend Julie, her partner Kirk, and their daughter Matilda, because Matilda arrived in the world with a similar entourage. (I doubt anyone who knows Julie was surprised.)
Though we live in the Internet Age, Sofia’s birth was announced in the usual way: a voice was heard crying the news from the sacred cave in Damascus (interrupting the congress of lovers in the condominium above); a woman fell down beside the holy well at Chartres (now a cathedral), saying, “She is come!”; and a spirit stood amid the burning lamps of the Pituk gompa’s altar in Tibet, waiting quietly until the monks understood, but since they know to watch for these signs, that didn’t take long.
Perhaps every mother feels—on a good day, for a brief moment—that her child is the Messiah. Only a few know for sure, and the news does not generally please them. Sofia’s parents, both professors at the Università di Roma “La Sapienza,” just looked confused when the angel Gabriel showed up while they were cooking dinner, alighting on the mushroom basket by the door, which never recovered.
“I’m positive I helped with conception,” pointed out her father Rafaelo. “And since we are—were?—atheists, I’m afraid God wasn’t on our minds at the time.”
“Yes yes yes,” Gabriel replied. “If you’ve glanced at your human race lately, you know the Divine does not to do anything the same way twice.”
Sofia’s mother, Catriona, looked down at her belly, where a bump the size of a small pecorino cheese liked to move about, first high, then low and off to the side: Sofia.
“At least that explains the animals, caro,” she said to her husband.
“Animals?” asked Gabriel sharply.
“They follow me around. Cats, dogs, pigeons, hawks, rats, foxes—any creature in the city. I walk to work and by the time I get there I look like a zoo on the move.”
“The odd thing is,” pointed out Rafaelo, “They never eat each other, not even when they disperse.”
“A sign of Universal Peace,” nodded Gabriel.
“That’s very nice, but someone has to clean up all the poop afterwards,” said Catriona.
“Ah! Not unlike having a baby, then,” said Gabriel. He groomed each wing with the air of one who has done his job. “Well! That wraps it up for now. Expect further communications as events warrant.”
“—But,” Catriona began, suddenly realizing how very many questions she had, yet too late, for Gabriel had ascended in golden state, leaving behind only fragments of wicker and footprints in the fungus.