My head was pounding and I felt very nauseous. I thought back to my college days when I sometimes over did the partying and woke up slightly drunk and very hungover, but it had been days since I had anything to drink and many years since I’d been more than a little tipsy. I slowly opened an eye, just a crack at first, to let the harsh light in and then more and more. My foggy brain couldn’t make sense of what my eyes were telling them. I closed my eyes again and flipped my legs over the side of the bed, then groggily reopened them.
I was in a large room that as similar to the one I had stayed in the last time I had visited Florence. The tile floor was comfortably cool and my feet. I stood up and walked to the window. The shutters had been closed, yet a little golden light was flowing in I pushed on them to open, realizing as I did that I was totally naked. The shutters didn’t budge, obviously latched from the outside. I laughed, thinking of a scene from a Monty Python’s movie and knowing I wouldn’t face that humility.
My head was rapidly clearing. Often when I stand the blood rushes from my head making my slightly dizzy, but the opposite seemed to occur, that as I stood and walked around the room the cobwebs were swept away. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t even remember how out of it I had been, just the embarrassing memories of the strange things I had missed, such as my lack of clothing.
There was a Shaker chair, seeming very out of place in the corner of the very Italian room. There were clothes folded across it. I went over and looked. They’d work, but seemed bizarre. It was a costume of sorts, but slightly wrong. I thought of paintings I’d seen of medieval peasants, yet these were of the finest silk.
I sat on the chair as I laced the bright blue leather shoes and took a closer look at my surroundings. The armoire seemed to fit the room. It was an obvious antique and slightly battered. Yet there was something wrong with it.
Shoes tied I walked over to the large piece of furniture. My impression was that it was a fake, yet it wasn’t a reproduction. It did appear to be old, and yet there was something intangibly off. One part of my brain thought it looked like someone had taken an ultra-high definition, three dimensional picture of a piece in a museum, did a chemical analysis of it, and then printed it out using the same materials. I opened a door. It was wood and had the right heft, but it was wrong.
A loud knock at the door stopped my investigation.
“Hello! Good morning!” The male voice was overly cheerful. “Are you decent? Can I open the door?”
“Uhm, I’m, uh, I’m, yeah, yeah,” I said, “I’m dressed.”
The door opened and I was faced with a man more ludicrously dressed than I was. His outfit was a weird mix of court jester and Arab prince from an ancient fairytale.
“After our discussion last night I thought I’d show you my place, my town.” His smile was more predatory than jovial. “I hope you are feeling better. I understand that unexpected travel can make one feel, how do I put it, a little off kilter may be best. Thinking of that, I did right giving you trousers, yes? I thought you might wear a kilt, but trousers seemed best.”
“Yes, trousers.” I said. “I mean, what? Where am I and who are you? How did I get here?”
“Calmly, calmly,” he said. “It will all become appear ant in time. As far as who I am, don’t you remember our chat last night? OH, I found it so fascinating! A fellow connoisseur is always a pleasure. And since you are one of us as far as aesthetics goes, I thought I’d show you my place. Come, let’s go have breakfast.”
As we walked down the well-worn tile hallway I tried to recall the details of the night before. I remember that I was reading an article on an online architecture site when a chat bubble came up. It struck me strange since I didn’t realize the forum had an individual chat feature.
We started talking about the article. It was about a thirteenth century residence in Eastern Europe that had recently been restored. I remarked that I had once been in that village and had seen the house. This opened up the topic of travel, or more specifically, my travel.
I will admit it, I am a traveler and I love to talk about it. I do a combination of history travel and adventure travel. I’ve been to the six populated continents and have visited as many historically significant places as possible on each. Being a true traveler, my bucket list was still much longer than my list of sites visited, but I have been more places than perhaps 95% of the people on our planet, maybe 99%, and I love talking about it.
The person I was chatting with seemed content to just listen, occasionally asking questions that seemed both knowledgeable and naive. The picture of the man I had formed in my mind was an invalid who had never left his house, or at the very least never left his very small town. Ever.
My host, or perhaps he was my jailor, brought me into a large area. The room, or perhaps inner courtyard would be a better choice of words, was very familiar. I tried to place it, but it seemed just beyond reach. Perhaps it was the incongruity of some of the furnishing and decorations. He ushered me to a small table, a little piece of a Parisian outdoor café in the shade of a palm tree. A “breakfast” plate and bowl was in front of me. The man had nothing.
“You see, I have always been fascinated towns that show their evolution,” the man said, as if continuing an ongoing conversation. “Each generation leaves its mark. As a bit of a hobby I decided to make my own village. I got a bit carried away and it’s now a town or you might even call it a small city. I’d love someday for people to come look at it, live in it and feel at home in it. I wanted to create that history, like it had always been lived in. You know, a real historic town that even someone as well travelled as yourself never had a chance to visit. Quaint, yet impressive.”
As he was talking I took a bite of the croissant. It was as flaky as can be desired, but no flavor. I tried the chili, expecting Texas heat, but it was even less than bland. The mango slices weren’t any better. At least the water didn’t seem too odd having no flavor.
“What I did is created a fictitious, yet believable, history. People settled in this area in, I’ll use your units, about the eighth century BC. Over time the village expanded. It hit its hey-day in the sixteenth century and then pretty much froze there. There have been minor adjustments and modernizations, maybe a few buildings added or altered, but for the most part it looks like it would have at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Well, except that it has been used for the last four hundred years. People have been living here, doing the things people do. I know you’ve visited many of those towns like that, little time capsules where you can get a bit of a flavor of the past.”
He looked at me, his eyes bulging slightly. In the golden light streaming into the courtyard I could see his face much more clearly than in the hall when I first met him. A strange feeling popped into my mind, the same feeling I had about the furniture in my bedroom. He looked like a fake. Sure, he was a real flesh and blood person, but there was something about him that seemed almost to be copy and not the real thing. I laughed at myself. What in the world is a real-fake person? He continued to look, so I knew he was looking for a response from his monologue.
“Yes, I have been to many small towns that at first glance appear to be lost in time. Of course most of them have been updated to some degree, adding the modern conveniences like running water and electricity, but a casual glance gives you the feeling of stepping back to another era. It can be a very romantic experience, the bit of fancy of stepping back to that other era yet having flush toilets!”
The man’s smile grew even larger. “Exactly! Romance! That is just what I am trying to achieve with my little town. When you walk into it you should feel transported and yet you will always know you are in the present. The centuries of wear and tear, the continuous use and all of that. And, as you said, modern conveniences. I do so want to open the place up and make it a real, living and breathing town instead of just a collection of buildings. But before I do, I need a connoisseur’s eye to make sure it is as accurate as possible. And that is why you are here.”
His stare was becoming unsettling. He wanted me to react, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. To tell you the truth, I was a bit flabbergasted. A make believe town? A bit of Disney kitsch, perhaps? I looked around at the splendor of our surroundings. The marble was real, the details were hand carved. It was all too perfect to be an amusement park or Las Vegas replica. But then, some of those Las Vegas attractions were well done, showing how much money was brought in and lost in that city of inequity. Was this a new Las Vegas attraction? But he said “city”, as if there were hundreds of buildings like this.
“I would be honored to be the first to look at your city,” I said. By his fake eyes I could tell this was what he wanted to hear. “Show it to me and I’ll tell you my honest opinion.”
“Great, great, come this what!” He jumped up and walked swiftly away, stopping to watch impatiently as I slowly got up. He smiled as I walked towards him. “This is the outcome of many years of study and building. I’ve been very careful to make my town completely convincing.”
I followed him down another marbled corridor that was lined with old master styled paintings. At the end of the hall was a door that led out onto a terrace overlooking the town. I walked over to the handrail at the edge. The limestone was weathered and worn with wear as if it had been in place for centuries.
“Just like the real thing, no? What do you think?”
I slowly scanned the weathered stone of the ancient town.
“Impressive.” I continued to take in my surroundings. Every detail was perfect. “You’ve never actually been to Earth, have you?”
He jumped as if slapped. “It is not a pleasure I’ve yet to experience. Why?”
My gaze swept past the medieval French towers, lingered on the splash of ancient Timbuktu, ran across the Japanese temple and stopped at the Aztec pyramid at the outskirts. The hodge-podge of styles and cultures was pleasing in its own odd way, but the strange juxtapositions and clashing incongruities were, for the most part, very jarring.
“Uhm, just a hunch.”
My host was crestfallen, but soon took his not quite convincing jovial tone again. He thanked me and ushered me to a door I hadn’t noticed. I walked through and felt that I was ripped inside out and then turned right-side in again. When the spinning in my head stopped I found that I was on the floor of my own bedroom. Again I was totally in the nude. I figured that it had to have been a strange dream from staying up too late exploring different sites on the Internet.
Groggily making my way to my dresser to dress for the day I noticed the clothes draped over the back of a chair. The silk peasant’s clothes and the bright blue leather shoes where there.
Since then I have imagined that I’ve seen that not-real skin on every face I meet and wonder exactly who he was planning on using to “people” his little town. More replicas like him, or would it be others? All I know is that I hope I never find out.
— — —
Yesterday I wrote a story for Friday Fictioneers. I really like the idea and decided to expand upon it. I actually put the original in almost word for word. Of course if you have read the original, the end won’t come as a surprise, but I hope you enjoyed this bit of fiction!