How one woman came home to a town she didn't recognize, and grew to love it anyway...
Kate stood at the edge of the town, looking down into the valley below. 'Home,' she thought to herself. The thought should have been reassuring. Instead, she reflected on how long she had been gone. In this town, people came and went with alarming regularity, and it was almost certain that no one would know who she was. But, she had come this far, she might as well stop in and see if there was at least one or two familiar faces.
She walked down the path and immediately noticed that the town had changed greatly since her last visit. New shops had been erected, new lodges built. There was no shortage of meeting halls, she noticed, and the sound of laughter rang loudly from every direction. But even despite the goodnatured laughs, she thought she detected a less friendly vibe, an undercurrent of tension that she didn't remember from before. She walked on, slightly alarmed, but encouraged by the sounds of enjoyment that greeted her from every direction.
As she walked through the streets, she noticed with a great sadness that the homes of many of her friends were now empty and neglected. Most were boarded up, with signs indicating their vacancy. Many were left in a state of waiting, looking for all the world like someone might return at any moment. Some had signs of protest erected in their front yard, claiming to have been run off by the new government.
she wondered, as she strolled.
The last time she had been here, it was pretty much a laissez-faire structure. Everyone was left to do their own thing, entrusted with the ability to conduct themselves reliably. Only when someone demonstrated an inability to do so did the enforcement team step in. Apparently that had changed.
Couldn't be all that bad, she mused. People were clearly still enjoying themselves, judging by the smells, sounds and sights. She picked up pace, now approaching her humble little home. A sign was posted outside the door. 'Awaiting return' the sign said, and Kate plucked it out of the ground. She retrieved her key ring, for a moment alarmed that she might have lost the key. She tried several, and almost gave up hope. Finally she spotted it, and turned it in the knob. To her great relief, the door swung easily open. She stood there for a moment, still a bit apprehensive. Finally she took a deep breath and stepped inside.
Much to her surprise, everything was almost exactly as she left it, save a very thick layer of dust. She glanced around, pondering how time could just seem to freeze. And yet, for all the familiarity, there was still something that seemed vaguely out of place. She put it out of her mind, and sat down at her desk. Just as she had left it, there was a notebook with her all-too familiar chicken scratch. It was the beginnings of an autobiographical account, one that she had started several years ago. She read over it ruefully, amazed at how much things had changed for her. She ripped the page off and crumpled it into a ball, tossing it over her shoulder. She made a half hearted effort at rewriting it, but had no idea what she should say. Where would she begin? How do you sum up three years worth of change in a few pithy words? She scribbled down some random thoughts, already knowing she didn't like it, and stood up again.
She went to the door and looked out on the town. Having travelled from so far, she was still on a very different schedule than most of the townspeople. People were beginning to wind their way home, and before long, the streets were dark, and mostly quiet. She was about to close her door when she noticed a list posted next to the window. It appeared to be some kind of roster, a list of names and addresses. She didn't recognize a single name, but she brought it inside anyway, and looked it over.
As she pored over the list, she began to get an Idea. Despite a few odd vibes, and a total sense of unfamiliarity, she thought she'd like to stick around for a while, maybe re-acquaint herself with this town she had once felt so at home in. It would just take a little effort, a little dedication. She tidied up the house a bit, and, armed with her roster and a friendly smile, she struck out, hoping to make a few new friends.
She glanced at the first name on the list, and headed for the address it gave. 'Wonder if they'll think I'm odd?' she thought to herself. 'Just inviting myself over for a visit.' She shrugged to herself, always up for a challenge. After all she had been through in the last 3 years, having someone think she was odd was the least of her concerns. She found the address easily, and knocked on the door. She waited a bit nervously, and started to wonder if she had -
A friendly looking gentleman stood peering at her curiously.
'I'm... I'm on something of a quest. I'm just now returning home after many years of being away, and... I'm trying to meet some of the townspeople here.'
She gestured at the street behind her.
'Yes, yes, well do come in!'
Kate made her way into the house, and was immediately struck by all the badges and banners and pennants that adorned the walls.
'Belong to a lot of clubs, do you?'
She asked, trying to read them all.
'Oh yes, of course. That's what this town is about, really. Community. You say you've lived here before?'
Kate nodded absently.
'Yes, well, years ago really, and I didn't really stay too long. You know how things can be.'
'Yes, quite. Well if you wander on through the streets you'll find a great many places to join some clubs yourself. Excellent way to get to know people, I think. As long as you've a modicum of respect for other people?'
He raised his eyebrows at her expectantly.
'Oh, of course,'
she nodded eagerly.
'You'll find the town's changed a bit in the last few years. Ever since we've been put under government rule, things are a good deal different. Still quite the nice town to live in, of course, and most of the laws that have been acted are in community interest but... well, you'll see for yourself, won't you?'
He twirled his moustache a bit and stared off into space thoughtfully.
'I suppose I will,'
she said quietly, and held her hand out.
'Thank you very much for the nice visit, I think I'll pop round and see who else I might run into, if you don't mind.'
'Not at all, not at all. Feel free to stop in anytime, even if just for a spot of tea and a friendly hello. I do enjoy visitors, you know.'
He shook her outstretched hand energetically and saw her to the door.
'You would do well to check out some of the clubs, you know. Very friendly people here, very sociable.'
Kate smiled and continued on down the street. She checked the next name on her list, and before long was standing on the next doorstep. She knocked, and listened for signs of greeting. After a few moments, she decided there was no one home, or that they were sleeping, and left a note on the door. 'Kate's been here,' she wrote, 'Very pleased to meet you.'
And so she made her way through the town, leaving notes on the doors of those who were sleeping, and stopping in for pleasant chats with those who were still awake. She learned of a great many clubs, all of which she was recommended to check out. The Musehome, The Keepers, The Thingites. Very club-minded, she thought to herself. Did that mean it was now very clique-oriented? She hoped that wasn't the case. After a great deal of walking, and a fair deal of talking, she finally headed home, weary from her journey. Her quest seemed to be going rather nicely, however, and as she fell asleep, she smiled to herself, and was glad she had come home.
She woke up the next morning feeling renewed and invigorated. The streets were now bustling with people, and she stepped out onto the front step. She was greatly pleased to find several notes tacked to her door, mostly from people who had been asleep the night before when she'd gone knocking. She read over them, smiling at the friendliness of these people. Some probably thought her a bit odd, she reflected, but that was very much the case, wasn't it? If they could accept her for being odd, then she was definitely in the right place. She put the notes in her pocket and headed into town.
She received a great many friendly waves as she walked now, some people who recognized her from the night previous stopped and asked her about her quest. A few that had noticed her house now being occupied stopped and welcomed her back home. She was delighted to spot a few people she recognized from her last visit home, even if she hadn't known them all that well. Stopping into taverns, she sat and had drinks with people, some of whom were lighthearted and laughing, a few of whom were angry at the government. She swung by clubs, enjoying the friendly atmospheres, and signed up for many of them. Not at all cliquey, she discovered. Instead of being exclusive clubs, they were inclusive, and as she read over member lists, she noted that a great many of the townspeople belonged to almost all of the clubs. She smiled, thrilled with this concept of fraternity.
As she reached the town square, she noted that there was a bit of a noisy crowd gathered in the middle of the street. A group of people in rather official looking dress appeared to be trying to calm the crowd, and explain some new laws that had been enacted. 'Discrimination!' one cried out. 'Unfair!' One of the officials held their hands up, trying to keep peace. 'It's in the interest of fairness!' she said calmly, 'Even if it doesn't appear that way at first.' Kate listened for a bit, wanting to hear both sides, then hurried on her way.
A bit of poking around through newspapers and announcements made it all very clear. No longer laissez-faire at all, she noted. Now it was very much hands on government. She tried to formulate an opinion, but felt unable. The government appeared to be doing its best to rule with a fair hand, even if some of its laws seemed iron-fisted at the outset. But she could also appreciate why these citizens, who for so long had ruled themselves, would be more than slightly upset to find out that things were changed, and that they were to either comply, or move. Feeling a bit heavy hearted, she headed home, needing to give this more thought. This lovely little town, which clearly still loved itself very much, threatened by a few laws. Sad business.
She lay in bed that night, her hands behind her head, and stared at the ceiling. Her day of investigation had led her no closer to picking a side. She hated sitting on the fence, but she couldn't resign herself to blindly taking up sides either. The only thing that was clear to her was that this was a town that was worth living in. Even after such a short time home, she knew she had no plans on leaving. The people were wonderful, witty people with large hearts and much to offer. For the first time in a long time, she felt comfortable being herself. The thought of it falling apart because of dissention was unthinkable. She wished she knew how she could help. As she drifted off to sleep, she chuckled to herself, reliving some of the days events, rehearing some of the jokes. If only...
The next morning she woke up to the sun streaming in through her window. The sounds of laughter that she was growing accustomed to hearing continued to ring throughout the streets. How people could be so happy, and yet so dissatisfied. If only they could see the humour that was making this town thrive. If only they could look at the town itself with the same comical eye. She sat upright suddenly, and was struck with inspiration. She swung her legs over the edge of her bed and looked at her desk. If they couldn't find any humour in it, she thought to herself excitedly, perhaps she could help them see it! She made a pot of coffee, and bent over her notebook. And so she began to write...