Author : R. A. Jackson

Each step came slower now. Her back hunched so that the long grey strands of her hair trailed across the stairs as she climbed. Counting the painful strides one by one was the only way she kept up hope of reaching the end, surrounded as she was by the damp shroud of mist that obscured the mountainside. The slate passage was partly impeded by tendrils of vine that would curl across her path, smelling lush and heavy, calling her to surrender. Just a few more paces now…

She reached the landing at the mid-point of the staircase and saw the twin leaden benches that sat on either side of the platform. Allowing herself a brief rest on one of them, the woman couldn’t help but notice that as the sun began to penetrate the dense clouds, she felt her energy returning. She listened to a distant bird singing, and drank deeply of the cool, clean air.

Reaching a withered hand behind her, she found that the package she had so carefully wrapped was still secured to her back. With creaking joints she stood and resumed her climb.

After an indeterminable time, the climber passed through the threshold of clouds and mist, coming into the light. Tall evergreens concealed the stairway from view on either side, but gazing upward she could see the village gate ahead.

“You’ve made it!” a young man’s voice cried out from the guard post overlooking the staircase below. Immediately the gate began to swing open. The woman smiled as she walked through it, her long labours forgotten. “Did you succeed?” the young man asked as he came to meet her. Her smile turned sardonic. “Yes, of course. Do you think I’d come all this way if I hadn’t?”

Once they were settled and she was refreshed with food and drink, she produced the item for him and for those who had gathered to see what she had brought. It was well wrapped in reddish-brown cloths, and as she revealed the contents of the package, the tension in the room became palpable. It was a metal box that glowed faintly, and when opened, a thick stack of star charts was revealed. She removed the diagrams and laid them out for all to see.

“Well done! This is the last component!” the young man said, his expression full of triumph. He gathered up the box and its contents. “Prepare yourselves, for this is the last day that we will spend in this galaxy.” Looking at the old woman he said, “Now we can transport the village back to where we came from. I’m sure you’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.”

That evening the village began to radiate a pure white light, signaling the beginning of a new journey. The old woman shuffled back to the village gate. Sitting down at the entrance, gazing at the steps that disappeared beneath the clouds, she watched the planet she had lived on for sixty years fade away.

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