In the distant country of Tunisia, a set of magical steps change fortunes and teaches lessons.
This is a contest entry. Only judges are asked to rate this story until after January 4th. Judges, please make Nick's job easier by remembering to leave a comment alongside your rating. Only rate the story as a whole, and not individual chapters. Thank you.
In the far away land of Yemen, dry and rocky mountains slumber; little fortress villages perched precariously on their shoulders. Wrapped in soft clouds and guarded by sharp rocky cliffs, the people of these villages scrape a living, drawing water up the sides of cliffs and sometimes dining only on the wild beauty of their precarious view.
In this land, in a small valley city, lived a young woman named Aisha, who was all alone in the world. She was not very pretty, being far too skinny and having a protruding jaw and little squinty eyes, but she counted this a blessing, because it meant that she was hardly ever hassled. She was kind and clever and had learned to stitch the most extraordinary lace, which she sold to the brides of the city to adorn their wedding garments. But though she had very little, she was always sharing what she had with the poor and helpless of the city, feeding stray cats and giving clothing to the beggars that she met.
She barely made enough to live on and share, so that when another artist began sewing lace in her town, she was forced to look elsewhere for customers. So she began taking long trips into the mountains to visit the little villages and sell her lace.
The roads were long, treacherous and dry, and Aisha was often hungry and exhausted. One day, when she had gone off the road to camp for the night, she came across an old beat up couple of planks that had been nailed together to form a rough two step ladder. Amused that the curious object should be here, in the middle of nowhere, she sat down on it to rest and eat the crust of bread she carried.
The next morning, as she prepared to leave her little camping spot, the two old wooden steps caught her attention again, so out of place here, far from any human touch. She imagined, wishfully that the two little steps were the beginning of a magnificent staircase that would be a clear and wonderful path up to the village in the clouds where she was headed. With a small smile curving up the corners of her lips she stepped up onto the first step, then the second, the imaginary staircase rising up off the ground before her. And then, with a little laugh at her silliness, and all the while expecting to tumble gently back to earth, she took a third step.
She did not fall.
It was one of those times where the unexpected and the impossible intersect with the mundane and somehow come to be. The old discarded set of steps, were, in fact, magical. Left over from a distant past when magic was not as common as the clouds, but perhaps as the lone eagles that sailed among them.
Maybe it was only chance that caused Aisha to stumble upon the magical steps. Or maybe they came to her as a reward for her long suffering and kindness. Whatever the case, once she had assured herself that she had not lost her mind, she made great use of the steps, traveling across the sky from one village to another to sell her lace with great ease. She was careful, though, to keep the steps a secret, traveling when clouds obscured the villages above, or when the failing light of dusk caused men’s eyes to disbelieve what they saw.
But there was, in one town which she visited on multiple occasions, a man who became suspicious of her. He followed her one night as she left the town and rounded the mountain to where she was out of view of the town. Then he watched in amazement as she set down the little wooden steps and began to walk out into the sky. To him, it seemed as though the two little stairs kept rearranging themselves, putting one in front of the other under her feet as she magically floated upwards.
Now this man was always looking out for ways to better himself. So when he saw those magical stairs, he immediately thought that if he had them he could travel about so easily that with a bit of wit, he could quickly make a fortune. Being very cunning, he did not reveal himself to her, but snuck back to the village, plotting to intercept her on her next visit.