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Off the beaten path...

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Ί European Travels


Off to the West, we go!

    In early summer, a man was backpacking across Europe with his friends. They had been hiking for most of the day and eventually stopped at a stream to freshen up. They had decided to set up camp for the night and have a few drinks while they cooked some fish they had managed to catch. After several drinks, the men were fairly drunk, and one man headed into the woods to answer nature's call. Due to his drunken state, he ended up wandering too far out and got lost. Despite his efforts and the efforts of his friends, he was separated from the group for the night. The man wandered through the forest for several days, scavenging what food and water he could.

One day, as the sun was setting, he stumbled into a clearing where a large and expansive stone building stood. The stone was covered in moss and ivy that climbed to the various peaks of the building. There were polished iron bars that formed a seven-foot-tall fence around the structure, and well-tended flower beds were arranged in geometrically pleasing designs. Despite the apparent age of the building, it was clear that it had been well maintained over the years. The man was awestruck until he noticed another man clad in simple monk's robes on the other side of the iron fence.

The man ran to the gates and desperately called out for help. The monk answered him and saw how ragged he was. The monk opened the gates and invited the man inside. The monk provided the man with food and water, which the man accepted graciously. Once the man had ingested his food and drank his fill of water, he explained his situation to the monk that had let him in and asked if it would be possible for him to stay the night. The monk listened to the man's story and told him that he was more than welcome to stay for the night and that one of the monks would escort him to town in the morning.

The monk leads the man through several prayer rooms and down several corridors to a plain room containing only a bed. The monk told the man that this was where he may sleep for the night, and the man thanked the monk profusely. The man entered the room and closed the simple wooden door, took his shoes off, and eagerly climbed into the bed. As his head hit the pillow he silently offered thanks to whatever deities may have been listening at that moment that he had a bed to sleep on and had been taken in by such kind people.

The man took a deep breath and let out all of his stress in a long exhale that eventually turned into a deep yawn. He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting to sleep when he noticed a very faint sound emanating from somewhere within the monastery. Something about the sound caught the man's attention and he sat up in the bed to hear it better. He strained his ears for a minute or two before he got out of bed and walked to the wooden door of his room and pressed his ear against it.

The sound was imperceptibly louder now, but the man was still unable to ascertain what the sound was. Cautiously, the man opened the door and peered into the dark corridor. He poked his head into the darkness and looked left then right and saw no one. He took a quiet step into the hallway, leaving the wooden door open behind him, and listened intently once more. The sound was coming from somewhere vaguely to the man's right, more towards what he assumed was the heart of the monastery itself.

He took careful steps down the hallway, taking extra care to avoid making noise. The monastery was dark and the man was unfamiliar with the layout, which slowed his progress all the more. He crept in the direction of the sound until he came to an intersection. The man's eyes had adjusted to the darkness, but since there was no electricity in the monastery and all of the torches had been snuffed out already, the man's sight was limited to a few yards at best.

The man stood at the intersection and trained his ears on the sound once more. He couldn't be certain which direction the sound was coming from at this point. Figuring it would be better to keep moving than risk standing still and being discovered sneaking around at night, he chose to go to his left. The hallway he followed was of plain cobblestone punctuated every fifteen feet by a torch sconce, only a handful of which contained any torches. He passed by several doors very similar to the one in his room, which he assumed led to similar bed chambers that were likely occupied by the other members of the monastery.

The man felt uneasy sneaking around this unfamiliar place after he had been so kindly taken in. He felt that he was betraying the trust of the monks that so graciously allowed him to rest here. However, the strange spell that the sound had cast upon the man seemed to be unbreakable, and the man's curiosity compelled him to seek it out. The sound was ever so slightly louder now, and the man thought he could hear sounds within the sound, almost as if the sound were perhaps coming from two sources.

The man's pace had quickened a bit as he drew nearer to where he believed the source (or sources) of the sound to be. Some of his trepidation had been replaced by a growing need to identify the sound, which lead to him carelessly slapping his bare feet against the stone as he plodded along.

In the distance behind him, he heard the creak of a door opening and his heart jumped into his throat. He moved quickly down the corridor he was in and noticed an archway that led to an open room. He stepped through it and pressed himself against the wall on the other side, hoping it would be enough to hide him from whoever had awoken. He heard the sound of footsteps drawing nearer and was certain that the hammering of his heart in his chest would give him away. The footsteps grew louder as the person approached, and the man held his breath as the footsteps began to grow quieter once more as their owner walked further down the corridor.

The man let out a silent sigh of relief once the footsteps had faded away entirely, and he began his mission to find the sound once more, making doubly sure to be quiet on his way despite his growing excitement. The man pressed on for another couple of minutes and finally arrived at a dead-end corridor with a thick, wooden door inset into stone at the end. The sound was coming from behind this door, the man was sure of it.

The man moved closer to the door and examined it. It was different from the simple wooden doors that served to section off the bed chambers he had passed on the way here. The door was made from what appeared to be solid oak and had been stained and lacquered a deep shade of brown. There were iron bands across the top and bottom of the door with large nails firmly holding the bands to the wood. The handle was a polished iron ring that had an oddly shaped keyhole underneath it. The door was inset into the stone by several inches, and the man couldn't tell how exactly it had been anchored in place. There were no hinges visible, but due to marks on the floor, the man was certain the door was able to be opened.

The man reached out and grasped the handle of the door and gently pulled. The door remained closed. The man tugged slightly harder and realized that the door was locked. He pressed his ear against the door and could hear the sound more clearly. It had notes of a mechanical whirring, but something about it sounded as though it was organic in nature, like some kind of exotic creature. The longer the man listened the more complex and beautiful the sound seemed to become, almost as if whatever was producing the sound was aware that it had an audience. The man was frustrated but decided it would be best to return to his room before he was discovered.

The man made the short journey back to his room as quietly as he could and fortunately was not spotted on his way back. He closed the door to his bed chamber and slipped back into bed, his mind still wondering what could have made such a lovely sound. As he drifted to sleep he had vivid and unusual dreams about all sorts of fantastic beasts and machinations coming together to produce the sound that had so thoroughly captured his interest.

The next morning, as the sun slowly crested over hilly peaks outside the monastery, and the first rays came flooding into the man's room he opened his eyes. He hadn't remembered falling asleep, but the sound was no longer there. As he got out of bed and put his shoes back on he wondered if he had perhaps dreamed the entire ordeal. He left his room and ventured down the corridors, through the prayer rooms, and back into the main area that one of the monks had led him into last night for food.

The man entered the room and noticed that the same monk that greeted him last night was already in the room enjoying a small bowl of fresh fruit. The monk motioned for the man to join him and indicated a second bowl of fruit. The man walked over to the table and sat down. He thanked the monk again for his kindness and ate the food that was prepared for him. The meal was eaten in silence, and when both men were finished with their food the monk told the man he was ready to take him into town now, but it would be a bit of a hike. The man said it would be no problem and that he was ready to leave when the monk was.

The monk and the man set out in the early hours of the morning, the crisp air carrying the floral scents of the various flowers planted around the area. The monk leads the man out of the clearing and into the woods along a slightly worn path. The two walked together for several miles with only the occasional bout of small talk to break the soft sounds of nature. As the two drew closer to their destination, the man finally decided that he needed to ask about the sound he heard last night, if anything just to make sure it hadn't been a dream.

When the man asked the monk about the strange sound coming from deep within the monastery, the monk smiled knowingly and asked the man if he had tried to seek it out. The man, ashamed of himself, admitted the truth that he had attempted to find the source of the noise last night, but came across the locked wooden door at the dead-end and gave up. The monk chuckled slightly and only told the man that he couldn't say anything about the sound as the man was not a fellow monk. The man was visibly disappointed but decided to drop the issue to avoid angering his guide.

The rest of the journey was walked in silence, and eventually, the two men reached a small town. The man thanked the monk profusely once more, and the two parted ways. As luck would have it, the man's friends had ended up coming to the same town to get help in locating their missing friend. The group went to a tavern and the man told them his story of wandering through the woods and finding the monastery. The friends told the man about how they had searched for him before coming to the town to enlist the aid of the local police, only to find that the town was a small farming collective and that there wasn't any official police force in the area, so they continued searching the nearby wilderness for the next couple of days.

The group of friends drank to their good luck and stayed an additional night in the town before continuing their backpacking trip in the morning. The group was much more careful about where they set up their camps and made sure to stick together and not let themselves get too full of beer and whiskey while in the wilderness. The journey lasted two more weeks before the group flew back home to the United States of America. The friends shared their photos and parted ways, returning to their normal day-to-day lives.

The man went back home to Chicago and spent the rest of his vacation time unpacking and lounging about his empty apartment. He resumed his office job the following Monday and his life went back to the normal routine of day in and day out. He continued his mind-numbing routine for several more years, occasionally having odd dreams about the sound he had once heard.

The man went to work one-day several years after his backpacking trip across Europe and while he was sitting in a meeting regarding expense reports for the quarter, he realized just how unhappy he was. His work was meaningless to him and he had no family waiting at home. He didn't even have a pet. He put in his notice that same day and went back to his apartment and packed up his few belongings. He got out of his lease, put most of his belongings into long-term storage, and then booked a flight back to Europe.

Once in Europe, the man began his trek following the same route that he and his buddies had taken years ago. He passed through many of the same towns and areas and camped out several times for the nostalgia of it all. Finally, the man made it to the town that the monk had led him to back then. The man asked the locals if they were aware of a nearby monastery, and fortunately several of the locals knew of the area the man described. The locals pointed the man in the right direction and he set off to find the monastery once more.

After multiple hours of hiking through the wilderness in the vague direction he had been pointed, he finally saw more familiar surroundings and walked into the same clearing where the monastery was. He looked upon the building and a smile grew across his face. He walked up to the iron gates and called out for someone. After a couple of seconds, the monastery door opened, and out walked the same monk that had taken the man in.

The two men recognized each other and the monk once again invited the man inside. The man told the monk his story of how he realized that his life in America had been unfulfilling and how he desperately needed a change. The man told the monk that he also wanted to become a monk. The monk asked the man if he was serious. When the man indicated that he was very serious about it, the monk explained to him that the life of a monk was not one of glamour or material goods. It was a simple life filled with bare necessities and hard work. The man still insisted that he wanted to become a monk, and the monk said he would have to consult the elders for a decision.

The man waited eagerly as the monk disappeared into the inner sanctum of the monastery and hoped that he would be allowed to become a monk as well. As he waited, his mind began to drift back to the memories he had of this place. The night that he stayed floated back into the focus of his mind's eye and the sound came along with it. Before the man was able to delve too deeply into his memories, the monk returned followed by a much older-looking man.

The older man asked the man about his desire to become a monk and the man repeated his story of how his life in America has lost all meaning to him. The older man listened patiently, asking a couple of questions here and there, but eventually decided to accept the man into the monastery as a member of the order. The man was overjoyed and thanked the older man.

The monk that let the man in then took him to his new permanent room, which just so happened to be the room that he stayed in years ago. The monk provided the man with his own set of monk's robes and began to fill him in on what his duties at the monastery would be. The man was told that he would have to help tend the gardens as that's how the monks get their food. He was told he would have to help with the cleaning and cooking and that everyone within the monastery was to work for the common good of all of the members. The man listened intently and memorized his duties.

The man was instructed in many arts and disciplines for his duties, and over a year, he was taught the basics of farming, cooking, sewing, weaving, and more so he could be a contributing member to the good of the entire order. The man had fully dedicated himself to his new life as a monk and his duties. He wasn't entirely certain about the religious side of things but was indeed finding a spirituality blossoming within him as he continued on with his duties. Every night though, he would hear that same hauntingly beautiful sound faintly reverberating down the corridors to his room, as if it were calling out to him. The man put aside his curiosity to focus on his duties and was soon able to set aside his curiosity.

On the eve of his first full year at the monastery, a very modest celebration was held and the monks that lived within the monastery gathered together to congratulate the man on all of his hard work over the past year. The monks produced a bottle of wine that they had bottled decades ago and the usual supper had a bit more flair to it for this particular night. The man was overjoyed that he was so accepted into this new family of his and elated that his days seemed to have a purpose. The celebration lasted several hours and was closed when one of the elder monks pulled the man aside for a conversation.

The elder monk told the man that he was proud of his efforts and that his dedication to his new life was quite apparent. The elder stretched his arm out and opened his palm, revealing a key. The key was fairly simplistic. It was made of iron and measured about 6 inches in length. The teeth of the key were unusual though and were arranged diagonally in 3D space instead of inline along the same plane as most keys. The man took the key from the elder with a look of confusion. The elder smiled and said that the man was now one of them, and every monk of this monastery possessed a key just like that one. The man thanked the elder and then turned the key over in his hands several times before placing it into his robe pocket.

The festivities died down and most of the monks went to bed to get an early start for the next morning. The man was still fairly awake from his excitement and decided to look over the monastery and reminisce about his time spent here. He walked down the various corridors and ran his fingers along the cool stone as he did so. He visited the prayer rooms and the kitchen and even went outside. He eventually came to the dead end with the locked wooden door once more, with the same beautiful sound emanating forth.

In a surge, the man's curiosity and desire to know the source of the sound came back to the forefront of his mind. He reached a hand into his robe pocket and produced the iron key. He looked it over and proceeded to the door. He examined the oddly shaped keyhole and realized that his key just might open this door. He twisted the key this way and that until he lined it up and inserted it. He turned the key and heard a deadbolt slide open within the door. The man took a deep breath and grabbed the handle of the door. He pulled gingerly upon it, and the door slid open easily.

Behind the wooden door was another door, but this one was made from stone. There were carvings upon the stone depicting a myriad of flowers and other plants from centuries ago and a small stream that meandered to and fro across the door itself. The carvings were skillfully made and the details were still quite crisp even though this door was obviously over a century old. There was a handle made of silver on the right side of the door, and beneath it was another oddly shaped keyhole. The man examined the keyhole and his key and saw that the two were not compatible.

The man felt incredibly letdown. He was very disappointed to have gotten this close to finally knowing what produced the sound only to have his hopes dashed by this second door. The man gathered himself and remembered parts of his training and time at the monastery and was content enough to simply let it be. The man closed the wooden door and locked it once more before turning around to head back to his room.

Along the way to his room, the man ran into the elder monk that had given him the key once more and stopped to ask him about the stone door. The elder smiled and told him that while he was one of the monks now, some secrets must still be kept and that he can't tell him any more about the doors and the sound because he isn't an elder. The man thanks the elder for the explanation and resumes making his way to his room. The man climbs into bed and falls asleep nearly instantly.

The man continued in his dedicated fashion to his duties at the monastery. The days turned to weeks, the weeks to months, and the months to years. The man's face was beginning to show signs of his aging; wrinkles were becoming more pronounced and the color was beginning to fade from his hair. He had been with the monastery for nearly fifteen years at this point and had seen the men around him also grow older as time continued passing them by. He saw new faces come into the monastery and had helped instruct them as he had once been instructed. He saw older members pass on and helped bury them within their sacred land. The man reflected on his life and was still content with all that he had done since leaving his old life behind.

One night, the man was reorganizing old scrolls within the library when he was approached by one of the remaining elders. He greeted the elder and the elder asked him to walk with him, to which the man agreed. The two of them walked out into one of the gardens, the moon hanging full in the starry sky. The elder informed the man that his time and dedication to the order were impressive and that his efforts had not gone unnoticed. The elder told the man that he would from now on be considered an elder among the order and bestowed upon him an ornate silver key. The key was emblazoned with the mark of the order and had been recently polished. The teeth of the key were unusual in much the same way as the iron key he had been given fourteen years ago.

The man thanked the elder and wished him a good night. The two parted ways and the man knew what he had to do. He walked along the corridors and made his way to the dead end with the wooden door once more. The sound was once again beckoning the man to come closer. He inserted his iron key into the wooden door and opened it up. He looked over the stone door once more and carefully inserted his silver key into the keyhole. He twisted the key and heard something within the door click loudly. He pulled on the handle of the stone door and it opened effortlessly even though it was very heavy.

The man was met by yet another door. This door was made of pure gold and had depictions of creatures so expertly carved that the man nearly mistook them for still-breathing beasts. The creatures themselves were like nothing the man had ever seen before, and something about them carried a strange air of times long since forgotten. The door had no handle and only a small recess where something appeared to have once been set. The sound behind the door was louder than the man had ever heard it before, and he was determined that he must know what was beyond this door.

The man closed the stone and wooden doors, retrieved his keys once more, and proceeded to bed. In the morning, he found the elder that gifted him the key and asked him about the golden door. The elder smiled and stated that he had no idea what was behind the golden door. He told the man that the only person to know how to open the golden door is the master of the order itself and that that master has never mentioned anything about that door to anyone. The man was amazed by this and accepted the answer he was given.

The man's time at the monastery seemed to blink by faster and faster with each passing day as time slowly ravaged his once-youthful body, leaving him more and more withered. The man became a very respected elder within the order, and many of the younger monks came to him for advice and lessons. The man also lost many more friends as time went on. The man had been with the monastery for another twenty years and was very clearly an old man at this point.

The elder that had given the man his silver key had become the master of the order some seven or eight years back and was now a frail old man that was confined to bed rest. The man often visited the master and tended to his needs as he approached death. The two shared many nights of fond reminiscing and in-depth discussions about the master's wishes for the monastery after his passing. During one such conversation, the master told the man that he would be the next master of the monastery and that the master was certain he'd lead it well.

Several weeks after that conversation, the master passed away. He went quietly and peacefully into his sleep and was found with a soft smile still upon his lips. The man organized the funeral service and the old master was buried in a special section of the sacred land. The man remained at the grave for several hours after the service had concluded, having one-sided discussions with his late friend. At some point, the elders came to the man at the grave site and reminded him of the late master's wishes that he become the new master. The man composed himself and thanked them for coming to get him.

The man returned to the interior of the monastery and went to the master's chamber... his chamber now he supposed. He sat upon a chair and let his grief slowly wash over him. Losing a friend is never easy, even when you know they are at peace, and despite the man's decades of mental training, he still lost himself to his emotions and ended up crying softly at the loss of his friend.

Once the man regained control of himself he realized he was tired. He made his way to the bed and threw the covers back to crawl in when something glimmered underneath his pillow. He lifted the pillow and saw an ornate sphere made of glass with masterful carvings and spirals of colors arranged in impossible patterns and angles within. The man turned the sphere over in his hands several times trying to determine what it could be when it hit him all at once that this must be the key to the golden door.

The man quickly pulled himself together and made his way to the dead end with the wooden door and sound that had haunted him for the majority of his life. He inserted his iron key into the wooden door and almost threw it open in his desperation. He slid the silver key effortlessly into the stone door's lock and opened it as well. When he saw the golden door once more, he took a deep breath and let the moment wash over him. He carefully placed the glass sphere into the recess of the door, and a strange whirring and clicking could be heard. The golden door slowly shifted itself to the left, into the wall in which it was set, and the passageway was open.

The man peered into the darkness of the hallway and heard the sound in full force for the first time in his life, and was moved to tears at the beauty of it. The man stepped inside and torches along the walls of the corridor lit themselves. The light revealed a magnificently carved marble corridor that lead into some kind of larger room. The marble was carved with more of the strange and forgotten beasts that adorned the golden door, and the way the flames flickered made the carvings appear to be moving as if the creatures were still alive. The man marveled at the beauty before him and proceeded down the hallway.

At the end of the hallway, there was a large, circular room with a rounded ceiling that rose nearly fifteen feet high. The room was built with perfect acoustics, and the sound was definitely coming from this room. The man was awestruck by the perfection he had discovered and was walking through, and that's when his eyes drifted to the center of the room. An altar of polished quartz sat in the center of the room, and atop it was the source of the sound that had beckoned the man for so many years, and when he laid his eyes upon it, his view of reality was left fundamentally altered forever.

But I can't tell you what it is because you're not a monk.


Image: Shutterstock



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