This Week’s Prompt:93. A place one has been—a beautiful view of a village or farm-dotted valley in the sunset—which one cannot find again or locate in memory.
The Prior Research: Off the Map
I have never been to Yonster, but I know every road by now. Last night I woke up, and could tell you that the library of Yonster is situated on Main Street and Elephant—Elephant has it’s unusual name from a zoo at the end of street and a foolish twentieth century attempt at advertising through civic infrastructure. There have been movements to change the street name but none have managed to get past the current Mayoral family, the Straubs, who find it quaint. And like many things in Yonster, quaint seems to hold it together.
The dreams about Yonster have been going on for a few weeks now. Just bursts of facts and trivia. I know that Ms. Madeline Alba, who is recently widowed, makes her pie with an dash of vanilla with the raspberries to enhance taste. She learned that the local Starbucks did something similar with their hot chocolate, and thought it was a great idea. She has green eyes.
I keep notes on it, figuring it’ll make a great book someday. Yonster seems like a nice place to visit, but a quick search on Google Maps and nothing. I mean I got a few Youngsters and the like, but yeah. No city, no small town with a population of 2000.
I’m not even sure where it would be—the people there speak English I think, but I can’t read in dreams. I’m not even sure what the dreams are. Sometimes, I’ve got this nice little house that’s a far cry from my cramped apartment. It’s been in my family for generations. I work in town, although on what I’m never sure. It requires a suit, but things are old fashioned in Yonster, so that could be anything.
Yonster’s architecture is, outside of the city square, fairly old fashioned. I’d call it Parisian, but I’ve never been to Paris. The buildings are all family homes, and a number of them have tile roofs. The streets aren’t built for cars, although a few people have one. I myself prefer to walk, and enjoy the roadways.
The dreams have gotten more common as I’ve been handling my dad’s work. He’s selling his house—which I won’t lie, stings a bit. But with Mom gone…I can’t blame him for wanting to get out. We brought in some people to clean it, and I’ve started going through the stuff to sell. He can’t stand doing it himself. My therapist thinks the dreams are an escape. I can’t really disagree—seems like it, easy to slip somewhere were things never change when your dig through your parents old stuff.
It was while digging through that cardboard maze that I found it though. A old note book, in my dad’s nightstand. Time stood still as I read the first page.
“There’s this place called Yonster…”
I was thinking, when I read, that maybe he’d read me stories about it when I was little. But he’d kept dates—small, at the top of the page where I could miss them at first. First one was when he was nineteen. The whole book was filled with details. Bits and pieces, talking about people and places. I didn’t know Alba’ s mother-in-law didn’t trust their marriage. And given what my father said about George, I didn’t blame her. Marriage and father hood really shaped him up. And the bar down third, where the boys played—that had been a church once, but they’d moved into a new building.
There’s only so much coincidental detail that one man can believe is circumstances. I could believe remembering stories of Yonster—I could even believe maybe imaginging some changes. But the swerves were so…mundane. So normal, so bland. No one shipped off to join the army, no one ran for office and was mirred by scandal, no one had any affairs at all. I had no relations either. There were no long lost grandparents who left me an elaborate mansion. If this was the fancies of childhood—where were the fancies?
My father lives on his own, mostly, but he still manages to keep odd hours. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon, after I’d poured over every detail of the books. Coffee made me jittery and sickly as it faded. It burned at my stomach and made my hands shake. It made my neck feel soft and my head heavy, slumping a bit. But it kept me awake, and I didn’t really want to sleep right now. Something seemed sinister about my inherited dreams.
“Yonster…that’s…hm. Was that were Mary ran off to with Ronald? The one who was an architect.” My father said, stopping with two mugs in hand.
“No, no that was Yonkers.”
“Right, Yonkers, Yonkers. No, don’t think I wrote much about Yonkers.” He said, holding one out.
“No, right. I mean, do you remember visting Yonster? Nice place, had a few hills. You might have known the—there was a statue in town. A big one, of three guys on a horse?” I said, scratching my head. It was a monument to some local heroes during the Civil War—I’m not sure what Civil War, but they had horses and sabers, and they were local heroes. Everyone was related or married into their families. I think that limits the time of the Civil War, maybe two centuries ago? Three? Maybe longer—horses and sabers are as old as steel at least.
“Well, three? Like, three on three horses?” He sipped and frowned. “There’s a lot of those down in London. That what your thinking of?”
“No, no, it was one statue—one place thing. With three men on one horse.” I said, breathing deep. “Does any of that sound familiar?”
“…Are you alright, Justin? You seem worked up about this.”
“I’m fine, I just. I just found some writing about it in your place, and was wondering about it. It seemed, you know, familiar.” I said.
My father didn’t know anything else. And the sixth cup of coffee looped back around on me. I felt my bones weaken, and only with force of will got home. I fell onto the couch, and slept. And dreamed.
The sun over Yonster is clearer than anywhere else I’ve seen. The cicadas buzz with the spring’s arrival, and the river runs clear. It’s thinned lately, but winter snow was arriving. It was swelling, and green was growing again. A good time of year, as the rains came in, for drinking tea outside and slipping in doors. The rains are always calming in Yonster.
I figured I had…something, between my memories and my father’s forgotten ones, to place Yonster on a map. Somewhat. The terrain, the style of the saber, the way the buildings looked. The problem wasn’t ‘were’ such a place could be—it was that those places had maps. Yonster looked like it had rolled out of an English Romantic pastoral, but with electric lights.
And England was mapped.
England was mapped. Ireland was mapped. Maine was mapped. And it wasn’t like Yonster was small. I had known a friend in college, who claimed all over the south were unmapped and unmarked farms and villages waiting to take up guns against the federal government. I still think that’s a load of crap, but even those imaginary secret armies were small. But Yonster was…probably a few hundred people.
I narrowed it down over a few day. It was probably an abbreviation—chester became just ‘ster’ over the years, putting it somewhere in the Isles. I even worked out the etymology, although no one in Yonster was impressed—that fortress, or fortress over yonder.
I must have looked bizarre on the train from London. I told people I was hiking out in Scotland for a few days, map in hand and note books in my pack. The landscape looked right for Yonster, and Alba was a Celtic name—shared with a Latin one.
The Scottish countryside feels like a place you could hide things, as you move farther and farther into the highlands. It was a good place to start—even if it wasn’t as known for horses, I don’t think, as Yonster was.
I spent six months walking towards Yonster. I knew that I was getting close, even as I circled back and came around. Even as I started running low on cash, as the leaves changed. I told anyone who asked that I was going back to visit some friends out in Yonster—no one asked much after that, although I had plenty to tell them. I don’t know how I got back every day, every night rain or shine I was there. It was always Spring in Yonster, and the people always patient and kind. It kept me warm on days full of cold, and full when I slept hungry. For six months, I chased the phantom through hills and dales, in valleys and near cliffs.
And then I found it—the old road to Yonster. It was smaller than I remembered, but what did that even mean really. The road was dirt, overgrown mostly. The buildings were small and few. There was maybe a dozen old houses, empty houses—no not quiet empty. But no one lived there. It was nothing like I imagined, but it was Yonster. I could feel it in my bones.
This story took some work to come up with an ending for—I wasn’t satisfied with leaving it as utter delusion, or having it really be some paridisal home. So I opted for something in between. On a revisit, I think expanding some of the search would be warranted—or perhaps changing Yonster from a sort of small town idealism to a more fantastic setting like the folklore had.
Next week, we leave the invisible and soar into the heavens! Behold, the Sun!
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