A Peachy Tour

I don’t know what I expected a Peach School to look like, but 413 Bilton Avenue was not anywhere near it. It was palatial, to say the least. And it looked as if it was a relic from another time and place. It looked to be made of marble, from top to bottom—and perhaps cement, but not a cement from my time. Massive fluted granite columns—twenty of them—marked the school’s entrance. Above those columns was a frieze carved with an unlimited number of pictures so ornate that I could hardly see what was happening in them. And similar carvings were scattered across the pediment, under the windows and in the arches over the windows. But they all had one commonality—rays. They stood out with incredibly clarity.

Manny scratched at his blonde hair with biceps bulging while Zoe tugged and twisted at her dark curls. I glanced at them only briefly to ensure I wasn’t the only one who was tongue-tied.

“So, those are cornices,” Manny mumbled. “How old do you guys think this place is? It looks to be…”

“Thousands of years old. That marble with the blue grey swirls…I’ve seen fake countertops that look like it, but never the real thing. It looks funny next to everything else.”

I nodded. Zoe was right. The building stuck out from every other Saxton building surrounding it. It was as if ancient people, or even aliens, had plopped it there ages ago as if it had been transplanted, or grafted in from some place that wasn’t real.

“There’s got to be at least a hundred rooms,” Manny said, a bit of strength coming back to his voice.

“Or more,” I said. “Probably more.” He turned his head to look at me. “Sorry, but this place doesn’t even feel like it’s real. I’m trying to wrap my head around it. It sort of goes on and on until your eyes catch on the buildings next to it. If they weren’t there, I feel like this place would swallow up the whole city of Saxton.

“No way to get in by the windows,” Manny noted, bringing his thieving skills to bear. “Those are the kind of windows that don’t open…or break, from the looks of them.”

I looked back at the windows. Every window that I could see was stained glass, but somehow, they looked more real, even more solid than the stained glass I had seen on chantries. The glass colors were rich and gave the appearance of being at least an inch thick.

Zoe inched forward and sat on the bottom-most step of the ancient palace. “My neck hurts from looking up at this place. Couple floors. Hundreds of rooms. Solid windows. It’s a fortress, seriously. But we do have one thing going for us.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’ll be easy to get lost,” she said. “My guess is once we get inside there’ll be a bunch of staircases, rooms with…” she glanced back behind her at the lanai under those massive fluted columns “…heavy doors…and the place may echo a bit, but with so much stone, once we’re hidden, we shouldn’t be easily heard from anywhere within the place…not unless we break out in song at the top of our lungs.”

I nodded, absently, still over-awed by the place. It was actually a bit to gaudy for me. But even I had to admit there was immense beauty here; and a feeling of forever that I’d never experienced anywhere else. “Let’s go,” I said.

Shrugging, Manny started up the steps behind me as I leaned forward and began moving my feet. Zoe jumped up, her footsteps quickly joining rhythm with mine. We approached four enormous doors that had to be at least as old as the building. They were about fifteen feet tall with what appeared to be large, round iron handles and embossed hinges. The wood was at least a couple inches thick, oiled and firm from centuries of care, and more pictures with rays were carved into the center. Two door attendants wearing stiff white shirts, Silky white ties, jet black dress pants, shiny black leather shoes, and luxurious red velvet robes stood at each door. They all looked to be older than me, but not too much older. Maybe early twenties? The two attendants closest to us bowed, and the attendant to the right of the door grabbed the handle and pulled it open, with obvious effort.

“Welcome!” the attendant on the left said, once the door was successfully open. “The next tour starts in five minutes. You’ve come just in time!” His voice was higher than I expected.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Take seats on the pew with the green velvet,” the attendant on the right said, chest still heaving from opening the massive wooden door. Manny had already pushed past me into the cavernous foyer of the Peach School. Zoe grabbed my arm and we walked in together.

At first, I couldn’t find the green velvet benches. My eyes were too awed by all the blue, black, and grey mosaics on the tile and marble floor. Rays and people of all kinds were being represented; but again, the picture was too busy to work out on a first glance. After looking up, I saw Manny had found the pews. They were straight in from the door. On either side of the pews were very conspicuous red and gold doors. Both had writing carved into the stone above them, but it was in a language I couldn’t read.

“Welcome to the tour!” a voice said before I could even sit down. A man that looked about Jack’s age had appeared quickly. He wore nearly the same garb as the door attendants. But his tie was sky blue and his robe was charcoal grey and made of silk, not velvet. It swung as if in a small breeze. “A young bunch, I must say.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just smiled.

“Not skipping school, are we?” the attendant asked.

Manny looked up. “I’m not sure that’s any of your business.”

The attendant arched a brow, almost as if he was shocked, but the rest of his face remained happy. “I’m Harold, and I’ll be your tour guide today. Will you follow me?”

I was still standing. Manny and Zoe gave me a quick look and then jumped up to follow.

“This building, as you might have noticed, is extremely old,” Harold began the moment we all began trailing him. “It’s construction dates back pre-helix time. Yes,” he emphasized without even looking back to see our dumbstruck faces. “…pre-helix. That, as you may not know mean ‘pre-rays’. Since, as far as we know time began to be measured with the coming of the death rays.”

Harold’s walking pace was brisk. I kept on his heels, trying to take in every painting, sculpture, mural, carving, and word. But try how I might, I kept having to give Manny dirty looks when he tried to grab small figurines by sleight of hand. He would roll his eyes at me and quickly place the items back. Then, when I would tune back in to Harold’s monologue, I would see I’d missed anywhere from five to fifty feet of commentary and hallway.

“You’ll note the view down this hallway, first to the right,” Harold paused, allowing us to look—quickly. “Then to the left,” Harold plodded on. “This is called the centennial hallway because there are one hundred solid wooden doors, fifty down each side, and every door has a unique carving depicting the rays.”

Harold gave us a few extra seconds to peer down both hallways. Thinking I had a moment, I opened my mouth to ask about the unique carvings. But as soon as Harold saw me, he turned and started forward again, “Onward!” he called.

I felt frustrated. Why would he dodge a question? Then, the more I thought about it, I realized Harold had never stopped once to see if we even had a minor interest or question about anything he had told us about or described. And all his commentary was description and facts. Very dry and quite boring.

“This sculpture is a relatively new piece, found deep in the tunnels beneath the school where it was thought all artifacts had been recovered.” He took a breath, then added almost as an afterthought. “It happens sometimes.”

“Harold…” I began.

“…and because of this discovery, we’ve renewed our efforts to see if there are any other relics we’ve failed to find over the years. Now, this way.”

“Harold…” I said again.

“You’ll be glad to know that the tour is only a few more minutes. It is nearly impossible to show any tourist the entire edifice. It’s nearly one hundred thousand square feet, and that’s all above ground. Below is just as expansive.”

“Harold!” I yelled. It echoed and reverberated up to the ceiling, and I could almost feel the air pumping around me in response. odd.

Harold turned around and looked at me, dumbfounded.

“I have a few questions. I can ask questions, can’t I, Harold?” I said.

Harold swallowed. “Questions? What could you possibly have questions about?”

“Well, duh, tour guide,” Zoe said, in her exceptionally natural sarcastic tone, “About all the unique pictures with the rays. What does each one mean? Which ray is taking whom and why? Why did the rays begin and, you know, why did helix time begin at all? If this building is from before time then where did it come from? If the rays didn’t start until after the building was here, who started them? Did they build this building? Will the rays ever end? Why do they come when they do? Can they be targeted? Avoided? And…so on…right, Fern?”

I nodded vigorously. “The building is awesome—mind-blowing, really, Harold. However, we’re interested in what the building can teach us about the rays. You haven’t said one word about anything like that. We expected…more.”

Harold didn’t speak for a while. He merely stared at us, disbelieving. However, when we didn’t move, or stop waiting for him to respond, he began to look a little sick. “We…we don’t answer questions like that. That is…for chantries and Preachers. I’m…I’m just a tour guide.”

“Why do you look like we’ve just asked you to kill somebody?” Manny said, flexing his triceps instinctively. “They are simply academic questions. This place is a school, right? Aren’t you the ones who train the Preachers? Where are they anyway? The Peaches and the classrooms? Where are the books? We haven’t seen a soul.”

Harold swallowed very loudly, then cleared his throat. He pursed his lips, then adjusted the long sleeves of his grey silk robe to ensure they were covering the white shirt cuffs beneath. “I’m afraid even if I did have access to the information you wanted, I couldn’t share it. But I don’t have access. The students—those choosing to become Preachers—get more information than most. I likely know even less than you…if you’ve ever been to services. I practically grew up here. But I know this building, not the utopias.”

“I still don’t understand why you’re sweating so much,” Manny pressed again.

Harold’s eyes darted around, though it was clear the floor and hallway they were on was virtually empty. Then, he sighed, as if trying to relax. “Are you kids trying to get me in trouble?”

“Why would anything we ask get you in trouble?” I asked.

Harold appeared torn, but between what decisions, I couldn’t tell. “I really don’t know anything.” He iterated again. “Nothing. But I do know the building better than anyone. But I can’t show you anymore, as the next tour starts shortly.”

“We’ve only seen one-hundredth of this place,” Zoe said. “And the tour is almost over? We…we just got here, what like, an hour ago?”

Harold began to fidget and his face flashed between fear and perturbation. “You…want to see more? More than what I’ve shown you? This place is…well…palatial, gigantic, humongous, unending.”

“What do you mean, unending?” I asked. “That’s pretty big.”

Harold closed his eyes. “I must get you back to the foyer. The next tour starts soon.”

I smiled and nodded at Harold. “Okay, Harold. But first tell me what you mean by unending. Unending as in it really never ends? Or unending as in, it feels like it never ends.”

Harold’s eyes bulged, only for a moment, and then he cast me a sideways glance, almost as if he wanted to pretend he couldn’t see me. “It…never…ends. Hence, why we keep finding new artifacts. Sure, it’s rare. But sometimes we open a door we’ve explored before and there’s suddenly something new in there…why am I telling you this? It’s like this building crosses dimensions…like we aren’t the only ones living here.”

I heard Manny spin on his feet, as if he’d been turned away. I looked just in time to catch him lay his intent eyes on Harold. “What?! This building crosses dimensions? You mean like…to other worlds, other lives…to the utopias?”

Harold’s eyes stayed bulged this time. He slapped his forehead. “This is what I get for letting you talk! I suppose you could say that. But its not what you think. You can’t get to the utopias from here. At least, not that I know of.”

I had turned to look at Zoe too. She looked lost in space, staring off as if simultaneously disbelieving and yet imagining herself opening a door somewhere in the building to a utopia, and stepping inside. I sighed. “Harold, find us a room…a room we can trust and let us rest. You go do your tours, and we’ll wait here for your…break. You do get a break, don’t you?”

Harold nodded. “I really shouldn’t. This building can be dangerous. The actual school is completely on the other side. Through those red and gold doors at the front. That side of the building seems…safer. Most Preachers don’t spend much time on this side. It’s just full of stuff. That’s why we do the tours over here to keep people out of their way.”

“What about books? Does this side have…Preacher books? Information on the rays?” Manny asked. I saw a new light in his eyes. His interest in our plan had definitely rekindled since the awkward conversation in the car.

Harold looked mortified. “I can’t do this. Please come with me.”

Manny smiled evilly and flexed his left bicep. Then, a hidden switchblade was suddenly in his right hand. “Oh, I think you can. Harold.”

I wanted to gasp, but I didn’t want to give Harold any reason to think we weren’t serious. Fern, you’re crossing lines now. Letting Manny threaten this poor man. This isn’t you!

Harold slumped and seemed to give in. He waved them to a door close by, walking briskly toward it. His silk robe fluttered behind him. “Very well. I’m no fighter. I’ll show you to a room…that I’m sure is…somewhat safe. The hallways are always safe. If you start to feel funny, sick, if you break into a fit of vomiting or horrific hallucinations, if you feel like you are being…” he cleared his throat as if going on was extremely difficult, “…possessed, or that your mind isn’t your own. For heaven’s sake, please get back out into the hallway.”

Manny chuckled, then murmured, “Yes…its like Inter-Plane Existence…one of my favorite computer games.”

Harold opened the heavy, ornate wooden door with significant effort. He looked at Manny several times, hoping he might lend a muscle, but Manny merely crossed his arms across his well-developed pecs and abdomen and waited, skeptically. Once it was open, I felt somewhat disappointed. Compared to what we’d seen so far, the room was incredibly plain. The walls were stone and marble and the floor tile was mosaic-free. But it was filled with books and even scrolls that looked like they had never seen a human hand—at least not in over a thousand years, or even longer. Plenty of light came in through a particularly beautiful glass window, but Harold lit the two large torches from flint and steel that he whisked out of a hidden pocket in his robe. The torches were set in metal anchors into the wall. The torches blazed once lit and sputtered red and blue sparks every few seconds. They turned the room into something out of a fantasy movie.

“Now, remember what I said. Any problems, head back out into the hallway. I’ll…try to come back when I have time.” Harold said. Then, he rushed off, and the massive wooden door crashed closed behind him, shaking the walls, compressing the air, and leaving us in total silence.

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Angela Tempest
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Angela Tempest

Fiction Author

Hi! My name is Angela Tempest. I write fiction that entertains, takes you to another world, and fills your life with truth. I hope you’re enjoying A Search for Utopia. If you love it, there’s more. Check out my author page to read my other stories!