The Cliff-Hut

I would not have found the hut myself except that one of my sheep found it first. The hut was over a cliffside, on a slender outcropping about five meters below the edge. Otherwise, the cliff’s face dropped a sheer seventy meters to a rocky beach pummeled by massive breakers. I found the sheep on the outcropping after a stray rabid dog spooked her from my flock. Even against the harsh wind and waves below, I could hear the frightened animal bleating. So could my flock, and they ran ahead of me to the cliff.

The sheep lay beside a stone structure, circular and domed. She wasn’t kicking her legs. If they were broken, there would be nothing for her. Still, I had to get down to find out.

On a fair day, I would have had two hours or more of workable light in which to bring in the rest of the flock and return for the stranded one. But the island has few fair days—fewer in autumn—and the clouds rolling up the cliff would soon rob me of all visibility. Either all my sheep would leave the cliff, or none would. I led the flock to a small swale where they’d likely stick together, and returned to the cliff.

Shepherds on the island carry rope for just such emergencies. I tied one end of mine to a sturdy tree not far from the edge; the other end I fashioned into a lasso. If I had enough rope, I could rappel down to the sheep, tie the rope around her waist, climb back up, and hoist her to safety.

The rock was already slick with mist when I stepped off the grass and dropped onto the cliffside. I slipped a meter or so down the edge, burning my hands. After a third hop my boots landed on the smooth dome of the hut. From there I slid to the base of the outcropping. I checked my slack—still plenty of rope.

As I turned to circle around the hut to my sheep, I noticed the carvings etched into the hut’s walls. There were other ruins on the island with other glyphs, but none looked like this. Other ruins had crude writing made of straight lines and simple angles. These glyphs were curved and delicate, varying in width as though engraved by a master calligrapher. The hut was old, for certain, but alien to the rest of the island, as though whoever built it remained on this outcropping, never sharing their knowledge with the island’s other people.

One hand stayed on the hut’s wall as I circled around to the sheep. The fog had come in full now. I couldn’t be sure where the outcropping ended and a nasty fall began. I found the sheep by her bleating more than by sight. I knelt down and felt her wool on a hand I could barely make out through the thick gray. Gently, my hands ran up and down her legs. Two fractures, one in the fore, one in the hind. She’d never walk again, and I’d have to put her down once I got her up and home. I know shepherds who would’ve left her. I couldn’t. You own animals, you treat them right, even at their end.

I had more than enough rope, so I doubled the loop around the sheep and moved her closer to the cliff’s face. The line was firm, but not completely taught—enough slack to forgive my weight.

But the rope frayed and snapped on the cliff edge when I was only a meter off the outcropping. I fell on my hands and knees. Loose rock shards sliced into my palms.

After tearing off some of my shirt to wrap my hands, I untied the sheep and picked her up. We would not be getting off the outcropping before the clouds cleared and someone happened upon the flock and the rope.

I found an arched doorway around the front of the hut. We took shelter inside. With those thick clouds, there was no telling if they would bring only mist, or pounding rain.

The hut was dark and smelled of mildew. I could make out glyphs similar to those on the outside running along the inside wall. In the hut’s center was a curved stone chair—seemingly carved out of one boulder—and a large oval table. The floor was as smooth as the walls and ceiling. It felt warmer than the ground outside, so I laid the sheep on her side by the table. Something about the hut disturbed me, and for a moment I could not discern why. Then I turned to look out the door and realized: I could not hear the ocean or the wind. The hut was open to the elements, but none made their way inside. Although I was glad for the reprieve from the wind and water, I no longer felt safe in the hut. But there was nowhere else to be for the moment, so I sat in the smooth chair at the table.

The moment I sat, a bright light shone down from the ceiling. I looked up and could no longer see a stone dome. Instead, the same clouds I would have seen outside the door were over me in the chair. It was as if the dome had turned from stone to glass. I could hear the wind and water once more.

The table changed when I sat as well. Instead of an empty plane, I sat before a miniature model of the island. Every detail was represented in immaculate detail—the northern city, the western ports with ships floating at the harbor, villages in the south. I saw my own cottage.

I leapt up and again the room went dark and silent; the dome turned to stone. In the hush, I could hear my sheep’s labored breathing. I reckoned she had no longer than an hour.

There were stories on the island of magical beings who once lived and ruled here. And this was far from the only ancient structure in the southern leas. Still, I’d never heard of anyone finding something like this, something active.

I had few options, but I figured that whoever built this hut had a way to get back up the cliff. Without any visible passages out, I figured the only possible means of escape had to do with the table. I gingerly sat back down.

The sky and sound returned, as did the island model. This time I placed my hands around the edges of the model. It turned with my gestures. The longer I stared at a region, the larger and more detailed it grew. I found my flock and the hut. I could even look at individual stones on the shore below. They seemed so real, I reached out to grab one. I picked it up, feeling the smooth wet edges against my bandaged hand. In my shock, I tossed it back on the virtual beach. When the rock stopped moving, the glyphs lining the walls briefly glowed white and made a humming sound. The rock remained where I had tossed it.

I had to test further. I once more picked up the rock, but then eased the view back to see the hut’s outcropping. Still holding the rock, I looked closer until I could see the pebbles outside the door. I dropped the rock there. Once more, the glyphs flashed and hummed.

Sure enough, a rock appeared outside the hut’s door.

My heart pounded in my chest. I moved the view into the hut, until I saw a small version of myself and my sheep. I saw myself looking at a small me in the table, who in turn looked at a smaller me on a smaller table. I reached out for the image of the sheep, small enough for one hand to grab it. I gingerly picked it up and rested it in my palm. The real sheep remained on the floor beside me.

I brought the image out again to the whole island, and down to my cottage and barn. I placed the small sheep in front of my cottage door, and with another hum and flash, my own sheep disappeared from the hut. My wife would soon find the injured animal, and begin to nurse her back to health.

I returned the table image to the hut, and plucked up a miniature me. I felt a shiver when my hand grabbed my small facsimile. I brought the view to my flock. I could see each sheep moving and bleating. I dropped my miniature by the tree I had tied the rope to.

The glyphs hummed and flashed, and I stood next to the tree, once again assaulted by wind and rain. The rain had indeed gotten heavier.

I untied the rope from the tree and recoiled it about my shoulder. As I gathered up my flock and headed home, I wondered if the hut could move clouds as well.

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One Comment to “The Cliff-Hut”

  1. Great story , Mike. You make it up or did this really happen ? …. don’t be holding out , ’cause I could
    really make use of a magic hut, the one I have isn’t working right at all. No matter where you place yourself
    you wind up near Birdsboro, PA : )

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