I selected the image from Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland for my image prompt this week. A twenty-minute sprint and a quick copy edit produced the below. I hope you enjoy it.
Ryan walked slowly up the steep grassy hill. When he’d agreed to meet Xander at his school, he’d expected a university or a secondary school. The address he’d found for Celestial Academy in Edinburgh had been at the top of the hill at one end of the city. According to the website, the place had been some kind of memorial back in the twentieth century, but had since been repurposed for private use. The web didn’t say what the school taught or how old the students were, just that it was highly selective and students were invited to apply.
The building was made of large gray blocks of stone, as was the wall and solid gated entrance. Ryan could see the columns, classical pediment, and rotunda in the dim evening light. The place was built to look like some kind of ancient Greek or Roman temple.
Ryan stopped at the gate, looking for a call box or any way to signal the inhabitants inside. He didn’t even see any evidence of a camera or security system. He tried pushing the door open, and found it unlocked. It took a bit of effort to push the heavy stone door all the way open, but he managed it, and stepped through into the courtyard beyond. There were paths paved with smooth tan rocks worn smooth with use. The Celestial Academy was founded in 2110, over a century ago, so there’d been plenty of time for foot traffic.
As soon as Ryan let go of the door, it swung shut again with a dull thump.
“Thank you for agreeing to meet here,” Xander said from the path to the right.
Ryan hadn’t seen or heard him approach. Xander was wearing dark blue skinny jeans and an oversized black hoodie. Ryan felt overdressed in the gray slacks and white button down he’d worn to work that morning.
“It would only have been an issue if I needed to park a car somewhere,” Ryan replied. He didn’t drive and Edinburgh had a great trnsit system.
“Still, I made you come all the way here,” Xander said. “Why don’t you come inside, and I can find us a drink and a snack.”
“A drink would be nice,” Ryan replied with a smile. “I at dinner before I came since I wasn’t sure what options there would be.”
“I didn’t even think about the timing being a problem for meals,” Xander said, turning half way to indicate they would be going back the way he came.
“If it had been a problem I wouldn’t have agreed to meet at six,” Ryan said, moving to join Xander. “My meal schedules tend to be a bit off kilter anyway.” His work hours were all over the place, which meant his meal breaks were too.
Xander smiled. It lit up his whole face and made his light gray eyes sparkle. And that was why Ryan was here. He just couldn’t say no to a smile like that.
“Did you bring it?” Xander asked as they walked past the imposing columned porch toward the side of the building.
“Of course I did,” Ryan said, pulling his messenger bag around so he could get into the side pocket. He pulled out the metal flask he’d filled with water from a spring near his house outside town. Xander had been fascinated by his stories about the spring and all the legends that surrounded it.
Xander took the flask gently, his face reverent.
“I still don’t understand why it’s so important you have water from it gathered at dawn,” Ryan added. It was the dawn part that was so baffling. Fresh spring water was a rare commodity and Ryan knew he was lucky to live in a neighborhood that has access to one.
“I’ll show you,” Xander said, catching Ryan’s hand and pulling as he hurried around the side of the building.
Ryan’s skin tingled where Xander was touching him, and the hairs on his arms stood up as goosebumps rose along his arm. The shiver ran all the way across his shoulders. It was distracting enough that Ryan almost didn’t notice the weirdness as they turned the corner around the building.
Ryan stopped, his outstretched arm pulling Xander to a halt as well.
The building was still the same, pale tan in the fading sunlight. But everything else had changed. There should have been more hill and grass and the rolling hills beyond. All Ryan could see was a dazzling field of stars laid out before him like a thousand flickering candles in the dark.