City of Dead Leaves

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#do got_postcard = false; got_key = false; got_crowbar = false; #do power_on = false; boiler_passed = false; #do searched = {}; searches = 0;

There's nothing left in your life. There's nothing left in anyone's life. Will he even remember you after all this time? Will he want you back?

You are an outsider.

You are the one who gave up.

You are the one who abandoned him.

And that's why you have to try again.

City of Dead Leaves

an interactive meditation

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First page

City of Dead Leaves: an interactive meditation

Dreamed up in 2016 by Felix Pleșoianu.

Ported to the Ramus hypertext system version 2.5 in 2021.

City of Dead Leaves is free and open source under the Artistic License 2.0.

Never stop dreaming!

The long thin shadows of poplar trees stretch across the pavement of a small square where streets converge at odd angles. A flower-shaped fountain takes up the center, surrounded by benches.

Now and then, the wind shuffles piles of dead leaves; they're everywhere, even on the greenish rainwater that fills the dead fountain.

An especially promising street sneaks away among the buildings to the south.

You couldn't tell by the weather, but the vegetation knows better: autumn is coming. Not just the poplars, but maple and linden trees are shedding their foliage.

You wander down side streets, only to end up right back where you started.

A bronze dolphin at the center of the fountain used to spray water into the concrete basin, but now it's as still as the rest of it.

As you progress south, the street becomes narrower and windier.

A narrow street winding among old two-storey buildings. The sky is a bright strip of white between roofs that seem to lean inwards. Balconies lined in wrought iron railings hang above the street, almost touching each other; many have laundry lines above them. Now and then, the nearly total silence is broken by pigeons flapping their wings. It feels like a sacrilege. It feels reassuring.

Upon a closer look, downsides become apparent: blind and broken windows, cracked paint, dirty walls and missing cobblestones. The neighborhood has seen much better days.

The alley goes from north to south, twisting and turning. #test visited.alley #iftrue

A century-old apartment building shades you from the morning sun, facing an even older house on the other side of the street. #iffalse

This is it! The house to the west fits the description you were given. You found him! You look on, while from across the street a century-old apartment building casts its shadow over you, its entrance a rectangle of darkness.

As you progress north, the alley widens into a proper street.

Not far down the road you start running across crumbling houses, piles of garbage visible through gaping holes in the walls. Hungry dogs eye you warily. Time to go back.

It's a three-story row house that must be a century and a half old by now, and looking it. The main gate, that used to lead through a gangway to the backyard, has been boarded up, but there's a #test #iftrue smaller door #iffalse smaller door in rather better shape.

The greenish paint has started to crack and peel, but the hinges are new. The door doesn't fit the frame very well; there's a sizable gap on the swinging side. #test got_postcard #iftrue

You knock, then call, but only silence answers, so you look closer. The door doesn't fit the frame very well; through the crack, you can see the latch on the other side. It's an easy job to wiggle it free with the postcard, and then the way is clear. #iffalse

You knock, then call, but only silence answers, so you look closer. The door doesn't fit the frame very well; through the crack, you can see the latch on the other side. But you can't quite reach.

You squeeze in through a door that's stuck halfway open, eyes needing a moment to adjust.

You are at the bottom of a stairwell; narrow stone steps spiral upwards into the gloom. Crude daylight filters in through a door that faces west, forming stark contrasts.

There used to be another stairwell going to the basement, but it's been filled with broken furniture.

The door is a big, heavy affair with frosted glass panes protected by wrought iron ornaments. With age, it became stuck in a halfway open position.

You squeeze outside through the door, eyes needing a moment to adjust.

About halfway up, the stairs turn from stone to wood; their incessant creaking as you climb is hardly reassuring.

The landing at the top of the stairs is barely wide enough to stand on, and the thick layer of dust over everything speaks volumes. Creaky wooden steps spiral abruptly down. It's eerily silent; these old brick walls absorb sound like cotton.

A corkboard hangs loosely on the wall, between solid oak doors on either side.

About halfway down, the stairs turn from wood to stone. No less dizzying, but more solid-feeling as you descend.

#test got_postcard #iftrue

There's nothing pinned to it anymore. #iffalse

An old forgotten postcard is pinned to it: a sturdy bit of card stock, now warped with age. The photo on its face depicts the city in its former glory. A year is stamped in the corner: 2016. #iffalse

You hesitate, but the temptation to keep it is too strong. What a find! {{got_postcard = true, ""}}

Pots and pans hang on hooks above a countertop covered in colorful vinyl, which sits between a cast iron sink full of dirty dishes and an antique gas stove with a hot plate on top, all of it opposite from a wobbly cot. A doorway leads further west into the house, and you can go straight out into the street through a rickety door to the east. The walls are dirty — varnish must be hard to come by these days — but the floor is bare cement, and spotless. #test #iffalse

If anyone has heard you picking the lock and coming in, there's no sign of it. You stand perfectly still for a moment, holding your breath; the house sounds empty.

On a closer look, the old sink turns out to have brand new flexible pipes that go through a rough hole in the wall.

It's useless nowadays, of course, but certainly pretty. He would have loved to cook on it.

It's an old, refurbished hot plate, presumably meant to supplant the now-useless gas stove (itself a real antique). The power cord disappears through a hole in the nearby wall.

The greenish paint has started to crack and peel, but the hinges are new. The door doesn't fit the frame very well; there's a sizable gap on the swinging side.

The shadows are long and deep in this room where the only light comes from doorways at opposite ends. Broken furniture clutters an otherwise generous space. A large bed frame is propped up against the wall; a once-elegant dresser gathers dust in a corner. A bedsheet hangs over something large, flapping slowly in an air current you can't feel.

There's a big heavy door to the north; east is the kitchen and you can also go west into a hallway.

All you find is dust bunnies, layers of dust and floating particles that make you sneeze.

It's just a tiny hallway, that opens into a bathroom to the south and a bedroom to the west. Only a darkened room lies to the east.

A minuscule window high on the wall illuminates fixtures sized for children; there's no room for anything larger anyway. You can go out to the north.

A cracked mirror hangs above the sink, throwing fragments of reflection back at you.

In the low light, your fragmented reflection seems to move by itself. You try to recognize yourself in it and fail.

Half the room is taken by a soft bed with a threadbare blanket on it; there is a coatrack on the wall opposite the window and a small bookshelf in the corner. On a desk are scattered mismatched pieces of paper.

The window faces north, and you can go back east into the hallway. #test visited.bedroom #iffalse

You falter on the threshold. This whole room smells like him. If there was any doubt left, now it's gone. You really found him again! You can only hope he'll want you back in his life, after you didn't approve of his years-long quest.

You recognize that jacket! It's the one you bought for him on your last date. Frayed and stained now, but no other.

It's mostly do-it-yourself and engineering books, scavenged from who-knows-where, but also some fiction, like a thin, worn-out edition of The Little Prince in the original French.

The papers are covered in blueprints and notes. You recognize his handwriting. Still crafty as always.

#test got_key #iffalse

A big heavy iron key sits on the windowsill. You pocket it quietly. #iffalse {{got_key = true, ""}}

Through the window you see some sort of unpaved backyard.

Should you? Why not! Grinning impishly, you climb onto the windowsill and jump out. Oops, it's higher than it seems — half a story, maybe. But you land safely on the packed earth.

This poorly-lit corridor is plagued by a permanent cold draft. Incidentally, this makes it a good place to store food, as evidenced by the various cans, bags and bottles strewn on rickety shelves.

Narrow metallic stairs lead down into darkness, while a beefier staircase leads up; there's a big heavy door to the south, and to the west a few steps descend into what must be the backyard.

You rummage in delight through the yummy canned goods, wondering where you can even get all of it these days, but then you carefully put everything back the way it was. Cooking is rather low on the list of priorities right now.

The wall behind the shelves is pockmarked by holes. Pipes and cables snake out of them and go into the ceiling. In the background you can barely make out the boarded-up gate.

The old metallic stairs vibrate dangerously as you descend. It feels like a long way down.

The backyard is just an empty patch of dirt where several old buildings come back to back, not quite touching each other. Through open windows overhead you can hear children laughing, or a broom scrapping on wooden floors... a radio being tuned... the sounds of life.

To the east, a few steps climb back into the house.

#test got_crowbar #iftrue

A few more dead leaves litter the ground, brought by wind over the rooftops, but little else. #iffalse

A flat steel bar is lying around. It's beginning to rust, but still sturdy. Might come in handy, so you pick it up. {{got_crowbar = true, ""}}

You can't see any movement in the windows, but all the sounds make it obvious there is life behind them. Clearly the city is far from the wasteland it appears at first blush.

This floor has had its interior walls removed to make room for various paraphernalia. One side of it is taken up by water tanks and pumps caught in a maze of pipes; the other, by several boxes with thick electrical cables going in and out of them.

A few steps lead further up, while a beefier staircase climbs down to the ground floor.

Part of the plumbing has been dismantled for some reason. That would explain the lack of water on tap downstairs.

The circuit boxes sport various dials, not that you know what they mean. #test power_on #iftrue All the needles are vibraring softly around the midpoint of their respective scales. #iffalse Right now the needles are all immobile, pointing at zero.

You are on a platform floating in a sea of identical rooftops. Next to you is a small wind turbine; a couple of solar collectors complete the ensemble.

Off to the side, a few steps lead down into the house.

#test power_on #iftrue

The wind turbine is a patchwork job, but well-maintained, and solidly anchored to the roof. The blades are spinning leisurely in the wind. #iffalse

The wind turbine is a patchwork job, but well-maintained, and solidly anchored to the roof. But it's not spinning, despite the wind. Aha! You release the stop switch, and slowly but surely, the contraption turns into the wind, blades wooshing right over your head. {{power_on = true, ""}}

#test power_on #iftrue

A 25-Watt lightbulb casts its sickly yellow light on ancient brick walls. The vaulted ceiling soars above a hundred square meters of packed earth. In all cardinal directions, semicircular arches lead away into darkness. The air is dry and still, though a little damp smell seeps in from somewhere #iftrue

Little square holes in the floor indicate where furniture used to be, but there's little trace of it now. Narrow stairs lead up. #iffalse

You're in a pit of blackness. Narrow stairs lead up.

Three of the arches run into literal brick walls after half a meter, but a tunnel opens into the east one.

The tunnel looks like it's been recently unearthed.

It all looks as if he's been looking for buried treasure. The fool's errand you two argued over in the first place.

The old metallic stairs vibrate dangerously as you ascend. It feels like a long way up.

Meager light seeps in from a semicircular archway to the west. The low rumbling of running water reverberates throughout the curved walls; the air is damp.

The east end of the tunnel is in total darkness. #test visited.tunnel #iffalse

The rabbit hole just got deeper. Did you uncover a trace after all, love? Was I wrong to doubt you?

You decide what you're hearing must be water from the recent rains flowing through the sewers.

At the far end of the tunnel, past the point where light reaches, you can guess more than see a steel door.

#test got_key #iftrue

The door is locked, so you waste no time trying the key you found upstairs. It fits, allowing passage into a barely-lit space. #iffalse

The door is cold, heavy and very much locked; you don't have a key.

Pipes run everywhere around in maze-like patterns, valves and meters jutting out of them at odd angles, but all you can see is their shadows. Off to a side, a shapeless lump lies along the wall.

A rusty door leads west, but the one to the south is missing, which is fortunate as that's where the only light comes from.

On a closer examination, it turns out to be an old lumpy mattress. Quite dirty, too. Hasn't been used recently.

#test boiler_passed #iftrue

It proves easier to navigate the maze after some practice. #iffalse

You try to make your way to the doorway, but your clothes snag on bits of metal. You trip and almost fall. Deep breath. Nothing to do but try again. {{boiler_passed = true, ""}}

A small, dirty window right under the low ceiling lets in enough light to see the blue-green paint on the cracked walls, and the pile of broken old furniture at the other end of the hallway. There is a musty smell in the air, hanging like a ghost in the stillness. #test visited.apartment #iftrue

An oak door leads south. #iffalse

An oak door leads south. The one in the north wall is absent.

The walls carry signs of past flooding around ankle height.

There used to be a way up to ground floor, but it's now completely blocked by the broken furniture. It's been there for a long time, judging by the layer of dust and the water damage.

The smell is quite strong. The basement must have been flooded at the last rain. It poured down hard enough.

Knocking and calling elicits no reaction from inside, and while the handle moves easily, the door itself won't budge. There's only one thing to do: you slide the steel bar between door and doorjamb, and pull. The wood groans and creaks, but finally yields, and the door becomes unstuck, letting you in.

The silence is deafening in what must have been once a cozy little home, with heavy furniture carrying the unmistakable dignity of a past age. The walls are plastered with bookshelves; more books pile up on the coffee table and armchairs, and even on the floor. There is a kitchenette and small shower, though it would be a wonder if anything still worked. In any event, there doesn't seem to be any water or electrical power.

Dust covers every possible surface, and a damp smell hangs in the air. It's a wonder all those books haven't disintegrated yet. The exit is an oak door to the north. #test visited.apartment #iffalse

Could this be the place? The one he was looking for when you... left? But if he found it, then why...? No, he must have failed to find his little treasure. That's why he's still out here instead of home with you. #iffalse

Maybe you can make the great discovery for him, right in this room.

Oddly enough, there is no sign of water damage in the room. The smell must be seeping in from outside.

The walls are covered in faded, peeling wallpaper, as far as you can see behind the bookshelves. #test searched.walls #iftrue But you've already looked there. #iffalse Someone has already thought of it, but there don't seem to be any hidden nooks. More searching, then. #iffalse {{searched.walls = true, searches++, ""}} #test gte(searches, 5) #iftrue

This isn't working.

None of these books is newer than a century, an endless parade of famous poets, philosophers and other classics. A treasure in itself, but not what he was looking for. #test searched.books #iftrue And you've already checked there. #iffalse And there's nothing behind them except for the walls, as far as you can tell. If one of these books opened a secret passage, there would be nowhere for it to go. That's not it. {{searched.books = true, searches++, ""}} #test gte(searches, 5) #iftrue

This isn't working.

It's a heavy piece of furniture, round in shape, with a polished top and ornate legs that curve elegantly. The dust on it has been disturbed, mute evidence of a previous search. #test searched.table #iftrue You've already checked it too. #iffalse The floorboards underneath bear scratch marks, evidence that the table has been moved around. Not much else there either. #iffalse {{searched.table = true, searches++, ""}} #test gte(searches, 5) #iftrue

This isn't working.

Nicely patterned textile upholstery covers a pair of big, heavy armchairs of the kind that unfold into small beds. #test searched.armchairs #iftrue You've already checked them. #iffalse They look made to hide something with — or for that matter within — their bulk, but signs of rough treatment are all you find. Clearly you weren't the first one to think of it. Got to look elsewhere. #iffalse {{searched.armchairs = true, searches++, ""}} #test gte(searches, 5) #iftrue

This isn't working.

Pretty obvious that the kitchenette and shower were never meant to be used seriously. Maybe some absent-minded professor once lived here, eating out more often than not, and washing... well, better not think of that too deeply. #test searched.kitchenette #iftrue You've already checked there anyway. #iffalse Either way, both are relatively untouched by the ravages of time, but apart from a trove of small domestic items (themselves of some value as antiques), there is nothing worthwhile. No hidden compartments here. Someplace else, hopefully. {{searched.kitchenette = true, searches++, ""}} #test gte(searches, 5) #iftrue

This isn't working.

The once-luxurious persian carpet, now a ruin, has been rolled up in a corner, revealing the rotting floorboards, and some of the dust has been swept, for better or worse. #test searched.floor #iftrue You already went over it, too. #iffalse Some of the looser floodboards have been already pried open, too. You inspect the space under them again, just in case, but there's nothing of value. There must be something else. {{searched.floor = true, searches++, ""}} #test gte(searches, 5) #iftrue

This isn't working.

You straighten up and dust off your hands, breathing heavily. The room seems to mock your efforts. Maybe you were wrong after all. Maybe he already got what he wanted. What if he doesn't even want you back?

Then you see the light. It feels as if your feet have left the ground as you rush to... yes! There it is! You carefully pull out a large, heavy jewel box. It can't be anything else. He described it to you often enough.

It's also the accursed thing you two argued over. The reason you left. Suddenly the room is dark again, and a voice whispers, smash it. Burn it. Whatever's in this box ruined years of your life.

But then you'd never forgive yourself. Clutching the box carefully to your chest, you make your way back across the basement, then up the stairs and into the bedroom. It looks good on the desk, you say to yourself. He's not back yet, so you lie down on the bed to rest for a moment, basking in his presence.

You drift to sleep dreaming of your love.

*** The End ***