He chips away at the stone with a blunt axe, pausing only to brush away the flakes which have built up around him. His hands are coarse and weathered. The skin on his palms is a patchwork of callouses, each at varying stages of healing.
He stops to look up at the roughly hewn ceiling.
The milky dawn just reaches his cavern with its soft light. Each ray dances across the stone walls. It had been dark when he first began. He had to light the torches in order to work by their flickering amber light.
That felt like so long ago.
Perhaps weeks have passed since then. Maybe even months. He can’t quite remember, so he turns back to his stone wall and continues his work.
The light of dawn grows dimmer and dimmer until he can hear the rain begin to fall outside in a steady drizzle. There’s a leak somewhere in the stone. Water trickles down his wall, making the axe handle slippery in his hands.
The mountain before him seems more impenetrable than ever.
He hates the rain, but not because it makes his work so difficult. It’s the puddles that he can’t stand. They form around him on the ground, gradually spreading out like a rising tide. He shivers with cold as the damp air seeps under his skin and into his lungs. He moves a few feet away into a dry corner of the cave to wait out the rain, which somehow always finds its way in.
He looks down at his reflection staring back from the puddle.
His heart sinks a little as he takes in the haggard old man he has become. He sighs, picks up his axe and continues chipping away at the cavern wall.
Antony hasn’t seen his neighbour in some time, which is unusual because they normally see each other every other day. After much deliberation, and the persistent pleas of his wife, he decides to walk the mile and a half to the quiet old farm next door.
The sun shines with fury over the emerald fields.
He feels his skin flushing as he makes his way down the dusty road. It isn’t even summer yet, but already the heat has come to press down on the countryside.
As he approaches the front door of the old farm, a sudden gust pushes it open.
‘Joseph?’ he calls. ‘Are you home, old man?’
A little robin with a crimson breast chirps from the branch of a nearby tree.
It flies down and swoops inside the house. Antony follows it inside, preparing himself for the worst. His heart begins to thump in his ears. He feels his pulse grow heavier, as if his blood has turned thick and sluggish inside his veins.
Joseph is his friend. He should have come over sooner. He should have visited the lonely old man more often. How could he have been so selfish?
The house is filled with dust.
And yet, as he walks down the hallway and into the kitchen, he notices that the dust is somewhat unusual. It covers the floor in a thick white layer, as fine as flour. But it doesn’t have the wispy texture of normal dust that builds up in abandoned attics and lonely basements.
He moves into the living room where he can hear a faint tapping.
The room is full of light from the open windows, and right there, in the centre of the room, is an enormous hole.
The little robin sits by the mysterious entrance and looks at him with its sharp eyes, as if waiting for something.
And then it dives down into the opening.
He climbs in after it, crawling along the stone floor as the tapping sound grows louder and bounces off the walls. The hole only gets wider and deeper. Soon he can walk comfortably down its length.
He can see the flicker of a fire in the distance.
Quite suddenly, the cave opens up to a tremendous cavern.
Its ceiling is held up by beautiful pillars carved in the shape of men and women. Animals of every shape and size adorn the walls, their stone faces coming to life in the shifting firelight. And perched upon his ladder, chipping away at a swirling stone sun in the centre of the arched ceiling, is Joseph.
He chats merrily to the little robin which perches in the stony leaves of a granite tree.
One by one, the townsfolk came to Joseph’s farm, searching for their missing friends, only to discover a brighter and more beautiful world hidden beneath the old house. Everyone who set eyes upon this enchanted place was inspired to stay and help bring it to life.
Working together, the men built levels and carved winding stairs which led to them.
The women painted the rooms until the entire place was awash with colour.
A fiery sun glowed from the ceiling. Colours danced upon the walls. The faces on all the statues sparkled with life and magic. Even the floor had been polished smooth and transformed into a tapestry of geometric patterns.
Each room was different.
And every level displayed its own peculiar charm.
The first level was adorned with murals of mythical beasts. The creatures appeared so lifelike you could swear their eyes followed you wherever you went.
The second level was set with stained glass. Each panel formed splashes of colour that leapt from the walls. When the torches were lit in their holders, the room was filled with brilliant auroras.
The third level was a fractured image of glass mosaics. Each segment reflected another so that the room gleamed like a dense star cluster.
When the authorities heard rumours of a strange temple being built beneath an old farmhouse in the mountains, they were inclined to pass it off as gossip.
But then one day the governor ordered his men to investigate.
Five officers and a public prosecutor arrived at Joseph’s door with official paperwork granting them permission to conduct their raid. But they were so overcome by what they saw, that they couldn’t bring themselves to order the temple to be destroyed, for that is what it had become.
They brought the news back to their governor.
‘You sentimental fools,’ he laughed. ‘This man has constructed a public building without a construction permit. It is your duty to tear it down.’
But his men only shook their heads dumbly.
‘Idiots,’ he muttered under his breath.
So the governor made the long journey himself. When he entered the temple, led by the villagers who smiled and welcomed him wholeheartedly, he was so entranced that he found his mind quite altered by what he saw.
He even granted the old man a construction permit, which he backdated and signed himself, and left this magical world in peace.
The temple remained hidden in the mountains until enough time passed to conceal it from the world. It became a mystery. Afterwards, it became a legend. And to this day no-one knows where this paradise is buried.