Allen Martin was almost at the point where he turned right to get to his upstairs apartment when he spotted them on the bench ahead. Always curious about visitors to his adopted town, he checked their profiles. Wheeler Wilson and Musician Resident: somehow familiar. Checking further, he also sees groups they are members of that he knows about — Blue Feather Gallery in particular. Although it’s not his typical policy, he decides to introduce himself.
He walks down the steep set of stairs to the road and saunters up. True to his name, Musician Resident (The Musician) was producing music, namely playing what might be a Bob Dylan song to Allen Martin’s admittedly rather untrained ears. He sits down on the curb next to him and listens in, like the other avatar on the bench — this Wheeler Wilson — seems to be doing as well.
The old man starts grooving to the lyrics.
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be
There’s room at the top they’re telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me
If you want to be a hero well just follow me
Allen Martin dares to applaud at the end. Wilson Wheeler emits a few claps of her own. “That was marvelous,” the old man offered. “Is that a Dylan?”
“Yeah,” replies The Musician acidly. “Thomas. Dylan Thomas. He stayed in that very hotel down this street; wrote some of the best folk lyrics ever penned. Dylan Thomas was the man in his day. Even moreso than Thomas Mann.”
“Oh stop it,” urges Wheeler, hitting him on the shoulder with her hand. “The guy’s just trying to be friendly.” She speaks to the stranger. “That was a Lennon song, um, Martin I see. Allen Martin — interesting name. Seems familiar.”
“I was just thinking the same about your name. We seem to have some groups in common. Blue Feather Gallery in particular. You guys aren’t from Collagesity by chance are you?”
Wheeler doesn’t answer immediately, perhaps disappointed that Allen Martin hadn’t recognize her. “You could say that,” she finally managed.
“Which part? I was from the North. Until the land was sold. Had to pull up stakes again. I’ve stopped here in my travels several times.” He wipes his brow with his hand. “Let’s see I suppose this is about my 5th layover in VHC City. Not Town, mind you. That’s how you spot strangers. That all came from an error in a promotional pamphlet about 7 years back. Yes, the printer is dead now. Unusual circumstances. Some say he still haunts the burg, whispering lies into impressionable ears and brains. But I wander…”
“Yes,” The Musician says plainly. He turns to Wheeler. “We should probably go.”
“Hold on, hold on,” Wheeler says. “You use to run the gas station up on Robin Lane. I remember you now. You had a dog.”
“Well, I have a *son* named Doogie. Close to doggie. But less obedient.” He smiles.
“No, I distinctly remember a pet.”
“Oh, you mean *Aspinwall.* Still got the little feller. And I still run a gas station, just here in VHC City. For now.” He looks at their rumpled, rather dirty clothing. “You sure you guys are doing okay here? Do you need some help? Us Collagesity alums should stick together.” He’s guessed their situation.
“We’re fine,” The Musician snaps back.
“What are you offering?” Wheeler follows immediately afterwards. She knew they couldn’t stay here much longer without help. The vampires were moving in.
“Well, if you’re talking about living arrangements, I have not one but three apartments rented in town right now. You could crash in the lower one for a while if you need. I rented three so I would have lots of prims to work with at the station. Seems like every time Doogie walks onto the premises, there goes 7 prims right there.”
“I don’t get it,” The Musician says to him, and turns to Wheeler and states the same.
“He’s got a son who’s composed of 7 prims,” explains Wheeler. “Obvious. Okay, we’ll take a look. Thanks very much!” Wheeler runs up and kisses him on the cheek. “And just so you know,” she then whispers in his ear, “I use to *own* Collagesity. Keep that in mind when dealing with me. I’m a controller.” She takes his hand. “Now let’s look at that apartment.”
“I thought I might find you here.”
“What’s up?” Chuckles Greentop replied while reeling in yet another perch. “How’s the investigation going?”
“Yeah, really sorry to hear about your friend Renaldo O’Donnell.”
“He wasn’t really a friend any more. I gave up clowning a while back. Gave up the underground. Above ground’s for me. Fishing mainly. Maybe you can buy a rod as well and go casting with me sometime — lots of good spots around here.”
“Maybe,” Wheeler replies, half hopeful.
“So you’re staying with Old Man Martin I’ve heard.”
“News travels fast here,” Chuckles interjected. “How’s his poor possessed kid doing? Investigation will continue for a while, you know.”
“Can you *explain* that (Doogie possession)?”
“Petty’s a top notch detective. Along with being a fine chef. He gets privileges. That’s all I can say about the matter.”
“Any idea who did it?”
“Inside job, I’ve heard. Clown vs. clown. My strong suggestion is you close up the portal; don’t go down there any more.”
“I can’t do that,” Wheeler replied. “I have to find the heart of the mystery.”
“Well, I could tell you all *about* your heart, but if you are bound and determined — set on your mission — then you’ll find out soon enough. Hope you like goofy stuff.”
She left it at that.
Allen Martin had started on his 4th glass of Pinot Noir, by Wheeler’s counting. It was time to lay the cards on the table.
“We know about the underground, Allen.”
“Ooh,” he says, retracting from his wine glass as if he’s suddenly seen a gnat floating in it.
“We know about the murder.” The gnat had turned into a fly. “We know about your *son*.” The fly had phoned up his friends centipede and cockroach to join him for a dip. Martin was sitting back, eyes riveted to Wheeler’s. The 4th glass would not be drunk tonight.
“Do tell!” he said icily.
Meanwhile, The Musician had gotten lost in the labyrinthian streets of VHC City looking for a store selling guitar strings. Surely with all the concerts this place puts on there’s a music shop around here somewhere, he rationalized. He then wandered back into his safe plaza by accident, let’s say. He knew no such shop existed in the immediate area. Yet he couldn’t resist. The Dr. Who pinball machine beckoned.
Two hours later, he sat exhausted on the bar’s couch, seeming to stare out at the red doors while actually thinking about all the moves he could have made to transform from Doctor Who #4 (Tom Baker) to Doctor Who #5 (Peter Davison). He could have hit the target bank more before the time ran out, charging up the Transmat. On and on the deliberations went.
While his head was spinning with dreams of pinball wizardry, Wheeler and Allen Martin walked by the bar heading north, unaware of his presence.
He waited about a half minute, then peeked out the door of the bar in that direction. They were going into [delete name]. Now he’d been in that building a number of times, but only on the ground floor, playing with the computer console there. He’d found valuable information about Muff-Bermingham though the free interwebs feed shortly after their arrival in town, indicating the planet had influence in this particular area. Surprising!
The Musician crossed the plaza, hiding behind a stair post.
No indication they were on the first floor, nor used the stairs to access the 2 upper floors. They couldn’t simply disappear into thin air. Could they? The Musician counted 10 Mississippis and moved forward again. At the center of the ground floor he turned and first thought of the oddity about the Sipvicious advertisement on the floor.
Uberpunk Sid Vicious had famously stayed in the town’s huge hotel. His girlfriend had died there. Yet this ad didn’t seem to have anything to do with the proximity of the hotel. One more mystery to mark down in an ever growing leger of wierdness.
He heard voices: Allen’s and Wheeler’s, seeming to issue up from below. He walked toward the stairs, noticing that they led downward as well as upward. A hitherto unknown about basement, hmm. “A giant ant?”
But that was just the first and mildest surprise.
“He said he had to see for himself,” Wheeler spoke upon noticing The Musician approach with dropped mouth. “And… I suppose we need to catch up. OD, meet The Musician. Musician, well, this is OD.”
“Wel-come,” it said.
“Ahhh! That face!!”
“We app-re-ci-ate your time in our fair ci-ty,” OD continued in its clipped manner, suddenly detached from the wall and looming larger. The wegee planchette had stopped spinning. “We have ass-im-il-at-ed the bird, zip, the man known as Mar-tin. Sanc-tu-ar-y is with-in reach. You can go ab-out, ping, a-bout your way. Thank you for vis-it-ing and come back again ver-y, zip, fair-ly soon.”
The Musician fled the scene, running upstairs. Wheeler stood her ground. She pulled out a large, futuristic gun from her coat. “Get back on the wall, buster. We’re not finished here.”
Meanwhile… Allen Martin appeared to be dead at the very same spot Renaldo O’Donnell lay early.
But then he stood up. “Just a pose ball,” he muttered. “No murder atall. And my son… all that change and attached grief for nothing, it seems.”
He moves around the corner to the next area, being careful to head *away* from his apartment (unlike Wheeler earlier). A break room?
Maybe the stupid people responsible for this charade. The thought crossed his mind that VHC City is just a giant stage set for some kind of film being made. Horror story?
He then sees something more interesting appearing in the next area: a purple spheriod thingie. No: green; no: blue. He checks the description of the now golden object. Jeez God, he thinks, an “alien egg tree.” This *is* a horror story.
He walks between pipe and chair to take a closer look.
Nothing else really that odd about it except the name. And a dead end in this direction. He’d have to retrace his steps.
But then, a monster bursts forth through the wall in front of him, turns around, then leaves through same. A giant crocodile, it appears!
He may have to go back to the apartment to get his heart medicine before advancing further.
Allen Martin then heard a female voice call his name from the direction of the “break room.” Wheeler.
They met in front of this gate on the far side of the room, the Fate Gate they would later call it. From this point on they would move forward together. Holding hands again, they passed through.
“Jeez, I can’t stop yawning, Hucka Doobie. Ordered that espresso just in time.”
“Thanks for meeting me here again. You never know how long these rented places will last. I wanted to soak up some ambience while it’s around.”
“Lively place, I’ll give it that.” Baker Bloch was looking out the front window when stating this.
“I think that’s what I’ll call it — we’ll call it. Lively. While it’s here.”
“Have you seen the aley out back?”
“That’s my line. But: no. Now keep up.”
“You go ahead, then.”
“It leads to the center of it all. The place Jasper should be but won’t. *Is* this the replacement for a subsequently destroyed Collagesity? Has our town had its run, Baker Bloch? These are questions we must be asking. Jasper predicted it all.”
“The Jasper collage series, you mean. The one hung in SoSo Mall currently.”
“Of course.” Hucka Doobie then looks out the 4th wall of the establishment. “Oh, I see. The reader.”
“Finish your coffee and we’ll take a look. Have you soaked in enough ambience yet?”
Hucka Doobie looks around. “Futuristic coffeehouse. Established in 3025. Dallier’s Hope. Owners/creators may be from Saturn. Yes, I’ve soaked in enough. I’m done.”
“It’s dark, Hucka Doobie. Maybe we should turn on the daytime lights.”
“And some shaders and other stuff. The full ensemble. Downsize your window!”
“A little better,” Baker Bloch proclaims. “What’s the coordinates now?”
Hucka Doobie checks. “87, 156, 103.”
“If we find the spot that *coordinates* with the one in the Rubi Woods, then maybe that will help us make a determination which path to choose. And maybe then go look at the center of the Jasper series. The Great Either/Or as we might start calling it.”
“Let’s name as much as possible tonight,” requests Hucka Doobie. “We have Lively, Aley, Styx — that’s one of Wheeler’s, and then Tool. Where’s Tool?”
“Yes, Tool,” Baker Bloch cryptically answers, still thinking of the central Jasper collages. He has already disposed of The Great Either/Or.
“Let’s do the walking thing again, Baker Bloch.”
“I don’t think I had the right walk Hucka Doobie,” Baker exclaims afterwards. “Oh well. Here we are.”
Hucka Doobie takes a seat. “I wonder why they say it’s under construction? Looks perfectly finished to me.”
Baker points toward the back left corner. “Let’s go there. I’ll keep tabs of my coordinates.”
“Okay, Hucka Doobie. This is definitely the spot. 97/97. Right in front of ‘Precarious Geisha,’ just as Wheeler and The Musician told us.”
“Let’s head down,” the bee-man requested.
“Nope, Hucka Doobie. There’s no 97/97/97 any longer. Ground’s been raised to 100 meters. No sign of Pitch Black or its poisonous tower, but that’s not unexpected. But you could turn right here, look north, and stare up at the monstrosity.”
“OD still worships the structure. That’s its impossible black hole. A constant, impossible orbit. Just like in ‘(The) Impossible Planet’.”
“More ‘Dr. Who’ references. But jumbled up from the series. The parallel to the black hole here has been destroyed — assimilated. Yet the city remains.”
“OD remembers. There must be a parallel, alternate town.”
“What I was thinking.”
I accidentally teleported right beside the SoSo sign again for the mall, Hucka Doobie. But… so here we are. Tool.”
“One reality has Collagesity standing pat and remaining independent of VHC City. The second has all the *energy* of Collagesity streaming into VHC City instead. The blackbird, Hucka Doobie.”
“Spongeberg (the Destroyer),” states Hucka Doobie.
“Tell me more about this OD… oops, I think I’m making a full transition now.” Chef-inspector Petty was no longer Doogie Martin in any part.
Baker Bloch answered. “Like I said, we contacted him, it, through wegee. He, or she, or it, didn’t identify a sex, but it has male clothing on as it turns out.”
“Hucka Doobie and I. She’s a member of my avatar family. She’s versed in spiritual matters — why I got her involved.”
“Tell me more about this avatar family of yours. Any criminal records?” His pace was crisp.
“None that I know about. Spongeberg is a destroyer by trade. Does that count?”
Petty became cryptic. “Glad you brought him up. Spongeberg is not a member of your family. He is a member of *our* family.”
Baker Bloch scratched his head at this. “Well,” he began again, “we admittedly don’t know much about him. Are you saying, I don’t know, that he’s from *here*?”
“That is precisely what I’m saying. We also believe there is a link between Spongeberg and OD — know it, in fact. You’re aware of the former property called Pitch Black?”
“Somewhat,” answered Bloch.
“In November of 2016, the property was taken over by the town, with the oft deemed “noxious” or “poisonous” temple derezzed. The FTI gallery expanded into its former space. It was through this incorporation that the town split into two separate realities. Or, better, we became *aware* of this second town overlapping the first. It was always there. But the portal had been opened.” He turned around and looked directly at Baker Bloch. “In the *big* picture, the owner of the FTI is the same as Wheeler. Assimilate *that*.”
To Baker Bloch, Petty was spouting gibberish now. He didn’t think Spongeberg was from VHC City (but he did want to find out more of his background now). Wheeler as the FTI owner? That didn’t make any sense.
“And I’ll give you one more,” Petty continued. “See the innocent looking Musician sitting on the couch between us?”
“Who… me?” uttered The Musician, sitting up a bit and wiping his nose on his sleeve. He had half nodded off during the discussion.
“Yes, you,” Petty answers. “I don’t guess you remember anything at all about creating *VHC City itself?*”
Nope. No he did not.
It didn’t take them all that long.
They’ve found the secret rooms.
In his newly rented, creepy basement apartment, Baker Bloch rezzed the entire “Wall of Ass.” created a number of years back now for the Biggie Gallery in Sunklands, only to delete most of it in favor of Salvador Dali’s last painting, “(The) Swallow’s Tail”. Seemed appropriate.
A knock at the door, then. Strange, Baker Bloch thought. No one knows I’m here yet except the landlord. Should I even answer it? It’s the dead of night. Vampires most likely. Fresh blood smelled. The knocks resumed, then a voice. “Baker, it’s me. Martin. Allen Martin. And Wheeler.”
“Nice hat, Martin,” Baker Bloch spoke.
“It’s Allen, actually. Martin is a last name.”
“Oh right. Like the bird.”
“I suppose. Have we even met? I know your sister Baker Blinker, of course. She was my landlord over in Collagesity North.”
Baker Bloch ignored the sister misnomer re Baker Blinker. “I don’t think we have. But there’s a lot of characters in the Collagesity stories now. Perhaps our paths have crossed already and we’ve forgotten. Yes — come to think of it, I believe I saw you eating alone in Perch one night.”
“I did that sometimes, yeah.”
“I understand you have a son.”
“Something has happened to him?” He looks over to Wheeler for help. “See, I was over at your apartment just last night, Martin, er, Allen. Sorry. I was called over there by Petty.”
“I see,” states Allen Martin, repositioning himself in his chair. “How’s the investigation going?”
“Queerly,” answers Baker. “Odd accusations being tossed about. Stuff that doesn’t seem possible.”
“Like what?” Wheeler remained queerly silent. Then she was gone. Baker Bloch turned to Allen Martin, who just shrugged.
“She’ll get back here,” he said. “Go ahead… continue.”
As Baker spoke, the rest of the “Wall of Ass.” disappeared behind him, leaving Dali’s paintings alone in the apartment.
The return of Wheeler.
“Back already eh? Been clowned, huh?”
“It’s going away,” Wheeler clarified to Chuckles Greentop. “Somewhat.”
“You learned to keep your mouth shut about the Underworld, hehe.”
“You want (more) information.”
“Yes. Are you OD?”
Greentop answered Wheeler’s question with an invitation. “Walk with me down the tracks and I’ll speak what I know. You understand there are ears here and ears are in hears. Petty looms; Doogie Martin will not fully return for a while, perhaps a long while. But first: walk. I want to show you some other fishing holes. I want to encourage you to take up angling as much as I can.”
“See, I’ve already got one,” Chuckles happily exclaimed at the next fishing hole, about 200 meters south of the first.”
“Must admit it’s pretty. And relaxing!”
“And no ears to hears. 10 minutes more here and I’ll show you the next.”
Wheeler was in no hurry. “Take your time. I’m good.”
“Just wanted to show you this upper pool to the same flow. Right under the railroad. I’ve found that maggots work best here. Different bait for different pools, see. It’s an art and a science both. Little of both. I call it Phenix Pool because it sometimes dries up completely but then comes back after a rain.”
“Makes sense I guess,” agrees Wheeler.
They move about 150 meters south of that, still just off the railroad tracks.
“Check *this* out. Beautiful, no?”
“‘Tis nice,” coos Wheeler.
“And your clown face is about gone already. Let me take a look.”
“Yes, much better. One more watering hole should do it. But first — another upper pool.”
“You just relax back there Wheeler. I’m reeling them in from the other side. Reeling reeling reeling. Wee!”
“This is as far south as I usually go,” explains Chuckles Greentop, still reeling them in. “Linden land between the two tracks, see; worms work best here. Bigger perch, but fewer and further apart.”
“So it’s about all perch you catch. In any of the pools we visited.”
“Perch is the name of the game, yeah. Good eating too if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m a strict vegetarian myself.”
“And… your nose is back to normal. Good as new.” Chuckles pauses. “Sure you want to go back into that place? You could just keep running south. Run run run, all the way back to Collagesity. That’s where you have control.”
“Why go back?”
“Musician,” Wheeler says plainly. “And now… Allen. Above ground for the first, below for the latter.”
“So you’ll have to choose in that way as well.”
“Suppose. I can’t give up either right now.”
“I want to plant a name in your brain, then. Keep a lookout for it.” Chuckles stopped here and cast her rod again into deeper water. She looked up in the sky, gauging the sun’s progression as it sank to the west. “Nightfall in about 1 hour. You either go back now or keep running.”
“You said you had a name to give me,” Wheeler urged.
“Oh right.” But then Chuckles looked up into the sky and forgot what she promised again.
“Are you okay?” Wheeler took a closer look. “Oh dear. Transference.”
Wheeler would have to find her own way again.
In his new basement apartment, Baker Bloch had begun dreaming.
Outside, he followed a man looking exactly like The Musician into the Underworld but who instead claimed to be one Sikul Himatk. Sikul had been dead for many years, 100 to be exact. It was his centennial death day today. He wanted to uncelebrate by going back to the place where it happened, he told Baker Bloch.
“Don’t linger,” he implored as they came to a white door just down the steps and around a corner. “Lingering causes absorption. Stuff like that.” He indicated a painting to their right…
… which then moved swiftly down the wall and out of sight as attention was drawn to it.
Opening the door, Sikul took Baker’s hand and dragged him through to the other side. “Bemberg,” he said. “Different sim. You *don’t* go back through the blue door.”
The white door shut, the blue door opened.
Baker had seen enough. He woke up.
Wheeler heard the entrance bell jingle again. “Alright, I’ll be right there,” she said while trying to concentrate on making a key for Mrs. Cooper in Bemberg Apt. 11. She swears under her breath again. Twelve customers in 4 hours! And most wanting back orders. I should have thought more about buying this cursed little shop from Greentop before following through. The offer seemed so attractive at the time. I believe I’ve been tricked!
Wheeler turns to face the newest customer. Great, she thinks, another vampire. That’ll make almost half my customers so far. And this one looks worst of all. But then he said something Wheeler didn’t expect.
“What do you think, huh?”
She recognized the voice. “Baker?”
“Of course. It’s my new night time outfit so I can blend in here better. Vampires won’t attack another vampire.”
Wheeler adjusts her glasses. “They might want to be *friends*, though. Compare blood baths.”
“So…?” He extends his arms and turns side to side.
“It looks ridiculous, Baker Bloch,” Wheeler spoke honestly. “Besides, the streets are pretty safe here. If you haven’t noticed, there’s strong management in Bemberg at least. And probably in the other sim we won’t say the name of yet.”
“Working on it,” Baker spoke back. “Gonna spend some more time with the Oracle tomorrow on the problem. That and others.”
“Well, you did a good job linking Wegee with Key in this particular spot — that started the storyline flowing better. And then follow it up with OD. Speaking of which, talked to Greentop again yesterday. Did a tour of local fishing holes.”
“Oh? How’d that go? I see your clown face has cleared up. Visiting the country must have been good for you.”
“It was! But I need to get back to key making if you don’t have any other business here.”
“Go back out into the night,” she commanded playfully. “Attack those cats, those rats. Drink your needed sustenance. Then go back to your dark dank basement apartment and prepare for daylight. You do have a coffin? Because no one will believe you’re a vampire if not.”
“I thought you were suppose to hide your coffins — underground or in the attic or something.”
“I don’t know. You better study up on vampiring more if you’re going to disguise yourself as one. I’d ditch the whole concept if I were you. And: hope that was a freebie outfit.”
“It was the most expensive (vampire) one I bought,” Baker admitted. “57 lindens.”
“Well,” Wheeler breathes out. “I guess we’re both stuck with lemons. Mine a little more expensive than yours, but, there you are. Trying to adjust to a new town is painful.”
“I feel ya.” The thought crossed Baker’s mind just to pack it up and go back home. A small vampire said, “excuse me,” in a meek voice behind him, wanting to make his way into the shop to place an order.
“Town’s full of doors, Baker Bloch. I’ll give it that. If I wanted to stay busy, this is the place to be.” At least she’d hardly thought of Musician or Allen today. But a decision loomed. Above or below? Or… just leave altogether. She waved Baker goodbye as the littler bloodsucker pushed around him.
“The Point of It All”
It was somewhat before sunrise when Allen Martin began writing to his deceased wife Carol again.
I hope you had a peaceful night. Me… not so good. I have some news for you. I don’t want to hide anything. You know my devotion to you my sweetest will never be over. Marriage is not, until death do you part. It is forever in another, special way. Yet, things do happen in physical life. Time moves forward. I’ve met someone else. I don’t know if it will work out but I just wanted to be straighforward and honest with you. This is not a usurpal of our love. Not atall. It is a continuation in a strange way.
He paused; peered over at his now ordinary looking son Doogie snoozing away after another tough night of transmogrified grilling on the part of possessor Petty. Victim this time: Allen Martin’s landlord Summerhill Nova. Emerald tablets? What’s that mad inspector on about now?? He returned to his scribing.
I know my feelings are real in this case, but we are the rock, the foundation. This is just a new branch sprouting on an old, old tree.
He paused again as Doogie let out a loud snort.
I want to reassure you our son is fine. Do not hate me for what I, we, did. The gas station was about to be repossessed. I had to provide for Doogie. Irony, eh? Possession for possession. I hope and pray it will be over soon. But Petty is going off onto so many tangents. How about the actual *killing*, sir. Address that for a change.
He put his pen down on the desk. It was no good today. A proper letter to his wife would have to wait. He sat up on its top, looking east this time instead of west.
Wheeler. What demon are you as well?
She also snorts.
Waking up in the morning on his old couch at the Ear Bar, The Musician wasn’t sure if the whole episode was real or mere vivid dream. But here ’tis.
Baker Bloch and Hucka Doobie decided that The Musician should go look at the newest collage located in Clown Central. “The Point of It All.” Hucka escorted him there.
“Mish mash of stuff,” The Musician opined. “Like the ravings of Chef/Inspector Petty last night. I had to leave.”
“No. The picture tells a tale. Look. There is your inspector. What is he examining?”
“I don’t know,” said The Musician, following Hucka Doobie’s pointing hand. “A monster?”
“Yes, a crocodile or alligator. Petty wishes to know about monsters. But he must become *relaxed*. Not Petty, but Allen Martin.”
“I don’t want to talk about Allen Martin right now,” The Musician said firmly. “I’ve figured something out. I’m confused.”
“Allen Martin’s heart might give out. He must relax. How does he relax? Wheeler.”
“Yeah, see, that’s what I don’t want to talk about.”
“Okay,” relented Hucka Doobie. “How about up there above the inspector. Chuckles Greentop, no?”
“I don’t know. I saw her face transform into something like that. Then I saw it again in the basement of [delete name]. Now I’m looking at it again. Which I don’t want to.” He looks around. “Where are we?”
“The Point of It All,” Hucka Doobie answers. “Here lies seed information. Sometime between 2013 and present, this room formed; closed off from the rest of the underworld. Yes, like a seed planted. That is OD, of course, off the wall but then back on and then off again. OD is free. OD is *here*.”
“Ooo-kay,” The Musican mutters, tired of the puzzle-speak. “Let’s just move on from that since we’re going to play this game. Alright, I’ll give it a try. Beside that monster OD is the ‘Emerald Tablet.'”
“Very good,” encouraged Hucka Doobie. “And what does it represent? Harrison Head seems to want to say something.”
The Musician straightened his posture, eyes staring ahead instead of darting about. Sikul Himatk.
“We must enter the next sim. Through the blue door. Keys.”
“patch on his uniform which”
Still The Key
“No crossing this lake, my love. Good fishing, though. Probably worth the risk.”
“Perch?” Wheeler logically guessed.
“Yeah,” admitted Chuckles Greentop. “But fighters here. Tough because of the gators. I think that movable, more realistic looking one is a croc, actually, despite the description. I decided a while back to name it Dundee, after the movie.” She calls over to it. “How’re you hang’in today Dundee? Alli G. treating you right still?” She then whispers over to Wheeler. “They’re lovers, you know. Different species by my reckoning, but still do’in the nasty. And I want to be first in line for one of those impossible crocogator babies. I’ll put it in one of my outer pools.”
Wheeler glanced over her shoulder. “How’s your face holding up?”
“Fine. Close enough to a clown’s face to work. Better, maybe, because it’s more confusing. ‘What is you?’ they may be uttering, haha. Thank you for that. How ’bout yours?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“I told you, that’s the trick, my fiend friend. You *come* already as a clown. That way you won’t *turn* into a clown. You’ll learn the tricks here. We can fish together sometimes in this remote pool, then. But no further in this direction. That pool and attached monsters are there for a reason. I’ve seen them on the other side. This is where we communicate. Maybe today will be one of those days.”
Wheeler starts to shiver. Chuckles notices.
“Don’t be afraid, love. They’re as scared of those crocogator thingies as we are. This is the Pool of Coahoma, the separation of the barely living from the completely dead. Once you cross that pool or even attempt to, there’s no turning back. You’re one of them.”
Trouble was, Wheeler thinks she’s already been beyond. And then she gets instant verification.
“Welcome back Wheeler,” says a smiling Woody Woodmanson, appearing from around the bend.
“No Woody, you cannot be a Musician in this story as well. Now put that away and get ready. It’s time.”
“Hello my love,” Old Man Allen Martin said. “For the last time.”
Wheeler could not help. She just had to watch. And, yeah, it was painful. Very painful.
Then it was done. Correct reality locked in.