Dike van Dyck
“I think we’re ready.”
The Musician woke up with a hot head. I don’t mean he woke up angry. His head was *hot* ow ow!! He jumped up from the bed and screamed downward. “What the f—!?!?”
Wheeler rolled over on her couch at the far end of the caravan and took in the spectacle. Smoke was billowing up from the floor at the upper corner of The Musician’s hobo mattress, right where his head is usually positioned. Outside through the door: fire itself. This place where they had been “living” for several days appeared not to be in the secret Muff-Bermingham Room of VHC City any longer. And they weren’t clowns — and with no other clowns passed out from the night before strewn about the place as per usual. The smell of scorched plastic was in the air.
Wheeler and The Musician stood together. “Something is different,” he says as the pain in his forehead begins to subside.
Just beyond their view from the inside, Morris waits paitently for them to come out and discover his presence. “Boy these clowns sure burn good,” he exclaims while watching the fire grow even brighter. “12 prims saved right there.”
Welcome to Muff-Bermingham, Musician and Wheeler.
there and here
“The sky looks like Mars,” Wheeler opined. “I think this is Mars.”
“No,” countered Morris, who had been explaining what his home was for about half an hour now. “This is truly the legendary Muff-Bermingham planet you’ve heard so much about. Muff-Bermingham may have been a *conduit* to Mars, I’ll admit. I don’t have your experience in that realm. I only showed up day before yesterday. I’m a newbie, as they say down here. Or up here.”
“What’s that was over there?” The Musician asked, indicating with a head tilt the projecting spires of a structure beyond the rimming brown rock cliffs of this habitat.
“That’s something in the works, let’s say. Things are a bit plasticine here still — melting plastic.” Morris took a deep, satisfying breath through his nostrils. Wheeler and The Musician had suspected nothing in that direction; just thought it was a different planet smell of some sort. “I have few land resources to work with,” he continued, staring into the fire. “Already, the SoSo gallery had to be stolen from Collagesity below us to create an effect I desired. *We* desired.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” Wheeler asked.
“I think his name is Lou.” Morris paused, uncrossing his legs. “Or her. Anyway, we’re still working on that as well. I do know that one is red and one is green. Stop and go. Like Muff and Bermingham. I’m sorry Osborne Well couldn’t show up in person to greet you as well but… land resources again. Collagesity may have to make additional sacrifices. But at least your Spongeberg the Destroyer has been put to bay. Is that the expression I’m looking for?”
“If you mean that Spongeberg didn’t effect the destruction of Collagesity between (the two halves of this novel) you seem to be correct,” Wheeler offers. “Instead of VHC City we are here, in Collagesity but not in Collagesity. Like the legendary Moon and its own (Moon of) Moon.”
“Like Mars,” The Musician says to Wheeler. “You’ve told me quite a lot about it. Sounds fascinating.”
“I’m projecting you’ll learn to love Muff-Bermingham just as much,” Morris pipes up. “This is just a foothold, a start. In several hours spotless day will return into splochy night. I will leave you to your own devices now to explore, gather, prepare.”
With this he simply fades from view in front of them.
Back in VHC City, Mary/Chuckles ungrasps Pitch’s cold white hand extended across the table and stares into the dark corner of the room behind him.
“Um, your Timmy Osborne Well is fading out again, my love,” she states with only mild surprise. “It’s as if he’s trying to reach somewhere else, maybe a place he can become lively again. Wonder where?”
knoll and hole
The Musician woke up Wheeler the next day to the tune of “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes, played on a gothic violin purchased in a VHC City music store several days back. He’d been saving up for months. And he’s already dubbed the steep hillock he plays upon in the above picture Fiddler’s Knoll, a natural perch for such creativity. As fine as the musician is playing, and as interesting a song as he’s covering, Wheeler still awakens upset. She had no water to bathe with the night before. All the scrounging around the various corners of their compound — nay, their *prison* — had produced basically nothing of interest. And they were unable to scale the walls to see what was outside. No flying here as well. Trapped. But today was another day and perhaps Morris would return and give them more information.
Wheeler yawns and stretches her arms as she exits the caravan. The Musician halts his playing and looks down on her. “Past 10 now,” he explained. “Waited long enough to practice.” He then begins another song, which he introduces with the title and composer. “‘My Sweet Lord’; George Harrison,” he says, and immediately leaps into it.
Wheeler walks over and sits on one of the logs at the still brightly burning fire in the compound’s center. “This place stinks,” she says.
The Musician halts his playing again. “What’s that dear?”
“I said, this place *stinks*! Did you hear that?”
Sensing the mood, he gives up trying to practice for now and rather stumbles down the knob’s slope while cradling the violin in his arms, meeting Wheeler at the fire. “I don’t think it’s too bad,” he says, sitting down on a log beside her own. “I have my knoll now, my practice perch. I’m pretty happy here.”
Wheeler simmers a second before responding. “No… I meant this place *smells*… smells bad. And what’s that beside the fire? Looks like a bit of colored shoe.”
Just then a hole opens up in the cliff wall opposite the direction of their caravan with only a slight, brief rumble. Morris emerges.
“Ahh, I actually found you here. Good you’re up. I hope you slept well, or as well as possible. I heard there was trouble locating water.” He then stood unusually close to the fire, shuffling and kicking his feet around on the ground in front of it. Again, Wheeler and The Musician missed the hints.
“No water, yeah,” Wheeler said. “Tougher for a girl.” She glared over at The Musician, who moved his violin to the opposite side.
“Well, no fear in that now. I found a portal to the outside. It was those darn foxes all along. One for each of us. I’ll go first, just to make sure it’s safe and it works again. Give me above 5 minutes before heading in yourself.” He moves around the fire and leaves just as quickly as he came, exiting through the hole again.
Wheeler only waits about 30 seconds tops and then bounded off the log and toward the opening. “Come on Musician,” she beckons with a wave. “I want to see what he’s up to if we can.”
Inside they found the cutest little things possible.
double the fun
“Aww, look Musician. It just hopped up right in my arms. Who’s a good foxie?” The fox Wheeler holds yelps softly while she pets its head.
The second fox was more warey. He or she eyed the Musician suspiciously. “I don’t think *mine* likes me as much,” he says while staring back.
“Oh go on. Pick it up. This one’s so *friendly*. Don’t be a scardy cat.”
“I mean, why are we here playing with foxes anyway? Where’s Morris?”
“Oh Moriss Smorris,” counters Wheeler. “We have foxes! Adorable, lovable foxes. Go ahead. Pick it up,” she repeats. She just knew that The Musician *had* to hold that fox. The desire was overwhelming. “Go ahead. Call it to you. Say: ‘Here foxie foxie. Jump in my arms. Who’s a good doggie?'”
But her urging created the wrong effect. Suddenly she had *two* foxes in her arms.
“Oh dear, hee hee.”
“You can come out now, Wheeler and Musician.” Morris called from outside the cave, holding his own fox still. “The lights aren’t flickering any longer. All clear signal.”
But when they emerged from the cave, Morris became flabbergasted. “*Why* do you have two foxes, Wheeler? What happened?”
“I don’t know. They both liked me. They didn’t take to The Musician. It just happened, Morris. Why does it matter? We both made it through.” She looks around. “Ooh nice. Everything has opened up.”
“Look,” says a pointing Musician. “There’s the caravan, all safe and sound.”
His point moves to the left.
“And there’s the building we only saw the top of before, now apparently in full view. Let’s go take a look Wheeler… Morris.”
“Giant tree here as well,” adds Wheeler. “Nice job Morris.”
“I didn’t do any of this,” responds Morris. “I just figured out how to get here. Yes, everything is exposed now. This is Muff-Bermingham in full.”
For some reason, that sentence didn’t sound quite right to Wheeler but she let it go.
“There’s more,” continues Morris. “But first: the issue of the foxes.”
“What do we do?” Wheeler asks the red alien. “Just set them down on the ground and let them run back into the cave?”
“Yes,” answers Morris. “Except we were suppose to have one apiece.” Just then, the second fox that jumped into Wheeler’s arms began to fight with the first. What ended up happening is that the second squirmed out of her grasp and fell onto the ground, running off in the direction of the caravan in a panic.
“Great,” exclaims Morris. “Just great.”
“I’ll go get him back,” offers an animal free Musician. He begins running in the same direction as the fox.
“Scotty,” pouts Morris, holding his own fox even tighter. “Should’ve seen it coming.”
“The Musician is pretty nimble. Maybe he’ll be successful in catching him.”
“Maybe,” says Morris to Wheeler. “But I sense our plan has run afoul of something. We’ve been sabotaged.”
The Musician chased Scotty past the still unused Hollywood Talk Show Studio set up on the edge of the Muff-Bermingham skybox…
… between the partially de-walled SoSo Gallery with its recently altered (now red and green) Oblong 17 collage and the back of the cave Scotty and his two fox mates had just manifested inside of…
… up to Morris’ projected house or workshop also on the edge of the skybox. Here the fox stopped, but not out of tiredness. To indicate something. An already winded Musician walked up to see what he was barking at.
“What is it boy?” asks The Musician to Scotty. He didn’t recognize the image of the famous basketball figure before him regular readers will now understand is recently retired NBA power forward and former San Antonio Spur Timmy Duncan (also pictured on the aforementioned Oblong 17). But he did recognize something about the ball — there were, in fact, two of ’em, one partially overlapping the other. The foremost appeared to be three dimensional; the back one Duncan actually grasped seemed to be more a natural part of this two dimensional representation. The fox’s yelping attention focused on these balls.
The Musician touched the front basketball to find out more information if he could…
… and the Duncan figure quickly flipped around to become somewhat different: now Duncan appeared to be holding this *three dimensional* ball directly.
Scotty stopped barking and took a few steps backwards. A diagonal darkness began to wash over the Duncan image starting from the lower left. The Musician took a couple of steps back as well. Scotty then rushed over and eagerly jumped into his arms.
Another portal had formed.
He didn’t think about what he was doing. Clutching Scotty tightly, he just strolled through the dark opening as if it was his only option. As it became light again on the other side, The Musician realized he was getting wet. It was raining, pouring in fact.
By the time he had traversed the steps about 50 feet up the wood plank path he was already out of it. He didn’t know the name of the fox which was actually a dingo before, but now he did. “Scotty,” he addressed the dog he was holding, stroking its wet orange head. “We meet again. It’s Sikul, Scotty. Sikul Himakt.”
And this was *greater* Muff-Bermingham.
“Who’s at the bar tonight, Baker Bloch?”
“Umm, looks like Morris maybe? Or perhaps Lou. I can’t tell because his head is hidden in the bottom of the stool.”
“That’s strange,” replied Hucka Doobie. “Could be either red or green, then. Stop or go.”
“We better get back to the forest.”
“This is the way to the village, Scotty.” Sikul Himakt pauses as his fox-dingo companion lets out a series of primitive whimpers and yelps. “What’s that boy? You want to go see the elephant first?” He pauses again. “And then the pelican?” He laughs as the dog jumps up and down a bit and continues his vocalizations. “Okay, okay Scotty. Calm down. We’ll visit all your animal friends, don’t worry. How about Ellie first?” The dog barks affirmatively.
They walk across the wooden bridge spanning Circle River.
“There’s your old pal Ellie, Scotty. Same as always. Guarding the bridge. Impart your experiences to us, my long memoried friend.” Ellie duely sends Sikul a notecard summarizing what’s happened since his last visit. “Thank you, that’s very gracious, Ellie. I will study and absorb when we reach the village and are able to rest. Oh, but I see from just scanning the first paragraph of your note that the village has been damaged.” Ellie raises her head and unfurls her trunk. A loud hiss follows. “Hmm, we better get there post-haste. Goodbye Ellie. Say goodbye, Scotty.” Scotty barks several times at Ellie and wags his tail.
Penny the Pelican was next for a catch up. Penny had no notecard to share about her more recent adventures, but just stood there, enjoying the silent comradery. After a moment, Sikul says: “Take your time, Scotty. Visit all you want with Penny. But, remember, we’ll be living here a while. You can see all your old friends again and again.” We better make contact Tom the Booker as soon as possible, he then thinks to himself. If anyone knows what’s going on with the village it will be him. Scotty barks goodbye to Penny and they continue down the path.
“Mrs. Frobishire, hi! It’s me, Sikul Himakt. Come back for a visit.”
The traditionally garbed woman continues to sweep in a back and forth motion on the same stair while answering. “Ah yes, Sikul. Glad to see you and Scotty back. Come join me for pie and tea when you have time.”
“We certainly will, Mrs. Frobishire, eh, Scotty? And then there’s *Smile*, Scotty. Maybe your bestest pal in the forest. Go on and touch noses with him. We unfortunately don’t have time for playing right now, but soon.
Scotty bounds up the bank and says hello to Smile.
The larger dog understandably wants to immediately leap into a game of chase with his old buddy. But Scotty keeps in mind his master’s desire to reach the village in due time. He expresses this wish to Smile, who nods in understanding.
“Hmm, the path up to the village beside this waterfall is no longer here, Scotty. I guess it’s time to study that note by Ellie.”
Just then: “Greetings Sikul! It’s Lou. Your old landlord. Come on up the bank. I want to show you this place.”
“Lou?” He recognized the voice but the figure on the foundation platform of the cottage above him seemed different from a distance. “Sure. Just walk up the bank toward you?”
“Yeah, that’s it.” She kept talking while he and Scotty ascended the cliff. “Just cleaning up some industrial waste around this rental. Plane crash up in the hills above here. I suspect griefers. Found the tail part of the fuselage and deleted it but the front remains missing. But you know about crashes. Debris fields.”
He was upon her now. “And before you say anything else, yeah, I’m not green any longer obviously. Spent a lot of time in a cave while you’ve been gone. Photosynthesis powers lost. Might as well be a ‘shroom now.” She laughed liltingly.
“Well, it’s good to see you whatever. But I must ask right off…”
“Village?” Lou guesses accurately.
“Yeah. I haven’t read Ellie’s notecard thoroughly she provided me just a minute ago but: something about damage? Is this related to the plane wreck?”
“No. I decided to move the village,” replied the albino fairy being. “Created a whole doppleganger forest, in fact. Just out of boredom, you understand. Things have got to grow or else: stagnation. You know how it is.”
“I suppose,” replies Sikul, who remained disappointed that the village was no longer *here*. Where does Mrs. Fabershire shop for food now? How about Duncan Avocado just down the river? He makes a mental note to stop by Duncan’s treehouse after this. If it’s still there.”
“Well?…” She waves her hands around. “What do you think about the cottage? Go on inside. Check it out.”
They go inside. “Front steps are a little high,” Sikul complained good-naturedly after walking in. In truth, he didn’t think he wanted to rent this place since the village was no longer accessible above it. What was the point?”
“I’ll work on that,” Lou replied, not offended.
“Nice fireplace,” Sikul then offered, trying to see the positives as well. He looks out at the view through the several paneled windows in the house. “I prefer my window panes not to be as frosted.” He rubs one with forearm to make sure it wasn’t just dirt.
“Again… no problem. We can switch those out. Give you somewhat bigger windows if you wish. Go on upstairs.”
But Sikul was studying a picture on the wall next to the window he had just been rubbing. “That looks like my old home here.”
“It is, actually,” said Lou, happy he didn’t miss the bait. But the comment about the windows lured him over. Lou made sure this one had some extra frosting. “It’s moved along with the village. Need to work on the landscaping over at the new spot, but it’s coming around.” She stopped herself there. “Come on, let’s go upstairs.” The seed has been planted, she thought.
“Well I’m sorry you don’t like the house,” Lou said, sitting on the downstairs floor along with Sikul after they had finished upstairs.
“It’s not that I don’t *like* it. I’m just not ready to commit myself to anything at this early date. I just *arrived* back.”
“These places are hotcakes, in that they sell quickly. You see one empty that you like, you better grab it. But I’ve also made a decision. In looking around this cottage with you, realize how much I like the location myself. I don’t wish to be next to the village and all the hubbub that’s coming with it. I like peace and quiet. Besides… you’re going to need someone to take care of Scotty.” Hearing his name Scotty runs up to Lou and lets her pet him. “We actually go back quite a ways, don’t we Scotty?” He barks, reaffirming this. “Neither of us care too much for caves.”
She raises up off the floor. “So it’s a done deal. You wish to go to the village to be amongst more old friends. I don’t desire to go to the village. Scotty *can’t* go to the village with you through the portal, else you’ll just be sent back to that old arid skybox with Morris and your new friend Wheeler. So he stays here with me. At my new place. He can play with Smile any time he wishes. Duncan’s over there at the new village as well. And more special friends you’ll run into. It’s settled,” she repeated.
Sikul was taken aback by this barrage of ideas/decisions. But he saw the truth in all of it. He regretted leaving Scotty behind most of all, his old friend. They would meet up again, but it would not be for many more months.
The next day he passed through the gateway separating the two forests old and new sans portal dog.
Muff and Bermingham
Sikul Himakt faced a similar choice as before. Across the bridge from him here lounges an elephant, a male in this case named Eli. If he instead follows the river bank to the right on this side, it should lead him to the path beside the waterfall that was missing in the parallel forest. He decides he has to find out sooner or later about the village. He goes right.
Sure enough, there it is, just as Lou described.* Excitement!
He heads up.
After having explained the best he could about what happened to the man Wheeler Wilson knows as The Musician, the red alien Morris excused himself and faded from view again as he had done once previously. He warned Wheeler to just stay put here in this arid skybox and he would attempt to bring The Musician back himself. “Don’t move,” he said. “Else you may never be together again.”
She quickly tired of exploring the various structures in the now opened up skybox. Castle Knight with its projecting red spires, for example, only contained a picture of who Morris called Ted, described as “another employee” of this mysterious Lou he kept bringing up, a fairy being he said owned the place The Musician went to.
He also stated that The Musician was not awake but asleep in her realm. “I’ll find him and rouse him,” Morris promised just before he disappeared.
* compare with end photo of this post: https://bakerbloch.com/2017/06/09/54752/
“Do you not know me?” asked Mary/Chuckles to
The Musician Sikul Himakt.
“No. I do not know you.”
“How about now?” Mary/Chuckles says beside the window behind him. He turns and examines.
“No. I still do not know who you are. I will probably never know who you are, no matter how many places you manifest or what clothes you wear.”
“Hmph,” she exhales. “Let’s see about this one.”
“Hi Osborne. What’s shak’n?”
Bingo, she thought.
Sikul Himakt enters the village at the top of the steps. Hmph, I guess it hasn’t changed all *that* much, he thought. At least there’s the general store still, the hub of it all. He walks over to it and gets a surprise.
“Welcome to the first town meeting, Musician,” states Morris in a level voice. “You’re just in time.”
Morris’ tentacle laden plan worked. The Musician woke up inside the dream that is the Bermingham side of the Muff-Bermingham planet. For a bit.
In preparing for all this, Morris knew he had to have a portal animal at hand right after the rousing. Scotty, being in the possession of all-too-clever Lou on the other side of the gateway, remained inaccessible for the time being. Lou herself could do the trick if she hadn’t sworn off portal dog duties after the accident with Tom the Booker November before last. Too bad… she was the best and smoothest of us all, he thought. And then, of course, there was himself, which he quickly ruled out for similar reasons. We may get to that story later on. So, slowly but surely, it dawned on Morris that he’d have to try to recruit the formerly significant but now substantially diminished transdimensional talents of old Colon Hiss, a large grey snake who lived beneath the rock supporting *Sikul Himakt’s* former cottage on the edge of his village. There was really no other suitable alternative that he could think of.
It was last Friday when he first approached Colon with the idea. Teleporting into the center of Sikul’s “village,” Morris walked north until reaching the taller green grass near the rock. He had to be careful not to get too close, else he’d fall to the forest level immediately below after crossing a sim line. He called Colon’s name repeatedly. No answer. Then the large snake was suddenly behind him. “You’re blocking the way to my home,” he said. “I need to get to my home. My eggs are getting warm.”
Turns out Colon had become tired of living under the rock and decided just to move into Sikul’s old cottage sitting above it instead. They talked further inside. “There’s a refrigerator,” the snake explained while putting his eggs purchased at the general store into it. “And a tv. The village now has cable beyond the Static Channel.”
“Come on, Colon. You know there’s no village.”
“What can I say? I like to dream.”
“Which is why we’re here. Sounds like you kind of have a vested interest in not wanting Sikul to return to the village. Because you know if he did, he’d want to have his house back. *Lou* would want that.”
“Yess,” hissed Colon, just getting this part.
So the motivated Colon was there when The Musician woke up inside Sikul’s dream at the entrance to the faux general store. He slithered beside him from his hiding place in the grass. Morris’ tentacled friends, having done their work, were now dispatched. It was just Morris, The Musician, Colon. All three awake and aware.
“Wheeler is still waiting on the other side of the portal,” spoke Morris to The Musician while walking between him and Colon. “We must hurry.”
“I’ve forgotten how beautiful it is down here on the lower level,” coos Colon, pausing to take in the scenery on river deck despite Morris’ warning to keep moving. “I’m so limited in my world up on the rock. To the store for eggs, back to the house. To the waterfall behind the 3rd cottage for a bath or wash, back to the house.”
And just like that The Musician had fallen asleep again. Looking over, Morris cussed the f-word and immediately began ruminating about Plan B.
The Musician woke up as Sikul Himakt, Bermingham native gone rogue for city life but returned to his bucolic origins to make amends. “Why are we not in the village?” he demands. “I distinctly remember entering the village and the general store.” He looked in turn at Morris, who he didn’t know, and Colon, who was an old friend. “Colon, I’m glad to see you.”
“Same here,” says the big snake honestly.
“But who’s this red headed dude?” Sikul asks.
“Just tell him the truth,” Morris suggests. “Just tell him who I am.”
“Uh, okay. You sure?”
“Yeah. We’re in desperate situations here.”
“Um, this is Morris, Sikul. Morris is Lou’s brother. Osborne Well is their father.”
“I *know* Osborne Well. He’s retired and lives up at the place on the edge of the world, beyond the high waterfalls. But Lou has no brother.”
“Yes. A brother. Outcast. Kind of like you. You think Bermingham is alone as a world. Intertwined all within it, however, is another world, a — less beautiful realm.”
“Oh come on, Colon,” complains Morris, arms folded. “Give me a break.”
“Anyway, this world, Sikul, is called Muff. Does that ring a bell at all?”
“No,” says Sikul, looking over at Morris.
“Morris rules Muff,” Colon continues, “as Lou is the owner of Bermingham now as passed down from Osborne. This is written in the ‘Sacred Book of Leaves’, but in symbols… code. The red and the green. Stop and go. Lou will tell you all about it if you asked, I’m sure.”
“No she wouldn’t,” counters Morris. “She wants The Musician — Sikul — here for good. She wants to eliminate the Muff half of the equation. Too arid, she complains for one part. Too cold and icy for another. These smaller, more numerous microcosms plugged into her own *uroborous* realm here are always quite not to her satisfaction. Yet this was what I was left with. My *inheritance*.”
In shock, Sikul looks at each in turn, absorbing the truth of it all. “Why has no one told me this before?”
“I’ve told you many times,” says Morris. “Again and again. Over and over. Yet you always fall asleep again and are in *her* realm. There’s only one way out of this now. We have to go to the place beyond the high falls.” He speaks to the snake now. “Colon, I thank you for the attempt but I’m afraid you’ll have to clean out your stuff from Sikul’s house and return to under the rock. Then we have to take Sikul heavenward. I’ll stay in the 3rd cottage with the, ahem, ghost. We’ll set out early morn.”
Sikul of course knew about the ghost. Mary. Known for her eerie chuckle. And red nose. But he personally had never seen her.
red green red green red green…
After the others had turned in at the village, Morris, ever the night owl, decided to poke around his sister’s realm more to find out what she’d been up to since his last visit. He found a formerly unknown crack between the two worlds, their realms, in one of her waterfall apartment rentals, and directly atop part of the Jagged Sea, former home of MOA (Most Ancient One). Couldn’t be coincidence. An impossible wash of red and green together on the walls gave it away, two colors which simply don’t blend well except on that one special day of the year. Their birthday.
Finally feeling like he’d found a place to rest, Morris falls asleep and dreams of former times.
Woody Woodmanson divined their presence long before he saw The Musician, Colon and Morris walking toward him on the wood plank path above the high waterfalls. His key told him.
“Not too much longer, Lou,” he said to his friend and landlord, seated on the opposite side of the counter. “They’re preparing for the journey in their village.”
“Remember to *emphasize* that village whenever you see an opening,” she says. “We want Sikul to stay in his old house. He must become a team with Colon Hiss. Scotty is mine now.”
“Magenta Islands,” Woody blurted out. He’d been trying to guess the location of the lost portal since he learned about the fabled opening several days ago. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Pretty sure of that.”
But Lou knew Woody was wrong. Morris didn’t think she remembered the Jagged Sea and MOA. She had information he didn’t. And she planned to keep it that way.
“Any hour now,” Woody said, still divining.
Sikul Himakt and Colon pause at the top of the ramp to look back at the green hump representing their now joint sod home on Big Rock. They’d bought a baby dragon from the general store to effectively seal the deal. Another mouth to feed.
Morris was called away at the last moment on business and couldn’t make the trip; took one last glance over at the crying dragon, mumbled something about a transdimensional leak in Sector R, and vanished again before their eyes.
Sikul Himakt and Colon then looked forward at one of the most impressive views in all of Bermingham: Ridge of the High Falls. The path they were on traversed the whole thing. They could just make out Osborne’s house atop the furthest falls from them. The key shop remained unresolved, however.
They continued their approach, crossing the sim line between the two sides of the forest here (original and doppleganger). The first of the sky islands rezzes in above the house from this angle.
“10 minutes, Osborne,” exclaims Woody, ready as he’ll ever be, he felt. “10 minutes!”
At the beginning of the blue path near
Osborne’s Woody’s house, Sikul Himakt The Musician spotted him, sitting alone on a high perch overlooking the Magenta Sea.
“I had it all, Musician,” the figure spoke without turning. “A fantastic new woman in my life, a faithful son now free from possession. Investigation over. No one died. And then it was all taken away. Woody became Allen, and the 4th wall was erased, just like in the hit film ‘Purple Rose of Cairo.’ Ever heard of it? Stars a man named Baxter, but not Ted. I don’t think.”
The man never turns around, but The Musician knew who it was, of course. Recently deceased Allen Martin.
“Jasper is waiting,” he said cryptically to end his dialog.
The Musician glances behind him, wondering where Colon was. But the snake had vanished, just like Morris before him. And then, in turning around, Allen Martin had disappeared too. The Musician was alone. Time to find Woody.
Seeing the front porch of Woody’s house appear to the right from behind some raised, pointed green terrain, The Musician decides to jump down from the blue path and head toward it. Keeping straight would quickly lead to the sky islands. He didn’t need to go there quite yet.
The front door of the house is open. Figures appear in the far corner of the single room floor, all gathered around a circular, white topped table. Seemingly not yet noticed, The Musician listens in on the conversation in progress.
“Well, Osborne, in the late 1970s McKay told John Conway, the inventor of the Game of Life, you know, that the coefficient of 196844 was precisely one more than the degree of the smallest faithful complex representation of the monster group. Conway replied that this was Jack Daniels style moonshine, in the sense of being totally wacko nuts.”
Woody stops speaking and turns toward the door. “Oh, howdy Musician! Welcome to physics night at Woody’s Outpost. I hope you like vertex operator algebra.”
“I’m not sure,” is all he could manage, then, looking to the left, added, “I like your tree,” to be more cordial.
“Thank you,” replies the wooden toy-man. “It was a house warming gift from a dear dear friend who still lives over in the quarantined section of Bennington. Sector R I believe they call it nowadays, don’t they Osborne?”
Osborne doesn’t answer, but just appears to keep reading his book with the queerly tentacled creature adorning the ancient cover. Another monster.
“Well, anyway, come on in,” Woody says. “Just pass through the twirly whirly Jaspery thing so we can check out your core being. Then you can join us here at the table. Just a simple test, you understand. We need to know who you really are, deep down. The area around The Table must remain sanctified, right Osborne?”
The Musician began to panic. Who *was* he deep down? He’d figured something out at LEA11 about his true self but then quickly forgot. What if he simply *vaporized* — had no inner core.
“Oh don’t fret,” Woody reassures, seeing the worry on his face. “Everyone has a core, Musician, whether they know it or not. Here, I’ll go first and show you. That’s only fair. Osborne just remains Osborne. Pretty boring.”
Woody gets up and moves into the center of the swirl. He quickly contracts into a sort of meatball, then reconstitutes. Woody’s core.
Then he contracts and expands again to return to his wooden toy self.
“See? Nothing to it. Now your turn.” Woody steps back toward The Table.
The Musician saw no way out. He entered the swirl.
“There,” comforts Woody. “That wasn’t so bad.” He turns to Osborne. “Look, Osborne. A ghost. The Musician is a tall ghost at the core. Cool, eh?” Osborne keeps reading. “Let’s check the name out. Ohh, a Jupiter, eh? I knew some Jupiters over in Farmington. You’re not related to Jeb and Stewart by chance?”
The Musician shakes his head. “How do I get back?” he asks. Would he have to stay this way *forever*?
“Takes a little longer for first timers,” Woody explains. “Just give it a moment. Try not to move too much.”
And then The Musician was back. Woody pulls a chair out at The Table and offers him a seat. “You can sit beside me. We have much to talk about. We need to get you reunited with Wheeler and heading to VHC City pronto. Bad juju going on there. We can use the key shop as a teleport device of course. I know you’re familiar with it.”
Ah, The Musician thought. So Wheeler was right all along.