A ludonarrative novella on the subjects of genetic experimentation and utility.
By Sean Keith McAuley, with prompts from a host of other folks.
It's dark today, and she's alone;
whenever will her dreams come home?
You stand up to stretch, but as with everything you've done lately, plans are easy to abandon. You don't sit back down.
Before you, stretching out to assumable infinity, is the great Ocean, the impenetrable barrier that separates you now from all others of your kind. It's a dark, brooding indigo, choppy and foamy and loud, and has reared up and spat on you twice since you sat down. You're soaked and freezing, but you've long ceased to care; you'd rather ponder the depth of the darkness before you than face what's behind.
The dock creaks and whines with the Ocean's constant, slow rise to reclaim the barnacles stranded on its belly. It's slippery, but you're very steady; mountain goats have nothing on you. You'd only fall in if you wanted to. Do you want to?
Wet clothes. Wet fur. Wet you. You feel like you're already in the water, though you know that if you actually dipped yourself fully into the murk, the effects would be clear and very immediate. You would very much like to get dry.
SIT ON DOCK OF BAY. WASTE TIME.
You've been doing that for ages now. You don't even know how long. Your watch is too wet to function.
CALL OUT for OTHERS.
You're not really sure how to do that without hooves. Perhaps if you could find some sort of mythical ungulate, you would be able to express your desires more vocally?
You know there's nobody out there… down there, who will answer. They've moved on.
HUM JINGLE BELLS to establish the HOLIDAY NATURE of this ADVENTURE
You have a faint memory of a song with that title. It seems to be stuck just on the tip of your tongue, like so many other things have been lately. However, you aren't sure what a "holiday" is, and you're certainly not having an adventure. You're just sulking.
For a moment, a whiff of mould and stale air passes your nose—but then it is gone.
What you don't have is any way to get dry. You could just head back to your apartment, take a shower, and maybe just zone out in front of the TV for a few more… weeks… before making your decision.
Currently-available help topics:
You are Eeepie—a member of a species called, coincidentally enough, eeple.
Eeple are quadepedal furred creatures somewhat resembling small foxes. They have stubby little wings and rather overlarge ears. Their paws have an opposed digit, but no knuckes—so they can be employed to Hold or Grip things, but aren't very useful for, say, cupping water.
Eeple are quite toned and flexible—they're pretty much like the protagonist of some sort of platformer game. You can walk, run, jump, climb, push/pull/press/squeeze things, pick them up and drop them (or lift them slightly if they're too heavy to carry around), duck under things, crouch, crawl, hold or cling onto the sides of objects, and, though it might not seem like much, flap your stubby wings to make a gentle breeze.
Eeple also have great senses. Anything you can see, you can also lick, eat (or bite, or chew), drink (or lap, or hold in your mouth to later spit out), sniff, listen, or feel (or touch, or rub.)
Eeple have a sense of the exact time of day, the ambient temperature, and can determine their own health quite easily (they will know when they are in pain, or their hearts are racing too quickly.) You can also instinctively determine whether a substance or smell is dangerous to interact with, but only for substances you are already familiar with.
For an instant—a rush of water, forced into your nose and moth. You choke and sputter and slam your eyes closed, holding your breath… but then realize that you're still standing on the dock.
Is it dark or light outside?
It is a dark and stormy
night day; the rain falls in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it is checked by a violent gust of wind which sweeps up the streets (for it is in the City that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggle against the darkness.
Is the city populated at all? People or animals or creatures of any kind?
Nope. Nothing here but you. Animals won't go near the City. Eeple wouldn't go near it either, if they knew any better.
SNIFF [ugh we're gonna have to do this for every room]
You don't have to actively sniff the air of the room; smells just sort of… end up in your nose, when you enter a new place. As do sounds, and all those other things. You only really need to sniff objects that you're suspicious of.
You're okay. Hungry, maybe. You can't really tell. You just mostly feel… numb.
They're stuck to your shirt. You end up stretching out the fabric a bit, and making yourself colder from the breeze. You shiver.
The Ocean is to the west, the east, and the south. It's pretty much everywhere, since you're standing on a forced protrusion of eeplekind into its heart. The City rises away to the north.
The City is a grey concrete tumor upon the coldest, most barren delta of the Land. It's really a horrible place to live, and it is perhaps to blame for some of the feelings of isolation and alienation that drove your kind to the Change. You don't want to go back there… but you don't want to go down, either…
Remove SHIRT [but he/she's cold]
You'd probably be warmer for a tiny moment, before you feel how much more cutting the wind is without it on. You just sort of fumble with it and limply squeeze out some of the water instead.
You guess you have a …life. One out of two. Maybe point-five out of two.
USE LASER BEAM EYES to SET TIMBERS ON FIRE
You deploy your trusty robot cat (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfrEa7JOCNc) to… wait, you don't have a robot cat.
That really sucks. Robot cats are awesome. You're pretty sure that if you had a robot cat right now, you'd feel at least a little bit less like staring at water all day.
GATHER TIMBERS from BROKEN DOCK, DISASEMBLE WATCH and use the GLASS LENSE with the SUN to SET TIMBERS ON FIRE.
You idly comtemplate ways to warm yourself up without having to actually leave the dock. You also idly poke holes in your own contemplations, such as the fact that it's raining much too hard to find any dry wood.
THINK ABOUT THE CHANGE
You think it's disgusting. You don't want to think about it.
You're not sure why anyone would want to do something like that. It's horrid. Making themselves into something completely else, completely alien, losing their mind altogether, losing their identity…
You look toward the City. You know the way home by heart. There's not much to look at, just grey, unlit, muddied building after grey, unlit, muddied building. The pervading stench of dumpsters, pain, and urine from the alleys. Rotting hotdogs on an abandoned cart. Glass windows displaying useless baubles.
You're in the lobby of your apartment building when you look up again.
It's grubby and dank, with shag carpeting caked with mud both old and recent. The walls have some sort of tarnished brass decorations loosely hung upon the sort of wood panelling that makes you feel like you're in some sort of 70's porno. It sort of smells that way, too—sour and acrid.
The only noise, apart from the rain battering the windows, is from a little desk-fan on the lobby counter, buzzing slowly back and forth. There's also a single, 40-watt bulb, attached to a chandelier on the ceiling far above, providing what little light there is in the decrepit place. The others gradually burnt out; you're not sure you much care, now. You think you saw some candles in one of the other rooms, in case that ever becomes important.
TAKE FAN AND BULB (?)
The fan is the only thing making this room breatheable… but it might now have found a higher purpose. You tuck it under your foreleg.
The bulb is too high to reach. There are plenty of replacement bulbs—but you have no idea where to find a ladder.
That word sort of makes you hungry. Maybe you still have some eggs in the fridge…
Now you're getting even more hungry. How mysterious, all these food items coming to mind. You suppose it might be… ah, crap. You hope your fridge hasn't failed.
Then again, maybe it's just someone else's. That happens often enough. Time to go pillaging.
TAKE CANDLES FROM OTHER ROOMS
You plod, slow and damp, toward the elevator. You really want to put this fan down; it's very awkward to carry. The candles are… were… uh. You're not really sure where they were. There are only a few rooms you know that are unlocked in this building, though. The one across from your own room is a pretty good start.
You enter the elevator. Anything you want to do while you're in here?
SQUEAL AND JUMP UP AND DOWN
With the doors shut firmly before you, you deliver your loudest, firmest, highest-pitched eep. The eep that will shake the heavens. The eep that will express all your built-up frustration with the world at large.
It comes out a bit like a kitten trying to meow mid-chew.
LOCATE, THEN USE, TOWEL
Just in time, you arrive on the eleventh floor. No silly elevator button-finding puzzles here, no sir.
Now, you had two, er, thoughts. Which one is more important: the more recent urge to find a towel, or the wacky-compelling antics of pillaging candles?
TOWEL, NOW, PLEASE
You knock on your own apartment door before quietly turning the knob. You don't have a key—and the lock has been busted for months—but you figure that knocking first would at least convert a burglar in wait into a burglar in scamper-to-hide, and confer whatever advantage a tiny furry animal could have in such a situation.
No answer, obviously. You step inside, and shut the door again behind you. It swings back open an inch. Good enough.
Your living room is in serious disarray—though that's pretty normal. At least it's not dirty. A floor full of junk awaiting categorization; old books in piles, alongside new ones hurried inside but still showing slight rain-spotting on their covers; things borrowed from those who will never return. The holy idol of the god of media consumption rests on its centre, currently switched off. There is a couch here, that you could render very damp.
Off the east wall, there are doors to your bedroom and the bathroom. To the south, there is a small kitchenette—that word, kitchenette… mmmm—and a sliding door leading to a small terrace.
EXAMINE JUNK FOR USEFUL ITEMS
Anything you touch will be
covered in filth soaked. You aren't the type to ruin your precious hoarded goods, even if you are about to leave them behind.
But you can still look at things, you suppose. Just no touchie. Sadly, since all your book piles are so meticulously stacked, you can only see the covers of the top stack-items, and the spines of the rest (and these books are of the annoying sort where that is of no help whatsoever.)
So, what have you got here…
What do you mean, "it's not relevant?"
Okay, okay. We'll just say "books," then. You have "books."
REVEL IN THE SPLENDOR OF YOUR KITCHENETTE
FOOD. BEAUTIOUS, GLORIOUS FOOD. DAMPNESS IS NOT A PROPERTY OF FOOD; THE ONLY PROPERTY OF FOOD IS DELICIOUSNESS. EACH ITEM MORE AND MORE DELICIOUS THAN THE LAST, UNTIL YOU REACH AN ASYMPTOTE OF PURE, DIONYSIAC PLEASURE—
—okay okay I get the picture. You were hungry. Did you eat anything?
You ate everything.
GO TO YOUR ROOM
You enter your room. Not much in here. Bed. Big bed. It takes up the whole floor, and that's the way you like it. You come through the doorway and it's just like, "whoops! Bed now!"
That would probably be a bad idea at this point. You just stand in front of the open door instead. Dripping.
SNIFF FOR PEOPLE
You smell… yourself. Nobody has been in here but you for a very long time. The odor is kind of strong, though, and… recent. Huh.
SERIOUSLY I'M SOAKED TO THE BONE GET A TOWEL
Wet fur doesn't just smell better automatically when you rub it with a towel, you know. You go into the bathroom anyway.
Oh, right, there is no towel here. You meant to get one today. Then you sort of just… wandered around. And ended up at the dock again.
This is probably a good time to remind you that you're still carrying a desk fan.
Currently-available help topics:
SEEK TOWEL SUBSTITUTE
This is probably a good time to remind you that you're still carrying a desk fan. That blows air, that can dry you off.
SEEK WALL OUTLET
Oh, so, uh, let's go back to the part about you being in the bathroom. Because, you know, there's stuff in here. Mostly a shower stall (one of those ones that gets installed in a little alcove with one sort of faux-frosted-glass doors), a toilet, and a sink/cabinet with a mirror behind it. Oh, and a little garbage can.
There is a regular grounded outlet beside the mirror.
WONDER WHY ELECTRICITY IS STILL RUNNING
It doesn't come from The City. It's imported, like a lot of things. This whole place is one big environmental externality.
SEARCH GARBAGE CAN
[Earthbound sound effect]
…ew. Good thing you went to the kitchenette first, or you don't know what you might have just done.
PLUG IN FAN, DRY SELF
You plug in the fan, which immediately starts buzzing about again, as you didn't stop to turn it off before unplugging it. You stand in front of it… and after about three seconds of that, you start to shiver.
It sure would be nice to get warm before you got dry.
TAKE A HOT SHOWER
In your clothes? With your watch on?
HANG CLOTHES ON FAN
You strip off the damp shirt and pants and wrap them over the fan. It doesn't seem to do anything.
PUT FAN ON HIGHEST SETTING
You look at the control panel of the fan. There are three buttons: Off, Breeze, and Pigeotto. You press that last one. The room is suddenly filled with the flaps of a thousand not-so-tiny wings. It's freezing in here!
You drop the watch. On the ground. Eh, wasn't like it was working to begin with.
NOW TAKE THE DARN SHOWER
For real this time.
You turn the shower all the way hot, as is your wont, then shampoo all your matted fur back to a luxurious shine.
ADMIRE SEXY FURRY BODY IN MIRROR
If you're not going to take this seriously, I'm going to leave.
Okay, okay, nevermind, let's get back to it.
You know, it is way too cold out there. Is there something you can maybe do to calm things down a bit?
SPLASH WATER AT FAN
Although that would certainly calm things down—given that the outlet is grounded—you don't want to break the fan. How would you get dry then?
POKE ARM OUT OF SHOWER
Okay, and then?
PICK UP WATCH
Taken, in your dripping, chilly hand.
HURL WATCH AT FAN
The watch hits the face of the fan, then plops down—due to your impeccable aim—onto the Breeze button. The fan resumes its speed of two or three little-stubby-wing beats per second.
GET OUT OF THE SHOWER
You pull your paw back in for a moment to warm it up again, then step out of the shower.
Hey! Your clothes are dry now!
ATTEMPT TO ADJUST TIME ON WATCH
You fiddle with your watch while the chilly breeze dries you off. It's not nearly so bad when you yourself aren't soaked with freezing water.
Hey! The dial can move again now!
You set it to the time you already know it is. Seriously, what would you need a watch for?
EQUIP WATCH, EQUIP NON-SOAKED CLOTHES
You are now warm, dry, and wearing clothes. You even have a watch that—as it continues on its inexorable path of telling you information you already know—also makes a ticking noise! Kickin'.
Hmm… at this point, basically, you want to…
Well, I guess not all parts of a story are happy. Let's just keep on with it, then, eh?
LOOK AT CITY ONE LAST TIME
You would appreciate the best vantage point possible for that. That's on the roof.
RETURN TO ELEVATOR. ASCEND.
Not forgetting anything in your apartment, are you?
Okay, you're not. Sure.
BETTER GET THAT FAN JUST IN CASE
You unplug the fan and tuck it under your arm again.
…seriously, did you carry this thing the whole time? That must have been awful.
Oh, wait, no, I didn't see you with it. Where did it go, then?
You enter the elevator again. Buttons.
Wait. There's no "roof" button. You guess you never really considered going up there for long enough to realize that.
PUSH HIGHEST NUMBER BUTTON
You're already on the highest-numbered floor, doorknob!
…I'm sorry for calling you a doorknob.
OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE, LEAVE ELEVATOR AND HUNT FOR THE STAIRS
Okay, okay. But seriously, didn't you want to pillage your neighbour's apartment or something?
You hunt for stairs. You don't find any. You kind of wonder what would have happened if there had been a fire.
REPORT BUILDING CODE VIOLATION TO THE LOCAL FIREMARSHALL
You write a scathing letter, stuff it in a quaintly-decorative bottle, and toss it out your window. Conveniently, by the magic of the cartoonish reveal, it lands neatly in the ocean (several miles away) and sinks away from view.
The fire-marshall is probably down there, saddened by how his job has been rendered useless in this new water-based paradigm. He'll probably appreciate that you were thinking of him, however scalding your word-choice.
ENTER NEIGHBOR'S APPARTMENT
You finally go in there.
You can smell fresh air—fresh, rainy air—coming from the south. Also a bit of howling wind, though you're not sure if it's much louder than it is just coming through the thin one-pane windows.
You are likely to bump into a table.
SEARCH TABLE (WITH ADORABLE PAWS)
You paw the table thoroughly, causing it to give up its many secrets.
These secrets are mainly candles. There is also a matchbook containing a single matchstick.
I'm gonna guess you take these.
LIGHT CANDLE FOR GREAT JUSTICE
You light the candle.
Now you see… an apartment that's pretty much just like your own. It's pretty empty. No junk on the floor. Just a kitchenette with a table and some chairs; a rug leading into the bedroom, a closed bathroom door, and another sliding-glass door, this one slightly ajar to the rainy terrace outside. (That seems to be where the smell was coming from.)
SEARCH FOR TOWEL, JUST IN CASE
If there's a towel, it's probably in the bathroom. You …can't seem …to get …the door open. With all your might, and your very slight knob-jiggling.
LOOK UNDER RUG
You look under the rug. You find an instruction manual for assembling a Hibachi HF-390 grill!
Pretty sure you're never gonna need that.
OPEN SLIDING-GLASS DOOR AND OUT
You just realized: you don't actually want to go out there. You'll just get wet again.
Maybe this roof thing isn't a good idea.
Okay, okay. But you should probably find some way to protect yourself from the weather before going out there.
You are currently carrying:
ENJOY VIEW OF CITY FROM THE RELATIVE WARMTH AND COMFORT OF THIS SIDE OF THE SLIDING GLASS DOOR. I MEAN COME ON THE ROOF CAN'T BE MORE THAN TEN FEET HIGHER.
You look through the door. You see the twin face of another apartment building, itself rising exactly as high as your own. Built one year later. On the only side where there were terraces.
Yeah, I don't know why you bought an apartment there either.
RETURN TO YOUR OWN APARTMENT
Plod, plod, plod.
This is really uncomfortable. Match in one forelimb, candle in the other, fan tucked underneath… maybe you should put something down.
Kay, back in the living room now.
You flick it around a few times, blowing on it while not actually being able to pull it up to your snout (the fan under your arm isn't making it very easy) but it doesn't go out. You then—accidentally—drop it. It falls to the carpet.
Hmm. That's probably not good.
At least you're unencumbered of it now, right?
JEEZ STOP IT OUT THERE ARE BOOKS EVERYWHERE
You don't see it any more. Maybe it fell underneath something?
OH WELL YOU'RE LEAVING ANYWAY
Exactly. That's what you thought, right?
SEARCH JUNK FOR UMBRELLA OR SUITABLE UMBRELLA-LIKE OBJECT
Your umbrella is right there. Seriously, you have eyes, it's impossible to miss it.
You pick it up off the pumpkin it's resting on top of.
You eep in triumph. And, well, you also smell some sort of awful melting-plastic-shag-carpet-like smell, though you can't see any smoke… so the eep carries a bit of fear in it too. Yeah, maybe more fear than triumph.
DO NOT DROP CANDLE IN PANIC
That's a very good idea! You also make sure to not accidentally open the umbrella—because, you know, it would put out the candle. And then where would you be? You'd have to light it again, from… what? That big patch of fire now consuming half your books? Pffft.
GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES, IGNORE WISH TO SEE THE CITY, PROCEED TO NEXT COMMAND
…see, those two commands were kind of… intertwined, at the time? I couldn't just do one without the other. If you know what I mean.
GO OUT TO TERRACE
Umbrella open; door open; outside. Still can't see anything, even from outside. The umbrella seems to work pretty well, though.
FINE. BACK IN, THEN.
Umbrella shut. Your candle is out.
LIGHT CANDLE ON INFERNO
Your bookferno is a neatly suitable way to light a candle. You lean the wick gently toward the flames—it doesn't even have to get within three inches of the flickering to light.
Jeez, what's in those things, rocket fuel?
BACK TO THE OTHER APARTMENT
You plod back across the hall. I should note here that you're now carrying a candle, a fan, and an umbrella. It's all a bit silly.
DROP FAN ALREADY
Are you sure you want to do that? Really, really sure? I've started to grow attached to the thing.
EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE YES I AM SURE
Okay… you gently place the fan on the floor of the hall before entering the apartment beyond.
The flames seem to be… following.
OUT TO THE OTHER TERRACE, FOR NOOOO RAISIN
Umbrella open. Candle extinguished. The only light in the room is coming from the sliding-glass door, but there is a red-orange glow coming from underneath the apartment's front door. You pull it open and step outside.
There is a fire-escape ladder here! It leads… up?
JUMP AND USE UMBRELLA TO FLOAT GENTLY TO THE GROUND
I remind you of what happened to the bottle. Application of cartoony physics in this area will result in you floating gently into the Ocean. And we don't want to go to the Ocean.
You climb up the precarious, rain-slicked metal of the fire-escape, then flop over the edging bricks and onto the roof. You're really quite high up now. You can see… well, you can't see much, really; it's a cloudy, stormy, dark day, and there's all that smoke rising out of your own apartment window… but the visage of the buildings, rendered miniscule in comparison of the vast expanse of choppy water before them, seems somehow… calming.
You reconsider your desire to leave everything behind. Maybe, instead, you should…
LEAVE EVERYTHING BEHIND
You jump off the roof. (From the other side, which obviously can't also lead to the Ocean, even for cartoony reasons.)
You float gently to the ground.
CRY A SINGLE TEAR FOR YOUR ABANDONED FAN
You watch from below as your apartment—and most of the eleventh floor—turns to ash. You pour one out (one dollop of candle wax, that is—your candle is now completely spent) for that chapter of your life, now quite thoroughly shut before you.
You turn, and find that you're on a street you've never been on before. Iris street. You begin walking.
END OF CHAPTER ONE.
You are on Iris Street, an out-of-place relic of worn cobblestone amongst the City's concrete morass. The street is mixture of industrial counter-façade and anachronistic shops, seemingly continuing to exist more from ontological inertia than any benefit provided to the (now removed) populace. Where on another street you might expect gaudy banners or primped window-displays, pulling you in cross-directions and leaving you off-balance, the only ornamentation here are simple names in engraved letters on plain, wooden entryways. Despite the calming aura, it all seems rather… uninviting.
As far as you can see eastward, the street continues on in a similar, monotonous-yet-sublime fashion. To the west, it terminates after twenty metres or so in the blank brick face of the back of your own apartment building, from which dark, billowous smoke can be seen to join the smog above.
SING IN THE RAIN
You feel like singing. It's been years since you just felt like singing—especially in public. But, you suppose, there's nobody to hear you now…
"Dashing through the snow,
in a one-horse open-"
What's a horse?
This song is strange and unnerving. You stop singing it.
X APARTMENT BUILDING
From this side, it looks like an endless wall of brown-and-red brick. No windows, even. You suppose they wanted, perhaps, to save money… but the view on this side seems much nicer than that of the side they did decide to build terraces on. Old, and quaint, and humble… not in the character of the City at all, really. Perhaps aiming people's view away from this street was a good thing.
The smoke is rising from the roof into the layer of low-lying stratus clouds that have engulfed the City for most of its lifetime. You can't really sniff it from here, although you did inhale a good whiff of it when you floated down past the eleventh floor. You now have a slight cough, which will really only come up at the most inconvenient time. You might want to find something to soothe your polluted throat and lungs.
Oh look, the apartment roof collapsed in on itself. Pretty.
X SHOPS AND WONDER WHERE EVERYONE IS
Having burned through your entire to-do list for the day in a single half-hour, you feel pretty up to wasting some time checking out these not-so-demoralizing stores. You pick one at random and approach its entrance close enough to read the engraving.
"Milkshake and Butts, Engravers. Est 1932"
Huh. That's a bit… meta.
Also, you know where everyone is. They're to the west. And down a ways.
While you continue to peruse the storefront plaques, the apartment collapses down another floor—this time unevenly. A conflagration of concrete, plastic, and books falls to the ground in front of the building, where you were standing just a moment before.
WEST AND/OR SEARCH RUBBLE (JUST IN CASE)
To the west lies something you will definitely be able to search when it becomes rubble—but for now, it is a conflagration, and so much as
EXAMINEing it would likely singe your hair off. You just
LOOK at it from a safe distance. And wish you had marshmallows.
Once again, you begin walking. At first, you are fixated on the blaze behind you, slowly burning itself out in today's spittle of rain, but as you get further away, it recedes to an flickering orange point in both your vision and your attention. The street continues for miles, it seems—just unilluminated (and unilluminating) storefronts, and tiny bits of industry. It's better than the City's decadence, sure, but… with how same-y it all is, you almost feel like you're going into a daze…
You look up to realize that there are no more shops—or anything, really—on either side of the street. There's…
there's grass here.
You are now on the Open Road.
You're overwhelmed, not just by what your eyes are telling you—though certainly the verdancy of the little tilled fields, patched together like quilt-linens all the way to the horizon, are a rather glowing sight, especially in the noon-day… sun?
It's sunny. That should probably be noted. In fact:
…but as you were saying, beyond just what your eyes have to tell you, your nose… it's like your nose has woken up from a long, deep sleep. In that it has that sort-of-painful, sort-of-pleasurable tingling of all the information it was previously numb to suddenly flooding back in. Everything smells. The grass smells. The dirt smells—and not bad, either. The road itself is giving off a sort of deep aroma of weathered tar as it absorbs the sun's rays.
Is the world like this every day?
…jeez, I never really thought about it that way. I mean, there was never a time where I didn't see the sun… I guess it's kind of horrible to be out of it for so long, huh.
LOOK DIRECTLY INTO SUN
Okay, so—the stuff on the ground? Pretty, sure. Smells good. But the stuff on the horizon? Mountains, forests, the—oh, there's the city. Back that way. Let's ignore that.
As you were saying.
Mountains! Forests! And even a …big, yellow blobby thing? Okay, sure. And so much blue!
It was probably worth burning your apartment down just for this.
BREAK OUT IN SONG
You keep walking down the road—which could now, you suppose, be considered a highway, despite its relative delapidation and lack of super-mega-multi-lane-thouroughfarewaying. It's just a road. But it's…
Walk along the river, sweet lullabye;
it just keeps on flowing, it don't worry 'bout where it's going;
Don't fly, Mr. Bluebird, I'm just walking down the road;
early morning sunshine tell me all I need to know~
You're my blue sky, you're my sunny day…
Where did that come from?
You already do smell everything. It's pretty intoxicating. Still, you suppose you could get closer. Hey, is that… is that a flower? It's blue-ish violet, a little bit of yellow at the center, and a white ring between them. It…
—oh hey where did it go.
Umm… do you still have… those? You seem to just be… walking.
Oh! This is the point, right? The point where you stopped, and you thought about your day so far, and that word came back to you—
Yeah! So now… you decide right here that your walk has officially become an adventure?
Well, sort of. 'Misadventure' was more the present mood. I just felt like… getting up to something.
Oh, so the real adventuring stuff didn't happen yet?
Oh, no, there was some real adventuring stuff. It was just mislabeled at the time.
You once again attempt to make your signature tiny-furred-animal-noise—this time it comes out loud, clear, and carries down the road for a mile or more in both directions. It does seem, though, to have just a hint of… malevolence?
RETRIEVE UMBRELLA FROM GROUND, AS YOU OBVIOUSLY DROPPED IT DURING YOUR REVERIE
You look down—for the first time in a while, apparently; your neck seems to be a bit stiff—to find that your umbrella is actually 200 feet or so down the road behind you. Your smile fades a bit as you turn around and pace back to it. However, reaching the point where you dropped it, you notice that it actually demarcates a four-way intersection on the road. The east and west, obviously, are more open road. To the south is another paved street, this one in slightly-better repair, receding around the crest of a hill into the distance. The north, however, has a roughshod path of loose gravel, leading up into what look to be numerous lilac bushes. It's quite mesmerizing… and appetizing.
Oh, yeah. You pick up the umbrella. Can't forget that.
The hill to the south sports a large billboard, proclaiming it a real-estate development still in the pre-sale period. You've always had a bit of a thing for unfinished houses. They're sturdy, but exposed—in rough form, looking, for a short time, the same to both the creator and the consumer. After the plaster goes up, the bones are hidden from view, but the architect, and the construction worker, both see them, and feel them, as if they were the only thing really there.
Exploring inside such a creature's bones… is definitely something you could get up to.
You can't really tell what's up there, beyond endless lilac brush. It goes up over a ridge, and then presumably on out to the horizon. It's really quite pretty.
Wait, don't small animals live in brush like that? Small, tasty animals?
You perhaps should have
eaten that hamburger. Or at least
LAY DOWN AND LOOK AT CLOUDS
You try to ignore your stomach, and just take a rest. The sun is hot. Combined with your hunger, you're pretty darn uncomfortable. You take to the shade beneath the billboard to the south, but you can't find peace.
You must nom.
You pounce out of the shade, dash back across the highway, and into the bushes.
They're not food.
An Eeepie is on the hunt. You dive, duck, and shimmy between the dried scrubbrush, looking for even the slightest hint of movement. Your keen hearing precedes you, by informing you that a tall clump of dry, reed-like stalks seems to be vibrating with—are those little stubby wing-beats?
GET TWO BIRDS IN THE HAND FROM THAT ONE IN THE BUSH
You dive into the stalks, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. You bear your adorable-yet-sharp incisors and tear into the… is this thing even a bird? It looks, it looks like…
It looked like a fat, waddling, goldenrod-tinted… duck-thing. With wings on its behind.
It was extremely delicious.
RETURN TO A SENSIBLE, SATED, AND ALTOGETHER-LESS-MURDEROUS MENTAL STATE
Seems easy now.
You're covered in fois gras. You slowly tend to licking it off yourself as you peer around.
Also—and you can't believe you didn't notice this before—you're so incredibly fluffy right now. It must be the sun. You would surely appreciate being petted at this moment.
Whaaaat? You would, wouldn't you?
You have crested the ridge that you saw from the highway. Everything around you is purple. Lilacs—they can't all be lilacs, can they?—blooming all down the hillside, and into the valley below, for miles and miles. It smells overwhelmingly… purple, as well.
There seems to be a path winding through the valley, running down and around some more big, purple hills. It's not composed of gravel; rather, it's just a well-trodden impression into the dirt from many years' passersby. You wonder what if this path leads somewhere.
Well of course it leads "somewhere"—people had to be going to and coming from "somewhere."
Okay, you wonder if this path leads somewhere where there are people who don't subject themselves to things like the City and the Ocean. (That's a rather long qualifier, there.) Given that you want to believe that your experience up until this point was uniquely horrible, you have a rather startling amount of hope that this is true.
So, nestling that hope firmly in your right forepaw—the use of your left forepaw being taken up, of course, by the holding of a perilously-unweildy umbrella—you begin to trod down the steep slope between the thinned scrub, and onto the trail.
The sun seems to be beginning a decline. ("Seems" because, of course, you really have never seen it set, except by inference from the reddish glow it gives to the clouds as it permeates the smog-cover of the City.)
…wasn't it just noon, though?
Yeah. And then I got hungry.
The trail you're now standing on seems to be strewn with trash: nutrient-bar wrappers, empty water bottles, beer cans…
There is a sign nearby, but you can't read it. It seems to have two characters, an arrow pointing straight ahead, and then an iconographic representation of …a triangle.
In smaller things-you-can't-read, it then goes on for quite a while, dozens of characters. They look—bold?
FOLLOW SIGN'S DIRECTION
Following the sign means that you're now walking along the path, just as you were planning to. The sunset seems much more rapid than you expected.
Soon after, it becomes dark. Totally dark. It was never this dark in the city, either. Such extremes. You can still feel your way along the path, but if you stop for anything you might get lost or turned around quite quickly. Eeple may have several very useful senses, but a sense of direction isn't among them.
You look up, and find yourself quite immediately face-to-face with a billion trillion quardr—okay, countless points of light, each unnamed and unknowable by any finite measure of reach such as we mortals could ever hope to have.
Well, you would see that, if you knew what you were looking at. Really, it's more-than-a-little confusing. Little dots everywhere. Can't keep your eyes on them to track from one to another. They seem to disappear when you look right at them, even. Where are they going off to?
You wonder, for a moment, whether they (whoever "they" may be, in this case) make guides for this sort of thing. Star… charting… guides.
Probably not. It'd be a big waste of time to just stare at dots all day.
Er—night. All night.
OPEN UMBRELLA AND PLACE ON GROUND SLEEP UNDER UMBRELLA??
In night this dark, you really can't see anything at all. Below the horizon, at least; above, the view is quite spectacular. (And confusing.) You can't really smell anything, either. Even with your good nose, and knowing you should be able to smell trash—though admittedly it might have rained recently, perish the thought—all scents are overridden by the powerful aroma of lilac.
However, there does seem to be a speck of something bright green somewhere off the path, between the bushes. You're not sure how you can see it, but you can definitely see it.
WALK TO GREEN SPECK
You leave the path and stumble through the scrub in the general direction of the speck. Getting closer, you see that it was previously obscured by the brush between it and yourself; it is, in fact, a large collection of bright green specks on a flat, 2D plane that happens to be a bit rumpled up.
Wait, how did you tell that it was a rumpled-up 2D plane, rather than specks scattered around in 3D?
You reach out and attempt to take the plane. The surface of it against your fingerpads seems to be somewhat like a glossy plastic, though it bends and folds more like paper. If it was brighter—I can tell them this now, right?—it would be pretty obvious it was laminated.
You un-rumple the laminated paper and hold it level with your vision. It's still just a collection of specks… but, at this close distance, you can see faint green lines lighting between some of the specks. Together, the lines and the specks form pictures. And below the pictures, there are… well, you're pretty sure they're the names of those pictures. You can't read them, though. So let's make up our own.
That one, the one that looks like a W… let's pretend that that one is a pretty Eeple princess…
It is now much later at night. You're really quite tired. However, you're also rather entertained. And, looking up, the stars are slightly less confusing. They tell you stories.
Also, you now have an Immediate Goal:
Before, you just saw dots all around you. But now… well, they're still dots, but the stories they tell involve, for one thing, where they are in the sky. Combined with your rather good visual memory, you are now back to knowing which direction you were heading in. The path is to the east, and you were heading north on it.
RETURN TO PATH (EAST)
You're back on the path.
NORTH as far as you can
NORTH, there not being much to see to distract you. You lose track of your direction a few times, but, looking up, you find the Pretty Princess constellation once more and refocus toward it. Eventually, you come upon a widening of the path into a sort of clearing on one side. There seems to be—from feeling about on the ground—a circle of stones with fresh logs and twigs placed betwixt them. Not much else. The path narrows again after that.
SMELL CIRCLE, LOGS AND TWIGS
The entire circle smells of some sort of extremely inflammable hydrocarbon compound. Your nose tells you that this is dangerous. (Duh, nose.)
You sidestep slowly around the circle, keeping your facing and your distance due to the distinct level of danger your nose is insisting it holds for you. "Even a single spark," it says, in a particularly non-author-inserted-hint sort of way, "even a single bit of friction against that thing… and FOOOM!"
IMMOLATE SELF RUB TWIGS WITH UMBRELLA RUB TWIGS WITH STAR CHART RUB TWIGS WITH PAWS
GET TRASH AND THROW INTO CIRCLE
You pick up a nearby piece of trash. It feels a bit like a candy-bar wrapper. You're not really sure if this will do anything—but your nose insists. Tentatively, you hold your paw out over the fire-pit and let go of the wrapper. It floats gently down toward the center of the circle as you quickly pull your paw back away, and take two steps back for good measure.
Your heart is racing, so the next five minutes of waiting and feeling stupid are really just the two seconds it takes for the wrapper to fall to the ground.
The fire—wow, this story certainly has a lot of fire in it so far, doesn't it?—blazes up into the stratosphere in a blue-hot streak, burning off most of its extremely inflammable hydrocarbon compounds in its first few moments. The wood barely has time to catch before the fuel is spent. The wood is also indented slightly into the ground from the thrust of the initial blaze.
But hey. Now you've got a fire.
Also, ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED:
Really? And leave this nice, warm spot for the cold dark? Sounds rather silly.
OPEN UMBRELLA ON GROUND FACING AWAY FROM FIRE
Done. It looks rather warm and inviting in the flickering of the circle.
You think you just heard your bones creak.
Oh! That's what that thing was! You ate a Plover today~
…or maybe it was a Psyduck?
PLACE STAR CHART UNDER UMBRELLA
You place the 2D plane of specky stories on the ground. Its laminatedness prevents this from having any permanent effect on it, but it makes a nice place to lay down without getting any (additional) dirt in your fur.
You decide it's time for another experiment with seemingly-forboten majikkx. There is another instantaneous rush of water, forced into your pharynx. You choke and cough, this time a little more calmly, knowing that it's not going to last. Then, air, clear and smoky and lilac. It's even more beautiful after it's taken away.
LAY DOWN UNDER UMBRELLA
You snuggle into your rough simulacrum of a tent. With the fire still going strong, and no particular breeze in this low elbow of the valley, you can almost feel yourself relaxing and numbing with fatigue. It's been months since the others left you, but this feels like the first night you have ever left them. It feels… warm.
Whatever the next command was gonna be, this is what was going to happen anyway. You're out like a light.
XYZZY in your sleep!
Your mind slips off, through the events of the day, past the stories, under the beauty of the world, and off to someplace far-away.
Someplace up very high; very high indeed.
And, well, um… I guess that's when we met, wasn't it? Not in person, but really… that was it. I felt you there with me, your mind interposed with mine, and you shared all those stories. I didn't understand them at all at the time. I didn't really know what was going on, you know? Just a bunch of …thoughts, being flung into my head from who-knows-where. Thoughts about dragons and plovers and Pretty Princesses.
And after that, when you woke up… so did I.
END OF CHAPTER TWO.