Sunday, June 27, 2004

Ch. 40

From his vantage point amidst the bushes, Vlad overheard voices on the road.
"I don't see why we have to check. He said he hitchhiked."
"Yeah, and if we know he was lying about that then we'll know he was lyin' about the vision. Plus, the car might attract attention, if there is one."
"Alright, but you know I hate these woods."
"What, you're afraid something'll jump out at us?"
Vlad considered jumping out at them, but decided against it. If they spotted him at all they'd either report him or he'd have to stop them from coming back, inwhich case their absence would be noticed. On the other hand, he couldn't let them get the car, and they were moving faster along the path then he ever could through the trees. He could see only one way out. Apologizing profusely to the lobster, he hurled it at one of the men, hitting him squarely in the back.
"What, something get you?"
"Something hit me in the back. Check it out, will ya?"
"Nothing there. Wait a minute, do you see that?"
"The Sacred Lobster! Let's get him!"
They ran back the way they came, after the fleeing lobster. Vlad emerged from the bushes and bolted down the path, as fast as his legs would carry him. Exhausted and out of breath he reached the car. But what would he do with it, he wondered as he climbed in. He drove back onto the road and headed in towards the city. A garage, maybe. Of course, this would leave Eric on his own for a while, but atleast the lobster was back there. Everything would work out ok, Vlad was sure.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Ch. 39

The men with clipboards took Eric clear across the compound. It was a long walk, and he took time to take in his surroundings. Many people were about, in various colors of robes. They were all smiling and happy. How does that work? How does a crazy guy make a whole community happy by taking their money? He just didn't get it. His escorts made little conversation, after asking a few more questions. One that particularly amused him was "Have you seen this lobster?" At that point they held up a picture of the Sacred Lobster, symbols and all. They also asked how he came. He knew if he lied it would be easy to check, but if he told the truth he stood to lose a getaway vehicle. He finally decided to lie, and told them he hitchhiked.
Eventually they reached a place where most of the settlement ended. That is to say, they reached the far gate, but in the middle (next to a large guard of course) was a narrow path with iron gate and trees on each side. This path took them up a hill to a grand house. One of the men walked to an intercom and held down the button.
"Stitser and Wobbles, with the vision guy."
"Come on in," a gruff voice answered.
They opened the door and walked down a long hallway which opened in to a medium sized room with a large chair on the far wall, a couch on the left wall and a few smaller chairs around. A man was sitting in the large chair, talking to Gina. Eric arrived in time to hear her say, in a voice that he could not believe was hers,
"I love you too, Daddy. Good night."
She turned and left down the hallway they'd just left. He winked at her. She looked at him and squealed.
"Daddy! This is my friend Eric." She turned back to him. "I am so glad you've seen the Whey, Eric, and I want to apologize for all the blasphemy I said before. It is so good to see you!" Eric was shocked. Who was this girl and what had she done with Gina?
the man spoke now. "Wait, Annette. This is a friend of yours? Brother Stitser here says he had a vision of Engren."
"Good for you brother Stitser!" she replied.
"No," the man explained, "Stitser says that your friend had a vision of Engren. Don't you think that's a little odd?"
"No, I'm sure Engren appeared to Eric in order to undo the damage I did by blaspheming him. He's so wise."
"Honey," the man said levelly, "I'd like you to stay here for a bit. Ok?"
"Sure!" she replied and sat down on the couch, "Come sit with me Eric!" He did, and Stitser, confused but still trying to do his duty, did too. Wobbles muttered something about having to go greet the next guy and ran off.
Gina's father spoke. "So, Eric, friend of my daughter, I suppose I owe you thanks for making sure no harm came to her. She has told me of your quest, so I was expecting you to come, either to rescue her or for the Briskol Ip. I was not expecting you to come as a prospective member. So tell me about your vision."
"Well," Eric began uneasily, "It's a pretty standard vision. Ergen -"
"Engren." Gina supplied helpfully.
"Engren appeared and said to me that the only way to help Gina was to give up my silly toaster quest and see the Whey. He told me how to get here."
"And what of the other man, and the Sacred Lobster?"
"Vlad said I was crazy and he wouldn't come. He hid the lobster from me."
"I see. Stitser, will you fetch some tea?"
"certainly, sir" Stitser replied. He got up and left.
"Well," the man continued, "As suspicious as I am inclined to be, I think you speak the truth. How great is the way of the Whey, when even my daughter's disappearance can be a blessing. What can you bring to the community, Eric?"
"I'm a data-processor."
"Well," the man laughed humorlessly, "We've no data to be processed here. You'll work in the fields."
"Do you suppose," Eric ventured, "I could talk to Gina for a bit?"
"Plenty of time for that later. Oh look the tea's here. Won't you have some?"
"No thanks," said Eric.
"Oh come, you shouldn't be rude to your host you know."
He drank the tea, despite his misgivings that it was drugged. It was, as it turned out, Chai and quite good.
"You'll start in the morning. Go with Stitser, he'll show you your room in the village."
Eric did as he was told. Just as he and Stitser were leaving, Gina yelled, "Wait one minute!" and ran off.
"Very well," said her father, and gestured for them to sit back down. In a minute Gina was back with a card. She handed it to Eric. Before he could even open it, she exclaimed, "It's an invitation to my wedding! You remember Rob, right? We're getting married in three days! And now that you're here you can come!" She hugged him. She had never hugged him before.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Ch. 38

Vlad found his part of the plan to be much harder than he anticipated. He was to make his way, with the lobster, to the far corner of the gate. Unfortunately, the foliage got much thicker than expected once he got off the path. By the time he had traveled ten feet there was no wayto go on.
He surveyed his options. He had nothing with which to bushwhack. He could simply release the lobster - it could easily get through the underbrush - but he wasn't sure it understood the plan. He could walk back to the car; then either find something with which to bushwhack or drive around and try to make it in from another part of the forest. Any of the options might work, but if he failed - well, he couldn't fail.
Suddenly he heard a beeping rendition of Ride of the Valkeries resound from his pants. The cellphone. He picked up quickly.
"Hello?" he whispered.
"Vlad. It is good to speak to you again."
"Master Lin?"
"I am so glad you called. I am having a dilemma. I - "
"I know. I can tell you only this: Caught between two evils, choose niether. Rather, let them both fall in the light of the truth."
Vlad was puzzled. This was very cryptic. Which of his options was evil? Bushwhacking, because it killed trees? Using the car because it killed the ozone? Or the lobster, through his association with the cult?
"Master Lin, I do not think I understand. How will your advice help me get through the forest?"
"Get through the forest?" the Master asked, seemingly slightly panicked. (But of course, thought Vlad, Master Lin is never panicked.)"The, um, the words I have given you will guide you later, for now you must simply follow your heart. It will guide you through the forest."
Master Lin hung up. He looked again at the prophecy, and kicked himself. He couldn't have just listened to Vlad's problem instead of pretending to know everything, could he? Oh well, he thought, even the Masters mess up sometimes.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Ch. 37

It's a special bonus summer update!
It wasn't a great plan, but at least it was a plan. Eric left everything in the forest with Vlad, and walked up to the gate in just his jeans and T-shirt.
"Who're you?" asked the guard.
"A seeker of the whey," Eric replied in the most hippyish voice he could muster.
"Spell that," the guard grunted.
He looked slightly surprised, but motioned for Eric to stay there while he entered the guard house. A short while he reemerged flanked by two smaller men in blue robes.
"Greetings, seeker," said one, who was holding a clipboard, "You havve journeyed far, but you have come to the right place. We are going to rid you of worldly possessions, but first we need to ask you a few questions. How did you hear about the whey?"
"From -" he paused. How did people hear about a secret cult people never left? "From a vision, of a great stag." That was one hell of a gamble.
The man looked surprised and held a whispered conversation with the other man. The only bit Eric could make out was "Just check other and be done with it!" Later he would learn that the standard responses were mailing and telephone soliciting.
"Next question," he continued, a little frazzled, "On a scale of one to ten, how easy was it to find the whey?"
"8," Eric replied, hoping to not have to elaborate. This again appeared to be the wrong answer.
"Really? You know ten is easy and one is hard, right?"
"Oh, in that case, 2"
He could tell he'd made a good recovery when the man smiled and nodded. After a few more questions they reached a wooden house (like all the other buildings around) labeled "Things Not Of The Whey". The went inside.
Now the second man spoke.
"We'll be back in three minutes. Take all your clothes and worldly possessions off and deposit them in this bin. Then put on a brown robe from that closet." The men left.
Eric silently congratulated himself for leaving everything with Vlad, then did as he was told. About three minutes after leaving (Eric had no watch), the men returned.
"We are very interested in your vision," the first man said steadily, "We're going to take you to a very special man so you can tell him. Pardon the mess at his home, his daughter's homecoming party just ended."

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Ch. 36

It was the next morning when Vlad and Eric reached the hotel. Things had returned to normal; there was no sign any illegal activity had taken place. Nevertheless, they asked around. The manager hadn't even been there. The night manager (Who they had to track down at his home) hadn't seen anyone matching Gina's description. He did describe a man who purchased a room, than dissapeared without staying in it. A room for three.
"He was a big hulking fellow, with short brown hair and a ridiculous handlebar moustache," the little man said, "And it wasn't long after he left that the gunshots started. I just stayed in here and called the police, that's the best way."
So, they thanked him and went on to the police station.
These were not surprisingly smart and helpful policemen. These were none-of-your-business-get-out-of-my-face policemen, so that thread ended quickly.
"So what else is there?" asked Eric frustratedly.
Vlad wordlessly held up the lobster. Eric sighed but nodded, and Vlad placed him on the dashboard. He pointed East.
"That proves nothing," Eric insisted.
"We'll see when we get closer to Maine," said Vlad.

So, following a vaguely remembered story and the lead of a lobster, they went to Maine. They drove 24 hours straight, Vlad sleeping in the day and driving at night, and Eric visa versa. It was about 11:30 then they reached the sign that said:
Welcome to Maine, the Pine Tree state. Eric nudged Vlad.
"Ok, we're here. Now what?"
"Wha- huh- the lobster," replied Vlad sleepily.
"He's pointing to the median strip."
"Well, you can't expect him to know traffic laws and how to find the place. Why, my pet crayfish couldn't even tell you what a stop sign meant. Not that we had stop signs in the old country. Couldn't afford them. If they wanted you to stop, they painted "Stop" on a tree. Well, actually they painted "Stans," but..."
"Where do we go?"
"Toward Portland, I think. And our lobster friend seems to agree."
"Ok, let's go."
But as they approached Portland, the lobster actually turned to face an exit as they passed it. And, lacking a better alternative, they took it. And then he started pointing out side roads. Until finally, they embarked along a long gravelly path. Which ended in the middle of the woods.
"Well," said Eric, triumphantly, "Guess that disproves your theory."
"He is pointing," retorted Vlad, "To a footpath."
"You can't be serious."
"C'mon. This is an easy walk. Why, in the -"
"Old country, I know. You had to walk 14 miles uphill through the snow and you didn't even have a lobster."
"Something like that," Vlad chuckled.
At this point they were pretty deep into the footpath, but it seemed to stretch on and on.
"Suddenly the pine tree state thing makes a lot more sense," Eric muttered. Eventually, however, the trees thinned until they were in a huge clearing, facing a large iron gate. In front was a man in a robe just like Rob's.
"Guess we're here," whispered Eric, "Now what's the plan?"