The caves became more convoluted, cluttered with all sizes and manners of pipes, while the ground beneath them was growing muddier and stickier. Trickles of thick, congealed, psychedelic liquid ran across the floor, and Deacon warned her emphatically not to touch it. As they proceeded, more and more technicolor streams of liquid ran through the corridor, until finally, after hours of trekking through heat, clanging clatter, and cartoonish singing by the endlessly cheery chorus of cockroaches, they came to a narrow passageway where the ground finally ended entirely. Swirling, hypnotic, rainbows of liquid filled the the rest of the wide hallway, with a series of scattered steppingstones offering the only solid footing in which to continue.
At the end of the stepping stones, a large object appeared to be bobbing on the liquid, but she was unable to make out what it was.
“It’s a boat, miss. We’re at the river now. It’ll sail you right to the threshold.”
She stared warily at the perilous corridor ahead of her. No stone was actually large enough to fully stand upon. Once entered, she would have to traverse the corridor in one unpausing effort and hope to keep her balance and footing until the end. She took deep breaths and prepared herself.
The cockroaches launched into the Powerpuff Girls theme song.
She no longer giggled but simply laughed a loose free laugh that made her feel wild, a creature who could climb with her claws, rip flesh with her teeth, and jump and prance with hooves.
Yet one small corner of her mind wondered how it was these bugs knew all of these pop culture trivialities. Perhaps from hanging out behind the walls of countless apartments. Perhaps they were picking it out of her head. But perhaps they were coming from her. Perhaps she had woken up, seen her baby lying dead of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, cracked up, and was wandering the streets and subways of Manhattan growing more and more psychotic.
Sanity be damned. She shrieked and leapt and jumped and bounced with wild abandon from stone to stone down the corridor, hair matted and tussled, with an exultant freedom she only now remembered from childhood. Rock to rock in a river of chaos, dirty and disheveled, no longer a product of 20th century civilization, but a great and shiny creature in a wild, winding land. She could almost close her eyes and still traverse the stepping stones with exquisite precision.
Upon the gurgling, swampy river of Chaos at the corridor’s end was a ride-able, smiley, white duck boat. The boat was plastic, the mast a bright, garish, grinning duck face, with an expression creepily exaggerated. A recycled relic from an old-time merry-go-round. A clown dressed as a duck, dressed as a boat, and she cackled as she leapt aboard.
Deacon burrowed into her bra during the leaping and prancing, and now poked his head out to take a stock of the situation. The boat was stationary, with no paddles or engine. At the stern was an old victrola with a vinyl record loaded, large gold bell facing backwards.
The cockroaches, unable to make the leap onto the boat were assembled on the walls, bellowing out a hearty farewell chorus of the ‘Hey Hey Goodbye’ song.
She took the needle of the ancient record player and placed it on the vinyl disk. A scratchy old crooner from what sounded to be the 1930s sang a forgotten Irish ballad, and as his faded voice rang out through the underground tunnel, the ship from a lost child’s discarded memory set off, slowly gliding down the River of Chaos towards the Lands Of Perpetual Twilight.
As the boat sailed into darkness, the only light was from the swirling spectrum of hallucinatory liquid splashing up from the river beneath. She felt a tug deep within her belly, her eyes could no longer focus, and soon there was no more woman, no more boat, and no more cavern.
A beautiful, silky white Swan flew across the world, long and far, searching for her youngling. She appealed to the Lady of the Waters, the Green of the Puck, the Old Man of the Rock and Wild Woman of the Wind, but none could help her. Defeated, she sat and cried until a Fox peaked his head out of nearby lair.
The Fox told her the child was not hers, was never hers, and indeed nothing in the world including her very identity was truly hers. Her nest was once a place where another’s home stood and would one day again, her child merely passed through both her womb and care and her very self was a series of roles assigned to her by the world.
The Swan agreed with the Fox, and was about to return home, her quest over, but discovered he had taken the young one to be his dinner, and so flew him far up in the air. He begged for his life but the Swan reminded him his body was merely a temporary vessel, not truly his and released him.
From high up she saw the young one still alive in the Fox’s lair. She dove towards him and the air spun about her, and when she landed she was no Swan, but a slightly shocked and confused woman whose boat had landed at the shore of the river, at the mouth of a Cave, at the end of her Journey.
“Yes miss. I’m here. I had a really strange dream that I was a man meditating under a tree.”
“I think we’re here.”
The ship had run aground upon a tiny little subterranean beach. Directly ahead of them was the cavern opening, beyond which they could see stars, hills, trees, and a beautiful, warm glow across the fading horizon.
She climbed out of the boat, mouse on shoulder, and said goodbye to what she now realized was no duck, but a horribly rendered swan. As they approached the cave’s opening, a dark figure hunched to the side became apparent. It gawkingly stood a bit and shuffled to the middle of the opening, between them and the outside. She guessed that the figure would be about 10 feet tall if it would bother to stand up straight.
Arms dangling, back hunched, it bobbed its ugly, massive head.
“Rol de dol rol,” it said as if it could barely be bothered. “I am a troll.”
“Right.” She said. “You want to let us through?”
“No can do,” the troll replied. It cleared its throat. “No one passes this way by me, unless they…. uhm…. oh bother. Something three. There’s three of something… ah, let’s see…” and began muttering incoherently to himself.
‘Oh for fuck’s sake,’ she muttered, and ran through scenarios of what this figure would be in real life, assuming she was indeed wandering new york, hallucinating all she was witnessing. She was considering a heroin or possibly crack den when he perked up.
“Questions three!” the troll exclaimed. “That’s it. Unless you answer my questions three.”
“Look,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “I have just been through the bowels of the world and back, my sanity is at best a piece of fond nostalgia, and I am really in no mood to be…”
The troll raised himself to his full height, puffed out his chest, and slowly cracked his long, bony neck. He was very big, extremely ugly, and without a doubt scary enough to warrant shutting up. She also couldn’t help noticing that he had a rather large, spiked club in his right hand.
They stood for a moment in silence.
“So,” she said. “Questions…”
“Right then. This is my second favorite part of the job.”
“What, the questions?” asked Deacon.
“Yup. Matchin’ the ol’ wits as they say. Relieves the tedium you know.”
“Well, if this is your next to favorite part…” began Deacon.
“Oh Christ, I see this coming a mile away,” she murmured.
“…what’s your favorite part?”
She put her hand to her temples. “Eating us,” she said
The troll broke into a large, foul smile, and they both had to recoil from his breath. “Why, eat…. Oh. Yeah. What she said. ” He humphed, then began to slouch again, growing restless and bored.
“Well?” she asked.
“Oh, right,” he suddenly remembered what he was doing. “Alright then…” he cleared his throat.
“My life can be measured by hours
I serve be being devoured
Thin I am quick, fat I am slow
Wind is my foe
What am I?”
She and Deacon huddled.
“Wind is my foe. What doesn’t like wind?”
“A tiny flame?”
“I serve by… thin I am quick… a candle!” she cried.
The troll stood and stared. “Oh yeah. A candle it is. Bloody hell. Alright, this next one’ll get yer.
From the beginning of eternity
To the end of time and space
To the beginning of every end
And the end of every place.
What am I?”
They confided once again, although this proved puzzling.
Back and forth they went, but they couldn’t make any headway. Time passed. The troll shuffled about restlessly, a bored look growing upon his face.
“Deacon, wait. I have an idea.”
She stood and looked at the troll silently for a minute. Then she spoke.
“Huh?” he suddenly looked back up. “Well what?”
“What’s the last question?”
“The last question: What do… wait hold on. You didn’t get the other one.”
“What other one?”
“The one… the candle one…”
“We got the candle one.”
“The letter E one, then.”
“We got the letter E one.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes we did.”
“If you don’t believe me, ask me for the answer.”
“Alright. What’s the answer then?”
“The letter E.”
“Oh. Alright then.”
“So the third one.”
“Right. Here it is:
What does man love more then life
Fear more then death and mortal strife?
What do the poor have, the rich desire
And what contented men desire?
What does the miser spend
And the spendthrift save
And all men carry to their graves?
What am I?”
She and Deacon paused for a moment. Then she told him “I love puzzles,” turned to the troll and said “Nothing.”
The last thing he said to them as they passed amicably by was “And don’t forget, a god ignored is a demon born,” and then they were outside in the cool, fresh midsummer’s eve. It was ripe with the lost smells of endless evenings, when the school year was no more and the night had nothing but mischievous potential. Of first, fumbling sexual encounters, and the wonder of the first steps into a foreign city never before visited.
Meadows gave way into trees, into picturesque forests with spiraling paths leading to ornate doorways cut into tree trunks, or cottages built into the sides of hilly mounds. Giant mushrooms grew and exotic flowers peered curiously at them.
And flying, riding, dancing, and lolling about were the Faeries.
As she walked through the twilight land, they noticed her more and more, and began to converge about her, flying around and stopping to peer curiously, then giggling and flying off in sparkling, spiraling luminescent trails.
They were the size of her hands and they beckoned her forward over a hill to a moonlit meadow.
In the center of the meadow was her baby boy.
He was upright, floating in the center of a circle of faeries who danced around him. From his belly extended thin wispy silver strings of ether, each strand held by a faery twirling him about as they danced around him. A living, infant maypole.
Around and around they went, and as he twirled he giggled and squealed.
The faeries flying about landed before her in a semi circle. Through their center, their Faery King came up to greet her.
“I remember now,” she said.
She had been 21. It was her first summer in New York, and she and three friends had taken several tabs of acid and gone to Central Park to trip their brains out.
She had been dancing in a field, hallucinating madly, and had fancied there were a dozen fairies dancing with her as she had sung the song “Take My Baby,” by the band Mocha Lab.
They had rubbed dandelions on her chin, and she had given them petals as presents signifying their pact.
“But I was just tripping,” she said to the Faery King.
“The Pact was made fairly,” he said. “We’ve waited for you. You are the Mother come to nurse in our time of famine. The rules were followed. You’ve passed the tests and we’ve kept up our end of the bargain.”
“What was your end of the bargain?”
“Your place here made as Mother of our young, who are starving and dying. They cannot grow, and we cannot survive. We welcome you, and through our pact we live on together through the rest of this Age unto our next time of Ascendance.”
A dozen faery lads flew down and a great chair rose up from the ground, made of roots and grass. They sat her gently down.
A dozen Faery maidens flew down and took her ragged, grimy garments from her body. Naked, they bathed her in dew, and she rested in the glow of the magical dusk surrounding her, her size now not so big, but slowly shrinking to just somewhat over faery size.
Little Faery infants were brought to her and placed at her nipples, where they began suckling her warm, nurturing milk.
She spread her arms, and in pairs the Faery younglings attached themselves to her breasts and drank her milk as bonfires were lit amongst the glen, and music played, and dancers danced, and mother and young nursed in the amethyst glow of Perpetual Twilight.