Chapter Two

KELVIN: If you’d give me just a second—

AIRPORT SECURITY OFFICER (ASO) INVERNESS: Yes.  

KELVIN: If you’d give me just a minute.  

ASO INVERNESS: Yes.  

KELVIN: Just a moment to tell you about free-wifi.  

ASO INVERNESS: Free-wifi isn’t why you’re here.  

KELVIN: But free-wifi, you see, is the key.  

ASO INVERNESS: The key to Titanium Levitation?  

KELVIN: No, the key to the story.  Look, if you don’t get free-wifi you’re not going to get the key.  

ASO INVERNESS: So you do have the key?  

KELVIN: What I have is a story—if you’ll listen and not interrupt.  

ASO INVERNESS: Sorry.  

KELVIN: To be detained is quite an inconvenience, as inconveniences go. 

ASO INVERNESS: Yes.  

KELVIN: Right up there with the inconvenience of an after-dinner mint.  

ASO INVERNESS: Yes.  

KELVIN: Or a second-fiddle when you’ve just bought your first.  

ASO INVERNESS: Indeed.

KELVIN: Or the inconvenience of—

ASO INVERNESS: No.  No, what was that about the dinner mint?  

KELVIN: Not a dinner mint—An after-dinner mint.  If I’ve spent all this effort on dinner, am I now going to pressure-wash the memory clean with a peanut-sized mint?  Or—worse—one of those sub-peanut-sized ones?  Are we to poison the flavor of a meal with mints so small you forget they even fill your pocket?  And your pocket they fill!  Oh how they accumulate!  Until you’re positively anchored to the floor by the weight of them.

ASO INVERNESS: Yes, yes I know what you mean.  

KELVIN: Do you?!

ASO INVERNESS: To a degree.  

KELVIN: It’s meaning well, the mint—the after-dinner mint.  But it’s more inconvenience than convenience, believe me. When it's erased the memory of everything savory and scoured it raw with that bleach of a pallet cleanser. As, I’m sorry to admit, this interrogation is an inconvenience when I’ve spent all this effort on another dinner, of sorts—one with chicken eggs—but you insist on poisoning my purpose with your minty-mannered questions!  

ASO INVERNESS: Three questions.  One was on the topic of dinner mints.  

KELVIN: And dinner mints I’ve been nothing but forthcoming about!  I’ll tell you everything you want to know about dinner mints—though, I must warn you that the knowledge weighs heavy on the soul.  And, at times, the pocket.  

ASO INVERNESS: What brought you to the airport, Mr. FCL?

KELVIN: Not dinner mints.  

ASO INVERNESS:  No.  Might it be this ticket?  

KELVIN: No tickets brought us here.  We stumbled into the airport.  Though there was a ticket designed to help us leave.  

ASO INVERNESS:  Is it this ticket?  

KELVIN:  Not likely.  

ASO INVERNESS:  Printed—and you can read the print yourself, can’t you, Mr. FCL?  Printed here is your name, is that right?  Kevin FCL.  

KELVIN:  It’s Kelvin.  Not Kevin.  I don’t know any Kevin.  I don’t like any Kevin.  

ASO INVERNESS:  Likely a typo, isn’t it?  

KELVIN: Unlikely.  But even if that were my ticket, it hasn’t brought me here and it’s unlikely to help me leave.  

ASO INVERNESS:  The destination is printed, I’ll read it for you: Leafless Lagoon, Bamboo Island.  That’s in the Zoicterranean Sea, is it not?  

KELVIN:  I hope it’s not in the sea.  Or I better pack a swimsuit.  It’s on an island.  

ASO INVERNESS:  Business or pleasure, Mr. FCL?  

KELVIN:  Is that a threat?  

ASO INVERNESS:  It’s a question.  Was your trip for business or pleasure?  

KELVIN: What business did I have to look for pleasure?  Of course it was for the pleasure of my business.  

ASO INVERNESS:  And what is your business, Mr. FCL?  

KELVIN:  I am secret attache to—I mean, I am not an attache to Lincylum.  I am something else very public.  

ASO INVERNESS:  You are Mappleton’s Minister of Ministration, isn’t that right, Mr. FCL?  

KELVIN: No.  I am…one moment here…would you…you took my wallet?

ASO INVERNESS:  Yes.  

KELVIN:  And…you took my phone?  

ASO INVERNESS:  Standard procedure.  

KELVIN:  Procedure.  Yes!  I am Mappleton’s Parliamentary Minister of Procedure.  Or—it’s MP, not PM.  Mappleton’s MP of Procedural Manners.  Yes.  Yes.  Such a soufflé of acrimony—acronyms, I mean.  Mappleton’s MP of PM.  MP of PM.  Hard to say and hard to remember.  Makes for a marvelous logo, though.  You’ll have to let me show you the logo.  Very balanced, mirror-like thing.  Classic looking.  Just brilliant on a business card! 

ASO INVERNESS:  It certainly sounds that way.  And what was Mappleton’s MP of PM planning to do with his business cards on Bamboo Island—where business is banned?  

KELVIN:  Banned?  

ASO INVERNESS:  Banned.  

KELVIN:  How can business be banned?

ASO INVERNESS:  It’s not my business to say, sir.  

KELVIN:  Or comment on?  Speculate about?  Confer with?  

ASO INVERNESS:  No.  But…if you were to answer, I might be able to ask you some…procedural questions.  

KELVIN:  How procedural?  

ASO INVERNESS:  Let’s start this way: in what manner might an MP of Procedural Manners proceed when confronted with an ambassador from Lincylum who, 10 years ago, while taking a stroll along the smelly beach of Leafless Lagoon sniffed out the idea that he might—by the annexation of Bamboo Island—become ambassador not only to its people, but to all of the people of Lincylum?

KELVIN:  Carefully.  

ASO INVERNESS:  In what manner might an MP of Procedural Manners proceed when appraised of a situation that situated the Ambassador of my last question in the capital city of Lincylum, in the capital building of that capital city, surrounded by all of the technology that all of that capital city’s capital expenses could buy—preparing to concoct out of the cockamamie crannies of his mind a security system so secure it could make all other security measures obsolete?  

KELVIN:  Surprisedly.  

ASO INVERNESS:  In what manner might an MP of Procedural Manners proceed when presented with the presence of a security system made up of—not titanium, but living, breathing security officers dedicated to cheaply securing targets of government interest like borders and airports, but more precisely sworn to protect the people of Lincylum, Bamboo Island, and Mappleton from an ambassador whose only form of diplomacy consists of ejecting everyone he disagrees with from the face of the Earth?  

KELVIN:  Decisively. 

ASO INVERNESS:  What have you decided, your Honorable MP of PM?  

KELVIN:  Well…I haven’t quite decided much more than you have.  I mean, have you been to Bamboo Island?  Have you walked across the bridge spanning that smelly lagoon where levitation had its first flight?  Have you tested the limits of the system—without a helmet?!  

ASO INVERNESS:  Yes.  

KELVIN:  What did you make of it?  

ASO INVERNESS:  If you think eggs are the answer, you don’t know the question.  

Episode 6 of the Paragraphing Podcast is Here!

In episode six of the paragraphing podcast, Jamie and Brendan set the groundwork for a new experiment in their storytelling.  That is to say, they toss away (for the time being) the paragraph-by-paragraph structure for something completely different.  After reading this week’s episodes, they visit a whale at 30,000 feet, sit down for an interview with the Paris Review, and join comedian Eddie Izzard in a pitch for a new comic-book TV show.

Listen by clicking here!

Please Leave A Message

*Ring*

*Ring*

*Ring*

Answering Machine: Hello friend, comrade, counterpart or villainous fiend. You have reached the answering machine of Kelvin. I am currently not available to take your call, queries, or threats at this time. Please rest assured, I will be back with you shortly, in this intervening time where I am away, I will be compiling a larger, more substantial paragraph for you to read of my exploits with Macie, Chevron, the Ambassador and this mysterious [INSERT NAME HERE]; where we will uncover the secrets of the [INSERT PLOT POINT HERE]. In the mean time, there will be frequent updates on other, more pressing subjects such as the definition of a Dweller or why pepper is so peppery. Stay tuned. Please leave a message after the beep. 

*Beep*

The Charge

My eyes were known to have deceived me before. This one time, I thought I saw what wasn't there and realized too late that what wasn't there was there, just not where I had originally thought it wasn't. And I crashed into what I thought was there but wasn't exactly there, if you understand my meaning here... anyways, my eyes can be deceiving.

"Are my eyes deceiving me?" I asked.

"Yes," Macie said, sorting that question out. She went back to her phone, realizing it's battery life was low.

That was when Chevron had to admit that his eyes must be deceiving him too because he saw something.

"Are my eyes deceiving me?" Chevron asked. 

This time, Macie had to look up from her dying phone, and she saw what she could only describe with a question: "Is that a charging port for our phones?"

"With free wifi," Chevron said, excitedly.

For the Whole Island Province!

"The first thing to do when looking for more than the first thing is to divide up," I said.  

"Dividing divides down," Chevron corrected.  

"The first thing to do is to split up," I tried.  

"You mean split apart," the Ambassador corrected.  

"The first thing to do is to break apart," I said.  "What we should—"

"I'm sorry," Macie interjected.  "But shouldn't we be more interested in fixing things at the moment, rather than breaking them?"  

"Yes," I said.  "You're very very right.  Where did I lose my head?!  We're not here to divide up or down, split up or apart, or break in any way, shape or form.  We're here to fix—fix up and fix down, fix apart and together—but when we do it," I said "—we should do it apart!"  They looked at me, agasp.  "That way we cover more ground."  

"Cover or uncover it?"  Macie asked.  

"Exactly."  I turned from face to face and back again.  This was the most decisive I had ever been in my entire life—and I couldn't decide what to do next.  Lucky for me, the Ambassador decided otherwise:  

"No," he said.  "The Leader of the Dwellers and I will do as leaders do and lead the charge to everything.  And then, we'll charge you for it."  

"Charge us?!"  Macie exclaimed.  She was deeply offended with this injustice.  "What are the charges?"  

"For the words and the pages and the pepper, of course!"  The Ambassador said—and said with gusto.  He was making a bit of a performance of it, feeling like he was finally among equals with this Leader Dweller around.  "You just sit tight and prepare to pay the price.  The price...for spice.  It's a pretty sweet deal."    

"That tastes pretty rotten to me," Chevron said.  

"Me, too."  I mumbled.  

"Me three," Chevron said.  Though he was already one by this count. 

"Me four," Macie added oddly (though four was even).  "It might not be an even match, but mark my words Mr. Ambassador and Mr. Dweller-person, we will find those words and pages, we will find that pepper—and, more importantly, we will find the key to taking titanium levitation down for good and all.  For Mapleton and Lincylum, for Dwellers and Taste Testers—for the whole island province!"  

This rousing speech roused us to action—which consisted of Chevron and I dusting off our knees and grimacing a bit (but in a proud sort of way, I think).  The Ambassador's reaction to all of this was to take a picture of us and laugh.  Then he and the Leader of the Dwellers hunched over the photo on his phone and receded into the foliage.  

"Well, that was rude," I said.  

"Yeah, they didn't even share the picture with us."  Chevron said.  

But Macie was already on it.  She had her phone out and was squeezing us all together for a selfie. 

She grimaced.  Chevron grinned.  And I was looking the other way.  

I couldn't believe my eyes.  

What Was Right About The Book Was Wrong

What was right about the book was wrong. In fact, everything was wrong. The Ambassador flipped through the book, expecting, as most people would expect when flipping through a book, to see words, pictures — anything that indicated he was flipping through a book. But he saw nothing. Not even… 

“There are no blank pages in this thing!” the Ambassador said.  His voice reverberate with contempt. Contempt and disgust. Contempt and disgust and hatred. Contempt… “You can stop that now,” the Ambassador said, patting my shoulder. “We can still here your thoughts.” 

“Oh.”

“Well of course there are no blank pages in a book,” Macie said, snatching the book. “It’s got words on each page.” She began flipping through the book. “There are no blank pages in this book. There are no words in this book.” 

“Exactly my point,” the Ambassador said. 

“Well of course there are no blank pages in a book,” Chevron said, snatching the book. “It’s got words on each page.” He began flipping through the book. “There are no blank pages in this book. There are no words in this book.”

“Exactly my point,” Macie said. 

“Well of course there are no blank pages in a book,” I said, snatching the book. “It’s got words on each page.” I began flipping through the book. “There are no blank pages in this book. There are no words in this book.”

“Exactly my point,” Chevron said. 

“Well of course there are no blank pages in a book,” the Leader of the Dwellers said, snatching the book. “It’s got words on each page.” He began flipping through the book. “There are no blank pages in this book. There are no words in this book.”

“Don’t you see?” the Ambassador said. “There is trouble afoot.” 

“No words in this book,” the Leader of the Dwellers said. “No blank pages in this book. The end is near!” He looked at the shattered box. “Even the glass has shattered. I liked that glass. It was where I kept my coffee.” he said. “The end is near!”  

“We tried to escape you in that fun house," Chevron said. "It broke."

“That’s no fun house! Just an intricately designed coffee table. Anyways, this mystical book of all great books -- the Book of the Dwells is missing its words — not only that, it’s missing its pages, too. Find the pages and the words — not in any particular order, though you will need to order it right to combine them — and we won’t charge you for the life insurance.” 

“But we are looking for pepper,” the Ambassador said. 

“Yeah, sure. Find that, too. Whatever.”

“And trying to fix whatever it is is wrong with Titanium Levitation and our chickens,” Macie said and held up a chicken. 

“Okay. Yeah, sure. Do that, too." the Leader of the Dwellers said. "Find the Book of the Dwells pages and words and whatever else and bring it back in time before the end comes." 

"Sure. Okay. Whatever," the Ambassador said. 

“Wait, did you say life insurance?” I asked.

And we were hit, each of us, with spoon-spears of life insurance.

To Dwell

The safe was about the size and weight of an anvil—though hollow inside.  And it struck in a cacophonous cacophony—just a tremendous splash of glass.  It was as though a giant, life-sized glass whale—if such a whale ever existed—were to crash into a solid ocean of ice; instantly transitioning from existence into spectacular non-existence.  The safe struck the glass mirror-box and flung us all into the forest on a wave of whistling shrapnel.  For the moment, at least, that drowned out conversation.  But it wasn't long until the Ambassador tumbled to a stop and had something to say about this most recent tumble of events: 

"I should have known!  Of course they would have thrown the book at us!"  

"Thrown the what?"  The voice of Macie crowed from above.  She hung twelve feet overhead, her feet hanging over my head.  

"Thrown the book!"  Ambassador Revevevicez said.  "The Dwellers have a tendency, when they don't want to be reflective—which is always, because always they dislike reflections...They have a tendency to take a page from the old book, as the saying goes." 

"The Bible?"  I asked.  

"No, you know—the old book."  

"The phone book?"  

"The book of sayings."  

"Sayings?"  Chevron shuddered.  Or, I think he shuddered—it could have been related to the glass and the tumble.  "What cursed book of sayings?"  His cool exterior had shattered with all of this shattered glass and we caught a glimpse—however cracked—of the real Chevron: a supernaturalist spook.  (And rightly so.)  

"The book of saying says they take a page from the old book," the Ambassador clarified.  "Am I making myself clear?"  

"Not in the least," I said. 

 "They take a page from any book and they dwell on it.  Turn it over in their mind and turn it over in real life, also—over and over, sometimes five or six times—until they are ready to add it to the book of their design.  This book." The Ambassador stood now and approached the terrible safe.  It was terrible for all the racket it had made, for all of the racket it had—in our conversation—silenced, and for its terrible job of keeping its inside contents inside and its outside contents (which included the whole of the world plus Ambassador Revevevicez) out.  He pried his way in with all the effort of a sage grouse grousing at sage.  And he removed "the book."  

"Ah..." He said, paging through the book.  "Oh..."

"What is it?"  Macie asked.  

The Ambassador chuckled.  "Mmmm...yes, yes..." He cooed to himself.  Very pleased and laughing like a flattered beau.  "This is quite right.  Quite exquisitely right."  

The Space Between Spaces

The white space was reflecting and refracting light, making things seem distorted and strange. It was like a fun house at a fair.

"This is like a fun house," Macie said, looking at herself in a mirror, contorted into a strange, tall big headed, stilt walking figure in the glass.

"You've got that right," Chevron said, as he looked at his reflection. "I look like I haven't showered in weeks." His reflection was accurate. No one had the heart to tell him.

"Were those...?" I asked.

"They were the Dwellers." The Ambassador said. "But we'll be safe in here."

"Why?"

"They don't like their own reflections."

"I can't see why," Chevron said. "It's not like these things are accurate." No one said anything.

"We can't stay here long, either. It's dangerous," the Ambassador said.

"Is anything safe?" I asked.

The Ambassador shrugged.

Then the safe struck.

A Fiscal Substance

We looked to a small clearing, where lights seemed to have been pressed into the service of some strange designer. It was a line of bright white that was shaped into a perfect cube—the size of a doorway.  

“What’s that?”  I asked.  

But before an answer found its way to my lips, a spoonful of life insurance did.  And when I mean a spoonful, I mean a hefty helping of ground up financial papers—all tangled in a honey-soaked pulp.  

“Dra-eywhhh!”  I spit.  And I wasn’t the only one.  It was a chorus of just that sort of sound from each of us.  Attached to the end of each spoon was a long airfoil kind of a stick—as if they’d been shot from a bow and arrow.  Rather than an arrowhead at the end, though, there was just this…strange fiscal substance.  

“Spit it!  Spit it out!”  The Ambassador warned.  “All of it!  Or you’ll be charged!”  

“Charged with what?”  Macie demanded.  She knew all about judicial charges of one kind or another.  

“Charged for insuring your life,” the Ambassador explained.  “We must get out of here.  Quick—” He snatched all of the spoon-spears up and made a run for that strange white square of light.  Without further explanation, the ambassador hurled them into the center of it.  They sailed into the white of that small, door-sized space for what seemed like a hundred and fifty—nay, five hundred and fifty meters.  Sailed until we couldn’t see them any more, as if he had dropped them from an airplane into the mouth of a white-hot volcano.  And we were just watching them dissolve into the distance.  The Ambassador read the wide-eyed expression on our—well, our eyes.  He shrugged: “Just mirrors, mates.”  And he dove in.  

 

Now How Could You Possibly Be Hungry?

 “Now how could you possibly be hungry?” Macie asked. “You just ate.”

“Dessert always comes before the meal,” Chevron said.

“He’s got the right, in more ways than one,” the Ambassador said, pointing to the sign hanging outside the forest.

The Forest of Meals:

Always Comes After Dessert

“Well that’s just perplexing,” I said.

“Not as perplexing as Chevron’s hunger.”

“We must move forward,” the Ambassador said. “The sun is setting. We don’t want to encounter the Dwellers.”

“The what?” I asked.

“They're peasants,” the Ambassador said. “And they always try to sell you life insurance.”

“But I don’t need life insurance,” I said.

“Exactly.”

“Do they sell lunch?” Chevron asked. He always asked the right questions.

“That’s the wrong question,” Macie said. “The right question is where will we be staying?” 

Lifesavers!

“That’ll be 32.50,” she said.  

“Excuse me?”  I asked.  

“Each of you—32.50.  Plus tip.”  

“For what?!”  The Ambassador demanded.  

“Shhhhh,” Chevron coaxed.  “Of course, what a reasonable price.”  He searched his chocolate smudged pant-pockets for change.  

“What did you order?”  Macie asked, trying to tote up what extravagances we had indulged in at 32.50 a meal.  

The Ambassador’s outrage hit a boiling point: “If you expect my party to pay for that disaster of a dessert display, you have another thing coming!”  

But I tried to soothe him.  Only Chevron and I knew what measure of damage we had committed with all that Titanium Levitation mess.  It could take them a few weeks just to gather up all of that waxy chocolate—and I shuttered at the thought of how many blow-torches it would take to melt it back into a trickle, let alone a placid black lagoon.  A rotten game of pickup-sticks we had made of the River Styx.  It could have cost us our souls—but here was this kind Reaper lady offering us a deal at 32.50! 

I emptied the pockets of my coat and came up empty.  And of course I would: my coat wasn’t my coat—it was the muddy robe she’d handed me.  Chevron saw my scramble and scrambled just the same.  He even went so far as to remove the robe to see if there were any other hidden pockets.  Funny fellow!  

“Ah ha!”  He exclaimed.  And in one fell swoop, a flightless chicken swooped out of the pocket.  Swooped and hit the ground, of course—this being a baby chick.  It hit with quite a thud, actually.  But before any of us could reach down to help the little bugger, it shattered into a million little bugs.  Actor ants!  

“Seize them!”  Macie—the Master at Arms of Mappleton—said.  “Those ants are wanted on bribery charges!  Quick!”  

But it was too late.  They had already shape shifted into just what the Taste Tester ordered: $87 in change.  

“Eighty-seven?”  The Ambassador counted, perplexed.  

“For the tip,” Chevron said, handing it over to our now Grinning Reaper.  

She took it, gave us a nod—and was on her way.  

“Those dastardly ants!”  Macie mumbled.  

“Lifesavers,” Chevron affirmed.  “Now: what do you have for us?  I’m famished.”  

 

The Words of Encouragement

The words of encouragement were as encouraging as you could imagine, and just as annoying. The voice lost all matter of conversation and began voicing his opinion on how hard we had to work and how hard work always rewarded those who worked the hardest. We had worked hard enough, I felt, that we deserved the reward the voice was saying. 

"... to those who work, they shall inherit the rewards. To those who reap, they will receive the earth..." the voice said. 

"We have the earth, mate," I said.

"I think the earth more has us," Chevron said, buckets of sweat poured down his face. 

He was right, we had been swallowed whole, but we had not wholly been enveloped... so long as we had spirit. 

"... spirit is life, and that should suffice." the voice said. 

"Are you rhyming now?" I asked. 

"Me? I never." The voice said. "Remember to always work hard forever and ever." 

"Sounds like a rhyme to me." 

Never mind the rhymes, because suddenly the earth gave way and a sliver of sunlight tricked down at us. I caught the beam in my hand and watched my palm fill with beams of beautiful light. 

"We've struck light!" I said, like a miner finding gold. 

Suddenly, something happened. It turns out, I'd learn later, that caves have different atmospheres than the earth above. And we had created what could only be described as a river of air, if I got my science terms correct. The hole we crafted soon began to whistle at us. 

"What's that?" Chevron asked.

"I think the earth is whistling at us," I said.

And then we were pulled. First the lady in garb, her robe billowed and danced and converged, pulled through the earth; then I was next, smushed, mushed, mashed and pressed through that crack like a rodent pressed under a door. Chevron was after. We shot out of the earth, riding atop a geyser of chocolate. 

We all landed on the earth and found Macie and the Ambassador standing above us. They were holding grocery bags. 

"Did you go shopping?" Chevron asked, exasperated.

"The Ambassador did," Macie said.

"I bought a motivational tape," the Ambassador said.

"He's been playing it on repeat," Macie said, rolling her eyes.

"It's an A.I.," the Ambassador said, excitedly. 

That was when the lady in the black garb finally spoke and told us something we all needed to hear, but wished we hadn't. 

The Whole Muddy Matter

“[throat clearing]…Excuse me?” 

“Ahhh…yes?”  I asked.  The voice was loud—very loud.  And yet: personal.  

“What do you think you’re doing?”  

“I…We, I mean.  We, I should say—that’s me, and, uh, Chevron.  Me and Chevron—Chevron and I, we’re digging our way out of here.  Along with…”  I nudged the lady with the scythe.  “Sorry, madam, I didn’t get your name?”  

She said nothing.  She just kept scything up into the ruddy ceiling of the place.  

I continued: “We’re trying to get our bloody selves out of this predicament.”  

“I see,” the voice said.  

“And what, may I ask, do you think you are doing?”  I demanded.  It might be the voice of God—surely it sounded resonant and important, but what would God be doing in a predicament like this?  If it was God, I’m sure there was a good reason.  And if it wasn’t, we might as well get ourselves acquainted.  

“Oh,” the voice responded.  “I am trying to understand what went wrong, here.  You see, the plan is as it’s always been.  I say: the plan was as it always was.  Take some souls across the river, introduce them to the underworld and then go about the rest of the day.  Yours were the souls, but now I see you up at the roof of the underworld—digging your way back up to the Earth.  And I’m here trying to make heads or tails of the thing.  So you understand the frustration—I do hope you’ll excuse the bruskness.”  

“Yes, of course—sounds like a rotten day,” I admitted.  “Believe me—I follow your line of feeling about it all—right down to the digging part.  Never was one for digging or, in truth, any kind of yardwork.  Gardens are tasty things, but is the taste worth the labor?  One must ponder the question seriously, and the seriousness with which some enthuse over the whole muddy matter of vegetables.”  

“Indeed,” the voice affirmed.  “But still, I see—you persist in it.”  

“Ah—this digging is more for life than taste,” I noted.  “Somewhat different calculation for me.  Though talk to Chevron here and you might get another equation altogether.  He’s a taste-tester, I mean.  So flavor, to him, is worth all those calories burned in the garden.”  

I looked to Chevron.  He dug and dug and dug some more.  His energy seemed to halve with each successive scoop—and yet, still he scooped.  Unflagging in his mettle, if not his muscle.  

Finally, I asked the voice: “Well?!  What do you make of it?”  

“Oh, I haven’t the faintest,” the voice said.  “Truly, I don’t.”  

“Sooo….” I coaxed. “Are you going to do anything about it?”  

“Me?”  The voice asked, surprised.  

“Yes, you—whatever or whoever you are?”  

“No, no—I couldn’t.  It would be unfair.”  

“Unfair, how?”  I asked.  “Look—If you’re going to tear us back down to the underworld, you might as well tear now, while we’re all perforated with exhaustion.  You’ll make a clean break of it.  But if you’re not going to tear us down—then might I request you give us a boost and boost us out of here?  Or even so much as a step stool to step out of this mess?”  

“[sighing] I do apologize, sincerely I do.  But there’s nothing I can do.”  

“You can apologize.”  

“I’m sorry.  I am.”  

“I mean—you said you can’t ‘do’ anything but you just ‘did’ with your apology.  So why can’t you ‘do’ with something or other about this situation?”  My desperation was showing.  And—worse—my brow was beginning to perspire!

The voice replied: “Look—I can’t throw down a rope ladder (and anyway, I was never one for getting knots right), but what I can do is give you the best thing you could ever ask for—”

“A plate of mozzarella sticks?”  

“No,” the voice said.  “Better.  My words of encouragement!” 

Being Pressed

Being pressed upwards, I felt the whole weight of the world on my shoulders, which was exactly the case. We dug upwards with pure determination, hoping that the earth would give way sooner than Titanium Levitation.

Beside me, Chevron shoveled with his hands and the lady all in black garb with her scythe hoed the earth; the chocolate waved and bobbed in the air, testing the limits of zero gravity, floating and staining our clothes, blotting out our path from time to time. The work was exhausting and the chocolate made each minute harder to focus on our pursuit, our escape. Soon, we'd take breaks, each nibbling some chocolate which we noticed began to solidify.

"We must keep moving," I said, channeling Macie. I wondered where Macie was and wondered if she could still hear my thoughts. If she could somehow, with her always thinking-mind, mine us out of this predicament.

"If we fall," Chevron said, teetering weightlessly above the earth, below the earth, in the cavern. "We die."

The lady with the black garb laughed, a deep, hollow laugh that echoed in the hollowed out chamber.

That was when I heard the voice from above.

Episode 4 of "The Paragraphing Podcast"

Join us for Episode 4 of "The Paragraphing Podcast" to hear the story behind the story.  In Episode 4, we break our writing down moment-by-moment, walking through each section of the week's posts.  Along the way, we talk about why we had to rewrite sections for the audio version, breaking of the fourth wall, unsolved literary murder mysteries, how to write action, and the aim of getting two characters in one room talking.

Listen by clicking here! 

A Tastier Fate

I, of course, was an outstanding swimmer—standing, as I was, outside of the boat which was inside of the great river of chocolate.  Deep inside of it, by my measure.  And yes—I was standing!  My feet caught a toehold—or my toes caught a foothold—on something.  I was worried, of course, even having served as a first-class swimmer in Lincylum—and I'll tell you why:

  • I didn't know the potential staining effects of chocolate on my boots
  • I didn't know how chocolate might affect my backstroke
  • I didn't know where to find a tall glass of milk after all this dessert
  • I didn't know what it was I was standing on
  • And I didn't want to do what I was about to do—

I dove down into the chocolate and instantly I regretted it.  Chocolate surrounds you in a way no pool ever will.  It envelopes you, as an envelope might a letter, if that envelope was made of thick slabs of chocolate and if that chocolate was being melted by a river of lava.  And lava it felt like, burning the soft places under the eyes, the nose, the ears—singeing the sinuses with a sweet sting.

But still I dove—searching with outstretched fingers for our last and only hope.  I felt the brim of the boat, followed the rough of the deck, until I came to it—bundled up in the bundle I left it when I boarded the boat: the egg!  The last egg, the one egg that the Ambassador hadn't chickenfied.  The one egg I had preserved against the magician's wile plots.  I made an underwater motion (underchocolate) with my hands, perfectly mimicking the ambassador's sly moves, and in one fell swoop, turned the egg into a chicken, and the chicken into a Pursuer, and a Pursuer into a...titanium levitation master.

Instantly I felt the chocolate separate, pulling apart as it was lifted up, and me and the boat and Chevron in the boat and the whole of the river and the dark lady of the river with it: clear into the air, higher and higher and higher until...we crashed our collective heads into the ceiling of the underworld and had to start digging UP.

"This is a tedious process," Chevron said.

"You're welcome," I answered. And: "You're right."

Drowning in chocolate may have been a tastier fate.

The Man (Or Woman)

The man (or woman) in the folded black garb handed Chevron and I both a plate of toast. It wasn’t the best toast I’d ever had, but it suited. It was burnt and charred at the corners. Chevron swallowed his slice whole. I nibbled at mine. 

“Do you have any salt?” I asked. “Or, preferably, pepper?” 

The man (or woman) in the garb said nothing. They just began to paddle. Rowing with the oars. They were not particularly chatty, as it were. 

“Who is he?” Chevron asked. 

“You mean 'they,'” I said. 

“You mean there’s more than one?” he asked, looking up, down and all around, trying to spot how two people could fit into the black garb. 

“No,” I said. “They is the correct way of addressing someone if you don’t know their sex. They is the pronoun you use.” 

“Hmmm,” Chevron said. “Pronoun. I think I had a few pronouns once as an appetizer. But they were too stale.” Chevron, the ultimate taste tester, failed to understand pronouns. But he was right, sometimes pronouns could be a little stale (or misplaced), which is why I tried to respect whoever it was under that black garb. They were not a talkative person, but then, few talked more than our cohort of misfits. 

The water we paddled through was the darkest I’d seen. I stuck my head over the brim of the ship — can you call it a brim? I mean, a boat is cup-like. The water was so black that it reflected nothing, not even my face stared back. It was a lifeless pond. 

“Kinda looks like molasses,” Chevron said. 

“I wonder,” I said, dipping my finger into the water. It was thick and syrupy. The blackness stuck on my finger like honey. 

Chevron could see on my face what I was about to do. He tried to stop me, but my tongue was much too fast. 

“Tastes like chocolate,” I said after I licked my finger. 

Chevron followed suit. He licked his finger.

Excitedly we began to dunk our hands into the pool. Soon we were shoving handfuls of chocolate down our mouths, splashing chocolate all over the boat. The boat began to tilt as we joyously enjoyed the stagnant lake. We moved so much that the boat began to rock, and rocked the dark figure into noticing that the boat was listing heavily on one side. The figure turned to us and finally spoke. 

“You mustn’t drink from the lake!” she said, throwing off her dark hood and showing a face surround by dark, curly, long hair. 

But it was too late. We had drank from the lake and the lake was already filling into the boat.

“It’s so good,” I said. 

“Chocolate!” Chevron said. 

The boat was sinking. We had leaned too far. 

“We have to get out of the lake as soon as we can,” said the woman, who took up her scythe… 

“Is that a scythe?” I asked. 

But before she responded the boat had sunk and she had disappeared into the dark chocolate. 

“I don’t think she knows how to swim,” I said to no one in particular because, apparently, Chevron didn't know how to swim either.

Another Win for First-Class Service

And I wasn’t wrong.  There it was right there on the sign: 

Lunch Specials: 

  • Wear Corpse-Blue, Get 3 for the Price of 2

  • Buy 3, Get Life-Free

  • Buy 4, Dine on Styx’s Shore

“Oh, I so would enjoy a shoreline view—wouldn’t that be delightful?” I asked.  

“Very much,” Chevron said, salivating.  

Macie and the Ambassador had a look of—well, a lifeless look, if I do say so myself.  All color drawn out of them.  Drawn out and put where, I don’t know.  In a puddle on the floor, probably.  Well, let the mops look lifeless!  Chevron and I could appreciate the finer tastes in life, like the taste for…um, taste.  

Without so much as a word from Macie and the Ambassador, Chevron and I popped into the establishment and were greeted by a dark-haired gent in a gentle flowing costume.  All shadows and folds.  “Two for lunch,” I said.  “But do tell us what we would need to do in order to get the shoreline view.  After the day we’ve had, nothing could be more felicific.”  

The greeter nodded quite approvingly, I’d say.  And led us straight back.  Impressive, I considered, this ability to serve as a greeter without so much as a verbal greeting.  Or a verbal affirmation.  Without—even—a verb.  But that’s the way with some professionals of the service class—they serve so smooth, it’s practically other-worldly.  Supernatural, you might call it—without the heebie-jeebie part.

“Cold in here,” Chevron observed.  And he was right.  The dark of the place penetrated to the fingers and toes, like the cold glass of a window-pane.  In December.  With the sleet sleeting down.  

“Would you happen to,” I started—and before I could finish, the greeter had handed us two heavy coats—flowing numbers just like him.  Another win for first-class service!  I took the fabric with pride. Now I’m quick to admit that it wasn’t my preferred style, but style takes second fiddle when there’s a cold concertmaster conducting the thermostat.  

Chevron heaved his way into the fabric and I did the same—and the moment we did, the creaky-looking dining room fell away and the two of us found ourselves creaking and crooking across a deck in some misty backwoods place.  It was a wooden platform of sorts, leading into the mist and, I hoped, out of it.  I looked behind to see if there was continuity between where we had walked and where we were walking, but when I did, all I saw was more mist.  I wondered, then, about the circulation in the place, and decided that they must be having a hell of a time with the air conditioning.  

“Hell of a time with the air,” I said to our host in a jovial, forgiving fashion.   

He shrugged in that embarrassed sort of way that all employees must when their employer decks the place in dilapidated appliances. 

“It’s not your fault, I know,” I said to him.  Or—I thought it was a him.  I looked more closely and couldn’t tell, I tell you.  And wasn’t it rotten?  'There’s the patrician brain for you!' Macie might say.  And she’d be right: to think every anonymous person is a man—and even some not-so-anonymous ones.  No wonder women feel such animus.  

“Do you have anything less…” Chevron motioned to the mist.  “…muggy?”  

At this the greeter made a movement with his arm and the fog receded.  Even more impressive stuff!  If only Macie and the Ambassador could see how wrong they were about the place!  

Beneath the mist was water—dark water, it looked black in this light, maybe fed by a swamp or some other briny pool.  Ah!  The name of the place, Pepper and Brine!  Now it made sense!  And if there was Brine, there was pepper!  

As the greeter helped us onto a very comfortable looking little boat—a sea-cab to get us to dining on the other side of the river—I made a quick inquiry on the pepper situation. 

And received in return a journey that I don’t think either of us will ever forget.  It started—thank goodness—as all answers ought to start: with an appetizer.