under the direction of
/ / / / / / // Chapter 05: // / / / / / /
"Why are we doing this?" Spencer didn't like trudging up hills, his question was posed as a plea for an easier solution to their problem.
"Because, that guy was obviously trying to help us rescue the kids!"
"But how could he possibly know?"
"How should I know? But he knew. He knew, and that's all that's important. We've just got to keep climbing.
* "Big rock."
Even if there's a big rock in our way,
* "Walking sticks."
we've got walking sticks, and that means we can get around it."
After walking for half an hour in the summerlike heat, Spencer was tired and very thirsty. An old Bobblin crone was walking down the hill, and unlike most Bobblins, who simply ignored them, she turned back on her journey to come and sit where they were resting.
"That's a nice pair of disguises you have there, but I can see what you two really are."
"Huh?" Spencer hadn't been paying attention, but Paul had. He looked more than a little frightened. This woman knew something about them. And yet, she didn't seem like the type that would raise a fuss about it, like she, too, had some secret about her that made her incompatable with the 40 million others that lived in the valley.
"Don't worry about it. I'll tell you one thing for sure: if you go to the castle, you will be spotted. They will spot you. Then you won't be able to rob the castle."
"Rob the castle?"
"That is what you want to do, isn't it? I can see it in your eyes, the way your mouth moves. You're there to steal some slaves, I think? Maybe one slave in particular?"
"Those kids aren't slaves, they're our friends, and we've got to find out what we can do to get them back."
"Everyone's a slave. The only difference are the masters, and they're all equally cruel. Personally I'd rather be sold into slavery than have to bend under the cruel whip of an ideal. Maybe Raymond is doing your friends a favor. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Don't go to the castle. You'll be spotted."
When they passed her anyway, they both decided they didn't like the woman very much. It was only a short time before they arrived at the east wall of the castle. In the play, the young bobblin had made his way past the guards without so much as a scratch on him. They, too, strode boldly up to the guards, despite Spencer's reservations about an action that would obviously get them killed, they realized that the guards at the gate, though they were in full battle gear, were all female.
"Welcome to the Raymond Estates!" The one said cheerfully, and the other, with an enormous marker, made a small black dot on both of their shoulders as they went inside.
"It was a pun." Paul said with a grunt of distaste.
"It was a stupid pun. 'You'll be spotted!' It was just a stupid pun!" Paul seemed more than angry at this; he sounded as though he'd been betrayed by a best friend. Spencer decided now wasn't the time to press the matter further; instead, they took to aimlessly wandering about in the corridors, unsure of where to find the bowl, knowing only of the daring attempts to free the bowl from the clutches of Raymond. All of it was beginning to sound more and more like fantasy, like it was, in fact, only a story.
"A grate!" Paul ran excitedly to the courtyard entrance and put his hands to the grate. It was the only locked door they'd seen anywhere in the castle, the only point past which they were not permitted to travel. "I'll bet behind that grate we find something more than just plants."
"Palace guards, just waiting to pounce on us."
"That's not how it happened in the play, though."
"But the old woman said we'd..."
"Do really want to believe anything that that woman says?"
"You're right. Let's go. Here, gimme a boost."
With Paul's boost, Spencer made it easily over the grate. Paul had a little more trouble, but he, too, made it over the grate. Before them, they did, indeed, see more than just plants, they saw an entire forest!
Only, it wasn't the regular kind of forest you expect to see. It was a manicured, designed forest, its every leaf bearing the influence of some wise gardener.
Walking in the courtyard, they said little, but Paul did remark some on the nature of the courtyard's beauty. "It's like this," he said. "When you're dealing with trees, inevitably you're dealing with chaos. Roots run wild, and branches can no more easily be sculpted than you can sculpt the sea. Yet, you take a look at this forest, and everything seems neat and tidy and it looks as though it were indeed some kind of scuplture. It's chaos kept neat. And that's why I think whoever made this did a good job."
"Hmm." That's all Spencer said back. He thought Paul was right - he wanted to find out where his classmates were, though. Something told him that here, in this forest, was where his answers would be found.
Then, the mystery was solved. Spencer turned and in the distance saw sometihng that was neither tree nor bush. It was a pedastal - and it was made of white marble. They ran up to it, but they were hesitant to touch it.
Spencer stood there, looking at it for a moment. On the pedastal stood a bowl - it was filled with water.
"Spencer? Is that your mom's bowl?"
"No, but it kind of looks like it."
Both Paul's and Spencer's curiosities were growing, for two reasons: one, what was a bowl doing being kept in a courtyard? Two, did the courtyard being locked have anything to do with the bowl inside?
Paul picked up the bowl with one hand. "What do you suppose it means? Whoops." The bowl jiggled a little, and water from it spilled on both Paul and Spencer.
/ / / / / / // Chapter 06: // / / / / / /
There was a sensation of falling. Something so frightening, and yet is game upon them gradually, gently, as though it were a light that slowly grew in brightness, finally to blind them.
Paul and Spencer lost track of time in a blissful state. Around them was nothing but a clear, pure white. There seemed to be nothing anyone could do to hurt them, ever again - their troubles and sorrows were gone now, and they would exist in that state forever.
The state, however long it lasted, faded at last. Around them white faded to surroundings; blissful quiet, to the sound of wind and distant scratches of noise too far away to be distinct. They were sitting on a pile of rubble - the trees they had seen before were gone, replaced by stumps and fallen, rotting logs. Outside the courtyard, they saw the same hallways and ramparts they had been walking around in earilier - turned to rubble.
Struggling to cope with the new situation, Spencer stood to have a look around.
A woman screamed. The sound shook Spencer to the core.
"Loose children! I've seen them!" The scream came from a Bobblin woman, possibly the same woman that had been at the east gate. (all Bobblins looked alike to him) This bobblin was carying a whip, though. She began running toward them, holding her whip ferociously in one hand, looking ready to strangle them with the other.
There was no time to think or speak. Paul and Spencer ran. They ran side by side, not thinking to split up or thinking of any way to impede or confuse the attacker. They ran. And they didn't stop until the Bobblin woman was long, long gone.
"So, what exactly do you think the bowl did to us?"
Spencer sat down on a rock, sputtering. he didn't answer.
They were now sitting in a different ruins, one of the building outside of which they had seen the streetplay. It was a mile or two from the castle ruins, again at the bottom of the hill.
"Personally, I think we're somewhere in the far future. The bowl must have had some control over time, that sent us-"
"Hergh." Spencer was still huffing as he sat, his forehead beaded with sweat. "I could go for sometihng to drink right now." he looked disgustedly at a puddle of dirty water next to him. "If you're right, then this may be all we have to drink."
"Days. Weeks. Maybe years." Paul slouched as he sat on the rock in front of him. "Who knows just how far into the future we've gone? I mean, how long would it take to reduce the buildings to this state?" Paul pushed away some gravel. "Look. Not a trace. Not a single disposable wrapper, not a wax-coated cup in sight. You wouldn't even guess that this place had been a respectable eatery."
"What was that?" There had been some scratching noise that seemd very near. Paul stood up to have a look around, Spencer just cupped his head in his hands and stared at the muddy puddle of water.
Behind Paul was standing a girl. She was wearing a purple shirt, unembellished. Attached to her backpack were a pair of boxing gloves.
Spencer ran to hug his sister, who pushed him away.
"Tiffany, what's wrong? Can you tell us anything about this place?"
"Who are you?" It was the only thing she'd said - and it was said with the tone of one who speaks utter truth because one knows no lies; knows no lies, and holds no memories.
* * *
"So, you really don't remember us, either one?"
"Not a bit."
"You don't remember out house? Your room? Tatyana Ali? You don't know what these are for?" Spencer held up Tiffany's boxing gloves.
"Hey, don't touch those!" Tiffany instinctively grabbed for her gloves - but then let her hand fall. "I'm sorry, it's just I'm used to having to stop the Bobblins from taking my things, is all."
"So you know about the Bobblins?"
"Sure. The Bobblins are the bosses. Madam Klunk was my forewoman until I ran away."
"Bosses? Forewoman? You work here?"
"I don't understand it, either. We're all working in the big factory south of here. I can't remember anything else, but it seems wrong, somehow, so I ran away. Most kids don't see what's wrong with it,
* "Bully." whispered Gordon
* "Brilliant!" replied David.
so they just keep working. Hey, Richard!"
"Richard?" Paul stood to see someone coming up the hill behind them; it was Richard Gulch, the school bully. There were plenty of kids that spread their terror at East Oaks, Richard Gulch, a ninth grader, was their ringleader. "Hello, Richard! Come join us!" Paul had never met Richard Gulch.
"Are you crazy? The last thing we need to be is stranded in the far future with Richard Gulch!" Spencer stood up and pulled on Paul's shirt sleeve, but Paul didn't stand up.
"Hello, Tiffany! Hello, Spencer!" Spencer's jaw dropped. This voice couldn't belong to Gulch. Richard's voice was loud, laced with obscenity and nasal sarcasm. This voice contained none of these qualities. Yet there it was, attached to Richard Gulch's hulk. Spencer broke out laughing.
"Hello, Richard. I'm Paul."
"What's so funny?" Richard pointed to Spencer, who was doubled up.
"Beats me. Say, what's your story? Why are you here?"
"I can't remember." Richard's voice contained the same element of timid honesty, the tone without memory. He sat down in the circle with the others and said nothing further; he simply listened to the others talk.
They talked for the next hour, Spencer telling Tiffany about herself and what their life had been like; asking questions to see how much she knew. When he told her about her boxing lessons, she would always mutter "That's impossible! Since when do I hit people?" in response; the concept seemed as foreign to her as, well, anything else she was told.
When he was sick of hearing "I can't remember", Spencer looked at his watch. It was 5:00. Paul, who hadn't said much either, turned to Richard.
"Richard, are there any other kids you know that are out here?"
"We're always splitting off from each other, so that they can't find us. And sometimes we go back to the factory to get food."
"Will you show us where the factory is?"
"That's easy. It's not too far from here."
* * * *
From their vantage point above the factory, Paul and Spencer saw the first standing building they'd seen since they'd been influenceed by the bowl.
"It's like watching a bad alien movie." Paul said this; it received no response. Bobblins were wandering in and out of the doors, driving cars to and from the building, going about what were apparantly their daily lives. At 5:30 on Spencer's watch they saw the Bobblins leave in their cars, headed toward the waning sun, until not one was left.
"Dinner break. They won't be back for two hours." Tiffany said this, and was followed by Richard, then Paul and Spencer as she headed for the front doors.
What Paul and Spencer saw inside was nothing like they were expecting to see. Paul's jaw dropped - there were children there, stretching back hundreds of feet. Spencer recognized these peopel as the student body of East Oaks. Half a dozen people greeted Tiffany as she came inside - at least a hundred others called a greeting over their shoulders, hard at work at something obscured by plastic guards, as to the nature of which neither Paul nor Spencer would hazard a guess.
Three of the people who greeted Tiffany directly were Heidi Morrison, Jared Brenin, and Gary Mahler, names that Spencer had heard before, but had never placed with a face. Paul asked a few questions as they walked deeper into the factory, but these three knew about as much as Tiffany or Richard - the only difference is that they liked to work.
Finally, Tiffany's destination was made clear. There was a small cafeteria, from which Spencer, Paul, Richard, and Tiffany were able to eat a fine meal. Paul continued to ask questions and discovered that there was a map of this whole place somewhere in the nearby foreman's offices. After they were finished, Paul and Heidi left the room and returned with a large, brightly-colored map.
What it showed was more than enough to stop the conversation, with a short and indistinct noise from Spencer.
The map showed the city of Bobblin valley, at least part of it, in it's every detail the same city as before. However, the map also showed that the entire city, indeed, everything on the planet, was contained in a bowl - the bowl on the pedestal.
/ / / / / / // Chapter 07: // / / / / / /
"There seem to be three ways out of the bowl, according to the map. The first is the bowl-to-bowl transit system, which is here, in the subway system. The second is the one those cars used when they left for dinner. The road ends at a crack in the bowl here. The third sohuld be obvious. But I don't think we're going to be flying out of the bowl. If we're goign to go anywhere, I'd suggest the subway first. I'd rather find a way out there than here where the Bobblins are likely to be."
And so they went. Heidi, Jared, and Gary returned to their stations in the long line of workers, and Spencer, having just realized he didn't know, turned to Tiffany. "What are they doing in here? I mean, what are they working on?"
"I should think it would have been obvious." Paul said with a grin. "I asked Heidi while she and I were looking for the map. They're making Bean Friends!"
Spencer gave a groan. "Bean Friends? Why don't they rebel and destroy the factory?"
"Are they supposed to know how? They don't know; they can't rebel. At least, the ones in the factory don't. Tiffany and Richard here, they knew something they didn't know they knew, and they made it outside."
Paul noted with a laugh to himself that the look in Spencer's eyes was one of grim determination, that he wasn't about to let anyone he knew spend the rest of their lives making Bean Friends.
* * * *
* "Mars is an eyelid." Gordon said it with only the merest shade of amusement in his voice.
* "Brilliant!" replied David, apparantly unaware of the fact that Gordon was joking.
"Mars is an eyelid!" the old crone said it loudly, stepping in front of the group as they walked toward the setting sun. Tiffany and Richard distanced themselves about fifty feet in three seconds, ducking behind roofless buildings. Spencer followed, though it took him ten seconds. Paul didn't move.
"Hello again, miss. What did you say?" Paul's courtesy to teh old Bobblin woman was met with a wide smile, which managed to make her face look even less human. Spencer then saw through the costume change. This was the witch on the rock, but
"It's not important. I see you've skipped your pretenses." It was obvious she had meant what she had called their "disguises", though Spencer didn't know what she meant by it. She then pointed in Spencer's direction. "And your friend? He is well?"
"Quite well. How did you manage the journey into this bowl?"
"Same way you did, by not thinking about it." Paul laughed. "I didn't say it was funny. Now, I've got to warn you. The Bobblins have all left for lunch, it is true, but there are big nasty guardians at the gate. You'll have to deal with them before you can make it out."
"Wait a minute." Paul screwed his eyes up and to the left, then brought them back down again to face the old woman. "How am I supposed to believe you? You and your puns!"
"Of course it's a pun. But, pun or no, those guardians are going to have to be dealt with if you wish to get out of here."
Spencer came out from behind one of the buildings. Tiffany and Richard didn't follow. The old woman turned now to Spencer.
"I belive I've said enough. I'll let you four get on." The old witch then disappeared in a puff of smoke - and was seen a few seconds later running between the ruined buildings, low to the ground, a stranger once again.
* * * *
"World Navel U-trains." Spencer read it off a sign now on the ground. The building was not ruined at all, and for that reason was easy to spot from a long way off. It wasn't unusual to see signs laying on the ground like this, except the bulding itself remained untouched. Paul and Spencer pushed open the front doors and headed down the stairs.
Once at the bottom, there was no doubt as to why the Bobblins didn't visit this place. Every hole, every entrance and exit, every train-tunnel and service entrance, even the short hallways that led to manager's offices and the restrooms, no longer led anywhere. They were plugged, each, by their own wall of solid rock.
It was the first time Spencer had seen Paul look distressed. And he looked it now.
"How are we supposed to... curse that woman and her puns!"
It was now 8:30. The Bobblins were already back from their dinner break. The summer sun had already set. It was more than three hours' walk to the other exit. They would have to spend the night there, in the station.
"I wonder what we can find in this pile of junk here." Paul began to rummage through the towering heap of broken things, and found a sleeping bag. Immediately the other three began to dig in the same area, and three more bags were produced, one right after the other. Spencer found, among other less-notables, a bag of gold ("What will we use it for?" said Paul.) and something that looked like a very long-handled...
"Meat tenderizer." Paul looked at the thing curiously. "I've got one at my house, only it's maybe a foot long, maybe, and this one is as tall as you are! I'd keep it around, if for no reason than simply for humor." Spencer replaced it with his walking stick.
Paul found a deck of cards in the heap, and in the one light still shining overhead, they played "go fish" until, one by one, they were too tired to go on.