As of now, I’m up to 19,866 words and I’ve definitely fallen behind on my word count goals. I keep going out at night and doing things. Foolish, foolish writer! I’m going to stop now, though. Except maybe once per weekend or so. And my DJ gig on the last Friday. But otherwise, buckling down!
I consider this my Mos Eisley Cantina scene. Doesn’t every story need one?
(If you want to start from the beginning, you can from here: http://blog.paulidin.com/?p=378)
“Hurry up, little man,” said Gwendolyn as she started walking down the aisle away from the entrance door.
“I’m a perfectly average five feet and eleven inches tall,” I said as I hurried to keep up with her.
She was about my height, maybe just an inch or so taller, but her stride seemed to take her twice as far as mine with each step. Despite that, she moved as calmly as if she were walking.
“If you like,” she replied. “Hurry up, perfectly average man.”
“So, are you a werewolf?” I asked as she walked and I jogged.
She stopped so abruptly, I almost ran into her. I’m glad I didn’t. She turned around slowly and gave me a look. Again, we were about the same height, but it felt as if she were looking down at me anyway.
“Would it matter if I were, Perfectly Average?”
“Matter to what?” I asked, honestly confused. “I’m just curious about whether the stories got their facts right.”
She took one step and ended up very close to me. I could see tiny blue and brown specks in her gray eyes; that’s how close she was. She had worked up a sweat during the fighting and obviously had not showered since. Her clothes were still torn in several places. Her hair had gotten a little messy and sweaty but had bounced back to its previous casually flowing appearance. I found her very attractive and I was sure she could tell.
I just stood there and looked into her eyes.
She tilted her head to one side and crinkled her eyebrows as she stared back, just as you might expect from a puzzled dog. I had a random thought and wondered if she were about to lick my nose.
“You really don’t mind, do you?” she asked.
“I don’t mind if you lick it,” I said. “Wait, no. What? Mind what?”
The corners of her mouth flicked upward in a tiny smile for just a second before she got herself back under control and took a step back. She looked very far away then, by comparison.
“You don’t mind if I’m a werewolf, do you?”
“Oh! No. Should I mind?”
“But you’re attracted to me,” she continued. “I can smell it. Aren’t you concerned about what would happen if I did something about that?”
I don’t really get embarrassed easily. “Well, if we used protection, I don’t see that there’d be a problem. I mean, I do prefer you in this form, you understand.”
She barked out a laugh. Yep. That’s the best way to describe it.
“You’re getting on my good side, Perfectly Average. That doesn’t happen often. Come along, we’re almost there.”
And with that, she turned and went back to stalking down the aisles at high speed. I ran to catch back up to her and then jogged to keep pace.
“Er. So, are you a werewolf? Did you say and I missed it?”
“There’s no such things as werewolves, silly man,” she replied. “But I would appear, genetically, to have some wolf chromosomes intermingled with my human chromosomes. Because of it, I’ve ended up with the ability to extend my canine teeth and these.”
With that she held her hand out to one side, looking like she was signaling a turn, and I could see that her fingernails were actually very thick like claws. As I watched, they extended out to about an inch in length and then retracted back into the tips of her fingers.
“I’m not going to do that again because it makes me hungry every time I do it.” She paused and then turned to give me a little smile before continuing. “And you’re the only food nearby. Lucky for you, we’re here.”
She stopped walking and I was glad of it. I’m not in horrible shape but that jogging had left me a little out of breath. I’m not in great shape, either.
“Whew. What’s special about here?” I asked.
In reply, she pointed at the floor and I saw we were standing in the middle of a white circle.
“Food, your assignment, or sleep. Which would you like to pursue first?” she asked.
“Well, food probably, but–“
“Transporter, take us to the family food court.”
Sure enough, the floor shot upward and we went flying towards the ceiling. I’m not proud. I dropped to the floor and hugged it for all I was worth.
I heard another bark of laughter followed by, “Did you think I’d put you in danger? I’m supposed to guard you, Perfectly Average.”
I did not get up, but I did answer back, “Maybe it’s not dangerous for you, Ms. Pine, but I only have a human sense of balance! Also, could you please call me Adam?”
I felt a tug on my shirt and I was lifted into a standing position. I looked around and realized the floor had stopped moving already and we were in the middle of a food court. There were some pretty normal tables all around us with various seated patrons, some human and some less identifiable. Many of the dining folk closest to us were chuckling at me.
“I suppose I could have warned you, Adam. I’ll try to give you notice the next time I’m about to do something startling.”
She gave me a look as if she were assessing me again and then said, “And you may call me Gwendolyn.”
“Well. Thank you. May I call you Gwen?”
She rolled her eyes and walked away. Over her shoulder she said, “No.”
She was walking toward what looked like a very wide deli counter, and once again, I hurried to catch up.
“Do you have any dietary restrictions?” she asked me.
“I’m allergic to strawberries, and that’s about it.”
“That should be easy enough for us you to avoid. Just be sure to tell the servers that when you place your order. The food court consists of four ordering islands. This is the island of Earth human foods. You can take a look at the guide there to find whatever you want.”
She pointed to a column that was separating one section of the deli counter from the next. There was a graphic there of what looked like a pizza pie shaped arrangement of counters and hallways. It was basically a circular shape with four hallways that led from one side of the food court island to the opposite side. All the hallways seemed to meet in the middle. This created eight pie-slice-shaped sections of food counters. They were labeled: North America, South America, Oceania, Africa, Latin Europe, Slavic Europe, Asia, and Nordic.
I turned back to Gwendolyn and asked, “Isn’t this an offensive labeling system?”
“It doesn’t offend me,” she replied.
It didn’t really offend me, either.
“What’s Oceania?” I asked.
“I understand it’s Australia and numerous other large islands and island groupings.”
“That sounds interesting. I could go for some taro root flavored… You said this was one of four food court islands.”
I could tell I was going to have to ask specific questions with her. “What are the other three food court islands?”
“The Earth non-human island is a bit smaller but segregated the same way as this one. There are quite a few tasty items on those menus. The non-Earth human island is very small compared to both of these and I find all of their foods too peculiar to try. The non-Earth non-human island is about half the size of this one.”
She paused and then said through a half-smile, “Earth humans eat more than anything else.”
“Bah!” was my considered response. “We just like variety. Nothing wrong with that.”
“So you say,” said Gwendolyn. “Why don’t you go and find something to eat? I’ll wait here for you to return.”
I nodded and turned to study the little circular map. It had a little star to indicate “You Are Here” and by that I found that I was between the North and South America sections. I found the sections I wanted on the map and started walking.
About ten minutes later, I was back looking around for Gwendolyn. The food island had been incredible. I’d made my way over to the Oceania counter and looked around at the displayed items in pursuit of something taro root flavored. I’d ended up asking for an ANZAC Biscuit I saw in the display and specially requested a sweet poi bun.
While the chef behind that counter gamely tried to create my request, I walked around the counter to the Asian side and got some jasmine rice, kalbi ribs, and vegetable pakora, along with an aloe vera drink. By the time I got back to Oceania, the chef had produced a fluffy white bun that would just fit in my palm and inside of which he’d baked a sweet and creamy poi filling. He thanked me for the idea and declared he was going to add it to his menu.
Nobody had questioned my presence in this big food court, nor asked for any money or identification. I was worried that the chefs behind the counters might not understand English or might not take requests but neither of those worries turned out to be the case either.
Back where I’d started, I saw pies in the North American counter, but I resolutely turned away. I could tell this place would be dangerous to my waistline.
What I didn’t see was my alleged guide. One more rotation and I spotted her standing at a table a few meters away holding up her hand to get my attention.
I don’t think I should be judged for having a hard time finding her. There were mostly humans around me but there was one dog seated at a table, lapping up something from a bowl, one large humanoid person with an elephant’s head (complete with tusks), and a table with a group of various squirrels sitting on top at a smaller table apparently playing poker.
It was nice to see brown, red, black, and flying squirrels all getting along. I wondered if they were literally or just figuratively colorblind?
As I moved to join Gwendolyn, I also wondered if I were still under the persuasive influence of the gullibility potion or if I was just getting used to all this… I decided it all amounted to the same thing so wasn’t worth too much self-examination.
Once I reached the table, I realized there was an empty and used plate in front of Gwendolyn. I didn’t see a speck of anything on her face but as I sat down, she used a napkin to wipe her mouth. Just in case, I guessed.
“I see you found some food to your liking,” she said.
“Yes, and this place has already amazed me just because of the food I found. Did you already eat?”
“I… did, yes,” she said cautiously. “I hope you don’t find it rude of me to finish before you got back but I thought you might not have appreciated my meal choice.”
As I had already tucked into my food, I paused to cover my mouth with a napkin and replied, “I don’t find it rude, but I’m still feeling pretty open minded about things. I probably wouldn’t have cared what you were eating.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what it was once you’ve finished your meal, if you want to know. But please take your time. You’re wolfing all of that down and that’s coming from me.”
I snorted more in surprise than because her joke was funny. But I slowed down and finished my meal at a calmer pace. It was excellent. The kalbi’s marinade was a bit sweeter than I might have preferred but not so much to complain about. My special request was fantastic! If you’ve never had a nice sweet poi, I highly recommend it. Especially if you like sweet potatoes.
Now, I can deal with awkward silences. Awkward silences are my best …
But I did have a couple more questions.
“That thing that you fought on Level 6–have you ever fought anything like that before?”
“Not exactly like that, no,” she replied. “I’ve only been head of security for a few years, though. It’s certainly possible that my predecessors had encountered such things.”
“Ooh! If nobody’s named them before, could I do it? I’ve been calling it this in my head since I first saw it: We could call it a Cthulu Rabbit!”
She rolled her eyes and declined to comment.
“Well. Fine, then.” I still think it’s a good name.
“So, what were you doing before you became head of security? Oh, you were probably just a team member. What were you doing before you were doing security at all?”
“I was being an adolescent.”
“You were an adolescent?” I tried to picture her with glasses and acne and braces. I just couldn’t.
“Of course. I was younger once, I’m older now, I will be older still in the future. If I don’t die first. Did you think I was just born like this?”
“I really wasn’t sure what to think. With everything that I’ve seen in this place, finding out that you were immortal and never aging? It wouldn’t have been so hard to believe.”
She dabbed at her mouth with her napkin again, as if she imagined there were still some residue there before she replied. For my part, I was almost done with the ANZAC biscuit by then.
“We’re not magical elves, Adam. We’re all born of parents. We all have childhoods and get older and eventually die of misfortune or old age. Me, Wren, even the Master are all as mortal as you.”
She put down her napkin with an air of finality as if to signal that she had no more interest in answering questions. I took the hint and stopped using my mouth for anything besides cleaning my plate.
As I tossed back the last of the aloe vera drink, Gwendolyn got up and gave me that “I’m waiting” look again.
Since she’d left her tray and plate on the table, I did the same and assumed that someone would be out to bus the mess.
I remembered to ask, “Oh, so what was your meal?”
She sighed and said, “A whole deboned rabbit, if you must know.”
I paused as I was walking around the table to join her and stared at her.
“I told you that you wouldn’t appreciate it,” she said. She looked sad about it, though.
“No, wait– I’m sorry. That just took me by surprise. I do believe in To Each His Own, and there’s no reason I should be bothered by your diet. Um. I do thank you for your consideration in not eating it in front of me, though.”
She nodded her head in thanks and said, “Enough of this. Let me take you to show you an example of what The Master considers Wishes Gone Bad.”
This time we went off toward the edge of the space where stood the elevator door I remembered from my earlier trips around this place. I was glad we were taking that route. The circle on the floor seemed pretty fast, but I liked the comfort of being protected on all sides when I’m shooting up and down floors of a magic building.
Call me unreasonable, but that’s just how I am.
As we approached the elevator, from a distance, I saw a short fellow with a big bushy brown head of hair press the button to call for it. The door immediately opened up and the fellow stepped inside. He did the usual enter-and-turnaround that we all do and though we were several yards away, he clearly saw us approaching. I saw him wink in our direction, and from the movement of his mouth he said something aloud.
As the door slid shut, it became apparent that he’d given the Transporter some directive even though we additional passengers were in sight.
“What a jerk!” I said.
Gwendolyn glanced around and asked, “Who’s a jerk?”
“That short guy who just got in the elevator and took off without waiting for us! Didn’t you see him?”
“Oh, him. Yes, I saw him but I don’t know who he is. How do you know him?”
At this point, we were just steps away from the closed doors.
“Well, I don’t know him but he took the elevator car when we were clearly looking to ride as well. Now we’ll have to wait for it to come back!”
Gwendolyn just smiled and pressed the call button. The door immediately slid open to reveal an empty car waiting for us. We couldn’t have taken more than 30 seconds to get here since the last one left.
I stared at it for a second.
“Magic elevator?” I asked out loud.
“Not at all,” she replied. “But there’s more than one car and more than one route to get from place to place.”
She went ahead of me and stepped in the car. I stepped through quickly behind her, still thinking about this puzzle.
“What if someone on every floor pressed the call button at the same time? Would they all get a car immediately?”
She spoke to the ceiling first. “Transporter, Level 3, South.” She then turned her attention to my question and responded, “You seem to be forgetting that there’s more than one place to call for a lift on each floor,” and pointed to all the lights on the display.
“But regardless,” she continued, “yes, they’d all open up to an available cab at the same time.”
“Okay, either you have a very convoluted network of shafts and cables that can loop around and pass through each other as cars take turns…”
“Or?” she asked with a hint of a smile.
“Or the cars have to pass through each other on their routes.”
I thought I actually detected a look of respect on her face as she nodded and said, “That’s a logical conclusion that I did not expect you to be able to reach. Perhaps the Master is right about you, after all.”
“Um. Thanks? Am I right?”
The door slid open and I realized how strange it was that there was no signaling sound. There was no “ding” like I usually associated with elevators.
“Close enough,” said Gwendolyn. “But we are now on Level 3, the lowermost level in your reality. This deserves your attention.”
She stepped out ahead of me and then turned back to face me as she walked backwards a bit. I followed her out as she said, “Welcome to Dreams.”