His name is Pete. I come to over there on the log next to him. She was sitting on the other side of me now. “We have to go.”
I am well worn now and I slip right into it; I even defy her. “No, I am not going anywhere.”
“If you don’t get up, we can do the nightmares.”
“Then do the nightmares,” I tell her, and she did.
That how it went for days, until she finally gave in for some reason and let me back on the trail. It’s been a long break since my last round of nightmares, which is probably why I was cocky with her, that and I am tired of walking. She got mad, when I refused to walk again last night, but then just left. No more nightmares.
Pete watched the whole thing with shifting faces of disinterested patience and disbelief. We’ve talked for nights. No matter what I tell him about the outside world, it doesn’t seem to phase him. Nothing phases him but his own predicament, which we’re stuck at. He’d been called to “Tend the Fire,” and is on his way there. Every night he is still on the log though. Time is funky over there, I think.
Last night in the pool (that’s what it feels like over there, floating) I offered to help.
“Thank you Sir,” he said. “Very kind of you to volunteer. But I couldn’t have that on my conscience. Dooming a man’s life that would be a grave sin, and with how close death is to me, I don’t need any more problems.”
“That’s bullshit,” I said. “If I come of my own free will, that’s on me. You see I’m stuck either way, and isn’t it cowardly and wrong to come upon a person in distress, and just leave them, walk away and ignore it?”
“You wouldn’t say these things if you had seen the wolf.”
“That’s true,” I said. “It seems a little weird though. Why don’t you just run then?”
“Run?” He asked.
“Yeah, just come, with me and her.”
“You don’t know where you’re going,” he said. “Also you don’t understand the ways of my people. They would hunt us, find us, and drag us back. They would convict me of “Dereliction of Duty”, as the Administrators so call it. The wolf? I think he would catch us before any of them.”
What do you do with something like that? I don’t know if you will understand this, but sometimes I just get tired of taking the shit? You know what I mean? It’s a lot like the feeling you get when you have to do a big project. The put up or shut up moment before a big task, when there is always that space of failure, just waiting to wrap you up and put you down to sleep. Sort of like the Pine Forrest. I have to get back to the Pine forest. It was true too, the chick wasn’t telling me anything.
So dear reader, in full disclosure I will admit I was struggling and trying to get some information on how to get my fix, and I figured these towns people had to know something about the forest and the stream (maybe even how to stay out of it). Same time, I was genuinely concerned about Pete, as much as one can be concerned with meta-creatures mind you. And since there was no other game in town, I decided the new goal should be to get peg-leg Pete moving.
“Well Pete,” I said. “Where I come from we call that being between a rock and a hard place. You can’t go on, and you can’t go back. Both sides offer equal measures of danger, so you might as well just do it. When that situation happens, you got to just sort of pick one and go for it, and let the chips fall where they may?”
“Chips? Fall?” Pete said.
“Oh come on Pete,” I said. “How about the cast the die?” This one did the trick after I said it again, real slow.
“Yes, I understand,” he said. “It is a true point, Austin from Iowa. Therefore do what you must, but I must finish my trip.” He flicked one final rock from his leg and then put his small pocketknife in his pocket. “One last time, I would urge you to depart me at once. All I ask in farewell is a prayer for my eternal soul.”
“Pete,” I said. “Calm down man. You still living and breathing right now, and you know what I have decided, I’m coming with you. I will help you. You can call me Dorothy.”
His expression began to change, and I realized he was about to cry. It was completely unexpected, and next thing I knew he fell into my shoulder, wailing. “Thank you Dorothy. Thank your Dorothy. Thank you Dorothy. I knew you were a brave man. I could tell by how you talked to the woman. Thank you Sir. You can assist me–”
“I don’t know about assist,” I said, patting him on the back. “And my name’s not Dorothy. It was joke.”
He moved away from me and then grabbed my shoulders. “Listen Austin-Dorothy, from Iowa. We must follow my people’s norms to the letter. The Tender of the Fire can only be assisted by one individual. Once the ritual begins you will be under my complete command.”
“Wait a second,” I said.
“Oh I see now, you are just like them.”
“Dammit Pete,” I said, “don’t start that shit. Now just slow down for a second. Now let’s just say I’m under your command. You can’t like tell me to hurt myself or anything?”
“Austin-Dorothy from Iowa, why would I hurt you?”
“Stop that Dorothy thing, it’s just Austin,” I said. “I don’t know, I’m just clarifying, you couldn’t make me hurt myself or do something stupid like that, could you?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “The assistant must obey every command of the fire tender. I don’t see any way around that.”
I could sense the play here dear reader. I am more than happy to admit that I didn’t like it, but again I was tired of the shit. To be clear though, I have no intention of honoring any oath to this fellow.
Now, I will attempt to fulfill my duty to him as Assistant, of course. That said, I will not violate my own personal code of conduct. The astute observer may ask, did I violate it though by making a promise, under false pretenses? Well, dear reader. I will allow you to be the judge on these issues. I would just press back, go get stuck in imagination world and see how you do.