The damnable monster died! Died! The embers of anger she felt at the discomfort of her ride ignited. “If not for my superior skill, I would have died,” she considered as she seethed. She looked about her and could see nothing but sand dunes and more sand dunes in every direction. She could see no escape! She’d lost her staff in the fall and she could make no magic here in any case. She’d been doing magic since she was a young girl, but here it did not work. She had heard rumors of a vast southern desert devoid of most life and magic. She had never believed it. Yet, here she was; as helpless as any cottager trudging through his dull day. She began to hate. She hated the sun for beating ruthlessly down upon her bare head. She hated the sand and the way it shifted and blew. She hated each dune as she climbed and again as she descended, only to have to climb in the loose sand again. She hated this cursed land for being hot and devoid of magic. Most of all, a seed of hate for her new mistress sprouted, which grew each day Kahi spent in the desert. Day after day her thirst grew, her hunger grew, and her anger grew
Kahi had already been in the desert several days when she spied a shimmering pond on the horizon. She had also begun to hate these visions. Each one as inviting as the last, only to disappear like a rainbow as she neared. But this time she could see the trees and soft grass so clearly as she got closer. She stumbled into the shade, and dropped into the pond, as happy as she had ever been. The trees that grew here bore fruit and after eating her fill, she lay at the edge of the water. There was a sudden sound. Of course there would be bugs here, she thought. She looked around for the source of her annoyance. She could see nothing; not a bug, not a bird, when a shadow flickered above her and something came careening out of the air. She caught a glimpse of legs flailing and wings flapping before it splashed down next to her.
A moment later it burst to the surface, then back sunk slowly before it burst from the water in apparent ecstasy. Each time it surfaced it babbled incoherently. Eventually Kahi could make out the words “thank you thank you thank you” in rapid repetition. Eventually it settled in the shallows and began to preen its few feathers when it realized it wasn’t alone. It took a ferocious stance on bowed reptilian legs, raising his arms and spreading his fluorescent bat-like wings. He made a frightening picture, what with its black eyes, dull gray skin, and shockingly green and blue wing feathers. “Hissssssssssssssssss,” it hissed unconvincingly.
Kahi looked at it and almost smiled. “Hah,” she said with a flick of her finger when a tiny bolt of green shot from her fingertip to its nose. Surprising them both.
“Ouch and ouch,” it screeched, rubbing his nose. “You hursts. Why you hursts Gherkin? Why? You tell me.” He stared at her with the intensity of a large-eyed mouse.
“Gherkin, is it?” Kahi said as she studied the creature. “Listen Gherkin I don’t know what you are, which is surprising, because I know practically everything. I am a wizard of the 7th Level, I’m tired and hungry and you look like you might be suitable for my dinner.”
“Dinner ner? The creature asked, stepping back. “Why you dinner cooking Gherkin?” he asked in a sing-songy voice repeating sounds and words in a way that was almost lyrical, albeit off key. He jumped up. “No dinner cooking,” he said and looked about. “Food here, plenty food,” he said and scampered off into the greenery.
He returned in a short time with two fresh fish, some watercress, and a coconut. These he presented grandly. “Happy now princess?” asked Gherkin, smiling broadly.
“No, but I am just a little less hungry.”
When light and consciousness returned, Zeke found himself sitting at the top of a low hill staring out over a small valley. He turned when he heard the tinkling sound of glass chimes. The sound seemed to come from a small wood. Small cottages with thatched roofs dotted the landscape. (“Thatched roofs?” Zeke wondered.) Animals grazed on the hillsides. It must’ve been a trick of the light or something, because he could not tell if they were goats, cattle, or even perhaps llamas? A stone road ran through the center of town, with gravel and dirt roads running from it to the more residential areas.
“It’s a commune? Man, this is unreal! Looks like you guys have been here a long time.”
“Woolton Wood has existed here for many hundreds of years.”
“No shit? How is it I’ve never heard of it?” He was sure a commune like this could not have been kept a secret. He’d lived for a while in a couple of communes, but never saw anything like this. He knew it was no commune, but had trouble admitting it. His mind wanted to be back in San Francisco.
Behind him, the hills gradually grew and at the horizon was a mountain range with snow-capped peaks. Mountains he’d never seen before. Never had he heard leaves in the trees sound like wind chimes. Oh, and the two moons. He was sure that while The Haight was weird, it definitely did not have two moons. Not even on planet Earth. Which begged the question: Where was he?
Bru stepped onto a stone path that led down the hill. “Let’s go, the sun will be setting soon, and it is best not to be out after dark.”
Zeke looked toward the setting sun, and noticed again the two moons in the sky each in a different phase. “This is one vivid trip.” He knew that if he was hallucinating, the best thing to do was go with it. If you fight the reality of the trip, it turns ugly. At least that was his theory. Moreover, he figured it was about all he could do. So for now he would just play along.
They hurried down the path, which in the growing damp grew slick and Zeke nearly fell more than once. He was not much of a wisher, but at that moment he wished he were a mountain goat, because the prospect of sliding down the hill on his ass was very real, and very unpleasant to consider. The few people who were still out, moved quickly in the street, with barely a glance with their direction.
Bru lead him to a quintessential English country cottage at the end of the town. A fence surrounded most of the yard and he could see a small greenhouse in the back. He stooped through the low rounded door into complete darkness and he stood, waiting for his eyes to adjust as Bru quickly had some oil lamps burning brightly. The floor was a mosaic of large slabs of stone worn smooth over years of long use, in front of the fireplace the hearth gleamed like a mirror reflecting the roaring fire that the old lady soon had burning.
“Now, something to eat, and then we talk,” she said as she continued bustling around pulling things from shelves, and putting other things away her back to Zeke, who meanwhile sat near the fire trying to get warm, too shocked to say anything for several minutes. Zeke was also patient.
He waited while she cooked, humming to herself.
Waited as she served them.
Waited as they ate.
He continued to wait as she cleaned the dishes and at last couldn’t wait any longer and the questions burst out of him. “Who are you? What are you? And most of all, where the fuck am I?”
“I am Bru, 7th Level wizard of the Woolton Wood, in the Champha district, in the …”
“You’re who? Wait, why me?”
“You had no choice in the matter.”
“I remember that much.” He looked at her, eyebrows like spider webs. He pulled his mind away before he started seeing spiders streaming from her hair. His mind struggled with the concept of being transported to another time and place. Was this real? A vivid dream? He stole a quick glance at the witch, thinking she must have spiked his tea with something. Wait. Had he been drinking tea? “I need to lie down.” He found a soft spot on the floor and closed his eyes and tried to sleep hoping he would wake up next to Mickie. He awoke to the sound of chimes in a soft breeze that blew gently across his face, bringing with it the smells of a dozen different flowers. He got up. He stretched, yawned, and stretched some more. He was busy scratching his crotch, wonder...