Chapter 10: A Parting Party
The rain was tortuous, and loud, and wet. The sea was turning like Peter’s stomach, all queasy and slippery-like. The clouds were low, dark and angry, with hints of dark green on what was thought to be the horizon. It was hard to tell since the horizon was often blocked out by giant waves of dangerous and relentless water.
Ray and Ray, Durice and Novali were huddled in the little galley, holding onto the table and trying to keep all the flatware from flying off and landing against the wall. Peter was standing on the small staircase, desperately trying to hold onto the handle of the galley door, and keeping it closed. The water just wanted to force itself in, but he wouldn’t let it if he could. Still, he was really sea sick and needed to run to a bathroom somewhere. He hadn’t felt this way the entire time he was experiencing this new world until now.
But it should be expected, he thought, what with a storm at sea.
“How much longer do we have to endure this?” he asked.
“Haven’t a clue, young man,” answered Ray the Taller, “this is our first storm at sea.”
“I find that hard to believe, with you being on the run and all.”
Ray the Taller looked at Ray the Shorter, who was just a little green in the face.
“Yeah, I told him. What do you want? He needs our help and maybe we need his.” Ray the Shorter went on to explain why they should help Peter get to Covenswold but now it seemed like it really wouldn’t matter; the storm was surely blowing the ship off course.
“How do you think Forrest is handling all the water?” asked Novali. She was, of course, referring to the living ship.
“Quite well, I expect,” answered Durice. She was the calmest of everyone. Apparently in her youth she used to go fishing on a large boat with her father and new about storms at sea.
Some water splashed through the door that Peter was holding shut, apparently not tight enough. It was just because he got a little tired in the arms, and now the whole cabin had an inch of water to wade through.
“Sorry,” was all he could say.
“Not much you can do about it, lad,” said Ray the Taller. “Hopefully this storm will abate as soon as there is daylight.”
“Where is the crew?” asked Peter.
“No crew,” said Ray the Shorter. “We’re it. Forrest does all the rest.” He patted the wall with affection.
“Oh, because I saw a creature on deck before the storm got really big, just as it started to rain.”
Ray the Taller tried standing up, but his sea legs had left him. He sat back down although Ray the Shorter had tried supporting him. Durice and Novali just gasped.
“What kind of creature?” asked Ray the Taller when he was seated again.
“Well,” started Peter, “it was like a small animal, about the size of what I would call a baby chimpanzee; a monkey or lizard or rat-like animal, only it had red eyes and an ugly, monstrous-looking face. I didn’t want to call it that, because I was told not all things ugly are evil, and if it was a crew member, well, how rude!”
Ray the Shorter stood up this time, more successfully, although the ship kept pitching ever so strongly.
“No, these ugly things are certainly evil, if they’re what we think they are.”
“So,” said Ray the Taller, “we’ve been found out.”
“What?” Peter didn’t understand a thing about what Ray was saying. If this indeed was a coma induced dream, Peter wished to heaven his subconscious would stop teasing and let him in on the joke.
“Mediosus,” began Novali, “was developing an army of spies, to watch all of us and keep us in his sights at all times. How he does it I don’t know, but these little wicked creatures will betray us to our ends for sure.” She thought for a moment. “How many did you see?”
“Just the one,” said Peter.
Durice nodded thoughtfully. “We all knew the risks. Don’t worry, son, we’re prepared.”
Ray and Ray looked at each other.
“We should get the bludgeons out then,” said Ray the Taller. He stood up with Ray the Shorter and started toward the inner door to the pantry when there was a great shake, lots of noise like the grinding of rock only ten times worse, and then a flood of water. Peter could hardly see when something hard hit him on the head and all went black.
When Peter awoke, all was still and silent. His ears were filled with water, and the floor to the galley cabin was wet and smelled like mold. He sat up. His head hurt, but there was no bump or cut, as far as he could feel, and his body didn’t seem to be injured, although his joints ached to high heaven. He stood up, a bit shaky, but was able to keep his balance.
No one else was in the cabin, so they either went below through the entry in the pantry or they were on deck. He walked toward the pantry and opened the door and took a step inside. He cracked his head on the overhead wood beam, and that surprised him. Not only did it hurt, but he hadn’t done that the day before. The beam must have fallen. It was obviously daytime since the sun was shining through the porthole window. He looked at the overhead beam in the bright daylight and it certainly seemed intact and solid.
He called out below but got no answer, so he headed for the cabin door. It was open, probably from when the water poured in and Peter lost consciousness. He sloshed up the stair case to go outside, scraping his head again on top of the doorway, and found the ship was not moving at all.
When his eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight, a sunlight after a storm, but still diffused by the high clouds that hid the roof of the immense cavern that was Innerworld, he could see that the ship had run aground. The bow was part way into a beachhead, and no one was in sight.
Peter walked to the edge of the bow and looked over. He could see human footprints in the sand and decided the others had taken to exploring their new territory, for Peter was convinced they were shipwrecked on an island out in the middle of this underground ocean.
The beach only went up so far and then suddenly stopped at what looked like a large pile of slate and clay and chalk rock all stacked a hundred feet high or more. It was certainly frightening to think if the tide had been higher, the ship might have crashed right into the side of what was obviously a cliff. Peter looked at his surroundings and noticed at the top of the cliff were pine trees, and some other similar kinds of trees were dotted about the area to the right and left of him, stretching out to sea on the top of similar rocks. It would have been beautiful and serene if it weren’t for the fact the ship had run aground.
Peter wondered to himself how much damage the ship must have sustained. Then he had a peculiar shivering sensation down his spine, and felt as if someone was watching and he wasn’t alone on the ship. He quickly turned around, expecting to see the ugly red-eyed creature, but there was nothing there. He gave it up to his obviously active imagination and looked for a way to climb off the ship.
He really wasn’t that far up off the sand but he didn’t want to risk jumping, not yet. He lowered himself over the edge and tried to find a foothold in the side of the ship with his feet. His water-soaked moccasins were too tight and his shins scraped on the edges of the ship. His pants had either shrunk or ridden up to his knees.
He decided to let go and then he landed with a thump. The sand was soft enough that he didn’t really hurt himself, but it was a tad jarring. He stood up and looked around. He turned and looked out to sea. It seemed calm. It was hard to believe there was such a storm the night before.
He scratched his chin because it itched and found something rough and unfamiliar there. He thought it might be dried blood, or a scab or something from possibly hitting his face when he fell in the night after his head got hit, by what he didn’t know. He tried to pull the dried blood off his chin but it wouldn’t come off and it hurt. He didn’t have a mirror so he felt his whole face and there were soft, prickly sticky things all over it, back to his ears and under his nose and under his chin, and down his neck.
“Good heavens!” he said aloud, “I’ve grown a beard.”
Indeed he had. In the three days he’d been in Innerworld, he had grown healthier, taller, and seemingly older. How old would he appear? He couldn’t go back and look for a mirror because the sudden thought that his friends were here on land and maybe looking for him filled his mind and he decided to wait and look at himself later.
“No time for vanity,” he thought. He headed off in the direction the footprints were leading. He was suddenly very hungry and was angry with himself that he didn’t bring anything to eat. Changing his mind again about going back to the ship, he turned around and noticed that the ship was not quite in the same position it had been when he leaped off. It almost looked like it had a pair of elbows and was resting what could be its chin in its hands, if it had any, and as far as Peter knew it hadn’t.
“I’ll eat later,” he said aloud and turned back toward the task at hand, which was finding out what happened to Ray and Ray and Mrs. Ray and, well, the other Mrs. Ray.
It took him a few seconds to find the footprints and make out exactly where they were going, which was slightly to his left and up into the trees that crested that side of the cliff. He shrugged, took a deep breath and trundled on.
There was a loud grumbling or moaning sound behind him, and when he turned around, the ship was a little further up onto the sand.
“Tide is going out,” he thought, “but how can there be a tide without a moon? Does Innerworld have a moon?” These were his thoughts as he headed onward.
Up the left side of the cliff edge there was a rough path through some underbrush. He decided, since it was at least a path, that perhaps this was where his new friends had come, or had gone, and taken the path, and he was right. Though the ground was harder, and the footprints more faint than on the sand, he at least could see something. So he climbed the path and soon found himself on top of the cliff, looking out over the beach, where the ship was resting on its forearms.
There was something not quite right about that. Peter had to think for a bit and then it hit him like a rock in the back of the head.
“Ships don’t have forearms,” he said aloud.
“Ah,” said a voice directly behind him, “but Forrest does. He also has legs.”
Peter turned around, scared out of his skin, to see Ray the Taller smiling at him. Behind Ray the Taller was the rest of the company, sitting in a clump around a makeshift fire pit, on some soft mossy grass just a few yards in from the cliff edge.
“We’re cooking. Something good, I hope. You shouldn’t be on your journey without food.”
Ray the Taller made a little gasping noise and looked intently at Peter’s face.
“You’ve got a beard raising on your face, lad.”
“How old do I look?”
Ray was taken aback with this question and didn’t know quite how to put it.
“Son, you look at least thirty years old.”
Well, that does it, thought Peter. He was aging fast and his time was short.
“Are you going to be able to help me?” asked Peter.
“I can point you in the right direction, but...”
Peter realized something for the first time since he met these people. Despite their hospitality and friendliness, they weren’t on his journey, but their own, and with the ship supposedly grounded, they would have to wait for the tide and get back on their way.
“So you are waiting for the tide to come in?”
“We don’t need to wait for that.”
“How are you going to get the ship back in the water?”
“He’ll turn around when he wants.”
“In my world,” said Peter, “we refer to all of our ships as ‘she’ or ‘her.’”
“Confusing,” said Ray, “unless they tell you if it’s all right. I know plenty of horse carts who prefer not to be referred to by any honorific or gender specific personal pronouns. I guess you just have to ask.”
Peter nodded. “So you’re not going with me?”
“Oh no, Peter, we can’t. It would put our families in danger. We can’t do that. Besides,” he continued, “Ray is so set on finding the portal to your world, it would destroy him to turn back.”
Peter agreed. It was also the first time while in Innerworld that he didn’t argue with his own mind about what was real and what wasn’t. What Ray said made sense, and in all the fantasy stories Peter had read, the young boy or girl must be on his or her own at some point. It had come to it, he thought.
“Do you know how to get to the portal?” asked Peter.
“I’m assuming it is inland from Far Rock, in the Lasting Greenlands.”
“About a day’s journey, but it might not look like what you think. The last time I saw it, it looked like an open door in the middle of a field, quite far from where I thought I entered. If you find it and go through it, you should be in a chamber with a stone staircase winding upward. That will take you to another door that leads into the bottom of an old, dry water well. How you get out of that I’ll never know.”
Ray looked excited, and yet a little sad. “I know,” he said, “this means good-bye, but we’ll be all right you know; we have supplies and Durice and Novali have packed plenty for you, including extra clothes. You seem to be growing out of yours.”
Peter agreed and added that he thought he was growing old rapidly, and didn’t know if he could finish his task. He didn’t even know what the magic vessels he was looking for actually looked like.
“Do you know which direction Covenswold is?” asked Ray the Taller.
“I don’t have a clue.”
“It is due east. We are facing, well, I’m facing south and you’re facing north. So if you go off to your right, you will eventually find the main road. It will be wild country for a while, but just stay on the path, and you’ll be fine. If you see a giant schlurgg, don’t panic.”
“What am I supposed to do, play dead?”
“No, run like you’ve never run before because it will eat you, and rather sloppily.”
Peter grimaced. “My head hurts,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Ray, “looks like that kukyz hit you hard. Don’t worry, it managed to get washed over the side before we beached. I don’t think it will be bothering us anymore.”
“What hit me?”
“The little spy you saw on deck.”
“Well, if I ever see it again, I hope to return the favor.” He walked with Ray over to the fire pit, sat for a while and had something to eat, and Durice and Novali started to hum.
Ray the Shorter had a lute, or something like a lute, with him and was playing a soft, lulling tune.
Durice started to sing:
“In many lands and many isles
The ones I often dream of
There are many folks
And many things
That never ate a bean loaf...”
Novali whispered, “It’s an old sales song, when we had a bakery in Glivvensshire, just outside of Covenswold. We sold a lot of bean loafs.”
The two Rays joined in:
“Bean loafs, Bean loafs
Loafs that are made of beans
Buy some and eat one
’Cause two will split the seams”
Ray the Shorter sang in a very low register:
“Of your trousers.”
Durice turned to Peter, “So we started up a tailoring shop as well.”