Chapter 16: Potty Harrison and the Chamber of Commerce
Peter had enough of the bean loaf left to give him some energy, and he found himself walking with a little bit of spirit. He passed through Glivvensshire with very little to do but stop and rest. No one talked to him. They seemed preoccupied with not wanting to be noticed. Further on he found he was nearing what should have been a sea port city. It was small at first, but the further in he got the more buildings he could see. This was the remarkable thing because they were all round or oval in shape. The windows were open, without glass or shutters, and the buildings themselves looked as if they had roots. There was a large gate to the city, growing right out of the ground as if it were two trees joined in an arch high overhead. There were many people milling about, walking toward the inland ways of the city. There were none, however, near the beach. In fact, there were no ports, piers, or anchorages anywhere along the coast. It was as if the folks of Covenswold didn’t care to have boats or even take a swim. The beach looked like it had never been walked on, the sand was so smooth.
Peter could hardly take a step when he entered through the broad gates to the city. There were strange writings across the arch of the gate that reminded him of the doorway in the well, what seemed like a lifetime ago.
No one seemed to notice him. He called out to a few people ahead of him on the road, walking in the same direction he was going, but they wouldn’t turn around. As he tried to walk faster, he could feel his joints hurting so, and his back bending in an awkward position, as if he were perpetually leaning forward. Eventually he got up to someone and tapped the man on the back of his shoulder. The person didn’t turn around but asked, “Who goes there?”
Peter caught up and passed the stranger and turned around to look at him. The man stopped short, rather shocked that someone would look him in the face.
“Sorry, but I’m getting on in years and you wouldn’t turn around to see me. My name is Peter, and I’m looking for Covenswold.”
“You’re here, Peter. This is Covenswold. Where are you from?”
Peter looked down, trying to figure out how to explain it. “I’m from another land, across the sea.” He waved in the direction of the ocean behind the man.
“Why,” said Peter, “the sea. There,” and he pointed, “behind you.”
The man looked at him as if he were crazy and started to laugh.
“You’re an idiot, stranger. There is no sea behind me.”
“Yes there is, plain as day. Turn and look.”
The man refused and kept walking. “There is nothing behind me.”
Peter found he still had a little energy to run (even though it hurt) so he ran up to another stranger, a woman this time, and found he had to get in front of her as well just to talk to her.
“Where is everyone going?”
“Why, to get the truth of the day. What are you? A stranger?”
“Yes,” said Peter, “from across the sea.”
“Not you, too!” and he took her by the shoulders and tried to turn her around so she could see the great ocean of water behind her, but she wouldn’t budge.
“See here, old man, you’re hurting me.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just that it is behind you, plain as day. You couldn’t miss it.”
“There is no sea, or ocean or anything behind me. There is nothing. This,” and she pointed to what was ahead of her, the people, the street, the buildings, “is all there is. Nothing more. Now out of my way so I may get to the Fortress of Situational Ethics for the new truth.”
Peter reluctantly moved to the side and she continued around him. He looked to where she was going and all he could see was a large myriad of people moving toward a very dark mountainous region, just outside the eastern side of the city. He couldn’t tell, but it looked like there was a large blanket or sheet, or something of a material nature in the sky over that part of the city stretching out toward the dark region. It was too dark to make out what was there, but Peter guessed it was probably the fortress where Politikus Mediosus dwelt.
“If Mediosus says there is no sea, then there is no sea,” said a young man, who was standing in the doorway of a small hovel, watching the crowd and most of all Peter.
“You believe that?”
“It doesn’t matter what I believe. It is what he says, and the people trust him. He tells them what they need to know, true or not, and they follow.”
Peter asked the young man who he was and the young man told Peter he was a magician, well skilled in the arts and quite capable of helping anyone in need of knowledge.
“How did you know I had such a need?”
“I wouldn’t be a good magician if I didn’t. Come in,” and he disappeared into his hovel. Peter followed and noticed there was writing above the door. He couldn’t read it.
“Is that your name?”
“Above your door, there. I can’t read your writing.”
“Those are words I live by,” said the magician, “they are, ‘Do as Thou Wilt.’”
Peter sat down on a small wooden stool near the wall and leaned against it to take the ache out of his back. It didn’t help.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The greatest service you can do humanity is to serve your own interests.”
“Then I shouldn’t have given Iggy all my money and most of my food.”
The magician laughed. “You’re an old fool. Here in Covenswold you will learn the truth. For however many days you have left. No one, simply no one helps others without some kind of payment or agenda. Since you have no money, I cannot help you.”
“I thought so.” Peter got up to leave.
“However,” said the magician, stopping Peter at the door, “perhaps we could trade favors.”
“What could I possibly do?”
The magician was suddenly very animated and excited.
“Do you have any influence over people? Especially people in high places? Tell me what you need and if I help you, you can help me advance.”
“I don’t know anyone here. I’m here to see Politikus and that’s it.”
“Well, that is someone of influence. Tell me what you need, and if you put in a good word for me, Ulster Krow, that’s my name, then you will receive power and fame.”
Peter remembered what Iggy warned him about. He was certain that this was not a man to be trusted. The man was young, and fit and full of life, certainly a youthful adventurous soul, but not all things beautiful are good. Not all things said are to be believed. The older he was getting, the easier it was for him to discern between what was fraud and what was real.
Peter started laughing.
“What,” said Ulster, “is funny?”
“You’re a liar and I know that. I find it much easier to figure that out, and yet, all this,” and Peter waved his hands about, “this Innerworld, is part of my fertile imagination. And I’m dying, Ulster. I’m lying either at the bottom of a well, or in a hospital bed, dying. My body is failing me. The curse of being a child with a high IQ is that I can figure out these things at a young age.” Peter never wanted to admit that Ewart Street School was for the gifted; he tried to play it down, but it was. He certainly had a brain for it and at this point it seemed to him to be a curse.
“So,” Peter said, “I’m looking for three magic vessels that I must empty at an appropriate time, and in doing so, I will save this world, and my own.”
“You really believe that?” asked Ulster, mocking Peter’s old voice.
“For what it’s worth,” added Peter, “I do. For if this is all a hallucination, then by saving this world I will wake up. If it is real, I can die fulfilling a destiny I had no idea was mine.”
Ulster didn’t look too friendly anymore. “What makes you think we need saving?”
“You can’t even admit you have an ocean behind you because some person, a person mind you, nothing more, tells you it isn’t there. There is nothing wrong with believing in what you cannot see, but not believing in what is plainly before you and you refuse to see is folly.”
Peter turned and left the hovel, but Ulster was not far behind.
“I respect your opinion, old man, but I think you are quite wrong. I don’t need saving. I’ve saved myself.”
“You can’t even see an ocean behind you because you’re too self-absorbed in serving your own interests. You can’t see the danger that poses. Tides rise, and floods occur in this world and in mine. You and everyone else here have turned their backs on the truth. Who is quite wrong? You listen to a politician who controls all forms of communication in your world. In our world that’s called spin, or propaganda. We have a similar problem. Very few people think for themselves. I’ve made up my mind. I can’t see the gardener, but I know his handiwork, and I choose to acknowledge his skill and artistry.”
Ulster looked confused. He obviously had missed something and said so.
“Doesn’t matter, Ulster. I need to find these objects. Where is the marketplace?”
Ulster thought he wouldn’t tell him, but he changed his mind. “You won’t like it. You have to get on the net and shop there.
“The net? Did you say the net?”
“Yes, go to the Chamber of Commerce, which is a room at the center of town, and get onto the net. There you can do anything you like, be anyone you want, say anything to anyone. No one will recognize you. There are forbidden things you can do there. The only thing is, be aware that the kukyz will follow you everywhere you go on the net. That is where I learned my craft. That is where I spend most of my life. That is where Politikus is most powerful. You might meet him there.”
Then Ulster laughed an insidious laugh and went backwards into his home, so as not to turn around and see the ocean.
Peter continued to walk into town, wishing he had a walking stick, when he saw a group of people going into a round, cylindrical shaped building. It also looked like it was growing from the ground, though it had a steel color. Peter went in and all was dark.
As his eyes adjusted he noticed a series of rope ladders that lead up to a large, net-like web of ropes that spanned the immense ceiling above him. Obviously the cylinder-like building was only a means to get there, but the net covered the whole top of the city, connecting it to the dark of the mountains that surrounded Covenswold and narrowed toward the Fortress of Situational Ethics.
It took a mighty long time but Peter finally made it onto the net, and there were thousands upon thousands of kukyz, following thousands and thousands of people who had managed to walk the net like a street. Peter had to move on his hands and knees, grabbing the ropes of the net so as not to fall through it. Soon he was able to get used to it, almost by nature, and could stand.
He must have walked several miles, but he never saw a place of commerce that carried what he wanted. There were places where one could buy books or food or clothing. There were hidden places where it seemed crimes were being committed. People would sneak in and sneak out. Some would go in and stay and never come out until they were too hungry or too thirsty. Those certain people looked very sick in body, but there was still an enchantment over them. He couldn’t make out any distinctions on their faces. They were for all practical purposes, anonymous.
He did stop someone, however, who also looked like a blank face, and asked if that person knew where he could by magic vessels, or how to get to the fortress of Politikus.
“Politikus will talk to anyone on the net. But you must be on the net. As for the vessels you seek, there is one magician besides the great Logician Mediosus, but he is back in town. Off the net for now. He comes here often though.”
“You mean Ulster?”
“I have spoken to him. He doesn’t have what I want.” Peter kept walking in the direction of the dark mountains.
Hours passed. He walked slowly, both because he needed to keep his footing, but because he also was tired and he hurt so. The walls of rock around him and above him were indications he was now in the mountains, but it was dark and cold. He couldn’t see well, and all the noise of the net was fading to a muffling sound.
He went through several tunnels where he had to get on his hands and knees and crawl. By the last tunnel, maybe the fifth he had crawled through, all light had gone and he couldn’t see a thing.
He crawled like this for what seemed to be several hours. It could have been days, for all he knew. He was tired and thirsty and ever so weak. At one point he just lay down on the net and slept.
When he awoke, he thought he had gone blind. It was so dark and now there were no sounds at all. Perhaps he had died. Maybe this was death. Or, business hours were over and many of the people had gone home. One thing was for sure, the net was still there, for his hands were gripping tightly to it. So he decided to keep moving in the direction he was headed.
More time slipped by; then there was a glimmer of light. After a few more yards of crawling, the light was dazzling and blinded him for a moment. When his eyes adjusted he could see that he was over what looked like a river of fire or lava. The cave walls around him were glowing red with the hot light from the fire river, and Peter began to sweat profusely.
The walls were intricately carved with bas-reliefs of ancient animals, people and cities. This was obviously an interior chamber to some building. Perhaps it was the fortress of Politikus Mediosus himself. If so, Peter was a failure again, for he did not have the three magic vessels.
It all seemed so hopeless, but at least there was a ledge to his left, and he could walk on solid rock and not this net anymore. He moved slowly over to the ledge and stood on it. His feet hurt, and his back ached, and he was sweating profusely. His vision was blurred but he could see enough to keep from the edge. It would certainly be a fatal fall.
He put out his left hand to feel the wall and slowly continued forward when he noticed the net was tied off and there was nothing to keep him from falling into the lava anymore should he slip. Ahead of him and behind there were several kukyz moving about, nimbly jumping around him and grasping the ledge without the slightest worry of tumbling into the flames.
Peter sat down to rest. He stayed close to the wall, pulling his legs up by the knees, no matter how much it hurt, just to keep his feet from dangling over the edge. He heard a laugh coming from ahead of him.
I guess my hearing is alright, he thought. The laugh filled the chamber. In a flash there appeared on the ledge several yards ahead of him, a large and mighty man in a striking suit of armor.
The armor was multicolored, almost translucent, with a predominance of a reddish purple. His whole body was covered and yet he could move with agility. There was no mask to cover his handsome face, but his helmet did curve up in a long arc across the top of his head toward the back. He laughed again.
Peter got up, saw what a terrible match this would be, and decided perhaps he should go back and try harder to find the three magic vessels, despite his aging body. He turned to head back but standing behind him was Ulster, holding a very ugly yet clingy kukyz.
“You still want me to put in a good word for you?” asked Peter with some dripping sarcasm.
“That won’t be necessary,” said Ulster. The kukyz hissed at Peter.
“You didn’t have to comment on my comment. It is obvious you two are working together.
“You’re a smart old man,” said Ulster, “but you should have listened to the old woman. I’m an enchanter, and I’ve been helping Mediocre here,” and he was interrupted.
“Mediosus,” the man in armor corrected him.
“Mediosus, with all my cunning. I could see you from afar, in my mind. I brought you here.”
“No, no Ulster, that was me,” said Mediosus, who indeed was the man in the armor, “I did that one.”
“Details, details. Next you’ll be taking credit for moving the portal entrance to the Fortress of Situational Ethics.”
“No, no. You did that. You did that well. A little dirty, but you can clean it up after all of,” he waved his hands in a random manner, “this.”
“You led me here,” said Peter, wiping sweat from his brow with his loose fitting sleeve, “so let’s get this over with. What do you want from me?”
“Peter,” said Mediosus, “if you really are the one who is to defeat me, don’t you think I at least could have a chance to plead my case?”
“You’ve already won, Mediosus. I don’t have the magic vessels and I’m too old and weak to fight you physically. So have done with it. I’m tired.”
Mediosus just laughed. Ulster did too, but the look on his face seemed to indicate he didn’t get the joke, whatever it was.
“Come here, Peter, there is something I want you to see.”
“Can’t you come here and show me? I’m tired.”
“No, no I cannot. You must come here, because what I have here behind this door,” and he pointed to a part of the wall that Peter couldn’t see clearly, “is so beautiful, so sweet, so innocent, that you’d have to see it to believe it.”
“Oh all right.” Peter got up and slowly walked toward Politikus Mediosus, until the tyrant held out his hand and motioned for Peter to stop.
“Don’t take another step, Peter. That part of the ledge is rigged to open up.”
There was a familiar sound from the wall. Peter could just see a square window in the wall, obviously an opening into some prison. Inside was the Beautiful Woman All Dressed in White, chained to a slab of rock standing upright.
“If you want to know, she is slowly being let into the fire river below.”
“I didn’t want to know that,” said Peter.
“Peter,” said the Beautiful Woman, “whatever he says to you don’t listen. I’m in no danger whatsoever.”
Mediosus laughed again. Ulster laughed as well, and the little kukyz monster hissed.
“If you step on this part of the ledge,” said Mediosus, “it will open downward, closing off the trap that she is slowly sliding through,” and Peter could see she was slipping down, the rock and all, but slowly, as if she were sand in an hour glass.
“Yay! This is like a slide!” she said with a laugh.
“By stepping on this part of the ledge you will save her, but you will then be pitched into the river of fire yourself. So you see, there is a choice here for you. You can fight me, but I’ll kill you easily and she will die. Or, you can save her, and then you yourself will die in torment. I will live. Either way, Peter, you lose and I get what I want. Your world.”
“Look above you.”
Peter did and what he saw was a long and high tunnel, strangely familiar, and outside of it, for there was an opening at the top, he saw a tiny roof and around that a swirling mass of clouds and a lightning storm of great power.
“That is your world. I’ve been invading it since you’ve been here. In a moment, the two of you will be dead, or at least one of you, and I will then take the Chamber of Commerce!”
“Not to rain on your parade,” said Peter, with some disdain, “but the chamber of commerce is an organization of business people. Not an actual chamber.”
Mediosus looked stunned.
“But my spies...”
“You’ve trained them well, to lie. They’ve even lied to you.”
Mediosus waved his hand as if swatting at a fly. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll control the media, the political elite, the fast food restaurants and possibly the public transit. That’s a start.”
The Beautiful Woman All Dressed in White was slowly slipping out of Peter’s sight, but she was laughing.
“What’s so funny?” asked Mediosus.
“You can’t do anything to me. I’ve already died.”
Several things happened at once. Peter didn’t hear what the Beautiful Woman had said and he had made up his mind to save her anyway, so he stepped on the trap. Immediately it opened and he fell. At the same time several lightning blasts from above had struck the opening to the tunnel that led straight up. Ulster was shocked at Peter’s stunning decision and tumbled in after him, screaming as he fell.
The fall wasn’t long, for before Peter knew it he had landed in the lava, but it wasn’t lava at all. It was a gelatinous substance that reflected light from beneath. It wasn’t hot; that heat came from furnaces down under the ledge. Peter wasn’t really hurt at all, mostly. The river of fire wasn’t deep. It was soft and shallow and not very far below the ledge he had been on. The only thing that was hurt was his already aching back, and he sat up.
“What is this,” he cried out, “a joke?” Ulster wasn’t laughing; he had landed on his head and had a nasty bump. The kukyz creature was also a bit shaken up. Mediosus was shocked.
“I didn’t think you’d do it.” He walked down a stone spiral staircase that was behind him and walked right up to Peter. Just then a door on the opposite wall opened and the Beautiful Woman all Dressed in White walked out, none the worse for wear and not chained to anything.
“That could have been more fun. Do you have a better slide?” and she started kicking the gelatin around and giggled.
“It’s gelatin, Mediosus; your lava is a stage trick,” said Peter.
“Why I’ll be. Ulster?” Ulster hid his head in his hands. “I told you I wanted a flaming river of fire and smoke!”
“And that’s what I got you. I went into Peter’s world and found it all on the net. Which is a different kind of net there than what we have here. I paid good money for it off of an auction site. Probably shouldn’t have trusted the dealer. Had only three feedback marks.”
Peter laughed out loud. He couldn’t believe the simplicity of evil. How the deceivers can be so easily deceived. Truth, he thought, is not like this. It is mature, simple in a different way, as in not complicated, and innocent. The Beautiful Woman approached Peter.
“You did it.”
“He most certainly did not!” Mediosus was indignant. “He didn’t find the three magic vessels and he didn’t empty them at the appropriate time. I win! I win I tell you!”
“He’s right,” said Peter. “I’ve failed. I didn’t know what to look for, or anything. I’m too old now, too feeble to be able to do anything.”
“But you did do it, Peter. You emptied your mind while renewing it and filling it with more holy thoughts then you probably knew. You emptied your heart when you emptied your purse to help poor Iggy, whose life is forever changed by your kindness. And just now you emptied yourself of your life, to save someone else. Although it turned out to be a trick. Your heart was in the right place. And although I didn’t need saving, since I already am, I still love you for it, Peter. You are a heroic person.”
Peter looked stunned, and he was not sure how to respond.
“I’m not sure how to respond to all this.”
Mediosus started up the stairs. “I’ll tell you how I am going to respond. I’m going up that well and finish the war I started.”
Ulster just moaned. He was covered in red and yellow gelatin.
Peter slowly got up. “I have to stop him,” he said.
“Trust me, your act of selflessness will stop him in a way you can hardly imagine.”
Peter nodded but still went slowly after Politikus Mediosus. All the while he was hobbling up the stairs he was pulling pieces of gelatin off of his shirt. At the top of the winding staircase was the entrance to the Marsdon Hill well. Peter now could plainly see, there were notches for hands and feet cut into the well. Mediosus was several feet above him but Peter started to slowly climb after him. The firestorm of lightning and cloud and smoke outside of the well was intense. This was indeed, the same well Peter had fallen into.
“How did the well get here? And how did it grow hand and foot holds?” The Beautiful Woman had gone, but Politikus heard him, and mocked him with an answer.
“Because I have the know-how, and that’s why! I did it! I invaded your world with confusion and the ceasing of all natural law, and I moved this well to my palace and I...”
Peter heard something over Mediosus’s self-glorifying monologue and tried to listen.
“It’s too dangerous,” he heard. That sounded like Grandma Nesbitt.
“Grandma?” Peter yelled. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard her ask if he was all right.
“Well, I’m old, now.” He wasn’t sure she heard him because at the next moment there was the sound of a blaring car horn and plummeting down out of the sky in a burst of green smoke was his mother and father’s Ford convertible. It was falling right toward the well entrance.
There were crashing sounds and the rushing of wind and more horn noises and the car fell right into the well, as if it were small enough to fit. The noise and sight was so distracting that Politikus did not get out of the way, but with a scream he was hit head on by the Harrisons and carried deep into the Innerworld well and beyond. As they passed Peter, who hugged the wall tenaciously, he heard his parents yell, “Good job, son. You look good for your age.” Then they laughed and were out of sight. He could still hear Politikus yelling for them to stop but he couldn’t see them anymore.
Without looking up, he reached to grab the next handhold, because he thought for sure he would fall, he felt so weak.
What surprised him was that he didn’t grab a handhold at all, but a firm, yet decidedly girlish hand, that gave a strong pull and before he knew it, he was out of the well and sitting on its edge, Bucky Newcastle holding his hand and Clement patting him on the back. Mrs. Nesbitt was crying for joy and Mrs. Newcastle was hugging a man he didn’t know. Yet it was all real, all home, all Marsdon Hill outside of Ewart Street School, all as real as it could be.
Peter was a boy again. Twelve years old and in his old man peasant clothes that Durice and Novali had given him. He breathed in the clean after storm air and looked at his friends and his grandmother.
“Was that my mom and dad?”
Grandma Nesbitt nodded.
“They’re alive, then? Driving from dimension to dimension?”
She nodded again, tears flowing from her eyes.
Peter wanted to go home and he said so. He was tired and confused, and needed a little help in getting down Marsdon Hill, but with Bucky and Clement helping him, that got him back to Grandma Nesbitt’s house where he slept the rest of the night and the whole next day.