Chapter 2 The Beautiful Woman All Dressed in White
Peter awoke from his dream stifling a scream. His mouth was dry and his head was dizzy, as if he’d come out of a bad flu. He looked around and noticed it was so dark he couldn’t see beyond anything. It was as if someone had put a black cloth over his eyes. He squinted, he opened his eyes wide, he shook his head; yes, there was something over his eyes. He reached up and pulled a piece of what was probably black cloth off his face. It didn’t help much; he was still in the dark.
There was something, though, something about where he was that he didn’t like. It was like a memory of long ago and it gave him a very bad feeling. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. Was it his bed? No, he was lying on soft, sweet smelling grass. Was it his room? No, because as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he noticed his walls looked like canvas or muslin. It could very well be a tent. He could see a gray light coming through the flap of the tent in front of him. Perhaps it was dawn. There were sounds; they could be what was so unsettling. The sounds were crickets, and frogs and animals that reminded him of camping.
“That’s it!” he yelled. “I hate camping.”
Just then the flap to the tent, for that is what he was in, opened and in peeked a beautiful blond head of hair, bright green eyes and a rose red smile.
“Good morning, Potty.”
“Who are you again, and where am I?”
The beautiful face just smiled at him. The smile parted slightly, revealing perfectly white and well aligned teeth. She was simply smashing.
“As I said yesterday, I am the Beautiful Woman All Dressed in White.” She stepped slightly into the tent, showing off her white gown as if she were buying it at Marks and Spencer.
“Aren’t I lovely?” There was no hint of egotism in her question, just the simple truth.
“I guess so. For a girl.” That was all Peter could think of saying, but truthfully, she was indeed, very beautiful.
“Don’t let my appearance fool you, Peter. Not all beautiful things are good. Not all things that are pleasing to the eye are to be trusted.”
Are you to be trusted? he thought to himself.
As if she could read his mind, she answered his question. “You may wonder if I am to be trusted. You won’t know until you’ve gotten to know me and this world better.”
“I’m not sure,” he started, “what I am doing here, or where I am, or if this is some sort of hallucination brought on by a severe head injury.”
“But you just said...” Then she left him. The light was coming through the flap in the tent and it was obviously morning, and suddenly he smelled something wonderful. Again, he had a vague memory of when he was a little child, sleeping in his bed. The furnace was on so he had that comforting sound, and the smell of coffee brewing and bacon frying was so reassuring, that he thought for a moment he was again five years old, and safe at home with his mother. He stood up and noticed he was still dressed in his school clothes; they were a tad tight. He stepped outside through the tent flap ready to meet his hallucination. He again saw the beautiful green and brightly flowered landscape around him. There to his right was the Beautiful Woman cooking breakfast and just starting the pancakes.
“I believe this is a traditional morning meal in your world, if I remember right?” Behind her was a table, all laid out with delicious-looking fruit. There were ripe raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and an earthen jar of honey. There were small cakes and a large plate full of crispy bacon. There was white butter and cream, hot frothy chocolate in a beautiful pot and tall iced glasses of orange juice. The pancakes were at the cooking point where they smelled like he walked right into a fresh bakery that used real vanilla in its cookies.
“Now see here, whoever you are; I’m not falling for this nonsense.” He really wanted to sit down and eat, but he was going to be assertive if he could. At the table were two chairs. Obviously she was to join him for breakfast.
“What nonsense? I’m trying to make you feel at home.”
“What? What have I done to hurt you?” She really looked concerned. He couldn’t see a trace of deception in her face, and her own eyes started to water.
“It reminds me of my mother.”
“Isn’t that good?”
“She’s dead. You know.”
The Beautiful Woman turned away from Peter, and started to wipe her eyes dry.“I can take it all away from here, if you wish. The table, the food I mean. All of it.” She turned back to him, and had obviously been crying harder. “Good memories, however, though they might bring grief, are still good. Not all ugly things are bad, Peter. Some help. I am not a hallucination. I am not a dream of your mother. But I am a friend, and now that these pancakes are cooking, and smelling so wonderful, I would be honored if you would have breakfast with me.”
Peter looked down and shuffled his feet. He felt a little embarrassed. He quietly walked over to the table and pulled out a chair for himself.
“May I sit down?”
“You are indeed, a polite young man. Of course you can.”
He sat down. Then thought again and immediately stood up, walked around to the other side and pulled out the chair for her. She laughed; a lilting, musical laugh, and set the plate of pancakes on the table. She then sat down with a, “Thank you, you are very kind,” and then waited for Peter to take his seat. Peter sat down and then the Beautiful Woman closed her eyes for a good few seconds and, wearing a simply pure and happy smile. She opened her eyes and looked at Peter.
“I’m grateful,” she told him.
He nodded but wasn’t really sure what she meant and then looked around him. There was something wrong.
“What is it?” she asked.
“There’s no maple syrup.”
She had to close her eyes and wrinkle up her nose for a moment, as if she were trying to remember something for a test, and then opened her eyes up again, with a look of surprise on her face.
“Oh I know what that is! Look into the jar next to the honey.”
There was no jar next to the honey when Peter first looked on the table, at least as far as he could remember; but now it was there. He opened it and the most mouth-watering pure maple syrup was inside. After he had a plateful of pancakes smothered in this wonderful syrup, and a bowl full of cream and blueberries and a couple of slices of bacon, he started to cry.
“Change, especially drastic change, is not easy to take. You’ve had a shock. It is all right to cry.” She handed him a handkerchief.
“But,” he began, “I’m not really here. This is a dream. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to people. To me. I was thrown down a well. I must have hit my head.”
“So you do come from Outerworld, as I had guessed.” She was very pleased with herself, as if she got the right answer in school.
“I’m from Grand Lights. Near Naperville. Near Chicago.”
She kept looking at him with that look of childlike glee at spelling a word correctly.
“Illinois,” he continued.
“That all sounds like Outerworld to me.” She started to clean up.
“Where are you going to put all the dirty dishes?”
“In the tent. Isn’t that where they go?”
“They have to be cleaned first.”
And so they were. Peter was amazed.
“Well, if this is a hallucination, then I’m all for it. It’s just too cool.”
“I can make it warmer,” she said.
“No,” he started to correct her, “cool means great, or excellent, in, in Outerworld language.” He then thought about how confusing the English language can be. “But it also means the absence of heat, or such,” he said, hastily.
“How amusing!” She laughed again. “So, you believe me, then?”
“No, but I’m willing to play along until someone comes to the well and takes me to a hospital.”
“You are strange, but I believe in you.” She laughed that infuriating little musical laugh again.
Peter was silent for some time. He looked up at her. She had moved away from the table and was putting the very clean dishes into the tent.
After what seemed like an eternity, he spoke up.
“Are you an angel?” he asked.
She turned and looked at him. She smiled.
“What’s an angel?”
Peter thought for a moment.
“We put it on the top of our Christmas tree.”
“Now, I don’t go on top of trees.”
He thought again for a moment. That was a silly thing to say.
“I don’t know how to put it. You know, I’m only twelve. I would say an angel is an invisible being in fairy stories that helps people.”
“No,” she said. “I’m not invisible.”
“I don’t know how to say it.”
“I am the Beautiful Woman All Dressed in White. That’s how I know to say it. What more do you need?”
“Did you have a father and a mother?”
There was silence. She just looked at him. She seemed thoughtful, yet, very happy.
“I did, yes.”
“Did they love you?”
“They did, yes.”
“Did they die?”
“I’m sorry.” Then Peter started to cry again.
“Death isn’t the end, Peter, but cry if you must because grief will cease. But you have a great day ahead of you. A great day and a great task.”
She finished putting the plates into the tent, and then pulled out the center pole. The tent pulled into itself and into the top of the pole it went, like a collapsible umbrella. She then was able to collapse the pole in the same way, and put it into her lovely white handbag she wore around her shoulder, which, according to Peter’s memory, wasn’t there before.
“Why,” he started to ask forcefully, trying to sound like a grown man, “am I here?”
The Beautiful Woman motioned for him to sit down as she prepared to fold up the table. He did so, and waited until she stuffed the folded (like an old style travel map) table into her lovely handbag.
“I hope, Peter, that you are here to help me.”
Peter was astounded.
“Help you? How can I help you? I’m not magical or anything. I’m just a chubby kid!”
The Beautiful Woman looked like she was thinking rather hard. She sat down in the chair opposite him, because she hadn’t put it away yet.
“I’m not sure what you know and what you don’t know. Perhaps we’ll discover it together today, but I have to take you to the Sea of Folsborn. That is where you will meet the ship that will take you ultimately to the Temple of Situational Ethics. That lies in the dark land of Covenswold. A very evil place. No one should dare to go there alone.”
“Why go there at all?”
“Follow me, Potty.”
“Peter. We’ll talk on the way.”
Peter didn’t stand up. He sat there for a moment and thought about what she just said.
“I really would rather go home.”
“Perhaps this is the way?” she posited.
“Well,” he started, “if this is some lucid dream…”
She looked at him strangely.
“A term I learned in fifth grade beginning psychology. They teach us weird stuff at school.”
“Ah,” she said.
“As I was saying, if this is some lucid dream, then it should be fun. It’s my imagination, and I find it engrossing.”
She looked at him again with the same quizzical expression.
“English and grammar, advanced.”
“Are you considered bright in Outerworld?”
“No. We have to learn it whether we understand it or not. It’s the rules.”
“I think you are very bright.” She stood up and took his hand, and when he stood, the chairs were no longer there. She started to walk away from what was their camp, to a small hill in what looked like a westerly direction, for the morning light came from the opposite way.
Without telling him much, except certain trivial information about the birds, the types of trees, all the kinds of flowers and such, they continued to walk westward. They stopped once or twice for a break, but Peter was feeling very fit by this time, and didn’t need any frequent stops like he often did when on a field trip with Ewart Street Elementary, if he had taken his medicine. In fact, he didn't have any with him, but for now he was not worried, since in his mind he still felt this might be a dream.
The sun climbed into the hazy sky, (for indeed, there was a sun, or something like it) obscuring any visible signs that they were in some immense cavern, and it also became very hot. They decided to stop for lunch.
“It is time to stop for launch,” said the Beautiful Woman.
“I think you mean lunch.”
Again she screwed up her face as if she were trying to do algebra without a pencil and paper and then exclaimed, “Ah yes! Lunch!”
She reached into her handbag and pulled out two roast turkey sandwiches, some crunchy nuts and a jug of lemon flavored something or other. It tasted like real lemon juice but sweet with a touch of grape. It was, simply put, amazing.
“You must have strength, Peter, if you are to find the three magic vessels.”
“Oh good, I get to know what I’m supposed to do.” He ate his sandwich, which tasted very smoky, like bar-b-cue, and took a large swig of the lemony grape drink. “I must find the three magic vessels. And they are?”
“Magical,” she answered. “And they are three. That’s right.”
“But what do they look like?”
She laughed again, but it wasn’t quite as infuriating, since Peter decided he was going to enjoy his own madness.
“I have no idea. That’s why you’re here. You know these sorts of things.”
Peter was shocked. He looked around him; everything was still just as clear and real as if he were awake. Certainly, if this were a dream he would have done better with whatever quest he needed to go on.
“Can’t I just throw a magic ring into the fire, or, say, slay a dragon, or something more along the lines of what I’ve read? Can we go see the wizard instead?”
The sky suddenly darkened and the Beautiful Woman’s face turned sour. She didn’t look evil; just very stern and important, like a doctor.
“No! We must not see him together. You must not ask that of me again. You will know what to do as you do it. When we get to the Sea of Folsborn, you will start your quest, and begin the tasks, but don’t ever ‘wish’ to see such a person.”
“So there is a wizard? Why can’t we see him?”
She said nothing. She finished her lunch, drank a bit of the juice, and let Peter finish it off. They stood up and began walking again.
For a long time they walked in silence. Then they crested a grassy knoll, only to find sand and stiff weeds on the other side. They were nearing a beach. Peter could smell the salt air, and hear the breakers in the distance.
“We must be at the Sea of Folsborn.”
“We are here.”
She led the way down to the shore. The beach was part of a large cove, and off to Peter’s right and jutting way out into a magnificent sea, was a promontory of rock. Anchored off the rock was, for all practical purposes, a very large rock or lot of land. This was covered with all sorts of flowers and plants, logs and rocks and crowded with tall timbers, or even trees, several of which reached up into the sky as if they were masts. However, the most amazing thing was the sea itself. It was gold, white and gray, but not a dull gray, and the waves billowed, rolled and crashed on the promontory and sluiced up the sand toward Peter’s shoes. It looked like ginger ale, or something similar. Peter reached down toward the sand, got a handful of water and brought it to his lips. It was sea water all right. A real, honest to goodness underground ocean, laid out before him. It was astounding; the scope of it could not be comprehended.
The Beautiful Woman let go of his hand.
“Don’t be afraid of the water.”
“It’s not that. I’m afraid it is not real.”
She looked confused again.
“It must be difficult for people in Outerworld to believe in things they don’t see until they are right upon them.”
Peter didn’t say anything. He looked toward the strange rock off of the promontory.
“That’s the good ship Forrest. The ship will take you across the sea; from there you will know how to get to Covenswold. I will miss you.”
Peter looked up at her and smiled.
“Of course. Of course you can’t go with me. That’s always the case, isn’t it? The grown-ups always leave the kids."
“Who said I was a grown-up? I like you, in my own fashion, am a child.”
“You are not human?”
“I can’t answer for sure.”
“So you are an angel?”
She squinted again.
“Depends on the definition you choose. I don’t go on top of trees.”
He laughed. “So, I’m supposed to go to that island out there?” He pointed toward the large tree covered mass listing on the waves out from the promontory.
“That is not an island, Peter. That is a ship.”
“Well, then, off we go.”
She took his hand again, and looked at him with solemn eyes. She made sure he was ready before she spoke, then, with the deepest sincerity, and no theatrics, she gave him her last bit of advice.
“Don’t believe everything you see, Peter. Don’t believe everything you read. Above all, don’t believe everything you hear. Lies of omission are still lies. Logic is twisted, bent and formed to the whim of the logician. No one in Innerworld, or even in Outerworld, is as adept at transforming reason than Politikus Mediosus. Beware of him, Peter. He is cunning, he is strong, but he is wrong. You must have the truth to beat him, and beat him you must, for it is your world that is in peril, Peter. Your world. You must thwart his plan, even if it means destroying him. Can you do this? There is no one else. It has been foretold long, long ago that one from Outerworld would descend to Innerworld and defeat Politikus and his mechanizing. Are you he? If so, then you know what you must do. Find the three magic vessels, and empty them each, at the appropriate time. This you must. All depends upon it. If Outerworld falls, we have no sky.”
“Ah. What about, you know, large pillars and stuff?”
“Do what you must.”
“How will I find these three vessels?”
“Are you from Outerworld?”
“I don’t know; I came down a well.”
“Yes, you came down the well. The secret well to Innerworld and now you are here.”
“I’m just a boy!”
“Come, come! There will be none of that nonsense here. You are not just a boy. You are also just a male. That’s problem enough.”
“See here...” He was indignant.
“Good. Good. You will need to stand up for yourself. There are many perilous paths before you. Stay on the most difficult...”
“What? Why?” He was starting to really get concerned.
“If this were to be easy, I’d do it.”
“Well, why don’t you?”
“It has been foretold, long, long ago...”
He stopped her, “Why someone from Outerworld?”
“You have something no one in Innerworld has, or ever will have.”
“And that is?”
Now he was really confused. “Asthma? I have asthma?”
“You don’t have asthma?”
“No! I have a digestive problem...”
She had a far away look in her eyes. They grew wide, as if, in her mind, she was searching. In all the fairy lands of all the universes and secret portals, someone, somewhere may have made a terrible mistake. She wasn’t going to tell him.
“Good enough. On your way.”
She shoved Peter closer to the waves.
“Have fun, Petey. Stay dry. Call me when it’s over.”
“How do I call you?”
“Isn’t that the customary farewell in Outerworld?” She laughed a musical lilting type of laugh and vanished, as if she were nothing but floating dandelion seeds.