Chapter 6: First Order of Business
Peter found himself in the most interesting and curious kitchen he had ever seen. It wasn’t like Grandma Nesbitt’s by a long shot. It was carved out of the bowl of a tree and loaded with every possible fruit you could think of hanging from the ceiling, if you could call it that. Yet, despite all the fruit, the strongest and most delightful scent was that of apple cider and cinnamon in the kitchen, and bacon frying and chocolate baking in the oven. The way into this kitchen, from the top deck of the floating forest, was through a door in the first “mast” or tree that Peter saw. The foremast, of course, but to Peter it was still a pine tree. Ray the Taller walked up to it, found a knob of bark, turned it, and a door opened. The door also had a small window, but you couldn’t tell that was what it was until you were on the inside looking out. They walked in and down a small and narrow staircase, like a ladder, into the galley. Here was where all the delicious smells were located, in the heart of a pine tree. Peter looked about him and here and there were bowls, plates, cutting things, forks, knives, spoons, all made of wood.
“Don’t tell me,” Peter said to Ray the Taller, “you’re elves, and you make cookies.”
“I’m not an elf, and my wife bakes the cookies.”
Ray the Shorter chuckled.
“I eat the cookies and no.”
Peter looked at him. He was smiling ear to ear, his spectacles pushed up on the bridge of his nose.
“I’m not an elf. Although I’d like to meet one someday.”
From an unnoticed pantry door in the back of the inside of the fantastic tree kitchen (that also led to the lower decks) came two elderly women dressed in old fashioned peasant clothes, talking amongst themselves about how to effectively flavor a certain apple dessert with just enough vanilla to send the person eating the pastry into new levels of delight. Peter wanted to try the stuff immediately.
Ray the Shorter spoke up.
“Ah, Peter, these are our wives. This is my wife, Novali, who is quite unlike me in stature,” and that was true; she looked to be six foot one if anything and as skinny as a rail, “and this here is Ray’s wife Durice. She looks more like me.” He pronounced Durice like “Dyur iss see.”
“That’s because,” said Durice, “I’m his sister. You could say I married Ray and Ray’s sister Novali married my brother. And you’d be right. Now, Ray was telling us he was picking someone up at Far Rock. Would that be you?”
Peter looked at Durice, a small and plump gray-haired lovely with spectacles like her brother. “I don’t know the names of your land, but that could very well be it.”
Ray the Taller piped in, “We’re always looking for someone to help out. There is usually someone there, and at other points we like to visit, who need to get to somewhere else. It’s how we make a little money in our retirement.”
Peter thought for a moment. This was quite an extraordinary hallucination. The detail was staggering.
“All right, I’m going to ask.”
Everyone stopped what they were doing or saying and turned to look at Peter. There was an awkward silence for a beat or two.
“What,” he began, “did you do for a living?”
Ray the Shorter jumped in on this one. “Glad you asked, dear boy! Glad you asked. I’m a story teller.”
“And I’m a puppeteer,” said Ray the Taller. “Together we would put on the most delightful shows. You really must not be from around here if you haven’t heard of,” and he got all theatrical, “Ray and Ray!”
Peter applauded. This sounded wonderful. What an incredible coma he was enjoying.
“Would you like to see the puppets?” asked Durice.
“Oh yes, I really would.”
Ray the Taller feigned humility and feigned it well. “Oh no, don’t bore the poor lad. I’m sure he wouldn’t want to see the famous puppets. The most famous puppets in all of Innerworld.”
Peter laughed. Of course he would. He stretched a bit and a sleeve on his sweater started to pull apart.
“Really, Peter,” said Novali, “you really should get clothes more for your age. I have something down in the hold that might fit you,” and she disappeared out the back doorway. By this time Ray the Taller had eagerly pulled out from behind a table a large wooden trunk. Ray the Shorter had cleared the very same table of dishes and utensils and had spread a cloth over the top. Ray the Taller opened the trunk and very carefully handed a couple of cloth wrapped objects to the other Ray. These were unwrapped and two fantastic looking figures of a man and a giant monstrosity were placed standing up on the table.
“Now,” said Ray the Taller, “watch closely but remember it has been sometime and I may be rusty.” So he just stood there. He did nothing but stand at the table and stare at the puppets. Nothing happened. For another beat, moment or what seemed like a full ten minutes there was silence and nothing happened. Then, nothing. Then there was something. The figures began to move.
Peter was wide-eyed. This was incredible. There were no strings, no rods or wires or anything that he could see. Ray the Taller just stood at the table’s edge, arms folded, looking very intently at the two figures, which were chasing each other around the table.
Peter was awestruck.
“What do you think?” asked Ray the Shorter with a huge grin on his face, and his eyes all sparkly behind those spectacles, “Aren’t they well made?”
Peter wasn’t quite sure what to say at all. He finally, after clearing his throat, came up with something that sounded too pretentious.
“The verisimilitude is astounding.”
“What?” said Ray the Taller, and when he did the two puppets fell lifeless to the table, as if they had been dropped.
“It’s a word I learned in school. It means they’re very life-like.”
“Ah ha!” yelled Ray the Shorter, clapping his hands, “I told you, you still have it! Well done my friend!”
Novali came up from the hold carrying some clothes. She handed them to Peter while Durice held open the pantry door.
“There’s plenty of room in here to change. Fifteen years old and no decent clothes or shoes.”
Peter looked at her quizzically. “I’m twelve.”
They all laughed. Peter went into the pantry, which was very large and smelled of bread and had another stairwell that obviously led down to the sleeping quarters. He changed his clothes. When he came out, he was looking a lot more comfortable, even though the peasant shirt was a little too large, and the moccasins were just a little too wide.
“At the rate you’re growing,” said Durice, “those clothes won’t last a year.”
Peter thanked them and started looking around the galley.
“I owe you all some toast.”
They all laughed with delight.
“But I don’t see the toaster.”
This also was very funny. Durice got up and brought a loaf of fresh bread over to the table near the starboard side of the galley where there was also access to a spit with some warm coals under it.
“If by toaster you mean this, we have one.”
Peter shrugged and walked over to the spit and started slicing bread. He did have a talent for toast, because he knew just when to take a slice off the spit. So after everyone had two or three slices of fresh baked bread toast with creamy butter and honey, Peter asked the obvious.
“How did you do it?” He was looking at Ray the Taller.
“You mean the puppets? Talent dear boy and practice. I told you I was a little rusty.”
“You see,” began the other Ray, “we love to tell stories about the northern land of Obloomn, but everyone has been there, and giant schlurrgs are really not very interesting anymore, so we retired.”
“We want to travel all of Innerword and find that portal.”
Peter nearly dropped his toast.
“What portal?” He was sure this had to do with the well he had fallen down.
“Oh I don’t really know. There’s an old legend I was told as a boy about a portal to another world. I just can’t help but believe there is something more to life than what we can see and smell. Really, wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were other worlds? Fantastic worlds with strange creatures and interesting heroes and dangerous quests? I think it is all a dream, but something inside me says that it just might really be.”
Durice looked at Peter who was very pale.
“Are you all right, son?”
“Yep. Fine.” He closed his mouth tight.
Ray the Shorter was very excited. “So we came from Folsborn, which is of course, every schoolboy knows, the source of this marvelous ocean. And in our dotage we felt, what the hey, let’s see if there are other dimensions and fantastic worlds. I know it’s just a fantasy, but I’m a storyteller, and I love a good fantasy.” He looked a little confused, “By the way, you never told us where you’re from.”
Peter choked down his piece of toast. “Surprisingly,” he started, “you’re in luck.”