Chapter 8: The Quest
Peter had finished relating everything that had happened to him in the last two days, although it had seemed like months, including his meeting with the mysterious Beautiful Woman all Dressed in White. He also included details about his home, his best friend Bev or Bucky as everyone else called her. He spoke of his Grandma Nesbitt and how she loved him and took care of him after his mom and dad had died, and all the stuff and things of everyday life that he took for granted and really missed. Things like his computer, his television and his cell phone. The two Rays and their wives just sat there at the table, speechless.
As Peter had noticed before there was a porthole in the door to the galley and Peter could see through it enough to tell it was getting late. The sky was a dark blue-gray, at least, what he could see of it.
Ray the Taller tried to say something, but was having a bit of trouble. Ray the Shorter was just dumbfounded. He stared ahead, as if looking far off into the distance, and then a pleasant smile started to form around his face until it reached his ears and parted his ample mouth in one, big, guffaw.
“I was right!”
“You were right,” encouraged Ray the Taller.
Novali and Durice were silent. They were looking at each other, and it was really hard for Peter to tell what they were thinking. Not that it mattered, for they weren’t real anyway, he thought.
“Well, there you have it. I’m from another world, if I’m from anywhere. You don’t believe me?”
“It’s clear Ray does,” said Ray the Taller.
“Yes, I think it must be true.”
“Well,” said Peter, “that’s rather trusting. Here I am, a stranger, whom you picked up on a whim, who has told you a most remarkable tale and you readily believe me.”
“As I see it, young man,” said Ray the Taller, “there are three ways of looking at this. Either you are lying or you are mad or you’re telling the truth.”
Peter remembered this argument from a book he had read about a similar alternate world. Clearly that would have been from Peter’s subconscious; it all made sense. 1
“Or,” Peter countered, “it could mean that I’m sick, lying in a coma at the bottom of a well or in a hospital, or in the morgue for all I know.”
“That’s not likely, son,” said Durice, “we’ve been around a long time without you.”
“No!” This was the last straw. If Peter was going to go mad, he wasn’t going to go without a fight. “There are no magical worlds, or portals, no! There is nothing beyond the natural world! If I can’t see it, smell it, or feel it--” and at that he slammed his fist into the table where he was sitting and it hurt.
“Ouch!” he cried, “I mean, scientifically, of course, then it isn’t real! A wise man in my world, ugh! My world! Whatever! A wise man I once read asked, ‘Isn’t it enough to look at a garden and accept its beauty without believing there are fairies at the bottom?’ He was wise.” 2
“No,” said Ray the Taller, “it’s not enough to see a garden and appreciate its beauty without acknowledging the skill and artistry of the gardener. You don’t always get to see him, but you see his handiwork.”
“And,” added Ray the Shorter, “some of my best friends are fairies and they are quite pleasant people.”
This really disturbed Peter. He couldn’t take this kind of logic because it was beginning to seduce him into thinking the impossible, or highly improbable could be real. That was too much for him. He got up from where he was sitting and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” asked Novali.
“I need some air. I need to figure out what to do next. I need to be alone for a minute.”
He opened the door and went outside, where it was really starting to get cold and dark.
After wandering around the ship for a minute he found a soft, mossy hillock on which to sit and contemplate the confusing universe he either just found himself in, or had been in all along.
It took maybe ten minutes but Ray the Shorter came looking for him.
“Don’t get up, Peter. Stay there. I’m not going to be here long. I just wanted to make sure you were all right and to let you know the wind is up.”
It was. There was a strong sea breeze blowing over the bow and Peter could feel it in his hair, which was uncommonly long for only a few days since his last visit to the barber.
“We should go in,” said Ray.
“I guess you’re right. I just needed a moment.”
“Of course, you can still have it. Just don’t take too long.”
Ray still stood, looking down at Peter. It was clear he had more to say.
“What did you mean earlier?”
Ray smiled. He sat next to Peter and touched Peter’s shoulder.
“What you said about not knowing what to do next.”
Peter grimaced. “I didn’t quite tell you everything. The Beautiful Woman All Dressed in White gave me a quest.”
“Really?” Ray the Shorter was delighted. “Really now! She did that? What quest?”
“I have to go somewhere and stop someone, and I don’t know how to do it. I have to find three magical somethings and empty them. I don’t even know what to look for.”
Ray looked a little sullen.
“Oh. I see. I now can tell a little why you are so confused. You don’t have all the answers. Well, neither do I, my lad. Neither do I. Where are you supposed to go?”
Peter shrugged. “I don’t know. Someplace across the sea.” He waved in a general direction over his head. “I think she said Covenswold.”
There was a sharp intake of air and it was Ray the Shorter who inhaled, and sharply. He took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes, then his forehead. He dropped his spectacles into the moss and started digging around for them. Peter reached down and picked them up right away and handed them back to Ray the Shorter.
“Is that bad?” asked Peter.
“Oh yes. Oh yes, son. It’s bad. We, that is, I, or we, ah! It can’t be done. We can’t take you there. We just can’t.”
The wind picked up and the sea was choppy. Peter looked up at the night sky, but there was no moon or stars that he could see, just a faint and fuzzy round glow that could be a moon if it wanted to, but was either too tired or no moon at all.
It was a dark, cloudy sea he was lost on, with what seemed like a frightened little man at his side, and no one visibly steering the vessel. Peter felt really lost.
“What do I do?” He really was imploring. If you can ask anyone for help, you should be able to ask an adult, even if he was a coma induced delusion of an adult, he must know more than Peter knew.
“Clear your mind.”
“Clear your mind, renew your mind really, young man. You must. This person I think you are going to have to encounter is not friendly to strangers from other lands, that is for sure. At least, not in reality. Oh, he appears to be kind and wise, but he is cunning, oh, so cunning. Clear your mind. He will try to corrupt it, confuse it with logic that really isn’t logic at all. If you renew it daily, and think on wonderful things, you have a chance.”
Peter looked very frightened.
“I understand. You’re scared and alone,” said Ray, “and it is true I can’t go with you.”
“The adults always abandon the kids.” Peter held back a tear.
“No, it’s not like that. We’re wanted men, Ray and I. We’re not retired, we’re not on a pleasure cruise. We made that up. We probably shouldn’t have, but we did. We’re running for our lives, Peter. We’ve broken his most important law. We chose to believe in that which we cannot see.”
“You are,” Peter asked, “speaking of Politikus Mediosus?”
“Oh the very same. A wicked, vengeful spirit of a fallen man. And yet, the people of Covenswold follow him, blindly it seems. Nothing he says is doubted. Nothing he does is wrong, weak or even a simple human mistake in their minds.”
Peter wanted to change the subject. “How do I renew my mind?”
“In my world, there are people who spend their whole lives trying to do that, to have absence of thought, even for a second,” said Peter, thoughtfully.
“Well, I don’t know if that works; certainly not in my experience, but I’m not wise in the ways of your people. What I do is think on wonderful things, beautiful things. I think on things that are good to tell, that help and heal people in their hearts, their minds. I think on these things, and fill my thoughts with what I know is truth. But I have to empty it of lies. Empty your mind, Peter, and fill it with loving thoughts. Love is what I think of. How to use it, how to give it, so that others are better off. Never used to be that way. I’m old now, and maybe a little nutty. I was banished for it. Me and my family. Here we are, adrift, on a boat that is completely capable of making its own decisions. Fortunately for us, it is sympathetic to our cause.”
“Ah. A magic boat. I should have guessed.”
“No,” countered Ray, “not magic. It is an organic, living being. It grows, it eats, it sleeps. It is.”
“There is no magic in my world.”
Ray laughed. This was rich to him because the story Peter had related earlier about his world belied that very notion.
“Ha! A world where, what do you call them? Smart phones can tell you where you are, show you the faces of your friends, tell you when it rains, the time of day, oh. And tell stories! Books and shows! And it fits in the palm of your hand? If I didn’t have a renewed mind I’d say you were a horrid liar. But you’re not, are you, Peter? Are you a liar?”
“No sir,” said Peter, “I love truth. I just don’t know if I like truth. It is, to say the least, like trying to grasp a thin thread with a giant hand.”
Ray smiled again. “Your world has a kind of magic, Peter, even though you don’t see it. It is wonder and grace, if what you say about your friend and family is true. Things I wish we had more of here, in Innerworld. So, don’t be too long in emptying your mind and filling it with good and healthy things.” Ray got up and started up toward the bow. “The wind is up. We may be in for it.”
In a wisp he was gone, and Peter was alone with his thoughts.
“How does one empty his own mind?” he asked himself. “Think on wonderful things.” So Peter remembered Bucky, and how kind she was to him. He thought of Grandma Nesbitt, and how she took him in and became a second mother to him. He thought of the Beautiful Woman All Dressed in White and remembered how she fed him, and placed a tremendous amount of trust in him. Even if she was a figment of his imagination, then that must mean he needed to trust himself, trust the gnawing feeling in his gut that there was more to life than cause and effect. Before he knew it he felt better, but it started to rain and he was getting too wet.
As he got up to go to the galley cabin, he caught out of the corner of his eye what looked like two little red eyes staring at him through the bushes in the center of the ship. Peter quickly looked in the direction he thought they were but there was nothing there.
In the galley, there was food cooking. This was Peter’s third night since falling in the well, and his second night in Innerworld, or the hospital if that were the case, but he decided the food was real enough, because he was hungry and it smelled so wonderfully delicious. Onion and carrots, roast beef and hot cider. The galley was simply swimming in wonderful smells.
“Ray?” asked Peter.
Both Rays turned and looked at him and said together, “What?”
“Is it OK with you if I think on these smells?”