Another Bridge, another “Cry” so to speak, as he was beginning to sense a somewhat comical, speed-of-sound entropy in the originally “classic” adventure he had initially become so enthralled with. It was Chaim’s words that really hammered this thought home- the line between the sublime and ridiculous did not fall slowly, like a snowflake floating gently from the sky above, but it was rather like the floor of the ocean dropping into an abyssal trench a few feet from the edge of the surf. Nevertheless, he was here, and his face was set- he would go on. What haunted him, at least for this current test, was the polar shift in Chaim’s words when he began to explain what he would be facing for his third “Peace Cry”.
“Now, Petka Fawcett,” began Chaim in a respectful, serious, and (at least as far as Petka had known him), overly honorific manner, “Flowery prose has tamed the wild heart of the eternal forest, but the next test will require a decidedly different tract.
“How so um…Spirit?” asked Petka on that night by the fire, trying to match his serious tone, which only elicited an odd glance from the bipedal-ghost-wolf-man amalgamation.
“You will be facing some very deadly enemies- serpents, in a sense, but perhaps basilisk is a more appropriate term for them. One scratch of their spine will surely turn you to stone- an agonizing death– how quickly depends on whether one is scratched or stung.”
“Living God above,” Petka had said with some apprehension.
“Indeed, may Providence shine upon you. Oh, and if you do get stung, try to assume a dignified appearance. I once ran across a gentleman who was…making use of a hand dug latrine, and his face is forever frozen in a mixed look of gastrointestinal relief and fear.” Here, Chaim made a face one might expect from a defecating man who feels a sting, hears a hiss, and then the voice of Saint Peter. It’s a good thing, Petka thought, that souls can’t turn to stone.
“Heed my words carefully, Sir Fawcett, you have one very important, and very distinct advantage over these malign and ugly beasts.”
“And what is that?” asked Petka eagerly, making a mental note to take care of any bathroom needs prior to entering that part of the wood.
“They are truly, densely, and irreversibly stupid.” replied Chaim.
Boom. Trench– the line between the sublime and ridiculous took another nosedive.
“Excuse me?” asked Petka, a bit taken aback by the sudden shift in the tone of the conversation.
“They lack any depth of thought, and they laugh like idiots sitting on a barrel. Their only advantage is that of surprise, and they sometime ruin even that by giggling, or dictatorial and territorial speeches.” Chaim said, reclining against a stump, placing his hand in his robe in a Napoleonic fashion.
“Got it. Deadly idiots.”
“The worst kind of deadly,” replied Chaim, “But it’s not as bad as it sounds. Plus, they’re ugly. If there was a Sadie Hawkin’s dance, they would go with a second cousin, or the beefy cook-lass.” The wolf looked profoundly sad for a moment and added, “Gods above, did she make the best Sloppy Joes. Extra Sloppy, those Joes…” This left Petka with nothing but questions about the apparently absurd world of spirit that Chaim, and the other denizens of dream inhabited, but he decided – and likely to the benefit of his own sanity- not to pry into anything beyond talks of trials and Peace Cries.
“Anyway Chief,” Chaim started, “You likely won’t see them outright, but they are eyeless, pale things, roughly 3 feet long, mostly tail, which ends in their stinger- a hollow thorn. The one foot that makes up their ‘head’, if it can even be called that, is like a big, dry, scaly, white lump- squishy and callous-y all at once.”
“Ugh,” Petka had replied in disgust.
“Disgust is indeed an appropriate reaction- I nearly blew my lunch when I saw my first one- figuratively I mean, I don’t eat.”
Chaim shook his head with a laugh.
“So more on these basilisks. They have large, toothless mouths, which is baffling, as their poison, which ostensibly helps them to catch prey, turns their victims to stone, which they cannot eat. I’m not sure what they eat, if anything- I’ve tried talking to them – I’m immune to their poison- but they have very little of value to say. Usually is world domination-middle-middle-middle, or that the lumpy-tail-monster-equivalent of Sarah Plain and Tall is as gorgeous as Aphrodite- she’s not– I’ve seen her. Then they giggled and fell asleep. Sheesh, you’ve got this one. Gods.”
“So what do you propose I do?” asked Petka, pencil at the ready.
“Simple- what do you do with a blind, bafflingly stupid, gluttonous thing?”
Petka had to think on that.
“Convince them to fight something else?”
Chaim winked, and touched his nose, then sneezed, much in the manner of a dog.
“Bless you,” replied Petka.
“Why…thanks Petka Fawcett, that means a lot. Etiquette is as dead as my career around these parts.”
* * * * *
This portion of the forest was very different from the previous two. It reminded him more of autumn, whereas the previous two tracts of lands reminded him of late spring or early summer- and this was not because of temperature, but because of the foliage.
The path before him was clearly lit by the noon-day sun, and most of the leaves had fallen onto the ground, very much dead, crunching in protest under Petka’s feet. The trees themselves had long ago shed them- and whether they were simply dead, or just sleeping due to the esoteric nature of his current locale, he couldn’t be sure. Making sure to relieve himself (he was not a vain man, but should he be turned to stone, he wanted to do so with at least a shred of dignity)– he realized it was a good idea that he did, as a quick survey of the area showed how little dignity the also-rans had departed this world with.
The once-living statues were actually quite a sight. He recognized some of the dress from history books- there was a Roman Centenarian and an Aztec warrior. A Native American had met his fate here, as well as a Spanish Conquistador; a Crusading Knight lay further up the path, and two scruffy Privateers had apparently wandered through this particular stretch of land. Finally, there was another man in a manner of dress he couldn’t place, thought the domed head, protruding, squarish back, and wrinkled skin made him think of a being from the moon or some other alien world.
Aside from serving as warnings writ in stone, and an interesting chronology (wholly anachronistic, of course), there was some grim humor to be found in the fate of his predecessors- a sort of guilty laughter tickled the pit of Petka’s stomach, though he stifled any sound and did his best to hid the little smile that formed between his beard and long mustache. If indeed, any of these people had met Chaim, they certainly didn’t heed his warning.
Only the Native American had passed with any sense of self respect, or dignity. He had been an older man, with a lined face. His now stony, immobile figure sat on a stump, head bowed and hands clasped, as if in prayer. He was the closet to Fawcett, roughly five feet away (or five feet too close for Petka’s comfort), had clearly succumbed to a surprise attack, and made sure his last moments were with the Living God above. The others had assumed…less dignified positions. Oddly enough (and this proved to be true for all the victims of this third test), the whole of a person’s being turned to stone- clothing and all.
The man making use of the latrine Chaim had mentioned seemed to be the Spanish Conquistador, and indeed his face was for all eternity scrunched in the rather unflattering fashion of relieving oneself into a pit. To his credit, he made no attempt to run- or perhaps, he had just took enough venom to prevent him from running. Next came the two scruffy Privateers, or as they had been in reality (at least to Fawcett’s perception) two scruffy pirates- puffy shirts, tri-cornered hat, once golden earnings and all- one even had a peg leg.
These two ragged gentleman had clearly heard Chaim’s words, and in the true nature of sea-faring scoundrels, decided to leave future wanderers with some comic relief. The taller of the two (the man with the peg leg) had, apparently realizing that he and his friend were about to turn to stone, performed on the shorter Privateer the dreaded “Rear-Admiral”- a wedgie so gruesome it could snap the tailbone right off an unwary victim– the face of the smaller pirate was one of horrible surprise and excruciating agony- his mouth was wide open, revealing sporadic teeth, which at one point had to have been rotting, and his eyes- even in the stone- seemed to reflect (even in their dull grey color) the agony of one’s coccyx snapping like a chicken bone. The taller of the two Pirates was smiling wryly and winking, as if to say,
“Hey, we didn’t make it, but if you take life to seriously, you’ll never get out alive!”
It was truly an odd sight to Petka, who had seen innumerable odd sights on his journey thus far- his wanderings had been wrought with untrod territory, unbelievable creatures, and an ubiquitous feeling of uncertainty. But now, standing in a dangerous stretch of forest, one thing was certain- only one of the pirates had a plan if they had been stung– and he had executed it well. This brought a strange comfort to Petka, in a place where comfort was hard to find.
The other once-living statues were spread sporadically in intervals closer to his goal- that now all-to-familiar wooden bridge– the rest of those that preceded Petka had hardly left the world a noble record of their person. The Aztec warrior was wincing and held his foot, undoubtedly the one that got stung; the Crusader looked as if he dropped his sword in the leaves, and was stung in some gap in his armor when he attempted to retrieve it; the Centenarian was frozen mid sneeze, and the moon-man had been adjusting his crotch at the time of his date with stone-ification.
Petka firmly resolved not to meet the same fate.
Heeding Chaim’s words, he let out a sharp whistle and awaited a reply- it came quickly, and sounded much to close to Petka for his own comfort- somewhere between the laugh-out-loud Pirates, and the unfortunate Conquistador. The sound itself was a grumbly giggle or giggly grumble, and came along with the dread-inducing shuffle of something moving hidden under a carpet of dead leaves– the disturbance in the fallen foliage marked the movement of vaguely serpentine slugs slithering slyly. Finally, one of them spoke, very much in the accent of an Australian, for reasons unknown.
“Oi! Describe yourself to us, so that we may fell you!” said a deep, gravelly voice.
“Yes, yes!” piped another, in a much higher tone, “Yes, yes!”
Petka remained silent, pondering his plan of action… at first, he wasn’t quite sure how to divert their attention away from him, as there seemed to be no other living thing in the part of the wood, save for himself, and the two oz-transplant death-monsters- in short, no other prey.
“You’re being very rude, you know,” piped in the lower voiced one, “I asked quite nicely.”
“You did not,” replied Petka nonchalantly, as he had formulated his plan, “Not in the slightest. I didn’t hear a ‘please’.”
A weighted sight came from somewhere in the the dead leaves.
“Fine,” growled the lower-voiced one, “Could you pretty please with gytalozirp on top, describe yourself to us.”
Did they eat ‘gytalozirp’, or was it merely a condiment? Petka did not dwell on this thought for long as he would not be able to find gytalozirp in an empty room.
“Very well, very well,” said Petka with an air of faux-exhaustion, “You have broken my steely will and gentle spirit with your vast intellect and honeyed words. I am thus, oh, and right between you both- a squat, fat, disturbingly dry and scaly lump of a thing, with a long whip-like tail, with a poison thorn on the end.”
“Clever thing!” belted the grumbly bass thorn-beast, “Disguising yourself as one of us! A clever ruse for sure, but you’ve played fast and loose with your hand. I will turn you into a stone for reasons I am not completely sure of myself! Have at thee!”
And with this, the two basilisks immediately entangled in battle with one another, cursing and grumbling; eventually their poison thorns pierced each others skin, and but a few moments later, they were little more than an eternal stalemate captured in a stony lump. Petka stepped gingerly over the pair, as further grumblings could be heard moving in, and bolted to the end of the forest, leaving a chorus of idiot voices behind him in some hapless state of confusion- apparently (at least according to the chorus in various pitched cadence), nobody knew that Nagoyakle-Tom and Bliander-Tom (the apparent names of the two basilisks he had “outwitted”- a term Petka used in its loosest definition) had it for each other- but hey, the throws of passion were evidently not fickle upon seemingly eunuch beasts, and their union (if one could call it that) was generally accepted.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” mused one, but their voices faded as Petka left and the singularly and strange conversation faded. Petka moved towards his next test, again over a rickety bridge, but instead of another patch of forest, he walked through a rusted iron gate into a sunny, clear opening. The trees had retreated it seemed, to reveal a large boulder which was, according to Chaim and his his Book of Ivory and Leaves, covering a cave he would need to pass through.
Chaim’s voice echoed in Petka’s thoughts as he neared the boulder.
“Approach the ancient sleeper and- oh Hades, it’s a giant snoring rock- just whistle and clap twice. If you are going to get him to move, you may have to solve some kind of riddle. Also he’s fond of ‘jests’, whatever that means. He’s really strange. Not in a good way.”
The sublime was now just a thin, meandering thread running through the abounding ridiculousness that was quickly becoming Petka’s escapade.