Upon waking, Finnen’s eyes were somewhat bloodshot as the whales in his dream would never heed his cries to “Give it a rest already!” This inn was not what the strange book presented by Creighton and held in duplicate by Chaim (who also had bloodshot eyes- impressive, seeing as he was a spirit, and therefore had no need to sleep) indicated, but then again, nothing had quite panned out the way the ancient, romantic books of ivory and leaves had promised– and if the previous night hadn’t been a trial, nothing had been. Perhaps it was some sort of millennia-old prank, or it was written by somebody with a flair for flowery prose and rose-tinted glasses- or may have just been writ by a resentful jerk.
But Finnen didn’t think so. His thoughts as a general rule were chaotic and bounced around his steel-reinforced skull like fireflies zipping about at light speed- and he certainly didn’t mind that– but there was a single fat, lazy, dim-bulb insect that just hovered in the air, flickering like a bad Christmas bulb; it held a meatball sub in one hand, and the other hand was perpetually scratching its groin over its sweatpants, so filthy as to be able to stand on their own. Whether it was a name Finnen had unconsciously assigned to this particular interior monologue made manifest or whether the fat insect had assigned itself the name Greeb, Finnen did not know– but he hated it the worst of all.
Finnen hated this manifestations of his mind’s injury for a few reasons- one was because of its frankly gross appearance- for sure, it stuck out as supremely under-dressed in what was otherwise a mind full of beautiful shooting stars of reds and golds and yellows; the second, and more pressing reason Finnen hated this thought-bug construct was because this particularly plump lightning “insect” preached only the unmitigated and unadulterated truth. And in its low, monotone voice, the truth spouted by Greeb could drown out the most beautiful dreams Finnen’s mind could offer as they flickered behind his eyes.
And while the roach (it deserved not the title of the proud lightning bug, despite its occasionally glowing rump) usually brought up facts about isolation, loneliness, and boredom, its favorite homily was of guilt, and it often droned on and on ad nauseaum about Finnen’s failure to protect The Rest, painting his hands with the blood of those who met their end in that damnable cave. Truthfully, as he recently realized with the help of Petka and Chaim, he had learned that it was hardly a rest at all, but the fat lazy glow-roach began to speak in his infuriatingly monotone voice, muffled (as always) by bits of some hoagie he perpetually held in his gross little insect’s-hand.
“Face it Finnen,” said Greeb between mouthfuls of sub-sandwich, “Nothing is lasting. This may once have been a land of magic- as beautiful and pure as a fairy-book, but entropy has left its dirty footprints all over the place–and it has degraded everything into a complete chaos of absurdity and death.”Greeb then paused, ostensibly about to add something meaningful, but instead let out a 14 second belch and added, ‘God damn if this isn’t the best meatball sub I ever had- the bun is toasted to perfection and…”
But Finnen, for the first time since his brains had been scrambled, mentally swatted Greeb and his mysterious ever-lasting meatball grinder away, and instead focused on those true, beautiful firefly thoughts– the autumn colored light-show that played behind his closed eyes, each spark representing something beautiful.
“Shove off yer arse, Greeb! Everything’s absurd- if life were like a fairy-book, the world would be a pretty Goddamn boring place!” And though he had not meant to, Finnen McKinnon had said this aloud.
“I agree wholeheartedly, Irish,” said a perplexed Chaim, “But who or what in the sixteen hells is a Greeb?”
Finnen’s sudden outburst had shaken Chaim out of his day-mare, which had consisted of him rhythmically banging his head against the stone wall in the sickening tempo of last night’s tantric, geriatric performance. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), Chaim’s head simply drifted in and out of the inn’s wall.
“Ah Canid, he’s nothin’ but a psychic construct of a traumatic brain injury.”
Gotcha,” replied Chaim, who resumed the “beating” of his head against the stone wall of the perverted little inn. Chaim them continued.
“And to think, this used to be the site of a shrine to the Koala’s underwhelming cube-god. And then some rock and roll god. And then something else besides. So many prayers to so many deities. So much longing; so much heartache, so many tears…of sorrow, of joy…”
Chaim paused, then added,
“Almost fitting that two octogenarians would up and build an inn on top and endlessly screw upon it. Between bouts of fighting, of course.”
“Damn near sacrilegious, ‘least I would think so if I believed in some sentient cube thing worshiped by talking koala bears, bless their hearts.” Finnen shook his head in disgust.
“So what do you believe, Irish? Just between you and me.”
“Well, it’s no less crazy than some floating cube, I ‘spose, but I believe it in me heart of hearts.”
“Let’s hear it,” said Chaim, “No judgment here. I’ve seen it all.”
“Foine,” sighed Finnen, his fingers tracing the purple-ribbon of a scar on his bald head, “I believe in a guy born o’ a blessed virgin. He was God and the son of God, told us to love each other an’ him. He was broke into a thousand pieces and put ‘imself back together (here Finnen crossed himself, and Chaim copied the motion with respect)- a sacrificial lamb, died fer us.
“Anyway, he returned to life, an’ promised we’d be with the Father again in paradise, even if we don’t know his name, s’long as we aren’t monsters or beasts an’ keep lookin’ for him. O’course, like any tree, from the trunk grew a thousand branches, but dat’s the long and the short of it. I’m sure it sounds odd to ya, but frankly believe what you’d like- I was always taught it’s what we do, not what we are or what club we join, that makes God happy. Do with that what you will.”
“Well it does sound a bit odd, yes,” said Chaim cautiously, “But certainly no stranger that a pretty-boy divinity named Chadrys, or a bunch of weird Koalas worshiping a cube…You see, Finnen, my world- er, rather our world – at least where they intersect is really quite strange. It’s full of mysteries, of ancient things hidden away from prosaic eyes and idle hearts…and all manner of gods and monsters- I’ve even seen the gods of monsters. But what you have to understand is that we’re in a fishbowl- a really big fishbowl perhaps, but a fishbowl nonetheless like I said. So that cube, or that one really weird god which was literally two horse’s asses- one on each end, linked together like some nightmarish sausage, are just the bigger, older or stronger fish in the bowl. They command power- they have power, at least to some extent. They use it to gain followers, and use the followers to build exquisite temples and cities, until a bigger fish comes along and either eats or drives away the smaller fish, and thus the circle remains unbroken.
“Now I’ve heard of virgin births and broken gods, but never in the way you’ve described. But the idea that there’s something smarter and loving beyond a ponce talking-cube, something outside the fishbowl gives me some hope. In what, I’m not sure , but maybe -just maybe- we’re not some forgotten aquarium gathering dust somewhere.”
“I count on it,” replied Finnen, fumbling with his hands nervously.
“Then continue to do so, Finnen McKinnon. I’ve seen countless changes in so called “management”, and undoubtedly will see countless more. But in what your saying, Irish, is that even the biggest, meanest, most gluttonous fish possesses no more threat to your God than the biggest, most passive aggressive, sentient cube-god. This is particularly interesting because when a fish is dead, it’s either eaten or it rots. It doesn’t come back. I’d like to meet this bloody god of yours someday.”
“I’m sure you will, Chaim,” replied Finnen, “Someday. We all gotta go back somewhere, someday. Otherwise we’d be little more than ambitious dust.”
Before Chaim could answer, a yawning Petka walked into the sitting where Chaim and Finnen had been conversing, positively refreshed with Raksha at his side, her bushy, grey tail wagging (bow noticeably absent- she removed it in the night).
“You guys missed the continental breakfast!” said Fawcett, Patting his belly, “Wild blueberry french toast, poached ostrich eggs, sweet, black coffee, and a lamb chop for Raksha, all included!”
Chaim and Finnen exchanged weary glances, neither having the heart to tell Petka of the horrors of the previous night which still very much echoed in Finnen’s head- a most unpleasant sound much akin to somebody chewing spaghetti rather loudly in his ear.
“How on earth did you sleep at all last night? Through all that terrible, soul-crushing noise?” asked Chaim with a look of sheer disbelief, “Heavens, the creak of that demoralized bed alone…”
“Oh,” replied Petka, rubbing his stomach, then scratching Raksha behind her ear, “It’s rather simple, really. I’ve been wandering the woods forever. The forest is unpredictable- dangerous- and has swallowed up better men then me. With that in mind, you have to sleep light, or a bear or something might remove you from your face and eat you up… But here, I could let my guard down. I’m in a nice square building with locks on the doors and a roof over my head, and no danger of being carried away by some giant lepus or a reverse vampire. It was a rare night of peaceful sleep, perfectly undisturbed.” And with this, he smiled and sighed a sigh of absolute rest, his batteries fully recharged.
“But what about the… er, uh…” Finnen began, trying to tread as softly as possible.
“Oh what- the geriatric sex? I was far enough away to only hear mumbling- disturbing to be sure, but it was like a metronome or white noise. Predictable. Man made. Safe. Though I can imagine staying a room directly adjacent to theirs would be…trying.”
“Oh, trying? To say the bloody Goddamn least!” shouted Finnen, face red with anger and frustration, “Jesus Tap-dancing Christ, between the savage arguments and the constant humping, I was ready to remove my eyes and force them, into me ears!”
Then, to everybody’s surprise (even Raksha cocked her head at the absurdity of the whole thing) a large, cursing grey cloud moved next to the table- to make things even stranger, the occasional arm (wielding a rolling-pin) leg, or head (complete with an almost cartoonish look of anger) emerged from the cloud along with a litany of curses not fit to print. Chaim ushered his two compatriots out the door and down the cobblestone road ahead- a wending path into the warming sunrise, where the green hills on either side blushed with red wildflowers, leading to the last part of the adventure. The sun was not lost on Chaim, Petka, or Finnen- it had been dark when they entered the little inn, and now it was bright with the dawning of the warming, heavenly star.
The passing of time, and the daylight to eventide cycle did subliminally bring them a sort of joy, which had to be passed to the back-burner of their minds, as unfortunately they had a slightly more pressing matter to attend to, best described by Petka as,“We’d better go before they start making love!”
“Are ye crazy, Fawcett? Love? Theirs is unhinged, carnal, three-ringed fodder!”
Chaim was well down the cobblestone path, running as fast as his ghost-wolf legs could carry him, Big Freakin’ Gun slung over his back, and hands clamped over his ears.
“Follow the Canid!” shouted Finnen, “I want to be out of earshot before the inn starts a rockin’!”
And so, with great speed, the three figures- the lanky and puffing figure of Petka Fawcett, the stocky, teetering, and bald figure of Finnen McKinnon (who was crossing himself compulsively and attempting to outrun sound), and finally Raksha, barking all the while as if equally displeased, followed Chaim’s lead. Finally, they rounded a bend (which put them mercifully out of earshot) which led them through an overgrown trail that wended through a copse of trees with rotting wood trail markers, where they finally caught up with Chaim.
Now the four, gazing at the sky could feel the warmth and relief that came with the realization that time had not forgotten this place; that purgatory was far behind them, and that the rising sun was burning off the horrors of limbo.
Chaim now stood at the top of a large set of crumbling stone stairs, extremely wide, as if designed to support hundreds of people… or koalas…or whatever shape supplicants had taken in the past. The various chips and cracks in the ebony-black, cyclopean stone that nature had carved in its disuse lent it an air of sadness and neglect, though this was soon relieved (and quite absurdly so) by a sign which looked brand new, whose sheen glimmered slightly in the sun. It featured a large, featureless pig face of a mellow pink and read,
All hail the Aether Pig!
Who redeemed our sullen race!
And lover e’er the mind an’ nose,
Shared behind each oinking face!
We know our orders from within,
Just as sure as crumbs in a double chin,
That has tripled-thrice! In her rule-
Lady Scott our portly leader true!
“It’s worse than we though” said Chaim, clawed hand on his furry chin.
“Nice verse, I guess,” offered Petka.
“She’s a bigger fish now…” said Chaim, trailing off. “Knew we’d see her again- but all this? It’s a bit ambitious- even for a coup.”
They had no idea.