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The Indefatigable Ring Tree

            Far away, in the land of palm trees and pink flamingos, a storm of unprecedented significance and rancor was about to break. The rain would pour. And the winds would blow. The thunder would crack. And the streets would flood. Some of the inhabitants even went so far as to say that this storm was an act of love sent down by those who lived above the clouds. But Adrianna did not see it this way. She could not understand how a force so cosmic and seemingly destructive could ever bring with it anything favorable. And so she asked her teacher at the school;
            “Why do some of the people say that the storm will make eequ-eequ-eequ…”
            “Yes. Why do some of the people say that? And what is it?”
            “Equilibrium, dear Adi, is like a balance. It’s like a wave that crashes over us setting all the things back to ‘right’.”
            “So right now all the things are ‘wrong’?”
            “Not exactly.”
            “Can you tell me one thing that is wrong then, in our land or in our village?”
            “Only ‘time’ is wrong. Sometimes it is right. But not now,” the teacher tried to explain, “Do you see the blocks over there with which the other kids are playing?”
            “And do you see what they are building?”
            “Well…David is building a wall because he doesn’t like anybody.”
            “Yes. That’s true. David has been over there building that wall for a long, long time. Would you say that he has wasted time?”
            “No. Not if that’s what he always wanted to do.”
            “Well, it may or may not have been. Some of the other children may have driven him to it. Or perhaps his parents did.”
            Then Adi asked, “Where are my parents, teacher? Or should I be thankful not to have them if they make you want to build up walls?”
            “Soon, my child. Very soon, I believe you will have a mom and dad to call your very own. And no, they do not all make you want to build up walls.”
            “Look at Susie, teacher. She wants to build a house to live in and have a husband and a family but David’s using all the blocks.”
            “Well then, Susie is a very lucky girl because all she has to do is wait.”
            “Wait for what, teacher?”
            “For the storm to come and blow them all away. Then poor David will again be so exposed. But then dear Susie will have all the blocks she wants to build her house.”
            “Teacher, do you know what I would like to build?”
            “I do. I know everything about you.”
            “I would like to build a bridge. A bridge that goes all the way to somewhere they eat wild boar and dance on the beach. And where they drink pineapple juice and the people go swimming. And where the sunsets last for three days and there are never, ever any storms.”
            “I do hope you find that place someday. But now you must go, Adi. You must leave the school and walk down the street.”
            “But teacher, it’s grown dark outside and the rain is beginning to pour.”
            “Oh, but you must go Adi. Please. For if you don’t, the flood will find its way in here. And we are also vital.”
            Adrianna was a good girl and so she listened to her teacher. She went outside where it was warm but it was also raining. The palm fronds along the sidewalk made ripping sounds in the wind. And the thunder cracked and made her heart beat very loudly. Up above, the sky turned red as did the puddles in the streets and she felt very lonely.
            “Goodbye, houses. Goodbye yards,” she said and kept on walking. “Hello, jungle. Hello, friends,” and still she kept on walking.
            Adi walked until her feet turned numb and she waved until her arms and hands were tired. She was very tired too and found it hard to keep on going.
            “If I stay out here, I’ll likely drown,” she thought. And for the first time, she felt hungry.
            “Come now, Adi,” the thunder cracked. Its voice was kind yet deep and ill foreboding.
            “Are you those beings that live above the clouds?” she asked.
            “Yes, I am those beings and so are you. Now, perhaps you would come join me.”
            “Thank you very much, but no. I think I’ll build a tent and stay forever.”
            But Adi had no choice this day because that’s when the floods came. Over all the houses and the school and the yards, they came and made a river in the street. Then the river rose over the palms and even over Adi. And she was washed away for miles and miles but learned that she could breathe under the water. Through the jungle and the brush, it carried her away with swiftness, significance, and rancor. Rubble, there was everywhere. And the storm, it was unprecedented.

            When Adi woke, it was so cold and she did not know where she was. Next to her, she heard a rumbling and thought the thunder was still near. Then she felt a furry blanket that must have fallen off her in the night and tugged at it because her teeth began to chatter.
            “Hey, now. That’s my fur you’re tugging there.”
            But everything was dark and so she couldn’t see exactly who was speaking.
            “I’m sorry, sir, but I was cold and here I thought your were a blanket.”
            “Of course, I’m not a blanket, little girl. I am a bear. That is, unless the bipeds get ahold of me.”
            The bear laughed then but Adi was not comforted at all.
            “Where are we, sir? If you don’t mind me asking.”
            “We’re in a tree that’s in a forest. And it’s winter so I’m hibernating. I live here and so do you. Now, if you’ll please let me return to sleep.”
            “But it’s so cold and it’s so dark. And where I’m from, it’s very warm.”
            “The snows are very thick outside, my dear. And there are many months yet of the heartless winter. But if you wish, I have some pelts and they will keep you toasty till the springtime.”
            “Oh, yes please.”
            And so, the bear got up and grumbled. “Here is a raccoon,” he said, “And this one is of a  badger. Now, please don’t wake me until April when the flowers start to bloom and in the trees, the birds are chirping.”
            “Yes, sir.” She was thankful and obeyed. And throughout the winter, they slept for the months remaining.

            When came the thaw, the bear awoke and said that he was very hungry. Then he left the tree for many days but Adi did not go exploring. In the tree, she made a little fire and put a kettle on the stove. She sipped both broth and tea from a tin cup, looked through the door, and thought about picking nuts and berries. In the day, the sun would shine outside and the grass looked very green and soft and so inviting. But in the night when the moon did shine, some things outside the tree looked dark and scary. Shadows moved mysteriously across the ground and Adi would put out the fire. Then feeling safer in the dark, she’d hide beneath her pelts of coon and badger. Sometimes she heard owls on the branches. And sometimes she heard mice in all their scurrying. And once, she even heard in far-off distance the howl of a wolf that must have been bigger than the bear himself. And it was this thought that made her sick with worry.
            “You shouldn’t fret over me,” the bear told her one morning upon returning, “That mean old wolf is always out there somewhere but you cannot live your life and be afraid incessantly. Just be careful; is the phrase that I always have said. Besides, that wolf is very far away. And here, be happy, for I brought you nuts and berries.”
            “Sir, you’re very kind,” said Adi as she ate.
            “You do not have to call me ‘sir’,” the bear said kindly.
            And so she named him; ‘Vladimir the born Magnificent’. And although the bear did chuckle oh so slightly, he allowed for this to be his appellation.
            “Tell me, Vladimir, if you would please. What are we supposed to do here in the forest?”
            And the bear answered, “We can enjoy the sunshine and the smell of all the flowers. And we can admire the apple blossoms as they flow freely in the breeze. And someday I will even take you fishing. But these are only leisurely activities. My job is to protect these woods from men.”
            “Do you ever kill them, Vladimir the born Magnificent?”
            “Not if I can help it, Adrianna.”
            “And do you maul them? Do you maim them?”
            “Mostly, I just scare them with my roar. Then I put their fires out and pick up their garbage.”
            “Is that where you procured these tasty cookies?”
            “Yes,” he said, “I brought them as a special gift for you. Now, come outside. And let us find some scrumptious honey.”

            Adi rode up high atop his back and grabbed his fur to keep from sliding. Together, they passed through many meadows and other paths where sunlight filtered through the leaves. They passed over streams and over creeks and even once swam through a river. In and out of night and day, it seemed they’d never stop their journey. And Adi watched the cycle of the moon. So softly did that big bear’s paw prints pad the earth, in fact, that she could sleep atop his back whenever she felt tired. And Vladimir the born Magnificent’s fur was warm and soft just like a blanket. This is the reason that, when finally they did reach their destination, Adi was not aware of their arrival because she was so far away and off in dreamland. She was warm and sweaty and mumbled senseless words from in her slumber. And so the bear found someplace shady for a time and thus decided not to wake her.   
            “Mmm,” she mumbled and finally came around, “I dreamt that we were in a narrow valley. It was sunny and clear and somewhere near there was a lucid river. And there were green but barren hills on either side.”
            “Was it a very good dream then?” the bear did ask her.
            “Yes, indeed. It was quite beautiful.”
            “Then dream no more. Because you dreamt it, we are here.”
            “Oh my!” Adi rolled from off the bear until her feet made contact with the grass, “The river’s wider than my dream. Where does it go and does it come from, Vlady?”
            “There river’s wide right here but it is shallow. And I can stand, despite its rushing force, to get the fish. And do you see the ripples where the stones are? The stones will make the ripples there forever. But I do not know where it does come from, Adi. And truthfully, neither do I know just where it goes.”
            “But there are many fish in it?”
            “There are.”
            “Well, then I guess that’s all that matters. Is it not?”
            “It’s all that matters to a bear and so… Would you like to watch me fish the river?”
            And so all afternoon, Vladimir the born Magnificent stepped along the stones and even made more ripples with his feet. Adi watched him from the shore and did not burn under the shade tree. So many fish he caught, in fact, and caught them all with jaws and with his teeth. Sometimes Adi would jump up and down along the shore and clap and cheer as never had she witnessed such a festival or such a perfectly regal harvesting machine.
            “What will we do with all these fish?” she asked him finally, “It seems there are too many here to eat.”
            “This year, there are too many fish within the river. And so I try to help them with their balance. And if you do not think that I can eat them, think again,” he smiled, “Because I have to fatten for next winter.”
            “Yes, indeed. It is much work but don’t you worry. I’ll make a plate for you so you’ll be happy.”
            As the sun went down, they made a fire. And Adi and the bear cooked on the fire. The fish were delicious as could be believed. But Vlady ate them raw without the cooking.
            “Would you like to swim under the stars?” he asked after they both had finished supping, “The river is not deep here. You can stand up on your tiptoes and you shall have no fear of drowning.”
            So Adi stepped into the river. It was black and cold but it was shiny.
            “Don’t you think the fish will try to bite me?”
            “Never. I am here and all the fish, they fear me.”
            So she stepped out a bit further and looked up and millions of stars were shining down so strong and mighty. Then she remembered being washed out through the jungle. And remembered she could breathe under the water if she wanted.
            “Look how many stars, Vlady…”
            “Just wait. Wait for the moon for it is still up rising.”
            “And then what will I do?” she asked while floating.
            “You will listen to the sounds within the water trickling. And you will go under the water and will breathe. And you will swim amongst the stars and moon and planets. And you will realize then what is your influence.”
            “Oh, I love it Vlady!”  and again she popped her head out from the water.
            “I know you do. I love it too. But you must be conscious to not move too many galaxies.”
            “Oh! Are you a polar bear now, Vlady?”
            “Yes, I am. Sometimes this transformation helps me swim.”
            “But will you ever change back to a grizzly?”
            “Yes, I will. At least I think. But I will have one white hair. One more than I did before. Such is the price for favorable changing. And it’s the price that I will die for someday, Adi.”
            The sun came up that morning and Adi woke up by the dwindling fire.
            “Oh, Vlady. Can’t you please tell me where you are going?”
            “I long to find some honey,” so he said, “And you must find your way without my helping.”
            “But why, oh, why?!” she screamed and cried and sighed.
            “Because my tree is not a place to do your living.”
            Adi rubbed his snout then and his nose and said goodbye. But told herself, “For you, I’ll find some honey.”

            Days and nights went by and they were warm because the spring was turning into summer. And although Adi very much wanted to know from where the river came and went, she did not follow it but returned into the thick of the forest hoping to locate the tree belonging to Vladimir the born Magnificent. “Perhaps, there’s some way to convince him,” she thought so optimistically. “And if I only brought some honey, then he would let me stay there.”
            Up above, the leaves were growing big and green but Adi liked the meadows mostly. Because when the light shone on her skin, she could feel its warmth and all its energy. And so she looked for meadows wherever she could find them. Bigger meadows with tall grasses sometimes concealing her completely. And the warm breeze would brush against her cheeks as would the grasses brush her eyelids and at times she even thought that she felt happy. But Adrianna still, however, had no idea where to find honey.
            Then one day, while roaming through a meadow, she slipped and fell into a trench where the damp earth was very loose and she could not get back out again. And try as she might, both digging and climbing, she could not reach the surface of the meadow and tall grasses. For many days she ate the seeds that fell into the trench as sustenance. And she would look up at the stars at night and wonder, “Why? If I can move whole the galaxies, can I not also move this mud?” But the earth remained too slippery. And there she cried for a long time until, way up above, she did hear something rustling.
            “Who goes there?!” may I ask, “And are you friend or enemy?”
            “I’m neither,” Adi then replied and commenced her sad crying.
            “Are you hurt?” came the voice again from somewhere up above her.
            “No, I don’t think so,” she replied.
            “Then what’s with all the crying?”
            This was not the voice of Vladimir but someone else she’d never heard of.
            “I’m crying because I can’t get out. I’ve tried for days and days.”
            “Are you supposed to get out?” the voice asked inquisitively.
            “I think so. I’m supposed to find the honey.”
            “Well, there’s no honey around here. Of that much, I assure you.”
            “Oh, please. But can’t you help me then?”
            “Yes. Of course, I can. But I’d have to report you.”
            “That’s fine. I don’t care. Report away! You must do what you have to.”
            And for the first time, Adi raised her head and saw an ant along the ridge.
            Without saying one word more, the ant did disappear but for a moment. And then when he returned bearing a leaf, he lowered it until its stem reached Adi.
            “Grab on, then. I’ll save you. But this is going in my report.”
            And she grabbed on then. And the ant did pull her out; a little dirty but uninjured.
            “I am Colcannon,” the ant extended one of his six, red hands, “And you must know that you are trespassing.”
            “I do not know of what you speak nor do I know what that word even means.”
            “You are on the Queen’s land, madam. So surely, you must have a permit.”
            And so they argued as they walked. And as they walked, they kept on arguing. And the ant upon his clipboard, all the while, was a-jotting.  
            “You must come with me into the queendom,” said Colcannon when they camped, “And it is there that you’ll stand trial.”
            “Well, I can’t walk anymore,” Adi told her first lie ever, “Therefore, I am afraid that I cannot follow you much further.”
            “I will carry you if I must.”
            “But how? You are so tiny?”
            “It’s because I am a superorganism.”
            To which Adi almost laughed but thought it would be inappropriate. “Do you mean how all your muscles are so big?” she asked.
“I mean because I’m part of something larger,” he responded, “And I mean because I only follow orders. The ones written right here upon the pages of my clipboard.”
            “You mean, you never make decisions?”
            “Never once,” Colcannon answered proudly, “And if you must know a secret; decision making scares me. It’s the only thing that does though. I do not fear what you do. I do not fear what’s over the horizon. I am a carbon of a transcript of the imprint of a copy. And I do not even fear my death because I share a soul with oh so many.”
            “Hmmph,” Adrianna crossed her arms over her chest, “And how would you know what it is I’m scared of?”
            “Because I can perceive things you cannot with my antennas. I see the trail of your fear; blue as ice right here before me. I can also see the route of your ambition.”
            “You can?! Oh, please tell me which direction it extends then, won’t you. I simply must go find some honey and bring it to my friend to make him happy.”
            “I will make you a deal,” said Colcannon, “If you return with me and the jury does not find you guilty…then I will point you in what is the right direction.”
            So Adrianna, without feeling like she had much in the way of choosing, agreed to follow Colcannon to the queendom. They walked by day and the weather was very warm and sunny and nice. And sometimes, when Adi’s feet hurt or felt tired, the ant would even carry her with his amazing strength.
            “Why is it you were out so far?” asked Adi one beautiful afternoon while riding Colcannon through some tall grass along the edge of the forest thinking that she’d make some conversation.
            “It is because I am a scout and because I gather information. I am like an antenna to the queendom. There are many of me. We branch out and extend, far and wide, in so many different directions.”
            “Doesn’t it get very lonely?” Adi asked feeling truly sympathetic.
            “It does not because I only have my duty. I also have the rocks and grass and other insects to talk to if I do require company.”
            “You talk to rocks?!” and Adi giggled.
            “You’d be surprised what they can tell you.”
            When finally the two of them did come to a cool, shady area under a tree with a creek nearby, Adi began to notice lines of other ants originating from a great mound…constantly coming and going. The ants that were returning to the mound each carried with them something. A leaf. A pebble. And sometimes bipedal food just like the cookies that Vladimir had given her. But none of these ants besides Colcannon was carrying a little girl.
            “What’s down there?” Adi asked him.
            To which Colcannon answered, “I am…only in a greater density. And then of course, there is the queen who is also my purpose giving mother.”
            Adrianna was very afraid because she had never been underground before but knew that it was nothing like the inside of a tree. But as they entered the mound and the sunlight faded behind them and the darkness grew in front of them until finally they reached electric lighting, she became more and more fascinated at just how great a metropolis this queendom truly was. Down the main trail they crept. And off to the side, Adi could sometimes see storefronts and, behind them whole neighborhoods with schools and traffic lights and firehouses and police stations and even places ants could do their taxes.
            “It all seems very busy,” she told Colcannon then hoping that it would somehow make him happy.
            “It’s because we ants always feel that were running out of time,” he replied, “We never stop moving our entire lives. And we never relax.”
            “Do you ever sleep even?”
            “The punishment for sleep is death.”
            “Oh my,” and Adi’s heart suddenly began to beat with a fear like pure adrenaline, “Then what’s the punishment for unknowingly being on the queen’s land?” she had to ask.
            “Also death.”
            “Oh dear.”
            And speedily as ants will do things, Adrianna stood trial way down at the very bottom of the metropolis mound that very day. The queen ant herself acted as judge just as she always did. And the queen ant found her guilty of trespassing; an offense, as Colcannon had said, that was indeed punishable by death.
            “But I didn’t know I was trespassing,” Adi begged.
            “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” the queen ant chided, “You should have studied up the laws before entering our country.”
            “But I didn’t know I was entering your country!”
            “Silence please, little girl. And now you must be still while I bite you at the half with my sharp pincers.”
            “But I don’t want to die. Not yet. Because as of yet, I have done nothing.”
            And to this, the queen ant laughed. “Don’t worry, little girl. I have found you guilty but I think that maybe we can come to terms.” Then she turned to face Colcannon, “In what direction does it lead; this defendant’s main ambition?”
            And while bowing, he did answer, “It leads back in the direction from which we have just come. Only farther. Much farther than even my antennas could thus see. It leads out to the point of vanishing and perhaps beyond, my majesty.”
            “And please, do tell,” added the queen, “Just what it is that makes you believe there to be anything beyond the point of vanishing, Colcannon.”
            “I only suspect it,” he said, “But I swear to your majesty that this suspicion is guided by my logic.”
            “Excellent then. You are a good scout, my son, and it just so happens that I am looking to expand my kingdom sometime soon. But before I can,” the queen went on, “I must first know if there is anything out there yet at all. And I believe this girl can help us if you follow her ambition. Also, she can make decisions. And since I do not know yet what is out there, I feel she may help you on this expedition. And so, Adrianna, if you could just stand up straight and be so very still completely…”
            “But!” and Adrianna became afraid once more, “I thought you would not have to bite me now that everything is settled.”
            “But I’m afraid I do, my dear. We ants are very expedient as you have seen. And we are also very efficient as you will feel. One of you will stay here with us to serve your sentence. And the other will commence upon your expedition.”
            “But I’m afraid that it will hurt so much!” she gasped.
            “Please, do not fear my teeth or venom. For we are nurse ants and you must know that surgeries like these are my profession.”
            And without wasting any time then, the queen did bite Adi in half. She felt some pressure, that was all though. Because of a special chemical inside the venom. And when all of the bleeding finally stopped, Adrianna was escorted to a room inside the queendom. And when all of the bleeding finally stopped, Adrianna commenced upon her expedition.

            Adrianna liked to walk. This is the only reason Colcannon did not carry her upon his back. And so together they walked side by side. They walked under the umbrellalike leaves of some big plants and sometimes they would climb the tallest trees in order to see what was coming up next along the horizon. And one day, at the very tip-top of one of those green trees, Colcannon, on a branch just below where Adi was out looking, asked her, “What do you see?”
            It was still summer. The heart of summer, in fact. And the heat, even up high in the trees where it was breezy, was still very stifling. And she answered enigmatically, “Sparkles. It’s sparkles that I see. The horizon is but sparkling.”
            “But what can that mean?”
            “I do not know, Colcannon,” she replied, “But we will find out very soon. For isn’t it our mission?”
            And for the first time then, she pat his rough, little red head then between the black eyes and antennas because she sensed he was afraid.
            After that, it took the two of them several more days. The weather was very pleasant and at night they would make camp. Sometimes they’d build flimsy tents from the surrounding sticks and leaves. And sometimes they would sleep beneath the stars. Every night, however, the two of them would build a fire and talk about the things that they considered mysteries. But one night it just so happened, as they were sitting by the fire, Adi said, “I do hear something.”
            “It must just be the fire and the wind,” Colcannon answered.
            But Adi said, “No. It is something. There is something so much bigger.”
            “There is nothing that exists in the existence.”
            “Then you wait here,” she so advised him, “Because I think you have to see it to believe. And clearly that you do not believe, Colcannon, and cannot see so much with only your antennae.”
            Colcannon was not offended nor was he angry because he did not possess the vanity or other such emotions. And so he said that he would simply get some sleep while Adi rose up to her feet and went exploring. And while it’s true that he did not believe there was anything out there more powerful than wind and fire, he could not help worrying about her just a little.
            Adrianna walked for miles that night beneath a midnight sky until there were no longer any plants or trees. And then she walked another mile until the earth beneath her feet became so sandy. But still she heard the sound of which she spoke ever increasing. It roared and it crashed. And there was just the sand anymore. And that’s where she learned the mystery of the illusive sparkling.
Adi had never seen or ever heard of what is called ‘the ocean’. But from a beach, that is exactly what she was now viewing. And she had never seen or heard of waves before. But that is, from this beach and from the camp and all the way back at the tip-top of the tree, what she had been hearing. There was only one set of footprints on this beach tonight because the waves washed them away each day. And although monkeys and birds and wildebeests would come to bathe there daily, there were still only ever one set of footprints in the sand at night. And this is because there was only one being who ever came to the beach at night. Her name was Ava. And she was a tigress. And Adi watched her now as the waves crashed thick and foamy on the shore.  
Call it, perhaps, the power of the curiosity but Adi did not feel afraid of the tiger necessarily. The Adi, that is, that might one day set her other self free and eventually, destiny willing, find the honey. This was her fate. And so, much like her companion, the ant; she accepted it without fearing. And she walked ever closer to the tiger on the shore to see what she was doing.  
            “Stop!” the tigress saw her coming, “Don’t move any closer or it will surely eat you!”
            “What will eat me?” Adi tried to ask.
            However, before she could even get the words out, a striped shark bigger than a whole school bus leapt from out the foamy ocean and began to dive with its mouth wide open and all of its triangular teeth about to close around the bones of Adi’s startled body. But only a moment later, the tigress leapt too and intercepted the huge shark in midair just before it could, for the second time in a very short while, bite Adrianna in half. And although the shark was almost ten times the cat’s size, this tigress was able to grab it with her claws and wrestle it into the sand and safely away from where Adi was standing.
            “You’ve saved me!” Adi wanted to jump into the air and clap but something about Ava’s countenance told her not to do so.
            “You should not come so close to the shoreline, little girl, for it is very dangerous. These brutal animals; all they do is multiply and kill. Make babies and kill. And I do hate them, every single one.”
            And Adi looked at the tigress’s face now and into her dark eyes and thought that she was very beautiful.
            “Why do you hate them so much?” Adi asked so innocently.
            “Because once, long ago, one of them killed and ate my lover. He was the only other tiger in existence and now I am alone. They killed him in cold blood because they are cold-blooded. The sharks; they think and yet they cannot feel. They have no purpose that I can see. And so I will try to kill as many as I can until my time; it catches up with me.”
            Next to them in the shallow surf, the striped shark flapped around and gasped for air. And before Adi could formulate the words, Ava asked, “Would you like me to put it out of its misery?”
            “Yes, please.”
            And so the tigress, with one swoop of her vicious claws, killed the striped shark instantly by severing its major arteries. “You are a very humane and benevolent being,” Ava told her. And the moon peaked out through a cloud then and lit up the whole ocean like white lightning, “But your decency, I cannot claim to truly understand. That shark would have killed you and then you would have been no more.”
            “Why, no more me?” Adi tilted her head inquisitively, “But that would have to be impossible. For if there’s no more me, then how can there be any…” And this is when Adi first realized that it was not she who had created this great world of things. And for an instant she became afraid. But then she did remember Vladimir the born Magnificent and her desire to see him again and to talk to him if only one more time to help her gain some understanding. And she asked Ava then, “Do you know what lies across this ocean? And have you ever been there?”
“I have not been but I have heard of it in legend.”
            “I cannot see but I can feel,” Adi said, “That my ambition stretches past this beach and far beyond this land. But how can I be sure that what I’m looking for is there?”
            “If it is your true ambition,” said Ava, “Then it will be there and it is there that you must adventure.”
            “I can breathe underwater so that is no trouble. But how will I survive with all these sharks?”
            “Would you like me to help you?” Ava fanned her claws out then and scrutinized the blood on them.
            “Do you have to…?”
            “Yes,” Ava answered already knowing what Adi was about to ask, “But the ocean is much larger than you know and it will take many days and nights to reach the other side. Therefore, I must suggest that we use the skiff. It’s washed up on the sand just a mile down this beach. Fibrous beings abandoned it years ago for something more advanced and metal. I watched them one night as they, in a milky, green mist of phosphorescence, ascended to sky.”
            “Where did they go?” asked Adi.
            And Ava answered, “Probably to wherever it was that their ambitions led them. Maybe to another planet. Maybe straight unto their deaths. Or maybe into a different world altogether. But how should I know? My ambition lies right here on this beach. I haven’t the need nor the slightest desire to think of what’s out there. It does not interest me.”
            “But you’ll still help me, won’t you?”
            “My reasons are only self-serving. It’s because I’ve grown lonely over time, you see. But I’ll always return to this shore eventually because it’s full of memories I want to keep. Memories that perhaps the distance might cause me to forget. Even the happy ones are bitter anymore. And still, I want to keep them anyway.”
            “Well, I’d like it if you kept me company too.”
            “Fine then. Let’s go to the skiff and push it in the water. It has an oar and a sail and a rudder.”
            “I should wake up my companion first. He’s sleeping somewhere back there in the sea oats.”
            “I’m afraid that that’s impossible because the skiff just isn’t built for three.”
            “But he’s only an ant!” and Adi panicked.
            “Yes, but the skiff only senses the weight of souls. Not bodies. And if your friend is indeed an ant as you have said, then he shares a soul with many. We would sink just past the sand bar as the water grows deeper.”
            Adi sensed then that this cat, for the first time since they’d met, looked upon her with a hint of tenderness. It was as if Ava could tell that, even though Colcannon was only an ant who could not make decisions for himself, he had become a kind of friend to Adi and that she would miss him greatly. So the tigress said, “He will not remember once you’ve gone, Adi. Ants just are not like that. He will report back to his queen and he will be delegated other assignments. The ant is too busy for bonds or relationships. They are but ‘one’ in actuality. And you are not one of them.”
            She’d meant these words to be comforting. And indeed, they were. Because they reminded Adi in a rather roundabout and abstract way that she was still there inside the Queendom. And she knew that when Colcannon did return to the mound that she would be there to greet him and ask him all about his journey beyond the horizon.     
            “I’m ready,” she said. But before she left, Adi left a message in the sand in case Colcannon should come looking. She wrote it in seashells far enough from the ocean so that it would not get washed away. And for the second time in her young life, she felt the pang of missing someone.

            With the help of Ava’s great strength, Adi pushed the skiff into the frothing, foaming ocean. And once aboard and past the break line, Adi and Ava sailed for many months and subsisted off of all the sharks that Ava killed and sometimes orange jellyfish that glowed in the dark. Sometimes it rained and with dried sharkskin, they built a shelter. Most of the time the moon shone though. And never, ever once did the sun rise. And Adi began to grow pale but not Ava because Ava had grown used to the nighttime long ago. The tigress never expected the sun to shine again and didn’t care. But even Adi was beginning to have her doubts about whether she would ever again feel the warm rays of daylight.
            Sometimes the sea would come to a rolling boil beneath them and this was a good way to cook the meat. And sometimes, a storm so great would come upon them that the waves would capsize the skiff and send both Adi and Ava swimming for their lives. At first, Adi would be scared because the ocean would froth up so much in all its torment that, even when she kicked her feet, she couldn’t seem to rise above the foam. And the foam she could not breathe. But since she could breathe underwater, she’d remember to kick her legs in the direction opposite the atmosphere. And it was under the storm that she would wait until the energy passed over. Then they would swim to the skiff again. And then they would reset the sail.   
            By the time they reached the land across the horizon, Adi was more sad than excited because so much time had passed that she believed Vladimir would never remember her. Still, she thought, I’ve come this far. What could it hurt to look for honey?
            “I’ve discovered something!” Adi called down to the tigress from the top of a ridge not unlike the one so far away now across the other side of the sea, “It gets lighter and lighter with each step I take from the beach.”
            “Well, I guess you’d better go on then.”
            “But don’t you want to try it?” she giggled, “It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. Oh, I wonder how bright it gets.”
            “Thank you, Adi,” the tigress replied, “But I think, for a while at least, that I’m just going to stay down here on the beach. This was a big step for me. More than miles of ocean, you understand. Maybe sometime I’ll come up. Or maybe sometime, I’ll return to the other side of the great sea. But I am tired after our long journey and right now I do not want to think about…anything. I just want to kill the sharks and not to think about it just as they do. I want to be blind and dumb and numb and ignorant and as completely unconscious as they also are. Just for now. Just until I’m better rested.”
            “Oh dear,” Adi fretted, “But you won’t leave without me, will you?”
            “No,” Ava bowed to her sincerely, “I will not leave without you ever.”
            And after having said this, the tigress turned around and padded back towards the waves where already a shark was leaping up out of the water believing her to be an easy dinner.
            “Thank you!” Adi called back from the ridge, “I won’t go too far I promise.”
            But the tigress did not seem to care. And Adi wondered then if she were only acting that way.
            Knowing she’d return to Ava soon though, and trusting in her promise not to leave, Adi would not let herself become too sullen. Instead, she turned back towards this new land awaiting her and continued to take small, cautious steps away from the ocean. And with every step, just as she’d observed, the sky grew lighter and bluer, and grass around her; brighter and greener. And everything became more warm and pleasant until finally Adi found herself to be in a beautiful country with white, puffy clouds rolling by above her and soft, dry meadows, and misty, viridian hills sprawling towards the distance and forming sunny valleys with farms of freshly plowed earth which smelled absolutely lovely. 
            I’d very much enjoy going down to see what they’re farming, she thought. And so Adi began to walk just a bit faster now because of her strengthened determination. And still her surroundings grew lighter and brighter until she needed to reach inside the pocket of her sundress to remove her pair of sunglasses which helped her to see that much better.
            Down below in the valley, there was no farmhouse that Adi could discern. She could make out, however, a big, red barn with golden hay overflowing from its doors. And since this hay looked so soft and the barn seemed like such a good shelter from the sun, she decided to proceed down into the valley and nap there until the evening. On her way, she passed over a small, wooden bridge beneath which crystal-clear water ran which, at one point, she knelt down and scooped into her mouth. She quickly concluded that this water tasted so much better than the ocean. Then she followed a sandy, manmade path towards the farm. And when she came to the fields of freshly plowed earth, Adi stopped and bent down and smelled and determined, for some reason, that freshly plowed earth smelled even better than flowers or grass. Then, upon reaching the barn, Adi did not notice any animals living in or around it. In fact, other than the flora, and Ava of course; Adi hadn’t seen another living being all day. Not even a fly! Still…the barn seemed like a great place for a comfortable nap. And Adi hadn’t even noticed, until she was within its shade and lying in the hay, that her skin had cooked ever so slightly and now it was a color she named ‘toasted marshmallow’.    
            And there she napped comfortably nestled in the warm hay. And she, in a dream, could still smell the grass and flowers and hear the rippling of the flowing crystal-clear water. And she slept very deeply and breathed very heavily. And when she did finally awake and roll over on her back and open her eyes again; Adi sat up with a start because there was a biped standing over her. This was her first impression because the sunlight was shining through the barn door and blinding her and casting the biped’s enormous shadow right down upon her and so she wasn’t able to see him very distinctly. She was able to hear, however, an unmistakable buzzing.
            “Who are you and what are you doing in my barn?!”
            And when the biped moved so close to her that all of the sunlight from the barn door was blocked by its gigantic head, Adi realized that this creature was actually a bumblebee that, when standing straight up, rose to the height of six feet or more; almost twice Adi’s size. Most of the bee’s mass came from its tremendous, bulbous body. It was very fuzzy and, of course, yellow and black striped. The two legs on which it stood were so skinny that they seemed incapable of supporting the bee’s body. And its two arms, coequally, seemed unable to support the large pitchfork which it held; the sharp points of which, incidentally, were pointed directly at Adi. The bee’s head was big and yellow and bald and there was something about its furrowed brow that made Adi think of clay. Its eyes were black and white. And when its teeth weren’t showing, Adi could see that the inside of the bees mouth was deep and bright and red and drooling.
            “What are you doing in my barn?!” the bee repeated angrily in a voice so high-pitched, it sounded as if it had breathed in a whole balloon full of helium before speaking.
            “I’m sorry, sir.” And Adi quickly realized that, this time, she had no good excuse for trespassing. “I didn’t think you would mind. I wasn’t trying to do any harm.”
            “You’ve scared all of my animals away!”
            “No, sir. They were all gone before I got here.”
            “I do not believe you!” and with this, the bee jabbed Adi in the leg with its pitchfork ever so slightly. Still…it was enough to cause her to bleed until the hay beneath was mushy.
            “Ow!” Adi exclaimed as her bottom lip began to tremble; not so much from the pain of being struck but because she had always understood that bees were a hardworking and cheery sort of beings. “I’m sorry,” and she began to cry now until the hay beneath her became even mushier than before, “I’ll leave! Please, just let me leave! I’ll go right now!”
            “Not so fast,” the bee told her before asking, “What sort of fluids are these that you make?”
            “It’s my tears and my blood, sir. It’s what happens when I hurt.”
            “I see, I see,” and the bee thought for a moment, “But it also happens to be exactly what I need to make my honey.”
            “Did you say ‘honey’?!” and Adi was so astounded by the very word that her pain went away instantly, “Oh, how I’d very much like to have some please.”
            “I will give you a little,” the bee said, “Because your pollen is so integral.”
            And so together, as the bee directed, they gathered up the mushy hay, brought it out to the fields where the earth was freshly plowed, and scattered it over the soil until there was a little bit of it everywhere. Then, only moments later, the furrowed soil started to shine and swell and waxy, white stalks began to grow and branch out until they came about to Adi’s waist.
            “Golly!” she was truly amazed, “Is that it? Is that the honey?”
            “Yes and no,” the bee answered, “Stand back and don’t touch anything and I’ll show you.”
            So Adi stood back and crossed her hands behind her back so as to make sure not to touch anything. And she watched as the bee, with his pitchfork, dug up the earth underneath one of the waxy stalks until it could be seen that a globular, golden orb was attached to it just beneath.
            “We simply break the stalk off,” and the bee did this as he said it, casting the stalk aside hastily with a pink fever in his eyes. “ And honey!” he gasped and began to drink from the orb as if it were a jug so big that he had to hold it with two hands.
            “Do you mind if I try some please?” Adi asked from off to the side where she’d been standing.
            And to this; the bee slowly stopped drinking and ominously lowered the golden orb with his skinny arms and gradually turned around to look at her. His face was frozen in a weird mold and he appeared dazed…as if he forgot that Adi was still there in the first place. “No,” he said almost to himself.
            “Oh, why thank you then. Should I just try some of the one you’re drinking from?”
            “No,” the bee repeated quietly as if trying to think very hard about something.
            “It’s okay. I can just dig up my own. Oh, I’m so excited! Finally! You really can’t imagine how long and all I’ve been through just to find some honey. It must be so delicious! That’s why my friend…”
            “No!” the bees eyes were finally able to focus again. Although, in them, Adi detected something irrational that she did not know the word for yet…but it was rage. “The only thing you’re going to eat is hay because you’ll be in the barn. You’ll live there and you’ll never leave because I need your pollen.”
            “But I don’t want to live in your barn. It was a nice place to nap but…”
            “I don’t care,” the bee looked at her directly, “And you don’t have a choice in the matter. You’ll do as I want because I am bigger than you. And you’ll do as I say because I can fly faster than you can run. And you’ll do exactly as I wish because I have this pitchfork which I will stick you with.”
            And for the first time ever, Adi felt the tinge of panic. Her heart began to race and her face began to sweat a cold sweat and her limbs began to shake and her mind began to scream in a way that she’d never before imagined possible. She felt helpless and alone because she knew that the bee was right when he said that he could overpower her and because she knew that, had her companions been there at that moment, they would have helped her…but they weren’t. But she also understood that everyone has a different destiny and that, at this moment, her companions were somewhere preoccupied by and fulfilling theirs.
            Quickly, though, Adi found her nerve. The thought of being helpless made her mad. And so, with tears in her eyes from the thought of having been reduced to violence against her will, she ran towards the bee with the idea of punching and kicking him in his bulbous belly. “You’re not going to keep me prisoner!” she shrieked, “Not for one day or even for a second! I’ll escape and you know I will and then you’ll never see me again! But I will tell my friend, Vladimir the born Magnificent about what you did! And then he’ll kill you and take all your honey!”
            A mixture of fear at the thought of being killed (for certainly, as all bees, he had heard of Vladimir the born Magnificent) and anger at the thought of anyone taking his honey caused the bee to then act so irrationally. Probably, had he been thinking very clearly, the bee could have kept Adi captive in a way from which she could not ever escape. But instead, as this little girl charged him, the bee acted on his emotions rather than with his thoughts and, with his pitchfork, he stabbed Adi through the chest.   

            Letters were written and carried out every day. They were letters of apology and pacification. They were written from deep down beneath the Earth’s surface on the back of envelopes so that the envelope would also serve as the letter itself. For 100 years, these letters were written. Usually, they contained questions as to the health and whereabouts or the recipient and of the events of the day; mundane or otherwise. And every day, the words on the backs of the envelopes (written in green ink) became smaller and smaller until they were hardly legible at all…until the recipient, assuming they ever met with them, would have needed a magnifying glass to read them. And smaller they became still until, even with the aid of a magnifying glass or even a microscope; any mark at all could hardly be discernable. Until the words were microscopic organisms themselves. Single-celled amobae squirming deep down beneath the fibers of the paper. Then mingling with atoms; vast as galaxies. Nebulae. Space dust. Smaller and smaller. Until finally there were no words at all.

            “What is it?”
            “It’s called a calculator.”
            “What does it do?”
            “It adds up all that you are.”
            “Should I be afraid?” Adi asked.
            “No,” the wolf replied, “Not even if your sum total is enough. There’s never anything to be afraid of, really. Not even me. For I am merely a facilitator.”
            “But...” Adrianna was confused, “What does that mean?”
            “It means,” the wolf went on to explain; breathing softly and speaking very patiently, “That I am here to push the ‘equals’ key. So, little girl, are you ready?”
            “I suppose so.”
             “You may wait here for a while if you wish.”
            “Will it make any difference in the end?”
            “No. No, it will not.”
            Deep down beneath the surface of the Earth, Adrianna passed the time by writing letters to Colcannon and herself. And although she could never see the sun, these letters and this writing helped her feel and grasp something close to continuity.
            “Have you seen them?” she would ask the messengers who would carry the letters to the scouts who would wire them to the explorers who would attempt to deliver them to the intended parties.
            And, “No,” they would reply, “But we have sent them very far and the expedition may be perilous.”
            Then one day well into the future when the anthill was a network of glass, vacuum tubes connecting high into the atmosphere, a messenger came down to Adi’s chamber but this time did not accept the letter.
            “But…” Adrianna was confused, “Why, from me, will not you take it?”
            To which the messenger addressed her, “Because there are no more words on the back of that envelope. And because both the recipients have ceased.”
            “To exist?!” Adi gasped.
            “To go on living.”
            “But please,” she begged the messenger, “Do tell me how you know this.”
            “Because it’s like a small part of us was simply lopped off. We do not feel pain exactly. But merely a new distribution of the weight. He was cantilevered way out there. And now he is not. And so, as a body, we’ve had to make some positional adjustments. But we know that he is gone. It’s lighter over on that side now. And from there, we are not as aware as we once used to be.”
            And once the messenger ant had spoken this; Adi realized that, for the very same reasons, she knew that she no longer existed too. She also knew then that she had aged some. And that maybe that’s what aging was; a small part of something dying and going on without it. Not that new parts couldn’t be grown. But those that were lost, in their original states anyway, could never be regained.   
            “Well, what should I do now then?” she asked as she shook her cramped hands and fingers from all the writing.
            “Since you no longer exist,” the ant replied, “I have been sent to give you this message. You are free to go and free to do as you yourself decide.”
            And Adi was very happy when she heard this. Very invigorated. And yet, very frightened. It was as if the will to control those hands that had done nothing but write letters for so very long had had the will sucked out of them and only the nerves were left. And they shook with tremor uncontrollably.
            “But what should I do?” she begged the ant.
            “You should leave here and you should try to find your way. I have been instructed to escort you as far as the desert.”
            “But why?!”
            “Because there, there is nothing. And perhaps, you’re path will better stand out to you. Do not expect to see it right away. But it will come, I do assure you. And never, ever be afraid. Now, come.”
            And having said this, the ant signaled with his skinny, red arm that she should now pass through the threshold of her quarters. And from there, this messenger escorted her up into the vacuum tubes where she had not seen the sunlight for one hundred years. And together, they went flying. By way of the power of suction, they were swiftly transported through the tubes and through the sky and over the earth which looked like a blur of dirt and pebbles and grass and plants until there were no grass and plants and there was only desert. Adi could feel the heat of the sunlight burning through the glass now and even though she hadn’t experienced the sun in oh so long, she became uncomfortably warm.
            “It won’t be so unbearable,” the ant assured her, “Once we get there. The tubes are very humid but the outside air is very dry and easy to breathe.”
            “Oh, I do hope that you are right.”
            “Trust me. For this, I have heard from my many colleagues.”
            When they arrived at their point of destination, their glass tube had been the only one around for some time and Adi knew that this was the border of the vast queendom that that once little anthill had now grown to.
            “What lies beyond those barren mountains?” Adi asked.
            “Our scouts inform us that there is only more desert.”
            “And after that?”
            “More desert. And it is becoming increasingly clear that this is the end of the world.”
            “Oh my! Well, I’d much rather go back up with you in that tube.”
            “I am so sorry to inform you. But even I cannot return up to the tube. You see, these pneumatic tubes only blow one way. Sometimes, there are tubes that go both to and from. But here there is only ‘to’.”
            “But how will you get back?!” Adi asked concernedly.
            “I won’t. ‘Back’ is not my mission and neither is it yours. Your mission is to wait for time to catch up with you. My mission is to die so you can feed.”
            “Feed?! Why, that’s absolutely atrocious! I’d never feed off you!” Adi reeled, “Only don’t take that in a bad way. Because, while I’m sure you are a tasty ant, it’s just that I could never eat anything I’ve seen or spoken to or looked into its eyes. And besides…I will need someone to keep me company until… Well, I’m not sure exactly.”
            “I would like to stay but I am an ant of the queendom-proper. I am a messenger and not a scout and therefore my body was meant to stay beneath the ground where it is cool and dark and moist. Now. If you will forgive me…”
            Then, very much to Adi’s surprise, the messenger ant fell over onto his side. His red body hit the cracked earth with a crumbly sound and his head split right in two from his snout all the way up and around the back of his parietale. A purple gas emitted where the exoskeleton had separated and the smell reminded Adi of deep, tanned leather. After this vapor dissipated, though, Adi could see that inside of the ant’s cranium was dusty and hollow. She could also determine that there was something leafy therein and her instincts told her that she should investigate. First, what she found was a slip of paper. And so she removed it without too much effort. And on this slip of paper, there read; Dear, Adi- This is my last thought. There are supplies to sustain you within the shell that is my abdomen. May they last you for a while.
            And indeed, there Adi found one humongous jug of water, some homemade granola snacks with bits of chocolate in them, beef jerky, and items for building a fire.
            “But it’s so hot!” Adi thought to herself, “If anything, I could use something to help me cool down.”
            But instantly, she felt ungrateful for what this particular ant and all the ants had done for her although she was not sure what that exactly was. She felt ungrateful but did not know why. But she was sure of one thing; that they had not brought her out here just to die.
            So Adi waited.
            There was a large rock near the vacuum tube which she promptly propped her back against. And she waited. For what, she did not know. The sunset that first night was spectacular, however, as were the sunsets marking each night following. But the days were hot. From what was left of the ant’s skull and body, Adi created some shade by using its legs to pitch it overhead. The sun came up. And the sun went down. Sometimes very quickly. And sometimes, so slowly that this process seemed to take days within itself. One evening, a tarantula the same size as Adi slowly crawled by her without doing anything disturbing. It appeared old and tired to her but she did realize that she might have been more scared of one that was younger and faster. On other days, certain days, scrawny trees with bright green trunks would pop right up out of the dry ground. They’d let their branches out for a while but, whenever evening came, they’d burrow right back beneath the earth again. Adi saw prairie dogs some nights. And some nights, she heard voices in the wind. Some nights, she even believed that she saw the whole horizon glowing orange as if there were some great fire that extended for miles and miles way off in the distance. It was always gone by morning though. Or at least the sunlight was so bright by then that she could no longer be sure if it had ever been there to begin with.
It was also during the nights that the air grew to be unbearably cold. And it was now, for this reason, that Adi appreciated the ant’s having the foresight to have eaten the supplies for making a fire. In addition to this, Adi felt that even just the smallest of flames or burning embers helped keep the predators away. This was not part of her imagination like the voices in the wind may have been. For she was certain that, once the sun went down, she could see the fire’s light reflected as tiny pinpoints in the immediate darkness and hear both growling and snarling. And one night, she even heard a roar come from up on top of the mountain. But she was running out of firewood and running out of water. And she knew that, pretty soon, it really was time that would catch up with her.
            Then one day, something quite unexpected happened. It was a phenomenon that Adi had never once dreamed of and yet it seemed familiar to her. Some dark, grey storm clouds formed over the mountain. She had dealt with storms while rafting over the ocean, it’s true. But she had never known the like on land and did not know quite how to brace herself for what was about to happen. And they enveloped the mountain until she could not see it anymore. And they were quickly moving towards her. Creatures of the night came out then because they believed it was about to be nighttime. And this is where Adi saw, in their true form, the pinpoint eyes that, through the darkest hours, had staked their hungry vigilance against her. Now, she could see jackals with the sharpest, bloodiest teeth and giant alligators and hyenas and even a terrifying snake that began to surround her in a circle of fearsome bloodlust. Adi did not know what to do. But never consciously, could she resign herself to death.
            She began to build a fire with the very last of the wood that the ant had packed for her. But she knew that the fire would not last because it was about to rain. The plan worked, though, temporarily. And the flames kept the predators away. But soon the rain started to fall. It sprinkled for only one minute but turned into a torrent in almost no time.
            “Stay away!” she screamed and broke off one of the dead ant’s jagged, toothy pincers to use as a weapon if need be.
            The fire went out and, before long, there wasn’t even any smoke left or any burning embers. But just as the animals were about to close in for an attack, the downpour became too much for them and they returned to wherever it was from whence they came. Then the land began to flood because the desert earth is dry and could not hold all of the water. So Adi drove the pincer she’d been holding deep into the ground and grabbed it tightly so as to not be swept away in the ever-developing currents. She grasped the pincer until the water was well over her head. But since Adi could breathe under the water, and this ability had saved her many times already, she clung to that pincer because she was afraid of where the currents would take her. It might have been somewhere better. But it might be somewhere far worse. She simply didn’t know. And it was this unknowing that now caused her to remain fearful.
            It grew dark under the water and it grew cold. And Adi knew that she must be shivering although she couldn’t actually feel herself doing so. But she held on to that pincer for so long that the seemingly interminable night did finally begin to grow light again. Eventually the current ceased until just the very tiptop of her head felt the dry air and sunshine. Then she felt the day’s radiant warmth all down her face. Then down to her neck. Her saturated shoulders and dress. Then her knees and her feet. Her leather sandals would forever squish when she stepped. But owing to the sun, she was dry in no time. And she felt thankful to have survived. Thankful; until she saw the storm clouds beginning to envelope the mountains behind her once again.
            “Whatever will I do?!” she cried out loud, “There’s no more firewood and surely the animals will eat me this time before the rain gets too intense.”
            And oh so unexpectedly, she heard an answer. “I’ll tell you what to do,” the voice said, “You should let go of that pincer next time and embrace the unexpected.”
            “Yes. Indeed, I’ll do that,” she replied mistaking this voice as an answer from God, “But the animals will eat me first this time, I just know it.”
            “And they probably would,” the voice came again, “If it weren’t for me here.”
            And Adi turned around then and saw, to her curious surprise, an ape with bright orange hair and the very bluest of eyes that seemed to reflect a sky not quite so stormy as the one above them presently. They reminded Adi of warm, sunlit windows. And she trusted him instantly.
            “How did you get here?” she asked.
            “The flood must have washed me here all the way from the jungle.”
            “I’m sorry to hear that,” Adi said sincerely, “Did you have many friends there? Family? Is it your ambition to return there very quickly?”
            “I did have some family,” the ape replied, “But I’ll see them again someday. Until then, I can always write. And as for my friends, well…I suppose that I will have to make some new ones. By the way, what is your name?”
            “It’s very nice to meet you, Adi. My name is Barnaby Higgins,” and the ape then shook her hand.
            “It’s nice to meet you too. May I call you Barney?”
            “Um! Well! You see…it’s just that…”
            “Oh, I don’t have to. It’s quite alright then.”
            “No, no. No, no. It’s just that we were more formal in the jungle. But now,” the ape said looking around, “Now, we’re here. And I’ll just have to…adjust. Where exactly is here anyway?”
            “The desert.”
            “Yes, but which desert. I think that’s really the question we need to answer.”
            “You mean, there’s more than one?” The thought had never so much as occurred to Adi and she found herself to be astonished.
            “Quite right. Quite right,” the ape confirmed, “And some of them much larger than others, you see.”
            “I see,” Adi thought she saw, “Well, can you breathe under the water?”
            “No,” and the ape seemed to look at her funny, “But I’m an excellent swimmer.”
            “Well, that’s wonderful,” she was happy to hear, “So long as you can stay afloat, I suppose it doesn’t matter how large this particular desert is. The flood will bring us there eventually…wherever ‘there’ is.”
            “Doesn’t matter?!” Barnaby blurted, “Why, my dear. Everything matters.”
            “Oh,” and Adi contemplated this in silence for a while, “Why?”
            “Well!” and the ape began to contemplate this too, “Because! I mean, if nothing mattered then we’d all just be blindly bumping into each other and wandering about.”
            “I do wander about. I don’t mind.”
            “Yes, well all that wandering might have been what got you stuck out here in the first place.”
            “Are you mad at me?” Adi asked.
            “Not at all. But surely you must have had a motive up to this point? A mission? A goal? A want? A dream? A desire?”
            And although Adi thought and thought and thoroughly searched her little head, she could not, for the life of her, remember what it was that she had been after. There had been something, she was sure. But now, it all felt so long ago. And dim. And faded. Disconnected and intangible and faint. “I can’t remember,” Adi sadly admitted. Sadly, because she suspected that this ‘something’ had once been very important to her had also been close to her heart.
Adrianna had no time to dwell on the subject, however, because the storm clouds that had begun to cover the mountains like a thick, grey quilt now cast a great shadow over both their heads and they knew that the rain would be there soon. The predators, unfortunately, seemed to realize this too and they moved in on Adi and the ape to try to feast upon their flesh and bones before the looming flood could wash them each away. The alligators and the jackals and the hyenas and the snake; they stalked and slithered nearer and nearer prompting Adi to reach for the expired ant’s other pincer to use as a fresh, new weapon. But she noticed only too late that the dried carcass had been washed away by yesterday’s flooding.   
            “Don’t worry,” Barnaby tried to assure her, “I’ll just use this pincer already stuck in the ground.”
            “But!” Adi instantly became hysterical, “What will then my hands use to grasp onto?!”
            “My big toe!” Barnaby smiled as if all this danger were a great amusement to him, “And I will swim us ever westward while you breathe safely underwater.”
            Then Barnaby, the brilliant orange ape with the trustworthy blue eyes pulled the pincer from out the ground and swung it towards the other beasts already brandishing their razor-sharp claws and, in the giant snake’s case; venomous teeth. Behind them now, Adi could hear the roar of the flood approaching and felt confident that the animals would soon retreat. However, just before the last of these deadly beasts backed away in order to seek their own refuge from the weather, the giant snake with his shining, slivered eyes, struck Barnaby in the arm and inflicted a nasty bite. Before the snake could try to eat him, though, the flood washed away this serpent and the current was too strong for even the alligators to remain a threat.
            “Quick!” the ape instructed her, “Grab onto my big toe just like I told you! And be sure to hold on tight so that we do not lose each other!”
“I will!” Adi promised, “I would not like to become separated ever because everything is simply too scary and unpredictable and I’d like you to be my one and only constant.”
            “I’d like that,” and Barnaby meant this.
            And the flood washed away everything.

Although Adi passed in and out of what she thought must have been consciousness, her tiny hand never let go of Barnaby’s big toe. And so together, they drifted with the flood; Adi with her head under the water and the ape trying to keep himself afloat as best he could with his one, uninjured arm.    
            Eventually the torrent subsided. Much of the floodwater was finally absorbed into the cracked earth. And much of it spread out with a hissing sound and turned into nothing but froth. Eventually, the little girl and the ape spun to a slow stop on their backs. Neither of them were very aware of their surroundings; just a hazy, lavender sky in the light of the late afternoon. They did take notice that the other one was breathing though. Breathing in their sleep practically. And both were very grateful for that.
            “Barnaby?” Adrianna finally mustered up the strength to ask, “Did we arrive where you thought we would? Did we arrive where it was that you wanted to go?”
            “No,” Barnaby began to stand up and wring his dripping, orange hair, “I wasn’t able to navigate correctly.”
            “Oh, it’s all my fault!” and Adi believed then that she felt the worst she ever had, “If you hadn’t had to rescue me then you’d have had both arms with which to navigate!”
            “It’s quite alright. Those monstrous beasts would have eaten me too but not before they ripped me limb from limb. And that’s a fate I wouldn’t be willing to share with anyone so…”
            “But if I hadn’t hung onto to your big toe…!”
            “Again, Adrianna. It’s quite alright. For all we know, this could be a much better spot than the one I had in mind.”
            “Do you recognize this place at all?”
            “No,” the ape answered, “Not even from the ancient maps I used to read…which surprises me because I’m quite sure this place is rather ancient.”
            “Oh? Well, what makes you say that?”
            “Why, just turn around,” Barnaby beckoned.
            And so Adi did. And when she did, the little girl saw something that she never in a thousand years would have dreamt to exist. Towering above them both was a wall made of copper encircling an area much larger than either could conceive of from their present vantage and a gate made of copper that was just beginning to open.
            “Eek!” Adi’s heart started pounding and her nerves went all awry, “Should we run, Barnaby?! Barnaby, should we?!”
            “I don’t think it would do us much good,” the ape cocked his head in attempts to see through the ever widening crack between the doors of the gate.
            And since Adi believed the ape’s words to be true, she embraced him for comfort.
            Once the gate had opened completely, a man and a lady and a black dog and a fluffy, white housecat with a pretty, pink collar all emerged from within and approached them. “Hello,” they spoke in unison, “And welcome to our fair city.”
            “Why, thank you,” Barnaby Higgins greeted them in return, “And might I inquire as to the name of this fair city?”
            “It has no name,” the man replied and Adi thought he was handsome and well-dressed and thought it odd, though pleasant, that an animal should have no hair on its face.
            “It has no location either,” said the woman.
            “This city is so fair…” spoke the dog.
            “That we’d rather outsiders not find it,” finished the housecat.
            “Well, we certainly didn’t mean to intrude,” Barnaby tried to be polite.
            “Not in the slightest,” spoke the man again, “Because the very fact that you are here means that you were meant to find us. Enter and stay however long you like. Please be our guests. You are invited.”
            Adi and the ape did not want to be rude so, rather than discussing the invitation out in the open, they both decided independently to bring it up once they were through the gates and by themselves again. And so they followed the man and the lady and the dog and the housecat beneath the ornate, copper threshold and into the walls of the city. Once inside, the two of them discovered beautiful, winding streets made of stone; quaint, little dwellings of many stories and wooden windowsills; fruit stands on each of the ground floors; and in each plate glass window there could be seen more men and ladies and dogs and housecats engaged in leisurely and domestic activities.
            “I sure would like to contribute to the prosperity of this beautiful city while we’re here,” Adi spoke enthusiastically, “Please, let me know if there’s any work I can do. I’m always happy to lend a hand.”
            “That’s very sweet of you,” the man answered as the six of them continued to stroll through the streets, “But nobody has to work here ever. So please, relax as you may.”
            “Oh, but I rather enjoy it,” Adi confessed, “Even if it’s only gathering fruit outside the copper wall to stock these lovely stands here. I just love all of the colors. All the apples and oranges and bananas and pears…and grapes and melon and pineapple and peaches and…are peaches even in season this time of year?”
            “Every fruit is in season all the time here, little girl. And nobody does any gathering. You see, it’s just given to us.”
            “By whom?” Adi scrunched her eyes inquisitively.
            “By…” the man, for a second, seemed confused, “Well, I don’t believe anybody has ever thought to ask. By a…provider, I suppose. I really don’t know. Little girl, you do raise some very enigmatic questions.”
            “Would you like me to investigate?” she smiled.
            “No, no. No, no,” and the man appeared to be a bit put out now and even a bit fearful, “What we would like you to do,” he stopped walking in front of a wooden door belonging to one of the dwellings, “Is to go to your new home up on the fourth floor of this quaint building and then bathe yourselves and then dress yourselves and then meet us this evening in the town square for dinner where each of your favorite meals will be prepared.”
            “Yay!” Adi rejoiced and even did a little hop, “In that case, my favorite meal is…”
            “You need not tell me,” the man interrupted her but honestly didn’t mean to be rude. Rather, he wanted Adi to be amazed.
            “But then how will you…?”
            I won’t be the one preparing your food or cooking it or even taking your order. But the provider, if that’s what you’d like to call it, knows all. And to prove this to you, I thought it might do to have your favorite meal go unspoken. Trust in this and find yourself delighted.”
            “Well, I never meant to infer that I didn’t.”
            “We’ll see you this evening,” Barnaby took over, “Thank you so much for the hospitality. And the dinner, we both look forward to.”
            After bidding the townspeople farewell, Adi and Barney climbed the stairs to their room on the fourth floor where they found a lovely quarters with a bed and a kitchen and even a bathtub that would fill with hot water at the push of a button.
            “You can bathe first,” Adi suggested, “Because I would very much enjoy taking a nap.”
            “That sounds absolutely smashing,” replied Barnaby who began to draw the water, “But…well, would you be so kind as to do me one favor?”
            “I believe I must have picked up a tick or two somewhere…”
            “A tick?”
            “Well, you know. Some sort of parasite. They’re really all the same.”
            “But I believe that a pair must have, at some point along the way, attached themselves to my head. Would you be a dear and have a look for me?”
            “Of course!”
            And so Adi stepped towards the ape in attempts to examine his head but…
            “Barnaby,” she said, “Would you mind kneeling down for me? You’re now much too tall.”
            “Oh. I see,” and Barnaby kneeled down, “I was rather a young ape, you know. Appears I’ve had some sort of a growth spurt.”
            “It appears so,” Adi agreed while combing his orange, cranial hair through her fingers, “But…”
            “Did you find them?” Barnaby asked, “Do you see the little buggers?”
            “Well, no,” Adi had to confess, “Not exactly.”
            “But I was sure there was something…”
            “Why, yes. There’s something. They’re… Well, it looks to be some sort of calcification.”
            “Bloody hell.”
            “Two of them. Each about the size of my fist.”
            “Well, I should be so glad that your fists are rather small then.”
            “Well, what do you think then?”
            “I don’t know,” Adi admitted, “But they’re dry. And not what I’d call festering.”           
“Ah, well…” Barnaby sighed, “I suppose I should consider that good news. I’ll just get in the bath then. We’ll see what a little soapy water won’t do.”
            And so…Barnaby took his bath while Adi slept in a bed of feather pillows and clean smelling linen. It was the best sleep she’d had since she could last remember. And even though she didn’t want to disappoint the man and the woman and the dog and the housecat; she was already thinking about how good it was going to feel to come back to this room and sleep the rest of the night away with the window open to let the fresh, cool air in.
            “Barnaby,” she called before getting out of the comfortable bed or even rolling over, “Are you out of the bath yet?”
            And to this, Adi laughed. “Don’t you know if you’re out of the bath yet?” she asked.
            “Yes. I’m out.” But to her sensitive ears, there seemed to be something wrong with his delivery.
            “Barnaby?” and she leapt out of bed now wearing a long, white nightgown that had been provided her, “Barnaby, are you quite alright?”
            “I…I don’t know.”
            And that’s when Adi saw him.
            “Don’t worry, don’t worry, my dear. I feel fine.”
            “Yes but…!”
            “I know. Something’s happened,” he admitted, “Something rather drastic.”
            “What caused it? And what does it mean?” Adi was completely distressed, “What in the world has happened to all of your orange hair?!”
            “It rinsed away in the bath water. All of it. Almost instantly.”
            “And what has happened to the rest of you?!” Adi’s astonishment only grew, “Your legs are much longer and your arms are much shorter. And you’re standing so tall! Twice as tall as me now! And you’re…” and here it took Adi a very long time to search for the word, “Handsome. Your face is… Why, you’re almost as handsome as the nice man we met this morning.”
            “I might be,” the once ape, Barnaby, conceded, “If it weren’t for these knots still on the top of my head. They don’t hurt but they are most certainly growing. I wonder if I should be worried.”
            Then Adi, yearning to ask their host and hostess a number of questions and not wanting to waste any time about it, quickly washed her face and all of her limbs with a warmly wet washcloth. After that, she put on a beautiful evening gown that had been left for her. It was every color and no color at once like a shiny prism glowing in the dark. Barnaby had also been left an outfit; a charcoal grey suit with a matching vest and a top hat and spats that gleamed in the light of the kerosene lamps which lit up the room now that evening was at hand.
            Barnaby tried to give Adi his arm so that they could walk to dinner in this fashion. But he was now too tall and so had to settle for reaching down and offering his hand to hold…which she did with pleasure. And it was like this that they walked down the stairs together and down the street together and passed all the fruit stands and passed all the other quaint, little apartment buildings and over all the cobblestones. And just at the moment that the sun was setting in a beautiful symphony of orange fire, they came to an area near the closed, front gate. And it was here that they found the man and the woman and the dog and the housecat all there standing and waiting for them attentively. The four of them were dressed very formally as well. And next to them, there was a long table with a white tablecloth and lit candles between every other place setting.    
            “Good evening,” the man greeted them, “I trust you’re feeling refreshed.”
            “Oh yes,” Adi said, “And thank you. But…”
            “Then won’t you sit down and dine with us.”
            “With pleasure,” Barnaby answered him this time. I can’t wait to taste the fare.”
            And so they all sat down together; Barnaby and Adi across from the other four. And it was only after they’d taken their seats that Adi took notice of the covered, silver platters directly in front of each one of them.
            “Fried honey bananas!” Barnaby clapped after removing the lid from his own plate, “Bravo! I say, I almost forgot that this was my favorite dish, it’s been so long. Thank you. Thank you all.”
Adi looked at Barnaby and saw the happiness on his face then and she decided to save all of her questions until after dinner. She looked at him with intensity and keen understanding. And what she saw was now a man. A particularly strong man who was capable of… Well, perhaps not completely taking care of himself but certainly capable of speaking for himself? No. That wasn’t quite it either. In control of his own destiny? Well, maybe. But really, who’s to say? And after much internal deliberating, Adi finally decided that she loved him very much. And because she loved him so much, she could not bring it upon herself to interrupt his happiness at this very moment…even if it might have been in his own interest. Or even hers.
            “And what will you be eating tonight, my dear?” the man asked Adi.
            “You mean you really don’t know?”
            “Well, my favorite is…” and she lifted off the lid, “Yep! Shark steaks and orange jellyfish with a fine sprinkling of sea salt! What about you?”
            “Oh…well. My favorite is rather hard to explain, you see.”
            And, “I’ve never seen anything like it!” is what Adi exclaimed when he pulled off the lid.
            “The food I’ve taken a liking to,” he went on to explain, “Has less to do with flavor and more to do with how it makes you feel.”
            “It certainly does seem to have an interesting texture,” and Adi wasn’t even trying to be gross when she added, “It almost looks like tongue.”
            “It’s very close to that in nature,” answered the man and the woman and the dog and the housecat as they were all about to eat the same entrée.
            As they ate, the dinner conversation was very pleasant and light and Adi continued to keep the promise she’d made to herself by not asking anything about Barnaby’s hair or the knots on his head (which were slowly growing ever larger) or even where all this delicious food had come from. And so instead, she asked the man and the woman and the dog and the housecat about what they enjoyed doing most with their time.
            “We very much enjoy the stage theater,” the woman explained, “Won’t you two join us for a show tonight?”
            “Oh, that would be lovely!” And even though Adi didn’t know quite what the ‘stage theater’ was; she had always thought of herself as a being who was open to new experiences.
            At first, she was worried about having no money to pay for a ticket. But the woman assured her that, here within the walls of this fair town, money didn’t so much as exist. “All is provided for. But you must have faith or it may all go away.”
            And so after dinner, the six of them walked under the light of a full moon hanging not far from their heads. They walked along the cobble streets which, so far as Adi could tell, were perfectly deserted. Some lamps had been lit in the quaint, little apartment buildings however. And every so often, she thought she could detect a shadow cross before a window. Adi wanted to ask why not everyone chose to eat outside on such a clear and pleasant evening. But then she remembered what the woman had told her back at the table. ‘I must have faith,’ she thought to herself, ‘Even if it means that I have to stop wondering so much. I need to just calm down and let things happen. I am  not in control of everything. But is that even true? No. No more questions. And why should I be asking them? There never seem to be any answers anyway. Why, one could drive themselves perfectly bananas if all they did was ask all day. It must be something like being a student at a desk in an empty classroom in front of a blackboard with no teacher.’
            “Are you cold, Adi?” the once ape asked her, “Would you like to borrow my coat for a spell?”
            “That’s very sweet of you, Barnaby. But I’m fine. I promise.”
            “Very well. It’s just that I thought I saw you shiver.”
            “I did. But it was just loose energy.”
            “Quite right.”
            Then, after traversing a few more narrow pathways between the buildings and turning a few more corners, the four citizens and their two dinner guests came upon a beautiful work of architecture erected from stone and bronze and wood and lamplight. A gargantuan building yet warm and inviting somehow. “This is the Grand Theater,” and the woman held out an arm with her palm held upwards to indicate that the guests should be first to cross the door. Then their procession glided through a wide and empty lobby carpeted in a velvet so crimson; it seemed to lull one into a hypnotic dream. And if the woman had not beckoned them onward by saying, “This way,” and taking each their hands; it felt quite possible to Adi that she might have been stuck there…deep in that delicious red forever.
            A set of wooden double doors with brass handles was opened and, two by two all in a line, the evening goers descended a dark aisle towards a well-lit stage bigger than anything Adi could have thought possible. Under ceilings higher than the astral sky. And all around them were rows of seats with velvet cushions; thousands of them. Or maybe even a million.
            “I say,” Barnaby spoke up. He was walking hand in hand with Adi again. The dog and housecat together in front of them. The man and woman closely behind. “Have we been so blessed then? Are we fortunate enough, this wonderful evening, to be sitting in the front row?”
            “Better,” the woman answered whose glossy lips were shining in all the black obscurity, “We’re in front of the front row. Now, how does that suit you?”
            “But you can’t possibly mean…!”
            Both Adi and Barnaby squealed this same exclamation; one of them out of fear though. The other; excitement.
            “Do you actually mean…?”
            “Yes,” the woman answered as they, all six, took the steps up to the surface of the stage, “We…are the show. We are the actors and performers. We are the choreographers and writers. We are in complete control because it is our audience who likes to be surprised. We are in complete control because that is what has been given to us. But we must put on a good show and that’s all that really matters.”
            “Let us demonstrate,” said the dog, “As we enjoy doing a combination of different variations of different approaches to different philosophies of the stage and its incredibly diverse amount of arms and/or components that might make up an interesting story or performance for the purposes of both entertaining as well as conveying, from mostly our perspective that is…”
            “Let’s just show them!” the housecat with the pretty, pink collar interrupted all excitedly, “Then you follow our lead.”
And so, still somewhat disoriented from the surprise of actually being this night’s amusement, Barney and Adi watched on as the man and the woman and the dog and the housecat proceeded to do both cartwheels and somersaults and flips in midair and other such feats of acrobatics until each came to rest (center stage and on their feet) in a position of conclusive landing…as if to say, ‘Ta-da!’ With the woman balancing herself by one, satin slippered foot in the man’s hand, the dog’s paw in the woman’s hand standing upright, and the housecat’s tiny, furry pads resting perfectly (albeit, perhaps a bit complacent or arrogantly) in the dog’s paw. Each; standing perfectly erect and on end. Their posture; impeccable. Their sparkly smiles; either an orthodontist’s wet dream or nightmare depending.
            “Well?” the housecat asked as they each hopped back out of each other’s hands again and down to the stage where their landings made the hollow, wooden ‘thump’ of a book closing, “What did you think?”
            “I loved it!” Barnaby gasped, “But where do I fit in?”
            “We’ll show you,” the woman’s eyes devoured him, “And there’s a very big part in it for you.”
“Who’s the audience?” Adi asked, “Because it’s not the townspeople, is it? It’s that man right out there. The one in the seats. The only one in all those hundreds of thousands of seats. Possibly even a million.”
            “That’s right,” the woman confirmed, “We are the townspeople and the townspeople are us. But that man whose outline you’re able to make out there in the dark…that man and the glint off the lens of his camera…he is our audience. And we enjoy pleasing him.”
            “But who is it?” Adi couldn’t help herself although she knew better by now than to ask to many questions.
            And it was then that the man began to wind the crank on his reel-to-reel device which made a distant, though clear and constant, clicking sound.
            “Is he filming us?” although Adi hadn’t realized that she’d spoken aloud.
            “I’m sure that I don’t know what that even means,” the woman answered.
            “And why isn’t he seated in the front row then?”
            “I can only imagine,” Barnaby took over, “Because he wants some certain perspective.”
            “Yes,” the woman agreed, “Yes, yes. Listen. Please. Listen to your friend, Barnaby. He sits in a different seat each night because it’s his desire to see the entire show from every seat.”
            “I’m very sorry,” Adi, feeling suddenly uncomfortable, felt the need to come up with an excuse, “And I know I took a long nap today. But I’m still so very tired. Have fun, all of you. And please, let me know how it went when I see you in the morning. Perhaps, over breakfast? Thank you so much again. And don’t worry about me. I can find my own way back.”
            “Nonsense, my girl,” and the woman stepped toward her.
            “It’s just that I’m not really what you’d call a performer. I’m not nearly audacious enough. I do love art to be sure. And I love to create myself. It’s just the audience and all the bowing that seems so…”
            “Beside the point?” and the woman had finished Adi’s sentence for her.
            “Please, don’t misunderstand me. Everyone is different. And I…I’m…”
“Oh…so…tired. Yes. I think we’ve all heard you, dear. But as for you going anywhere…”
            “Barnaby, would you please help me leave?” she felt ashamed to have to ask but did feel that things were on the verge of taking a turn for the worse…that they might even become ugly.
            “Of course, my love,” and Barnaby came to her and knelt by her side on the planks of the stage. “There’s only one way out of this,” he whispered, “And that is that you have to hide.”
            “But what will happen to you?” she whispered back.
            “You’ll see,” he smiled, “You really will. And please, don’t worry about it. I’ll be just fine. I actually like it here, Adi. And this is where I want to stay. Now. Climb into one of these knots on my head. There you go. It doesn’t matter which one. That’s it. Do not be afraid. For this will be the,” and he turned towards the man and the woman now…and the dog and the housecat, “The most tragic act, perhaps, the world has ever seen.”
            “Barnaby, what are you doing?!” but Adi was already halfway down one of the knots on his head now. And try as she might to free the top half of her body, the knot seemed to have come to life and worked to squeeze her and pull her in more deeply, “Help me!”
            But Adi’s screams were soon stifled as the mouth of knot, having now grown to the size of the head of some huge worm, wrapped around her chin and then her nose and pulled her down constricting Adi’s whole body like a muscle most powerful.

            In the weeks to follow, Barnaby became a great star and he would be remembered as one for the rest of his life. Meals were laid before him; extravagant breakfasts that went so far as to include French toast with syrup and powdered sugar and dinners featured foods both succulent and savory. And the man who sat in the dark house of the theater applauded him once or twice during debut productions…or so Barnaby believed. And one night, after a wonderful performance he had given in a show, the woman approached him and kissed Barnaby leaving blotches of red lipstick all over his entire face. At first, when the townsman saw her do this, he became very jealous and even challenged Barnaby to a duel. But fortunately, in order to defuse  the threat of violence, that handsome star who used to be an ape invited the townsman to converge their bodies into one being and to conjoin their souls into one essence and to live with him eternally. This way; the lady could love them both at the same time and no one would be angry.     

            Meanwhile; Adi found herself rushing down a mad river of turbulent, red oil. It was very warm. And although she was able to breathe underwater; this oily, viscous liquid was another matter entirely. Also, whenever she attempted to surface… That is, whenever this river would stop raging for so much as half a minute, Adi found that there was no surface; only a smooth and squishy wall above her, below her, and on all sides. The river beat her and knocked the last remaining bit of breath from out her lungs. And she felt the oil enter her mouth and then into her throat and down into her chest which caused her eyeballs to both open widely in hysteria. She thrashed her arms about as the river continued to sweep her wherever it would. And Adi kicked her legs as well because she could not think of anything else to do. Pretty soon, the pressure of the oil inside of her became too great (as did her terror). And sure enough, one of her eyeballs burst right out of its socket. Still, it went right on seeing with a curiosity that one would have said, had there been anyone else there to see it, was even more intense than it had ever been before. For a while, the optic nerve remained connected. But then, as the oily, red river continued to push her along; Adi’s body was washed through an area full of what felt to her like trees with small, scratchy leaves and dry, scratchy branches which mangled and cut her arms, legs, and torso and even her neck and her other eye; the one that had remained within its socket. Then the river raked her through a length of what Adi was sure were perfect razors. And the cuts they gave her were cleaner but rang through her skin with a very acute pain that seemed to throb and echo long after the original wounds were made. And it was during this length of river that her optic nerve became completely severed. The rest of Adi’s body was slit to shreds until the leftover pulpy emulsion homogenized into the red and raging river. But the eyeball that had become detached (the one that had exhibited that most intense and innocent and adorable and admirable and unceasingly relentless curiosity did find a way to persevere. “It’s because I could so clearly see all of those sharp and scratchy obstacles approaching,” Adi thought to herself, “But how could I be thinking if all that’s left of me is this one, free-floating eye? And how will I eat? Or will I need to? And how will I walk? Or will I need to do that either? And does this river go on forever? And if it does; how will I ever know for sure? And if it doesn’t; how will I ever know the answer?”
            Adi was thankful that she didn’t encounter any other areas where her eye may have been scraped or grazed in any way. But with absolutely nothing to further float through…that is; nothing to help her gauge the speed at which she happened to be floating, Adi began to lose track of time. Days may have gone by. Maybe longer. And Adi became very bored because she had no one to talk to. And it did not take her long to forget just how she’d come to float down this pipeline (just an eyeball and an optic nerve) in the first place. And slowly but surely, Adi’s thoughts began to grow fewer and fewer until just a single thought was often spread out over the course of hours. Then hours would go by when not a single thought would come to her at all. In these moments, Adi couldn’t decide whether she felt more alive than she ever had or not. And of course, it was only when she ‘came back to’ that she could start to consider things like this. But during the times when everything was silent; she felt as though she were both everything and nothing all at once. She was her surroundings. And they were her. But if there was no difference between anything…
When Adi was sure that she’d been floating along for what must have been weeks, she also began to lose track of space. This pipeline may have stretched onward and behind her for a thousand miles or more…or it might actually be only the size of a small jar just large enough to contain her optic nerve and eyeball…and together they couldn’t have required more than a few square feet. Often, she felt imprisoned. And pretty soon, Adi wished for nothing more than to be able to close her eye and be carried away into a long and dreamless sleep.
            But then she heard a sound.
            It had been quite a long time since Adi had heard any sounds (not even the sound of bubbles or this viscous liquid in motion; so smooth and full was the tube in which it rushed through). And so at first, she wasn’t exactly sure of the sort of sensation she was experiencing. Adi, using her optic nerve somewhat like a tailfin to tread the viscous liquid, rotated herself so that she could peek at what was going on just down below. And she saw nothing. Then she looked left. And then right. Or at least what she perceived to be left and right. But then Adi looked up and that’s when she saw it. At first, she couldn’t tell quite what she was seeing but she was sure that that’s where the noise was coming from. In the portion of tube just above her, it appeared that a line was being drawn. Longer and longer. Until it made a right angle. And then another. And then another until whatever utensil doing the drawing had made a perfect rectangle. After that, Adi could hear a great sucking sound as the rectangular piece was removed from the roof of the tube and that breach began to overflow…and Adi was flushed out.

            Back in the town, Barnaby continued his career as a theatrical performer in the body that he now shared with the townsman. He had moved into the townsman’s quaint, little apartment which he shared with the townswoman who still loved to kiss him all over his face and together they were very happy. The knots on top of his head had, by now, grown into great, pointy antlers that any breed of cervid in the forest would have been envious of or proud to wear.
            Then one day, as Barnaby was walking about the town, he crossed paths with another townswoman who was very beautiful and had heard about his wonderful performances and who now also wanted to kiss his face as much as she possibly could. And so he let her. But when he returned home, the woman who performed on stage with him was very jealous and angry and went into a rage and threw things like lamps and vases which shattered against the walls of their apartment. But after a while, she finally calmed down and asked Barnaby whether or not he minded if she merged bodies with the other townswoman. And of course, Barnaby thought that this was a fine idea so that they both would be able to kiss his face whenever they so wanted and so that neither of them would ever be jealous. And so both the townswomen became a single body forever. And for many months, Barnaby and the townsman whom he met at the gates of the city on that very first day and the two townswomen lived happily together occupying only two bodies and a single apartment. But eventually, more and more townswomen wanted to kiss the face of that magnificent performer who they had heard so much of but had never actually seen perform. They knew only that he was handsome and that he played a great part in keeping ‘the provider’ (who may or may not have been the man with the camera) pacific and contented. And so in a perspective way, Barnaby himself became worshipped almost as much as the man in the dark of the pit of that theater (who may or may not have been the town’s provider).
            “But we all want to kiss your face, Barnaby,” the townswomen told him, “So how can you ever make room for us all?”
            Before Barnaby could answer them, however, the women who shared the body whom he lived with stepped forward and offered all the townswomen to join them so that none would ever be jealous or angry again. And Barnaby, wanting to avoid the violent effects of having accidently stolen every wife in the entire town, offered the men a chance to merge their bodies with himself. And in this way; nobody in the whole, entire town would ever be jealous or angry again. And nobody ever was. And for a time, they all lived happily until one day the climate did begin to change. The clouds began to settle like a fleecy, grey blanket that perpetually blocked out the sun by day and all the stars by night. And then the very air itself began to freeze and tiny flurries of ice became noticeable as they floated downward from the sky. And this endless winter caused Barnaby and all the townswomen to have to wear thick coats and scarves and boots and hats on their way to eat and to and from the great theater. It grew so cold in fact, that one night, as Barnaby was walking home from having just performed a wonderful and brilliant performance, he stopped along one of the cobble streets along one of the high walls of the town and he began to shiver uncontrollably. He hugged himself to try to regain warmth; each hand grasping the opposite elbow. But nothing could stop the shivering. It’s almost as if, he thought, the cold were coming from inside as well as the air and the elements. And that’s when something compelled him to touch and stroke his beard and mustaches just to make sure they were not frozen…which they were not. They were icy, it’s true. But not quite frozen to the point that any hair would have broken. But that’s when the very same compulsion drove Barnaby to touch his antlers. ‘They’re freezing cold,’ he thought, ‘So cold that to touch them feels as though they’re actually burning my fingertips.’ And whether he meant to or not (Barnaby himself would never know); a tiny, frozen piece from the tip of one antler broke off in his hand and it pained him greatly…worse than any pain he’d ever know in all his life. The pain was so bad in fact, and so much did he associate this anguish with the tiny piece of antler that he still held in his hand, that Barnaby threw the tiny, frozen piece well over the wall of the city where it twinkled just once like one of the other many stars in the nighttime sky until finally falling below the top of the wall and forever out of Barnaby’s sight.
            The cold he felt, however, even after losing the teeny, tiny tip of his antler that was the coldest piece of him; would not go away.
            Barnaby tried to blow hot breath into his hands but they would not thaw. And he tried running around the perimeter of the city in its entirety but his body would no longer sustain any heat that he could feel. Finally, after deciding he needed to take extreme measures less he freeze to death, Barnaby broke apart one of the wooden fruit stands until it was nothing but a pile of splinters on the frozen, stone street and then he lit the pile aflame with a brass, kerosene lighter that he kept in his vest pocket. Very soon afterward, the fire rose high into the frosty air and flames began to lick the walls of buildings that stood near. But despite the fire’s size; Barnaby could feel absolutely no warmth…within him nor on the surface of his skin. And still not knowing what else to do and starting to feel desperate and scared, Barnaby broke another fruit stand  down to splinters and piled that wood on top of what was fastly becoming a raging inferno.
            It didn’t take long before the nearby buildings caught fire. And because they were such quaint, little dwellings with beautifully varnished hard wood floors; the buildings blazed in a blinding, orange intensity. Barnaby stood very still then just outside of where the flames were raging. He stood very still then because he knew that whatever he did; there was no amount of fire or hot breath or kinetic energy that could ever make him feel warm again. So Barnaby simply watched as the flames leapt from building to building. He watched until the rooftops looked like smokestacks and the black smoke flooded the nighttime sky and covered up the stars.
            ‘The smoke looks just like sewage,’ he thought to himself then, ‘Raw, black sewage let loose into the world from a valve burst open deep in my polluted heart.’
And Barnaby never saw the townswomen again; neither singly nor separately. He assumed though, just as he had for some time now, that they had been having trouble to warm up too. But he knew that, unlike himself, the heat from the fire would reach their body eventually. He also knew that, because all these women were so cold, it would take a long time for the flames to enter and for the flesh of so many bodies to begin to disintegrate. And because of this; Barnaby felt bad for the women and hoped that they would not have to suffer very long. And he felt guilty then too because it was he who had started the fire in the first place. More strongly than feeling bad or feeling guilty though; Barnaby felt the agony of knowing that, from this night forward, he would always be alone. And although he could see the man with the camera through the scorched and crumbling walls of the Grand Theater… And although the man with the camera was still sitting in one of the seats with his arm still cranking the reel and his camera still rolling… Barnaby knew that they would never speak to one another; so strong was their mutual resentment.     

            On the other side of the same mountain range of which the town lay on the fringe; a misty morning was just beginning to unfold in a cool and lavender fashion. Strands of puffy, pink clouds stretched like pearls across the sky. Between the grey and giant snowcapped peaks, there were wide valleys with plenty of refreshing, green grass. And the sun, so golden and bright white as it peeked past the horizon, fell upon these beds of long, soft grass. Some of the blades caught the light perfectly and the whole valley floor lit up like brilliant amber while an extended family of deer lapped a fresh, chilled water from a bubbling spring whose origins began deep within the earth. Nearby, there stood a cabin or shed. It was hard to tell which exactly because its walls and roof were very rickety and it appeared to be rather dilapidated overall. And closely behind this cabin; there was, halfway hidden by the grass, a pile of dry and rotting wood that may or may not have been used in the construction of the cabin. It’s entirely possible that whoever built the cabin had intended for it to be larger. But perhaps they just grew too tired to build it anymore. No one, however, would ever know for sure. Because presently, there was no one around to ask. And something about this valley’s vacancy made it feel like nobody had been or would be back here for quite some time.
            That is, of course, except for Adi.
            At first, all was blackness and dust and she found it difficult to breathe. She coughed almost constantly as she, with her tiny hands, felt her way through the dry and crumbling dirt. She was very fatigued from all that she’d been through recently. But she did remember being very happy and grateful to have hands again. And feet. And so she tread along the earthen tunnel; wincing, flinching, and starting each time a root would touch her fingers or she’d accidentally pass upon a cold and porous stone. This is because Adi had a very vivid imagination and sometimes it could get the best of her…especially in the dark. For her, it was easy to believe that each spindly, little root was actually someone’s moist finger trying to reach out and grab her and pull her even deeper underground. And she partway believed, whenever her bare feet would step onto a large, round rock; that the rock was really someone’s skull…or maybe even their hipbone. And that that person had been trapped down here for a very, very long time. And perhaps they’re still trapped, she thought to herself. Perhaps they’ll stand up at any minute and commence with trying to find their egress.
            The tunnel only ascended however…less she turn around and start feeling her way along in the other direction. But, since Adi wanted nothing more than to see the sun, and because the roots in the tunnel seemed to become more abundant as she made her way upward, she crept on just as she had been, slowly but determinedly, and knowing that somewhere up above her there must be a valley rich with soft, green grass. Since Adi could not see the sun, though, it was still very difficult for her to tell exactly how much time was passing. Sometimes, she’d grow very sleepy and lie down in the dirt to slumber. And one time when she did this and then woke up again; she was certain she was not alone.              
            Meep! Meep! Meep!
            Some kind of tiny creature made this noise. It was right next to her.
            At first, Adi thought the creature was a cricket chirping. And although she was not afraid of crickets because they were not known to bite, she stayed very still right where she lay and hoped that, undetected, it would unknowingly pass her by. And if the cricket happened to be ascending just as she was, perhaps to chirp happily above in the fresh, moonlit air; Adi, ebbing on the side of caution, told herself that she would simply keep her distance. And so quietly, she waited.
            Meep! Meep! Meep!
            But the cricket did not seem to go away.
            Meep! Meep! Meep! Meep!
            “Oh, alright,” Adi finally spoke aloud, “Since you do not seem to be headed in one direction or the other… And since I’m almost certain that you already knew that I was here… What can I do for you?”
            And this time, when the cricket answered her, Adi heard something in its chirp that she did not notice before. It was alarm. And the next few chirps too; they contained a kind of urgency or desperation.
            “What’s that you say? I can’t understand you. Whatever do you mean?!”
            That’s when Adi sat up, spun around on her knees, and looked behind her down the tunnel shaft. There was no light by which to see coming from behind her…but this did not matter. Because whatever it was now coming up the tunnel must have been generating its own illumination; not too bright at first so Adi had to squint. Deep down the shaft, the crumbly walls of the tunnel were just beginning to glow a pale red. And at first, Adi thought that she was seeing things. But the brighter this luminescence became and the closer it seemed to grow, the surer she was that it was not her mind just playing tricks on her. Then Adi thought she could hear a low rumble and feel the ground, ever so slightly, begin to tremble. But the louder it grew and the more the ground seemed to shake beneath her knees; the more certain she was that she was not just hearing things.
            Meep! Meep! Meep! Meep!
            The cricket cried in fearful excitement and Adi could sense the danger that was near. And that’s when she saw them; about a dozen or so red jewels that appeared to be glowing from within. “I’ll bet it’s all those skulls that I kept stepping over,” Adi thought to herself as her heart began to race and her breathing to get heavy, “They’ve all risen now and they’re trying to get out! But wasn’t that just my imagination?”
            And the cricket hopped into her hand.
            “You’re right,” she said then looking down in the dim, red glow at the cricket she could barely make out, “It may or may not have been. But the cost of learning everything comes at too great a peril. I’ll just have to go on living without knowing everything undoubtfully. It’s either that, Mr. Cricket, or we can stay here to find out and die.”
            Meep! Meep!
            “I thought that’s what you’d say. Alright. You can bite me if you need too, I don’t mind. Just do whatever you can to hold on tight.”
            And so the cricket did bite Adi; right in the fleshy part of the palm heel just under her thumb.
            Adi bounced to her feet then and ran as fast as she could. The air in the tunnel was still very dusty and even harder than before to breathe once she was winded…but still she kept on moving until she thought she might pass out. And that would be a bad thing, she thought, because unconscious; neither this cricket nor I would ever have a chance. And Adi, for some almost immediately perceptible reason yet one that she could not quite rationalize as yet, felt somewhat responsible for the cricket’s future well-being.
            Meep! Meep!
            And the tunnel rumbled behind her and the earth beneath her feet shook loose making it very hard for her to run. And because the tunnel made such a steep ascent now, the sandy ground beneath her actually began to run backwards taking on the form of water.
            “Hold on, Mr. Cricket. I have an idea. And be sure to hold your breath starting…now!”
            And because the sand was so much like water; Adi was able to dive below the surface and swim against the gritty current. She kicked her feet wildly and frantically paddled her arms. And her hands became like two, little spades trying to displace as much dirt as possible with every stroke. Then suddenly, she heard a deep ‘thud’ overhead and, without even having to look up (not that she would have been able to see much of anything anyway); Adi knew that the whole tunnel had collapsed. She knew not what to do now but try to rise. And luckily, since she had climbed so far after so much walking; the soil all around her was relatively soft and nothing like the rocky walls of the tunnel she’d just come through. And she guessed that the soil was soft because she was close to the surface. And although she could still breathe in this sand and dirt; Adi had assumed that the cricket could not. And unless she hurry…
            Higher and higher, she climbed through the soft, spongey soil which, Adi noticed, was growing warmer with every rotation of her arms and every move that her legs would afford her. She swam so very hard, in fact, that most abruptly; Adi found herself flying through a bright, blue sky with green grass down below her and many big trees shrinking as she continued to gain altitude…accelerating like a rocket or something fired from out a giant slingshot now thousands of feet below. Her first reaction to this drastic change in environment was one of pure happiness because now she could not only feel, but also see, the warm sun’s rays as, over her arms and legs and face; it cast a light so clear that it knew no impurity and for those first but fleeting moments, neither did anything it shined upon.
            “How wonderful!” she gasped to herself; her heart feeling very warm, “Mr. Cricket, are you alright?”
            But when Adi glanced down at her hand where she could still feel the cricket biting to hold on; she saw that it was not a cricket attached to her at all but a tiny  mouse with whiskers and two, beady little eyes that looked like they could have easily been made from either a sooty, black liquid or a fragile, black glass.
            The little mouse coughed up a couple balls of dust but, so far as Adi could tell, was none the worse for wear. “I’m glad to see that you’re alright,” and Adi rubbed the mouse’s tiny head with the tip of her opposite index finger, “And that we escaped whatever it was that we were so afraid of. But I do wish we weren’t climbing quite so fast or so high. It’s just that I worry,” Adi went on as they passed through a cloud and, seconds later, that cloud was well below them, “I worry what exactly we will do when…”
            Meep, the mouse nodded his little head in understanding.                  
            “When we start to fall…” Adi spoke in a voice so faint that it sounded as if someone had intentionally stolen her breath away.
            The air was very thin at this altitude and that might have had something to do with Adi’s suddenly feeling weak. But her voice and her consciousness had begun to fail mostly because she could sense that they were slowing. And her stomach suddenly felt as if it were its own being…and a very lively one at that.
            “I’m afraid, Mr. Cricket…I mean, Mr. Mouse; that we are about to start falling with no way to stop ourselves.”
            Meep, the mouse spoke; muffled and sad…still with a mouthful of Adi’s hand.
            But much to both of their surprise, just as they hit the very peak of their climb, Adi and the mouse did not fall at all but instead started floating or hovering as if on the aqueous surface of a substance slightly denser than quicksilver. A substance as invisible and clear as the sky itself…if there was really any substance at all. And Adi did not hasten to rule out the possibility that there might not have been but that, in lieu of one, some change may have taken place within herself; her physiology, mentality, anatomy, or her very chemical makeup.
            And the view was amazing.
            Below either her belly or her feet, depending on how she situated herself, Adi could see a bleached, blue sky below. And up above her, she could see the stars twinkling in the midnight sky. And at the most distant points of a horizon that Adi had ever known where these two domes seemed to meet and make a perfect sphere; she could clearly make out a burning, coral colored line with what appeared to be heatwaves moving through it.
            “Where are we?” Adi asked.
            But the mouse merely looked up at her as if to say he didn’t know.
            “It’s not unpleasant up here…if indeed we are up anymore. But our present position feels more to me like…well, like it’s not really relative to anything at all. At least nothing I’ve ever made sense of. I am not warm. I am not cold. I am not sleepy nor particularly energetic. And although I am not hungry or thirsty, I have to wonder if I will ever be eventually. And that goes for you too, Mr. Mousey. I’m assuming.”
            And the mouse looked up at her again nodding his little head in an understanding manner.
            “So just in case,” and it occurred to Adi then that she’d become a bit more conscientious, if not a bit more cautious, over time, “Perhaps, we should locate a way out of this place.”
            And again the mouse, not so much with his eyes this time or with his voice, did seem to agree with Adi on some sympathetic level…as if at least part of each of them were comprised of the same mental material. Did it have something to do with his biting me? Adi wondered momentarily. Then she noticed that trace amounts of blood were perceptible around what must have now become a puncture site. And just beneath the mouse’s mouth, Adi felt a soft vibration.
            “Do you know a way out of here?” Adi asked.
            “I think so.”
            “Then how?”
            “I’ll show you. Just hold on. And this time, I’ll take you for a short ride.”
            And as the mouse’s voice emanated within her head; his tiny, pink tail began to extend and then coil around her wrist. At first, Adi was quite alarmed. But then, once she realized that the tail was not wound in too constrictive a manner, she calmed down and the mouse slowly opened his mouth unpinching the fatty, little piece of flesh under her thumb. There was a small wound left where the mouse’s teeth had sunken in but Adi knew that it would heal very soon. So she simply licked off most of the dried blood and sucked on the cut for only a minute until it met her definition of hygienic.
            “Tastes like alfalfa,” she smiled down at the mouse.
            “I thought so too. But then again, everything tastes like alfalfa to me.”
            “But how then do you placate your need for the variety?”
            “I have none. Not yet anyway. I am a very simple mouse.”
            “Is it very pleasant? Could you teach me to be simple too?”
            “Being simple is very simple. All you have to do is eat alfalfa every day for every meal.”
            “Hmm. I cannot believe I’d like that very much.”
            “Then come. When we get back to the valley, I will show you where to find all different kinds of wild berries.”
            “Yay!” and Adi was about to clap her hands but then remembered that the mouse was still attached to her by tail.
            “Thank you for not jolting me. And this may help a bit…”
            And then, before Adi’s very eyes, the mouse’s slender tail began to expand again from the base until several yards of slack had formed between them.
            “Oh, that’s much better,” Adi thanked him.
            “Yes. Now, try to relax every muscle in your body while I pull us towards the door.”
            “Oh, but I’m afraid you are mistaken, Mr. Mouse, as I do not see a door; only lightness and darkness and something far yet incandescent.”
            “Do not worry. The door is only visible to mice eyes. That is; those who only eat alfalfa.”
            “Do you mean to say that if you ate a different dish…”
            “Yes, I would take on another form. Just as when I ingested a few droplets of your blood, my tail changed in due accord.”
            And as they spoke, the mouse, by a propulsion whose source remained a mystery, pulled Adi through the air as if in tow.
            “Would I change forms?” Adi asked, “If I were to eat the different foods?”
            “No. Because we are two different types of beings. Your form is shaped by your soul and all that you put into it. But your image changes outwardly depending on who’s looking. Sometimes, you will appear as a little girl in a linen nightgown with blonde hair and white skin and blue eyes. And sometimes, you will appear as a little girl in a linen nightgown with dark hair and skin and deep, dark eyes. Now, does that make any sense to you so plainly?”
            “I guess so,” Adi yawned from the exhaustion of trying to understand completely, “And how is it that I appear to you, Mr. Mouse. As now you’ve piqued my curiosity.”
            “You appear to me as a woman, Adrianna. From the very second we met. And even though I could not see you with my eyes down in that deepest and darkest of tunnels; I knew with absolute certainty that you would be a mother to me.”
            “A woman?!” Adi cracked up laughing because of the absurdity, “Mr. Mouse, you are being very silly. But if your mother has gone missing, I will try to do my best. At least until you’re reunited.”
            “Yes and thank you. I would like that very much. And I do hope that she is safe…from the dangers of the wild.”
            To Adi, it seemed that she and the mouse floated along for quite some time. But because the sun never set or rose and because there was nothing to cast a shadow upon, it was difficult to determine whether their journey was taking them mere minutes or many hours. At one point, though, Adi could tell that they had stopped because the breeze was no longer blowing through her hair. Then, seemingly right into thin air, Adi saw the mouse disappear for only a moment; with his tail still wrapped around her wrist, though, and some extra slack remained.
            “Are you still there, Mr. Mouse?” Adi asked. She was not, however, frantic because she thought she could still feel him tugging on his tail and scampering around as if behind…
            “This is the invisible door,” the mouse informed her, “In order to open it, I needed to sneak in through the keyhole. Look…” And when Adi looked, she could see just the tip of his whiskery nose peeping out of what may as well have been the clear, blue sky. “I’ll brace my arms and legs on this side,” the mouse went on, “And you pull on my tail. It is strong and will not break. And this won’t cause me any pain so do not worry.”
            “Well, okay. But only if you say so.”
            And so Adi, not wanting to hurt the mouse in any way but believing him completely, pulled on the mouse’s tail just after his nose had disappeared again. At first, she pulled rather gingerly. But when the mouse reconfirmed that the door was very heavy, she went to work with both arms while bracing her feet against another invisible object that she guessed to be the threshold. And eventually, she felt something budge. Soon after that, Adi could discern a vertical line where a door was indeed opening. And the mouse now having enough room to leave, scurried out the bottom corner of the door and with his tiny arms, he attempted to help Adrianna open it all of the way.
            “I can see,” Adi squeaked gleefully, “I can see a warm and happy valley! And I can see a cabin and behind the cabin there’s a pile of old and rotting wood. And I can see myself, Mr. Mousey. And I can see you too. But it would appear that we are frozen just above the dusty tunnel. Do you think that we are paralyzed?”
            “Yes,” the mouse said, “Paralyzed with fright. Because you were so scared, you ran so very quickly. And it’s because you ran so quickly that we were able to escape. But because you were so scared, you also became paralyzed with fright. Frozen in midair. And frozen in the time.”
            “Well, is this situation very easy to amend?”
            “Of course, dear Adrianna. All that is required is for us to cross this door and let us know that we are fine and have survived. And as soon as they realize this; they will happily vanish.”
            “Vanish where?”
            “Into inexistence.”
            “They’ll die?!” Adi gasped.
            “No. They will simply not exist.”
            “But it’s us!”
            “Well, if we do not tell them; forever there they will remain.”
            “I think I see your point then.”
“We do not have to go just yet if you are very tired. This place is good for resting while the wild offers almost no reprieve.”
“Um. We can go, I suppose. This place was nice for a while. And indeed, it is very beautiful and full of calming properties. But I have to say, it seems a little empty.”
            And so Adi and the mouse climbed out the door and into the warm, grassy valley. The sun was shining and a gentle breeze was blowing. And everything seemed peaceful except for the little girl and the mouse in midair…as they were; paralyzed with fright. The little girl’s mouth contorted in a silent scream and the mouse; biting down so hard upon her hand that it had already drawn a drop of blood.
            “I can’t do it,” Adi’s statement sounding more like a plea, “I can’t willingly unexist myself. It’s just not in my nature.”
            “That is your decision then?”
            “Yes. Let us just walk away. And maybe they’ll awake. But all of it in its due time.”
            “Then your decision you have made. And yes, please, let us walk away. But do so ever, my dear, hurry. For this will, I am afraid, have a profound effect upon our future.”
            “And how so? If I may ask. That is; if there’s still time.”
            “Watch,” and the mouse pointed upward with his nose in the direction of the petrified.
            And once Adi did set her gaze upon them, she could see a veritable volcano of dust rising through the pile of wood up from the tunnel. And instantly, she could sense the musty smell and remembered the red lights deep, down under the ground and the rumble moving towards her. And it was that same rumble that she could feel now with her bare feet on the grass. And because the grass felt so good to Adi’s feet then…and because she could not help how good it felt and could not stop noticing how good it felt…even when she tried; a wave of guilt and shame flooded over her emotions because it still seemed, much as she wanted to disbelieve, that she was letting some small piece of herself die. And as she kept on watching, the earth under her feet and all around the pile of rotting wood began to shake until the cloud of dust became so thick and so enormous that, for just a moment, Adi lost the sight of her accidental self and the accidental mouse latched on her hand.
            “Could it actually be?” she wondered from the grass, “Could there be so many skulls down there just wanting to get out? Or is this still just my blind imagination?”
            “It is real,” the mouse sensed she needed explanation, “But only when beheld now from the past. So I must say to you again; please, do let us hurry and do let us walk away. Because I am one who does not wish to see. The nightmares will live with us anyway.”
            But Adi could not turn her head. She was frozen in the grass. Paralyzed and petrified; it’s true. Yet, however, not with fright. For now, Adi was stiff with the terrifying focus of intrigue; morbid as may it be.
            And as she watched, she could truly not believe her ears or eyes. At first, she heard what sounded like somebody dropping a large bundle of firewood from quite a great distance off the ground. But, in reality, this was the sound of the pile of rotting wood exploding from within. The heavy lumber and raw timber from the pile; crashing into the nearby pine trees and clanging hollowly back down upon the ground. Then nothing more happened for just a minute and much of the dust had time to settle; it later seemed to Adi, almost on purpose so that she could see the horror that there was next to occur.
            From up out of the tunnel where the wood pile had once been, Adi saw what she thought looked like a shiny, black cone slowly emerge from out the hole. As it continued to rise, however, she noticed the hard, shiny black at the tip of this cone gave way to a thicker and thicker base of tufty, hairy grey. Ever broader and longer it rose up from the depths until, in many places under the grey and hairy tufts there could be seen several pads glowing with the deepest, most solemn red Adi could ever remember having seen before. It was extremely difficult for her to tell whether or not this cone was organic. And she thought how strange it was that such a question could ever cross her mind during such an intensely distressing moment. But a living thing was something that this creature (or whatever it was) did not seem to be. It moved slowly and robotically and it did occur to her as strange that the slowness of its movement should make it seem all the more terrifying…but it did. It was just a big triangle with red lights peeking out from its lower half that she didn’t necessarily believe were eyes. The shiny, black point on its top end may have passed for some sort of horrible claw or fingernail. But the grey tufts of fur struck her as something like a disguise…like something trying to impersonate something that was living. And then those morose pads of red trying to convey the similarity of conscious energy…but not quite. It was an unthinking thing; pitiless and hungry. And more than anything just then, Adi did not want…oh, but she had already made up her decision.
            And the triangle continued slowly to rise straight out of the tunnel; its motion almost as if it did not belong in this plane of vitality. Because confined to the tunnel though it seemed, the cone or triangle or horrible, unthinking being did not appear condemned to this world’s law of physics. It rose up from out the tunnel now as if a sort of ghost never displacing a single grain of dirt. And Adi had to wonder whether or not the great explosion had been caused by the cricket…that is, the mouse and herself somehow. And when it came close enough to the yet petrified Adi and the other mouse still biting on her hand, the apathetic triangle seemed not to grab them by way of any paws or claws or manacles or tentacles or stickery suckers but by some kind of energy field like electromagnetism. And to the Adi watching there with her feet in the grass; it didn’t even seem to touch them. Yet, when the uncaring, unemotional, and unfeeling thing began to sink back down again; the other Adi and the mouse went with it…not into nonexistence but into unexistence. The triangle would take them and erase them permanently; a process that rattled Adi’s soul with horror and riddled it with terror. For how could something so sinister exist? An unexistor feeding. But what frightened Adi even more was that, somehow, the tiniest portions of she and the petrified mouse would remain with it…she only hoped not consciously so. She hoped they would remember nothing and feel nothing. And she wondered how she could ever wish that for somebody…especially when the wish was one of mercy.              
            “I can’t look anymore,” Adi spoke to the mouse but not out loud because she was afraid the triangle might hear, “Let us just let them go now.”
            “A wise idea,” the mouse agreed, “This way. Hurry. I wish you would have taken my warning but knew that it would be impossible for you to encounter the unexistor machine without the need to peek. But come. I know a way that we can put a great distance between the two of us and this place. And that is what we need. Distance and time. And eventually sleep. But I don’t think that will come for quite a while.”
            “Yes. Please! I’ll follow. Yes! Just quickly!”
            And so Adi did turn before the triangle had finished its descent back to the depths. She only hoped that she’d not also turned her back on the importance. Something that may or may not have still been there. And so she followed the mouse as it scurried through the woods. The sun was setting. And she ran with her hand against her face so that no one could see her crying.

            Many weeks passed and many days and evenings but all Adi could seem to remember was the twilight time when the sky seemed to bleed that distinctive, orangish pumpkin color. The color of the harvest and the fall and markedly the end of summer.
            “We must prepare,” the mouse would tell her in the dark compartment; his tail still lightly wrapped around her wrist, “I know you need the time but now you must snap out of it, Adi. If either one of us here is to survive.”
            “I’ll snap out of it for you,” she would reply, “But please. I need just one more day.”
            The mouse had led her through a woods where the burnt, orange sky seemed to accentuate the trees’ black and gnarled branches. Then they crossed a bridge over a river where the orange reflected in the water caused Adi’s heart to feel hollow, lonely, despondent, and morose.
            “I do know where we are going next,” she’d say while straggling behind, “So tell me why then should I bother?”
            “Because it’s very beautiful,” the mouse would then reply, “And very sad, all of the same.”
            And however begrudgingly, Adi would continue to shuffle her feet.
            Then one day, after traversing many more rivers and forests and valleys all in dusk; the mouse announced, “We have arrived. But despite our arduous journey, it seems we still must wait until the chiming.”
            “That’s fine,” Adi grunted sadly and weakly as she sat down with her arms crossed at the bank of a creek.
            Hours of silence had gone by as the mouse sat next to her so quietly…when Adi blurted, so suddenly that it caused the mouse to jump up off the ground, “Oh, why did we leave them there?!”
            “Because we had to. It was to either leave them or to join them. There was no scenario where the four of us could have ever left together.”
            “Why is there anything?!”
            “I do not know that.”
            “And why are you here?” Adi hissed under her breath; her eyes squinted and vehement.
            “Please, my dear mother for I will miss you. The time for the parting of our ways is soon. Very soon. And I did not want to spend our remaining minutes in this way.”
            “Minutes?” the tears rained down over Adi’s cheeks; the mouse knowing that most of those had been there all along, “Minutes? Oh please, Mr. Mouse. Don’t leave me. It’s only a phase or a mood that you do find. But I’ll get over it soon. I promise you. I just don’t want to be alone right now. And I’ll miss you much too much. And when or will I ever see you again?”
            “That is a question that even I cannot answer. And if someone did ever tell me for a certain; I would not know whether or not to believe them. But I so do hope as you have been my giver of the awareness.”
And after these words were spoken by the mouse; it’s tail slowly uncoiled itself from Adi’s wrist and slowly shrank again until it was the size of that belonging to a regular rodent.
“But why?!” Adi cried.
“Because this is the time.”
            “Yes, but why now?! And how can you be so cold?”
            “Because it’s where our paths end. Yours points over there now…farther than I can even lift my head to view. And mine…well, it’s just that I go back you see. For that is but my ambition.”
            “Oh, just let me go with you,” Adi whined, “Because I don’t have an ambition anymore.”
            “I know that this is true. But you do have a fate and you do have a destiny. And soon is when they’ll come to meet.” And the mouse cried too as he rubbed his furry nose and whiskers against Adi’s face for one last time. “Do you see that structure up there on the hill?”
            “There is where you must go wait now. But it will not be very long. In these woods…”
            That’s when the mouse gave her one last, tiny kiss and then scurried fast as he could back in the direction from whence they’d come. He scurried so fast only to keep himself from having second thoughts, from turning around and succumbing to his emotions, and possibly from interrupting destiny.

            Adi seemed not to have to walk anymore. And when she willed herself to move towards the hilltop structure that the mouse had pointed out, it was as if she were carried there by current…as if everything now was like swimming underwater. She did not have to kick her feet however. And she did not have to paddle with her arms…her arms which remained crossed now anyway to better guard her heart. And in this way did she arrive up to the structure on the hill. It consisted of one brick wall with a wooden roof overhead and a long, cement platform on which she sat. And in front of the platform, there were tracks. And it was only a matter of minutes before the train came.
            And although Adi had never seen a train before, the sight of one did not surprise her. Not that her sense of wonder had died out completely. Rather; she had simply seen so much in her short time that the concept of locomotive transportation did not thrill. She partially attributed this to her still being in a funk though. And partially because she already had a good idea where it would take her.
            The train consisted of three cars only. An engine, a passenger car, and a caboose. And in her way of floating with the arms crossed; Adi boarded the car and found a lone compartment with her name over the door. There was a berth that ran perpendicular to a window. And although there were several electric lights that could have been turned on just above her; Adi chose never to touch them. And the train began to roll. And the sun began to set.
            In a way, Adi knew that she would never be quite able to control her thoughts completely in the dark…and this is why she did not touch the lights.      
            “I was hoping,” she’d whimper after many hours of something that did not quite feel like sleep, “I was hoping I would never know. And though I thought that the unknowing would eat at me; it would seem I have been eaten lieu indeed. Not by thought though. But by the reality. And the only reality is that horrible…”
            “No,” a female voice did interrupt her train of thought then, “You’re wrong. And I will prove this to you. So try, Adi. Just try not to think anymore. And please, turn on one of the lights for it will do you good. For only then, maybe you’ll sleep. And although it may seem contradictory to you, I will assure you; sometimes it is a light which is exactly what some sleep requires.”
            “I am tired but it is not sleep…” Adi did not think to question to whom this voice might belong…but she did recognize it as soft and feminine and almost motherly. It was how she’d hoped her voice had sounded to the mouse.
            “But the train; it will not stop for many days. And in that time, the sun will not come up. There are, however, many things to see. Many beauties if you so shall wish. Look now and see the moonlight on a lake.”
            “I’ve seen it. I feel like I’ve seen it all now, thank you.”
            “The moonlight so blue upon that snowcapped mountain.”
            “Yes,” Adi replied, “And it’s not that it isn’t beautiful or amazing in its way. I suppose, it’s just that it reminds me of so much. So many memories; both good and bad, you see. But always of a loss. And always of the lessening.”
            “My dear, it doesn’t have to be like that. Please, wait for me and I’ll explain. And in the meantime, get some sleep. Again, this train takes many days.”
            And so the train rolled on along its rails; sometimes, it seemed to Adi, very quickly. And at other times, it seemed to creep so slow. But somehow she also knew definitively that this was only her perception and that the train, in actuality, never did once switch speeds. In part, she knew this by the racket of the rickety rails. They clack-cluh-cluh-cluh clack-cluh-cluh-cluh clacked…always with the exact same rhythm; its tempo never changing. And although the outside air blew in and out the car; it always seemed to displace itself in the same, regular volumes. It was almost like breathing itself, she thought. As if this train and its three, metal components were like a living creature. And don’t living things all breath, thought Adi. And the air did then seem good to her if not the teensiest bit chilly. It seemed to be the one element that could come and go on its own without her having to experience the sense that it was leaving. It varied in freshness only but its passing felt natural.         
            And only then did Adi take the mother’s advice and turn a light on. A soft light just above her berth. And only then did Adi sleep just for a while…although a bit to her dissatisfaction; not without dreaming. Dreaming and twitching and pulsing ever so slightly. This is how Adi slept and dreamt of things that she could not remember.

            From the windows of her berth, Adi watched the moon rise and fall until it had completed one full cycle. By this time, the train had traversed many bridges and rivers. Some of the bridges so high that the river below would appear to Adi as a tiny thread of glowing blue not unlike an electric current. But the bridges were also broad and that is how she was able to determine just how wide these rivers must actually have been. Rocky beaches and thickly wooded hills shrouded in black. And more moonlight. Ever waning, however, until one night it rose but gave off no light whatsoever. And this is when the train did finally stop.
            Adrianna, feeling a bit better emotionally than she had when she’d embarked, left the train and was excited, if for no other reason, than to simply stretch her legs. She was not sure what awaited her here…if anything. Because for all that she did know; this place may have been where the line of time itself came to its end. An inherent sense did tell her, though, that that particular train would never turn around and to roll on back again. Nor would any other train ever show up here. It was as if these rails had been explicitly built for that one, single journey. But Adi did not wonder who had built them. She was feeling tired from having traveled so far and long. And she was feeling tired just in general.
            As there was no more moonlight, Adi was at first reluctant to leave the immediate area. She wasn’t hungry (which surprised her) and only a little bit thirsty…but still, she felt it would be prudent to locate some fresh water. After many hours, her eyes finally did adjust some to the lack of light. And way off in the distance, Adi was able to detect an area that must have amounted to many acres all faintly glowing white. And so it was in this direction that she headed…not with the intense level of curiosity that had once possessed her and not so much with the strong will to explore. She went now because it was all there was left to do. And again, she floated freely above a ground so dark she couldn’t see as if a slow and steadfast stream were thereby carrying her.
            Although the moon had completed its cycle and Adi could no longer see it; she believed that it was still up above her and that it would begin waxing in its rotation…sliver after sliver…crescent after crescent. But now, as she floated over the darkness toward the mass of glowing, white light; she could easily imagine that this was the moon and that somehow it was rising up from underneath her. Very smoothly, she floatingly approached the mass until it was directly underfoot. Then Adi put her feet down on what felt like a dense, bare rock. And she could tell that this mass was made up of many acres of luminous quartz vibrating ever so slightly as if conducting energy from somewhere deep within.
            “I suddenly feel so very heavy,” Adi said to herself, “In my bones and in my knees.” And she could hear her voice echo as if rippling through the universe itself. And the word ‘chromosome’ popped into her head then…but for the life of her, she could not figure out what it meant.  
            “Keep walking,” a voice resonated from the quartz. And Adi recognized this voice to be the same one from the train, “I know it’s very hard right now and that you feel very heavy. But please, keep walking and I will make it worth your while. For this is no place to go stranded. And besides, I have a gift for you.”
            “Okay,” Adi sighed.
            “Just a few more miles. Look ahead and tell me what you see.”
            “I see details,” Adi replied feeling downtrodden and oppressed by something she could not describe, “The further I walk, the more details there are coming out of the quartz. And I see ruins. Marble ruins…”
            And before Adi realized what was happening, she found herself embedded deeply amongst the crumbling ruins and little, crumbling caves and archways that she’d have to crouch beneath. Still…despite the many, marble obstacles; a path was formed from what must have been a road many millions of years ago. And as Adi stumbled along amongst the decaying and disintegrating rock (a small piece breaking off every once and a while; falling and rolling with a hollow sound), she began to notice even more detail…detail etched onto the very stone itself. It’s writing, she thought to herself. Every inch of this crumbling marble is covered in writing. But it is written in a language that I cannot read. An ancient language. But can anyone?
            “I can,” the voice resonated again…originating, this time, from somewhere deep within herself…or from somewhere farther out in space, “And I will translate the words for you until they all have meaning. And you will know everything then. And you will have every answer.”
            “I’d like that,” Adi replied and through the ruins, kept on walking.
            At one point along this path, she detected a stream not unlike the ones she’d seen from the window of the train. And the water was so clear that it practically sparkled an electric blue. And Adi knew that she had to cross this stream because there was no way around it. But luckily, it did seem shallow enough for her to traverse. And ever so slowly, Adi stepped into the water and felt it; cold and yet refreshing as it covered feet and toes. And still she stepped…sinking inch by inch…ever further…ever deeper. And Adi’s little feet kept creeping until the waterline was up to her neck. This was the stream’s deepest point. And with every inch she progressed after that, the water level decreased…down to her shoulders and further down to her hips. Then back down to her knees and her ankles and feet; her little, white nightgown not, however, dripping. Rather; the water had been so dry in and of itself that never for an instant did she become saturated. And now onward, she advanced along the path for perhaps another mile. Although, heavy as Adi was feeling like a force as natural yet stern and as constant as gravity, she faltered and stumbled along having sometimes to catch herself upon the marble ruins just to keep herself from falling. And sometimes, she’d trip and catch herself and the marble would scratch her. And this began to happen so often, in fact, that by the time she reached her destination, Adi’s hands were wet with blood.
            Adi had made it though. She’d passed the ruins and reached a place where, automatically, she knew was to be her stopping point. It was a place she did not recognize. It was a place that she could never, in a million years… It was nighttime and although the stars were few, the scene was very well illuminated by electric lanterns that ran down the side of a street. There was tar. And there was the sound of large bodies rushing past that seemed to displace the air and blow her hair back. And there was oxygen because there was grass and many other species of trees. And there were plenty of dwellings; sprawling and rising. And up above her, there was still the nighttime sky. But there was also something, a structure, several hundred feet above her head. It was gigantic and metal and red. And Adi recognized it then to be a bridge; the largest and broadest bridge that she had ever seen…even from the window of the train. And that unlike the ruins of marble; Adi knew that this bridge would stand…perhaps, now throughout eternity. It may as well have. And she knew that everyone and everything had a varying concept of ‘eternity’. But she also knew then that there was something that did not…and that that was ‘eternity’ itself.
            “You did it. You made it. And you’ve made me very happy. The rest is easy. The rest is over. I do not like to be a monster. But I can appear that way unwillingly…to the weak or even to the average. But never, hardly ever, to such beings as strong as you are, Adrianna. Do you not know who I am?”
            And as the voice asked Adi this; a great, white wolf appeared…so big that it could have easily been mistaken for a bear. And the wolf, it stood before her and then it sat its hind legs down. And it stared at her. It’s eyes so liquid and black that Adi thought each one contained its own, separate universe…albeit, each a universe that posed no light because there seemed to be no light exactly radiating from this animal. It was as if, if not in this particular world, the very idea of this great wolf would have never come to be. Adi also knew then that it was the voice of this wolf that she had been hearing all along. And when it spoke to her again, although its mouth still was not moving, she could clearly see its teeth; so big and so sharp they seemed exaggerated or extraneous or downright voraciously freakish.
            “Do you not know who I am?” the wolf asked once again.
            “I do know.”
            “So then, are you afraid of me?”
            “Are you going to attack me or bite and chew and maul?”
            “I don’t think that will be necessary.”
            “Then not as much as I was. But yes, I’m still afraid of you a little.”
            “You would be but a fool if you were not. But let me assure you, my dear Adi, that there is no need.”
            “And do you really have a present for me?”
            “I do,” and the wolf licked her chops before pointing with its nose to a box on the ground between them, “And you may open it. It is a gift. Please, go ahead and pick it up now.”
            And as Adi picked up the box that seemed plain enough at first; she noticed that in no time it had grown old and intricate and wooden.    
            “What is it?” Adi asked; her voice finally filled for the first time in a long time with that strange wonderment that seemed to govern her persona.
            “Something I hope you’ll like.”
            “And I can open it now?!”
            “As it pleases you.”
            “Okay,” Adi smiled so widely then that her puffy cheeks actually pressed up against her eyes and made her vision blurry and even teary since the wolf’s kindness invoked a new sort of emotion…something like the love and sadness. And when Adi opened the small box, folding the lid back on its two hinges, she discovered what was within; an ethereal leaf of yellowish green so spectral that it may as well have been made of smoke…it’s outlines ever fluid and moving.
            “It is from a very special kind of plant,” the wolf explained, “And I did pick it just for you.”
            “Why thank you. It is very beautiful.”
            “I’m happy you think so. But now, if you would; be so kind as to describe the leaf’s aroma. Because, although we wolves are very keen of smell; I must be sure that I have found what is your essence.”
            “Well,” Adi breathed in…just a little at first but then more deeply, “It’s neither bitter nor sweet nor spicy nor savory. It is, however, both calming and invigorating at just the same time. So I’d have to describe the leaf’s aroma not so much as a smell but more of a feeling. I guess it smells like challenges and a tiny bit like strife. But it also smells of love and the lengths of which that some are willing to go for it.”
            “It’s the leaf from the twining vine of the honeysuckle growing up the bridge there. And that shrubbery along the ground; it’s one and the same. It’s where the vine originates. And it will reach the top of the bridge someday and the sun will shine directly on it.”
            “Oh, good,” Adi replied, “I was hoping that the sun would come back sometime.”
            “It will rise and set routinely as the clockwork. Sooner…later…it’s really all the same. And all you have to do is wait, my dearest. My dearest, dearest Adrianna.”
            “I’ll wait,” Adi said eagerly, “And I don’t mind.”
            “Then lie down, Adi. Lie down there amongst the shrubbery. Lie down there and take a nap. And when you wake, the sun, I swear, it will be shining.”
            “Thank you,” Adi said, “That sounds just lovely. And I am so very tired.”
            And so Adi did first sit and then lie supine in the honeysuckle shrubbery beneath the bridge. And the match was so complete that, in a very short time, she started to have trouble telling where her fingertips and toes ended and the honeysuckle leaves began. Because they’re not much different from me anyway, she thought. If anything, we’re really only different shapes…at this point. The angular leaves (cool and green inside the moonlight) against the roundness of her fingers and her toes. Their triangular tips poking at her playfully. The spade shaped leaves pressed up against her back. And the elliptical leaves touching her softly somewhere that she no longer could recognize as being any part of her body but that she was sure was still a part of her. The trapezoidal leaves. The springy, quadrilateral leaves. And just before Adi closed her eyes so relaxed and peacefully; she noticed that every leaf was bobbing up and down in place…sometimes leaning from side to side like an accordion standing on end. And she could see that the moon was full of sponginess now too. And that there was not one moon but many. And she could see that the stars which she had thought were few were really millions above the city lights just hiding. And she could see the steel-bolted beams of the bridge directly overhead just as well as she could catch a glimpse of the shiny, black river at night through what must have been the top of her head. And very soon, she could see flowers.
            And then Adrianna went to sleep waiting for the sun to come. A sleep so deep that she would never hear the people holding hands and walking by. And biking by. And flying by much later. So deep that she would never feel the nuzzling noses of all the furry bunnies who would make their burrows so close to her within the shrubbery. And the breeze would not awaken her…even once the sun had come; warm as it was tickling the twining vine. And the city would not disturb her; rumbling above her in its morning bustle. And the roots, they would not scratch her. And the sidewalk would not cross her. The cement steps, they would not bother. And the loving wolf would not unrest her. Because the ground was soft and quiet. And because the crickets chirped their lullabies nearby. Because the honeysuckles smelled so sweetly. And the depth, it was unprecedented.

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