'Theo's Wish' - Second Instalment

'Theo's Wish' Cover
'Theo's Wish' Cover

‘Theo’s Wish’ – Second Instalment

By Tony DeLorger © 2011


CHAPTER TWO

‘Dream Quest’

Joh woke up early and started to pack some extra clothing. Nester had told him that in the hills the high winds and erratic weather could be extreme and dangerous, and anyway, no-one could ever expect anything to be normal in the Half World. Therefore, every consideration had to be addressed, just in case.

Come the third sunrise, Joh met Nester at his shack and with looks of sheer determination on both of their faces, they headed north out of the city. They joined the path that wound its way slowly up toward the ragged hills beyond. Mungo’s cave was more than a day’s trek, and not knowing exactly what to expect, they intended to get as much of a start as possible in the light hours.

As they followed the path out of town Joh looked down and realised the pathway kept changing under foot. He tripped on some loose stones and then almost fell on the slippery smooth surface. He looked up and saw ghostly leafless trees hanging over the path like giant clawing talons, and then just as he began to study them, soft green grasslands surrounded him with weeping willows filled with darting swallows overhead. The fractured dreams of their Half World unfolded before them like some strange movie, cut to pieces then reattached randomly. Joh had never got used to the absurdity of life in the Half World and although commonplace, it always seemed such a waste and in the end, purposeless.

An hour out of the city they saw a bus-stop by the side of the path, and they both decided to stop and rest for a moment. A bus conductor stood sentry-like next to it, carrying his shiny black leather ticket bag.

‘Tickets! Get your tickets here!’ he bellowed.

Nester sat wearily down on the shaded seat and sighed deeply. ‘These old bones are not what they used to be,’ he grumbled, looking up to Joh.

Joh glanced over to the conductor. ‘Where does the bus go?’ he asked.

‘Depends where you’re going,’ the man said, rather flippantly.

‘You mean it will go where we want it to?’

The bus conductor turned to Joh and grimaced. ‘Are you deaf?’

‘Well…no. I just want to know where the bus is going?’

The conductor sighed pointedly, raising one eyebrow just a little. ‘You going this way?’ he said sarcastically, bending over and pointing down the path.

‘Yes, to the hills,’ replied Joh, gruffly.

‘Then that’s where the bus is going,’ the man finished, with an expectant expression.

Joh looked at Nester for approval and then back to the conductor.

‘I’ll have two tickets then,’ he announced.

The bus conductor smiled and took two tickets from the roll in his bag and handed them to Joh.

‘Twopence, then,’ he said, all businesslike.

‘Thank you,’ replied Joh, paying him and happy to be done with this odd fellow.

The conductor then turned away and bellowed- ‘Tickets, tickets here!’ to no-one in particular.

Joh scratched his head and smiled at Nester, who would be glad of a ride.

‘What time’s it due?’ asked Joh casually, looking back to the conductor.

‘What?’ the man asked, frowning.

‘The bus! What time is it due?’ asked Joh, fast losing patience.

The conductor turned to Joh with the strangest look on his face. ‘There is no bus!’ he announced, wondering what Joh was on about.

Joh, now angry, stomped over to the bus conductor. ‘You just sold me two tickets for the bus!’ he said indignantly.

‘Well of course, that’s my job,’ the man said, a little confused about Joh’s response.

Joh felt like thumping this crazy conductor, but Nester got up and grabbed him firmly by the arm. ‘I think it’s time we were on our way,’ he said softly, trying to defuse Joh’s building rage.

He was gob-smacked, and couldn’t think of a single word to say. He simply looked at Nester in confusion and the two headed down the track, Joh looking over his shoulder still trying to fathom what had just happened, and feeling the worse for wear.

Nester put his arm around Joh. ‘My boy, you expect too much,’ said Nester, trying to calm his friend. ‘It is the unexpected that should be expected in this place. I don’t know how many times I’ve explained this to you.’

‘The sooner I learn to dream, the better,’ replied Joh, shaking his head, somehow having further strengthened his resolve to leave this ridiculous place.

The two strode on toward the hills, and as distance from the city isolated them, the terrain transformed less and less and what remained was sparse grassland, with the occasional rocky outcrop, salt bush and scattered cactus. As the high sun began to beat down on the weary travellers, they sought shade and rest under a small tree that they discovered some distance from the path. At the summit of a slight incline the tree offered shade, and being up higher, perhaps a gentle breeze to cool them down from the long trek.

They then rested peacefully under this most welcomed shade. ‘It almost seems normal here,’ said Joh surveying the landscape, and for a moment forgetting his woes.

‘Anything is normal in this place,’ replied Nester, with a grin. ‘It’s what we expect that limit what we find,’ he said, directing the statement rather pointedly to Joh.

Joh looked into Nester’s kindly face and smiled. ‘I know you’re right, but perhaps that’s why I don’t belong here.’

Just then a high-pitched voice broke through the silence startling Joh, who leapt to his feet and peered around the tree to see who had spoken. There before him was a large flower, something like the size of a sunflower, but much lower to the ground. Its face was a vivid yellow and its petals were a little curled up and dried at the ends, but it had a face, and a pleasant one.

‘I do apologise for interrupting you, but I’m in a spot of bother,’ the flower said, politely.

Joh crouched down, with Nester on his knees beside him.

The flower leaned forward a little. ‘You see,’ he whispered. ‘This rather straggly weed behind me is simply sucking the life out of me. The trees roots are deep and pose no problem, but this spiky, hairy thing- it just gets bigger and bigger and its feeding on my plot,’ explained the flower.

‘Well, what do you want me to do about it?’ asked Joh.

The flower leaned even further forward, as much as its stalk would allow.

‘If you could just…pull it out, I’m sure it’s half-dead anyway, it would be much appreciated.’

Suddenly a mean looking flower head unfurled from this hairy, unattractive weed, and looked at the visitors. ‘Don’t you dare!’ it said indignantly. ‘Why am I so disposable?’ it asked, turning to the flower. ‘Just because you’re a pretty flower, doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to live,’ spouted the weed, bitterly.

‘At least I don’t sing half the night… and flatly I might add,’ replied the flower.

‘Well that’s great! Now the truth comes out!’ replied the weed, pointing one of its half-dried branches toward the flower. ‘See what I’m up against?’

Nester had to interrupt. ‘We must all learn to live together,’ he said, with little else to suggest.

‘All right for you to say,’ complained the flower. ‘Try listening to old Elvis tunes, 10 hours a day.’

‘You snob. Sit there all day preening yourself. That makes you better than me does it?’ spat the weed.

‘Enough!’ shouted Joh, unable to handle a second longer. ‘Why don’t I replant one of you? Then you’ll both be happy.’

‘What, somewhere else?’ cried the weed.

‘Well, you don’t expect me to go, do you?’ replied the flower.

‘And why not? I was here first anyway,’ said the weed, with both its branches curled up, resting on its stalk, indignantly.

‘You’re a weed, arrived here on the wind. At least I was planted,’ spat the flower, turning away from the weed.

‘Planted? Rubbish, you’ve got no proof of that. Anyway, what makes you think I can put up with YOU a moment longer, with your prissy chatter and constant preening?

‘You my friend, are a cultural desert,’ replied the flower, with a superior expression.

‘Perhaps you’ll learn about deserts, when you are completely ALONE!’

The weed suddenly stood tall, with a determined expression on his face. ‘You won’t have to put up with me any more. I know when I’m not wanted,’ he followed.

Then, placing both of his branches on to the ground, the weed pushed and pushed until the earth around its stalk began to crack.

‘What are you doing?’ shrieked the flower, its petals curling in to cover its eyes.

Then with a pop, the weed projected itself out of the earth and stood there, supporting itself on three strong roots. With its nose stuck up, the weed then turned around and waddled off.

‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ shouted the flower, worriedly.

The weed looked fleetingly over its shoulder. ‘Music hater!’ it spat, stomping off into the distance. ‘See how cultural your desert is now!’ echoed back.

Joh then turned to the flower, angrily. ‘Happy now?’ he said, feeling for the poor weed.

‘I wonder if he’ll be all right?’ asked the flower, ruefully, unsure about what it had done.

Nester nudged Joh in the ribs. ‘Joh, it’s time for us to leave. We’ve got a long way to go,’ said Nester, struggling to his feet. Joh, who was lost within this little drama, snapped himself out of it and joined Nester, but was still preoccupied.

‘Nothing is ever as it seems, my boy,’ said Nester with a smile, as they walked slowly back to the path and on toward the hills. Joh shook his head- the journey so far had given him more than enough to think about.

Nester became more and more weary and by the first of a succession of sunsets, he was unable to walk another step. They had reached the base of an area known as ‘The Devil’s Claw’. It was a strange expanse of red dust covered by hundreds of pointy, jagged rock-spikes that appeared to grow from the parched soil. They looked like huge claws protruding from the underworld, with some over a hundred feet tall.

Helping Nester to one of the large spikes, Joh set up camp for the night. He hoped the sunsets would soon end and the cool evening breezes would temper the landscape to at least allow them to sleep. This arid area was hotter than they expected and the days trek had worn them out, particularly Nester.

‘I’m sorry my boy, the mind is willing but perhaps the body is not,’ said Nester, leaning up against the rock protrusion.

‘You’ll be fine, you just need to rest, that’s all,’ replied Joh, removing a folded blanket from his knapsack and placing it behind Nester’s head.

Nester almost immediately drifted off to sleep and Joh sat next to him, watching the last sunset fade into twilight, the soft golds and oranges strewn across the darkening sky in perfect harmony. Joh could feel a soft breeze against his face and imagined what it would be like to have a mouth and breathe real air. For him, this trek was not just a quest- it was his last chance. Deep down inside, Joh felt that if he could not find a way out of this place now, then his life here would be fruitless and without any purpose. He would rather end it here, than go on incomplete.

Eventually Joh too lay down on a blanket and fell fast asleep, as a rich indigo sky filled with a billion flickering specks of light covered them, seemingly keeping them safe in their half world. Tiny grains of red dust swept up by the breeze gently teased the travellers in their sleep as tumbleweeds occasionally rolled by. Eventually the sun rose once again, to begin its morning ritual.

As the first rays of light struck the stone spires and long shadows reached yearningly across the flat dry landscape, an annoying buzzing sound interrupted Joh’s sleep. He unconsciously swiped at it, but as the sound came closer he woke with a start and sat bolt upright. Nester was not far behind and soon both were sitting with mouths gaping, staring at an extremely odd creature.

At first it looked like a large fly, about two feet tall. But on closer inspection its body seemed more like a cat of some description. It had four legs, close grey fur and a long tail that displayed an arrowhead-shaped tip. The creature’s head was like a fly, with two massive bug-like eyes, and it had fast-moving translucent wings that intermittently fluttered in a blur, their resonant hum cutting through the morning air.

Joh looked at Nester worriedly, unsure if the creature was dangerous, and they both edged back a little. Below the creature’s eyes, was this long sucker tube with a fluted end that kept squelching in and out and making a disgusting sound. The creature moved forward and Joh and Nester hunched up against the stone spire, trying to keep their distance.

‘You from round ‘ere?’ asked the creature nonchalantly, in a guttural voice.

‘It speaks,’ replied Joh, surprised.

‘IT SPEAKS!’ spat the creature, offended.

‘You’ll have to excuse my friend,’ replied Nester. ‘He’s not ever left the city before.’

‘What the hell ya doin out here then?’

Joh sat forward, now feeling less threatened. ‘We’re on our way to see Mungo, the seer,’ he explained.

‘Mungo ya say? I know ‘im. Was up there last month, matter of fact.’

‘You know Mungo? What’s he like?’ asked Joh.

‘He knows stuff… lots of tentacles, ugly as sin. What ya want ‘im for?’ asked the creature.

‘We want to know how to…’

Nester quickly nudged Joh and interrupted. ‘Just heard about him, that’s all. Thought it might be interesting,’ replied Nester.

The creature looked at the two suspiciously, obviously noticing the cover-up. Then as quickly as the expression had come, it disappeared.

‘Went to see ‘im about my problem… lots do,’ said the creature. ‘Most of me’s cat, as you no doubt will have noticed. Tongues the problem,’ he finished.

‘Tongue?’ enquired Joh, not understanding.

‘Son, if you’re a cat, ya ‘ave to ‘ave one, don’t ya? I ‘ave this compulsion to lick myself, keep this beautiful coat clean. And look what I got…this long tube. Sure, its handy for takin a drink or suckin the guts out of things, but try licking ya fur without a tongue. So, I wents to see Mungo- maybe he’s got the answer.’

The creature fluttered its wings and then settled down again. Joh looked at Nester and then back to the creature. ‘Well, what happened?’ he asked, absorbed.

The furry fly sighed deeply and then explained. ‘Told me I had to find a fly, with a cats head- sort of a ‘you scratch mine, I’ll scratch yours’ kind of deal.’ The creature leaned forward, expectantly. ‘You ain’t seen one ‘ave ya?’

Nester and Joh shook their heads, speechless.

‘Oh, well. Must be on my way… Continue the search. Keep followin the path that way… you’ll see Mungo soon enough!’ finished the creature. Then suddenly, with its wings a blur, it was gone, the humming sound fading slowly into nothing.

The travellers struggled to their feet, secured their packs, and without a single spoken word quietly rejoined the path. Every step of this journey brought stranger and stranger experiences, and in Joh’s mind it began to confuse the issues.

The path wasn’t any easier, the incline toward the hills ever increasing, but Nester with a mammoth effort and with his pride at stake, pushed on regardless. After many more hours of hiking through this parched wilderness, both Joh and Nester were in need of rest, but there seemed no trees or rocks under which to find shelter from the sun. They had just struggled up a small hill and were edging down the other side when they confronted yet another strange sight.

Along the path that they were travelling, coming in the opposite direction, peddled a lopsided creature. One side of its body was massive, with huge bulging muscles, while the other side was positively puny. It had one huge glaring eye on top of a small flat head and coarse dark splotches, some with stiff black hairs growing from them, covered its brown body. The bike on which the creature was riding was irregular, with one large wheel and one small, the axles strangely uncentred, giving the rider a undulating, forward lurching motion as he peddled. As the creature reached them it stopped, panting heavily.

‘You lookin for Mungo?’ it asked, out of breath.

‘Well yes, how did you know that?’ replied Joh.

‘The queue’s long, it could take a while.’

‘Did you say queue?’ asked Nester, stepping forward toward the creature.

‘Must be twenty at least, all waiting to see him.’

Joh looked at Nester, the news unexpected. ‘Why?’

‘It appears you’re not the only one who wants some answers,’ replied Nester.

‘We wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t somethin missin,’ spouted the creature, struggling to dismount from the bike. As his thin, weedy leg lifted over the bar of the bike, his foot caught the seat. The poor creature hit the ground with a huge thud, entangled in the metal frame and chain of the bike, the wheels spinning erratically in unison.

‘Get me out of here!’ shrieked the creature with frustration.

Joh and Nester went straight to him and carefully lifted off the bike. This odd creature struggled to his muscular foot, the other side of him dangling.

‘You all right?’ asked Nester, with concern.

‘No worse than usual,’ spat the creature, none too pleased with his lot.

‘So, if you don’t mind us asking…what did Mungo say to you?’ enquired Joh.

The creature hopped forward and took the bike from Nester. ‘Told me to get some exercise…you know… this side,’ he replied, pointing to his lesser half.

‘Oh,’ said Joh, embarrassed.

‘It’s not easy though,’ added the creature, climbing awkwardly on to the bike, his thin, puny leg on the pedal, his muscular leg stuck out to the side. ‘Good luck. Hope ya find a face,’ he said pushing hard on the pedal and slowly setting off down the road.

Both Joh and Nester watched his wavering, undulating departure, and then fifty-odd feet down the path, he up-ended the bike and plummeted into a small clump of saltbush. Joh and Nester grimaced as the creature sprang to his foot and waved. ‘I’m fine,’ he said, getting awkwardly back on the bike and meandering further down the path.

‘Poor chap,’ said Joh, feeling sorry for him.

Nester glanced sideways and smiled at his friend. ‘In life we have our burdens, Joh. It appears your quest is not yours alone.

Joh wasn’t sure if that realisation was a good or bad, and if it gave any more credence to his planned escape. All of his hopes now rested with Mungo and whatever happened, Joh would have to deal with it.

‘We should go,’ said Nester. ‘It can’t be far now.’

Joh, lost in his thoughts, turned to Nester a little shaken. ‘Everyone feels as I do… don’t they?’ he asked, the realisation hitting him hard.

Nester put his arm around Joh and squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. ‘It is our nature to want that which we cannot have.’

‘Cannot, or don’t believe we can have,’ replied Joh, unable to accept defeat.

Nester smiled and stroked his long white beard. ‘You are one of a kind, Joh. If anyone can do this… you can. Come on.’

The two walked on down the road and in less than an hour, they saw a large rocky outcrop and outside a sizeable cave amassed a large group of creatures. As Nester and Joh drew closer they saw that one creature was standing on a rock, addressing the others. He was a small elf-like creature, thin and wiry with long pointy ears.

‘Look, one at a time,’ he shouted. ‘Please, Mungo cannot work with all this noise. He will see you all, but be patient.’

The elf leapt from the rock on which he was standing and returned to the inner sanctum of Mungo’s cave. Joh and Nester quietly joined the crowd.

‘Who was next, then,’ shouted a bearish creature.

‘I believe I was,’ replied a slender, well-dressed human gentleman.

‘Over my dead body!’ said another, with all present suddenly returning to their bickering and squabbling.

Amid all the noise, Joh turned to one of the creatures at the back of the crowd. Its face was dog-like, but it stood on two feet and with sad brown eyes and droopy jowls, it appeared a comical creature.

‘How long have you been here?’ asked Joh, trying to disguise his amusement.

‘This morning,’ said the creature. ‘They’ve been fighting the whole day, and I still haven’t been in.’

Suddenly the crowd silenced and a large centipede with a human head, zigzagged out of the cave. He was wearing a monocle and his raven black hair was shiny and brushed back neatly.

‘I’m a dancer,’ he spouted happily, tapping his last twenty or so feet against the ground in a little jig. He twisted around and clicked his many feet together merrily.

‘A dancer am I,’ he sang whimsically, giggling as he left with some urgency.

Suddenly the crowd exploded into argument as the small elf jumped back up on to the rock and scanned the crowd for the next appointment. ‘You, he shouted,’ pointing to the dog-like creature next to Joh.

‘About time!’ the creature cried, waddling toward the cave. Joh and Nester stood there, staring at this poor abomination. At his other end, was no fewer than three pigs, all huge females, with engorged nipples that almost touched the ground when they walked. They each had their two front legs with their rear ends attached to that of the dog. They weren’t happy about walking backwards and were voicing their disapproval, but the large dog with two rather oversized feet on the ground was overpowering them.

This was a lesson for poor Joh, who was suddenly gaining a different perspective, each creature seemingly in a worse state than he was.

Then unexpectedly…‘Nice face,’ said a gravelly voice.

Joh looked down to find a balloon-like furred creature with three eyes and a curved mouth containing many sets of twisted, decaying teeth. It had no nose to speak of but instead had a deformed growth that drooped down over the creature’s plump chin.

‘Why would you say something like that?’ replied Joh, a little upset.

‘No, I mean it. It must be wonderful to have a smooth flat face like that. Look at me, I can’t close my mouth for fear of cutting myself. I drool all day and do you think that I can see properly? See everything double- can’t get to sleep. You’re so lucky,’ he finished, walking off toward the front of the crowd.

Joh hung his head down, feeling somehow ashamed having not realised what he had and perhaps others did not. Nester looked at him with a warm understanding smile, but said nothing. It was obvious that Joh was learning some heartfelt lessons, and he felt it best not to interfere with the procedure.

Joh and Nester settled down and waited, each finished appointment followed by rowdy bickering, the crowd competing for earlier placement. The efficient little elf chose the next appointments based on his own standards and that only helped to inflame the tempers of those who had been there the longest.

They had found shade under a small bush to the side of the cave and watched with utter surprise, at just how desperate these creatures were. Joh felt even more self-conscious, having been so involved in his own thinking and blind to his plight in the Half World seemed now to be nothing more than ordinary.

As dusk’s blanket of soft golden hues fell over the land, the elf alighted once again from the cave. There were three appointments left. Two creatures stood in front of the elf with their eyes wide, jumping around nervously, trying to gain favour. But when the elf saw Joh and Nester sitting quietly to the side, a sly grin crept across his cheeky face.

‘You!’ he shouted, pointing to Joh and then scurrying back inside the cave.

Joh helped Nester to his feet and they both made their way into the cave. The entrance was twenty feet high, but once inside the chamber opened to fifty or so feet high and more than double that in width. The ceiling was of limestone stalactites glistening in the cave’s half-light and looking like a monstrous open mouth. The floor was fairly flat and several fire-torches lit a path down the centre. Joh and Nester apprehensively followed it until the chamber narrowed and turned to the left. As they stepped around a large boulder on the edge of the path, they suddenly found themselves standing before Mungo.

Mungo was a huge creature, with a massive head that displayed a multitude of chins, a hard beak of a nose and squinty, probing eyes. His body was round and pudgy with two rather inept looking arms, a rotund belly and underneath, a multitude of curling, forever entwining tentacles. They undulated constantly, like a rolling sea.

Joh and Nester walked forward, Joh expectantly.

‘It’s been a long-time,’ said Nester, aloof, but corroborating a history.

Mungo slowly turned his eyes toward Nester and looked him up and down painstakingly, but remained expressionless. ‘And how’s the Wizard, without?’ he said mockingly.

‘Says you, a sea creature living in a desert,’ replied Nester, happy to match wits.

Mungo smiled a half-amused grin, then turned to Joh. ‘Hmm! A boy in the land of odd,’ he said- now amusing himself.

The two stepped forward. ‘Please sir, you are my last hope,’ said Joh.

Looking worriedly to Nester, Nester nodded. ‘Go ahead, my boy.’

Joh swallowed nervously and looked back at Mungo. ‘Please, I wish to know how to dream?’

Mungo frowned then squinted, trying to fathom the question.

‘I want to go to the real world, find my dreamer and…’

‘You do know where you are?’ said Mungo, interrupting.

‘Well…yes,’ replied Joh, wide-eyed and filled with expectation.

After studying Joh for a moment longer, Mungo folded his arms and leaned back, his tentacles, weaving and winding in front of him. ‘You don’t ask an easy question. You’ve no doubt been spending far too much time with your friend here. But I will tell you this. The human dream, the means by which we live, is not an easy task for us. You may need more than will to accomplish such a feat.’

‘I will do anything, anything at all to be complete…to have a face, like a real boy,’ said Joh, with such conviction.

‘Do you honestly think that humans are complete? From what I know, they are even more disadvantaged that we, who live in this half, broken down existence. Look boy, you are searching for what you have not, but have you any idea about what you have?’

Mungo paused for a moment.

‘This is my answer to your question. When you can accept what life has to offer and live in your world as the human does…then you will be able to dream. What you dream may need a little help from the Wizard here, and as far as finding your dreamer is concerned…I wish you luck.’

Mungo turned to the elf that was sitting on a rock twenty feet away. ‘Next!’ he shouted. Joh looked at Nester, confused.

‘It’s time to leave,’ said Nester, grabbing Joh by the arm and leading him out of the cave.

Joh was reluctant to leave, feeling that his questions remained unanswered. But further questions seemed unable to find form in his mind. He just stumbled out of the cave with words spinning in his head like stones, rattling relentlessly in his brain.

The two quietly walked outside amid the dying embers of the day and Joh turned to Nester, his silence filled with yearning and confusion.

‘My boy, you have been answered. It is possible to dream, but perhaps your quest is beyond hope,’ said Nester sadly.

Joh hardened. ‘He said you could help me, Nester. If I can learn to live as a human child and then dream, you can help me to find my dreamer. It’s what he said!’

‘I don’t know how I can help you Joh. I have no power here…you know that.’

Joh hung his head disappointedly. ‘There has to be a way…there’s just got to be,’ he said, all slumped over. He then turned and walked slowly toward the path, kicking loose stones with his foot.

Nester shook his head and watched Joh’s pained steps. ‘I hope you’re right my boy, I hope you’re right.’

As Nester walked on, he selflessly looked deep into his own heart. There he saw much fear, but what he didn’t expect to find was a spark, a spark that he thought had long been extinguished. He was once a wizard- all-powerful. Perhaps there was a way.

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