The Deep Woods: Part Five
Also by j_harkness
"Come. Sit. Have some tea." The slow voice finally lured Phil off of the floor. Now he saw that the witch had created a table slanted such that each had a seat of appropriate height.
"Tell me..." He sipped some tea. "Tell me..."
"Tell you what?"
"Tell me what this is."
"Tell you what what is?"
"The tea? It's just magical, is it not? I've made it mys-"
"No." Phil stared at the witch. "You know what I mean. Tell me what's happening and why."
"Now why would you presume that I know anything about any of that?" She smirked. The Meepit stayed silent for a while. "Perhaps," she continued, "because, for the past few days, all of the world has pointed you towards reaching me? Don't look so shocked. I'm only surprised it took you quite this long to find me."
Phil paused. "Carl and Harold and the Ixi? Were all of them working for you?"
"Such a crude turn of phrase. I wouldn't call it that. Their every action owed its motivation to my influence in their creation, simply." She put down her cup.
"I don't understand."
"You saw those three because I wanted you to see them."
"So they weren't real?"
"On the contrary, they were as real as everything else you have seen in the past few days."
"So none of this was real?"
"That's not it at all. Look, let me put it this way – suppose someone turns your head and makes you look at a wall. Would you say the wall doesn't exist?"
"Of course not."
"Or, if a work of art or literature altered your mind such that you felt compelled to act a certain way? Would that mean you were living outside of reality? Then consider me a poet. I guided their actions just as they guided yours. And if any enchantment such as a persistent rain, a repetitive setting, or a deletion of memories was needed to lead you into a certain more advantageous mindset, so be it."
"This isn't a better mindset."
"That's a matter of opinion. More tea?" She conjured another cup or two or twelve, and he considered drinking it.
"Can you make things like they were before?"
The witch sighed. "You don't even know what things were before. I could give you the same memories, or I could give you different ones – you wouldn't be able to tell the difference either way. Perhaps the madness that you have come to know recently was your past, too... maybe with the deletion of some other memories, I could convince you of that. I'm just trying to help you."
"If that's true," Phil started, "you should cast yourself out of existence."
"Well, I'll give you a ten-second trial run of that." The Lenny vanished like a crumb, and Phil immediately felt himself subjected to blindness and an inundation of colors; silence and cacophony; slithers on his skin and utter isolation; sorrow and mania; all and nothing. The simultaneity of paradoxical elements threatened Phil's slippery grip on lucidity: he made to scream but could not speak. He made to run but could not move. He hid inside his head, but all of it was in his head. He hid in reality, or would have had he been able to distinguish it from his much corrupted reverie. These were the events of sixty seconds, after which time the Lenny witch interrupted his bout with a hand placed on his shoulder.
"So," she said, "would you like an eternity of that?"
"What's my other option?"
She laughed. "Why do you assume there's an alternative? Suppose I told you there is none... but let me not be cruel. Well, I can either place a random series of memories into your mind and take you out of the Deep Woods once and for all –"
"I'll take that."
" – or I can leave you unchanged and send you back to the party downstairs."
"Absolutely not. Not even your trickery could convince me to do that."
"Hm... did you notice anything peculiar about the party? The redundancy of the guests' actions beyond a certain point?"
"I did actually manage to figure that much out. What of it?"
"Doesn't that appeal to you? I could remove any and all entrances and exits to the mansion. Then you'd be able to learn about every aspect of your reality within a handful of cycles."
"But that wouldn't be reality. I'd just be closing myself off to everything else."
"Again, you've forgotten our earlier conversation. If you spend all your days in the Haunted Woods, then you're equally closing yourself off to Terror Mountain, Mystery Island, and Maraqua, yet you're obviously experiencing reality. The only difference would be that the mansion is a smaller area than the Haunted Woods."
"But I would miss out on so much."
"But you wouldn't know what you were missing."
"But I wouldn't be free to do whatever I wanted."
"No, you would have no responsibilities. If you chose to leave the mansion at any point, I could conjure an exit for you, so you would retain any freedom you want."
Perhaps, then, it merited consideration. And were Phil any longer in any condition to care, he would assure every audience that he wanted to put some consideration into the decision. That said, he was tired, hungry, and unable to refute any of the witch's arguments. A preponderance of the evidence led him to accept her proposition. She waved a wing and he was downstairs among the revelers, desserts, and music again.
The initial iteration was sufficiently interesting – the witch had been merciful enough to instill each celebrator with new conversational topics. Someone discussed the weather; someone else something else; someone still else something still else; a Hissi a pendant; an Ixi a path; a Lutari a liar. By the twenty-seventh repetition, he could recite every single exchange as though they were poetry, and perhaps he even invented a tune to sing them too – such rituals made up his activities for the hour next. After all, he had given up all hope of interacting with the insentient revelers.
The Meepit continued this inert omniscience for a few days thereafter, during which time he fed on the replenishing edibles fit only for the most refined of individuals, which is to say, those who spoke of nothing particularly important. Phil had come to grasp this, for so rife were the revelers' words with banality that he devoted his strength to forgetting every part of them; however, as any with sense should know, conscious forgetting leads only to petrifying the memory. Again in his mind he sought refuge but found none, for the voices only seemed to grow louder, more incessant, more trivial – though they were not changing in content, surely, he assured himself, nor any other quality. But now he swore he could detect discrepancies between the iterations – inconsistent idiosyncrasies, quiet coughs and sneezes, cracking voices, silences of varying durations, and so on. He tried to engage his companions in conversation again, even tailoring his words to fit their aimless chatter, but he could not shake off the feeling that he was merely talking to walls. Furthermore, he could not justly claim that he fully grasped the nature of even this miniscule reality – from where, for example, did the music originate? Why were the other revelers locked (nearly) in their routines, and were they capable of escaping from them like he was? Phil ventured several guesses but was unable to explore any of them in sufficient detail for the voices washed over him in a dull roar – they were surely changing in volume now – and deprived him of any opportunity for contemplation.
Then came his attempts at disrupting the horrible cadence to which the remaining party-goers had resigned themselves. "Have you no shame? Have you no dignity? Have you no honor?" he asked no one in particular; no one in particular responded or acknowledged him in any discernible way. "Every last one of you is a spineless coward! Surely with just a sliver of cooperation we could liberate ourselves from this madness!"
It then occurred to him that he had been given an out – the Lenny had promised to create an exit for him should he desire one. He simply rose from his seat, headed to where he best guessed the door had once been, and focused his mind to the extent that he was able on leaving the impossible mansion once and for all. Yet no door appeared. He shut his eyes tight and concentrated for a longer interval of time, but he opened them only to be met by the same wall again. Phil laughed. Phil continued to laugh. He walked back through the too, too fancy interior of the mansion to find himself among the repetitive revelers again, where his laugh persisted as he tried with what remained of his once capable mind to think up a line or two to repeat for all eternity.