|I'm here to put the 'P' back in parody."|
"What are we dealing with? And why are you so happy?" I demanded. I was thirsty again and the heat really was wearing me down. I couldn't even see clearly across the room. Certainly, the dim light contributed to my vision problem, but I could tell there was more to it than simply that.
"I'm not. What makes you say that?" he turned.
"You seem happy."
"I'm not happy," Aahz seethed. His earlier buoyancy was now clearly gone. "We're going to die here, partner. There is nothing more certain than that. Don't make me kill you before then."
He turned away and looked back at Gus. Gus simply sat on the floor, fiddling with a piece of the furnished wood that he had found somewhere. I turned away from them, deciding that I wasn't going to cry over my impending death until it got a little more impending. Instead, I examined the walls closely. They were wood furnished, cheaply. The pattern of the design was not particularly elaborate or even interesting. I blinked, then I blinked again. Something was very odd about the pattern. It became even more indistinct and uninvolved, and then faded back to the more elaborate pattern. My fading eyes may have been playing tricks on me, but I just wanted to be sure. "Hey Aahz, come look at this." The design solidified itself at that moment. "Aahz?" I looked back at them. Gus still sat on the floor, his eyes fixed on the wall opposite him. He now simply held the stick he had been fidgeting with in his hand, but it was held in a strange, unnatural position. Aahz faced the wall away from me. He didn't seem to hear me. He seemed deep in thought. "Aahz?" I tried to walk over to him but my legs wouldn't move. They were simply too heavy for me to move...
Then, suddenly, the air between Aahz and me started to shimmer, almost like an eddy in a pool. Only it wasn't an eddy! It was vertical in the air before me. A vague shape started to appear in the middle of the eddy. And suddenly, it was floating there in the air before me. A large fish was floating before me, a coho or sockeye salmon. It fixed me with a stern gaze.
"Skeeve," it began, "have you ever wondered about the extent of absurdity?"
The salmon, it probably was a coho, but I couldn't be sure, seemed to roll its eyes. "There is an infinite number of possibilities in today's language, Skeeve. Learn that well."
"I'm sorry. I don't understand."
The fish used its whole body to slap me across the face. Its scales raked. "That frustrated headache that looks rambunctiously around us even now wonders aloud about actuality."
By now I was thoroughly confused. The salmon continued, looking sternly at me. "Is the helicopter a implement of pleasure? Is it a love machine?"
"What's a helicopter?"
Just for good measure, the fish slapped me across the face again.
Now that I thought of it, it was probably a sockeye.
The fish rolled its eyes and tried again. "When the pelican smells like the moose, it is time to change the bathwater." I closed my eyes and tried to shut the fish out of my thoughts. "My," the fish grumbled, "this is going to be difficult." I looked back at the fish. There was a very human-like strain on his face that seemed to suggest that he was trying to pass a softball, whatever that is. "Look, Skeeve, it's me," Tananda's voice came from the fish.
"Tananda! What are you doing as a fish?!"
"I haven't got much time to explain this. I had to channel myself through one of the recently departed denizens of the dimension you are on right now. I had to select one of you as my message's recipient, and I picked you because your brain would be the easiest to manipulate."
"Oh," I said, wondering whether I should be insulted.
"Anyway, it's easier to channel if you send an indirect message, which is the reason for my channelee's prior incoherence. Now that you've forced Chumley and me to strain ourselves magically and physically to send this coherent message, we won't be able to come for you for four days. Remember that."
"Four days. Gotcha."
"Now, my message to you, I haven't got much time. Skeeve, you three are not on Chirosovo. You were intercepted in transit."
"Who, what? What's going on?" I demanded.
The fish slapped me across the face with his body again. "Listen! We don't have much time! Isn't there something odd about your surroundings?"
"Now that you mention it, there is! The walls... they're not maintaining their form!"
"Right!" the fish shouted. "It's all an illusion! Penbrius caught you when you were traveling through the dimensions! And he's cast a spell that's got all three of you in its thrall! It's all an illusion! Wake up!"
Suddenly, the fish and the room faded into black, and Aahz and Gus started moving again. "What?!" Aahz shouted. The new room came into focus, and I immediately recognized it as a wizard's workroom. Aahz, Gus and I stood in the middle of an immense pentagram inscribed on the floor. The walls were covered with shelves that held books, scrolls, potions and assorted other bits of junk and the air was musty and stale. The room was dimly lit, so I couldn't see clearly.
As the spell faded entirely, we heard a soft groan come from one side of the room. There we found an old man slumped on his side. Five candles surrounded him, and his body had knocked two of them off their stands. He was wheezing quietly. Aahz pulled him upright.
"Penbrius!" Aahz exclaimed.
"I had you," he sighed. "I was so close to ending you, destroying you utterly, Aahzmandius."
"Only my mother calls me that." Aahz scolded.
"It was going to be my final solution. My last gasp of glory before I departed. I was going to destroy the one who caused me so much grief all those many years. All those many years, I chased you, like the wizened old man after the marlin."
"Sheesh man, it was only an ice cream cone."
"Oh, but it wasn't just any ice cream cone you destroyed. It was a Keeshusha's triple cone. I tried at first merely to cast a spell that would get you shouting 'Whee!' at funerals, but I botched the mixture. The picture of you shouting 'Goll-lee!' at the zenith of sexual ecstasy was amusing, but it was not enough to balance the sin you committed against me. It only escalated after each and every failure. Do you think the sinking of the Titania was merely a coincidence? But then you managed to wash ashore on the Rali, the Island of Nubile Playtex Models. I tried, and failed every time. I had to finish you, to collect not only the debt you owed me for that cone, but each successive embarrassing failure."
"Gee," Aahz said, "I'm impressed. Good going."
"But now," Penbrius continued. "It is over. I have failed for the last time. This spell was simply too much for me to expect to survive. I do not have the energy to continue. I will die with your debt unpaid. I hope you're satisfied with yourself, Aahzmandius."
"Actually, I am, very much so," Aahz grinned. "So long, Penbrius."
With that, Gus and Aahz headed for the door, leaving Penbrius lying on the floor, gasping toward his last.
"Aahz," I said, "we can't just leave him here to die!"
Aahz looked back at me over his shoulder. "Why not?"
"It'd be inhuman!"
"Only humans can be inhuman, and I, as you well know, am not human."
I shrugged, and followed them out the door. Made sense to me.
"Hmm," Aahz said, "so Penbrius intercepted us mid-flight and transported us here. The Black Containment spell he cast on us has stripped us temporarily of our magikal powers, including the power of any item we may have on us. How long will it be before Tananda comes for us?"
"Four days," I said. "How long will our powers be gone?" I was terrified of being without my powers, no matter how meager they were.
"Depends on the vintage of the spell. Chances are it will be longer than a week."
"Why do our translator pendants work?"
"Believe it or not," Aahz said confidentially, "they're not magically powered. They're more of a filter system that latches on to your particular racial characteristic. Your characteristics trigger the mechanism."
"Never thought of it like that before."
We continued on down a busy street on the dimension of Rio Paulo. Apparently, both Aahz and Gus had been here before, although I had never heard of the place. It was quite a spectacular sight. The time was early evening, and all sorts of people were jostling around in the street in bright clothing, seeming to celebrate something. All sorts of races were represented, from humans to quasi humans to creatures with camel or octopi faces to even gargoyles and Deveels. But everyone seemed to want to make noise in the wash of color and chaos that was the street.
"Aahz," Gus said, pulling on his sleeve, "do you see what I see?"
Aahz looked in the same direction. "Oh boy, do I."
I couldn't see what they were referring to.
"I think she's looking at me." Gus said intensely.
"Of course she is." Aahz said.
"Quiet," Gus snapped. "Do you know how long it's been?"
"Don't want to think about it," Aahz said, purple tongue firmly in cheek. "It might remind me of how long I've been."
"That's it! She's looking back at me. And she's slipping into the Tiky Cantina. Let's go!"
"Wait a minute Gus," I said desperately, but I stopped when Aahz placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. Gus disappeared into the crowd.
"Two lessons partner," Aahz said as he released his grip. "Learn these two fundamental lessons well. First, don't get into a protracted land war in Asia without proper air cover, and second, never, ever, get in the way of a hard-up gargoyle when he beads in on his poonana."
Well that was just great! Here I was stranded on some insane dimension with a melodramatic Pervect and a really randy gargoyle.
"Partner," Aahz continued, grinning but not looking at me. He placed his arm around me affectionately. "I think we'd better follow our old chum into the action."
With that, we followed Gus into the Tiky Cantina, some posh, noisy nightclub type place. Soon, I couldn't think of much of anything.
First I was struck by the noise, so extraordinarily loud that it seemed to form a wall all around me. The center of attention in the club was the main stage, where a band played. One member of the band played six different sized timpani in some semblance of a beat, while one of the other members, who I couldn't tell, blasted out a very smarmy, sleazy bass line to go with the timpani. Another member blasted forth with all sorts of strange percussion, while a fourth played something like a lute and sang for the audience, who seemed to be egging him on. Another three women sang along with him in some parts of the song. Every so often, the music would stop, and the lead singer would lead the audience through a chant, and then the music would start again, at an even more throbbing pace. The music itself was beyond description, with the possible exception of "loud." The club itself was remarkably sparse of decorations adorning the walls, excluding the mirrored ceilings, walls and pillars. Even the floor, though made of wood, cast a good reflection up. The only effects in abundance were the multiple colored lights, flashing over the crowd as it surged and seethed through the club.
"There she is!" Gus shouted. "I'm going in!"
"Hold on there one minute, sir," Aahz admonished. "You're forgetting. This is Rio Paulo."
Gus stopped for a moment and stared dumbfounded. Suddenly, he broke into a smile of realization. "Thank you, Aahz! I almost forgot my customs!" At that, he clapped his hands. "Savanti!"
"Come with us unless you want to get severely beaten," Aahz said to me, grabbing onto my arm. We walked, although sauntered would probably be the better word, over to the area of the club that looked like a bar.
"Nutter, de santo," Aahz shouted at the bartender, "three whiskies!" He then turned to me. "Always begin by calling the bartender 'Nutter,' or he'll cut your hands off. Bartenders here are touchy souls." He and Gus leaned up against the bar with their forearms. The bartender brought us our drinks, and Aahz tossed some coins to him. The bartender smiled at him and knocked the coins on the bar for good measure before turning away.
I picked up my drink, an amber colored liquid in a square glass, and turned around to view the carnage. Aahz immediately grabbed me and spun me back toward the bar. "Skeeve, you must face away from the dance floor. Right now we're on display, and one of the women in the club, if she's so inclined, will choose one of us to be her partner for the night. Here's what the custom calls for. Put your forearms on the bar and stick your butt out. Move your butt to the rhythm of the music."
"I'm not sure I want to do this."
"I don't care. If you don't do this you'll be flouting the tradition, and you'll be killed. I can understand your trepidation, what with your baboon ass and all. You've really let the bod go to hell since we moved to the Bazaar, haven't you? But it's essential that you do this."
And so I stood there, with my butt sticking out, with Aahz and Gus, their butts also sticking out and grooving to the rhythm of the music.
"Good," Aahz said, not looking at me. "If a woman wants you, she'll come up and do a double squeeze on your cheeks, single squeeze if she only wants to play. It's considered bad form to deny a woman what she feels is rightfully hers."
So we continued on jiggling there for about ten minutes before some woman came up and grabbed onto Gus's posterior. "Hot damn!" Gus exclaimed, spilling his drink all over the bar. He escorted the woman to the dance floor, and they bounced along to the sleazy bass line. The bass line had stayed true the whole time. In fact, the tune itself seemed to be in a loop, and I commented on this to Aahz.
"Good of you to notice that, partner," he said. "It's a traditional song here, written by the guy with the guitar. It's a four hour song, broken up into twelve repeating loops of twenty minutes each."
"What's the song?"
"It's called 'My Baby's Mocha Jive Talking on a Saturday Night Blues.' It's immensely popular and a favorite of dance clubs throughout this dimension. I'm impressed that we have the man himself here performing it."
"What do those lyrics mean?"
"That's right! Translator pendants don't do lyrics, since the meaning can't be spliced from the tone. Anyway, the twenty minute loop begins with a standard five minute instrumental to set the rhythm section. Then the guy begins with the proper verse. Here it is right now," and Aahz began to loosely translate while the singer sang.
"My baby's done gone and leff me on a Saturday night... she's done gone again and leff me yes she has... she said she don't find me lovely, yes I can see or something... and so I lost my job... my boss hates me, some standard job gripe type thing... yes, I've got my baby's mocha jive talking Saturday night blues baby..." And then they went into a brief musical interlude. "And so I known now what I needed yes I did... and I know the place for it... yes indeed my landlady don't love me no more... so I went down to the bar... I went to the bar... I went to the bartender... my old faithful bartender yes indeed take a bow jimmy... he said what you be wanting boy... and I say nutter... just give me a pink lemonade with a straw please... Wait a minute! That's not right! Oh, you understand it, kid. You don't need the exact translation," he blurted as the band got down into an interlude again. "Okay, here's the key part here, Skeeve. When they put the bright white lights on, you're supposed to, if you're on the floor, start jumping up and down and raising your hands. The singer'll lead you into it. Like right now, now here's the rough translation to these lyrics:
"Ee-eye-ee-eye-oh... ee-eye-ee-eye-oh, that's a chant of supreme religious significance and can't be translated. You understand that there's heavily irony in the chant." The singer started singing again. Aahz roughly translated. "Idiomatic expression meaning unholy relations with his mother, who done him wrong... idiomatic expression meaning the commission of unholy homosexual relations with his father, who done him wrong... idiomatic expression meaning the commission of unholy relations with his dog, who done him wrong... idiomatic expression meaning the commission of extremely unholy acts with a member of the local constabulary, who done him wrong... idiomatic expression meaning the commission of unholy acts with the drunk guy passed out in his own puke on the beach, who done him wrong... idiomatic expression meaning the commission of unholy acts with his woman's dog, who done him no wrong but deserved it just the same. And now, Skeeve, the music will stop a moment for this line." The music stopped and the singer led the crowd in the shouting of another line, and then the band got back down to the now very familiar line. "You must sing along there or you'll be considered strange. The line roughly translates into 'the ten thousand things arise, but he doesn't begin them. Wheat begets millet.'"
"Gosh Aahz, what does that mean?"
"Nothing. It's an expression that suggests that life is essentially meaningless."
"Life has no meaning?"
"Not at all. It's a bit difficult to understand, clearly. Sure, there are expressions of that sort of sentiment from all over. Shit happens. Confucius say shit happens. Hemingway say life is nada. You know what I mean. But this line, this one's different. Because to say life is meaningless ascribes meaning to the meaninglessness. Life is not meaningless, because you can gain meaning through the meaninglessness. No, this does something entirely different. It doesn't make a definitive statement at all, recognizing that as ultimately futile. It's an expression of no sentiment whatsoever, but the expression of a sentiment just the same. I happen to think it's a lot more powerful a statement myself. It doesn't have the same sort of presumptuous assertion of the mastery of life and all its little mysteries. What do you think?"
"I think I need another drink."
"Bravo!" Aahz shouted. "Nutter! Another whisky-yeeow!" I turned to look and a woman was there, a rather attractive, short woman with close cropped hair which framed a round face with big brown almond shaped eyes, a pert little nose and heart shaped lips. She was wearing a flamboyant pink bodysuit that seemed to be painted on. She was truly delectable, and she had just grabbed Aahz's butt with both her hands. "Hey baby!" Aahz exclaimed. "What's your best thing? See you around, kid." He left for the dance floor with his arm around her. I continued on, turning back to the bar, swiveling my butt in vain.
After another ten minutes, I looked back on the dance floor. Aahz and Gus, once I found both of them, seemed to be hitting it off quite well with their respective ladies. Finally, I scored a hit, and a woman grabbed onto my butt with one hand. That meant she just wanted to play with me. Okay, so she'll play with me. We went out onto the dance floor and danced along with the sleazy song that still was going on. I let her lead and as we got through the chanting and the hand raising and the statement of the fundamental meaninglessness of life she finally spoke to me.
"Do you want to slip in the back?"
Thoughts danced through my head about what that particular idiomatic expression must mean, so I just stalled in the meantime. "Don't you want to know my name?"
"No," she said, matter-of-factly. She twined her arms around my neck and began to suck on my cheek slowly, grooving to the music.
"I'm not sure I can go along with this," I said uncomfortably.
"What's wrong? You gay?"
"No. I'm not very happy right now."
"We can enjoy," she cooed. "I'm very good. I know very much. Don't think too much. Don't do anything. I'll do everything."
"I'm sorry. I can't," I said.
She huffed and grabbed my hand, leading me to the bar. "Nutter de santo," she said, clearly annoyed. "Tabasco." At this, the bartender brought a glass of red, thick, liquid to her. She grabbed the glass and threw it in my face. She then stormed off. The bartender laughed uproariously.
So I stood at the bar some more, wiggling my butt in what I hoped would be an unobtrusive manner. The song eventually ended, which was remarkable in itself. The crowd cheered for about five minutes or so before the band went into its next selection. It had a slow bass groove and basic drum, with a simple chord progression from what sounded similar to a Klahdish church organ. What was most notable was that the singer began singing in Klahdish.
"Don't worry... about a thing," he sang, "'cause every little thing...gonna be all right. Singing don't worry... about a thing...'cause every little thing's... gonna be all right... rise up this morning... smile with the rising sun... three little birds... perch by my doorstep... singing sweet songs... of melodies pure and true... singing: 'this is my message to you-hoo-hoo.'" And then he went back to the beginning lyrics as Aahz and Gus came back to me.
"Hey partner, what happened? I saw you had a live one."
"Ah," I waved at him, "I wasn't interested."
Aahz looked back at Gus for a moment. He placed his hand on my shoulder. "Kid, I know how it must feel. How tough it must be for you. I just want to let you know that I'm willing to support you no matter what your lifestyle choice may be."
"What are you talking about?"
"I must admit that I was wondering about you all these years. Luanna made me think my impressions were wrong, but when she bailed I had to admit that my speculations resurfaced."
"It's okay to be a homosexual, Skeeve. I'm comfortable with it as long as you are, if that's how you truly feel."
"What, you're not?"
"Of course not! What made you think so?"
"It's not a question of what made me think so. It's more a question of what made me think it couldn't be anything else."
"Just... just... just drop it. Okay?"
"Okay," he shrugged. "Must admit, that's quite a latency period you're running with, Skeeve."
"Never mind. We were going to get out of here, and we wanted to let you know."
"Okay," I said, "let's split."
Aahz looked back at Gus, who cocked his head. Aahz jerked his head a bit. "Okay then."
We headed for an exit that eventually led to a side alley. The woman with Aahz pressed his head against hers, and they swayed to a silent rhythm. Gus walked behind the woman who had chosen him, with his talons wrapped around her midsection. Gus looked at Aahz, and cocked an eyebrow.
"Quite a dimension, wouldn't you say, kid?"
I turned away from Gus to look at Aahz. "Quite."
"Hey kid," he smiled. "Where'd Gus go?"
I spun around to where Gus had been standing, and he was gone, along with the woman he met at the club. There was not a single trace of him. I gaped for a moment. "I don't know. Where did he..." I began to look for him and noticed that as I had turned away from Aahz, he and the woman vanished as well.
I was alone, on a crazy dimension, and I didn't have the slightest idea what I should do. Every little thing's gonna be all right my swiveling ass.