Deal 1111: Pipe no more

There was a lone piper on the hill when I opened my eyes. He was playing, but I couldn’t quite make out the melody. You know it is going to be a strange day when you wake to bagpipes.

I looked around at the bleak landscape. Windblown hill faces, flat tops, occasional trees that were shaped by persistent winds, and not happily.

The piper was closer now. I hadn’t seen him moving, but he was now standing on the next line of hills.

Or perhaps I had moved towards him?

I wasn’t all that sure, to be honest.

I was beginning to realize that honesty was absolutely a good idea here. Wherever that might be.

I also somehow knew that hearing the music would be irrevocable. Somehow my current situation was ambiguous. But if I heard the piper, it would be certain. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to hear him.

Not only was the landscape bleak, but I was alone. So very alone. There were no other people to be seen in any direction. I am sure there had been some people near me before I went to sleep. But their memory was shadowy, suggestive, and ambiguous. I realized that I no longer knew my own name.

The real punch was the realization that I was not breathing. Had not taken a breath since I opened my eyes. Was not even sure if I could breathe.

In my panic, I opened my eyes again, to find a bright light and a circle of concerned people. There was no music playing, but the noise was music to my ears. It had been a close call. In my minds eye, I could see the piper salute, turn and walk away, his services not needed any more.


Deal 1087: Wet but not dead

fear of death adds spice
to a life well lived although
fear must be groundless

Joe watched the water rise, and for a moment was nearly as nervous as the audience. It was ever thus. The essence of the trick was that there was no trick: he really did escape from the shackles, chains, and cuffs. Or he could do it that way if he was a fool. Joe was no fool.

By the time the water reached his knees, his hands were free. Not that the audience could tell, he knew it was important that they believe him trapped and certain to die.

Hence the dramatic music, the curtain shielding him from view in his “final moments”, and all the other trappings for the stage.

His favorite ending to the escape was to hop out of the water as soon as he was hidden from view, then settle down with a newspaper in the cheap seats to wait while a shadow puppet show plays out of his apparent drowning. At the peak of the frenzy, as the audience is screaming for someone to do something, a pin spot focused on the tank from behind would suddenly reveal that the tank was empty.

The curtain would drop to reveal that there was nothing left in the tank but a pile of chains at the bottom and a few fish swimming in circles.

Joe enjoyed listening to the stunned realization sweeping across the audience that he hadn’t died in front of them. Did he vanish? Did he become a fish? Was anything what it seemed?

Joe stepped forwards, dropping the coat and newspaper that had concealed him from casual discovery, and accepted the applause that he was due.


Deal 1054: Riding along

The cat came back the very next day: it just couldn’t stay away. Bruce, that is. He may not be a normal feline, but since he looks and acts like a cat, I’m going to call him a cat. Even if he does have an extra effective knack for fading in and out and can talk.

Not that talking is all that unusual here. There was that toad. Even the cockatrice I killed early on complained about my methods. So I take a talking cat in stride.

Now that he’s let on that he talks, he talks constantly.

He still believes he is in charge, too. Which bugs Gwen to no end. But she can’t admit it because of some silly rule of dragon honor. Naturally we all find ourselves bound one way or another. I have no way home. Gwen doesn’t have a cat. And Bruce, he knows things and will occasionally share.

“I have a message for you, Sydney”

“Really? How?”

“I ran into an old friend of yours. Tricky fellow. Large. Black. Definitely not a bird one should chase, let alone catch.”


“Yep. He had some ideas for you to ponder.”

By now, Gwen was also paying attention. But Bruce is first and foremost a cat.

“I don’t know, I wasn’t listening by then. And then you left on this quest, and were going in the right direction. So I tagged along in case you ran into something you couldn’t handle.”