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Deal 1017: Hitchhiker’s log excerpt

Day 1017, probably

That infernal beeping has started again. Somewhere in this house, a smoke alarm or something like it wants feeding. But the damn thing just goes “peep” once every five to ten minutes. It’s just enough noise to tell you something is wrong, but not enough noise to let you locate the origin of the sound, and spaced too far apart for anyone to remain attentive and hear a second alert with enough presence of mind to find it. It is going to either drive me insane, or run its battery out completely and go silent forever.

I’m hoping for the latter, and betting in the former.

Either way, I’ve added a note to the growing report that whoever finds me may or may not bother to read. The very report that you might be reading right now. If “you” exist, that is.

If I stop believing that “you” exist, then I will be sufficiently free of sanity to believe anything at all in short order.

So I choose to believe that updating this note is worth my time and effort.

It has to be.

Or I’ve wasted so much time.

I say this is day 1017, but I’m not absolutely certain of that. I don’t have an easy way to tell the passage of time, so I’ve been counting days as times between sleeps. My clocks never worked well, and as you would expect given where I’m sitting, I don’t really have windows or a view that tells me much at all.

I’ve tried asking the bear if he knows what time it is, but he is concentrating on the problem of getting us out of here, and doesn’t answer.

The chickens aren’t any help, either. They just sit around and mutter to themselves most of the time. Occasionally one lays me some breakfast. Of course, the chickens have become fiercely protective, and I usually have to go in disguise to collect eggs without suffering from another beating at the talons of their rooster.

I can tell I’m slowly going mad no matter what else I do. I play chess, but HAL keeps beating me. I watch old flat movies, but I’ve forgotten so much from before, that too many of them make no sense. It is becoming difficult to tell fact from fiction. Did some joker back home name my computer HAL on purpose? Should that worry me? What aren’t they telling me?

Am I sounding paranoid again? Probably time to go check the chickens for breakfast.

I’m pretty sure that when I’m sleeping, HAL or one of his unnamed friends taps my thoughts and rewrites my dreams. I don’t know why they do this. But I’m increasingly sure they do.

So I try not to think about it.

I try to remain sane.

I try to not care so much about where I am going, or what will happen when I get there.

I have my bindle, I’m aboard my car, and there’s little I can do until the ride stops rolling.

Until then, I can talk to the bear, play chess with HAL, watch a movie, or chase another chicken.

Or sleep.

And watch my sanity leach away into the darkness.

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Deal 1016: A Surreal Visit

“We begin our tour today in the postmodern surrealist collection with a study of frogs. The pedestal here supports nothing, but is held together by a series of fancy knotted closures up the face. The artist notes that the emptiness atop the pedestal reflect the immediate departure of the frog. If you look closely, you can see its froggy footprints in the dust. Of course, there is no dust because the museum is kept scrupulously clean.”

The class dutifully takes turns to peer at the empty pedestal. I doubt that many of them recognize the significance of the knots. It is probably just as well.

“A favorite pieces is La Grenouille par l’Avion, a frog that has been flattened into a postcard and was delivered to the museum as you see it here today. Note the stamp features a fancy game hen, a breed well known for hunting and eating this particular variety of frog. Both predator and prey, flattened, and glued together. Now hanging as inseparable companions.”

The class looks slightly disturbed, but then curiosity wins out. They have to stare at the very flat frog, addressed in ink on its pale green belly skin.

In the distance, a phone rings. I take a moment to verify that it isn’t my group that has committed this sin. The ringing cuts off abruptly, as if a heavy weight has enforced the purity of the museum experience by removing the offender. Exactly as you would imagine that to sound, as that is exactly what has happened. Visitors are warned at the door, and second chances are given, but only after they survive the first removal.

There is a sudden bout of covert rustling as my group swiftly checks to make sure all of their phones really are turned off.

I keep my face set firmly in the proper museum docent’s mask. It wouldn’t do to start chortling and give the game up. But the sign on the door combined with that clever device which projects sounds right into the visitor’s head has become a most effective tool. Sure, the effect wears off in a while, but a skilled docent can run the tour all the way through before they realize that if we were actually killing our visitors, there might be some repercussions. Even a news story or two.

“As we continue, this alcove provides an opportunity to observe a rare example of a hobo caught napping. You will note first that he is, well, a he. The few examples we know of women riding the rails all assumed male identities. It could be a product of their time. It may also have been that rail cars were not hospitable places at the best of times, and the long skirts and petticoats that were obligatory for women would have been far too dangerous to wear. You will note also that there is a frog perched on the brim of his hat. If asked about it, he would invariably have denied it. If you asked the frog its opinion, you would likely be accepted by the other hobos. A prime tenet among those riding the rails was to never question another man’s sanity.”

About this point in the tour is when visitors usually notice that there are no exit doors. The really observant have also noticed that the door through which they entered is missing. This is a gallery of the surreal, after all. We wouldn’t want them to get too complacent. This group is reasonably observant, so the quiet muttering and peering around has begun. Finally, someone catches sight of the teddy bear on a plinth in another shallow alcove holding a sign that says “Exit”. The muttering continues, with occasional glances my way. But I’m once again frozen behind my mask, waiting for the right words to proceed.

It might be a long wait.

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Deal 1002: Bears, Armed, Right.

The army was on the march again, kicking up clouds of dust as they moved. They made a flowing brown and black river across the landscape, with occasional glints of copper seen in the bright sun. And, of course, occasional flashes of tooth and claw as well. The eerie thing was that they were very nearly silent as they moved. The did not march in step, or engage in fancy pageantry. And yet, it was clear to any observer that they were highly disciplined and efficient.

Efficient killers too, when it came to that.

But no one who saw the army wanted it to come to that.

They were fully armed and armored, of course. But even if your stripped them of their armor, their natural weapons would overmatch many foes. Add to that layered copper and leather scale vests to protect their just barely more vulnerable areas, and there were few weapons in the five countries that could put a bear in danger.

Count their spear throwers, and there were few armies that would dare face them across a battlefield. Their skilled casters, standing on their hind legs for freedom of motion and using a thrower for leverage could accurately place a spear in a gourd at nearly a half mile’s distance, or with less accuracy but more terror, drop spears indiscriminately well over a mile away. A spear falling silently out of a clear blue sky doesn’t have to be aimed to cause terror, after all.

Their new trick is the work of alchemists. Some of their spears would explode beyond all reason when struck against a hard surface. Only rumors of this had been heard so far, no one outside of their secretive research clan had seen one in action. The rumors themselves could have been the work of a propaganda team, certainly. But true or not, their effect was the same.

Oddly, the Armed Bears did not seem inclined to conquer territory as they moved. And they weren’t foraging as widely as some other armies had either, so the local villagers were swift to recover from their shock and simply watch the wave after wave of bears move by. When they did camp, advance scouts arranged for the use of fallow fields and haybarns, paying in generously in copper, silver, and a little gold as warranted.

But even those who dealt with the scouts were unable to learn where the bears marched towards.

The easy assumption was that they were heading straight to their target, but beyond this land lay a vast desert, and then, or so it was said, the very edge of the world. Surely they weren’t marching off the edge. It was also said that at the far side of the desert was an endless sea, but that reaching it would involve dealing with creatures of dark magic and formidable will. The tales get more strange from there, with most claiming that the sea itself is inhabited by beautiful mermaids who lure any adventurers to their deaths, and by fish larger than any known to exist. But surely those are just stories.

The truth may not be heard until the bears reach their goal, unless their leaders choose to speak.

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Deal 981: Roar!

By day, I’m still and asleep, resting until I’m needed again. But by night, I am the selfless hero guarding my young charges from all the monsters that go bump in the dark. But most of all, guarding them from the Goblin King.

The ray of light I shine into the dark deep may be mostly metaphorical, but that doesn’t matter to my charge. Luckily most of the monsters I face are also metaphorical. So it is mostly my own self-confidence that powers the winning blow.

And so I stand ready, ever vigilant, and sworn to protect.

I am Teddy. Hear me roar!