Here and There - By Rosy

    She lives in a belfry which had its bell removed quite a long time ago. Years later it was converted into an apartment with two levels, both of which comprise her apartment. She knew the other apartments were all subdivided inside a large church whose massive bell once hung in her abode.

   Originally the large belfry had been obtained by walking a spiral stairway that circled around the interior of the stone and mortar tower, but when her apartment was devised an elevator had been installed. Ornate, old-fashioned, with more than a hint of mystery, her sanctuary atop a tower next to a converted church apartment complex suited her and her husband to a tee.

   Living in a society that worshipped money and was therefore frequently at war, she felt, from her earliest memories, at odds. Apart, somehow, yet she managed to be engaged enough to make a living as a librarian, working in a library that was an easy walk from her tower apartment she'd been renting at that time.

   No one that she knew could remember what kind of church it had been, but she knew, having her archives to peruse, yet she could never seem to remember. It was irrelevant, she supposed, perhaps even irreverent in an odd sort of way, to recall the church's former identity. Like casting aspersions, in a religious way, to point out a denomination's failures. Bad karma. She knew also that the denomination had not reappeared, at least not in her neighborhood. It already had a couple of existing church's in town but nothing new since this one's closing. She'd heard that religion was dying out due to intolerance and bad politics. It certainly held no attraction for her. The worst president she'd ever seen anywhere got elected largely because of religion. At her advanced age she eschews all religion, but remains deeply spiritual, setting aside twenty minutes or so each morning for her meditations and chants. She has, like the naysayers would say, cherry picked her practices, choosing rituals from Buddhist, Wiccan and Norse traditions. She is, for the most part, happy.

   As she makes her way through the city on her various errands, she encounters human wreckage that mystifies and saddens her. Human beings stumbling about, disheveled or barely dressed despite the cold temperatures, living in forlorn tents, looking like despair made worse. What kind of leadership would let this happen?   

   Finally, she's home again, feeling a familiar rush of relief at this refuge. Since her apartment had been rent-to-own, she and her husband now owned the place, including the tower and the little plot of land it sits on, so she enters through a private locked door and is greeted by a small lobby with an elevator and a spiral stairway going up. The room has a ceiling two stories up, which is the bottom of their apartment, so that it's airy and pleasant. She has several large potted plants on either side and across from an old couch that she'd put here when they got their new one. Everything appears sunny and to be thriving, making her smile as she passes through to the elevator where she picks a key from her small key ring and unlocks it before going inside and pushing number two. There are two floors available, one, the lower, being mostly their bedroom, bath and storage and, two, the upper, containing all the enormous amount of things, books, music recordings, tools, and tables cluttered with their projects and all the minutia that occupy their lives. That and a gourmet kitchen. They lived like royalty with their only hardship being the property taxes, which took a large portion of their meager retirement money so that they relied on food stamps issued by the Democracy. She is in the habit of referring to her country as the Democracy, because most of the leaders are democratically elected, by the people. She firmly believes in 'we the people' as her country's governing ideology despite the encroachments of fascist elements in recent years. She despised fascism, as do most who can remember the second world war.   

   The elevator was quickly to the second floor and its door opened to her living room, bright with windows all around, open to the sunlight. Her husband looks up from his reading. He's here, he's lovely and they kiss, glad to see each other. He doesn't rise to greet her as he is partially disabled and standing is difficult. She moves to the stove and sets her teapot to simmer and gazes out the window. Depending on where you stand the entire city is visible. It is winter and all the windows are closed but not draped. A round hearth in the center contains a crackling fire and the room is comfortable. Later, as the long winter dusk approached, she would pull the drapes to keep the warmth in.

   After checking on her husband, who is in fact a sasquatch although many mistake him for human, she settles, with a sigh of contentment, in front of her word machine. 

   Her name is Rosy and she makes up stories. She settles back, observing a large bird in the far distance that made her think of a Pteranodon. A Pteranodon? Now that's interesting. An ancient bird, said to be extinct now for some sixty-five million years or so. Flying reptiles actually. Seemed pretty nice, with their great long beaks and widespread wings. They appear to have small fingers at their wing's second or third joint, giving them increased dexterity, an advantage I would think. They lived on earth for some four million years, going extinct sixty-five million years ago during the huge extinction event that occurred following a giant meteor crashing into the Yucatan Peninsula. Four million years are a big time. Human beings can say that maybe the first homo sapiens appeared fifty to sixty thousand years ago, possibly a hundred thousand. Our apparent predecessors, the Australopithecines, could say maybe a couple million years or so. Thus, with tons of evolution producing us, presumably the latest model, we've just gone about a hundred thousand years or so, and that's about two and a half percent as long as the Pteranodons lived. Even if you included two million for the australopithecines, we're still less than half their life span.

   Rosy's first thought was, they didn't blow themselves up. What an ingenious survival technique, except in the big, long run, say four million years or so, nature appears to step in and put a halt to it. Nature says, blow yourself up or I'll do it for you, basically. Rosy wondered if the human race was allotted a time to exist? Four million years? She smiled sadly. No, we'll blow ourselves up, long before that. She gazed out the window at the cloudy sky, which was slowly changing, becoming like over a sagebrush desert, perhaps.

   Brak brought the All-Vehicle Rivitir down to a smooth landing on the side of a dry, shallow valley. The landscape could be described as barren or lush, whichever the eye chooses to see. Scattered sagebrush were the largest things growing, then scrubby cedar bushes and little clumps of grass here and there, with lots of lichen on the rocks. There was nothing above a meter in height, and all were sparse in width. A pale yellow and brown sand and gravel mixture dominated the landscape, giving it a definite barren appearance from way off, but quite a lush appearance close up.

   “We're we at?” I asked Rover, our navigator.

   “Yes, Ma'am. Well, I'm not real sure, let me see,” he answered, opening a map.

   Jant, our radio and radar specialist, opened the door and stepped outside. “High plains desert, I'd say, ma'am.” She turned around a couple times, squinting at the horizon as Brak, our ace pilot, stepped out.

   “Sagebrush desert, ma'am, like we've seen dozens of times,” he said, grimacing at the view.

   “I think it's Elvenstead, though,” Jant said upon completing her spinning and squinting. “Up north, toward the great Alfenheimr Forest, I'd say.”

   “Could be,” Rover muttered from inside the Rivitir. “This could well be the high plain desert next to Alfenheimr Forest, alright.”

   “Not much here,” I stated.

   Rover shrugged. “I dunno,” he huffed, “let's see if we can find out.” He stepped out to where Brak and Jant were standing, ready to go.               

   Zingellawabix, the magic wand is an able watchman over the Rivitir and will call me instantly via telepathy should anything come up. Ellim, our Bradco 11:11BS service bot, is also keeping watch. I followed Rover out. 

   Brak and Jant Hero are twins from the hero collective in Elvenstead called Heroes Я Us, which produces the finest heroes in the world. Rover and I followed them as they hiked along the top of the little valley toward what seemed to be a larger valley. The Rivitir looked like a giant bullet with windows in front as we walked away.

   I began to notice more greenery on the valley's floor and a small brook soon became apparent by its sound even though we were getting higher above by staying on its edge. The brook must be fed from springs, run-off from the high plains where any moisture is quickly absorbed into the sandy soil. The valley was getting bigger. Soon we had to choose between walking along the top in the sagebrush or descending into a lush and forested valley because the valley's walls were becoming cliffs. We chose the lush and forested downward path, which was itself becoming more visible. We were following an increasingly well-worn path and it wasn't long before we came upon a couple of scruffy looking elves who stopped dead when they saw us, like they'd never seen two hero elves leading an elf captain and a dog before. Could be they hadn't. We also stopped and I stepped forward.

   “Hello there,” I called out. “You wouldn't happen to know where we're at, would you?”

   They looked at us with surprised expressions. These were clearly not forest elves although their valley did seem to be forested, rather they were somehow browner, drier looking, but in a natural way, like this was their normal. They wore broad floppy hats that allowed their pointed ears, much more pointed than ours, to poke above on either side.

   “This here's the road to the Pirly Gates of Apogee,” the older member told us in authoritarian tones.       

   “Wow, is that so?” Brak said with round eyes. Everyone who grew up in Elvenstead knew of the Pirly Gates of Apogee but few, if any, believed in them. These Pirly Gates were said to open to the Perfect Place, so perfect that all who enter never return.

   “So is it perfect?” Brak asked, “You know, on the other side?”

   “How can we know?” the old guy said solemnly. “No one's ever returned who has passed through them, so how can we know? How can anyone know?”

   “I just heard that it was perfect over there, that's all,” Brak said, starting to squirm a little. It was sort of superstitious to believe in the Perfect Place on the other side of the Pirly Gates of Apogee but many did, sort of secretly, never talked about it, but many did, many believe it even now.

   “You guys from around here?” I asked. They were silent, staring at me with wide eyes.

   “Why'd you go to the gate?” Jant asked. “I mean, what's down there? This trail looks pretty well traveled. Why do people go to the gate?” Now they stared at her but remained silent. Suddenly the younger one started walking briskly down the path toward us and the older one, with a surprised look, followed behind, staying as far from us as possible as they passed, silent and grim faced.   

   When they were beyond hearing, Rover said, “Well, maybe we should go take a look at this gate. I sort of think it's not what everyone thinks it is.” Then, as one, the couple trudging along in the far distance stopped, turned and stared at us with grim, almost sad faces.

   “Yikes!” Rover yelped. “Now that's spooky,” and he began walking toward the Pirly Gate, away from those piercing eyes, with us close behind. It was spooky. When I glanced back, they were gone. It was darn spooky and we started to clump together, sometimes bumping into each other as we walked.

   After a very long walk, but much shorter than we'd thought, we came to the gate. It was quite ornate with large golden bars set in double doors that were latched in the middle. There was a high white wall on either side, apparently containing the Perfect Place. In front was a tall white podium, maybe three meters tall, and an old elf with long white hair and beard perched on top looking down at us.

   “Hello!” I called up. “Are these the Pirly Gates of Apogee?” I asked.

   He looked down at me. “Yes, Rosy, these are the Pirly Gates of Apogee.” He looked at the others, “Hello Rover, Brak and Jant. I'm Perfect Peet.”

   “The Perfect Peet? At the Pirly Gates of Apogee?” Rover said with a dazed expression.

   “Yes, that's right. I'm the Perfect Peet Dunavavitch.”

   We were all awed. This was the stuff of legends. Something flew past, briefly distracting Perfect Peet and he cast an angry glance skyward.   

    There was some sort of disturbance outside and Rosy looked up from her word machine, returning to the real world. There was that Pteranodon again, flying around their tower. What does it want, she wondered? Her husband was snoring softly in his chair by the fire. She got up and went to the window where she could see more clearly as it flew by. When it passed again it looked at her until it was sure it had her attention. Then it flew down and perched in the grass by the parking lot. Their apartment door has always been in the parking lot and they've never wanted to change it. Everyone else's apartments in the big church were accessed by large double doors in front, then apartments down a long hallway which ended with a single door that was situated just past where the Pteranodon sat. This door and hers were the back doors, so to speak, but she and her husband didn't mind. Liked it that way.       

   She looked at her sleeping husband, then scribbled him a quick note on the pad they kept by the door, “Back in a minute, just downstairs to check something, love you, R” They never tired of telling each other of their love. She took the elevator down and stepped outside onto the short sidewalk leading to the parking lot. On the small strip of lawn between the church and the parking lot sat the Pteranodon, watching her silently. She took a step toward it then stopped, returning its gaze. She couldn't think of anything to say.

   {First, you must know I'm not really here.} came a voice in her head. She was thrilled! This is how Zingellawabix and Capt. Rosy talk!

   {Yes, well, I don't know about this Zing fellow, but this is how my kind communicate.}

   “You can hear me?” she asked, somewhat mystified.

   {Yes, I hear you fine, whether you speak or not.}

   “Oh,” she said, unsure what to think, “well, I'll just talk then. I'm more used to that.”

   {That's fine. The reason I called you here is about my application to be in a story. I put it in over a year ago, maybe longer.}

    “You did?”

   {Yes, and I was even briefly in a story, but you probably don't remember. Thing is, I haven't heard from you. I'm not complaining mind you, I just thought I'd come back and, well, you know, give you a friendly reminder.}

   “You want to be in more stories?”

   {Yes, ma'am. I've been extinct for sixty-five million years after all. That takes a lot out of you.} I nodded. I was sure that it would. {So the best part of ghosting, for me anyway, is being remembered, especially after that big of a time.}

   He was right, she hadn't remembered him. Apparently, he hadn't made much of an impression. “What's your name? she asked.

   {I am Tonkerwhoooshb'bthwák.}

   “Tonker wush . . .” she began.

   {More like whoo-hoosh on a windy day. Bubthwák after that, accent on thwak.}

   “Tonker whoo-oosh bub thwák?”

   {Yeah, that's pretty much it but you have an odd accent. Anyway, I can tell that it's a hard name to get so how about just Tonker?}

   “Yeah, okay. Tonker then. I'll see what I can do Tonker.”

   With that she turned and went back up to her word machine. Her husband stirred briefly when she reentered but didn't awaken. Settling behind her word machine she watched Tonker flying off. What a magnificent creature. Like he owns the sky, perhaps a fellow of his size and comportment does. The sky is a deep blue, a heavenly blue, with a few cotton ball clouds here and there.

   Perfect Peet looks down at them. “So what do you lot want?” He smiles grimly. “Looking to go through the Pirly Gates?”

   “No sir, nothing like that,” I tell him quickly. I could see through the golden bars into the Perfect Place, except it just looked gray, like a huge gray wall that eventually sloped around so that it appeared to be a tremendous dome of gray something. “No we're just tourists, you know?” I sputtered. For some reason my nerves were on edge. “Just looking around. Nice place you got here.”

   “What's that big gray thing?” Rover asked. “Is that the Perfect Place?”

   “Yes, Rover,” Perfect Peet answered. “It's what we call the event horizon. Nothing returns that passes through it.” We all stared, fascinated by this immense gray dome before us. As we looked the gray seemed to melt and flow so that occasionally we'd get glimpses of something that was maybe looking back but maybe not, maybe not there at all, then slowly the gray became solid with odd flashes of white light then every color blossoming and suddenly gone, then gray slowly beginning to move again, suggesting strange yet compelling shapes inside. This was the most fascinating thing I've ever seen and I stared and stared. Suddenly a Pteranodon flew by, then circled and flew over us, flapping his wings loudly.

   “What the hale?” the Perfect Peet yelped, looking upward. The giant dome went stiff and solid gray. We backed up shaking our heads as if just waking up. I felt like we'd been dreaming, almost mesmerized. The Pirly Gates were partially open and Perfect Peet was yelling at the sky.

   “C'mon you guys,” I barked at the crew, then, looking upward at Perfect Peet, still shaking his fist at the sky, I waved and yelled, “Thanks Perfect Peet!” I didn't want to be rude, just running off like we were.

   We ran back up the path that had brought us here. After a ways, when my panicky feeling died down, I slowed our walk, but we continued fairly briskly, nonetheless. We were just coming past where the cliffs had started and were pretty much back in the sagebrush desert when I glanced to the side at a large rock. I was somehow not surprised to see that Pteranodon sitting behind it, watching us. It seemed to be smiling.   

   “Looks like I came by just in the nick of time,” it stated, stepping into view with a wide smile.

   “What do you mean?” I asked.

   “You was about to get sucked in.”

   “No, we were just watching,” Brak said.

   “Looking at that big, strange thing, that's all,” I put in.

   “Everyone who gets to the Pirly Gates afore their time, but are just watching, you know, just looking? Well, everyone that does that ends up going through. Everyone, unless something happens to break the spell.”

   “Like a dinosaur flying over?” Jant asked.

   “Just like that, except I'm not a dinosaur.” We waited. “I'm a Pteranodon.”

   “Isn't that a dinosaur?” Jant asked.

   “No! Well, yes. Technically. Pteranodons are dinosaurs, rather like elves are apes. We're much more than dinosaurs. Us Pteranodons were quite advanced for our time.” 

   “Well, that's pretty cool,” I said, “and thanks a lot for saving us! Really, that was most kind, but I think we need to get back to our ship.”

   “This place is kind of creepy,” Rover put in.

   “Yes, I agree,” the Pteranodon said, nodding agreement. “Most creepy indeed. Which is why I have agreed to accompany you to your vehicle.”

   “Agreed? What do you mean agreed? With who? Someone ask you to do that?” I was heated, more than the situation called for. 

   “No one asked!” he blurted. “I just said it wrong, c'mon, I've been extinct now for sixty-five million years, give me a break. I Just wanted to walk with you.”

   “He did save us from the Pirly Gates,” Rover stated.

   “How'd you know to do that?” I asked the Pteranodon.

   “Hey, I'm extinct. I passed through that gate sixty five million years ago, give or take a little.” He looked aggrieved.

   “You came back?” I asked, looking at him with wonder.

   “Well, yeah, but I can't say how. I probably sort of seeped out, like maybe a drop every hundred years or so, maybe, but I didn't know what was going on, I just, somehow, must have done it.” I think we all looked blank. “I didn't know what was going on until it was done, and then it took a while to figure out,” he finished, with a shrug.

   “So, how about the Perfect Place? Is it perfect?” I asked.

   “Yeah, what's it like?” Jant added.

   “Everything that happens inside the Perfect Place stays inside the Perfect Place,” he told us with a sad look. “I have no memory of it, nothing. It's as if I was born again here but with vague memories of an ancient past life and absolutely nothing in between.”

   We were all silent for some time.

   “Anyway, there I was,” he continued, “waking, oh, so slowly into a fine spring morning, young and vigorous I was, coming out of a dream and into reality.” He paused. “A different reality than was apparent at first. Same green earth, although flowers were quite a revelation, certainly the first of many, and, well, then I was flying. Exhilarating it is, to float easily through the skies until someone on a broom sees you and falls off in shock.” He looked briefly guilty, before shrugging and continuing on. “I knew that my known reality had changed rather dramatically.”

   “I'll say,” Brak murmured.

   “So I flew the length of this great continent, keeping out of sight, figuring things out, bit by bit. Then, when I flew over the Pirly Gates again and saw you all gazing at it, all rapt-like at that big gray dome I, well, I wanted to help. None of you look as if you'd want to walk through, yet there you were, gazing, leaning forward, so I flapped by, made some noise, you know? Got a good cussin' from that so-called Perfect Peet, but you probably didn't hear that.” He shook his head. “Words you wouldn't expect coming from perfection,” he murmured.

   “Okay then,” I said. “C'mon and walk with us, uh. What's your name?”

   I'm Tonker-whooosh-b'bthwák,” he said proudly. “But I go by Tonker.”

   “Nice to meet you Tonker, I'm Rosy and that's Rover and those two are Brak and Jant.”

   “Gosh, that sure is a fine name you got Tonker,” Jant said as we started. “Can I try it? Tonker whooosh was it?”

   Tonker was a good teacher and soon Jant could say his name with a little accent. They were both quite pleased.

   We continued on the path that had brought us here. The further we went the less clear the path was until there was just a shallow valley and no trail at all, like when we started. I peered ahead but saw no sign of the Rivitir.

   “Want me to fly up and see if it's there?” Tonker asked, giving me a questioning look.

   “Wait, how'd you know I was looking for something?” I asked, suddenly suspicious again.

   “Because there's no way you guys coulda walked out here in the absolute middle of nowhere equipped the way you are. There's gotta be a vehicle of some sort.” He looked forward. “Hasta be.” He looked at me, then pointed to the right. “Over there a zillion kilometers, across the famous Endless Desert, is Elvenstead and over there,” he pointed to the left, “across a zillion kilometers of forest and craggy mountains is Alfenheimr. This spot?” He pointed downward. “Is nowhere. It's as far from anything as you can get on this continent.” He looked around. “I know. I've flown the length of it.”

   “That means that south is Joten and Mish,” Rover told us, “but they're also zillions of kilometers across the Endless Desert.”

   “Not much here,” I said, looking around nervously. Where's the Rivitir?

   “So, should I look?” Tonker repeated.

   “Huh? Oh, uh, yes. That would be good. See if it's up there,” I pointed ahead, “should be up there, oh, and it looks like a large cylinder with a rounded end.” With that he took to the sky.

   We sat to rest. “If we have to, we can call Zingellawabix and have Clarabelle bring the ship to us,” I told them. “I'd prefer finding it on our own though.”

   For me, contacting Zingellawabix is an emergency sort of thing, not something to do lightly. Clarabelle is our auto-pilot who, though I've not said, is likely to be at least partly culpable for Rover's horrendous navigation. Despite which I want to say that I have one hundred per cent confidence in Rover to accomplish successfully whatever navigational task is put to him. Clarabelle too. Just wanted to say that.   

   After a while we decided to continue on. I looked back, but the valley seemed at an odd angle, like we'd set off wrong, going across the Endless Desert. “Wait,” I called out. I aligned myself with where I thought the big valley was and pointed. “I think we go thatta way.”

   I glanced back as we began walking on our new course. It's odd we can't see the giant event horizon of the Perfect Place. When you're there it seems big enough to be seen from space, even big enough to reach space, you'd think. Standing at the Pirly Gates of Apogee you cannot see any ending to its event horizon, no matter how much you stretched and looked. Same with looking up. It seemed a vast wall, straight up to the edge of vision before you realize it's slightly curving inward, that the near infinite sides are also curving inward so that you see it's a dome as big as the Endless Desert. Bigger. Yet here we are, half a day's walk away and we can't see any sign of it.

   Stunned at this revelation, she became aware of her word machine and looked out the windows at the growing dusk. It was time to prepare dinner for her and her husband. She shut the machine and got up to close the drapes.

   During dinner they watched electronic devices that tell of detectives solving cases that just could not be solved, yet they do, every time. They're amazing. She has, however, yet to make full peace with the devices themselves. They resist her advances, returning instead all manner of grievous distractions, although thankfully her current word machine seems reliable. The others come and go.

   The night is peaceful, not too cold, and they stroll briefly in the park before returning to rest, forever dreaming their dreams. The next morning is overcast with rainy fronts charging through. She takes her walk, a walk she undertakes most days, wearing a raincoat, but she doesn't need it. The day is intermittently fair and her timing is good, taking her between the rains. She has a route that avoids most of the human wreckage and she sticks to it. It is the wreckage that's truly in charge here, it would seem. She's grown weary beyond understanding at the magnitude of the wreckage. Human beings cast out into wretchedness and hopeless despair in vast numbers. There's no way to conceive of it, yet there it is, in plain sight. She thinks of the people, scientists and specialists studying a nuclear disaster, an environmental disaster or any of the disasters that increasingly confront us, thinking how they must feel facing these big, seemingly irreparable messes and she suspects it's the same as she feels walking the streets.     

   She's always stood for goodness and light, but never stood at the center. Still, she tried to do the right thing, marched in marches, signed petitions, even participated in campaigns of various types, all promoting equality, freedom, and justice, yet here we are, buried in the wreckage of humans wandering the streets, pleading. Of course the wreckage rules, she thinks, because that's how her dreaded enemy, fascism, wheedles its way into power, slowly, insidiously. 

   Again she finds refuge back in her belfry. She checks on her husband who smiles and gives her a kiss. He is walking a little, having a good day. Later she'll take him outside in his wheeled chair for some fresh air. She sees the Pteranodon flying outside, bringing news.

   “I found it!” Tonker yells as he lands by us. He'd come from almost the opposite direction we'd been traveling and I felt disconcerted. He graciously doesn't notice. “C'mon,” he shouted, laughing and pointing the way. “It's not far!”

   And it wasn't far. Just over the ridge we'd been following. Maybe a kilometer back and over, so that somehow it had always been just barely beyond our sight. When I looked at the others, I could tell they were as confused and disoriented as I was. I invited Tonker into the Rivitir, which is quite spacious inside, having more than enough room for a big guy like him to be comfortable, and soon we were all relaxed in our places, resting and recouping, getting ready for wherever Rover {and probably Clarabelle} will take us next.

   She shuts the word machine and spends some time admiring the various views of the city that their belfry afforded them. Later, strolling through the park with her husband in his wheeled chair, she wonders if Tonker will be riding with them for a while. A Pteranodon. Gosh.

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