Episode 1 – Waiting for a Reason

            “It can’t be true,” Moira said, as she slowly lifted her face out of the sink where she had just reached her hands into and splashed up cold water.

         “Look, I’m not going to say it again,” Calum retorted. “Every time I say it out loud, I risk opening a can of worms that I am not ready to put back together.”

         As if the can of worms were one of those fake “sprung-up” snakes that are some metaphor for a Jack-in-the-Box, it became instantly clear what he had been talking about. If you have ever tried to put one of these snakes back in the can they’re contained in, you would know that, invariably, the thing always uncoils just as you are about to succeed and launches itself clear across the room. For days, Calum had been trying to explain what it meant to feel something deep inside of his being. Almost as if there was a guiding light of some preordained universe that couldn’t possibly be explained or for real.

         “Calum, I love you and all, but I think you are one step from the looney bin. They are going to put you in paper scrubs and lock you in a cell and drug you.”

Calum didn’t take kindly to this remark. Most likely because of a long repressed memory of being mistreated by a psychotherapist. Something unknown rose up and blocked this memory from invading too far into his frontal cortex and then poof, it vanished like a cloud of smoke that dissipated immediately into thin air.

“Are you ready to check out yet?” Calum remarked, from the corner of the bed where he was slipping on his shoes. “Check out was at 11:00 am and it’s now 12:31 and the phone just keeps ringing. Next, the nice people are going to come banging on the door yelling ‘Housekeeping!’”

The phone that had literally been ringing by shaking up and down on the worn out nightstand was an old Lucent model from back in the 1980’s. The bell inside of it must have lost some of its integrity, because the phone rattled uncontrollably with the handset almost hopping off from time to time. Calum liked the sound, but was unwilling to admit it, since he was keen to get on with the day that was now more than half over.

“Housekeeping!” rang out loudly, accompanied by several knocks on the door. Calum couldn’t help but think how nice it was that the woman decided to announce herself instead of just rapping on the decaying wooden door. 

The silver-colored latch on the old door rocked back and forth in an awkward fashion with each successive knock. It was almost as if the door could pop off the hinges itself and come crashing down at any moment. Calum carefully removed the towel that was laying on the ground in front of the door and cracked the door open to the end of the chain to which it was attached.

“Sorry ma’am, we will be out in just a minute. It’s that time of the month,” he said as he winked with the one eye that was visible to the woman on the other side of the door.

“Si, Si, no problemo,” she backed up awkwardly to her cart and pushed it down toward the end of the second floor walkway.

Calum’s words had the desired effect, although he couldn’t figure out how the hispanic woman had understood what he had said, and he found himself back on the corner of the bed with his feet on the ground and the back of his head resting on his interlaced fingers. He could feel the ring he was wearing on his index finger dig into his middle finger, just to the point of pain, but not quite. The synapses seemed to not quite fill up with a full sensation.

“Alright,” Moira exclaimed, as if she was burnishing an 18-sided piece of quartz and had to rip herself away from this enlightening activity. “This better be worth it. I haven’t had a decent sleep for days.”

Moira wasn’t exactly a princess. She had earned her tramp stamp so long ago that the ink was already fading. Her forearms and lower legs were a myriad of purples, reds, and greens that dove in and out of each other to form various shapes that were impossible to discern.

She had grown up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in a beautiful brownstone on 105th Street. You would never know by looking at her that she was fed with a silver spoon. Her hair was mostly ratty, but not in dreadlocks or anything. It was a deep black color that gave off a sheen in just the right light. 

Moira hadn’t seen her parents since the day she turned 18 and decided she was better off on her own. That was almost 15 years ago. She looked forward to the point where she could say she was independent longer than she was supported by her parents. She was going to call that Moirapendence Day. 

Like rain running off an already oversaturated toadstool, Moira slipped into her skinny jeans and wriggled to help nudge them up and over her bony hips. She inhaled as deep as she could and wrinkled her belly button inward to latch the button through the hole on the other end. It worked its way in from one half of the circle and then the other. Moira wondered if the wheel itself was invented in a similar fashion to the way rivets were. How did people keep their pants up before them?

“Aggghhhh,” she called out. “We either need to stop eating for a few days, or I need new jeans.”

“Moira, you hardly eat anything as it is. I’m not sure you would make it a full 72 hours without passing out.”

Without trying to acknowledge Calum had just said this, Moira rolled her eyes and pulled her cropped sweatshirt over her head. As the sweatshirt lowered over her torso, her hairs magically flopped back into perfect harmony atop her head. Black hair has a way of being so similar, as opposed to any other shade besides white. It’s an odd feature of the color prisms of hair, not just human, that run amok from the colorful palette of a rainbow. 

Time slipped through a chasm of hopelessness and before the couple knew it, Calum had done a last minute “run through” to make sure all they left behind was Gideon’s Bible and they were kowtowing down the second floor walkway as if in reverence to some unknown force. Each step descended, one by one, until they were moving diagonally across the recently sealed blacktop. 

“Get in the car. Imma go drop this key at the front desk,” Calum said as he waved the ovular plastic keychain with a singular Kwikset key in front of his scrubby red beard. 

Although he could hardly see it, Calum knew that Moira was giving her simultaneous wink and thumbs up that she always did when she was at a loss of what else to do. As Calum walked into the apropos box of an office that was situated at the front of an L-shaped group of dilapidated motel rooms, the deep smell of newly poured asphalt asphyxiated itself to the lining of his lungs. The man behind the counter looked familiar for some reason he couldn’t quite place. 

No words transpired between the two men, although the beams of sense transfixed themselves to the barrels of light in the surrounding area. Calum placed the key gently on the counter and tapped it, as if he were showing a sign of respect to what appeared to be the owner of the establishment. The man on the other side of the angled counter nodded back at him, without losing eye contact. 

The counter itself was full of pamphlets and papers with the slogan plainly written on them, “Jesus Saves.” It was almost as if the motel itself were designed to house people that were preaching. Calum swiped a pamphlet out of the pile and wheeled around quickly to head back outside. The whirring sound of fans pushing around stale air was beginning to rattle him on the inside. 

“Thank you!” Calum called to the man as the bells on the door jingled slightly along with the door being opened. Before his brain could process the next moment, his consciousness drifted into a different state. Suddenly, the smell of his body odor from having sweated clear through both layers he was wearing, was unmistakable. Something about the human stench that is equal parts gross and nostalgic had taken over his momentary drift. 

Before many instants had been swallowed back into the space-time continuum, Calum had regained his wits and was somnambulating back to the car. Calum was no hardbody, that’s for sure, but in colloquial automotive terms, his car could be considered one. It was a turquoise blue-painted 1970 Chevy Nova. 

The actual color of the car was always a bone of contention among those he encountered in life. Most people consider turquoise to be an opaque blue-green mineral that appears naturally on Earth. As a color, however, it can share a wide palette from blue to green. If Calum were to say, which he often did, his car was a “pale” turquoise and closer to green than blue. 

Moira was standing there, with her back to the passenger side door, her butt cheeks resting gently in the open window and one foot resting flat on the side of the door. She knew this upset Calum greatly, as he took way too much pride in his car. The fact it was almost 50 years old meant a lot to him. He looked past the anger that started bubbling up and thought of the time he tried to do the Dukes of Hazzard slide into the driver’s seat one day. It was far from graceful, to say the least. 

The day was hot, as if a once pickled egg could transmogrify into a fried egg, upon an instant. The heat of the day in this mid-July sweat factory was nigh. Calum lifted up the chrome door handle attached to the heavy turquoise door of his Nova. As he did so, the door squeaked towards him and flung to a stop at a full 90 degrees, with a few extra bounces. He parlayed his figure like a lump onto the steaming hot, faded black leather driver’s seat and reached out to grab the open door to swing it shut. It creaked closed with the sound of a thousand flying squirrels and landed and latched with a big thud. 

As Calum inserted the key and turned the ignition, Moira flicked aside the cigarette she was holding, more for look than pleasure, and rolled into the car right through the passenger side window. Worried she might split her jeans in the process, he called out, “well, that’s one way to find yourself in need of a new pair of jeans.”

The engine roared to life with a pronounced glug, glug, glug, as the cylinders filled rapidly with flammable petrol. The 200-horsepower V-8 purred into an idle and Calum applied pressure to the manual brakes while pulling the shifter back into reverse. The sound of the tires rolling back on the asphalt rang through his ears, converted immediately into endorphins being released in spastic burts like liquid shooting out of a tiny bottle of nasal spray. The amygdala comfortably covered now, Calum found himself back on the road again. 

Moments like these infallibly brought the classic tune to his head, On the road again, it’s so great to be on the road again. Time became the heartbeat in a tiny bird, just conscious enough to open its mouth and let a worm from Mama Bird slip down its throat like a well-oiled machine. Moira and Calum were now back on the Interstate, with the music blaring and the steamy, stolid air flowing in through the windows and circulating with ease. 

“Do you think we can reach the place by dawn?” Moira spattered out. 

“I certainly hope so. At least that’s the way I see it. We will need to hike a few miles from the nearest road access, so you best leave the stilettos behind. I’m tired of lugging around your extra weight,” Calum launched at her. 

“Whatevs. I’m already starting to question whether any of this is worth it.”

As Moira said this, she leaned her head to the right and rested it on the door. She shut her eyes and almost instantly was subsumed by sleep. This left Calum in a more positive mental state, because he no longer had to worry about keeping Moira satisfied. It was no easy task. 

Calum was a melting pot of different European genetics. His hair was an almost strawberry red, with a full beard (and neck beard) to match. The variety of colors in his beard was a marvel unto itself. He stood just under six feet tall, but to place him in a height category, you would probably say he was average height. Gravity hadn’t yet taken its full toll on the growth of his hair, so his bald spot was hardly yet noticeable. His waistline also benefited from his cherubic point in life and he wouldn’t sniff 200 pounds for many moons. 

The muse he respected was still buried deep inside of his id, leaving him to constantly question why he did things so much on impulse. As a child, he was constantly wandering off in crowds. It seemed that a buzz of people in a large, open space was an occurrence that sparked something deep inside of him. It ultimately led him to an old tale of a mostly forgotten man, named Mr Greenjeans. 

Mr. Greenjeans was a plantation owner in the great state of Montana. If you have never seen the big skies of Montana for yourself, it’s worth the trip. Anyway, Mr. Greenjeans possessed some knowledge that was critical to the survival of the human race. He just wasn’t really aware of that at the beginning.  

As a child, Mr. Greenjeans was your typical idiot savant. A quick glance at him could make dozens of neck hairs extend themselves straight away from the skin. Anything more than a cursory glance would bring the entire Cartesian plane into the fold. Maybe this is why he eventually became a cartologist. 

Childhood wasn’t easy for Mr. Greenjeans and it wasn’t because of money. He had everything a child could ever want and much more. There was nothing particularly Apician about it;  in fact, the silver spoon wasn’t even polished. It was the world around him that created such grief. People he came in contact with had an expectation of how he should look and behave. As if they knew any better. 

“Having your face buried in a book at the table is no way to conduct yourself,” his mom would frequently lash out. 

Glancing up from the book with a giant set of weepy puppy eyes was his singular response to this. Would if he could have said, “Mom, did you ever consider I am reading this because I have to. It’s just important to the survival of the human race. Don’t question it, please?”

In ambiguity lies deceit. Secrecy is a hard trait to master and is most always done so to the detriment of countless other souls. That is unless the deception is just guarding a vital secret that could unlock death and destruction itself. Knowledge is power and power is dangerous. If the wrong people spread the wrong message, the very future of society is at risk. 

Mr. Greenjeans didn’t just know this like you know multiplication tables, it was a part of him, like breathing. Pip may have been hiding the infractions of Magwitch, but he was guarding the much greater secret of Joe Gargery, who could never forgive the infractions of Mrs. Joe, so Joe betrothed her instead and remained by her side until death. This secret was like a chestnut wrapped in an onion and smothered with chocolate. It couldn’t just be trusted in the wrong hands or many napkins would be needed to clean up the mess. 

It all started from his fascination with the landscapes of Montana. He had been to the west and to the east, but he was never happier than in a spot close to the center of the state, for some unexplained reason. There, he could often be found sitting on a cooler tossing a fishing line into a briskly passing stream and chowing on a 3-day old pasty. Trout would swim gracefully over the rocks as he tossed his line and pulled it back out of the water, a method commonly known as fly fishing. 

Mr. Greenjeans was a tall and skinny man. His once thick hair had become thin and wiry, with very little of it still occupying his crown. What was once a dark brown had become more of a salt and pepper. Weather and time had thickened his leathery face, with wrinkled marks adding a great deal of character to his innocuous gaze. To look into his stolid, hazel eyes was a journey unto itself.

It was in these eyes that Calum would find himself staring all of a sudden, his own eyes weary from watching the lines of the highway get mowed down like some parasitic anomaly. The sun still hung high in the sky, not yet diving to puddle itself into the horizon for the evening. Without warning, the car suddenly began to overheat and Calum was forced to pull over at the nearest stop. 

As he pulled off the interstate, he came up to a tiny town that seemed to only exist as either a hidden tourist trap or a claw to feed on unsuspecting travelers with extra money to burn. To Calum’s dismay, there was no gas station here to have someone take a look-see under the hood. With Moira still reading the back of her eyelids for clues, the Nova creaked across the dirt parking lot of what appeared to be an old theater, but with prison bars on the windows.

Calum latched the emergency brake and hopped out of the driver’s seat, one leg at a time. His sneakers made a rich sound as they connected with loose granules of rocks that broke free from the caked Earth that was blanketing the area. It was eerily quiet in the town, with a couple blinking street lights being the only non natural source of light. Calum walked deliberately up to one of the windows of the old building, which could easily have been a saloon in an old ghost town, save the large vertical sign which simply said “Theatre” and pointed toward the entrance with a big arrow. As one of the lights flickered on and off, it revealed some of the hidden character in the dilapidated sign. The font of the letters themselves placed the sign in a period during the Gold Rush.

“Can I help you?” came plowing through Calum’s ear canal as he was pulled in the direction of the man’s voice.

Without actually contemplating how to react to the question, the words just began rolling off Calum’s tongue, “Yes, I hope you can. You see, my girlfriend and I were just coming down the Interstate and I think I may have blown a gasket or something.”

Although Calum was generally unfamiliar with the workings of an overhead cam, he had heard this term before and thought it might fit the bill. All things being equal, as soon as he heard what he said, he felt his car suddenly unimportant. As if a cloudburst came from out of nowhere and soaked his once barren desert of thoughts.

“Calum, who are you talking to?” came the groggy voice of Moira, who may as well have been knocked out with a two by four some time ago. “I have a splitting headache. Go get me some Tylenol or something.”

It’s hard to understand what attracted Calum to Moira, as she was constantly badgering him to cater to her like a princess. His every effort to comply was what kept the game going. Like a game of duckpin bowling, the pins just kept popping back up, frame after frame. Maybe in some way, he thought he was saving her from herself.

“Is she okay?” Mr. Greenjeans asked Calum. “We don’t have a convenience store for a few miles, but maybe I can help?”

At this point, Moira had made her way out of the car and was standing among the two men who were still transfixed on each other. Just as she was about to speak, Mr. Greenjeans spun around wildly and began waving his finger in the air. As he didn’t yet walk with a cane, he didn’t have one to wave. 

“Follow me!” he called. 

Without wondering where they were headed, the couple, now holding hands, followed Mr. Greenjeans around the building, through a narrow inlet, into a courtyard. In this wide expanse, a veritable oasis appeared, guarded by a waist-high hedgerow and parapet. The light was artificial, as a canopy of trees stole the sky from peering eyes. LED lights provided a subtle white glow to the surrounding area. 

Buried in the courtyard, behind a false facade was what appeared to be a tiny door, but was really just a shadow. As if Calum had suddenly found himself in the tiny town inhabited by Betelgeuse, things appeared to enter that realm of the surreal. Strange thoughts collided with each other as they entered a garden of beautiful trees and flowers, each cordoned off in cookie cutter fashion. Shapes begat fistules of flora that drowned Calum’s senses.

“Follow me,” Mr. Greenjeans muttered, just loud enough to be heard by the couple. 

As if controlled by something extraordinary, Mr. Greenjeans alighted a set of stairs towards a large door. The door was nothing particularly astonishing, but neat and tidy enough to blend into the surroundings. With a swift rap, tap, rap, the door opened and out wafted the fumes of tobacco and booze, mixed with various perfumes and a distinct odor of patchouli. The patchouli smell in particular was prominently resting itself on top of the olfactory conflagration.

A man in a tight black suit wobbled out from the open doorway and extended his right arm to show the group of people into the club. He was a jocund man in looks and manner, barely sniffing five foot tall. In an effort to conserve his energy, he bowed carefully at the waist, his belly slowly extending the leather belt he was wearing close to its breaking point. Thankfully nobody noticed, and before long he found himself perched atop a stool by the door and watching Mr. Greenjeans enter the club with his new acquaintances.

After leaving the small antechamber, Calum spotted a sign above what appeared to be a private, hidden club. In a cursive font meant to show distinction, written on a plaque above the main gathering room was what seemed to be the name of the club — New Beargarden. In quotes underneath it said “New B for short.” This seemed an odd name for a club to Calum, and he glanced over at Moira, who was thumbing through posts on Instagram. 

In the process of pulling the screen down for a refresh, she asked, to nobody in particular, “Is there WiFi in this place?”

“We’re going to have to take your phones. They aren’t allowed here in the club. For everyone’s protection,” Mr. Greenjeans informed the couple. “Besides, there is no WiFi and we are going further underground, where you won’t be able to get a signal anyway. Fratelli will keep them safe for you.”

Mr. Greenjeans didn’t even need to snap two fingers together before Fratelli held out two velvet bags, one for each of their phones. Moira complied immediately, but Calum was busy spreading his hands across all the pockets of his outfit like he was playing Whack-a-Mole. 

“Looking for something?” Moira snarled. “I was wondering when you would notice.”

Like most things that are directed at inciting a feeling in Calum, this taunt had no effect and Moira handed a phone she had been concealing in her pocket, to Fratelli. Fratelli was a man built for his career. Nobody really knew what it was in particular that he did, but Mr. Greenjeans always considered him to be the enforcer. He basically made sure all the rules of the club were followed.

They walked further into the club, amidst the din of activity occurring. A craps table, about half full, was buzzing with the fervor of gambling. Off to the right were a dozen or more tables filled with people playing some sort of card game. The sound of shuffling cards and general commotion set the room ablaze with energy.

As he could tell Calum and Moira were being drawn to the bustle, he began, “don’t mind with that, we have something much more important to do.”

Before the words had passed his house of teeth, Mr. Greenjeans had veered sharply to the left and down another narrow hallway. Calum couldn’t help but notice how expansive the underground club was. It got cooler and cooler as they sloped lower and lower down. 

There was a sign on the wall, but Calum wanted to be sure, so he asked, “Why do we need protective gear? And why aren’t we wearing any?”

The dark red sign read, “WARNING:  Do not go any further without protective gear!”

While Calum was busy wondering the correct application of further versus farther, Mr. Greenjeans waved them into a tiny vestibule lined with about 10 lockers. They weren’t numbered and Calum was too preoccupied with his own thoughts to let any capacity be wasted on something as simple as counting the number of lockers in a strange, underground cavern. 

The three spelunkers adorned themselves with waterproof pants and jackets, hard hats with lights affixed to the top, and booties that fit snug over their existing footwear. Moira thought how happy she was that she hadn’t worn the heels. Just as this thought collapsed upon itself, Mr. Greenjeans was pulling a key out of his pocket and inserting it into a hidden lock. As he turned the key, a huge wall rose, almost like a garage door, and revealed another walkway. 

The sound of water dripping from a tall ceiling, slowly into standing water, was prominent. Meandering down the walkway, in what Calum observed to be an odd fashion, Mr. Greenjeans finally came to an iron cage that stood at least 20 feet tall by 30 feet wide. Inside of this cage, seated Indian style in the center, shackled to heavy chains attached to the excavated rock making up the floor, sat a man, wearing nothing except a paper hospital gown. 

Seeing this, Calum couldn’t help but shout out, “Are you trying to blackball me? You are keeping a prisoner down here?”

“I am not here against my will,” Erglens said, solemnly, not having yet opened his eyes to meet his company. “So it would be incorrect to call me a prisoner.

Erglens was not an ugly man, like Sloth from the Goonies. The only ugliness in his soul rested on the inside. For a man of about 50, he had aged well beyond his years. A long flowing beard and hair that hadn’t been cut in years covered almost his entire face, except for a small set of eyes that peered out from behind what could have been mistaken for a bird’s nest. His forehead was full of wrinkles and the eyebrows had but a few remaining hairs. His nose was sharp and thin, reaching a narrow point at the end. 

Erglens spoke again, the chords of his larynx barely vibrating the tones above a whisper. “Would you mind if I read you a short passage?”

Not sure if he was the target of this question, Calum looked first at Moira and then at Mr. Greenjeans, who seemed to both know it was Calum that was being targeted. He couldn’t think of a reason to object, so he nodded his head gently and uttered, “of course, please go ahead.”

“It is this I stare at here. I have it written on the ground of my cell, but I can’t quite discern its true meaning. Instead, I just say it aloud over and over again. It is a sort of madness that has kept me chained here for years on end. Here is the quote:

‘Oracles, truer far than oak,

Or dove, or tripod, ever spoke.’

“I can’t help but wonder how an oracle would be considered less true than oak. Is this a normal oak tree? What makes oak so true? I suppose what they said is of utmost importance? I digress; I would like to know what you think.”

The notion of Erglens as gatekeeper to some buried mystery was rather odd, especially since he, himself, was behind iron bars. Needless to say, nothing about this actually bothered Calum, but it inspired a lot of questions to pop themselves loosely through the folds of his cerebellum. None of what Erglens had just said made any sense to Calum, on the surface, but it seemed important to him nonetheless.

“If it is madness, and you are aware of it, then why continue?” Calum blurted out, trying to contain this phrase unsuccessfully.

At this, Erglens rose immediately, like one of those thumb push puppets that has just had the tension released. Something about what Calum said struck a nerve inside of him. Before speaking, he glared a lasting look of dismay that created a bond between the two men, which words could not compete with.

“Say more. What else are you thinking?” Erglens clawed back, looking to delve deep into Calum’s thoughts.

“Why are you wearing a paper gown? It doesn’t look very comfortable,” Calum asked rather nonchalantly.

“Now that is an easy answer. You see, I am at risk of suicide, so I am not permitting myself to have the cloth to use as a makeshift noose.”

The actual conversation that was occurring between Calum and Erglens seemed to be happening without Moira or Mr. Greenjeans noticing, but one can never be too sure. They were involved in their own repartee that wasn’t nearly as interesting.

Erglens continued, “The paper is not strong enough to hold my weight, but the strings on a cloth gown could withstand just to the point of breaking so I could deprive my brain of enough oxygen for it to zero out for good. Besides, what good would a cloth gown without a tie be? I might as well start throwing several sheets into the wind at once.”

Calum found this metaphor interesting and pictured three separate sheets, one yellow, one blue, and one red flying haphazardly in a windstorm. These thoughts collided with a serendipitous pause as he found himself still hanging on each sound coming from Erglens.

“You must have realized you’re not the first person to wind up here, right? Or did I actually just plant that thought in your head for the first time! Fascinating! I knew it would happen something like this. Don’t bother trying to fight it, just let the roots dig in and see where they lead.”

Erglens was rambling, mostly imperceptibly. The reader will benefit from seeing the actual text of what he said, but Calum could not really make out what he was saying. Mostly because the hard hat he was wearing was digging in to a part of his head that caused him to be primarily distracted. Something drew him to look down at his left foot. It was there that he was brought, on a raft of good will, back to the moment.

“Please, go on,” Calum insisted, as if nothing else ever could or would be of more importance. 

After clearing his throat of some innocuous phlegm, Erglens continued, “It is nice to be listened to and actually heard. I swear a decent man can go the nines with very little mental effort, but to listen with your full faculty, now that is something to behold. It reminds me of a tale of a young lad who thought he was riding of the most noble steed, but was merely upon an ass. The imagination does have a…”

“You must mean Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha!” Calum broke in without trying to interrupt the man. 

“Ah, you know it. That is fabulous! Lest I bore you with the details, it is the Don’s own chasing of windmills that is of concern to you right now. If you recall, he believed them to be giants and he kept imagining he could hunt them down. In spite of his sheer madness and delusion, the Man of La Mancha does not realize the true irony of his own mission. He is the last of his kind. Of a noble kind. 

“You see, the whole time he thought he was going to attack the would be giants, his mission was still true. Do not forget this, or you will never forget the true meaning of pain and torture. I have left for you a sack of things that you will need to go on. It is not more than you will need, but less than you will want, as are most virtuous things. 

“Speaking of which, if you see an apparition, do not be scared. She is there to guide you. You will have to figure the rest out, but she is a friend and you can trust her. Do not forget to keep an open mind and never forget that, with the right set of rules, anything is possible” 

Erglens finished speaking and went immediately back to sitting Indian style in the center of his cell. Just as this happened, Moira stopped mid-sentence in her conversation with Mr. Greenjeans and glanced towards Calum. Calum’s soft gaze met the haphazard look of Moira, who seemed not much in control of her faculties, and some sort of primal magnetism drew the couple together until they were engaged in a hug. Calum could feel the soft plastic of Moira’s rain gear against his own as it stuck together slightly and made an awkward sound.

“I think I know what we have to do now,” Calum insisted.

“Woah, I am not sure I’m ready for that weight,” Moira blurted out. “So please don’t put it on me just yet. All of this is starting to get a bit weird for my taste. What exactly were you talking with that strange man in the cell about?”

“I’ll explain on the way. Let’s not waste any more time.”

As Calum said this, he walked over to a set of wooden cubbies on a nearby wall and grabbed a soft burlap sack that already had “Calum” stitched into the front-facing side. He picked up the sack and was instantly intrigued by the weight of it. If he had to guess, it was more than 30 pounds. He started to open it up, maybe because curiosity got the better of him, and was instantly stopped in his tracks.

“Not now,” Mr. Greenjeans said. “You’ll have plenty of time for that when you are on your own. Your actual mission is about to begin. I will show you where to start.”

As he said this, his feet began gliding at a swift pace across the large enclosure they were in, until he came to an iron door. The door itself blended into the surroundings and had no visible handle. Mr. Greenjeans held his hand up to a scanner on the wall and a latch inside the door cavity instantly became unhooked and the door slowly creaked open. There was a cool air that came riding a wave of space and through Calum’s nose. It made the hairs on his nose tingle and elicited a sneeze.

“Gesundheit,” said Mr. Greenjeans. “I hope we meet again soon.”

As he said this, he bowed ever so slightly at Calum, mostly ignoring that Moira was even there. Calum reset the hard hat on top of his head with a small push of his right hand. He couldn’t help but think that the inside of the hard hat could use some sort of cushioning. Odd pieces of plastic and snaps kept digging into the soft skin on top of his skull. 

Any light that was making things visible in the current room was not in the cavern through the iron door, so Calum pressed the tiny button on the hard hat that turned the light on above his forehead. After he did this, he signaled to Moira to do the same, which she did, and the couple made their way across the threshold and into the next room. 

“The exit will appear to you after you find it,” Mr. Greenjeans stated plainly, as if Calum would know exactly what “it” was. As he finished speaking, he waved and proceeded to close the door. The closing of the door created an echo that rang throughout the walls of the cave, mixing in with the sounds of dripping water that bounced off all the rock formations contained within.

Since there was no natural light, Calum and Moira could only see the areas illuminated by the lights atop their heads. The area was full of a cool air that pervaded both the lungs and the skin. With still only his face exposed, Calum breathed deep and felt the air he was breathing in this underground area was more pure than the oxygen above ground. He looked over and saw Moira touching a stalactite that was within just a few inches of forming a column with the stalagmite below. 

“If you touch it, the oils in your fingers will disrupt the growth and never the twain shall meet. Try not to touch things if you don’t have to.”

“It figures you would know such useless information,” Moira chortled. “Where could you have possibly learned that? You can’t even remember what we ate for lunch yesterday.”

Again, Calum found himself about to fill up with rage, but instead simply replied, “Oh, it was from several caves I visited as a child. After years of being touched, the rock on the walls that would form stalactites and stalagmites just turns turquoise and stops growing.”

“Did you ever consider how stupid you sound? Blah, blah, blah, blah fucking blah.”

The final “blah” echoed throughout the large cavern, as if nobody would hear the words, like a silent tree falling. Silentries aside, Calum was back to full focus, moving forward, and not letting any moment get the better of him. Raising his consciousness to an elevated state took a lot out of him, so he bore down with deep breaths and gnashed his two sides together to find his second wind.

The second wind came rushing through and up his spine into the base of the brain and shot good vibes back into his frontal lobe. Calum continued forward, meandering along a barely perceptible path that wound in and out of various rock formations. Some of the walls appeared to be covered in frost and others had hidden eyes that stared right back. Although it may seem creepy, neither Moira or Calum had much fear building up inside of them. The passive energy of some ancient life force was, for the time, all consuming. At least it was for Calum.

“Do you have any idea what time it is?” Moira asked between pants, as she had become slightly out of breath.

All those years of inhaling cigarette smoke took a lot of the wind out of her proverbial breathing sails. The waves were choppy at this moment and she found herself in need of a rest. So, without warning, she just plopped down, right in the little puddle at her feet.

“Well, that’s much better,” she heeded as the blood began to work its way back to her brain after circulating throughout the areas more in need of the life-giving force. Thankfully, she was still dressed in rain gear, so her skin-tight jeans remained dry, for the moment. “I feel like I have been standing here all day.”

Something wasn’t quite right with Moira. A piece of straw tipped the scales of her perpetually loose grip on reality. Calum had found himself about 25 feet ahead of where she was and quickly doubled back to see what was happening. As he approached, he was already starting to poke through the burlap sack he had been carrying. He figured there had to be some sort of food contained within and that was probably what caused Moira to feel faint. Although she was never diagnosed by a doctor, she tended to get lightheaded when she had gone long periods without nourishment.

Calum thumbed across what felt like a CLIF Bar and pulled it out of the sack. Without pausing to even look if it was, he handed it to Moira. She, as well, didn’t bother to even read the wrapper before wolfing down what was actually a marijuana-infused energy bar. Written in boldface on the wrapper was “this may serve to zap your energy instead of creating more, but after a rest you will be rejuvenated like never before.”

“I think I have one of those headaches again,” Moira ensued. “I hope this helps.”

As she said these words, her own reality slipped into a paradigm of the abnormal. The lines on Calum’s face began to waver clumsily in the light. Calum sat down next to Moira and reached out to hold her hands. The weight of everything was beginning to creep into the fistula left behind from a childhood injury to his heart. 

Quite literally trapped in time, the couple spent almost an hour clutching each other. Moira doing so because she couldn’t do much else and Calum because he felt the need to comfort her. 

“I think we should take this rain gear off,” Calum said primarily to himself, since Moira’s normal inattentiveness was only exaggerated by her current mood. “I am pretty sure it’s not doing much except making us sweat.”

As he said this, he started taking off the coat and then the tight yellow pants. Upon removing the pants, he placed them flat on the ground and sat back on top of them. This kept his bottom from soaking water up directly from the porous rock. He leaned over and started helping Moira do the same. She voiced no rejection so he continued to do so, trying hard not to disturb her flaccid will. 

All in all, the rain gear didn’t serve much of a purpose. It wasn’t like they were going to melt away or have any fashionable threads to protect. Moira’s sentiment shift was about complete as Calum took the opportunity to explore further the burlap sack. He began to remove the items, one by one, laying them on top of the laid out yellow rain jacket. 

There wasn’t anything particularly interesting contained within and none of it really made any sense. The first thing Calum looked at was the leather bound diary with attached pencil. The pencil itself was not sharpened and the diary had nothing written in it. As he placed the diary back down, he grabbed a folded up blue chamois that looked like some sort of polishing cloth. It was in a sealed plastic bag, likely to protect it from getting soiled.

Two small plastic fans and a large plastic bottle filled with what appeared to be water was all that remained. It was undoubtedly the water bottle that made up the majority of the weight of the whole sack. Having seen all he needed and not parched enough yet to break into the water supply, Calum placed all the stuff back in the sack and pulled the thin, black drawstring to secure the items inside. 

“I think we should leave the rain gear behind and start walking again,” Calum posited, feeling the itch to move forward. “Are you able to stand?”

As he said this, Moira seemed to have something to prove and she shot back up like a little daisy. Knowing full well she would likely be only minutes from crashing again, he figured it would be good to go with the flow. Calum rolled casually to a stand, like an egg trying its darndest to stand on the more narrow of two points. He soon found himself struggling to catch up to a newly rekindled Moira. 

“I guess this stuff could have a great deal of value to somebody else. I feel terrible leaving it behind like waste, but we just can’t carry it.”

“Will you just shut up already?” Moira called out like a shrill squawk. “Nobody cares about your stupid environmental bullshit!”

Almost immediately after she said this, she had spun around wildly and raced on. Somehow, the couple went on like this for more than an hour. A powerful force pushed them forward at a staggering pace, leading them down a narrow path to a dead end. As Moira realized this, she turned back right in front of Calum and met his gaze. 

Something caught Calum’s attention above and, in sync, they both looked straight up. Up above them, attached to a frayed rope, was a tiny mirror. As the mirrored swayed, ever so slowly, it reflected several different spots around them. One area, in particular, stood out immediately. 

The area appeared to have been disturbed by something other than wind or water. A tiny enclosure was left with an even tinier inscription that was illegible from a distance. The area had to be at least 15 feet off the ground. If Moira stood on Calum’s shoulders, she just might be able to reach, but it would be close. This didn’t seem to be a viable option in the current state. 

“I don’t suppose you have a plan?” Moira snickered, doubting that Calum would be able to see his way through this situation. 

Lo and behold, this is exactly what happened. In some swift motion that would have made Merlin snicker, Moira suddenly found herself standing atop Calum’s shoulders, barefoot. He reached up his hands to try and offer support, but she was currently crouched and using his head like a joystick. 

“Left, right, right, left,” Moira’s voice cantered, on its way to reaching a full gallop, as if she was calling out a cadence. She was no Ninjago, be it Lego or otherwise, and was having a hill of a time trying to get her footing. Every time the right foot was centered on the trapezius, Calum would flinch and cause a tickle to grow on the bottom of her foot. The cycle repeated itself a few times until a waft of something foreign entered one side of Moira’s nose and flowed right back out the other. A barely perceptible light followed this swarm of particles down to where Calum had been looking.

Moira was now standing there, with both arms outstretched in front of her body, carefully balanced. It was as if she had gone from yoga novice to expert in little more than a fraction of the time it would be expected to take. Moira decided she was more comfortable with her eyes closed and fully focused on her balance.

“I think I’m ready,” Moira said plainly, still making every effort not to move more muscles than she had to.

“Okay,” Calum answered. “Let me start by just taking one step. I will walk forward with the right foot and then stop. This way we can make sure we are in sync.”

Calum did just this and Moira remained comfortably in position. He proceeded to call out a few more steps and even did a 180-degree turn with her propped on his shoulders. 

“Now open your eyes,” Calum said. “I think you should just be able to see into that little alcove up there.”

As he said this, they moved in sync across the soggy rock of the cave and Moira was able to see directly into a hidden alcove, filled with leaves and twigs, which didn’t fit in with the surroundings. Having reached within inches of a tiny bird, it became frightened and abandoned a nest it was trying to make. Moira nearly lost her balance, but managed to cling on by the narrowest of margins.

“It’s just a dumb bird’s nest,” Moira said while continuing to jump to conclusions with little merit. “What are we even doing here?”

Calum took a moment to inhale deeply before responding. A habit of listening to people he had recently found to be a great benefit to conversation. Although he could now do this without even trying, he would wait just a split-second after somebody spoke, to let the actual words resonate inside his head. This way, he at least had a chance to hear and not just interrupt people with what he was only waiting to say.

“Take a second and move away the debris,” Calum spoke softly and slowly.

After a brief pause, but no reply, Moira began to wipe the pine needles, dried leaves, and tiny sticks out of the area. It fell down mostly right on top of Calum’s forehead and nearly made him rip off a giant sneeze. As he managed to suppress the sneeze reflex, he wondered if anybody ever had their eyes pop out of their head by sneezing with their eyes open.

“I see something!” Moira exploded. “It can’t be! It looks like a tiny little box. Maybe it could be a jewelry box or something?”

Feeling her move more than before, Calum sensed her excitement at the situation and attempted to calm her down by squeezing her foot ever so slightly.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Moira said. “Don’t you ever stop trying to control the situation?”

“We have to do this together or it won’t work,” Calum remained calm as he said this. “Just take a deep breath and stay with me. I think we only have one chance to do this right.”  

Saying this, Calum continued to direct Moira back to the alcove with a few swift steps. They were both becoming quite exhausted and were struggling hard to maintain focus. Moira managed to slide her hand past the dark opening and felt the box that fit snug into the remaining part of the enclosure.

“I can feel it!” Moira exclaimed as she felt around the box to estimate how large it was. “It doesn’t feel that large. I should be able to hold it no problem. Let me make sure it’s not stuck in here or anything.” 

As she said this, she moved her fingers across the tops and sides of the tiny wooden time capsule. The wood was moist and soft, with moss growing around it all over. Moira couldn’t help but be creeped out a little by the mushy feel of it. With a little force, she was able to dislodge it from the growth surrounding it. Without much room to work with, Moira looked down to make sure Calum was ready in case it came shooting out towards his head. 

“Alright,” Moira ensued. “I am going to grab it with both hands. How am I going to get down from here and not kill myself in the process?”

“That’s a good question,” Calum pondered. “There doesn’t seem to be a good landing area for you. I think maybe it would be best if you try and toss the box down to me and then grab on to one of the rocks and try and scale down slowly? Just be careful.”

Without much notice, Moira seemed fatigued enough to be called to action and shouted, “Alright, here it comes,” as she tossed the box toward Calum’s outstretched arms. The box landed in his outstretched palms with hardly a thud and Calum noticed that Moira was flailing wildly, suddenly, above him. Something had overcome her, whether it was exhaustion or something else, and he carefully placed the box on the ground next to his feet and helped Moira climb down off his shoulders. Using the rocks as a guide, he was able to safely steer her back to the ground. 

“Take a minute,” Calum insisted, “and catch your breath.”

“Stop telling me what to do,” Moira snapped back. “I’ve had enough of it. You never would have been able to do any of this without me. Now let’s open this thing and see what’s inside.”

Moira grabbed hold of the box and carefully shook it like a child examining Christmas presents underneath the tree. By the sound of it, she realized that the inside of the box must be padded and there were several items inside. After turning it around in her hands several times, she couldn’t find any way to even try and pry it open. Each of the 6 sides didn’t have as much as a crease to try and use for leverage.

“Do you mind if I take a look?” asked Calum.

Without answering, Moira handed the mysterious box to Calum. It was the first time he really had the opportunity to study it in any detail. The box was about the size of a loaf of bread. Not your standard white bread; more of a stouter, taller bread. The moss that covered the outside was easy to wipe away, but didn’t reveal any inscriptions or clues how to open it. It felt moist to the touch, as did mostly everything in the dank cavern.

“Maybe it’s a magic lamp or something with a spirit inside and we just need to find the right way to let it out?” Moira posited.

“That sounds a little bit silly,” said Calum. “I mean, at this point, I don’t want to rule anything out, but really?”

“Oh, now I’m the one who sounds crazy?” As Moira’s voice tailed off, her level of disgust at the whole situation was rising, in direct proportion.

Calum kept turning the box over in his hands, looking for an idea that just wasn’t coming to him. He laid the box in his lap and started to look through the sack again. The absence of anything sharp or otherwise useful in breaking the thing open was posing a problem. He examined the unsharpened pencil that was still sitting snug in a sleeve attached to the leather diary.

“Do you think if I just slammed it on the ground, I might break whatever is inside?” Calum questioned.

“You can’t be serious!” Moira exclaimed. “What if this is a magic box and the spirit residing inside needs to return to it after granting you several wishes? What then? You will have just destroyed its home.”

“Are you sure you’re feeling okay? You are hardly making any sense. Magic boxes and spirits?” As Calum said this, he started to mutter fake incantations under his breath, barely audible.

While saying this, he grabbed the pencil in his right palm and started making a motion like he was going to strike the box with it. It seemed this would also be a futile activity, serving to do little more than crack the pencil in two. Each motion he made, up and down, angered Moira even more. Eventually she just plain lost it and started shouting uncontrollably at Calum.

“That is IT! I’m not doing this anymore. You and your god damn stupid Hopi bullshit is going to get us killed, maimed, or both. Maybe being maimed doesn’t matter anymore when you’re DEAD! I am so done with you. Pound sand you creep.”

A store of emotions had been bottled up inside of Moira for so long that when the top finally popped off, it all came gushing out like water looking for lower ground. Where she would even go from this point, Calum couldn’t even imagine. They were so deep into the cavern that he had no idea which direction would even lead back above ground. Calum just sat there, dejected, with a number 2 pencil in his right hand and the mysterious box resting above his crossed legs. Seconds became minutes and minutes became hours until he finally decided to proceed with his original dumb idea of smashing the pencil into the outside of the box. Not only did this seem futile, but it would likely destroy the pencil, or at least make it harder to fulfill its purpose as a writing utensil. Surely a poet would be able to put those two words together, pencil and utensil. Instead, they are stuck trying to find a word to rhyme with orange. So there he was, pencil raised up again, just about to slam it eagerly into the box, when the faint feeling of fingers on his right wrist stopped him dead in his tracks. He instantly opened his palm, dropped the pencil, and an onrush of sensation flowed through every extension of his being at once.

End of Episode 1


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