Sunday, 29 September 2013

In The Undone

Surrounded by white mist, melting away, Lester realised just how complicated he, in fact, wasn't. He imagined that some people, Phoebe September for example, might take a long time to be undone. Lester got the impression that Phoebe was a very complicated person. Not nearly as complicated as Chester, of course, Lester's brother was an extremely complicated man.

For a moment it seemed totally appropriate that Lester's last thoughts should be of his missing brother. After all Lester didn't have much motivation beyond that. Lester could comfort himself with the thought that, even though he would no longer exist to be reunited with Chester, Chester would continue to exist elsewhere, finding remarkable things, doing remarkable deeds.

Then the moment passed and Lester remembered Chester had left Lester a small vial of potion with instructions that Lester should consume it when the time was right. Well, soon there would be no more time to be right, and what was a righter time than that?

Lester picked the vial, wrapped in a handkerchief, from his left jacket pocket. He took the stopper out and swallowed all the liquid that he could. It tasted of nothing but had an electric texture that poked and prodded at his tongue as it passed over. The strange, jangling, spiky sensation continued down his throat and proceeded to spread through his limbs.

Lester began to feel less like he was drifting and more like he was standing in a huge white hall on a white floor, lit in white from all directions. Lester was lost in the fog of the undone, alone, saved temporarily by his brother's potion. Lester held the vial up for inspection, there was still about half a teaspoonful of the liquid left in the bottle.

His thoughts beginning to circulate more rapidly Lester scooped the wispy form of James from his pocket.

"Quick, drink this," Lester said holding the rim of the vial up to James.

James appeared to be incapable of drinking unaided so Lester forced the lip of the vial into James's mouth and upended it. The drops of potion slid out of the vessel. Lester hoped fervently that James could still swallow them. Drowning the mouse with the potion that might otherwise save him seemed a very cheap and unsophisticated irony.

As it turned out James could swallow and within a few seconds he sat up on Lester's palm and looked about himself. The mouse's eyes had regained their usual sharpness, much to Lester's relief.

"Well, here we are," James said.

"Yes," Lester said. "We're definitely here."

"In the undone," James said.

"In the undone," Lester agreed.

"So, I guess the question is," James said. "How do we get out of the undone?"

"I don't know," Lester said. "There's no indication where the exit might be."

"It would be handy," James said. "If we could have some sort of map."

"A map?" Lester asked. "What, of the undone?"

"Well, I guess, just a plan of where the edge is. The undone must have an edge, we were on the other side of it about an hour ago."

"That's true," Lester said. "I think to find the edge we would have to know where we were and the problem is it doesn't matter where you stand everywhere else looks just the same."

To demonstrate his point Lester took a few steps away from where they started out, there was no sound to indicate movement and the atmosphere remained undisturbed.

"See," Lester said. "Everything in every direction just remains white."

He spun round on the spot showing James the complete lack of detail or reference points. Lester's demonstration was slightly undermined by the presence of a small square of paper lying on what, for want of a better phrase, could be called the floor back where Lester and James had come from.

Lester walked back over to the paper, bent down and picked it up. Holding it out in front of him he read the four words across the top: "Map of the Undone"

To the right of the title was a small compass rose indicating that North was towards the top of the map. This might have been helpful were it not for the fact that the rest of the paper was entirely blank.

"Very amusing," James said. "Not even a 'You Are Here' marker."

"But, this wasn't here a few minutes ago," Lester said.

"How do you know. It looks like you might have been standing on it and not even known."

"Until I took the potion," Lester said. "I don't even think there was anywhere to stand. I felt like I was just drifting apart, there was no up, no down, nothing but undone. I don't believe the potion both pulled me together and provided a novelty map."

"So where did it come from?" James said.

"You were talking about it," Lester said. "You were talking about it and then we found it."

"Well, that does look like my kind of punchline," James conceded. "So, you think that if we can conceive of something out here it comes into being."

"Maybe that's how the undone becomes the done," Lester said.

"So if we think about it hard enough then we'll find a way out?" James asked.

"Excuse me," said a third voice from behind them. "I don't suppose you've seen a jungle around here anywhere?"

Lester turned around. Standing a few feet away from him and James was a slim woman wearing a light green dress that matched with her long, shiny hair. Lester could see a pair of translucent wings fluttering at the woman's back showing that she was some species of sprite, possibly an elemental.

"Uh, no," Lester said. There were many other things that he would have liked to say but he found the sheer number of questions available to him so bewildering that he couldn't focus on any one in particular. "I don't think there's one nearby. But then, I didn't think there was, strictly speaking, anything nearby at all and in the last few moments I've found a map and, uh, well, you found us but you see where I'm going..." the fairy did not respond immediately, just stared at the curious, gabbling man holding a mouse in his left palm. "I mean... I'm... we're... not possibly the best people to tell you what is, or isn't, nearby."

"Oh, dear," the fairy seemed disconsolate. "I was looking for my husband and my daughter, for a long time. I heard that Okulas had put them into a jungle he had made, with a rock at the centre, shaped like a skull. It's not really a jungle, it's a prison. I wanted to find them and then I got lost, something happened... I don't know. Oh. I don't think I shall ever find them."

The fairy looked about for something to sit down on, but there was nothing about except for her and James and Lester. A silence fell between them. Lester's question count had escalated even further, his head was starting to spin. The fairy appeared to have lost all will to do anything.

For the second time in the last day Lester believed, having talked with James about his past, that this woman had been searching for James and Rachel, the only question was: would James be overwhelmed by the situation a second time?

The words "Well, are you?" found their way out of Lester's mouth aimed at the rodent sitting in the palm of Lester's hand.

"Put me down!" James said. "Put me down on the floor! Right away!"

At the sound of James's voice the fairy's gaze suddenly snapped in the direction of the mouse's small grey-furred body. A look of incredulity came upon her face.

Lester knew when James was using his urgent voice and complied with his companion's instructions. James scampered across Lester's fingers but by the time he had reached the empty white pseudo-ground of the Undone he had taken a step with an actual foot, a human foot. Lester, who had been watching this, couldn't quite remember how it was that he had been looking at a mouse and now he was looking at the blue of a pair of coarse-cloth trousers but that was what had happened.

"Am I the only one who doesn't understand any of this?" Lester asked, stepping back to look at the man James had turned into.

"James!" the fairy cried out. "It's you!"

"Rebecca!" James replied as the two embraced, holding onto each other tightly.

It was clear that the two were overjoyed to be reunited, especially as one hadn't remembered the other until a few seconds ago and the other one hadn't recognised the first until the same time. Lester felt it was probably high on the list of things not to do to interrupt immediately.

Touching as the scene was it didn't change anything else around them so Lester felt he had to interrupt.

"Um," he said. "Glad you two have found each other and everything but, well, I can't help but point out that we are still lost in the undone. I'm not positive how long the potion's effects will last so, jungle or not, we do need to get out of here, quickly as possible."

James broke the embrace with his wife and stood back. Now that he had been de-moused Lester could see he was a tall, thin man with a mop of floppy dark hair. He was wearing a long-sleeved grey tunic cut in a manner Lester had not encountered before, blue trousers and a pair of very strange looking shoes.

"You're right," James said. Lester was already finding it strange to see the mouse's voice coming from this non-mouse form. "I think that finding Becky here demonstrates that we are affecting the undone with our thoughts, even the ones we're not aware that we're having. Somewhere, when we were understanding the map a part of my brain thought about Becky and then... well... here she is."

"I'm not entirely sure that I understand that in its entirety," Lester said. "Still, it seems the best explanation we have, however not very good it is. So, what? I just try to picture the forest around the house and we return back to Eos?"

James shrugged.

"Worth a try," he said.

There followed a few moments of odd facial expressions and furrowed brows.

"Apparently not that simple," James said with a sigh. "We must be missing something."

"Well," Lester said. "We'd better stop missing it pretty soon, because I don't think our magic will protect us forever."

"James, what's happening?" Rebecca asked.

"We're lost in the undone," James said. "Lester here had some potion that stopped us floating away and also appears to make the undone respond to our thoughts. We need to get out of here before the potion wears off. So far, not as simple a task as we might have wished for."

"Where's Rachel?" Rebecca asked. "What happened to her?"

"Well, that's the thing," James said. "She was with a friend of ours, a mermaid called Eos, when Lester and I wandered into the undone. I'm sure she's safe. It would appear, however, that we can't just will ourselves back to the point where we got lost."

"I had wondered whether this was one of Okulas's torments," Verda said. "Then I realised that if it was then there would surely be glass monkeys about. Of course, there might be, it's always so hard to tell."

"Becky," James said. "I'm afraid that I've suffered some memory loss. Since Rachel and I left the Skull Garden things have been coming back to me, but not many and not all in order. I don't know who Okulas is, or what a glass monkey is."

"Okulas is the man who put you in the garden," Rebecca said. "Although why a Count would care about you and your work I don't honestly know. Something about it made him unhappy. One of his glass monkeys was spying on you. We didn't know it at the time because they're invisible. Wherever we went they would find us. If we get out of here then there's a chance they will find us again, then what will you do? How will you stop yourself being imprisoned again?"

James didn't say anything, Lester guessed that was because the former mouse, having half his memories missing, had no real answer to Rebecca's question. One thing, however, was totally plain.

"It doesn't matter if glass monkeys or wooden tigers or even copper badgers will catch us out in the world," Lester said. "If we stay here eventually we will definitely be undone and then we won't be any kind of animal made out of any kind of non-traditional material. So could we please focus?"

"Absolutely," James said, the most wholehearted agreement that the sarcastic mouse had ever shown for anything Lester had said. Lester didn't flatter himself that his own sarcastic comment had carried any more weight than anything else that he had said so far. Lester imagined that James had seized on the need to get out of the undone as a distraction from the ever-present fact that what he didn't know (or at least couldn't remember) could get him in very deep trouble indeed.

Lester watched James look up and about, pondering the current predicament. Lester flattered himself to believe he could still detect traces of the mouse that had been about the lanky, long-faced individual he had become.

"Reference points!" James said suddenly.

"What?" Lester and Rebecca said, almost simultaneously.

"Imagine somewhere," James said to Lester, "anywhere, imagine it."

"Okay," Lester said, thinking of the Patchwork Market.

"What colour cravate is the tall gentleman with the green eyes standing behind your left shoulder wearing?"

"I hadn't been thinking about a tall gentleman with green eyes," Lester said.

"That's the problem," James said. "Although we could all imagine the same location we would all imagine it differently. Only if there is a singular image in our minds will the undone respond properly. I imagine that we both thought of the map the same because we both understand my sense of humour. Becky came straight from my subconscious without interference from you. I think that's because someone dispersed her into the undone and I forgot her: so you didn't even know she existed. I could re-imagine her because she was here to be re-imagined."

"Okay so, what do we do?" Rebecca asked.

"To make an exit," James said, "we all need to think of something that we can agree on, something that's pretty much the same for all of us whenever we interact with it."

"Like the moon?" Lester asked.

"That'll do," James said. "Everyone, concentrate on the moon, then look for it."

Lester concentrated and looked up and around to where he expected to see the moon. Amazingly it was exactly where he thought it would be. The undone made it look a little indistinct but it was definitely the moon.

"Over there," he said, pointing.

Following the moon Lester, James and Rebecca emerged from the cloudy expanse of the undone onto a road cloaked in night leading towards the cheery lights of a small town in the distance. What they did when they got there is a tale for another day.

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