IPTSF Text 50
There were moments of clarity along the way, but not many. Jillian spent one frosty night in a wagon full of sawdust, looking up at the swift-blowing clouds tinged with white moonlight, wondering how close those clouds were to her nose. She thought they were maybe tickling her, but it could simply have been the moisture of her own breath warming and chilling her nose as she puffed out clouds of her own. She couldn’t tell which was more likely to be true. Was that where clouds came from? Was she making them now? Were the Titans breathing up there?
There had also been a morning on a boat, in the sunshine. The bobbing of the water had made Jillian vomit twice. Dame Branch administered a paste to her bare belly, and replaced the flower in her hair. She drifted back to paradise on a bare wooden plank that felt like furry flesh.
That their intended destination had been reached did not sink in for a while. Days, perhaps. The external sensations of place and time were there in her mind somewhere, but overwhelmed, like a single warm breath lost on the breeze.
Of course, here in this garden, lucidity was an especially stubborn beast to tame. The wild colors might be in her mind or her eyes. The smells of fruit and perfume opened doors to dimensions within. She took turns moving in polyhedral hexes within her own mind, in directions you could not travel in Erfworld because they did not exist.
She knew she had talked during this time. She’d said things to Dame Branch in the rush of a fresh flower—or in the empty staleness of need for a fresh flower—that she was not supposed to say. She’d talked a lot about home.
It troubled her when she could remember it, which wasn’t much of the time.
A morning dawned, though, when her flower had wilted. Jillian’s eyes split open to green light. Fuzzy shapes. Birdsong. The odor of soil and dew. She was coming around again. She needed a new flower.
And Dame Branch was not there.
She rose unsteadily to her bare feet, gripping the bark of a huge tree. The ground where she’d slept was a carpet of spongy green moss with tiny blue flowers sprouting here and there. She rubbed her crusty eyes with dirty fingertips and looked around.
Leaves, everywhere. Leaves at every level, in shades from lime yellow to the black-green of swamp water. Flowers, too.
Wrong color, though. She’d have to go and find her own.
Where did the pink ones grow? There seemed to be a path here, marked by little stones. No pink flowers in either direction, though. She turned and lurched unsteadily into the bushes toward the sound of broken glass, rattling in a teacup. No, that wasn’t right. Water. It was the sound of trickling water. Yes, she could use some water too.
The little brook was only a few footsteps away, she found. Bending down, Jillian washed and drank, then took latrine and washed again. Her hands and feet were free of manacles, as they’d apparently been since arriving here. Her clothing was back to a prisoner’s blouse and short pants, but she did not shiver. This garden was pleasantly warm.
The flowers she could see at the stream were disappointingly white, or straw colored, or violet. But there had maybe been a reddish-pink one back by the path, she thought, so she turned around and headed that way.
The cold water and the walking began to help her sort out the mess in her head. She picked the wilted flower from her hair and held it, focusing on its shape so that she might recognize another one. She could see the path clearly, just a patch of green sod that ran through the exotic foliage.
Taking the path and walking on the springy grass, she cast her gaze in all directions. Frustratingly, she saw nothing. This garden was vast, with rows of bushes and vegetable plants blocking her view. It was an arboretum too...fruit trees and plants with edible-looking seed pods lined the path and obscured the cloud-dappled sky. Vines wound through the underbrush, growing crazily in all directions, but somehow still respecting the pathway’s border.
It was probably very beautiful, but right now it was only so much “not a pink flower.”
One thing that was also not a pink flower was the streak of bright yellow she kept seeing through the leaves. She kept thinking it might be Crapsack, but it couldn’t be. It stretched across her entire view. She walked on, until she could see that up ahead the grass pathway led right to it, beneath an archway of green where two apple trees mingled their branches. She walked carefully that way, since walking still felt a little like swimming and a little like flying.
Bricks. It was a wider path, made of bricks fitted together without mortar. All of them were a uniform yellow, brighter than gold.
Not her yellow dwagon, then, but maybe it could take her where she needed to go. The little road led in both directions. She stepped onto it, picking the way that looked like it went uphill, and walked, still scanning for pink.
The road took her into a darker, denser part of the garden. More trees, fewer flowers. Leaves were scattered on the bricks below her feet. She thought about turning back and going the other way...
But she could smell them.
She smelled the pink flowers now, and her bare soles clapped on the brick as she sped up to a trot. The brick road curved, then curved back in an S, and suddenly there was sunlight ahead.
And pink. So much of the exact shade of pink. She stopped dead in her tracks and gawked.
The trees parted here, and the road ended at—no, was buried beneath—a sunlit field of the pink flowers, and only the pink flowers, stretching as far as she could see. Beyond, in the distance, a city of shining green spires dominated the horizon. Jillian gave it no heed.
She ran shrieking and giggling into the pink meadow. She smacked and dragged her open palms over every flower she passed, expecting to drop into a fog of ecstasy again at any moment.
She ran on, out into the middle of the field. She picked a flower and put it to her head, but it fell off. She tried again, but couldn’t get it to stick. She let out a high-pitched grunt of frustration, and crushed the flower in her hand.
“You’re not...you’re not doing it right.”
Jillian spin around, and was startled to see a woman down on the ground. This ghostly looking woman wore a blue gingham dress, and had white hair done in long, improbable braids. She was propping herself up on her elbows. Jillian had almost trampled her, in fact. She looked as if she weighed close to nothing.
The woman squinted up at her. She seemed to be missing her eyebrows, but marks had been drawn on her skin above her deep brown eyes which sort of resembled them. “Picking. I mean, you aren’t picking them right.” Her words were slurred. She had a large pink flower at her white, papery temple.
“Show me,” said Jillian, urgently.
The woman nodded, reached over, and pinched one of the flowers at the base of the stem. “Nails in it, here, see?” Jillian looked closely at the woman’s skeletal hand. She was pricking the bulb at the base of the flower, making it ooze something that smelled sweet and wonderful. The head of the flower popped off, and she handed it to Jillian.
Immediately she felt the flower power, just holding it in her palm. “Oh, thank you!” she whispered, near tears with relief. She reached to put it in her hair, but the woman’s bony hand stopped her.
“Wait,” she said, tilting her head curiously. “Who are you? A prisoner?”
“Yeah. Again. I’m Jillian Banhammer.”
“Dorothy,” croaked the woman. She sat up cross-legged, still holding on to Jillian’s wrist and annoyingly holding her back from placing the flower where it should go. She tried to pull her arm away, but somehow couldn’t.
Okay, the woman wanted to talk. Jillian owed her that much for showing her how to pick the flowers.
“You look terrible, Dorothy,” she said, trying to sound sympathetic. “How, uh...long have you been a prisoner here?”
Dorothy smiled, a terrible smile full of rotted and missing teeth, but filled with genuine amusement. “No. You’re my prisoner, Jillian,” she said, her head bobbing unsteadily. “I’m the Overlady of Haffaton.”
The yellow brick road, field of poppies, emerald city and Dorothy are all references to the story "The Wizard of Oz"
^ Possibly a reference to the story "A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K Dick.