IPTSF Text 53
“Where are you?” asked the mirror-white sky.
“I’m right here,” said Jillian.
“No, describe it,” said the sky.
Jillian frowned. Words were so dumb in a place like this. “Yellow grass. I’m riding the hill.”
“Ridiiiiing! Yes. I’m mounted on the yellow grass hill. It’s taking me somewhere.”
“Do you know where it’s taking you?”
Jillian snorted. “NO!” she shouted, laughing at the silliness of the question. “What, do you think I’ve got reins on this thing? It doesn’t take orders. It’s a hill. And you’re just the sky. Zaphod’s just the sky, you know?” She laughed at saying something she couldn’t understand. The words were just silly. The world was random and silly, silly, silly.
She rode on. This valley she found herself in was all leafy and branchy, not just the trees but the valley itself branching in all directions, like a tree trunk. How could the sky ask her to describe it? It had a lot of colors and it was a place. Kind of. Silly.
“Why, where are you?” she thought to ask the sky.
“On the ground,” said the sky, which was about the most ridiculous lie a sky could tell. Jillian laughed again. “Sitting beside you in the [[Olive's Garden|Garden}}. Being punished. I was just wondering where you were going. I...hope the hill takes you somewhere nice.”
“I think it will,” said Jillian. “But I hope it goes somewhere with water. I think I’m thirsty.”
“You are thirsty,” said the pale sky. “I can see it in your body. I’ll get you some water.”
“You could just rain on me,” said Jillian.
“Stay there. Keep riding.”
Jillian did. But the hill took her nowhere she could recognize. It kept hesitating at each branch in the valley, then making decisions and heading down one path or the other. But she didn’t know why. She listened to the stuttering echo of birds that she could not see, while the foamy colors of the trees swayed and washed against the yellow turf of her little hill.
“You have a cup in your hand,” said the sky. “Can you see it?”
She looked down. The thing in her hand was an exquisitely delicate porcelain tea cup filled with insects. Her eyes went wide.
“Bugs,” she sputtered.
“No, it’s only water,” said the sky. “No bugs, see? Water.”
She looked again, and the sky was right. Clear water in a plain tin cup. She drank. The sky seemed to help her put the cup to her lips, however that worked. The water was clean and cold. So good.
“Thank you, sky.”
“You’re welcome, Jillian.”
“Are you watching me?” she asked.
“For a long time,” said the sky.
“Then can you see where I’m going?”
“No,” the sky said. “But I think it doesn’t much matter. You’ll always come back to me, whatever way you intend to go. That’s what I believe, anyway.”
“That’s not any fun,” said Jillian, making a face. “I don’t want to know how it ends.”
“I do,” said the sky. “I want that rather desperately.” The white sky faded to gray, then to a starless black. The land stayed lit. “Almost as desperately as I want it to end.”
Jillian looked up into the featureless void that stretched from horizon to horizon, and swallowed. “That’s really sad,” she said.
“Mm. You have no idea,” said the sky.
Jillian fell out of her dream at night, which was something she didn’t usually let herself do. She landed reluctantly upon the mossy ground, in something like lucidity. The air had the chill of midnight on it. Frogs and crickets held the watch for the birds and humming insects that were sleeping at this hour. The Garden was never silent.
And there was a light. She could see an orange flicker through her eyelashes.
She plucked the useless flower from her hair, and felt around for a replacement. There wasn’t one. This would require opening her eyes all the way, wouldn’t it? With all the effort and speed of raising a castle’s portcullis, she did so.
With additional effort, Jillian sat up on her rump, leaning against the big tree. There was a campfire in a small circle of stones here. Lady Firebaugh had moved a couple of logs beside it. Pieces came back to her mind, especially when she saw the thorns on the Croakamancer’s head.
“So. Where did the hill take you?” asked the Lady Firebaugh.
“Hill?” Jillian rasped. She cleared her throat.
“You stopped being able to talk, shortly after you told me about riding a yellow hill,” said the Croakamancer. “I was curious where it took you.”
Jillian remembered, kind of. “You were...the sky?”
The Croakamancer nodded.
“I’m sorry. I don’t remember,” said Jillian. “That was dreams and dreams ago.”
“It didn’t matter, then,” said Lady Firebaugh. “Back to me, as I said. You’ll want another heroine bud, I suppose?”
“Yes!” said Jillian, leaning forward and grabbing her knees. “Is that what they’re called? Do you have one?” She brushed her empty temple with one hand.
“Hero buds, or heroine if the wearer is female. And yes, I have one,” confirmed the Croakamancer. “I went to the field and got it for you. I want it, too, but it won’t do anything for me with this on,” she said, indicating the hoop of thorns on her head.
“Can I have it?” said Jillian, holding out her hand.
The Croakamancer nodded, reached behind the log, and pulled out a very fresh-looking pink flower. She pinched it expertly, as she arose.
Jillian didn’t stand up. She just kept her hand outstretched. Please don’t let her be toying with me.
But the Lady Firebaugh walked over to Jillian and placed the bud in her hand without the slightest hesitation. She slapped it eagerly to her head, and felt the relief of a great need met.
The Croakamancer looked down at her. She still wore the scraps of gauze. Her hands were folded in front of her, her expression full of genuine pity.
“Why are you being so kind to me all of a sudden?” Jillian thought to wonder aloud, as the warmth of the flower filled her head and she felt herself lifting into dreams again.
“All of a sudden? Oh, Jillian.” The Lady sighed. The shadows of her ribs moved up and down in the firelight. “We need you to turn. You must. I tried to do it without...this. Because I know.”
A rush of warm wind filled Jillian’s ears, as the dreams came to lift her to some new kind of elsewhere. A tropical downpour rained through her mind. But this time she could still see the Lady Firebaugh, leaning down, through the gently falling rain. Water streaked down the Croakamancer’s cheeks.
“Trust me. The box was the greater kindness.”