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I Am the Walrus by Renegade Niffler
Chapter 2 : The Fool On the Hill
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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A/N:

“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, your faithful MC here again to welcome you all to this evening's installment of I Am the Walrus. We're all really excited to carry on with our tale mystery and magic, as Rolf, Luna and Kanwal continue their search for Stubby Boardman. So excited in fact, that we will not hold things up with excessive announcements, and will instead get right to the story.

“After all, no one likes it when they are eager for a program, but beforehand have to sit through some windbag in a penguin suit blathering endlessly about things they don't really care about. Eventually you start shifting in your seat, and checking your watch as he prattles on and on about flash photography, and the cauldron maker that sponsored the event. Gradually your eagerness begins to wane, then before you know it, your vision goes fuzzy and you're daydreaming about next week's Quidditch match. You wonder if anyone is still paying attention as he drones—what? Oh! Ahem. Sorry, Ladies and Gentlemen.

“Anyhow, the author would like to quickly remind everyone that I Am the Walrus lyrics were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

“And now, it is our very great pleasure to present to you the second installment in the epic saga of Stubby Boardman.”



Chapter 2
The Fool On the Hill


It was amazing to Rolf how much less overwhelming the frantic streets of the Ajiba Jila were when one had a sense of direction, or at least a traveling companion who knew where he was going. They had left Kanwal's flat right after breakfast to change the rest of their money, and pick up a few supplies. After the essentials had been taken care of Rolf couldn't resist asking if they could have a look around inside Pankajeet Pet Shop, which lead into them spending the better part of an hour lollygagging in the northern market. Kanwal pointed out some of the city's attractions as they went. Every so often they would pause to investigate a towering display of fragrant produce, or a ladies shop flowing with vibrant silks and glittering bangles. This riot of color continued on into the flood of people in the street, and almost made one think the world was noting more than a ceaseless kaleidoscope.

“Let's stop here for a moment,” Kanwal directed, gesturing to the chai vendor's trolley on the corner. He bought them each a cup of chai along with little sandwiches filled with spicy potato dumplings. The vendor shared a grin with Kanwal as Rolf and Luna removed two vials from their new Tasalli Ausadhi supply before tucking into their lunches.

Kanwal began to lead them up the next block. “We should probably be getting on with things. There is a Depot near the southern tip of the city where we can arrange for transportation.”

“Er—Kanwal?” Rolf began.

“Yes?”

He hesitated for several paces before continuing, “That Synagogue you mentioned yesterday, do you know where it is?”

Kanwal looked him in the eye nodding sagely, “I believe I could find it, yes.”

“Luna, do you mind?”

She shrugged casually, “Not at all. In fact, I think it might be a good idea.”

One more cramped underground trip later they found themselves walking through a tight dingy alley between a restaurant and an ancient looking cauldron shop. At the end they stepped out onto an old Muggle street, which was clearly divided by a Muggle Repelling Charm. Though the barrier itself was not visible, its location was obvious. Across the way, Muggles bustled to and fro, mostly sticking close to the pavement, but halfway across the street their numbers dropped abruptly to zero. None of them seemed to have any awareness that there was a completely abandoned thoroughfare not twenty feet away, nor did they notice three people passing through the abandoned space.

Kanwal veered to the left as they crossed, and led them out toward the end of the block. Soon they were traversing the cross road at the edge of the Ajiba Jila. Rolf gawped at the tangled mass of traffic as it fought its way through streets, honking and snarling. He didn't often venture out into Muggle cities, but he was nonetheless sure that European streets were more organized somehow. The cars and little green buses raced and snaked in and out of one another, then jammed to a halt as rushing throngs of pedestrians streamed across the road. In the midst of it all, men rode on those funny two wheel contraptions he could never remember the name of, sometimes pulling passengers in a small sort of carriage. It seemed as though people should be crashing right and left, but they weren't, and he wasn't sure whether he should be frightened or deeply impressed. Stepping in a little closer to Kanwal, he settled for both. Back over his shoulder all traces of the Wizarding section of the city were gradually vanishing into a pinpoint of shadow.

They followed Kanwal's lead around a corner, and down several streets. He ended up taking them a little too far south, so they had to backtrack a bit. Several harrowing experiences later they were walking straight toward a stately turquoise building.

As they approached it from the opposite corner Rolf began to think it was the most beautiful building he had ever seen. It had swirling marble columns in front, and stark white trim. A stained glass arch loomed high over the door. In a row of dingy older buildings, it stood out crisp and fresh, as though God himself had been keeping it clean.

“Do you want to go inside?” Kanwal cut in to Rolf's reverie.

“Er—I'm sorry?”

“Do you want to go inside the Temple?” Kanwal patiently gestured to the front doors.

“I...” Rolf gazed at the arched stone entryway for a long moment. “I don't think I can. If Stubby had business in there it is not for me to intrude on.”

“I think you are right. Besides, we should really see where Luna is going before we lose her.”

By the time Rolf spotted her she had already finished crossing the road. It was fortunate that her blonde hair was so easy to pick out amid the rich tones of the crowd, or they would have had a much harder time following her. She crossed over to the far corner across from the Synagogue, and placidly wandered into a cemetery. Here Rolf finally caught up with her, breathless.

He laid a hand on her shoulder to stop her, then stood beside her panting. “Did you see something?”

She surveyed the empty cemetery around her. “I just thought it would be a good place to gather my thoughts.”

He agreed that there was a stillness here that made it easier to slow down and think. Automatically, he began meandering through the uneven rows, his eyes moving slowly over the mossy headstones. They seemed to look back at them feebly, their faces cracked or broken, and weathered smooth around the edges. The inscriptions were quite foreign to him, though he had a feeling he had seen that alphabet somewhere before. On some of them he could make out numbers near the bottom, peculiar numbers for gravestones like 5624, or 5402.

The unkempt ground was difficult to navigate in some places. Often they had no choice but to jump over the tangled sprawl of overgrown flowerbeds. 5518, 5665, 5443, on and on the aged markers went, until finally, in the far corner, they reached something different. A distinct rectangle had been neatly cut into the grass here. At one end of it stood a pristine white headstone. This one also bore a number at the end of the crisp inscription, 5768. They lingered over it, staring.

Luna looked from Kanwal to Rolf. “You don't think Stubby is dead do you?”

“What, and he went around Delhi planning his own funeral before he died?” Rolf bantered gently. Luna opened her mouth to retort, so he hastened to add, “All right, but while it is a possibility, it seems a bit unlikely.”

“Perhaps it was someone Stubby knew,” Kanwal interjected.

“Or it may have nothing to do with anything.” Rolf bent over to get a closer look. “Can you read what it says Kanwal?”

“Unless I am mistaken that is Hebrew, but unfortunately I can do no more than identify it.”

Rolf rubbed his chin contemplatively. “I wonder what those numbers are.”

“Again, I could be mistaken, but I believe the dates on the headstones would use the Hebrew calendar. Those numbers are years.”

They remained there for quite some time pondering the mysterious headstone, until they all silently decided that they could gather nothing more by standing there, and headed back to the pavement.

“It is just a little further south to the depot. The new Muggle Underground can be a bit crowded. I hope you don't mind.” He inclined his head in apology.

Rolf was decidedly frightened of a place a that a resident of New Delhi considered “a bit crowded”, nonetheless he consented to go, and prepared for what he tried to convince himself was an irrational fear. Once he was situated in the middle that claustrophobic car, finding it difficult to breathe, however, he couldn't help but feel that his anxiety had been justified. He closed his eyes and pictured the quiet trees back home on the nature reserve for the duration of the ride.

Back on street level Kanwal lead them around the first corner they came to. At the end of the street a group of men in stiff tan uniforms stood in a line in front of a thin bearded man in a turban. The man stepped forward protectively over several baskets of fruit. Kanwal quickened his pace until he was nearly trotting.

One of the uniformed men snatched up a large melon out of the nearest basket, then casually let it roll out of his hand. It hit the ground with a squelching thud.

“I will have it next week. Please. I am only trying to support my family,” the man pleaded as the other men stepped up to his baskets.

“Excuse me.” Kanwal spoke sharply as he stepped up behind them. “Is there a problem here or can I buy some fruit from this man?”

The men snapped their heads toward Kanwal with startling precision. Two of them sneered openly at him, and one laid his hand on the club at his hip. For a moment they all stood silent. The silver badges on their chests glinted in the sun.

Finally the man who had dropped the melon spoke up. “Why would you want to support him when this space could be used for a legitimate business?”

Kanwal's benign countenance vanished, and the smiling lines on his face suddenly looked stern and imposing as he stuck his chin out arrogantly. “There is nothing illegitimate about earning an honest living.”

He strode forward between two of the uniformed men to grab a spiny green fruit. Clearly outraged, the two displaced officers stepped back, and loomed behind Kanwal menacingly.

Kanwal turned to the quaking vendor. “How much is it?”

The man drew a staggered breath, swallowed hard, then murmured, “Seventy Rupees.”

Reaching into his pocket, Kanwal glared a challenge at the tallest officer. Stiff and severe, the man towered over Kanwal, glaring back at him through narrowed eyes.

Rolf could feel his pulse racing in his ears as he watched, wondering if he should step in. Just as he was steeling himself to take a step forward, the officer nodded to the others, and they began to walk away.

Kanwal was dropping coins into the vendor's shaking hand, when one of them turned back over his shoulder and called, “Enjoy it while you can. He will not be here a week from now.” With that they were gone.

The vendor took Kanwal's hand in his. “Thank you, sir.”

He nodded back to the man with a small grin. “You are welcome.” Gesturing for Rolf and Luna to follow him, he continued across the street.

Though his knees were a bit shaky, Rolf hastened to get moving again, relieved to get out of that situation.

“I am sorry for the interruption, but I can not stand how these rural street vendors are treated. Harassed and extorted for no good reason,” he explained as he lead them onto a grassy strip in the middle of a wide boulevard.

Rolf couldn't hide the admiration in his smile. “No problem at all.”

He paused just before they reached a small enclave of trees in the center of the strip. “I may be a bit disoriented when we pass through the Muggle Repelling barrier, just direct me in all the way through the trees, and I should be able to gather my wits.”

He hadn't been kidding. As they stepped up to the trees Kanwal began humming to himself, and seemed to forget how to walk properly. Rolf and Luna took him by the elbows, and did their best to guide him whilst trying to avoid getting caught under his clumsy feet.

Rolf felt something squish and pop underneath him. An inky, sticky paste gushed out from either side of his shoe. Up in the trees, dozens of bulbous purple fruit dangled from the ashy grey branches. The ground was covered with them. Kanwal stumbled forward as Luna bent over to investigate her shoe, also sticky. He nearly got away before she stood back up to secure him. They surveyed the minefield of overly ripe fruit before them, then looked at each other.

Rolf sighed. “Shall we just get it over with?”

She nodded.

Heads down and jaws set, the two of them squashed their way forward as quickly as possible. Kanwal's feet seemed to find every fallen fruit in their way with great force, causing his legs to slip out and shoot the pungent purple glue everywhere. By the time they stumbled out into the clearing their legs and ankles stuck together painfully every time they made contact.

Kanwal cut the note he was humming short and gasped as the situation registered. He apologized profusely as they got everyone cleaned up, though in the end they managed to reassure him that it wasn't his fault.

Once all their legs were pleasantly non-sticky, they started out into a much wider field than Rolf had been expecting. A large paddock of winged horses stretched out to the left; On the right stood a group of creatures that made both he and Luna stop cold. They had the bodies of men, with golden skin, and long flowing arms that supported heavy red wings. Beaks protruded from their human like faces, and shining red feathers blanketed their heads and backs. One might have mistaken them for statues as they stood there on thick bird legs, waiting with infinite patience. Rolf felt a trembling urge to approach them, though he wasn't at all sure what to do. He had an odd feeling that speaking to them would be appropriate.

Kanwal started forward through the field, urging them on. “If you don't mind I'd prefer to take the horses. They are slower, but flying with a Garuda makes me queasy.”

Luna quickened her pace to step a little ahead of him. “Where exactly are we going?”

“We will land just outside the city of Jhansi, a good flight south from here. From there we will be heading out into a region known as the Bundelkhand.” Kanwal stopped them again and put his hands forward bracingly. “It is fairly rough terrain, but we should be in no significant danger. Plus, as I said before, it is a good place for a person to hide. At the very least, it is a good place to begin thinking like someone who wants to hide.”

Rolf glanced over at Luna hoping to get a read on what she was thinking, but she gave nothing away.

“We could certainly try to come up with another idea if you would rather not go,” Kanwal offered.

“What do you think Luna?”

She smiled serenely at him. “I'd like to go and see what's out there.”

Perhaps he had let the anxiety he experienced in the dense crowds hurt his pride, and felt that he needed to redeem his masculinity, but he was glad that she said that. Even if it was a bit crazy, romping around in rugged terrain known as the Bundelkhand sounded much more like his cup of tea than continuing on in the city. Besides, he had no better ideas than he had yesterday.

“All right then. Let's go.”

In the center of the clearing five men stood outside of a lush silk tent. Behind it over a dozen brightly colored chariots stood on huge wheels with fat spokes. The oldest looking of the five men stepped forward, and spoke though a thick mustache. “Would you like to hire a ratha?”

Kanwal worked out the details with the man, but Rolf laid a hand on his before he could pull out his coin pouch. “You are doing us a favor, friend. I'll take care of it.”

They stepped away from the tent as three of the men left to harness a pair of the winged horses to the nearest chariot. Now that they were once again among Indian wizards, Rolf suddenly noticed that Kanwal had abandoned his smart trousers for a flat, ankle length wrap, and a coordinating blue kurta. “Er, Kanwal, pardon me if I'm prying but I couldn't help but notice you've had a change of wardrobe today.”

“Indeed I have.” He looked down at himself with a shy smile. “Most wizards still prefer more traditional Indian attire, and I admit I am trying to blend in. Most times people do not ask questions, but I still find it is easiest to travel this way in the magical world. Besides, if I am being honest, in this heat I find a lungi to be more comfortable than trousers anyway.”

One of the men signaled to them that the ratha was ready. They loaded their bags into a compartment on its underside, and climbed in. There was a separate seat in the front for the driver. The two remaining men stood on either side of them and raised their wands. He felt the coolness of a Disillusionment Charm sliding over him. Seconds later the horses began to run.


Mister city policeman sitting pretty little policemen in a row,
See how they fly like Lucy in the sky see how they run,
I'm crying, I'm crying,
I'm crying, I'm crying


The ratha dropped them off outside of a small city they could just make out on the horizon. Rolf and Luna helped the driver refresh the disillusionment charm before he took off back to the depot. Kanwal pulled a small compass out of his pocket, got his bearings, and walked out into the bleak wilderness. The Bundelkhand appeared to be a vast, arid hill country. The largest plants Rolf could see across the landscape were thorny scrub trees with scraggly looking leaves, most of which were no taller than he was. On and on the sandy rises rolled, dotted here are there with patches of sparse grass, and outcroppings of rock. A general dull brown tone had settled over everything around him. Even the things that were green seemed to be brown. It was as though life itself was lying half-dormant in this place, and its sleepiness washed over him with a hazy, dim sort of feeling.

For the first half hour or so they tread silently through the barren hills. Eventually Kanwal asked Luna about what they did for a living. They talked for awhile about life at the Hornbeam Glen Magical Nature Reserve. Rolf didn't contribute much to the conversation. He was vaguely beginning to wonder if they were just aimlessly drifting, and his life back home seemed so far removed from him that it felt strange to talk about it. Luna asked Kanwal the same question in turn. He told them about teaching various languages at the University in Delhi, and about the research he had been doing recently on Vedic Sanskrit texts.

“Er, Kanwal? Pardon me for interrupting, but what exactly are we looking for?”

Kanwal looked him in the eye and sighed. “I am not entirely sure, to tell you the truth.”

Luna squeezed his hand. “Whatever it is, I'm sure we'll find it.”

She and Kanwal went on to chat about their families as casually as if they were at a party. Rolf just followed along quietly trying to process how surreal this situation was.

The sun was well past its midpoint, and Rolf was just about to ask if they should reassess which direction to head in, when Luna stopped.

“What's that up there?”

Rolf shielded his eyes with his hand, squinting to see what she was pointing at. “Where?”

“Up there on that rock.”

Kanwal also raised a finger in the air. “I looks like there might be something written on it.”

“I don't see it.”

Luna beckoned him over to her. “Here, come stand where I am.”

From her position he finally saw what she had been talking about. Perched at the top of a steep incline a wide rock face jutted up from the dirt, and looked indeed as though something had been written on it.

Rolf walked several paces back up the road, looking at it from different angles. “Want to check it out? I think we can get up there if we take it from the side.”

Kanwal stepped back. “You two go ahead. I will wait down here if you don't mind.”

Thanks to a recent spree of hunting down Doxy nests, the two of them were able to climb the jagged hill with confidence. They were slightly winded by the time they reached the top, but it all seemed worth it. Sure enough, carved there into the rock was a single line, “From whence my heart departed.”

Kanwal called up from the road, “What does it say?”

Luna read the line to him, while Rolf stood chewing on it. It felt familiar for some reason he couldn't explain. The letters themselves were so worn that it looked like they had just appeared there through erosion.

“Are you coming?” Luna was standing several feet away now.

“Huh?”

“It's not going to speak to you, you know.”

A smirk broke out under his raised eyebrows. “You never know.” With a wink he pushed past her down the hill. Dusting himself off at the bottom he picked up his rucksack. “Luna, have you got a quill and parchment handy?” It seemed a good idea to write the phrase down while it was fresh in his mind, still resonating with a mystical importance.

Kanwal pulled out his compass once more, turned ninety degrees away from the direction in which they had previously been headed, and said, “This way.”

Rolf snapped to attention. “Hey, wait! Did that mean something to you? What do you know? Where are we going?”

Kanwal avoided eye contact for several seconds before answering, “I thought the rock might be a sign that we should change direction.”

“You seemed very confident when you chose this direction,” Luna observed.

“Well... It was just a feeling.” Kanwal picked up his pace just slightly.

Rolf kept up easily. “What are we looking for?”

“I think we'll know when we see it,” Luna answered serenely.

Rolf allowed himself to fall a few paces behind them. Once again he felt sure Kanwal was hiding something, this was just too weird. On the other hand Luna didn't seem to think anything was amiss. He wondered for a moment weather it was just his over active imagination, and Kanwal's actions had been totally normal. The image of Kanwal checking his compass replayed in Rolf's mind, and he decided that no, his actions had not been normal by any standards. 'What is going on?' Unfortunately it did not seem as though Kanwal was going to give him a straight answer to that question just then. He would just have to bide his time, and hope for the best.

They strode purposefully down that winding path through the same drab hills for what seemed like hours. At last something interesting broke the monotony. A strange angular shadow appeared on a hilltop in the distance. As they came closer, the shadow became a crooked old house. All three of them veered toward it, no discussion was needed.

Standing in the patch of flowers that might have been considered the little dwelling's front garden, they could see two goats tethered in the faded grass on the opposite side of the hill. A small vegetable garden off the side of the house flourished with such vigor that the vibrant greens broke through the haze that was still clouding Rolf's mind.

A sharp noise rattled out from inside the house, and a few seconds later a grizzled old man emerged, wearing only a white lungi and a crimson turban. His lips spread into a peaceful toothless grin as he gestured to several log stools that were set up around his fire. Rolf took his seat and stared at the deep copper pot hanging over the flames. Something fragrant was bubbling wildly inside it. It reminded him a little of the chai they had had in Delhi, but it was different somehow. There were notes of a rooty aroma that he couldn't put his finger on.

The old man approached the fire with an earthen jug, from which he slowly poured milk into the bubbling pot. He waited while it returned to a boil, then took it off the flame. He leaned over the billowing steam, wafting it into his face for several minutes before returning the pot to the fire. His smile never wavered as he repeated this process three more times. With leathery hands the man passed around small mugs of the finished drink. He inhaled deeply one more time before finally taking a sip.

Rolf followed suit in appreciating the fragrance before drinking. It was indeed a bit like the chai, only with ginger, and still something else that he could not identify. It was so intoxicating that he drank it all before he even realized what he was doing.

The old man finished his as well, then leaned forward on his knees and stared into the fire, still smiling. There was something wizened about his saggy old eyes, and he radiated an impressive sense of calm as he sat there motionless. Rolf bristled with anticipation, yet felt stilled by patience as he waited for what he was sure would be something significant. The fire crackled between them like a polyrhythmic song.

Just as the sun was about to touch down on the horizon, the man spoke. There was something so steady and direct about his gaze that Rolf expected to understand him, and it wasn't until halfway through the sentence that Rolf realized that he wasn't speaking English. He spoke only a sentence or two, and then moved to sit cross legged on the mat in front of his door, eyes closed.

Rolf opened his mouth to ask Kanwal what the man had said, but Kanwal grabbed his hand gently and shook his head. He gestured for them to rise. At the bottom of the hill he softly explained, “It was time for his evening meditation.”

Rolf couldn't help but roll his eyes. “But what did he say?”

“Sometimes the answers you seek are already close at hand.”

“Oh,” Luna gasped.

The serenity of the old man's hilltop lingered with them after they left, and they spoke very little as they pitched their tent several hills away.

Kanwal began heating up the dinner Shruthi had sent along with them, while Luna cast a few protective charms. He chuckled slightly as he closed the oven door. “Marinated chicken and curried potatoes. Must be Shruthi's attempt at continental cuisine.”

After dinner, Rolf lit a fire, and the three of them settled down in the tent's cozy sitting room. Having difficulty untangling the mass of thoughts in his head, Rolf began to rummage around in his rucksack looking for items from his collection. He hoped that by putting his focus back on Stubby he might be able to make some sense of the day's events. In addition to the assorted press clippings, he had brought a Hobgoblins lunch pail full of Hobgoblins trading cards, along with a Hobgoblins alarm clock, coin bank, two pint glasses, and four figurines which used to move but now did little more than twitch occasionally. He pulled out four or five of their albums and began nosing through them.

Kanwal picked up one of the figurines. “Do you always carry these things around with you?” he asked with laughing eyes.

Rolf laughed and shook his head. “No. I was just hoping they would help me think.”

Kanwal removed a bottle from his own rucksack, and picked up the pint glasses. “Well, if these are supposed to help you think, they will not do a very good job like this.” He poured a sort of murky orange liquid into the glasses, and passed one to Rolf. “Spiced mead. Luna would you like some?”

She agreed, so after serving her he went into the kitchen to fetch himself a glass. When he returned he lingered over the memorabilia laden table contemplatively. “May I?” he asked, gesturing to the pail of trading cards.

Rolf nodded without looking up.

Kanwal sat down and began leafing through the box. “I must say, this is quite a collection you have.”

Rolf's face lit up like a firecracker. “This is nothing. I have a lot more at home. When I was a teenager I used to have a really cool life-size cutout of Stubby that walked around and rearranged your things while you weren't home.”

Setting down the neat pile of the cards he had already looked at, Kanwal went in for another handful. “What happened to it?”

He sighed. “It was tragically destroyed in a mishap involving a pair of maracas and a fire crab.”

“I am sorry to hear that.” Kanwal held one of the cards up in front of his face. “So these are the Hobgoblins.”

Rolf leaned in over his shoulder. “Actually that is Stubby and the Kneazles. Stubby's first band. Right there is Conrad Bungard, the original drummer. His Mum made him quit the band just as they were getting famous, so he could finish his last year at school. They replaced him with Phineas Bassett, and changed their name to the Hobgoblins. See?” He held up a different card.

“Who are the other two?”

“That is the bass player, Brock Howland, and that,” he pointed to a man in a bright pink jacket attempting to do cartwheels in the background, “is Barrett Conkling, the lead guitarist.”

Kanwal leaned over to look at the albums Rolf had left on the coffee table. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all.” Rolf traded him the pail of cards for the albums.

“What was their music like?”

“Different. Every album was different. They experimented with applying magic to music, both to increase the number of instruments they could play, and to manipulate the sounds they got. They set all the trends in music, even today bands are inspired by them.”

Kanwal looked up, puzzled. “I thought it was illegal in Britain to enchant a Muggle object.”

Rolf swallowed his mead hard. “It is. There was a huge scandal about it at the time, Ministry Inquiry and everything. Ultimately they determined that since the magic they were using left no lasting affects on the instruments themselves, it was all right.”

“What about Stubby? What was he like?”

Rolf touched his index finger to his chin, thinking. “Sharp. His lyrics were really sharp. Poignant. He used a lot of clever images, made keen insights into the human experience. Later in his career his lyrics shifted to a slightly more biting tone, attacking superficial mainstream society. Everyone still loved him though.”

Kanwal nodded, “Do you know anything about him as a person?”

“Well, he grew up in Bristol, started his first band while he was still at Hogwarts, the Wizarding School in Britain—er, but that's a bit boring. Sorry. I'm not really sure what to say. Stubby was a complex fellow. It was like he always aware of himself as a bit of a misfit, but he celebrated it. He had a great sense of humor, and had a lot of fun with the attention he got. Like during press conferences he would magically switch all the reporters' voices around. I think he really saw beauty in life, or at least could create beauty from it. He was a bit of a dreamer really.”

“Well, he's not the only one.” Luna chimed in, not taking her eyes off of her book.

Suddenly Rolf stood up. “You know, I think there might be a gramophone in here somewhere.” He bent over in front of one of the end tables, and opened up a door in the front. “Ah, here we are. Now let's see...” He turned his attention to the stack of albums, picked one up and put it on. “This is the album they recorded after Stubby started playing with his bassoon again.”

As the driving rhythm and odd sounds of the first song began, Rolf sat down with the empty record sleeve in hand. It was one of his favorite albums, entitled Out of Orbit. On the cover was a colorful scene from outer space where the four band members floated aimlessly, and occasionally drifted out of the frame. On the backside was a list of songs and a picture of Stubby with eight arms, each a different color. He sat and watched as the arms swung and turned in all directions. One of them wiggled back and forth in front of Stubby's face before making a grand sweeping motion downward, and pointed to a few small lines of print near the bottom. Rolf sat bolt upright in his chair and nearly spilled his mead. “This is it!”

His declaration immediately seized the others' attention, and they both gaped at him eagerly.

“Here!” He held the album cover out between them. “Down there by the Turnip Records logo. I knew I had seen it somewhere before!”

“From whence mine heart departed, on rivers to the sea, thou stood e'ermore beloved, in thine enchanted hollow tree.” Luna read aloud.

Rolf had begun pacing through the room. “It's a line from a Canfield Bunting Poem, one of Stubby's favorites. The answer is close at hand. This is it, this has to be. What are the odds?”

Luna's eyes followed Rolf as though she was watching a tennis match. “Do you think Stubby wrote that on the rock? I mean, it looked rather old.”

He paused. “Well... You do have a point. But am I wrong? This is all just too—too—I don't know. Weird. Perfect. Weirdly perfect. It has to mean something.”

Luna heaved a sigh. “Yes. But what?”

“Would you read it again please?” Kanwal asked.

She read it again, and again after that. Everybody settled down into their chairs, continuing to repeat it to themselves.

Silence persisted for some time before Kanwal broke it. “It reminds me of a place in the south, deep in the forest.”

“Hm.” Rolf rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and quickly threw off the subsequent reminder that he needed a shave. “It sounds more like east to me. Doesn't the Ganges hit the ocean in the east?”

“Yes. However the place I am speaking of is also near a river.”

Rolf scrunched his brow. “Shouldn't we be headed toward the sea? I mean, we start here where his heart departed and go to the sea. Right?”

Kanwal shook his head. “I read it as we are looking for the place 'from whence his heart departed', and also the hollow tree that is there. See, your interpretation leaves out the last part of the line. There are no hollow trees around here.”

“No, the tree is supposed to be by the sea.” Rolf scooched forward in his chair a little.

He shifted forward as well, and a slight edge picked up in his voice, “Actually, if you parse the sentence you will fi--”

“It is possible,” Luna resorted to raising her voice in order to finally cut Kanwal off, then continued calmly, “That the things described in the line have no meaningful application at all. After all, Canfield Bunting wrote this in the early nineteenth century. Perhaps it was merely a symbolic marker of Stubby's presence, which might actually imply that Stubby is around here somewhere.”

The two of them froze for a moment before melting back into their chairs, unable to debate her point at all. It was the most rational thing to think, of course. Yet how could one of the most bizarre days of his life amount to a simple matter of sound logic and rational decision making? It just didn't make sense.

He grunted in frustration. “I've just got a weird feeling that we need to head east.”

Kanwal nodded slowly. “As do I have a strong feeling that we need to go south.”

Luna set the album down on the table, leveled a torchlight look at Kanwal, and plainly stated “You're not telling us everything.”

Kanwal shifted in his chair, and licked his lips several times. He opened and closed his mouth twice before any sound came out. “Before any decision is made, I should warn you both that there are a great many creatures in that forest. The chances of us encountering them are high, and some are dangerous. Perhaps we will even encounter some of the ones you have been reading about.”

Rolf suspected that Kanwal had intentionally gone for the jugular with that one, but it didn't make any difference. Like a puppy being lured into a cage by food, his primal instincts could not resist the allure of observing a forest full of Indian creatures in their natural habitat, no matter what. Besides, he had already ruled out rational decision making anyway, in which case going south with Kanwal seemed like the obvious answer all around.

He drew a steadying breath. “Maybe we should go south. To the place Kanwal suggested.”

Luna examined the back of the album cover one more time. “Well, I suppose if Kanwal won't be straightforward with us, the only way to find out what he knows is to go south. Besides, if it turns out Stubby is near here, we can always come back.”

For a moment it looked as though Kanwal was going to speak, but he simply folded his hands in his lap, and attempted to gaze casually at the wall.

With a great surge of affection Rolf smiled at her. “I guess it's settled then.”

Luna also thought Kanwal was acting dodgy, which confirmed to Rolf that he was not going crazy. His mind quickly flooded with things he wanted to ask her, but first he would have to think of a way to get her alone so that they could talk. It would have to wait. For the time being, they all seemed to have tacitly agreed to let it rest.


A/N:

“Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, we hope you enjoyed this evening's installment of I Am the Walrus as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you. I have been informed that the author has a few more notes she'd like to pass along, and here they are:

“As a reminder the Hindi term 'Ajiba Jila' translates into English as 'Strange District', and 'Tasalli Ausadhi' translates as 'Calming Potion'.

“Furthermore she would like to point out that Luna was quite right when she said that Stubby was not the only one people could say was a dreamer. John Lennon conveyed those same ideas in very similar words in his song Imagine. …

“What? …

“Well, I don't know who John Lennon is, Stan. I'm only reading the cards!

“Sorry about that, Ladies and Gentlemen. Once again, we hope you enjoyed tonight's performance, and that you will be sure to join us for the next exhilarating chapter. Thank you, and good-night.”


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