Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another long week ...

There's a little too much going this week for my tastes, so I don't think I'll subject you to any crazy ranting this time around. Count your blessings.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Inconstant Contact

When it comes to staying in touch with people, I really suck.  I have often wondered why this is.  When it comes to friends in the here and now, I’m generally quite enthusiastic.  Oh, sure, I’m slowing down in my old age: not so many concerts any more, not so many parties (not that I even get invited to as many parties these days, but you know what I mean), and very few games of Asshole.  I do miss playing Asshole.  Sigh.

Sorry ... where was I?  Oh, right: slowing down.  A bit, yeah, but I still like to hang out with my friends here in California.  I was just at a poker game on Friday night, in fact.  It was a lovely way to lose $30.  And we do lunches and things of that sort.  I like spending time with my friends.

In fact, friends are probably the single most important thing to me.  Some people might value “family” over “friends,” but my family are friends of mine, so that’s a bit of a false dichotomy.  I’ve certainly no love for possessions, and I’m not much of a believer in solitude.  A good book is good, a good joke is great, a good song is sublime, but a good friend is priceless.  There are very specific reasons why I put friends at the top of the list, and perhaps one day I shall explore those in this venue, but for now let’s just take it as read.

So, if friends are so important, whyever is it then that when one of them moves away from me, or as has happened relatively recently, I move away from a whole flock of them, I become positively awful about contacting them?  Not only do I tend not to initiate contact, I don’t even regularly respond to it when initiated from the other side.  Let’s ignore letters—who writes letters any more?—and even phone calls, which, after all, require a commitment of a contiguous block of time.  No, let’s jump straight to email.  ‘Cause I’m a geek, right?  I should love email.  And, in fact, I do.  I even get pissed off when other people don’t respond to my emails.  And, yet, here I am, sucking just as hard as any doctor, lawyer or accountant, as if I were equally incapable of electronic communication.

So I’ve got no excuses.  Not even to myself.  It’s not like I know why and I just can’t explain it to you.  Nope, I have absolutely no clue.  There are no good reasons that I can see.

Of course, I’m a procrastinator by nature, so maybe that feeds into it somehow.  When I receive an email from someone I know, I often “mark” it somehow (in Thunderbird, turn it red, or in Gmail, put a little star beside it), to remind me that here’s an important email that I really need to respond to.  In a day or so, I think, I’ll find the time to sit down and put together a cogent, heartfelt response.  Generally speaking, I find these marked emails lying around in my inbox after six months, or a year, or two years even, and by that point I’m just too embarrassed to send a response.  (Actually, sometimes I do anyway.  I also often wonder what people think when they get a reply to their email from last year.  Probably think I’m a looney.)  So, procrastination is probably playing a bit part.

Now, it makes sense to me why I don’t respond immediately to emails.  After all, I check my email several times a day, and many of my potential correspondents do the same.  Let’s stay in touch, sure, but do we really need to be sending four or five emails a day back and forth?  No, probably not.  Back in the olden times, two letters a month was probably considered a rapid-fire conversation.  Of course, they were hefty letters, but, as I’m sure anyone who has continued to read this blog despite repeated warnings to the contrary has long ago sorted out, I don’t have a problem producing a significant word count.  No, a fairly lengthy email once a week—even twice a week—seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable rate of speed for electronic communication between absent friends.

So all I really need to do is set aside some time over the weekend, seemingly, to produce one or more of these emails.  Realistically, if I composed one email—one single email!—every Saturday, I could easily keep pace with all the folks who email me to see what I’ve been up to lately, and still have time left over to reach and touch a few people on my own initiative.  But I don’t do that.  And I really, seriously, cannot work out why that is.

I can come up with a few reasons why it is not.  The first and foremost one being that it’s not because I don’t care.  Because I do, quite deeply.  Many of these people are folks for whom I would gladly sacrifice any amount of time, money, or comfort.  So if you send me an email asking me to leave work immediately and wire you a thousand bucks because of some family emergency, that’s likely to get you a response.  But for some reason if all you’re looking for is a reply to how I’ve been recently, you can expect me to ignore you for months at a time, if I ever get back to you at all?  What kind of sense does that make?

I can also say that it really isn’t a lack of time.  Oh, I’m busy, no doubt.  But so’s everyone.  I’m not so important that I can realistically claim to be busier than you are.  And, honestly, I spend a fair amount of time laying on the couch doing jack all.  Now, I’m not the sort of type-A personality to convince myself that any second not spent being 100% productive is a wasted chunk of life that I can never get back.  I firmly believe that everyone needs to take some time and just chill out and do much of nothing.  I’m just saying that I probably accumulate more such time than I can strictly claim as requisite for proper mental health.  Certainly enough that I would feel guilty trying to toss off the excuse that I couldn’t return your email due to all the extremely important reruns of Good Eats that I’ve been watching.  (Even though I occasionally try.)

So, other than my procrastination theory (which is pretty damned weak), I don’t have much in the way of explanation as to why I’m so bad at staying in contact with old friends.  And it bothers me.  Partly it’s a bit of guilt for not responding to emails, but, honestly, guilt’s not my thing.  I don’t really regret too many things in life, and, when I do, it rarely lasts very long.  So the bigger part of the concern is that I am perceived as apathetic.  I don’t much care what other people think of me, for the most part, but then my friends aren’t exactly “other people.”  As Seuss#Misattributed">some famous fellow once said, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”: well, my friends are certainly the ones who matter, and I _hope they don’t mind, but I suspect their patience is not infinite.

I often tell myself I’m going to do better about this.  Of course, I often tell myself I’m going to do better about a lot of things.  So far, limited success.  Now, another thing I firmly believe is that no one is perfect, and that it logically follows that we cannot expect ourselves to be perfect, and that therefore we must admit that we have faults, and we must occasionally just accept our faults, and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, rather than trying to correct them all.  Which is not to say that we should never try to fix our defects, only that we have to pick the worst of the lot to concentrate on, and let the others ride.  So far I suppose I’ve been letting this one ride.  But I’m not sure that’s too good an idea any more.

I hope that any old friends of mine who happen to stumble across this meandering self-exploration will understand (at least vaguely) where I’m coming from, and perhaps be comforted that I wasn’t ignoring them on purpose.  I suspect, though, that many of them have already worked this out about me, and they probably just shake their heads (with any luck, fondly) and put it up alongside my tendency to be too loud, or my fondness for the word “fuck” at often inappropriate times, or my inclination towards ranting about mostly trivial matters.  At least I hope they do.  And, if any of you are reading this, I would just like to say:

I love you guys.  Seriously.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chapter 10 (concluded)

The Ship, and her Captain

Since the light never changed, it was impossible to tell how long it took them to reach the place where the trees met the water.  The dragonflies continued to divebomb them, and the mosquitoes continued to try to drain them of their blood.  More birds flew overhead, and they saw wading birds as well, hunting in the scattered pools that were so covered in floating vegetation that they were practically indistinguishable from the marshy land.  Some of the birds were white, a couple were a bright red, and one was an electric shade of violet.  None of them seemed inclined to abandon their work for the trivial circumstance of passing primates.

Traveling became easier as Johnny learned how to recognize the transitions from solid ground to mud or outright shallow water.  The wading birds were a giveaway, of course, but not every pool had those.  There were large, black insects that skated along the surface of the water in nearly every pool, but those were hard to spot until you were practically on top of them.  The various rushes and reeds were the best indicators.  Gradually Johnny learned to lead them in a twisty, staggering path that kept them mostly dry.  As they drew closer to the trees, they also began to hear evidence of life from the close-set woody jumble: cries that might have been monkeys or jungle birds, larger things crashing through the thick bushes, and a strange noise that Johnny could only describe to himself as reminiscent of the noise Tigger made in the Winnie the Pooh movies of his childhood, if Tigger had been less of a cuddly stuffed animal and more of a vicious carnivore.

As they walked, Johnny snacked a bit on Sandra’s food from his vest, but mainly he was too excited to care much about eating.  This was utterly insane, sure, but also galvanizing in a weird way.  At this point, he was anxious to see what would happen next.

When they finally reached the tip of the treeline, it was obvious this was a much bigger body of water than the small pools they’d encountered thus far.  There was still no sign of the water itself, buried under layers of floating plants, but the wading birds were here in flocks, and Johnny could make out bright blue water snakes, no bigger around than his finger but as long as his forearm.  The trees at the water’s edge were mangroves with thick, intertwined trunks that transitioned seamlessly to thick, intertwined roots, and shadowy forms lurked in the cages they formed, both above and below the waterline.  The bushes and shrubs and Larissa-sized ferns were thicker here too.  Across the water they could see more trees and bushes that might indicate islands, or a far shore, or anything in between.

The mangroves effectively blocked any hope of turning left.  To the right, it was mostly bushes and ferns, with some smaller, scrubby trees that might have been some form of willow, and one hugely tall specimen some way off that was obviously a palm tree.  Johnny stared at the palm for a moment, then looked back at Larissa.  He wanted to ask if palm trees grew in swamps, but perhaps he ought not point out any more anomalies today.

“Let’s go this way,” he said, indicating the general direction of the solitary tree.  “I don’t suppose you’ve got a machete in your jacket somewhere?”  He felt sure he was still smiling, and thought it was probably inappropriate, but there was no use fighting it.

Larissa didn’t answer, but then he didn’t really expect her to.

They pushed through the thick vegetation as best they could, though it got thicker as they went along.  By the time they reached the copse of stunted trees that surrounded the signpost palm, they could no longer see their feet, and there was only blind optimism between their lower extremeties and any poisonous reptiles or arachnids that might inhabit the area.

When they emerged from the screen of trees, the first thing they saw was the ship.  Technically, he supposed it was an airboat, although it didn’t look like any airboat he’d ever seen.  Of course, his experience of airboats was primarily limited to miscellanous movies set in the Louisiana bayou and reruns of “Gentle Ben,” but he was pretty sure airboats weren’t generally that big.  Or made of wood.  Or had figureheads.

It looked mostly like a smallish 17th century sailing vessel—perhaps 20 to 30 feet long—but, instead of sails, it had the flat bottom and huge rearward-facing fan that would make it swampworthy.  The fanblades were made of a metal that looked like brass, but the cage that held it in place was some sort of bamboo, and Johnny couldn’t see any engine at all.  The ship had a structure on it that perhaps housed two or three rooms, and there was a cabin on top of that, as well as what Johnny knew from his father’s brief yachting stint was called a flying deck.  The whole thing looked impossibly heavy, even for that monster of a fan, but it perched on the surface of the water like a bathtub toy.  At first Johnny could see no signs of life, but then he spotted a man with his back towards them, on the shore.  He appeared to be rearranging some crates.

Johnny and Larissa stepped cautiously toward this surreal scene.  Johnny wondered if it would be safe to approach this stranger, but he couldn’t see they had much choice in the matter.  Perhaps this fellow would know where they were, what the purpose of this swamp was, what had drawn him here.  An answer to any one of these questions would be worth the risk.  They drew closer, the sound of their approach masked by the shuffling of the boxes, and finally Johnny, not wishing to startle the man, said “Excuse me?”

The young man turned towards them then, flinging his dark blonde ponytail over his frilly white blouse, and suddenly Johnny wasn’t so sure it was a “he” at all.  It may have been a young man, but then again it might have been a young woman.  Johnny was reminded of those anime-style video game characters where you were never sure what gender it was supposed to be.  Plus they always had non-gender-specific names that were no help at all.

“Hi,” he or she said brightly.  “I’m Roger.”

And yet, thought Johnny, that makes me feel more than ever that she’s a woman.

Larissa stepped up and eyed Roger critically.  “Historical pirates didn’t wear shirts with ruffs on them, being for the most part too poor to afford such things, in addition to them being completely impractical at sea.  As would be those boots; seawater would collect in the tops, and the soles would slip on the decks of the ships.”  She gazed up with wide eyes.  “And Roger is an unusual name for a woman.”

Roger threw her head back and laughed, and it was that more than anything that told Johnny that Larissa was right about her gender.  It was a rich, throaty laugh: definitely the laugh of a woman.  “Well, my little lassie, whoever said I was an ’istorical pirate?  I’ve never seen the sea in me life.  And as for me name, how do ye know all the women of me clan aren’t named such?”  She winked, theoretically at Larissa, to whom she was talking, but Johnny couldn’t help but feel the wink was only for him.  “But I won’t pull your leg.  Me da’ always wanted a boy, he did, so Roger I am.”  Of course, that didn’t explain why she looked as if she’d stepped out of a pirate movie, but by this point Johnny had seen so much weird shit that this was nothing.  In fact, compared to stumbling upon a swamp in the sewers underneath DC, finding a woman who looked as if she’d stepped out of Cutthroat Island was practically normal.

Suddenly there was a red and blue flash streaking through the ferny undergrowth, and something shot up Roger’s leg, ran up her back, and perched on her shoulder.  It was feathered and beaked, with the colors that Johnny associated with a macaw, but with the arms, long-fingered hands, and prehensile tail of a small monkey.  The eyes were not bird eyes, definitely, but the way it cocked its head and clicked its beak was certainly ... well, parroty.

Johnny looked over at Larissa, fascinated to get her reaction on this new development.  She had her head cocked to one side as well ... the opposite way as the creature on Roger’s shoulder, Johnny noticed.  They stared at each other, patrons at a zoo sizing up unfamiliar creatures.

Suddenly the creature screeched: it was mostly a monkey noise, with just a hint of squawk.  To Johnny’s surprise, Larissa hissed like a scalded cat.  Roger still wore an inscrutable smile.  “Now, Bones,” she said, apparently speaking to the creature on her shoulder, “these are friends.”

Johnny looked at her in surprise.  “Are we?”

Roger flashed pearly white teeth at him.  “Well of course ye are!  Ye’re here to help.”

Johnny’s eyebrows drew together.  “Uhh ... okay.  If you say so.”  He shrugged and turned to Larissa, but she was now studiously ignoring the impossible feathered primate and seemed to be waiting for further developments.

Johnny looked back at “Bones.”  “So ... what is that thing?”  He supposed this sounded vaguely impolite, but at this point, he felt beyond caring about social niceties.

Roger raised a leather-gloved hand.  “This?  This is Bones.”

“Yeah, I ... I got that.  What is it?”

“It’s me companion.  Say hello to the nice people, Bones.”

The parrot-monkey turned its attention to Johnny now, and squawked “Mangy cur!”

Roger laughed her throaty laugh again.  “Never mind him,” she said to Johnny.  “That’s just his way of saying ‘ahoy!’.”

“Ummm ... right.  Well, good to know.  Say, do you have any clue what the hell we’re doing here?”

Roger studied him closely for a moment.  “Ye’re here to help me find it, unless I miss me guess.”

Johnny blinked.  “Sure,” he said, throwing up his hands and giving up on having things make sense, not for the first time this week.  “Sure, why not?”  He felt the unwarranted grin return to his face.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Chapter 10 (begun)

In the Swamp

When he woke up, Johnny felt he ought to feel disoriented, but he didn’t.  In fact, it was practically disorienting how utterly oriented he felt, despite the fact that he was waking up in what might be the strangest place he’d ever woken.

Forget the fact that he’d arrived by means of an impossible black door in the side of a sewer pipe he’d phased into while fleeing from a mythological creature and a lycanthrope.  He was, at present, in the middle of a swamp.  There was just no other way to describe it.  The ground just here wasn’t too mushy, but his boots bore the muddy battle scars of what they’d had to trudge through to get here.  Larissa, in her much thinner black and white sneakers, had been reduced to riding on his back a couple of times.  Now they were surrounded by grass, and bushes, and reeds and bulrushes and cattails and what Larissa identified as papyrus.  The surface of all the water they’d seen so far was green with duckweed and water lillies.  There were lots of ferns.  And moss ... everywhere moss.  There were no trees nearby, but he could see some in the distance, and he knew they were willows and cypresses and mangroves.  The only animals they’d seen so far were dragonflies—huge blue and green dragonflies that were beautiful but also frightening in the way they divebombed you—and mosquitoes.  The mosquitoes were ferocious.  Johnny had thought he was used to mosquitoes by this point—after all, much of the greater metropolitan area where he’d spent his entire life had originally been wetlands of some sort or other—but these were a whole different sort.  In fact, the bugs were the only reason they’d built the fire, whose guttering remains were still glowing closeby; it certainly hadn’t been for the heat.  Heat they had plenty of, and humidity as well.

So he was waking up in a swamp that somehow existed underneath the nation’s capital, attached to its sewer system, and it was hot as July there despite it being September, and it was populated with plants that did not, as far as he knew, geographically co-exist in what he still persisted in thinking of as the real world.  But none of this was the strangest part.  The strangest part was the light.  It was exactly the quality of fading daylight, when the sun is perhaps halfway down below the horizon.  Perhaps there was a mildly greenish cast to it, but that could have just been from the overwhelming quantity of green vegetation.  No, the problem with the light wasn’t its quantity or its character.  The problem was that it had been this light when they had arrived, it had been this light when they had tired of walking and built their fire, it had been this light when they had drifted off to sleep, and it was still this light now that Johnny was awake again.  And he could tell himself all he liked that the sun must just be out of sight behind those trees off in the distance, but somehow he knew the truth: there was no sun.  Not here.  Light, yes, but no sun.

So all in all Johnny should have been more than disoriented.  He should have been downright freaked out.  But he wasn’t.  He was, in fact, smiling.  His pants were dry, for the most part, although at this point all his clothes were sticky with sweat.  He knew there was food to be had—quite good food at that—and fire to be made if it was necessary.  And he knew beyond doubt, although he couldn’t say how, that if anyone else were to lay their hand on that door, it wouldn’t open.  And that’s assuming that anyone else could even see the door, which Johnny wasn’t sure they could.  So, lost in an impossible swamp they might be, but at least they were safe from whatever had been chasing them.

And, wasn’t this some sort of adventure?  Wasn’t this, if nothing else, something ... different?

There was a weird bird-like cry, and a large bat shape soared overhead.

Johnny was still staring at the fading shadowy form when he heard Larissa speak.  “Bats can’t soar.”  He looked back down at her; she was now sitting up, looking in the same direction as he.

“Looked like a bat,” he said, still smiling for no discernable reason.

“Probably a frigatebird.  Their silhouettes can look very batlike.”

It occurred to Johnny that he couldn’t remember Larissa ever using the word “probably.”

“So!” he said cheerfully.  “What do you think we should do now?”

Larissa stared at him.

“Yeah, good point: this was my idea, wasn’t it?”  He turned around and looked.  The insects were getting braver as the fire sputtered out.  The mosquitoes, of course, had never entirely given up, but they were starting to come back in force, and a yellow and red dragonfly longer than his hand buzzed his head.  “Interesting colors on the dragonflies here, eh?”  He waited for her to comment that the common Indonesian dragonfly or somesuch had coloring like that, but she said nothing.  “And these damned mosquitoes ...”  He punctuated this by slapping one on his forearm.  To his surprise (and mild disquiet), the mosquito picked itself up and shook out its crushed wings.  It was colored almost exactly like a tiger, with the orange and black motif extending down its arched legs.  As Johnny stared, it took off and made a beeline for the trees.

He half-chuckled, half-gulped.  “Well, that one won’t be bothering us again, eh?”

Larissa said nothing.

“Um ... yeah.  So, hey, let’s just walk and see where we get to, eh?”

Larissa looked around for a moment.  “Which way?” she asked.

Johnny considered.  The door was long out of sight, of course, but he knew he could find it again if they needed to.  With no sun and no stars, there was no hope of figuring out which direction was north.  If “north” was even a concept that applied here.  There were the distant trees on one side, and in the other directions just bushes and more plants, and some intermittent mist.  He tried feeling with his strange new sense, but, other than the rough direction where the door lay, it told him nothing.  He listened: there were chirpings and chitterings, but almost all were far away, perhaps past the treeline.  Most sounded like birds, or maybe rodents.  He sniffed: generally it was loamy and damp and reminiscent of a compost, but in a pleasant way.  There was something else though ... was it water?  He thought it might be.  Toward the place where the treeline curved around to get in front of them and then just stopped.

“That way,” he said, pointing.  He turned back around.  “You want to eat first?”

She shook her head.

“Nah, me neither.  Let’s just snack on the way.”  He was still grinning slightly.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Chapter 9

Into the Sewers

In books and movies, people are constantly going down into sewers.  In fact, to judge from popular entertainment, one might think that there were more people living under the streets than on them.  Johnny had learned that this was a silly concept.  There were many reasons for this.  Sewers are hard to get into, first of all: they’re dangerous, so cities make them difficult to enter.  Secondly, they’re dangerous, and also disgusting, so there’s no good reason why anyone would want to get into them.  Finally, they’re redundant.  If you have a burning desire to be underground in the city, there are basements, and there are culverts, and there are subway maintenance tunnels (that particular cinematic image has more truth to it), all of which are much nicer places to hang out than a sewer.  Assuming you want to be underground at all, that is, and the only season that you might want that is winter, when being underground might be warmer.  Maybe.

So, all in all, nobody lived in the sewers, or traveled through them, or even went there for a quick visit.  In all his years on the streets, Johnny had never once been in a sewer, nor ever known anyone who had.  And yet, here he was.

The water was lower here, only up to their mid-shins, and the area of Johnny’s body between the previous waterline and the new one was starting to get very cold.  The smell wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t really noxious yet: Johnny figured that this was mostly just runoff, although it hadn’t rained in almost two weeks.  But Johnny tried not to think too hard about that.

The noises behind them were getting fainter, although no less frenzied.  They were walking up a slight uphill grade against a mild current, and trudging through a foot or so of water made that all the more difficult, so they weren’t moving very fast.  Johnny was half-supporting Larissa, and trying to place his feet very carefully—he didn’t relish the thought of falling down in this muck—so he wasn’t paying attention to how fast the light from the end of the pipe was fading until he abruptly realized he couldn’t see anything.  Larissa straightened up a bit and Johnny heard a small click.  The light from the trusty Zippo was small, but welcome.  Johnny stopped walking and looked around them.

The surface of the water was dark, and broken occasionally by bits of wood and stray pieces of trash.  The pipe itself was huge—Johnny might be able to touch the top of it if he were to stand on tiptoe, but then again maybe not—and perfectly round.  Its concrete sides were covered in gunk that Johnny fervently hoped was vegetable matter.  The primary sound he could hear was the rushing of the water, on its way down to The Creek.  Tuning out the animal screams that still floated up from the channel below, he thought he could make out some smaller skittering noises closer by.  For a moment this put him on the edge of panic, but Larissa’s calm voice rang out in the stillness.

“Just rats.  They won’t bother us if we don’t bother them.  Especially if we keep the lighter lit.”

Johnny looked doubtful.  “We can’t run the lighter forever though!  We’ll run out of fluid ...”

Larissa gave him her calm, studying look again, and Johnny suddenly realized that the panic he had been on the verge of was less about rats and more just a delayed reaction, but now suddenly everything seemed okay again.  “I have extra,” she said.  Johnny took a deep breath and tried to still his shaking muscles.

Larissa’s look turned questioning, and Johnny was suddenly sure she was going to ask him how they had gotten through the grate.  Instead, she said: “Why did you bring us in here?”

Already trying to come up with an answer to the question he had thought she was going to ask, Johnny was caught unprepared.  “I, um ... it was ... we couldn’t just flounder down The Creek, right?”  Larissa continued to look at him.  Johnny thought back to the confusion at the metal grating.  “I think I ... felt something ...”

And now, freed from having to think about keeping Larissa safe or not slipping in the pipe-muck, he found that he could feel it again.  It was a curious sensation, not a tugging like with the mist, but a heat.  Which wasn’t really right either, but he could feel some sort of brightness up ahead, and his mind automatically translated that to the sensation of feeling the heat coming off a powerful light such as a spotlight.  But it wasn’t actually hot on his skin, and it wasn’t even his skin that was feeling it.  It was just a knowledge that up ahead, on the right-hand side, there was a beacon of sorts.  It didn’t draw him in the way the mist had, but it had piqued his curiosity and drawn him into the pipe.  It didn’t feel like a refuge per se, but then it didn’t need to feel very safe to feel safer than what they were leaving behind.

He realized he was looking up ahead, towards where he knew the thing was, and Larissa was following his gaze.  “Okay,” she said.  “Let’s go find it then.”

section break

Twenty mintues later they were sweating and exhausted, and dirty from bits of goop falling on them.  The pipe had mostly leveled off, but there was still the current and the depth to fight against.  Johnny’s nerves were on edge from the occasional squeaking and splashing of the invisible rats, although this didn’t seem to bother Larissa.  There was absolutely no light at this point other than the small, flickering circle provided by the Zippo, which had already had to be refilled once (and that was a harrowing experience, since obviously you can’t keep a lighter lit while you’re refilling it, and sewers give a whole new meaning to the word “dark”).  Johnny imagined that the lighter must be getting hot by this point, but Larissa didn’t seem concerned.  All in all, the situation ought to be discouraging, but it wasn’t.  Johnny knew that the thing, whatever it was, was up there, and by now he knew it was much closer.  Larissa just seemed to believe he knew what he was doing.  Johnny hoped he did.

And then, out of nowhere, the door.  Right where Johnny knew it would be, even though he hadn’t known it was a door.  How could he have?  There are no doors in the sides of sewer pipes.  Besides the completely ridiculous aspect of having a door that opens onto a sewer, there were physical impossibilities to deal with.  The pipe was round, which meant the “wall” of the pipe was curved.  And the door was not.  It was utterly flat, made of a black substance that seemed to be wood, with white markings on it that might have been some sort of faded symbol or might have been random scratches made by giant claws.  And it was circular, and its ragged edges glowed with a faint greenish cast, obscuring the impossible join of vertical to concave.

Johnny stood, staring at it.  Larissa held the lighter aloft and stared as well.

After a moment, Johnny shrugged.  “I suppose this isn’t any weirder than anything else that’s happened lately,” he finally said with a sigh.  “Shall we go in?”

Larissa was silent for a long moment.  “Is it better in there?” she asked finally.

Johnny wondered what her definition of “better” might encompass at this point.  “Well, if you mean is it safer, then I think so.  There won’t be any rats, and we won’t run into any actual sewage, and whatever those things were back there with the claws and the teeth won’t be able to get in.  If you mean, is it saner, then I suspect absolutely not.”

Larissa considered this.  After a time, she nodded.  Johnny put his hand on the door.

There was no doorknob, no knocker, no bell pull ... no obvious way that Johnny could see to either open the door or request it be opened by something on the other side.  But he knew how to go through it.  He just laid his hand flat on the door, felt the skin of his palm adhere to the strange wood, which felt both slick and tacky at the same time, then pulled.  The door opened smoothly, swinging outward as if it had hinges on the leftmost edge of its circular form, which it definitely did not.  The inside wasn’t dark, but it was so full of that dim green glow that had been leaking out around the edges that it might as well have been.  Larissa poked at the strange light with the Zippo, but it just made the flame, and even the whole lighter, turn green.  She shrugged and turned to Johnny.

“After me, eh?” he said.  Weirdly, he felt a grin on his face.  There was something about this new, otherworldly sense that just made him unreasonably happy.  “No worries,” he said, which had been a favorite expression of Amiira’s, but which Johnny hadn’t said in years.  Just now, though, it felt right.  He plunged through the green glow that filled the circular doorway and disappeared.

After a moment, Larissa followed.