The strange, tall man in the black and cornsilk-colored suit carried Oswald like a dead body. He was casually walking on a long pathway beneath an arch of treetops. He had a tan bowler hat on his head with a black band around it. The sun was filtering through the leaves above him and birds of various colors and sizes were twittering and fluttering about. The young girl was walking beside him, dwarfed by the strange man’s massive frame.
“To the garden?” he asked in a drawn-out drawl without looking down at her.
She thought for a moment as she strolled. “No. I don’t want to plant this one. I like him for some reason… Even though he can bristle my hairs at times. It’s a lovely day. Let’s take him to the overlook and set him down and see what happens.”
The strange man looked straight ahead. “As you wish.”
At the end of the pathway, the sky opened in a splash of blue and white and brightness from the sun. They emerged onto a large flat terrace. They were surrounded by green mountains and there was the sound of water falling from them and the water gravitated like a rush of tears down into deep blue and crystal pools. The pools filled and spilled at the base creating trickles of streams that turned into a more forceful flow that eventually ran from the foothills and meandered out among the land and carved a beautiful gash within it. Stretching up and away from the pools and the river were golden yellow fields and dark fields and medium green fields and even fields the color of rust and canned pumpkin. Some of the fields were wild. Others were groomed and tilled and planted and plucked. Beyond the fields the paths and streams vanished into a veil of high forest, and beyond the forest was the road to somewhere else.
The strange man walked toward the far edge of the terrace and cautiously peered over the short stone wall topped with a bowed silver rail. He nervously absorbed all that wonderous landscape below. He could see jutting stone. He could hear moving water. He sensed unfathomable distance, and he looked up at the sky above him and wondered if he could lick at the bottom of the clouds like they were ice cream. He was usually a very brave man and very little could unnerve him. But the height they were at made his stomach feel uneasy and his heart thump. He turned to look back at the girl. “If you would reconsider this man’s fate… I would like to throw him over and just be done with this chapter of my life.”
“Ivan!” the girl screamed out. “Absolutely not. Set him down over here in that lovely lounge chair.” She pointed sternly.
Ivan looked disappointed but did what was asked of him. He always did what was asked of him because that was his job as the princess’ butler and personal aide. “I suggest you go back to your quarters and study up on your humanities lessons,” she said. “This obsession with throwing people over the edge has got to come to a stop.”
He bowed. “My apologies. As you wish, my lady.”
Her name was Marmalade. Princess Marmalade. Her father, King Lambert the 15th, enjoyed marmalade on his bread so much that he named his only daughter after it. Some of the people in the land made fun of the king for naming his daughter after a fruit jam. “What next?” the talk among them went. “Is he going to name his next child Plumb or Cucumber!?”
And now this very Princess Marmalade was up on the high terrace sitting across from Oswald Madness and watching him regain consciousness. “Hello,” she said. “Are you feeling any better?”
He had a rougher exterior than usual. His hair was a tussled mess, and his clothes were wrinkled. He squinted in the sunlight pouring down and spilling its golden glory everywhere. “What’s going on now?” he wanted to know. “Why do you keep knocking me out, or putting me under, or whatever the hell you’re doing to me?”
The princess stood and looked at him. She sighed. “I don’t know why. I’m afraid I don’t fully understand the inner workings of my father’s regime. He likes to flex his muscle and keep people in line. He calls it the right of his authority. He often goes on and on about how the people must be kept in line otherwise they will revolt and disrupt his royal lifestyle.”
“You don’t go for that kind of thing?”
She started walking around him. “Having royal blood isn’t always a blessing, I’m afraid.”
“I thought you were just a simple farm girl… In the beginning, I mean. When I first saw you at the airport food court.” He slowly shook his head. “What happened to all that? Where’s that reality?”
She imitated explosiveness with an outward motion of her fingers and a puff of her cheeks. “Poof. Gone.” The girl stopped in front of him. “That was a very, very long time ago, Mr. Madness. I’ve changed. I’ve grown.”
He scoffed at that ridiculous notion. “It was just a day or two ago. And you look mostly the same to me.”
“I’m not the same. I’m never the same. I’m constantly evolving,” she argued, and she threw her hands up in the air. “But I can’t keep up with it. All these changes are wearing me down.”
He sympathized with her for a moment but then his thoughts became selfish. “What do you want with me? Can’t I just go back to Denver and get on with my life?”
“Which life is that?”
Oswald stood and towered over her. “My life!” he said, and he hit his chest with a fist to show he was serious. “The life I came here with. The life you stole!”
The princess looked up at him. “Ivan wanted to throw you over the rail to certain death. I stopped him. I didn’t steal your life, I saved it!”
“Who the hell is Ivan?” Oswald wondered aloud.
“The big man who brought you chocolate milk.”
“He wanted to kill me. Why!?”
The girl exhaled. “It’ a hobby of his. But I’m trying to cure him of it.”
His silver eyes, filled with doubt and suspicion, fell upon her. “Where did you get that Nirvana shirt?”
She looked down at what she was wearing and smiled. “One of their concerts. Los Angeles. May 29th, 1991.” She looked back up at him in complete seriousness.
“Bullshit. That’s impossible. You weren’t even born yet.”
“Mr. Madness… I’ve seen a thousand lives and have uttered a thousand painful goodbyes. I was there.”
TO BE CONTINUED
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