We crested the hill and looked out over even more lawn. There was absolutely no sign of this welcome station Jerry had promised. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a welcome station close to the entrance of the, well, what was it really? A state? Of course it was. The State of Jerry. Everybody’s heard of that one.
It could have been a mile to the left or a mile to the right. There weren’t any signs or paths or anything to point anyone in any sort of direction. So we did what made sense and followed the sun because we both knew the sun set in the West although, at this point, that could have been a matter of debate.
Our shadows grew long. The grass was very soft on my feet. If we had to walk a great distance anywhere this seemed to be the best place to do so. Not a pebble or shard of glass in sight.
“You know,” I said as we descended the far side of the hill. “We should have taken Brilliance out of the van.”
“You’re probably right,” Wrench said.
“It might not even be burning anymore, if the water put it out. Not to mention the fact we might never see it again.”
“Those are both possibilities.”
“Do you think it’s possible this Jerry character is a Nefarion?”
“That, also, is a possibility.”
“Do any of these things worry you?”
“If we’re meant to have the flame then we’ll have the flame. If we’re meant to find your father then we’ll find your father. It’s really as simple as that. We could have tried to hold onto the flame. We could have jumped in the river after it. But what would happen then? We would have had to chase it and our only purpose is to find your father. The more you chase something, the farther away it gets.”
“But I thought we needed the flame to find Dad?”
“No. We might need the flame to get him back but I don’t think we’ll need the flame to find him.”
“What about the Arapahoe canoe bark? Do we need that to find this secret place?”
“There’s no guarantee that would help us. I think we just have to continue onward.”
And we did continue onward until the sun went down. Then we both decided we were tired.
“This is probably as good as any bed we would find in a welcome station,” Wrench said, thrusting his arms down to the soft, eternal grass.
“Indeed,” I said.
We chose our spots in the grass, a comfortable distance from one another. I’ve been known to grope people in my sleep and I didn’t want to wake up and find myself making out with someone who had been my father until that morning.
“Ah, cozy,” Wrench said.
“Very nice,” I said, looking up at the stars in the sky. The stars were different here. They made much more sense than the connect-the-dots constellations I was accustomed to. This sky contained smiley faces and frowning faces and a whole bunch of stars that made a star shape. One group resembled a dartboard. Another group resembled a giant ship. And these stars moved and fluttered around in the sky so the ship sailed off into something that could have been the sun. A heart-shaped constellation throbbed, swelled, and then burst, raining stars down into the horizon. It was all very comforting and engaging. Just enough to take my mind off everything else going on, lulling me into the sleep that was always just around the corner.
I don’t know how long I slept but I woke up to a strange all-encompassing whispering sound. I looked up and, at first, thought the sky had disappeared. But that wasn’t it at all. The grass had grown, immensely. It now towered above me and below me. It was so thick it had actually lifted me up and to get to my feet I didn’t have to sit up. I only had to extend my legs all the way and then I was on the ground. I didn’t see Wrench anywhere. The grass was too thick.
“Wrench!” I shouted, hoping he would answer me. He didn’t.
“Gary!” I called out again, thinking maybe he had forgotten his last name.
Still no answer. I started walking. Now I didn’t really have any idea which direction I was going. Even if I could see the stars, I couldn’t have used them, since they moved. And the sun wasn’t out so I couldn’t follow that. I remembered what Wrench had said about chasing things. If you chased them they only got farther away. So I didn’t think about finding him at all. I didn’t think about which direction I was heading. I just took off walking. It was kind of difficult. The grass was so thick it felt like trying to move through mud. It made my arms itch and, even as I walked, it continued to grow. That was the whispering sound. I could actually hear the grass growing.
From behind me I heard the now unmistakable sound of the lawnmower. I say it was unmistakable because, other than the recent addition of the sound of the growing grass, I hadn’t heard anything else since entering the State of Jerry.
If he didn’t know I was there, he might run right over me with the lawnmower. Hopefully, wherever Wrench was, he wasn’t still lying down. I didn’t hear the lawnmower get caught up on anything that sounded human. I tried to walk faster. Tried to discern which direction the lawnmower was coming from so I could make sure I was out of its path. Then a giant swath of grass behind me fell and I was caught in the headlights of the giant lawnmower. Jerry sat astride it, looking hypnotized. Some people slept. Jerry mowed. He had a lot of grass to mow and it grew so quickly I didn’t see how he could possibly mow it all unless he substituted mowing for sleep. I swerved to try and avoid him but the lawnmower traveled faster than I did and he swerved after me. He was trying to hit me! Maybe that was what he used for fertilizer—the shredded corpses of travelers. Because, if he was mowing in earnest and not just trying to mow me down, there would have been some sort of pattern to it other than the random zigzag I ran.
I dug deep to find some burst of energy I had never experienced before. It would be much easier, I thought, if I were running behind him. But there was no outsmarting him. Hypnotically, the lawnmower followed me and, whenever I stumbled or hesitated, it continued on in its unflagging pursuit.
Then I burst out of the grass and entered a free fall. The inky black night was on all sides of me and I braced myself for a life-ending crash. Instead, I landed in water. I went all the way under, down deep, the water icy on my skin. Icy but refreshing at the same time. I almost expected the lawnmower, replete with Jerry, to come bombing down on my head, but it didn’t. I floated to the surface and cast my gaze from where I fell. I saw Jerry up there, astride his lawnmower, staring blankly down at me.
In the distance, I heard an ah-ooogah horn and hoped that it was Wrench. What I thought was the river was actually a lake and after paddling hard, I saw the headlights on the other side.