Jen Scene III
He touched his head. More than a few bumps.
Wary of crevices and protrusions, he, tentative hands outstretched, groped the black and doddered forward.
He remembered the meracious white wall, not wandering into this cave nor for how long.
Despite such, coupled with the fact this darkness weighed more than that through which he walked with Sherme, this darkness did not scare him the way the other had. Still, unable stay here forever, he searched for a light, for a way out.
There was a sound in the distance; like the thundering water, it started soft, distant. And like the former, it grew louder. But it was not a rumbling. A regularity to its periodic rising and falling. Hollow and metallic like a cavernous rale.
Then it broke and it rolled and it churned and popped like thick boiling liquid. It sounded, actually, like his mother’s congee, the dish she’d always make to soothe his melancholic heart. Something about the way she cooked the rice and how she used just the right amount of sausage and ginger always lifted his spirit. His stomach grumbled and Jen wished he could have some right about now.
What he heard next made him want nothing other than to be home with his mother right now, eating some this very moment.
Its onset resembled a swarm of bees. This evolved into metal scraping against metal and Jen, no longer concerned whether or not he fell or hit a wall, ran through the dark.
Crunching of dry brittle things not under his feet; their snapping and comminuting with every blow of what must have been large and heavy.
Then the screams came and Jet hit a wall built not of stone. Stopped him it did, this, the foulest of fetorous odors, worse than a festering gangretic abscess, dead in his tracks.
He wretched, but could not vomit. The din framed the cave’s dark interior with the terror of a truth to horrible to name. Acetous bile poisoned his mouth; chewy particles clung to the crevices in his teeth. A ferric chuckle struck his head like a fist.
Forcing himself to stand with all the strength he could muster, the adynamic Jen discerned in the darkness a dark outline of a figure.
Twice it whispered his name and with implied urgency said, “Come with me.”
“This way, come.”
“This way, come.”
Hand hard against his abdomen, he, still hunched down under the weight of the smell, faltered forward. “Master, Master, where are you?”
Jen looked every which way. “Where?”
In the distance, a small white light. Jen exhaled long and hard. The exit. Thank the gods, the exit. He took two more steps; the light more than tripled in size. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, shook his head and counted at least four figures silhouetted against the increasing disc of light.
“One more step.”
And with that step Jen found himself no more than ten paces away from what appeared to be the office of an unfamiliar bureaucratic agency. Four officials stood behind a corpulent man seated at a desk draped with a red tapestry on which churning ocean waves pounded three large rocks. Tall and thin in frame, those standing wore robes of solid green, white, black, and red. Only the one dressed in red kept a long beard. The seated man, his face broad, his eyebrows falcate, dressed in a black coat embroidered with scallop shells at the shoulders over a glossy red shirt. His beard traced the outline of his thick jawbone, forming a point at the chin, and he maintained an upward turned moustache. Paying Jen no mind, the standing ones hunched over the seated one’s back, fussing.
Something cold and stiff pricked Jen’s hand. At once he tried to pull away, but stopped when he saw short blue beings around him, their beady, iridescent subflavous eyes, not unlike the eyes he saw in the forest, sharper than their long crescentic fingernails. He knew at once any attempt to struggle would bear no fruit. Three more gathered around him and with no other recourse, Jen allowed them to usher him forward.
Though only half a head taller than the desk, Jen saw they had read from a scroll, now rolled. One blue creature hustled around the desk and whispered to the fat one; Jen tried to retreat; the man looked him straight in the eye. “Is this true?” His large baryphonic voice boomed through the cave. “What is written?”
“Is what true?”
“Tell me, is your name Du Shi Wang?”
“No, it is—”
“Since it is not—” Unalloyed disdain flooded his large cavernous eyes with bile. “—I will be the one who asks questions. You answer. Have you forgotten?”
“Silence!” He devastated his desk with a heavy fist and pointed a clubbed finger at Jen. “You have no respect. I said I will ask the questions! Take him!”
The blue beings blitzed Jen and yanked him backward. The carried him, two at the shoulders, two at the feet, and despite Jen’s now spitfire protestations, they required little effort to keep him relatively still. They dropped him to the ground, jerked him up by the collar, and turned him around.
A ladder in front of a large metallic concave structure.
“Climb!” demanded the outraged fat one.
The four little beasts behind him, Jen’s insides crumpled a little more with each step; when he neared the top, a little monster scrambled up and shredded his back, and pressed his neck against the bowl’s rim.
A hot blast of noxious steam clobbered Jen in the face; he tried to turn his head. The beast wouldn’t let him. He closed his eyes; the thing peeled his lids open and forced him, gagging, to watch men and women, their flesh still blistered in the places it had yet not popped, fighting to claw their way out of the viscid inspissate liquid. But the colossal wok doomed any and all such efforts.
“Enough!” yelled the man. “Take him to the tower.”
Two beasts perched atop the wok’s rim; the others positioned themselves below Jen. Each hooked their fingernails into his flesh and in one swift motion, threw him, hurtling end over end, over the five men. Flailing through the air and, seeing a grassy ground below, Jen braced for impact.
He hit the ground with the back of his neck and somersaulted in the most ungraceful way to an eventual halt.
Flat with arms splayed, he lifted his head and spied two people; he propped himself on his elbows: a man and a woman. He squinted. “Muqin? Fuqin?”
It was them. Diffused through his body, the ripping pain reduced his legs to soggy rice and Jen floundered toward his parents.
He called them again; kneeling across from each other, they did not respond. He saw their lips move, but could not hear them. They smiled at each other and laughed. They stopped. His mother craned her head, looked over her shoulder, and walked out of Jen’s line of sight. His father stood and opened his arms when his mother, upon her return, produced a swaddled baby; his father opened the blanket just enough to reveal the profile of a face, giggled, and rubbed his nose against the baby’s.
Jen, looking into the past, smiled. He approached the three, said “it is me, Mother, it is me, Father, I am here,” but they ignored him. His father opened the swaddling further and Jen, eager to see himself as an infant, eased closer.
Jen thrust his arms forward and, shaking his head, backed away.
The baby blinked and smiled, blinked its one eye and smiled with its half-mouth. It kicked its single leg. Jen’s father took the half-a-baby from his mother’s arms.
“What is this?” Jen demanded of the five men.
“Future, you sanctimonious paper tiger!”
He returned to his parents. He could hear them now. His father spoke: “Do you think we kept the right half?”
“Enough!” the fat man yelled. “To judgment!”