Ting Ting and Clete have come to a dead end and so it's time to get out of the tree tops. Will they make it to the border of The Grove without further incident? Hah! You know the answer to that. Don't even speculate. This is Clete Wong. His talent in this story is to just getting in deeper fixes. Yeah, sure, I could have them make it to shore and have sex on the beach, but what's the point of that? This dude is just one clueless, dispassionate, bloodless asexual, or so it seems. Who's going to crack him open? Guess we'll have to find out.
The story continues ...
We descended to the floor of the Grove. Ting Ting had a look of concern on her face and she pointed to a large storage building. We made our way over quickly and she let us in, shutting the door soundlessly behind us.
In this building were all types of saws, knives, machetes, ladders, and clippers, all neatly arranged and hung on one wall. But what made up the bulk of the storage were large stacks of thick branches that had been carefully harvested and tied into bundles that could be carried by one person. Also there were several bundles of kindling sticks. You would think that such a place would have the feel of a musty garage, but it was a place or great cleanliness and order.
“What is this place? For a firewood shed it’s absolutely spotless.”
“It is no regular firewood shed. This is storage for a sacred rite. We come here once a year and renew the materials that are to be used for a special festival. It requires that several beach bonfires be set. It’s important to us to keep it clean.”
“So it’s an annual thing? Like New Year’s?”
“It is a rite that has never been performed. But we must do the preparations in case we ever need to do it.”
“So what is it?” She seemed to give me a sly look, and then she made the motion of zipping her mouth. I understood all too well. The usual answer around here—“I’m not telling.” She shook her shoulders as if having a chill. “I felt the Witch’s presence but I didn’t see her. Let’s give a few more minutes and then we will make a break for the next tree. Remember to think like a monkey.”
She cracked the door. Satisfied there was nobody about, she motioned me out. I secured the shed door. The way to the next tree was in shade and the path was clear so we started to make a run for it, but Ting Ting immediately hit a wooden staff that was held at her chest. I crashed into her and we both had the wind knocked from us and fell back on one another. We recovered to see a robed figure in front of us, something like a Japanese shrine maiden might wear, a skirt with a high, empire waist, topped with a white blouse with flowing sleeves. The figure sported a ceremonial mask of some sort. Technically it was a half-mask—it covered most of the face but not the mouth and lower jaw. The expression of the mask was neutral such that it gave the wielder a look of cold professionalism. I figured this was the Sea Witch.
[They conversed in Japanese. I had Ting Ting assist me in recalling what they said.]
“Princess Ting Ting. I do not recall you requesting passage today.”
“Sea Witch Sama. I beg your forgiveness. The Good Professor was abducted into the Cove. I was trying to return him without incident.”
“You have failed. This an incident.”
“I am relieved to see you up and about. I had heard you were ill.”
“Thank you for your kind inquiries after my health. I have gotten better, thank you. You on the other hand seem to be declining. Are you regressing to second childhood? Playing ‘Wild Jungle Girl’ again?”
“And are you regressing to playing ‘Samurai She-Warrior?’ Is that katana strapped to your waist really necessary?”
“You are armed yourself. I know how well you wield that knife. You have seduced Dr. Wong into being your playmate I see.”
“Clete, how is your Japanese?” said Ting Ting.
“It’s workable. I call it ‘the Berlitz Business Japanese dialect. I know best how to request a recess to review memoranda or order lunch, but I can understand simple sentences.’”
“Do you know what we just said?”
“Not really. Something about not having proper permits? Is this going to cost me another 80 grand? If so, I need to call my banker.”
“That I do NOT know.”
“Professor Wong. I will speak slowly and in simple fashion for you.”
“Momo! You speak English very well. Just speak to him so.”
“Do not address me so casually in this place. I prefer not. Dr. Wong, welcome again to the Outside. We call it ‘The Center.’ It is not yet time for your scheduled visit with us, but as you are here against your will you are fine to be here—and most welcome, again. I hope your wounds are healing?”
“I do very well. Thank you for past care of yours and hospitality, Sea Witch Sama.” I said. “You understand English?” I asked.
“Speak in English to me if you prefer. Your Japanese is terrible. It offends my ears.”
“Sorry. I know it’s bad. Hey, I was … ”
“It’s not that I am intolerant. To speak so will make me think poorly of you and that is the last thing I want. I apologize. I interrupted you.”
“I was meaning to tell you when we met, I don’t usually like hospital food, but yours was great.”
“Better than Feng’s?”
Her too?! What the hell is up with the cooking competition here? “Hmmm. You two are not on the same scale. Can’t really compare. But if you’re pinning me down, she wins on technique, you win on emotional satisfaction. But hey, regarding the Tortoise Princess, it’s kind of my fault that she’s here. I’ll take full responsibility for her and getting her back to her, uh, what do YOU call her part of the Island?”
“We call it ‘The Empire.’ Princess Ting Ting, I grant you leave by way of the beach path.”
“Thank you, I will be taking the Wong-Hakase then.”
“I think not. I will return Hakase myself to his place after we have had tea.”
“Sea Witch Sama?”
“You girls have strange ways of showing hospitality to a guest. My observations tell me he was tortured, imprisoned, and then kidnapped, and now he’s being led naked through the treetops. He has many bruises and cuts and scrapes. Why do you do that to an old man? Your movements are very predictable. I’ve been waiting for you to show up here.”
“How did you know?”
“YOU could have pulled it off your subterfuge. As I’m sure you have in the past. HE … was noisy. You failed to take that into account.”
“If he is not returned in the right circumstances the Security Council will act to . . ."
[Note: There was switch to another language at this point, unintelligible to me, it was not even their Court Manchurian. Ting Ting later recalled this portion for me. She said this tongue comes from some island between Taiwan and Japan. A former resident introduced it, and they apparently reserve it for uncomfortable topics.]
“If you deport him, Natsuki and I will collect him and he will no longer be in the Empire and he will be our responsibility here in The Center. Let me warn you. He is a master practitioner who has not yet shown his power to you. He probably does not even know his own capability here. Did you really levy an 8 times 10,000 cash judgment on him?”
“I don’t question the wisdom of the Hall of Justice. It is not my place.”
“It is mine and I do. I hear everything. Apparently your daughters are wiser than you older ones. The Unicorn Princess is thinking not with her head, but with her crotch. You can tell her I said that. The stench of her desire can even be sensed here—the disingenuous desire of one who has vowed that she has forsaken desire.”
“That is really very cold of you. As if you’ve never faltered.”
“You yourself took him to the top of The Young Man didn’t you?”
“What if I did?”
[switched back to Japanese here]
“Dr. Wong? Did she show the formation in the upper trunk of The Young Man?”
“Yes. We sat there and ate a lunch of leaves and nuts there together.”
“Did she tell you what we call it?”
“It is called ‘the Eagle’s Nest’ for its height, or alternatively, because two people can comfortably lie down side by side there, it’s also called ‘The Wedding Bed.’ It’s a place notorious on The Island for consummating relationships.”
“My, but that’s very colorful of you all.”
[switched back to “the tongue of controversy”]
“What were hoping would happen, Princess Tortoise Guardian?”
“I … am faithful to my vows.”
“Are you? Are any of you?”
“I don’t have to explain myself or anything to you.”
“Don’t lie. You also reek as much as the Unicorn. I only bring this up to remind you that NOTHING goes without my notice in my domain.”
“As you say, Madame Sea Witch. With your leave I will be going then.”
[Back to English]
“Clete. I’m sorry. I could not get you all the way back to Qi’s domain as I promised.”
I pulled her aside to speak privately. “You did get me out of the cave. Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
“I’ve got to go. Do whatever she tells you. She can curse you.”
“Really? Like how?”
“For Islanders she mostly attacks fertility, life force. It’s the basic power of witches.”
“I’m in my mid-50s and a confirmed bachelor who lives near supermarkets. And I dig up fossils, dead stuff for a living. No worries here.”
“She can halt your ability to pull fish from our sea.”
“Superstition. Even so, I have a trump in one word. MREs. It’s Purina Bachelor Chow. Before you go, you really love being in the trees don’t you?”
“Back there, you said something that made it seem like you had not been here in years.”
“I haven’t. That’s why I was so happy to be here.”
“Why the hiatus? You work right at the border in The Shrine. Seems like all you have to do is ask … her.”
“I prefer not asking her for anything. Every request one makes of another is a small transfer of power, isn’t it? And, … after Jie was born, I didn’t feel worthy anymore.”
“Not worthy? To enjoy a few hours in the trees? What the hell’s up with that?”
“Some other time Clete. You need to give your attention to her.”
“And what is your levy?” asked Ting Ting.
“You have brought me the rare gift of the Professor’s company before my appointed time. That is your toll.”
And with that Ting Ting headed down toward the beach and disappeared from sight and left me in the clutches of the Sea Witch.
© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.