Free Association Doesn't Pay

This interactive story was written in The Forest on December 12, 1995. VERY minor editing, and a completely spurious title were added later. Read this this name is Laurie I'm not this story...

I dropped my eyes to the fragment of paper that lay before me. I am not sure how I found it; maybe because it was the only thing near to human in this strange world of otherness.

It read: "I'm sure that you're surprised to find this on an unknown, uncharted planet - I'm sure that what you see around yourself is surprising as well. But this, as you will find now that you're here, is a world of surprises. In fact, I surprise myself in the fact that I am still sane... but then I have you to write to, good hypothetical reader."

The handwriting was archaic, scrawling, dim. Completely rational. "One of the things which will astound you - Believe it or Not, as they used to say so long ago - Time does not work the same way around here. Neither does Space - but I suppose you've discovered that, if you have reached here. Just do not spend too much time pondering my words - Time will pass you by, and it will be too late. Now kindly allow me to tell you my tale, good citizen of the future..."

I could almost hear an ironic laugh in the words of the writer. Ironic - for his situation and mine. . .how could I hear a laugh? This lonely world was silent. The thunder of my heartbeat, that was all. It was almost as if I was a character in some strange fantastic story... a myth of one who flew to a strange empty planet... My thoughts mirrored the final words that I glimpsed on the paper before it fell from my lifeless hands -

"... the tale of the last one left..."

I can't believe I am still here, thinking in some organized (I think) fashion but here I am and obviously here you still are You may be amazed at the fact that you are reading this, yes, but the fun is just beginning? What's the last thing you remember?

The last thing I remember I was flying in my turbo prop and it was just after the war. WW two that is. I don't know how far ahead of me you are but I was pretty far ahead of the last guy, so anyway. There were a number of us here when I showed up. Now there is just me me, me, me, mimimimmimimimimimiimmmiiii and uh, I just can't (hold together dammit, hold together) when I first came here there was quite a culture. And at first they were nice to me, nice to me nice to me, hee hee hee and I thought all was well, well well down in the well, the dell, and they treated me quite well. There were feasts and banquets and I thought everything was okeydokeysmokey until they introduced me to my housemates. And I discovered we were the zoo. The &*&^$^%#%$#%*%^ ZOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! God, the technology they had, made my turboprop look like a freaking balsa wood toy with a rubberband. But then they got sick. I don't know what I gave them, like I care, over there, over there, we will fight, over there like I really cared, but when we inmates started to starve it got nasty. We had to eat ya know and they forgot us.

Anyway, three of us got out in the end when the last guard got delirious (delicious) delirious (delicious) and we got out. And now here I am. I came back to this $#&^%$ cell because there was nothing left and it was the only home I knew. Find the time wave. I couldn't. Find the time wave and power it up and leave. Go. This zoo sucks. All the animals and spectators are dead. Except you..

So... have you been out there...? What did you see...? Did you see what I saw...? Let me tell you what we saw... the three of us... when we left here. Am I chuckling too loudly...? Forgive me! No... please... stay. Let me tell you what happened to the other two. You do want to know, don't you...?

Good... now sit back down and listen. We can compare... I'll tell you my story and you can tell me yours...? Deal...? We left here... the three of us... travelled for what seemed like weeks. So difficult to determine time out there... everything looks the same... miles and miles of the same rolling hills and stony paths. We followed a trail. I think of breadcrumbs... no wait... that was something else. No... don't turn away... sit here... listen. You must listen!

Eventually we came to a wall. It was a dense mist. I poked my hand into the wall of mist and it disappeared. You're looking at my hand. Wondering why I still have it, if it vanished... Well, it came back... when I pulled away from the wall... my hand came back. You thought I'd lost it for good...? Please... no... don't be alarmed. I'll try to stop laughing... it's just that your face... it's so comical with that puzzled look. Yes... I'll go on.

Well, we decided to build a raft... sail through the mist, you see. Oh, I didn't mention a river ran under the wall of mist? Sorry... slip of the tongue... er... mind... I forgot. We built the raft and got on, but I jumped off at the last minute... couldn't do it, you see... don't know why... but just as well. The other two were gone for days... weeks... months... so difficult to measure time out there. When they came back, they returned at the other end of the world... planet... country. I don't know... but any way, they floated in on the raft through the opposite wall of mist... on the other side... and they were frozen. Frozen solid! I'm sorry... am I laughing too much? But you had to see... it was so funny...

No, don't go. I want to hear your story...

"MY story?" I asked, "what story are you talking about?"

"Why... you know, the STORY..." he began fretfully, "the story of your uh... your um... you know, your adVENtures!"

"What adVENtures?"

"You KNOW! The adventures you had after you did the uh... the um... and then you um... went into the... you went in the um... you know, past you know, the place where... um..."

And I could see by the way that he was drooling on himself that he was really looking forward to a story. So I gave him one. After I had spent less than five minutes at it he stopped me with a yell, and turned his back on me.

"What's the matter?" I asked him. He wouldn't answer. I asked a few more times, trying to find out what was wrong with him, but he wouldn't answer. So, frustrated, I stood up to leave... and hit my head on the sky. A hard thing to hit is the sky, but I managed to give myself a rather big bump from it. I looked down and saw the Earth spinning below me, resplendent in blues and whites, and I was remarking to myself how pretty it all was when I realized it was getting bigger. And bigger meant that I was falling... and falling meant that... And I screamed loud and long, and eventually stopped, and wondered how long it would take to finish falling. Then, being in such a mood, I glanced at my wrist watch.

I looked through my arm. I looked straight ahead, and then back through my arm. I then tried to touch my arm. And I missed.


The psycho man listened to the second scream with something like satisfaction. He grinned to himself and then muttered, "Now THAT sounds like an adventure..."

****Grey Prana****
It is hard to believe that I kept from going insane back then. I was only 12 years old and had no background or memories that I could grasp. I released my hand's grasp over my eyes, which revealed to me an endlessly beautiful green pasture that I was lying safely in. I can't remember much before then, but I do remember the day perfectly. The day was warm, yet there was a cooling breeze; as if it had just rained. This scenery was the greenest, I could imagine. The field spotted with wild flowers growing everywhere. And I wondered what I was doing here and what the point of it all was. But I seemed to let those ideas go and bask in the glory of the nature.

It is hard to find such a place as this, after the Earth was destroyed. After the great war, the colonists sought out a planet with as great beauty as our Earth that we so stupidly took for granted. But after hundreds of years, nothing was found. And I found myself lying in the middle of the greatest view of my time. It may be an anachronism to speak of the beauty of Earth as it was now, but my attention steered in a different direction when I noticed something amidst the beauty. The green seemed to mirror itself for eternity in all directions, excluding one small circular area, containing a full grown peach tree.

Its limb stretched themselves out, casting strange shadows among the green flowing grass. This was the greatest largest tree I had ever seen, and I wondered why it struck so beautiful to me. There was something about it that I had to know, something that glowed within. The trees limbs seemed to stretch farther and farther in my mind, calling me. The hundreds of peaches resting lazily among its branches all watching me, watching me. This tree was so large that it could have been millions of years old, but it seemed so healthy and young looking that the inevitable called to me, and I had to inspect it. I walked slowly towards the tree and placed a palm on it's trunk and as I did this the trunk of the tree seemed to make a doorway open and I fell through. Tumbling over myself, the gravity began to disappear as I fell my way through the darkness. There was no up, no down, no direction at all.

The air was hot and humid inside, and I could hardly breath, much less grasp the fact of where I was and what I was doing. My head began to feel dizzy, I felt sick. I was falling at such an incredible rate, I could hardly hold my stomach, when -----


The Psycho guy looked across at his monitor and smiled at her. "He he he, I knew she would fall for it. Just wait until she sees what lies ahead. MY adventure is just beginning! HahHAHAHhhahHaHahHahHhaHhH"


And as The Psycho man's laughter seemed to echo throughout this mirrored land, a peach slowly dropped and fell to the ground with a splat,contradicting the Psycho man's pleasure.

And as I fell deeper into the darkness, tumbling this way and that I, for a moment faced upwards... or what I have only to believe was up... there in the darkness, a window, and on the other side the psycho man, lost in his own laughter. Damn that old man from the note... the note.

That is where I first saw... no heard him, the note. As I pondered the note I realized I was now standing and in place of all that was black, was white. The white walls of the room losing themselves in the floor, so only your hand could tell where one began and the other ended. Even the furnishings were white , the bench I could feel behind my knees, the table behind it, the bed with no covering, who would need a covering in this environmentally controlled surrounding? And at my feet a few remaining fragments of the note remained, the note that had spoken and created the old man, for he was real, his face etched in my mind's eye... peering through that window into my darkness. Had I lingered to long upon his words?

"Peachy wasn't it?" his voice grated at me though not in my sight at the moment, "care to tell me about your adVENtures... oh nevermind, I think I prefer my own.

I looked down at the note fragments as they lay in pieces on the floor. They had had a beauty of their own. Not necessarily a beauty accessible to all... But a beauty none the less. I had seen it. I had heard it. And I mourned its passing.

Absentmindedly, I whistled a note or two. I imagined how the reply might have sounded. Just a touch of dissonance. But still beautiful. I continued whistling, my mind supplying the missing notes easily, graciously... almost automatically. It took me a few moments to notice that it was not my mind that was enhancing my song, but the notes on the floor themselves. And with that encouragement, I became bolder, more eager to bring this song to completion.

I dropped to my knees and picked up the paper. I had no room left for surprise: the note contained a complete score, including what I thought I had just created. As I dropped the score, I noticed that colors had begun to creep back into the room. Pastels at first, but as the intensity of the song grew the depths of the colors increased proportionally. A crescendo, and then, the music paused. A count to four, and then...

The colors intensified, solidified. The pastels became harder, firmer, less shimmery, the white faded into the hard dark browns and blacks of tree bark rough, varied, firm and spread apart. I blinked into the spaces between trees and began to walk among these giants.

I could feel the leaves reaching for me, stretching... trying to touch me, trying to grab me and I RAN! I ducked and weaved and dodged and jumped and ran and ran and tripped... and was slowly caressed by a branch of evergreen... the softest, most pleasant touch I think I'd ever felt.

Why was I running? Why was I afraid? I had no reason to be afraid. No reason at all. And I slipped into sleep.


"He's gone and done it now," muttered the psycho man.


I walked around in my dreams, looking this way and that, seeing things that I barely remembered; old forgotten dreams from childhood... and other things that were very fresh in my mind... and something else that I couldn't REALLY see... but was always at the edge of my vision... and I knew somehow that seeing this thing was important. So I chased it. I chased it for days, turning this way and that, spinning around trying to surprise it, holding still for hours and then moving suddenly, hoping to surprise it... nothing would work. Than I thought, this is my dream, maybe I should just ORDER it to show itself. So I did. And the psycho man appeared. I slapped my head in frustration... he was the LAST person I wanted to see!

"Well, sonny, here you are in your own head, your own head... crackers in your bed, and you can't think of an adventure, huh? Got a boring life lose your life boring life huh?"

"I guess so," I managed, trying to make out his question.

"I thought so, I thought so. Gotta get you an adventure, venture venture dentures need dentures gotta find an adventure." I started to walk away, and only got about five feet when he stopped me with a yell, just as he had before.

"HEY!!! Hay is for horses DON'T leave yet I have to find you an adventure..." He wrinkled his brow in thought and started muttering so softly I couldn't hear him. Then his head jerked up real quick. "Here!" he said and snapped his fingers.
I was lying on a white bed in a white room... I got up and looked to my left and saw a huge gas pump. I looked down at myself, dreading what I'd find, and discovered that I was wearing a gas station uniform. I looked back up and I was in a field, a meadow. The gas pump was still there, and the bed, but on looking down at myself again I found that I was clad in a leafy, green and brown outfit straight out of Peter Pan. I looked up and was on a rowboat in the middle of an ocean.

No gas pump, no bed, but there was an oil rig nearby, and someone was shouting at me. I looked down at myself and saw a small child's body dressed in a fake sailor's uniform. I looked up and the psycho man grinned at me. "How was that?"

"Those," I said, "were only dreams that I've had in the past. I recognized them all. That's no adVENture."

"Oh, yeah... maybe so maybe so maybe snow let it snow let's see..." I walked away from him and examined the wall... which was a grayish wall, and very thick it seemed. So I punched it, and my hand went through. I pulled pieces off the wall and stepped through the hole I'd made... and in front of me was... me. A huge statue of me, standing in a regal pose, being worshipped by dozens of rabbits. The psycho man sidled up to me. "Don't you get it, get it, don't sweat it?"

"Actually, no."

"HA!!!!" A rabbit stopped worshipping and looked at me. The others looked at me as well, and then they all picked up rocks and started throwing... I ran back into the room I had come from, and kept running. After a while I slowed down, and sat down. And closed my eyes and started dreaming. And, as always happens when someone dreams while dreaming, I woke up. And the psycho man was grinning at me again. "Guess what?" he said, coherently for once, "I found something for you..."

And with a twitch of his nose, the Psycho guy was gone. In his place stood a large southern red oak. I looked around and found myself in a forest. I was standing next to a babbling brook. As I looked at my reflection in the water, it spoke to me. It said to me, "What are you looking at? The adventure is to your left."

I was not sure if I was crazy or not, but I replied to my reflection. "Why are you talking to me? Or better yet, why am I talking to me?"

The reflection shrugged, which I did not do, and replied, "I am your guide on this adventure . My job is to keep you on track and answer your questions as vaguely as possible." I scowled at the reflection. It did not scowl back. I was worried that I was dreaming. I reached into the water and cupped my hands, bringing the cold refreshing water up to my face. I was hoping to wake up. Instead, I did not. I was not asleep. I looked up from the brook. To my left, i saw a sign that said "ADVENTURE, One Mile." I began my walk down the path. About 1200 yards down the path, i turned around to look back. The path was gone.

I heard my voice. It was coming from a nearby owl. "The path is enchanted. As long as you remain on the path, you are safe. Once you stray from it, you are in trouble. You may not return from whence you came."

I looked at the owl. He looked like a majestic, sage old bird. "Why may I not return?"

"Because," replied the owl, "the path is also a one-way path."

I continued my walk. As I neared the mile on the sign, I felt the hair on my arms start to rise. I could feel the electricity in the air. I came to what looked like an old campsite. The fire was still burning and there were camping and survival supplies nearby. I looked around. The fire began to speak. It was my voice again. "Take the gear. It is yours and you will need it. Bed down here for the night." Knowing that I had no choice in the matter, I laid down next to the fire. I slept for the night, or slept as well as I could. I woke in the morning, and all signs of the campfire were gone, save for a Bic lighter and the gear that was left there for me.

I opened the napsack, and found a ham sandwich, a rope, a pair of gloves, a tent and some other food supplies. I looked in the canteens nearby, and found water and coffee. I strapped on the napsack and the canteens. As I started to walk away. I found several large buoy knives. I took them, too. No telling what I would get into. I continued to walk along the path. As I did, I noticed a horse hoofprint. I looked at the print carefully. It had a map of the moon on it.

The See of Imbrium was highlighted. I knew where I was. I was in Xanth. The Psycho guy had had a reason for giving me my dreams. He was reading my mind, and I was now in the Land of Xanth. But where in Xanth was I? And what adventure? And what character? Or was I myself? And what, if any, was my magickal talent? It had been ages since I had been to Xanth in my dreams. I sat on a nearby rock. I began to remember my dreams. I thought to myself, "What was my magickal talent in my dreams?" I could not remember. Then the thought struck me (I dived to avoid the striking thought). "If I could find the Good Magician Humphrey, he could remind me of my talent." Then I remembered, it would cost me a year of service. "I wish I could find King Trent," I thought to myself. Instantly, I was sitting across from him in the Castle Roogna Library. King Trent did not notice me immediately. Then, I realized, my talent was that of teleportation. I could wish myself anywhere in Xanth that I wanted to be.

To test my newfound talent, I wished myself to be in the Gap Chasm. Instantly, I was in the Gap Chasm. I looked up, and the Gap Dragon was coming at me. That was the last thing I remembered before running. I had forgotten to use my talent, and came running into a roll of nickelpedes. I instantly turned to run back, and came snoot to snoot with the Gap Dragon. I instantly wished I was on the bridge over the Gap Chasm, and I was on the bridge, looking down at the Gap Dragon as the roll of nickelpedes started biting into him. The I wished myself to be at Centaur Isle. Immediately, I was. I was starting to feel tired and knew that I could only teleport so much before I exhausted myself.

I started my long walk back to Castle Roogna. As I started out, I realized that it would be a good idea to meet a centaur. I was, after all, on Centaur Isle. As I approached the Centaur Village, I realized that something was amiss. There were no centaurs in the Centaur Village. In fact, the village had been burned to a crisp. There was no one here. No centaurs. No men. No one. Nothing but burnt buildings. I began my investigation of the buildings. I found nothing to lead me to the culprits. I found nothing to tell me what had happened. As I left one of the buildings, I spotted a sphinx. I approached the sphinx and asked her her name.

"Queeriezz," she replied. I asked her what had happened. She shrugged and replied, "The manticore, Marty, and I have been here for days trying to find out what has happened here. We were sent by the council of winged monsters to investigate."

I asked Queeriezz what she and Marty had discovered.

"Very little. We know that there were multiple attackers. And we know that they were Mundane because they left a piece of a Mundane rocket nearby."

"Take me to it, please," I said to Queeriezz. She led me to a shell fragment. It was indeed a Mundane missile. "Did anyone get away?" I asked Queeriezz.

"Yes, most of the centaurs did survive. They are at the Centaur village by the North Village." I immediately told my talent to take me to the North Village. There, I proceeded to interview many of the centaurs of the village.


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