Guided Tour of the Hedge

The motley congregates outside and then goes in together. Inside, they see a short darkling with a stretched face like a mole going through the shelves of DVDs. He’s wearing a gray utility jumpsuit rolled down to his waist and a big black jacket. Periodically, he spots something interesting and grabs it up. From there, he either stuffs it into the jacket or drops it unceremoniously on the floor.

Jacob introduces everyone to Quick Slim. He explains their need for a guide into the Hedge to backtrack the trail left by the suspect. They find Slim’s manner to be highly insulting, and he peppers his replies with such inventive epithets as “shitbag,” “fuckstain,” and “pisswhistle.” Despite the gruesome string of expletives, he agrees to lead them into the Hedge in search of the origin of the suspect.

Before leaving, he goes to the counter and pulls an entire stack of DVDs and CDs out of his jacket and pays for them. Noting the odd behavior, the motley drives over to the alley where they found the Hedge gate. Slim meets them over there very shortly thereafter on foot. He must know some other way to get around town more quickly.

Before approaching the doorway that acts as the portal to the Hedge, Dim and Waconda do a careful search of the area. As far as they can tell, the wolf-men aren’t hanging around here at the moment. They lead Slim to the gate and he orders it to open up. Offering him the scrap of scabram fleece found in Demetrius’ hand, he holds it up to his face and smells it for a long time, then announces that he should be able to follow the trail.

The pathway that extends into the Hedge is dark, already more nighttime than it is in the mortal world. Full of anxiety, the motley follows Slim. Small signs of their courts surround each character, with Waconda surrounded by a slightly more pronounced aura of vivid green life and light standing out against the darkness.

The sounds here are strange, with the croaks, creaks and groans of unnatural life echoing through the misty gloom of the forested Hedge. Even the subtle susurrus of a thin breeze causing branches to tickle against each other has an ominous tone. Above and beyond all of the obvious signs, each changeling is reminded that this place is not the mortal world. And yet, the light cast by street lamps filters through the trees, and occasionally, a car honk or engine revving carries across the path.

The Hedge here is composed of tightly packed conifers with dense blossoms of ferns and shrubs in between and surrounding them. The path twists and turns, but Slim keeps his pace slow and steady. After a while of walking, they come to an oblong clearing of dirt with a number of entrances and exits all around it. Slim sniffs around each of them, then tells the motley to remain there while he follows a scent.

It may be only a few short minutes while Slim is gone. But the feeling of dread that begins to overwhelm them causes the motley to imagine it is much longer. The strange noises of the Hedge grow more and more terrifying, and then Shika spots something moving in a tree.

Something small and squat drops out of a tree. It plops on the ground, and then raises itself up to a height of about three feet. It looks like a bundle of robe with a hole at the top. Out of the hole, a hand raises a mask which is split across the face in the styles of a traditional comedy and tragedy mask.

The motley step back as one, afraid and yet curious. Shika masters her fear first and quietly says, “Hi.”

The mask withdraws, and a man’s hand wearing a wedding ring extends from the hole to wave once and then remain poised there.

“Is there something we can do for you?”

The mask returns held by another hand and the man’s hand makes a sort of shrugging motion.

“Well, then, maybe you can help us. How long have you been in this area?”

Both the mask and the man’s hand withdraw. A gorilla hand appears holding a dolphin calendar. Another hand points to last Wednesday’s date. They both withdraw again and the mask returns.

“Have you seen any other changelings around here?”

The hand holding the mask waggles up and down, and the mask nods.

“Was it a pale man in a gray suit?”

The hand shakes its mask no.

“But you did see someone. Could you identify them again if you saw them?”

The hand cocks to the side. The mask rests at an angle for a moment before returning upright.

“Is that a maybe? Hmm…”

The mask looks around at all of them. Dim gives it a friendly look, and a ladies arm with red nail polish on it’s fingernails extends from a fold in the robes to waggle at him suggestively.

Waconda speaks up. “What time did you see this person come through here?”

The mask is withdrawn and a pair of black arms poke up from the robes. One holds up a wall clock and the other raises its finger and thumb to indicate about 6:20. The clock ticks audibly, and Jacob reacts by shying away visibly and making a whining noise. Quickly, the creature withdraws the arms and the clock and brings back the mask. It waggles the mask in a fashion that may be intended to be soothing.

Shika resumes her questions with, “So, do you have a name?”

The mask nods excitedly and then disappears, a hand appears holding a cardboard sign that says FLURL.

“Flurl. Your name is Flurl?”

The sign waves enthusiastically.

“Well, Flurl, you’ve been very helpful. We may come seeking you again, okay?”

The sign is withdrawn into the robes and the mask returns one more time to nod. It disappears, and an octopus tentacle whips out and grabs a branch high up above the path. Flurl disappears into the darkness above them.

Jacob opines, “Well what the hell was that all about?” He seems palpably unnerved by the encounter, despite the creatures magnanimous nature.

Just then, Slim comes back around the corner of the path he went down. He’s got shiny juice in the corners of his mouth and he doesn’t seem to be aware that he’s licking his lips.

Waconda asks, “So, did you find what you were looking for?”

“Uh, no. Wrong turn. Wrong turn, assgasket. We’ve gotta got this way!” He points and then leads them down another path exiting the clearing.

They walk along behind Quick Slim for the better part of ten minutes, and then the winding trail dead ends into another path. The path it ends on is familiar to Slim. He tells them that they are on the West Hills Road, a path in the Hedge that stretches from Portland’s west hills to the Shelter on the east side of the river. Changelings use it to get around town more easily. Unfortunately, the scent he was following joins too many others there, and he can’t help them any more. He leaves.

The motley is frustrated, but decides that it will be faster to just go to the Shelter from here than to try and backtrack to their car near the alley. They go down the path to the Shelter. Where the trail dead-ends, the path widens and to either side of it are Drano, a mop and bucket, Windex, latex gloves and other cleaning supplies. It looks like the Shelter actually uses this space as a closet. Madness.

Guided Tour of the Hedge

Petals of the Rose Malkom Malkom