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-= Chapter 2 =-
Obstacle the First
by Kitnoki
©2004 Kitnoki -- all rights reserved

To say that Scribbler had 'arrived' in this new place would be misleading. There was no trip, nor even a sign that one was going to take place. One moment she was in her bedroom, staring at a rather odd muse; the next, she wasn't. Instead, she was looking out on a long gray path, with a red-brown sky above and still air (except for an occasional lazy dust-devil). And no muse. She sighed.

"Great. Just great." And with that she began to walk.

Thankfully, Scribbler hadn't gone far when she came across the first sign of life. A small rather cozy looking house, nestled back in among some stones, which were only a slightly darker shade of gray than the path. Her first thought was to pass it, simply taking it as an omen that there was indeed some life in this place. But before she had a chance to, a voice cried out.

"Hello there!" She looked and there on the porch of the house, was an old man, weatherbeaten and caring, again only a slightly different shade of gray than the rest of his surroundings.

"Um... Hello?" she responded, more than a little unsure of herself in this place.

"Awfully dry out." It was. Indeed, if there was any water at all in this odd realm, it had hidden itself quite well. "Well... you gonna stand there? Or you gonna come and relax?" He held open the door to his house. She thought for a moment and finally accepted.

He closed the door behind him as she entered. "I do hate to see people suffer, out there in the dry. Awful lot of bad things happen out along that road. People get hurt. Hate to see some one get hurt."

Scribbler frowned. Tisiphone had mentioned that this could be dangerous, but she hadn't thought much of it till now. The old man said, "Care for a drink? Best water for miles around."

Now that he mentioned it, her throat was parched. "Yes, thank you," she replied.

The gray man gave her a gentle smile and headed off to the kitchen. While he was away, Scribbler looked over the room she was in, which was furnished with soft, overstuffed chairs and furniture with smooth, rounded-off edges. Child-safe; nobody could injure themselves against these furnishings.

Scribbler's host returned a moment later with a tall glass of water, which she drank greedily.

"Not much of a crowd now, but in my time, I seen all kinds of folks out on that road," the man said, shaking his head sadly. "So many people with so many dreams in their heads, and not a one knows what kind of pain is out there waiting for them. Can't imagine why they do it."

"Do what?" Scribbler asked. "Travel down the road?"

"Yep. It's the dreams, of course. Dreams of the wonder and magic what lies at the end of the road. But ain't nobody seen the end of the road, now have they? It's all just imaginings, is all it is. Oh, please, do sit down, won't you? I think you'll find the armchair most comfortable."

She did. And it was; it felt like warm towels and her mother's kisses. Such a nice man he was... "Thank you!"

"You're entirely welcome," he said with genuine pleasure and concern. "So what set your feet on the road, if I may ask?"

"I met a muse, and she assigned me a quest," Scribbler admitted. "I've got to be a writer."

"So it weren't your own idea -- you're chasing someone else's dream? Well, as I said, I've seen my share of dream-chasers. And I'll tell you, I've seen more'n a few of them come slinking back this way, all sliced up and chewed up and beaten down by what's down the road. Best if they never started in the first place, that's what I say. Ain't no dream is worth that kind of torture."

"I don't know about that..."

The gray man shrugged. "That's your opinion, and you're welcome to it. Me, I just don't like to see anybody get hurt, especially when it's self-inflicted. Anyway, feel free to stay as long as you like -- it's safe here. Ain't nobody gonna rip at you or say bad things to you, not while I'm around."

Such a kind man...

Suddenly she noticed something about her hand: Her complexion was fading, the color half-drained. And it wasn't just her skin; her clothes were also turning dull, the bright hues losing their intensity! She was turning... gray...

Her host noticed Scribbler's distress. "Something wrong?"

She placed the glass down.

"I'm sorry, but I really must be going."

"Are you sure? You could stay here. Nothing to hurt you here."

"Yeah, I'm sure. I've got things to do along this road. I'll be seeing you later mister..."

"Fear. Mister Fear."

"Goodbye, Mister Fear."

She left the gray house, then stopped at the gray fence to look back at the comfortable trap she'd just avoided. Mr. Fear had been right: It was dry out here. There were hazards aplenty, and there was more than a good chance that somewhere along this path she would get hurt... but the goal was worth it all. That's what made it a quest.

And with that, Scribbler resumed her journey.

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