THE ROADSCHOLAR

Khamet found himself being drawn down through the branches by the longest arm he could imagine. Each of its fingers wrapped around him at least once so that if he had an inclination to free himself, there was no chance of it. He was pulled through to a small chamber in the middle of the nest surrounded by walls of branches and dirt. All at once the fingers unbound and he dropped to the floor.

The sound of thrashing and several screeches rang out from above and Khamet ran to a dark corner. A tall thin figure stood at the opposite end of the room, its neck elongated with its head and other arm still lost in the branches above.

“Ha ha,” the tall man cried into the nest taunting the thing. “You can’t get in here can you?” the figure said. He reached is arm into the branches again. “Over here! No! Over here!” He giggled again before pulling his arms and head out. The arms shrunk until he was in proportion. The screeching and pecking above finally dimmed into silence and the man turned to Khamet.

He was little more than a skeletal figure covered in dirt and Khamet crouched even lower. “You didn’t have to taunt it like that.”

“Oh didn’t I? Are you referring to the thing that was trying to eat you? That was childish entertainment. One takes what one can get for there is little more in this place.”

Khamet remained poised to run. Where he might run was still to be determined. The man’s body was filthy. When he moved flakes and bits of dirt and debris fell to the floor.

“Nothing to worry about for now. You are as safe as I am.” He moved to the wall dribbling bits of earth and sat on a large branch that reached out. His body creaked with the movement.

Khamet remained poised.

“You might as well relax for there is no place to go unless you have a way of escaping or calling for help. I have neither.”

“Who are you?”

“Oh pardon my manners,” he stood. “I am the Roadscholar.” He said this as if he were giving a revelation.

Khamet’s expression didn’t change,

“Never heard of me?”

Khamet shook his head.

“Humph… most who find their way here have at least heard of me. I am sort of a legend.”

Khamet continued to stare.

“How old are you?” the Roadscholar asked.

“Four.”

“Hum? What is four? No, how old are you, Kingsome, Queensome, Jokesome, Lostsoem or Knowsome. What is your age?”

“Four. I am four years old.”

The Roadscholar stared and suddenly understanding crossed his dirty face, “Are you from the Yonderland?”

Khamet stared. “I don’t know what that is.”

“It is the place in which things come to arrive here. Quite often it seems, but no one ever sees them arrive. There is one group of animals taking over the Tulgey Wood now. The Caterwaul. They sort of look like… well they sort of look like you as far as I have seen, but they are much larger. They have great loud voices and they scream a lot. Given half a chance, they will eat almost anything. Truly eat! Trees, birds, flowers, they’d even eat me theoretically. Actually if they would only eat the Jubjub then we would all be fine, but Yonderland is quite a horrific place from what I have heard. In fact you…” He stood, but when Khamet crouched fearfully he raised his hands and sat back down. “I’m sorry, but you are not a Caterwaul are you?”

Khamet shook his head slightly, his heavy green eyes staring at the Roadscholar, “I am a mau.”

“Never heard of a mau. You have a name?” the Roadscholar said.

“Khamet.”

“Never heard of that either. Khamet the Mau,” the Roadscholar furrowed the his brow, causing dirt to flake from his forehead. “Or is it Khametmau, MauKhamet, or something like that? I’m not certain, but those names are at least somewhat familiar.”

Khamet didn’t know how to answer so he remained silent.

“I didn’t name you,” the Roadscholar said flatly and shook his head. “So you see, things come through from Yonderland, strange things that most have never seen before. They arrive Heere.”

“What is Heere?”

“Heere is where we are, for we are not there. There is not Heere.”

Khamet stared.

“This place,” the Roadscholar raised his arms. “This place is Heere and this is, as far as I know, the only place to be, other than there. For everything else is not in this place for it is there, which is not Heere. So in answer to your question, this is Heere. And everything else is there, or not Heere.”

“Does this place have a name?”

“Not that I have ever heard it called, and so, as I do the naming, I simply called it Heere. There is Yonderland, but there are many places in Heere that are not named. For example,” he regarded everything around and reached out, “This is the nest of the Bandersnatch. That is… This is the place that it became after I reimagined it. It is not a nice place to be. I have been in this Heere for many somes, so many somes that many believe the roads were never mine and that I never was. Can you imagine that? To be and to be believed to never have been. If that were so, then may I ask you where did the roads come from?”

Khamet was not following any of this, but he remained silent.

“I am the pioneer. I discovered everything Heere and named it so, when everything else was just everything else.”

Khamet was quietly regarding the Roadscholar who was becoming more solemn and to himself as he continued to speak.

“It seems I am condemned to stay here for I have found no way out.”

“How did you get here?” Khamet finally asked and brought the Roadscholar back.

“The Bandersnatch. Its nature was… just to snatch what it finds interesting and bury it. Back then the Jubjub terrorized the sky so I recreated it. I recreated them both and then the Bandersnatch, snatched me. It snatched me and dropped me here.”

“So what was that thing up there?”

“That was the Jubjub. The Jubjub now eats Bandersnatch droppings,” the Roadscholar said.

“And there is no way to climb down from here?” Khamet asked.

The Roadscholar gave a long melancholy smile that seemed to cause him discomfort. He stood and moved to the other side of the room not caring that Khamet crouched in alarm. He pulled at a branch on the far side of the floor letting the dirt fall away, then another. He stretched and crawled down a bit. His body elongated to allow him access then he pulled out some other branches before backing out of the whole. He moved back to the other side of the room and sat back down. “Take a look,” he said. “And careful not to fall.”

Khamet crept forward slowly and glanced into the hole, then back up.

“You need to really look. There is no place for either of us to go.”

Khamet climbed into the hole then stuck his head down through the branches. The drop was dizzying and terrifying and far deeper than anything he had ever seen. The tops of the trees below could be seen. The entire shaft of the Bandersnatch tree had no bark or branches for most of it so that the tree itself was nothing, but a great shaft of smooth wood all the way down to the tree line.

Khamet climbed back up out of the hole feeling woozy from staring down at such a height.

The Roadscholar threw his hands up, “I can dig through branches with no problem. I can reach a great distance, but not that far and my hands cannot get any sort of purchase without the bark.”

“What happened to the bark?”

“The bark is what the Bandersnatch eats now. It is food for him and gives his tree protection from any sort of predator trying to climb up. His actual droppings are not, but dirt and bark, which is coincidently what I eat.”

Khamet looked at his claws and got a hold of a branch and pulled.

The Roadscholar stared in wonder at him. “What is that?”

“What, my claw?”

“You must be at least part Caterwaul for they too have protrusions such as those.” He made to get up and stopped, “May I?”

Khamet reached out a paw and extended his claws.

“They are sharp. Are you a good climber?”

“Well, all mau are good climbers. Much better than dogs or baboons,” he stopped and remembered his friend for a moment.

“I have never heard of baboons, but I do recall something of dogs.”

“Yes lesser creatures from where I come from. Yonderland I guess.” Khamet said.

“All four of your feet have these claws?”

“Yes.” Khamet stuck his other paws up one by one and extend the claws.

“Do you think you could crawl down the tree?”

Khamet looked shocked and thought about the drop, “I don’t know. It’s a long drop if I fall.”

“Yes, but if your claws dig into the body of the tree it would be no problem for you.”

Khamet remained silent.

“Look you are not going to have a choice. I don’t think you can eat Bandersnatch droppings.” He looked down. “You aren’t the first creature to survive and come down here.”

“What happened to the others?”

The Roadscholar shook his head, “They are all different. Some go crazy and they attack me to see if they can eat me. They can’t, for I am just earth and bark. I am of the road if you will. Some try to climb down, but they fall. Others just jump.” He made a sad face, “Others get tired. They go out in to the nest and wait for the Jubjub to take them. And still others wait and waste away telling me their stories, while they slowly starve to death. Then I drop them through the hole.”

Khamet’s whiskers dropped, his ears flattened and his green eyes bulged at the horror of it.

“So you should at least think about it. If your claws hold to the tree you can probably make it.”

“I might get a little hold, but I don’t think I can get a good enough grip to climb down. The tree is too dense.”

The Roadscholar thought for a moment and smiled. “You know,” he said standing. “I know just about everything there is to know Heere and I think it might be able to help you out, but you must be very careful with it.” He reached a small area along the wall of branches and mud. He moved the leaves aside, reached in and pulled out what looked like a handful of gravel. “Okay now,” he held his hand out. “These are bits and pieces I have collected over the years. Things people left behind or the Bandersnatch dropped. This will sort you out, but you can’t exactly eat them.”

Khamet looked at the bits, “What are they?”

“Some of this will make you bigger, and some of this could make you smaller,” he looked into his hand confused. “But I can no longer tell which will do what, which might do… or don’t… do,” He reached up and scratched his head causing a shower of dirt to fall to the ground. “They are only bits and pieces and we… well, we will have to hope and test.” The Roadscholar didn’t look very sure of himself.

“What are they?” Khamet asked.

“Well, they are bits of mushrooms and cookeys. Allow me,” He took one of the small pieces and held it up. “Stick out your tongue.”

Khamet tried to feel if something bad was going to happen. He sensed nothing, but the Jubjub bird’s intentions were quite clear and he sensed nothing from it.

The Roadscholar waited. “I assure you it is not poison,” he said.

Slowly Khamet stuck out his tongue.

The Roadscholar touched a bit of something to it and stepped back. Khamet drew his tongue in. It tasted of nothing, but a moment later Khamet was aware of the faint taste of earth, of something grown, minerals perhaps.

“Do you feel anything?”

Khamet shook his head. “No.”

“Humph, they’re very old. Perhaps they do not work anymore.” He set the piece back in his hand and selected another. Khamet stuck out his tongue again, and again the Roadscholar placed something on it. He stepped back with a questioning look.

Khamet waited. The same mineral earthen taste came again, but no sensation. “Maybe I should eat it,” he was taking note of how hungry he suddenly found himself.

“No you don’t what to eat this. Not in here anyway. If it works,” he looked around at the small enclosure.  “Oh my… no, really you don’t want to. Let us try another one.”

Khamet stuck out his tongue again, and again, then another, while the Roadscholar shook his head puzzled. “Perhaps they’ve gone bad.”

“What is supposed to be happening?” Khamet felt a tickling sensation in his stomach. The way it did when he leapt and fell a short distance.

He turned and moved across the small room feeling his tail on the Roadscholar who suddenly exclaimed, “Whoa!”

Khamet looked back and was suddenly eye to eye with the Roadscholar. Before he could speak there was the popping sound of an implosion. Suddenly he was staring at the Roadscholar’s shoes and balanced on two branches. The implosion sound came again and he was now standing on only one branch. There was a great whoosh of air and they were eye to eye again. Another whoosh and his head struck the top of the small enclosure.

There was a series of cracks all around and below him. Khamet felt the floor of the nest beginning to give way with a great creaking sound of his weight on the branches. He instinctively reached up with his claws into the ceiling of the enclosure. His head suddenly forced its way up through the branches with a crash. The entire room made the sound of straining and the Roadscholar cried out, “No!”

Khamet’s hind legs slipped and one broke right through the floor just as a large imploding pop sounded. Khamet was dangling by his neck stuck in the hole at the top if the room. His head released and he dropped to the floor. He stepped away from the hole and was eye to eye with the Roadscholar again for a moment before a second imploding pop, and he was back to himself on the floor with his eyes wide in shock and terror.

“I will thank you not to do that again.” The Roahscholar said exhaling in a mixture of terror and relief.

 

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