This is a virtual world, a game world. I am flying backwards in circles around the island, but I feel no inertia - I could be moving anywhere.
My character is flying in the big circle too, and I am facing him, trying to give him advice as he ponders his next move. Below us, the myriad structures of the game pass by, steeped in dense green forest. Spanish tile roofs, quonset huts, ancient brickwork, modern steel. Each room and place has a special trick, a hidden item, a clever puzzle that can be exploited to win this island game.
The opponent is playing an evil witch woman in her twenties. Black frock, pointy hat, long stockings. She is hiding in a building somewhere, preparing to cast a spell upon my character. I need to give him special instructions to reverse the spell.
He listens, but he doesn't understand. The spell takes hold. He retreats to a cave high in the mountains that crown the island.
I enter the cave, to check on him. The central chamber is a sphere, with a solid stone bridge passing across it to the opposite stone wall. He lies in a rock hollow, carved from the narrow bridge, in the center of the sphere.
He is alive, but in agony. Tiny green shoots burst from his skin by the thousands. The fungus has ravaged his digestive tract. The swelling has burst his stomach, and fat green intestines cascade from his open gut, piling loops onto the floor, meters below the bridge. The smell is beyond comprehension. He is blind, and clammy, and panting. His head drifts from side to side.
I lay my hand on his slick forehead. The fungoid shoots probe weakly at my skin.
"You've lost," I tell him telepathically. "You poor thing. You don't have much time left, now."
His thoughts push like a hot fist into my head. "TAKE THIS FROM ME. DO NOT LET HER HAVE IT."
"I will." I pity him, but I feel he is more an unfortunate hologram, than a real person. I had not expected to play this game directly.
I lift my hand from his forehead and walk out of the chamber, leaving him to his fate.
Though they are not on my physical person, I now possess the items that the character was keeping. A magic wand, an elaborate chessboard, and a large disc resembling a bar stool. The chessboard is the prize, and I must keep it safe from the witch at all costs.
I stand on a rock ledge, scanning the horizon. Before I can even begin to strategize, she appears, hovering before me on a floating disc like my own.
Surprised, I leap off the ledge. My disc appears beneath me, and I am skating through the air. The witch is close behind. She pulls out a magic wand.
I pull out my own. I'm not sure how it works, but I know a basic spell of deflection. My only hope is to keep her back and possibly outrun her, so I can find a place to hide and make plans.
She weaves expertly around, forcing me to dodge for a cliffside, so I can keep her from flanking me. Dirt and roots blur past my head, and the forest canopy heaves upward. I push my feet out in front, braking hard, but the witch is just over my shoulder. Colliding with her would be disastrous.
She is waving the wand in staccato orchestral motions, mouthing words. She intends to rip my flying disc out from under me with magic. I swing my own wand clumsily, trying to invoke some kind of shield or deflection spell.
She throws her arms out, casting her spell. I raise my wand protectively over my head, hunching over, eyes shut with fear.
Nothing. I remain. I open my eyes, and the witch is there too, hanging over the treetops ... but her disc is missing. I must have deflected the spell. But what spell was it?
I drift closer, and notice that the witch is staring vacantly. Her arms hang limp. She has dropped her wand. Was this her spell? Complete immobility? Did I reflect it back at her?
I realize that I can win the game. The chessboard is still mine, and now I can claim victory. I drift very closely to the witch.
I pull her coat open. She is wearing a black lace bra but I tear it away, aggressively stroking and licking at her breasts. I lock my arm around her waist, and her coat closes around my head.
Apparently, the first person to administer oral sex, voluntary or no, is the winner of this game.
I wake up on Ken's floor, almost laughing out loud at my dream. Ken is gone to class. I fold up my bed, extract a towel from my luggage, and walk down the hall for a morning shower. By the time I finish, Ken is back in the room.
"Man, I feel like a total maroon," he says, slumping on his bed.
"Get this. I get up at ten in the morning. I get dressed, I get my stuff, I walk all the way up to Building A. I'm standing by the door, which is locked for some reason. That's when I realize. My meeting IS TOMORROW."
"Oooh, yes," he says.
"Well, gimme a few minutes to dig through this paperwork, and we'll walk downtown and get you some free lunch."
Ken sighs. "Sounds good, chummer. Man, this has been a stupid week."
"Well, ... weekend, now. Right?"
"Guess so!" he says.
I pack my army of gadgets in a waistbag, and we step out into crisp spring air. A few students are lounging in the rough courtyard, watching a gardener spread fertilizer on a triangle of upturned soil. As we pass, one asks, "So, whatcha think? Tomatoes? Onions? Watermelons?"
"Broccoli!" I shout, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.
One kid likes the idea. "Hummm, yeah. Broccoli would kick ass."
They continue debating while Ken and I make for the bike path. We can't walk directly on it or we'll get clobbered, so we walk in the narrow trail to one side.
Each minute, a biker whizzes past us, or comes huffing around the corner on the way up. Each one smiles, and we smile back.
When none are around, I elbow Ken, strolling beside me with his green backpack on one shoulder. "Holy crap, dude. I mean, really. Holy crap, I've seen more hot girlies on this bike path just now than I've seen in all of Carlsbad."
Ken points out the obvious. "You haven't exactly been out canvassing the town though, have you."
"Touche`", I reply. "But just the same..." Another girl comes pedaling around the hillside, her black hair tucked into a helmet, her pants cut off at the knees. She smiles, takes another breath, and cruises by. "Just the same, there's no place like this in Carlsbad."
"Oh?" says Ken.
"Yeah. This is a paved bike path, all on it's own, with unpopulated hills on either side, but at the same time, it's right between two major places -- the college, and downtown -- so there's good reason to use it. You want to ride a bike someplace important down south, and you'll be riding that bike on the sidewalk, or in the gutter, and you'll have to wash a coat of smog off your face when you arrive."
"Hmmm..." says Ken.
I'm preaching, and I know it.. But I'm very glad to be here. Ken and I approach a decrepit wooden fence, marking the point where the bike path splits. A flat metal sign is lying face down in the wild grass. I stroll off the trail and jerk a corner of the sign up triumphantly. "Ahh HA!" I shout.
On the bare soil underneath, a gopher snake, a jerusalem bug, and two young lizards scurry for cover. I jab my hand out and trap one lizard, gathering it into my fist as I stand up and drop the sign
"Wow, I'm surprised he didn't lose his tail." says Ken.
"Oh this guy's too young to lose his tail yet. But yeah, sometime soon..." After a little scampering and confusion, the lizard settles down on my warm hand. I make a loose fist, open at the thumb, and the little reptile peeks out of it like a man in a watchtower.
"Cute. What's his name?"
"Lizzy! All lizards are named Lizzy! Lizzy the lizard!"
I hold the lizard up to Ken. "Lizzy, this is Ken. Ken, meet Lizzy the lizard!"
Ken bugs his eyes in a silly face. "Meep! Meep!"
We keep walking. Occasionally I hold Lizzy in front of things so it can smell them by zipping it's tongue out. After a while the critter's eyes close, too confused to feel in danger, too warm to feel like escape.
We cross the bustling intersection at the base of campus, and pass by a grassy field. We stop to set Lizzy free at the base of a fencepost. It walks reluctantly off my hand, then with more confidence as it recognizes grass and familiar cover.
"Good luck Lizzy!" I say.
"Don't forget to write!" calls Ken.
Soon we arrive at the car. Ken suggests a name for the vehicle -- the first decent name I've heard anyone suggest. "How about 'the dropship', in honor of StarCraft?"
"I like it! I actually like it!"
We drive off muttering the name to ourselves.
The Falafel hut of Santa Cruz serves the best french fries ever. I've been hooked on them for years. They use a mixture of canola oil, peanut oil, and heavy salt. Today, Ken and I get our grease to go, and chomp noisily all the way across town to the tax office, for my first appointment of the day.
I turn in my meager paperwork, printed in dusty streaks by Ken's ailing inkjet printer. Karen gives me good news. I can probably deduct all the mileage I put on the car when I moved, and when I went on-site to assist my contracting work. I promise to send her better records, shake her hand, and head for the parking lot.
Ken is asleep in the passenger seat. I tap the windshield, and he unlocks the doors. We discuss our next move. I call the insurance office in Scotts Valley and tell them to mail me their paperwork, so we don't have to drive there today. Instead ... we trash our obligations, and head for the movies!
Ken and I deserve a break, and some quality time together. So we buy tickets for 'The Time Machine.' Our favorite topics for discussion are screenplays and shot composition, and we whisper through the movie, and continue our debate back at his apartment with the television on, critiquing an Indiana Jones film. Ken wants to uncover the reasons behind every camera angle, every lighting trick, every line of dialogue. I have a good time just trying to consciously notice it all.
He's up on his messy student bed, and I'm lounging on the floor with a cream soda, rapping on the television with my fingernail to make a point, when I notice the fake watch I'd drawn on my wrist with a pen, ealier in the day. It's dark out, and I should be heading over the hill to see Alex.
Ken walks me out to the car, and helps me stuff my bedding and luggage in. We agree to meet up in Carlsbad for spring break, and I promise not to watch my Fawlty Towers DVD until he gets there.
And, all too soon, my Santa Cruz visit is over.
The drive to Alex's house is refreshing. Highway 17 is as dangerous as ever. It takes me another half an hour to find a parking spot near Alex's apartment, but by 11pm I'm standing in his doorway with my armload of bedding.
Alex grins. "Bad timing, Bob! I just fell asleep 20 minutes ago!"
I launch a half-dozen expletives before replying, "When was the last time you slept?"
"Yesterday..." he says, yawning. "... afternoon."
I drop my pad and blankets on the llving room floor, and follow him to his study/bedroom, where all the furniture has been moved to. More cozy that way.
We boot up the TiBook and look over the Braindead Monkeys art, and talk about programming projects old and new. I outline my music-composition software idea, and he pokes it from various angles. The conversation is good, but we're both tired, so I wander into the living room, cram in earplugs, and stretch out onto my pad again. Another good vacation day.