Thursday, June 17, 2010

The End of the Boardwalk

The fog cleared today, and I decided to leave Chelissera while I could still see where I was going. The Pelirikas left the day before yesterday. I was in the middle of painting KeChorlitrix's restaurant; they came to say goodbye while I was eating lunch. Ranapleximilian and Tessemira gave me a snail shell they'd found, banana yellow with black stripes. If you look closely, you can see that the stripes are actually dense lines of small black squiggles, like microscopic hieroglyphics. I wonder if they mean anything.

I'm going to miss talking to the family (though I mostly listened, especially in the case of Mr. Pelirika). I don't think I've enjoyed traveling with anyone so much since I left the Train.

Without the Pelirikas and their wagon, there were no vehicles of any kind scheduled to leave the town for several weeks. Spiders are lurkers by nature. They don't travel much. Lacking any other options besides swimming, I returned to the boardwalk.

I'm glad I bought the bubble-wrap in Chelissera; I don't know what I would have done without it. The boardwalk - already sunken and disintegrating - vanished altogether barely a mile from the town. The last few frayed boards simply disappeared into the silt. There was no trace of them any farther on. Some well-meaning worker had put up a sign: "THIS ROUTE UNDER REPAIR." The sign was almost as rotten as the boardwalk. There was moss growing on it. Somehow, I don't think the repairs ever happened.

The bottom of the Shwamp was fairly flat, so I kept walking. The water continued to get deeper all day. By mid-afternoon, I had emptied my pockets and was walking through water up to my shoulders. It was perfectly clear; I was able to watch for sinkholes and snapping turtles and so on. When the water got deeper than my head, though, I gave up trying to wade and stopped for lunch. The trees were mostly gnorls and marsh manoglia, some of the easiest kinds to climb, so it wasn't hard to find a wide branch to sit on.* I needed a dry place to unwrap my luggage and take out food. While I was there, I checked the bubble-wrap for leaks. There were none. The inside was as dry as a biscuit - unlike me. A small flock of green butterflies flew down while I ate to drink the water from my shirt. I sat there on the branch, perched next to my suitcase, chewing and dripping and wondering if I should turn around.

It was an unusually beautiful part of the Great Shwamp. Plants covered every surface. There were bladderworts and waterlilies in the water beneath me, bryophytes wedged into the bark of the trees, and wispweeds floating through the air on their feathery leaves. The pink blossoms of splash-me-nots clustered on low branches, close enough to the water to see their reflections, but not enough to get their feet wet. The trees around me were full of beaded moss. It hung down in damp, tangled strands, like long green beards with no faces. It was full of the little beads that give it its name. They start out the size and color of peas and change color as they grow, moving through every possible shade of brown and purple. The ripe ones are magenta. If you touch them, they burst and release little clouds of pink spores, which float in every direction and stick to everything. Many of the branches were completely covered on top with pink dust. It looked like an odd cross between sunset and snow. Within a few weeks, it will be gone, turning a more businesslike green as it gets ready to become next year's moss.

I decided to keep going. The water has to get shallower sooner or later. Besides, the bubble-wrap had given me an idea. I resealed it with more air inside, found a relatively straight stick to use as a pole, and turned my luggage into a boat. It wobbles rather alarmingly, but it hasn't quite tipped over yet. I poled my way through the swamp on a suitcase gondola. I sang as I went, of course; someone has to sing on a gondola. I usually resist the urge to sing in public - not everyone likes impromptu recitals of clock songs and show tunes - but there was no one to hear me but the birds. Several of them joined in with harmonies. Sky-blue day bats flitted through the trees overhead. Swamp koi swam lazily under my suitcase, white and orange or black and gold, a few of them the size of dogs. Tree toads watched me pass with eyes that filled most of their heads. Sunlight filtered through the trees, broken into narrow slivers by leaves and hanging moss, full of dust and late-season mayflies. It was a good way to spend the afternoon.

* I sat in one of the gnorls, of course. I don't trust manoglia trees. Most of them stay rooted and mind their own business, but you can never be sure.

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