Chapter 3: The Dang Cellar
The Sub-Guide had conked their head on the wall, and the light sputtered out. They said nothing. Berquist was conscious, which was great all things considered, so he pulled himself upright, shaking his dome to get rid of the lightless strobes that flashed before his eyes as he rubbed them. Even from down here he thought that he could hear the lightning rumble in the background somewhere. There was faint light coming from a torch down a tunnel to the left. The Sub-Guide lay motionless next to him, breathing gently. Man, that Sub-Guide had whammed him good. You’d think that a cosmic being like that would be above the pettiness of fightin’ and arguin’, but I guess not, thought Berquist. “He’s alright,” he said. “Hey, you alright?” He prodded the darkness next to him.
“I’m sorry I got mad. Sometimes I just lose it. I shouldn’ta attacked you and wrassled you all the way down the stairs like ‘at,” he said. The dark lump did not respond. He sat back and rested his back against the stone wall behind him. “I think you might be out cold, feller. Sorry about that. I didn’t mean it and I don’t know how to interact with people sometimes. Truth be told, I ain’t seen anybody for a long time and I got sorta lonely. My gal left me awhile back on account of me being a jerk who doesn’t always consider other people’s feeling, and man she was right. Look at how I treated the guy—gal?—that’s trying to save the world. I throw him—her?—down the cellar stairs and knock ‘em right out. It’s not right and I gotta get better. I gotta start trying to be better, because all I’ve been doin’ is sittin’ around feelin’ sorry for myself all these years, wonderin’ when the big change is going to settle down upon me. I never understood that you gotta make the change yourself. You gotta go out and do something different than what’s been done, and you gotta go out and do the right thing, which I almost never do. No, I’d rather just sit at home and drink my feelings away, and come up with distractions than face the feelings, because what if I actually accomplish something and it’s not satisfying? It would be easier to just not have to face it, and to sit and eat potato chips and drink soda. Or what if I try, and it turns out to be a bunch of mush? What if I’m not good enough? What do I do then? Try something else? Oh, yeah. Maybe that’s it. Maybe you gotta keep trying stuff and trying stuff, and doing it whether you succeed or fail, because that’s the whole dang business of life?”
The lump of darkness rolled on its side. It groaned.
“Oh, I have the worst headache,” it said hoarsely.
Berquist propped the Sub-Guide against the wall next to him.
“Hey you didn’t hear me pour out my soul to you just now, did you?”
The Sub-Guide saw several bins and cabinets haphazardly placed at odd intervals around the bottom of the steps. They pointed down the tunnel to the left, some of the starlight becoming visible again on its body. “What’s down that way?”
Berquist shrugged. “That’s one of the tunnels in the cellar. There are lot of them. I use one of the paths that projects out from it to store my hooch. We can drink that until we starve to death, because ain’t no food down here, least not in the rooms that I’ve been in.”
“Are you saying that you haven’t been to all of the rooms of the cellar?’
“That’s what I’m saying. It’s pretty big down here. That kind of thing.”
The Sub-Guide hauled itself to a standing position, and walked toward the bins and cabinets. It rummaged through everything, finding several shotgun shells, a sword, a big bag of mothballs, and a set of emergency supplies packed neatly into a haversack. They slung the haversack across their back, and pointed questioningly at the bag of mothballs.
“I’ve got moth problems. Big moths. Better take those. And the shells.” He grabbed them. “And the sword because it’s pretty sweet.”
The starperson puffed up and stood. The light shown more brightly now and the two of them could see that the tunnel to the left went on for quite awhile, but they also saw that the path to the right was even larger and went on beyond the reach of the Sub-Guide’s light. It seemed….too large to try to tackle, so both of them, without the other knowing it, decided internally that it was best to go to the left. Too many choices on the right hand side since the possiblities were endless, and these two guys were really dang screwed if they gave themselves too many choices. Better to choose something that made sense than to go off into the underground wilderness and get lost in the dang weeds. At least in the left tunnel, they knew that some of the choices were made for them, which was a comfort, they both agreed, without externally expressing anything. “I think the left is the best way,” said Berquit, and they both pretended that he knew the way better since it was his cellar, but honestly, nobdy really knew where this was going, but that was ok, because there was nothing else to do but to sit down and take a stand. Their stand was to go to the left. So they went left.
“Yeah, let’s go left,” said the Sub-Guide, who was now five child-sized shapes.
Berquist started and stopped. “Hey, do you have control over how many you are?”
“Do you?” said the Sub-Guides.
“That’s a really dang good point,” said the lobster man, and he continued toward the left. He stopped again and said, “Hey, I think that you’re really neat and I appreciate how you can create light.”
The Sub-Guides blushed in unisom, turning into a single giant, looking bashfully at the floor. “Yeah, it’s nothing. I just do it,”
“No it’s really cool. I can’t do that. Anyway, let’s go,” said Berquist.
They walked toward the tunnel with the Sub-Guide in front, their hulking form shining light into the dark places of the tunnel, and Berquist taking up the rear. He carried his shotgun, fully loaded dangit, with his cool one-strap bookbag upon his back. They walked for several minutes in silence, both of them wanting to break it, but neither of them being willing to be the one to do it. Sometimes people just want quiet and each one tried to respect the other, and I can tell you as the Narrator that both of them wanted some company in that trying time. Water leaked from all around them, and it started to feel like they were slowly walking into a lake, but the lake never materialized. Just soggy wetness. Berquist began to wonder about life:
How can we know that we’re making the right decision to walk down this tunnel? I don’t know what’s going to be at the end of it, so we might as well just slog back to the top of the stairs and just die slowly, but comfortably. They could at least it up there. Now they were walking and walking can feel uncomfortable. Why not just give up and stop it already? Why not give up to the Carrion of Consciousness? It sounded like every other instance of this very situation ended up in obliteration and the end of everything, so why not give in to Fate? Nothing worse that disappointing Fate. And what if they got there (to the “Manifestation of Berquist”) and it turned out not to be worth it? What then? Just keep living and trying? No thank you, sir. As this last sentence rolled through his red dome, the Sub-Guide became 9 cats and stopped stock still. Their backs arched and they hissed.
“‘sa matter?” said the lobster guy.
“A choice,” mewed the 9 Sub-Guides, “There’s a fork here, and we have to make a choice.”
“Aw shit,” said the lobster guy.
The way ahead split into two paths, each giving no clue as to the better path, as if they conspired to make life difficult. Berquist leaned down to scritch-scratch the lead cat’s back. It arched fully and purred. “Don’t do that,” it said, “It’s demeaning. I’m 10 drillion years old.”
The Sub-Guide turned back into the adult man-sized shape, which Berquist started to believe to be its natural form (but of course, he was wrong). “Which way should we go?” asked the star person. Berquist tried to scritch-scratch its back in response, but it wheeled around on him. “I said don’t. I could turn you into atoms.”
“I’m already atoms, right?”
“Yes, but like, in a different way probably. Which way should we go? Since we’re searching for the Manifestation of Berquist, and you’re Berquist, I think that it’s best that we follow your lead here.”
Berquist holstered his comically large shotgun. “Well dip, it’s up to me? Not sure that that’s a good idea.”
The world shook and rumbled, causing the walls around them to crack slightly. The stone roof bowed. That familiar shriek of the Carrion above. They seemed to be getting closer, and the world itself couldn’t hold them. “They’re picking up gravity,” said the Sub-Guide, sheepishly. Berquist shrugged in indignation. He pointed in both directions. “How can something pick up gravity?”
“They’re increasing in size, gaining more volume, hence more gravity.”
“I guess that’s scientifically accurate.”
They stood at the fork while Berquist hunched down, surveying the cracks in the walls. “Sure are some pretty cracks, though,” he said.
“Are you procrastinating because you’re not able to make a decision about which way to turn here?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m doing.” He stood to his full height.
The Sub-Guide placed their hand on Berquist’s red shoulder, saying, “Don’t think just answer: which way should we go?”
“Left.” Berquist blinked, “Dang. That’s a neat trick.” They walked left, which was the wrong decision in the short term, but really, how was Berquist supposed to know that? He was required to make a decision and he made one, and that’s that. We can’t blame the poor lobster for making a decision based on having practically no information. Well, that’s not completely true: he had some information: the booze could eventually be found on the left if he went left one more time, but it’s not like he was trying to get to the booze. Ok, he was trying to get to the booze, but he was conflicted about it, ok? He didn’t want to give up his soberness during this time of tribulation. Cora wouldn’t have wanted him to get drunk.
The two beings walked single-file, Berquist in front and the Sub-Guides in back, through yellowish brown corridor. The path gradually pointed downward, and the loud shrieks of the Carrior were less world-filling down here. Dust fell from the roof at each vibration. After a moment, an opening appeared to the left. Berquist stopped before he passed it, and the Sub-Guides bumped into him. “Aw yeah, babe,” said Berquist. The Sub-Guide peered over his shoulder. It signed.
“Oh please. We don’t have time for drinking. We need you to be in your best mind to find the Manifestation of Berquist.”
Berquist thought about that for a moment.
“How do you know that the Manifestation of Berquist isn’t me getting drunk.”
The Sub-Guides thought about that for a moment. Berquist nudged them, “C’mon don’t you want a drink?”
“I do. I really do,” said the Sub-Guides, “but I’ve never done it.”
“Well dang, boy! Get you some hooch!”
The next day, they barely awoke.
Berquist refused to open his eyes.
The Sub-Guides groaned. All of them.
The Sub-Guides sniffed.
A gurgly voice eminated from where the main its mouth would be: “I think I’m purple. Like the wine w—”
It stopped in midsentence and made a horrible sound that Berquist refused to acknowledge. “Just let it out, buddy. You’ll feel better if you just let it out. Don’t try to stop it.”
At some point, Berquist was able to open his eyes. He had forced himself to sleep, which is just about the best way to cure a hangover. He took a look around:
The floor was covered in wine bottles, and he himself had one bottle in his hand. It was the only bottle he had drank yesterday, so the other twenty or so must have been done by the Sub-Guides. Man, they sure could hold their wine. The Sub-Guides were indeed purple from the waist up. They were lysing on their sides, all twenty of them, on an assortment of couches that littered the room. This was a kickass room, and Berquist made a mental note that if they were to survive this mess and the Universe was still intact by the end, he’s have that party down here like he had been planning. Heck, he had a lot of fun with the Sub-Guides, and he barely knew them, so why not make an effort to reach out to some other folks and see if they wanted to hang out sometime. Sure they would. He could bring the Switch down here and they could all play Mario Kart of something.
One of the Sub-Guides rolled onto its other sides as it groped about, looking for something. It grabbed the nearest bottle and chugged heartily. “Hair of the dog?” said Berquist.
“Yes,” said the Sub-Guide, “Berquist, we shouldn’t have drank so much. How long have we been down here? The Fate of Existence is counting on us.”
Berquist looked at his watch and said, “It’s 11:43 am.”
At this the Sub-Guides all whirled upward and sat bolt upright. “We’re so stupid!”
Berquist pulled himself into a full sit. “What is it?”
“Things are about to start cracking. We should have just passed this room. How could I have been such a fool? I’ve never been offered alcohol before and I didn’t realize just how much it would affect me.”
“I’ll say one thing: you can certainly hold your hooch. That’s a lotta ding dang wine, friend,” said Berquist, “Anyhow, what’s going to happen when things start cracking?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I doubt it will be good.”
Berquist stood, quite unsteady on his feet. “We could just let everything crack and forget about it and be done with the whole matter. I don’t feel good.”
“Neither do I, but we can’t just let everything crack, Berquist. It’s your duty to find the Manifestation of Berquist. Our Many Cosmic Guides have said so.”
The lobster man sighed. He really didn’t want to do anything for the rest of the day, and his brain felt like it was going to slosh out of his ears. The Sub-Guides obviously didn’t realize how tough it was to be a lobster man in the Universe these days. The Sub-Guides had this task that they had to carry out, but Berquist didn’t feel any particular compulsion to continue on with the journey. Why would he? What would really be better? The end of everything and no more thoughts? Or things keepin’ on, and he’d have to stop himself from thinking all the time, until he died of heart failure like his pappy and his pappy’s pappy and his pappy’s pappy’s pappy. Life was a little meaningless, when you think about it.
“Life’s a little meaningless when you think about it,” said Berquist, “Why would I care if everything cracked?”
Before the Sub-Guides could answer, everything started to crack.