The Stoned Philosopher
One early morning Ayesha entered the Amberville Manor’s lower wing only to find the kitchens had disappeared altogether. As a woman who took pride in her unfailing sanity, the last thing she expected to find was another world.
On a dark, narrow alley – the kind of alleys that often got featured under headlines ending in “—and she was never seen nor heard from again” – stood a twisted old pub with a tall roof and orange-glowing windows. Ayesha narrowed her caramel eyes. On an acorn-shaped wooden plaque, she could barely make out a dilapidated weasel standing behind a green cloud of gas. The runic letters on the plaque were unreadable, as they kept moving in and out of phase, unable to settle upon a single dimension, but Ayesha had heard enough stories from Vivian to know what they said.
‘The Flatulent Ferret Tavern, of course,’ sighed Ayesha, pushing the wooden door aside.
She immediately hit a wall of smells: stale mead, rat droppings, vomit and musty cabbages were some of the few local scents the tavern supplied. Trying her best to ignore the huge ogroid creatures drinking swamp sludge from a bucket, Ayesha side-stepped a collapsed man with three knives sticking out of his back and made a beeline for the tavern keeper.
‘Umm, yes, hello,’ said Ayesha, an edge in her voice. ‘Right. How do I leave this bloody place?’
The tavern keeper gave her the kind of look usually reserved for the simple-minded and pointed at the door.
‘No, that’s not what I—uff!’ said Ayesha, and stormed out of the Flatulent Ferret. Just across the street was a decrepit locale with a caged rat sculpture on its front lawn, and a small pink house shaped like a perfume bottle.
‘Right, Vivian mentioned these two. The Nervous Ratcatcher – Breakfast & Dinner,’ Ayesha whispered to herself, giving the caged rat sculpture a look of complete loathing. ‘And the other one must be The Smelling Duchess – Perfumery,’ and taking a deep breath, she stepped through the doors of the former.
On a scale of one to gauging-your-eyes-out-with-a-blunt-spoon, The Nervous Ratcatcher was the kind of diner you wouldn’t even recommend to your mortal enemy. Skipping all courtesies, Ayesha identified the locale’s “most likely” waiter – an ominous figure in a dark cloak – and used every inch of her five-foot height to corner him.
Without much of a preliminary hello, she said: ‘Yes, indeed, I’m a darn human. Stop staring! Now, suppose I wanna get off this—’
The dark figure produced a bony hand. Ayesha followed the invisible line drawn by his hand and figured it was pointing to the sinister locale across the street.
‘Thanks!’ said Ayesha, turning on her heel and breaking into a run. On her rush to the door, she knocked the large spindle from the hooded man’s hand. It rolled across the floor, wasting away the last few souls it had collected.
Ayesha rushed into The Stoned Philosopher, a windowless locale built in the basement of a crooked house whose every corner screamed “extreme fire-hazard”. Perched atop large barrels of mead sat boring old men holding large tankards of bright-orange, glow-in-the-dark rootsnaps. Following their lead, Ayesha climbed on top of a barrel and addressed the room:
‘Suppose none of you fine err— gentlemen, know a way to send me back home?’
The philosophers gave her an admiring look, before breaking into a silent murmur.
‘Home is but a thought away,’ said one of the philosophers, contemplating his dirty fingernails.
‘What is “home”, if but an Alarian social construct,’ another said knowingly.
‘The road “home” is paved with good intentions,’ said a third, sucking on one end of his smoke pipe.
Ayesha angrily shook her beautiful plait of black hair. ‘I meant Existence! I want to go back to EXISTENCE!’
‘Don’t we all?’ whispered the second man thoughtfully. ‘Existence’s not all mead and skittles.’
‘Existence begins at forty,’ said the third man through a loud fart. ‘Ain’t life running quick?’
‘Quicker than mead turns to piss,’ said a fourth man, before draining his tankard. ‘Burp—sscuseme—reminds me of dat other’un wiffa stump and da—sscuseme— bloody large chariot—’
‘Look, I am a human and I—’
‘—you mean the one-small-step-for-man sort-of-thing?’ ventured the smoking philosopher.
‘Burp –sscuseme – I suppose I did, yeah,’ managed the fourth man, before sliding off his barrel and onto the floor.
‘IS ANYONE EVEN LISTE—?’
‘—burning the empirical candle at both ends.’
If the fabric of reality hadn’t parted at that exact moment, revealing Vivian Amberville’s worried-sick face, Ayesha would surely have gone supernova. Ayesha desperately grabbed onto Kaap’s paw – her heart jumping, her eyes glowing as though seeing him for the first time – and in a gust of warm air, she was back in the Manor. After the shock of the memory began to wear off, the story of Ayesha’s strange foray into Non-Existence became a comical topic at Christmas dinners.