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Piqued - A Toki Ponist Adventure
Chapter 13: Grounding rot

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taso telo awen li ken lukin pona sama sike sewi.
taso telo ali li sama sike sewi.
Toki Ponist Pu

Joakim woke up with Julian pulling his shirt. “Tipi, Tipi, wake up!”

The sun was up. Every muscle ached remembering the previous days all too well. Kalisa was no longer around. “You saw her too, didn’t you?” Joakim said.

“Of course.”

Joakim was not sure if that was a comforting answer or not. Horrible events and thoughts in the evening and night have a way of becoming laughable when the sun shines on it the next morning. But there are also the less envious situations, such as when you wake up in the morning and enter your living room to find an enormous spider waiting there to surprise you in full daylight.

“Call me Joakim from now on. How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Julian answered. “I have to go.”

“We go together, Julian, I’m not letting you go off alone again and do something crazy like you did yesterday.”

“I mean, I have to go.” Julian hopped from one foot to the other and held his hands on his behind.

Joakim rubbed his eyes. “Go behind that tree. Here, use these as toilet paper.” Joakim handed Julian a handful of leaves he had been using as a makeshift mattress Joakim packed his things and returned the grounds around the cave entrance to how it had been before their arrival. This meant scattering the mattress leaves, kicking sand around to cover up the places they had been walking on and dispersing the ashes of the campfire.

The heat of the fire had killed the soil and everything in it. Joakim could not restore life there, he regretted. But he did his best, considering the circumstances.

When Julian returned, Joakim laid out the plan. He left out all the madness in his explanation and reasoning. They would head up the mountain in the most direct way possible. Going down was another option, but he did not know where they would end up and whether there would be helpful people around. There would be one path going up and many ways of going down. They would find the nearest sign to lead them up the peak and then take a cable car down. That was the only contingency. Not having a simple way of transportation down would be a downer.

Joakim and Julian shared the last lunch with the now rather stale sandwich before starting their ascent. The morning air felt good and cleared up a lot of messiness. Joakim would return to the civilized world, where he would get himself checked out at a hospital and then plan out how to get back to a normal life. Who ever became more sane by meandering around rocks, pines, and meadows?

Even Julian seemed to have found back his cheerfulness. “The mind does weird things to us in darkness, doesn’t it?” he said to Julian.

“Are these acorns or hazelnuts?” Julian said holding up some kind of nut.

“I think they’re neither.” Joakim sometimes forgot he was talking to a young lad. Sometimes Julian had cracked the mysteries of life, or at least was attempting to. But at other times, simple concepts flew right over his head.

It did not take long before they found a larger path leading them up and there they saw the sign they were hoping for. The sign said Morgensternspitze next to the pictograms for a restaurant and a cable car, and next to it a doable distance: two point eight kilometers.

“That’s still a good hike, Julian, but at last we have a clear and attainable goal.” They held hands going up the path. The trees became more sparse than the thick pine forests they had been walking in yesterday.

“I see nothing up there,” Julian said.

“The clouds are hanging low.”

“Those are the clouds?” Julian exclaimed. “Wow. I thought it was just fog.”

“Same thing,” Joakim said. “Fog, mist, clouds, haze. Not haze, but the others are all water in the sky.”

“Are we going inside of it, Joakim?”

“We’re going through it, we’re going to leave this world behind and enter a whole new one.”

“Why so many words for the same thing, that’s silly.”

“Because they’re not really the same thing,” Joakim said. “Clouds are when it’s high up, fog and mist is when it’s on ground level and depending on how thick it is we give it different names.”

“I call you Joakim now, and not Tipi, does that mean you are something different now, too?”

“Let’s walk.” They pierced the clouds rising above the treeline at the same time. At its thickest it air became a cold moist blanket. The faster they walked, the wetter and colder it became.

kon telo,” Joakim said out loud. He did not know how the words populated his mouth, but he knew what it meant. “Watery air. That is how you could call all those things.”

“See, much simpler, I’d prefer that,” Julian said. “Simple is good.”

pona li pona,” Joakim said again in this strange tongue.

“What language is that, Roman?” Julian started making sword movements which regressed into an eclectic form of Asian-inspired martial arts.

“I don’t know, but I know it. Or knew it.” It was as if patterns rearranged itself in his head during the passage through the clouds. A transition, a phase transition, going up and down, hysteresis. First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is a mountain. Complexity at first, simplicity next, then complexity again. They are not the same: a fog is not a mist is not a cloud, but they are all kon telo.

“Simple is good,” he said to Julian. “But how could people ever create watches and computers if they would always prefer simple things? Simplicity is something you have to earn.”

“What?” Julian said, but he did not really seem to be interested in an explanation. They transcended the clouds and entered a barren, gray landscape of rocky slopes. Occasional tufts of grass and colorful specks of flowers showed that life was still possible. A tall, false guru and a small monkey-boy crawling up the path were further evidence.

They could now see their end goal. A small wooden structure with a Christian cross showed them they were getting closer and closer to God. There was nobody else on the path this early in the morning. This changed about an hour later when Julian and Joakim arrived at the top. The observation deck brimmed with tourists and hikers who would spend the day going downhill. The terrace of the restaurant in the wooden structure opened up and people took seats for a morning coffee and to fasten their shoelaces and gear.

Julian and Joakim also enjoyed the view. The wind howled up here, with nothing except their own bodies to slow it down. This was far from the highest peak in the region. Around them, even higher spikes towered. Next to the wind, the sun also slashed out at them. All of nature hit you here, unfiltered. The clouds cleared up allowing them to see all the way down the cable track. Despite all the useless productivity banter of Kathy about the joys of hiking up a mountain, Joakim had to admit it felt good to have reached a goal of some sort.

The actual goal, however, was not here on this mountain. It was to get him and Julian down the damned mountain and back to a normal life. Getting his passport back somehow would be nice, for instance. First, they had to get into the vernacular without a ticket. This part of the plan Joakim had not fleshed out yet. An automated system protected the entrance hall with waist-high turnstiles. Julian could duck under it, and people would think it to be cute. Joakim, however, had to jump over it or get his hands on a ticket. That would be fine with little people around, but there was the one security guard patrolling the general surroundings. Joakim and Julian prepared to enter the hall of the vernacular.

“Pst. Joakim, get over here!” Kalisa said from the inside. She pulled Joakim in and down into a corner. They could just make out two shady figures walk by the entrance. “Who are they?” Joakim asked. “Wait, are those the crow people again?”

“Give me your foot.”

“My foot, just like that, here, now?”

“Go on,” she said, and undid Joakim’s shoelaces. “Which one did you stump?”

“The left one.”

Kalisa removed the shoe and sock on his left foot and looked at the weathered bandage around it.

“It doesn’t hurt anymore,” Joakim said.

Kalisa removed the bandages and was undeterred by what must have been an unappetizing sight and smell. Julian, in the meantime, checked out the large poster showing a map of the area with all the lifts, trains, and main mountain trails. Kalisa hummed and took a set of tweezers from her back pocket. She poked a few times with her fingernail in Joakim’s big toe. With the tweezers, she then removed a flat black sliver.

“What the hell is that?” Joakim asked.

“My proof,” Kalisa said. “The evidence you asked for, that something connected with you.”

“Are they tracking me with that?”

“Or it is the symbiotic link. But it must not function anymore, otherwise you wouldn’t be you right now.”

“So then destroy it and let me go home.”

“You still don’t want to know why those three sent you up here?” Kalisa said. “Are you not even a little curious?”

“Of course I am curious. Just as I am curious about how you keep popping up in mysterious ways, but I just want to get home.”

“What if this is your home? These devotees sent you up here because they thought you spent all this time up here in some kind of hideout.”

“They are a bunch of crazies from Canada. This wooden hut over there is just a restaurant, nothing more.”

“We’ll see about that. Let’s take a visit.”

Joakim called Julian over and together they walked the hundred meters to the restaurant, looking over their shoulders to see if they were not being spotted by the bird watchers. They entered. It did not look familiar at all. Long, thick wooden tables filled the rectangular space. They had adorned everything from tables to window frames with the same red and white checkered cloth. Kalisa prodded Joakim forward towards the kitchen while Julian followed without a fuss.

A large woman with fierce eyes and an enormous money pouch barged out of the kitchen door, almost toppling Joakim over. “You will not enter here,” she said. “Sit outside, and I will serve you.” She started pushing Joakim away from the kitchen door, while Kalisa was still prodding him forward in his back.

“Tipi!” a male voice bellowed from the wake of the large woman. A small balding man in white chef’s clothing jumped alongside his wife. “Gretl, calm down. This is Tipi.”

“Is this the man you’ve been feeding behind my back?”

“Behind everyone’s back. Yes. Tipi, I haven’t seen you in ages. Why didn’t you come in through the back? And who did you bring here?”

“I’m quite certain it has been a while, yes,” Joakim said. “This little man is Julian. He’s lost his parents and I’m taking him down. And then there is Kalisa, you’ve met I’m sure.”

The man looked a bit confused. “Always full of strange surprises, come, come, into the kitchen.”

They entered the kitchen and Joakim told the man, called Georg, his story as he could put it together so far. “So, right now, you seem to be the only one who has a bit of a neutral image of who I was before I lost my memory.”

“Full of strange surprises,” Georg said. “You were a bit of a recluse. At first, I tried to ignore you, but you seemed to be here almost every day. Then one night I stayed up here because I worked late on the administration and missed the last car down. You were cleaning up the mess of the tourists around the restaurant. I had already wondered why it was so clean in the mornings for several days. It saved my staff a lot of work every morning. So I went out and had a delightful chat with you that night. We made a deal that you would continue undisturbed with what you did and in return I would set aside a good meal every day for you to pick up.”

“Where did I stay?”

Georg shrugged. “I don’t know, but on most occasions you left in that direction.” He pointed out the small kitchen window to a small rocky hill.

“How long did I snoop around here for?”

“A few weeks on end, then I wouldn’t see you for a while until you would pop up again. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Two tickets to get down?”

Georg opened a drawer and gave Joakim two small yellow tickets.

“Leaving so soon, then?”

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