Sunday, November 14, 2004

Chapter 22

"Go away!" shouted a voice from inside the hut. "We're closed!"

"We don't need a miracle," called Cassidy through the door. "We just need to talk to Miracle Max." They kept knocking.

"Alright already! Stop that racket! You better have something good, though!"

They heard the click of a latch and a sliding bolt, then the door creaked open, letting out a small crack of light and showing half of Miracle Max's face. He looked them up and down with one eye, noting their jeans and cargo pants, sweaters and tennis shoes. Seamus wondered if he would have been able to conjure up more appropriate clothing for them from the journal if he had thought of it. Still, it seemed to have caught Max's curiosity so they had his attention, at least for the moment.

"You say you don't need a miracle, eh?" Max said. "Have you seen yourselves? You need a fashion miracle, kiddos, and we don't sell those here. Not even before the King's stinking son fired me. Not my department. Now go away." He started to close the door.

"Wait!" said Seamus, desperately trying to think of what to say. He hadn't stopped to think about how they were going to explain themselves to anyone here.

"We want to ask you about a book," Cassidy cut in. "A miracle book."

"A miracle book, huh?" The door opened back up slightly. "What sort of miracle book would a couple of kids like you have?"

"Well," Cassidy started to say, "we don't really have it… it's more something we're looking for…"

Seamus opened his journal and had removed the scrap of paper with the insignia of the book and hand on it before he realized that it should have been in Cassidy's journal, and not his. He would decide later that it must have been picked up somehow in the bibliomorphing process. He held the piece of paper in front of the door opening for Miracle Max to see.

"Do you recognize this symbol from anywhere?" he asked.

Miracle Max glanced at it, but then his eyes were immediately drawn away from it to Seamus' hand. Seamus had momentarily forgotten that the writing was still flowing around under his skin, but it was too late to draw it back now. Max's eyes flicked between Seamus' hand and their faces a few times.

"Come inside," he said gruffly, disconnecting the last chain from the door and opening it just wide enough to usher them in. He closed, latched and bolted it again behind them.

"Now, what's all this about a miracle book? And what's gotten into your hand, there? Are you the walking talking miracle book yourself? If you're part of the freak show then I'm sorry, but the carnival's already left."

Seamus could tell Max was interested, though. They introduced themselves and he quickly put together an edited version of their story for him, omitting numerous things, such as the fact that they were currently in a fictional world. He explained that there was a magic book that had done that to his hand, though they didn't entirely understand what it was. This book was now lost, and they needed to find it, so they were searching for clues and had thought that a famous miracle man such as Max might be able to help them. Seamus showed him the paper with the symbol on it again.

Max took the paper this time and studied carefully for a few moments while Seamus and Cassidy held their breaths.

"Never seen it," he said finally. Seeing their disappointed looks he started waving his arms. "Well what did you expect from an out of work miracle man? What do I know? The King probably went and hired some miracle librarian after they fired me – take your magic book questions there!" He tossed the paper on the table angrily.

At that moment there was a pounding on the door.

"What? Again? Can't they leave me in peace?" Max looked at Seamus and Cassidy then bustled over to a large trap door set in the floor. "Look, I don't know who you two really are, but I have a feeling you'd be better off out of sight. Get down here, quick. Witch!" he called down the ladder, "Visitors! Don't let them pinch anything!" Seamus and Cassidy hurried down and Max closed the trapdoor over them.

In the dim light of the cellar, they could see a small, wizened woman stirring a pot over some coals. She smiled at them.

"Hello, dearies. Would you like some hot chocolate?"

"No thank you," said Cassidy, trying to keep her voice down, "though that's a very kind offer. We were just here to ask your husband about something, but he seems to have other business at the moment."

At that, the trapdoor opened again and Max rushed down the ladder and over to Valerie, whispering excitedly.

"Listen! Listen! Upstairs you'll never guess what I got —"

He told her about the giant, the Spaniard, and the corpse, and they argued for a few minutes until she convinced him to go back up and find out what they could pay.

"I'm sorry about that," she said when he left. "My Max is such a genius, but he just hasn't had any self confidence since he lost his job. If he'd only start taking cases again, I'm sure he could become every bit as famous as he was when he worked for the King."

"Of course he could," Seamus said encouragingly, "he's brilliant."

And a second time, Max came scurrying down the ladder for another hushed conference with his wife. Seamus felt a tug on his sleeve – it was Cassidy motioning him over next to the trapdoor. She had found a crack between the floorboards where they could look up and see the room above. Inigo was pacing impatiently as best he could around the small cluttered room, while Fezzik seemed to be holding himself as still as possible, barely fitting inside and afraid he might break something if he moved. As they watched though, Fezzik's eye fell on something at Max's desk.

"Hey, Inigo! Look at this!" He reached gingerly over to pick up a piece of paper, for all his care still managing to brush several others onto the floor. "I know this picture! I saw it in the room where we found the man in black!"

Inigo snatched the paper from him.

"Let me see. What is this? A book. A hand. This means nothing." He tossed the paper back on the desk and went back to pacing.

"I just thought it was a nice picture," mumbled Fezzik, mostly to himself.

Max had finished his latest argument with Valerie and now pushed past Seamus and Cassidy to head back up the ladder. They knew the scene from here, though, and were more excited about what they had just learned.

"So we came to the wrong place," Seamus whispered. "The book is in the Zoo of Death."

"Do we know how to get there?"

"Well, the book never gives explicit directions, and the map is too vague. We'd have to ask someone."

"Which means Inigo or Fezzik, since they just came from there, and no one else but Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen know where it is."


This time it was Valerie who shoved past them up the ladder, shouting "Liar! Liar! He said true love!"

That left Seamus and Cassidy alone in the cellar, so they took the opportunity to look around a bit more. There were a few books around, which they glanced at just in case they might see anything useful, though they were fairly certain where they needed to go now. They just had to wait until they had a chance to get directions.

Cassidy dipped a finger in the hot chocolate, which was starting to cool down. She tasted it.

"Mmm. It's got cinnamon in it. I love cinnamon."

Seamus came over and dipped a finger in as well. He grimaced when he tasted it, though.

"Ugh. Cinnamon?"

"Yes. Though unfortunately, I think they put frog dust in it, too. There's an empty bottle just there." She pointed to a shelf next to the hearth, and Seamus could see a mischievous grin on her face in the dim light. "But there is cinnamon, too," she added. "You can taste it if you don’t think about the frog dust."

"Right. Thanks."

Max and Valerie came back down the ladder then, and for a while were rushing back and forth, collecting ingredients. Seamus and Cassidy tried to sit out of the way in a corner while they discussed their next move. Seamus found that the library book had indeed survived the journey in his pocket and took it out.

"Look at this," he said, pointing to a section in the middle of the current scene. "Goldman writes this book as though retelling someone else's story, and right here he has one of his author's notes about parts he edited out, all the stuff about Inigo and Fezzik collecting ingredients. That might be a good time to try and talk to one of them and get directions, since it's out of the main part of the story."

"That's coming up soon, then. Valerie just found the empty jar of frog dust the last time she was out here. It says that's what they send Inigo after."

And sure enough, they heard the front door of the hut open and close, and the hustle and bustle above them quiet down. They cracked the trapdoor open slightly and peeked out. Only Max and Valerie were left, tending to the still dead body of Westley on the table. They opened the door all the way and went out. Max seemed surprised, as though he had forgotten about them in all the excitement.

"Oh, you're still here. Sorry, only one miracle a night, and dead guys take precedence over missing books."

"That's quite alright," said Cassidy. "We need to be going anyway. Thanks for everything."

Miracle Max hardly noticed them leave. Outside, Inigo was already out of sight, on his way to wherever he needed to go to find more frog dust. They could still see Fezzik though, plodding methodically along. They ran after him and caught up without too much trouble. Seamus caught Cassidy's arm and they stopped a short ways behind him, not wanting to startle him from within fist-swinging distance.

"Excuse me, sir!" Seamus called, trying to sound polite and friendly. Fezzik turned around, unaccustomed to being called "sir" but making an extraordinary mental leap to deduce that it referred to him. He looked on guard at first but his face softened a bit when he saw that they just looked like an unthreatening young couple. And unthreatening they certainly were, being less than half his size combined.

"Hello there," Fezzik said. "Who are you?"

"We're friends," said Cassidy, thinking fast. "Inigo sent us."

"Oh, Inigo. Is he alright? He only left a few minutes ago."

"Yes, he's fine. He just thought of something important to tell you, so he sent us. Remember that picture you saw at Miracle Max's? The one you recognized?" Fezzik nodded and she continued. "Well Inigo says it turned out to be important after all, and he wants us to go find the book that you saw. He also said it was very clever of you to have noticed it." Fezzik beamed at that. "So if you could just tell us how to get back there, we'll take care of it."

Fezzik thought for a laborious moment, then nodded. "Sure, I can take you back. I have to pass by on my way to collect the holocaust mud. I don't want to go down there again, though."

"That's alright. We just need to be shown the way. You can leave us there."

They walked on together for a while, Seamus allowing Cassidy to field the questions from Fezzik. She actually managed to come up with a fairly plausible story about the two of them being foreigners who were visiting Florin, even working in an explanation of how they had met Inigo and offered to help him. Seamus was impressed.

They had been going through a forest for some time, when Seamus thought he saw a wheelbarrow in the shadows under a tree. And sure enough, Fezzik stopped and showed them the knot in the tree that would open the secret entrance to the torture chamber, bypassing the other levels in the Zoo of Death. They thanked him, and he was about to leave when Seamus stopped him.

"Wait," he said. "Didn't you say Miracle Max sent you to get holocaust mud?"

"Yes. And he told me where I could find the swamp that has it."

"But you don't have a holocaust cloak, do you? You'll need one of those."

"Oh," Fezzik looked suddenly sad. "You're right."

"Hold on for a minute. I think I can find something to help you." Seamus went around to the back of a large tree, and Cassidy just looked at Fezzik and shrugged.

Behind the tree, Seamus sat down and took out his journal. He didn't know if this was going to work, but he had been thinking about it and had decided it was worth a try. He looked around himself briefly, then wrote.

Hi, journal. I'm not trying to send myself or Cassidy to any other book just now. However, I want to say that as I sit here, there is a large pile of leaves over to my right. When I finish writing, I will get up and go over there, and underneath all the leaves will be a holocaust cloak large enough to fit Fezzik. Sound good? Thanks.

He closed the journal and got up. Then he looked at the pile of leaves for a second, wondering if he were crazy, before plunging his hands inside. He felt cloth, grabbed it, and pulled out an enormous, black, fire resistant cloak. He smiled, gathered it up as best he could, and headed back to the others.

"Here you go," he said, handing it to Fezzik. "One holocaust cloak. I hope that helps."

"Wow, thank you. How did you do that?"

"Oh, I just thought I saw it along the way, just back there. Turned out we were in luck."

Fezzik was glad enough to have the cloak, and tired enough from already having used up his day's allotment of thinking, that he didn't stop to wonder what a holocaust cloak had been doing just laying around in the forest. Cassidy gave him a quizzical look, but he just mouthed I'll tell you later at her.

They took their leave of Fezzik who trudged off carrying his new cloak, and then turned to the entrance to the Zoo of Death.


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