For a minute, Pepper thought he could actually see a small hut on the horizon, with a tiny wisp of smoke emerging from its roof. He let his imagination go with it, as it was better than the alternative, and tried to see it in more detail.
There it was, growing closer and closer. The hut was surrounded by a small group of trees, almost as if it were its own tiny little forest in the middle of a great expanse of nothingness. The trees were huge, ancient-looking and knotted. In any other setting, they would have appeared ominous, but here, they seemed friendly and inviting. They seemed to curve over the hut, as if forming a canopy or umbrella over it. Birds, which he had not seen since they originally left the neighborhood, were flying back and forth over the space, but never outside of it. It was as if there were an invisible barrier, where they would stop and turn around rather than pass through.
As the hut grew nearer, he saw that it was not a particularly shabby-looking place as he would have expected. It seemed to be well kept. Nothing was falling apart. There were no climbing vines overtaking the brick walls. The bottom of each window was lined with a row of brightly colored flowers. And yet, the hut appeared to be just as old as the trees surrounding it, maybe even older.
They weren't far, now. Pepper caught sight of a squirrel skittering across the front lawn, which was just as well-kept as the house itself. Each blade of grass was exactly the same height, and a brilliant shade of green. There were small, purple flowers speckling the area. A small, brick pathway led up to the hut itself, and little knick-knacks on stakes had been thrust into the surrounding dirt along the pathway, making it look like one was approaching a toy-maker's home.
"Well, we're here," Pinkie said, pulling Pepper out of his daydream to realize he had not, in fact, been daydreaming at all. They were standing right in front of the house, and all of it was real.
"Wow," Pepper said, "It's beautiful." He looked up into the trees, which were now somehow surrounding them on all sides. The sunlight that filtered through the leaves cast a diluted but pleasant light over them. He looked around him to find that, had he not known that they had just been walking through a barren field, the forest they were now in stretched on forever. (Note for me: AWK)
"This might sound like a stupid question," Pepper said to Pinkie, who seemed to have relaxed upon entering the woods, "but how did you ever find out about this place?"
Pinkie smiled. "Someone showed me."
Logical, Pepper thought, "But who showed them?"
Pinkie raised her uniquely crooked but dainty forefinger to the doorbell and pressed it. "Someone else," she said.
They stood at the door, listening, and heard some rustling coming from the inside. A few moments later, the door opened to reveal a short, bearded man. His red beard was the stuff beard legends were made of. It was full, fluffy, and covered the entire bottom half of his face. When he smiled at the sight of the pair, it was only evidenced by the upward crinkle in his eyes. When he said, "Welcome! Come in, come in!" It could only be heard, as his mouth was completely covered by the facial hair, which stretched almost down to his waist. The man must have preferred house-keeping over beard maintenance, for the hair was ratted and wild, as if it had a mind of its own.
Maybe, Pepper thought to himself, it did.
"Are you Mr. Morggison?" Pepper asked the man, as he and Pinkie followed him through the front door.
"I am indeed," he said. "And you, if I'm not mistaken, are Pepper O'Riley."
Pinkie shot Pepper a pompous, I-Told-You-So look, which Pepper pointedly ignored.
"Excuse me for asking, but how do you know that?" he asked instead.
Mr. Morggison winked. "Because, young lad, I am a watcher. I amuse myself by watching. As such, I have no life of my own. I immerse myself in the lives of others. Some say it's odd, but I keep to myself. However, if there's anything you want to know about your neighbors and their behaviors, you will have to look elsewhere, as I have a strict confidentiality policy."
He had led them into a room lit predominantly by sunlight flooding in from the windows. The extra shadows were chased away by small candelabras placed in the corners. Picture sides of hundreds of postcards provided the room's wallpaper.
"So," Mr. Morggison said, settling himself into a fat armchair in the middle, and gesturing to some oversized pillows on the floor for his guests, "I hope that the nature of your visit does not involve nosiness."
Pinkie sat without hesitation, and patted the spot next to her for Pepper to sit. He sat as well, but scooted himself a slight distance away from her. Murffle or no, he was not entirely comfortable touching her.
The murffle was looking at Mr. Morggison with a sort of reverence. Since they had walked in the door, Pinkie had not taken her eyes off of him, other than to give Pepper the Look of Correctness. Again, Pepper wondered what this man had done for her in the past, but he knew now was not the time to ask.
"We are here," Pinkie said in response to Mr. Morggison's question, "Because we have recently taken up the profession of hermits."
"Ah," said Mr. Morgisson. "A worthy goal, I myself live the life of a hermit."
"Well, Mr. Morggison, sir, we need your assitance to aquire food, we're not sure where to get it on our own."
The short man nodded, his beard waggling along after him like the ribbon of a rhythmic gymnast. "And is that all?" he asked after a pause.
"Yes, sir, that is all," Pinkie confirmed.
He lifted his arms so that his elbows rested on the arms of the red chair in which he sat, and leaned forward, eyes no longer glinting, but steely and stern.
"No," he said, "I'm afraid that's not all."
Chapter 1: Pepper
Chapter 2: Pinkie
Chapter 3: Dune
Chapter 4: Mugget
Chapter 5: Deltiology
Full Story at pepperadventure