Mr. Morggison's expression did not change. "Answer me honestly: How much thought have the both of you given to being hermits?"
Pinkie seemed startled by the question. "Well... I just started this morning, but Pepper's been a hermit since I met him."
"And how long ago did you meet Pepper?" Mr. Morggison asked.
The bearded man turned his gaze to Pepper. "And you, Mr. O'Riley, how long have you been hermitting?"
Pepper couldn't say, later on, why he said what he said next. He held nothing against Mr. Morggison, and he was not in a particularly bad mood or anything, but it just seemed to slip out: "Mr. Morggison, if you know so much about me, I'd expect you to already have the answer to that question."
He heard Pinkie take a sharp intake of breath, but he didn't turn to look at her. He sat, face to face with Mr. Morggison, their eyes locked, neither daring to blink. Pepper couldn't perceive any shift in the man's expression, but he didn't say a word. The staring match seemed to last eternally, stretching out through time in either direction, as if it had always existed and always would.
Then, without warning, Mr. Morggison stood up and turned to the mantel place, busying himself with the knick-knacks sitting on top of it. His back to them, he said, "You two are good kids. You should go home to your parents."
Pinkie and Pepper glanced at each other. "No, sir, I'm afraid we can't do that."
"And why not?" Mr. Morggison asked, not turning around. "You have barely any commitment in this lifestyle so far. You can quit right now and go home, be raised with food given to you every day, no struggle required. You can have clothes on your back that you don't have to fight for. You can live every morning, noon and night with the knowledge that you are loved and cared for. Why would you give that up? What are you hoping to gain with this?"
Until now, Pepper hadn't really thought about it. He had just decided three days ago that hermitting was the thing for him. He had no idea why Pinkie had chosen it, either, but when he glanced over to her, the look on her face indicated she was as unsure now as he was.
But something in him stirred. He couldn't say what it was. Something in his belly was screaming at him that his destiny was to live alone, having marvelous adventures and building incredible weapons and tools. Perhaps with Pinkie at his side if she decided to stick around. It's funny, a person can live their entire lives doing things one way, and then, with no warning whatsoever, know with absolute certainty that they should be doing things differently. It's unexplainable. It just happens.
And Pepper knew, with absolute certainty, that he was to be a hermit.
"Don't you think," Mr. Morggison said darkly, "that your parents will miss you?"
Pepper spoke up. "I will write to them every day," he said, "so they know that I'm okay."
Pinkie nodded. "Me too," she said. Pepper looked over to her, and saw that she was looking back at him, the same determination in her eyes that he was feeling in his gut.
"well," Mr. Morggison said, finally turning to face them, "If you are decided. I think you should follow me." He had something in his hand that he was attempting to shield from Pepper and Pinkie's view, but Pepper caught a glimpse of it: it was a key. They followed the bearded man out of the room and down a small corridor. At the end of the corridor was a door. Nothing special about the door. It had four sides, like a normal door. It had a doorknob, like a normal door. Hinges on one side, like a normal door. No special marks, no special symbols, nothing. It could have been a broom closet for all anyone knew. Mr. Morggison unlocked it quickly and opened it. He ducked in, but said to them, "Wait here."
They watched him enter and close the door behind them, and suddenly, they were alone with each other at the end of the corridor.
"What's going on, Pinkie?" Pepper asked. "I thought Mr. Morggison could help us with what we needed!"
"He can," Pinkie said.
"Then why is he asking so many questions? What does he think will happen to us?"
"I don't know," Pinkie said. "I'm sure he has his reasons, though." She nervously shoved behind her ear a chunk of blond hair that had fallen out of her pigtail.
"Pinkie," Pepper said, as calmly as he could, "What did he help you with before?"
There is a saying that goes, "There is a time and place for everything." There would be, whether he knew it or not, the correct time and place for Pinkie to tell Pepper exactly what she had come to Mr. Morggison for in the past. But now was not the time, and this was not the place, and Pinkie shook her head as if to say, "It doesn't matter."
A minute ticked by. Then another minute. Then another. The minutes seemed like hours to Pepper, who had never been more unnerved in his life. He thought to himself about where he was, in the middle of a house in the middle of a forest in the middle of nowhere, with a murffle he'd met that morning, waiting for a man with an ancient beard to emerge from a door with... well, who knows what. And he was still hungry. His gum was burning a hole in his pocket. He was dying to reach in and grab a piece, and even feeling generous enough to share with Pinkie this time, but he couldn't. For some reason, chewing gum in this situation didn't feel quite right.
Finally, FINALLY, the door opened and Mr. Morggison re-appeared. He was holding a book under his arm. He gestured for them to follow him again, and led them back down the corridor into another room. This room looked as if it had been set up for visitors to stay in. It had two neatly made beds, a small table laid out with an assortment of food as if waiting for someone to show up ("Thank heavens," thought Pepper), and a bookcase filled with reading material to keep anyone busy for weeks.
"You will stay here tonight," said Mr. Morggison. "Eat, get comfortable, and make sure you come find me in the morning before you leave." He set the book on the side of the table.
Pepper leaned over and saw a green, leather-bound book with one word inlaid in elegant, gold text on the cover: "The".
"The... the what?" he asked.
"You'll find out," Mr. Morggison said as he left the room. "You take that with you, too, you'll need it."
And then Pinkie and Pepper were alone together again.
Chapter 1: Pepper
Chapter 2: Pinkie
Chapter 3: Dune
Chapter 4: Mugget
Chapter 5: Deltiology
Chapter 6: Umbrella
Full Story at pepperadventure