"Well?" Pepper said, "Aren't you going to open it?"
Pinkie shook her head.
"It's not time, yet. We have to eat first."
Pepper looked at the spread in front of them. Considering the fact that, not an hour ago, he was dying for something to eat, it didn't look very appetizing. It SHOULD have. There was a full turkey coated in a brown sugar glaze, piles of fresh, steaming hot mashed potatoes, candied yams, chocolate cake lined with whole cherries, and a pitcher of steaming apple cider. But it uneased Pepper.
"How did he know we were coming?" he said aloud.
"He didn't," Pinkie replied, still looking down at The book.
"Then why is all this food here? This is fresh food. It was made today, as if expecting company!"
"Well, maybe he WAS expecting company, they just didn't show up and we did," Pinkie said stubbornly.
"But why wouldn't he say that? You know, people usually say if something was intended for someone else."
"I don't know, Pepper, why does it bother you so much?" Pinkie's big, green eyes were looking at him imploringly, as if begging him to stop asking so many questions.
But Pepper was full of questions and an extreme lack of answers. He stood up and began pacing the small open space in the room. "How do we know that food isn't poisoned?"
"Of course it's not poisoned. Mr. Morggison wouldn't poison us!"
"How do you know that, Pinkie? I don't know anything about Mr. Morggison. I don't even know why we're here. He didn't tell us how to get food! He just gave us some book to read. Well, I'll tell you one thing, Pinkie, I didn't become a hermit to read books all day. I became a hermit to do whatever I want, sleep as late as I want, and not read whatever I want!"
Pinkie stood up, now, too. "But didn't you hear Mr. Morggison? Being a hermit is more complicated than that!"
"Why did we come here, Pinkie? Why did you bring me here? You knew Mr. Morggison wouldn't be any help, didn't you?"
Pinkie shook her head. Pepper was too angry to notice that tears were starting to pool in her eyes. "I didn't! I didn't expect him to be... to be so angry."
"What did he help you with, Pinkie?" Pepper shouted. "How do you know him? Who are you, anyway? Why are we here? Why did I not know this place existed?"
He was breathing heavily. He had never hoped to have such troubles and fears in his life as a hermit. It was supposed to be day by day, catch what you can, easy living.
Pinkie was staring at him, clutching The book to her chest. A single tear overflowed and rolled down her cheek.
"Pepper," she said, as calmly as she could considering her state, "Please, sit down, have something to eat. Get some rest. I'll explain everything tomorrow."
Pepper regarded her carefully. "Everything?"
"Everything," she nodded.
"Even how you know Mr. Morggison?"
There was a pause.
"I'll explain as much as I can," she said.
Pepper considered her offer. Eventually, he decided that knowing something was better than knowing nothing, and he sat down in front of the table and reached for a turkey leg. He lifted it to his mouth, but before taking a bite, he lowered it and offered it to Pinkie.
"You eat first, then I'll eat."
Pinkie sat down and sighed, but partially out of relief that Pepper seemed to have calmed down. "It's NOT poisoned," she said.
"You eat it and prove it," Pepper said sternly, still holding the leg out to her. She took it, clamped her teeth down and ripped off a large bite, and chewed. When Pepper was thoroughly convinced Pinkie hadn't died, he reached down and grabbed the other turkey leg.
They ate without exchanging another word between them. When their bellies were full and their eyelids heavy, they climbed into bed, each of their heads full of questions, though entirely different from each other.
** ** **
In the middle of the night, Pepper stirred, then awoke with a start. For a moment he panicked, not knowing where he was. Then he remembered: Out in the middle of nowhere with a murffle he'd met just that day, in a strange man's hut. He turned his head to look at where she was sleeping. The moonlight shining through the window cast a pale light across her face. Her pigtails were falling out, after the long day's walk and now sleeping on them. If he didn't know any better, he'd almost say she was pretty, silently breathing in and out, calm and peaceful-looking.
But he had an unsettling feeling in his gut. He was beginning to have second thoughts about letting her be a hermit along with him. Now that he thought about it, he couldn't remember how she had convinced him that being a hermit WITH somebody else was a good idea, seeing as how hermits lived entirely by themselves. In fact, he didn't see any reason why he should wait for morning for her to tag along. He was plenty awake now, and she seemed content enough with this Mr. Morggison fellow. Maybe he should just leave without her and start his hermit life fresh, and forget this whole adventure mess had never happened.
His only hesitation was that he didn't know his way through The Dune, and she seemed to have walked through it many times. BUt it couldn't be that hard. If he just walked in a straight line away from Mr. Morggison's hut, he should find his way out eventually. Pinkie had said Mr. Morggison's place was exactly in the center of The Dune, so any direction he walked in would take the same amount of time.
"Yes," Pepper whispered to himself, "I'm going." He pushed the covers off of himself and stood up. The most logical place to sneak out would be through the window. He pressed against it, trying to force it open. It resisted at first, then the second time, and finally on the third try it creaked open nosily. Pepper held his breath, his heart now pounding, and glanced at Pinkie to see if she was awake. Somehow, she had not stirred. "She must be a heavy sleeper," Pepper thought.
He hoisted himself up and out the window, landing on the soft ground not to far below. He didn't bother closing the window, for fear of it making the loud noise again and really waking Pinkie up.
The woods surrounding Mr. Morggison's hut were not as welcoming at night as they had been during the day. The wind blew past him and left Pepper with a chill that shook his spine. He thought he saw something moving in the nearby bushes. He caught himself breathing quickly.
"Calm down," he said to himself, letting his fingers fall on his stick-with-a-string, which he had tied to his belt loop. "You're much braver than this. You have to be brave, being a hermit."
But it had been a lot easier to be brave in his own backyard. Now, he had no idea where he was. He determined the best thing to do would be to get out of the woods and into the open Dune as quickly as possible. That way, he could at least see his surroundings more clearly, so nothing could surprize him.
He began marching quickly, not daring to believe that he heard a second pair of footsteps following closely behind him. It was his mind playing tricks on him. He also did not see that dark shadow in the trees. He was completely imagining the sound of gnashing teeth in the distance. He closed his eyes and broke into a run.
The wind whooshed past him as he pumped his legs as fast as he dared. He imagined that it was daytime, the sun was out, and he was bathed in warmth and not afraid at all. He had almost convinced himself when he tripped over something and he fell to the ground. His eyes were forced open. He had landed on his wrist funny, and now it was throbbing. But when he looked around, he saw he had made it out of the woods and was now in the Dune. This fact calmed him a little, and he put his good hand down to prop himself up and see what he had tripped over.
His palm landed in something gushy. "Ew," he cried, picking the hand up and looking to see what he'd touched. In the moonlight, he could see his hand was covered in a thin layer of slimy, red liquid.
His heart now racing, he looked down at his feet to find that he had tripped over a body. Whether it was human or not, he couldn't tell, but its blood seemed to be forming a river, flowing steadily away. As if it were being drained completely. Pepper heard himself scream.
Or maybe he heard someone else scream, because it sounded like his own name. What was going on?
He heard it again. "Pepper! PEPPER! RUN!"
It was Pinkie. He turned to see something lunging at him and, without bothering to figure out what it was, he used all the strength he could muster to get himself upright and moving in the opposite direction. The wind was whipping around him faster than ever, now, and without warning, he felt Pinkie's hand close around his, and now they were running together, as fast as they could, back into the woods, and then Mr. Morggison's hut was in view, and then Pinkie was shoving Pepper through the open window, and then they were both panting heavily, sitting limp on the floor, hearts pounding in their chests.
"What - what was that?" Pepper managed through gasps.
"That," Pinkie forced out, "was It."
Chapter 1: Pepper
Chapter 2: Pinkie
Chapter 3: Dune
Chapter 4: Mugget
Chapter 5: Deltiology
Chapter 6: Umbrella
Chapter 7: The
Full Story at pepperadventure