“If this is our last one, then let’s do The Cove,” you say. “Maybe that means pirates, and if nothing else we could stand to get some treasure out of this experience.”
“Nah man.” Jim walks over and wraps an arm around your shoulder. “The experiences are the treasures. The heart treasures. Of your heart.”
“Aaaand with that, let’s get going before he reaches a catatonic state,” Victoria suggests.
As the three of you walk down the dirt road, it occurs to you that you are now the only ones you can see at all. True, perhaps others didn’t want to check out “Gates” or “The Cove” but you should see at least someone in passing by now.
“Level with me, is everyone else who has been coming here dead?”
Victoria blinks in surprise and even Jim stops walking.
“Look, we haven’t seen a single other person since we were walking toward that doorway, and literally everything we’ve encountered has tried to kill us. Putting two and two together, it sure seems like all the other guests might have met unhappy endings.”
“Morose, bro. Brorose,” Jim says.
“Not to mention inaccurate,” Victoria adds. “Certainly, some guests will encounter trials, and of those who do there will invariably those who fail them, but for most people the experience will be one of terror and exhilaration. Not even the Garrote family could get away with slaughter en masse.”
“So why are we the only ones here, or the ones who keep running into danger?”
“The answer to both questions is the same: because we are on a different path than the others.” Victoria reaches up and jiggles her pass, the one with the symbol of a pumpkin on it. “Or did you assume these were merely for show?”
“Are you ever going to tell me what this whole thing has been about?”
“When it is done, and such words can be safely spoken,” Victoria replies. “For now you must trust me, and continue to act in a manner befitting my guardian.”
You aren’t sure what manner that might be, but you mumble a few curse words under your breath and start walking once more. It doesn’t take much longer before the path takes you over a hill, and you gaze down at a sight so magnificent it literally forces you to stop in your tracks.
Down the hill, along the winding dirt road, is a beach that wraps around a massive body of water. It could easily be the ocean, except that you live in a landlocked state. A long pier runs off the beach, reaching a massive ship that is in anchored in the water. You aren’t exactly a boat person, but if you were to take a wild guess you’d say maybe it’s a galleon. Then you second guess yourself as you think that’s the name of gold pieces in Harry Potter.
Jim nudges your arm. “Am I the only one seeing the big ass boat sitting on an ocean that can’t exist?”
“We’re all seeing it,” you reply.
“What about the topless mermaid playing in the surf?”
“Nope, that’s just you.”
“Lucky me then,” Jim says with a grin.
You’re pretty sure you hear Victoria mutter the word “ostentacious” under her breath, then she starts walking forward once more. Jim and you follow her, though it’s difficult as your mind keeps getting lost in the mad beauty of what you’re seeing. The sea air hits you, salty and cold and as real as any ocean could conjure. The lapping of the waves is rhythmic and peaceful, a sharp contrast to everything else you’ve experienced tonight.
Once you reach the beach your pace slows as your feet sink into the sugar-white sand. Victoria might think this stuff is over the top, but your mind is freaking blown by how much detail they’ve put into what must be an illusion. Jim seems to feel the same, but in fairness, Jim chemically keeps his mind in a constant state of being blown.
Mesmerized as you are, a few details do catch your attention. Tied to the dock, well before the massive ship, is a small boat with a pair of oars strapped to its sides. On the ship, a strange light seems to be floating about from the top of the deck, though you can’t make out anything beyond the dim glow. In the sand, going down the beach, are a large number of footprints. They could be from other guests, or from you don’t even want to know what. In this place, it’s best to assume that nothing is as innocuous as it might seem.
“Tasteless, but at least it’s straightforward,” Victoria says, turning her head as she assesses the situation. “Well, Merlin, what shall we do? Board the ship, explore the waters, or go prance about in the sand.”
“Why don’t you pick for once? You’re the one who dragged us here. You’re the one who has something to do or prove or whatever. Jim and I are just escorts. You choose our path.”
“Sadly, I cannot,” Victoria replies. “And it is precisely because I am the one who brought you in here. You chose your roles, Merlin; now you have to fulfill them. The attendant follows me, the guardian guides me. That is the way things are done.”
“So if I’d let Jim be the guardian, he’d be the one making all these calls?”
Victoria looks at you, a small smirk tugging at her lips. “Don’t be silly. There was never a chance you wouldn’t be the guardian. Yes, it was your choice, but the outcome was never in question.”
“True words.” Jim chimes in from the ground where he is trying to make what looks like a burrito sandcastle.
“We can’t move until you decide the path, and until we move we’re going to be stuck here. You want to go home? Then set us in motion,” Victoria orders.
Looks like it’s on your shoulders again. Time to decide which way your group goes.