By this point, Sir Reginald’s trip across the bridge had become a tedious, delirious journey. Five weeks since he first found the Misty Misty Water Bridge, one of the few remaining entrances to a place he had read about for years. The bridge had never been a priority, just one of those things you toss around in your head as something you’d maybe like to do someday if you get the time and the weather is right. Well, it was someday, he had the time, and the weather was just right.
The directions had been in a book he obtained absolutely by accident. The online purchase of a near-mint, first edition of Convent Cruelties brought them to him in the form of extra pages glued into the middle. He spent days of highly-skeptical research confirming their authenticity.
Christ, Reginald thought as he saw large, bejeweled shadows in the a few yards ahead of him, it’s more fucking nomes.
“HALT!” one of them cried as both dropped into fighting stances. They were squat and fat, but from their armor, and the way they held their spear and sword, Reginald knew they meant business.
“I am on official business for the Nome King! To obstruct me is to bring his sorcery down upon your heads!” shouted Reginald.
“Right ho!” answered the nomes as they replaced their weapons and continued walking.
Thankfully, they were also as stupid as the rock they were made of. It had taken several comedies-of-errors before he realized that the best way to get them out of his hair was to shout lies. As they trundled along the wooden slats Reginald watched them fade into the mist. The bridge itself was uneventful, unpainted, and only about twenty feet wide. Looking over the edge was like looking down at the clouds from an airplane, so he didn’t do it.
I’m so fucking hungry, Reginald thought. He hadn’t even thought of food for the first week of walking. The second week he had thought vaguely about snacks, and by week five it was like he had gone without food for a whole day. He knew that he couldn’t keep going. Although the ever-lit pipe that he won off of Bil Keane was still going, none of the food he brought with him made it past the first twenty four hours. The peanuts turned black as tar, the fruit smelled like meat, and all of his sandwiches melted.
He couldn’t keep going, but every time he turned around and saw the lighter fog behind him, all he saw was failure. He also heard a bear, but just the one time.
No time to wonder, though. He could hear strange footsteps coming, and fast. A horse! No…those wooden sandals from Japan…what do you call them…
“FWORGH!” shouted Sir Reginald, knowing that’s not what the sandals are called, but unable to say anything else, due to a jumble of sticks that had run into him at full speed.
“I’m so sorry!” cried the sawhorse. “I’m so clumsy!”
Before Reginald could say a word, off ran the strange animal into the fog.
Again, he thought. Again a thing I know, something I recognize. Every time I begin to doubt, I see something new. I know where I am going. I know that I can get there. This was the last thing I needed to see. I know that I can—
“Reginald,” said a quiet voice behind him.
“Who the fuck are—”
“Don’t swear at me, please. I am a professor,” said the man-sized insect before him. Clad in garrulous colors and with three pairs of spectacles perched upon his proboscis, he cut rather the ridiculous figure.
“Oh,” said Reginald. “It’s you. The bug.”
“The WOGGLE-bug, sir.”
“Well, wonderful, it’s been a pleasure wait how did you know my name?” Reginald demanded.
“I know many things,” said the wogglebug, adjusting his center pair of glasses, “including mathematics, Latin—”
“And therefore you must know how dangerous it is to stand in my way.”
“To my chagrin, sir…I do. Yet here I stand. And here I ask you to turn back.”
“You?” snorted Reginald. “The WOGGLE-bug is asking me to go back? I’ve been walking for weeks! I’m seeing more and more residents! I’m almost there, you fucking insect, and I will damned-well get there!”
“Oz will not have you. I ha—”
The wogglebug had, perhaps, never been more stunned in his life. Ichor dripped from the crack in the chitin of his face where Reginald had struck him.
“You are a cad, Reginald,” he moaned, rubbing his face and looking for two pairs of spectacles on the bridge. “You are a terrible person. We have bad people here. We have terrible people. But we will not have you.”
“You won’t what now?” Reginald demanded. “You won’t let me in because I’m not a good person? My god, I’ve read about slavery and murder in your lands! I know you and your stories and I must see them! I mean, look at YOU! Nobody likes you!”
“Exactly! To most of the population of Oz I am so pompous as to be unbearable. Scarcely any can bear to be around me anymore lest I remind them of their flaws and easily prove my superiority. I am one of the least liked people in the civilized lands beyond the Misty Misty Water Bridge, and even I do not want you here. They sent me as emissary because they could stand to lose me. That is how much they do not want you here. They send their worst to tell you to leave.”
“Oh, and so I’ve wasted five weeks of my life and the entire population of the lands beyond the Misty Misty Water Bridge have somehow—”
“LOOK AT MY FACE!” screamed the wogglebug, not out of pain or fear, but out of rage, “THIS IS WHAT YOU BRING TO US! You haven’t even GOTTEN to our lands and already you’ve SHED OUR BLOOD. You are not welcome here. I am a coward, sir, and you could pass me very easily. But if you do, there are more, ever more, who will come. Some whisper that you are on your way, others auger a dark stranger, but none know for certain. The witches wove the entrances into places that now take months to pass in preparation. Still, only my knowledge of…”
The wogglebug paused for a moment as Reginald’s shoulders fell, and his body slumped.
“Only my knowledge of science and my own addiction to knowledge not…not withstanding….”
Reginald puffed on his pipe, straightened his jacket, and didn’t look at the wogglebug.
“Will you be going on and on for a long time or are you going to tell me the quick way back to my automobile, insect?”
“I, ah…I don’t recall if I remember what one of those is, but if you walk but a few paces behind you, there will be the place you left, at the time you left. To be certain, you will have aged as long as you’ve been here, but we both know that’s not a concern to one such as yourself, is it?”
“I don’t know how you know that—close your mouth, I don’t want to hear how fucking smart you are—but don’t push your fucking luck. If I can’t get in here, it couldn’t hurt to…”
It was Reginald’s turn to pause as he saw the wogglebug straighten his exoskeleton and jacket, clearly readying himself for another blow. As Reginald lowered his fist, his vision briefly went cloudy.
“Don’t worry, Reginald,” said the wogglebug as Reginald turned and stumbled back towards his car.
“I won’t tell anybody that you cried.”