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Those Left Behind

Beryl continued down the cave system that reeked of death with Arnold under his arm. The passage was long and it twisted, but he soon came to a cavern that he recognized, that was illuminated by a tunnel to the surface. Water dripped from stalactites steadily as pipes billowed steam into Loki Gearhead’s hidden cavern behind Garnet’s cat shop. 

The putrid smell was not coming from here, but instead it seemed to be coming from another cavern further down that he did not remember seeing before. Beryl hesitated for a moment, but he chose to continue down the cavern.

“Why don’t we go back up?” Arnold whispered angrily.

“Because we’re going to the catacombs,” Beryl explained while hefting the book on his other arm. “We need to bury this.  Besides, I don’t want to run into the vine-wires or the Dobermans, and if I can I would rather avoid the Gangplank as well.”

“The Gangplank?”  Arnold sounded confused, “I can understand the others but what’s wrong with the pub?”

Beryl explained briefly how almost all of Clockhaven in this world had become the Gangplank. “It’s the obvious place for me to go at this point.  The Dobermans will be watching it…”

Arnold was quiet for a short time before he responded, “You’re hiding something.  Why are you really not going to this ‘Plankhaven’?”

Beryl took a moment to respond, choosing instead to study the treasures that Gearhead had stolen, stored in a corner or the room and the roots from a tree that were growing out of the cavern’s roof.  Even that was blessedly free of the vine-wires for now.  “It’s the same reason I would not go to Bookworm for help and trying to get Lisa and everyone else out of the asylum completely. I am trying to leave it behind me.”

“Leave it behind you?”

“I’m getting ready for the time when I will have to leave New Babbage forever,” Beryl explained. “It’s not now, but it will happen someday.  I’m just cutting my ties now… there’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Why?” Arnold asked, his curiosity piqued. “Don’t get me wrong, this city is full of idiots you’re welcome to abandon, but what made you decide to finally move on?”

“I don’t have a choice,” Beryl took Arnold’s head and turned it towards him. He put the book down on the floor for a moment and pointed above Arnold’s two teal colored eyes at the putrid wound. “You were shot in the head Arnold. Right there.”  He poked it gently for good measure, and the head winced lightly.  “Even if a human were to survive that wound they would be brain dead for the rest of their life. The more I remain in the public eye the more people will start to wonder. They will question the fact that I’m not a vegetable in a hospital bed.

“So, I quit all my jobs and started hiding from everything. It allowed me the freedom to stop pretending that I was still affected mentally.  But that wasn’t enough.  I was already a ‘hero’ to some.” Arnold grimaced in commiseration. “Not long after, a villain appeared, and last October I found out what happens if anyone, including some of the city’s citizens who are just curious, put a ‘reality collar’ on me. I become the brain dead vegetable that I would be… if I wasn’t something else.”

“When that happened I knew I had to get ready to leave the city behind forever one day.  It was the only way.”

Arnold stared at him for a short time. He didn’t blink and his eyes just continued to stare into Beryl’s own. Finally he asked, “When you’re done with me, are you just going to abandon me too?”

Beryl didn’t respond and the two sat in an awkward silence that ended only when harsh voices carried down the tunnel going to the surface and Beryl ducked back into the passage that he had come from.

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