We parked half a mile away from the college and piled out—The Student, lacking coordination, tumbled out of the back seat and laid groaning on the ground. The Traveler took The Drunkard aside and whispered. Dee walked to a guardrail near the river running through the city and I followed.
“So. What do you study?” I asked.
She turned—I was normally ambivalent about blue eyes, but here, I melted—and said, “I study the genetic mutations between generations of e. coli bacteria in conditions that resemble Arctic winters.”
“Yes. Very cold. You?”
“I, er, I do a special branch of literary criticism.”
“Well, it’s a new field. Kind of ridiculous. There’s no real term for it. It’s… well, it’s studying how what makes something literary.”
“Ah, and what are your conclusions?”
I took off my hat and scratched my head. I had problems with this in my essay—it is incredibly hard to come to a conclusion about anything when no one knows what they’re looking for—and, certainly, had problems explaining it now. “Erm,” I began, “you’ve got some stuff that’s High Literature, and some that’s not. Some of the literary stuff is good storytelling—but a lot isn’t, and descends into rants about something or other. Some that’s not High Literature may be good storytelling—but, at the same time, a lot isn’t.”
Dee nodded slowly. The sort of nod one gives a madman. I recognized that look and despaired. “I see,” she said. “And what makes something literary?”
It was an incredibly hard question. “So far, research indicates that being George Orwell, Mark Twain, Alduous Huxley, or Sinclair Lewis helps.”
“Are clearly none of them. So.” I shrugged. “If you have any suggestions, feel free to send them my way.”
She nodded—this one warmer, less of the I’m-talking-to-a-madman slow nod I got earlier. “We should head back. It looks like your friend’s recovered from his near-coma.”
After we rejoined them, I up to The Traveler and said, “Two questions.”
“What’d you tell The Drunkard?”
“I told him to keep drinking, but if he starts freaking out, we’re leaving him.”
“Fair enough. Second question: What did I do last night?”
“Oh, you’d like to know, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes. Very much so. Please tell me.”
The Traveler took a deep breath as we left the car park, walked onto the sidewalk and followed Dee through double-decker-filled, pedestrian-laden streets to Christ Church College. We passed by multi-storey bookstores, specialty shops, and a variety of tourist gift stores. “I don’t know. I kind of like you freaking out like this.”
“What did I do to you?”
“Absolutely nothing. This might be a subconscious sense of schaudenfreude that I don’t show enough.” He looked around, dodged a couple of running children and their running, shouting parents, and said, “Yes, I believe that’s it.”
“Relax,” said The Traveler. “We’ll tell you. Eventually. Maybe.”
We passed by a gatehouse. Looking through, into a courtyard, we saw a large, circular, domed building. “Hey Dee,” I said. “What’s that?”
“That’s the Camera. It’s one of the main libraries.”
“Looks like an observatory,” said The Traveler.
“Can we go in? Can we go in?” The Student’s eyes dilated and it looked like he was on the verge of leaping up and down.
“I wish you could, it’s lovely in there. They’re very particular about their libraries here, though, and non-students can only get in during certain hours.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “Unheard of! Absurd! It is a universal, human right to check books out of a library. The thirst for knowledge cannot go impeded by petty things such as university tuitions.”
“Why did you just speak in a speech bubble?” asked The Drunkard, blinking rapidly and leaning towards me. “Are you a comic character? Are we in a comic?” He turned to the stone wall and licked it. “We’re not in a comic. That has a taste.”
The Student pointed to The Drunkard and said, “Dee, should we bring him with us?”
“Probably not,” she said. “I’ll take him for a walk around the grounds while you guys are inside.”
The Drunkard turned to her and smiled. “Pretty lady take for walk?”
Dee gave him a pat on the head. “Yes, when we get there.”
It was another few minutes before we got to Christ Church College. The college was located behind walls the size of Canterbury’s city walls, and I assumed that we were near Oxford’s castle (Oxford has a castle, right? Every city in this country has a castle) before Dee walked us through a black wooden gate and into the college grounds.
The grounds looked like Hyde Park—if you were to ignore the giant building to the left. It looked like a manor house from a period drama—an impression helped by the grounds. Immaculately landscaped, there was a large field—there were a couple games of football, a few people flying kites, and people lounging around on blankets. It was a nice day for it—the cutting wind so prevalent in Canterbury was not here, and the sky (joy!) was a rich blue. There was a lake in the middle of the field. Gravel paths stretched to the other side.
Closer to us, near the entrance gate and leading to the college itself, there was a lovely garden, bursting with colorful flowers. “Okay,” said Dee, “you’ll go up to that gate over there—” she pointed to an archway in building, and, after that, told The Traveler what to do.
I didn’t pay much attention because I was preoccupied with The Drunkard. He stood next to the flowers and gazed. I can’t describe it in any other way: he simply gazed. Then, he started crying and crouched on the ground. I walked over and said, “You okay, man?”
“They’re so beautiful.”
I looked at the flowers. They were pretty nice. I wasn’t going to disagree with The Drunkard on that. But there wasn’t, as far as I could tell, any reason for him to break down in tears at the sight of a well-manicured garden. I nodded. “Well, sure. I guess. They—”
“Must be set free,” he mumbled.
I couldn’t have understood him correctly. “What?”
“They must be set free,” he said—quite clearly this time. He stood up, looked around him, and yelled, “They must be set free!” He hurled himself into the flowerbed and began ripping and tearing at the flowers, sending them flying behind him like a dog digging a hole.
I stood in awe for a moment, my eyes widened, paralyzed. The Student rushed over, shouting, “Drunkard, what the hell are you doing?” He tried to pull The Drunkard out of the flowerbed.
“They must be set free—yesyesyes—and I am the man to do it,” The Drunkard shouted as he grasped the flora.
I came to my senses and hurled myself into the fray. We managed to jerk him out of the bed, and I saw his face. It was beet red and he was twitching. We pushed him across the pathway—past our fellow shocked and cowed tourists, who stood, looking on, cameras at the ready. “Nothing to see,” I called. “He’s just a fan of flowers.”
“They’re imprisoned for their beauty!” shouted The Drunkard. “We all are! We are all beautiful creatures in the jail of reality! Free yourselves!”
“No we’re not,” I said. “Most of the people here are hideously malformed.”
A low rumble went through the tourists. I looked for The Traveler and Dee, and it seemed they had disappeared off towards the gate. How they managed to not hear the commotion was beyond me. I turned back to the crowd. Turns out, a lot of them were hideously malformed. “Just saying that to calm him down, folks,” I lied. “He gets a little excited when we let him out of his cage.”
The Drunkard sputtered, and we let him crash to the ground. He burst into tears. “I am scum,” he stated. He clutched his head in his hands. “I am scum.”
Finally, The Traveler and Dee ran over. The Traveler knelt down near The Drunkard and looked up at me, his face a mixture between confusion and anger. “What the fuck did he put in his absinthe? Acid? It shouldn’t make him flip his shit this much.”
I shrugged. “I’ve never touched the stuff.”
The Traveler grunted. “Well, fuck. Dee, you go in with The Student and The Narrator. If this schmuck freaks out again, I can handle him.”
“Are you sure?”
I snorted. “You should’ve seen him yesterday. Traveler went all Apeshit Bird Man and kicked the shit out of him.”
She raised an eyebrow at The Traveler, who shrugged. “I landed a couple of good kicks and managed to convince The Drunkard of the error of his ways. Anyway, guys,” he said, “it’s five quid to go inside. And, apparently, it’s where they filmed bits of Harry Potter.”
“Joy,” I said. “My favorite film of all time.”
“I thought so,” said The Student. “You seemed like a Harry Potter freak. Running around, playing quidditch, casting spells and whatnot.”
“Okay,” said Dee, who, I’m guessing did not share our joy in making things up about each other. “Shall we go?”
“Lead on,” I said.
She did and we followed.