In her strange and lucid world, the Guard represented authority, law, and justice, yet she herself held very little meaning. Day after day her tasks were the same, meticulously performed exactly as they had been the day before. How many times had she cycled through the same routine, guarding the same streets and defending the same citizens? This mundane repetition had consumed her as it had all inhabitants of this world; they were merely shadows, unthinking and unknowing, caught in a looping current, oblivious to the insignificance of their existence.
The Guard, as noble as she was, could not see past the shroud of the ordinary. After all, she was not created to see or think; she was created to protect. She was not particularly talented, nor was she without skill; in essence, she was the personification of mediocrity, from the way she walked and moved to the very hair on her head. The Guard was plain with no striking features, no real beauty to speak of. She was of normal complexion, not too pale or too tan, with freckles lightly dotted across her nose. Her hair was entirely average the color of wood and her eyes followed the same suit. Her body maintained a nice balance between thin and plump, being used to exertion and exercise while still maintaining a healthy appetite. She did, after all, run quite frequently, and this required the right amount of muscle, stamina, and fuel.
Yet why was she running in such a regular manner? Surely the crime in her shell of a world was not that bad. And yet it was. Every morning, the same thing happened at the exact same time; most baffling was the fact that it constantly surprised her, as if she had not expected the same thief to arrive and steal the same apple at the precise moment she walked by every day. When it inevitably did, the Guard sped after him, lungs and heart beating in unison against her chest.
It was a strange sensation, chasing the Thief. She knew that she would never catch him, that all her efforts were in vain. Still, she continued to pursue, day after day, failing each attempt time and time again. Her legs pumped; his worked faster. Her arms cut the wind; his arms became wings. She leaped over crates, boxes, and booths; he cleared buildings with the simple strides of his legs. There was no reaching the thief; he was too fast, unattainable. This never bothered the Guard, for there was no reason to feel otherwise. Her job was to guard and chase, not to catch. The Thief had his own task: steal the apple and flee. If she managed to catch him, then who would steal the apple? Who would she chase? She would never catch him because it made no sense to do so.
She pursued the Thief, chasing him down a memorized path. As she ran, the Guard passed the same citizens who were shocked in the same way they had been the day before; day after day they were surprised! Clay jugs filled with water were always dropped, the same wide-eyed expressions always made, and an identical symphony of gasps sounded as usual. And no one ever tired of it.
How is it that something so common, so repetitive and mundane, could never grow old? Surely something must be wrong. Further still, this repetition was hardly even acknowledged, let alone pondered, by those caught no, drifting in this unending cycle. They did not want to fight the current.
But was there really a current for these people to fight? No, it was more appropriate to say they were trapped in stagnant water; the stream was unmoving because it had nowhere to go. Nonetheless, they drifted, floating uselessly about in the same circles, unable and unwilling to create a current of their own, a current to fight against. However, the real question wasn't if they did or did not want a current, but their actual ability to create currents. Were these people even capable of such a thing? Could they cause change? Were they capable catalysts? No one, not even the Guard, bothered to ask these questions; she simply followed the pattern she had been created for, like all the rest.
For now, she would race after him as she had the day before, and she would chase him tomorrow as she did today or so she thought. The unexpected happened; the Thief stopped running.
In that moment she was changed forever. Not only had the Thief ceased his mad dash, but this unthinkable occurrence had awakened a creature dormant within her: thoughts. Thinking was foreign to her; never in her life had she been plagued with the grand responsibility to wonder. The troubling thing about thoughts was how they gave birth to more thoughts. It was frightening: What is he doing? What's happening right now? What's happening to ME! Should I keep running? Catch up and grab him? Or should I keep running past him? What the hell am I supposed to do now?!!!
Everything seemed surreal; was it possible that she had not truly existed until now? Or had she existed all along? She didn't feel false, but what did she really know? No, she couldn't be false; if she could think in this manner then she had to exist. This realization was profound; the ability to question her existence was invaluable.
what should I do now?
It was simply overwhelming.
All of it had changed; the details of her world morphed rapidly around her. Everything had more clarity and substance: the cobblestones seemed finer, the buildings had more texture, and the people took on a new reality; the world was suddenly fresh. Soon, her mind began to question life in greater detail:
What did she do each morning? What happened before she chased the Thief? What about after? Yes, she chased him, but where to? Surely there must be a place they were running to? What did that place look like? What part of the city was that place in? She couldn't remember; how was that possible? It didn't make sense; none of it made sense!
Her mind bloomed like a flower. The new mental power she had so instantly received sucked all energy from her pursuit, her long strides shortening rapidly. Soon, she came to a slow walk, eyes focused on the ground, head lost in a forest of contemplation. Distraught and surprised, the Guard could do nothing but think. Her shuffling steps moved her at a snail's pace, as if the weight of the world was suddenly upon her. Her earlier endeavors had been completely forgotten; it took a jarring bump to bring her back to reality. She had walked herself firmly into the back of another person. She raised her gaze from the ground, her woody eyes finding the eyes of a hawk
the Thief! In a sort of awkward horror, the two stared back at one another. They mirrored each other with matching wide expressions and open mouths, their eyebrows raised to the sky. For a short moment, the two remained together in blank unison; before long, however, their faces portrayed the same, shining thought:
Suddenly, the Thief bolted, turning down a side street
a side street!? He always ran down the main street! Panicking, the Guard's newly formed brain reached out for a possible solution. In the end, she chose to keep it simple: follow him. She took off, stampeding down the same winding path as the Thief had before her. Like something out of a dream, the road they were on magically formed as they traveled down it, as if it had not existed until the very moment they had decided to set foot on it. As the two sped down this new and deserted street, the strangest sensation overtook the Guard: her breath caught, her pulse raced, and a foreign electricity washed over her
It buzzed, it pushed her forward
or was it pulling her? She could not decide.
It was excitement.
Yes, for her, and most likely for the Thief as well, she was excited. Now more than ever there was something real at stake, and it soon became clear to her that she could catch him; surely, they both knew this. The Thief must have had his own revelation as well, only minutes ago; what else save for the birth of thought held enough power to halt the Thief? Yet with power came loss; the Thief's speed had dropped remarkably while she had become quicker, more agile. As she ran, the Guard could feel her ordinary mouth stretch in to the most extraordinary of smiles. The following moments, somehow fleeting and everlasting, were exhilarating. In its own way, time slowed down for these two as they pushed and pulled one another forward.
After a period that had seemed entirely too long yet not long enough, the claustrophobic street came to a sudden halt. The Thief turned, eyes wide with nowhere to go. Triumphantly, the Guard sped up; mere yards away, she reached out with a strong hand. And then, just before she managed to weld her fist in to the side of his head, the Thief fell through the ground
The Guard came to a slow stop, and with disappointment she kicked at the ground and turned on her heel to leave
In an instant she was crouched in front of the hole before her, peering into its depths. The cobblestone had caved beneath his weight; she decided that the streets here were poorly constructed. She saw a myriad of bars, pipes, and wires which extended all the way down as far as she could see in truth, it was more akin to a network of monkey bars than it was a tunnel
Odd, she thought silently to herself. She examined the hole for a lengthy amount of time, more curious than confused; it had just happened all so suddenly. However, just as quickly and twice as alarming, a Cheshire-like face appeared in the void before her. Terrified, a startled scream bleated from her mouth and she fell painfully on to her butt. In a slow and oozing manner, a blob with a face emerged from the hole.
"Why hello!" responded a smooth and relaxed baritone, "Now just what are you are doing examining my hole?! Scandalous!" Unable to speak, the Guard could do nothing but watch as the blob slowly formed into a man. Despite the initial shock he had provided her, his new incarnation was far more bearable; he had a dark, rich skin tone, a pair of overalls, a rucksack and walking staff, and the strangest hair she had ever seen
At least, she mused, his face appears a bit kinder like this. Although it took her a moment to gain enough courage to speak, she eventually parted her lips to respond. Instead of a voice, however, there was a strange crackling noise, as if something inside her throat was breaking.
"Oh!" he exclaimed gleefully, "You abstract types rarely have the ability to speak at first! Here, let's see if this helps." Flamboyantly, the man, who hovered in the air like he occupied an invisible hammock, waved his hands in a flourishing manner. Suddenly, something within her shifted; on her second attempt to speak her efforts were rewarded.
"Who are you?" she asked weakly, her voice straining slightly.
"Who am I!?" he bellowed, "I am no one important: a simple messenger! A herald, if you will. But, you may call me Mudd." He ended with a bow, swinging his arms wide as his torso dipped dramatically.
"Mudd?" she repeated to herself in a skeptical tone, "That's an awfully funny name."
"I know," he chimed happily, "I quite like it. Now, we have some very important business to attend to, if you don't mind. May I ask your name?"
"My name?" she questioned, though who she directed this at was not entirely clear, "Well, um
I don't think I have one."
"How improper!" he cackled, "I love it. I've never been fond of names myself. But if I may continue?"
"Oh, uh, yes please, go ahead."
"Okay, I really don't have much time to explain the situation, but, you see, my sister and I are kind of in a bind. A big one. To make a long story short, I may or may not be seeking aid to avert a crisis that may or may not end all the stories that exist or will come to exist. Forever."
"What?" she said stupidly. He did not wait for her brain to catch up.
"Unfortunately, at this point I can't give you much of a choice. You see, we need someone like you, Thief someone intelligent, adaptable, reliable and quick!"
"But I'm the Guard!"
"What?" he asked quietly.
"I said, I'm not the---"
"I HEARD YOU!" Mudd exclaimed, "Oh dash it all! I wanted him, not you! What do you expect me to do with you?! A guard! Bumbling, unintelligible, and bland!"
"Well, that's quite rude of you," she said defensively. Maybe she wasn't the sharpest sword in the sheath, but bumbling was taking it a bit far. "If that's what you really think of me then you can take your crisis and shove it," she retorted, somewhat hurt as she turned on her heels.
"No! Wait!" he said, suddenly appearing in front of her, "Uhg! I don't have time for this. You'll simply have to do!"
"At this point I'm not too keen on the idea of helping you, Mudd."
"That's really too bad because you're going to help me anyway!" he said with a smile, his annoyed tone disappearing completely, "It's definitely more... interesting this way, don't you think?"
"What!? I don't think that's---"
"WHAT!? You don't think?" Mudd gasped, clearly insulting her mental capabilities.
"Hey!" she yelled back indignantly, "I might be pretty new to this, but that doesn't mean you can say whatever you want!"
"Oh, silly girl, I know what you mean! It's just that you've given me the most wonderful idea!" he told her, Cheshire smile reappearing once more. Slyly and mischievously, he gently took her hands in his. In a gleeful whisper, he continued, "I give your gloves the function to 'think.'"
"What!?" she exclaimed as energy surged into her body, "What are you doing!?"
"Oh, you'll find out soon enough, darling!" As he spoke these final words, a strange, swirling blackness began to wrap itself around her. Try as she might, the Guard could not escape the maelstrom which rapidly took over her. Just before it managed to swallow her whole, a chirping voice reached her ears: "Ta-ta, dear! Try not to fail too badly!"
As confused as she was, one thing was clear: if Mudd ever crossed her path again she was going to beat the snot out of him.