Maltose and Dextrose, the brave explorer and the easily-bribed sidekick, flew far, far from home. They flew all through the day, watching the patchwork quilt of the land fade away into the rippled, glassy sea. When night fell, they huddled in the bottom of their Vessel and gazed at the pinprick stars in silence until they fell asleep.
“Land! Land!” Maltose raised her head at Dextrose’s cries. She tipped her pith helmet back and looked where he pointed, and saw cliffs, stark against the breaking dawn.
“Not just land.” Maltose squinted. “Buildings. Peeple.”
“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” Dextrose bounced up and down in his excitement.
“Sounds good to me!” Maltose steered the Vessel toward the strip of grass at the top of the cliff. As they drew near, she saw the villagers gather in small groups outside their houses, watching them approach. The Vessel bumped to a halt at the outskirts of the village, but the only peep to approach was a small child, who stood staring at the Vessel in awed silence. The other villagers remained huddled around their huts, whispering amongst themselves.
“They must not be used to outsiders,” Maltose mused quietly aloud. “Imagine the many thousands of years that their small culture has been here, isolated on this clifftop, needing nothing more than grass huts and coconut palms to survive. No doubt we seem miraculous to them – perhaps even godlike. That means,” she told her companion solemnly, “that we have a duty to these primitive people. We must speak slowly and carefully, and try not to shock them with concepts too complex for their savage intellect.”
But Dextrose was not listening. “Shopping!” he cried, and scrambled out of the Vessel.
Maltose followed, and stood by Dextrose’s side, looking up at the sign. “Oh. Yes,” she said. “Well.”
“Can we go in, Maltose? Can we, please?” And without waiting, Dextrose ducked through the low door.
Inside, the shop was dusty and dimly lit. Small statues, jars, and carvings lay scattered about, and cracked paintings hung from the dark walls. In the gloom, they could see the shopkeeper behind the counter, nodding in half-sleep.
“There’s something strange about him,” Dextrose murmured.
“Don’t be prejudiced,” Maltose scolded. “He’s just like the other villagers – they’re all pink and have large ears. You can’t expect peeple everywhere to be just like they are at home.”
“But that’s just it,” Dextrose said slowly. “He looks . . . familiar, somehow.”
The shopkeeper snorted and awoke fully. “Tourists!” he cried cheerfully, and waddled out from behind the counter. “Welcome, welcome to our little village, where everything is just as it should be and nothing is as it shouldn’t! Can I interest you in some artifacts or native painting? All one hundred-percent authentic!”
He herded them over to one side of the room. “See this stone tablet? Five thousand years old if it’s a day. And yours for such a low price! What do you think, Madam?” He asked as he held it out for Maltose’s inspection.
“I don’t – I think – I mean, we’re just looking,” Maltose stammered. The shopkeeper looked at her face sharply as she spoke, then his eyes widened and he dropped the tablet. It broke into three pieces when it hit the floor.
“Oh, no!” Dextrose wailed, “It’s broken!”
The shopkeeper waved distractedly at him. “Never mind, young Sir. It’s worth more in three pieces than in one anyway. Might I ask, respected customers, from whence you hail?”
Here Maltose felt on firmer ground. Speaking slowly, using small words and grand gestures to communicate, she told him about the Strange Land Across The Big Water, and the Tribe of Yellow Peeps who lived there. She explained about the Great God known as the Adventure Bug who had told them to Journey Far Away To Foreign Lands. As she spoke, he grew pale, and stumbled back behind his counter. He drew out a piece of paper, wadded it up, and wiped it across his shining forehead. As he did so, his ears wobbled alarmingly, and he reached up to steady them.
“That’s it!” Dextrose was triumphant. “The ears! They’re not real! He’s actually a Peep like us! But Pink!”
“Hush! Hush, perceptive young Sir.” The shopkeeper looked nervously about. “I have been living among the villagers in disguise for many years, they must not discover my deception.”
“But why?” They were edging out of Maltose’s comfort zone, and she was not entirely pleased. Natives were supposed to be grateful recipients of her exotic tales – they weren’t supposed to have urgent dramas of their own.
“Because I was sent here, far from the shimmering desert of my home, twelve years ago.” He wiped his forehead with the wad of paper again. “I was sent here to wait. For you.”
Oh, well, that’s all right then, Maltose thought dazedly. As the two Peeps stared at him, beaks gaping, the shopkeeper looked down at the stained, crumpled paper in his hand. “Oh, vegetables!” he cursed, and frantically began smoothing it out on the counter. “Twelve years of waiting, and I almost ruin the map.”
Maltose and Dextrose sidled closer.
“But what’s it for?” Dextrose asked.
“And where does it lead?” Maltose added. “And why us?”
The shopkeeper, beginning to recover his composure, smiled enigmatically. “It is for, and leads to, a great treasure hidden deep in the perilous desert. As for why you,” he shrugged. “That I do not know. I always thought it should have been someone taller, myself.”
Dextrose grabbed the map and began hopping up and down. “A treasure hunt! A treasure hunt!” he sang. “C’mon, Maltose! Let’s go, quick! Before the other teams find it!” He raced out of the door, heading back to the Vessel.
Maltose narrowed her eyes at the grinning shopkeeper. “It isn’t that easy, is it?” she asked him.
Maltose groaned, and left the shop without further questions. Bitter experience had taught her that asking questions just got her answers she didn’t want.
She climbed back into the Vessel, where Dextrose was waiting impatiently. As they took off, she could see the small child who had been so fascinated with the Vessel running along the ground below them, waving. She waved back, then turned to her excited companion. “A treasure hunt it is, then.”
Set-Designer, Fetcher-of-New-Batteries-for-Camera, and Master of the Photoshop Domain: Husband. Story-Writer and Photo-Snapper: Uccellina.