Although I’ve tried to move on to other digs, other antiquities, the mystery of the Lost Kong continues to haunt me. Whispers have reached my ears that a prisoner in a local jail has claimed to have knowledge about where the raiders might have taken the prize they stole from the Temple of Krate. This may be the break I’ve been waiting for.
The warden at the prison used to be a friend of mine, but we had a falling out a while back over a pig ear. Not a pretty situation. So instead of coming in like a normal visitor, I have to bribe a guard to take me down to solitary confinement, the worst part of this awful place, called the Tub, where the prisoner is being kept. The fedora stays at home — too conspicuous on the cell block.
I’m surprised to find that the prisoner is a female. Not only that, she’s someone I know; we’ve tangled once or twice over over stuffies and Nylabones. Sometimes I had what she wanted, sometimes she had what I wanted. She’s in rough shape; it looks like they’ve really been working her over, trying to make her talk.
I slip her some liverwurst, and she tells me what I need to know. My hunch was right; they took the Kong out through the lawless frontier known as The Garage. But that’s where she ran afoul of a flea-bath patrol and ended up in the Tub. The Garage Hermit might have seen where the rest of her gang went. Some say the Hermit has the second sight; some call it the sixth sense; some say the Hermit is crazy, some say a religious fanatic; but everyone agrees that the Hermit is the crankiest thing alive. Fortunately, I know what it takes to make the Hermit talk. Tongol tuna, straight up.
Venturing back to the Garage, I find the giant snake is gone. Sadly, the gates of the forbidden city of Cat-Pan remain closed; I can see and smell its tantalizing treasures, but they remain out of my reach. For now. Past the land of Cat-Pan, I find the Cabinet Steppes. From the top, the mad Hermit peers down at me.
Without my offering of tuna, I would leave this place with nothing more than hisses in my ears and scratches on my nose. With it, though, negotiations begin. The Hermit wants the tuna; I want information. Eventually we come to an arrangement, and I learn that the raiders took the Kong all the way across the frontier, traveling from the Barren Hallway through the Garage, and on to the wilderness known as Side Walk. This is not good news, because once in Side Walk, they could have gone anywhere. This will put my tracking skills to their ultimate test.
I manage to cross the Garage without incident, and cross the frontier into Side Walk. The first thing I see is a grisly reminder that in this harsh land, there is no room for careless mistakes. It’s the abandoned crate and feeding tray of one who came before me, perhaps seeking the same thing. On closer inspection I recognize the crate; it belongs to a colleague of mine who vanished some time ago while on an expedition to Side Walk. Judging by the accumulation of leaves and dirt in his camp, I think I can tell the Dean to take his name off his office — that is, if I am not lost here as well.
There is nothing of use here, so I continue on my way. My first foray into Side Walk turns out to be a dead end at the fabled Trash Can Area, long rumored to be the final resting place for empty cans and bottles as well as derelict toys. I would search here, but the sheer, smooth walls are proof against my rudimentary climbing tools. I note the location, and plan to return with rope.
Retracing my route, I pass by the legendary Crap Heap, rumored to be the debris left behind when the lost civilization of Doll House was demolished in the great rat-and-termite-infestation catastrophe, years ago. This is important evidence that the rumors of Doll House’s existence may be true; but I travel without porters or pack animals, and so must leave it all behind. I note this location on my map as well. If I do not survive, perhaps my notes will, and someone, someday, will find Crap Heap again.
As it happens, in my notebook I keep an ancient illustration purporting to depict Doll House before the fall.
There are notable similarities between the terrain in the illustration and the terrain where I now find myself.
Still, it could be nothing but an artist’s fevered imagination. Putting away the picture of Doll House, I continue onward along Side Walk. Ahead of me, terra incognita.
There are some landmarks to guide me on my journey. Here I pass the Tower of Cooling Winds. According to legend, on very hot days, the Tower rumbles to life, spreading its chill breeze throughout the lands of Living Room, Sunny Nook, Kitchen, Dining Room, Hallway, and Bedrooms. This power is said to come at a price, though, requiring a great sacrifice of treasure to the terrible god Electricity and its high priesthood, SDG&E.
Beyond the Tower is the mysterious Gallows. No one knows what the Gallows is for. Some say it was built by an ancient spacefaring race to tether their floating citadels; others that it was raised up by the gods and used to hang rebellious giants. With no markings or inscriptions, we cannot know the answer to this enigma. It merely stands, stark, silent, and terrible, a mute testimony to the engineering prowess of an earlier age.
Moving on from the tower, closer to the vast and empty wasteland known as Backyard, I find my progress across Side Walk blocked by a most insidious and frightening obstacle, one that I have encountered before and have yet to master — the horrific Board of Wobbling.
The footing on the Board is so treacherous, one cannot walk across it without being pitched headlong into the deadly Nasturtium Pit, where one’s flesh is slowly consumed by the carnivorous orange and red flowers. The corpse of my old friend and rival Fleece Bunny lies atop this shifting tablet; no longer will he and I race for the same treasure, or swap stories while sitting together in the pleasant warmth of Sunny Nook.
The dangers of Side Walk have thwarted me, and I must turn back. Perhaps I can find a different route into Backyard; because, with the discovery of Fleece Bunny, I know that the raiders must have come this way. He, too, sought the Lost Kong, and he would not have dared to attempt the Board of Wobbling unless he knew for certain that the Kong lay on the other side. I will not throw my life away on the Board, as he did, though; then the Kong would stay lost forever.
I will find another way; for I am Dennis the Vizsla, and I never give up.