The story to far:

  1. Don and Dan Build a Shelter
  2. Don and Dan Take a Flight
  3. Don and Dan Go to Spain
  4. Don and Dan Do Drugs
  5. Don and Dan Find God
  6. Don and Dan Find Themselves

Don and Dan Find Happiness

“Dude, that was the weirdest thing that ever happened to me!”

Bigote and I are walking back from the cave towards camp. We’re both feeling a little woozy. I think it was from breathing so much methane. It felt like we were down there for hours, but according to my watch it was only about 45 minutes.

“Indeed, my faithful companion,” Bigote replies. “It was a remarkable experience. To think that there is such a race of mutated beasts living deep under the earth’s crust! And to think that their society is so horribly deranged! My word, how far our frail nature can stray from the path of reason and righteousness. It is ghastly to even contemplate the depths that we may fall to.”

“Like, literally though.”

“Unfortunately for us,” he continues, “the information they provided us, though fascinating from a scientific and anthropological perspective, is entirely useless in our fight against the conspiracy. Indeed, I am at a loss to decide whether it would be worse living as a Subterranean, scorning all love and passion and tradition, or living under the dastardly conspiracy, being forced to eat a vegan diet, speaking nothing but Spanish, praying to Allah five times a day, constantly in fear of being accused of sexism, racism, homophobia… Well, now that I think about it, the conspiracy is indeed worse.”

“But don’t they, like, also speak Spanish in Spain?”

“That is a common misconception, Chopin,” Bigote says, wagging his finger. “Owing to the similarity of the words ‘Spain’ and ‘Spanish,’ you would think they were related. But in Spain the people speak ‘Castellano,’ which is a Romance language, historically related to Spanish, but not at all the same.”

“Isn’t castellano just Spanish for ‘Spanish’?”

“Indeed not, my foolish friend. Castellano means ‘Castilian,’ deriving from the great medieval kingdom of Castille.”

“Huh… Well, anyways, do you think that all the stuff that Harry told us about life down there was true?”

“I have no reason to doubt of his honesty, Chopin. Do you?”

“Not exactly but, I mean, it’s just so nuts. Like, maybe he was just some wackoo high on cave fumes who hallucinated the whole thing. I mean, he never showed us his city. It could be all in his head.”

“A certain amount of skepticism is healthy, Chopin, but this would make the room of mirrors rather difficult to explain, not to mention Harry’s method of, er, communicating verbally.”

“I dunno, there are some pretty talented people out there. Like one time on TV I saw a guy who could play the guitar with his feet. And on MePipe™ I saw a guy painting with only his mouth, since his arms and legs had been amputated or something. And also I saw a girl who could make her—”

“Yes, yes, Chopin, the world is full of extraordinary and freakish people. But think! Could any madman consistently speak so coherently and articulately? Could a man who had lost his senses, breathing underground fumes, elaborate a whole imaginary world, one which has no relationship to the one that you and I know?”

“Oh, I guess you’re right. Crazy people are never good talkers.”

“Precisely and indubitably right, Chopin.”

Soon we arrive back in camp, and head to our bunk bed to lie down. But we find that, while we were away in the cave, some people had left their stuff on our beds. And it’s nice stuff too—fancy leather luggage, with an insignia and everything.

“These hippie fucks,” I say, picking up one of the suitcases. “Can’t respect people’s space.”

“It is a simple oversight, Chopin. No harm done.”

“God these things are heavy.”

“Indeed they are ponderous.”

“What should we do with them?”

“You go and inquire as to the identity of their owners.”

“And you?”

“I am weary and will retire.”

“Ah, okay then.”

Even though I’d much rather open the suitcases and nab a few things, I grunt approval and go to find these rich tree-hugger bastards. It doesn’t take long though.

Two guys I don’t recognize, in long black overcoats, are standing right outside the front door of the cabin, smoking fat brown cigars.

“Hey, did you guys leave some fancy suitcases on bunk beds in there?” I ask.

“Ah, I believe it was we,” says a younger one with blonde hair and blue eyes.

“Well, they’re our beds.”

“Oh, I am terribly sorry,” he says, and flicks his cigar. “It’s just I am so used to the servants handling these things. Take this for your trouble.”

And he hands me a big shiny diamond.

“Bro, are you serious?”

“It is a thing for your troubles.”

“Wow! Feel free to leave as much shit in our beds as you want, bro.”

“Much obliged.”

I walk back inside. Bigote is already laying down on the top bunk.

“Dude, you wouldn’t believe what the suitcase guy gave me.”

“Not now, Chopin. I am weary from our subterranean adventure.”

“But look at this!” I say, holding up the diamond.

“I said not now, my most insistent companion.”

“Whatever bro.”

I sit down on the bed and look at the diamond. I’m no jeweler or anything, but it looks legit. Those guys must be filthy rich. What are they doing out here? If I had money like that, I’d be in a jacuzzi on a plane, surrounded by like seventeen thousand naked babes, all models, and eating nothing but steak and milkshakes and giant spring rolls. And that would just be my Monday. Why would you come to take some wack ass drugs in some random ass forest? Some people just have no imagination.

But wait a minute. If these people are as loaded as they seem, then it would be a really smart idea for me to make friends with them. At the very least I might be able to bum a fancy cigar. So I walk back to the door, where the two guys are still there smoking.

“Hey guys,” I say, trying to be all charming. “I forgot to ask your, like, names and stuff.”

“Ah, how rude of us,” the younger man responds. “My name is Franck. Franck von Hochgeboren.”

“Nice to meet you,” I say, and shake his gloved hand.

“And I,” says the older guy, “am Professor Allesprachen.”

“Alyspricken?”

“Just ‘Professor’ is fine.”

“Any relation to that Dr. Krajakat guy?”

“Relation? No, no, no.”

“Well, I hate to ask but, uh, could I trouble one of you for a smoke? You see I left my cigars back in Alabama.”

“Yes of course,” Franck says, hands me a cigar, and then lights it.

Now, I’ve smoked a good deal of wacky tobacky in my day, but I ain’t never smoked a cigar. I start gagging as soon as I puff.

“Careful, young one,” Professor says, patting my back. “You are not supposed to inhale.”

“What? Then how do you get high?”

“It is… more for the flavor.”

“Wow, weird. Is this, like, a European thing?”

“These are from Cuba.”

“Oh word. Is that where are you fellas are from?”

“We are from Geheimnisland.”

“Ga what what?”

“It is a little-known microstate surrounded by the country of Germany,” Franck explains. “Actually, my father is the king.”

“Woah, no way. Does that mean you’re the prince?”

“Yes, indeed. Though I am currently in exile…”

“Like, you’ve been kicked out?”

“It is a long story. Tell me about yourself. You still haven’t told us your name.”

“Oh, shit. I’m Dan Chopin.”

“And what brings you to Europe, Dan Chopin?”

“Uh, well, that’s sort of a long story too. Basically my boss, Don Bigote, is on this quest to, er, fight against this evil plot that he thinks is going to cause the end of the world.”

“My word!” Professor says. “He sounds like an important man. I would very like to meet him.”

“He’s asleep right now but I’m sure he’ll be happy to talk to ya’ll when he wakes up.”

And then, as if on cue, who but Don Bigote himself, mustache drooping from fatigue, walks out the door.

“Chopin, is that you? I had a nightmare about the conspiracy and… Oh, I didn’t see that you were engaged in a prior conversation. Excuse me, gentlemen.”

“You must be Don Bigote,” Professor says, extending his hand.

“Uh, why yes, yes I am.”

“My name is Professor Allesprachen. Your friend here has been telling us that you are on a quest to save the world.”

“Chopin!” Bigote says, turning on me with panic and anger in his eyes. “How many times to I have to tell you to be careful! You cannot go about telling all the world about our mission. You never know who you can trust!”

“I assure you that we pose no threat,” Professor says. “We are merely two Germanophone travelers on a tour of the world.”

“Is that so?” Bigote says suspiciously. “Tell me, then, what you are a professor of, exactly?”

“I am a professor of physics, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, biochemistry, ethnolinguistics, and ontolo-theological gastroenterology.”

“Very impressive,” Bigote says. “But if that is true, then answer me this question. Is the glass half full, or half empty?”

“Neither. The glass is exactly as full and as empty as the laws of cause and effect dictate it to be, which means that its content must be consistent with the moral imperatives of the cosmic order. In other words the glass could not possibly be fuller, nor could it be emptier; it simply is, in itself. Consequently, any opinion as to its fullness or emptiness reveals only an impotent subjectivity.”

“Exactly!” Bigote says. “I see that we can trust these men, Chopin. They are much too wise to be a part of the dastardly conspiracy.”

“Indeed not,” Professor Allywhatsit chuckles. “It takes years of deep study and meditation to answer such questions. No spy, however clever, could plausibly imitate true science.”

“You are a true master of philosophy! It is an honor to meet such an accomplished man.”

“Pish, pish, you are too kind,” Professor says. “Now, let us go inside so you can explain to us this quest of yours.”

I think these two guys got a thing for each other. It’s destiny.

We go inside and sit down on some of the beds facing each other. All the dirty, smelly hippies seems to be at one of their creepy drug ritual orgy things, so there’s nobody else around.

Bigote clears his throat to speak. Franck and Professor lean in eagerly.

“Now,” Bigote begins, “what I am about to tell you may seem outlandish, but I assure you that every word of it is true. All too true, I am afraid. The world in which we live, though apparently enjoying a period of peace and prosperity, is currently deep in the grips of a conspiracy—an enormous plot whose reach extends far into the beginnings of recorded history. This devious plot has been planned, organized, and executed with ruthless efficiency. Its goal? To destroy Western civilization as we know it.”

“How horrible!” Franck yelps.

“Indeed!” Professor says. “But tell me, who is responsible for such a heinous crime against humanity?”

“Who? Who! I shall tell you who: the Muslim-Mexican cabal.”

“Do you mean those fellows who do not eat pork?” Franck says.

“Yes, them.

“And the people who like to eat burritos?”

“Well, technically that’s tex-mex,” I say.

“I see,” Franck says. “How very odd. I never suspected that those two groups of people had any sort of connection.”

“Well, they do,” Bigote says. “In fact, it is fair to say that they are but two manifestations of the same evil force. And it is my quest, as well as that of my faithful companion here, to either foil the plot, or, if it is too late, to preserve whatever remnants of Western civilization so that we are able to rebuild after the fateful collapse.”

A moment of silence follows, as Franck and Professor Smorgasbord look gravely at each other. Then, they nod to each other, and Franck turns to speak:

“What you have said affects me deeply,” Franck says. “I thank you very much for your trust and honesty.”

“It seems that fairness dictates that we should tell you of our own quest,” Professor says.

“You have a quest as well?” Bigote says, surprised.

“Oh yes,” Franck says. “And it is worth telling the story from the beginning.”

“I am extremely eager to hear it.”

The Quest for True Happiness

As I have mentioned, my father is the king of Geheimnisland, which makes me the prince. Now, you will not find Geheimnisland on any map. Its real location is somewhere within Germany. But even I do not know exactly where it is.   

You see, the kingdom maintains the strictest secrecy with the outside world. By complete chance, our castle sits on the world’s largest deposit of diamonds. Diamonds are so plentiful that we use them to pave our roads, build our homes, and even to pick our teeth; and we also sprinkle diamond dust on our food as a garnish. For whatever reason, the outside world values these shiny rocks enormously, so we sell some of it at an enormous profits to neighboring countries. We have used this money to purchase and develop the most advanced technology, enabling us to conceal the entire kingdom (which is about the size of a fair-sized city) from the outside world.

For untold generations, my family has enjoyed a life of the utmost luxury. Indeed, we long ago lost all notion of any other mode of life. My upbringing was no exception.

I was woken up every day by a symphony orchestra, playing pianissimo, in order to gently rouse me from my silk bed. Then I would eat a breakfast of roast beef, curried lamb, baked codfish, and all other sorts of delicacies, washed down with copious amounts of champagne. This would provide me the energy I needed for the harem. In Geheimnisland, it is considered the royal prerogative, indeed the royal duty, to exercise the power of copulation to the utmost limits of the human physique. Thus I would spend most of the day engaged in the strenuous exertion of libidinous activity.

At noon I took a break for the midday feast, which consisted of lobster, clams, paella, lasagna, and figs, this time accompanied by dark beer. After this I would have a massage, sit in the hot springs for half an hour, and then take a short nap. Again, a symphony would wake me up at three o’clock, and the routine would repeat itself until about seven at night, when I would have my final meal of the day, which consisted mainly of steak, fried eggs, and risotto, this time with a fine port wine as a beverage. After dinner I would go to the theater, to see a spectacle involving elephants, acrobats, and dancing girls. An attendant would read poetry to me as I lay in bed, and finally I would drift off to sleep.

For many years I accomplished my princely duties uncomplainingly. The extraordinary physical exhaustion induced by my rigorous schedule of intercourse left me with little time or energy to reflect. But one day, as I was deep into my rounds in the harem, it dawned on me that I was unhappy. Though I accepted that I had grave responsibilities as prince, I also wondered if there was not more to life than endless amounts of food, alcohol, and sex. Thus, that night, instead of having poetry read to me as I lay in bed, I requested the presence of the court scholar, Professor Allesprachen.

Now, you must know that Allesprachen is a native of Geheimnisland; and it is one of the most sacred laws of my kingdom that no native born citizens may ever leave the kingdom, for whatever reason, upon pain of death. I should also note that, aside from his duties supervising the concealment technology of our kingdom, Allesprachen was also obligated to spend several hours in the university harem, in order to maintain his tenure. Thus Professor was not able to give me any personal insights into another mode of life. But with his extraordinary mind, he had deduced some consequences about what life outside Geheimnisland must be like.

“According to the principle of sufficient reason, it can be demonstrated a priori that felicity is an effect of a cause,” he told me.

“I see.”

“And accordingly, such a cause, acting under different circumstances, must, following the logic of modus tollens, produce an entirely different outcome.”

“Of course!”

“And so,” he said, “the consequence may indubitably be surmised that the pleasure enjoyed elsewhere must, if the thesis be rendered compatible with the antithesis, synthesize into distinct forms.”

“Brilliant!”

After this interview, Professor Allesprachen humbly returned to his chamber. But I could not sleep. I was tantalized by the endless possible modes of life existing elsewhere in the world that I would never know; and I was depressed that, having been born a prince of Geheimnissland, I would spend the rest of my days fulfilling my duties in the royal harem.

I spent all night tossing and turning. In the morning, I decided that I was too unhappy to go on, and resolved to go visit my father, the king. I caught him as he was oiling himself up to begin his own rounds in the harem.

“My son! What brings you here, so early in the morning? Surely, the women are expecting us.”

“Yes, father, I apologize for interrupting you. But there is something I would very much like to speak to you about.”

“Speak on, my beloved son.”

“I wanted to ask why we are obligated to spend so much time in the act of fornication.”

“What a silly question! This has been the way of our family for generations. It is our most sacred duty as members of the royal family!”

“Yes, father, but why?”

“What has come over you, son?”

“I… I have been wondering if, perhaps, our time might be better employed.”

“Better employed? Son, are you ill? Our kingdom is depending on us! If we stopped our schedule of copulation, the whole fabric of our society would crumble!”

“But, father, must there not be other ways of life, happier ways of living?”

“Tut, tut, my son. Get this idea out of your head. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, as my own father always used to say. But believe me, there are many who envy us.”

“But…”

“Surely, you must admit that sexual intercourse, however tiresome, has its own pleasures.”

“I do.”

“And what would our women do if we did not employ them?”

“I don’t know.”

“You see? As my father used to say…”

“But, father, what if I wanted to take a break for a few days?”

“My son,” he said, as he brushed his chest hair. “I am trying to be patient with you, but frankly you are being ridiculous. Now, get this silly idea out of your head, return to your room, get oiled up, and begin making your rounds. The women are not going to sleep with themselves!”

And with a jolly laugh, he patted me on the shoulder, threw off his robe, and got down to business. I did the same; but inwardly, I resolved that I would not let myself be trapped by tradition. I was going to find a way out of Geheimnisland.

Luckily, I knew just the man to help: Professor Allesprachen.

Again, I summoned him to my bedside.

“Professor, tell me about the technology that conceals our kingdom.”

“Oh, your highness, I could not bore you with such a trivial subject.”

“Do not be reticent, my dear Professor, for I am eager to know.”

“As you wish, your highness. Our kingdom is surrounded by a powerful forcefield, whose radius extends to the very frontiers of our territory. From the inside, this barrier merely looks like the blue sky; but from without, cloaking technology makes the protective sphere appear like a large mountain. We have a treaty with Germany, made long ago, which obligates that country to provide constant military surveillance of the surrounding area, in exchange for a yearly supply of diamonds from our mines.”

“What you say interests me most profoundly. But tell me, oh most wise philosopher, what the world values so much in our shiny rocks? I could never understand it.”

“To be quite honest, your highness, I have not fully grasped the issue myself. It seems that it is the rarity of the rocks that is the source of their value.”

“But, surely, many things in the world are exceedingly rare, but they do not fetch such a price.”

“That is true. According to my research, outsiders have taken quite a fancy to the way the rocks look, and use them when they propose matrimony.”

“Matrimony?”

“It is a form of courtship in which a man and a woman bind themselves together for life.”

“For life?”

“Indeed, it is a strange custom.”

“I find it quaint. But tell me, my good friend, would not a small bit of polished glass look the same as one of our diamonds?”

“You are of course correct, my liege. I too am baffled by the ways of outsiders.”

“Oh, well. I suppose they would find our harems rather a quaint custom, too.”

“I can only imagine.”

“Now, Professor, lean in closely. I have something important to tell you.”

“As you command.”

“Is anyone listening?”

“I believe we are alone.”

“Professor, I need to confess something to you. But first I want you to promise me that you will keep it an absolute secret.”

“My prince, you may repose your complete confidence in me.”

“Professor, I want to see these outsiders for myself.”

“Sire, I share your curiosity. But surely you know it is forbidden.”

“Of course I know. I want to escape Geheimnisland.”

Allesprachen paused for a minute, deep in thought.

“My liege,” he said finally, “while I am bound to obey you, I owe a higher loyalty to your father the king.”

“Yes, Professor. I know what I am asking is illegal. I know that it would be an extraordinary risk for us both. I ask you this in the faith that happiness, real happiness, may finally await us. Not this dreary life of endless feasts and orgies. Surely the reward justifies the risk.”

He remained silent, brow knit.

“Of course I would understand if you refused, Professor. I would only ask that you keep your promise to tell nobody of my request.”

“My prince,” he said finally. “Your desire for knowledge inspires me. I, too, share your weariness with the ways of our kingdom, its endless heavy banquets and its infinite concubines. I will help you.”

“I knew you would understand, Professor. But what shall we do?”

“Give me three weeks to prepare our means of escape. Then, on midnight of the twenty-second day, come to my chambers in the university. But be careful to avoid detection, and make sure to fill your pockets with some spare diamonds: we will need them on the other side. For the sake of avoiding suspicion, I suggest that we do not meet until then.”

“I trust completely in your judgment, Professor. Farewell.”

The time passed slowly. I was so eager that I could hardly contain myself. But I did my best to maintain appearances. Indeed, I accomplished my duties at the harem so conscientiously that my father was very pleased with me. I admit that the thought of leaving made me feeling bittersweet. However wearisome your life may be, familiarity creates some affection. The thought of never seeing my concubines again gave me some pangs of melancholy; and I regretted that I must leave them without even a goodbye. But when I considered my father’s life, how ragged and miserable it must have been, my resolve was strengthened.

On the appointed day, I stole away from my bed as the clock struck twelve, when all the world was tuckered out and fast asleep; and I tiptoed through the university harem to Professor Allesprachen’s chamber. As he directed me, I knocked thrice, gently, on his oaken door. He opened his room dressed in goggles, boots, gloves, and a heavy coat.

“Come in, come in,” he said. “Everything is prepared. But before we go, you must put on some warmer clothes. I am afraid it will be chilly at higher altitudes.”

I dressed as he instructed me. Then, he led me into his workshop. In the center was a large object, covered with a cloth; he strode over and pulled off the covering to reveal a strange machine. It consisted of two seats on an elevated platform, with a control panel in front; the seats were surrounded by two metal rings that could rotate freely.

“You surely are a genius!” I cried. “Tell me, what is this contraption?”

“My prince, we must take advantage of the time, but you will see soon enough how it works.”

Then he motioned for me to get inside; he followed, but not before flipping a switch that caused the roof to open up. With a turn of a key, the machine buzzed to life; the metallic rings began to spin furiously around us, until they became a complete blur. He put his hands on the control panel, pushed a lever, and we began to hover.

“A flying machine? This is amazing!”

Then Allesprachen pulled a nob and we began to ascend at an incredible rate. Soon the university buildings appeared as little toys far below us, and finally were indistinguishable in the darkness of the night. I was exhilarated but terrified, and grabbed onto my seat for dear life.

“How high do we need to go?” I shouted; but the rushing wind made any communication impossible. I was grateful that Allesprachen had given me the winter clothes, since the temperature continually dropped as we ascended, and the wind roared terribly.

Finally Allesprachen pressed a red button and the spinning rings began to emit a strange blue light. The next moment we came to a halt, and a huge mountain appeared below us, covered with snow, illuminated by the silver light of the full moon. Allesprachen pressed the button again and we stopped. The rushing of the wind died down, and the world became uncannily silent.

“What just happened?” I asked Professor in amazement.

“It worked. We have broken through the forcefield,” he told me. “We are free men.”

“My dear Professor!” I said, and hugged him tightly. “You are a genius! You truly are!”

“Do not mention it, my prince. But that we have escaped we must decide where to go.”

“Ah, you’re right… I am afraid I hadn’t thought of that. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Well, Sire, this depends on what you wish to do and see. Shall we travel to exotic climates, or perhaps to iconic monuments?”

“My deepest desire is to finally discover true happiness. The great sights and monuments of the world can wait.”

“This request is far more complex than perhaps your majesty assumes. All the world is full of men and women striving for happiness, in a million possible ways, but nobody agrees on what it consists of.”

“Alas! Are we no better off now than we were back in the harems? Surely there must be some promising destinations.”

“My research has uncovered some possibilities. For example, there are some people in a land called Colorado who shave their heads and believe the key to happiness consists in sitting down on the floor and thinking about nothing.”

“How intriguing! Shall we go?”

“Your wish is my command.”

And, saying this, he pushed a gear and the machine began to speed forward at a tremendous rate. The world outside became an indistinct blur; we passed over clouds, mountains, lakes, rivers, and towns, all in an instant. The wind blew so fiercely that I was sure I would be thrown off the machine and fall to my doom. But before I could gather my senses we had slowed down and had begun descending rapidly; in five minutes we were safely on ground. We had traveled so far west that it was late afternoon, and the sun was shining brightly.

After we climbed out of the machine down onto the sandy soil, Professor pulled out a little device from his pocket and pressed a button. Suddenly our contraption vanished from view.

“My heavens! Where did it go?” I asked.

“Fear not, my Prince. I have activated its invisibility mode, so that it cannot be stolen while we are gone. Now, follow me.”

Allesprachen led me down into a wooded valley. In the distance I could see a plain white building, surrounded by large green tents. As we neared I spotted people wearing orange robes, walking slowly through the woods, one after the other, in complete silence. Soon we arrived at the central building. The door was open, so we went right inside. At the end of a long, dimly-lit hallway a middle-aged man was seated on an elevated platform, cross-legged, eyes closed.

I felt hesitant, unsure of the proper etiquette and somewhat overwhelmed by the wealth of new experiences. Still, my determination to find happiness spurred me on. I spoke:

“Oh most exalted master. We come from lands far away to learn the secret of true happiness. Please take pity on us, and instruct us in your ways.”

The man did not open his eyes. I wondered if he was asleep, he remained so motionless. But after a few moments he gave an almost imperceptible nod from his head.

All at once, people sprang up from all sides. They led us away to another chamber, stripped away our clothes, gave us our robes, and then shaved our heads and our beards. An elderly lady brought us to a balcony overlooking the valley below. She pointed to two pillows, side by side on the floor.

“Sit here,” she said. “Clear your mind completely. Any time you have a thought, hold your breath until you feel lightheaded. Do this until your mind resembles a pool of water on a windless day.”

Without a word, we obeyed, sitting on those cushions far into the night. I felt dizzy and lightheaded, partly from holding my breath, and partly from the lack of sleep and food.

Sometime around midnight, one of the nuns came to take us to our tent, where we were each given a cot to sleep on. The next day we were awoken before dawn, led to the same cushions, and left there until lunch. This was the only meal of the day, and it consisted of a bowl of boiled beans and a glass of water. We were instructed to eat in silence. Afterwards, we went back to the cushions; and just like the first night, we stayed there until about midnight. This routine was repeated for about eight weeks altogether, during which time we said not a word.

At first I had so many thoughts that I nearly suffocated myself trying to clear them away. But eventually my mind became ever-more placid, until I hardly remembered my own name. Our bodies wasted away from lack of food and sleep; but our minds became immune to all sensations, positive or negative, until we could hardly be said to be people at all.

When eight weeks passed, the same elderly lady led us back to the master. He was in the same exact position as before, as if he had been there the whole time. We knelt in front of him, bowing our heads. Then I heard a voice, :

“You have done well,” he said. “Now you are ready for the next phase of enlightenment. Return to your mats, and ponder this ancient saying: ‘The only place is no place. The only form is emptiness. The only answer is silence. The only happiness is nothingness.’ When you have discovered the meaning of these words, return to me.”

Without a word, we arose, and were led away from his holy presence. As soon as I was once again seated on my mat, I began to turn over the saying. Three weeks went by without any progress. The words seemed like nonsense to me. I reproached myself for my inability to penetrate the secret. I felt shame for my creeping doubts that, after all, the words had no meaning at all. I despaired of ever attaining happiness. Oh, the nights of mental agony! Oh, the days of torture!

Finally, on the first day of the fourth week, while I was feeling particularly low and helpless, a noticed a little worm squirming on the ground in front of me. I felt a strange sympathy for the creature, thrashing about blindly on the rocks. Was I so different? Just then, a red-breasted robin swooped down and snatched up the poor creature. A moment of despair struck me. Is the world so cruel and pitiless? Is life to empty of meaning? But then it dawned on me. An insight. A revelation. Yes! I had the answer! I had finally understood the meaning of the master’s words.

I got up from my pillow and rushed to the master, excited to tell him the news. But he was not in his usual spot in the temple

“Master? Master? I have it! I have the answer!”

No one replied. But then I heard a muffled voice on the other side of a wall. I got closer, and found a small doorway in the corner of the temple. I listened: there were voices on the other side, several of them. One of them I recognized as the master’s. I considered going away and returning at another time. But then I wondered: was this a test? Perhaps it was time for me to enter the inner sanctum? So, resolving myself, I pushed open the door.

What I saw shocked me to the core.

The master was sprawled on the floor, naked, surrounded by dozens of empty bottles of liquor. He was flanked by five or six young women, equally nude, who were caressing the most holy of holy monks.

I stood there, aghast, for thirty seconds or so. They were all so drunk that they hardly noticed me. “Shut that damn door, you’re letting the breeze in,” was all the master said. I obeyed, closing the door on the horrid scene. Then, I rushed to find Professor Allesprachen. As usual, he was sitting on the pillow, deep in meditation.

“Professor, Professor!” I said.

He looked up, shocked that I was breaking our vow of silence.

“I just saw the most horrid thing. Oh, you will not believe it! I can hardly believe it myself. The master was engaged in fornication! Oh, the horror of it!”

“I was wondering why so many of the nuns were young and attractive,” Professor said.

“Most wise and faithful friend, what shall we do? Even here, we have not escaped the harems of our home! Is humankind doomed to sex? Is happiness impossible?”

“Do not despair, my Prince. This monastery is only one of a million endeavors to achieve happiness. Let us leave and try another method. The world is vast and full of strange traditions. Surely somewhere we can find a place free from coitus.”

So the two of us quietly changed into our normal clothes and bid adieu to the monastery. We flew away in our machine, in search of a new mode of life.

The rest of our story is too dreary to relate. Suffice to say, we have experimented with many religions since then—men and women who read a very old book and speak to the characters in its pages, and a similar cult in which people kneel and pray before golden altars and statues of deceased holy figures. But, sad to say, despite the vehement and repeated condemnations of sex that the practitioners of these lifestyles avowed, we found that, nevertheless, copulation remained an integral part of their practice. Indeed, we have found that the adherents to these religions were most keen to practice the type of sex that they most bitterly censured, such as homosexuality or pedophilia. It is extremely strange

§

“What a remarkable tale!” Bigote says. “But can it all be true?”

“I can vouch for every word of it,” Apfelstrudel says.

“Hold on a minute,” I say. “Are you telling me that you guys are from a place where all you do is eat, sleep, and bone, and you escaped so that you can be happy?”

“That is correct,” Franck says.

“You are fucking crazy, bro,” I say.

“Why do you say that?”

Suddenly a distorted voice booms throughout the camp.

Come out with your hands up. We have you surrounded.

“What on earth is that?” Franck says.

“Oh shit.”

“It’s the conspiracy!” Bigote cries, whipping out his pistol. “You’ll never take me alive, you dirty commie brussel-sprout eating Muslims!”

“Surely it is just the police,” Allesprachen says. “It must be some sort of misunderstanding.”

We have traced your vehicle here. There is nowhere to run, police killers!”

“Police killers?” Franck says.

“It’s a long story, bro,” I say. “We’ve been through some shit to get here.”

“There is no need to panic, gentlemen,” Allesprachen says. “If only we appeal to there reason and rational judgment, we should be able to clear up this misunderstanding.”

“There is no reasoning with these dogs!” Bigote yells. “And I for one am not prepared to be taken to their lair, in order to watch vegan cooking recipes and feminist TED talks for days on end. I’d rather go down in a blaze of glory!”

And with this he cocks his pistol.

“Oh dear, this seems serious,” Franck says.

“It couldn’t be any more serious,” Bigote replies. “Chopin, get your gun. This is going to be ugly.”

“Perhaps,” Franck goes on, “we can be of assistance. We still have Allesprachen’s flying machine, concealed just outside. The four of us could squeeze in.”

You have one minute to come out with your arms raised, or we will open fire.”

“Let’s get the fuck out!” I scream.

The two Geheimnislanders lead us outside. Professor hits a button on some sort of remote control, and the machine pops into view. It’s a crazy looking thing, sort of like the time machine in that crappy nineties movie that I saw once on television when I was a kid.

There’s only two seats, so we pile on top of each other. Franck and I sit on the seats and the old guys sit on our laps. Bigote’s ass is boney, let me tell you.

The metal rings start spinning until they’re going so fast it’s just a blur. The machine actually starts to lift off. And here I thought these German dudes were nuts. Soon we’re over the trees. Below us, I catch a little glance of the Portuguese police officers, guns raised, advancing on a bunch of those hippies. Dr. Krajakat and Pierre are down there, arms up, kneeling, while two officers approach with handcuffs. I doubt ayahuasca is legal.

Soon we’re so far up that the people below us are invisible specks, and I can see faraway mountains and a distant coastline. So we float away to our next destination, where I’m sure there are more wackos waiting for us.

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