There were days when Darl just had to see the sky again. It wasn’t often, but the yearning usually grew on him every now and then, and when it did he would grow fidgety. He felt cramped in, surrounded by too much fuss, and missing the sense of open spaces. The first time that Kiki noticed that something was bothering Darl, he denied it. He said he must have gotten out of the bed on the wrong side that morning. But he stepped out of the wrong side of the bed on the next morning too, and again on the next day.
“Darl, love, are you bothered about something? I haven’t seen you act quite this way before.”
“Why would I be bothered about anything?” Darl said. He reply came just a touch too quickly, and Kiki seemed to know it.
“You are bothered by something! What is it – tell me, or you’ll be chewing your tail by lunch time.”
And so Darl told her.
“Don’t get me wrong – Fraggle Rock is simply the most fascinating place where I could imagine living. Every day it’s as though the world begins over. Around every corner, something unexpected happens. The Fraggles never fail to surprise me, and every corner of the Rock is an unexplored world. But then I think about home… ”
Kiki found that word unexpected. “You are home.”
“Well, you needn’t be astonished. But I had a home before, you know, even if I do have a new home with you. I think … I think I’d like to see the old place, and be in among the Silly Creatures again. Just for a short while.”
The two of them followed the long path that led to the original Fraggle Hole, the one that Gobo’s Uncle Matt – in his conceit – believed that he had discovered. But then the path twisted off in another direction entirely, one that was not the same way at all, and then emerged in the busy urban setting where Kiki and Darl first met. Kiki was not at all keen on re-entering the frightening world of the Silly Creatures … but wary of allowing Darl go alone, either. She had a real fear that he might not come back.
“Suppose something happens so you never return,” she wailed. “What if you decide to stay with the Silly Creatures again!”
“Kiki, Kiki love … that could never happen. How could I go away and live with the Silly Creatures again, when I’m less than half their size? I’m a Fraggle now. I know all the ways to be safe that I knew when I was still a Silly Creature myself, so I’ll be in no danger, and be back before you know it.”
And that was how it was. Darl did not come often to Outer Space, but nevertheless he was drawn to it, now and then, to reflect on the life he once led … not without a twinge of almost unfelt regret.
On this day, it was not much of a day at that. When Darl left the Fraggle Hole, the overcast was ragged, grey and moving with a ponderous sense of purpose that left no doubt where it had been and where it was going. It had been raining within the hour, leaving puddles standing on the sidewalks and patches of drowned grass. Darl’s feet were soaked through the fur before he found his destination. Fortunately, he liked walking in the rain.
Back when he had been a Silly Creature, he had lived in a cramped, third-story walk-up opposite a small park. The neighborhood had been somewhat run-down, as befit a street of old Victorian brick homes in Sunnydale that had long been divided into flats, and Darl’s place had been the smallest apartment at the very top of the stairs. Despite being only a sitting room and a small bedroom to which there two steps up, over which he had to take care not to stumble, it had been comfortable enough. Darl’s belongings had been fairly meager, consisting of a couch, a couple of end tables, a chair, a stereo set and a book case. He cooked on an forbidden hot-plate, from which he ate while watching the TV. There was room enough for a computer next to the bed, but not much else. He kept to himself a lot of the time, with his videos and his hobbies, and didn’t mind much that he was lonely much of the time … not very much.
Today, Darl was headed toward a glass bus shelter at the park entrance. The bench would not be very comfortable, since it was too high from the ground for a Fraggle the size of a small child, but at least it would be dry, and from his vantage he could even see his old apartment house. It had not changed appreciatively in the three or four years he had been coming here. But the difference in his viewpoint had become literally worlds apart.
After a while, a light rain came up and pattered on the bus shelter roof. He’d learned a lot from the new friends he had made in the Rock. One the lessons he learned was how important sounds were – not only the chatter of the umpty-ump Fraggles, who filled the Great Hall every morning when they woke, but also the sigh of air currents curling from one cavern to another, the gurgle of spring water gushing from cave rocks, the echo of dim unseen chambers and even those things that you do not you have heard!
Mokey had once tried to teach Darl what the Minstrels had taught her.
“Once, I thought I would become a Minstrel myself,” Mokey explained. “I thought I had the *ping* … but I was wrong … at least for now. Someday I may find I have the *ping,* or even the *zing,* then – gosh – if I don’t become a painter or poet instead, why not become a Minstrel? However, perhaps you should try something that Cantus showed me, that helped me find the music!”
Mokey led Darl to a secluded cave far from all the distractions of a Fraggle’s daily life, and bade him, “Sit!”
Darl sat. “Now, what do I do?”
“Hush-shhh-shhh. Don’t do anything! I’ll come back in a while, but until then – *listen!*”
Mokey went away, leaving Darl with no clue about what he should do while he listened.
For the longest time, Darl was simply bored. The cave was almost supernaturally quiet – in his imagination he almost thought he could hear the Pocky Ferns grow. He brushed his feet and tail more than once, but they were clean. He picked at his hockey sweater and suppressed thoughts about whether he should start a hockey team. Then he walked over to the far side of the cave, and then back again – but one side was the same as the other. There didn’t seem to be anything at all special about the cave, and certainly there was no music.
After a while, however, he began to think about the number of cave formations. Stony icicles and pillars, that seemed to grow forest-like wherever there was space. Several of them were glistening wet from dripping water, Darl noticed, and he tasted a drop. It was pleasantly cool and tasted slightly like coconut water. That was when Darl noticed that another drop had immediately replaced the first one, and that as it fell the drop made a delicate, almost inaudible musical sound. He noticed that droplets from other rock formations also made musical sounds, each one different. At that moment it suddenly seemed that the entire cavern was awash in musical notes, and Darl finally understood what he had failed to recognize at first. There was music everywhere … and he remembered, now, he owed his life to it.
The effect of Darl’s discovery was somewhat spoiled, however, by the anticlimax. He sat for the rest of the day, growing slowly bored in spite of the musical symphony he had discovered, until it began to grow dark, and it was time for him to head home for a late dinner. Mokey had forgotten to return at the end of Darl’s “lesson.”
He had learned to recognize the music – he had gained that much from his time among the Fraggles. While he waited out the rain, he instinctively kept to its rhythm time with his dripping feet.
But despite his years in Fraggle Rock, Darl still did not feel comfortable exercising the one gift all Fraggles were given as a birthright.
There was a noticeable lull in the rain, which abated to a mere drizzle, then finally let up entirely. A few hearty souls had weathered the intermittent rain while Darl watched from the shelter, but at last they began to shake out their umbrellas, and casual strollers began to venture out onto the streets. As usual, no one noticed the Fraggle in their midst. It was not a failsafe strategy, but it was almost always perfectly safe to ignore the Silly Creatures. Almost all of them seemed unable to see or hear Fraggles – or rather – they simply would not. Children were the exception, who seemed to have eyes and ears open for things they hadn’t learned to ignore yet. Most learned soon enough … although not all.
“I should stop calling them Silly Creatures,” Darl thought to himself. “We’re humans … well, I was, once. Maybe I could get my friends to call humans ‘Topsiders’ instead? And really… instead of ‘Outer Space,’ isn’t calling it ‘Outside’ good enough? Although, ‘Upside’ has a nice ring to it. Or… ”
That was the moment when Darl noticed a Silly Creature who seemed to have noticed him. All thoughts of calling them anything else ceased immediately. Whoever this person was, he seemed to be bearing down on Darl with a fixed purpose, which was highly unusual. It was not unknown, however. Some Silly Creatures unexpectedly kept the ability to see Fraggles in adulthood. Darl ought to know … he had been one of them! The ability to see Kiki from the start had begun a new life and opened a new world to him … but it didn’t bode well at the moment, he thought.
His apprehension only grew as he suddenly recognized the Silly Creature as Raymond Lantz.
Ray was one of the few friends Darl kept up with before his old life ended. They weren’t exactly close, but, with one or two exceptions, Darl had no one closer. He might have shared a bottle with the man, but not a toothbrush. Ray lived in Darl’s old neighborhood, but there was obviously no reason why Ray, or anyone else, should recognize Darl as an old acquaintance under these circumstances. To be truthful, Darl had ruefully expected that he would be little missed nor long remembered from his own life, and was could leave all that behind with a clean conscience. There were too many unfinished pages in that book to go back and read them now.
Yet, clearly, Ray had noticed the Fraggle sitting across the park in the rain shelter. He hurried over, hesitating as he peered through the glass, then approached warily.
“You are a Fraggle! My Gran always said they were real. It’s alright if you want to be left alone, but I’ve always wanted to meet one of you … okay?”
Darl didn’t speak. For one thing, he hadn’t thought of anything he wanted to say. Maybe it would been best to say, “I’m sorry, no, I have to go,” and splatterdash away through the rain-soaked grass as fast as he could. But Ray had always talked too much, and before the Fraggle could decide what to do or say, Ray had already sat down beside him begun a steady gush of words.
“I belong to a group that tries to watch for Fraggles – there’s just a couple of other people other than myself, actually – but I think I may have seen a Fraggle once myself. It was at a distance, and I didn’t get a very close look. There were a lot of kids in the way, buying ice cream, while this tiny old guy with a mustache and pith helmet watched … and before I could push through the crowd, he was gone. He could have just been a really short, dark guy, since I didn’t have time to look for a tail. You don’t have a mustache, so guess it must have been some other Fraggle, hey?”
“I didn’t know you belonged to a club, for gawd’s sake!” Darl blurted out before he could think.
“We only formed it a while ago, since you disa… uh.” Ray stared at the Fraggle for a steady thirty seconds, trying to see something through pale blue fur… around rumpled, darker hair… despite a ropey looking tail … and saw his eyes.
“It really is you. Oh, shit, it is you!” cried Ray. “Even with the fur and tail, and you’re only halfway to your belt … but you still look sort of like yourself. Where have you been, man!”
The jig was up, as they say.
Ray was a slight man with a small, protruding belly, but nevertheless he was more than twice the height of a normal Fraggle. The two of them, seated side by side beneath the rain shelter, were as incongruous as a hog and a chinchilla. Regarding the Silly Creature’s flat face and bare flesh dispassionately, Darl thought he could not possibly have been as ugly as that himself once. Worse, Ray had grown a short but straggly beard on his chin, so completely unlike the elegant tuft at the end of Darl’s tail. It was amazing how one’s perspective changed … along with what was “normal.”
“What happened to you?” Ray demanded. “I don’t believe it’s possible!”
“Where I’ve been, I think anything is possible. Even this.”
“But… but… why did you just vanish, and not tell anyone?”
What was Darl supposed to say to an old buddy – that he had never thought about until this moment? Once he lived in one world, and then he lived in another, incompatible one. But he had few regrets about leaving the first one. He had missed his hobbies, his bike, his mother’s old photos – and, of course, his books. But Ray had not once crossed his mind.
He’s liked to brine packed his CDs into the Rock … but that was silly. How could he play compact discs in a Fraggle Hole without electricity? His mind was in a whirl, and could not even begin to start explaining his last few years.
“…after the rent was unpaid for a couple of a couple of months, the landlord put your stuff out for the trash, and you were gone. Darrell – everyone thought that you were dead.”
“Everyone thought you were dead! You don’t mind that we took as many of your books as we could carry? And you know, I still have your model ‘Visible Head’ and that detailed Lunar Module you won a prize for.”
“No … that’s okay. It’s just that everyone calls me Darl. I haven’t heard that other name in years.”
“So far as I can figure, as Fraggles we seem to understand everyone, wherever we are … and everyone, every where understands us.
“It’s a weird experience, but you don’t notice it. However, names and words for unfamiliar things like the “telephone” or “microwave” tend to get garbled. Kiki just didn’t seem to get my name right, and so, ever since I moved to the Rock, everyone has called me Darl. I’m used to it … and actually find ‘Darrell’ a little dorky now. I’d rather not use it again, if you don’t mind.”
“Fraggles live in an isolated, hidden world of their own, but don’t have their own language? It’s scientifically illogical!”
“Somehow logic never comes into it when you live in Fraggle Rock.”
“Alright … maybe that is getting ahead of your story. Start from when you appeared outside your old rental apartment, with a silly-looking tail dangling from your caboose!”
“This is going to take a while, you know.”
“I don’t work today. Why don’t you start with telling me about this magic Rock you live in now. Maybe you can teach me some tricks.”
“I doubt it, but… ”
It was a long story, that had grown longer every time he told it to another Fraggle. Even they had found his story rather unbelievable at first, and took some convincing.
Fortunately, most Fraggles are rather trusting souls at bottom, who accept almost any story willingly, however improbable. Still, explaining how Darrell became Darl was a more difficult matter, and not one he had ever cared to dwell upon. Much of it touched on suppressed feelings from when he had been lonely, before Kiki, and other parts on events that had been compressed into a short span of days when he thought he faced the end. How do you talk about things never shared before with Silly Creatures?
“The short version of the story is that I met a Fraggle named Kiki. I first saw her in the street, just as you saw me today – but I wasn’t lost. Kiki certainly was! There are likely Fraggle Holes in all sorts of unlikely places, and Kiki is more curious than most Fraggles, so she discovered an unknown Hole right here in Sunnydale. It didn’t take her long to become confused, however, and she soon lost all sense of where she was. To make matters worse, Fraggles have an almost infallible sense of direction … except it doesn’t work at all in Outer Space.
“We call it Outer Space, and – as far as Fraggles are concerted – the outer, the better.
“I was across the road, only a few blocks from my own apartment, when I saw a lost Fraggle. Of course, I couldn’t believe it at first. I didn’t even believe in the existence of Fraggles, except as stories, but this one was clearly in trouble – and that was how I met Kiki. I had to put her up on the couch for a couple of days while we looked around the neighborhood for the missing Fraggle Hole. In the end, it was right across the road from my place … right across the road from where we are now. There had been men working in the park, moving road equipment and filling dumpsters, and to Kiki it looked completely different from the other side of the Hole.”
Darl was warming to the subject, but stopped for moment while he thought ahead. He really didn’t want to make the story any longer than he had to. Among other things, he wondered whether, in the long run, if it was a good idea to tell any human much about the Rock. Humans didn’t have a very good record of respecting either nature or other peoples.
Ray grew more excited as the story unfolded. “You’re still human, though, so what happened to you? Did you decide to leave home and live in Fraggle Rock with Kiki? Is that when you changed?”
“Don’t be an idiot. We knew perfectly well that Kiki would have to go home once we rediscovered the entrance. She even returned a couple of times later, to visit. What led to what happened next is that she talked me into trying to visit her. That was a mistake.
“The entrance to The Rock was a crack between two cement walls that had crumbled, so that it was just possible to squeeze between them. That was fine for Kiki, but it seemed an impossible fit for me. The way seemed to come to a dead end after only a couple of feet … but it was possible to follow Kiki by squeezing into the tight space behind her. After one or two hundred feet, it began to open into a space large enough to call a decent walk-in closet. There was nothing ‘wonderful’ about it, though.
“In fact, it was as barren as a fire stair, and badly lit. But Kiki insisted that this was just part of Outer Space, really … that once I got into the real Fraggle Rock, I would find bright colours, fragrant breezes, music, laughter and I would see for myself that it was the most wonderful place anyone could imagine. It was only a little farther on that we entered the Rock properly.”
“And was that what you found?” asked Ray, expectantly. “Was it better than Disneyland?”
Darl sighed. The rain was coming up again.
“Unfortunately, no. After a few hundred yards more, the cavern grew much too narrow for me to go any farther. Kiki had forgotten about a particularly narrow passage in the rock wall that she easily shimmied through, but that I couldn’t fit through in a million years. Realizing that I had to go back, she was crushed. By then I was anxious about being underground for so long, and just wanted to get above ground again.”
Darl remembered how he hunkered down while Kiki hung over his neck to cried a while … but at least she had promised visit again, soon.
“That was when I discovered that the cave entrance had been blocked up while I was underground. It seemed as though workmen had straightened and cemented up the concrete walls while I was gone. In a word, when I tried to leave, I was trapped – by myself. I tried every crack and cranny I could reach into, but there was no way out.”
Darl paused, suddenly remembering details he didn’t especially want to re-live.
“Well, what happened? You didn’t die, obviously … or did you experience some kind of reincarnation?” Ray asked.
“Of course not!” Darl retorted. “Kiki did return … but I don’t recall clearly how much later. She had no idea that I was stuck, neither in Fraggle Rock nor in Outer Space. I had nothing to drink or eat until Kiki returned and discovered what had happened. Kiki did bring food and water as soon as she could … but by a cruel twist of fate, none of her friends believed I was real! They all thought it was a peculiar joke for Kiki to take food somewhere into the caves and eat it herself … so she could pretend she had a make-believe friend. It wasn’t easy for one small Fraggle to feed a full-grown Silly Creature everyday, and I ate every crumb she brought me for a week. I was even grateful for the radishes … ” Darl shuddered.
“What? What about the radishes?” Ray asked, distracted from the narrative by the odd remark.
“Never mind … I got used to them. What mattered was that they weren’t even remotely enough to keep me going for long. Unless something was done soon, I didn’t know how long I’d last.”
A wistful look came across Darl’s face then as he remembered what had happened next.
“Kiki had an idea. She said she should ask the Trash Heap.”
“What?” protested Ray. “What trash heap? What’s trash got to do with this? First radishes, now a trash heap?”
“It had practically everything to do with what happened next, if you’ll let me explain. Kiki said she’d ask the Trash Heap for advice. Madam Trash Heap is believed by Fraggles to be the fount of all knowledge … as well as literally a trash heap, where nearly anything can be found, useful or not. Of course, I was as confused as you are about Madam Trash Heap, but what had I to lose? So Kiki returned later that day, and brought back the Trash Heap’s advice that: we had to sleep on it.
“In fact, even Kiki was mystified by this advice. What good would sleeping on it do, she asked? But Kiki believed the Trash Heap would help, even though oracles never seemed willing to give advice without making you work for its meaning. Kiki decided to stay the night with me, and we’d sleep on it together.
“Don’t give me that dirty look!” Darl snapped. “It was perfectly innocent. Kiki explained that we were supposed to share a dream together – an ability all Fraggles have. But Kiki didn’t know whether she could share a dream with a Silly Creature or not. The idea was new to me!
Darl was lost in thought again, and seemed to be half-humming, half-singing to himself.
What makes dreamers feel,
That dreams are more than real.
Why does dreaming, keep revealing
What our nights conceal.
Dream a dream and see, to find a dream for you.
Dream a dream and see, and make it more than true
Ray watched Darl with a peculiar expression on his face. “Were you… singing to yourself?”
Darl shook himself impatiently. “Hardly. Fraggles sing day and night … but I never got the hang of it.”
“So you actually shared a dream together with Kiki?”
“I said so, didn’t I? We woke up next morning no more enlightened than before … but there was a clue. There was water dripping somewhere in the quiet that we hadn’t noticed before. If we hadn’t heard it, I would never have been saved.
“I found my magic there, eventually. It took Kiki’s help to understand what I had to do, but the Trash Heap had been plainly telling me what I needed to do all along. I needed to follow the music, and then discover who I needed to be. When I finally knew, the magic had already happened, and the rest was just … just perspective.”
“That doesn’t explain anything,” said Ray, rather peevishly. “You used to believe in science, but now you expect me to believe that you changed the laws of nature because you wanted to? I think you aren’t being entirely honest with me.”
“I’ve told nothing but the truth, if you can only see it. You can be anyone you choose to be, but only if you open your eyes and ears. But I think – as I think the Trash Heap knew – perhaps it shouldn’t be too easy. I’m not sure I should give away Madam Trash Heap’s secrets too easily.”
“But … you’ve said nothing that I can make sense of!”
“Maybe not, and maybe that’s for the best if you can’t work it out for yourself – as I had to. Let me put it like this, Ray. Am I a Fraggle or am I not? If I am, then why do you disbelieve your own senses? Here I am sitting next to you in a bus shelter, living proof that magic of some kind must exist.”
“In Fraggle Rock maybe, but not here in the world of physics and math!”
“You think not?” said Darl, pointing to the slackening rain. “Think about why water comes from the sky. And when it falls, where does it go? When it is cold, why does it become snow flakes that lie on the ground, instead?”
“Because of the change of state from a liquid to a solid, or from water vapor to rain,” said Ray.
“Sure. But why don’t you call it magic? When the summer is over, don’t the days become shorter and the trees turn red and gold? Isn’t that truly magic? When you blow through a hollow stick and notes are created, don’t the notes become music? If words are spoken in the right order, don’t you tell a story? But what is colour, what is music, what is a story? Of course it’s magic, not only in Fraggle Rock but wherever you are! Even in Sunnydale … even in a bus shelter.”
With that, the Fraggle slid to the ground and walked quickly away.
“Wait!” Ray called after him. “Do you have to go? I must know more than these … these metaphors … they are figures of speech, after all … !”
“Maybe one day you’ll find the magic. I can’t tell you unless you see it for yourself, you know … but I should go. Kiki will be waiting at home.” Home!
In the gathering gloom, Darl had already dodged between some bushes, and Ray couldn’t make out where he went. The Fraggle he once knew seemed to be there one moment, and gone the next. It wasn’t near the concrete wall, long repaired, beyond the park. Neither had he fled up the street. There were no parked cars that might have hidden him. He was just suddenly out of sight.
“I don’t understand any of this. What are you trying to tell me?” Ray cried into the empty park. “Will I see you, so we can talk again someday?”
A voice that was almost too far away to be heard answered the only way it could before vanishing into its unseen Fraggle Hole – “Don’t you love to walk in the fresh rain?”
And that was everything that needed to be said.