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Brrrrrrrr. Being dead sure is cold.
I was freezing cold and dead out by the woodpile. One of my three eyes wanted to wake up, and the other of my three eyes wanted to go back to being dead, and the third of my three eyes just wanted the others to stop bickering.
Bakemono Toad's ribbit ripped through me like a torn skirt. It tore right through me like lightning. As Ol' Jimmy Three Hand's brain was flapping in the wind, I had a hazy memory of filling Bakemono Toad's gullet with Lightning Wine, or Skunk Wine as they call it. Bakemono Toad's broken up body seemed to be doing much better because of it. Which was ironic since it was that very same Skunk Wine that had much the opposite effect on Ol' Jimmy Three Hands.
All three of my eyes had to open now, and as they gained their triangular focus, I saw the party of the night before had broken up, with all manner of refuse and detritus strewn across the field, and the smoldering remains of the bonfire.
As my eyes regained their triangular focus more, they were able to focus on a pair of Demon lawmen standing aside of Bakemono Toad, with their stars pointed upside down.
I was mostly glad just not to see any of those Raccoons.
"Well I guess I better get what's comin' to me," I said.
The lawmen hoisted me up by my three arms and began to frog march me back to town, but as we reached the edge of the field where the woods began, they explained how they'd be needing to shove a burlap sack over my head, on account of the secrecy, and no one being able to know where Skunk's field lay. The also shoved a sack over the head of Bakemono Toad, and over their own heads too, on account of the secrecy.
The trip back to town would have been much more efficient without these hoods. As you might imagine.
You also might imagine that, with all the tripping and falling and bumping into trees, things might get a little mixed up with our party. And by the time they reached Nudleton and removed their sacks, Jimmy Three Hands might not be among them.
And if you did imagine that, you'd be right. Because by that time, Jimmy Three Hands was back in the air, flying in his homemade airship, the Araceli, plotting a course far away from Bakemono Road.
The Skunk's burn party was a rager.
All the hoity-toity of Bakemono Road was there. There were Turtlemen, pounding in their shells, and Badgers running the catering, Foxes at the bar, Demon lawmen with their stars pointed upside down. And plenty of Raccoons--Raccoons in the logs, Raccoons in the house, Raccoons in the fields and streams. The party was crawling with Raccoons. Lousy with Raccoons. Jimmy Three-hands wasn't about to get spotted by those Raccoons.
Skunk didn't take much more notice of me once he'd sniffed me up and good. And he didn't seem too interested in Bakemono Toad's old beat up carcass either. I was below the notice of the Skunk, once he established I didn't pose a threat.
And I didn't pose a threat. Not Jimmy-Three hands. I was just there to stumble into the Skunk's den and meet my maker and see if I couldn't find out another thing or two about the whole she-bang, the whole nine yards. I wanted to see what the Skunk knew that I didn't know.
"Here! Take Skunk Wine!"
The fox moved off with a tray in her hand and a glass in mine.
Now Skunk Wine is a one of a kind thing. It's through a deal with the Bees he has. It's mighty tasty. Mighty sweet. And mighty strong.
Pretty soon Jimmy Three-hands had to sit down. And then Jimmy Three-hands had to lay down. And when Jimmy Three-hands had to get up and head to the wood pile, there was Bakemono Toad's old broken up carcass.
"Here Bakemono Toad drink this. Join me here to meet your maker," and I poured a gourd down his broken gullet.
Then Jimmy Three-hands curled up somewhere and died.
Well Jimmy Three-hand's bones were certainly messed up now. I hurled myself off Joe King Crow's back, fell through the sky like a rock, right down into the den of the unknown, right down into the very maw of Bakemono Road, right down smack middle into the eye of the storm. Right down into the backyard of the Skunk.
And it was hard. Rock hard. Skunk didn't keep up a nice plush lawn. It was the hard surface of the earth. Luckily Bakemono Toad's blubber and bone were there to cushion me. A bit. I'm afraid Bakemono Toad got the worst of it.
Bakemono Toad's neck was broke real good, and I couldn't see out his gullet anymore and peer through his mouth with my third eye. The smell of the Skunk had already shut down my olfactory capacity, but I could still hear the Great One sniffing around outside Toad's body.
Now Skunk has been known to eat just about anything. Especially if it doesn't put up a fight. Bakemono Toad wasn't ready to put up anything, and as long as I was stuck inside him I would have no agency in this matter.
"Now hold on there a minute, your Highness Great One!" I hollered in a no doubt muffled tone. "I've got something I think will come as a surprise, even for one as high and great as you!"
And I pulled my first hand out of Bakemono Toad's right arm, and pulled my second hand out of his left arm, and pulled my third hand out from his right leg, and pulled my right foot out of his left leg, and slithered my whole body up out of his gullet and slopped out onto the ground like a burped up slug.
I wiped the slime from my eyes and saw fire and shadows dancing in the dark. I saw the great big face of Skunk with his lightning marks staring down at me. And I saw a curl of smoke rising into the stars.
Skunk was having a bonfire. It was a burn party with all of Skunk's closest friends dancing round the flames.
"Well hello, Skunk! I'm Jimmy Three-hands!"
"Oh I just know it's around here somewhere, Joe King Crow. We'll find it eventually. Just keep on flying!"
I had no idea where we were going, of course. There was no Diamond Mine, and I was up on top of the King of the Crows, inside of Bakemono Toad's smelly body, high above the forests of Bakemono Road, flying around in circles.
"Well it can't be any farther that-a-way," said Joe King Crow. "That's where the Skunk lives."
"Oh??? I don't smell any skunk."
"Really? Can't you smell that? I'll get a little closer."
Joe King Crow altered his course just a little.
I could sure smell skunk know, even stuck down inside Bakemono Toad's body like I was. But I still couldn't quite get a fix on it.
"I think you're making all this up to impress me, Joe King Crow. I can't smell any skunk."
"Well then I think your nose is as broken as your bones, Bakemono Toad. See if you can smell THIS!"
Suddenly the smell was mighty strong. Joe King Crow must have taken us right up over the den. It was time to take my leave.
"Thank you, Joe King Crow. I'll be on my way now."
And I jumped right off Joe King Crow's back.
"You're right about my bones being all messed up, Joe King Crow," I croaked. "My insides are shattered like a broken clock! I wish I'd never found that old Diamond Mine and fell down in it! Oh these old bones ache..."
I knew this would get Joe King Crow's attention. He cocked his head one way and another and looked at me closely with this black crow eyes.
"Could you help fly me to the veterinarian in Nudleton, Joe King Crow? I need my bones all set right again."
Now the crows learned their lesson when they got too fascinated by man and allowed themselves to be trapped in iron cages. But if there was one thing that still fasciated them it was shiny objects. And there's few things as shiny as diamonds.
"You see how I can't walk too good, Joe King Crow. Won't you put me on your back and fly me?"
I could see Joe King Crow's gears turning underneath his jaunty crown.
"Oh, I'd be happy to take you to the vet, Bakemono Toad. But I sure would like to know where this diamond mine of yours is. You know, to make sure we close it up tight, so nobody else falls in like you."
"That's real responsible of you, Joe King Crow. Real civic minded. Yes I could show you where that old Diamond Mine is, and then you could fly me to the veterinarian in Nudleton. It's a deal!"
And with that, Joe King Crow picked me up in his beak, threw me on his back, and we were up in the air.
I took Bakemono Toad for a good long walk down Bakemono Road, just to let him know who wore the pants in this particular relationship.
Bakemono Toad didn’t fit so well, what with my first hand pushed up into his right arm, and my second hand pushed up into his left arm, and my third hand pushed down in his right leg, and my right foot pushed down into his left leg.
“You don’t look so well, Bakemono Toad.”
I squished my head up through Bakemono Toad’s gullet till I could just peek out his mouth with my third eye. I turned around and around till I spotted Joe King Crow sitting on the branch of a skinny old tree, laughing at me.
“You look like a sack of bones falling down the stairs, Bakemono Toad!”
Now Joe King Crow was the biggest of all the crows, bigger than Bakemono Toad, bigger than me, and likely bigger than you. His crown sat at a jaunty angle on his big crow head.
“You look like a bag of hammers having a fight, Bakemono Toad!”
Joe King Crow was a hard one to trick. A long time ago the crows got too fascinated by man and allowed themselves to be trapped in iron cages. But they broke free, and they learned how not to get tricked again.
“You look like a bunch of bees can’t find their way out of a hive, Bakemono Toad!”
But oh how Joe King Crow was full of himself, and his jaunty crown.
Just then Jimmy Three-hands had an idea.
"Oh old Joe King Crow," I called in my croakiest voice. "I wonder if you could help me..."
Well Ol' Bakemono Toad sure was dark inside. He gobbled me up just like the slugs he likes for lunch.
"Hellooooooo Bakemono Toad! It's your old friend Jimmy Three-hands! It looks like you accidentally gobbled me up! Can you let me out please? It smells like slug lunch in here!"
Ol' Bakemono Toad's croak sure was loud from the inside.
"Oh but that was such a long time ago, Bakemono Toad! And you know I didn't mean you no harm."
Ol' Bakemono Toad sure was mean on the inside.
"Aw, shucks, Bakemono Toad. You can't mean that... Can ya?"
Ol' Bakemono Toad didn't have any intention of letting me go. And along with the dark and the smell and the loud and the mean, I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. It was warm, too. And close. There wasn't much room to move around at all. I must have come near to filling Ol' Bakemono Toad full up.
That's when Jimmy Three-hands had an idea. I stretched out one of my hands as far as it would go, and pushed it right up into Ol' Bakemono Toad's right arm. It fit like a sleeve.
Then I stretched out my second hand as far as it would go, and pushed it right up into Ol' Bakemono Toad's left arm. It fit like a sleeve too.
Then I stretched out my third hand as far as it would go, and pushed it right down into Ol' Bakemono Toad's right foot. It was a little loose, but I stretched it all the way down there just the same.
Then I stretched out my right leg as far as it would go, and pushed it right down into Ol' Bakemono Toad's left foot. It felt a little backwards, like having your shoe on the wrong foot. Which was not ideal. But this was not an ideal situation.
"Bakemono Toad, it's time we went for a walk!"
To my recollection, Bakemono Toad lived near the swamps off Bakemono Road. The milkweed and the fences and the dirt road and the trees, the lizards and the rocks and the sunflowers and the bees! The path is dusty pebbles but the swimming holes are near, and you can hear him croaking if he wants you to.
It was my welcome sign! Ol' Bakemono Toad hadn't forgotten his old friend Jimmy Three-hands. I crawled behind his old broken down mailbox through the ivy and the vine.
Oh it was loud now. Ol' Bakemono Toad's breath was warm and smelled like slugs.
And just like that Ol' Bakemono Toad ate me up.
The hostel in Nudleton is run by the Turtlemen. The grocery is run by the Badgers. The Raccoons run the newspaper and the Foxes run the bar. The Demons are the lawmen, and wear their stars pointed upside down.
Nudelton gets visitors from all over, so the streets are filled with strange folk--folks of all different colors and many different arms and legs. There are prospectors and wizards and cartographers and movie stars.
What's the attraction? Why are there so many visitors to Bakemono Road?
Everybody comes here to get tricked. They've heard the stories of the Bakemono Road and the things that happen here, and the smart ones take the road and find out they're not so smart, and the humble ones take the road to find out they're not so humble, and the honest ones take the road to find out they're not so honest. Everyone thinks they've got something to learn on Bakemono Road.
But not Jimmy Three-hands. I'm not here to get tricked.
I'm here to see my old friend--Bakemono Toad.
I could tell I was on the Bakemono Road as soon as I smelled the skunk. I was sure I had taken a wrong turn over a particular snow-capped butte, but when I turned around and flew back the way I came, it was nowhere to be found! So I turned around again and that's when I smelled it on the air. It was the skunk. And I had been tricked into finding Bakemono Road. Which is the only way to find it, since it's a road that keeps hidden and shifting before your very eyes, and if you're not careful then you're sure to lose it. Which is why the skunk is such a good marker. It has a way of focusing the mind, and if you can just keep that smell in your nose--don't let it go!--then you can find your way to Bakemono Road.
I tied up the Araceli at an airstrip outside of Nudelton, Gateway to Bakemono Road, and have taken a room at a hostel.