It took Callie only two days once she was back home from Caroline's roast to pack her car and get on the road to Vermont. She drove because she wanted to be free to leave anytime she felt uncomfortable. However, nothing unpleasant happened and she remained in Vermont through Nadine's Big Day.
Nadine turned out to be highly motivated and always willing to do more than asked. Callie found herself having to discourage Nadine from overdoing it. Jogging, running in place, biking (both stationary and on road), and swimming consumed hours every day. Franklin's home contained several staircases and Callie put Nadine to work climbing up and down, forward and backward. With a pulley, some rope, and a few free weights, Callie designed some reclining scissors exercises to tone up the inner thighs.
After three weeks of concentrated effort, Nadine jumped up and down naked in front of a mirror and saw that everything below her waist stopped moving at the same time. She was so grateful that she covered Callie with kisses.
Franklin's style did not seem as controlling as Maxwell's and Nadine was not as given to pure self-indulgence as Dee Dee. The relationship between the two of them seemed like that of lovers with differences in age and class rather than a man and his dinner. Callie didn't feel any pressure to join in their sex play, but the three of them did wind up in bed together three times during her sojourn in Vermont.
At the party the night before her roast, Nadine thanked Callie publically and profusely for her help and recommended her to any proteges who had self image problems.
Hank was unable to travel to Vermont because of the demands of work. As far as Callie knew, he was the only diners' club member with a job and she did miss him. Nevertheless, she had a good time and a good dinner.
She did, however, feel, in addition to grief for Nadine as a person, a bit of frustration at seeing the results of her efforts as a trainer go up in smoke after only a few days of appreciation. She began, even that first month, to view her position as analogous to that of an ice sculptor.
But a very popular ice sculptor, it turned out.
Nadine's glowing remarks brought forth a barrage of requests from proteges concerned about thighs, butts, and abs. Callie found herself on the road so much that she almost became a stranger to her roommate Jody.
Largely through correspondence courses on the Internet, Callie did obtain certification as a personal fitness trainer. This was a matter of conscience; all of the proteges and sponsors trusted her completely, even without credentials.
The requests for her expertise began to pile up and she didn't like being away from home so much, so Callie formulated a plan for the proteges to come to her.
She knew that farm work using old-fashioned implements could do wonders for a person's figure. For example, nothing firms the glutes and rear thighs better than swinging a scythe.
Beginning in the spring and running through the early fall, Callie ran a roasters' training camp at her Uncle Jake's farm. This soon became known informally within the circle as Camp Spit Muffin.
She didn't feel she could be completely open with Uncle Jake about the motivation of the women. Her explanation that they were "city girls who need to breathe some fresh country air" was something Uncle Jake could appreciate, but he still remained skeptical about having an old barn converted into a primitive dormitory.
However, the first time he saw one of his fields being mowed by a trio of young bikini-clad women swinging scythes for all they were worth, he told Callie, "Girl, you're the best gol-darned niece an old bachelor farmer could ever hope for. You just tell your young friends they can come here and play anytime they want, just so long as they don't scare the livestock."
Visits to Camp Spit Muffin generally lasted a week, but there were many repeat visitors. In the months leading up to her roast, Linda attended almost every other week. When she suddenly stopped coming, Uncle Jake was prompted to ask, "Whatever happened to that Linda gal? She seemed real nice."
"Oh, she achieved her goals and dropped out of the program," Callie explained.
"Well, she was so friendly and popular with the other gals. The last time she was here, the other gals couldn't seem to get enough of her company. She didn't seem like the type to get a cob up her ass and start being stand-offish."
"Uh, no. Not a cob. Not her."
"It was like all of the other gals wanted to make her a part of their lives."
"I know what you mean," Callie agreed. "All of the girls here will carry a part of Linda with them for a long time to come."
By coincidence, Ramon had decided to locate his massage clinic in the capital city of Callie's home state and Callie was able to persuade the sponsors of proteges visiting Camp Spit Muffin to pay Ramon to drive to her uncle's farm twice a week and give massages to all the girls. Most of the sponsors had heard that hard work can cause muscles to get sore, so the concept was familiar to them and they did not balk at paying for Ramon's services.
Callie came to appreciate the proteges' point of view more and more as time went by and began to realize that their values were not as outrageously different from the mainstream as she had first suspected. Given their values, the decision they had made was sensible, in a way. For one thing, many of them believed in reincarnation and viewed death as temporary. On a materialistic level, to some degree, all of them would have agreed with what one protege named Beatrice said about her decision to put a price on her life:
"Look, how much real pure pleasure can you expect out of a lifetime of, say, eighty or ninety years? I mean totally carefree pleasure: no worries about bills or health or how long it's going to last. If you were to take all those moments when you were completely at ease - not worrying about paying for it later or what it would be like to go back to your 'real' life - and pack them end to end, in one continuous period of time, what would you get?
"My guess is about two years.
"And I've got that, all at once, when I'm young and healthy enough to enjoy it.
"Most people spend the best years of their lives working their asses off, all the time worrying about what kind of retirement they're going to have. When they finally get to that point, if they do, they're probably loaded down with aches and pains and illnesses and they probably spend a lot of time looking back wondering where all the time went.
"Now, if you've got a job you love or if you're one of those types who get off on 'the struggle' just for its own sake, fine, but I'm not in that category. I'm not big on motherhood, either.
"Some people get lucky and have a talent or something special that can get them out of the rat race early because people will pay for watching them perform. I don't have a talent like that. What I do have that's unusual and worth money to someone is an odd kinky fantasy about being roasted and eaten. I'm capitalizing on what I've got."
While the fitness trainer aspect of her involvement with the woman-eaters continued to grow more and more successful, the same was not true of her role as quarry.
The simple fact was that the members of the diners' club were just plain lousy as hunters.
On her first few outings with men making a sincere effort at bringing her down, Callie could sense the hunger of her pursuer. At times, it seemed she was receiving a telepathic image of herself roasting on a spit as the hunter envisioned a successful outcome. She had picked up the hunter's vibration/scent at their morning meeting and she was sure she could tune in and sense how far he was from her, give or take ten yards, and in what direction.
She imagined him seeing himself being hailed as the man who brought in the prize. She also imagined her final month receiving attentions from the club members as they paid their respects to her, feeling the desire of carnivores as they made love to a woman they were about to consume. And she saw herself as being in an almost constant state of arousal for the last days of her life. Such excitement might drive her over the brink into ga-ga land. She might lose touch with reality. She might be erotically narcotized into indifference about her rapidly diminishing future.
With a motivated hunter on her trail, she did not lapse into daydreams as she had during her non-hunt with Guy. Her sense of the hunter's hunger-lust kept her sharp, completely aware at all times. It was exhilarating to be so sensitive to every cue in the environment: every sound, scent, breeze, flicker of light, shift of shadow. A songbird suddenly grew quiet. The babbling of a brook changed subtly, as though a booted foot had affected its flow. A running rabbit, maybe twenty yards away, stopped a moment and then ran off in a different direction.
It was as though Callie's body felt the desire and danger that pursued it and tuned up its sensitivity as automatically as it might begin to sweat in response to heat. This was happening on a physiological level over which she had no conscious control. Yet, her mind was aware of it and appreciated and marveled at it. This awareness of her body as an engine of survival somehow complemented her awareness of it as an object of desire, thus arousing her even more.
Those first hunts with the motivated woman-eaters were the most exciting of her career and among the most intense of any experiences in her life.
However, repeated failures caused the hunters, as a group, to become discouraged. As a self-protection, they reigned in desires that they felt would never be fulfilled. The hunts stopped being exciting for Callie. She found that she had to allow a hunter to get physically close to her in order to feel his hunger-lust and she realized that was dangerous and could lead to her losing her edge.
She advertised herself as available to more experienced hunters outside the group on the condition that if they bagged her, they would turn her over alive to Guy or Maxwell. She got no takers on this offer at all until she made it known that a dinner invitation would be part of the prize. Even then, only two hunters accepted and, while those hunts helped Callie keep her edge, the erotic excitement was gone - these fellows thought it would be interesting to see a woman roasted, but they weren't really into it.
At the same time, her success as a trainer of spit-bound proteges made a few members feel that she was more valuable alive than she would be roasted.
When Amy, the newbie Caroline had introduced at her roast, was herself roasted, Callie realized that she had witnessed a complete turnover in sorority membership. She had become fond of all the women she trained and she did miss them but she learned to keep herself detached so she could control her grief. She didn't exactly experience survivor's guilt, but she did wonder why she didn't.
The roasts and the before and after parties were fun. Hank showed up often enough that the sex and friendship between him and Callie remained high quality. Hank couldn't afford the fee for a hunt, so they never had to entertain certain "what if" scenarios. Hank's pictures continued to make him popular with the proteges and Callie became such good friends with most of them that she didn't feel she should keep him to herself, so most of their encounters became threesomes or foursomes. This was very adventurous, extremely satisfying physically, but it was clear that exclusiveness would never be a feature of their relationship. Callie's status as free-lance meat on the hoof waiting to be harvested meant that a dependable degree of longevity would never be in the picture, either.
When a member of the diners' club and his protege relocated to Southern California, Callie found herself attending a roast only fifty miles away from Mark. It would have seemed unnatural not to give him a call. They had only met face-to-face twice in the past three years, but the sensuality and warm feelings between them had been a source of pleasure for them both. Not only did they practice, in modified form, some of the Tantric techniques Callie had picked up from Felix D. Mizz, but Callie had managed to incorporate some of the excitement from her encounters with the woman eaters. Mark was very glad to hear from her and instantly invited her to drop by.
And meet his fiancee, Monica.
Callie accepted and the three of them had a nice, pleasant social evening. Monica was very secure and not at all jealous Callie would have been hard pressed to find fault with her appearance because the two of them could have been mistaken for each other on a lightly foggy night from across a narrow street. Monica was a tennis player; she even had been ranked nationally when she was a teenager. She still played a good game, but not good enough to turn pro. She was now a partner in a travel agency that she started with a girlfriend from college, and they were doing pretty well. Monica had a sense of humor and liked old movies. Body language indicated that she had a well-controlled sensuality that she could let loose almost anytime she wanted. In short, Monica and Mark seemed perfectly suited to one another; they made as nice a couple as Callie and Mark would have made.
Before it became late enough that it would be appropriate for Mark and Monica to extend hospitality for the night, Callie declared that she really did have to get on the road if she was going to stay on schedule. She congratulated both of them and wished them good luck and told them to be sure to send her an invitation when they set a date for the wedding.
Waves and smiles all around as she drove off.
The security gate at the estate of R. Kiver opened for Callie almost immediately once the video camera focused on her face and she spoke her name. Upon arriving at the mansion, she was greeted by a valet who offered to park her car for her (she accepted the offer) and by her former personal attendant Maria.
"Oh, Miss Callie," said Maria, "this is a very pleasant surprise."
"Yeah, well, I was in the neighborhood and thought, well, I'd just, uh, drop by."
Maria could read distress in Callie‘s face but remained cheerful as she asked, " Will you be staying with us overnight and, if you will, may I carry your luggage for you?"
"No. Uh, yes. I don't know. I can carry my own bag." Callie reached into the car and grabbed the overnight bag she had packed just before calling Mark.
As the valet drove away, Maria walked Callie to the door, saying, "Mr. Kiver was very happy to hear of your arrival. He asked me to take you to him in the library at once, unless you need to refresh yourself after your trip."
"Uh, no. I mean, I'm plenty fresh. Oh, hi, Chelsea." Callie reached out a gave a friendly pat on the cheek to the dead girl who served as official greeter for Kiver's guests, Callie couldn't help but return Chelsea's cheerful smile, but at the same time, she found her eyes misting.
Kiver stood the moment Callie entered the library.
"It's very nice to see you, Callie. Is there a special reason for your visit?"
"Thank you. I was hoping that maybe I could spend a little time with Celeste. Nothing, uh, that will mean that Maria will have to give her a bath afterwards. Just a little, uh, conversation."
"Of course, my dear." Kiver put a friendly hand on Callie's shoulder. "Celeste will always be here for you, anytime you need. her."
"That's good to know. Really good. I guess dead girls are reliable."
"She's in the music room, as you might expect. May I escort you to her?"
"Maria, prepare a room for Callie," Kiver directed Maria.
"Yes, sir. May I again be the personal attendant for Miss Callie?"
"Would you like that?" Kiver turned to his guest.
"Yes. I could use some attending."
Celeste was seated at the piano as usual, wearing her familiar smile of an entertainer who knows she's pleasing her audience as well as herself.
Kiver directed Callie to the cds of Celeste's music, including the special collection of Cole Porter tunes he had compiled. He also opened a cabinet containing wine and wine glasses and then left Callie with her deceased companion.
"Well, Celeste, it's good to see you again," Callie said as she poured two glasses of hearty burgundy. "I'm pretending that I'm pouring one of these for you, but we know who's going to drink both of them.
"I wanted to see you because I need to talk to somebody who won't bitch me out like I probably deserve to be." Callie popped the Porter cd into the system and then walked over to the piano carrying the wine glasses and the cd case with her. "That's a nice thing about dead girls: they keep their opinions to themselves.
"What happened was I let a good man get away." Callie leaned on the piano. "And he is as gone as a man can get. Engaged to another woman who's so much like me that we could have been twins separated at birth. Ain't that a kick?
"And it's all my fault, too." Callie took more than a sip of wine. "Well, maybe not. I mean, it's not like he proposed to me and I turned him down or anything like that. But, then, I never gave him the green light to get serious, so I can't blame him. In fact, I'm sure I would have turned him down - or at least made him wait a long time for an answer.
"Why? Because I thought I could. I thought he'd always be available anytime I wanted. I guess I thought he'd just wait til I was ready." Callie took another gulp of wine and snorted. "Nothing wrong with my ego, I guess.
"This guy respected my choices, gave me space. I'm sure that, considering the experience you had with a man, you'd think I was crazy to take him for granted.
"Maybe I was.
"Or maybe I was just a fool.
"Maybe he was, too.
"You know, it's like that song Cole Porter wrote for Fanny Brice, the comedienne, the song that really went against her 'funny girl' image." Callie looked at the case in her hand. "Here, it's on your cd. Number 16. I'll play it.
Callie went to the cd player, changed its program, and then returned to the piano and began singing along with the music.
" 'Every time I see you, dear,
When Callie finished the song, she said, "Fanny really used to get a lot of misty eyes with that song, but I don't suppose I can expect the same reaction. I'm not exactly performing for a 'live' audience here."
"That's not quite true, Miss Callie."
Startled, Callie turned around to see Maria standing by the door, wiping her eyes.
"Sorry, Miss Callie. I came in to tell you which guest room is yours and your singing was so pretty I could not help but listen."
"No harm done, Maria."
"It is a very sad song. Did you sing it because this terrible thing happened to you?"
"Yes, I'm afraid it did."
"I am very sorry your love chose another." Maria seemed to become determined to cheer Callie up. "But maybe the person you chose will turn out to be much better for you."
"Uh, I didn't choose anybody else," Callie clarified.
"But the song said..."
"Yes, I know. But that's, well, just the way the song goes. I haven't made any choices. Maybe that's part of why I'm so upset. I never got to decide for myself."
"Pardon, Miss Callie, but you did decide. You had to."
Callie shook her head. "No, Maria, you don't understand." There was an unintended sharpness in Callie's voice and she immediately reprimanded herself. What's wrong with me? Maybe I've been among the rich and mighty so much that I'm not used to "the help" talking back. I hope Maria doesn't think I've become a snob. Callie was greatly relieved when Maria persisted.
"When I first came to this country, my English was very, very terrible, but I tried very hard to help myself speak more better. Once, I went with a cousin to the office of a social worker. My cousin spoke very good English and while she and the social worker were talking in English, I looked around at the many posters on the walls of the office, trying to read them and I thought I was doing a very good job.
"Then I came to a poster that made me go like this."
Callie laughed as Maria did a good imitation of the RCA Victor dog sitting by a Victrola, trying to figure out where his Master's voice was coming from.
Happy that she had amused Callie, Maria continued. "I was so confused, I said to the social worker, 'Excuse me, but that sign makes no sense. It says "Not to /day-see-day/ is to /day-see-day/." '
"The social worker smiled at my very terrible pronouncing and corrected me, saying, 'No, Maria. It says "Not to decide is to decide." '
"And I said, 'I don't care how you say it, it don't make no sense for nothing. "Not to is to." That is the - I don't know how you say in English - contradicion.'
"So, the social worker, who spoke very good Spanish and my cousin explained to me what this word-puzzle meant. Would you like me to explain it to you?" Maria asked brightly.
Callie glanced at Celeste and could have sworn she saw a twinkle in the dead woman's eye. Keeping any patronizing tone out of her voice, Callie said, "I think I know what it means, but maybe you had better tell me anyway, just to make sure I've got it straight."
"Okay," Maria said with delight. "The meaning is this: When Life comes along and says to you, 'Hey, Callie, what you wanna do?' you cannot say, 'Oh, Life, I don't wanna do any deciding right now.' Well, you can say those words, but what you are really saying is 'I'm deciding, Life, that whatever you wanna do with me is okay by me.' You understand, Miss Callie?"
"Yes, yo comprendo. You explained it very well. Even a passively made decision is still a decision. No matter how hard you try, you can't avoid making a decision. If you don't decide to make a change, you are deciding to accept things the way they are."
"Exactamente. I am glad you understand." Maria beamed at Callie as a teacher might beam at a precocious pupil. "So, who or what did you choose, or let Life choose for you, over your lover?"
"Well, when you put it like that, I guess I've chosen a whole group of people."
"Oh!" Maria's eyes widened and she smiled impishly. "I think maybe you have very much fun!"
"I do. That's true," Callie admitted. "But the thing is, the people aren't very nice. Well, that's not true. The women are nice, but the men - well, that's not true, either. Some of the men are nice - one of them is very nice, but the rest of them - well, that's not true either. It isn't that they're NOT nice, it's just that they aren't - well, it really isn't about them, anyway. It's more about how they make me feel - but it's not just, you know, like physical sensations - it's more about - well, it's hard to explain."
"Harder than 'Not to decide is to decide'?" Maria asked.
"Much harder. Mainly because I haven't explained it to myself yet."
"I am sure you will figure it out, Miss Callie. You are very intelligent."
"I hope you're right."
"Will you be wanting Miss Celeste in your room tonight?"
Callie looked at the dead musician of whom she had grown so fond and whom she wished she had known while still alive, even if it meant enduring the pain of losing her. "Yes, I think so. And - if you would like to - and ONLY if you'd like to - you can, well, join us. But, please, if you don't want to, just say so, really. And, even if you do stay with us, that doesn't mean that I would expect you to do, uh, anything, but..."
"Miss Callie, I would like very, very much to join you and Miss Celeste. Shall I go and get a wheelchair for Miss Celeste? Or would you like to spend some more time here in the music room?"
"It's been a long day." Callie was tempted to say Saw a woman hanged and roasted and then I helped eat her. Lost the closest thing I had to a boyfriend to a clone of myself. Took a class in Human Condition 101, but said instead, "I'm ready to call it a night. But, just one thing: if you are going to join us, you can continue to refer Celeste to Miss Celeste, but as for me, you had better call me 'Callie' tonight - I don't sleep with anyone who calls me 'Miss.' " She smiled, but she meant it.
Between, in a quite literal sense, the comforting passive presence of Celeste and the warmth of Maria, Callie had an entertaining night followed by a deeply restful sleep.
She spent most of the morning massaging Celeste's hands lovingly and, thanks to Ramon, skillfully. The pianist's fingers seemed very limber and natural.
At lunch, Callie thanked Kiver for his hospitality and said she should be heading home. Kiver told her she was welcome to come anytime and to stay as long as she wanted. He also asked if she would like to see Chloe before she left.
"Sure," Callie said.
Kiver had designed a room especially for Chloe, although there were easy chairs and couches enough to accommodate six people. Kiver said that the room had become a great favorite with his visitors, who often liked to bring members of his collection there rather thaan take them to a bedroom.
The attraction of the room, in addition to Chloe, was the soothing presence of the fish in the two huge tanks that stood on opposite sides of the room. An over-stuffed easy chair sat in front of each tank and two couches back-to-back in the center of the room faced the tanks. Sitting in one of the chairs, wearing a halter top and jean shorts was Chloe. Her left leg dangled over one arm of the chair and her right elbow was placed on the other. Her chin rested on the heel of her right hand. She wore a relaxed, almost dreamy expression on her face as she stared into the fish tank.
"We move her from one tank to another every day," Kiver explained. "You know what's curious? Some of my visitors have aquariums of their own and they tell me that these fish seem 'happier' than any they've ever seen. I don't know how they determine that. Unlike a dog, a fish is almost always wagging its tail. I suppose it's a matter of liveliness and playfulness. Whatever it is, I like to think it's because of the attention they get from Chloe.
"I received a rather cordial letter from Chloe's mother about six months after you visited her. We never developed much of a correspondence, but I did send her several pictures of Chloe in her new surroundings and I got a nice thank letter telling me that the pictures are displayed on the mantle in the family room."
"That's nice." Callie looked at the contented, peaceful Chloe and was put in mind of someone else she had met at Kiver's estate. "By the way, does Sarah still come to visit Roxanne?"
"I didn't see her for at least a year following your first visit," Kiver replied. "Then, one day she showed up quite distraught, almost in tears. She spent several hours with Roxanne in the billiard room behind a locked door. When she came out, she appeared to be in much better spirits. I invited her to stay for dinner, but she said she wanted to get back to someone. About a month later, I received an invitation to a reception following a civil union ceremony between her and a woman named Katie. I didn't attend, but I did send a gift, with Roxanne's name on it as well as my own. The thank you card that Sarah and Katie sent back was addressed to us both and signed by both of them."
This was news that Callie was very glad to hear. She thought about looking up the happy couple before leaving California, but, after spending a quiet, relaxing hour watching tropical fish with Chloe, she took off on the next leg of her journey home.
Even though the song commemorating the famous thoroughfare had been written by Bobby Troup and not Cole Porter, Callie decided to get her kicks on Route Sixty-Six, or come as close as the modernized highway system allowed. This meant passing through Flagstaff, Arrizona, which, she remembered was the home of Felix D. Mizz and his wife Mary. Callie had never taken them up on the invitation to visit that had come with the thank you card for her wedding gift. As she wasn't in a big hurry to get back to Camp Spit Muffin because it was understood that the camp would be closed during the week following a protege's Big Day, she decided that this would be a good time to meet Felix's bride.
She called ahead before she left California. Because of their Tantric practices, she imagined that the Mizzes were not to be dropped in on unannounced. A person arriving at the wrong time could wind up ringing the doorbell for quite a while before getting an answer.
Mary taught high school history and created beautiful ceramics as a hobby that more than paid for itself. She was also an excellent cook and served a tasty vegetable and rice dinner.
Mary knew how Felix had met Callie and she also knew why Felix had sought her out as quarry. She was very secure and did not become uncomfortable when the after dinner conversation turned to how Callie had made good use of what she had learned from her sexual encounter with Felix.
Callie expressed happiness that Mary and Felix had found each other and she couldn't help but wonder if Felix had any regrets about the energy and money he had expended in hunting women when he had met Mary in a totally different context.
"Not at all," said Felix. "Questing is itself instructive, particularly when the object of the quest is not clearly defined from the beginning. In such a case, there is no such thing as a totally unsuccessful quest, because every adventure helps refine the definition of the sought object. Though I did not find in you the partner I was looking for, the experience helped me to recognize Mary when I encountered her."
"I have the feeling," Mary put in, "that Callie is, at this moment, becoming keenly aware of the quester aspect of herself."
"Ha!" Felix laughed then looked gently at Callie. "Is my very astute companion correct, Callie? Do you see yourself as on a quest?"
"Yes and no," Callie replied. "I feel as though I've been questing without being aware that I was doing so until I found the object of the quest. But, having found it, I'm less satisfied than ever because I can't identify the object that I've found. I can't own it as mine because I can't name it and I don't know how to use it."
"Then you need to quest some more," said Felx.
"Because I haven't really found what I'm looking for?"
"Not necessarily," said Mary. "You may very well have found it."
"Then what am I questing for?" Callie asked.
"Perhaps you need to find what you are not looking for," said Mary.
"So that I'll know the difference?"
"Or the similarity," said Felix.
Callie reflected a few moments and then said, "I think I'm hearing something important here, but I'm not sure what."
"Maybe it's all just puzzle talk." Felix smiled warmly.
"In other words, meaningless?" Callie asked.
"Or not," said Mary.
"We are very blessed here in Flagstaff to be bordered on the west by the magnificent Coconino National Forest. You can see the part called Throp Park from our front door," said Felix, seeming to switch the subject completely.
"And from every front door in town that faces west. The hillside is so high and steep, it's very much like a huge green wall," said Mary.
"If you stay the night with us, you can do some hill climbing in the morning," said Felix.
"The vista from the hillside is beautiful," said Mary.
"A visit there might be an important part of your quest," said Felix.
"Are you saying I might find what I'm looking for there?" Callie asked.
"Oh, no," said Felix.
"You probably will not find what you are looking for," said Mary. "That's the point."
"Yes," Felix agreed.
Callie did accept overnight accommodations from the Mizzes, but she slept alone on a futon bed in the study. Felix and Mary had been experimenting with monogamy since their marriage and, so far, they were finding it very much to their liking.
After a breakfast of cereal, milk, and orange juice, Callie headed for the park. Feeling that she could use a brisk run before the uphill climb, she strapped on a light backpack containing a water bottle and some trail mix, threw a small purse into the pack, put on her running shoes, and left her car parked in front of the Mizz home.
From the moment she stepped out the front door, she could pick out an exact destination. She spotted a small bunch of rocks just over halfway up the hillside. Once she got there, she might decide to go further, move laterally, or come back down, but she should be able to keep her goal in almost constant view. Wouldn't it be nice if life were always like that? she thought.
The thin, clean air of the 7000 foot elevation was refreshing to Callie. Feeling her lungs work harder than usual to obtain her body's most basic need gave her a special sense of appreciation for herself as an adaptable creature, capable of surviving under unfamiliar conditions.
Callie normally took the sun very well and tanned nicely, but, while she appreciated the effect the altitude was having on her respiration system, she decided that she should probably pick up some sun block lotion, so she stopped at a drug store. While she was there, on a whim, she picked up some of what she had called "bubble stuff" when she was a child, a plastic bottle of liquid soap containing a "magic wand" suitable for blowing bubbles. She told herself that she could rationalize that she was doing a scientific experiment, seeing if the bubbles she produced would be larger or last longer than the bubbles she had blown closer to sea level, but, actually, she just wanted to have some fun. In the interest of educating herself, before she left the drugstore, she picked up a couple brochures on the community from a display rack.
Although she ran at something above a normal jogger's pace, she meandered a great deal, taking in some of the colorful sights of Flagstaff, and it took her about two hours to reach the destination she had picked out for herself.
Mary had been right. The view from the hillside was terrific, breath-taking even.
Callie sat on a stone, opened the jar of "bubble stuff," took out the "magic wand," and began to blow bubbles while taking in the spectacular view and glancing at the brochures she had picked up.
Although Flagstaff was the largest city in northern Arizona, it was by no means a metropolis, having a population of a bit less than 60,000. However, over five million visitors were drawn to the city annually. This was easy to understand because of such spectacular natural attractions as the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert just a short drive to the north. The region was also known for its Alpine skiing conditions and Callie could see the San Francisco Peaks from where she sat. Just over twenty miles to the south, the Sedona area was known worldwide for its unusual vortices of energy and many New Agers considered a pilgrimage to the region a must.
From Callie's perch on the hillside, Flagstaff had a very village-like appearance. Being able to take in an entire community at once was not a great novelty for Callie. In her home state, there were many small towns that had a water tower from which a person could see the whole town. She had also flown over big cities in airplanes. However, Flagstaff was, without a doubt, the largest city she had ever been able to take in at a glance without the aid of a man-made structure or machine.
A glance at one of the brochures she had picked up told her that the city had a symphony orchestra, a theater company, two museums, three libraries, ten art galleries, and seventeen movie screens. It was also the home of Northern Arizona University and Cononino Community College, and over forty-five percent of the adult residents had college degrees - and an additional quarter of the adults had taken some college courses without attaining a degree. And, though she could not see it because of tree cover, just over a mile to the south of where she sat was the Lowell Observatory, where the planet Pluto had been discovered in 1930 - a true gateway to the universe.
It was very easy to lead a physically active life in Flagstaff. There were two public swimming pools, two bowling alleys, three golf courses, six recreation centers, sixteen tennis courts, and twenty-nine parks, as well as a facility that doubled as an ice and roller skating rink.
Flagstaff was known for its diversity. It attracted people who wanted cultural opportunities and facilities to pursue their intellectual interests without having to deal with the hassles of a big city. On her run through town, Callie had seen many small alternative businesses and other indications that there were plenty of people whose viewpoints were outside the mainstream.
It occurred to Callie that if she could somehow see into the hearts and minds of all the people who resided in the community spread out before her and only a fraction of the visitors to that community and if she could access all their collective knowledge, she could probably obtain the answer to any question of fact that she was capable of formulating. And if she could understand the beliefs and passions of all those people, her grasp of the nature of humanity would be as nearly complete as a human being could ever hope for.
There she sat, surrounded by the beauty of nature, ranging from majestic mountains formed over millions of years to the hardy blades of grass at her feet that would last only a few months. She was blowing beautiful round bubbles that would burst within moments while looking at rectangular structures of brick, concrete, and steel that would endure for generations. Spread out before her was a community that exemplified the achievements of her civilization in the arts and sciences from the popular to the esoteric, from the practical to the rarified.
If she could embrace everything within her sight, would she be satisfied?
She answered that question for herself.
And then spent most of the rest of the day running. She was pleased that her body could adapt so well to the unfamiliar altitude. Though she found herself wanting to rest more often than usual, she never found herself gasping for breath or in danger of passing out.
She returned in time to share dinner with Felix and Mary.
"And what kind of day did you have?" Felix asked conversationally.
"Enlightening," Callie replied.
"Oh, my favorite kind of day!" Mary exclaimed. "And what did you discover?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all. It was very significant."
"And so you've made progress on your quest?" Felix prompted.
"I am much further along the way than ever and I haven't moved a step," Callie assured them.
After dinner, Callie went to a video store and rented two Kathryn Hepburn movies, "Bringing Up Baby," a screwball comedy with Cary Grant, and "The Lion in Winter," her last academy award-winning performance, with Peter O'Toole. From the absurd to the profound. Felix and Mary agreed that both films depicted the human condition very accurately.
Callie headed for home early the next morning.
What she had realized on the hillside was that she could not find true satisfaction outside herself; she could only find it within.
But that which would give her satisfaction needed an outside force to pull the trigger that would set it off.
During her experiences with the woman eaters, that trigger had been fondled enough to let her know that it existed, but it had not yet been really squeezed.
It seemed to her that as things presently stood, she was doomed to be frustrated by the knowledge that the trigger was there but nobody was on hand who could give it a good squeeze.
Maybe she would have been better of if she had never learned that the trigger existed, but that didn't matter: she couldn't unlearn what she knew.
What was she to do?
Make the trigger more accessible? Easier to squeeze?
"I suppose," Stone ventured at the close of this part of Callie's tale, "that you considered handicapping yourself in some way as a means of encouraging your pursuers, but I would guess that you rejected that idea."
"Right both times," Callie confirmed. "I just couldn't let myself give anything less than my best. That was the way I was brought up. So, I did the next best thing, I thought."
"Which was?" Stone asked.
"I found a way to give the hunters an advantage without holding myself back."
"Well, it involved an invitation I received from Anthony and Anthea to come to England. They wanted to hunt me as a team."