“They say the Wizard did a favor for an angel once,” Saul says.
Clair sighs. “I don’t want to hear your crazy theories about the Wizard.”
“So the angel granted him three wishes. And he said, ‘I wish to always win at cards, if I want to; and that anyone who sits down in that chair won’t be able to get up without my permission; and anyone who climbs my old orange tree, why, without my permission, they won’t be able to come down.'”
“The Wizard’s a myth,” Clair says. “This is a naturally occurring fairyland. It doesn’t require a Wizard.”
“And that’s why nobody ever dies here,” Saul says. “Because Death’s stuck up in the Wizard’s tree, and he can’t come down.”
“Fairyland,” Clair emphasizes.
“Well,” Saul says. “We’re going to find out soon.”
Saul looks insufferably smug. “I got a call from my contact in Puzzleville,” he says. “He says he can blow the conspiracy wide open. He’s going to expose all the lies, Clair. The Brick Road. The Wizard. Fairyland. We’re going to know the truth.”
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE
Saul and Clair stroll through the woods. Puzzleville fades in slowly. One or two pieces of the dirt path seem like odd stones: on closer examination, they are jigsaw pieces. Green ropes of dangling jigsaw hang from the tree branches overhead. Slowly but surely the entire world becomes a jigsaw construction, until the grand jigsaw gate rears over it all, surmounted by a sign reading PUZZ_EVILLE. Part of the sign has fallen to the ground and broken, and two jigsaw children work fervently to reassemble it.
Clair points at a smaller sign, off to the side. “Fragile,” she says. “Please do not apply concussive force.”
“Guess you’d better not go wild on the drums,” Saul says.
“I forgot to bring them,” she says. “I guess fate loves a jigsaw.”
They walk towards the building labelled, “Saul’s Contact’s House.” They’re easy. They’re relaxed. Then there’s a horrible crunching, crashing sound from within.
“Clair,” Saul says.
Clair draws her gun. They advance slowly towards the building. Its entire facade crashes down on them in a rain of jigsaw pieces. The creature roars out.
A physical description does the creature no justice, for its physical form is an unassuming jackanapes. For a resident of Fairyland, its deformities are minor. It has wheels attached to its arms and legs, instead of hands and feet. The long tails of its coat jut back stiffly, like an animal’s tail bristling. Its moustaches are sharp. None of these things disturb Saul or Clair, but there is an animal ferocity and a demoniac madness on its face that makes it horrible. It is a thing that hungers, and its hungers are dark. The venom of its glance strikes like a blow, and Saul falls over backwards.
“Catch it, Clair!” he shouts.
Clair fires, once, twice, three times. The first bullet strikes its shoulder but does not slow its advance. The second bullet, dead into its forehead, sends it twisting back and around. The third prompts the creature to scream, high and terrible. It twitches and goes still.
“Cover it,” she says. Saul crawls into a sitting position, pulls his own gun, and holds it trained on the creature.
Clair advances gingerly. She puts two fingers to the side of its neck. “Unconscious,” she says.
“I’ll check out the building,” Saul says.
Saul goes inside. Clair efficiently strips off the creature’s tires and puts its wheels up on improvised blocks. She clips a long metal rod to its bow tie so that the creature cannot twist its neck. Then she waits. After a moment, Saul comes out. He shakes his head.
“He’s in pieces,” Saul says. He turns. He looks up and down the street. He shouts, “Hey! We need an assembly squad, stat!”
A few jigsaw people poke their heads out from nearby buildings. Reluctantly, subduedly, they go into the ruins and begin assembling Saul’s contact.
“It’ll be at least three hours,” Saul says. “He’s pretty scattered.”
Clair calls for backup. They wait. About an hour and a half passes before the creature wakes up. It snarls at them.
“You shouldn’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong,” it says. “Someone’s likely to eat it! And then spit it back in your face, all gooky with saliva!”
Clair frowns. “Ew.”
“What do you know?” Saul asks, companionably.
“I know how to hurt you,” it whispers. “Forever and ever, oh yes. With wheels.” It struggles against the blocks.
“I mean, about the conspiracy.”
The creature opens its mouth, then closes it again. “Can’t tell you,” it says.
“Typical,” Saul mutters.
A helicopter circles overhead. The fragile jigsaw people look at it warily. The pilot is skilled, but no skill is sufficient. The helicopter’s landing disassembles a large chunk of road, three bushes, a horse trough, and a festive tavern sign reading, “300 Piece Liquor.” Two men in suits get out to take custody of the creature. A third steps down, and Saul snarls.
“You,” he says.
The third man is on fire. He seems pretty casual about it. Smoke spirals off him into the sky, slowly turning jigsaw as it rises.
“Yes,” says the smoking man.
“What do you want?” Saul says. He steps forward, belligerently.
“Just taking this thing back to the oubliette where it belongs.”
“You’re at the heart of all this,” Saul says. “I know it.”
“Feh,” says the smoking man. “I’m just the lord of the oubliette.” The two suited men drag the creature into the helicopter. The smoking man follows them in. “If you want to complain,” he adds, “talk to the Wizard.”
The helicopter takes off again. Saul stands up. He paces. A young fresh-faced woman made entirely out of corner pieces comes out of the ruins.
“He’s reassembled,” she says. “But not entirely.”
“He’d been mauled,” she says. “Badly. We couldn’t find all the pieces of his brain. Mostly, he sits in one place and says ‘guh’.”
Saul and Clair hurry in. Saul’s contact is in the middle of the ruin. He sits. He smiles at them. He says, “Guh.”
“As advertised,” Clair says, grimly.
“Please,” Saul says. “Jigsaw-1. Can’t you tell me anything?”
“Guh!” the contact emphasizes.
Saul sits, heavily.
“That’s it, then,” he says. “The smoking man’s won.”
“Guh,” the contact says, expressively. Then, with the smile of a man sharing a wonderful secret, he opens his hand and shows Saul his palm. Attached to it is a transparent piece of cellophane. It shimmers with stained glass-style colors. It is cut into the shape of an X.
“It’s pretty!” declares Clair.
Saul takes it. “I guess,” he says, “that even if I don’t have the truth, I have a new window decoration.”
Dejected, they go back home. They stop at Saul’s door. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” Saul asks.
“Sure,” Clair says.
Clair follows Saul in. Saul fixes the stained-glass cellophane X to his window. He goes into the kitchen. He makes coffee.
“They say there’s no evil here,” Saul says, “because the Wizard trapped the Devil. The Devil didn’t care that the Wizard couldn’t die. He wanted his due. But when he came for the Wizard, the Wizard offered him a chair. And before he knew it, the Devil was stuck, and he couldn’t get up without the Wizard’s permission.”
“Do you really think there’s no evil here?” Clair asks.
“I think there’s evil everywhere,” Saul says. “But in most places, it seeps out and infects everything. Here, mostly, we throw it in the oubliette.”
“What about the conspiracy?”
“That’s not evil,” Saul says. “It’s just rude. Hey.”
Saul points. On his desk is a map of Fairyland. The evening sunlight coming in through his window passes through the X and illuminates a spot.
“Where is it?” Clair asks.
“It’s on the Brick Road,” Saul says. “Near the valley of the sheep.”
They get up. They go to the car. They drive.
“What were the cards for?” Clair asks. “I mean, in the story.”
Saul pulls over, gently. He parks the car. He turns off the headlights.
“The Devil wanted to game for his freedom,” Saul says. “So he bet the Wizard’s soul against his freedom from the chair, and he lost.
“‘Double or nothing,’ said the Devil.
“‘I only got one soul,’ said the Wizard.
“‘I’ll bet you dominion over all Hell,’ said the Devil. ‘And if you win, I’ll even go to work for you. Against your soul, and my freedom from this chair.’
“So they played, and the Wizard won.”
Saul gets out of the car. He walks forward. He shines his flashlight about. Then he stops.
“Over there,” he says. “It’s an orange tree. And there’s someone in it.”
Clair’s flashlight flicks up onto a startled and skeletal face. “Saul,” she says. “I think . . . I think it’s Death.”
Death turns his face away. Tear tracks have cut channels deep into his skull.
“It’s not my fault,” he says. “There was a sparrow up here. It was dying. I didn’t have a choice.”
“So it’s true,” Saul says.
“It’s true,” Death confesses. “All of it. This isn’t a Fairyland. It’s just Hell.”
“Poor thing,” Saul says. “I guess being stuck in an orange tree for a few thousand years must be Hell, all right.”
“It was paved over,” Death says. “The demons were thrown in an oubliette, and only let out for special assignments. ‘I don’t want to rule a place of torture and pain,’ said the Wizard. But he’ll trap me in a tree for thousands of years, oh yes. He’ll do that.”
“Wait,” Saul says. “Literally, Hell?”
“Look under the bricks,” Death says. “The truth’s right below you.”
So Saul pries back the golden bricks, one by one.
Beneath the road there is a river of blood.