I was trying to establish a sense of just how ambitious the people who built the "Grand Taupeaquaah" project were--they thought nothing of building mountains, tinkering with the weather, and moving a canyon from Illinois to Kansas just to provide a swimming-hole along a trail. So why did the scene get clipped? As the story developed, it seemed there were more than enough wonders for Scrornuck and his friends to visit, so the point was already made. Still, I liked the setting, and this particular lunch seemed like a good place for a little expository dialogue about traveling between time streams, so it didn't go away entirely. I still chuckle at the vision of Scrornuck digging like a dog into the gravel on the bottom of the "spring," and hope you do too.
The Clever Kilt Trick that opens this scene is known to all bagpipers, and is used regularly by those who travel to their gigs (especially parades, where there's never any privacy) by motorcycle. Don't try this trick with pants!
They found a lovely spot for lunch, at the head of a narrow canyon about halfway up the northern slopes of the mountain. The sandstone walls were festooned with bright-green ferns, and the brook had carved a cascade, three round punchbowls, each about ten feet across, separated by small waterfalls that made a cheerful burbling. They'd stopped at a wide spot alongside the upper punchbowl, a shelf of smooth, clean stone just big enough to set their gear down and spread out a picnic of sausage, bread, cheese and of course a couple beers.
"Mother nature's own whirlpool bath," Scrornuck said, sticking a finger into the cool, gently swirling water. "Not quite as nice as the hot tub at the inn, but not bad, not bad at all." He pulled his boots off and dipped a toe in the water. "Yeah, real nice," he said, digging in the pack for his swimsuit. "I think it's time for a soak." He loosened his belt a little, and his kilt slid down until it was resting precariously on his hips.
"You're going to change right here?" Nalia asked, making a show of holding her hand over her eyes--but carefully spreading her fingers so she could watch.
"Yep," he replied, "right here." With a quick motion he slid his swimsuit up under his kilt, pulled its drawstring, and let the kilt unwrap. "Ta-daa! Try doing that with a pair of pants!"
"Wish I could change that quickly," she remarked as he dropped into the water with a satisfied sigh.
"Every now and then I think there may actually be advantages to wearing those things," Jape agreed, pulling his own swimsuit from the pack and stepping behind a boulder to make a discreet change. When he returned a minute or two later, Nalia ducked behind the boulder to make a similar change. In short order the three were soaking contentedly, enjoying a tasty picnic lunch and sipping ice-cold beers.
"Eek!" Nalia jumped as a little blue fish nipped at her toe. "What's that?"
Scrornuck winked at Jape. "Khansous piranha, maybe?"
Jape stared into the water and deadpanned, "They're the worst kind--I've heard a school of them can strip a man to his bones in minutes."
As Nalia shrieked and tried to scramble out of the pool, Scrornuck burst out laughing. "Relax," he gasped, "that's just a harmless little bluegill."
"There's no such thing as piranha?"
"Not within five thousand miles of here," Jape said. He and Scrornuck were still grinning and chuckling when she shoved their heads under the water.
A little later, between bites and sips of the delicious lunch, Jape carefully inspected the sandstone edge of the punchbowl. "This is interesting," he said. "This kind of rock isn't native to Khansous."
"Yeah, right," Nalia replied. "Like people pick up mountains and move them."
Scrornuck leaned back, watching the trees above swaying gently against the perfect blue sky, idly letting his gaze work its way up and down the cliffs above. Suddenly, seeing something almost too good to be true, he jumped from the pool and clambered up the sandstone, pulling himself up on handholds and footholds too small for Jape or Nalia to see. "What the heck are you doing?" Nalia shouted.
"I don't think I want to know," Jape stage-whispered, making a show of covering his eyes.
"Woo-hoo!" Scrornuck jumped from the high cliff and landed in the exact center of the lower punchbowl, making an enormous splash and a deep boom that echoed up and down the narrow canyon. "Perfect landing!" he shouted exuberantly, standing up in water that was now little more than waist-deep.
Jape's face appeared above the edge of the small waterfall with a disapproving look. "You know," he said dryly, "if you injure yourself doing this, I'm going to make sure I use the first aid stuff that really hurts."
"You mean there's a kind that doesn't hurt?" Scrornuck shouted back, laughing. "Besides, have I ever hurt myself doing this?"
"You don't really want me to answer that."
"No, maybe not." He climbed up the waterfall to join Jape and Nalia, again grabbing hand- and footholds that neither of them could see. "Come on," he said, reaching for Nalia's hand.
There was a path, of sorts--a narrow ledge in the rock, sometimes only a few inches wide, but passable, and in a few moments Scrornuck and Nalia had reached the top. They both looked down at the canyon below. The deep part of the punchbowl couldn't have been more than about eight feet across, so it would take careful aim to hit it. "Now don't be scared--" he began.
"Scared?" she cut him off. "This is nothing--heck, when I was a kid we used to jump off the high cliff south of town into the Rio Taupeaquaah. There was one little spot that was twelve feet deep, all around it was real shallow. You had to aim just right to hit it. This doesn't look any harder than that."
"Okay," he said, wrapping an arm around her waist, "one, two--hey, what's that?" They both practically tumbled from the cliff as something caught his eye. "Look here," he said, scratching at the stone beneath his feet. In a few seconds he had uncovered a fine, straight line in the stone.
"So it's cracked," she said, looking closely at the line. "What's the big deal?"
"Look how straight it is," he insisted, "this is no crack, it's a cut." He got down on his knees and started digging away at the earth that covered the stone a few feet from the cliff edge. As he dug, he exposed what looked like a series of numbers carved into the rock--and a foot or so further back, the stone simply ended, at what looked like a clean cut. Behind it was only gravel and debris.
"I don't get it," she said. "What's with the numbers?"
"Jape's right," Scrornuck replied, a little astonished at what he was about to say. "This canyon isn't from here. Somebody found it somewhere else, cut it up, and rebuilt it here. Wow..."
"You've got to be kidding," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. "Nobody can move a whole canyon."
"Nope, I'm not," he insisted. He grabbed a pebble and scraped away at the fine line that separated the two numbered stone sections, eventually bringing up some sticky glop. "See this," he said, "Glue. Jape should know about this." He cupped his hands before his mouth and shouted, "Hey, boss! C'mon up and have a look at this!" Jape, floating in the pool, smiled and waved back, but stayed where he was. "Crap," Scrornuck said, "he can't hear us. We'll have to go down there and ask him."
"Well," she said, stepping back to the edge of the cliff, "looks like there's only one way down." She wrapped her arms around his waist. "Come on, let's go--and no distractions this time!"
"Sounds good to me." They jumped, hitting the deep spot perfectly, with a whump that echoed up the valley.
"Well," Jape said sternly as Scrornuck and Nalia pulled themselves up over the ledge into the upper pool, "it looks like I have two crazy people to deal with." He reached into the pack and pulled out a towel. "What were you shouting about, anyway?"
"You were right," Scrornuck said, "they moved this canyon from somewhere else. We found seams and numbers on the stone up there."
"Ah, the canyon's been transplanted," Jape observed, just a touch of wonder in his voice. "I said this stone wasn't native to Khansous. I guess the UniFlag folks wanted a natural-looking canyon here, a place for people to cool off after a long walk, so they just grabbed one from somewhere else and moved it. Remember, this is a pleasure world."
"If it's not from Khansous," she wondered, "where's it from?"
"Judging by the stone, I'd say it came from the Illinois River valley, about six hundred miles northeast of here." He scraped his finger across the stone, leaving a slight scratch. "Saint Peter sandstone--soft stuff, wears into nice canyons like this one."
"Wow," she breathed, "they just picked it up and moved it?"
"I said they thought big." He paused for a moment, thinking and looking about. "Now that I think of it, I wonder where all this water comes from. It doesn't rain that much here--"
"When we were up on the cliff I noticed a pool just a little further upstream," Scrornuck said, "like a spring."
"Let's go have a look," Jape said, starting up the canyon, "I'm curious."
A few minutes and a couple climbs up waterfalls later, they stood around a pool, perhaps ten feet across and a foot deep, filled with crystal-clear water. Sand and small stones danced on the bottom, lifted by the upwelling from the spring. "Want to dig a little?" Jape asked.
"Sure, why not?" Scrornuck said. He knelt in the pool and started furiously digging in the bottom, shoving sand and pebbles out of the way. Slowly, he exposed a circle of white plastic mesh, the screen covering the end of the pipe that carried water into the "spring."
"Would you look at that," Jape remarked.
"Can I stop now?" Scrornuck asked, panting. Jape nodded, and he collapsed face-first into the cool water. "Ahhh!"
"What is it?" Nalia wondered, watching the plastic screen disappear again beneath sand and pebbles.
"It's an artificial spring," Jape said, "they must have a well and a pump down there somewhere."
"And it's been running for a hundred years?"
He nodded. "They built things to last."