The Beer Queendom...
In Part 3, the moat dweller met with the Master Taster to sell him a new Easy Throne.
Furtive shadows and whispered curses caused the Master Taster to clasp the beers tightly to his chest. The moat dweller had promised to show him a shortcut home, instead leading him down a dark alley. He should have known. This wasn’t the first time he’d claimed to know a quicker route that led to danger. Houses of cardboard and bandidos were part of the moat dweller’s m.o. At least they weren’t hurtling down a mountain road in a car without brakes.
He caught a glimpse of the moat dweller ahead, hesitating at a turn in the alley. His grip on the beer tightened. He had to be careful. The weather had turned nasty. Large flakes of snow bounced off his face and fell onto the cold, uninviting pavement only to be sent swirling by the hastening wind. As he reached the alley turn where the moat dweller had stopped, a sudden noise caused him to whirl and flinch. A plastic trash bag rolled by—an urban tumbleweed pushed by street gusts. The Master Taster chided himself. After twenty years in the inner city, he should be used to this. Turning back, he noticed that his guide had disappeared. A loud burp sounded ahead and he picked up the trail.
The danger wasn’t over yet. At the end of the street a path climbed the long, narrow trail that led to Death Point. Just the trail, the cliff and home, he coached himself and picked up the pace. When you traveled with the moat dweller, you could expect to be dumped somewhere you had never been before and didn’t know how to leave. Or he might suddenly reappear—like Gollum—after a disaster, to retrieve his precious beer.
The Master Taster reached the top of the trail and pressed against the cliff face. Inching along Death Point, he kept his eyes faced forward, avoiding the blackness below. That meant sure death. A rock loosened and fell as he edged along the abyss. He stopped to listen as the rock bounced harshly off the walls until it reached the bottom. It was a long drop. At least it wasn’t one of the beers.
It was only a short way now, but the snowfall had grown heavier and the path more slippery. The wind whistled by, trying to pull him into the abyss. He reached Death Point’s end and congratulated himself as the area widened. Suddenly he saw the moat dweller in front of him. He tried to stop, but slipped on the snow. He felt himself pitching forward. Sitting back, he held tightly to the beer and pushed his feet out. He fell on his back. Then thudded down a long series of stone steps. With each step pain shot up his back, like a knife sunk into flesh. He reached the bottom, the pain almost causing him to pass out.
“What happened?” the moat dweller demanded, appearing above him.
The Master Taster grimaced. “Can’t move,” he managed to say.
“Yeah …Pain…Have to sit for a while. Can’t move.”
“Looks like you saved the beer. Good job. Look, I gotta go see my son. He’s helping me on the computer. Enjoy those beers.” As the moat dweller disappeared, he added, “Don’t forget the tickets! Two of them!”
The Master Taster grimaced, searing pain shooting through his back. Each time he moved he felt as if it was on fire. Closing his eyes, he deliberated his options. Left on an abandoned trail, one that even smugglers rarely used. His chances for survival weren’t good.
As the realization that he might never get off this mountain, memories of that very morning flooded back to him. It might be the last time he would see Smokretia wrestle. His daughter had been magnificent, driving her opponent to the mat then picking her up and tossing her over the ropes and into the bloodthirsty crowd.
Pain shot up his back as he tried to make himself comfortable. They would find him frozen to death here some day, so he’d better be presentable. He didn’t want to be found dead after having shit his pants. Suddenly a huge thirst overwhelmed him. Groping around, he found one of the beers. He should finish them; better to freeze to death while clasping a beer. For a moment he wondered if the moat dweller had set him up, if this was how he planned to gain the title of Master Taster.
The pain returned, forcing him to forget thoughts of the future. He needed to focus on the beer and how it would help him. At least he would die in less pain. Again he thought about his family. He’d never see them again. All the things he’d wanted to say rose in his mind. Like the time Smokretia first learned the Overhead Toss. He was so proud of her. Yet he had just told her ‘great job’ and gave her a pat on the back. A natural death would have allowed him to tell her how proud he was of her however belated and awkward the compliment. Here he was on Death Point, stripped of that opportunity.
There were so many times that he thought to say something to his daughter or to the Sea Hag, but had remained silent. Fleeting moments of intense emotion that he allowed to pass rather than reveal his love for the family. Now here he was facing the end. Wind and snow whistled past him and the shrieking wind began to take on the tone of laughter, like that of the thieves that woke him from a dead sleep when he drank too much and had nightmares about them plundering the beer cellar. It was icy cold, too. Where was global warming when you needed it?
He could feel death coming. Just like he’d read—a soft ringing in his ears and an all-encompassing numbness. He loosened his muscles and closed his eyes, giving in to the sensation. There wasn’t much else he could do.
There it was again, the ringing. He turned slightly, wondering if this was death. First the ringing, then the comfortable feeling and finally a trip down a long tunnel. That’s what he’d read. But the pain in his side told him he was still alive. Unless this was hell, maybe hell was your last moment of discomfort, played over and over again, for eternity. He turned and the noise grew louder. Wait! It was his cell phone. Groping around, he found it lying in the snow. “Hello … Honeyman, what’s up? … Nothing, just up here on the cliff face … Yeah, the smugglers’ route. … You got time? No big deal if you can’t. … I’m near Death Point, at the bottom of the steps. Moat dweller left me. I know, I know. … No hurry, I’ll be here. Hurt the back so I’m not going anywhere. … Hey bring some beer. I’m empty. … Right, see you then. You finished your shower, right?”
Slowed by his crutches, the Master Taster weaved his way through the charts and graphs scattered on the parapet. The Queen had just finished the morning session of her global warming conference with scientists who still believed in its existence. There were so few still alive—the oiligarchs had gotten rid of the most influential believers, making the rest sound like fringe elements. A map of Europe caught his eye and he stopped. The red area, which symbolized flooding, had grown to encompass nearly all of the former Netherlands and Belgium. Pins representing the breweries were scattered throughout the area.
The pins were why the Queen had taken interest in the issue. While she had situated the Beer Queendom above rising sea levels, some of the greatest breweries in the world were in danger of becoming underwater museums. The waters that gave certain beer styles their character were now threatening to engulf the historic breweries. This meant less good beer for The Beer Queendom.
Seeing her Master Taster, the Queen wiped the remains of the tarragon infused whitefish off her lips and finished her Live Oak Pilz. It was a great combination, the softness of the fish counterbalanced by the aggressively hopped pilsner. Tossing fresh tarragon into the mix made the experience divine, a word atheists such as herself didn’t use lightly. The Master Taster’s food and beer pairings were superb. She hoped he didn’t let it go to his head.
“How did you enjoy the pairings?” the Master Taster asked.
“Superb!” the Queen enthused. “The softness of the fish was perfectly paired with the Pilz! How are preparations for Carnaval going?”
“You mean the Beer Fest?” the Master Taster asked. The Queen nodded and he continued. “I’ve gotten hold of Blokester Beverage. They should have the casks here in time.
“We also have to test the new tapping system,” the Master Taster continued. “With so many beers on tap, it’s even more complicated than the sound system.”
“It shouldn’t be too hard to find volunteers to help you with that.”
“The problem is the beer list isn’t finalized.”
“It’s past the deadline.”
“Some of the West Coast breweries haven’t signed up yet.”
“They’re always late,” the Queen replied. “They work on West Coast time.”
“Some won’t send any kegs unless we take their wheat beers. Summer offerings.”
“Forget them!” the Queen snapped.
“A lot of good breweries. Some of the best, in fact.” The Queen remained silent. “He,” the Master Taster continued, motioning toward the moat below, “said he could get some of the breweries to come.”
“That’s not acceptable!” The Queen tore her gaze from the slovenly moat. From her perch on the parapet, she could see the amphitheater where the bands had played their final dry run. It had gone exceedingly well, including the fireworks. The only depressing part was that the bight explosions revealed the sharpened spires of the Outer Realm, reminding her why she had left. As nice as The Beer Queendom was, she still longed for a thing or two from the world she had been forced to leave. They had begun rounding people up; history repeating itself.
Just then the Border Collie appeared. Looking at the Master Taster, she asked, “How is your back?”
“Better, but still sore,” the Master Taster replied, shifting on his crutches.
“It was stupid of you to be out in that weather,” the Queen said. Her statement was met with silence. “Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you….” Her voice trailed off. The Master Taster’s illicit visits to the Outer Realm were treated like one of those family secrets—a gambling addiction or an affair that no one talked about even though it was as obvious as the nose on a human face.
“Here is the initial tryout list,” Border Collie said, handing a steno pad to the Queen.
“Tryouts for what?”
“For the beer festival talent contest of course,” Border Collie replied.
“Right, right … how are they going?”
“Great! We just got a new entry today. He calls himself The Beer Messiah.”
“It’s an act. The Beer Messiah. He starts by playing beer bottles filled with different amounts of beer. Different tones. He drinks them as he plays, finishing with all low notes.”
“That’s the warm-up. Then he predicts the top ten beers of the fest that will be chosen in our people’s poll. With the bottles. Apparently, his consumption of the beers is cosmically connected to who will win the people’s choice awards.”
“Cosmic or comic?” the Queen snapped.
“Claims he’s being driven by a higher power,” the Border Collie replied.
“Is he any good?”
“Can’t tell until we get the results of the poll.”
“How convenient,” said the Queen. She turned to her Master Taster. “Have you heard anything about this?”
“First time,” the Master Taster lied. This could mean he didn’t have to squander two of his comp tickets on the moat dweller. For an easy throne that he’d never see.
The telephone rang and the Queen snatched it before Border Collie could move. “Hello! … Oh, hi baby! How are you? … That’s nice. …There should be some in our fridge. I left it for you. You were still sleeping … Yes, baby, yes. That sounds great, dinner for two…”
The Master Taster’s mouth fell open. Baby? The last time he heard that word coming out of the Queen’s mouth was when he complained about losing his best beret in the last beer cellar flooding. And it was an insult. Several more babies poured into the telephone as the Master Taster limped over to the tray to make sure all the food was eaten and the beer drunk.
“How is your back?” the Queen asked, interrupting his thoughts.
“It’s fine, she just asked about it,” the Master Taster replied, slightly irritated.
“Right, well it’s a little hard to remember everything what with my trying to rescue the world from global warming,” the Queen replied, a flush appearing on her cheeks.
“I’ve prepared dinner, too,” the Master Taster said..” A cold plate of greens and gueuze-marinated mussels with a bottle of Fantome Saison. I won’t be around tonight.”
“Where are you going?” the Queen demanded. Sensing that she was going to get the usual grunt for an answer, she added, “Just don’t forget to lock the beer cellar.”
Next issue, saving the world’s breweries and the Universal Beer & Peace Carnaval.
By los Testigos de Cerveza
Copyright 2006, Rocky Mountain Brewing News