The forest that the lost girl found herself in was a rather curious one. Sparkling, luminous mushrooms appeared to be growing from every available orifice of the gnarled, twisted trees that lurched from ground level towards the overhead canopy. In the faintly blue light, the lost girl caught glimpses of strange creatures charging past, presumably themselves in search of a greater meaning. Or perhaps not – since none of them stopped to say hello, the lost girl had no way of telling.
Eventually, after either several days or a couple of hours of walking, the lost girl heard noises from above, and allowed her vision to rise to the upper branches of the nearest tree. There, looking down at her with a most curious expression and large, perennially bloodshot eyes, was a face. Upon closer inspection, the face appeared to be attaching to a thin, reedy body, which was hanging upside down from the tree in a very primal fashion.
“Hello,” she said. “Do you know the meaning of life?”
“Why yes I do,” the apparition said. “Why don’t you climb up, and I’ll tell you about it?”
The lost girl had to agree, suspecting the logic was that there was nothing to be gained for an absence of effort. So, with the natural difficulties that came of attempting to climb a tree whilst wearing a dress and sandals, she ascended the tree, and put this perspective to the man she found lounging at the top, wearing nothing but a loincloth of leaves.
“Nah, it’s nothing like that,” he said. “I just like the view up here. Thought you might enjoy it too.”
The lost girl steadied herself against a nearby branch, which creaking and moaned softly under the unexpected pressure, and looked around. “All I see is green leaves and blue mushrooms. It’s a little psychedelic. Have you been eating those mushrooms? I can’t help but notice that you have one tucked behind your ear. And there’s a bag of them hanging from that branch.”
“Yeah it’s all good. Getting close to nature, you know. Grooving with the.. groove. That’s the meaning of it all, you know. Hang out in trees, vibe with the universe. Seriously, try a mushroom. I’ve been lightly roasting these ones over a particularly warm branch. Good shit.” He held one out to her.
“Alright,” the lost girl said, with a resigned shrug. “What harm can it do?” She reached out, took the mushroom, and took a bite out of it.
She woke up five minutes later, slumped in the crook of the tree’s major branches, in order to find out that several hours had passed, and that she was now being wassailed by a four-piece orchestra of flying pink elephants. “I think,” she said carefully to the lead elephant, “that this is perhaps not what I was looking for.”
The elephant paused in his triumphant violin recital. “Perhaps you should move on, then?”
“Maybe. Say, what’s the quickest way to reach the cave to the east?”
“Hop on,” the elephant said, offering her an ear. “We’ve got a gig over that way this evening.”
Evening was beginning to darken the sky as the elephant troupe descended like a noisy pink apocalypse, diving through the foliage to land in a brightly lit clearing. The reason it was so brightly lit was because most of the clearing, which backed against a cliff-face, was taken up by a large building that proclaimed itself in neon to be ‘The Cave Club’.
“This is the cave where I’ll find the meaning of life?” The lost girl asked apprehensively, sliding down from her elephant’s back.
“Perhaps,” the elephant said thoughtfully. “You’ll certainly find the occupant’s. Hey, if you need us again, we’ll be in the bar after the show. Swing by, we’ll get you a drink.”
“Sure,” the lost girl said, and wandered into the club. The main room was a low-ceilinged bar, thick with the smoke of a thousand cigarettes, and light jazz was playing in the background. A grim-faced and bored-looking barman directed her, after she inquired as to where she might find the cave, towards the stage at the far end of the bar, where a cardboard imitation of a small cave had been set up. An old man sat perched on a stool before it, seemingly attempting to stare down his microphone.
“Hello,” the lost girl said to him, “do you know the meaning of life?”
The old man stirred, wobbling precariously from where he sat, folded up like a tired, less vividly coloured flamingo. “Damn right I do,” he said, in a voice like crumbling cheese. “Find the best place you can to hide from it, and hope like hell that you never see anyone else.”
“You don’t seem to be very well hidden here,” the lost girl observed.
“Pah. Have you tried living in a cave? It takes a lot of expenses to keep a damp, draughty heap of rocks in habitable condition. Anyway, it turns out people want to know what’s so great about living in a cave, so they pay good money to come to me, so I can tell them to go away and find their own cave. Pays the rent, at least.” The old man reached out and wearily tapped his microphone a few times. It went bmpf, bmpf. “Soon they’ll start rolling in, for yet another night of god damn pop philosophy. It gets me down, you know. Almost as much as living in a cave does.”
“If you don’t enjoy living in a cave,” the lost girl asked, puzzled, “why do you?”
“Are you kidding?” The old man’s eyebrows vanished into his hairline, which was an impressive feat considering the extent to which said hairline had receded; the lost girl was sure it had moved backwards significantly during their conversation. “Go and live with people again? Give me a damp pile of rocks any day.”
“Well, why can’t you move into.. a drier cave?”
“Pfft. You clearly don’t understand my philosophy.”
“No,” the lost girl said sadly, “I guess I don’t. Excuse me, I have to go talk to an elephant.”