Meanwhile, gang moll Vendela Vida is in Manhattan meeting with her Columbia University buddies. The MFA program consists of a severe indoctrination regimen based on a martial arts academy. Their grads are trained to think of themselves as superior Masters of the Art-- though the version of the art they train on is, unknown to them, badly out-of-date.
Evil Vendela, who aspires to be best of all, returns to the secret writers gymnasium on campus to train.
At the moment she's practicing her literary "kicks" on cardboard silhouettes of her rival, Captain Rebecca Skloot-- a leading member of the Literature Police dedicated to wiping out any hint of literary noise on the streets, even the mild form Vendela and the rest of the Eggers mob engage in.
"Hiyaaahhh!" Vendela shouts as she kicks a hole through another Rebecca Skloot silhouette.
The cardboard hangs in tatters as Vendela graces it with a malicious sneer.
"If you really want to be the best," Training Master Ben Marcus advises, "You should visit the old wise man: the Master of Masters."
"Where's he?" Vendela snarls. "Where do I find the person?"
"On top of the Mountain," Marcus cryptically whispers.
She follows him to a dusty office at the back of the gymnasium. Wiping away cobwebs, he unlocks a faded green file cabinet. From the top drawer he produces, like a magician from a hat, a faded map.
"Follow this," Marcus tells her.
The light in the office is too dim for her to read the map, as is the artificial light in the gymnasium itself. Staring at the map, mesmerized by its existence, she walks hypnotically up a stairway with iron handrails until she's outside.
The malignant stuffiness of the room she left behind drops away. In sunlight Vendela sees a blue line thickly marked on the ancient paper. The words on the map are in an unreadable language, but the blue line is clear.
It's a long and arduous journey to the Mountain. Driving and driving through the reaches of New England; through snowstorms; past stuffy suburban communities of extreme wealth; past the environs of Providence and Boston, beyond, into the woods of Vermont, past Bennington, onto a road unmarked on any roadmap but this one. The car rises. She has driven onto the Mountain itself! Round curve after curve, ever higher, and higher, the air becoming colder and thinner.
The road ends. She unpacks hiking gear from the car's trunk and leaves the vehicle behind, making her way up a rocky path toward the summit; a path few have walked upon. The path is filled with obstacles; boulders; noxious growths of distorted plants. Then snow and ice.
The light is vanishing. The thin air this high influences her head. Vendela feels a sense of exhilaration. Why, she is one of the best! Her own husband mob boss Eggers himself seems very far away. Very far below. Up here, there is just her-- and the Master of Masters, whoever that might be.
She feels no fear about meeting this personage. She's been raised to think she's the best and has little regard for other people. Her entire life, her every action, every class taken, has been geared toward arriving at this special place: the Mountaintop! Many thousands of writers have gone through indoctrination programs but up here there is only her. She. Vendela Vida.
A few yards more. Then, at the front of a small cave beneath the very top squats a shadow. A man; a very small and very ancient man from ancient times, other eras, another generation. The 1940's! An impossible distance away, to her mind. So far back in time. Incomprehensible. Yet he's still here, alive, this wrinkled troll. How? Why?
She stands before him, towering, and scowls, hands on her hips.
"Tell me, O Master," she says with a trace of irony, of sardonic sarcasm intrinsic to her gang, "Tell me, Master, your Secrets. Tell me the mysteries of writing and literary achievement, of how to breathe your rarified air. Tell me how to be a Legend, adored and worshipped by millions, receiving millions in payment, fawned over by mighty corporations and placed on TV. Tell me how you accomplished this, Wizened One. What wizardry did you rely upon? Was it simply a marker of your more glorious times? Or can we capture the Power and Glamor the Word once held for people? Can we sweep away this nonsense of Mass Media we're bombarded with every day to arrive at the truth we as a lost people seek? Tell me, oh Noble Author. Tell ME!"
"You are all a lost generation," the troll, who looks suspiciously like Norman Mailer, murmurs in a polite and barely audible voice. "I know I'm quoting from another writer essentially revolutionary writer when I say that but it's essentially true, if we can know the essential truth about anything which I suppose is a kind of mystifying illusion perpetrated upon us by higher forces like the Old Boys who I once knew and played with, WASPy icons like Plimpton you know not all of them but many of them of course from the CIA and its many Martha Vineyards kind of playgrounds I hope I'm not being too verbose in capturing or trying to capture I've never been completely successful you know the riddle of existence as a writer in this technologically mad society of spaceships and stereo systems which doesn't much value the author, the writer, which I take to mean or are taking to mean for you in this conversation you and I. . . ."
(Vendela would think such an old troll would have to pause for a breath but he doesn't. . . .)
"Not to blather too much there are too many of us old white guys chauvinistic white guys as we see in today's news headlines none more chauvinistic than myself of course I Mailer trying to grab the 'Macho' ethos of Hemingway failing that then of the Beats the essential be-bop bluesiness whatever was trendy at the time I tried to grab onto it; always tried to be relevant, you know, the one true media writer if there ever was one so you see the irony of me of all people being atop this somewhat chilly and dreary mountain! These are shitty times. All is shit. That's the message, you know. Shit! SHIT is the one essential truth in life. We all shit! Can't you see it? The monumental profundity of that statement?"
(He gestures with his hands as if kneading dough.)
"I, Mailer, this literary god, this truly great Author if you really must know, have said many profound things in my spectacular Baudrillard life but none more spectacular or existentially true than that. The one thing I really know. In the final analysis I've become no more than this old and sleepy castrated CAT this benign animal preoccupied with naps and my trips to the litter box; the knowledge of how good it really feels exercising the sphincter muscles producing in the process not unlike my last few books you know this one warm and essential thing. . . ."
Vendela has had enough.
"THIS IS TOTAL BULLSHIT!" she screams to the empty cold mountainous air and with one great thrust of her muscular leg she's kicked through the head of the Master of Masters. His voice is gone. He's become silent.
All silent-- only the beating of her heart and happy ringing in her ears. She steps forward on the dirt floor to analyze the damage.
The Master's head is on the dirt floor in pieces. She looks closer. It's not a head at all, she realizes. It's squishy and orange.
Vendela Vida has destroyed a pumpkin.
NEXT CHAPTER: "The Fortress."