Wednesday, January 27, 1926
Ecila was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, and what is the use of a book, thought Ecila, without pictures or conversation?
The books Ecila normally read were nothing like her boring sister's, they had marvelous conversations, such as The Nature of the Physical World. The numbers and letters danced wondrously before the little girl’s eyes, implied forces and counterforces playing fabulous games like magic, and having cosmic tea parties in her head, painting pictures no piece of paper could hold.
It was perhaps because it spoke so well to little Ecila, and because of all the strange happenings that happened to happen about her that her parents had quickly confiscated the book, as well as the recently published Studies of Non-Euclidean Physics, they'd, at first, been so happy to buy for her. Having a gifted child was a marvelous thing - it gave them things to brag about at tea parties, and topics to discuss with a certain high-mindedness over those long lazy boat rides down the Miskatonic River.
But, when the young daughter had been heard wandering her room at night, strange violet lights shining from her window and under in the cracks of doors, or having her show up on the doorstep in the morning with her bare feet caked in morning mud in the tatters of the floral printed nightie she'd been tucked into bed with that previous night, the worried Mister and Missus Mason suspected something amiss.
Bothering them more, the tiny girl reported, convincingly, seeing things; lines, creatures that none of the rest of them could see. An imaginary friend wasn't abnormal for a child her age, but chasing after an imaginary Leporidae was quite another.
On top of these other things, the young girl began to sport a weak fever. All the physicians, and the brash young psychiatrists they'd spoken with, couldn't account for the peculiar behavior. Eventually, the source of her mysterious vanishings, and the growing fever, was deduced to be the curiously difficult books their charge had taken to so eagerly. All young Ecila's books were taken away that night. The fever, however, did not let up.
Ecila learned soon that telling her parents, or any adults, about the things she was certain she did see, caused trouble. They'd get angry, or sad, or make a great deal of fuss (but more importantly, they took away her favorite books!). It had been days since she'd been able to read them, days spent trapped in her bed while her mother doted on her, physicians poked and prodded her, until finally without a firm answer concerning the child's maladies, they'd recommended more rest and relaxation.
So young Ecila found herself by the river once more, wasting away with her elder sister, when she saw something peculiar.
It was the flash of violet light that caused Ecila's sister to look up from her rather boring but necessary studies, and it was only then that she noticed her sister absent. This time, however, Ecila did not reappear the next morning on the doorstep of Mister and Missus Mason. In fact, she did not reappear for some time.
Sunday, March 4, 2007
I knew about as much as a person could have claimed to know about her. Which wasn't all that strange, considering I'd known her since elementary school. Back then she was the quiet, slightly chubby little girl that was always drawing something. We'd both been in the GATE program. You know, the thing for the kids they thought were smarter than the others, so they gave them extra homework and made them wear goofy sweatshirts at academic decathlons?
I hadn't really seen her for a couple of years since then, but in that small amount of time she had, as they say, "blossomed". Puberty hits different people in different ways, and when it hit her it hit her with a giant dripping sack of sex. (And don't these things always seem to happen over the summer?) She'd gotten taller, and thinner. She'd gone from wearing baggy pants and loose comfortable shirts to significantly more revealing clothing with her abrupt change in confidence, snug tops, small shorts and skirts, things that showed off pleasing curves and the obvious beginnings of what would grow up to be a blonde bombshell of a particularly high grade of explosive.
Despite all that, she'd stayed that somewhat quiet girl who was always in class drawing. But now she was doing bright colorful murals, paintings on broad canvases that everyone marvelled at (though, they may have been marveling at the copious amount of flesh she'd shown while painting them).
And she was sitting right across from me.
A curious little twinge of anxiety always seemed to stop me from looking directly into the eyes of the girls I really liked, like magnetic ends with the same charge never quite able to touch. I was achingly familiar with the horrible awkward results of this kind of instant shyness that popped up right when I didn't want it to.
Around the kinds of girls I didn't particularly think of in 'that' way I was calm, I could smile politely at them, and I could look them in the eyes when we talked. But around the women that actually meant something, my mind turned blank and my mouth couldn't manage anything more than monosyllabic responses that no doubt gave the impression that I didn't find the person interesting enough to look at, or talk to. As you can imagine, that had a way of limiting my dating habits to awkwardness, and few and far between outings with friends.
I shouldn't say this particular occurrence would be counted amongst my personal, extremely truncated dating accidents, as it seemed to be more so that of my best friend. Who was sitting next to me. Grinning at her. Arg.
Clark was one of those drama kids. Not the kids that had lots of drama, no, the ones in the drama club. They all seemed to be grinning all the time, always putting on some kind of an act. It took a certain special individual who didn't care at all what other people thought about them, but still wanted to entertain folks, to join that kind of club. He wasn't one of the popular kids by far, but he wouldn't have been friends with me if he was.
"Um, you know, you didn't have to invite me along - I wouldn't have mind being blown off if I'd known it was just the two of you, man..." I lamely explained to Clark, finding myself once again unable to look at her. But when I stared downward for too long, the thick black pair of glasses slipped down to the tip of my nose.
He just gave a little laugh, "Naw, I totally forgot we were doing something today, I'm just kind of playing the day be ear."
"Yeah, we don't mind, Josh." Beth said with a small but sunny smile, leaning forwards slightly over a cup of coffee and selection of notes, apparently from algebra class.
It had started out as a rather slow Sunday morning. I vaguely recalled Clark and I having had plans to hang out at the local coffee shop or skim by the arcade. Briefly I'd considered just letting the plans drop so I could continue my merciless campaign of destruction against the terrorist menace through a cleverly devised selection of fine weapons such as the newb cannon, the delightful deagle, and the ever so classical evasion technique, the bunny hop. However a high score was one thing, and making an attempt to socialize and perhaps one day rid myself of this cursed awkwardness was a distantly hopeful other thing. So I'd made the polite effort to call him up - playing with the idea in the back of my head to sound as unenthusiastic as I could. (Hey, there's nothing wrong with staying in all weekend playing video games - the people I was shooting at were people in real life! It's... kind of like socializing!)
His response had been somewhat odd at first. It was obvious he was in some busy place with lots of people talking, and he'd begged off, apologizing, and suggested we hang out some other time. Hanging up the phone with a pleasant smile, I'd thought to myself, well, you can't say I didn't try! And I cheerfully dropped into the chair before the monolithic monitor, reaching for the keyboard and mouse. The moment my fingers had slid into the familiar position on those somewhat worn Q, W, and E keys, and my other hand curled about the comforting dome of the mouse, the phone had given another ring.
"Hey, wanna meet at the coffee shop?" He quickly asked as soon as I picked up. As social invitations go, that was what amounted to all the guys in “King of the Hill” standing on the side of the street drinking beer while repeating affirmatives to one another.
Eyeing the login prompt screen patiently waiting for my input on that previously mentioned screen, the silently blinking cursor seemed to be asking me nearly the same question. "Ah... yah, sure," was my reply, and I slipped regretfully away from the screen to hop on my bike and motor over there as fast as my scrawny legs could comfortably get me.
At first, I couldn't quite spot them. The coffee shop had two socially polarized sections to it. There was the interior of the shop, which seemed to be for the respectable sorts of people; college students with lap tops, business men reading newspapers, gaggles of high school girls all giggling at one another, and people on dates.
The reason I seemed to have difficulty locating them, was on account of our familiarity with the seating in the back of the shop, outdoors. This was where the younger crowd seemed to congregate. The high school outcasts: the goth kids, the nerdy types, and your other random assortments of socially awkward teens. Considering we were somehow included in that last category, it seemed to make sense that he'd be out back in the area designated as "our usual seats," making a 1 dollar cup of coffee last for hours on end with handfuls of sugar packets and tiny cream cups.
Of course, they were inside. I say they, because while I'd been expecting perhaps just him and the usual bunch of misfits, an urgently waving arm from within the building informed me otherwise (well, more so the person attached to the arm than the arm itself - we knew very few words in sign language, and then only the one with that single finger). Beth had looked over across from Clark and given me a small smile, and I'd almost missed a step, lurching over with a mystified expression, the wit and conversation turning to stone in my head with one glance from the gorgon-like look of a pretty blonde.
Now I was rather confused about a great many things. The gears in my head had come to a clunky smoking halt, but I had enough of a mind to mutter out a rather informal, "Oh, hey. How you two doing..?" As Clark slid over in the comfortable booth the two had been sharing over a couple cups of coffee.
Mind numbingly similar responses followed. "Hey"
"Sa'll right, how are you?"
"Gravy," and the like. A book once told me (for some reason, sounding like James Earl Jones as I read it - why on earth when I'm reading boring facts and text books does my mental voice sound like James Earl Jones?) that during an average of every 10 minutes of a conversation, everyone goes quiet.
This happened after about a minute, and I was seriously busy trying to find something to focus on besides the curious anomaly that caused me to avert my gaze every time I thought of looking at her.
"So, uh..." I started to say, once all the greetings and meaningless how-ya-beens had been done and gotten out of the way. What I really wanted to know was what they were doing here, together, and why he'd bothered to invite me over if they were here together.
"Hey buddy. We were working on the math homework, maybe you could help us out?" Clark offered hopefully, and I blinked, and nodded dumbly in response. Her paper was safe to look at, it didn't possess that awkward looking barrier her face had, so I was quick to focus on it.
"Yah, Clark was saying you were really good at this stuff." I didn't have to look up to see her pleasant, small smile.
Good at this stuff. That was sort of an understatement. There were nerds, the smart kids that didn't know any better, and were awkward because of it. Then there was me. I knew I was one of the smarter ones when it came to numbers and math problems, but I knew if I showed it too much I'd be at the same lunch table as those kids who didn't realize what a great contraceptive playing D&D was. I figured if the only group I could be included with rolled 2D6 to decide which clever shirt with Final Fantasy pixel art on it to wear that morning, I might as well be the idiot loner. The last thing I needed was help from anyone else in becoming a social outcast; I can do that on my own!
Briefly glancing over the problems, the penciled-in troubled solutions beneath each one, and the frequent eraser marks, it didn't take me long to mentally compute the answers to everything on the page. But it was the little doodles in the corner of the sheet that I dared to smirk a little at.
That was so like her.
The work so far on the sheet seemed to indicate they were nowhere near figuring out how to solve the equations on them, but she must have been at it for a while, because the borders of the paper were covered in doodles of birds and butterflies and little vines working their way up pillars.
"Ooh, that's tough..." I said in a small lie. Honestly, I'd finished all this the second the bell had rung at the end of the class, and before most of them had rushed out to talk about what they'd do over the weekend, and who was dating who, and the sort of stuff I never seemed to be included in.
Clark smirked, "Come on man, I saw you working on this right after class."
Damn. "Yah, uh..." It was hard trying to explain simple things like this, oddly. It was like trying to explain to a toddler how to walk - it was just one of those things I'd caught on to a lot faster than anyone else in the class. Well, every math class I'd taken. For god's sake, if I had a choice of where my talents were going to be, I'd have picked sports, or useless pop culture trivia. The ability to parrot lines from the latest flick where some famous comedian plays the part of a dopey schmuck who somehow wins the heart of the beautiful starlet by making fun of her rich, equally dopey, jerky boyfriend, does great things for a kid’s popularity. Finally I ground out a response. "..You gotta isolate the variable, here."
Clark was looking at Beth again, smiling. I could tell, because I didn't have near the same problem looking at his smirking mug with his fancy mutton chops as I did her sweet face.
"Right, we've been trying that." She said, and I glanced up at her by reflex. It was only for an instant, but her eyes were still as blue and clear as I remembered, and her long honey-blonde hair was pushed back over her shoulders, and… well I didn't really look lower than that, because the instant I realized I was looking at her, anxiety inexplicably formed a difficult lead brick in my stomach that had the odd power to drag my eyes back down to the paper, and the simple, comfortable equations printed on them.
Agh, it hasn't even been another two minutes - James Earl Jones, you lied to me!
That awkward pause I tried to pass off as me studying the problems, but it was really me going suddenly dumb. Then me trying to recall what we were doing, and then me trying to think of a way to explain something to them that came as naturally as breathing to me.
"Okay... you... you gotta kinda do the opposite of what the problem is doing. To cancel it out. Like on this one, where it has X divided by two, you want to multiple both sides of the problem by two to cancel it out, and try to get X by itself. What you do to one side you gotta do to the other, and to simplify things you gotta do the opposite of what's going on." Erk. Was that too much? The last thing I wanted was to come off as smart or something, heaven forbid. I'd end up doing the homework of every guy on the football team, if that got out. Not that it would take me very long to do the elementary school level of nonsense they got given as homework, I just didn't like the idea of doing things for those jerks.
"I think I get it now..." Beth started to say, tapping the homework sheet with the rubber end of her pencil.
Clark was scratching at his dark sideburns, scraggly eyebrows stitched together as he squinted at the paper. "Huh... okay. Yah, I'm not getting it. Could you walk me through one?"
I gave a small shrug. The problem with this sort of homework wasn't getting the answers - I knew that at a glance. It was slowing yourself down enough to "show your work!" under each problem, as the teacher liked to often write on my returned homework assignments. In the big red pen. How that pen vexed me so.
"Sure." Over the next half hour or so I showed the two of them all the annoying, boring little steps between each problem. It sadly didn't take me long to show both of them the mind-numbing "work" you were supposed to list under each problem before the simple answer that the teacher of the class adored so, and I'd essentially done the whole sheet of homework for them. I paused. Had I been tricked? Pushing my glasses back up the bridge of my nose with an index finger, I sat up straight with the sort of posture that would have made my doting Aunt Mildred proud, and eyed Clark.
He leaned back in the booth chair, folding his hands up behind his head and grinned proudly at Beth, "Thanks a lot, Josh! I knew you'd figure this stuff out."
It was tough to tell whether he was being honest, or he was just gloating at his own clever plot come to fruition!
"Yah, Josh! Thanks so much, it all makes a lot more sense to me now! I was having trouble with this stuff all weekend," said Beth with a relieved tone, and reluctantly I glanced over at her in that reflex sort of look you do to show a person you were listening to them.
Coming out of the comforting, sensible sea of numbers and variables, all that clarity ran a red light in my head, and the cool police pulled it over. That awkward pause in the conversation was enough to blank my thoughts again, and have me glaring down at my hands. For once, I decided to cut the matter short before I made an even bigger idiot out of myself. Planting my hands firmly on the table I stood up. "Glad I could help! I gotta get going now - nice seeing you both."
Ah, greetings and farewells. Practiced tried and true ways to see yourself in and out of any conversation. If they hadn't been a normal part of every day yammering, people like me who go catatonic around pretty, interesting women, would just be running everywhere between opportunities to stare and drool at pretty curves.
"Going already? Alright, good luck on the test tomorrow," Beth said, with a half smile.
Clark just nodded, "Later."
Neither of them got up to leave with me. Erg. That means they were going to study, together. More! I suppose I didn't really have the luxury to be jealous. Also, it would have looked horribly nerdy if I'd just stood up, stared at them, moved off, stared at them again and went back. So I quietly hated myself, and stalked quickly out of the coffee shop to unlock my bike.
The further I got from the coffee shop, the less the anxiety weighed down on my chest and thoughts, my mind clearing. Isn't it always once everything is over and done with, and you're leaving a situation you had no idea you were getting into, that you realize how horrible stupid you'd been during the entire ordeal? I couldn't blame either of them for any of this, so I was sure blaming myself now that every clever little response, or interesting conversational topic was popping up in my mind. That new movie! I could have asked if they'd seen that new movie, with the clever comedian and the hot starlet, and the guy who plays the starlet’s asshole boyfriend that totally doesn't deserve her!
Frustrated with myself, I hopped on and took off on my sturdy three speed mountain bike my dad had gotten me once teenage growth spurts made it awkward to be peddling that old, um, one speed kid's bike. Maybe it was because of how angry I was, running through all the different scenarios that could have happened in the coffee shop in my head. It could have gone a million different ways, I could have cracked a joke, I could have sat next to her, maybe I could have even looked her in the eyes, for once, without going spontaneously mute?
It could have been any of those things distracting me that caused the speeding family-style minivan barreling towards me to go unnoticed.
The tenuous control of my mountain bike faltered, and I swerved in the middle of the intersection, just past the stop sign. Screeching tires caused my heart to cinch up and all those finely tuned little muscles in my rear end to do the same and go cold at the same time, as I looked in time to see the front grill of some soccer mom's minivan.
I nearly fell over when I got to the other side of the intersection, and instead just barely caught myself, propping the bike on one foot and catching my breath. In a curiously totally opposite reaction to that of earlier, with Beth, where my mind had gone dumb and my body had followed, my mind suddenly raced far ahead of my reluctant mouth!
"What the HELL! Is your BABY driving or something, lady?!" I yelled angrily back at the mini van.
Oddly, the windows were tinted, and I didn't see more than a couple tall figures in the front seat of the beaten up old vehicle. The driver's window quickly rolled down however, and a pale, tall gangly kid with a spiked, bleached hair cut yelled back at me, "The fuck! You wanna say that again!?"
I squinted through my glasses, recognition causing my racing heart to slow with the same sort of icy cold stillness I'd felt when I first saw the car screeching to a halt, barely a foot away from me. That incredibly intelligent response from the driver had been from none other than that of a fellow result of the public school system, more specifically of Russel Junior High - of which, I too was an educational inmate. To be even more specific, I'd seen him giving swirlies, and purple nurples, and wet willies, and all those other delightful tortures a high school film bully is stereotypically known for publicly inducing on his fellow classmates, while laughing so cheerfully! Ray was his name. Ah, I cannot count the numerous and many joys that this awoke within my quivering bowels, butterflies playing kamikaze with one another in the Pacific ocean of my stomach.
Not quite willing to lose face, I lowered my tone considerably to a mild growl, "Just watch where you're driving, man.", and took off down the sidewalk on my bike.
The trick was not to pedal too fast. If you looked like you were trying to get away, that was showing weakness, and as any student of the animal world can tell you, showing weakness to a potential alpha male makes you his bitch. I didn't want to be a bitch. In fact, I was dead set on doing just about anything I could do to avoid imminent bitch-dom. So I pedaled pleasantly away, almost coasting. However, I did keep the cruising minivan within the corner of my eye as I made off, breathing an inwards sigh of relief as it drove past me and down the road.
Great, another bullet dodged. At this point during the day all I really wanted to do was get home. I wasn't quite thinking ‘It couldn't get any worse than this,’ because being a casual fan of certain novels and popular movies, I was quite aware that the second you thought anything similar to that, your puppy would explode. Or it would rain, or your parents would tell you how they adopted you from the circus and it was time to go back to your real parents, the bearded man and the fat fish-smelling lady - and worse of all that, they didn't have internet access!
Firmly keeping this in mind, I made a beeline straight for home skirting down several blocks and coasting past the local police station when that brick that seemed to materialize and vanish from within my intestinal tract at will suddenly manifested - this time it was made of lead.
I'd caught a flicker of something familiar amongst the traffic of cars flowing past me, and a very familiar beat up old minivan suddenly took a sharp right on the street just ahead of me and screeched to a stop, blocking me off.
Forced to a sudden stop, I hesitated halfway between jumping off my bike and running, and pedaling away as fast as I could. Hey, panic doesn't make smart choices (and in this case, it didn't make any at all). The two figures climbed out of the van in front of me, and they seemed very intent on making several choices to my person that would no doubt smart.
Now, I was by no means an imposing figure. In point of fact, I was more the skinny, short, unimposing brooding kid with glasses doing his best not to be noticed, that no one seemed to notice (yay me!) or, usually, bother with, if I played my cards right. Faced against someone the fates apparently decided to sculpt into a long limbed, rather muscular basketball player and the other quite stocky and fat, but undoubtedly used to throwing that weight around, I was unsure of what to do.
I was not wanting that whole bitch scenario I talked about earlier to come to pass. Mind you, I've put great thought towards this and come to the conclusion that I would make a horrible bitch. I didn't have the thighs for it, for one thing.
That anxiety locked up my decision making once more, and the most I could think to do was manage a grudging glare as the two stomped towards me, "What do you wa-" was what I trying to say when briefly, the right side of my face saw stars.
He punched me, I quickly realized as I staggered back, not really stopping to think how much of a genius it took to figure that out. Quickly righting myself, and far too stunned to respond I wondered, seriously, who punches another person in this day and age? With all the law suits and counter lawsuits going around about something as simple as coffee that was poured too hot, who'd risk that?!
Worse, the punch had somehow pinched my glasses against my cheek and it stung something awful amongst the growing numbing sensation of the initial punch - luckily for me, I didn't have too long to worry about it before the second punch cleared my thoughts once more, knocking me the other way and causing me to land on the hot pavement the city planners so graciously decided to leave beneath my face. My glasses twirled and skittered across the pavement, stopping under the slightly raised toe of Ray's accomplice; the rather stocky Henry Sanchez.
I was distracted briefly from the sticky substance wetting the ground smooshed against my nose, with the mental image of a defective Jay with a spiked hair cut, and a Mexican Silent Bob staring me down.
Tilting my head up slowly, bits and places on my face numb and promising fat purple bruises in the morning as they slowly started to swell with pain, my eyes locked on where the thick rimmed glasses of mine seemed to crack and snap under a slowly descending boot. Wincing in sympathy, I didn't say a word as my spectacles were ground into the pavement.
Ray and Henry didn't seem to need to say any more than that, and with a high pitched laugh and a fare-thee-well swift kick to my stomach that knocked the wind out of me as I did my best to get to my feet, the pair then jumped back into their vehicle and peeled rubber taking off.
Groaning was really the only noise I could think of as I laid there, thinking that the pool of red stuff on the ground in front of my face looked an awful lot like blood, and finding it odd that I couldn't quite smell that cloud of dust the minivan had left as it evacuated. Eventually my stomach, where I'd initiated a clever, full body block of the rounder, shorter one's swiftly flying foot, went from a sharp pain to a dull throbbing that allowed me to breath. Gasping for air, I crawled up to my feet, wiping my bloody nose off on a sleeve.
A glance to the side told me my glasses were in the worst shape, but I slumped over to retrieve them anyway. Slipping the broken frame in my pocket, I picked my bike up by the handles and started to walk it back towards my home.
God, don't you just hate it when you lock up. Then, just after you're safe and away from all that anxiety, you suddenly start to realize what you should have done, what you could have said, and all those other things that would make you seem ten times smarter than you had.
I could have dodged the punch, maybe. That would have helped. Or perhaps, I might not have snapped so suddenly when I was about to be run off the road. A polite "Oh, pardon me sir, we both seem to be driving in the same bit of asphalt! Perhaps we're both due to use a bit more caution!" ...No, that would have got my ass kicked faster. What I should have done was hit him first! ...That would've shown him!
The side of my face stung something fierce, and I had a little trouble seeing through that right eye. Then again, I thought to myself, the lack of glasses probably doesn't help with the whole seeing thing anyhow. Trying to sigh, I just ended up groaning. Luckily, my house was just a few blocks from here. Ugh. I got my ass kicked just a few blocks from my house. If I'd have just ridden off...
Such thoughts don't do much good once the bad has already happened, so I sucked it up, trying to wipe as much blood as I could off my nose, and walked my bike into the front yard of my home. It was at this point that I said, with a growing amount of certainty, that "This couldn't get any worse."
"I've signed you up for the Mathletes, dear!"
My mom proudly told me once I'd dragged myself into the house, while holding up a horrible looking sweater of a particularly ghastly shade of puke, with the snazzy tag line "I'm a Mathlete, not an Athlete!" printed in clear white and unmistakable across the front.
Ah, one social bullet blocked firmly by my guts, and the next comes flying for that sweet spot between my eyes to finish the job. Deciding that closing my eyes might make things better (and wondering why I was suddenly considering taking up smoking and wearing blindfolds), I tried to calm my breathing and respond as clearly as I could, "Mom. I am not joining the Mathletes. I told you that."
"But... I got the sweater!" she said, sounding wounded.
Through the dull thumping of my heart I felt a twitch. Ugh. Mom guilt. A more potent weapon, there is not.
"... But... mom..." I tried to explain as reasonably as I could, voice unconsciously turning to that whiny tone I thought I'd outgrown, "I'll get my ass kicked! The kids who join the Mathletes have a border of empty tables around them at lunch, mom! A border! No one's willing to be even a TABLE'S distance near them!" gasping for breath, I summarized, "That's not a sweater, it's a suicide vest full of social explosives, and you're sending me to the only afterlife with REAL virgins! The kind of virgins that are stuck that way because there aren't enough bags in the world to make anyone want to have sex with them!"
"....Joshua Andrews Gillman, don't you dare say 'ass' in this house!" hissed my mom after a sharp gasp, invoking the most dreaded of all mom techniques, using your full name.
"And wipe your feet, you're tracking blood all over my clean floors!"
"...Is that BLOOD!?" She suddenly shrieked, tossing aside the sweater and grasping me into the dreaded sea of mom bosom, then yanked my head back with it firmly planted between her two hands as she gave my face a wide eyed examination, "Oh my god! My baby's been assaulted by hooligans!"
I winced, this time, not from being beaten. Hysterical moms were worse than violent beatdowns. At least with the violent beatdown, the talk dies down after a while. With the hysterical mom, you have to sit there, while beaten up, being dragged around as she screams at people amongst the school faculty you never knew existed, and insists on showing you off to the parents of the children who perpetrated the violent beatdown like unto shoving a handful of steaming rhino poop beneath their noses.
"...Mom I... I just fell off my bike, is all." I lamely decided to lie once more, intent on as much damage control as I could manage.
"Bikes don't give people black eyes!"
"It wasn't the bike really, it was the ground I hit after I fell from the bike!" Black eyes? Oh, great. The only thing better than getting your ass kicked, was having the shiny purple badge about your eye that tells everyone else in school that you did, indeed, have your ass kicked.
She clicked her tongue doubtfully, worry still evident in her face as tried to pull the skin back from my bruised eye with her thumb, no doubt to get a better look at the bloodshot veins coursing through my eyeball like red vines. "You... really just fell, dear? Is that the truth?"
"I, uh... y-yes mom, that's what happened." I managed a weak smile, wincing as she tugged at my face. "Ouch, that hurts. Really, stop!"
Relenting finally, she took a step back. That worry was still in her eyes, and damned if the growing ball of guilt pushing that anxiety brick about in my belly wasn't turning to nigh bowling ball sizes. Sighing finally, she said, "All right, dear. But if someone attacked you, you need to tell the school about it."
Oh. Yah. That's what I'm going to do. Tattletale to the campus security. Is it just me, or does everything after something like this seem to lead down the same road with frequent stops to beatdownville?
"Yah mom, but really - I just fell. That gravel in the church parking lot made me slip, I'll be more careful next time."
"Oh... oh, alright... hurry up and get cleaned for dinner, though, and I'll make you an icepack for that eye. And stop using the church parking lot as a shortcut! Honestly, you keep coming up looking like that after falling in that place - I'm of half a mind to have a talk with that pastor about it!"
"Urg. Thanks, Mom. Yah, I won't, Mom." I skulked past, hoping fervently that this whole incident would make her forgot about the whole "Mathletes!" idea from earlier.
"Oh, dear! Your first Mathletes meeting is going to be on Friday! So, don't make any plans for after school!" she called after me as I left, that cheerful tone creeping back into her voice as she retrieved the discarded sweater and smoothed it out proudly.
I cleaned up, and kept my head down during dinner. There was perhaps a bit of a fraternal bond, I think, between my father and me. An understanding. Because I was pretty sure when I told him the same thing I'd told mom, he wasn't buying it for an instant. I told him I fell off a bike, and he understood that I was lying through my teeth.
"We'll talk about this later," he said, the stern tone in his voice an unmistakable indicator that that particular verse would be etched in stone, and followed to the letter. Once more, I groaned inwardly (because when you groan outwardly when someone says something like that, you get the business).
Finally dinner was over, and I tactfully withdrew to my room, closed the door, kicked off my shoes and socks and collapsed on my bed. I was blessed with the clarity of hindsight (as I had frequently been blessed such just after being humiliated, and beaten earlier this day, in that order), and the many different ways my day could have gone if I'd done any number of things. Just staying in playing games was a tempting alternate.
I lazily glanced over the computer screen keeping stoic watch on all the little Knights of Purity figurines copping various poses with action flex grip along my desk, and considered that a brief sojourn into the worlds of sniping bitches and f*#%ing campers might lighten up my evening. But a growing warmth in my head, and a sudden urge to just sleep and call it a day overwhelmed my senses.
As I drifted off to bed, I tried my best not to think about Clark, and Beth, and what they'd do with the rest of their evening now that they didn't have math homework. I did my best not to think about Ray and his heterosexual(?) life mate Henry, and how they were probably somewhere laughing it up and talking to one another about my most certainly, rightly justified beatdown. More importantly, I did my very best to try and not think about the fact that I probably would have to go to school tomorrow.
Well ... I thought to myself, the cautious of consciousness slipping from my grasp, It can't get any worse...
A curious violet light alerted my consciousness, and something called out for me - I can't say it touched my eyes, because the misty nature of everything, and my blatant acceptance and indifferent attitude just then made me think that I must be asleep. For a moment, I thought the light had come from the corner of my room, and then everything just sort of dissolved into a kind of formless space that I drifted through rather pleasantly.
In this place my face didn't sting, and I didn't seem to have any more trouble than normal when focusing in a dream. Strange geometric shapes floated by, and I sensed they had a kind of will and intelligence behind them, as they responded to my presence. More so, I felt like they extended beyond what I could physically see, unfolding in dimensions I'd only read about in books I'd been reading lately, like those of A. S. Eddington, and thought about when pondering the curves of non-Euclidean space.
This was one effed up dream. If I smoked pot I would have at least known the reason behind the weirdness.
It was a curious world I'd stumbled into, and I realized I wasn't really looking at it with my eyes. I was understanding it, and in understanding it, it took form.
I was content enough to drift along this infinite space, only having to think where I wanted to go and I'd be there. The freedom of movement elated me, and I soon found myself surrounded by creatures of increasing complexity. A sense of nervousness overtook me, and I calculated and felt my way to something I sensed they'd have trouble following me to.
Curiously, I felt resistance. That was strange. Something told me that everything in this weird place should be easy to get to, but this particular passage was barred, somehow. Blinking (sort of, no corporeal body in this wacky dream place, remember?) I assessed what was barring my way, considered the thing from multiple realities. And just as I was starting to understand it, cold air hit my suddenly-there face.
A cold stone surface of a type I couldn't identify hit my hands and knees as I collapsed to it, panting, the dream haze still confusing my thinking. For some reason, my face stung and ached again, and my stomach was still sore and throbbing.
I raised my head and winced at the glare from three suns of different colors, red, white, and yellow, spreading across the sky in a string. A cool breeze made the throbbing in my face ache less so, and I slowly climbed up to my feet and took in my peculiar surroundings with that blind acceptance of a dream world.
A cyclopean city stretched out before my widening vision, black spires of apparently the same material as that beneath my bare feet stretched skywards like great fangs growing from other fangs, the heat of the suns feeling like peak tanning hour at the beach, but three times worse.
I dumbly stumbled forward across the curious ledge I found myself on, but noticed soon there was no rail or protection to keep a person from falling off if they got too close. Quickly I retreated away, my back pressing against a peculiar structure. Craning my head back, I noticed curious designs, strange lines etched across a slab of strange gray-purple metal. Figures were arranged across it like none I'd ever seen, strange eyes with tentacle-like extremities issuing forth from the center in spreads of nine.
As I stared at the strange thing, I came to understand, slowly, through a strange double vision, that saw some of the lines as glowing channels of force and energy, and inter-dimensional corners intersecting, that this was a beacon. Or a door. No, a beacon. A beacon for finding one's way through... maybe, whatever it was I'd been in before.
If I weren't dreaming just then, I most certainly wouldn't have been nearly as calm and excepting as I was just then of all patently impossible happenings and things. More so, I would probably have been much more freaked out when a pair of what I recognized as the eyeball creatures from the designs on the beacon come to eerie life appeared in a dark doorway, and moved towards me.
Their motions were graceful, somehow, like some multi-limbed sea creature patiently and rhythmically setting limb after long loose limb in front of one another, methodically moving forwards as though through a thick fluid, the single eye in the center of the whole mess the size of a basketball, with a milky white center and an iris that looked like a drop of black ink in a glass of water, which I assumed was giving me the intergalactic stink eye.
The two aliens amongst all the alien architecture weren't out of place. However, the girl walking between them, wearing a thick black pair of glasses with shoulder length black hair, and sporting a strange brown suit top, tie, and ankle length skirt that felt like it came out of the 50s was... odd.
Stranger still, she was speaking quite rapidly, and quite plainly in what sounded like English. "I'm telling you guys, that Azathoth is a gas! Once you get past the whole 'arg must eat reality!' deal, him and his unholy avatar are darn polite! We had tea! What? Aw I dunno Dee', you always beat me at solitaire - I 'm starting to think you hide card sharks in your sleeves! Yah, I heard about that! I'm really disappointed in you two, too! Tutus? Oh yah, I'll totally thumb wrestle you for it - loser buys the Chinese?"
I blinked. This time, I had eyes. So did all of them, as they were all turned towards me, staring.
The young girl, (she couldn't have been too many years older than I was, and definitely no taller) bit her lip. She frowned, grimaced, wrinkled her nose, then yanked out what strangely looked ...a LOT like an old brass pocket watch. Inspecting it, she glared at me, "You know, you REALLY aren't supposed to be here. You're going to anger the twins!"
"The… the twins?" Smart responses weren't my thing today, even in dream land. I was kind of hoping she'd rip her top off and show me her dream boobs, honestly. The whole thing was so weird, and ludicrous, I had the sudden urge to reach out and touch her.
She gave me a deadpan look and crossed her arms, pointing with her thumbs in a rather strange way at either of the two creatures gyrating at her sides. Piping up with a smart tone, she repeated, "the TWINS. Geez, you're a klutz!" The girl held her clock up at me like a badge, and her cute little brow creased, "Get your rear back to bed, sleeping boy!"
My hand drifted up and I smiled lazily, fingers touching her glasses.
"Wondering fraternal twin abilities acti-!"
Once more, the world went violet.
5:46 am, Monday, March 5, 2007
I woke up in a cold sweat early the next morning, panting as the room spun about me, and looking about rapidly with wide eyes, wondering where I was now.
It was... my room? It didn't feel right.
Waking up was like jumping from reality to playing a virtual reality game - you had the kind of sense that everything here was less real than where you'd just been. Things looked so terribly simple in comparison, the laws and movements of them so completely obvious, their behavior simple.
Things settled as I caught my breath, like trying on new glasses and having things gradually come into focus. Though in its place, a throbbing headache was cause to wince. Staring at my room in disbelief, I touched a hand to my face to wipe the sweat off. It felt a bit warmer than usual. Wincing, I reached my hand up again to feel my forehead, realizing it wasn't just my forehead that felt warm. I felt a fever heating my skin, like my body had been over-clocking itself and the fan wasn't quite doing the job.
I swung my feet off the bed and heaved up to my feet. My balance felt off, and my legs wobbled. My eye still stung, though it was a dull kind of pain that I was fairly certain indicated a nifty badge of eye-punching. Stumbling towards the restroom, I had to use the wall to keep myself from falling over. My hand moved, trembling, to crank the cold water on, and I splashed a handful of it liberally in my fever-heated face, trying to collect my wits.
My gaze lifted to the bathroom mirror, and I balked at the reflection.
Was that... me?
...Oh right, I got hit. Lots. In the face. Well, twice was lots to me. I gingerly lifted a hand to touch the swollen flesh around my squinted eye. My nose was a little purple in parts too, but it didn't look the worse for wear. Another matching bruise marked my other cheek. As my vision adjusted to the light, I noticed something else odd. Sure, I felt really warm, and was probably running a fever, but my skin was slightly pinker than I recalled it being.
On a hunch I tugged my shirt collar down an inch. There was a fine line where my raw reddish skin went, with my normal not-so-pasty white just below, just like when one had sunburn. That didn't even make any sense.
My hand drifted down to my side as I questioned the dark haired kid in the mirror, and my hand brushed against something rather more... non-broken than I remember. A sense of dread crept up the back of my neck as I slipped my hand into the pocket I'd stashed my broken glasses in, and my fingers felt over the frame. And the lenses. The unbroken lenses.
Dumbly, I lifted my thick rimmed glasses out of my pocket and held it up to the light. It certainly didn't look like a large round Hispanic kid had stepped on them and ground his heel until there wasn't anything left but shards of glass and twisted plastic. Had I, after having the stuffing beaten out of my head, imagined that part?
In fact, they looked brand new. They were most certainly my glasses. Just to be sure, I lifted them up, trying them on. The fit was smooth, perfect. Comfortable, even over my bruised nose and swollen eye. And the second I had them on, my headache lifted.
As the strange details slowly added up in my mind, one thing was very clear to me. The fever, the mysterious burn, the swollen eye, my unbroken glasses...
"I don't gotta go to school today!" I pumped my fist in the air victoriously. It was about time something went my way!
"They TOLD me to find a way to see it and I DID! They're all around us now! That air you breathe, that sky you think clear and empty? It isn't! It's filled with beings, with creatures, with things you can't imagine! They live with us, they move through us, they can pull us into their world! They're INSIDE me now! I shouldn't have looked at them, but I did! I shouldn't have let them out, but I did! I had to know! I told the woman not to turn on the lights, but she did, and now they're all dead! I've told you I had nothing to do with their deaths! Now they'll eat me alive if you don't let me free! I can feel them now, I can feel them crawling around in my veins and trying on my skin! For the love of god, let me free!" screamed the man in the hoarse terror-filled voice of the mad, to any who would listen. He had no sense left to him to tell if any were, or were not in fact, listening to him, because long ago he'd clawed his own eyes out.
For this alone, if not only for the mysterious manner they'd retrieved him from his home, huddling around a smoking projector, they'd wrapped bandages about his head to hold the bleeding, and locked him away in the Asylum. In his further terror, he'd claimed to see unearthly things long after his eyes had gone, heard unearthly whispers in a voice and tongue he knew not, days after clawing at his own ears. He'd claimed these things were invading his very body, and had clawed to shreds the flesh on his own arms until naught was left but flaps of skin, raw muscle, rotting bones, and stubs of fingers, so they'd restrained and bandaged Doctor Crawford Tillinghast.
There were in fact men listening to him at that moment, a pair of them dubiously standing outside the small barred slot in the door outside his padded cell.
"He's been like this ever since you pulled him from his house, and I don’t think he has much longer left to live" the first man said. The white long lab coat he wore, the clip board, the airs he put on defined him as a doctor at the asylum. Making a note on the board with a pencil, he asked, his tone distant and medical, "Did he really kill his entire housekeeping staff?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," answered the man in the sharp black suit. "All we found were piles of clothes." The man watched Tillinghast writhe and scream in his cell, the only thing keeping him from mutilating himself further being the copious heavy cloth straps lashing him to a bed. "Is there anything we can do to help him?"
"I wish there was. His mind's completely cracked. Whatever you had him working on, he must have gone mad trying to complete. You see it in some genius inventors and researchers when they realize they can't achieve their life's work; complete mental breakdown occurs. The eccentric geniuses seem to be capable of the greatest achievements, and the worst breakdowns when they fail. I admit though, I've never seen it this bad."
"Oh, he didn't fail," said the man in the dark suit, turning to leave. There was really nothing further he could gain from this, and there were people he needed to report to on the matter. Perhaps Tillinghast would recover in time, but their previous encounters with Class X entities left the man with the impression that the good doctor's mind was lost to humanity. If anything, Tillinghast had been lucky. Sometimes all they could retrieve were pieces of mutated flesh scraped off the walls. "He succeeded. That's what drove him to this. He succeeded beyond our furthest expectations."
Doctor Waite watched the suit leave, then studied the man raving within the padded cell with a clinical inquisitiveness that soon turned regretful. That man would no doubt die, soon. He left as well, shaking his head as his steps echoed off the polished tiled hallways and tall walls, the strong smell of antiseptic chemicals in the air. Somehow, he felt the chemical scent had a way of muting the screams and cries for release that cut through the asylum with utmost agony.
More and more of these strange, helpless cases were being left to his asylum. Things were beginning to worry Doctor Waite, and not just the bizarre cases being dropped in his lap. The facility was created with every assurance that if a strong, healthy human being with his mind wired wrong were to snap, there were countless redundancies to keep them restrained. Strapped beds, straight jackets, padded walls, thick oaken doors, capable guards at every corner, and the convenient isolation of the facility itself with its maze-like interior and distant location far away from civilization. However, these stipulations were created mindful of the worse possible damage a human might be capable of were he to try to break free.
Doctor Waite passed a room wherein was locked a person that was looking less and less human as the days went by. The creature's eyes were becoming large and sullen, unfocused, its chin growing absent, its flesh slick and smooth as its hair fell out, and gravity pulling on it to force it to stoop more and more. There were many more aberrations of physiology like this thrown under lock and guard and key within these walls.
It seemed only a matter of time to the good doctor that eventually the denizens being gathered here would be in so great a number or individual strength that the well thought out limits of the facility would no longer be sufficient. If the government didn't answer his pleas that they reinforce this place, he most certainly did not want to be here when this happened.
Monday, March 5, 2007
Certain elements, when gathered in great enough quantities and given certain conditions, left to their own devices, will form patterns. Water gently frozen in the boundless sky can form intricately unique snow flakes, and minerals in the earth in the violent fire of the earth's depths grow into crystals, diamonds, and other formations. Humanity is not so different.
Given certain quantities of people forced to live in a high enough density, people tend to crystallize and form groups, and hierarchies within themselves. Often, an aggressive force is required to keep the group contained and dependent on one another. In ancient times this might have been the forces of nature, or dangerous animals forcing tribes to band together for defense. Later, as mankind gained a certain dominance over the elements and animals, these forces of aggression became the humans themselves, with different nations and great tribes vying for supremacy over the other.
In modern times, this has not changed. We huddle together in cities, nations clinging against one another, governments forming. Even in the smaller aspects of society we can see this pattern; prisons where guards govern over and force less desirable individuals to all live together in rather uncomfortable conditions. In these prisons, the aggressive force of the rest of the nation and the more immediate presence of guards and guns creates a highly dense collection of people that instinctively form their own internal hierarchy. Often it's the strongest, most organized group, and the best-connected individuals who can claim sovereignty within those cement walls and metal bars. The weakest, the stray loners, are dominated by the strong. Every member within this structure instinctively knows their position within the chain, reinforced by small and large skirmishes proving one's strength and resources. It is a highly dynamic chain of power, however, as people are much more squishy than diamonds.
In more civil places, high school is not so different. Society itself forces its growing spawn into square class rooms and somewhat uncomfortable conditions, cement walls with wire fences. There exists a hierarchy within the 'wardens' themselves of these schools, with clearly outlined positions. Teachers, security personal, and parents keep the many varied sorts of kids all forced together from 8 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday (and sometimes weekends and after class for detention of the particularly rowdy).
The students there, much like prisoners, have different resources, different strengths, and different talents. You could call them the "haves" and the "have-nots" if you wished. Those who represent the ideals of what we all wish to be tend to be the strong, entrenched leaders within the stratified social structure of the so called "student body". Often however, as in a prison, this structure is highly dynamic and can change at a moment’s notice. The person, or persons, who could be identified as the kings and or queens within the school one day could just as easily have a falling out the next day and find themselves exiled and given a happy kick down the social shoots they'd avoided while climbing all the ladders of cool.
Today, the icy, blue-eyed blonde, queen bitch of Russel High School was Suzan Chylds. She was in full attendance as well, her court of fools and royalty fast on her pointed high heels as they clicked across the hallways, mingling in the half hour or so before class started.
Trailing her on either side were the quite pretty, but still not quite as pretty as Suzan herself, friends. It wouldn't do for her to keep company with anyone that might draw attention from herself, after all. In a way, they were like fashion accessories. Each of the girls had dark hair which only did more to make her stand out, and both walked in rhythm with the top blonde herself, both walking at a respectful half step behind.
"Ohmygawd, did you hear about that mutant that held up that liquor store on Saturday? I heard she just walked in and out without anyone stopping her! They had it on camera and everything!" The left brunette asked, her eyes round.
Anytime a mutant broke a law or held up a bank, it seemed to hit every TV station simultaneously. There was an edging fear about those 'evolved' humans who could do things beyond the normal range of humanity's limits, and the general media seemed eager to feed that fear.
"Geez," muttered Suzan after a slight pause, her eyes half-lidded with annoyance, "My dad was saying how the sooner we round up every last one of those filthy monsters, the better." She turned to regard the other girl with a smirk, "You know they carry diseases, don't you? They're a menace to society. And spandex! Could you BE any more gross? I wouldn't be caught dead or even at the beach in the get-ups some of them go around in. What goes on in a mutant’s mind that makes them think, just because they can shoot lasers out of their butt, they might as well put on spandex?" Oddly, her feelings on spandex appeared to be more of a concern than the lasers, or even the alleged diseases.
With a silent shared shudder of agreement between the two brunettes, the horror of spandex was indeed attested to be a curse on the sense of fashion of the general populace.
"Oh! So, how was your weekend, Suzy?" asked the brunette on her right.
"Suzan," she chided in a slightly annoyed tone, "It's Suzan, Becky. Not Suzy." She was starting to consider finding smarter friends. Not smarter than her, of course. "It was alright."
Remembering the party from that weekend had Suzan smiling to herself. It had been there that the previous 'queen of the school' had suffered a humiliating accident at the top of a flight of stairs in her own home. In the close sort of race the two of them had had for the top dog position (i.e.. most elevated bitch), it hadn't taken more than a small slip up on one or the other to give the other the advantage. In this case, it had been a literal slip up. Yes, the weekend had been much better than alright.
The other brunette let out a small gasp, as though just remembering something, "Oh my god Suzan, did you hear what happened to Jessica? I heard she broke her leg over the weekend!"
Suzan sighed, "Yes, I'm well aware. I WAS at the party, you know." She allowed herself a small smirk, "I've always said she'd trip up eventually. That girl was always falling over her own feet... I told you how she kept holding us all back in cheerleading practice, didn't I?"
Her dark-haired flanks both let out nervous laughs, "Yah, she totally didn't fit in, Suzy-ah, Suzan."
"Totally, Suzan! It'll be so great now that she's not there!"
Suzan allowed herself a ‘cat eating canary’ styled grin. Truth be told, dear Jessica's accident hadn't been completely left to the fates. There had been a slight nudge, graciously given by a certain cold blonde with ice blue eyes. It had been Jessica's fault, though. If she'd just backed down months ago, Suzan wouldn't have had to resort to all the rumors, the lying, the... well, usual high school political maneuvering. Things were definitely looking up for her, now.
Things were NOT looking up.
"What do MEAN I have to go to school!?" I protested in disbelief, twisted around in the swivel chair situated before the flashing computer monitor.
"KILLED BY HEAD SHOT!" sounded the speakers, and I winced reflexively. This of course caused the somewhat swollen tissue about my right eye to twinge with pain. I was absolutely certain I looked miserable. Scratched up, black eye, skin on my face and arms a warm pink shade similar to that of a sunburn, hair looking like I'd slept on it. I had, actually. I had just assumed since I wouldn't be going to school that day that I wouldn't have to bother cleaning up!
"Mom, you're killing me...!" I whined. In more ways than one, she was killing me. I'd been on a 13 man killing streak! "...I've got a fever!" I explained.
Pensively she averted her gaze to the thermometer she'd snuck in and out of my mouth while I'd been busy clicking doom on digital terrorists digitally patched to look like blue-suited members of a particular international terrorist organization. "Yes, but it isn't that bad. Besides, school is more important than taking a day off because you're feeling a little warm. However, if you lose your lunch or faint, feel free to visit the nurse’s office," she said, smirking.
Arg. Moms. There was no reasoning with them! But that didn't mean I wouldn't try, "But Mom! It... could be worse! What if it's the start of projectile vomiting!" I could only hope. A disease you can aim would be fan-freaking-tastic. That'd be better than a mutant power!
She sighed, "It's only a small temperature, Josh. Don't blow it out of proportion. Unless... there's another reason you need to stay, that you'd like to talk about?"
Suddenly, I wondered if she'd been talking with dad. Just between you and me, I sometimes suspected those two were in cahoots together, you know. "Uhr, no... no. I'll go get ready," I finally conceded, trudging towards the bathroom after logging out quickly from my game.
"Don't take too long, or you'll be late!" she called after me, helpfully. She only paused to note the strangely low volume her son had set his computer game at. The reason seemed obvious. "Finally, he's thinking about the rest of us!" Sighing with relief, Mrs. Gillman turned to leave her son’s room, "I was getting more than a little tired of gun noises all evening long."
If anything, the shower wasn't helping things. Once I'd gotten out of my clothes and set my glasses down at the counter, my vision was heated by a sudden blur of spots and throbbing lines that opened the gates in my brain to the dozen-elephant headache parade. Not the happy pink ones either, these were the big hemisphere-thumping ones with 'just married' cans on their tails.
I assumed I'd just stood up too fast on seeing all those spots, and stumbled into the shower and cranked it on, hoping a little hot water might alleviate my condition. Instead of making it better, however, the rain of water droplets hammered down on the porcelain and throbbed in my suddenly very sore ears. Grunting, I closed my eyes and leaned into the shower stream, planting my hands on the tiled wall. The sound didn't soften any, but the splitting headache seemed to ebb away for the moment.
Perhaps having the least comforting shower I've ever had, I rushed out for a change of clothes, and by the time I found my glasses, whatever was left of that headache and the annoying spots in my eyes faded away. Thank goodness for small blessings, eh?
I rather dreaded this, but the parents didn't really leave me any choice. And my earliest misconceptions about their concerns for my well being had left me with just under ten minutes to get on my bike and motor it to class before the bell rang.
I'd been to the zoo once when I was younger. The gorilla enclosure was particularly interesting to me, for some reason. They were perhaps our closest genetic cousins out there in nature, and they got themselves a very special piece of enclosure with little caves and sparse foliage. A glass barrier separated all the gawkers and drive-by stare-ings from the dug out little bit of plastic paradise where four or five very lazy animals were sitting, usually with their backsides turned toward gawkers. Thinking about it though, I guess if I was stuck in a bit of tropical paradise the size of a couple swimming pools, I'd probably end up sleeping and eating all day myself.
But to the point, the tour guide in the snazzy safari outfit in the middle of San Diego Wild Animal Park had informed us as we passed, that the zoo would prefer it if we all wouldn't stare directly at the gorillas. Apparently they took that as an aggressive gesture, and it really P.O.'d our big friendly fuzzy cousins. Of course, as soon as the tour guide wasn't looking, everyone under the age of ten was up at the glass staring as hard as they could, eyes round and their tongues sticking out (which in retrospect could NOT have been hygienic).
Cut to now.
High school kids aren't that much different than gorillas. If you look the wrong big fuzzy brute in the eye the wrong way, you could have more than some chest thumping and bush beating to deal with. So the usual strategy in passing between classes was to keep your eyes down and uninterested. Or at least focused on a convenient friend walking along with you.
School had being going very strangely. All morning, it felt like everyone was talking to me. Don't get me wrong, I had the impression they'd be talking about me, considering the black eye and bad tan job I suddenly seemed to sport, but for some reason they all felt louder then normal in my fever-warmed ears. It was really hard to tune out voices clear and sharp enough that they felt like they were next to you, and when you turned your head they were a good fifteen feet away.
So it was with a curious bit of confusion and nervousness, and relief, that I heard Beth's voice. My chest tightened, and I half turned to look over one shoulder expecting to see her half a league away waving down someone else. Though, she wasn't. She happened to be just behind me, and I briefly saw her eyes.
"Josh, hey! I wanted to thank you for yesterday," she started to say when she either saw my black eye, or saw me staring at her. I'm guessing it was the former. "Whoa. Are you alright? What happened..?"
I gave her a nervous laugh, "Oh, this? Uh. That church parking lot..."
"Oooh, the loose gravel? Yah, I skinned my knee there once when I was a kid. They need to pave that place over." She paused, looking at my face so closely I thought my heart would stop. Or, beat out of my chest like a 12 cylinder engine out of a lawn mower. "...Have you been using a tanning booth?"
"Huh?" I blinked, momentarily forgetting that her face was a no-fly zone for my field of vision. "Oh, I dunno. I guess it's some kind of rash." Erk "Not the contagious kind!" I don't think.
Beth laughed then, and the whole world felt a little lighter. Which was why when the fist slammed into the small of my back that I flew all the further, sprawling forwards across the cement walk way.
As one might imagine, this was a decidedly uncomfortable thing for me. Oddly, it was also very familiar a sensation. I groaned as intelligibly as I could and pushed myself up, looking back to see what errant log on a rope had ninja'd me in the back, while fixing my glasses. I was getting those head aches again. My dull vision was greeted by perhaps one of my least favorites views, good ole Ray and his buddy Henry were there together, looking down at me with a sneer and a quick heartfelt apology, "Pff. Watch where you're going, frosh."
Ah, the delights of being humiliated and beaten in front of the woman you deny having significant feelings for.
"What is your damage!?" I was surprised that hadn't flown out of my quick action mouth with its get-my-ass-kicked action, since those words interrupted my own as my mouth dropped open to reply. It actually had flown out of Beth's.
The whole high school hierarchy had several exceptions to its ‘chain of command' (at least, it did when school was in session). Things that a guy could say that would get his ass kicked, did not necessarily mean a beatdown if a female said it to the same target, assuming the target was a male (this equation is directly proportional to the hotness of said girl, the degree of deprivation of the insulted male in question, and how many witnesses there were).
So where I probably would have gotten stomped on, she only got a dismissive look. Then a second glance. Then a toe to head eye fuck, from both of them. Ugh, I felt a massive body wide shudder and a grand sense of disgust crawl up the back of my throat, as if I'd swallowed a mouthful of pregnant black widows all going into simultaneous limb wriggling labor.
"Nothing you couldn't fix with a little loving, baby." Ray attempted to assure her, suddenly far more interested in her reaction that in mine. I got up to my feet, glaring daggers. Hm. In retrospect to the whole female saying male things that would get the male's ass handed to him, I may have to rescind my earlier comparison. I think I'd have preferred the ass-whoopin’ to the slimy pick-up lines and looks.
And really, if I didn't have the whole 'can't talk to hot chicks' thing going on with me, I could have come up with ten times better a pick up line than that.
"Pff, as if you could even get it up without your homo-erotic boy toy with you." Oh, shit. That came out of my mouth, hadn't it? Simultaneously I felt three pairs of wide eyes on me, and shrugged it off, looking back at one of the pairs. Of eyes.
Mentally I flashed back to that time in the zoo, and the lazy gorillas that didn't seem to care that we were trying to aggravate them. This particular gorilla didn't have that problem - maybe he had more grazing room than his zoo bound cousins? So I found myself staring him down like a kitten on Cocoa.
"Oh, look who grew a pair! Maybe we oughta rip 'em off, huh?" Ray glared, and Henry seemed to be in agreement.
So. What the hell. I was in deep already. "Right, like you need an excuse to be touching another man's balls, Ray." I twitched, giving that inward groan. What the hell was I saying, and why weren't my fists as fast as my mouth?
"You son of a bi-" Ray stopped. He narrowed his eyes, backing off a step.
"And what may I ask, is going on here?" questioned the aged and challenging calm of an adult. Ah. A teacher. Who says there's never one around when you need 'em? "May I REMIND you, Mister Stanz, you're a look away from getting expelled?"
Looking behind me, I noticed my math instructor looming up and only a pipe and a couple of patched elbows away from being a college teacher.
"No problem... we were just having a little talk." Ray passed a sly look to me (oh, so subtle) and walked past - not missing the opportunity to ram his shoulder into mine as he went, whispering, "I'll be looking for you after school, faggot."
I rolled my eyes heavenwards, pleading whatever deity or deities that may exist therein to one day explain to me how all the men obsessed with forcing their hands on other, smaller men, always had to imply that the ones they were after were in fact the ones who were gay, and they, with their ten man-seeking hand sausages were the paragon of heterosexual masculinity. Could people make any less sense?
"Keep walking, Mister Stanz," the math teacher said in that stern voice, watching him go. Then he glanced at me evenly. "Mister Gillman," he stated. "I believe you have class, now."
Dusting myself off, I gave a small nod, "Um… see ya, Beth." My voice hardly even cracked when I said it that time. I no doubt had a bit of an adventure waiting for me after school, but right here at this particular moment, she was smiling (sort of) at me.
"Alright. Later, Josh,” she said with a hesitant smile, watching me for moments that had me quickly facing my next class and walking toward it with a great haste. It wasn't that I didn't want to smile at her, and wave, but I felt that dreaded lead brick heave into my guts in a complete disrespect for all the other organs comfortably settled therein. Thank god for the sunburn, or someone would probably have seen my blushing.
The math teacher lingered a moment, perhaps for my safety, waiting for me to enter the room. I didn't notice the half glance he cast on Beth's retreating form.
Despite the weird fever, and ears near raw from hearing every little scratch, shuffle, and hushed whisper around me (and I was starting to think the two were related), math class went by easily. It always went by easily, but this time it was almost a joke. I got so bored watching the teacher spell out equations that were so mind numbingly simple I felt like he was running over the ABC's for everyone else.
I started flipping ahead in the book. It took me the whole class period to convince myself I hadn't stumbled into the remedial class, and by the time it was done with I was more annoyed than anything. In the meantime I was fidgeting, squirming, adjusting my pencil and paper on the desk until all the angles added up, looking around the room noticing all the motivational posters that were positioned uneven distances apart, tilted at angles slightly off from the 90 degrees they should have been, the lines on the squarish pieces of paper hardly parallel to the corners and edges of the room itself, and destined to one day, were they to continue, to intersect with said lines with untold consequences.
"Alright class, turn in your worksheets," sounded the bored voice of our graying teacher.
Crap. I glanced down at my desk, noting the bit of class work the teacher had passed out some 40 minutes ago, that I hadn't even read past a quick glance. And why would I have? I'd almost thought it was a joke! But I had written something on it. Staring at the paper as I held it up, I recognized it as an odd sort of poetry. The numbers and equations danced before my eyes, melting beyond the implied limits of mathematics into intuition, bringing to mind a cold planet with monolithic buildings with three suns spanning across the sky.
Just as quickly as the location and details flashed in my head, the paper was snatched out from my hands by the teacher as he wandered the rows of desks, collecting the papers without even really looking at them.
The bell rang shortly after that, and I mentally shrugged the feelings off, moving on to the next allotted time slot for institutional education.
Luckily, I didn't "bump" into anyone else I hadn't wanted to, but being able to hear every comment about the burnt kid with the black eye despite how much I tried to tune them all out wasn't all that and a can of pinto beans. It wasn't even a handful of beans, in my opinion, but I sure would have traded all those dirty looks for a magic cow.
I tried to distract myself with other thoughts as I stalked the halls, eyes firmly planted downwards. Then I started to notice the vaguely square shapes the cement blocks in the floor took. Schools had a remarkable constructional dedication to the all mighty square. The buildings didn't often stray from the 90 degree angle philosophy of the rest of the place, parallel lines vanished down hallways, pillars evenly placed apart made a visual beat as you walked, casting a calming spell.
Maybe it was all the angles and numbers running through my head, but I found the rest of the classes that morning terribly difficult. The history class just seemed pointless, all the silly dates and events that happened so recently in the planet’s geological past that they might as well have been a planetary hiccup! Social studies and art class seemed equally difficult, though obviously I wasn't the Rhodes scholar on the subject of society. Shoot, I could barely talk to half the population of the school.
So by the time lunch had rolled around, I was breathing a sigh of relief, looking forward to the chance to let my fever-addled mind rest for thirty to forty minutes.
Suzan Chylds rather enjoyed lunch period, especially today. It wasn't the food, because she hardly ate anything worth noting during that time period - it wasn't really a time for that, anyway. It was time to put on the show, so to speak. To show all the other, lesser kids, how together and hip you were, and how much great fun it was to be popular and on the top of everything.
So of course, she was sitting elegantly at what was intellectually (loosely speaking) known as the 'popular kids table'. And of course, she was smiling, and the various assortment of socially acceptable jocks and other kids at the table were laughing and telling jokes, recalling stories of humiliation and degradation of their other classmates.
"...This little twerp on his bike," Ray said, grinning broadly and having a time not laughing too hard as he finished the story, "almost rams his bike into my car, then he starts talking trash! We chased the little runt down for a few blocks before teaching him a lesson and taking off. Man, he dropped like a wet sack of crap! I swear, haha, he was crying the whole time when he ran back home to mommy."
"A bike, seriously? What a dweeb..."
"Man, I told you ya shouldn't have driven home after the party like that, you were totally wasted!" One of the other kids commented, giving Ray a look.
"Pff, I was fine. I figured if I got home as fast as I could, I'd be on the road less. You know, less chance of getting pulled over."
"So did you guys hear about Jessica, and what happened at the Saturday party?" one of the younger students asked, eager to provide information that would validate their worth.
Suzan finally spoke up then, smiling, "Yah, I heard she took a little trip."
"Yah! I heard she fell at that party, and they had to amputate her leg!"
"Probably another radical weight loss plan, if you ask me," one of the jock types suggested, much to the appropriately timed chuckles of the rest of the table. "Still, she's pretty hot, I hope she's alright."
"Hot with the boys, maybe," said one of Suzan's brunette people accessories, repeating a well-placed rumor she'd started.
The icy blonde smirked quietly to herself, tracing a well-manicured finger down the left of her brow and past one ear, tucking a few stray strands of her flowing golden mane back. She'd made a point not to spread those dirty rumors in large gatherings like this. It wouldn't do to seem openly hostile and bitchy - that was reserved for private conversations in the ladies room with the more well known gossip mongers. After all, a good leader delegates the dirty jobs downwards. She doesn't do it herself.
"Whoa, you heard that too? I heard she'd blown half the basketball team." Eyes turned to Ray, who was blowing bubbles in his soda obliviously before he noted attention on him.
This knowledge of the previous queen of the school, Jessica, and her alleged indiscretions were up to that point unknown to Ray. She'd always been a cold shoulder to him whenever he'd turn on what passed for his charm, and he'd tried spreading the 'lesbian' rumor about her in the guys locker room. So of course, he could only answer one way.
"Huh? Oh, yah, totally true. I had to fight her off my jock at the party, in the bathroom. Totally embarrassing," he quickly responded, much to the astonished head shaking and laughing of the others.
"Ah, here's your drink, Suzy!" cheerfully said Suzan's other subordinate, coming back with three sodas in her hands.
The corner of her lip twitched. She would really have to replace this girl at some point, Suzan reminded herself. "Not Suzy. Suzan," she reminded the brunette. Once again.
"Ugh, these are warm, Becky!"
"Ah, yah! Sorry, these were the last ones, they didn't have any cold ones! But it's cool, this is how they drink it in India!" the errant brunette assured Suzan and the other dark haired girl.
Both of them stared at her, blinking.
"Um, I read it in a book-I mean... I saw it on VH1."
The other brunette oh'd softly, "I must've missed that one." Then she blinked again, and squinted at Suzan's drink - a thin layer of frost was on the outside of the can as the blonde took a regal sip. "I thought you said they didn't have any more cold ones..." she wondered absently.
Suzan looked at her oddly, then at her drink, and pursed her full lips into a thin, pensive line. "Any more than this one, is what she probably meant." She took another small sip, smiling at her friend, "Right, Becky?"
Looking confused, the girl popped open her own fizzy beverage to the accent of a carbonated fizz of sugar infused bliss. "Oh, yah, I guess so! I can be such an air head sometimes." She giggled, and everyone listening at the table silently agreed.
Frowning tersely, the blonde woman took a composed posture, hands folding together over the teasing peek of smooth knee beneath a no-doubt designer quality skirt. "That reminds me, Becky. I know how you seem to be forgetting things lately. We're going to the mall after class tomorrow."
"Oooh..." the brunette winced apologetically to her friend. “Sorry, Suzy-um, Suzan, I can't. I've got volleyball practice with Coach Maxwell."
Suzan seemed to go still, studying her friend with an imperceptible narrowing of her eyes, before saying evenly, "When did you get accepted on the volleyball team? I thought you hadn't even tried out for it."
This bit of information appeared to stump the dark haired girl, and she curled her dark hair around a finger as she tried to recall. "...Oh! The volleyball coach said I should try! He said it'd be good for me! He's not such a bad teacher, you know? I think-"
"Forget volleyball," Suzan interrupted, her tone insistent, "You're shopping with us then."
Assured by the other girl that her word was law on that matter, they all continued on with the usual lunch time banter.
It was with much relief and hope that the bell signaling the beginning of the regularly scheduled lunch period had rang. The fact that I'd skipped breakfast had been gradually more and more obvious as the day went on, and my empty stomach felt like it was trying to eat its own delicious tummy walls with discontented growls.
The social structure of the students was never more obvious than at lunch time, when we all shuffled about to procure our meals for the day from behemoth women in hair nets (I secretly suspected they didn't spawn that large from eating the cafeteria food) and went to seat ourselves in groups with friends and enemies that did much to tell every one else sitting there who you were, and how more importantly, how 'cool' you were.
I opted out.
You could choose to sit there and pick and choose which plastic institutionally lime green table you'd share with other assholes of like mind, or you could wander off somewhere else out of sight, somewhere quieter, and devour your meals in relative peace. With the tender sensitivities of my ears, no doubt linked to that insistent fever that had me feeling partially light-headed by this point in the day, I wasn't in a great rush to sit my scrawny nerd butt down there in the middle of a thousand or so gabbing kids.
Once I'd made my way through the shuffling lunch line, got myself a sloppy portion of spaghetti noodles smothered in something like demolished meatballs with the required side dish of wilted salad, bland carrot sticks, and something resembling a slice of bread, I started to head out through the throngs of lunch tables to vanish into blissful obscurity, away from prying eyes and laughing looks in my direction. By now, I'm fairly certain the whole school knew I had a black eye, even if the whole school probably didn't know who I was, and I'd just as soon gorge in peace.
"Hey, Josh! Hold up man!" called a familiar voice that had my ears throbbing. I winced slightly just on reflex. It was Clark, over in the distant satellite seats of the "drama kids", a collective of laughing, over-acting joker types. I couldn't figure out if they really didn't care what anyone else thought about them, or if they were really that confident in themselves.
When I saw him now, I couldn't help but think of him and Beth, hand in hand or more in hand - even though she was nowhere in sight. It wasn't that difficult to ignore the sinking feeling in my chest, though. I go to public high school, after all. I put on a smile for perhaps my only real friend.
"Oh, hi," I said as I made my way over to him, balancing my tray in one hand and a drink in the other.
In retrospect, I should have been paying closer attention to where my feet were going, and maybe less attention to trying to ignore vivid mental images of my best friend and my current crush holding hands, making out, or, err... worse. Because if I had, I no doubt would have noticed that I was just passing my good pall Ray. And while it may have been obvious that I hadn't noticed, he apparently had. He had a sly grin on his face, too, when it happened.
"Hold that thought," a voice with a chilled, but civil tone to it said, "Ladies, lets go powder our noses."
The next thing I knew a long leg was stuck out in front of my feet. I glanced down in time to see my legs tripping over it and each other, and to also take fascinating note of the curious angle of my supposedly upright body in relation to the ground as it declined from an astute ninety degree angle until I was nearly perpendicular to said concrete with a person in between myself and it.
As I heard Clark shout something, and perhaps wince in the silence after, I went sprawling forwards to the ground like a dork as I fell on top of someone who was just standing up, my glasses falling off my nose and my tray of food splattering whoever else was as unlucky as I was.
A gasp was heard, and a sharp scream after, and I blinked through the sudden headache and spots I'd been seeing earlier to see Suzan Chylds splattered with spaghetti, in a position below me that no doubt most of the male half (and some say quite a few of the female part) of the student body frequently dreamed of having under their own student bodies.
She was shocked, more so with the spaghetti ruining a rather fetching white blouse, but also partially so with the dark haired scrawny kid laying atop her rather ample chest and looking awkward.
"Get... get OFF me you creep!" she yelled, pushing at my shoulders until I rolled off and gasped, feeling numb in the places she'd touched.
That was... new. Usually I felt a hopeful warmth and protuberance somewhat in the southern hemisphere of planet Josh, when I was this close to a girl of that caliber. Even if she didn't really strike me as my type. In this instance I'd felt the exact opposite - both my shoulders were stunned.
I was so confused by that sensation, the strange shapes taking form before my un-guarded eyes went un-noted. Obviously the sudden sharp twinge of pain heralding the return of my headache had twisted my vision. The strange glowing lines criss-crossing over the earth, and the odd glowing from every student save for the slightly different glow from Suzan didn't surprise me very much and indeed, they soon faded after I'd retrieved my glasses and put them back on.
"Uh, geez, I'm real sorry..." I lamely offered.
I picked myself up slowly with weak arms, grimacing more at my own sauce ruined clothes than at my situation, which hadn't fully dawned on me. The utter silence of the whole cafeteria also hadn't dawned on me. But as I stood up, blinking, noticing that my ears weren't raw and stinging from the voices of a grand of students yammering on at once all trying to talk over one another, I realized they were all staring at me. Suzan was making sounds of disgust still on the ground, trying to clean herself off, and her two cronies were rushing to help her up.
But the rest of the school, they were all cheering.
Great. You set the standard for math scores and attendance in a school, and they make fun of you. Accidentally molest one of the hottest girls on campus, humiliating both yourself and her in front of a cool thousand, and they cheer you on. How fickle is the mob?
Suzan glared at me hatefully, then stomped off in the rough direction of the ladies bathroom with her two friends closely in tow to the tune of many "Oh my gawd!"s, "Are you alright?"s and "What a pervert!" and so on and so on.
Ray was sitting there, stuck somewhere between being unable to comprehend why everyone seemed to be clapping at me, and deciding when exactly he was going to clean my clock (and I don't even wear a watch) for not going down properly and humiliatingly after he'd tripped me.
Feeling rather out of place as the cheering turned into laughs and jeers while the school calmed down and turned to talk up what they'd all just seen, I made my way to the bathrooms - in the opposite direction that Suzan had stomped in - to divest myself of the Italian travesty slobbering down my sweatshirt.
My hand absently brushed against the chill patch on my shoulder, and it was with an odd fascinating that I noticed moisture there where I'd felt the numbing sensation previously.
Gym class was another word for 'horror' in my mind, and today proved to be no exception. The only redeeming factor being that I was able to dress in something that hadn't been served to me in the lunch line. The downside of that was that they were smelly, thick cotton clothes, a t-shirt with the schools emblem and name on the front, and a pair of dark colored shorts that left more (i.e. 'any') of my leg bare than I cared to. The locker rooms were, perhaps, the worst idea in the modern public school system.
They take a cool fifty awkward, uncomfortable, puberty twisted teens in mid mutation, most of which still growing into their gawky long legs or other limbs, and growing hair slowly in patches in weird places of their body, and they cram them all into one stinking locker room and force them to change their clothes together and silently compare their inadequacies against one another.
The trick in this situation, much like it was in the hallways, was to keep your eyes down or forward on your locker, change without saying anything, and to get out of there as fast as you could without actually touching anyone, or even breathing, if you could. The musky smell of fifty teens going through puberty in a tight locker room wasn't a happy flower smell. There were of course showers there, but it was a rare thing for any of the freshman such as myself to use them. Sometimes the more confident seniors would file in and wash off really quick at the end of the class and count ceiling tiles until they were done. I hadn't dared that particular situation just yet, but I somehow knew there were 1295 ceiling tiles in the boys locker room (which isn't as hard as you might think to figure out, as finding out the area of a rectangle is as simple as counting the tiles along the sides and multiplying).
The rest of the class went on just about as well as you might imagine. I was still feeling tired, my head warm, and my stomach growling at the inadequate amount of snacks I'd barely managed to cram in my mouth at the end of the ill fated lunch period. A stocky, elderly man with a muscle complex and a whistle in his mouth that passed for the school football coach yelled at us like a drill instructor, and had us running in circles in the burning Southern California sun (and me trailing), passing awkward shaped pig-skinned vaguely spherical objects (me catching most with my face, and somehow the back of my head), and doing as many push ups and sit ups (I think my limit was 11 of each?) as he could force out of us before letting us go to cram like panting, stinking sardines, between rows of rusted lockers and splintered benches that had probably been drinking in the stink of adolescent male boys since the school's mighty brick bursting conception some thirty years ago.
After that, I'd been more than happy to sink into the comfortable desk of my next class, Earth Science. Sort of the remedial science class for kids who needed another class in that category, but didn't really care to have to try at lab science, or physics, or who figured after a fat lunch and a brain-numbing bit of Physical "Education", they weren't going to be mentally ready for much else.
Lucky for me, that class period the squat brown-suited teacher decided to show us an exciting slide show of his depicting the many minerals he'd encountered, but that most certainly wouldn't be on any test. Like me, many decided to hide their head in their arms on their desks and nap until the class would end and we could all evacuate the school grounds like rats in tiny speed boats from a sinking ship.
It was after school that I found myself in now, rubbing sleep from my non-blackened eye, as I began to think that maybe I should be looking over my shoulder and rushing for the safety of home as quickly as my P.E. weakened legs could wobble me. I made my way as efficiently as I could to the bike racks, keeping my head down but tactfully keeping an eye out for any tall and meaningfully stalking seniors making their way for me, or positioning themselves between myself and my means of transportation.
When I arrived in the fenced off cage where the majority of the school locked their bikes and scooters up in during the day, I was even more worried when I didn't catch even a passing glance of my tall, spiky blonde haired would-be assailant and his stocky dark haired companion. I was more openly searching for them, my good eye narrowed and my bad eye, well, already narrowed by default, when I heard the laughing and giggles from inside the bike area.
More than a few people were looking in the direction of my personal ride, my beat up mountain bike, pointing and cracking jokes. Groaning, I stole up my courage and made my way to the metal-strapped means of personal conveyance. Much to my chagrin, in place of the smooth black shape of my bike seat, persons or a person of an unknown but highly suspected identity, had placed a rather large, floppy, rubbery flesh colored dildo.
Now, you don't have to see these things everyday, or even to 'research' a variety of pictures to recognize what it was, so please don't assume I have anything more than a conceptual familiarity with them. When you see a large rubber imitation of the somewhat less large member stored in your pants, detailed down to the slightly raised veins and peculiarly shaped end, you just knew. Once again a curious irony struck me.
Obviously, the message of replacing a bike seat of a male with a dildo strapped down with a ton of duct tape was to imply that the person in question had a preference to using those sorts of toys in their personal time. But to get something like this, the would-be finger pointer would have had to personally go into a sex shop and make purchase of just such an item. And somehow, this was to infer that the person that had the dildo on his bike, not the person that had gone to great personal lengths to ACQUIRE said dildo, was in fact gay. Sigh.
I was standing there with a lackluster expression on my face, wondering if I should just leave this bastardization of transportation there. Or, if I should try to get the thing off (not like that!) and walk my bike back home. Then I heard a series of sharp car horn honks behind me.
A further sense of dread crept up my spine as I turned, fearing the presence of a beat up minivan waiting for me at the curb. Instead, there was a beat up old Toyota pickup truck at the curb, patches of grey primer making the vehicle look like a lost puppy. Sideburns blazing, Clark was hanging out of the driver’s side and waving at me with that knowing grin. "Hey man! Throw your bike in here, I'll give you a ride."
Not one to look a gift equine in the mouth this late in the day, I popped the lock on the chain to my bike and dragged the thing as expediently as I could to the truck, not wanting to get stared at, pointed at, or laughed at any more than I had to. I struggled some getting it into the bed of the truck and hopped into the front seat with my backpack on my knees, and a sigh of relief. "I owe ya."
Clark smirked, glancing back at the happy-fun-time addition bouncing around on the seat area of my bicycle (maybe now it was a bit more 'bi' a cycle than it had been) before hitting the gas and taking off down the street at a pace the DMV calls reckless and kids my age call fun.
"Beth was saying I should probably help you out today."
"You were hanging out with her?" I asked, curious. I hadn't seen her near him during those few minutes of lunch time before all hell had broken free.
He shrugged, "Naw, we got drama class together. She said something about you and Ray bumping into each other in the halls." He spared the road his absent attention a moment, meaningfully eyeing my bad eye. "Looks like he bumped into you yesterday, too."
I shrugged back, "Hazards of life. Public school just isn't the happy musical with the singing and dancing it used to be, I guess."
"You should try the drama club - we do plenty of singing and dancing."
I grimaced. Yah, put the most socially awkward teen in the school in a class where he'd have to perform and tap his feet up on a stage in front of the judging eyes of every other kid at school. No, I wanted to vanish, I didn't want to be dangled under the noses of every nerd-hungry bully in the school. "Yah... I'll pass this once, I think. I had enough dancing at lunch. My two left feet will be having none of that."
It was easier talking with Clark when it was just the two of us. Talking with other men was easy, I really didn't care about them other than in the 'buddy' capacity. Women had my thoughts derailing, and had me just about as self conscious as I could get.
"Hah, yah, I saw that. Still," he mused, watching the road with a grin not unlike that found on Loki's face while he was thinking of what mischief he could unleash upon the gods, mortals, and world next,"...couldn't have had a nicer cushion to land on."
I flushed, briefly, "Ugh... Suzan Chylds? I'd rather hump concrete. I'd prefer someone who didn't think they were better than me because they peaked early."
He hit the turning signal and stopped at a red light. "Like Beth?"
My face got a little warmer. Once again, I was thankful to the odd rash that had turned my face pink spontaneously over night. "Hey, I can see you two got something going on. That's fine." I didn't have a chance with her anyway, I told myself sullenly.
"Huh?" He stopped, looking at me and missing it when the light actually did turn green, and the car behind him had to lay into their horn to remind him before he hit the gas and pulled a tight turn down the street I lived on. Shaking his head, he said with a smirk, "Man, there's nothing going on between Beth and me."
I guess it was my turn now, "Huh?"
"In fact, I've been trying to set you up with her - but you keep taking off or clamming up."
In all my eloquence, I repeated again, "Huh...?"
"Sure, the coffee shop? If I was on a date, why the hell would I invite you over?" he pulled to a stop along the curb in front of my house. A confused glance in the driveway told me dad wasn't back from work yet. "I know you’re a math wiz, so I figured you could impress her with that. Then you go and take off!"
"I... I figured you two were..." I started to lamely say.
"Nope, she's cool and all - but she's just a friend. Besides, I already got a girlfriend."
That was news to me too, somehow. I really gotta keep closer tabs on my friend(s). "You do...?" I dumbly replied.
"Better believe it. And you better get your ass in gear and ask her out before the train sails on you. You're never gunna get out of this shy phase of yours unless you actually go out with a woman once or twice."
Scratching the back of my head, I felt the familiar mental wall shut down into place the way it had when I was normally standing across from her. Enough that I didn't even question him on his ‘sailing train’ metaphor. Dumbly I stared down at my backpack, trying to think of what to say. Talking about girls appeared to be one of my shortfalls as well.
Finally he sighed, and patted my shoulder. "Alright man, I'll see you tomorrow. If you see her again though, just ask her out. The worst she can say is 'no', right?"
Giving my friend a lame laugh, I answered as I helped myself out of his beat up old truck, "Yah... that's the worst. Thanks again, Clark." Nothing did quite so good a job of hitting the brakes in my brain than thinking of Beth had. My movements were more mechanical as I retrieved the bike from his truck and waved to my friend, watching him take off before I walked it into the garage at the side of the house. Making sure the door was closed behind me and no one was in there watching, I cracked my knuckles.
There are many things that a man has to do on his own in this world, away from the prying eyes of others. Removing an over-sized rubber phallus from ones bike seat is one of these things.
What a piece of work is a pizza, how noble in pepperoni, how infinite in cheese! In form and toppings how express and delicious, in eating how conveniently handled is its crust, in apprehension how like a panacea!
So yah, it was pizza night at the Gillman's house. I suspected the 'talk' my father mentioned the previous day had something to do with this. He'd come home from work as usual a little after five, and gave my mom the night off from cooking. Which wasn't a bad thing. I'm not saying she was a bad cook, but pizza is... pizza! It's a food so many brave teenagers are willing to sacrifice themselves for despite the many rumors linking it with out of control acne.
After dinner, my father took me out to the garage to have the "man talk". I stood there in the musty garage, the scent of sawdust faint in the air, glad I'd gotten that thing off my bike seat and found a replacement amongst the junk assorted therein before this talk had taken place. My shiny new black eye I'd received the previous day was especially dark and a fetching purple, though I felt like my bad tan job was starting to ebb somewhat through the day.
"Son," my father started to say, folding his arms, "There's a time in every boy's life where he must transition into manhood. It's a long and difficult path, and I'm proud to see you walking it. I'm not going to embarrass you by asking you how you got beat up, or who did it. But I am going to ask that you deal with it somehow. If you let punks like this start walking over you now, you'll be walked over for the rest of your life. I don't care what you do: stick up for yourself, hit them back, talk to the campus security, but I do want you to do something. A man's defined by his actions."
He then took a deep breath, and picked up a carefully cloth and twine wrapped package from his work desk, his large leathery scratched-up hands wise and skilled from a lifetime of physical labor. As he handed the curious object to me, I squinted at it oddly, then worked on unwrapping it.
"This was your great-uncle's journal," he was careful to say. Men kept journals, women kept diaries. "He was studying to be a mathematician up at Miskatonic University a long time ago, when he died. Seeing as how you might go study the same sort of things, and seeing as how you're starting to become a man, I think this might be something that could help you, or maybe inspire you."
Absorbing all this strange information, I finally got the strange old book unwrapped and started to flip through the aged papers. It started out simply enough, geometrical diagrams flipped past in growing complexity, soon strange star diagrams with curious runes followed, various notes and equations written anywhere they'd fit. "Whoa... what's in this thing?"
"No idea," my father stated simply. "It's way beyond me. You're really the first person down the family line that can make any sense out of it, I'd wager. In fact, you're probably the first person to lay eyes on it since your great-uncle sent it to my dad. For some reason he mailed it to him a day before he died, so... maybe he knew something was going to happen."
"Oh... Miskatonic University? Why'd he go there? This stuff is... I mean..." I paused at a page outlining something half way between a magical ritual and an odd combination of non-Euclidean calculus, quantum physics, and math formulas so intricate and so well blended together I couldn't tell the two apart. It actually looked like something I wouldn't be able to skim through in one sitting!
At the question my father set his jaw firmly, "I'm not sure. He was my dad's brother, and my dad didn't talk about him very much. I remember him saying he was doing some research he could only do down there around Essex County, but it was beyond my dad and me."
The next obvious question would have been, 'how did he die?' but I was too distracted with the strange formulae and research already written in those pages, my head warm with fever and possibilities.
Dad smiled at me as he watched me absorb the book with a furrowed brow and round eyes, and he took the wrapping paper from me to throw away. I didn't notice him pause when he got to the trash can, having glanced inside before he was to drop the trash. Boy, I was sure glad this wasn't the sex talk, because in my haste and frustration with the day that rubbery insult I'd removed from the butt seat of my mountain bike was sitting in the top of the piles of trash, winking tauntingly at my old man in all its one eyed glory.
"Err... son, is there anything you wanna tell me...?" he asked, fearing the answer while he stared back into that one ever-blinking eye in the abyss of trash.
"Huh?" I replied, looking up from the journal, glasses slipping down my nose ignorantly, unable to really see what he was looking at from my angle. "Oh! Yah, pop."
"Thanks for the book! This stuff is great!" I left my dad in the garage, a strangely worried look on his leathery wrinkled face that I simply didn't notice as I retired to my room.
The journal was quite simply the most fascinating thing I had ever read. My great-uncle had been working on a theory combing mathematics with magic and myth. He had notes in those pages detailing fantastic Elder magic, multi-dimensional realities, ghoulish myths, and detailed formulae and equations following each, describing them. I'd never seen anything like it (even on amazon.com!), and there were even excerpts and notes from books I'd thought to be myths themselves. He referenced authors like Von Junzt, and Abdul Alhazred, the mad Arab, whose acclaim had never reached my young ears, but I did know how mad those Arabs could get, I did follow the news at times!
I fell asleep that night trying to absorb as much as I could from the old book, my great-uncle's hurried cursive handwriting becoming gradually easier and easier for me to skim through before I found myself splayed unconscious on my bed and snoring.
The dreams came to me again that night, heralded by a soft all encompassing purple glow that called out to my sleeping mind. I also thought I'd heard a curious scurrying noise in my room in my odd state of rest, and felt a furry creature brush lewdly against my leg.
Then I gradually transitioned into that strange realm of dreams, the space taking on a complexity of geometrical shapes and drifting creatures beyond rational description that I only knew were alive because something in the back of my consciousness insisted it were so. This was a boundless space between worlds, an inter-dimensional interstice. There was an odd pressure keeping me from drifting in a particular way, and just before I left it to something else just as interesting, I felt some furry thing brush past me.
I found myself next, with a dreamy sort of assurance, on an old rock bridge across from an ancient village. It looked like a chunk of old England a good several hundred years ago, but fantastic trees sprung up around it intertwining in the ways you only see in story books. The sun was shining over head and bathing the thatched roofs and old stone masonry in a golden yellow light, clouds lazily drifting across a sky that ranged from a soft blue to a deep violet.
Part of me knew at once what this place was. The village of Ulthar.
Whatever that meant, it felt ancient, familiar, alien, and honest all at the same time.
I hadn't taken more than a few curious steps across the bridge to a path that wove through the old houses when I noticed a prodigious number of creatures watching me.
This town was laden with them. Cats of every color: brown, black, white, orange, and every combination thereof lined up on ancient walls, lazed about in green pastures, dotted the roofs of almost every house, and sat in window sills in pairs. I had first thought every last one of them looking at me as I entered, bare foot as I'd been when I fell asleep. But soon some closed their eyes in the ways that cats do to show you how insignificant you are to them, and how they'd much rather be looking at a wandering bug than yourself. Which really, is a great ego boost - I can see why some folks prefer dogs. There were people here too, dressed like old peasants. And they were all but ignoring the cats, walking around them, stepping carefully over them, but sometimes leaving out snacks in saucers for their whiskered folk. The people, also, seemed to give me a passing glance, then ignore me as I stood there dumbly.
Nearly jumping out of my skin when I felt something furry dash between my feet, I looked at with a small amount of awe, along with about fifty felines, a little white rabbit. It stood up on its haunches, heedless of the ring of carnivores starting to take greater and greater interest in it, and wiggled its little nose back at me.
Then it turned, vanishing in a flash of purple light, just as a few old cats with arched backs and militaristic whiskers had yawned and casually circled over toward the tiny white bunny to inspect it.
This being a dream, I was surprised more so at my glowing sense of lucidity than I had at been at a cat village with vanishing rabbits. For as I looked after where the rabbit had been, certain mathematical formulae and non-Euclidean calculus computations flashed in my mind. I went over to stoop by where the tracks vanished, and my eyes gained a strange focus that I can't recall having, staring through the little bunny’s previous location.
Another flash of purple later, and I found myself drifting in that formless gap once again, knowledge of where I was and where I could go coming to me so comfortably it seemed like I'd always known. That resistance I'd felt before vanished as easily to me as hitting a light switch, and the trail of that creature I'd seen earlier seemed obvious. In fact, I would say it wanted me to chase after it.
Normally I wouldn't go dashing head long into formless voids after interstellar kamikaze rabbits when I didn't even have anything more than a mind to call my own, but I had the comforting thought lingering in my mind insisting that this was probably still just a dream. A very lucid dream, but a dream none the less. I threw caution to the wind and followed.
Distance and time had a strange feeling of otherness and meaninglessness in this place that I was growing accustomed to without much trouble, and I soon found a gateway that the tracks led through. It didn't seem like such a bad idea, so I hopped through this one as well, and found myself slamming foot first into a knee high wet sludge of some fluid I can't even guess at.
Yup, I suddenly had a body again. The chill I felt in my flesh told me this dark foreboding place was nothing like the pleasant dream haze of Ulthar, it held the harsh uncomfortable chill of reality to it that I found perplexing. My black eye was back, and the skin of my face stung with the cold. I most certainly had never been in a place like this before.
It was a giant, organic cavernous place, lit with an odd green afterglow. The fluid I found myself wading through was a strange clear mucus, and the ground beneath my foot was squishy and giving, like a giant tongue. I found my glasses were still on my face but slipping down my nose once more, and I adjusted them to fit a bit better.
That was when I heard the screaming of a creature the likes of which I knew, without a doubt, were nothing the fertile expanse of the Earth had given birth to.
The screams had that other worldly sense to them, like they were stretched out across several dimensions at once and resonating with each. I slowly turned, my eyes wide and body shaking when I looked. I looked up, and up. Towering before my dumb eyes were the flailing, violent limbs of some great tar-fleshed creature that hadn't decided what shape it should have, so it was just shifting like a wild ocean. Eyes dotted this great creature’s expanse, forming and un-forming themselves on a whim; greenish light hovered about it like a strange aura.
This alone would normally have me dropping a load, standing in what I feared with a growing certainty to be a giant space vagina, while looking at a whirlwind of black flesh and eyes. But the oddness of it all struck my sensibilities, and I couldn't do more than stare.
Down in the muck, up to her hips in the strange mucus and dressed in what a strip dancer might call a nurse's outfit, was that girl from my dream the other night. She didn't have the body to be dressed in something like that, but it was just tight enough that it didn't really matter that her chest wasn't the size of her head. It didn't suit her quite as well as the modest brown suit she had on before. Besides, her chest was pointed away from me. White latex gloves sheathed her arms, and a little white bunny sat in the nest of brown hair atop her head, nibbling at the little nurse's barrette nestled beside it.
"Come oooon!" she cried out over the horrid screams. "Come ooon! Give me another push!"
I stood there now, more horrified than ever. There's nothing quite as horrifying to a teenage boy as the miracle of childbirth given bloody messy detail before his face, and I realized just then that that was exactly what I was witnessing. I had no idea what this creature was, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was wildly pregnant, and that the girl in the nurse's outfit was playing midwife, poised in front of a dubious undulating, pulsing opening with her arms outstretched, as if she were ready to catch a football.
"Just one more push!" she insisted, "I can see its yinslotha!" The last word she spoke sound garbled, like she'd used another creature's vocal cords to pronounce it. "Huh?" she suddenly paused, tilting her head up towards the rabbit and its floppy ears. Whatever she heard startled her, and she glanced back towards me, standing there up to my knees in something I didn't quite want to know the origin of, hands at my sides, and a blank slack-jawed look on my face. "YOU!"
"Huh?" Geez, this was my day for one word responses.
"You're that bloke that yanked my glasses! What are you doing here! You shouldn't be able to be here! You should be being in the dream world, or something! ... Oh cripes." Her attention snapped back to the undulating tentacles before her, their screams and movements taking on a new sort of urgency. It shuddered, then something launched out from its... hole... place... and slapped wetly into the waiting arms of the nurse girl. She let out a sigh of relief, and held it up to the creature, "Aw, look! It's got your eye!" she said, cooing at the little blend of black tar-like tentacles and single sleepy eye.
You can't comprehend the muted horror I felt just then, taking in the whole scene and feeling very much like I should be leaving before something looks at me and decides I'd perhaps make a good snack for the brood-ling. Just then the great creature shuddered again, and a bundle of apocalyptic joy wetly sailed across the air, tentacles dangling behind it, and landed squarely against my chest. I didn't think, I just reacted, hands snapping up to catch it with a show of dexterity I rarely exhibited in gym.
Looking down dumbstruck, a slimy, writhing thing the size of a football was cooing up at me, an eye the likes of which I'd never seen with a strange depth-less black pupil that bled into the rest of the orb like an ink blot in violet waters, tinged by sparks of a color I could tell weren't entirely in just one dimension. Then it spoke. Kind of. It squeaked,"Tekeli-li!" at me.
What was this thing, a Pokémon?
"Whoa, twins!" sounded the lady with the bunny rabbit on her head as she sloshed through the mess towards me. "Hey, I gotta talk to you, idiot!"
It was the last thing I heard before I freaked, reaching for some quasi-dimensional door knob that I wasn't really reaching for, and vanished in a flash of purple light.
The next thing I knew I wasn't in my bed. An odd feeling of coming down from something greater and more complicated than where I now was told me I was in reality once more. My backpack was clutched to my chest for some reason, and I felt something wet and slimy dripping down my legs. That sleep haze was fogging my vision, and I climbed up to my feet with a groan, dangling my backpack in one hand, and looked around.
Have you ever had those dreams where you're in school, then everyone starts to laugh at you, and you look down, and you're in your underwear? Well, I was at school. I was most certainly in my underwear. But it was midnight. Stupefied by this revelation, I looked around myself trying to gain stock of my surroundings.
Apparently I was in the P.E. field ringed by a jogging track and guarded by monolithic steel football posts, and the chill of the night air was getting to me. The grass was still wet, and I deduced that may have been where I was getting that weird feeling of something like snot oozing down my bare legs. It was a good 3 miles or so to get home, and there wasn't much I could do but to follow my still sleep-addled, half awake instincts that told me I should probably get home.
I couldn't remember the last, or the first, time that I'd been caught sleep walking. Let alone sleep walking half way across town. But I'd been to school enough times that I must have just done it unconsciously that night.
Shaking my head to myself, I slung my backpack over one shoulder and started to stalk off with bare feet. The zipper open part way, I didn't even notice the thin tar-black snake-like appendage pulling back into the comforting depths of my backpack, cooing to itself.