thulcandran: (Default)
Alright, I know, I missed two days in a row there. Saturdays are bad days for doing things; I've no excuse for Sunday night. Anyway, as penance have this thing, which I wrote years ago as a response to a friend, and am still rather proud of.


“We could play a game!”

My head was resting against the cool glass of the passenger-side window. I glared into my own reflection, too tired to turn and glare at Brian. It was pointless to answer, anyway. He already knew the answer.

“But I want to entertain you. You look so bored and lifeless.” I could almost hear the wistful sigh behind his voice. “You were so cheerful and bright before!”

“I was cheerful and bright back there because it was my own life, Brian. This place is flat, and gray, and just… this.” I gestured out the window with a limp hand, and did turn to glare at him this time. “I hate it, I hate being here, and I hate this.”

He made a humming noise under his breath and sort of shrugged a little, his voice briefly – very briefly – devoid of its customary too-cheerful energy. “You’ll get used to it though. I swear you will.”

I snorted. There wasn’t an answer to that. The hours stretched on before us, bleak and lifeless as the endlessly sepia-toned miles we traveled together, and as devoid of promise.

“Look at that!”

I’d seen it about ten minutes prior, or the signs for it – the only signs of life or color we’d seen for a good three days, you’d better believe I was interested, even if it had only been for a moment, even if it was only a county fair, the kind of which you really have seen one, and seen them all. The only weird thing on passing the sign had been that Brian had withheld comment – a situation which he apparently had decided to remedy. Great.

“Oh, great. A way to make the trip even longer.”

He gave me one of those dazzling, bright, sugary, creepy smiles. “Savoring every second!” I ignored him. “Come on though! It’ll be really fun!”

“I honestly don’t care, Brian. Like I said, it’s just another way of dragging this thing out.” He was like a little kid – he liked it, and he did not honestly understand why I didn’t. Free will, choice, freedom of exit or movement or what have you – they meant nothing to him, as far as I could tell. Just words.

As the multi-colored tents grew larger and larger in the distance, I was filled with a sense of foreboding – I didn’t want to get out. Brian changed the atmosphere around him – others seemed to relax, to be more cheerful, or at least more energetic. I… I felt the atmosphere change, but to me it only felt more oppressive. I wondered about him, sometimes, if he took me along because of that. Mostly, though, I just wished he hadn’t.

Unfortunately, he pulled into the gravel parking lot, and gave me another dazzling smile as he leapt out of the car. I followed him, reluctantly, like a woodchip pulled into the wake of a ferry, and we swept into the fairgrounds in the bustling crowd. It looked like things had just opened up – the ground was still clean, and the food and fun stands were mostly empty. The crowd spread out before us, and Brian immediately headed for one of the stands, grinning like a child. I followed him, more like the tortured parent in the equation.

“You, sir, look like a man who enjoys a good game of skill!”

The man stood there, tossing an oddly shaped ball from one hand to the other, an almost predatory glint in his eyes which seemed out of place in his round face, which appeared to be, otherwise, the very embodiment of good cheer.

Brian gave me one of his very cheeriest grins. I stared back at him. Undeterred, he fairly bounced over to the game, calling over his shoulder, “I’ll win you an animal! That’ll cheer you up!”

“Ah, to win an animal for the lovely lady, sir, you must win only three games – surely a simple feat for one so clearly accustomed to the masculine arts as yourself!”

Have you ever choked on air? It’s like choking on water, but when life throws something so unbelievably insane at you that you choke on the very substance which you are accustomed to breathing, because reality demands that you choke in disbelief, almost as if reality was a narrative of some sort. I mean, 'masculine arts'? What was he going to do, wank towards a target, or just look big and strong and manly, maybe flex a couple times, or just kill something with a caveman stick... I don't know, something about the very phrase 'masculine arts' conjures a pretty skeevy image. Maybe it's just me.

But the man only handed him one of the balls, which were a dark sort of coppery color. Brian gave him another cheery smile, which he returned-- or reflected, more like. A thin, faded image of the real thing, but just as nauseating. Maybe more so, actually. I watched as he pointed to the hoops which needed to be targeted, and the pyramids knocked down, and so on, and so forth. I concluded that 'masculine arts' was just one of those things people say to patronize the girlfr-- the companion. Companion. Not girlfriend, not significant other, not even friend.

Companion was bad enough. In its own right, it held just as many irritating connotations as masculine, or even girlfriend, but it was truer than anything else. I don't know. Maybe prisoner? Unwilling companion-- no, that just sounded wrong.

"Look! I almost won!" He seemed so... enthusiastic. I fought back the smile and gave him a dirty look. "One more try, and I'll get it! Which animal do you want?"

The man, no longer oozing greasy charm, grinned at me as well, fully caught up. He handed Brian another ball from the crate. "On the house, my good man, on the house! An animal for the lovely lady!"

I shook my head at the pair of them, and the teenage kid who'd wandered up behind him, androgynous, face three-quarters of the way hidden behind a curtain of hair that held a wave, despite the gallon and a half of gel attempting to hold it straight. He watched for a second, visibly tensing as Brian wound up for the throw. I kicked at the dust, noting the weird spirals it formed into, three-dimensional, like smoke, or a drop of ink in water... Sand in air, ink in water, cloud in empty space?

"Name it, name it!"

The three of them were all laughing now, like old friends. Brian tossed the ball back to the showman, an easy underhand throw, and the teenage kid clapped him on the back and wandered off into the crowd again. I'd caught a glimpse. A girl, under the frayed, loose clothing and sexless piercings. Huh.
I looked at the little plushie zebra. It didn't seem to be smiling. In fact, it looked more or less like a regular zebra, a horse with stripes, complete with the intelligent, intense sort of face. Strangely enough, I liked it. I didn't want to name it and push it into this stupid scene. I shrugged.

"I don't know." He looked down for a second. "Thanks, though."

It's funny, from the sudden sparkle on his face, you'd think he actually cared whether or not I liked it. Didn't he enjoy the game? The attention? The cameraderie? Maybe it wasn't cameraderie. Maybe they were just players in his game, maybe they were just fellow actors in the scene, almost captives, and it didn't count. Maybe I did feel bad for him. The fucking psychopath.

"Anyway, what do you want to eat? I'm getting hungry, well, not really, but you probably are, and I feel like we should probably eat something while we're here, because the granola gets really old, or just boring, because it's like, even though it's nourishing and technically it won't go stale in the sealed packaging and it hasn't been that long anyway, I still get tired of the same texture over and over, and the taste isn't that great. So while we're out of the car, I kind of want something to eat that's not granola. Not that the granola's bad."

Really, you'd think my mother had made the granola or something. Had she? I'd remember that, though, and besides, her granola was way better than the stuff we'd brought. It had raisins and pineapple, not these dates. Dates were good, the first one and second one, but more than two in a handful, every handful, and they just got to be too sweet. It left a bad taste on your mouth. He was looking at me somewhat expectantly, his eyes like a puppy's.

"Alright, Brian. We'll go get something to eat. Where's the foodcourt?"

He gestured, and set off with that same spring in his step. I followed him as he exchanged cheerful greetings with every damn person we passed, even in the crowds, and managed to nod to most of them without actually saying anything. Their eyes don't glide over me like they did when we started this stupid trip. ...When -he- started this trip. Not we. He. I didn't have a choice. I didn't start anything, just got sucked along. I hate how memory distorts things.

"It all looks so good!"

I looked at the big chalkboard. Corn dogs, popcorn (extra butter), fried dough, fried batter, fried doughnuts, batter-dipped cracklings (wait, what?), pork rinds, bacon-onion-battered-mushroom-nacho-ham-double-cheeseburger... I stopped reading about a quarter of the way down and stared at him. He was already exchanging blond jokes with the couple in front of us. I briefly wished I was blond so I could feel offended.

"Do they have anything even remotely not poisonous?"

He guffawed, as though I'd made some hilarious joke, and pointed to the bottom of the menu. "Look! They have fruit salad and stuff!"

The couple stepped away, with a cheery wave, and the clerk looked us both over, somehow seemed to do a mental double-take without actually registering it in her conscious. "What can I get you folks today?"

Brian began chattering, of course, listing three or four things he wanted. I looked over the "fruit salads," which, I saw from the counter, were mostly whipped cream with a handful of sugar-dipped berries thrown in. Eventually, the clerk finished talking to my benevolent dictator slash companion slash kidnapper and turned to me, a wide smile on her face.

"I, um. This. Uh, Brian, this stuff all looks disgusting. No offense. Pick something off the fruit menu, I don't want to think about it anymore."

He gave me a slightly concerned glance, which would normally have been rather disconcerting, but for some reason, it just made me tired. Pointing to an item on the menu, he handed the clerk some money, and we stepped to the end of the counter.

"Are you alright? You're... you're not acting right."

I stifled the strange impulse to laugh and shook my head. "I'm fine, Brian. Really." I looked down at the zebra, which contemplated me with its preternaturally (for a stuffed animal) intelligent expression, and winked at it. It did not wink back, which seemed to me impolite. I grinned. Brian, just out of the corner of my eye, looked alarmed.

"Here's your meal! Enjoy the rest of your stay, folks!"

He took the tray, looking at me instead of the clerk, strangely enough. "You're not fine, though! You're not being sarcastic, or snide, or anything!" He sounded like a panicked little kid. I grinned. I don't know why.

"Ah, Brian. I'm fine. It's a nice enough day. Let's go eat, eh?"

"I, I... okay. Okay, let's eat." His voice lacked the cheerful, over-confident, nearly strangling enthusiasm it usually possessed.

We wandered off to the picnic area, a stretch of lawn, fairly lush, under several decently sized trees, and found a little wicker table. I looked down at the dish he'd picked out, and began to laugh, manically, despite the fright that seemed to be spreading from him to every face in the area. Laughter is worth it.

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thulcandran

May 2013

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