The Last Adventurer's Firering

Episode LXXXXIV-Failures to communicate usually lead to fisticuffs.

Ruthlessly, Square-Jaw’s right fist hurtled out of the darkness and smashed into my face, shocking me sober. Before I had even realized what had happened, the ground smacked my temple with a brutal follow-up. I didn’t have time to be indignant that Square-Jaw hadn’t given me any more warning than the inflection of “so”. I was too busy rolling to the side to save my ribs from his slow and predictable kicks that thrashed through the space I had just vacated. White sparkling flashes obscured my vision of the ground as I turned about, and instinctively leapt to my feet.

The sudden movement was a mistake. The world swayed in and out of focus. The stars fell from the sky and streaked into my vision. I doggedly shook my head to see him advancing toward my position. Blood pooled in my mouth from where my teeth had ground into my gum. I spat ferociously and wiped the remnants of the reddish muck across my now muddy pants.

“Now…that…was…a mistake.” I forced out. I had meant it to sound cavalier, daring even, as if I was nonplussed by his action. I didn’t want him to know that that one punch had almost laid me completely out. Instead the words wheezed out feebly at first, and only gained some coherence at the end. He grinned at me nastily, knowing that I was only bluffing. Behind me, someone tugged at my shirt. I didn’t turn around. I knew that another sucker punch would place me back on the ground, the last place I wanted to be. “Let go – I got this.” I hissed at the invisible party with more conviction than I felt, and felt the pressure subside.

At this point he was close enough to me. My right arm darted out and impacted his face, but my quick left merely bounced off his meaty arm. Nonplussed, I checked him one soundly in his stomach, only to feel his left fist carom off the back of my head. I slid to the right – as much as I could, only to find my movement blocked by the chain link fence. I sidled left, and upon finding my foot entangled in the aforementioned bushes, lashed out with another quick series of blows which seemed to have no visible effect. While I took an off-balance shot to the ribs, I realized that my unconscious plan was not going to work. It was an unconscious plan because, while I had realized that we were probably going to brawl at a moment or two before he hit me, I hadn’t really formulated any set strategy.

In the absence of such a rigid and well-thought out plan, my body was trying to adapt by using what natural advantages it had. Square-Jaw was much bulkier than me, but I was taller, so in theory, I should have been able to dart around him Mohammed Ali style and pepper him with blows from a distance, while avoiding too many more crushing blows. It was a really good idea. It was an even more impressive idea because I hadn’t consciously thought it over. However, if I had consciously thought it over, I probably would have noticed the flaw. We were in an area where such movement was virtually impossible. We were hemmed in by bushes on the left, and the fence on the right in a three foot wide zone. This short gap was a perfect place for someone to stand to urinate, or for Square-Jaw to molest his prey unnoticed, but awful for dodging and evading.

I briefly considered my options. Heading toward the fence was nothing short of stupid as it would completely eliminate my movement choices. Heading toward the bushes was dangerous, as I could slip and fall on an errant branch and be in a bad place in a moments notice. I considered taking him down with a classic leg whip; but realized that any sort of struggle on the ground would only amplify his attributes at my expense. I had no choices. The only real viable option was finishing the fight in brutal hand to hand boxing style. The only question was whether I would be able to stay conscious enough to follow through with my decision.

Episode LXXXXIII-Hearing voices is bad. Hearing your inner voice is good.

I ignored Square-Jaw’s face purpling nastily in the halogen lights as it wrinkled up like a prune. Dimly, my mind finally registered the cacophony of warning sirens from my senses. Something other than the odor of stale urine wasn’t right about this situation. Belatedly, I forced my intoxicated neurons to consider what exactly had been going on behind the screen of bushes. I had just left a raging party where people had been trying to get to know each other on the dance floor and every other empty place they could find. Moreover, I knew there had been at least three other identical parties occurring simultaneously in a two hundred foot radius that had been obtaining similar results.

Viewed in this light, it was understandable that good ol’ Square-Jaw was merely trying to find a place to do what everyone else was trying to do. He had just happened to find a more private spot than everyone else locking lips and twisting tongues in public. And since I wasn’t a prude and hadn’t objected to any of the other random couples that I had passed, real hard logic demanded that I similarly ignore him as well and admit my mistake. But there was a problem.

In the few classics classes I had attended, we had been discussing Plato’s dialogues, which featured Socrates prominently. In the dialogues, Socrates mentioned his “daemon”; an object that caused him to know when he was doing something appropriate or inappropriate; and in some ways acted as his muse – or inner voice. Like Socrates, I had my own daemon. Usually my daemon was very unhelpful, providing reckless advice, rather than a steady ethical course. I also found that when I was sober, it was much more difficult to hear its proposals. In my half-drunk state, however, it was very easy to hear its strident voice. And this time, like Socrates’ daemon, it was concerned about whether it was right and or just to leave a defenseless person at the mercy of another.

Upon its urging, I considered the situation with a fresh perspective. It was a little strange that two people would choose to get busy directly next to a clump of bushes that were commonly used as a latrine. It was also a little off that the girl who was with Square-Jaw had been making sounds of terror; and it was more than passing strange that she hadn’t said anything reassuring since we had arrived. And, it was suspicious that Square-Jaw would chose to be confrontational towards us rather than sheepish, embarrassed or annoyed. All of these transparent clues made me realize why my muscles had tensed from the start of the conversation, why my senses had panicked, and why my internal daemon had actually provided helpful advice.

“I told you it’s none of your business.” Square-Jaw said, abandoning his earlier slouching form. He was big. He wasn’t tall. He was just massively built with gym honed muscles that bulged beneath his wrinkled khakis and mass produced T-shirt. “So bug off!”

I sighed. I had chosen to ignore his earlier meaningless phrases because I had still been getting my bearings. But now there was nothing to do but banter back a similarly pointless response to determine what was really going on.

“I’m making it my business.” I said, also pulling myself up to full height. After all, I might not have been in his weight class, but I was taller by at least three inches. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.” He growled back, stepping closer to me. “I told you, that you should just leave.”

“Perhaps.” I said, staring down at him, while ignoring the whispers of my friends behind me that were wondering if we should leave. “I’m more interested in how she’s doing. If she tells me to leave, I’ll be on my way.” At this point, everyone fell completely silent and stared. Only then, did we notice that the girl we had seen on arriving was shaking horribly, and that the noises we had heard were her crying. She refused to make eye contact with anyone and simply stared at the ground. “Alright, friend.” I said sarcastically. “You’re right. We’re leaving. Only she’s coming with us.”

Episode LXXXXII-Failure to concentrate leads to concerns.

“This doesn’t concern you.” The square-jawed hulk muttered at me. “Why don’t you just bug off and mind your own business.”

I considered what he said for a second. It was the small hours of the morning. It was past two, but not quite three. Many hours before, the streetlights had all switched to flashing red. The sidewalk lamps were tiredly waiting for dawn with their dim, bug occluded casings. And it was after two. Somewhere, at some time and place, someone had told me that nothing good ever happened at two in the morning. If the statement I had heard was true, my staggering group of friends and I were in deep trouble. It was trouble because if there was an absence of good at two, there was probably negative good at every moment beyond that point.

Fortunately, I wasn’t sure if the statement was true, so I didn’t have to mentally figure out when exactly, good started to trickle back into the world. I really didn’t think that good ever left the world on a daily basis, but if I was to assume that it did disappear, I would further hypothesize that it probably returned around sunrise. Just as my brain was about to continue to chase the preceding reasoning down whatever rabbit hole it had come from, I stopped and took a slow, deep breath and steadied myself. Such incomplete, fuzzy logic was a direct result of consuming too many warm cans of basement beer from whatever fraternity house we had just left. I realized that hazy or not, I had to focus on the problem.

Overdrinking wasn’t the problem. Since we were walking home, the only threat to society that existed was potential public urination, which for tonight, was something that appeared highly unlikely. It seemed much more probable that someone would fall over as they staggered along, and begin to rant against the earth’s quick rotation, or that someone else would begin some sort of rambling diatribe that would surely end with something to do with something being “the greatest”. Walking might be a problem for some people, but that was what friends were for – to support other friends, because at times like these, four legs were better than two. I wondered why I was so unconcerned about people peeing, because more often then not, that was what happened, despite the walk only taking ten minutes at a slow stagger.

Abruptly, the pieces came together. We had been drinking and had decided to leave, because it was after two and the music had stopped. We had passed the bushes where SC almost always pulled his pants off when we had heard the noises. At first we had thought the noises were made by SC because he couldn’t get his pants off to pee, even though whimpering seemed a little odd, even for him. Once we had looked back at him, and saw that he wasn’t making the noises, we had converged in a huddle to whisper about what we thought had been going on. The huddle had nominated me to investigate. I had gone through the bushes, and found a young woman partially dressed making the noises next to the hulking gentleman who immediately stood up once he realized that they had an audience.

Whatever we had stumbled upon, that was the problem. That, the phrase I had just heard, and the whole situation. I also had a small problem. Square-jaw was looking at me like I was an idiot, because I hadn’t responded to his statement.

“Yeah? Says who?” I replied lamely, instead of just turning around and writing off the whole incident as a drunken mistake.

Episode LXXXXI-Trauma opens the door to all sorts of exciting opportunities!

Ironically, it was this step backward that placed me in the most danger I had been in throughout the whole incident. Whoever was driving the car suddenly had their “Holy Crap, I just hit a pedestrian” moment. Or maybe the moment was triggered by the passengers who were probably having their own collective panic attacks. It didn’t matter. Someone’s foot slammed down on the gas and the six cylinders of bloodthirsty death again roared forth, dragging the rest of the chassis along at me once again. I jumped backward to avoid the dented fender headed directly at my right knee. Off balance, I tottered back and forth for a second before collapsing onto my butt on the sloping grassy hill that had cushioned my fall a moment before. Stupefied, I stared at the streaking red headlights disappearing over the slight rise ahead.

I considered leaping to my feet, placing all of my remaining energy into my legs, and running down the car at the next stoplight, pulling the driver out of the window, and pummeling him ruthlessly in retribution for nearly killing me. Becoming a vigilante of justice seemed like a good idea for a second. I thought the idea might not be totally crazy and have some merit. I knew that the next stoplight was less than a tenth of a mile away, just beyond my field of vision. I knew that it was always inevitably red. I also knew that the light always stubbornly stayed red for at least six minutes before reluctantly switching over to green. And, I knew that I could easily cross the distance, catch the car at the light, and give the driver a handsome beat-down because I was that angry.

My heart was still thumping in staccato rib-cracking “glad to be alive” beats. The air around me was crackling with the rage that was bleeding out of my soul. Absently, I waived my gritty left hand over my right arm and felt the blast furnace heat of my anger. It was unquestionable. Everything that was good and decent in my mind was being consumed by hatred. I was going to get up any second, and head up the street, and consummate all sorts of unspeakable deeds. And just as that thought crossed my mind, somewhere off to my left, a finger reached out and poked me in the arm.

“Hey….guy.” The voice that was attached to the finger said. “Are you ok? I – we saw the whole thing – and – do you need help? You’ve just kind of been sitting here for ten minutes after it all happened.”

I looked down. The scrapes had mildly clotted. There was a persistent pounding in my head. And the damndest thing was that while I was frustrated about everything, the dormant anger had disappeared light years away without doing any harm.

“Hello?” The voice said, prodding me again. “You there? You seemed to go all catatonic for a second. Someone went to call for help, so…”

“Stop poking me.” I said instantly. I stood up and looked around. There was a small gaggle of people surveying me from the relative safety of the sidewalk. The prodder was a prematurely balding guy. “No, don’t call the police. I’m just going to go home. I’m fine.” That, I thought, was all the conversation that was really needed.

“Wait!” He said, following me, unsure. “Should you even be walking? What about broken bones? What about brain trauma? What about a police report?”

“What about it?” I growled, now tired of his Good Samaritan vibe. “I was too busy to get a license plate number because I was a little preoccupied. I don’t have any broken bones. And my brain is as good as it gets, because I’m talking to you.”

“Oh.” He said, crestfallen. “I didn’t get the plate either. But you got hit by a car! And survived! That should count for something! I mean, that’s tough…”

At this point my concussion tuned him out. Somehow, we exchanged phone numbers. A week later, I received a call from him. I didn’t remember him, or his name, until he related almost all of the conversation. I then grudgingly acknowledged that I had some loose memory fragments about our meeting, and asked bluntly why he had called. At first, he gave me the run-around, but eventually, he admitted that he was the Captain of the school lacrosse team and that he needed “tough hombres” like me for his team. I thought about telling him where he and his team could go, but because of the lingering head trauma, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. A week later, I attended my first practice; and a week after that, I was buying used equipment out of a van, despite never having played lacrosse ever in my life. It was a decision that did what the accident could not do: destroy my routine.

Episode LXXXX-Blunt bumpers bring bludgeoning bruises.

Technically, the first thing that rattled my skull was the knobby pavement of the dorm driveway. The second thing that hit my brain slightly before the internal warning sirens was the indignant feeling that I had been cheated of my five minutes of route, undisturbed, unobstructed time. In fact, I was again vertical and moving before I had even assessed whether I was actually hurt. I think that some part of my body and mind actually thought that if I started walking up the street, I could still have three to four of those remaining minutes. I probably even took a step up the street to try and capture those minutes. But that was probably just my body acting under the aftereffects of shock. Or maybe it was because I wasn’t thinking clearly because I had just been hit by a car. Now that really was the first thing I should have realized. The words rattled at memories and spanged around the fortunately intact confines of my skull. Somewhere, my internal narrator spun out those simple one syllable words in slow, echoing, quadraphonic sound like this: “Hiiiiiit byyyyy aaaaaaaa carrrrrr”.

Instantaneously, the memories flooded my body with the accompanying pain and rage. The mundane soporific haze disappeared in a flash of recollection. I had been one step into the intersection when the grimy bumper attached to the battered American car flew over the last broken speed bump, careened up the hill, and roared up at my legs. My eyes didn’t have time to traverse the distance to the driver’s or passengers stunned eyes. Instead, they were locked on the splattered metal grill with the ludicrous hood ornament that was targeting my abdomen. My life wasn’t flashing through my head. I was thinking about the last step I had taken before the rusted chrome-covered monstrosity had come to devour my life. Like everything else, it had been automatic. Like every day, I had checked the pitted and potholed driveway with my eyes before not-breaking stride. And, as always, my foot had fallen midway across its desolate space, exactly on the largest center crack, roughly three feet from the safe sidewalk.

It was three feet – maybe two and one half feet – maybe even less between my life and certain traumatic death. The exact distance was an immaterial, invisible expanse. There was a similar expanse in front, and a similar expanse behind. One half of my body was mid-air and mid-stride. The accelerating car perfectly bisected my body; everything was halfway and in limbo. Then the half-second ended. Hand hit hood and whipped past the pointless ornament, which tore skin hungrily, drawing first blood. Irresistible momentum passed through hand into arm, lifting my torso. My now airborne hip whacked off the top of the dirty grill, pushing my flying body even further from the earth’s surface. My back bounced across the dusty hood, dragging my protesting legs along. My head braced for the next skip which would surely propel hands, feet, and eyes into the jagged broken windshield teeth. Instead, my body was mid-air with no man-made objects around it. Then, instant impact, gravel burrowing and furrowing itself into every exposed area, air exhaled through brute force and complete mental confusion.

One foot away from where I had landed, I slowly shook my head at the jumble of memories and finally realized that I should check to see if I was injured. I pointlessly wiggled my toes and moved my legs. My fingers and arms rested at their normal angles. I could breathe and think and recollect. I had bounced across the hood and hit the ground. I laughed nervously. Aside from the blood seeping from a half-dozen places on my body, I appeared to be fine. It was crazy. I was fine because my unconscious routine had placed me in the exact spot I had needed to be in to survive. I paused and tried to understand just how and why it could have happened, but couldn’t even begin to formulate a theory. I took a breath and looked up. The stopped headlights of the car stared back at me. The mechanics of how I had survived fled from my brain and the laughter vanished from my throat. I cracked my neck, and took a step back towards the car.

Episode LXXXIX – Run the Round Routine

It had been a day just like every other day for the past month. I knew it because my brain was lost in its new daily routine. I paid only minimal attention to my left foot smacking the ground. In its faded rubber covering, it rebounded back as my right foot replaced it, and planting itself automatically on the ground. North of my feet, my legs soared over the cracks and gaps of the crumbling sidewalk. Further up, my lungs churned oxygen throughout every nook and cranny of my body. Even higher up, my brown eyes faded into the abstraction of my blank irises. Somewhere beyond that void, my thoughts rambled around in my head, coalescing from abstract strands and theories. This afternoon run around a loosely set course was my only constancy. Like always, it had begun at roughly 2:41 p.m. I had flown down the stairs in my baggy and ragged workout shirt that reeked. I swerved around the first left corner and then cut across four lanes of merciless murderous surface street traffic at the first opportune moment. I kept going up a well worn trail that cut straight through the expanse of three quarters of a mile of overlarge street dividers.

The overlarge street divider was the best section of the run. The divider was covered in grass, small shrubs, and even trees. It was less a divider than a long island of sanctuary. The streams of pavement that were split by it were covered by more old trees, and the houses that were set back from it were hulking stone expanses that were no less than small palaces. In the fall, the leaves were ankle deep and crackly. In the spring the whole area glowed with growth; in the summer the green provided cocoon of cool from the humidity, and in the winter, imaginary warmth seeped into cold legs from the soothing smell of smoke flowing from invisible chimneys. Like always, I was past the waiting speed-trap with a negligent flip of the hand, making a hard left onto the next busy surface street, packed with early afternoon rush hour traffic. It was an uneven straightaway, another quick left and a long uphill stretch full of horns, crunching gear-boxes, exhaust, and fast dashes across unsafe driveways, alleys, and streets before I made my second to last left. During this stretch, my speed shined. Granted, I had always been a quick starter. But along this ugly section of grime and whizzing chrome, my second wind flew into my lungs, and my feet positively flew my body away from any perceived dangers.

Then, it was across another street, and into the park where I was safe from the menacing teeth of motorized vehicles as my route darted downhill in the slightest of grades. On my left and right, fresh runners, and anxious bikers blew by at slow to astonishingly fast speeds. Occasionally, I fancied that someone passed me in a particularly arrogant manner, so I would spur my protesting legs into a quicker pace, and re-pass them, just because I could. Other times, the offending party would then re-re-pass me, and like a pair of oddly matched frogs we’d trade pole position until one us had to veer off and concede the challenge. I then made my last left like I always did. I went up the residential road, past the emptying pre-school, and toward the only right turn I really ever made, back to my dorm. This route was not simply in my mind, known like the back of my hand. It was engrained in every pore and muscle of my body after twenty-eight plus repetitions. I could have taken every step safely with my eyes shut. I could have slept-run the route and not faced real danger at any point. I knew where every car would be in the gridlocked sections, and I knew where surprises might suddenly shock my heart. Beyond that, the route knew me and where I would be at each minute of each day. Beyond that, it was ordained that my body would touch each and every point at a certain moment each day because it appeared that I had always been there, mid-stride, and would always be at that place from that point on.

The routine had hypnotized my brain. It was convinced that it no longer needed to monitor my body from approximately 2:41 p.m. to 3:46 p.m. It was convinced that nothing terrible would ever occur, and that it was free to think about larger problems, like last night’s hangover and assorted social situations. I knew that it would have kept this negligent assumption indefinitely, had it not been hit by a car at 3:41 p.m. today, a day now unlike every other day in every way.

Episode LXXXVI-Dinosaur descendents cause sudden shock.

I had one hand on the ledge, and my other on the last hold. My eyes were tracking past the cracks and grips that I had just passed. As they cleared the gravel that was caught in my knuckles, I came eye to eye with it. At that point, eye to eye was a relative term. I could hear my pupils opening in shock. I could not see its eyes whatsoever in its small, quickly moving diamond head. It didn’t matter. From what I had seen before its tail started shaking, its eyes were flat black and dead.

Dead. That was what I was going to be. I didn’t even remember letting go of the holds after the snake moved. It had been a really big snake. It was instinctual. Big snake in front of face, get away. I didn’t fully realize I was falling until my arm bashed into Mysterious. Dimly, I heard his surprised cry mixed with the receding rattling from above. Then, it was all completely slow-motion non-terminal velocity clear. I was falling from a height of sixteen feet, backwards. My whole body cringed in anticipation of the bone-breaking impact that was about to occur.

Then, my muscles relaxed. It seemed like the rock had been streaking by too long. I had missed the ledge. I was going to fall all the way back down to our starting point, and it wasn’t going to be back-breaking trauma, it was going to be certain death trauma and I’d better think about all of my life, because I only had a couple seconds left. Choking, dry dust rose all around my vision, which flickered fuzzily as the sky shook and collapsed into my brain. New vibrations spread across the ground and impacted dully into my body. The dust fell as dirt on my un-breathing lips. It filmed over my brown eyes and clouded the sunlight. I could feel my body being spun around the axis of the earth, just one more piece of matter on a lonely rock in space.

My lungs re-inflated. I hacked oxygen and carbon dioxide and all other gaseous elements in wheezing, painful heaves. My hearing rushed back. Blood pounded angrily at all of my extremities. Liquid poured from my eye sockets, streaking my faces with muddy red rivers of clay. Slowly, my neurons re-started. I shook my left foot. I wiggled each and every toe. I repeated the process up my leg, and then started again with my right foot. My fingers moved too. It was time for the real test. I gathered what strength I could, and sat up at a glacial pace. My head spun faster than Mercury’s orbit. I steadied myself. Aches and pains nagged every pore of my body. But I was alive. And, other than the pounding headache that was coming fast, I was unscathed. I looked right.

Lying there in a state of bemused shock was Mysterious. I didn’t know what to say. It was beyond comprehension that he too would be uninjured. For that matter, I wasn’t completely sure that I was uninjured. I could be bleeding out internally with a matter of minutes to live. As I struggled to find the words to tell him that I was sorry, and that I was going to go get help, he gingerly levered himself up on his side.

“This is why City Parks will never take off.” He said slowly. “Because there aren’t any cute Rangerettes in those short green shorts to pick us up off the ground.” Just as cautiously, he lowered himself back to the ground before asking the question I had been dreading. “What the hell happened, anyhow?”

I didn’t have a response. My body was one giant bruise, and my brain struggled just to get through the background aches and pains. I opened my mouth once; twice, and finally, on the third time, started to talk.

“Snake.” I said dumbly. “Big rattlesnake on the ledge. Big, angry, rattlesnake.”

“Ah.” He said tiredly. “I knew there had to be some good reason, because I knew that you didn’t really think that today was a good reason to die.”

There was a silent pause as the wind whirled the words around, and then we began to laugh. It was a slow, quiet, desperate laughter that nervously wrapped around the fact that we shouldn’t have survived the fall with nothing but bruises. But it was genuine, grateful laughter at the fact that we were still alive. Eventually, we calmly wiped our surreptitious tears, and dragged ourselves back to the car for the drive back to civilization to resume our lives.

Episode LXXXV-Practical knowledge is easy to apply mechanically.

Absently, my free hand wiped cascading sweat off of my face. Unconsciously, my feet attempted to grip their holds tighter. My toes desperately pressed against the holes they had dug in the rubber soles of my shoes. I had a strong grip on the wall with my inhuman right hand. My flexible, articulated digits that could manipulate complicated machinery had disappeared over the last several hours. My fingers had been replaced with a white sloth-like claw that clung to gaps in the warm rock. I exhaled. My shoulders throbbed as I ascended to my next spot. My muscles measured the gap and moved my body automatically.

I was close to the top. The wind was blowing suicidal saltating sand grains over the ledge onto my face. I had been moving up the face slowly compared to the helter-skelter pace of Mysterious who was quick-stepping his traverse toward my spot. I blinked, and relaxed my tunnel vision of my immediate surroundings toward the larger picture. We had free climbed up from the base of the formation up a series of ledges toward a rocky ledge close to the summit. Over the course of the climb, I had relied on the memories of past climbs that my muscles had retained and ignored the fatigue and trepidation that were rattling around in my head. Since I was five feet from the top, I grudgingly had to admit that those fears had most likely been totally irrational. The worst thing that had happened to me, despite not climbing for months, and now not using protection on an unknown route, was my chalk-streaked complexion. My face looked like it had been pooped on by a herd of falcons thanks to the stale and clumpy nature of my old chalk.

Things could be worse, I mused, as I picked at one offending piece by my ear, while simultaneously yelling at Mysterious to move off my rear. After all, as I told him, there was nothing wrong with being cautious. Just because we had been fortunate on the climb so far, something could go wrong. If I fell, I would definitely clip him and knock him off the wall too. His response was a sardonic look and a one fingered salute. I sighed. It was clear that the best way to eliminate any danger was to hop up on the ledge. I sucked in air and levered up to the last hold, about three inches below the lip.

Episode LXXXIV-Inconsistency has its own color flag.

I squinted at Mysterious’ face for a second, until I remembered that I didn’t have X-ray vision and couldn’t see through his sunglasses to really tell if he was still joking around. After a minute, I turned back to the window and tried to convince myself that I had heard the phrase differently than he had meant it. A second later, he let out a huge bray of fake laughter that sounded uglier than the silence that had preceded it.

“You are such a choad! You can’t think that I’m actually for real about that? I’ve been saying that shit for years! I can’t believe you actually got all – what would you fancy private school boys say – got all pensive about it! I didn’t bring the rope because I hear the rangers here chase climbers off because there’s a breeding colony of peregrine falcons here, and if they saw us with rope, well, do the math, smart guy.”

“And clearly the best way to avoid the Rangers is to park right next to the Visitor Center.” I noted dryly. “Anyhow, if they are really breeding birds here, I don’t want to climb because aren’t they endangered?”

“Who cares about that crap.” He said eloquently. “Bird crap is what you would need to worry about! Besides, I’ve never even seen one of the birds, and we’re not even climbing in the area we need to stay out of. Come on, lardo, up the trail. We’ve got to hike to get there!”

“So why not bring the rope…” I muttered under my breath as I took off after his speed walking.

Just as I reached his back, and the natural silence was about to soak into my soul, Mysterious started talking. His jaunty words bounced hollowly off of trees and rocks. Each word seemed to start with an “I”. The stories weren’t eloquent. And sometimes, they weren’t pretty. By the time he uttered his third peal of laughter, I despised his company. It seemed like the easy-going, somewhat flakey person I had known was gone, washed away in a panoply of inane risks and jumbled innuendoes that made me somewhat uncomfortable.

I wondered: Is this what I sound like to others? It was an upsetting thought that my brain digested uneasily. For a moment, I told myself that perhaps I should flat-out stop talking about myself; rein my ego in; and stop sending out stupid self-congratulatory e-mails, unless I wanted to be exactly like Mysterious. And as my body quailed at that abhorrent fate, I stomped through the last of the brush we had been cutting across and into Mysterious. After I brushed myself off, I looked up and gaped at the heavy rock face that we had been hiking toward. I realized that resolving any potential character flaws would have to wait until after I had survived the climb.

Episode LXXVIII-This taxi service considers tips bribes.

The patent leather belt creaked from the weight of his hands. The cascading red and blue lights rolled of the ice coated branches.

“Get in the car.” He said simply, gesturing toward the dark back seat.

Six hours ago, we had been shivering at the local light rail station, while we waited for the train to arrive. We weren’t dressed warmly because we were headed downtown to some end-of-the-year concert at some bar that was someplace down on the Landing, which was somewhere downtown. Since we didn’t want to deal with the coat check or sweating feverishly in a hot bar, we were mildly suffering in the blistering cold. Everyone was excited about the show for their own reasons. Party wanted to see Poe, because he thought she was wicked. Secret wanted to see Weezer because he heard they studied music. Sweet Cream wanted to drink himself into a stupor.

I was excited because the concert meant that I was done with finals. I had procrastinated to the last minute, pulled two all-nighter’s to finish my papers, and probably missed too many classes over the term to really get a fantastic grades, but at least I was done. Five and one half hours later, all eight of us excited the dive with a horde of other concertgoers. Steam poured off our sweaty skin. The smell of burnt nicotine permeated every pore of our body. Fresh bruises were beginning to sprout next to slight cuts on our bodies from being crammed into a ridiculously small space like lobsters in a tank.

Even though it was even colder than the inside of a freezer, the weather could not touch our post-concert ebullience. With abnormally loud voices from permanent hearing loss, we rapaciously discussed the high points. When the first train came, a wave of people surged forward, jamming each nook of the train. Stranded on the platform we laughed at our friends that were smashed against the interior train doors. The next train arrived quickly. We boarded, and tried to establish as much personal space as possible as the train rumbled along.

There was one problem. The train stopped three stations before ours. Over the intercom, the driver announced that, as it was past two, and he was at the train corral, the train was out of service. We didn’t complain, because we didn’t want to be crushed by the herd of exiting people. Once we were on the platform, the complaining began. Once shivering replaced complaining, we took stock of our situation. We were, three miles from campus. We could have caught a cab, if we had had any money, other than the two dollars of pooled change. We could have caught a bus, if they were still running. We tried calling some people to pick us up, but no one answered their phones.

Grumpily, we were left with one option. Walking. Like survivors of some catastrophe, we trudged across the empty snow encrusted city, heading for shelter. Halfway to the campus, the only sign of life was a police cruiser heading the opposite way. With rubber shearing force, it spun about to our side of the road and flipped on the emergency lights. There was a brief discussion about running, but as we didn’t think we had broken any laws, other than “Walking at Night Past 2 A.M. in Snow”, there was no reason to run. Just after the discussion, the cop pulled alongside us and asked if we wanted a ride.

Our jaws hung slack in surprise and shock. No one wanted to walk in the bitter slippery cold anymore. Gingerly, we piled in to the back according to his direction. Once in, the door clanged shut ominously. I steadied myself against the door, noting the absent handle. The metal mesh obstructed most of the light from the front. There were no seat belts and the seat smelled suspiciously like poop. I also was fairly sure that four people weren’t allowed to ride in the back of a sedan legally, but I kept my opinion to myself. As he drove, the cop peppered us with questions. I was elected to respond by the group by a series of elbows to my side. So, gingerly, awkwardly, he and I had a conversation until one block before our dorm when the radio came to life with a loud crackle.

“…..Naked man….Brandishing a butcher knife at the corner of Kingsbury and….”

All of us looked about, half-alarmed, and half-curious about what our rescuer was going to do.

“Sorry guys.” He said, pulling the car over. “You’re going to have to walk now.”

No one moved.

“That’s right!” He laughed, “You can’t get out. Sorry! I always forget that.”

And with that, he cut us loose to low muttered thanks. But once he was gone, the words flowed as we trudged the last feet to our beds, and even I had to agree that the whole experience had been “pretty cool”.

Episode LXXVII – The arrest sheet states “Slight Environmental Crimes and or Littering”

The throaty click of my trusty lighter echoed off the four pillars surrounding the cold clearing that was freezing my knees. With one exposed hand, I cranked frantically at the flint while simultaneously wondering if it had any drops of lighter fluid left. Suddenly, yellow and red flame soared from the wick, and hungrily leaped onto the nearest edge of the pyramid of crumpled newspapers and scribbled half-plans for undersigned buildings.

With the fire lit, I stowed my lighter and leapt onto the nearest concrete pillar. I exerted as much brute force as I could and pulled myself up to the square top. Below, the flames crackled up the papers word by word and spar by spar before reaching the small heap of empty beer boxes above them. Across from me, Secret Asian Man rubbed his hands excitedly over the faint echoes of warmth rising from the conflagration below. Next to me, the Minnesotan slumped atop his pillar, staring into the flames numbly.

All of us were perched on “Art”, more particularly, modern-campus art. We were sitting on a circular quartet of four irregularly shaped concrete pieces that were two to three feet in width and seven feet tall. From a far, far distance, they looked like a small, ugly imitation of Stonehenge. Our fire was sparkling merrily in the center of the circle. We weren’t worried about defacing the sculpture because it had already been chipped, eroded, peed on, plastered with gum, covered with stickers and paint, and much more. In any case, our slight blaze wasn’t enough to cause any scorching or blackening of the already dirty base.

Unfortunately, our fire wasn’t even hot enough to face the cold Midwestern night. Cautiously, inevitably, the icy night air crept up the crinkling winking bits of glowing parchment and snuffed out the light mercilessly. Once the slight flames caught wind of its predator, the cold abandoned its stealthy progression and caught the heart of the fire in its icy grasp, callously throttling the slow smoldering remnants. There was one final puff of smoke, and the remaining ash floated off.

We didn’t care. Fire, or no fire, this was our place. We had dangled off the statute all semester each as we talked, and occasionally pelted our friends with empty beer cans. Two days before winter break, in the cold, we were going to stay there and wind up our affairs for as long as we wanted, or until we succumbed to hypothermia. We kept talking. Just as the sky was being to rain down a blanket of white ash, dueling sirens screeched to a stop nearby.

After the Campus Police extricated themselves from their mini-vans, they immediately directed us to “step away” from the statue. We descended slowly, since our muscles had long since hardened. Once we were down, we were peppered with questions while a very bright flashlight shone in our eyes. We were more than happy to answer the easy questions. The more difficult questions, such as our names, we were reluctant to answer. Happily, we happened to have no identification on our persons.

We quickly understood why we were being detained and questioned. It appeared that the police had received a call two hours before regarding our fire. It wasn’t fully explained to us why it had taken two hours for them to respond to the call, but it didn’t really affect our response. We categorically denied all knowledge of a fire, how to make a fire, and knowing what a fire was. It wasn’t that we were evil people, it was more that we didn’t want to get busted for something that hadn’t had the potential to hurt anyone, hurt anyone, or was still ongoing, or actually really illegal.

Faced with our stone wall of silence, the Campus Police could only do two things. First, they searched us and found my lighter. Second, they felt the ground where we had had our fire. The ground was no longer hot. After a lengthy investigation, they determined that it was slightly warmer than the nearby ground temperature. As a result, they had enough evidence to charge us with the crime of “Making the Ground Warm”. This, they told us, was a severe crime.

I had many questions about this crime, but as I was more concerned with getting off, I kept my mouth shut. This tactic was well served, as the crime apparently carried the maximum punishment of a warning, a mini-van ride back to our dorm, and learning our true identities. We listened to the warning and vowed never to warm the earth in their presence, took the ride back to another dorm that was not ours, and gave them the names of three people that had been annoying us. We were then released on our own recognizance, and managed to wait just until we were out of ear-sight to burst into gales of uncontrollable laughter.

Episode LXXVI-Glass on the soles of our boots.

It was five minutes to midnight on a Wednesday night. We were hungry. The black holes of our stomachs were growling. For some strange reason, most restaurants were closed. We were too lazy to drive anywhere off-campus. We had just spent the last twenty or so minutes discussing food while we watched our seventh consecutive Bond movie in a row instead of studying for finals. As the Aston-Martin swerved around the confines of the screen, I stood up and announced to the conclave of sloth present that I was heading to the food court to get what food I could before it closed in five minutes.

I had half thought that one or maybe two people would offer to accompany me to get trans-saturated, super-saturated, and mega-saturated fats. Instead, blank, cathode ray lit zombie faces ignored my towering presence. Finally, Party, tired of me obstructing his view of the TV slowly crawled to his feet.

“I’ll come along.” He muttered. “But I’m not happy about it, and I’m not going outside.”

Sluggishly, he began to get dressed, pulling on his coat, hat, mittens, and shoes. I shifted and squirmed as vital minutes passed. Eventually, he had his shoes tied, and looked up to find me at the open door with one foot in the empty hallway. It was thirty-odd steps to the battered staircase. It was two hops, and one cartilage crunching jump to the bottom of the stairs.

After all of that, we were at the tunnel. The tunnel wasn’t even a tunnel. It was a glass cage that connected our dorm to its neighbor. It was the only one of its kind on campus. It was a strange piece of architecture. You couldn’t use it to escape a fire, because there were no doors, except those leading from the buildings. It wasn’t really a cold winter route, because it was three sides of un-insulated glass. However, it was the shortest route to food.

As our footsteps clumped along its concrete floors, I again griped about its structural necessity. The hot carbon dioxide I exhaled provided excellent punctuation to my points, but I wanted to make my point definitively. I shoved my foot at a lower pane of glass to make it clunk in agreement with my argument. My motion didn’t even have the energy of a half-hearted kick. Glass poured onto the floor in a cascade of broken stars. A frantic alarm accompanied the faint tinkling of ruptured glass.

Mesmerized, we paused to listen to the klaxon before scrambling across the now crunchy floor to the next door. Once we were through the airlock, and into the next dorm, we had to catch our breath to cackle maniacally at the explosive-decompression type siren in the corridor. Somehow, we managed to get it together to browse for cereal, chips, and Sweet Cream’s Mountain Dew with standard innocent poker-faces. We braved the cold on the way back, so we wouldn’t be possibly sucked out of the broken tunnel into another dimension, and so we wouldn’t actually be caught by the delayed response of the campus authorities.

Episode LXXV – Raise the Jolly Roger.

I flew down the hill. I swiped my card through the access point. The door didn’t open. I swiped and swiped until the blasted green light of acceptance appeared. I wrenched at the open door and flew up the one flight of stairs and down the stained hall to my door which I kicked down. I knew whose voice it was.

The door flew open, and left me standing there, looking into a dark room that would appear totally innocuous to the naked outside eye, but behind the flag that covered our open window, SC was sitting up, a large orange construction cone propped to his face.

“Shut the damn door!” He said hissing at me, “You’re going to ruin everything!”

As I was completely floored by the comment, I calmly turned and shut the door as if nothing unusual was occurring. Taking my silence for acceptance, SC kept yelling out the window through the cone, with more ludicrous vigor and innovation than any cheer squad. Finally, when I supposed no one was outside the dorm, he fell silent.

“You’re the Beaumont crier?” I said incredulously. “And you yell out of a – is that a bathroom cleaning cone?”

“Sure.” He said nonchalantly. “But don’t worry, I cleaned it. Well, at least this end.” He pointed at the end near his mouth. Then, it was back to yelling. “You sir, BOW to the power of the cone – muah ha ha!”

There were so many things I wanted to say. I should have been angry. Somewhere, there was some part of me that wanted to launch into a lecture about how it was unacceptable to yell from our window, hidden behind my pirate flag at total strangers. I wanted to state that we were going to get in trouble, and that I didn’t want any more trouble. But I didn’t. I couldn’t stop listening to what he was saying. It was hypnotically funny, because it was totally random and decidedly ridiculous.

“Alright, let me have a go.” I whispered instead. For the next half hour, we passed the cone and issued proclamations about passers by in the most offensive language we could think of. Eventually, some hot-head, incensed by our utterly scurrilous language began running around in front of the dorm like a provoked dog, demanding that we come out and fight him. Eventually, he attracted sympathetic parties to his cause. The sympathetic parties drew an even larger crowd to see the spectacle was about. The group of fifty odd people milling about enticed the blue and red lights of the campus police to our location.

Once we saw the Campus Police, we stated loudly through the cone that “the ham eating forces of campus conformity would never take us alive”. Humorlessly, they listened to our diatribe, and immediately began trying to enter the dorm, nightsticks, D-cell flashlights, and handcuffs at the ready. Eventually, a student helped them out and opened the door for them. As they dashed inside, we fled our room. It didn’t help our situation that the mob below was beginning to speculate loudly about our actual whereabouts. Every door we ran to on our floor was locked. No one answered our frantic knocks. Just when we thought we would be caught like rats in a maze of dorm corridors, the last door we tried was open. We stumbled in and found a small semi-circle of the most devout people on our floor studying. The good news was that they zealously allowed us to enter and participate in their meeting. The bad news was that their meeting about the good book was much worse than being captured by the bumbling police.

Hours later, we finally extricated ourselves out of the “People who are going to hell in a hand basket” conversation and set sail back to our room. As a result of the earlier duel-challenging mess, we never were able to ever let fly with our uncensored remarks as much afterwards. But like true buccaneers, occasionally we would pass the rum and let loose a quick broadside of troublesome words at strangers with booty before running off to meet with our regular friends.

Episode LXXIV- Words dropped from a multi-story building always fail to injure.

Somewhere, off in the near distant stacks, the enormous weight of several thousand letters and words fell resoundingly to the floor. My head snapped up with vertebrae breaking quickness. As I looked at the puddle of drool on my open book, I knew instantly that quitting the crew team had been the right move. I groaned at the enormous cramp in my neck, and glanced around quickly to see if anyone had noticed that I had been sleeping. Aside from the clumsiness of the book re-stacker, everyone in a two-study carol radius was similarly sacked out on various laptops, sheets of paper and books.

I checked my watch, and decided that my pillow was more comfortable than the treatise that I was supposed to be reviewing. I repacked my bag, and began to trudge back to the dorm. I walked past the darkened campus buildings, through the underpass, and past the food court in mid-week study silence. Just as I could see the half-lit windows of my ugly dorm, a thunderbolt of noise erupted.

“You, sir, are ferociously ugly!” The voice roared with more than a hint of humor behind it. I stopped, and stared in utter stupefaction at the building. It was as loud as a public announcement system. “Yes, you! I said ferociously ugly! U-G-L-Y! And are you eating flies with that open mouth? Because…” Inexplicably, it paused to think up another snappy retort. “Hey baby! Can I get off on your digits?” The last line wasn’t directed at me. It was addressed to the short, startled girl who had almost ran into me because I had blocked traffic on the path by stopping conveniently in the middle. And then it hit me. The similarity was too uncanny to be a coincidence.

Episode LXXIII-It’s only a mystery if people care.

“You quit the team?” Patroculus from Advanced Classics asked in his always common extremely astonished voice.

“Yes.” I stated firmly. “I’m done with that debacle.”

“Good, good!” He said enthusiastically. “It’ll be a hoot having you back on weekends – no Helen for you to chase, no cult meetings for you to attend, it’ll be one big symposium.”

“Ugh.” I groaned. “No more classics references. I am so behind in that class.”

“But I thought you already read...”

“Funny, wiseass.” I said, shifting. “Well, I gotta go study. I think I’ll be in serious doo if I don’t.”

“One thing.” He said as I rose.


“You live in Beaumont, right?”

“Yeah, and you live in our arch-rival, Lee. I can’t believe we’re talking.” I said sarcastically. “What’s your point?”

“Do you know the Beaumont crier?”

“Say what?” I said in my always sardonic half-befuddled, half-amused tone.

“I’m serious.” He said, his moon face rounded in concern. “The Beaumont crier. Everyone in the dorms knows what I mean.” He paused to look at me; I shrugged my shoulders in ambivalence. “The crier.” I again shrugged. “Well, it’s not what you think – and I can’t believe you haven’t heard of them – I thought you said you knew most of the dorm.”

“Well, I guess my social skills are slipping.” I again noted sarcastically. “I can’t believe I don’t know someone who everyone else knows as a total wreck who sobs all the time. Clearly I am missing out. Because they sound like a hoot.”

“No, the crier.” He sighed exasperatedly. “Like a town crier. You’ve never heard anything about it? No? Alright, well, I’ll tell you. A couple weeks ago, there were these girls walking by your dorm, and this voice booms out at them. Well, since the lights are out, they can’t see anyone, so they keep going, and it keeps yelling at them.”

“What did it say? ‘Hello, this is God, give me your number?’”

“Yeah! Something close to that. See, you do know this story!”

“No. I just picked the most inane thing to say, and said it.”

“What? You haven’t heard this? So, anyhow, they keep walking along, and the voice keeps yelling at them, these really – inane – is that what you said? I’ll just say crude things. Wait – you seemed to have an easy idea about what to say – is it you???” I shook my head negatively. “Anyhow, they left, and then the next night, other people walked by and they were insulted, and then it went on and on, until finally, some of us started to yell back at the person, and even look for them, but the voice moved – you know, from window to window, and we couldn’t find them, and someone even called campus police, because you know, its kind of crude, but they didn’t find anything either. I mean, we thought it was for sure a room with a skull in the window, but the police went and checked it, and no one was there, and I can’t believe you haven’t heard of this. So you don’t know who it is?”

“Let me get this straight.” I began. “There’s someone who yells….”

“Really loud.”

“Yells really loud, and its insulting, and the police are involved, and people want to know who this moving, ‘phantom’ insulter is and now you’re asking me my opinion?”


I laughed. “This is stupid. I don’t care, and I definitely don’t know. How about ghosts? But don’t worry, P; with the crack team of campus police on the case, I’m sure we’re at least six months away from a break in the case. Alright, I’m off. I have to study. You sit here and worry about the mystery sounds, but I’m off to the library. I’ll call you later.”

Episode LXXII-Life with a black dog.

The door to my room was half-ajar. From within, the pulsating hymn of Led Zeppelin poured out. I paused mid-step – I could identify the song if I had a moment – because I had become an expert in all things dirigible. It was Immigrant Song. I hesitated for a moment more. The initial cry of Robert Plant seemed to be echoed faintly in real, unrecorded time. The echo disappeared, only to be replaced by the sound of un-rhythmic disjointed banging that failed to accompany one beat of the song. I shifted my frostbitten fingers, fresh from rowing the ice-chunked Chicago river, and kicked the door open.

“Yo.” Sweet Cream said, not turning from whatever virtual world he was in. “How was the land of ice and snow?”

“Cold.” I muttered bitterly, dropping my bag, and cracking the tips of my abused hands in front of the heater. I was ghastly tired. SC, on the other hand, had his usual manic, sugar-fueled energy, because whatever he was doing on the computer didn’t preclude him from whacking his hands in furniture bruising time to the music. “I’m going to bed.”

“Cool.” He said, still banging away.

“So that means no more air drums.” I said tiredly. “And turn the music down.”

“Right, right”. He cackled.

“I quit the team.” I muttered to my pillow, my fatigued body, and SC as he was in the room.

“Excellent!” He said, still mildly off-tapping to the beat. “More time for us to hang out!”

“Mmmph” I muttered, as I rolled over to get comfortable.

SC had moved in right after Longhorn had left. It was ideal for both of us. He hadn’t gotten along with his aboriginal roommate at all, and I didn’t want someone random to be moved into the room. Plus, we were friends. If we hadn’t been friends, I probably would have killed him in one week after he arrived. He never slept.

Alright, it probably just seemed as if he never slept, because when I was at class from mid-morning to early evening, he was asleep. He drank nothing but chocolate milk, mountain dew, and whisky sours – fortunately, not at the same time. He listened to nothing but Led Zeppelin and Cake. He was obsessed with any sort of game. He also never did laundry, hardly emptied the trash, almost never shaved. He kept the room temperature at a balmy, constant 85 degrees. He had no regard for authority, dorm décor, or offending my neighbors.

As such, he was a great roommate. I never had to worry about the room being robbed – he was always there. He always made me laugh. We had a good time, and as long as the pile of trash stayed on his side, things were good. At least things appeared good in my absence. I realized that I hadn’t been around a lot because of crew, which had kept me away from the room for a fair amount of weekends. As I drifted off to the end tracks of Houses of the Holy, I hoped there was nothing to fret about.

Episode LXXI-Reality is a cold, half submerged iceberg.

The solid, time-aged and well worn shaft of wood hurtled into my chest with a resounding dull clunk. Moments before, my grip had shifted slightly and my solid fingers had refused to bend. Seconds before that, parts of my body had been shivering uncontrollably despite moving at a quick pace as we passed the shadow of a tower whose roof scratched the sky. Minutes before that, my eyes had frantically sought the sun which was lost in a forest of steel beams, concrete branches and glass leaves. Before that, Seven’s oar had caught and a cold slurry of dirty brown water had soaked my legs and arms.

Beyond that – it was all a meaningless unassembled jumble of puzzle pieces. There had been a midnight bus ride from St. Louis to Chicago; there had been an endless progression of routine drills at set times and there had been days of sun, days of rain, days of cloud, and weeks of time. The edge pieces were formed a fine line of guilt. They were the even or odd days that I skipped class and the firm corners of warnings from Professors that I might be put on academic probation. The rest of the pieces were misshaped and barely appeared to fit in my head. Eating lunch at dinner; consuming breakfast at noon; and cramming a fourth meal in between dinner and breakfast at random, undetermined time.

I wasn’t going to attempt to even form the mental mess into a coherent picture. I didn’t need to, because if I was having some sort of hypothermic, pain induced epiphany about my life, I already knew the answer. I was decidedly miserable. The source of my misery was crew. Even though it had allowed me to revert to my primal state at times, break thousand dollar pieces of property and lose competitions in new and strange ways, it was crushing my spirit. I hadn’t slept for who knew how long; I was behind in all my classes, and I was losing friends like I had the plague. The craziest part was that I didn’t even like rowing. The solution was obvious: I resolved to quit crew immediately and recover what was left of my life.

Instead of celebrating at the momentous decision, my body instead recoiled as the pain from the pummeling finally traversed my frozen neurons and registered in my brain. My chest heaved and sucked frigid burning air as I coughed and hacked out the remaining vestiges of team spirit. Eventually, my arms and blue hands captured the rogue oar. I looked out over the ice and trash sprinkled Chicago River. I had quit. I didn’t have to move anymore, especially since breathing was an athletic exercise at the moment. However, after a moment’s deliberation, I began to take huge, perfect strokes that swept through the water. Despite my new hatred and apathy for what the team had done to my life, I rowed perfectly because I did not want to swim to the finish line.

Episode LXX – In times of trouble, it’s good to rely on true grit.

While it was my personal opinion that the boats could be unloaded in a safer manner after the tumultuous thunderstorm, I had already learned that my sage knowledge was unappreciated by the leadership of our team. As I waded through the rivulets of mud toward the truck, I contented myself with the knowledge that I was unlikely to be struck and charred by lightning while carrying the boat, because it was made of fiberglass, not metal. At the truck, I joined my cranky companions, and we mercilessly heaved the dead red mass onto our shoulders like we had done innumerable times before.

Unlike every other time when such an action would leave the carcass limp and heavy on our shoulders for the trek to the rack, the boat was as slick as an otter in butter. The quick jerk to our shoulders nearly decapitated the port foursome of our boat. Fortunately for them, they instinctually ducked as the gunnel hurtled toward their heads and released their grips. This caused gravity to jerk the mass toward our knees in a matter that threatened to sever eight limbs. By a quick and miraculous feat of juggling, somehow the port side carriers combined with our reflexes to prevent anyone from gaining a pair of wooden legs.

The boat then rested at a mere foot off the ground as our chests heaved and our forearms ached by the unforeseen difficulty. Water cascaded off every angle, every curve, every aspect of our bodies, dripping onto the already drenched ground. Frantically, our hands scrabbled across the water repellant skin of the boat for purchase, as we slipped and slid toward the now distant wooden rack. Underfoot, our feet sank into the quicksand ooze of the mud which tore and sucked at our shoes with each step. Midway to the rack, we left the cover of the thrashing trees, and were exposed to the howling gale of wind. In a flat, uncaring motion, it tugged at the mass, and tried to pull us from the ground like a child holding a way-ward umbrella. Through our gritty collective will, and the tips of our fingertips, we held on and reached the rack. Gingerly, we slipped the priceless fiberglass mass onto the holding struts, and stepped back, relieved.

I stretched out the kinks in my back. I looked at the slight abrasions and bruises on my body. I turned, and was about to say something to Seven, and Party who were shivering like abandoned dogs from the constant rain, when a dull rumble made us lurch about. Inexorably, the weight from the rack was sinking into the sodden ground, leaning in a structurally unsound way sideways, and before we could run forward, everything fell with a resounding muted muddy thud into the ground. The boat was irreparably cracked in two. By the next day, we had dried, but the shock had not worn off. Fortunately, we could sit on the bank in a daze, watching everyone else at the meet splash down the muddy river, because without a boat, we had no way to compete, and the whole journey had been nothing but an expensive road trip to enjoy the fine grits and biscuits that the Waffle House chain served all day and night.

Episode LXIX – Sensory deprivation is a road trip away.

The roaring torrent of water shocked my senses back into life. Since I had been trapped in limbo for the last eleven hours, I had regarded their abandonment as a slight blessing. I was grateful that my eyes had stopped processing the meaningless unchanging blur of landscape. I was relieved that my nose had stopped absorbing the fetid odors of my teammates and a pre-broken bathroom. I was uncaring that I could not hear the constant babble of listless voices and groaning of an inherently overworked transmission.

All I had felt for that period of time was blank uncaring nothingness, as my nerve endings decayed in my under-stimulated body. As the hard individual over-sized drops pelted my body and cratered the oversaturated ground, I was finally able to recall how sweet life actually was, despite not sleeping for the last day. The team and I had been on the bus for all of that time, because after the van incident, the administration had decreed that all sports teams travel as a whole, not in component parts. It was my opinion that such a decision only ensured that the team would either survive or perish as a whole.

My first impression of the bus that would transport us had been decidedly negative. It was a decrepit overused charter with bulging tires and squealing brakes. I immediately left the parking lot, went back to my room, and quickly checked to make sure my affairs were in order, because it appeared that we were in greater danger of dying on the bus prematurely rather making a safe and secure round trip to our destination. On my way back to the bus, I again questioned the reaches of my consciousness about why I had not quit the crew team. I realized that the answer was obvious: despite my ineffectual stream of constant whining and complaining, I had been too busy with my inept dating life to actually devote the brain and will-power to leave. However, to look good, I had told everyone else that I had stayed on the team out of loyalty to my friend, Party.

Stupidly, I had kept going to practice out of some misguided routine, and had thus found myself on a no doubt rat-infested hearse of a charter bus on a worse than hellish journey. Since I was now completely drenched, despite having stood outside for a mere thirty seconds, I decided that I would head over to a convenient structure to at least retain some of my core heat and hopefully avoid hypothermia. As I squelched one step toward the building, the firm hand of the Assistant Coach corralled my shoulder, and in bellicose tones, yelled at me that I needed to help unload my boat from its traveling container.

Episode LXVIII – Being an anti-hero is a difficult job.

The slightly-slanted cracked black asphalt, full of lumps and crabgrass was spattered with blood colored rusty flakes. The connecting pins, axle, leg, and protective plate of the left rear wheel had been manhandled into a misshaped ungainly mass. The circular diameter of the wheel, if you could call it that, was pitted, scarred, and dented. It looked more like a square drawn by a clumsy child. Triangle, rhombus, or dodecahedron, it wavered. It wobbled without any provocation. It weakly eased from side to side, shaking from a lifetime of misuse and hard weather.

And without a care, it collapsed. For that split second, it remembered it was a wheel, it was round, and it was not meant to stand still even on flat ground, let alone that weak slope of a parking lot. Squeakily, it started rolling with the desperate motion of long neglected machinery. Every escape, however, requires co-conspirators. Rather than stand fast, and signal the guilty party’s flight with a squeal of rubber, its chain gang companions in the front and next to it also began to rattle off along with it.

I couldn’t hear the rattling from the opposite corner I was on. I could barely see the shaking and groaning of the escaped wheels as they bore the rusted out hulk of the broken-down shopping cart downhill. Normally, I wouldn’t have cared. Like a creature of habit, I ran the route I was on daily. My primary concerns on my jog usually were the deranged patrons who frequented the near-empty small supermarket. Frantically, they swooped in and out of the lot, disobeying all sorts of traffic laws, nearly taking my life on many occasions.

I kept running by the market because I was addicted to the adrenaline rush from not becoming road kill. It also was on a corner between two picturesque tree lined stretches of emptiness. Usually, I wouldn’t care about the metal mesh monsters. I had seen plenty of fugitive carts caroming down the grade for freedom, only to find their flight interrupted by a car door or trunk. The present desperate case I saw in the near distance was exactly the same, except that this time, instead of being absolutely empty or filled with nothing but plastic and food, this cart carried a small child still strapped in the safety restraints of the basket.

I could see all of it from my position rounding the corner on two legs. The mother was half swallowed by the car as she shoved plastic sacks of coco-crisps into its trunk. With her head jammed into the rear of the car, she could hear only the subtle, sublime rustle of bagged goods. Out on the empty tarmac of the parking lot, the cart was beginning to obtain enough speed to launch the child with a high velocity. Just thinking about the x and y motion of the child’s short parabolic flight was enough to make me wince.

I broke stride. I turned left into the lot. My eyes slid back and forth spasmodically, searching for any incoming cars. My legs hurtled over crumbed concrete parking rests. My knees ached at the sudden downhill acceleration as I pursued my weaving metal target. I had outran small dogs, squirrels, and the occasional human. I was confident that I could reach the cart before it jerked the kid off into oblivion, or overturned on his fragile head. My chest heaved, and my arms stretched out in the empty air before latching on to the dismayed escapee. Despite my sweaty, precarious grip, I dug in my feet, tearing rubber off my designer shoes, and brought the whole contraption to a rickety stop.

In front of me, the kid looked up, giggled and clapped his hands incoherently. Leave it to a toddler to not know he was in mortal peril. A wall of sound assaulted my ears. Wincing, I turned to see the mother lumbering downhill toward our position, avalanche style.

“You monster!” She said, as she greeted my face with a hefty slap that resembled a right hook, before scooping up her amused child, and rumbling back into her car, which she started frantically. In her haste, she zoomed out of the lot and narrowly avoided two other cars. I gently massaged my stinging cheek in shock, and quickly placed my feet back on their regular path, lest something else interfere with my normal life.