This piece was written after a conversation with a child about the 24 hours lived by a Mayfly, and too many nights spent in dream like summer gardens being told stories by my grandfather. My name is Nadine Owle. I recently wrote The Masque of The Red Death section of Second Skin Theatres unique and critically acclaimed Portmanteau play; Poe: Macabre Ressurections, in which one reviewer described my piece as the most disturbing version she’d ever seen, and I won the Bizarre Magazine Best Fiction award during their first annual How Bizarre Are You competition, an international competition which saw tens of thousands of entrants submit written and art work.
This story was written while listening to the music on the link included. The music was a vital part of the process and mood of the piece so feel free to have a listen while you read!
The New Boy
He had not been. And then he was, and had been for five hours.
Five hours ago, he had woken in a Room, with a Man who was feeling Fear and Guilt. He was destroying Records. The knowledge of such things, names and labels for actions and objects already existed in the boys mind, implanted before his conception so that Learning would happen instantaneously.
The man said little, explaining only that he was going to destroy ‘everything’ and wanted the boy to go away and live a life. He used the word ‘Sorry’ and expressed ‘Regret’. He had given the boy Clothes, the kind which would let him pass as a normal child out amongst real people. He told the boy to go Upwards, follow Signs and use Stairs to reach Outside and find friends, other children with what time he had.
He was a prototype, an example, the man told him, and his time was limited to prevent his being lost or stolen. And so the man wanted him to have a Life, for a time. He would make it so the boy would never be found.
And the boy had gone, the stink of what he understood was smoke following him as headed for the stairs, experiencing Walking, then as the smell and smoke thickened, Running.
He had hit a door and felt Pain and didn’t like it. The door had a shiny thing called a Lock but the boy had twisted it in his hands and it broke and fell away.
Outside was outside. It had Sky and Sky was unspeakably massive and the boy had experienced Vertigo. He had seen an object called Tree and his eyes measured its height, tracing a path across Sky to Telephone Pole. He had measured distance. He had glanced upwards and saw a shape called Plane and understood the heights it flew at, implanted knowledge simply unfurling in response to what he saw and heard and smelled. And then Sky wasn’t unspeakably massive anymore and the boy had felt the Vertigo fade.
He had looked around understood he was on a Hill, and that below was a Town and that a Town was where he would find friends. And he had walked.
Smells had hit him, Leaves, Grass, Damp Earth from a pre-dawn Rain, the heady Musk of Mammals mingled with the Perfume of what he understood was called Flowers.
He had heard Birds, looking around to see his first living creature other than The Man. Birds had the ability to do Flight and the boy had been fascinated by the idea. One bird stood upon a tree limb called Branch, and he had understood it was waiting for the ground to warm up before it took flight. He had sat upon the ground, watching, aware time was passing, time he didn’t have to spare. But this was the first time he hadWanted.
He wanted to see Flight.
While he had waited, he had seen more animals. Small creatures ran up and down tree trunks and he knew them to be Squirrels. Others moved around on the ground and by their high, twitching ears the boy understood they were called Rabbits and while a ‘wild’ animal, made popular Pets, companion animals, for many people.
And then, he had seen flight. He had felt Shock, Exhilaration, something called ‘Wonder’ that just felt like what was called Happiness, but more of it.
And once he had seen it, he had walked again.
Now he was in a Park, having passed through a Neighbourhood and seen Houses, Cars, Mailboxes, Fences. These things marked out Homes and indicated People occupied the buildings called Houses.
Town was a collection of buildings, business and homes, with streets and throughways. It also had the Park, which had trees and grass like the forest, but they had been planned and planted and had none of the disorder of the forest. He had seen Fountains and brightly coloured pipes and ropes which he understood was where he could find friends because these places attracted Children.
And so he was waiting and had been. He had been alive for five hours and had spent much of it in the forest, looking and seeing and learning words. Time passed and People began to emerge from Homes, to open Businesses.
The first people arrived in the park, men and women with animals called Dogs, another companion animal popular amongst many. The dogs ran and Barked, chased Toys which their people threw for them. Some made Waste and their people collected the solids and disposed of them and the boy had an understanding that this was Polite as dog waste could be Harmful and contain Bacteria or cause Sickness.
When Adult people began to arrive with Children, the boy felt Uncertainty. The smaller people were certainly what he knew were called Children, but were very small and very young. They did not Play unattended and the boy understood they were Babies or Toddlers, and generally dependant on the adults known as Parents.
He did not appear to be so young, despite in fact being the youngest living human in the park. But then, as time wore on and the sun rose higher in the sky and the boy felt Heat and Warmth, he saw others. These children were bigger, but still not the same size as the boy and still not appropriate. His implanted knowledge had made it clear that his appearance was that of a child of ten years old. In order to fit in, he would have to find other children of a similar appearance and apparent age.
He had noticed that as time passed, the age of children in the park increased, as if the older the child they later they emerged from what was called Sleeping.
By around what he knew was ‘mid morning’, he had begun to see children who looked more like him and began to feel he could find friends.
He had been Listening to Speaking and his mind had recorded the sounds and shapes of Words and Letters. He had heard Inflections, changes in a words meaning made by the Voice of the speaker and understood that Emotions could cause such changes.
He had words and a voice and a knowledge of how they worked.
It was a word and a voice and it was directed at him.
The boy looked around and saw a child, another Boy, standing nearby, watching him “We need a body, you playing?”
The boy understood the words but the placement was confusing. He knew it was a question but wasn’t sure how to answer, and so made his first word.
The other boy had dark hair in what was called ‘curls’ and dark eyes. He looked the same as the boy, meaning he was probably ten years old or close to it. He wore clothes like the boy, called a T-Shirt, Jeans and Sneakers.
“We’re playing capture the flag” the boy made a sound called a sigh, an expression of frustration, as he spoke “We need a fifth guy because Joey has four other guys. You playing?”
The boy understood that playing was good and was how to find friends. He recalled the right word
The boy made an expression called smiling “Come on then”
He turned and walked away, heading towards a gathered group of more Children. The boy followed.
“You got a name?” the child with curls was calling over his shoulder “I’m Danny”
The boy understood names were for identifying people and that he didn’t have one. He was expected to, and while he had an understanding of what was considered to be a name and what wasn’t, he also knew that language changed so often that acceptable names could change too. He hesitated, no knowledge coming to fill the space in his mind and the sensation was strange enough for him to stop walking.
“Hey” the child who was Danny called back “Come on already, they’re waiting! You got a name or what?”
The boy Thought. He understood that most people didn’t choose their own name but were assigned them at birth. He hadn’t been born, and so he didn’t have a name. He also understood that for some people, they would like to choose a name, choose what and who to be. He knew that to like something could lead to wanting that thing and all he had wanted so far was to see Birds and see Flight.
“Bird” he found he was speaking and while his voice was soft and underused, it got stronger with every sound he made “My name is Bird”
“Bird” the other boy, who was Danny, repeated “Fine, what ever, you better be fast”
“I am fast” the boy, who thought of himself as Bird, stated “I am the fastest”
“Sure” Danny’s was leading him onwards again.
A group of nine other Children stood together and Bird examined them as he approached. Of the nine, three were Girls, females, and the rest were Boys. Danny approached three more of the children.
One was one of the Girls and she shared physical traits with Danny, similar hair and eyes, which Bird knew could mean they were related. She looked at Bird with a look he knew was Suspicion “Who’s this dork?” she asked and Bird didn’t know Dork but realised from her use of it that he should.
“He’s called Bird something or something Bird. I think he just moved, what ever, look, Joey is a dick and he can’t beat us” Danny was saying to the others in the group, “This dude claims he’s fast but we know for a fact Luis is, so I say we run interference for the guys they send to us and we let Luis go for the flag”
“You look confused” the girl was saying to Bird “You know how to play, right?”
Again, Bird knew he should understand this Game called Capture the Flag, but he didn’t and he felt he should admit it. He shook his head in what he knew to mean no.
“Damn it, Danny” the girl addressed the other child.
“Like it’s hard to explain!” Danny was making sounds called Impatient “Look, kid, they have a flag, we have a flag. We putem at different ends of the park. Then we have to go capture their flag and stop them from capturing ours, real simple. If you can sneak up on one of them you can take em prisoner, so they have less people to guard their flag, but they can do the same to you”
“It’s a strategy game” Bird realised.
“Exactly. If we had more people we’d have better strategy. For now, distract and capture the guys that are on that teamand clear a path for Luis to get their flag” Danny told him.
Luis was another Boy. He stood slightly taller than Danny and had darker skin and hair. He seemed to be older, closer to what was known as Teen aged, which Bird suspected the girl was also.
Luis had raised his hand as his name was called, identifying himself.
“This is my sister Sam” Danny was pointing the girl “And that’s Jackson”
Jackson was around ten, also, and had darker skin than any of them, his black hair cropped short against his skull. He too waved as his name was called “You new?” he asked.
“Yes” Bird said “I am new”
“Shit, you already found my replacement” Jackson made a face called Smiling and his tone could be called Jovial.
“Shut up” Sam said in a tone called Affectionate “No one’sgonna replace you”
“Hey!” another boy was calling from some distance away “We’re gonna go plant our flag, count like, five minutes and then we go!”
“Cool!” Danny had called back and the other boy led his friends away from them.
Danny had pulled a red t-shirt from a Bag he carried, securing it to a park bench which he explained was their teams Base and the thing to protect.
Bird understood Base and he understood protection.
After time, from a distance, he heard a shout and his new Friends took on new postures and stances. The one called Luis ran towards a grouping of trees as Bird scanned the park and began to pick out the other players as they tried to conceal themselves.
They were easy to spot but he hesitated, uncertain. The boy called Jackson was nearby and Bird called to him “When we capture them do they need to be hurt?” he asked.
Jackson gave him a look called Surprise and shook his head ‘no’.
“Just tag ‘em and say ‘Out’ and they have to quit and wait ‘til the end, ‘til a flag gets grabbed”
Bird nodded. And then he ran. He saw movement in the distance and closed in, moving around and behind before he could be spotted. He crept up behind and saw one of the children from the rival group, crouching in bushes and edging slowly forwards. An urge to chase down and pounce and Hurt came and went but Bird remembered his instructions not to harm.
He moved up behind the child and placed his hand on their back and declared them “out”
“Aw man” the child made a sound called a whine “We just started!”
But Bird was already closing on another, who had taken shelter behind a tree and thought they couldn’t be seen. This one was a girl and when Bird tagged her she told him he was a ‘Jerk’.
It didn’t take long, only a few moments, for Bird to have located all of the other children and sent them out of the game.
He felt Pleasure and Excitement and could see the same on the faces of the others on his team.
They called him words like ‘Cool’ and ‘Awesome’ and while he understood the real meanings of those words, it was also clear that children used them differently, to express pleasure and happiness.
The boy called Joey was unhappy but Danny had approached him and was encouraging another game. The order came to find more people to play, and spread the game further over the park as Bird had escalated the stakes.
The children scattered to find more playmates but Bird lingered by the bench, unsure of the rules of the game and whether or not to leave the Base undefended. Sam, the girl, had also stayed and sat beside Bird with one of those sounds called a Sigh.
She had a Device in her hands and Bird understood it was a cellular telephone, a wireless communicator.
Bird watched her hands, her fingers as they moved over what he knew where called Keys and he understood Letters and Typing.
“So you’re new?” Sam had asked a question.
“I am new” Bird told her “I came from there” He pointed, towards the now distant hill and the place hidden beneath it where he had been made “But now I’m here”
Sam was looking at him with a look he didn’t have a name for “You’re weird” she told him.
“I am weird” Bird accepted.
“So you’re living in town, then? What address?” Sam asked him.
Bird was silent, unable to give an answer and so not giving one.
“Oookay” Sam gave him a type of smile that was strange and he thought could be called Insincere.
“You’re communicating” he pointed to her cellular phone.
She gave him a look called a Frown “Uh…yeah. I’m texting my boyfriend”
Bird understood a boyfriend was a name for a potential Lover, or Mate. He understood that a lover was usually of the same age and sometimes the opposing gender.
“Luis is your boyfriend?” he made a Guess, his first.
“What?! God no” Sam made the sound called laughing “Man, if you had any idea…Luis will never be any girls boyfriend. And if you have a problem with that you got one with me” the words were called a threat.
Bird didn’t enjoy Threat and wanted to respond in kind, but he felt this would be the Wrong Thing and he would lose his new friends.
“I have no problem with Luis” he stated “Or you. You are friends. My friends”
Sam watched him for a moment, as if examining him “Okay” she finally said “Friends, is it?”
“You are Danny’s sister?” Bird asked, understanding that changing the direction of a conversation could lead away from what was called Tension.
She gave him another frown “Yeah. Lucky me” her tone was one called Sarcasm and meant she didn’t really feel lucky.
“You don’t like him?”
Sam gave him the look called anger “It’s not that. In case you didn’t notice, I’m sort of stuck with him. Someone has to keep an eye out for the little jackass and mom and dad certainly don’t”
“Your parents are absent?” Bird frowned, understanding the words and meanings of ‘mom and dad’, the tones and words easier to understand the more he heard them. Conversation was coming more naturally and the correct response seemed, increasingly, more obvious.
“Basically” Sam said in a tone called Sad “I could be over there, with those guys, but I have to look out for the squirt or he’ll land his ass in the ER or some stupid thing”
Over There with Those Guys was near the Fountain, where other girls, who looked to be the same age as Sam, sat and talked. Unlike Sam, who wore clothes like the boys did, jeans and sneakers, these girls wore clothes called Dresses and paint on their faces called Make Up.
“You want to be their friends?” Bird inquired.
“Well” Sam paused, considering her answer “Maybe not theirfriends. When I was littler and they weren’t such bitches, sure, but not now. What I want is at least to be…of their kind. Pretty and popular and hanging out with kids my age, not grade schoolers”
“But you choose to protect Danny” Bird told her “Protection is better”
Sam gave him another of those looks as if he confused her, but she was nodding “I guess” she shrugged “Either way, it would be nice to have time to myself”
“I can leave” Bird offered “If you want to be alone”
“Not right this second, nerd” Sam rolled her eyes “I mean in general, in life…ah what the hell do you even know, you just stepped off the space ship or some shit”
Bird felt himself make an expression called a Frown and felt Confusion. Again, he understood the words but the meaning of their combination was hard to decipher.
Danny and the others were returning, and with them came children of varying ages. Another meeting was held, to decide upon territories and borders, to create strategy.
Bird found he was part of the Leaders team that Danny had designated. He would direct a number of children to capture enemies, Jackson and Danny each taking their own teams. Sam and another group of children would guard the newly positioned Base. To ensure the game wasn’t over too quickly, it was decided that each team had to successfully capture a flag and return to their own base ten times, with the first team to reach ten being the winner.
Children who could not join the physical play, or didn’t want to, would keep score from the side lines.
The word ‘epic’ was liberally used to describe the scope of the game, which by now reached out of the park and into the surrounding streets. Adults had gathered to watch, cheering and smiling as if the event was entertaining.
Someone had retrieved more wireless communicators, these ones different from the one Sam had. Due to the broadened territories, the communicators were required to declare the game had started, and with the call, the children scattered.
Bird experienced Exhilaration. He had experienced Fun during the first game, and now that he could do it again, on a larger scale, for a longer time, he felt Joy and Happiness. Adrenaline coursed through him and urged him to run faster than he had before, as fast as he was able.
But he remembered the changes already made to the game to compensate for his speed and felt that if he was to go as fast as he could, he would end the Fun too quickly. Even reigning himself in, he was still faster than the others, but he learned Waiting and Drawing Out Time. He learned to let his targets advance further and further before creeping up to tag them, learned Hiding and Sneaking.
He found Climbing Trees was both easy and more of the thing called Fun. It gave him a better line of sight and from the branches he could direct his team to capture advancing enemies. He learned that while catching others himself was Fun, it was just as Exciting to assist his team in doing the same.
Periodically, a shout would come that the flag had been captured and the teams would return to their home base to learn who had won, prepare for the next round.
Time passed and Bird learned Laughing and Cheering.
He felt a sensation called Hunger but the adults who had gathered to watch the game had provided Food and Sustenance and handed it out to children who requested it. Bird learned about taste, texture and flavour, experienced Water, coolness and Refreshment, Soda which brought Sweetness and Bubbles and strange sensation covering his teeth.
Cookies came next, his first solid, and he learned Crunchy and Crispy and that he had a Favourite Thing; Chocolate Chips.
He felt heat and but didn’t experience sweating as the other children do, understanding his was part of his design.
And when they won, he felt Pride and understood Victory and Success.
The day had passed by and while Bird had measured every minute of it, he had an understanding of the concept of relativity. He knew that for the other children, the hours had felt faster than they had been and the day had wound down all too quickly and this was a feeling he felt he shared, even knowing they had been active for most of the day. He Enjoyedand Liked and felt that Fun was something he would like to repeat more and more.
But now he felt hunger again and he wasn’t alone. Children had been leaving in droves since the game declared Over, heading to Homes and Parents for Supper.
Sam and Danny stood together as they waited for the others to return. Luis was carrying the blue t-shirt and looked Tired but happy. Jackson was acting in a way called Hyper, talking quickly and moving around a lot as the adrenaline in his system took its time to wind down. A discussion was had that the friends would separate now, have supper and spend some time at home. They would meet again later, at Luis’ home, for something they called The Big Thing, an event to which Bird was invited to attend.
As they turned to leave, Bird waited. He would have to follow Luis, to find out where he lived but he didn’t need to see where the boy headed. He would follow the scent later.
But then he saw that Sam was whispering to the others and they were glancing back at him as if he was the subject of their conversation.
He could hear their whispers, but understood they didn’t know it.
Sam was telling them he claimed to live on the hill and that she thought he might be homeless or a runaway. She told them she didn’t think he had a home to go and spend time in and that one of them should invite him back to their own for the evening but not tell him the reason why.
Bird was surprised by her insight, moreso by the general agreement from the others that he ‘obviously’ didn’t have anywhere to go. He had felt he had passed for Normal, but then he expected his inability to provide real details of an address may have caused some suspicion. He experienced Regret at his lack of foresight.
“So” Luis had wandered over and was using a tone of voice called Casual “I mean if you’re new in town you don’t know where I live, so you might as well come over or what ever. You can eat at my place and come with us to the thing. My dad won’t mind and you can uh…call your parents from my house to ask, or…whatever”
Bird detected the tiny tics and flickers on Luis face that indicated he was Acting. He wasn’t telling a Lie but Bird recognised he was Pretending that Bird had parents and a Home, but was allowing it to serve as the Truth.
“That would be good” Bird said and he realised it would.
Luis smiled and lead him away, the group heading in generally the same direction. Sam and Danny headed away first, towards a small house near the road with an overgrown Garden and a dirt Fence surrounding it.
Jackson went next, to a slightly larger but equally tired looking home. A Sign in the front yard bore a word Bird could Read. It said ‘SOLD’ and meant the house had been purchased. Based on the conversation from Earlier, Bird realised that Jackson’s home had been sold and he would be leaving the area in the near future.
This gave him the feeling called Sad which led to Surprise at having experienced it. He realised he Liked Jackson, found the other boy to be enjoyable to be around. He also Liked Sam, Danny and Luis. They were Nice and Kind and had accepted him with very few questions or requirements.
Luis lead them to a house called a Bungalow, meaning it only had one floor. Bird found houses strange. He understood that the four sided Box shape was very common, the pre-implanted knowledge filling in the facts for him. But he also had a knowledge that Corners were the weakest part of a building, but the houses he could see all had corners, in some cases far more than Four.
It seemed odd that people would choose to live in such weakly designed structures but he understood it was something no one really questioned.
Inside a House he was shown the Kitchen, Living Room, a Television and Sofa, a Games Console. He saw indoor versions of things like Tables and Chairs, which he had seen at the park, and was shown a Bed Room. He saw a Bed, very different to the one he had awoken on, but saw that like The Man from The Hill, Luis had a Desk and Computer.
He was Introduced to an Adult, Luis’s father who Bird was allowed to call Tomas. Luis had spent time with his father before he brought Bird into the room and Bird had overheard the boy explain the groups concerns to his father, that Bird had no real place to live.
When he met Tomas, the man gave the kind of smile called Kind and was Friendly and Nice. He asked Bird about his family and home and this time Bird was prepared for the question, having recalled one of the first Houses he had seen on his walk in to town. It had had the appearance of an empty home, one unoccupied by any residents. Bird had automatically memorised the street names and door numbers of every one he’d passed, so claimed this home on this street as his own. He told his first lie, that his parents were very busy and so he was left to explore and play by himself.
He was able to detect Tomas didn’t believe him, but the man gave another smile called Kind and told Bird he was welcome to stay with Luis and Tomas as long as he needed to, even if he had to spend the night.
Bird understood that like Luis, Tomas was going to Play Along with the story. He knew this was to Gain Trust.
Luis showed him TV and Music, while Tomas prepared food, explaining Video Games Consoles and showing Bird how to use the controllers. Like with all things, Bird learned very quickly and the concept of the game came easily to him. He used to controller to shoot down pretend enemies, digital creations who felt no such thing as pain or displeasure.
When the food was ready, Luis and Tomas asked if Bird was comfortable with something they called Saying Grace. Bird had a knowledge of religion and what it meant to those who believed it. He nodded he was comfortable with it and was fascinated by their bowed heads and the sincerity of the words, of asking an Entity you could not touch or feel to protect you.
The food tasted Very Good and made Bird feel fullness and Satisfaction. Luis declined the thing called Dessert, explaining he and Bird had eaten lots of Candy at the park during the day. Bird detected the slight lie in the words but said nothing.
While Tomas cleared the plates, Luis showed Bird more of Television and Films, of Music and of Books and Comics.
Darkness was falling and when the sun dipped below the horizon, Luis took Bird up to the roof and showed him his Telescope.
Bird looked through the scope and saw lights and shapes in the thing above called Space. The names for Stars and Planets came into his mind, but Bird found he Enjoyed letting Luis explain it all for him, staying silent as he Listened. Luis’ knew a lot, almost as much as Bird and he spoke with Enthusiasm, which made the experience more pleasant. He spoke of wanting to explore space and reach the silver orb in the sky called The Moon and walk upon its surface.
He spoke of the men who had done so before and Bird really was fascinated, having only some knowledge of this pre-implanted in his mind. He was not as able to measure the scope of the sky in darkness, but the Vertigo he felt this time was not unpleasant like before.
After a time, Luis declared it Was time, and climbed down from the roof with Bird following behind.
He headed for the smaller building called a Garage and retrieved a thing called a Bike.
As he began to ask if Bird could ride, the others, Danny and Sam, Jackson, all arrived on their own Bikes. Bird watched them approach and by watching knew how to ride a bike but realised there were not enough for him to try his own.
“You know how to ride Double?” Luis was asking “How Sam and Danny are?”
Sam and Danny had ridden up on one shared bike. Sam sat in the seat and used the things called Pedals, while Danny used some kind of pipe attached to the central part of the wheel to stand over it and be carried. He examined the bikes and understood the parts, both structural and added by the owners. The wheels of Sam’s bike clicked due to a piece of hard cardboard wedged into the frame, positioned to hit the spokes as they turned.
“I can do that” Bird nodded “Where are we going?”
“It’s Jackson’s last summer in town” Sam explained “We’regonna make tonight the best time ever…he leaves in like, three days…it sucks”
Bird felt the sadness again, realising he had been right in his suspicions from earlier on.
He watched Sam and Danny demonstrate how to mount the bike and ride off, imitating them perfectly on Luis’ bike. Luis began to peddle and Bird felt Exhilaration begin to rise within him.
Though night had fallen, street lights shed amber yellow light on the ground as the children rode. While Jackson lead the way, Luis and Sam made the rides fun for their passengers, weaving and racing through the darkened streets, until their wheels bounced off the pressed tarmac and onto beaten down dirt roads. For a time, their only light was the moonlight, the only sound their whoops and cheers, the hum of their tires and constant click from Sam’s spokes.
Up ahead, Bird could see the sky beginning to brighten as artificial light was thrown upwards. As they approached the glow, they saw the trees around them had been strung with small lights and lanterns in colours like Red and Blue and Green as well as the yellow and white, lighting their path as they rode.
Up ahead, Bird could hear new sounds and smell new smells and the glow was beginning to break up into distinct shades and colours. He saw signs advertising a Carnival and Fair Ground and Rides and Fun and Excitement.
He could smell foods and the names of what they could became quickly; meats, breads, sweets and candies. He smelled Sawdust and Machine Oil and Vomit and Sweat and Fear and Excitement.
They approached a fence and a gate and he saw great lighted shapes rising out of the darkness, heard thrilled screams and a general hubbub of voices and sound. Some voices raised above the others, offering Prizes and Victory and Adventure and Surprise and Delicious Food Like No Other. Notes called Music in dozens of different styles and forms echoed from every corner of the space, every building and lighted shape.
More names flooded his mind; Roller Coaster, Ferris Wheel, Ghost Train, Tea Cups, Pirate Ship. These were Rides and people rode them to be scared, but wanting to be scared and finding fun in it.
There was a place to leave your bike, a ticket to retrieve it later, then Waiting in Line to get in. Each child in the group had Money, which Bird did not, but from Somewhere Luis had retrieved enough cash to cover the new addition to the group.
They paid for things called Wristbands, which Luis explained gave them access to every ride in the park without having to pay for new tickets. They would have to pay for food and to play the games, but otherwise would be free to move as they pleased.
Bird was experiencing being Overwhelmed. All around him was noise and light and movement. People smiled and laughed and moved from ride to game to food stall to ride to game to food stall. There was a constant rumble all around, the sounds of machinery in motion, hisses and creaks of opening doors, the clattering of safety harnesses being fixed in place.
The group opted for snacks first and Bird experienced Candy Floss and found it strange but enjoyable, sweet pink fibres dissolving to a sticky mulch in his mouth. They tried A Game, where Bird easily used a small sandbag to knock a Coconut from a pedestal, winning him a Prize when no one else could manage the same
It was synthetic materials made to look like a Bear and Bird was congratulated for winning it.
The first ride was The Tea Cup ride and it involved spinning at great speeds and Bird felt dizziness and he enjoyed it. There was a ride called a Spider that had long, reaching arms attached to pods, which spun and turned and lifted and flipped. Bird experienced Upside Down and Holding Hands when Sam grabbed his in a moment of excitement.
They tried more games and Bird began to lose on purpose when he saw how his constant victory bothered the others and realised it was difficult to carry all the prizes and still move easily.
Hunger came again and they ate Corn Dogs and French Fries and Ice Cream. Danny was sick behind a bin and Bird was given a Dollar and sent to buy him Ginger Ale from one of the stalls. He made his first fiscal transaction and returned with the soda, feeling Concern for the first time. Danny, though, recovered quickly once he had drunk the sweet drink.
They agreed to stay off the rides for a time, instead ducking into the tents that advertised Magic Acts or Performances. Bird watched Sleight of Hand and understood how it was done but enjoyed keeping the secret from his curious friends, who puzzled at the tricks.
Danny declared he felt well enough to ride The Ghost Train, but Sam declared she wouldn’t join them and wanted to meet her boyfriend, who would be arriving at the Carnival soon.
This made Danny roll his eyes and Luis and Jackson mutter complaints, but they separated, agreeing to meet up by the Ferris wheel within an hour or so.
The Ghost Train was a different kind of ride from the others, enclosed within a building as opposed to open to the night air. Danny was talking, saying he had heard this Ghost Train was the scariest in the state and a pregnant woman had ridden it and been so frightened she gave birth.
Jackson and Luis dismissed this as they boarded the rickety trains and the safety bar was lowered across their laps.
The train lurched forwards, through the heavy doors and into the darkness beyond. Bird waited, not allowing his eyes to adjust to the dark, enjoying the anticipation and uncertainty. The train rolled along the track, the darkness almost absolute as up ahead, faint screams and shrieks echoed backwards.
Danny was making noises, strange groans and moans but Bird didn’t detect distress from him and realised he was making the noises on purpose, with the intention of frightening the others.
Bird sensed movement to the left, whipped his head around in time for a spotlight to flare to life and reveal what Bird knew was a Mannequin designed to be frightening, wearing ‘blood’ stained clothes and carrying a hatchet.
Danny and Luis yelped, Jackson swore, but Bird just sat and the train rolled on. The other boys were laughing, despite their fear and Bird understood that the point of this ride was to be frightened. He allowed himself to be carried with it, keeping his sensed dampened and his ability to detect movement to a minimum.
The thrill became apparent immediately and the ride wore on and Bird felt Fear but controlled Fear. He found that laughing after a Big Scare came easily and relieved the panic, made the tension bearable, made the shared experience with his friends more complete. This ride had two floors and to reach the second the train had to briefly exit the structure, following the track as it branched outwards and around. In the open air, Bird searched for Sam and spotted her easily, standing with a person not really a child but not an adult, older than her but still what was called a Teen Ager.
He had a hand on her arm and another on her waist and Sam had a look of anger and fear and was being pulled away from the main thoroughfare of the Carnival.
Bird frowned and realised he didn’t like seeing Sam look scared and felt she was in danger. The safety bar was easy enough to escape and dropping from the track to the ground cost Bird nothing in pain or damage. He heard the confused shouts of the other boys but he ignored them and fixed his focus on Sam, allowing his senses to awaken again.
She had a smell that was sweet and a thing called Spicy and Bird understood this was artificial, but was her and he followed it through the crowds. Enough time had passed that most of the people he passed were Adults and very few young people remained, but Bird weaved through them easily, Sam’s scent as bright and strong as beam of light and just as easy to follow.
When her smell changed he knew she had begun to feel Fear and his felt himself break into a run without thinking about it. Amongst the crowd, he felt no concerns about reaching his top speed. He could duck and weave with ease and no one here would see him clearly enough to identify what had passed them. The ground rushed beneath his feet as he neared the strongest source of the smell. Sam had been taken behind one of the Games shacks. Bird slowed and crept to the edge of the building, glancing around. He saw Sam and the older boy. He had his hands on her arms and was pushing her against a wall even as she fought him and told him to stop.
Bird watched as she got a hand free and struck the boy in the face, but it served only to make him more forceful and he hit her back, much harder.
Bird had moved and was beside the older boy. And then the boy was on the ground some distance away and was groaning and Bird felt Pain again, in his hand. He felt calmer than he had all day and a stillness had settled over his mind. He knew he could kill this boy.
“Bird!” Sam sounded alarmed and her hand touched his shoulder gently.
Bird looked at her, saw the red mark on her cheek and felt Anger and Rage. He turned towards the boy but Sam grabbed him, pulling him away “Leave it, he’s an asshole!” she was saying frantically.
“He hurt you” Bird told her.
“And you hurt him back, so it’s over now, okay? Please, let’s go find the others” Sam insisted.
She held out her hand and Bird remembered liking Holding Hands, and so took it and agreed to her promise to keep this moment a Secret.
At the base of the Ferris Wheel, Danny, Jackson and Luis had gathered, breathless and frantic.
“You jumped off the ride!” Danny was yelling “Are you nuts? That was so cool but so stupid but so cool!”
“He saw me fall” Sam lied “He came to help me out”
Bird saw Luis detect the Lie almost as well as Bird could, but he said nothing to the younger boys. Jackson and Danny were enthusing about Bird’s jump even as Sam began to corral them towards the line for the Ferris Wheel.
Dawn was approaching, distant yet but on its way and Bird knew that with it came his time.
The cars on the Ferris wheel could fit up to three, so Luis, Danny and Jackson took one, at Sam’s insistence, enabling her to ride with Bird. As they swung into the air, Bird felt the belly drop moment he had come to love. They rose, turning, spinning quickly as the Carnival fell and rose to meet them. Bird had been watching the Ferris before they boarded and so was not surprised when it came to an extended halt, with the cars ridden by himself and his friends suspended at the top.
The Carnival stretched out before them, a miasma of light and sound and colour. Beyond it, there was the lighted pathway, then the darkness of fields and roads not yet lit by publically owned lamps. And beyond that, the Earth based star system of the town, sprinkled lights in homes and offices, street lamps and cars dotting the dark landscape and surrounded by the Night. The great silver orb of the moon was sinking behind the horizon, made massive by some trick of the atmosphere. It sank behind Bird’s hill, silhouetting the first place he had ever known, almost directly illuminating his path, from there, to here, then, to now.
“Drink it in Jackson” Sam was calling down to the boys in the car hanging below “Last time you’ll ever see it like this”
“Don’t remind me” Jackson was calling and there was something in his voice, as if he was sad.
“Jackson won’t see this again? Can’t he come tomorrow?” Bird asked of Sam.
“This is their last night, the Carnival I mean. After tonight they pack up and move on. They stay open all night the last night, that’s why we snuck out to come. Jackson moves away soon so…this is the last big adventure, I guess” Sam explained, sounding emotional herself.
“I will leave soon” Bird told her.
“I thought you just got here?” Sam glanced at him.
Bird made the motion called a shrug, which he knew could mean he didn’t have an answer “I’m only here for a small time. I only have today. Then I have to go”
Same was silent, staring out at the landscape.
“Was it good?” she asked, her voice quiet so the others below didn’t hear it “Your day? Will you go back to…where ever, with good memories?”
Bird was silent himself, thinking and remembering the time he had had. “Yes” he said, his own voice quiet.
He felt the sadness again, this time for himself and it was strange. His eyes felt hot and he learned what crying was, but hid his face by turning away from Sam, examining the landscape.
“I’m glad” Sam was saying, and it wasn’t clear if she had detected his emotional state “I’m happy you had a good time”
The ride lurched and spun again, three more cycles before coming to another halt, enough time for Bird to contain himself enough to look back at Sam. Though they now sat lower than before, their view was still expansive and Bird felt the word Beautiful in his mind and knew it was the right fit.
“Is there anything you didn’t do?” Sam was asking “That you’d like to, before you leave? The Carnival was Jackson’s idea but if it’s your last day too…”
“Flying” the answer came so quickly that Bird wasn’t aware of thinking it. But it was the right answer “I want to experience flying”
Sam was quiet, thinking “Bird wants to fly? Okay” she said “I know how to do that”
When the ride was ended, Sam declared they would play more games and eat some snacks before their very last ride. Bird ate Burgers and Pop Corn and Sherbet and Marshmallow. He used sticks with hooks to capture yellow rubber shapes made to look like Ducks, deciding that losing on purpose was not fun and that winning everything would be better.
He tossed rings over blocks with perfect accuracy and won a goldfish for every member of the group in what the man operating the game called Record Time.
He ate donuts until he experienced vomiting, but then he learned about Ginger Ale and so the unpleasantness was forgotten. Milkshakes followed the Dunking Game, before Bird accurately guessed the number of Jelly Beans in a jar and won the whole thing, giving it to Jackson in the hopes Jackson would enjoy it, and would use it to remember his last Big Adventure in his home town.
Bird swung a hammer at a swing board and rang a bell, surprising a gathered crowd and winning him a stuffed toy as large as he was tall and he fired toy guns at toy targets to win more toy prizes,
When the sky overhead began to brighten, Sam led the way through the crowds and stalls, weaving through the gathered bodies with the ease that comes so naturally to children. They were laden down with prizes, their bellies full, mouths and hands sticky from the candy and sweet drinks and ice cream.
Bird was feeling Tiredness but it was easy to ignore as he followed his friends through the Carnival, to their last ride.
The Swing Ride was a huge tower, strung with seats on chains that hung down from a massive canopy. Sam smiled and batted her eyes at the man in the booth, until he let them store their prizes safely in the secure little box he occupied.
When they approached the swings, Sam ordered them to each take an outer seat, so they would sit one behind the other.
The sky was turning from deep blue to pink to orange as the sun rapidly rose and Bird was feeling so tired that finally taking his seat was the greatest relief he had ever experienced. Sam helped him buckle in, frowning at him as he sat slumped and exhausted and after the other riders were secured, the ride began.
So far, Bird had been impressed with the complexity of the rides but the relatively simple thrill they gave. Their whole intention was simply to place the rider in a controlled stress situation, allowing them to feel thrills like fear while knowing that there was no danger or risk of harm.
But this was different. As the canopy began to turn and gather speed, and the momentum pushed the swings outwards, Bird felt no fear. He felt that lifting in his belly, the wind on his skin and ruffling through his hair. As they turned and rose and the ground fell away, as the sensation of weightlessness crept in and Bird opened his eyes to see he was floating above the world, he spread his arms.
The wind rushed beneath them and Bird experienced Flying, watching the Carnival pass beneath, gazing out further, at the forest, the fields, the town beyond. Everything was golden as the sunlight raced across the Earth and as it broke free of the horizon and blazed Dawn into the world, Bird closed his eyes and felt Peace.
“Oh my gooood” Danny was whooping “Oh my god can we go again? Is it closed? I want to ride again!”
Sam laughed at her brother, the dorky little punk running in circles around his abandoned swing “We have to go agaaaaaaaaaaaaain!”
“Shut up!” she yelled, still laughing, unbuckling her own belt as up ahead, Luis did the same. She turned to see Jackson and Danny were high fiving, both now insisting they ride again, searching around for the ticket guy who would let them know if they could. The other riders were dispersing, flowing around the children as they headed out and in most cases home. Sam didn’t want to ride again. Seeing the Dawn come in had been sort of perfect and a second go wouldn’t match it. But she didn’t want to deprive the younger kids, especially not Bird, who was so intent on a second ride that he hadn’t even left his seat.
“Come on” she called to him as she approached him from behind “Even if we can ride again, the dude’s probably gonna want us to line up, other people might be waiting”
Bird didn’t respond and the closer she got, the stranger his posture seemed. He was slumped forwards, his chin resting on his chest as his hands dangled down at his sides. His toes skimmed the floor as the swing swayed gently in the early morning breeze.
Sam felt something cold in her gut and thought about what Bird had said on the Ferris Wheel, about not having much time. She took a breath, stepping around in front of him.
His eyes were closed and there was a stillness to him she knew meant one thing only. Still, she reached out, holding her hand under his nose, hoping to feel breath.
She stood for a minute, waiting, fat tears already rolling down her cheeks as no breath came. Luis and the others were approaching, reading her expression, understanding, or trying to.
Sam cursed, lowering herself to her knees before the motionless little boy. She raised her hands, touched his face, lifted his head until she could see him clearly.
Though his skin was too pale, his lips faded to white, all colour bled from his cheeks, he wore an expression of contentment, of relaxation. He hadn’t gone painfully, hurting or afraid. The new boy, called Bird, had died, smiling.