Brink – Circus
The two men sat beside the fire, huddled against the cold. The fire was eerie. The flames small, white-blue, and they hissed and danced. Several such fires glowed amongst the trees. Firestones, they were called. Fifty years ago a team of marine biologist had found them growing on the edge of a vent deep in an underground sea. Dry, they were unremarkable, porous white mushroom-like minerals brought up from the depths by the air that bubbled past. The d a couple of droops of water, though, and they came to life, giving off remarkable amounts of heat along with the freakish blue light. Now, the vents were mined day and night, harvesting the stones, and the entire country was powered by them. They were heavily favored among the Homeless, as they were called in these parts. Lightweight, easy to stuff into a pocket, infinitely useful. They were in fact, the reason the man had come here in the first place. Of course, civilians weren’t allowed to possess a firestone. Highly illegal. But then to even be Homeless required a certain disregard for the laws of any given land.
“Go home, kid,” the man said for at least the fiftieth time. “You ain’t crossed yet, it’s not too late.” The kid didn’t listen, just like he hadn’t any of the times before. His head was full of all of these romantic notions of how it would be; the freedom, the adventures. He was always wanting to hear stories. “Tell me about this, tell me about that,” all the damn time. The man had tried to tell the kid what some old man had told him decades before. Simply put, once you stand in one world and piss in another somehow you can’t go home. But, it hadn’t worked, just like it hadn’t worked with him.
“What was it like your first time?” the kid asked. The man shook his head. “See, you don’t ask about stuff like that,” he said. “It’s personal. Like asking a guy about the first time he was with a woman.” “Oh.” The kid started at the flames. “Well, what’s that like?” The man sighed. The kid wasn’t going to get it, plain and simple. You can’t fix stupid, and the kid was as stupid as it got. No, that wasn’t true. Not stupid. Just…young. Green. Still wet behind the ears. It all came down to the same thing, though. Oh well, he’d learn. If he went through with it and didn't turn back shivering and crying from the line. Or go insane. Or kill himself when he finally realized what he’d done. He’d learn.
Suddenly, there was movement from the edge of the wood. Muffled curses, the crackling of leaves, thumps as the firestones were doused with sand. Then the flashlights, sending out beams through the woods. Cops, the man thought at first and packed up camp in a hurry. Then he heard the shouts and the laughter. Not cops then, but kids. Locals. Teenagers, probably, got their dander up and were out to show how tough they were by beating on some Homeless. A couple of years back a Homeless man had taken up residence in these parts. Of course, he was also a psychopath and by the time he was brought down he’d killed about a dozen local girls. Eaten some of them. Pretty gruesome stuff. The fact of it was that for every one that went bad, there were hundreds, thousands maybe, who just wanted to be left alone to live their lives. Still, one was all it took to make a whole country turn on them all. The man packed up his gear in a hurry and started to flee. The kid stood by where the fire used to be, staring at the shadows behind the beams. “What are you doing?” the man grunted, “run!” The kid’s smooth forehead wrinkled. He looked like a baby in that minute, not even fuzz o his checks. “But why?” he asked. “I know them. Or, I might. Probably. Maybe I could explain to them, let them know you’re good guys. Then you wouldn’t have to run.” The locals were coming closer. In a moment they’d be on top of them. The man paused for a minute, torn, and then he shrugged. “Have it your way,” he said, and sprinted to safety.
The onslaught didn’t last long. They never did. Teenaged boys got bored easily, especially faced with a quarry that would rather hide than fight, had been hiding for more years than the kids had been alive. A few sharp sizzles of electricity, a few cries of pain. A few cruel laughs as they tore apart some packs, and then it was all over. When he was sure that it was over, the man walked back to where their camp had been. He found the kid right where he had left him, laying on his back, his eyes wide and unblinking. A long, red gash ran across his stomach, the edges of the shirt around it melted into the skin. The boy’s breath came in shallow gasps. “Aw, hell,” the ma said. “What did you do that for? You dam fool.” The boy’s lips moved, making bubbles of blood and spittle. The man leaned down to hear. “Tell me,” the boy gasped,” tell me about your first time. The man rubbed his rough calloused hand over his eyes. He tossed his back on the round and leaned against it. He gave the boy a drink of water. Finally, he began.
“I was a boy,” he began, “not much older’n you. I’d taken my girl to the circus.” He saw the boy’s lips move again. “What’s that?” The man gave the kid another drink of water. His eyes had taken on an on, faraway look. “Now, don’t you bothering with questions. I’ll get to it. The circus, well what the circus really was, was something fun that happened once a year or so. There were magicians, animals like from fairy tales and they could do tricks, pretty girls dressed it outfits that didn’t cover much and sparkled like the stars. When we said we were going to the circus, though, what we meant was that we were going somewhere to park. To kiss for certain, more if we could get it. We called it going to the circus ‘cause of the the wires that ran right through the field where we’d go park our cars and into the woods on either side. There was three of em, thick and black. The first one was about twenty feet in the air, the second ten feet above that, and the third one was another ten feet above that. They had yellow flags on them. They were there to mark the timeline, and they reminded us of the wires that people would walk on in the circus. Tightropes they were called, and whenever you watched you spent of of your time kinda hoping they’d fall, and the other half scared to death that they were going to. That was one reason. The other reason that they called it the circus was cause of the house. The field was off of this country road. It wasn’t more than a track, really, gravel, and if you followed it long enough you’d get to this crossroads. At the crossroads was this house, and so matter which way you came from it was across the road and to the left. We’d spend whole weekends, sometimes, my friends and I, trying to sneak up on the house and see if we could see the moment that it switched places. One of us would come from one direction and another one of us would come from another. It didn’t matter, though; we never could figure it t. We finally just figured that it was magic, like the rings or the birds that the guy used at the circus, and so we called it the circus house. But anyway, my girl at the time was named AnneMarie and she was just the prettiest thing that I had ever seen. Long brown hair that looked red when the light hit it just right, big, soft brown eyes. I’d had a crush on her for as long as I could remember, and a couple of months before that she’d agreed to be mine. We spent most every Friday night at the circus, and I spent most every Saturday taking cold showers and thinking about the way her lips had looked when she said something, or how her skin had felt, or how I could get even further the next week. One night we went out there and it was business as usual, but soon I realized that something was wrong. It was cold, that was the first thing, winter was coming and this was one of the nights that you could really believe it. We were dressed like it was still summer, probably cause in our minds it still was, and we were both shivering even though we were pretending that we weren’t. Second, I could tell that AnneMarie was mad, even though she kept saying that she wasn’t. We fought. I turned on the car so we could have some heat and I bullied her until she decided to tell me what was wrong. I said that I was concerned. I said that I wanted to know so that I could fix it. Looking back, what I really wanted was to have a reason to fight. I was tired of going home every week with my balls throbbing. I was tired of having to dress up every Sunday and make nice with her folks who hated me and were going to no matter what. So, I got the fight that I wanted and she cried and I thought it would make me feel better but it didn’t. I just felt tired. And guilty for making her cry. And mad at her because I felt guilty. Anyway, we decided to call it a night and I got ready to take her home. But when I pushed the ignition, nothing happened. Just a click. I got out and checked the tanks and sure enough we’d fought them both empty. Well, that got me even more fired up. I pulled one of the tanks out, made sure that I slammed everything really hard so that AnneMarie could tell how mad I was, laced up my shoes so that she could see, and started to stomp off to the nearest fuel station. AnneMarie wanted to go with me, but I wouldn’t let her. The last thing I needed was her shivering beside me in her skirt and heels, twisting her ankle. Besides, if I went by myself maybe she’d she how much I did for her. Maybe she’d be a little grateful. Looking back I didn’t treat her too well, but man I’m glad that I at least did that right. So I stomped off, nursing my hurt feelings, telling myself all of the things I should have said, planning out a nice speech for when I got back the car. I got to the station and they filled me up with air. There was an old man there who offered to give me a ride back, but I said “no.” It would look a lot better if I walked the whole way. That’s how much of a dumbass I was. So I walked back and for a good part of the way I was still good and mad. Then I calmed down some. I noticed that the moon was getting near full and remembered hoe pretty my girl looked when the moonlight flashed off of her smile. I noticed the trees and vines and thought about how I’d never really see them before, always having been focused on something else. There were these great white flowers that covered some of the old trees. Parasites, I found out later but damn they were pretty parasites. After an hour or so, though, I still hadn’t come to the field. I think I knew then. Still, I kept searching, wandering around ‘til I found my car right where I had left it. It was rusted all to hell and the forest had grown up right around it. There was even a tree growing right through where the windshield used to be, but I knew it was mine. Well I went a little crazy, bashing my head against a tree trying to put my own brains out. All I did though was rip up my face and put myself to sleep. I thought about going back to town, looking AnneMarie up if she was still alive and telling her that I was sorry, but I just couldn’t bring myself to it, so I crossed the line again, on purpose, and been doing it ever since.”
The man finished and waited, staring at his hands, for the kid to say something. The silence spun out into the darkness, and after a moment the man looked down. The boy’s chest was still. The man reached out and closed his eyes. He rose, wearily, and put on his pack. He thought for a minute about doing more for the boy, burying him or saying a few words or something. After all, he was just a kid. Then, he didn’t. He wasn’t one for words and he’d never invited the kid along anyway. Tried to make him go away. Besides, let them see what they’d done, when the light came. Let the townies see just who they’d killed with their pranks. “I tried to tell him,” the man said to no one in particular. “I tried. Damn fool kid.” Then, he struck out west, towards the nearest timeline.