Episode Ten

#Episode 10: Save Ferris (Wheel)

Hrothgar (Two Weeks Earlier, Continued)

Blackthorn signifies the written word, used to soothe. Add the wood of the Blackthorn to denote the threat of force. If paired with Rushes, Blackthorn suggests a need to conform to the way of things. Secret missives.

          By the time Gar and Seth had joined the rest of the posse, Matt and Cole had both taken the bait of the others and were trying to goad each other on.
          “I bet you a Coke I can hit this thing higher than you.”
          “Just a Coke? Matt, that’s doesn’t sound like you’re overflowing with confidence.”
          “Come on. Hey Gar, Seth! This guy here is trying to chicken out of…”
          “I’m not chickening out of anything…I just think if you’re going to challenge a man to a bet, then you ought to offer up something more substantial than a Coke.
          “It’s a Coke here, dude,” Cole admitted. “Not at Stewarts or whatever…this’ll cost me.”
          Without a thought, Gar interjected, “Have you ever notice how when someone says a word too many times in a row it starts to sound wrong?”
          “Oh?” chuckled Seth. “I hadn’t noticed. Maybe we can chat about it……over a Coke.”
          Gar and Seth looked at each other with perfectly schooled faces without a trace of amusement. Cass and Wyn, however, burst out laughing and the two arguing friends shrugged their shoulders as they got in line. Sarah and Wouter took that moment to exit left behind the looming Ferris wheel just beyond where they were all standing.
          Hannah, enjoying the one-upmanship, turned to Gar and asked, “Hey, funnyman, why don’t you give it a whirl? I’ll even let you choose your prize,” as she fluttered her overly mascaraed eyelashes like Venus Flytraps hungry for their next meal.
          “You totally should,” Seth encouraged as he tried to push Gar towards the small line in front of the High Striker. “If all you do when you come out with us is play Tic-Tac-Toe with Ryan…c’mon.”
          “I heard my name?” Ryan piped up from the group on the other side of the line and walked over to see Seth’s feeble attempts to push Gar into trying his hand at the hammer. “Aw man, Gar. You should, dude. None of us will judge you.” His voice sounded far too sympathetic.
          “I will,” Sean proclaimed as he raised his hand. “Please, coach, pick me!”
          Hrothgar barely heard him, however, as the pain behind his eyes was causing him to leak tears and a piercing tinnitus began to ring in both his ears. Looking around, he took a breath. Every single one of his friends was standing in the exact same places as they stood in the vision he’d projected to Kaithias earlier. How was that possible? He felt the bubble containing his fortune burn in his pocket, enough so that he glanced down as he gulped air to check to see if his jeans had caught fire. The breath turned sour as it filled his lungs.
          Matt went first, spinning the hammer in a crazy circle above his head like some barbarian before slamming it down. He was disappointed to watch the ringer rise only to 50. Cole merely walked up with little fanfare and picked up the hammer. He raised it in his hands a few times as if to get a sense of its balance and then proceeded to swing it over his right shoulder and then down swiftly, watching gleefully as the ringer passed by Matt’s score as it rose to 65. He looked over and smiled at Emily, and she returned the smile as Bryce’s head turned to congratulate Matt. He handed the hammer to Gar, who used it to hold himself upright. This was so not a good idea. Gar lifted the hammer and let it come crashing down, only partially hitting the pressure plate by his feet. He didn’t even look as the ringer only just went past 25. He quickly got out of line.
          Bryce barked out a laugh, “My little brother could do better than that!”
          The gang all laughed. Derrick offered, “My little sister could!”, and was graced by a smile as Kristin looked over at him. Eddie looked angry, again. Given time, Gar was sure this would all somehow end up his fault.
          Gar smiled weakly, but said nothing. Following his lead, Seth shrugged and slid his arm alongside Hrothgar’s shoulder. “It’s ok bud. I’m sure it’s just rigged anyhow.”
          Gar tried the best he could to shake off his fit, but with little result. “Thanks, man.” He kept his eyes firmly on the ground, focusing on his breathing.
          No one really seemed eager to move on from the spot, but no one was really talking either. Just one of those moments when all the conversations in a room all cycle to a quiet moment at the same time. Looking to make peace as always, Matt sniffed the air like one of the rescued Greyhounds his mom kept taking in. “Dudes! I smell Funnel Cakes! Man, I’m starving!”
          “We ate at Capone’s before we got here!” Wyn responded in shock. Matt’s dad owned the Italian restaurant, known for its large portions of pasta for a reasonable price. Their lasagna was one of Gar’s favorites.
          “Hey, I’m a growing Boy!” Matt offered, spreading his arms beyond his wide shoulders and pumping up his biceps.
          “You certainly are,” Wyn comforted him as she patted his belly.
          Everyone followed the two of them in a hungry mass to a booth nearby across the aisle. Hrothgar’s dad loved to make fried bread dough on special Sunday breakfasts—and the scents wafting out of the Snack Hut smelled close enough to those memories that Gar was suddenly ravenous as well, despite how much he was relying on Seth to keep him upright.
          To be fair, it was delicious—at least at first. Sadly, a booth behind the Snack Hut was selling hot dogs, and the wet meat smell turned Gar white with the desire to puke. Leaving Seth behind, he bolted for a nearby trio of yew bushes and proceeded to release all of the contents of his stomach. Gar felt two cool hands on his head, sweeping the normal swoop of hair off his forehead as the mix of smells and the pressure and pain in his head lead him to upchuck once again into the bushes. When he stood up, Gar’s eyes held a rich noctilucent green, like a cat or raccoons, in the reflection in Hannah’s glasses. Hannah paused as her voice caught, doing her best to act unphased.
          “What?” Gar breathed out, as Hannah tried to dodge the rancid stink of his exhalation.
          “I’ve never seen anyone go that fast from starving to retching like that except my mom, when she was pregnant with Caleb.”
          “You know I’m a guy, right?”
          “I’m aware.”
          “Well, then…” Gar waved his hands about to cover for the words he couldn’t think of in the moment. Seth waved back from the line, as if Gar had been trying to get his attention with his movements.
          “Relax. Seriously, you take everything so seriously these days. Kinda like your best boy over there.” Hannah motioned to where Ryan had sidled up to Cass and they were having some sort of animated conversation. Judging from how often he was gesturing towards it, Gar figured Ryan was offering to go on the Ferris wheel with Cass. That was stupid of course…Cass was terrified of heights. Ryan seemed unperturbed and was becoming more insistent. Gar could tell, because he stopped gesticulating. Ryan talked with his hands when he was at his most relaxed, pretty much the opposite of Gar. Ryan’s hands were taut by his side, not moving an inch.
          When he saw Cass approach Sean and head towards the line for the ride, he knew his best friend had finally pushed her too far. There might not be coming back from this, and whatever else had happened between them, Ryan was still his best friend. He walked towards Ryan, who looked ready to dash after the other two and put a hand on his left shoulder. Ryan whipped his head around, inches away from Gar’’s own.
          “What.”
          “Ryan, let it go, man.”
          “But she…”
          “Ok, seriously?” Gar took hold of Ryan’s other shoulder as well before he continued. “The only reason she’s going into that line is because you’ve managed to make her madder at you than scared of the ride.”
          “All I did was ask her to go with me?”
          “On a ride you knew she hated?” Gar said quickly, and then waited to let that sink in.
          “Well, I thought if maybe I was there…” Ryan responded weakly.
          “You would what…comfort her? Convince her to go bungee jumping next?”
          “Whose side are you on?” Ryan accused.
          “You’re both my friends, and you’re my best friend. I’’m on whatever side lets me hang out with you both without you hating me for it.
          “Man, I just…”
          “Listen, here’s the positive. You did get her to go on the Ferris wheel. That’s huge.”
          “Yeah, but with Sean!” Ryan exclaimed, clearly still perturbed despite Gar’s best attempts to the contrary.
          “Right. Let that sink in. She’s on that thing with Sean. How well do you think that’s going to go?”
          “But if he?”
          Exasperated, Gar grabbed his friend and pushed him towards the line.  “Let’s get in line after them. If you see him making some sort of move, you can spit on him or something.”
          Ryan looked at Gar for a second. “Well, look who’s mister Man of Action!”
          “It’s all she’s going to let you do,” Gar consoled. The two of them walked up in line, with only two sophomores in between them and Cass and Sean. Soon the wheel came to a stop and the operator and the ticket taker started letting couples on, one car at a time as they emptied each car as it hit bottom.
          “Hey,” Ryan said, as he grabbed the crossbar and locked it in place in front of them as they sat in their booth, rocking it ever so gently. “It was good to hang with you tonight.”
          “It was good to hang with you guys, too.” Gar realized he meant it. It was different from how he spent his days these days, but Cass had been right. He’d made them out to be these villains, but these were good people. His people, for good or worse, and he’d missed them.
          “We should go see Naked Gun,” Ryan offered.
          “Yeah, that’d be great.”
          “It’s been out for a month, but I remembered how much you loved to torture your parents with lines from the first one, I waited to see the second with you.”
          “’S cool.”
          Ryan gave him an odd look. An irritated look? His eyeballs were shiny. The world was loud.
          Gar felt his sour stomach return suddenly as the machine lurched them forward and up, their car casting back and forth from the momentum. The lights of the carnival become far too bright to look at directly; the halos of each overlapped and broke against each other like waves. As they rose higher, it wasn’t quite so overwhelming, but the breadth of it made him gasp. The entire carnival pulsed in shimmering rainbows, every person and every bulb on every ride. His headache was no longer behind his eyes; it was his whole head, creeping down his neck and down his spine.
          “Dude, you ok? I saw you barf in the bushes. If you hurl, do not aim that towards me, ok? You know it just makes me wanna join in.”
          Gar didn’t respond, though there was a real threat that he was about to do what Ryan was intimating. His fingers and feet were tingling; the muscles in his hands and feet were all half-clenched and unable to relax. His breath caught midway between breathing in and breathing out, his diaphragm caught in a similar paralysis.
“I just wish she’d let me know, ya know?” Ryan was staring below them, where three cars behind Cass and Sean were sitting close together, their heads sort of resting on each other. Neither was talking, just watching the carnival and the town reveal itself as the cars rose and fell gently back to earth in a circle.
          “This whole summer, this thing with Cass has only gotten weirder. We’ve hung more, I guess maybe because she always seemed around and you’ve been busy with……whatever.”
          Gar couldn’t breathe or respond. It was as if his whole body was frozen, and he felt himself get light-headed. Suddenly the world tilted, growing smaller and larger at the same time as if seen through nesting lenses, one zooming into fine detail while the larger grew wider in scope yet more indistinct. Terrified he was falling, Gar turned his head ever so slightly, as much as he was able. His gaze passed among the crowd of his friends, Matt and Wyn with their hands entwined, Bryce and Emily sharing lemonade, Derrick and Eddie both talking to Kristin. Hannah looked exhausted and was checking her watch, Cole stood next to her holding onto her hard-won dinosaur. Diplodocus? Brachiosaurus? Something big. It hurt to think. Seth was staring up at them, waving to him with a giant elephant ear he’d apparently gotten for him. Gar was a horrible friend.
          “The thing is, I know she knows. I mean, how could you not? But every time I get a chance to say something, I either totally stick my foot in it or she just quickly finds something else to talk about. I mean, I’m not a bad guy, am I? I’m not a player; I haven’t had that many girlfriends. Hell…wait. Is that the problem?”
          Beyond them flowed a sea of faces Gar didn’t know, all of them fighting and laughing and yearning. He saw her friend first, pulling cotton candy off a stick someone was holding and forcing it into her mouth in pink blobs that stained her teeth as they slid past her retainer. A few more steps and Gar saw more than just the arm holding the sticky sweet fluff ball, but a girl about his age with honey-brown hair and kind brown eyes, that even in youth crinkled in the corners as she laughed. She was wearing a pair of jeans overalls, with a white and blue top underneath and gladiator sandals. She seemed familiar, and she filled his vision. The ride sped up, and he and Ryan fell backwards as the cars now in front of them blocked his view. When he swung to the base of the wheel and began to ascend again, the girl and her friend were gone.
          The girl. The girl. It echoed in his head like a canyon. Gar let out the breath that had held him prisoner, and his whole body unclenched.
          Ryan saw Gar’s body relax all at once. It wasn’t like Gar to stay so silent. Usually he was constantly babbling and he had to shut the kid up to get a word in edgewise. This wasn’t a conversation, he realized—Gar had yet to say a word. Before they got on the Ferris Wheel, he’d been fine. This wasn’t that folding in thing he did either, when he wanted to disappear or avoid notice. Was it his feelings for Cass? He couldn’t think why that’d piss Gar off, but he honestly couldn’t think of anything else.
          “What have you been up to, by the way?” Ryan fished. “Seth said something about a book, or something?”
          Gar moved his mouth, but it was dry and he couldn’t move his tongue in a way that would let sound come out.
          “Sorta thought I’d done something…”
          “No, man,” Gar got out, finally unsticking his tongue from the roof of his mouth. It felt like lead to move it, to move anything. At least he was breathing, and the pain was fading. The shimmers around everything still lingered, more intense in the corners of his eyes. “Just been busy. First half of summer we had to go through all of Gram’s things, and then there was the funeral and then we had to get the house ready and then we had the stupid family reunion—which I did tell you about—and I dunno. I’m not even sure how the summer is almost over. It feels like it was May yesterday.”
          “It’s been months, Gar. It’s…nice to have my friend back.” Their car reached the bottom of the wheel as the giant machine slowed to a stop. Releasing the crossbar, Ryan got off and Hrothgar tried to follow suit, only to fall on his face from the weakness in his aching muscles. He heard a small crunch as he fell, and felt the bubble in his pocket burst. He hadn’t read it yet, but his future was free now. Floating in the darkness of his jeans, surrounded by the jagged remains of what once protected it. Some of those jagged pieces had cut into his leg when he fell. Was he bleeding?
          Ryan helped him up, worried.
          “You’d tell me if something was up, right? Like, really wrong? “
          “Hunh?”
          “Like if you were sick or something?”
          “I’m fine, man. Just needed to find my sea legs a bit quicker.”
          “Sea legs?”
          “Please, man. Embarrass me no further.” Gar put his hands up in defeat and smiled at Ryan, who returned the gesture as he led Gar back into the crowd of his friends, oblivious to Gar’s searching eyes peering through the throng of people in search of even a wisp of that honey-blonde hair. The tumult of strangers met him instead, pouring around him as they all finally left the carnival, and Ryan made him promise to keep their plans for the movie tomorrow.
          Gar was hardly there. Detached, like a balloon whose ribbon had shredded, he absently waved as everyone dispersed to their cars and the gridlock of parental departure began. Getting into the backseat, Gar forced himself to keep the chatter with Seth and Ryan going. He’d gained something tonight he’’d forgotten, the camaraderie and closeness—especially to these guys, but the others too. He wasn’t willing to let himself drift away the way he’d let himself this summer. His promise to himself to find some sort of balance sounded hollow, though. Hrothgar was grounded only by the sharp edges he traced in his pocket and the dampness that might well be blood. He absently pulled his hand out of his pocket, the crumpled fortune smeared ever so lightly pink. He held it in a fist that grew ever tighter as the fanfare of the carnival faded to a dim smear on the horizon, before vanishing into the star-hewn void of night.

Beth and Hrothgar—August 1991

          “Alrighty, well,” Beth exhaled. “That was certainly full of drama. I’m not sure I understand what I was supposed to get out of all that, to be honest, though.”
          “It took me a few weeks to figure it out too,” Gar admitted. “I guess I’m pretty dense, because it was all right in front of me.”
          “Gee, thanks!”
          “That’s not what I meant! Kaithias and I dreamed together that night, and he seemed pretty worked up about me and Ryan’s talk on the Ferris Wheel. Kept wanting me to share what we talked about, over and over and over. Which was weird. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. But then I remembered the ducks.”
          “The…ducks?”
          “Yeah, the ducks! And what Kaithias showed me right before I passed out.”
          “So?”
          “So, the next time I visited the preserve, Kaithias was waiting for me right at the edge of the forest. I didn’t have to go looking for him at all, which was unusual. He seemed super excited. It was weird, though, because we didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary. Well, not for us. Over the next week or so there were still times where I’d come out here and he’d be nowhere to be found, but he wasn’t nearly as distracted as he had been once he did show up. I’ll be honest, I was pretty sure I’d screwed it all up somehow. Despite my best intentions at the carnival, the more I couldn’t find Kaithias, the more time I spent here at the preserve trying to find him. Seth, Ryan, even Cass called and I put them off or straight up lied. Every moment I met up with Kaithias was precious, because I didn’t know just how much time I had before he stopped showing up at all. I was nervous he was slipping away.”
          Beth couldn’t help but marvel at the focus of the young man seated before her. That same eerie eccentricity that had so captivated her had been channeled almost exclusively into his relationship with this forest being, real or imagined. She felt bad for Ryan, actually. From what she’’d overheard of their conversation, Gar hadn’t shared this new world with his friend—a friend who’d been treated by Hrothgar exactly as Gar had been treated by this woodland creature. If the thing hadn’t seemingly taken a liking to her, she wouldn’t know anything about this awkward boy, either. She got the impression that there wouldn’t be many more visits from Ryan before he wrote Gar off for good.
          Unbothered by the thoughtful look on Beth’s face, Gar soldiered on with his tale.
          “At night, I’d still have adventures with Kaithias. Even on days when I didn’t find him somewhere in the preserve, I could always count on him to find me once I’d closed my eyes. We met with some of his family as we stumbled across them in our travels and he was as guarded and awkward as I am at wrestling practice every time. He kept giving me these looks when I rambled on a bit too much, like he was afraid I was going to give something away, which I didn’t understand since we’d already met his uncle and gotten his royal blessing or whatever that was.
Anyways, it was around that time he showed me this clearing and it sort of become our spot.”
          Beth noticed the odd accent on those two words, like makeout ridge or honeymoon, but didn’t interrupt.
          “We ran into those ducks again, their chicks had grown a ton and I guess they wanted to show off or something. A few days later, I finally got a clue, took out my yearbook, and managed to find you in it. That’s when I put it together.”
          “Stop with the games, Gar. Just tell me.”
          “Kaithias had found someone else stumbling through his woods. He hadn’t given up on me, not ever. You see, this other person couldn’t see him, so he’’d done his best to guide them and keep them out of trouble. He was as focused on them as Ryan was on Cass. That’s why he’d taken such an interest in my talk with him on the Ferris Wheel. I felt pretty embarrassed for being jealous after that.” Gar looked a bit like her little brother Josh, then. She’d seen that cat-like grin on Elena’s younger brother, too. “Cause he definitely doesn’t like me in that way.”
          And just like that, she too grasped what Gar was hinting at. It’d been all right in front of her. Literally, even if she couldn’t see it. The sheer amount of precisely varied wildlife that just seemed to suddenly appear in front of her to draw every single time she came to the preserve without fail was preposterous. Had some beast man had been spending time with her unseen, guiding her through the wood? Moreover, that strange experience at the butterfly tree, was that just coincidence too? What about that afternoon after meeting Gar, in her backyard, and that bush that seemed to appear out of nowhere? Okay, it was still far-fetched. Clearly. And yet.
          “I think he likes you, Beth,” Gar smiled so easily, like announcing the day was going to be sunny. “Like, like likes you.”
          Beth stared at the boy as he pushed up his constantly sliding red-rimmed glasses, unable to formulate words.

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