Episode Twelve

#Episode 12: Open Your Eyes

Hrothgar (July 23rd, 1993)

          They were back at the carnival, everyone, but Beth and Elena were there too. Kaithias stood by his side as Seth and Keith brought them both hot donuts from the Snack Hut. Keith was dressed up in a brown teddy bear onesie. Ryan and Eddie were taking turns at the High Striker, swinging the hammer while everyone gave them grief. They all ate while they watched the guys’ antics. Kevin walked over to Gar.
          “I’m glad to be the new you,” Kevin sheepishly admitted.
          “I’m glad he has you,” Gar responded, and was surprised to learn it was true. Despite what had happened, Ryan needed someone to confide in, to trust. If that couldn’t be him anymore, Gar was glad it was a guy like the wrestler that had moved in down the block.
          Claire and Lara appeared out of the crowd and gravitated immediately to Seth and Kevin. Seth looked at Lara like she was the devil and then to Gar for help. Claire reached down and ruffled the fur atop Kaithias’ head, much to Gar’s shock. Kevin put his arm around her shoulder casually, as if they knew each other, as if they’d been dating forever. Gar was sure they’d never met.
          Everyone started moving at once towards the Buzzsaw. Beth grabbed Elena’s hand and started off in a run, stepping right through Kaithias. The others started to run too, darting and weaving through the crowd which was suddenly faceless, brighter. Every face was a small sun, and Hrothgar was running so fast they soon were nothing but streaks of light. Kaithias took his hand and dragged him forward at a pace his over-sized matchstick legs couldn’t possibly keep. Their fingers came unclasped one by one, and then all at once he stumbled and fell.
           Looking up from the ground, he saw them all enter the massive ride, its giant base already beginning to slowly spin. All its passengers aboard, it started to rock, arcing wider with each swing. It is spinning as it goes, there are screams, they are upside down. The Buzzsaw spun and arced in ever faster turns and twists and started to fade as if behind curtains of grey gauze. Soon enough, the thick, cool grey is everything and everywhere. The laughter and screams fade as if they are miles away.
          Gar is alone.
          Hrothgar wakes up.
          Hrothgar is still alone.

Beth (November 1993)

          The days had turned cold and the leaves had shed their multi-hued plumage, the trees and bushes both stretching their empty limbs to the sky in askance. At this point, Beth could relate. Somehow her brother had finally figured out that getting accepted to San Keros University meant that Beth would be moving away and the endless questions and tantrums had begun. It was only November. Elena, a year younger than her, was also not dealing with it well. Better than Josh, of course, but not well. Instinct had taken over and she’d bolted to the preserve.
          Now that she was here, though, she acknowledged that it was probably the worst possible place to go. There were memories here that she was working hard to forget.
          “I knew you hadn’t given up on him.”
          Beth easily jumped three feet as the tall gangly figure stepped out of the tree-line nearby. “Jesus, Gar.”
          “Are you?”
          Gar looked like a wild man, his over-sized corduroy sports coat covered in leaves and prickly seed pods, his pants and shoes caked in mud. Beth waited for some sort of response, but none came.
          “You can’t spend your whole life here in the woods.”
          “Why not?”, snapped Gar defensively, “He does!”
          “Gar, you’re a human being! You’re not Tarzan.”
          “Tarzan was human,” Gar mumbled, his eyes scanning the tree-hewn horizon.
          “Seth warned me you’d gotten worse, but…”
          “Warned you?  About me?” Gar looked both shocked and hurt, his manic eyes welled a bit. “I’d never hurt you Beth.”
          “I didn’t say anything about hurting me. I said Seth was worried about you. From the looks of things he should be.” Beth gritted her teeth. Was that tone of her voice actually coming out of her mouth? “Keith is enabling this, I’m assuming,” Beth threw out there, deflecting.
           “He’s the only one who still believes me.”
           “I’m not saying something didn’t happen, Gar. I’m just saying whatever it was, or who did it, I’m not going to let that become the totality of my life. I came out here, I ran into you and all this insanity, because I wanted—”
           “Wanted what?”
           “I dunno, Gar. More, I guess. More than to be a teacher or a truck driver or whatever it is my parents will try to have Josh grow into. You’ve seen my sketchbook. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, to where I’m going.”
           “Going?” Gar gulped.
           “I got accepted into the visual arts program at SKU.”
           “Oh.” Gar’s hollow response was more breath than word.
           The both of them stood there awkwardly for several minutes.  In an attempt to bridge the silence, Beth offered, “I heard what Ryan and Eddie did in gym Wednesday. I’m sorry.”
           “It was more Eddie than Ryan. And Kevin tried to stop them.”
           “I believe that.”
           “I’m sorry you and Ryan ended up the way you did. Actually, you and everyone. This thing, this obsession…Gar, it’s going to kill you. Either that, or your parents are going to do something drastic. They’re only going to buy the eccentric loner thing for so long.”
          “I’m not crazy,” Gar repeated, though his eyes made him look anything but.
          “I didn’t say you were,” she said testier than she meant and drew her fingers through her hair.
          “I spent a year showing you…”
          “Showing me what, Gar? Disappearing fruit? Tales of dream adventures? Magically appearing bushes? You’re smart, more observant than most, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a furry blue friend invisible to everyone but yourself.”
          “Keith saw him!”
          “Keith was as high as a kite on who knows what!”
          Beth bit her lip. “I can’t keep doing this. I came out here because I needed to take one last look.”

Hrothgar—November, 1993

          “Last look?” Gar didn’t like how final that sounded.
          “Before I move on with my life, Gar. Before I and almost all my friends graduate and move out of here and into wherever the hell we go next.”
          Beth had been his first confidante about what had happened to him, and it seemed almost unfathomable that Gar’s life would continue with her gone. He’d told Seth and Keith eventually, and his attempt to do the same to Ryan had ended over a decade of friendship. Now Beth was leaving him too, and the hollow feeling that evoked was one altogether familiar. He’d felt it when his grandmother had died, and when Kaithias had stopped appearing. Or was prevented from doing so.
          “There might be magic in the world, Gar.”
          Gar looked at her, willing her to continue, to believe.
           “But if there is, it’s something we find together. With the ones we love.”
          “But…” As always, he wished he had a way to share with her the experience of his bond with Kaithias, of what he had felt for her.
          “Good luck, Gar. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
          Beth turned and walked away, her footsteps loud as she waded through the dried leaves. Gar let her go. He wouldn’t shed tears this time, not like with Ryan. Kaithias was real, and if he wasn’t somewhere here in the preserve, well, he’d just have to look elsewhere, deeper, more carefully. He took his glasses off to clean them, swirling his t-shirt around the lenses to wipe away the grime before putting them firmly on the bridge of his nose.
          Head held high to force himself not to turn and look behind him, he clutched his fingers around Grandma Rae’s flower diary in his jacket pocket. Hrothgar Jones, last believer in Kaithias, smallest but not least of the Mysteries, crossed the meadow and stepped into the forest beyond. Despite the inverted canopy of leaves that covered everything, his feet made no sound. His grandmother’s red plastic frames never slipped once.


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