Mike, a teenager with black and purple under his left eye, was in a neighborhood of well-landscaped lawns. The only unkempt lawn was David Mercer who only minded his lawn twice every summer, giving it had a haunted quality. Mike’s black eye got all the attention on his pale face. He sat on a wooden bench that was a little damp from yesterday’s rain waiting for the bus that went north. The book he was reading reflected the sunlight quite well and he couldn’t read close to the pages like he usually did.
“May I ask you a question?” a boy of about his age stood four feet away. The boy had rose tinted sunglasses, blond spiked hair, and a white beaded necklace with a cross on it.
He only looked up because most people said “May I ask you a question?” or “Can I ask you something?” and then went ahead with whatever it was they were going to say; yet this speaker just stared politely and waited for him to reply.
“Alright,” Mike said. He thought the boy would ask about his eye and Mike would lie to him and tell him he’d been in a fight that went well for him and not so well for whatever guy was fool enough to cross his path.
“Do you like H.G. Wells?” the boy asked instead, referring to the hardcover he had in his hand.
Mike shrugged, “Enough to be reading his books.”
“A stout reason indeed,” the boy articulated each of his words to the fullest extent, “And since you said ‘books’ instead of ‘book’ may I safely assume you’ve read more than one of his work?”
“I’ve read two.”
“Which is your favourite?”
“I can’t say because I haven’t finished this one.”
“Right, right, of course, of course. Well mine was War of the World because it sits well existentially with me that humans get taken over by something smarter and stronger than they are.”
“Okay,” Mike turned back to his book, “I read that one and I thought it was pretty good.”
“See, it’s because every time a human is stronger or smarter than another human he immediately uses it to his advantage to enslave his fellow or take his valuables. I think it’s only right we all get burned as fuel for some advanced society, some unfeeling and unconscious plane of existence that will build something that’s more convenient and modern for their benefit. It’s a poetic way to die, in your own guilt and self-loathing. But at the final part, right before we’re up by this evil, we’re reminded that this earth was made for humans and given a second chance.”
I think it’s kind of sad.”
The boy whose nose was pierced, something Mike’s parents would never let him even consider, droned on, “Life is a comic tragedy and we are all just actors, reading our scripts and unable to break character or tell the audience that the whole shebang is just a bullshit lie to entertain them momentarily so they don’t kill themselves over their own pointless existence.” His voice was boring and even toned like white noise.
Mike shut his book momentarily, “Did you rehearse that? Because it actually sounded good."
“Good? No my friend; the romantics, aesthetics, stuntmen, clowns and sportsmen are good. That was a cold grim look at reality, a truth in the midst of all this sophistication.”
“Okay,” Mike said, not sure how to proceed. No stranger had ever said this many un-provoked words to him and it was kind of nice to connect with a new face so openly. Normally, the only people who found excuses to talk to each other were boys to girls and girls to boys. He hoped the boy wasn’t crazy. He hoped he would never meet a crazy person in his life; it was fear that sat next to heights and turning your back on the dark when you’d just shut off the light to leave the room.
“My name is Archibald,” the blond teenager said. He didn’t look like an Archibald to Mike; he looked like a Desmond or a Max.
“Nice to meet you,” Mike smiled but Archibald did not, they shook hands, “Mike.”
“Do you know what I’m all about, Mike?”
“That’s cool I guess.”
“I live for the adventure of waking up every morning and enriching someone’s life with experiences out of my own time and sometimes out of my own reputation. I throw my personality on these and everyone is better for it. I’m a missionary, Mike.”
“I want to be a lawyer someday, maybe a zoologist. I can’t decide which I like more, so I don’t know yet.”
“Not many know their places in this shit-storm we call society, not even me. We wander aimlessly searching every day for something to cling onto so we can grasp some form of identity to make us feel unique in this swirling vortex of conformity and generalization.” Archibald was gentle when he swore, like a steady rifleman taking a shot.
There was silence for a bit then Mike said, “Yeah.”
“Where do you live, Mike?”
“Up north. You?”
“I have a place down south near my work, which is making pizza by the way.”
“Do you like it?”
“Me? I see it like I would see any other career in that it gives me an opportunity to spread my philosophies and lifestyle.”
“Nice, so you’re living the dream already?”
“This life is but a dream, and what can we do to make it last? Nothing! This is why I wander the streets looking to a make a living, a name, or a fortune, or even sense, but for the enrichment of one’s true experience. Not the fleeting glimpse of pleasures or pains, but the meaning behind it all.”
Mike laughed, “Do you talk like this all the time?”
“No,” Archibald said, “I was waiting for you to stop me, but I can see you’re a polite fellow who let’s others blather. I approve. I do it myself with the really crazy ones because often they’re far more entertaining than the million academics you meet. Tell me, did you really believe my name was Archibald.”
“Well unfortunately it is. My father was in a coma while I was born and my mother, who, by the way, wanted to name my sister Gretchen, was left alone to name me. I love my mother to bits, but she’s an old fashioned piece of work with a mind for knitting. I didn’t even know if knitting is still a thing people do.”
“You sound like an Archibald,” Mike suggested.
“Do I? Is that a compliment?”
Mike shrugged his shoulders.
“Well I should be a Barabbas in any case.”
“Barabbas is the most savage name I can think of. No wonder the man killed Romans for a living, with a name like Barabbas what other kind of career is really available?”
“Are you a savage?”
“Absolutely, but I think it’d be swell if everyone thought I was when I first meet them. It’d be like wearing red or driving a motorbike. A sex thing of course, because girls like being closer to the danger; getting warm, hot even, but not burned.”
“Okay,” Mike said, “I asked this girl named Sunny out last week and we’re going out on Friday to the movies. I think she’s pretty cute and I think she told my sister I’m really smart.”
“You seem smart Mike, and I’m sure the two of you will build an army of super-babies.”
“I don’t know if I want to go that far yet.”
“You love her; I know it because first impressions are usually the best. Look, you and I just met and already I can tell we’re going to be splendid friends.”
“Maybe,” he said uncertainly.
“Here’s your bus,” Archibald said, “You’re going north, right?”
“Right,” he nodded.
Bus number 51 arrived and they both walked up the small flight of stairs. Mike went first, oblivious that Archibald didn’t pay his fare. He and the bus driver just exchanged a knowing glance and the bus driver smiled widely.
There were only two other passengers, a Hispanic teenager listening to her iPod while looking out the window and an older woman with a grey shawl near the back. The girl with the headphones didn’t notice them but when the old lady saw them she smiled and waved at Archibald. He waved back but they didn’t exchange a single word. She saw he was with someone else and wouldn’t disturb him.
Mike sat down and Archibald sat on the row in front of him and turned around facing him.
“So,” Mike said, “I’m guessing you read a lot too?”
“Everything I can get my hands on. Contrary to what the popular people say, fiction actually makes the socially awkward like me more relatable. Isn’t that funny?”
“Not for me,” Mike said, “When I’ve been reading a lot I tend to get caught up in my own world.”
“You can get caught up and not caught up at the drop of a hat,” Archibald snapped his fingers and grinned. He had very small, white teeth.
“This girl named Sunny is definitely nerd too. She’s into computer games though, which is something I know nothing about.”
“I know all about computer games, I’ve fallen in and out of love with them several times. Online ones are my favourite, of course, because I get to compete against other people.”
“You sound like you do a lot of things.”
“I tell you I’m an enricher of life. You must be new to this city, since you haven’t heard of me.”
Mike nodded, “We moved in three months ago.”
“And you’re already dating? That’s good to hear, Mike.”
“I knew her from before,” Mike admitted.
“Ah, that does help to increase the bond sometimes."
“I suppose. I don’t really know much about women.”
“I know all about women, I’ve fallen in and out of love with them several times. But it takes a stout man to admit he doesn’t know a lot about them.”
“You seem to have everything figured out.”
“Every man can relate to hardship, whether he runs from it or embraces it. I know the heart of man." The corners of his lips raised a bit as he said, “Do you believe that Mike, that a man can know the mind and heart of another man?"
“Well, it might sure come in handy at some point."
“Yes, it would sure come in handy,” he nodded. The topic made him a little weary so he decided to talk about something else,
“So do you just like, hang out with strangers for fun.”
“It’s not always fun, Mike, sometimes people can be a real drag. But I’m on a mission right now.”
“What mission again?”
“Sure, let’s have an adventure,” Mike said, “You know; I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation that went down like this before.”
“Of course you haven’t, people usually only unload after some drinks. As for me, I like to immediately show people my private life. People know nobody is a saint and we all get along. It’s a pattern I’ve seen repeated. Do you see now how I can know the heart of a man?”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Archibald raised his hand, “You’ll get it eventually. Everyone comes full circle eventually. Sometimes people take a long time, oh Lord, a very long time indeed, but everyone comes around after hitting their head against a wall enough times.”
“You know, I don’t think I’ve met anybody who talks like he knows about the world as much as you have.”
“And isn’t that a primal paranoia everyone has, ‘What if I’m all wrong about everything?’ I say who cares if you’re wrong. Everyone’s got to be wrong about something, right?”
“What if you’re wrong about that statement?”
“Maybe I’m wrong about nothing right now? I like mine better.”
The bus stopped and the old lady stood up to leave; as she passed them she and Archibald exchanged a naughty smile, as if the two had once been forbidden lovers.
“What was that about?” Mike said when the bus had started again.
“Oh, you know, just someone I was able to help out. I told you I’m always looking to enrich someone’s life.”
“You sound a lot older than you look. How old are you really?”
“Maybe if I’d take off these sunglasses you’d know, but for now I think I’ll keep them on. I usually only take them off as a last resort.”
“A last resort to what?”
“Rejection! When people are bored by me I take off my little round sunglasses and suddenly everyone is on my side.”
“I don’t see how someone could be bored with you; angry and confused, sure, but not bored.”
“You’d be surprised! Some people are just content to be given a lot in life and sticking with it. Those people are born dead, of course, but they don’t know it until they become alive which usually takes them a long time. I can plainly see you’re dead too, Mike.”
“Yup, you’re 100% unconscious! You’ll begin to wake up today though; I can assure you of that.”
“How do you mean?”
“Why, now you’ve met me of course. I’m very awake because I never sleep.”
“You don’t sleep?”
“I have nowhere to lay my head,” he laughed, “just like Jesus. That’s another thing that’s funny.”
Mike wrinkled his nose, “I thought you said you had a place down in the south.”
“I was just trying to relate, but now that we know each other better I can open up to you a little more.”
“We’ll be arriving soon,” Mike looked out the window and rang the bell. He would be glad to be by himself in a bit. He didn’t mind talking to strangers, but everybody was weird after a while, except Sunny of course.
After another block the bus pulled over and the two teenagers got off onto the soft freshly cut grass of the suburban neighbourhood where Mike lived. Mike turned to Archibald, “Well,” he said, “It was nice meeting you, I got to go now.”
“Can I follow you home?”
“I’d rather you wouldn’t,” Mike said.
“It’s just that I don’t really know you,” he added flatly.
“You know all there is to know about me.”
“Right now I’m human! It’s very important you connect with everybody you meet since you don’t know who will lead you on an adventure.”
“I find most people to be a total buzz kill, and the crazy ones are always too crazy.”
“Ah!” Archibald pointed a long finger, “You let some of your personality slip there, Mike. I am really getting to know you today.”
Mike reluctantly laughed, “Alright, sure we’re getting to be pals. But let’s wait a bit until we follow each other home.”
“Are you afraid I’m an axe murder?”
“Yes actually. Not you, specifically, but people I don’t know in general.”
“I could kill you right here?”
“You could just be a thief.”
“I could kill you here, and steal all your valuables,” Archibald said ever politely and keeping one hand behind his back like he had been doing.
“I’ll see you later,” Mike said.
“Alright, alright, I get the point,” Archibald said, “And you will see me later for sure.”
“For sure, we’ll go on an adventure.”
“This one is not done yet,” Archibald said, then turned his back and started walking down the sidewalk away from Mike who watched him go with mixed emotions.
He asked himself if he’d ever see the man again, and he decided he wouldn’t mind. Maybe after a little time when the unfamilarity of his ways wore off. He began to walk and soon enough he started thinking about Sunny. Sunny was the only thing he’d bragged about, and what a thing she was. She was the real adventure for him, the only thing worth striving for in his world. He pitied every other fool who wasn’t going with her. He wished Archibald the best of luck on his journey for adventure, an adventure that would most probably end when Archibald found a good girl himself. Girls did that to guys and guys did that to girls. It was one of those things that’s kind of romantic in a sad way. He hadn’t had his heart broken many times but enough to know that there was a fine line between romance and tragedy, like comedy and tragedy or drama and tragedy. He thought it was all very well that every man had his own goal, his own dream, and he had Sunny.
Yet Archibald (while smiling) had said he was dead. Dead and would wake up before their adventure was over.
The words had been strange and struck him oddly because there was no sense in them, yet they seem true. He felt hungry for truth deep inside and on the verge of some greater truth that would hit him home. It was like a coincidence that hadn’t happened, a hint at something alien yet familiar, something that had been around him for a very long time.
He walked to 31th Street then all the way to Arlington Hill where he walked one block deep into the subdivision where he lived. He could see the library and it’s single spire. The neighbourhood around him was silent and pondering. The sun wasn’t quite set and everything that was damp smelled fresh.
He was about two blocks away from home when he was attacked. Archibald jumped at him from the tall dark hedges of someone’s backyard and knocked him back. He swung an overhand and caught Mike on the top of his forehead, but it landed sloppily and ended up busting his pinky and ring finger.
Mike dropped his backpack as he stumbled back, but was soon fully on his feet again and aware of the situation. At first he’d been surprised but now, without thinking about it, threw a rage fuelled fist into Archibald’s face (who was still nursing his burning hand). He’d never been in a fight so he didn’t know what to do; only move forward and do damage. He shrieked with anger at having been put in the situation and punched Archibald again with the same hand, then dove into his centre and drove them both to the ground. Archibald tried to hit him as he closed the distance but his strike went high and if you were there you could hear a loud “Oof” as they both plummeted to the ground. The concrete was hard and cold, and Archibald growled in pain. Mike disentangled himself and stood up. When Archibald began to raise himself Mike kicked him in the ribs harder than he knew he could kick. It felt good, damn good, good like being in control of a hot woman writhing under you. Being in control was great, it was the best in fact. It was the ultimate fantasy… the color red… Barabbas…
He kicked the other again and again until he saw Archibald curl up in pain and he realized what he was doing to another human. Mike stood there for a moment before the good feeling was gone and the anger at why he’d been placed in the situation was back suddenly like the drop of serotonin in the brain.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he hissed, prepared to start punching and kicking again.
“I thought we were fighting,” Archibald groaned, “Then you stopped."
“Why did you do that?”
“I knew you were bored with me since we hadn’t become good enough friends for you to show me your home. I knew I needed to make an instant connection with you,” Archibald slowly raised himself up to his feet and grinned, “Come on, can’t we be pals?”
A mother and a daughter were walking down the sidewalk towards the two. When the mother saw who it was she grabbed her daughters hand and led them away quickly. Her daughter didn’t understand but the look on her mother’s face told her not to ask questions.
“If you want to be my pal you’re going about it the wrong way,” Mike spat, just now feeling the adrenaline dump and the pain in his head and hand.
“Am I wrong that people like excitement?” Archibald straightened out his clothing, “Wasn’t that a rush?”
“I could have hurt you worse.”
“You could have, but I know you’re a man who admits he doesn’t know a lot about women. You don’t like inflicting pain, do you Mike?”
“See, then it’s just the rush of a battle eh? A little bit of control never hurt anybody. Say, I have something for you. It’s a treat, oh yes a real treat indeed,” he cackled, and then caught himself,
“Do you like magic?”
He took a step forward and Mike took a step back and raised his fist, “Don’t come near me.”
“It’s okay, it’s okay, I won’t resort to violence again, I promise.”
Mike didn’t move.
“Have it your way friend, but see my hands here,” and here he presented his pink, small stubby hands, “Nothing in them right?” He closed them and opened them a moment later. In his outstretched palms now lay an apple. It was a red and green (mostly red) McIntosh and the stem had been plucked from its crown. It was clean and looked like one of those very appealing apples that were in movies, polished to reflect the max amount of light.
“Cool trick, eh?”
“Sure,” Mike said, “Leave me alone now.”
“Ask me how I did it.”
“Come on, ask me how I did it, I prepared a joke for this occasion.”
“How did you do it?”
“Video editing,” he snickered, “Now, you take the apple, it’s magic.”
Crows, jays, and a few songbirds had gathered in a nearby tree not noticing or making a fuss at each other. They were silent because they knew who Archibald was and didn’t want to disturb him while he was entertaining someone. They knew well, like many others, that Archibald didn’t like being disturbed when he was on an adventure.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Alright fine then, just look at it.”
Mike stared, it was a beautiful apple.
“Are you watching?”
The apple suddenly turned to ash. Archibald blew and it crumpled into the wind. He looked at Mike, “That could be your father.”
“Oh I know all about that black eye, Mike, I know you didn’t fight back either. He’s a problem in your life and I can make him disappear like this apple. No one will know it was me or you, they’ll just think he died because he’s a fat sucker. You know how I’ll do it?”
Mike didn’t say anything, but his fists clenched again.
“This isn’t right, you’re not right, you’re JUST A STUPID FREAK AND IF YOU EVER COME NEAR ME AGAIN I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!” Then Mike spun on the balls of his feet and took off running.
Archibald frowned then stooped forward and picked up Mike’s backpack. He watched the fleeing teenager with a sort of amused look, then after a time yelled, “Hey kid, you left your backpack.”
Mike stopped and turned back around. Archibald was smiling and the sunlight, retreating behind the houses, was reflecting fully off his rose-tinted glasses. It made him hard to look at. Mike slowly walked back and stood in front of Archibald. Finally he reached forward and took his backpack.
“You know, this is the part where I usually take off my glasses,” Archibald said “They say eyes are the windows to the soul and the sight of my soul is very ugly. It would drive you insane because you would at once know who I really am, and then you would know that I wasn’t kidding about the apple. It would drive you further insane because you would know about all the apple could eat. But you know why I won’t take off my glasses?”
Mike, who felt embarrassed for screaming, only shook his head.
“It’s because I like you, kid. You’ve got a sort of naïve gumption that I think is adorable. Later on when you grow up and you realize it’s every wolf for himself, I’ll be there with my magic apple and you and I can continue our little adventure.”
“Okay,” Mike said glumly, not sure why he was still talking. Soon he turned and began to walk home again, H.G Wells very far from his mind.
Archibald called after him, “You’ll come around, Mike; it’s like I said, everyone does.” When he was out of sight, he said “Teenagers,” with regretful dismay then snickered to himself. The birds fluttered off as he turned around and started walking the other way. He was a very busy man and had a number of projects that needed his attention.