Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Aldred Overreacts

It started as a desperate bid for a bit of novelty, and now Aldred is afraid things have rather snowballed. He's got nothing to blame but his own tendency to overreact to tedium. It's a character flaw that has laid him low before, even almost gotten him killed on occasion. More than once he's woken up in the hospital, a disapproving nurse looming over him like some hideously misshapen medical monument, waiting only for the merest flutter of his eyelid to launch into a speech that inevitably began with "Well! I don't know what you thought you were doing, but you're very lucky to be alive..." He would nod, sigh, and if at all possible fall back into a coma for a few days (an imperfect ability that when it worked proved to be invaluable, and was really the only worthwhile thing he learned during a wasted couple of months in Tibet).

Aldred has a nasty feeling that he's on that track again. He had been stuck out in one of the more uninteresting middles of nowhere for weeks now. He had thought he needed a bit of solitude to clear his head and soul. On reflection, he should have gone in the opposite direction. He should have found the noisiest, foulest smelling, most garish urban center going, crammed his brain and guts with the strongest stimulants he could lay hands on, and just had a complete sensory blow out. Even if it was like that time in Macao when he ended up blind for three days and deaf for four, it would have been better than this, this...this place. That's all it was. You couldn't even call it a "dull place" or a "featureless place". One couldn't attach a descriptor to its surface: they simply didn't stick. It was a place, and nothing but a place.

The place was killing him. It was flattening him, sucking the third dimension out of him using some kind of vampiric geometry. The place was trying to kill him with blandness. It wanted to leach the pigment out of him not just until he went white, but until he went transparent. It wanted to suppress his personality, apparently by pasting over it with some sort of cosmic layer of blah. The place was out to blank him. The place was out to erase him. The place wanted to rub him out.

It was also making him a touch paranoid, but that was incidental.

He stood against this attack for a few weeks (trying to prove something, he was no longer sure what), until one morning he simply cracked. Anyone standing outside of his rented (and boring) cottage that dawn would have seen the door fly open, and a determined Aldred launch himself through the opening, wearing nothing but a determined look and a kimono embroidered with dragons. He marched to the highest point for miles, a shriveled mound that dreamt of one day being mistaken for a hillock. He jumped up and down on this for the better part of an hour, all the while chanting "I deny you, I deny you, I deny you, I deny you", until his ankles began to hurt. He then proceeded into the town, shooting the evilest of evil looks at anyone he happened to pass. At a used car lot he selected the least reliable looking salesman, pulled three thousand dollars from inside the kimono, and said "Give me something that will break down inside of five hundred miles, but will last long enough to get me out of this damned place."

Four hundred and sixty miles later, he finds himself eating an ice cream cone and standing next to the smoking ruin of a 1994 Geo Metro, in the square of what appears to be a very nice little town. The kimono is making him stick out a bit, but that was a matter easily fixed. The important thing was that he was finally getting a bit of stimulation. The ice cream was the sort of bland chocolate favored by children and was perfect. The square was a vortex of civic pride, centered on an equestrian statue of someone who had probably committed unspeakable atrocities and was therefore terribly patriotic. Aldred wasn't quite sure he liked what all of this meant, but he was relieved that it meant something.

He strolls as nonchalantly as a big man in a small kimono can, ducking into the first menswear shop he can find. He emerges soon after, clad in a blue seersucker suit and yes, a genuine straw boater. He's delighted to be in a place where such outlandish gear allows a body to blend in. Apparently he's wound up in 1890 somehow, the wrecked Metro the only thing that gives it all the lie. It's a perfect place to be before the Fourth of July, so utterly false. He'll stay for what he's certain will be excellent municipal fireworks. Why not? He's earned it.

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