SIDE ONE, TRACK FOUR: AGAINST ALL ODDS
Benjamin knew there’d be a price to pay when he got home, and that price was for not having taken Eury along for today’s game after promising her she could play.
Mom met him in the living room, arms crossed, unhappy.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just that today was special, and –”
“Special enough not to keep a promise?” Mom asked, an eyebrow going up.
“Is she home?”
“No, your dad took her to eat pizza. No,” she said, forestalling him even as his mouth opened, “you and I aren’t going.”
“Mom, c’mon…it was just this time. I –”
He almost said, I didn’t take her because we went somewhere kinda dangerous. Only the intervention of basic sanity stopped him.
“It’s all excuses, Ben, and there’s not room for that. And it’s not that you didn’t take her, per se…”
“Mom, you always said you didn’t want her to play. You said we roughhoused too much.”
Mom walked over to him and touched his upper arm.
“Honey,” she said. “Sometimes I like it when we argue, when you try to out-lawyer and out-clever me.” Her hand tightened around his arm uncomfortably. “Sometimes.” She let go and sat on the divan, patting the empty side. Benjamin sat, not wanting to rub his tingling arm.
“The point,” Mom said, “is that you broke a promise. And the point to that point is that Eury is young, and very impressionable, and I don’t want her learning from you — you, who she looks up to even more than Dad and me — that it’s okay to break a promise whenever you feel like it.”
Benjamin nodded. The trick to parental scolding was never to agree too quickly, no matter how fast you grasped the point they were making. They would always assume you were just agreeing to get it over with and get them off your back. Better to take it slow, to give the impression that the lesson was sinking down through a thick layer of tapioca-like stupidity until it finally reached your brain.
“I’m sorry,” he said at last. “I’ll bring her along next time.” Tomorrow wouldn’t be so bad, nor would Monday afternoon.
“Good,” said Mom. “We’ll need her out of the house next Saturday, anyway. We’ve got my and your Dad’s book clubs meeting at the same time.”
“…Wait, what?” Benjamin asked.
“You don’t think I’m going to let you go right back to hanging out with your friends, do you? No, no, no — there’s a little grounding involved. You’re not playing with them for a week. You’re staying home and playing with Eury instead, doing whatever she wants.”
“Further, deponent sayeth not,” Mom snapped, legalese for shut your trap. “If Eury has a tea party, you will drink imaginary tea with her stuffed animals. If she wants to put makeup on you, you will let her turn you into a deranged clown. If she wants to play tag, you will run circles in the backyard to her little heart’s content.”
Benjamin fumed, but said nothing.
Some of the edge in Mom’s voice softened. “Never play poker, honey. Your face, I swear…” She smiled and let out a small breath. “I’ll make you a sandwich. I know you’re too mad to feel hungry, but you’ll change your mind when you take a bite. You’ve been running around all day, after all.” She rubbed his tingling arm for him for a second, then got up and went to the kitchen.
No Voidville for a week. A week. He hadn’t been away from the game for that long since…
…since they used to play it a lot less frequently. Once a week, maybe twice. Lloyd used to schedule things more rigidly, back when he was Horror Host. “If we play it all the time, we’ll get bored with it,” he said, not understanding how you could play the game all day, every day, without it ever getting old.
But even Lloyd, with all his smarts and creativity, had his share of blind spots.
Not least of which involved spotting oncoming traffic.
Benjamin felt a flush of dark shame about that thought, like he did every time it slouched its uncharitable way across his mind. It wasn’t Lloyd’s fault, it could never have been Lloyd’s fault. But some small part of us always blames those who die for their own deaths, driven to pointing that finger at them by the unending assault of ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ they leave in their wake.
Besides, it wasn’t even the drunk driver’s fault Lloyd was dead. It was —
And Benjamin clamped down on that thought, just as he did every time it tried to cross his mind.
Instead, he thought about the game, and began making plans for a blockbuster session next Saturday. Nothing in the grounding rules about thinking about Voidville.
And maybe he could call Andi again between now and then. Mom didn’t know about her yet, so Benjamin could claim she was his lab partner in Earth Science or something. Though it would only be breaking the rules to begin with if she were his friend.
His concentration cracked at the sound of the garage door opening, and he turned to look into the kitchen. A few seconds later, Eury came into the house pell-mell, a twisted-balloon crown on her head. She ran by the living room, pausing for just a moment to look at Benjamin, wide-eyed, then pounded down the hall to her room.
Dad lagged behind, smiling but clearly exhausted.
“Three hours non-stop,” Dad said to Mom, kissing her on the cheek. “I think she set a new record for ‘hyper’.”
“I’ll call Guinness,” Mom said. “Did you get to eat anything? I’m making sandwiches.”
“You talked to him?”
Dad walked into the living room and plopped down on the divan where Mom had sat. “Hey, buddy,” he said.
“Hey,” Benjamin said.
“…Yeah,” said Dad after a minute. “Know how you feel.” He got up with a groan, patted Benjamin on the head, and walked out of the room with a single, loud lament: “Tylenol! My kingdom for a…”
Today’s Words: 1039
Total Words: 9664
Notes: Hey, almost to 10K words! Except that’s a fraction of what I need to have done by this point. I think this may wind up a shorter novel, maybe smaller than even Crawlspace. Or maybe not, who knows?
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)