There is a ruckus on the highway. Curious onlookers line the streets, releasing oohs and whistles as I shimmy by wearing nothing but a gold leotard with an extravagant plumage of blood-red feathers across my back. The afternoon sunrays ricochet off my gold Roman galea as I swing my hips seductively to the hypnotic calypso beat.
“Aren’t you glad you did it after all?” asks Charlene. I was supposed to be celebrating my big track and field win. Things hadn’t gone according to schedule. The crowd on the sidewalk is swelling and Charlene is on what appears to be her fourth mix of Red Bull and rum, clearly enjoying the buzz of energy. I have to admit that my team mate was right. This is exactly what I needed.
“It’s great out here,” I shout over the music. God knows I needed cheering up, after my pole vaulting pole snapped in half as I ascended on my second attempt. Now here I am two weeks later, trying to make myself feel better in this ridiculous get-up.
Charlene raises her plastic cup in a toast, and I do the same with my bottled water, its rim coated with traces of my black lipstick. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be caught in such a gothic lip color without a shroud, but today was anything but ordinary. A quick survey of the party animals reveals that we are all in various stages of nudity; bare chests, severe cut-outs, thong-bottoms and Charlene swears that she saw a man wearing a loin cloth.
A photographer leaps out of nowhere, blinding me with a series of rapid flashes. Wait until Aunt Flora catches sight of me and Charlene in the newspapers. It will be one more thing for her to gossip about on her vintage rotary dial phone.
“Looking good Nelly,” says a familiar voice. My ex-boyfriend Gavin does a choreographed shuffle. Ahead the giant music truck inches along the stretch of the highway, flanked on both sides by enthusiastic revelers.
“Thanks,” I say to his mud-painted face. His paper thin lips are coated with black lipstick as well. My gaze drifts downwards to his bare torso and to my amusement, I see that Gavin’s ever-growing beer belly has been air-brushed with an immaculate set of abs.
“Finally got that six pack,” I say coyly, gesturing at the neon green and brown abdominals. He laughs while rubbing his Buddha belly suggestively. The music truck cranks out one of the season’s biggest hits, inducing a roar from the suddenly reenergized crowd.
“This is our song!” screams Charlene. She jumps around, her arms encircling the waist of the stranger in the loin cloth whose lack of coordination sends all four of us into a riptide of laughter. Carnival is the theatre of life. I am in the Spartacus section of the band so I adjust my galea, raise my fiber glass, glitter-coated sword and release a warrior cry, before surging forward towards the carnival judges.
The Crabs Incident
J. Conrad Guest
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I drove a stretch of tarmac dark and weary, I chanced upon a damsel in distress. I braked hard and pulled over onto the shoulder. A moment later, I heard the crunch of boots on gravel as she approached the passenger door I’d opened.
“Thanks,” she said, sliding in beside me. She was what her generation called Goth: hair dyed shoe polish black, pale makeup, black lipstick, and facial hardware—silver rings through left eyebrow, nose and lip, an array around the inner lip of her right ear, while a skull dangled from her left lobe. When she spoke, a tongue stud glittered in the headlights of an oncoming pickup truck. I wondered what other hardware she might have, in other, more secluded places.
“What are you doing out alone so late on a Saturday?” I asked.
“My dawg and me had a fight. He dumped me at North Territorial. Fucker. Where you headed?”
It took me a moment to figure she was referencing the boyfriend as “fucker” and not addressing me, as in, “Fucker, where you headed?” I grinned. “South Lyon.”
“Me, too. I’m Melody.”
“Then I guess I’m heading your way, Melody. I’m Malcolm.” I glanced in the rearview mirror and pulled back onto Pontiac Trail, running up through the six-speed transmission of my Mazda3. Once I got it into high gear, I ventured, “Don’t you have a cell phone you could’ve used to call a friend?”
“I don’t own one. I hate the things.”
“Truly? That’s surprising, for someone of your generation. When I was your age, making a phone call meant dialing a rotary dial phone and talking to someone while attached to a wall by an eight-foot curly cord.”
“Oh, for the good old days,” Melody said. “For all the connectivity cells boast, I think we’re more disconnected than ever.”
“You know, in Denmark there’s a marked incidence of brain tumors they link to cell phone technology.”
“I’m not surprised. Which reminds me, my ex-boyfriend—he who abandoned me tonight—gave me a case of the crabs last week.”
“Crabs is no laughing matter.”
“Sorry. I wasn’t laughing at you, Melody. I was just reminded of a sign I once saw above the urinal in a public men’s room: “Don’t throw toothpicks into the urinal; crabs can pole vault.” I chuckled again, but Melody didn’t join me.
“You see,” I explained to fill the silence, “the crabs were using toothpicks as a pole vaulting pole.”
“I get it,” she said. “I just didn’t think it was funny. You obviously never had crabs.”
“No.” I dimmed my high beams in deference to an oncoming car, but not before he flashed his at me to remind me mine were on. “How come you didn’t give him the boot after the crabs?”
“I should’ve. But I’ve got a real hard head sometimes.”
I nodded. “Me, too. Been accused of having a real Roman galea for a skull.”
“What’s that, a Galea?”
“A sort of helmet thing, with a faceplate. The ancient Romans wore them when they fought. Russell Crowe wore one in the movie, Gladiator.”
We finished the rest of the drive in silence. Maybe it was a generational thing. But then again, as I drove home after dropping off Melody, I couldn’t help but think it had something to do with the crabs incident.
K’von the Barbarian stared into the seething, sweat-covered face of the gladiator across from him, panting under the open-faced galea he’d torn from his previous opponent’s body. The helmet, heavy and bronze, pressed painfully against his scalp, but offered him an advantage over his enemy. His own body dripped, his muscular figure decorated with the blood of two combatants who had already fallen. K’von ran his hand across his face, wiping a mixture of red and his ritual black paint out of his stinging eyes.
How’d he end up in this situation, locked in mortal combat with an unknown opponent in the Roman Coliseum? He remembered dialing the code for Time Sector 8-B into his ChronoMate; he’d expected to land somewhere in ancient Scotland, where he’d be able to study the Pictish people first-hand. In preparation, he’d painted his face in the traditional style of the warrior’s tattoos he’d seen in the books he’d read on the ancient barbarian tribes.
Unfortunately, after the fall through hyperspace, he found himself surrounded by a crowd of Roman soldiers and unceremoniously dumped into the dungeons under the Coliseum. The timeframe seemed right, but the location? Off by over a thousand miles. Had he entered incorrect coordinates? He hadn’t thought to bring his Latin electrotranslator, either. Before he could escape, they stripped him and took everything—even his ChronoMate.
Now, his only recourse was battle. Thankfully, he’d used a series of biostims prior to his ChronoJump in preparation for combat within the war-like Pictish society. Maybe, just maybe, if he survived until the end, he could figure out a way to retrieve his ChronoMate and get back to his own time. However, after two rounds of combat, he was beginning to tire. Looking around for some kind of advantage, he glimpsed an hasta—a long, battle-worn spear—just a few feet away. As his opponent charged, he lunged, grabbed the spear, rolled to the side and lifted the weapon just as the other man fell upon him, impaling his enemy through the stomach.
He pushed the man away and stood. As the crowd hurrahed, he looked to the door which led to the staging area, which had begun to swing open. Sighing, he lowered the spear, wondering who his next opponent would be, and if this interminable battle would ever end. A figure appeared, and he lifted the spear.
“Kevin, it’s time for lunch!”
Kevin’s mother opened the screen door to the backyard and emerged into the afternoon wiping her hands on her apron. “Kevin, I—what are you doing with your brother’s pole-vaulting pole? If you break that, he’ll kill you—he has a meet next week! Did you use my black lipstick to color your face? Get inside and wash that off of your face, mister.”
“Aw, Mom! I was playing Time Travel!” Kevin, age ten, looked back down at the dial on the old rotary phone he’d labeled “ChronoMate 3000,” turned around, and followed her inside for bologna sandwiches.
Joey and Willie were the best of best friends. Whatever Joey did, Willie did.
Usually they played hide-and-seek, but Joey wanted to use his new Wiffle ball and bat.Joey ran outside wearing his plastic Roman soldier’s helmet – he didn’t have a baseball helmet – and two thick lines of his mom’s black lipstick under his eyes.
“Willie, let’s play.” Joey raised his arms displaying his bat and ball.
Joey took off his helmet and tossed it and the bat by the bush – which was home – and walked to the “mound.”
“You may want to put that on in case I come high and hard.” Joey winked. He held the ball at his waist before a high kick wind-up like Steve Carlton, only right-handed. He hurled the ball over the plate.
Joey jerked his head up to the sky and turned looking over the neighbor’s house. He hung his head. “There’s no way you took Steve Carlton deep. Let’s see how you handle Mike Schmidt.”
Joey marched to home plate and picked up the bat and looked back at the mound as he swung it in a circle.
“Joey! Time to come in.”
Joey whipped his head around and dropped the bat. “DAD!”
“Sorry, Willie. My dad’s home. I’ll come get you later.” Joey ran up to his dad and leaped into his arms.
“Are we going to Montreal, Dad?” Joey buried his head into his father’s chest.
“No. I didn’t qualify. My pole broke on my final pole vault. But we’ll try again in four years.” He knew that won’t happen. Thirty-eight would be just too old for the 1980 Olympic trials. “What were you doing outside?”
“Willie and me were playing ball. Can you believe he took Steve Carlton deep?”
“What? No! Carlton’ll get him next time.” His father mussed Joey’s hair. “Go cleanup for dinner, champ.”
Nancy hung up the phone sitting on a table in the kitchen. She called for Dan.
“What did the doc say about Joey still ‘playing’ with Willie?”
Nancy traced her hands over the rotary dial. “They want to either give him more medicine or take him to a specialist.” She exhaled deeply. “I’m so worried, Dan.” Nancy rubbed her already red eyes.
“Why can’t we just handle this ourselves? Just take Joey to Willie’s grave and tell him he’s dead, and hold him tight until he stops crying?”
“You know why, Dan. The doctor said it may scar even deeper. He’s fragile.”
“It’s been a year and nothing has helped. I’m just … just … ”
“Frustrated,” Nancy said finishing his thought.
Dan pinched the bridge of his nose. “Ya.”
Joey stomped down the stairs and nearly toppled his chair at the dinner table. Nancy and Dan helplessly watched. The excitement on Joey’s face faded into a somber stare at his empty plate. “Mom, Dad. Can I tell you something?”
They quickly sat on either side of Joey at the table.