Adventures in Futility
Ray was vaguely aware that he was laying in somebody’s puke, and took great mental strides to convince himself it wasn’t his own. “Nobody cares that I’m here, Steve. They watched me make an ass out of myself, they watched me realize that I’m nothing more than entertainment, to them, and then they left.”
“Come on, buddy. Let’s go.” Stephen “Steve” Reid pulled Ray to his feet and hauled him out the door.
Sunlight blasted their eyes like a stormtrooper, except that the sunlight actually hit its target. Ray attempted to recoil, but didn’t have much control over his own body, so instead he hung limp in Steve’s arms groaning. When next he became aware of himself he sat on the concrete with his back against the building. The sun had passed away or, at the very least, no longer bothered him.
“How long was I out?” He hoped that what he’d said was in English, but couldn’t be certain.
“About an hour.”
“Shit.” It took a herculean effort, but Ray moved his head around, trying to figure out why he had the nagging sense that there was something he should have been doing other than regaining his sobriety.
“So, are you ready to actually talk about what happened this morning?” The acrid, sweet smell of burning tobacco followed an offered cigarette. Ray waved it off.
“This morning, people started watching me. Everything I did, everything I thought, all of it was there for them to pick apart and scrutinize.” Ray hesitated, suddenly aware - not for the first time that day - that he sounded crazy. He sighed and pressed on. “I’m a character in a story. Knowing that is my power.”
Steve stared, cigarette drooping from his lips. “Am I a character in this ‘story’ too?”
“Not really. I mean, yeah, you were with me in the bar when they were watching, but I don’t even think you got a physical description.”
“That’s a shame. I’m gorgeous.” Steve turned his head and winked to noone in particular.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m saying hi to the audience.”
“They’re not here, ass. Not as far as I can tell.” Ray struggled to his feet, using the wall as much as he could to lever himself up.
“So… and don’t take this the wrong way, but why are they watching you?”
Halfway to his feet Ray paused and looked at his friend. “I don’t know.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t really make sense. No offense, Ray, but you’re not that interesting. I mean, what about the mayor? If it’s got to be someone in this town, that makes sense. Hell, what about Chuck? The guy’s an immortal, that’s got to be worth something.”
“They have mentioned him and Damien.”
“Yeah. I think he’s the main character.”
“But he’s an asshole. He thinks he’s better than everyone else, always got his head in the clouds about whatever it is he wants to do with himself.”
“He’s an asshole, but apparently he’s more interesting than I am.”
“Ray, a rotting carrot is more interesting than you are, most days.
Ray had no response. As much as he hated to admit it, Steve had a point. Ray performed a menial task at a pharmaceutical company that could easily have been absorbed into any middle-manager’s job description. He counted his lucky stars that it hadn’t happened already. Even his home life wasn’t anything to brag about. He counted his calories, spent exactly one hour and thirteen minutes at the gym every day, and played video games for the rest of the evening until it was time to go to bed. He wasn’t doing anything with his life more than simply surviving until the next weekend… which was spent playing video games and drinking. “Yeah, but Damien, though? The guy’s a douchebag.”
“If it is a movie, it makes sense. He is a good looking guy.”
“That’s all people really look for in movies, you know?” Steve lit another cigarette. “Attractive douchebags that are only somewhat more interesting than rotting carrots.”
“You know what? Fuck that guy. I’m not going to take this sitting down.” Ray stood. Okay, it would be more accurate to say that he attempted to stand several times before actually succeeding, being still drunk from earlier. His indignation was more words than anything else. He had to wrench himself up using the wall as support, but he stood proudly - if shakily - after much more effort than it should have taken. “I can be more interesting than Damien.”
“Hell yeah, you can!” Steve pumped his fist, overdoing the enthusiasm a bit. “Fuck that guy! But not literally!”
“Never! I’m gonna go out and be more interesting, and I swear, with God as my witness, that I will make this story be about me.” Ray turned away and took a few steps before stopping, squaring his shoulders, and turning back to his friend. “I will win the crowd.”
“Wait.” Steve stared at Ray, taking a long drag from his cigarette. “Wasn’t that from Gladiator?”
“. . . Yes.”
“God dammit, I hate you.”
“What? It’s a great movie!”
“Alright, calm down. So, now that you’re going to hijack the story, what’re you going to do?”
Ray slumped only a little. “I haven’t really thought of that. You wanna grab a beer and talk that out?”
Steve and Ray walked back into the bar, finding it every bit as deserted as they’d left it. The two dudes at the bar had just finished eating, and lounged with their drinks simply enjoying the conversation.
“Oh hell no! I just finished cleaning up after you two. I’m not giving you any more drinks. Get out!!”
“But I’m not feeling sorry for myself any more,” Ray protested.
* * *
Music in the bar thumped a completely unfamiliar rhythm. Ray assumed it was something young people were listening to these days. He didn’t care, it sounded good and he liked the way his body moved to the beat. It had taken some convincing, but the bartender had allowed he and Steve to stay, provided he tip “really fucking well.” Ray had every intention of doing just that.
But for now, he danced somewhere in the middle of the room. In the back of his mind, he became aware that you were present once more, watching him, but he didn’t take any special notice of it. Later, he would try to convince himself that you had fallen for his plan, and needed to play it cool, but the honest truth of it was that he was drunk and truly didn’t notice your presence.
“Ray, I’ve got to go,” Steve shouted over the throbbing bass. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Are you kidding me? This is the best day of my life, I’ll be fine!” Ray didn’t miss a step in whatever dance he thought he was doing.
“Alright, man. I’ve got a cab on standby for you, just text the guy when you’re ready to leave. Don’t have too much fun.” Steve slapped Ray’s shoulder and left. When the door opened, only the light of the street lamps shone through. The sun had gone down at some point, but he couldn’t remember when.
It didn’t matter.
All that mattered right then was “Shots! Shots all around!”
A group of twenty-somethings had gathered, presumably sometime after the sun disappeared, but he couldn’t be sure. The crowd gathered at the bar, excitedly waiting for the next round to be poured. Each glass was laid out in a row, and the bartender simply waved a bottle over the glasses, spilling a little between each but giving an even distribution of booze to each. It wasn’t that Ray couldn’t count the number of glasses lined up in a row, he just preferred counting the gathered smiles around him, their owners all raising their drinks in tribute to him.
For the first time in his life, Ray felt happy. Wanted.
So he kept buying shots and dancing in an effort to keep that feeling alive.
Whoever said that all good things must eventually come to an end was a bastard. But, unfortunately, he was also right. Everyone voiced their disappointment and anger when the bartender announced Last Call. A guy in the corner vomited his protest. In spite of their efforts, though, the evening had come to an end, and people began to once again go about their lives.
Thanks were definitely in order, but turned out to be sparse. The stragglers, though, they were his people, so Ray settled down on one of the couches to await their praise, and sober up a bit before leaving. Nobody seemed to mind him doing so, which is to say that after that point he was more or less ignored until the bartender asked him to leave so he could close up.
Ray left, grumbling to himself about good manners, irritating even himself for doing so. He fished keys from his pocket and struggled with the driver’s side door lock for over a minute before realizing he hadn’t locked the damn thing in the first place.
“She sells seashsellls by the seashore,” Ray said as carefully as he could. “She selsl seasheslle by the seasxhore.” He looked at himself in the mirror, steadying himself. When at last he convinced himself he was sober enough to drive, Ray gave his reflection a confident nod, and put the keys into the ignition.
NWA started rapping, and Ray pulled out of the bar’s parking lot. It took every bit of concentration he had to stay on the road, going the speed limit, and making sure he was obeying all applicable traffic laws. He scanned the right side of the road for Stop signs, made sure he kept track of the other cars on the road and, whenever possible, put a lane of traffic between his car and theirs. That’s the first rule of the road, drunk or sober: Safety First.
Ray rolled down the driver’s side window, feeling a little stifled by the lack of air flow. He smiled and began to unwind from the stress and excitement of the day.
Finally, he’d Manifested a Power. Ray’s friends had mocked him for not having Manifested to the point that he’d considered making a Power up, just to get them off of his back. But now? Now, they couldn’t say anything about it. For the first time in his life, Ray Rogers was normal. No longer would he have to suffer answering the question of why he was different. No longer would he feel estranged from people he’d known his entire life. Ray Rogers belonged.
His grin broadened, he started to laugh with the pure joy of his situation. Finally, after thirty six years, Ray felt he had control over his destiny.
It was then that two men appeared directly in the path of his car, and his windshield shattered.
If you wish life were just a little easier than it is, give us a share!