Kids at a Festival: Chapter 1 (Prose – Short Story)

Two consumptive urchins approach me grimly out of the storm as my momentum is cancelled by the sheer heaving mass surrounding me. I’m locked in before I ever have a chance to escape.

They are being chaperoned about the place in their grubby denims by the most indescribably diabolical hag I have beheld in my life. She pushes a trolley ahead of her as if her life hangs in the balance (which I suppose it does), gouging the slimy earth.

“Excuse you”, the children simultaneously husk at me. I make no immediate reply, as I am coming down, hard, and cannot currently calculate what needs to be done to avoid this situation.

“Excuse you!” they unctuously repeat, dancing fast and tense in their frustration. My tired eyes twitch and barrel around in their sockets, and I try to perceive a threat in this.

The worst is true! There’s no way for them to pass me. We’re all hemmed into this tiny pocket together with a triple-thick human stitch that refuses to be unpicked, and her enormous turning circle with all those encumbrances in tow precludes her backing down.

The goblin’s attention is distracted though, searching the shuffling undulations all about us for a convenient wormhole through which to circumvent me, as she’s seen the look of cold murder I give her and her obnoxious brood. And as I see now clear as day, there’s a third little Igor strapped and bound into the push-basket like a risky mental patient, or a piece of flapping roadkill enmeshed in the front grill of a Humvee, restricting her options even now – the synchronous squashed faces of helplessness, looking scared and bemused.

Every few seconds the mass behind me nearly rends off my shoes with its clumsy tread, despite them being thickly and squelchily attached almost all the way up to my knees by a membrane of half-congealed mud (the whispered apologies make no difference), and on either side I’m buffeted by the tidal swaying of the crowd.

I’ve long-since lost my friends in the boundless mosh. It’s barely been a moment since my ear drums plaintively exploded during the grand finale, beaten and split finally after five days by the thunderous bass of the speaker tower which jars the suspension of the organs with every kick-kick-kick of the pedal-drum. Needle-pains now shock the sensitive nerve-endings, for which I ardently blame the cloaked ventriloquists dotted through the haze, scattering their voices to keep the festival chants from dying out. The headline act is done now on the final day, and no one wants to hear them accompanying the arduous scrabble back to beer, sex, sleep, and the future. Yet they persist.

As a new swell of the cacophony begins to mount, and my sodden trainers are hydroplaning me towards my fate with the force of hefty shoves being delivered to my back and legs, I glimpse through the sensory miasma a way out. My brain shifts madly into overdrive and a warm jolt shoots through my body from both ends, meeting somewhere in my lower back, straightening me out, dragging the world in closer to my hollow gaze. It’s as though lightning has shocked the sky the way the rain and the faces are illuminated for me in snapshot; hyper-real, grim detail determinedly standing out against the cartoonish grey of the clouds, mocking us all as one from afar.

Suddenly, before words can constrict that vertiginous rush of the imminent unknown which I feel overcoming my reason and my senses, I realise that one of the waxen faces at which I stare is none other than my very own. I am outside my body, an experience I cannot, in my drug-addled, weekend-schizophrenic-break state of mind, adequately explain.

For an incalculable time, the slideshow of forms cycles before no eyes. First I conceive myself standing there a mere spec, a common particle in the fibrous anatomy of some enormous beast of which I am just another fractal representation, rendered in delicately assembled quantum-sculpture by handless gloves long ago, doomed to futility and littleness. But in the same moment, as my ethereal eyes raise themselves to inverted heights and I let the raking wind sweep off my hood and part my flailing curls, I feel an intrepid warrior in the field, a lowly survivor pitted against an enemy many times his size, with no illusions, fighting through the gravity of surrender, constantly grasping at the possibility of greatness, no matter how remote. Silly, really.

But somehow not. Who exactly will I be, just another nameless eighty years or so to have trickled into the eternal cesspool and diffused beyond all meaning, or a human tidal wave of significance that will be recorded in the very sediment of the universe long after I have subsided? For the first time I see the decision that needs to be made in every single moment of life. A decision that’s impossible to make. One that can never be planned, predicted or explained, never fully shared with, justified to, or guaranteed by another. Confirmed for me in that frozen moment is something I have always suspected:

Existence, in all its multi-variant majesty, is simply a matter of perspective. It has never really been a choice. It’s a wager you know you have to make, a bold stake against everything outside your skull, whatever that may amount to. No foretelling the outcome – it has to be lived, absorbed, become. Put yourself, your world, on the line, and you’ll stand to win everything.

In this state of outer-vision, with about two feet to go, I finally perceive the simple dilemma that has been staring me down the whole time. A new certainty floods over me. I close my eyelids and breathe the never-ending breath of conviction as it forms. It’s like I’m sucking in all the air for miles around, all the air inside the lungs of the tens of thousands that surround me, stealing it. The entire tingling constellation of my senses plunges into my caving chest all at once and I am forced to throw open my eyes to prevent something precious from escaping. The ever-climbing apex of time towers ahead of me. Now, as always, is the moment.

A stubborn step back followed by a triumphant leap sends me sailing on the winds of my ambition, unstoppable in my bountiful youth, infinite in my soaring potential. The world is mine for the taking, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’ll steal back my sacred destiny, right out of the grimy hands of those startled little obstacles before me, and their hulking, cycloptic guardian.

To be continued…

Written – 2016 – 2017

Published – August 2017

Photo by Danny Howe on Unsplash

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