Chapter 10: Prize
They made their way to the stage, which was really just a small platform under a large banner bearing the legend ‘THE STAGE’. A small, vaguely-defined crowd was in the process of gathering itself; the trio made their way through to the landmark that was TM’s father.
‘Are… you... ready?’ intoned an unenthusiastic voice. A young man holding a large microphone climbed onto the stage, making wide gestures into the crowd in a way that suggested he really didn’t want to be there. There was a general mumble of half-interest from the assembly. ‘Then, without further ado, I present to you this year’s special guest hosts and selectors of the raffle winners –’
‘Get on with it,’ Senior said in what was intended to be an undertone. His unusually projective voice carried his words to every ear in the vicinity.
‘Anyway,’ said the young man tiredly. ‘Give it up for local hero and reputable weatherman, Al Tyer!’
‘Pff,’ said TM, though Ziggy applauded with mild excitement.
‘He was on the TV!’ she told TM. Tyer took to the stage carefully, every hair and fold of his suit precisely in place, and gave a practised wave.
The interim host flicked through his note cards for a moment until he found the right one. ‘And, joining us straight from wrapping up the filming on her latest adventure, it’s the Huntress herself –’
‘No way,’ Veggie breathed.
O’Ryan came into view behind Tyer, ascending up the stage with a graceful leap. An enormous dog padded after her; more than waist-high, with a shimmering golden coat, it looked more like a happy blonde wolf than anything TM would have referred to as a dog. It was the sort of dog that people would be drawn to, that would demand every ounce of attention as soon as it passed; nobody was going to give a second glance to the person holding the lead, not when an animal like that came along. Unless, of course, the person on the other end of the lead happened to be Riegel O’Ryan.
‘Hiya,’ she called with a broad wave. ‘We’re very happy you could have us!’
She was striking on the TV, but that was no comparison to the Huntress in person: long hair like red stone dust blowing down a cliff towards a tumultuous sea, and an accent to match.
‘She’s, like, Irish-Greek, or something ridiculous like that,’ Veggie explained to Ziggy, who was staring unblinkingly at O’Ryan.
‘We’ll be around, enjoying the attractions,’ O’Ryan continued. Tyer nodded, hands clasped behind his back and the smile of a professional presenter firmly assembled upon his lips. Unlike his fellow celebrity guest, nothing was lost in translation when transmitting Tyer’s image by television. Even in the flesh, it was as if the colour saturation had been turned down. ‘Raffle winners to be drawn later! So, er… have fun!’
‘OH MY GAH,’ said Veggie, as the two – plus dog – disappeared from sight and the crowd dispersed, having slaked their thirst for celebrity-spotting. ‘Riegel O’Fucking Ryan!’
‘Jonathan,’ said Lily sternly.
‘RIEGEL O’EFFING RYAN,’ Veggie trumpeted.
‘He’s got a bit of a thing for her,’ TM said; Senior roared a boisterous laugh and slapped Veggie around the shoulders with a resounding smack.
‘You dog, Jonathan,’ he said, somewhere between reproachful and amused.
‘She’s an excellent presenter,’ Veggie huffed.
‘She’s… amazing,’ Ziggy breathed, still staring wistfully at the space O’Ryan had occupied on the stage.
‘Ziggy also apparently has a bit of a thing for her,’ TM said.
‘Don’t we all,’ Veggie agreed.
Senior took all three under one arm with a happy chuckle, and bought them each a raffle ticket from a bored-looking girl. ‘Good luck,’ he wished them, reaching for his wife’s hand. She took it, the enormous bear still tucked under her other arm. Between the oversized bear and her oversized husband, it looked as if she had been shrunk. ‘I’m taking your mother for lunch, so we’ll be off.’
‘Nice seeing you,’ TM said honestly, handing his father a hastily-written birthday card. Senior took it, beaming, and hugged his son again, gently this time.
‘Take care,’ he told his son. Lily planted a kiss on TM’s cheek.
‘I will,’ said TM.
Ziggy watched TM’s parents go, hand in hand. ‘I wish I had that,’ she said.
‘You do,’ TM assured her. ‘You’ve got me, and Veg, and that lot –’ he waved in the direction of Marty, Dominika and Derrida, who appeared to be hustling a card-tricking stall attendant, ‘– and now them too.’ He nodded towards his parents’ retreating backs.
‘Thanks,’ Ziggy said, and TM thought he saw a tear in her eye before she blinked it away.
‘Not to interrupt this moment, or anything,’ Veggie interjected, ’but I am going to go and stalk Riegel O’Ryan, so if you two don’t mind I will see you for the raff-elle.’ He sauntered off, waving his raffle ticket around like a fancy paper fan or a very flat, very wobbly conductor’s baton.
‘That boy got issues,’ Ziggy said, coming back to herself.
‘That he do,’ TM agreed.
She gave him a small smile and wandered over to where Marty and Dominika stood, joining them to watch Derrida finish his work. The attendant laid a card down on the counter; Derrida slapped it away with contempt.
‘How does this game work?’ Ziggy whispered. Dominika shrugged.
‘We’re not quite sure what any of the rules are,’ Marty explained. ‘It’s fun to watch, though. Bit like volleyball.’
Derrida placed two cards down, one each side of the little stack the attendant had made, then flipped over the top card of the deck. The hapless worker groaned and handed over a fistful of coins, which Derrida pocketed with a wink.
‘How did you do that?’ Ziggy demanded. They left the confused attendant staring at the cards, Derrida rolling one of his prize coins over his knuckles with glee.
‘It’s all about knowing how the odds are stacked,’ Derrida began to explain, but Marty cut him off.
‘Nobody actually cares, Jack,’ he said, and Derrida stuck his tongue out at him. ‘Jack here,’ Marty told Ziggy, ‘likes to think he knows how to be better than everyone at everything. Exploit the system and whatnot.’
‘All systems can be exploited,’ Derrida insisted.
‘You’re so wishy-washy about your philosophy,’ Marty said, grinning at him. ‘Just because your name is what it is, you can’t just assume the legacy of Actual Derrida and roll with it.’
‘It’s got me this far,’ said Derrida carelessly.
Their meandering took them past an archery range; Dominika perked up, making a beeline straight for it.
‘Five arrows,’ said the attendant tiredly, handing her a bow and pointing down the range, where five small paper circles were stuck on a wooden wall peppered with arrow holes. Most of the holes were in the wall, the targets conspicuously unscathed. ‘Get four out of five in a target, win a prize.’
Ziggy watched with interest as Dominika took the bow, weighed it in her hands, and aimed down the range.
‘So this is why she uses a bow in Hero’s Adventure?’ Ziggy asked.
‘Oh, yeah.’ Marty nodded, watching closely. ‘Pretty much anything she can role-play, she can do in real life. She’s kind of a badass.’
Ziggy watched with unconcealed admiration as Dominika pulled back the string, touching the cheap plastic fletching of the arrow almost to her cheek, and let it fly. The arrow went spiralling down the range, puncturing a hole right in the centre of one of the paper targets.
‘Whaaaaaaaa,’ Ziggy exclaimed. ’That’s awesome.’
TM and Derrida applauded; Marty gave a whimsical salute. Dominika gave Ziggy a smile, slotting the next arrow onto the string. A khaki-shirted shadow drifted across the range, trailing copper hair and strands of plaited belt, and took the stand next to Dominika. Ziggy stared up in awe; Dominika, oblivious, loosed her next shot, which deftly pierced its target. She looked back at Ziggy with a wide smile of expectation, then tilted her head in confusion and disappointment at the fact that Ziggy’s gaze was firmly directed at something that was not her. She turned around to see, and found herself staring at Riegel O’Ryan’s chin.
‘She’s taller up close,’ Marty breathed. Ziggy nodded, fixated.
‘Hi,’ said O’Ryan. Her enormous dog slinked up behind her and presented itself to Derrida, who gave it an awkward pat. ‘Don’t worry about Keelut,’ she said kindly. ‘She’s harmless, unless she thinks somebody’s tryin’ to hurt her mama.’
‘Keelut?’ Derrida said, eyebrows screwed up. ‘As in the hairless dog, mythical harbinger of death?’
‘Naw,’ O’Ryan said, fingers buried in the dog’s long hair. ‘As in the crater on Callisto. Y’know, Jupiter’s second-biggest moon.’
‘That’s a weird and specific name,’ Derrida observed.
‘Oh, yeah? What’s yours?’
Derrida shut up.
‘I just have a little amateur interest in astrological whatsits,’ O’Ryan explained. ‘Me and Al share that hobby, if nothin’ else. Inuit mythology, not so much.’
She took a bow and arrow from the game’s attendant, who handed them to her with almost zombie-like reverence. She ran a finger along the curve of the cheap weapon, then in a single sleek movement raised it, drew the arrow back, and released. Dominika looked on, her face dark, as O’Ryan’s arrow thudded home within a millimetre of her own.
‘Cheers, buddy,’ O’Ryan said, holding the bow out to the attendant on one finger. He took it and stood there holding it, staring at her. ‘It’s good publicity to have a go at all this stuff,’ she said, with a wink at the group. She stuck a thumb over her shoulder, where a man holding a camera with an enormous lens immediately tried to pretend that it had been pointing somewhere else and not right at her. ‘Gotta say, though, I’m having a lot of fun! Don’t get to do this sorta thing an awful lot.’
Ziggy nodded, dumbstruck. O’Ryan looked right at her for a moment, then flashed her a wide smile. ‘I’ll see y’all lot for the raffle, yeah?’ she said, turning away. ‘Keep watching my show!’
The five of them stood for a few moments after she had gone, Keelut padding along behind her. None of them really noticed that nobody else was moving or speaking.
‘What just happened?’ TM asked eventually.
‘That was the most intense moment of my whole entire life,’ Ziggy breathed. Marty put a hand on her shoulder, nodding slowly; Dominika gave them all a sharp glare.
‘Heeeey,’ a voice called; TM turned and spotted Veggie waltzing over to the group. ‘Anbody spotted O’Ryan yet?’
‘Er,’ said TM.
’Yes,’ Ziggy answered.
‘Aw, shit,’ said Veggie, folding his arms with a harrumph. ‘I lost her over by the hoop toss.’
’She’s incredible,’ Ziggy told him, the blank stare on her face replaced by a look of as much intensity as she could muster.
‘Somebody’s starstruck,’ Veggie commented, to which Dominika flicked her hair irritably. ’Hey, did you guys know her and Al Tyer actually do know each other? Like, other than just presenting shit together? I mean, who would have figured that?’
‘She said something about sharing a hobby,’ TM recalled. ‘How do you know, anyway?’
Veggie gestured towards the entrance to the field, stuffing a huge chunk of vanilla fudge into his mouth with the other hand. ’Heard ‘em chattering over that-a-way,’ he said around chunks of sugary deliciousness. ‘It’s weird, though, can’t tell whether they actually get along with each other or not. She’s kind of weird with him, kept calling him by his full name.’ He assumed an exaggerated Irish accent. ‘“As above, so below, Al Tyeeer” – that’s how she said it, like, with too much emphasis on the last syllable or something.’
‘Probably just the accent,’ Marty said dismissively. ‘Maybe they’re banging.’
‘Eh,’ Veggie mumbled, swallowing loudly. ‘Anyway, she was over here?’
‘Yup,’ said TM. ‘Right next to us.’
‘Oh, you lucky buggers,’ said Veggie enviously. Dominika huffed and wandered off. ‘What’s her deal?’
‘I think O’Ryan stole her spotlight a little bit,’ Derrida said, watching her go. ‘I’ll go shower her in flattery for a bit, should cheer her up.’ He hurried after her, catching up as they turned through some stands and disappeared from sight.
‘We have to get back to the stage,’ Veggie announced. ‘Can’t miss the raffle.’ His eyes suddenly widened. ‘Oh my lord,’ he said, breathing faster, ’what if I win? I might get to… to meet her, but then – what do I say, what if she thinks I’m stupid – ’
‘Calm down, Veg,’ said TM affectionately, taking his partner by the arm and leading him back towards the stage. Marty put an arm around Ziggy; when she made no effort to move, he picked her up like a baby and marched off in the same direction.
‘Do you think she has merch?’ Veggie chirped as they re-entered the perimeter of the hopeless little stage area. ‘I want a keyring, and, like, fifteen T-shirts.’
‘Maybe you’ll win some,’ TM said, as if to a very elderly person who wanted some more juice in their sippy cup.
‘Oooooh,’ said Veggie.
‘Hiiiiii,’ trilled O’Ryan, hopping up onto the stage. Keelut padded up behind her, Al Tyer bringing up the rear. His hair was perfectly in place, as was his practised professional smile, but it was clear that he had not been having any fun whatsoever. ‘I’ve been havin’ a really bloomin’ lovely time hanging out with all of yous and sampling the delights of your fair, so cheers very much!’
There was a general murmur of ‘you’re welcome’.
‘Anyways,’ she continued, ‘we’re up here to announce – well, mostly who’s won the raffle – but also where you can see me and Big Al next!’
‘HNNNGGG,’ Veggie intoned.
‘We’ll be at the museum on Friday,’ O’Ryan announced, ‘unveiling their brand new exhibit!’
Veggie and Ziggy turned as one to TM, pleading looks in their eyes.
‘We can go,’ TM sighed.
‘It is a really rather interesting piece of space rock,’ Tyer said, his voice snapping through the crowd like a crisp breeze. ‘The cosmos has ever so much to offer these days.’
TM somehow felt that he was scanning the crowd, as if searching for something, as he spoke.
‘Yeahhhh, wowie zowie, super cool space rock,’ O’Ryan said, reaching her hand into a bowl filled with raffle tickets. She withdrew the lucky winner, holding the tiny slip of paper aloft between index and middle fingers. ‘Winner of the first prize of two hundred and fifty quid: Dominika Doležal!’
‘How the fuck did she know how to pronounce that?’ said Veggie.
‘Dominika?’ O’Ryan called, waving the winning ticket in the air.
‘Er,’ said TM. ‘She’s over that way somewhere,’ he yelled at the stage. O’Ryan gave him a thumbs-up, pocketing the ticket.
‘We’ll catch up with her later, I’m sure,’ she said, flashing the tooth-exposing smile of a lifelong professional people person. The crowd burbled in appreciation. ‘Anyway, number two, walking away today with a bountiful hamper courtesy of local business Barney’s Buffets… it’s Gary Mackerel!’
‘Wooo,’ twooted Gary Mackerel.
‘Nice,’ O’Ryan declared, starting up a round of applause for him. It didn’t last long. ’And finally, winner of an officially licensed Surviving O’Ryan keyring –’
‘Please let it be me,’ Veggie whispered on repeat.
‘– Marty Rook!’
’You cock,’ Veggie said, as Marty waved his arms in the air like a loon.
‘Nice one, lad,’ said O’Ryan, fishing the prize out of her pocket and lobbing it elegantly in Marty’s direction. Veggie leapt on him, tackled him to the ground, and caught the keyring in his fist with a bellow of triumph.
‘I was going to give it to you anyway,’ Marty groaned from underneath Veggie.
‘Ooooookay,’ said O’Ryan from onstage. ’Looks like somebody reaaally wanted that keyring. Have another one, man, it’s not as if I’m paying for ‘em.’ She threw another to Veggie, who caught it and screamed like a little girl.
‘Yeesh. Big fan, huh?’ O’Ryan grinned. Tyer leaned over and whispered something in her ear; she nodded, strands of bright hair floating about her head. ‘Thanks a lot for having us, but we gotta scoot, so…’
‘Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo,’ Veggie cried.
‘Sorry, fella. Places to go, people to entertain. Pop by the museum on Friday, okay? We’ll be there.’
‘YES I WILL,’ Veggie roared at the heavens.
‘Right,’ said O’Ryan. ‘Well. Thanks very much, everyone, and see you again soon!’
The duo waved – Tyer with minimal arm movement, O’Ryan with enthusiastic, sweeping gestures, while Keelut howed in farewell – and left.
‘GOODBYE RIEGEL O’RYAN,’ Veggie yelled after them.
The small crowd dissipated, happy that their annual dose of celebrity had turned out to be less shit than usual. Gary Mackerel, whom TM vaguely knew as the owner of Gary’s Fish, the chippy down the road, was positively bouncing. TM eyed the others: Marty was rubbing his chin and grinning, Veggie holding his twin keyrings aloft as if they were the most precious treasure the world had to offer, and Ziggy looked – appropriately, and as was apparently standard whenever Riegel O’Ryan was involved – spaced out.
‘You okay?’ TM asked, gently touching Ziggy on the upper arm. She snapped out of it, staring at him as if just waking up.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Yeah. I think I’m getting used to it.’
‘You’re weird,’ said Veggie, caressing his keyrings lovingly.
‘Hey, Marty,’ TM said, ‘you wanna come back to ours and play video games?’
‘Fuck yeah,’ said Marty with relish.
TM gave Ziggy a concerned look. ‘Seems as if we could do with it,’ he said.
Derrida sidled over, Dominika close behind. ‘Somebody say video games?’ he asked. Marty rolled his eyes heavenward.
‘Fuck’s sake, Derrida,’ he said. ‘You better not Bogart the controller.’
‘What does that even mean?’
‘I dunno,’ Marty said. ‘Jack Black says it in School of Rock. “Don’t Bogart the mic” or something. It’s totally a thing.’
Derrida nudged Dominika, who smiled and gave an evil grin. ’I’m totally doing a Blackest Spirit challenge run,’ he announced, to which Marty threw his hands up.
‘Fine,’ he said. ’They are outrageously entertaining. But I’m getting nachos, and we’re having a Super Fighter XI tournament after.’
‘Deal,’ Derrida said, shaking on it.
‘Where have you guys been, anyway?’
Derrida coughed. ‘I managed to get a quick quote out of Al Tyer. I’m writing an article for the paper about… meteorological stuff.’
‘Do us three not get a say in what we’re doing?’ TM said, slightly miffed at having been missed out of the entire conversation.
‘Oh, no, my friend,’ said Marty. ’We’re doing this at my place.’