The Amusement Park
The drive along the cliffs was taking longer than expected. To the Rensen's it felt as if everyone had heard they were going out that day and had left their homes at the exact same time just to hold them up. On their stretch of coast the usual weather for that time of year was either cold rain or cold fog. A clear, warm day was a rare thing and the locals weren't about to waste it. Mr and Mrs Rensen were no different, having decided to drive to the amusement park in the next town to enjoy the sunshine with their two young sons.
It was their oldest son Benjamin's eleventh birthday and all he wanted to do was play as many games as he could fit into the day. Charles, their younger son at eight, wanted to go on every ride in the park until he threw up. Preferably on his older brother if he could manage it. Mr and Mrs Rensen wanted to not go batty while listening to both boys poking at each other in the backseat during the slow drive along the highway.
"Stay on your side of the seat, Charlie! I don't have any chocolate for you. Go ask an oompa loompa."
"Stop poking me! Mom, do you have a milkbone for Benji? I think he's cranky!"
Giselle Rensen sighed and turned in her seat to level a look at both boys. Charlie stopped kicking Benji the moment his green eyes met her blue. Sliding her gaze over to her oldest son, Benji stopped poking his brother and attempted to look innocent instead. An impossible task if you asked Mrs Rensen. Both of the boys had inherited their father's mischievousness, which made them difficult to deal with at times, but to their mother it just made them more interesting. They were just like the man she loved after all. Turning at Mr Rensen's chuckle she smiled back.
"You knew it was trouble getting them both up this early, Elle. They'll settle down once we get to the park."
"Don't you mean they'll be too busy dragging us to each game and ride that catches their eye to annoy each other?"
Mr Rensen looked thoughtful for a moment before he flashed a devilish grin that made his wife wary. Both of the boys saw it and perked up. They knew when their father had an idea and Michael Rensen always had the best ideas as far as his sons were concerned. "Benji!"
"You're eleven today. Old enough to keep an eye on your brother for part of the day."
The twin groans from the backseat were almost drowned out by the delighted laugh of Mrs Rensen. Not that she thought it would work but Benji could watch his brother for a few of the rides at least. It would give her a little time with her husband while the boys were busy annoying each other. Or chasing each other in circles. Glancing at their sons in the back seat, both trying to get a poke or kick in without their parents noticing, Mrs Rensen decided they would likely get about five minutes into the park before they would need to step in. Up until those five minutes were up though it was going to be very very amusing.
Finally reaching their destination they found the massive parking lot full to bursting. Mr Rensen cursed under his breath as he drove in circles looking for a place to park until, prompted more by the constant stream of questions and arguing from the backseat than anything else, he dropped his wife and sons off at the gate. Mrs Rensen said she would get the tickets while he resumed the hunt for the elusive parking stall. Mr Rensen left on his quest while continuing to curse under his breath, "This is ridiculous, is the entire coastline here today?"
Each time he saw an open stall someone else had taken it in the time it took him to get there. Giving up he drove to the outer reaches of the parking lot and found a stall next to the road. It was a long walk back but at least the car was parked and by the time he reached the front he guessed that his wife and the boys would have the tickets so they could just go in. Benji was the first to notice his father's return.
"Dad's back! Where'd you go? Timbuktu?"
"Where is Timbuktu? I get that it's far away but no one ever says WHERE it is. Mom, do you know where it is?"
"Sorry but I don't, Charlie. We can look it up when we get home."
Mr Rensen held in his groan at seeing the line and how far away they still were from the front. Mrs Rensen gave her husband an apologetic smile before freezing. Following her gaze to his left he also froze. Walking toward the VIP entrance, casting condescending looks at everyone waiting in line to buy tickets, were the Gregory's and Hamilton's. Two of the most influential families in their small town, descendants of the Founding Families, were also at the amusement park today. Mrs Rensen was a descendant of the Founding Families herself, but after marrying someone other than the man her family had picked for her she was barely tolerated by the other "Island Elite" as Mr Rensen called them.
That suited both Mr and Mrs Rensen just fine. As long as their boys were left alone they could tolerate the condescending glances and snide remarks. They wouldn't be on the island for much longer anyway, not that anyone else knew that. Both boys shared their parent's opinions of the "Island Elite", though they chose to be more vocal on those opinions whenever they encountered them. Particularly Benjamin.
"Ugh. It's Yancy and his butt buddies."
"You should totally bite them, Benji."
"No one is biting anyone. Just ignore them. Where did you end up parking, dear?"
Turning his back on the smirk Tanner Gregory was giving him, Mr Rensen gave his wife a tired smile. "By the road." That caused immediate groaning from the boys restoring Mr Rensen's good mood. The walk wasn't that bad but his sons were likely to be half asleep by the time they left anyway and he knew with certainty that he was going to end up carrying at least one of them. "Lighten up boys. We all know you're both going to be conked out when your mother and I carry you to the car. Just like when you were babies." Both boys took offense to that and the arguing that caused kept them busy well past the time the Gregory's and Hamilton's had entered the park.
The argument actually kept the boys busy all the way to the front of the line, which was a blessing as Charlie was too busy barking at his brother to hear the ticket girl tell Mrs Rensen how cute her daughter was. Mr Rensen on the other hand heard her perfectly and had to hide his laugh behind a cough, Charlie hated it when people assumed he was a girl simply because he was smaller and liked pink. It was finally their turn to enter the park and none too soon considering Mr Rensen had to pull Benji along in the middle of his pantomiming a dog peeing on Charlie. Neither Mr or Mrs Rensen had any idea where their boys came up with half of their ideas but they really hoped they grew out of it soon.
Once they were past the gates it was like someone had thrown a switch. The boys stopped their bickering and looked around with bright smiles. Charlie grabbed Benji's hand and pulled while leaning forward, trying to get his brother to walk faster. Benji however leaned back forcing them to move at a crawl despite Charlie pulling hard enough to turn his face red. Mr and Mrs Rensen slowly followed behind them, walking hand in hand and trying not to laugh too obviously at the tug of war going on in front of them. Benji stuck his tongue out at his little brother before letting go, almost sending the younger boy tumbling into the dirt.
"Hey! Not funny, Benji! I wanna go to the fun house, hurry up!" Mr and Mrs Rensen smiled and tried not to laugh as Charlie again tried to drag his brother forward. This time Benji sighed and gave in, moving a little faster which put a grin on Charlie's face.
"The Fun house? With all the mirrors and weird clowns? Are you sure you won't get scared? Last year you started crying and Dad had to go in and carry you out."
Charlie scoffed at his brother. "I'm eight now. Besides, you'll be with me. Come on! They have that cool rotating tunnel, remember?" Tugging on his brother's arm with renewed force Charlie was well on the way to turning his face red again. Benji on the other hand was looking thoughtfully at the Fun House in the distance. The crowd flowed around them, several of the adults smiling indulgently at the boys or sympathetically at their parents. A few of the boy's classmates passed by and snickered at Charlie's aborted efforts to make his brother move faster. When Charlie looked to be on the edge of an aneurysm, Benji spoke up.
"That is cool. Okay, I'll go."
"Yes! Move it! The line's getting longer!"
Looking at the games being played in the colorful booths as they passed them Benji let go of Charlie's hand again, this time succeeding in sending his brother into the dirt. Charlie bounced up, glaring daggers but Benji cut him off before the bristling youngster could open his mouth. "I want to try a game first."
"But! The line!"
Charlie looked tearfully at his brother who easily ignored him, making their mother shake her head and have to hold in another laugh. Benji's attention was completely focused on the game next to them where a girl a few years older than him was tossing coins into dishes and missing. The booth was a new one to the park, sporting several little glass dishes floating on inflatable lily pads in a large tub of water. Not having any luck, the girl pouted and moved along to the next booth with her parents.
The amusement park worker manning the booth was an odd one, wearing a top hat with a black and green striped vest over a white long sleeved shirt and black pants. He reminded Charlie of a Ringmaster at a carnival despite not having a mustache or wearing red. Noticing Benji's focus on the dishes, the tall man grinned at them as they stepped closer. Taking off the large top hat, he bowed to Mrs Rensen and winked at the brothers. Flipping it back onto his head he straightened and smiled widely.
"Step right up, boys! To win one of these prizes all you have to do is land a dime in the dish. Has to stay too. Doesn't count if it bounces out. Easy, right? Give it a try!"
Charlie looked at the man skeptically. "That's it? You just have to get it in the bowl?"
"That's it, my little man! Get the dime in the dish and win a prize! Who wants to go first?"
Benji already had his dime out and resting on his thumb while Charlie started rummaging in his pockets for loose change. After studying the bowls for a few moments more, Benji took aim and tossed his dime. He groaned as it hit the rim of a bowl and ricocheted off into the water. Frowning at his now submerged coin he carefully positioned a second dime on his finger. Squinting he concentrated and flipped his coin at three dishes that were floating close together.
Mr Rensen gave his eldest son's shoulder a squeeze as the second dime bounced off the rim and joined the first under the tiny waves. The man in the top hat shook his head and smiled encouragingly. "Such a shame. Another miss. Try again?"
Benji searched his pockets and sighed. He was out of dimes and he was sure his little brother was done with waiting. Charlie had very little patience once he had set his mind on something. He couldn't really give his brother grief for that, he hated waiting too. Charlie surprised him though by handing him a dime. "Try again! That was really close!"
Grinning at his brother, he refocused on the floating bowls. "Last try, then we'll go." He tossed it toward the first bowl he aimed at but this time it ricocheted into another bowl before sliding to the bottom, safely out of the water. "I got it!"
Mrs Rensen squeezed him in a hug while his father grinned at him. "Nice toss, Benji!" Charlie gave him a high five, which wasn't very high considering how short his brother was, but it was appreciated anyway. The man in the top hat clapped his hands and announced the win to the crowd while Benji gave him a cocky grin.
"See that, ladies and gentleman! Easy as pie. Even a child can do it."
"More luck than anything. Charlie, it was your dime so which prize do you want?"
Charlie's smile nearly split his face, his earlier frustration with their tug-of-war completely forgotten. "Really? You mean it?" At Benji's gracious nod the younger boy began looking over the prizes as the man in the top hat showed him which ones he could choose from. After a few moments of intense contemplation Charlie pointed at a stuffed moose.
With a mischievous glint in his eye, the man in the top hat gestured to one of the larger prizes fastened to the side of the stall. "Get three of those little ones and you can win this really big one."
Charlie's mouth gaped wide at the huge toy but he gave himself a shake that set his parents to laughing again. Shaking his head, the younger boy smiled at the man in the top hat, "That's bigger than me. I dunno if I could carry that on rides. The small one is perfect!"
Nodding at the boys he grabbed a pole hanging on the side of the booth and used the hook on the end of it to snag the prize. A twist of his wrist sent the stuffed animal flying into his hat, making both boys laugh and applaud. The man in the top hat handed the stuffed moose to Charlie, making it a grand gesture that caught the attention of the people walking by. With a huge grin he shook Benji's hand.
"There you go. Have a nice day, little man."
"Thank you, Benji! Can we go in the fun house now?"
The man in the top hat grinned again and with a flourish gestured to Benji, loudly proclaiming the game so easy a child could win. After seeing an eleven year old succeed there were several older children and a few adults waiting to give it a try. Mr and Mrs Rensen led the boys through the large crowd now gathered around the booth. Once clear of the crush Mrs Rensen pulled her oldest son into another hug. "That was very nice of you, Benji."
"I just wanted to play. Plus if he's holding onto that he can't pull my arm off."
Charlie hugged his new stuffed moose and stuck his tongue out at his brother. Benji smirked at him until Charlie foiled his plan by getting behind him and pushing. Mr and Mrs Rensen didn't even bother holding in their laughter seeing the exasperated look on their older son's face as he was herded forward into line for the fun house.
Mr and Mrs Rensen handed the tickets to Benji and sat down on a bench near the exit of the fun house. "Stay close to your brother, Charlie. I don't want you getting lost in the maze. Don't let him out of your sight, Benji. Your father and I will be waiting for you both over here."
"I'll be good, Mom!"
Grabbing his brother's hand, Charlie dragged Benji up the stairs and into the fun house. The moment they were out of their parents sight Charlie let go and raced across the swinging rope ladder to the slowly spinning tunnel. Bracing their arms and legs on the sides they both laughed as they rotated upside down. At the entrance to the mirror maze Benji stopped to make faces into a particularly wobbly mirror while Charlie ran ahead, racing through the twists and turns. The sound of Charlie's laughter had faded by the time Benji looked up and noticed he couldn't see his brother anywhere. "Charlie? Where are you? You're still in here, right?" Silence answered him.
"This isn't funny. Answer me, Charlie!" His parents words echoed in his head as he ran around a corner, finding a dead end. Doubling back he called out to his brother again. "Where did you go? If you're playing a trick on me I swear I'm selling you to a chocolate factory!" Every turn in the maze showed his own reflection in the distorted walls, his face slowly becoming more and more panicked. "Charlie! If you don't answer me I'm kicking your butt the minute Mom and Dad blink!"
Deeper in the maze Charlie was staring into one of the mirrors with unfocused eyes. Under his breath he was softly repeating the same thing over and over. "Storm comes…ship sinks…they never come home…storm comes…ship sinks…they never come home…" His hand was slowly reaching up to the fogged mirror when a pair of girls came laughing around the corner. Colliding with him they quickly apologized before disappearing down the mirrored hall. Squeezing his stuffed moose and whimpering, he looked up and down the hall. He tried to avoid looking into the mirrors surrounding him as his eyes refocused, where was Benji?
"Charlie! Come on! Where are you? I don't want to get in trouble for losing you! Say something already!"
"Benji! I'm over here!"
"Come get me? I don't like this mirror. It's...it looks funny!"
Benji rounded the corner, relief plain on his face. "There you are. It's a fun house mirror, it's supposed to look funny." After examining Charlie closer, he frowned. He'd never seen his brother look so out of it before. "What's wrong with you? Are you feeling sick? We haven't even gone on any of the rides yet."
Charlie turned to the mirror again before looking even more confused. "But…it wasn't me in it before…I saw the ferry…" Glancing around he hugged his moose tighter. "Can we go now? I don't like it here anymore." Benji looked at him oddly but shook his head and started picking their way through the maze. Charlie kept a tight grip on his brother's hand the whole way out while muttering under his breath. "It's just a mirror. None of it was real…"
Exiting the fun house, Benji looked around for their parents. Through the crowd he saw them still seated on the bench. Charlie gave a sigh of relief seeing them too and finally loosened his grip on his brother's hand. Benji didn't understand what had frightened his baby brother so much but was glad to have blood circulating into his fingers again, Charlie had been gripping him so tight his hand was almost numb. Usually Charlie only got that frightened in the haunted house when they got to the part that a bloody clown jumped out at them, last time he had almost peed himself. Benji was about to question his brother about what had scared him but a sudden shove from behind sent him sprawling into the dirt.
"Benji! Leave my brother alone, you jerks!"
Charlie was soon crashing down next to Benji, who rolled his eyes when he saw who it was standing over them. Yancy Gregory smirked down his nose while his cronies, Leonard and Eric Hamilton, loomed behind him. The Hamilton brothers were larger than Yancy, despite Eric being two years younger than his brother and their friend, but Yancy was definitely the boss. For some reason the larger boys and nearly everyone else in their circle of jerks was afraid of Yancy. Benji, however, wasn't afraid of him and his temper was near boiling at seeing the other boys pushing his little brother around. The only one allowed to mess with Charlie was him! It's what older brothers did, an exclusive right. Getting up off the dirt, he didn't bother dusting himself off, but looked Yancy straight in the eye.
"Touch my brother again and you'll be sorry."
"And what exactly is an untalented little worm like you going to do to me?"
Yancy barely had time to sneer his response before Benji's fist connected with the other boy's jaw. Yancy fell back a step, but Benji didn't have time to feel satisfaction at the red mark he'd left on that bone pale skin before the Hamilton brothers were on him. Charlie launched himself at the larger boys but was easily knocked to the side, hitting his head on the metal frame holding the Fun House Exit sign.
Before he could check on his brother Benji was knocked back to the dirt. A few of the adults walking past looked about to intervene, until they noticed who it was pushing them around. Once they saw it was the Gregory and Hamilton boys doing the bullying he could swear they actually cowered away. He could see the man in the top hat from earlier start running over but another worker actually held him back. Benji's head began pounding and he held back a moan. He could take the punches and occasional kicks the other boys aimed at him, but the fiery pulsing in his head brought him back to his knees. It had been weeks since his last episode so they all thought it was okay to go out. Benji blamed Yancy for the sudden flair up of his migraine or whatever the hell the pain in his skull was.
"You and your brother should just disappear. You're an eyesore!"
Benji saw Yancy's arm pull back and aim a punch at Charlie. That fiery pulsing in his skull flared hot enough to make his vision go white. Through the pain he clung to the mental image of him getting to Yancy and decking him as hard as he could. He had to get Yancy away from Charlie. He couldn't see through the pain but he did his best to ignore it and focused instead on the image of what he needed to do. His vision was still white but he tried to force his body to move anyway. He needed to get there in time. The pain flared again hot enough that he had a moment of fear that his brain would melt from it before it went away. No, it was almost like it flowed out of him.
Blinking against the white glare as it faded, Benji realized he was still on his stomach in the dirt. Charlie was slumped against the Fun House sign looking just as confused as Benji felt. Yancy though was clutching his nose and howling in pain. The Hamilton brothers were holding him up but also looked lost. Elbowing their way through the crowd around them their parents gently picked them both up and started dusting them off, looking at their injuries. They turned and glared bloody murder at Yancy and his cronies but the bullies parents had also swept in and now blocked Mr and Mrs Rensen from doing what they clearly wanted to do. There was a heated argument between the three sets of adults that Benji couldn't follow. He was still trying to figure out what had just happened. One minute he was about to pass out as he typically did during one of his episodes then the pain was just…gone.
"Are you okay, Benji?"
Looking into his mother's concerned face he nodded. He decided it was better to keep this to himself until he figured out what had just happened. If he said anything about the pain or it going away so quickly it would almost guarantee a visit to Dr Osterfeld and Benji hated being poked and prodded. His doctor was nice and all but he still hated all the tests he had to go through and the nasty tasting medicines she always prescribed.
"Is Charlie okay?"
"He's fine, love. Come on. We're getting ice cream then going home. The smell here is starting to get to me."
Mrs Rensen turned to glare at the other parents and Benji turned to glare at them too. His grandmother would likely be waiting at their door when they got home but he knew neither of his parents cared. The Walking Skeleton, as he and Charlie called their grandmother, was just as snooty and uptight as the rest of the Founding Families in New Hope. From the cradle she had tried to instill that same snootiness in Benji and Charlie, but it never took. How could it when the last thing they wanted to be was giant jerks like Yancy and the Hamiltons?
He hadn't been able to check on his brother after the fight or when they were getting ice cream with the way their parents were hovering over both of them. In the back seat of the car during the drive home they finally had some privacy where they could talk without worrying about getting into trouble. Charlie had escaped the confrontation relatively unhurt, just a bump on his head and scraped knees. Benji had a black eye he was holding a cold can of soda against and some scrapes along his knees and arms. There might be more bruises but those wouldn't show up till the next day most likely. Despite all that Benji was considering the fight a win.
"You okay, Charlie?"
"I'm okay. Wish I wasn't so small. When am I gonna get a growth spurt like Dad keeps saying I will?"
"I dunno, I'm still waiting for mine. That was really cool though! The way you tried to take on Leonard. Next time go low instead and aim for his knees. We're all the same height on the ground."
"Why didn't I think of that?"
Benji had to laugh at the look of irritation on his brother's face. Charlie kept up his grumpy act for a while but he was a pushover and was soon grinning back at his brother. Their parents asked what was so funny but by then both boys were laughing too hard to explain it to them. They traveled the rest of the way home listening to the radio with Benji and Charlie occasionally looking at each other and snickering.