Yes, you are NOT, in fact, hallucinating. This IS the FINAL oneshot of the series! It's taken me nearly a friggin' year, but I feel this is a fitting end.
Also, I've changed my mind. This route IS the true ending, because of certain factors that were needed in order for you to enter the park in the first place. You'll see. I hope you all appreciate this! Epilogue will be up... someday in the future. Maybe I'll be an asshole and update on the day I started this.
A 12, huh? Of all things, it had to be a 12? Not 11, or a 13, or hell, even a 14 would be better than a 12. I squint at the large-printed numbers yet again, just to make sure I'm reading it correctly.
But it's a 12.
Life could be worse, I suppose. It's just a number, after all. Life is also just a number, now that I think about it. 17 isn't that high of a number, it's quite small actually, and 12 is only 5 away from 17... not that big of a difference. I don't even know if it means anything (it probably doesn't, and I'm just over-thinking things again).
I reach up and scratch my head, messing my hair up even further. It's way too early for me to even be outside. Why did I even let them persuade me to come? I could have easily set my foot down, and they would have dropped it, but nooo. I had to be half-delirious and say "yes". It's all because I was up so late playing Lucky Rabbit Reflex! that I was so tired... but it was all worth it. Perth is too cute to deny.
All of my clashing thoughts were halted when the voice of a breathing human spoke inches away from my face, "Huh. Your number's much lower than mine."
I slowly move my eyes up (and my entire head) to look this stranger straight into his eyes. Blue meets green, tan meets pale. It's the meeting of the opposites. He must be my predestined rival if he's going to be sneaking up on me like that. It's like how the girls in Lucky Rabbit Reflex! can cling onto you from the beginning when you're at your weakest and need friends, only to try and screw you along the way because you're trying to date the Prince of the school, and 3/5 of the girls you befriend are going for that same dude, so you can't befriend them, otherwise they'll be pissed when you ride the goddamn roller coaster with him. Teenage girls in love are pathetic creatures.
"...? Hey, you there?" The tan one waves his hand in front of my face, just barely managing to regain my attention. I blink at him to show that he has my attention at the moment. "...I'm Thane."
"...Jay. Have you been taken prisoner as well?"
"I guess so."
"A few hours, I think."
"Mmm. I just arrived. I was here all day with my pathetic companions, but when I came to get what the dumb one left behind, I ended up 'ere."
"Same. I was working in the arcade, and right when my shift was ending, everybody disappeared." Thane paused, "It's nice to actually be talking to someone now."
I shrug, and he continues ranting about how he saw somebody else, but the mystery man told him "fuck off" and ran away. "The number on his phone was 22. Mine is 29, and yours is 12. I wonder what the numbers represent. Days, hours... maybe achievements?"
I shrug again. This guy is starting to get on my nerves. I can't see very well, since that stupid twat everyone calls my sister stole my glasses. Or did I give them to her? I don't remember. Nevertheless, I can't see so much as an inch in front of me clearly, I'm really tired, I'm starting to overheat a little bit, and I am still in the process of coughing up all the water that sank into my lungs.
"...Are you tired?" Thane raised an eyebrow at me. Oh, was I absorbed in my thoughts again? Well, that's fine. I don't care, and I never have.
"Very." He nodded.
"You should go rest up at the café. I'll meet up with you there later, I gotta go do some things..."
I stare at him a little bit, and then walk off. He's none of my responsibility, so I don't care if he is horribly murdered by the master of the horror park.
I quietly open the door to the café, managing not to set off the bells attached to the handle that always alert the employees of customers entering/exiting the facility. The inside of this food shop is as yellow as it was earlier. The walls still look like they've been splattered with peanut butter, caramel, and chocolate. The chairs and booths still look like they stole them off a real park that has those there for the wimpy joggers that throw themselves onto those to "rest". If the twat would actually exercise, she would be one of them.
Upon entering, I take note of the two people inside of the café; one boy, and one girl. The boy has brown hair of a decent length, with green eyes that shine brighter than mine. He's almost as tall as my father, though my father would never wear a hideous sweater vest like this guy is. All he needs is a pair of thick-rimmed glasses to complete his look... unless he is wearing a pair already, and I just can't see them because of my eyes. I can barely make out that the girl looks similar to the twat, but without the glasses, and this one is wearing a hat. I don't think the twat brought a hat to the amusement park with her, though it would have been a good idea.
I realize after a few minutes of standing in front of the door that they still haven't noticed me, so I open the door behind me with my foot, and allow it to close properly. They turn to look at me.
The tall boy smiles widely (wide enough for me to notice), "Hi there! My name is Bryce. What's yours?"
"Nice to meet you, Jay." I could think of better ways to meet a person. The sentiment is appreciated though. "You must be trapped here in the amusement park like us, huh? Isn't this a bummer?"
I shrug, "Could be worse." We could be hanging by our necks from spiked nooses that slowly pierce deeper into our flesh as we try to get it off of us, and the spikes secrete this toxin that slowly shuts down your nervous system, rendering you unable to move or some shit like that. It could be worse.
"I suppose you're right. Still, I'm glad you arrived. The more the merrier, right?" I shrug again, and glance at where I think the girl is sitting at one of the booths by a window. I could be looking at a stain on the wall for all I know. I gesture towards her to get my question across: Who's that?
Bryce smiles nervously, "I have no idea what her name is. She's been here longer than me, but she won't talk to me at all... maybe I did something to offend her? I sure hope not..."
"It's shock, maybe."
"Maybe." Bryce yawns and stretches, "Man, what a day~! I'm going to sleep super good tonight!"
Wow, way to gloat about it. I haven't gotten a decent night's sleep in years. My mind just doesn't want me to sleep on a normal schedule. Whenever I try to get to sleep, I end up lying there for 3 hours, and then I might slip into a super-light sleep, but then one of my damn cats will knock something over, or maybe the twat will speak in her sleep, and then I'm awake again.
I need some sleep. I then show how badly I need sleep by yawning loudly. "Want sleep..."
Bryce laughs, "Well, you're certainly dressed for sleeping! Aren't you feeling hot?"
I look down at the clothing currently on me: red, moose-print pajamas (oversized shirt that reaches my knees, the pants lightly touching the ground), a pair of high-heel platform sandals, and my fluffy white scarf. To be honest, I didn't even bother to get changed out of my pajamas. It's too much of a hassle, and it's not like people haven't seen me parading around town in my pajamas before. "...Yeah, it's hot."
"Why are you wearing a scarf in summer?" He inquires.
"Why wouldn't I wear a scarf?" I feel my eyelids flutter until my eyes are half-lid. So tired...
"Hahaha! You're really funny, aren't you? You've already made me feel better about this whole thing. As long as you're around, I'm sure the three of us will be fine!"
"LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY!" The loud screaming breaks through the barrier of our calm atmosphere, alerting us to the presence of the other two. Thane must have caught the man who hates him already.
"I will if you would just listen to me!"
"FUCK YOU!" I already like this person. We'll be good friends, he and I.
The door slams open, and would have slammed into me if I wasn't easily spooked and had jumped far away from the area. In came another guy who (I think) was around the same height as Thane (with both being shorter than Bryce), with spiky, caramel colored hair, and foggy gray eyes. I can already tell that he is an agreeable fellow by the fact that he is wearing a nice jacket. That looks like the kind of jacket the twat would wear, but it looks oddly good on this guy. I don't hand out compliments often.
Meanwhile, things were heating up. "I don't need your help!"
"Well it's not like you know what's going on!"
"Neither do you!"
I shuffled towards behind Bryce to use him as a meat shield should this debate of dominance get violent (which is going to happen sometime, I just know it), immediately catching Thane's attention. He adjusted his glasses, and turned towards me, completely disregarding the angry guy who dresses well. "There you are, Jay."
"Who's mister gray?" I point at the one in question.
"Who's the sweater vest?" Oh, okay. Completely disregard my question to ask your own.
Bryce raised a hand in greeting, "Yo!"
I tried again, "Who's that?"
Thane shrugged, "I dunno."
Wow, so helpful these men are. Almost as useful as the idiots that surround me.
"Who are you people?!" Mister Gray freaks out, seeming to have only just now realized that he is surrounded by strangers. You'd think he would have noticed the people inside when he came through the door.
Bryce grinned, "Well, maybe we should all introduce ourselves then! Name listing, go!"
Thane went first, and then I did.
"...Lena." The quiet girl in the background, who I had actually forgotten about in one of my famous memory-lapses, spoke up, and then continued looking at nothing.
Mister Gray frowned, revealing his true identity for all to know. "Spencer."
"Bob!" Bryce cheered. We stood there in momentary silence, before I remembered that his name was not, in fact, Bob.
"...Liar." For some reason, this set Bryce off into a laughing fit. Is there something wrong with my voice? He laughed for a good ten minutes before calming down, and we all did recon on what happened to us before we left, as well as the numbers that appeared on our phones.
Everyone had gotten the same creepy ass text from a total stranger, although we have no phone signal. Everyone had also gotten a number assigned to their phone that took up the space the time would normally display. Thane's number is 29, Spencer's is 22, Lena's is 20, Bryce's is 17, and mine is (of course) 12. Interesting how Thane's number digits add up to 11, and Spencer's are twice what 11 would be. Does this show that Spencer is indeed the better of the two? Spencer's number digits even add up to 4, which is the best number in existence. It's the number of death, apparently, but it's also the number of the month of April that the twat and I were born in.
Thane was wondering aloud about how his number was the highest, though I don't know why he was complaining. His number was higher than the rest of us, and would take longer to drop to zero. Meanwhile, I'm probably hanging on the edge here.
Anyway, Spencer was yawning now. "God, why am I so tired? It's not even dark out..."
I yawned as well, "...Mm. Yeah."
"C'mon you two, I've been working all day and I still have plenty of energy." Well, you work in the arcade. That does not involve doing anything physically straining; Marius's job is a prime example! The most they did was move the prizes on the prize shelves. I, on the other hand, have done a bunch of bullshit all day, I haven't slept in three days, and I nearly drowned because nobody thought it was important to grab my goggles when they forced me to come here.
Spencer seemed to be paying just as much attention to Thane as I was, "Ah, shit. Hold on a second." He went to the lone outlet in the customer's section of the café, and plugged in his phone. Why was he carrying that around with him?
Bryce rolled his shoulders, "I feel fine too."
Lena remained silent, though she was looking at her phone as well. I took a peek at it. Her background wallpaper was of the mascot Mr. Antitouch, a mascot who I don't particularly enjoy, but then again, not everything that pleases one person can please another.
Spencer hummed, "...I just noticed something."
Everyone (except Lena) looked at him, "Our numbers... they add up to 100."
I'm genuinely impressed that he was really thinking about what the numbers were about. It's more than I can say for myself or Lena, who have been semi-quiet throughout this discussion. Maybe he got the smartness from his gray, lifeless eyes that have a certain fire in them. I don't care if those two descriptions were contradictory; most of what I say or think is contradictory.
"But does that mean anything?" Speaks the tan one. Is he trying to become that one guy in every group that most of the members hate? Because he's pretty on his way there.
"It has to!"
"You can't assume something just like that."
"I don't care what you think you stupid prick!"
Bryce held up his hands, trying to diffuse the situation before it got too out of hand (the poor, friendly giant). "Hey, hey, hey, you guys. Let's calm down. We'll find a place where we can all rest for the night, and touch more on the subject tomorrow, alright?"
"Sleep?" Spencer snorted, "Now? Are you kidding me? It's still daylight out."
"...Didn't you say that you were tired?" Bryce was horribly confused, and rightly so. How dare Spencer try to take away my status as the contradictory queen.
"...I did...?" He blinked, looked down at his phone (I assume. My vision seems to be getting more into focus now, for some reason), and suddenly looked like he had an epiphany. "Holy shit!"
"Are you serious?!" Thane's eyes widened, seeming to be understanding something that I, for sure, was not. I wonder if they're older than me. Maybe older teens have developed some kind of mental link where they can speak to each other. It would come in handy during exams or tests, I would think. Or even if they were to get into trouble and needed to have a concrete story between the group so that they can't fuck up and be discovered.
"This is too freaky!" Spencer frowned.
"...I don't get it."
Spencer turned towards my direction, holding out his hand. "Jay, let me see your phone real quick."
I shrug, and reach out while holding it, waiting for him to grab it, since I would fail miserably at the delivery, and might even break it. Spencer turned to his phone again, unplugged it, plugged in my phone instead (huh, we have the same phone charger. Interesting). He tapped his foot impatiently, staring down at me with a tense scowl on his face. He needs a soda.
"Well? Feel any different?"
"...Sort of?" I shrugged.
He closed his eyes, sighing. "I meant, do you feel any less tired?"
I blink a couple of times, and find that it's much easier for me to keep my eyes open now. My arms and legs aren't as heavy as they were before, and my heartbeat has slowed down somewhat. "...Yeah, I do. That's... interesting."
Thane hummed, "So the battery life of our phones correlate with our own energy..."
"Cool." Thane shot me a look, but hell if I know what it means. Lack of social contact will do this to you.
"...I know we don't know what's going on, but we all need to be very careful with our phones."
"No shit, Sherlock. I'm sure we couldn't have figured that out on our own."
"...Ah. I don't have a phone charger on me..." I stare at Spencer's charger, "...I'll just borrow Spencer's when the time comes."
"Aw, I'm out of luck." Bryce pouts, "I didn't know I'd need to charge my phone today in order to survive, so I didn't grab one..."
"Well, they sell them at the cinema." Thane offers, showing how all males seem to submit to the tallest male in the group. What is the point behind that? If you're going to be an asshole, be an asshole to everyone equally, or you're being too obvious with your hatred.
"Really?" Bryce beamed. The Alpha male has been established, and he is pleased by the offering of peace.
"I saw them there when I was trying to steal some popcorn earlier, but the doors kept me locked in until I put change on the counter."
"The hell is wrong with you?" Spencer does not approve of these underhanded tactics of trickery, "Let's just focus on finding a way out of this shit hole. We don't seem to have to worry about our numbers as long as they don't drop to zero, which is easy enough."
"Okay." The others make plans to meet up in a few days to bring our theories together, while I turn to the counter and purchase a few slices of cheese pizza. My semi-good hearing picks up on Lena mumbling to herself.
"...Mom and dad aren't going to be too happy if I'm gone too long..." She mumbles. I balance all my pizza into one hand, and use the other to pat her on the head.
"It'll be fine. They'll figure out a way for us to leave eventually. Just let them worry."
Lena blinks, and shrinks in on herself, "...O-Okay..."
The others seem to have established places of their own over the past few days. Thane is protecting his workplace, like the noble sheep that he is. Lena lingers around the café, and we chat sometimes. She's an agreeable girl. Spencer has taken root underneath the roller coaster, with a magic marker of conspiracy. I plan on seeking him out in a few minutes. I do not know where Bryce is, nor do I care. My interest lies in the interesting, and sleep.
I quietly approach the brooding Spencer, who is writing gibberish on the dome wall. Or maybe it means something. I can't tell. I make a mental note to see if this amusement park has any contact lenses, because I am starting to get a migraine, and a Jay with a migraine is a very angry Jay.
Spencer tosses something aside, and I'm pretty sure it's his phone. "Stupid phone, not getting any friggin' service."
"What are you trying to do? Well, besides escaping. That much is clearly obvious." I tilt my head to appear friendlier. I've seen the twat do it sometimes.
Spencer jumps at the sound of my voice, "Oh, it's just you. Well, since my phone isn't getting any service here, I have no other choice but to play against the computer on the chess app on my phone. It's really fucking boring when your opponent isn't a real person."
"I could play you." I could also beat him super hard, but I will keep that to myself.
He snorts, "Ha. Thanks, but I'd probably have to go easy on you."
"...If you say so. What are you doing?"
Spencer puffs his chest out, feeling proud of himself. "Unlike Thane, I'm actively trying to figure this hellhole out. You see this? It's. . ."
I tune out his rambling, floating off into my own thoughts. I hadn't thought to play the games on my phone. I thought that would take away more battery. Now that I know this, I could maybe play Tetris... sure, I always, always lose, but that's the point of the game. You can never win. It is basically a game made to help improve your patience and puzzle-solving skills, and I am the hawk that swoops down upon the blocks, gently guiding them to the spots they must be placed in.
I sit down a few feet away from where Spencer is, and plop backwards onto my back. "The sky looks nice today."
Spencer stops his tirade, noticing that I am no longer paying any attention. "Er... I guess so? It's been really sunny ever since we got here. There's no clouds in sight, now that you mention it..."
"...Ah, yeah. I could do with less sunlight." I drape my arms over my eyes that are starting to fry like eggs. "Sunlight makes me sleepy..."
"You've been 'sleepy' ever since you got here. Do you not sleep ever, or what?" I ignore him, and drift off to sleep. I might end up with a sunburn, but sleep is worth it.
. . .
I had only slept for what appeared to be a few hours, when I was rudely woken up by the sound of an explosion. Spencer was no longer in the vicinity, so he must have left after I had fallen asleep. Considering I'm a light sleeper, this was the correct choice. I decided to follow the source of where the explosion came from, since the others would surely assemble there as well. My theory was proven correct when I arrived in front of the women's restroom, and the boys were just standing around, looking at a broken square on wheels.
Thane turned to me as I entered the area (it's lucky that we all have different features), "Huh?"
"Oh, you woke up. Not surprising, since this scrap metal fucking exploded."
"What scrap metal? All I see is a square on wheels."
Thane taps the square on wheels with one of his leather shoes, "It's a machine of some sort."
My otome senses are tingling. A broken thing showing up is always a sign for things to come, and is in some way important. Anyone who says differently is lying, or just playing the game wrong. Broken things exist to be fixed.
"Let's fix it. Who knows what they're doing?" I can't do it, even if I knew how. My hands are too jittery, and are especially so under pressure. I cannot handle pressure well, and might have an emotional episode.
Thane shrugged, "I could probably do it. I'm in the robotics club at school, so I know the basics of electrical engineering."
"That's pretty impressive." Bryce praised.
"All high school robot clubs are for wannabes." Spencer scoffs. I doubt he truly means it, and is just saying that because Thane is in it.
"Are you seriously trying to pick a fight with me?" Thane narrowed his eyes, only now seeming to be picking up on the vibes of hatred radiating from Spencer. He must be dumber than I originally thought.
Bryce butted into the dispute, trying to be the mediator. "I agree with Jay, I think that we should fix it. We don't exactly have a solid plan on getting out of here just yet."
I shrug, watching as Thane kneels down beside the broken machine, inspecting it carefully. "...This looks like it's an easy fix, but there are some parts missing. I can't be exact, since I don't know what they look like, but judging by the gaps in the gears, I'm guessing around 5, maybe 6 parts?"
"Why should we even bother then? It's not like the missing parts are going to just be lying around the park. If they were missing, they would be around this piece of shit, wouldn't they?" Spencer, dropping the wisdom all up in here. What a stud.
"We won't know unless we actually look, you know." Thane argues back at him.
Spencer scowls, "You're that serious about this? Fine, then."
"...Has anyone seen Lena?" Bryce looks around, having brought up something that even I hadn't noticed.
"Isn't she around the café?" I scratch my cheek, feeling uncomfortable.
"I tried looking there to pick her up before I came over here, but she wasn't there. She's avoiding me like I'm the plague..."
"She's probably just a loner then. She has to be around here somewhere." Spencer shrugs.
"Well, we should look for her too. It's safer for the five of us to stick together than to stray off." Does Thane not understand the fact that we can't leave even if we try? I think this would also apply in reverse, making it so that other people can't enter the park. Unless there's somebody else walking around, and we just haven't seen them yet.
Spencer decides to complain some more, "Seriously though, what if we don't find all the missing parts we need for this thing?"
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there, Spencer." Bryce pats Spencer's shoulder, and I swear I see something in Bryce's face that does not look friendly at all. It is the look of the Alpha male who punishes the disturber of the group, and subtly hints at exile if they do not submit. Spencer sighs, and just submits to Bryce's superiority. Maybe I should talk with Bryce sometime in the future... he's peaking my interest.
Everyone is assigned to various areas of the park: Spencer gets the roller coaster and the ferris wheel, Thane gets the pool area and the front entrance, Bryce gets the arcade and the movie theater, and I get the merry-go-round and the café. Everyone but Bryce also has to see if they can find Lena, at the cost of Bryce feeling like a true friend to all.
I feel my phone vibrate inside my pocket, and pull it out. It was my phone alerting me to the fact that I have another message. As a side note, I notice that the background on this phone is different from my own, which is weird, but I shrug that off to look at the text. It's from the same unknown number as before.
When falling damp tree unveils ghost, hm?I love a good puzzle... I tuck my phone back into my pocket for later, and keep walking foward towards the carousel. I love carousels. They spin around, they're really colorful, the seats you sit on are kinda cool, and they're the symbol of the carnival. I inspect the carousel carefully, just to see how cool it is. I was unable to actually ride it while I was in the real amusement park, because the twat wanted to ride the more "hardcore" spinny rides, like the teacups. Yes, the teacups. You would not believe how fast you can get those going, actually...
When I reach the green stripe, I notice something sparkling, and pick it up. It's... a machine part of some kind. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this is what we're looking for. I continue looking around the area, but there are no other parts, so I move towards the café. On my way there, I swear I saw something blur past my peripheral vision, but it was probably just one of the others. I look around the café, and under the chairs for several minutes. Soon enough, I find another metal part that is similar to the one I found earlier. I look around a little while longer, and then return to the meet-up spot in front of the restrooms.
I stand around for a few minutes, and then am joined by Bryce. Good timing, because I wanted to speak to him. I tug on his sleeve to get his attention.
"Hm? What is it, Jay?" He looks down at me.
"You're weird, but interesting." He blinks a couple of times, and then laughs.
"Well, at least you're open about your opinion. Thank you."
"Well, did we get everything?" Spencer walks towards us, with Lena trailing behind him. Thane comes up from the movie theater, and shrugs at Spencer.
"There's a few missing screws, but we should be able to get by without them. It's only a few."
"It could be worse... Hello, Lena." I wave at her general direction.
Spencer sighs, and pushes Lena forward slightly, "I found her near the roller coaster, and brought her along."
"Good work." I give him a thumbs up. He stares blankly at me. Isn't my praise good enough for him? Maybe I should show him a thing or two...
Bryce saves us from an impending altercation by bringing out his cell phone. It's gray and old, kind of like Spencer's eyes. "Am I the only one who got another weird text from our unknown sender?"
"Falling trees and damp ghosts?" I glance at my phone as well.
"I got it too. What is this, a bad case of auto correct?" Everyone disregards Thane's pitiful attempts at being funny. It's for the best, really.
"...I'm not surprised if this was sent from whoever trapped us here and sent the first text."
"Well, it has to mean something, so maybe we're supposed to read it a certain way?" Bryce hums, "'Falling tree ghost when damp unveils'...?"
Thane decides he suddenly speaks voodoo. "'Tsohg slievnu eert pmad gnillaf nehw'?"
Do not worry, because Spencer also speaks voodoo. "'Wfdtug haarnh elmevo nlpees iltnsg'?"
"You guys aren't properly equipped to commit voodoo, shush." I stare at the line, and begin educating them on my view of the text. "'When falling damp tree unveils ghost'. When falling, the damp tree unveils a ghost? So, something is falling, and it's like a tree. The tree is a person maybe, because it lives, and moves in the wind. The tree is damp because it is sad that it is only one tree, and all the other trees have gone away. When that sad tree falls, the person dies, and 'unveils' their own ghost. Basically, an environmentalist has committed suicide, and we must find their wandering spirit."
I look up at the others, eager for praise. For some reason, none of them will meet my eyes, and are very silent. After a long period of awkward glances and silence, Spencer sighs and decides that he is man enough to speak up.
"Let's... just table this for now..."
"Alright, everyone who has a part, pass it to me. I'll fix the robot now." Everyone hands over their parts, and Thane got to work. There were 6 parts in all, just one more than the number of people that were present. If we had one more person, I could have made another enlightening analogy. What a pity.
"Do you perhaps carry any contacts on you?" He stops working, and looks up at me.
"Why do you ask?"
"I can't see without my glasses. I can barely tell where you four are." I put out my hand, almost smacking the top of his head, and wiggle my fingers. "Gimme."
"...Fine. Here." He places the contact container in my hand, and goes back to work. I make quick work of putting them in, nearly stabbing both my eyes with my fingers.
I blink a few times for my vision to adjust, and the blurriness fades away to give me perfect vision of my companions and surroundings. "Excellent."
"You mean this whole time you haven't been able to see us?" Spencer raised an eyebrow at me.
I shrug, "Sort of. I could at least make out colors n'stuff. Eventually all the colors blur together though. I'm near-sighted."
"What happened to your glasses?"
"I gave them to my sister for safe-keeping before I went swimming. I guess I forgot about them afterwards." I shrug again. I tend to shrug my way through life.
Thane made a few more adjustments to the stupid machine, and then stood up, wiping off the oil and grease onto his pants. Lovely. "That should do it."
We waited a few minutes, and then Spencer put in his two cents. "It's not working. Way to waste our time, Thane."
"Let's smash it." I hit my fist into my open palm, and then notice the looks I'm getting, "...I mean, we could kick it or something, I guess..."
"No, wait." Thane put his hand out to prevent me from getting any closer to the soon-to-be-destroyed machine. Almost as if he had some kind of psychic ability to make his predictions come true, the machine suddenly let out a series of whines as the gears inside struggled to move again, and the eyes(?) lit up. They were soulless eyes, as white as a vanilla ice cream cone that never lets you get to the part where there's chocolate inside.
"Oh wow, you did it Thane! It's really working!" Bryce cheers.
The machine let out a weird sound, and began talking in a creepy voice. "Nice to meet y'all, my name's Cashy."
"...Cute..." Lena murmurs, a blush lightly dusting her cheeks.
"So... what do you do...?" I can see the deep confusion inside Spencer's eyes now. It is wonderful to be able to see clearly again.
Cashy begins playing terrible country music on full blast as he spins around on his wheels. "I eat, sleep, drink, and party all night with the most beautiful women!"
"W-What?" Confusion sinks further into our group. Only I can see the true ending.
"He's the overlord of the place with many neon lights." There's a few of those near my school, I think.
"Haha! That's funny, Girly. Nah, I'm just kiddin'. I'm just a robot that stores and deposits money." The true meaning of his name sinks in, and I cannot help but to start sniggering.
"L-Like as in an ATM? An ATM named Cashy? Heheheh...!"
"That's right, Girly. All 'ya gotta do is hook me up with those chargers of yours, and I'll give 'ya cash in exchange for some of your phone's battery life."
Thane is now also confused, staring down at Cashy in wonder. "But I didn't find any money inside this thing... no, wait. There was a safe in there, that's probably it."
Cashy glared his soulless eyes at Thane, "You were the one who repaired me? I'm gonna sue you for sexual harassment, you pervert!"
"What...?" Thane and I share this sentiment. Whatever it is this thing is talking about, it has completely flown over my head.
"You didn't get my permission to open me up and touch all my private parts! You sick bastard!"
"...Oh gosh Thane, he's right!" Bryce has joined in on the mockery of what was formerly his comrade. This is how the male mind works?
"...But you exploded and sent your parts all over the park... how was he supposed to get permission...? Apply for it and wait a few months for it to be returned because there's no way for Thane to send it to your supervisor?" I scratch my head as I think aloud.
"...I... I don't even... What?" Spencer saves Thane in the moment of embarrassment. Shocking. It's like a flip-flop of enemies and comrades.
"Let's cut to the chase, you bio hazard. What do you know about this freaky place and our numbers?"
"Boy, I only know money-" I kicked it with all my inner strength and sent it elsewhere.
"Useless piece of shit." Everyone was quiet once more, the happenings of what just went down soaking into our minds.
"...Cute..." Lena squeaks out again. I facepalm. Did she not just see what happened?
Spencer sighed, "And after we spent all that time finding the parts, and fixing it... we still don't know anything."
"Man, I hope we can leave soon... I'm getting pretty hungry." Bryce whines. The Alpha male has declared that the pack should look out for food. Everyone verbally showed that they were in agreement with Bryce, and it was swiftly decided that I would be the one to lift food from the café.
I manage to buy a few bags worth of food, along with the universally liked drink that is Sprite, and struggle outside. Luckily, I have years of experience from opening various doors while having my arms full, so I just kick the door open. As I walk out, however, my phone goes off. I have another alert. It had better not be another false alarm. It's always going off, and then I look and nothing has fucking happened. Maybe I should get a new phone...
It buzzes again, and I gently set the bags on the ground in order to get my hands free. I pull out my phone, and see that my number has dropped down to 4. A much more likeable number. It is a magical number. However, like I said before, it symbolizes death, so I will probably die soon. The others won't be happy about this. I hear footsteps quickly approaching, but they slowly come to a halt. Someone is here; maybe it's one of the guys come to be the slave and carry all this shit for me?
I look up, and see... a complete stranger. He's taller than Thane and Spencer, but shorter than Bryce (only by about an inch or two, I think). He has dark red hair that mesh well with his yellow eyes, and looks really fluffy. I'd like to touch it, even if it's just one. The stranger is wearing a yellow polo shirt with a white collar, a black, sleeveless hoodie, blue jeans, and mismatched shoes. Overall, a good looking person.
The stranger's eyes widen at the sight of me, "...A-A person...!"
I stare silently at him, equally as surprised to see someone else here. Apparently, he takes this as a sign to invade personal bubbles, because he skips up to me until he's but two inches away, and grabs both of my hands, shaking them wildly. "Hello!"
"...H-Hi." I manage to get out despite my arms being jerked around.
"What's your name? I'm Arlo." Arlo looks really pleased to see me.
"Haha! Jay's a great name! I like it! I like you, too!"
"...Alright... Um, when did you arrive here?" I try to push past my awkwardness of meeting a stranger that is too bubbly for their own good.
Arlo has this odd look on his face, like he doesn't understand what I'm asking at first, but realization flashes through his eyes. Poor soul's probably been scared stiff. "Um, not too long ago, I think... but this place is soooo big that I got lost!"
"Understandable. Then you're also trapped here with the rest of us."
Further shock took hold of the cheery fellow, "Th-There are other people here?!"
"Well, yes." Arlo let out a nervous laugh.
"Oh, phew! I was freaking out because I couldn't find anyone around! I thought I was going to be all by myself... Hey, Jay?"
I roll my eyes at his drama, "What?"
"...Will you be my friend?"
"You aren't supposed to ask people if they will befriend you, Arlo. Friendship is something that occurs naturally. Asking me to be your friend is taking away from the time that is put into forming a friendship."
"...Oh... I never thought of that. You're really smart, Jay!" Arlo grins, "I completely agree with you! Friendship just happens, so we're already friends, right? I want to be your friend. I like you, Jay. You're interesting." He leans forward, and nearly suffocates me in a hug. I let him do as he pleases for a short period of time, and then force him to let go by biting his arm.
"Let's go, everyone's pretty hungry. You can join us for lunch." I move to pick up the bags, but Arlo intercepts me, and takes half of them for himself. He uses his free hand to grab my free hand, and gives me this puppy pout that prevents me from snapping at him for being too forward. I may not hate physical contact as much as the twat, but I do feel slightly uncomfortable with touching people's hands or feet. I glance up at Arlo, who smiles widely when his eyes meet mine, and move onwards towards the gift shop.
"Finally, Jay! I'm starving." Spencer groaned as I walked in through the door, Arlo coming up behind me.
Thane rolled his eyes, "Drama queen."
"I am not!"
"Who's your friend there, Jay?" Bryce smiles at me, gesturing towards Arlo, who will not let go of my hand. Oh well, I'm a lefty anyway.
"This is Arlo. He just got here." Spencer takes the food from me, places it on the table, and then yanks Arlo's bags away from him. Despite Spencer's blatant rudeness, Arlo is all smiles and sunshine.
"Hello!" The others introduce themselves, and we all sit down to eat. Arlo clings to my right side, not even moving to eat. Spencer is on my left, eating as he stares at Arlo.
"Hey Arlo, where are you from?" Bryce smiles at his tall companion. The two tall males are now interacting, and it is only a matter of time before there is a contest of dominance.
Arlo does not seem to realize that he is being challenged, and smiles back at Bryce. "I live here in East Cigam."
Thane looks up from stuffing his food, intrigued. "Really? Me too. Maybe we've met before...?"
"South Cigam for me." Spencer butts in, like a true gentleman, "I'm going to take a shot in the dark and say Sweater Vest is from West Cigam?"
Bryce jumps a little, startled. "Huh? How did you know? Are you a mind reader, Spencer?"
"No. It was... just a lucky guess."
"...I don't get it." I narrow my eyes, trying to figure out what Spencer is implying here, because he is clearly implying something. I just have to figure it out. Arlo pats my head. It feels weird.
"...You think I'm weird?" Bryce pouts, looking as dejected as a side-character who was killed off because the main character decided that they do not need their help in order to kill the final boss so that the main character can marry one of the villagers (but not the cook or the athletic trainer).
"Well, 'weird things happen in West Cigam', and you're pretty fucking weird."
I glance at Lena, "What about you?"
"...So we're mostly all from different parts of Cigam. It's like we've been chosen to represent our given districts."
"...Jay, you didn't tell us where you're from." Thane brings down my good mood.
"Central Cigam. I am the anchor that holds us to the seafloor." Spencer turns to look at me, curiosity in his eyes.
"Seriously? What's it like living over there?"
"...Hm. Well, the cops are running their sirens through my neighborhood nearly every day, the people are kind of rude, but we hold doors open for old people, and there's a lot of underage alcoholics and drug addicts... it's kind of normal, I guess." I shrug.
"Isn't there lots of that in other cities? I don't think it's that uncommon..."
"I guess I'll take your word for it then, since I've never actually been over there."
Spencer and I talk back and forth as Thane tries to figure out how to hit on Arlo. "Arlo, what's your number?"
"...The number on your phone." He holds out his phone as an example, "All of our phones display a number instead of the time."
Arlo looks sort of tense, or maybe nervous. "Really? Um..." He digs through his pockets, but comes up with nothing, "...I think I lost it?"
Spencer flips out on him, "What do you mean you LOST it?!"
"I must have dropped it somewhere...?" Arlo chuckled nervously, "This isn't the first time I've lost that thing. I'm really skilled at misplacing important things."
"Idiot." I huff at Arlo, despite the fact that I've had my fair share of incidents.
"That's really bad... You won't be able to charge your phone if you don't have it!"
"Well, yeah...? What's your point?"
"...Right. You're completely new to this." Spencer huffs, angered with Arlo's inability to pick up on the seriousness of the situation. "Our energy directly corresponds to the battery life on our phones, so we have to keep charging them, or else we'll become exhausted. We don't know what will happen if your phone dies."
"R-Really?! That's... weird..." He frowned, realizing the true extent of his misfortune. "...Oh. This really IS bad, isn't it?"
"We could call your number and walk around the park..." He trailed off as Arlo shoulders slumped, "...unless you left it on silent."
Arlo sighs, "I-I did... b-but my phone has a really, super duper good battery life! We'll definitely find it before it runs out."
Spencer rolls his eyes, and turns to me to say something, but stops when he sees the phone that I am holding in my hand. I had taken it out for just a moment in order to see if my number had changed again. Why did I do that? I knew Spencer was right beside me. Oh well, they would have found out soon enough.
"...J-Jay, what happened to your number?"
"That's obvious! How did it drop all the way to 4!?"
"...Almost everyone's numbers had gone up, it was obvious that somebody's number would have had to drop." Thane sighed.
"But... Jay's number is dangerously low..." Bryce frowned, appearing to be concerned for my well being.
"And here I thought I was onto something, but now... I don't know..." Thane closed his eyes, and rubbed his face.
Spencer rolled his eyes, "Riiight. Remember that one time when everything made sense? No? Yeah, me neither."
While Spencer and Thane bickered over petty things, Bryce moved to sit on my other side. "Is there anything you could have done that might've affected your number?"
I shrug, "Maybe. I don't know."
Spencer blew off Thane to come back over to us, "I think our social interactions affect our numbers... I just don't exactly kow how at the moment."
"My head hurts..." Arlo whined.
"It's fine, guys. I can handle it by myself. Not a big deal." Once again, everyone descends into silence. I'm beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I should just stop talking altogether. Every time I open my mouth everyone else stops talking.
Spencer whacks me upside the head, "Do you know how selfish you're being? You can't just stand there and tell people to not worry about you when there's clearly something wrong."
I stay silent, deciding that until this is sorted out, I will keep to myself. Thane speaks, "I agree with Spencer, for once. You're not alone here, Jay. Do us a favor: shut up and let us help you."
Lena looks up from her cake, her hands shaky as she stares me down. Bryce pats my head in what I assume is a comforting gesture. "Even if you don't want to be a burden, please try to be strong for us."
Arlo squeezes the life out of me, placing his head on mine as he indirectly strangles me. "Everything will be all right, Jay."
"Yes, let's try to focus on one problem at a time." Thane sighed. Not like this affected Arlo at all.
"Don't worry about me, I'll probably stumble upon it sometime sooner or later. That thing always turns up for me."
"Arlo, her face is turning blue. I think you need to let her go." Spencer was watching my demise, but luckily he brought that up. Arlo freaked out and let me go.
What a weird bunch... strangers that care about strangers? I wasn't saying that I could handle it because I didn't want to be a burden. No, not at all.
I just don't care.
I turn around again, and see the head peeking out from behind the café disappear again. Arlo has been following me around for the past couple of days, but he won't come close enough to talk. What's the point in following somebody if you can't do it properly? I should know, I do it often enough. I take a sip of my Sprite.
"You may as well come out, Arlo. You're a terrible stalker." Arlo pokes his head out again, and slowly makes his way to sit in the chair across from me, pouting.
"Aw, how'd you know?"
"You're not very quiet." Arlo sheepishly smiled at me, knowing he was caught.
"Well, um, I just wanted to talk with you."
I raise an eyebrow at him and lean back in my chain, "About what?"
"Well... what do you think about this place? I don't think it's that bad... there are worse places we could be in."
I snort, "Yeah, things could be much worse. In comparison, this place is kind of nice. It's full of color, and has all these cool mascots."
Arlo smiles fully, "Yeah! It's like this place is a dream instead of a nightmare."
"I don't know... it's too bright here for me. A few clouds would do this place some good."
"Clouds, huh? I wonder if it'll rain soon, it's been kind of dry. I mean, I like sunny days, but everybody needs rain sometimes, right?"
I nod, "Rain is good for the soul. I always feel more awake when it rains..." I yawn for emphasis.
"So~ Jay, why'd you come to the amusement park in the first place? You're not exactly dressed for a day of fun and adventure." Arlo smiled, placing his chin in his hands as he leans forward. I take another sip of my beverage.
"I was dragged out of my house with my sister and forced to come with her and our companions to the opening day. I didn't even get the chance to eat breakfast..."
"Your friends? You probably have a lot of friends, huh?"
"I only have one friend. The others only put up with me because of my sister." I scowled. I don't particularly like the others, though Jade is alright, I guess.
"What?" Arlo's eyes widened, and he nearly fell over. "B-But you're so nice!"
"Not really..." Only if they interest me, and this group has captured my interest. It's not like I have a choice but to interact with the others, either. Also, people don't really talk to me. They don't seem to agree with the way I see life, or anything in general.
"But you are! And you don't only have one friend, you have the five of us too, you know? That makes six friends!" Arlo beamed, proud of himself. I snickered at the look on his face. "You shouldn't change how you are, Jay. I'll be really sad if you do."
"...Then, as 'friends', do you want to exchange secrets?" I raise an eyebrow. This is how normal friends interact, right? They share secrets and talk about the people they don't like.
Arlo seemed to share the same idea I have, "Is that what friends do? Okay then. I... I've always wanted to try on a dress. N-Not in a weird way! I've just always wondered if that breezy feeling around your legs felt nice or not."
I grimaced, thinking back to my younger days where I was forced to wear those monstrosities, "...Trust me, they're not very pleasant. And cross dressing is cute, not weird."
"Well, at least I know now." He smiled, and stared at me with wide, sparkly eyes. "Your turn!"
"I like lying on the ground in public places. Parks, department stores, hallways, school bathrooms, the arcade... Don't lie on the ground in department stores, though. The employees will come running up to you to see if you're okay, and then they kick you out."
Arlo blinked owlishly, and burst out laughing. "Hahaha! You're funny, Jay. I like you~!" He tackled me with another tight hug. I don't understand how touchy-feely this guy can be. He was quiet for a bit, and then got up, patting my head.
"You're... kind of short, aren't you? Not that there's anything wrong with being short...!"
If I was anyone else, I might have gotten angry. However, I just simply sigh and cross my arms. "No, you're just too tall."
"Am I really? Ah... you're right. I'm still a bit shorter than Bryce, though... But I wish I was shorter." He pouted, and then answered my unvocalized question, "I want to be closer to your face, Jay~"
I blink once, twice, three times. I don't understand. What's the benefit of being closer to another person's face? You can still look in their eyes no matter what height you are! The only reason one would want to be closer to another's face is if they want to... k-kiss them. My face heats up, and I cover my face with my hands to hide it. Arlo starts laughing.
"Sh-Shut up, idiot..." Our moment of awkward friendship was shattered when the yelling of the smaller males of the pack started up again.
"You wanna go, nerd?! I'll beat you anywhere, anytime!"
"You're on. Let's go."
I glance at Arlo, and start moving towards the angry voices. Arlo whines at me for leaving, and follows suit like a lost puppy. A big, friendly red puppy. A mini Clifford, almost, except Arlo can talk.
. . .
Arlo and I stumble into the arcade, just in time to watch the pre-contest smack talk going down. Bryce turns to us as we enter, smiling brightly. The smile slightly unnerves me.
"You two are just in time to watch these two battle for dominance. It's rather common amongst younger males."
"It's not so much a matter of age, but of size. Also, I doubt you're much older than the rest of us." I shrug.
"Lena's the oldest one of us here, actually." He smiles. I mentally wonder how he was able to find out, when she avoids him all the time.
"It's always the small ones..." I mutter, and glance at Arlo. "How about you?"
"I'm 19." Arlo smiles, pleased with himself about something.
"Huh. You're two years older than me." I turn my attention back to the nerd fight.
"There's no way you'll ever beat me." Thane is in the zone, slamming down the sick insults.
"Is that a challenge I hear?" Well no shit, Spencer. What did you think the two of you were doing?
"This shooter isn't like the others. The controls are completely different."
"All I'm hearing is the clucking of a chicken. Don't talk like you know absolutely everything! You only worked here for one day!"
Thane narrowed his eyes at Spencer. It appears that Spencer has won the verbal smackdown. "Are we going to play or not?"
Spencer huffs, "Let's do this."
Lena shifts back and forth on her feet, and tugs on Spencer's sleeve, catching their attention. "...Can I... play too...?"
Spencer blinks, "What?...Sure, but-"
Thane cuts him off, "Of course you can, Lena. Come on, let's play."
"Good luck, everyone!" Arlo cheers as they take up their stations at the shooter consoles.
Bryce hums, "So, who do you think is going to win?"
"I can't be sure, because I don't know how to play arcade games."
"I hope they all win, so that everyone can be happy." Arlo glows with his innocence. I almost want to smack him. Almost.
"Arlo... if they all win, there isn't a loser, so there wouldn't truly be any winners either."
Bryce grins, and I can feel danger rolling off of him in waves. "They sure look like they're having fun, huh?"
I look over at the trio. Spencer is hitting the buttons with more force than I think is necessary, and is swearing every two seconds. Thane looks abnormally tense, and twitches every time Spencer swears too loudly. Lena is the only calm one that looks like she's enjoying herself. This is what he finds fun? Weirdo.
"Maybe we should have some fun of our own too." I'm really not feeling very safe here, but as they say, "curiosity killed the cat".
"What kind of fun?"
"Are either of you in the mood to make a little wager?" Oh, phew. It's just gambling.
"Oooh! I am!" Arlo smiled, and then slumped down as he realized something. "Oh, but I'm not carrying much money on me..."
Bryce's smiled again, and the feeling came back tenfold. "We can wager something else. Like, maybe the winner gets to kiss Jay?"
Error. Error. Does not compute. Your monitor is currently overheating. Please shut it down and restart. Too late, the monitor is already on fucking fire, and the plastic is peeling away as the components are heated up hotter and hotter until they explode from expanding, and your favorite little mug with the sailor scouts on them is shattered by a fly-away piece of metal. The fire alarm isn't working either, so you are slowly, slowly burning. You try to leave, but you can't because you've been stunned by the sight of the flames licking at your face.
Even Arlo is startled for a moment, though he does a 180. "All right! Sounds good to me~"
"Wait. Slow down here, stop talking too fast. What is going on." But it's too late, things are spiraling out of control, and I only realize now that this is the true battle for dominance. Bryce is challenging Arlo for the official title, so that Arlo will fully submit to his will, and not do as he pleases with the other members of the pack. Why I'm involved, I have not the faintest fucking idea.
"It's simple Jay, we each pick a person, and if one of us picks the winner, we get to kiss you. If you win, you can pick which one of us you want to kiss. Nothing serious."
I don't really have a choice here, do I? If I don't, I don't even want to know what might happen. If I do it, I have a 1 in 3 chance of winning, and Arlo is basically harmless, so I can wave off his intentions, making me have a 2 in 3 chance of winning. The odds are in my favor. "Alright. I choose Thane."
"I'll take Lena!" Arlo cheers. He's not being very quiet about this. I question my earlier decision of trusting him with my secret.
"I'll be betting on Spencer then."
Arlo pumps his arms into the air in a cheering fashion, "C'mon, Lena! You can do it!"
Luckily for him, Lena doesn't even flinch from the loud volume of Arlo's voice, and continues playing at her own pace. Thane works here, and to work at an arcade, you would have to be good with video games (again, Marius is a prime example). Therefore, he had better win, or else I will exact my revenge on him, and make it slow and painful.
. . .
In the end, Lena is the one who emerges the shooting queen, which means that Arlo has defeated the former Alpha, and has taken the proverbial crown. He seems to know it too, because he's really giddy now.
"Oooh! Lena won!"
Spencer and Thane stared at Lena in awe of her video game proness. Eventually, Thane is able to spit something out. "W-Wow, Lena. You're... really good."
Arlo giggles (why is a man giggling?), "I get to kiss you now, right Jay?"
Arlo is still speaking loudly, it appears, because the other three's heads snap towards us like broken rubber bands, eyes wide.
"What?!" Spencer yells, unnecessarily loud. This place is too echo-y.
Thane sighed, "I knew it. You guys made some weird wager behind our backs, didn't you?"
Bryce chuckled, and rubbed the back of his neck. "Haha, sorry. It was my idea..."
Spencer moves in closer to (I assume) attack Arlo, "Stay away from her, you freak!"
"B-But I won the bet!" Arlo pouted, eyes glassy.
"...Well, he's right. I agreed to it, so I guess I should keep my word and just submit..." I mutter to myself, thinking aloud, "...J-Just a kiss on the cheek though, got it?"
"Okay!" Arlo chirped, and leaned down, cupping my face to plant a soft kiss against my cheek. It kind of burned. I must be sick or something.
"You guys shouldn't have so much free time with yourselves.. or else you'll probably come up with even more weird ideas." Spencer grumbled, leaving grumpily. Everyone else shuffles out of the arcade, leaving just me and Arlo behind. I plant my face in my hands once more, wondering how my life ever turned out this way.
"Bryce is really interesting, isn't he?" Arlo grins.
"You and him both." I mutter.
"Really? You think I'm interesting?" I look up to see Arlo's face but inches away, his eyes sparkling. I swear, I can almost see the dog ears, and the happy dog tail wagging at the hint of praise.
"...Uh, y-yeah. Sort of. Maybe. Just a little bit." Arlo sweeps me into yet another one of his bear hugs. This guy has some kind of issue, I swear.
"Aw, you think I'm interesting! You know what, Jay? You're my most favorite person to be around~"
"W-Wha-Why?!" I sputter, unable to think properly. I don't get it at ALL. What is this guy so happy about? How can somebody be one person's 'favorite', when they have not yet met the rest of the people in the world?
"It's because I like you~? I don't really need much of a reason, do I?"
"W-Well... you're weird!" I huff, knowing full well that I am acting like a complete child.
Arlo laughs at me, and ruffles my hair. "You're... kind of awkward, huh? There's nothing wrong with being awkward~ It's really cute!"
I bat his arm away, "You're as awkward as I am, you big oaf."
"We're kindred spririts then!" He paused, then pouted, "Do you really think I'm weird...?"
"Yeah," He slumps, and I roll my eyes, "It's not a bad thing, you know. Normal people are boring. If you were normal I wouldn't waste my time talking to you."
Arlo beamed at me, and gave me yet another hug. I begin to question my life choices that have led me to this point.
"Are you sure you guys want to go on this thing? What if it isn't running properly?" Thane's whining voice breaks through my mind barrier, and I open my eyes to look around while yawning. How in the hell did I get here? I swear I was sleeping at the pool area... I look at the dancing Arlo beside me, and frown. He has his arm looped around mine, and is most likely the one who dragged me here. Asshole.
"What are you, a mouse?" Spencer taunts.
"What? N-No!" Thane takes the bait. What a chump.
Bryce beams, his radiance outshining their hatred. "Isn't that perfect then? There's just enough seats for all of us!"
"Eee~" Arlo squeals, "This is going to be so much fun~!"
He jumps into the front seat, pulling me into it with him against my will. Not like I care, though. I would probably have been forced to sit next to him some way or another. The others pile into their own seats, and the ride comes to life. As we go up the first really tall hill, Arlo starts trying to iniate a conversation.
"This is so~ cool! We're getting closer and closer to the sky!" His voice suddenly takes on a more somber tone, "...I wonder what it would be like to go into outer space on a rocket ship..."
"Well, you could become an astronaut?" I doubt you'll actually get to go into space, given that our government has pretty much given up on our space program. They're too interested in the prices of small cafés and teenage addictions.
"Nah, I could never do it."
"Why not? It's your dream, right?" Arlo smiles sadly. It does not suit him. How do I get that look off of his face?
"Maybe if I had a rocket ship, I could..."
"Well, duh." You need a rocket ship to go to outer space, no exceptions. None. Unless you're Palkia or Rayquaza, and then it's okay.
"...If I had a rocket ship, I could go anywhere..." He pauses, then speaks slower, "...I could go anywhere..."
"What are you-" I'm cut off as we reach the top and jerk for just a moment as the gears shift to super-fucking-fast, rocketing us down the track. Arlo is cheering loudly, but I'm a little preoccupied with the various scenarios of the many, many things that can go wrong here. Luckily, the ride ends almost as quickly as it started.
As we get out, we all take notice of the fact that Bryce is carrying Thane like a princess. It's an amusing sight for the eyes.
Arlo is concerned, though. "Oh no, what happened to Thane?"
"Oh, he just fainted. He'll be fine." Bryce smiled brightly, disarming Arlo's concern.
Spencer snorts, "Wow, how lame is that?"
"Pretty lame." I nod in agreement. Spencer and I share a look of understanding, but it is ruined when Arlo moves right in front of me, blocking my eyesight.
"Jay! Jay, I'm really~ glad I got to sit next to you."
"I like being close to you, because I feel all fluffy and happy whenever you're near me."
"...But you always look happy." I point out in a futile attempt to make sense.
"Well, maybe that's because I've been around you so much lately~?" Arlo grins. He's right, I suppose. It's been like, a week since the bet at the arcade, and he won't stop following me around. I can't even sneak away for a nice nap without him popping up.
"In fact..." His voice took on a dangerous tone, and the look in his eyes made me worry for just a moment, "Let's go on the ferris wheel! I wanna ride!"
He started jumping up and down, repeating himself over and over again until everyone agreed and made their way towards the Xolga Wheel. I for one really like Xolga. He is a bear, and I like bears. Especially violent ones, and Xolga is exceptionally violent. He's also a serious bear that does what he must to do what he has to. A true man.
"Jay! Jay!" I suddenly realize Arlo is shaking me back and forth for some reason, "Wake up! We're gonna ride the ferris wheel~!"
"Yeah, but it looks like we'll have to split into groups. One cabin can't hold the six of us, it seems. I'm stuck with Arlo..." Thane grumbled.
"I'll go with Spencer~" Bryce gripped Spencer's shoulder tightly. I feel bad for him for some reason. That does not look like it will be a fun ride.
"...Who's Lena going with?" I ask.
"I'm... going to ride alone. Unless... you want to... ride with me...?" Lena stands a few feet away from the rest of the guys.
"Nooo~" Arlo whines, and rubs against my head, "Jay wants to go with us!"
I think I see Spencer's eye twitch, "Christ, let her make her own decisions, Arlo."
"...Nah, I'll go with Arlo and Thane, I guess..." I have a feeling Arlo won't let it go if I don't.
. . .
I was seated on the far right, with Thane on my left, and Arlo sitting all the way across from me. Arlo looked kind of lonely by himself.
"Awww~! How come I don't get to sit next to Jay~?" He began whining with his glassy eyes. I'm starting to think he is doing this on purpose.
"Th-There will be way too much weight on this side if you sit over here." Thane wasn't looking too good. I swear, if he throws up I am tossing him out of this cabin.
"Well... let's switch seats then! I wanna sit by Jay." Arlo smiles, and I can feel the same danger emanating from him that was coming off of Bryce at the arcade. Well, fuck.
"No, the cabin will rock if we move too much." Thane shoots him down. What a fucking idiot, now he will unleash the Alpha male wrath.
"...Okay." Arlo gives up easily, and looks out the window. He stands up, and starts jumping up and down in his seat. "Wow!"
I dig my fingernails into the seat cushions to prevent me from falling anywhere, but Thane is having no such luck. In fact, he is in the midst of having a panic attack.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? DON'T STAND UP!"
"Everything looks sooo~ amazing from up here!"
"Look, look! There's the café!"
"You're not doing any good screaming my ears off because you're freaking out." I roll my eyes.
"B-But... we're... so high up!"
"Yeah. And it's highly likely that the device holding us to the ferris wheel will snap off and break sometime soon. What's your point?"
"I'm not scared!"
"I didn't even ask that?"
"OH! There's the carousel over there! Jay~ look at it!"
"Arlo...! P-Please...!" Arlo stopped jumping momentarily to look down at us while smiling widely. A sure sign of evil.
"Are you guys seeing all of this? You're totally missing out!"
"Arlo." I look up at him, and use the deadest voice I have, "Get over here and sit your dumb ass down before I tear off both your legs."
"Sure!" He beamed, and shoved Thane aside so he could sit next to me, clinging to my side again.
"...H-Huh?" Thane was momentarily stunned. "What are you doing?!"
"This wouldn't have happened if you had just let him do what he wanted, Thane..." I shook my head at his sad, sad life. He looks so freaked out. Too bad, he has only himself to blame.
Arlo detaches himself to me to look out the window once more, "Ah! There's the cinema!"
"NO!" Thane lunges for him, his sanity having snapped, and tries to strangle Arlo.
"GYAH!" Arlo manages to get out before he gets into a small fight with Thane that lasts the rest of the ride. I just sit there, cleaning my fingernails. It's not my problem what the idiots do.
We were unable to do anything else that day, because Thane was having a fit, so the next day we all gathered at the movie theater. We would be going swimming afterwards, an event that I was dreading. It's embarrassing that I'm on the swim team back home, but without my goggles I can't defend myself against the watery grave site.
"We're watching a movie~" Arlo sang off-key. I was this close from hitting him; he was singing this right next to my ears, and it hurt. My ears are sensitive!
Spencer sighed, "Do you have to get excited over every single little thing we do?"
"I want to sit in the front!" Arlo acted as though he never heard Spencer talk. Impressive.
"Anywhere is fine for me." Bryce smiles, having accepted that he was no longer the Alpha male, it seems. A good sport?
"Where do you want to sit, Jay?" I have no clue why Thane was asking me anything, but it would have been rude to ignore him so blatantly.
"I'll sit in the back."
. . .
In the front was Thane, Lena, and Arlo. The back was occupied by Bryce, Spencer, and me. I couldn't really see the screen, since Arlo was too tall, but that's fine, I guess... Not like I wanted to watch a movie...
"It's so dark...!" Arlo squealed. This guy... seriously. What is up with him?
"Shut up and be quiet you dumbass!" Spencer scolded him.
Arlo disregards Spencer once more, and turns around in his seat to peer over the top of it at me. "Jay, are you scared? I'll sit by you!"
"C'mon~ I wanna sit next to you!" Arlo stood up, and skipped back to where we were sitting, dancing in front of Spencer.
"Get out of the way! You're blocking the screen!"
Bryce leaned forward in his seat to talk with Thane, completely ignoring us. "Do they sell popcorn here?"
"Well, it IS a movie theater...? Should we get some?" Thane joined Bryce's attempt to ignore us.
"Move, please!" Arlo asked/ordered.
"I'm sitting here, you butt."
"But I wanna sit next to Jay!" Arlo whined.
"Well too fucking late! You said you wanted to sit in the front!"
"I changed my mind!"
"Actually, I'm more in the mood for nachos. Do they have that here too?"
Thane shook his head, "No, I don't think they have nachos."
Secretly, I wonder why they don't sell nachos here. They sold them at the cinema in LRR!, so why not here? I guess reality can't be as great as games... *Sigh*
"Spencerrrrrr~! C'monnnnn~! Pleaseee~?"
"I said no! All of you, shut the hell up!" While those two were fighting, I had slipped into the seat Arlo was previously occupying to watch the movie. Lena and I shared a look of understanding, and watched the movie as best we could. Given, I made small comments on what I thought every couple of seconds.
After we left the theater, I slammed my fist down onto Arlo's skull as punishment for ruining the movie. He cried some fake tears, and I walked off without him. When I got just outside of the pool house, I found Thane just staring at a wall. What the hell?
"What are you doing?" Thane jumps, and turns around to see that it's just me, the moose appreciator.
"Oh, Jay. I was just... thinking, I guess." He took out his phone to stare blankly at it. I wonder if the ferris wheel stunt rendered him brain dead. "'When falling damp tree unveils ghost'... it has to mean something, right?"
"I already shared my insight with you."
Thane sighed, "Yes, yes, I remember. If you were even partially correct, doesn't that mean somebody's going to die?"
"...Oh. I suppose I'd rather be wrong, then." A death on my conscience would ruin me.
"Why? You don't know, maybe somebody really will die."
I stayed quiet, thinking through my hypothesis one more time. I don't see anything that was wrong with it, even if I go into more detail. My explanations are flawless, always. This is because I am flawless. Nah, not really... but I wish I were.
"...I was just kidding, you know." I sighed, my brain overloaded.
"S-Sorry, did I scare you...?"
"No, it's just that I was... thinking about things. You could be right, and I could actually be making sense for once."
"'Remember that time where everything made sense? Yeah, me neither'." Seeing my incredulous look, he continues, "A direct quote from our Spencer. It might just be one of the few things he's said that I actually like, but I hate how he always jumps to conclusions."
"Well, you have to reach a conclusion eventually..." I defend my brethren, because we both seem to have that habit.
"Well, you shouldn't try to be like him. Jumping to conclusions never helped anyone. It's like love. You-"
"How is it like love? I don't get it." I cut him off, confused. Why do most things come back to love?
"I-It was just an analogy..."
"Oh, okay." I nod, and enter the pool house to change in the girl's changing room. No more moose pajamas. It is time for my swim-team swimsuit (the only swimsuit I bother to own); a dark blue one-piece that exposes some of my back, and has a little decal of a shark on it. It's cute.
As I enter the actual pool area, I make it just in time to see Thane and Spencer having another throw-down. It seems that Thane has issues with Spencer not wearing a pair of swim trunks.
"I wasn't planning on going to the pool." Spencer huffs and turns away, exposing his back to the enemy. A poor choice.
"Can you not swim or something?"
Spencer is starting to get angry, and whips around to face Thane, "I can swim FINE, thank you very much."
"Really? Good." Thane somehow pickpockets Spencer, robbing him of his phone, and tosses it off to the side. Somehow, it doesn't break. Must be one of those fancy new phones. Then, without any warning at all, shoves Spencer into the pool. Clothes and all.
Spencer doesn't come up for about a minute, and when he does he is thrashing like a rabid badger. "IDIOT...! YOU FUCKING IDIOT! GET DOWN HERE, I'M GOING TO KILL YOU! Why are you just standing there like a fucking statue?! Come and fight me like a real man! I'm going to fucking hold your stupid ass head under water until you drown!"
"There you go, that's the spirit!" Thane gives him a thumbs up, and jumps in so that they can engage in a vicious fist fight. You cannot even tell who is winning. Spencer's face looks funny.
"Play nice, you two." Bryce warns from his lounge chair, shades on like a boss.
Arlo slowly backs away from the two, "Spencer is scary..."
After thoroughly coating myself in sunscreen (I burn easily), I sit on the edge of the pool near Arlo, kicking my feet in the water. I may not be able to swim in it (why is there no fucking shallow end?), but I can still play in the water, I guess. Arlo swims towards me, and pulls me in by one of my legs.
"Hweh!" I squeak as I fall into the current bane of my existence. I flail and kick the water, trying to stay afloat, and finally I just decide that clinging to the shirtless Arlo is better than dying.
"Haha! What are you doing, Jay?" Arlo smiles, using one arm to help me stay afloat.
"I... can't swim without goggles. They don't sell goggles here, so I can't really swim." Arlo pauses, and seems to think his actions through. Soon enough, he arrives at the correct conclusion, and starts apologizing.
"I-I'm sorry! Do you want me to give you a piggyback ride? It'll be fun!"
"...Alright. Sounds okay..."
Arlo can apparently swim much faster than I thought he could. I sit back down on the edge of the pool, thoroughly dizzy. He crosses his arms onto the edge beside me, and rests his head on his arms, looking up at me.
"Do you want another piggyback ride around the pool?"
"N-No, I'm good." I huff.
"Do you want to have a splash fight like Spencer and Thane?" I look in the direction of the aforementioned duo, who are still going at it. That is dedication.
"No, we're better than them. Let's just rest for a bit, I'm kind of sleepy..." I yawn.
"Okay~" He chirped, and the two of us were silent for a short period of time. Sadly, Arlo can't seem to stand silence. "...Hey, can I ask you something, Jay?"
"You just did, but I'll allow you to ask another question." I lean back so that I'm lying on the hot asphalt, and close my eyes. I'm too tired to sit up.
"...If I suddenly disappeared, how would you feel?" Arlo's somber tone made me open my eyes, and move my head sideways so that I can see him better.
"Would you... miss me?" The look on his face is too serious and sad for my tastes. I shuffle around, uncomfortable. I don't do well with pressure.
"I... don't know." Arlo blinked, surprised.
"Well, the situation you described hasn't happened yet... so how can I know how I'll feel unless it actually happens?" My eyebrows furrow as I try to explain myself in an easy-to-understand manner, "...Oh, but it's... not like I would even want that to happen in the first place."
"...You... You think a lot, don't you, Jay?" Arlo's voice is full of wonder and disbelief.
"What makes you say that?" He gets a mischievous look to his face.
"Well, don't most people just guess something whenever they're asked a question like that? It really is hard to tell how you're going to feel before something actually happens..." He frowns, "...Feelings are mysterious like that... especially the sad ones. We all know that eventually, we'll have to say goodbye to everyone we meet, whether they're going far away, or are at the end of their life... but goodbyes are still so sad, aren't they?"
To be honest, I wouldn't know. I don't interact with enough people to know how a goodbye feels like. The only goodbye I've ever had was when my computer died, and I lost all the games I had purchased, and the game company wouldn't help me out, so I had to buy a new copy of LRR(!). I cried about that, but that's not the same, is it? Would I be sad if Arlo disappeared? I honestly don't know. I did have one previous friend that truly did just disappear suddenly, and I was sad for a short while, but then I moved on with my life. It was her own decision to leave me behind, and I cannot blame her for finding me boring, or a hindrance to her. It's just how humans are; we keep those we find convenient around us, and get rid of them when it suits us.
However... if I'm being honest with myself, I don't want Arlo to go far away. It's like I'm Hisao, and he's Lily (except he's not blind), and I don't want him to go. Wouldn't that mean I like him, though...?
"...Jay, your face is getting kind of red." Arlo looks amused at something.
"What? Maybe I got sunburn...?" I don't remember putting any on my face, because I don't like putting that stuff on my face.
"Oh no, are you okay?" Arlo starts poking various parts of my face to see if it hurts, which is a dumb purpose, but whatever.
...He's touching my face though. This is kind of embarrassing.
"I'm fine... stop touching me."
Arlo looks even more dangerous as he flashes me an evil-looking smirk. "If I kissed your face, would it get better?"
He smiles as his question slowly sinks in, and he watches as the words slowly work their way through my thought process.
He wants to kiss? Kiss my face...?
I think back to the days where I played Tokimeki 24/7. Was there a guy who wanted to kiss my face? Chris something? He was bubbly and touchy-feely like Arlo, wasn't he? I found him kind of annoyingly cute, but Arlo's not annoying at all. Is it because he's a real person? A real person that I can talk to without the limits of the dialogue, or touch if I wanted to?
Arlo is real.
"..Wh-Whaat..?" My eyes feel like their spinning. I'm thinking too much. Is it the heat? I don't do well with the heat.
"Just kidding! Haha, your face got even redder~"
"You... you're weird..."
"You're so cute when you freak out!" He paused, and looked up at the sky, "But if the sun was a person, maybe I could ask him to stop burning you..."
"That's... a weird thought." Arlo smiles, laughing.
By the time everyone leaves the pool, it's evening. As I walk past the front entrance to go sleep at the café, I spot Arlo standing at the very front, just... staring out of the glass dome. I try calling him out.
No response. I walk up next to him, and try again.
"Huh?" He turns his slightly to his right, spotting me right away despite the height difference, and smiles. It feels... different, somehow. "Oh, Jay."
"I was looking at something... outside of the wall."
"Yeah?" I indulge him without asking any questions one would normally ask. I can somehow sense that he just needs a good chat right now.
"This glass wall... it's like a prison, isn't it? It sets the boundaries for us, and doesn't allow us to leave..." He grimaces, "...but, since the glass is clear, we can see through it. Do you... like how the wall is made of glass?"
I turn to face the glass dome as well, looking outside at the city with no people. The scenery is the same, and just as colorful as the amusement park. East Cigam has been known for its beautiful parks and greenery. It's an eco-friendly place.
"...Yeah, I like it."
Arlo smiles, "I like it too. Even though the glass limits our freedom, it at least lets us see the outside world. The world would feel a lot smaller if we couldn't see beyond the dome... if all we saw when we looked up was pure darkness. Sometimes reality is more important than happiness and ignorance, right...?"
"Mmm. Yeah." I pause, watching the sun go down. The night soon encompasses us, and the stars come out to play. "...Do you want to hang out?"
. . .
"Ahaha! It's a beautiful night~" Arlo skips around the carousel. I'm sitting on the edge of the metal part that keeps it anchored to the ground, watching him go round'n'round.
"Calm down before you hurt yourself."
Arlo pauses in his fun right in front of me, and then lies down, placing his head directly into my lap, taking me by surprise. I blink, trying to figure out if this is really happening, and my face heats up when I realize that this is, in fact, happening.
"...What are you doing?"
"Stargazing! Stars are pretty, aren't they?" He smiles cheekily at me, completely ignoring what I really mean. "They remind me of you~"
Arlo raises one arm up towards the sky, "Even when you're really far away, your light still reaches me..."
But I haven't been able to leave his sight ever since I found him, because he keeps following me around... what's his point?
He continues, a heartbreaking look in his eyes, "When I feel sad, I think about you, and then I feel better."
"Glad to be of some service." I roll my eyes, and freeze when his outstretched arm moves to cup my cheek.
"Jay, do you like me?"
"...W-What?" I have a moment of inner panic, "...Well, y-yeah, I guess. Who wouldn't like you...? You're... really nice(?)."
"...I wonder... What could I do to make you like me even more?"
"Huh?" My brain ceases to function properly. What does he mean? I already said I like him. How could one like a person more than liking them?
"Do you like candy?"
"Do you like shiny things?"
"Wh-What?" Shiny things? Is he talking about jewelry?
"Do you like flowers...?"
"Not really... What's with all the questions?"
"What do you like the most, Jay? I like you. I like you a lot, Jay. I'm really glad I got the opportunity to meet everyone. I've never had this many friends before... but, I don't mind it when you're the only one around me. I like those times the most, actually. I like everyone here, and I like a lot of things... but I like you the most."
He rambles on, since I haven't really responded at all. "What do you like the most, Jay? I'll get you lots of it, so that I can become the one you like most."
"That... would be difficult." I struggle to speak what I want without losing my concentration. Arlo's face falls for a moment. "It would be difficult to become the one I like most... because you're already... the one I like the most."
"Y-Yeah." I stutter, incredibly embarrassed. It was much easier when I was all by myself, and didn't have to talk to anyone... but, this isn't so bad. Having other people around who will listen to your problems, and just hang around with you for fun, even if you have nothing to do. Having people who appreciate you...
I like it.
Arlo doesn't seem to be able to fully grasp what I'm saying, "I'm... really the one Jay likes the most...?"
"Yeah. Can I stand up...? My legs have fallen asleep..." I try to get up, but Arlo prevents it.
"No, wait. Can we stay like this just a little bit longer...? The moonlight reflecting off of your eyes are really beautiful." Arlo sits up a little to move closer to me, and pulls my face in closer to his.
He kisses me.
A week past by, and Arlo was even clingier than usual. I ignored the looks the others would sometimes give Arlo for being too 'close', but it was interesting how much more often Spencer would start trying to fight Arlo. Speaking of Spencer, he had assembled the others to come to his spot where he writes on the wall (also my favorite spot to nap), but forgot to inform Arlo. I feel like it was intentional. In any case, he appeared to have solved the puzzling text we had received before we went searching for the robot parts.
When falling damp tree unveils ghost turned into giving up all self worth means the end.
"It was an anagram." I deadpan. I'm kind of disappointed that I was, in fact, wrong in my explanation.
"But what does it mean?" Thane sighed. Is he that unwilling to admit that Spencer has finally bested him once and for all?
Spencer turned away from the group to face the dome, looking over his writings. "...If I'm right, the numbers all represent our values and dignity. The more selfless we become, the lower our number gets, and vice versa."
"...What?" Bryce was still confused somehow. I don't get how, because that was a perfectly simple explanation.
"Don't you 'What' me! You're the psychology student! You should know exactly what I'm talking about!" Spencer snaps at him, making Bryce recoil.
"O-oh! You're talking about giving value vs. taking value, right? Giving value makes other people feel better about themselves; giving compliments, gifts, and being friends are an example of such." Suddenly, Bryce took on a more serious tone, "On the other hand, a person with low self-esteem may try to take value from others to make themselves feel better instead. In short: bullying... but in this situation, we don't have much of a choice but to take value sometimes. As you are surely implying, I think that when we take value, we drain it directly from the one who gives it to us?"
Spencer and I are in awe that the stupid, stupid Bryce actually managed to sound reasonable instead of goofy. "Y-Yeah."
I hit my open palm with my fist, "Ah, then that's why my number got so low that time when I bought lunch with Mel's cash."
"What if everything you've said is just a coincidence?" Thane continues to be a huge asshole and tries to undermine Spencer's success.
Spencer glares at him, "I've been working on this ever since we compared our numbers that first time. I was so sure that it was our interactions that affected them, but I didn't have a concrete reason why yet. I experimented a bit on you guys, and filled the holes in my hypothesis. Whenever I did something for the sake of somebody else, my number lowered, and when somebody made me feel better about myself, my number increased."
"Alright then, how do you suppose we raise our numbers without taking value from others?" Bryce questioned. It was a reasonable question, but I don't think it had a reasonable response.
"I don't think that's possible. I think that the values are like energy and matter; they can't be destroyed, nor created. They just keep being exchanged amongst us. I've done the math multiple times, and our five numbers always add up to 100 exactly. If I'm correct... one of us could be stuck in this place forever."
"...Mmm. I get it." I nod, "So, because they always equal 100, four of us could leave, but somebody would be left behind with the 100 because they have no one to exchange values with. We just don't know if we die or not when we reach zero."
It was a subject that the others were uncomfortable with, but it was something we had to face eventually.
"Reaching zero is like death in the normal word," Thane sighs, "nobody knows what happens to a person after they die, and nobody wants to test it for themselves."
I frown to myself.
I knew what was going on.
"our five numbers always add up to 100"
Five. Not six. It's like the missing robot parts symbolized the six of us: six of them scattered all over the place, but slowly coming together to form a group that sticks together. Without one of those parts, the robot will slowly break down and fall apart again.
And then, Bryce opened his big mouth. "What about Arlo? If our five numbers always add up 100, then what about him? Does he not give or take values...?"
Spencer narrowed his eyes, "...You know, my number has never changed after I've interacted with him. I knew there was something off about him the moment I layed eyes on him..."
They were looking at me, expecting an answer from me. I'm around him the most, so of course I would be the one who could describe his effect the most.
My mouth is in a firm line, not exactly frowning. "My number has never been affected by talking with Arlo, and he has still not found his phone yet."
I can see the suspicion of him in their eyes, and feel the anger boiling up inside of me, but before I can explode at them, the entire park flips out. The colors are shifted, the objects are see through, and there are numbers falling from the sky. Everything inside of me disappears as I look at the changes.
"What's going on!?" The others are panicking. I don't know why. The colors are very pretty...
Thane grunts, "This just has to be Arlo's doing...! I don't know how he can possibly be doing this, but this has to stop!"
Spencer nods, "There are five of us. If we all spread out and search different areas of the park, we should be able to pin him down easily!"
They split up to search various areas of the park, reminding me of when we were looking for those robot parts. If the purpose is to find Arlo, then... I might know where to go.
Just as I expected, Arlo was standing at the front entrance, similar to how he was a week ago when he was looking outside of the dome. At the time, I had thought it was weird how off he seemed, but... he must have been thinking about this. I quietly moved up next to him, and sighed loudly.
"It's... you, isn't it? The one that's doing this?" I flickered my eyes to look at him, watching as he jumped, saw it was just me, and looked at the different emotions flash through his face.
Shock. Regret. Fear... and Guilt.
It's always been Arlo.
"...I-I'm sorry, Jay..." He whimpered, trying not to look at me.
"I just... my heart is just a tad unstable at the moment, because I realized something... b-but don't worry! You're safe here, Jay. I won't let anything happen to you. You're my... most important person." Arlo exhaled shakily, and I wondered if he had been crying. "I-I... was hoping that you guys would never find out, so that days like yesterday could continue, but... I don't know. I don't know what to do, Jay..."
"...I don't know what to do either." I rub my face, frustrated. I have no energy to be angry.
Arlo frowned, heartbroken. "Please... don't look like that... I feel really sad when you look like that. I want you to be happy... I'm sorry. Since I'm responsible for all this, I have to make things right, don't I?"
"It's up to you, Arlo..." I pat his shoulder, "...but I'm not angry."
. . .
We stood there in silence as we waited for the others to find us. It didn't take long, since there are only so many places in the park one can be. However, even when they all gathered around, nobody said a word. Nobody looked at each other, and nobody was smiling.
I didn't like it.
I elbow Arlo in the side, "Get started Arlo. What are the numbers?"
He gave us a sad smile, "...They're happy points. You give them to someone when you make them happy, and you get points when you are made happy by someone else. Some people give more than they take because they don't think about themselves enough..." He gestures towards me, "...others take more than they give because humans are naturally born wanting things... However, I think that the best relationships are when people both give and take. I wanted to be sure that you guys would all get along... so that's why I assigned you guys those numbers."
I frown internally. I'm... not a nice person. I refuse to accept otherwise. If I was nice, I wouldn't stalk people.
If I was nice, I would have stopped the twat-my sister- from strangling Mel. I would have stopped her from raging in the arcade.
If I was nice, I would pay better attention to the people around me. I would have been nicer to them. I would have more friends.
If I was nice... would I even be here?
Thane took a step forward, not paying any heed to my inner turmoil. "...What are you?"
"I'm a hamadryad." I search my brain. A hamadryad... the nymphs that live in a tree? So he's a tree spirit, then.
Lena gasped, "A real one?"
"So, you aren't like us after all..." Bryce was in awe, which makes sense, I guess. Psychology is of the mind, and nymphs could be a figment of the imagination. But it's not: Arlo is real.
"I-I'm s-sorry guys... it's all my fault that you guys are stuck here." Arlo sniffed, "This is my home that I based off of the real amusement park... but it's lonely. I was here all by myself, with no friends... and I wanted to have a real friend, so I opened a path for people who were also lonely to come to my world..." He sniffed again, "A-And this has been the most fun I've ever had...! Th-Thanks... I-I...!" Arlo burst into tears, "I-I'm terrible! I lied to all t-to all of you, and now you all h-hate me..!"
I purse my lips, and pat his shoulder again. "Arlo, I already said I wasn't mad, and I meant it. I don't hate you."
The others remained silent and distant. We all stand around as Arlo cries his little heart out, and I think back to the puzzle. The tree is Arlo, and so is the ghost, because Arlo is a tree spirit. The 'falling' was the amusement park breaking down because the others would eventually figure out that the tree was at fault. The falling tree is damp because Arlo is crying over his mistakes.
"...I'm pissed as fuck." Spencer grumbled.
"Is now really the time for that?" I narrow my eyes.
"No, Jay. Think about it for a moment. We've been trapped in here for weeks, wondering what was going on, and..." He sighed, "Arlo, if you had just explained to us from the beginning that you just wanted to be friends with us, I would have stayed. Sure, this place is kind of shitty, but I would still have stayed. You didn't need to make a giant glass dome, and assign all these crazy numbers. You should have trusted us more.
"I-I'm sorry... you're right, Spencer. Real friends trust each other with their secrets, don't they?"
Thane gave a deeper sigh than usual, "But... real friends also forgive each other."
Bryce grinned, "Yep~ Be more honest with us, and we should have no problems in the future."
"Well, now that that's all done and over with, what the hell can we do about it?"
"...Th-Thank you." Arlo grinned, with tears streaming down his face. "Thank you..."
There was a flash of bright white light, and then all of the colors were themselves again, the objects were solid, and everything was colorful. It was like the classic ending to any game, where you get the true ending, and the happy music starts pumpin' up your mood, and you start crying.
Bryce ran his hand through the water fountain that was previously broken, "Everything's back to normal..."
"So, our numbers are actually how many 'happy points' we have..." Thane rubs his chin in thought.
"And 'giving up all self worth means the end' really means that we'll return to our world once we give away all of our 'happy points'." Spencer finishes.
"That's right. When your happy points drop to zero, you can all go home... So... you can leave if you want."
"W-wait. Won't somebody be left behind with all 100?" Spencer frowns.
Arlo smiles, "Don't worry, I'll be sure to give them a special escort back."
"All 100 happy points, huh? That person would certainly feel pretty special, wouldn't they?" Bryce chuckled.
"Heehee...You're right, but there's an even better side to the happy point system! Even when you give away your happy points, you'll still feel happy!" Arlo sighed, "Again, sorry. If you guy will ever come visit me ever again, I promise I won't use the happy points system anymore. It's just that I was afraid that nobody would try and get along if I didn't use it, but I realize that's wrong now. Incentives weren't needed after all."
Arlo looks down at me, and wraps his arms around me as he plants a big kiss on my cheek. The others are somewhat upset, especially Spencer.
"What are you doing?" Thane questions.
"Jay gets a special thank you kiss, because she was always on my side!" He paused, and his smile stretched wide. "But you guys also cheered my up, so thank you kisses for everyone!"
Arlo took one step forward with his arms stretched out, "C'mere you guys~"
Spencer was the first to run off, "Stay away from me!"
Next was Thane, "You don't understand modern culture at all...!"
"I-I'll pass..." Bryce slowly backed away, and Lena had already disappeared.
Arlo skipped towards where they were, pouting. "Aw, c'mon guys..."
Now it was only us. I somehow felt that this wouldn't be a one-time occurrence. Arlo broke my train of thought. "Everyone here is an incomplete person by themselves. Because I only invited those who were lonely to come here... but I hope they all find the happiness they're looking for."
He paused, and turned to me. "Don't worry about me, Jay. I'm okay now. I found my happiness in you... guys. You guys."
"Good to hear."
The first to leave was Bryce.
I found Bryce lurking outside the movie theater, looking sad about something. I had raised a hand in greeting. "'Yo, Bryce."
He was startled, "...H-Hi..."
"What're you doin'?"
Bryce brought his phone out, and flipped it open to show me his Saki wallpaper. "Well, I guess I was about to leave, but..."
"...Ah. Your number..." I frowned, "You were going to leave without even saying goodbye to everyone?"
"W-Well, I always get upset when I have to say goodbye to others... especially when it's highly likely we'll never meet again..." Bryce sighed.
"What are you talking about? Aren't we... friends?" I was still getting used to the word. Like I've said before, I don't get much real interaction with others.
"Once we return to our everyday lives, time and distance will naturally separate us, right? We could always exchange phone numbers and emails, but it's... hard to maintain relationships with people you never see... But this was bound to happen. We can't stay here forever, we have a life to return to."
I stood there, silently taking in what he's saying.
Bryce smiled, "You'll be going home soon too, right?"
"Then... I'll give you my last happy point. You are the most amazing, wonderful, and nicest person in the world, Jay."
"...Wh-What?" I staggered back, stunned.
"It's a compliment." His body turned white as he disappeared, "Goodbye, Jay."
Nobody had ever given me a compliment for no reason before...
The next one to leave was Thane.
Thane was hanging around the women's restroom, in the exact spot he had been standing when we found Cashy, broken and unusable.
"Are you leaving, Thane?"
"...Yeah, my time's about up." He sighed, "I'll be going back to the real world, right...?"
"Yeah, Bryce has already gone, so you'll definitely be going home."
Thane stared at his phone, "...I don't think I could work another day in this place and not think about everything that happened here to us. It's going to feel so weird."
"Are you still going to work here at the amusement park?"
He shrugged, "I don't know yet. I still have to give one last happy point before I can go, right?"
"Want my phone number?"
I blinked, "What?"
"We should hang out sometime. I don't know. We could do something, or you could text me if you want to talk."
"...Sure." I bring my phone out, and we exchange numbers.
"...It's funny how people can walk in and out of our lives, huh?" Thane sighed, "Well, it's been nice, I guess. Later." His body turned white as he disappeared just like Bryce.
He wants to hang out with me?
Lena was next.
"...Lena?" I walked up behind her. It was evening, and the sun was setting. She was looking up at the ferris wheel as it went around in a circle.
"What're you doing here?" But I knew.
"Um... I..." She took out her phone, confirming my fear, "I only have one happy point left... I'll finally be going home."
She stared at her feet, crossing her arms over her chest, "But it was... nice. Meeting everyone here... I had lots of fun. I have to give something to lose my last happy point, right?"
I nodded, and she hummed as she thought of what her final act would be. "...'Lena's role model' sounds nice..."
"'Lena's role model'?"
"It's a new title, for you. You're not just a friend... but a role model as well." She looked up at me, and smiled as the light took her away. "I hope to be like you one day, Jay."
Somebody wants to be more like me...?
Then there was only Spencer and I.
I had seen Spencer at the roller coaster before I talked with Lena, and now that I had 99 happy points... I knew he was at his limit. I walked up to Spencer.
"Hey." Spencer was the first to speak.
"It's time, huh?"
He looked down, "...Yeah, I finally get to leave..." He looks back up at me, "You'll be leaving soon too, right?"
"W-Well, yeah. I'll be.. right behind you."
Spencer stared at me, "Well, good. I have to give away my last happy point to you in order to leave, so... I'll give you my gratitude."
"Yeah. If you weren't here, this whole experience would definitely have sucked more. I swear, sometimes it was like you were the only one who really understood what I was trying to say... So, thanks. We should go out sometime." He blinks, and then his face burns red, "I-I meant as a group with the others! Not as in a d-date...!"
"See you in a bit." Spencer waves as he disappears.
He liked me.
And then there was one.
I didn't even need to wander around to find him in this almost empty park, there was only one part of the park that was lit up; the carousel. It still wasn't running, but it was still beautiful. I've always loved the carousel...
I approached Arlo, who swung around to face me. "Hi Jay. It's... just the two of us now, huh?"
He grins sheepishly, "Well, there's no one else around for you to exchange happy points with anymore. Congratulations, Jay. You finally let somebody make you happy for once in your life. You deserve every happy point in the world."
"...So, what now?... What should I do now, Arlo?"
"That's not for me to decide, is it? I'd like for you to stay here forever with me, but... that'd be selfish on my part. You have an entire life ahead of you, that's waiting to get started. You have friends now, friends who appreciate you, and like you for who you really are. This... may be a 'goodbye', but... sometimes, you have to say 'goodbye' in order to say 'hello'." Arlo smiles, and I know that this may be the last time he smiles like this in front of me. "Meeting you has been the best thing to ever happen to me... I wish I could leave this place, and play with you all in the real world... but I can't. I can't be by your side, because God didn't make me good enough for you, Jay..."
I frown, and feel a tear slip down my cheek for the first time in a long, long time as Arlo continued to talk. "I've... already accepted the fact that someday, you'll fall in love with somebody else... and that person will be able to make you happier than I can."
"...Thank you, Arlo. I think... that I can only move forward in my life because of you. I didn't want to talk with anyone before this. They didn't interest me, and nobody bothered to really try and get to know me... So, even if I do move on, I'll always remember you. You're my most important person in the world too, you know." I smirk, "And hey, who says that we're not ever going to meet again? I'll come back here, again, and again, and again until I meet that person. You're my best friend, Arlo."
Arlo looks at me, and then kneels as he kisses one of my hands. Almost like a knight does to his lady. "Thank you, Jay. I'll be waiting for you at the entrance..."
When I open my eyes, I'm at the entrance of the amusement park. I move close to the front gates, and place my fingers against where the glass would have been.
"I'm... really outside...?"
"There's Jay~" I hear Bryce's cheery voice coming up behind me, and see the four of them coming towards me, all of them together.
"We've been waiting for you." Thane nodded his head in greetings. Lena smiled at me.
"You guys... seriously...? So..." I was stunned that they had really been here, waiting for me to return from Arlo's world.
"Yep, welcome back to reality, Jay." Spencer rolled his eyes, standing at the back of the group, not meeting my eyes.
"It felt like we were there for weeks, but it seems like only a few hours have actually passed." Thane scratched his head.
"So, should we leave, or go do something...?" Spencer looked around.
"Actually, Arlo said... he'd be waiting for us outside of the front entrance."
"Really?" Bryce grinned.
"Well, then let's leave already!" Spencer huffed, dragging us outside of the park gates. It felt weird standing outside of where the dome had been. Unnatural, almost.
I look around, but there's no Arlo in sight. Only a damn tree. "...I guess I'm not too surprised. Arlo can't leave his world, after all."
Spencer tapped my shoulder, and pointed at the stupid tree. "He's right here, Jay. Clever ass used his name to tell us where he was. 'Arlo' means 'barberry tree'."
"A hamadryad, huh?" Thane hummed, looking at the tree up and down.
"Well, Greek mythology says that they are beings that live in trees. Maybe it's more like trapped?" Bryce quips.
"Oh..." Lena breathes. I stare at the tree, trying to process how a tree is Arlo. I know it's true, but... a tree. I can't see this tree as Arlo.
Thane takes his phone out, and waves it all over the place. "Hey, we should all exchange phone numbers."
"What?" Spencer blinks, his eyes wide.
"So we can hang out? Do you not want to, or something?"
Spencer shakes his head, "N-no, it's just... you guys don't mind that I'm like this?"
"Don't be a party pooper. Even if I hate you, you're not a bad guy." We all exchange numbers with each other, and I end up having to give Thane my number again. "I tried texting you after Spencer came back, but all I got was a message telling me that you were going to tear off all my limbs when you find me, and then burn the remains. That doesn't sound like you..."
I blink, "But... I didn't get any message from you?" I look at the phone in my hands, and realize why my background wasn't Yuri Lowell. "...Oh! I must have grabbed my sister's phone instead of mine when we left the pool. That would mean that she's the one messaging you... sorry."
"Well, at least you know where it is." He snorts.
Bryce claps his hands together, "Hey, how about we all meet up here next week? I'll make us a nice picnic, and we can eat right here!"
Lena looks up at him, "With Arlo?"
"Of course! I'm sure he'd love our company. It has to be boring standing here all day long by himself. Maybe in the future, we could also visit Arlo's world again for some fun!"
"Only if the asshole keeps his word and doesn't use that goddamn happy points system." Spencer grumbles. "I can't believe we're actually talking to a tree right now..."
I smile, and laugh. "We must look like we're demented! Pffft..."
The others stare at me as I laugh, and it slowly dies out. "What?"
"It's just... that's the first time you've ever looked happy." Bryce's mouth twitches into a smile as well.
"Well, it's the first time I've felt happy in a long time." My phone starts blasting out the shittiest ringtone that I've ever heard, courtesy of Kat. I pick it up, "Hello...?"
"WHERE THE FUCKING HELL ARE YOU? YOU NEVER CAME BACK FROM THE PARK! I'M AT THE DAMN CAFÉ. WHY IS SOME STRANGER TEXTING ME?" My sister's wonderful voice destroys my eardrums. I promptly end the call, and stick her phone back into my pocket.
"Er, it looks like I have to go now before she kills the innocent bystanders. Seeya next week." I wave as I go back into the amusement park, but I take one final glance back at Arlo's tree.
I may not be nice right now... but someday, I'll be the nicest person in the whole world.
Thank you for the happiness, Arlo.