Tipping the Scale
"You're kidding me, right? I am correct in assuming that this…what's the word…shit? This shit is all just the psycho babble of a raving lunatic who just so happened to stumble into me?"
"No, sweet-cheeks, this is all true."
That? That was the conversation that my dear, dear friend (that means jerk-face idiot) Ryan was holding with me approximately two months ago. Something about how our school had just been blown up. I don't really remember. I think it may have been a tourist (that means terrorist) attack. We do, after all, live in the very important city of Harklam, Ohio. Oh yes. Harklam: rated number three on the list of cities with the highest crime rates in the good ol' U.S. of A. Harklam: population currently Decreasing-In-A-Slow-Trickle. Harklam: famous for who-gives-a-shit. Yeah, it must be tops on the tourist (that actually means tourist) list of destinations for family vacations. Great place to drop a bomb. On a school, no less.
Yeah. So that's how things run around here. Ryan and I used to go to this shitty public community college down in the slums. Full of scrawny white kids who wore baggy pants and convinced themselves that they were "ghetto." (Because going to community college definitely makes you ghetto. Because nothing's cooler than being a slummy neighborhood. You know.) And the kids who weren't scrawny white delinquents were dumbass miscreants or black people. (Mind you, that wasn't a racial slur. But haven't you noticed that generally, black people act differently than white people? They're much more outgoing and loud and free with themselves, whereas white people are uptight and have sticks up their asses due to this misguided sense of God knows what.)
So I wasn't really that upset when I found out that the college had been blown up. No, scratch that. I was really freaking upset when I found out about it, but only because I had left an art project in the art wing that I'd been working on for hours and hours and hours there. And it got blown up too. In fact, it was probably the best work I'd ever done. It was this pencil drawing of a forest; only it wasn't a forest exactly. It was like a forest, but if you looked closely enough, it was like a little town hidden in the trees. It looked like where elves would live in some super-science fantasy MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, for the internet-illiterate amongst us). I spent ages getting all the shading just right and the little details and it was all done in charcoal pencil and then some fuck-head had to drop a bomb on the college and blew it up. And I sincerely hoped that whoever it was never met me or that I never found out who did it because if I did, they would be getting a fist to the brain.
I'm highly over-protective of my art. Especially when I spend time on it. Ryan will testify that if you ever get even a fingerprint on anything I have ever drawn, your finger will end up bent backwards in a quite awkward angle.
See, Ryan is not really my friend so much as he is the only person in the world who can put up with my moods. I mean, even my family can't stand them. My parents? Yeah, they got rid of me as soon as they could. They packed me off to go live with my aunt when I was five (my mom got sick of me…something about how I was intruding on her life as a crack whore and my dad's life as Super Drug Dealer Man slash Whore-House Owner Man…I haven't heard from them since then) and then my aunt packed me off to live with my grandparents when I was thirteen (after I stood up to her one day when she was trying to "punish" (that means abuse) my little cousin, who was three at the time, and me…she got pretty angry and I ended up with some permanent scars left on my body from that incident…I haven't heard from her either), who then left me to go live in some old farts' home. That was a few years ago. I'm twenty-two, which means that legally I am allowed to live on my own. The year my grandparents left, I lied because I was seventeen at the time and got an apartment of my own. The land lady of my grandparents' apartment took pity on me and "misread" the age and date of birth on my driver's license. She's a nice lady.
Ryan and I met when I moved into the building. He lives in the apartment across from mine now, which was the apartment above my grandparents' apartment. Yeah, it was just too creepy to live in my grandparents' apartment without them. Plus, the one I have now is bigger. I've plastered it with all of my art. Everywhere. Each and every freaking wall is covered with drawings and sketches. I'm not exactly a doodler, you know. Landscapes and still-life's are boring, if you ask me. And I don't do portraits. I prefer to draw things I see in my mind, which could be anything. I'm sure I have some sort of mental disorder, but I never bothered to get it checked out because that would mean answering questions about my past, which is something I prefer to keep buried nice and deep in the back of my mind. Maybe it's all the suppressed memories I have that caused the mental disorders, I don't know. Blame my shitty family.
No, actually, don't blame all of my shitty family. I like my grandparents okay. They kind of took care of me. Not that they did a hell of a good job. By the time I got to them, I was so freaking messed up that they tried to put me in therapy and I ended up sending the therapist into therapy. I terrorized my teachers and every poor soul that tried to reach out to me. Except Ryan. Ryan always came back to me and tried to make everything right. He was good at it too, having had practice with being beaten up due to his violent nature. He and I made a good pair in school. We were excellent at lying and we were incredible when some poor kid crossed our path. But really, Ryan's heart was never in it. He started to shy away from violence when we reached college age. I, on the other hand, never stopped being violent. It was the only creative outlet I had when I was younger. I had been told repeatedly by my aunt and my parents that art was for wimps.
When I was really young, I liked to color a lot. What little kid doesn't? But my mother, oh no. She thought it was a waste of her valuable crack whore money to buy coloring books and crayons or even paper for me to color on. So when I got to my aunt's house and discovered that she had paper and colored pencils and even coloring books, I was ecstatic. But no. Those were for her precious little girl to use. Not me. Not the daughter of a couple of druggie prostitutes. I tried to sneak pages away and pencils away from the kid to use. Cousin Katie was fairly nice, herself. She didn't mind that I used her coloring stuff. She liked to make me color her pictures for her because she had problems coloring in the lines and blending everything. But every time I made a nice picture, my aunt would take it and burn it in front of me or crumple it up and make me step all over it or, once, eat it. My poop was pretty colorful for a few days after that because of all the crayon wax that was on that one.
When my grandparents finally got me, they hated that I was so violent. They told me that I wasn't allowed to fight and that they would find me an alternative for my anger. I was convinced it was impossible. They tried sticking me in dance classes, in self-defense classes, they even tried putting me in a pottery class. Every time, I managed to hurt someone somehow too much and got kicked out. They tried to introduce me to the art of writing. But that didn't work either. It was only when I got stuck with an art elective during my second year of high school because the computer class I wanted to take was full by the time they got to my name that I discovered drawing and how amazing it was.
Ever since then, whenever I get angry, I grab a sheet of paper and draw on it until I feel calm again. I still like violence and I probably always will. I'm good at it. But I don't feel the need to use it as much as I used to. When Ryan stopped, I slowed. But somehow, I like the feeling that I know I can be intimidating and take care of myself if I want to.
So after we found out about our college being blown up, all the private universities opened up and let all us poor, uneducated scholars into their esteemed and sparkly clean halls for free until they could get the college rebuilt. Yeah, there are other community colleges around, but they're all bursting at the seams with students. They accepted maybe fifty students from each program each, which left about ten thousand students left to be put into universities. Ryan and I were sent to Harklam Institute of Arts and Medicine, also known as HIAM. When pronounced, that sounds like ham. Ryan and I like to say that we go to Ham University. It's cleaner, richer, and, even though I never thought it was possible, druggier than the old community college ever was.
Mostly, our life has been good, other than the incredible work of art being blown up. But then just this last week, some weird guy has been following me around. I don't like the cops, because they're just too…creepy, in a weird cop way. But I was about to call the cops on this guy. I mean, he was…just…Well, the first time I saw him was at school. I didn't really notice him before, but he was watching me. I guess he'd been watching me for a long time, probably since the first time we set foot in that place. The weird part was that when I glared at him for staring, he just kept watching me. I mean, God. It was unnerving, to say the very least.
After that I was aware of him all the time. Following me home and sitting in the café across the street from my apartment and at school. Especially at school. He wasn't in any of my classes but he was always around. I don't know how I didn't notice him sooner. I mean, he wasn't very small at all. He was actually pretty big. Not fat, just…large. Tan. Blond hair and grey eyes. It was easy to pick him out in a crowd, but he had this way about him that also made him really hard to pick out if you didn't know what you were looking for. He looked like everyone else and no one else at the same time.
And so one day I got sick of watching him. I made Ryan go with me, because even though I'm not defenseless by a long shot, I'm not stupid enough to go up against this mountain of a man without some backup. I'm exactly big enough to be able to reach on top of the refrigerator to get to the chips stashed up there. I'm exactly small enough to reach the sandwich bags under the kitchen sink in the cabinet without having to bend my knees. Some people call me moderately sized but I don't think of myself that way. It doesn't seem right.
But Ryan, on the other hand, is just big enough to be able to take the mountain down, but he's still small enough to be faster than the mountain. Or at least, that's what I was hoping for, because otherwise we were screwed.
So I dragged Ryan down there to the café where the guy was sitting and watching and I put my hands on my hips. Ryan stood behind me with his own hands in his pockets, just letting me do my thing.
"Hey, freak, what the hell are you doing?" I asked nonchalantly, like I was asking about the weather. Except if I ask about the weather, I usually do it in a deadpan "I couldn't give a fuck" voice.
"Watching you," the creeper responded in a bored voice.
"Clearly," I said. "Why? What the hell, man? You're just gonna sit there and stare up into my room like some sick perverted old man with nothing better to do? Or is there a real reason for all this, huh?"
"Of course there's a reason. I have better things to do than sit here and look after a little girl," he said. "What would you like to know?"
"Let's start with basics. What's your name?" Ryan asked in his southern drawl of a voice. Did I never mention that? Yeah, Ryan hails from Oklahoma.
"My name isn't important," the guy said.
"Yeah, actually, it is," I said. "You wanna tell me your name now or…" I stopped when I saw the look on Ryan's face. It clearly said that I was supposed to not threaten people who were two hundred pounds larger than I am.
"If you must know, you may call me Josiah," he said. "What can I do for you?"
"You could tell me why you've been following me for the past few months," I said.
"If I tell you, you wouldn't believe me."
"Try me." I narrowed my eyes.
"No, Larissa, I'm not going to take the chance. If you were to not believe me, it would go very badly with those who I work for, both for me and for them. And besides, you need to figure out for yourself," he said.
"What the fuck? How the hell do you know my name?" I asked, again using a tone that conveyed nonchalance. Josiah laughed.
"Like you accused, I've been following you around for the past few months. How could I not know your name? But, Larissa, don't worry so much. I wouldn't dare harm you. I'm simply here to observe and to protect you," he tried to reassure me, putting a hand on my arm. I jerked it away.
"Don't touch me. What the hell do you mean you're here to observe and protect me? What, exactly, do I need to be protected from?" I asked.
"You mean you can't see them?" he asked, creasing his brow. I looked at him.
"Never mind. All you need to know is that some strange things are going to be going on soon. Don't worry about them and don't freak out. It's all natural," he said. Then he stood up and sauntered away down the street. I turned to Ryan.
"What the fuck?"