There’s another story lurking under the surface of the incident on the subway. It would be kind of unfair to mention it in passing and not tell the tale. Bravery isn’t a knee-jerk reaction, this I believe whole-heartedly. You have to learn to be brave, but I mentioned that I knew I could put aside fear to defend those I loved. I know this to be true because it’s happened. My brain shut itself off, and I watched someone else do this– it wasn’t really me. It was the automaton that took my place, it was the scary thing that lives in the basement of my mind that I thought I had killed years ago.
In the telling of this tale, I will have to use pseudonyms for the names of my dear friends, as they have not given me permission to name them. They have funny pseudonyms, but this is what you get among gamer geeks, and I’m no exception. In my twentieth year, when I first moved to Tampa, Florida, I got my first paid work performing. I wasn’t alone in this– my entire apartment, Lachesis, Stel and I got jobs at this place. We played characters for a theme park’s Halloween event. Lachesis, who always seemed much more imposing for all her shortness, played a zombie, and it suited her– she was terrifying. Stel worked one of the actual haunted houses. I was a living statue in a haunted garden, and it was my job to scare people into peeing themselves with as little movement as possible. At least, that’s how I interpreted it. The other statues would move quickly, strike traditionally gruesome poses as if they had extended claws, etc. etc. I, however, viewed my task more delicately. Any movement from a supposed statue would be terrifying in the context of this garden, especially after the “jump-out-and-scare” tactic again and again and again. I struck classical poses, made eye contact with guests, and followed them with my gaze. In plain view, I cocked my head at a different angle, or–and this coaxed screams, shrieks, and backward jumps–stepped off my pedestal to take two agonizingly slow steps after a park patron. They’d take off running after that.
Bespectacled creature that I am, I knew that wearing my eyes would break the illusion we were trying to create. I was perfectly allowed to wear them. Park management wasn’t stupid when it came to recognizing a safety hazard– a blind little Story, no matter how scary, was still blind. The satisfaction of a good scare was worth the loss of any sharpness in my most relied-upon sense, though, and this I made quite clear. Other safety precautions were taken: though we couldn’t break character, we were handed piercingly shrill whistles to alert security if the park patrons became violent or even in any way threatening. Fear can cause people to do stupid things. Fear and drunkenness. There were a few nights when the sound of wholesome screams were punctuated more sharply than a whip lash with the razory trill of those whistles. You could hear them from the next two zones over.
I was not immune to stupid patrons– one guest drunkenly leapt on me, shouting, “This one’s real!” as I landed on my ass in the bushes behind me. More often, I got young machos showing off to their girlfriends saying, “Next one that jumps out, I’m gonna punch!” The latter would never make good on the bluster. You could tell it in their body language, and I could read that even without my glasses. One night, though, my pseudo-eyelessness nearly cost me an actual one, and it nearly hurt Lachesis too.
I never shied away from patrons touching certain parts of my body. My face and arms and shoulders were okay by me, but not my torso. Being a statue character, I could understand the need to verify through touch after a night of optical illusions and strange things moving in one’s peripheral vision. We, on the other hand, were not allowed to initiate touch with the park guests. I didn’t think anything of it, then, when I saw the blobby blur of color that indicated a hand coming toward me. Lachesis, walking through my zone on her way to a break area, did. Apparently, there was more than just a hand reaching out in that gesture. The hand held a cigarette, and the intent seemed to be to put out its cherry somewhere on my face.
Lachesis broke character and barked at the unknown guy attempting to hurt me. Belligerently, he wheeled on her, towering over her imposing but ultimately much shorter frame. I saw him move as if to strike.
“DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH HER!” It was my throat that hurt after those words rung clear and low in the air. I was off the pedestal. I was lunging forward. He crumpled. No part of me touched any part of him, and he cowered and crumpled in the face of my charge. The trill cut the air next to my head. Security descended like a murder of crows. Lachesis just stared at me. No blood pounded in my ears. No heart of mine tried to escape my ribcage. I could just think about moving again, and so I did.
I took break early. Lachesis turned to me and said on the way to the break area, “I didn’t think you could do that.” I looked down.
“I wasn’t going to let him do something to you.” It was a calm statement of fact. Inside, though, I answered the question lurking in her statement: I hadn’t thought I could either.