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November 1, 2012

I Hraet You (51)

Beat 51: A Steel Heart and Smelting Tears

For a moment, Lloyd could help but shake; chill after chill ran through his body, and for a moment he thought he might buckle over again.  But he didn’t; he held his ground, and in spite of his cooled body he felt a surge of heat from his toes all the way to his crown.  I’ve almost done it, he thought, his smile tingling as it embraced that surge.  I just need to press onward.  I’ve got all I need; it’s just a matter of reaching out and touching her heart!

Unfortunately, Mrs. Overdose looked anything but receptive.  With a face like hers, she could scare off a horde of mountain lions -- clenched teeth with lips curled into a snarl, hair bristling and sharpening, and even her eyes seemed to shrink a few sizes.  She held her position on the stage, but with her forward lean she looked as if she might pounce onto Lloyd’s desk.  Even her mole-faced mask looked incensed, in spite of its hidden eyes.

“You seem to have grown a bit agitated, Mrs. Overdose,” said Lloyd as he pressed a hand to his chin.  “Could it be that your lack of a husband could affect you that deeply?”

“Kid, you are really damn lucky I don’t have my gun with me right now!” Mrs Overdose yelled, with her fingers crunching and curling almost at random.  “I’m warnin’ you -- I’m one old lady you DON’T wanna tango with!”

“But I have no intention of doing this just to get a rise out of you.  I merely wish to help you -- but as I said, in order to help you I’ll have to break you.  I’ll gladly break through your defenses if it means getting closer and closer to your heart.”

“You little --!”

“I’m afraid your outcries will have to wait.  We have more pressing matters to attend to.”  He waved a hand dismissively.  “Now then.  It would seem that for all your talk of finances and realism, you seem to be using the common coin as a rather fantastic defense.  Do you earnestly believe that wealth alone will bring you happiness?  Surely you’ve realized in your years on this earth that even the ‘almighty’ dollar can’t buy love.  And even if it could, I suspect that no amount you make could ever be enough to win a man’s heart.  If your standard is to be as sour and unpleasant with other men as you are with me, then I may be able to see why you remain unwedded.”

Mrs. Overdose’s brows started to twitch.  But before she could start to bellow, Lloyd held up a finger.  “HOWEVER!  Know this, my fair lady: I know without question, without hesitation that a beating, glowing heart still resides inside you.  I can see it clearly.  It calls out to me…calling my name…begging me to do all I can to see its full splendor!  And therefore, for its sake -- for YOUR sake -- I’ll break through any wall, and pledge myself to your service!”

Mrs. Overdose leaned back; she started to step backwards, as if Lloyd held her at gunpoint.  “You’ve gotta be…”

“I’m quite serious.  I can’t say that I know if I can give you precisely what you want, and I can’t say that I’m an appropriate husband…BUT!”  He slammed his palms against the desk, and lowered his head.  “Mrs. Overdose!  I swear, on my very life, that I will do all I can, for as long as I can!”  He slammed them down again.  “I will fill the void that remains within you, and if need be help you find your better half!”  Another slam.  “For as long as you need me…”

Another.  “For as long as you call on me…”

Slam.  “I will always be…A PART OF YOU!”

With that last exclamation, Lloyd had nearly left himself breathless.  He sucked in air as rapidly as he could, and his head bobbed about with each motion.  For a full minute, a silence stood between them; Lloyd just stood there with his head hung low, and his hands pressed deep into the desk.  Mrs. Overdose just stood there, refusing to take another step.  But even so, her body began to change -- the tension that had gripped her began to dissipate.  Her hands, legs, and face began to loosen.  Her frenzied twitching came to a halt.  The scalding rage she’d summoned and laid bare in her face faded, and her stoic gaze took root once more. 

She reached toward Lloyd.  “Hey, kid --”

“I made a promise,” Lloyd began suddenly, his head still hung. “I swore to myself that I would do whatever it took to spread love -- to create the world that I envisioned.  I told myself, over and over, that I would never fail another person again, as long as I drew breath.  And I stand by that creed.  I will keep reaching, again, and again, and again, and build my future with my own two hands.  But…it’s not a future I want to build, or even see, on my own.”

He looked up at Mrs. Overdose, and offered her a serene smile.  “I want you to come along with me.”

Mrs. Overdose stared blankly at Lloyd, then folded her arms and glanced at a distant wall.  “You really think it’s that simple, huh?  All you’ve got is passion.  Still a long-ass way from savin’ the world, or whatever it is you’re after.”

“That may be true, but…”  Lloyd’s eyes widened.  “Wait.  I thought I was all talk?”

“You are.  Or…at least, you were.  I dunno, you’re REALLY hard to pin down, kid.  And it’s seriously pissin’ me off.”  She snorted, but with almost none of her typical bile.  “I’m startin’ to think that I’ll never figure you out.  Probably because…because maybe…I need to figure myself out first.”

The stars spiraling around her wobbled and glittered -- and before Lloyd’s eyes, they began to change.  The half that his actions had dimmed returned to its shining splendor…and it wasn’t alone.  The star closest to it -- which had once been a dull topaz -- filled halfway with a golden light.  Her mask changed in kind, from a fur-faced fury to a look of contemplation; at times, even content.

I…I actually made some progress?  Lloyd almost rubbed his eyes to make sure he hadn’t imagined it -- but before he could, he shook his head and stood back up.  Yes.  Yes, yes, yes!  This is what I’ve campaigned for!  This is the result of my resolve!  And now, with one last push, I’ll ease her heart once and for all!

“Mrs. Overdose.  I have sworn to become a part of you -- if you’ll have me. The reason I do so is twofold; firstly, I recognize all too immediately the nature that inspires me so.  I know that you are the embodiment of a steel wall -- resolute, unmoving, dedicated to deflecting the foolishness that would challenge your innermost temples.  Those that would test their strength against your own would come face-to-face with an unflinching aegis, the realized and repellant form of your very creed.  To say that it is admirable would be a grave understatement.  And yet, it is a flawed wall.  It is one that can be pierced and assaulted, and in doing so you risk harm to your being.  And yet again, even if your wall was flawless, it carries with it certain risks; to become an immovable object is to become a cold, unchanging monument, worn down not by life’s passions but by the passage of time itself.

“And yet…it is an immovable object that I want to be a part of.  It is flawed.  You are flawed.  But then again, so am I, as is every man, woman, and child alive.  The key difference, the determinant in whether we remain flawed or become something more, is how much and how well we synergize with others.  So long as we can come together and merge as one, we can surpass the limits and imperfections we house within our beings.  And that is exactly what I hope to accomplish, for your sake and mine.”  He pressed a hand against his chest.  “Become a part of me.  Stand tall and firm as the foundation, the defense I so desperately need.  And I will become a part of you -- the obtuse, insignificant fragment you need to become the ultimate defense.  Or perhaps, as the key ingredient to have your gleaming walls reach ever skyward.”

Mrs. Overdose just pressed a palm against her temple, and her throat rumbled as she groaned to herself. 

Did that do it? Lloyd thought, feeling his breaths grow shorter.  Was I finally able to --?

“Money is the most important thing in the world.”

For a moment, Lloyd felt his knees start to buckle.

“Money.  That’s how you get anything accomplished nowadays.  Money to make a living.  Money to get what you want.  Money to show just how well off you are.  You can’t do anything, or be anything without it.  It’s as simple as that.”  She scratched at her forehead.  “At least, that’s what I thought.”

“Mrs. Overdose…?”

She dropped her hands to her sides, and looked down at Lloyd -- and with a fraction of the scorn she’d shown at the outset.  “If you wanna make the big bucks, sometimes you need to think like a crazy-ass kid.  Sometimes, it’s all about the passion.  Can’t help but get swept up by it.”

Lloyd’s eyes started to glisten.  “You mean --?!”

Mrs. Overdose nodded slowly.  “You win, kid.  I’m yours -- and you’re mine.”

The stars that orbited around her quivered -- and then, began to pick up speed.  From a peaceful pace to a legless jog, then a sprint, then an all-out dash -- it didn’t even take half a minute for them to meld into one blurred line of gold.  And it certainly didn’t take a half-minute for them to shoot into the corners of the stage, with enough force to make the wires and curtains rustle about.

All four stars, all four golden bright, had moved into position.

Mrs. Overdose glanced at each star in turn, showing no more concern for them than she would a blade of grass in the distance.  “Huh.  Well, I’d say that’s the strangest thing I’ve seen all day, but I’ve still got a pretty clear view of him right here.”  She looked back down at Lloyd, and --

“I did it…”

Lloyd’s legs gave out.  By chance alone he managed to topple backwards and fall into the director’s chair; the moment he did, he let his arms dangle on the sides, and tilted his head upward.  He clapped a hand against his forehead, and laughed to himself.  “I…I actually did it…!”

He couldn’t restrain his smile; it stretched from one side of his face to another, all too eager to reveal his joy…and to offset the streams of tears pouring down his cheeks.  “Finally…finally, I’ve moved forward!  I really can help people!  I…I…!”  He choked on something between a laugh and a yell, thanks in no small part to the tears sliding into his mouth.  So he just sat there, smiling and crying, sniffling and chuckling. 

For a moment Mrs. Overdose thought about asking if he was all right.  But she didn’t.  She already knew the answer, or at least the one he would give her.  Even amidst all those tears, and even in spite of the failures inherent in his being, she knew it all too well.

Lloyd was happy.  Now more than he’d ever been, he was happy.

So she just let him sit there for a minute -- then two, then three -- to vent a bit.  She just stood there, arms folded, and let him cry and smile, and gave him plenty of time to do whatever else came to mind.  And as the fourth minute started, and his eyes finally began to dry, she picked up the script.  “I’m guessin’ you’ve got one hell of a show planned, right?”

Lloyd leaned forward in his seat and stared up at her, with the same wide eyes as the common preschooler.

“Ehhhhhhhhhh…I don’t really get any of this, but whatever.”  She eyed the script carefully, thumbing through the supposedly-blank pages.  “You want me to act, right?  So what do I say?  What do I do?”

Lloyd wiped a few straggling tears from his face, and offered a slow nod.  “I think you already know what you have to do.  You already have the role; all I want to see is a bit of confirmation.”

“How do I do that?”

“Isn’t it obvious?  You are as mighty as a steel wall; the sheer amount of conviction and credibility you bring to the stage can likely bend any heart to your persuasion.  You very nearly did the same to me, after all.”  He tapped a few fingers against his chest.  “I certainly hope I can recover from the thrashing you gave me.”

“So what, you want me to…I dunno, say somethin’?”

“Something, anything.  You have everything you need to prove yourself; it’s merely a matter of acting upon it now.”

Mrs. Overdose sighed heavily.  “Guess I’ll give it a shot, then…even though I still kinda think this is pants-on-head stupidity.”  She took a deep breath.  “I’m in this for the money -- always have been, always will be.  But as of right now, I’m gonna start lookin’ for somethin’ more in my life.  Somethin’ that’ll get me as fired up as a kid like you.”

Lloyd smiled.

“I really wanna see what it’s like to have my own slaves.  Or maybe some servants, at least.”

Lloyd’s smile started to quiver.  “D-did you just say…?”  But he shook his head quickly.  “Well, no matter.  A dream is a dream.”

The mask that had guarded Mrs. Overdose melted away, becoming a part of the swirling sphere it had shielded.  Wispy chains shot out at rigid angles, linking up with the rest of the audition room and melding with whatever they touched; as they did, the original sphere dissolved, while the room’s knickknacks gained newfound filling.  Glimmering steel spilled in between each line, and every surface rumbled as a chain-link lattice grew atop it.  The outlines, once a wavy black, transformed into pipes of pure chromium; each one shimmered as if basking in the morning sun.

It’s done, Lloyd thought.  You and I both have taken our strides this day, Mrs. Overdose. And may we venture ever forward, towards even higher plateaus and brighter days.  We can do it together.  And we will.

“A new star has been born,” he said softly.



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