Leslie Blackwell Leslie Blackwell
Recommendations: 21

A perhaps more experienced driver would have thought outside the box and pulled up alongside the house and unloaded there. Despite the time it would take to unload from the position it would have at least kept the beer bottles intact.

Leslie Blackwell Leslie Blackwell
Recommendations: 21

Beer is very much a personal taste type of thing. One person can think a party is going on in his/her mouth and everyone is invited whilst another thinks that there is a party going in his/her mouth and everyone's throwing up

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Justin Campbell Justin Campbell
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The Party

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She had a friend.

      It was an extremely rare good timing on the part of the party’s host. Everyone he’d invited was available to come. And the people he’d invited – there were quite a few – were the kind not to have much time on their hands for this sort of thing.
       Ryan was turning twenty years old today, the 23rd of June 2011. He’d invited at most seventeen guests, and unlike most new twenty-year-olds, he’d set the occasion at his father’s house, out in the breezeway, rather than at a nightclub. With him he had what used to be the desk he sat in while in high school. It was now an advanced device thanks to mechanical skills he’d picked up as a hobby during those rambunctious school years.

       While Ryan absent-mindedly traded glances with what obviously looked like a guy with binoculars crouched in the tree house at the back of the yard, a girl walked through the gate that led into the breezeway at precisely the time the party was to begin. Ryan was quite impressed at her punctuality, as he’d expected her to show up later; Henrietta was not the kind of girl who readily responded to messages on Facebook, and her eventual message back to him was vague – all she said was that she’d probably be there. Also, her face seemed thinner, and she even looked maybe an inch taller. Must have gone through some sort of final growth spurt or something.
       “Hey, welcome, how are you?” Ryan asked happily. Underneath it all, she was a guest he had really been hoping would come. Her, and another girl named Robin; he found them equally gorgeous.
       “I’m great. Happy birthday!”
       “You look really mature,” Ryan said.
       “So do you, you’re twenty now,” she responded warmly.
       They sat down to talk and await the other guests. Thankfully, Ryan’s half-brother Nelson hadn’t spontaneously appeared and disappeared in their vicinity by this point. It was an unusual problem that had plagued Nelson for three years now, and along with the grinning character hiding in the tree house Henrietta thankfully hadn’t noticed, he hoped his party would be free of absurd nonsense and unbelievable circumstances.
       At that moment, a deep male voice yelled out “Ryan!” and the host recognized it as Mr. Graham, one of his old teachers from high school. Ryan kept in close touch with Graham and three others named Mochizuki, Mellow, and Elliot, and all four crowded in through the gate. Ryan hadn’t truly expected them to come, as he’d merely sent them an e-mail telling them about the party rather than hoping for them to make it. It was quite a pleasant surprise.
       “Ryan, happy birthday, tell me, is there anything I can help you with?” Elliot wanted to maintain the same level of maturity and helpfulness he’d demonstrated during the one time he was made school principal for one day, even though he despised all the misery it gave him; the perceived respect he never actually received was his undoing. “Listen, I’ll go and stand by the gate and greet everyone so they know they’re in the right place. And hey, Henrietta.”
       “Hi Mr. Elliot.”
       “Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Ryan protested.
       “No, no, I’ll do it, even if I have to force myself to, don’t worry.” He immediately put on a pair of flashy sunglasses and stood military-straight at the gate, keeping an eye on the street as well as his colleagues.
       “Ryan,” Mellow said in earnest as he shook his hand. “Hey, what was that? Too soft, man!” Ryan smiled; Mellow was as curmudgeonly as ever.
       “Ryan.” Mochizuki was next in line. “Listen, I brought a camcorder to capture everyone on tape, so you can see it later. What’s up Henrietta, you look really mature!”
       “Thanks Mr. Mochizuki, how are you?”
       “Thanks for taping this, man,” Ryan added.
       Graham was still outside the gate. “Ryan, I’d be in there shaking your hand but I have to deal with these boccalinos, Mellow, get out here and help me carry them in.”
       “Aw, come on, this is Ryan’s occasion, I don’t want to carry a bunch of wine glasses. And the skylights are covered in dust.”
       “No complaining, Kevin,” Elliot admonished from the gate. “Help him out.”
       Mochizuki already had his camcorder on record.

       Over the next half hour, a few guests streamed in through the gate past Mr. Elliot, who greeted them all and ensured they were the right people in the right place. Graham got his elegant boccalino wine glasses set up on a table in a masterful pattern, with reluctant help from his curmudgeonly colleague. Lyndsay, a girl Ryan knew from high school who was an avid comic book reader and music student, walked in complete with metal box in hand. As usual, she carried a comic book with the box.
       Lyndsay was one of the very few people Ryan had done the favor of replicating his desk/device for. For Lyndsay, it served to keep her from being blown away by slight wind currents; she was only 0.75lbs. How she came to have no substance, no one knew, but the box version of the desk/device was a benefit because it weighed in at 6,359lbs, effectively grounding her. What’s more, it wasn’t conducive to electricity, but quite the opposite, so she had no worry of being a direct target in a lightning storm. The comic, of course, added extra weight. Then there was Paige, a very nice-but-blunt redhead Ryan had known since second grade. Their first meeting had been on the school bus, and the direction it had gone meant that Ryan had a slightly sore shoulder afterwards thanks to the constant punches it had taken from her throughout the ride.
       Next was Ryan’s cousin Jamie. He arrived seemingly anxious, with his face covered in sweat, but Ryan understood and simply gestured to his cousin to get inside his desk/device. Once they were both inside, Ryan established the appropriate perimeters, and Jamie was relieved. There was an audible splash as Ryan exited the device, as Jamie had just accomplished a 101A off an internal diving board. When he returned ten minutes later, feeling like a million bucks, he gave his cousin a warm happy birthday; Ryan, in turn, introduced him to Henrietta, who had answered a few questions for him regarding university biochemistry. He thanked her with sincerity.

       After more people had arrived, Ryan was only expecting a few others. His cousins Jeremy, Meaghan, and Tom had shown up, as well as his best friend Duncan, and Robin. Duncan had nervously walked into the place and immediately paled when he saw Mr. Graham and his boccalinos; he quickly accosted Ryan and whispered ‘happy birthday’ to him in his ear, as he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. It was thanks to a horrible experience with Graham years earlier that he’d developed this nervous paranoia about everything.
Then there was Brent, whom Ryan had befriended a year previously. Brent regarded Ryan as someone who was hilarious and also amazingly patient with him. But as Brent walked through the gate, it was like he’d walked into what looked like a world of decadence: There were pretty ladies everywhere. Who was hilarious again?
       Brent looked to his left and saw a redhead sitting on her own, texting on her phone. This was definitely a dating opportunity. He walked over and sat next to her, beginning a conversation that was in the best interests of his own sense of humor.
       Paige, in her own blunt directness, was not the kind of person who watched Family Guy or Robot Chicken or any of the other gag-based, juvenile shows Brent was into. She similarly had no appreciation or patience for the childlike, suggestive personality that had invaded her personal space. So she simply did what she’d regretfully did to Ryan all those years ago, only with a lot more force considering her muscle tone thanks to eight years of weight training. Brent immediately fell out of consciousness, and wouldn’t regain it for another eight hours. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to tell “guy” happy birthday.
       The nuisance dealt with, Paige turned to the girl who’d taken a seat on her left. She had just sat down and was settling a metallic box in her lap.
       “What the hell is that, if I may ask?” she began, starting at the point. When Lyndsay explained, Paige suggested bluntly that she ‘grow some substance.’
       Lyndsay responded that, unfortunately, it wasn’t something she could control. In the seat next to her sat Duncan, who’d slipped on a pair of reflective Ray-Bans; he felt a little safer wearing them, based on the reputation they’d gained thanks to his unnoticeable music buddy Tristan, who’d virtually disappeared thanks to them back in high school. No one, including Graham, looked at him twice.

Out on the street, beyond Mr. Elliot’s vantage point, a semi-trailer beeped as it inched backwards. The driver, thinking ahead, had decided to maneuver the truck down the street in reverse instead of doing a virtually million-point turn into the driveway he intended on reversing into.
       There were, however, two issues with this. One, the downtown street was one of those few converted into a child-friendly pavement, so instead of normal sidewalks and an empty street, concrete plant barriers and shrubbery had been installed along the sides, forcing traffic to slow down and drive around them in one direction. Some were rectangular, and others were triangular. Two, the driver was a fellow twenty-year-old man whose driver’s license classification only allowed him to drive vehicles no greater than 11,000kg.
       Kevin was the man behind the wheel, and he felt a sense of well being for thinking ahead like he’d done. He was transporting a full trailer of beer, the brand being Molson Canadian. He knew and appreciated that it was Ryan’s favorite brand despite its watery flavorlessness, so this was his gift to him.
       On he reversed. It was easier for him in that he didn’t have numerous gear changes to botch up as he’d done since the brewery, but otherwise those barriers, in addition to his massive blind spots, made it almost impossible. It took him an entire forty-five minutes to maneuver twenty yards through the built-up greenery before he’d finally placed the trailer several feet from the gate. It was enough time to scrape and dent and prune and crush virtually everything, as well as give Elliot a migraine thanks to the endless beeping. Kevin jumped out of the trailer, high-fived a reluctant Elliot on his way through the gate, and announced himself.
       “Pre-drinks, everyone! Ryan, you first! Happy birthday!”
       Before Ryan could answer, a small popping noise was heard. Then the sound of pressure being released. Elliot looked at the trailer doors in time to catch a spurt of foam in the face. Within seconds, foamy beer was seeping out of the trailer.
       “I’ll get it, I’ll take care of this,” Elliot said, taking calm, but firm, control of the situation. As he opened the doors, an entire case of beer, shattered bottles and all, fell to the ground. Kevin was dumbstruck; virtually all of the contents of the trailer were a shattered mess, and some bottles were popping open thanks to the shaking, rattling, and rollicking endured by the trailer. It hadn’t helped that Kevin was the one who’d taken it upon himself to load the trailer as well, with the aid of heavy machinery he was also not certified to use.
       Kevin responded by giving the trailer the finger with both hands, as he was seriously pissed off. All that hard work had come to nothing.
       “I’m going to get you!” hollered a voice from inside the breezeway. To Ryan’s and Graham’s grief, Duncan had knocked over Mr. Graham’s boccalinos the instant he’d been surprised by the popping sound.
It had been a similar incident with wine glasses three years ago that had put Duncan and Graham on opposite ends of each other. Duncan had accidentally demolished thirty-seven of them at school by mistake. He had been mentally calculating the odds of Graham getting to him again as he had before, and in his absent-mindedness had walked by the elegant stack. When the pop and bang from the trailer had reached his ears, he jumped, dropping the Ray-Bans, and teetered backwards into the thing he’d been hoping to stay away from for that entire afternoon.
It was like a combination of hopeless events playing in slow motion for the troubled adult. His perception of the affair went like this: He regained his balance as the stack lost it; the beautiful clear glasses reached an apex and upon passing that reached a point of no return; gravity took hold and pulled them all down; the impact of glass upon concrete patio block changed its nature instantly, multiplying the glass into countless irregularly-shaped pieces. And thus, Graham’s eyes shot visible sparks toward Duncan.
“I’m sorry, Lyndsay,” Ryan said, breaking the silence. “I’ll have to get you a glass from my desk.”
“I stacked those!” Mellow exclaimed in frustration.
“Joel, watch yourself,” Elliot admonished Graham. “This is Ryan’s party, not a reason to drive that poor boy insane.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I hope that foam gets cleaned up,” Graham replied.
“It’s way too sticky,” complained Mellow. “And Molson Canadian beer is tasteless.”
“Come on guys, let’s have some fun, it’s Ryan’s twentieth,” Mochizuki enthused, pointing the camcorder into Mellow’s face. Mellow frowned back. 2 comments

As Kevin sat down, pissed off over his wasted delivery, Tom and Robin conversed nearby, Meaghan went off to a shed at the back of the yard, and that presence up in the tree house stayed put, a figure radiating sub-zero coolness walked through the gate. Ryan perked up in a happy smile. He knew who that was.
Mochizuki zoomed in for a close-up. With confident swagger, best mate Shawn reached out, put a hand on Ryan’s shoulder, grinned, and said “happy birthday, Ryan. I’m glad to be here.”
“So am I,” Ryan said.
       “Yeah. So, listen, I wasn’t sure what to get you for a gift.”
       “You didn’t have to get anything, man, just being here at the party is enough of a gift for me.”
       “No, see, I did think of something. Look.” With that, Shawn pulled out a bass guitar from under his jacket.
       “Whoa,” breathed Ryan, Henrietta, Robin, Lyndsay, and even Kevin Mellow.
       “Would you like a drink?” Ryan asked, awed.
       “Sure, thanks. A root beer will do.”
       “After I get that, I’m getting the keyboard from inside. We gotta play something!”
       “Do it,” Shawn agreed.

       Robin was one of those people who liked to be prepared. Ever since the swing dance debacle where she’d ended up with the wrong partner at one brief point in the choreography during practice, it was something she lived by. However, it wasn’t always easy to be constantly prepared all on her own, so she often solicited help.
       She came to the party armed with a cream-flavored soda under her arm. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing, because her sister had dropped it in the car during her ride downtown, and as a result it was as sticky as the oozing foam all over the driveway. She ensured to note this to her brother Ian, who was the one helping her out on this occasion. He’d arrived well before she had, finding a comfortable spot up in the host’s tree house.
       With Ian’s help, Robin had a pretty clear idea of who was there and what was going on, or likely to happen. The siblings had an earpiece and a microphone hidden on each other’s person, so one could communicate with the other from a good vantage point.
       As she’d walked in, Ian dictated to her that the unconscious person to her left was a man named Brent, and that Brent would hereto be entirely implausible as a risk. The redhead further on was named Paige, and she would therefore not be highly approachable due to her apparent irascible conversational tone. Also, she was being filmed on the JVC camcorder in Evan Mochizuki’s hands. Robin told him to shut up for one second so she could happily wave in greeting at the host, and then perhaps join Henrietta nearby.
       Ian agreed on that, but warned her that joining Henrietta nearby may not be without some serious risks. He didn’t entirely understand why, but something about her rubbed him the wrong way.
       “Why, what’s wrong, is she glowing green or something?”
       “No, but her eyes are green. And her hair is a dark brown, while…”
       Robin was losing patience. “What do you suggest, then?”
He suggested she sit by the blonde teenager at the right, who was named, in full, Thomas Peter Maynard Bissett. He would have some minor commonalities with her, and he was at a risk-free distance from the boccalinos.
“The what?” Robin whispered.
“The boccalinos. The wine glasses.”
“Oh.” Robin sighed and listened to her younger brother. When they did start talking (while Thomas Maynard something or other held on to his brother as if he was some sort of dog), Robin did indeed discover that Tom had shared a class with her sister, the one who couldn’t handle a bottle of soda properly. Neat…she guessed.

       Standing outside the gate, Doug Elliot expected no more surprises. Instead, he got one via a whack in the temple by the point of a drumstick.
       Lloyd had arrived.
       Lloyd was a shoe salesperson and student by occupation, but in his heart and soul, he was a passionate drummer. As such, he carried around his sticks with him wherever he went. They reminded him that he had a life enriched with rhythm and beat, as well as the simple fact that he could create and perpetrate such musical elements. He often randomly drummed on objects with them, to continue the rhythm of his heart. Plus, they made him feel like he could do almost anything, as well as feel immune to most things as well.
       They really helped him out on this occasion: They temporarily winded Elliot so he could whisk by without having to show some sort of I.D. or answer pointless questions, they effectively changed the trajectory of the descending boccalinos when Lloyd found himself to be in their downward path, they were considered a nuisance to Paige, therefore eliminating any blunt conversation between the two (Lloyd was not a strong conversationalist, a common trait among drummers) and they came in real handy for the later rugby game he’d unwittingly attend later.

      Holding his already sore head, Elliot felt like he was almost ready to give up. He’d cleaned up all the foam with a water hose using Ryan’s expressly spoken permission (as well as his sticky face), he’d greeted everyone and he’d handled his up-and-down colleagues. As he looked into the party happening inside, he caught sight of Mochizuki filming him with his camcorder. He quickly grinned; he couldn’t look defeated on camera, after all. With that reminder, he returned to his military stance, ready for anything his pounding head could take. There was only one more guest to greet anyway.

       To Elliot’s relief, that guest showed up three minutes later.
       It was a black lab.
       Doug Elliot wasn’t sure what to do with what appeared to be a stray dog (it had no collar). He also had no memory of such a breed being so thin, long, and awkwardly proportioned. To his even greater amazement, the animal stood up on its hind legs, walked with what seemed like ease and comfort through the gate – and announced itself.
       “This the right place? …Ryan! Happy birthday!”
       By this point, Ryan had been just about to hit the first chord on his keyboard, Shawn the first bass note. He looked up at the gate, and his mouth dropped.
       Henrietta was smiling at him. And she was wearing what looked like a dog costume.

       When Henrietta had gotten that Facebook message back in May, having been sent a week earlier by Ryan, she decided to commit the information he’d given to her to memory. It wasn’t one of her strongpoints, but it was something she was making an effort to work on.
       On the plus side, she remembered the occasion. And she correctly remembered the date, because it just so happened that she wasn’t scheduled at her part-time job at the parlor that day. On the minus side, her memory had slowly miss-remembered bits and pieces of Ryan’s words over the intervening weeks – such as the address, and the theme of the party – so that she hadn’t walked into the ‘right place’ until after four other walk-ins at other addresses. This was her fifth gate.
       On top of that, she incorrectly attributed the party to be a costume party. It was that or a murder-mystery party, but Henrietta had ruled that out; she couldn’t imagine Ryan being the type to host such a thing. So she dressed up as her favorite breed of dog, and eventually made it to the right address. She was pleased with herself – she looked like such a convincing dog, she had even managed to confuse the tall bouncer at the gate (she had been too low to the ground to notice the bouncer in question was her former economics teacher).

       Shawn plucked an open E string; Ryan did the same, as low as possible, on his keyboard, producing a muddy sound. It was their reaction to seeing whom they saw.
       “Um…uh…aren’t you already here?” Ryan blustered at the girl in costume. “I thought I told you how mature you look.”
       The immature Henrietta caught sight of the mature Henrietta sitting next to her friend Robin, who had relocated next to her despite her brother’s warnings (Tom Peter-something was too boring to talk to in the end).
       “Oh my god!” the mature Henrietta exclaimed in shock, throwing her arms open wide and hitting Robin in the process (that must have been what Ian was worried about, she wondered in a daze. It wasn’t).
       On the other side of the breezeway, Tom let go of his older brother, Jeremy, out of boredom. “Well, boy, what shall you do?”
       Jeremy sprang up and declared, “I know what I shall do!”
       The costumed Henrietta became instantly lightheaded and dizzy, and she started to sway into a fall. Thankfully, Doug Elliot’s greeting duties were over now that everyone had arrived, and he was on hand to quickly catch and steady the dog which had not surprisingly lost its balance after being on its hind legs for so long. Getting a look at its cute face, he realized with severe surprise that it was actually Henrietta. Who was already there.
       “Here,” Ryan said, quickly intervening as his cousin Jeremy dashed over in an attempt at psycho-analyzing the girl; Tom had irritatingly released him, despite knowing how insane and absurd Jeremy tended to behave in general. He lead her over to his desk, which was at the moment providing superior handling skills to the fizzy cream soda Robin had given him. He gently put her inside the APV (All-Purposes Vehicle) because he believed, upon all the things he’d done with it, that the device would provide a stable zone for his friend’s copy of herself considering an apparent paradox was going on. Ryan made a mental note to ask the on-time version of his gorgeous friend if she had any idea how this could have happened. Just not now; Elliot had gotten to her first, asking if she felt she needed someone to talk to (meaning him). She was busy going back and forth, reeling, with yeses and no’s, as her mind stumbled about processing what she’d just seen. Besides, Ryan and Shawn had a musical show to put on with their respective instruments.
       “I knew it,” Ian radioed Robin via her ear. “Temporal displacement. Henrietta was a risk because she wasn’t from the present.”
       “That’s insane!” Robin responded, a little bit obviously.
       “Not when you consider Ryan’s advanced APV. My analysis is that your friend, at some point in the future, asked Ryan if he could let her borrow his device to be able to attend his birthday party.”
       “Why the hell would she do that if she still came to the party?”
       “Well, come on. She was dressed like a dog. And now she’s lying, unconscious, inside the aforementioned device. Do you think that would give her some potent memories?”
       Robin sighed, once again. “You’re talking nonsense. I can’t believe this. And Ryan can’t travel through time with that thing.”
       “Not yet. My current insights into the matter are that he’s working on that right now. And he’s failing considerably. I believe he got the idea from his uncle Peter, who has had some minor success of his own with something called The Deep Woods Time-Travel Project…”
       “Whatever. Just keep telling me what to avoid. I look crazy talking to myself in front of everyone like this.”
       “Over and out. And watch out for Jeremy Kingsley Bissett.”
       “The muscular guy running about measuring everyone’s height.”

       It was Tom’s fault that his older brother had become the person he was. Tom knew that, and knew that too well. It was why their sister Meaghan had decided to separate herself from them both immediately, wish their dear cousin Ryan a happy birthday, and then seclude herself in the shed around the corner, in the backyard.
       Tom took it upon himself to keep a careful watch on Jeremy. The insanity had begun three years previously, when Tom had dared Jeremy to calculate the number of inches between their front stoop and their paternal grandparents,’ several kilometers away, via the streets, crosswalks, and turns. No direct straight-line measurement – after all, they didn’t commute to Baba and Grandpa’s via backyards, living rooms, hedges, alleys, forbidden lots, and across streets at diagonal angles. It had to be accurate. Jeremy, in his enthusiasm, figured it out by devising a gigantic measuring tape instead of simply using a computer-mapping program like Google Earth. Ever since that disaster, the random information-gatherer in Jeremy had been awakened, and to the insane degree. And Tom couldn’t keep his brother held to a mindless vibration on the patio forever; soon his mind had grown bored after that short conversation with that Robin woman, and his arm had grown tired. So he let Jeremy go, feeling that he deserved some kind of break. And a drink.
       In the shed, Meaghan was looking for a hidden switch. It had taken her awhile, which was frustrating as she didn’t want to spend Ryan’s entire party secluded on her own in a painting shed. She could hear quite a lot happen outside: A pop and bang, followed by what sounded like shattering glass. Someone yelled, “I’m going to get you!” and someone else screamed an old-fashioned female name. A minute later, there was deep bass-like sound, as well as a piano. No doubt her crazy brother Jeremy was on the loose by this point, counting the dust bunnies in the skylight or measuring the volume of his voice in decibels. At least she wasn’t a part of that. He’d already proven, using her, that putting someone’s hand in a bowl of warm water while they’re asleep causes them to urinate.
       Five minutes later, Meaghan located the switch. It opened up a box in the rafters that contained several high-grade rugby balls. One of her big past times was playing rugby, as well as throwing the balls used in the sport around. She had secret stashes of them at all her relatives’ places, and she often threw the balls around a separate area to blow off some steam thanks to…well, who else?
       She was about to blow off some steam when she gave birth to a grand idea. There were several balls in this stash available to her. She was in the shed, on her own, while a party was going on. Wouldn’t it be more sociable of her to include everyone else? After all, she often threw the balls around while she was at a relative’s house during a point in the visit where people were busy or not as invested in each other’s company; at Uncle Robert’s, meanwhile, everyone was waiting for her to take part. Even if Jeremy was apart of it.
       Taking two balls under her arms, she strode over to the breezeway, announced her idea, and before anyone could object, she threw both balls into the crowd of sixteen guests.

In retrospect, Meaghan would not have thrown both balls into the crowd as she’d done. One ball was supposed to be a back-up, after all. But she wanted to get them all off their feet, or at least as many of them as possible. And to her amazement and happiness, most of them did.
       Just not Shawn or Ryan; they were occupied with their instruments.
       Or Brent, who was too unconscious to respond.
       Or Evan Mochizuki, Kevin Mellow, Joel Graham, and Doug Elliot, all of who were more rugby coaches than players, if anything else.
       Ryan watched helplessly from behind his keyboard as his party dissolved into a violent mixture of arms, legs, balls and shouts. Even more alarming was his half-brother, Nelson, and his unfortunate random uncontrollable teleportation issue, which had just started up again right at that moment. He appeared and disappeared at various points throughout the melee in the breezeway, and never, seemingly, anywhere else less dangerous.
       The basic idea of rugby is that there are two teams. In this mess, the teams were impulsively decided based on who got hit with, or caught, one of the balls that Meaghan had tossed, as well as who was closest to the target or catcher. Because one ball bounced off the side of Kevin’s head, he led a team consisting of himself, Lloyd, Robin, Jeremy, future-Henrietta, and Duncan; the other ball landed softly in Brent’s lap, so he unconsciously led the opposing team, which consisted of himself, Tom, Paige, Meaghan, Lyndsay, and Jamie. Of course, because the first, second, and final periods were such a mess, no one really remembered who was on their team at all times, and points were never really kept in mind of anyone except for the self-assumed coaches/referees at the sidelines. No one had had any time to come up with a catchy team name in any case as well, so that any (assumed) opposing player was simply referred to as “them!” or “those guys!”
       “Them is beating Those Guys 1-nothing,” observed Graham.
       “Pick it up, people! Pulverize them! You’re not putting in enough effort! Come on, guys!” Mellow coached.
       Mochizuki blithely continued to film the game, taking a hit for the team when he acquired a black eye thanks to the ball hitting the camcorder’s lens, which thus jammed the viewfinder into his eye socket. Elliot found himself giving Team Those Guys a lot of hypothetical penalties because Brent kept catching the ball, only to refrain from passing it. Being out cold did not entitle you to a separate set of rules, after all.
       The situation was further confused by the usage of two rugby balls at once. More than twice, teams Those Guys and Them produced touchdowns on opposite sides of the assumed pitch, despite not realizing touchdowns were not a part of rugby, or the fact they’d each scored the touchdown in their own end zone, or the fact each had their own ball. After a deliberation that lasted no more than a tenth of a second, coaches Elliot, Graham and Mellow agreed that both scores were invalid.
       “This is so pathetic I’m close to tears…get that damn camera out of my face, Evan!”
       “Now Kevin,” Elliot admonished as usual, “it’s just a game.”
       “Well it’s a stupid game! Played by stupid, incompetent people!”
       “Shush,” Graham ushered impatiently. “Team Them has one of the balls.”
       Robin danced helplessly around her teammates and the offensive from the other team. “Help! Ian! What next!? Direct me! Please!”
       Ian did not respond in the nature Robin could have dared hope. Instead, she distinctively heard high-pitched laughing coming out of her earpiece. “This isn’t fucking funny!” At that moment, a boy of mixed-race instantly appeared in front of her, almost knocking her down. Nelson screamed in surprise, as he had been doing during his whole time as an instantaneous subject.
       At the keyboards and bass, Ryan and Shawn were trying their best. If he could have, Ryan would have instantly gone to his APV to get the attention of all of the confused players and settle the game. He could easily tell that at least a few of them – most of the girls except Paige and Meaghan, and including Duncan and Jamie – were rather terrified. But he was mixed up in the music, and Shawn never gave him enough time in between songs to get off the keyboard. He always began the next song immediately.
       Because of the chaos happening in front of them, their musicianship had suffered somewhat. Ryan screwed up an Asus2 chord, and at the same time, Shawn played a G by mistake. On top of that was Ryan’s singing: He kept turning lyrics into mondegreens of what they actually were, thanks to his racing mind.
       “You don’t know what we could find,” Ryan sang as he messed up the chord progression. “Why don’t you come with me little girl, to a magic park-and-ride…” His voice was off-tune and nervous as well, instead of strong and deep. Meaghan had just back-flipped over Jamie, who was crouched on the ground in a ball.
       If only his cousin Ryan could open that desk up for him again, Jamie thought in anxiety. It was his thing, diving. Other than making him feel like a million bucks, it had a direct effect on his epinephrine levels, so he was active, alert, and ready to respond. Away from the board for more than ten minutes, though…those hormones quickly drained away. It was quite a disaster with the timing – if there was any time he needed something as natural as the basic fight-or-flight response, that time was definitely now. The alternative was getting inside Ryan’s desk to bring those levels back up again off the interior board, or crouching here on the ground as he was. It wasn’t his choice to be there. It was the fact Ryan had locked the door to the APV, and had anyways changed the perimeters when he’d loaded present-Henrietta into it. Ryan couldn’t unlock the door right now. He was too caught up playing a mixture of something he couldn’t understand (it was ‘Jungle Love’ by the Steve Miller Band, except that he sang it as “trouble-off.”)
       By now, it was becoming apparent that both teams had strong players. On Team Them, Lloyd was a superstar, aided by his drumsticks. His match on Those Guys was a blunt, strong redhead named Paige. Both of them faced each other the most, bouncing, kicking, head-butting, and maneuvering the ball around each other with grace – as well as a combination of ball movements from multiple sports including (but not limited to) basketball, football, and soccer. By now, Duncan had deflated the second rugby ball by accident, so there was less confusion. The fact that Lyndsay had also been tumbled into the next yard by a combination of wind and shoving also meant she was out of danger, although she had to hang tightly to the neighbor’s porch banister to keep from flying away. Her metal box was out of reach beside her toppled chair in the breezeway.
       Things were heating up. Two hours had passed, and the game was into the overtime period of the final period. Brent was still unconscious and the carrier of sixty-seven red cards, a record for the three coaches – they’d never seen such blatant carelessness for the rules. He would have had fifteen more red cards if the coaches hadn’t formally removed him from the game, but they couldn’t very well pick him up and move him, so Brent continued to get hypothetical red cards based on the hypothetical red cards thanks to the ball continuing to land on him.
       Robin had finally managed to flee to the tree house to hide with her brother, while future-Henrietta had finally shrugged everything off and gone with the flow. It was always better to be positive about things, after all. Jamie had remained on the ground, while Jeremy and Kevin got into constant, insane fights; their red card-count was only lower than Brent’s by 12. At this point, Paige was virtually snarling and Lloyd was keeping the beat. He definitely had it.
       All either had to do was score one point on the other. Lloyd, being a team player, decided to throw the ball to Duncan, who by now had a torn shirt, messy hair, scratches all over his arms and face, and crazy eyes. To everyone’s great surprise, he caught the ball.
       But Paige wasn’t settling. Screaming, she ran full-force at the almost catatonic blondie. Instead of grabbing the ball out of his nearly limp hands, she proved what a force she was by picking the poor guy up, and throwing him, ball and all, towards Lloyd’s end zone.
       This didn’t stymie the shoe salesman/student/drummer. He reached up to catch his teammate, using the help of his drumsticks to give him strength. Everyone’s eyes, from Mellow’s to Robin and Ian’s, were on Ryan’s best friend since 1st grade.
       No one could have ever expected what came next. Because as Duncan sailed into Lloyd’s outstretched arms in a beautiful spiral, both of his drumsticks became tangled in Duncan’s fine blonde hair – and snapped.
       The scene could have played out in slow motion, and from Duncan’s perspective, it definitely did. Instead of catching him, Lloyd registered the demise of his drumsticks by slackening his arms and opening his mouth; Duncan’s cranium made contact with Lloyd’s, and three seconds later, Paige had stolen the ball, danced over to Lloyd’s end zone, and forcefully deposited the ball. Game over.
       Doug Elliot stood over the two as Ryan and Shawn finally finished their medley of awkward music and nonsensical singing, and Ryan established some new perimeters on his APV.
       “They both have concussions,” Elliot diagnosed.

      The official end result of the impromptu rugby game catalyzed by Meaghan was 6-5(?) Those Guys. The score, of course, was easily disputed, but it was obvious from that final play that Those Guys had it. The game – not that it really was one – was won by a team led by a fiery redhead and a comatose individual who’d gained a new world record in penalties.
       By now, it was time for cake. It was presented by Ryan’s half-sister Malaika, who had known the advance location of the confection so she could be guaranteed the first piece. Doug Elliot, of course, took up the cutting and serving.
       By now, Jamie had gotten his diving fill, and both Duncan and Lloyd had bandages wrapped around their heads, thanks to the medical unit in the APV. Robin had also come down from the tree house.
       “Who was up there, by the way?” Ryan asked her.
       “What do you mean?”
       “I saw someone with binoculars up there earlier. I figured you would have run into him once you were up there.”
       “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Robin responded evasively. “I’ll just have a very thin piece…thank you.”
       “He saw me,” Ian said in her ear.
       “Well, duh,” Robin answered.
       “What was that?” Ryan asked.
       “Nothing, nothing.”

       Ryan wouldn’t normally have done a cake – he was 20 years old now, not six – but he felt it would cap off what would have been a wonderful occasion.
       Instead, as Elliot served up the cake with a smile on his face, his best friend Duncan was literally torn to shreds, complete with a wrapped head. Lloyd looked like he wanted to face-plant into his rather large piece of cake, and he had identical bandages. Shawn wasn’t in a mess, but he looked like he’d lost some of his cool; he never made so many mistakes on an instrument before.
       Then there was Lyndsay, who had to be rescued from next door’s soffit, and Paige, who was still trembling from all of that adrenaline. Jamie looked like he could have siphoned off any of it and still need more; he’d needed twenty minutes with the interior board in the APV, and even then he still seemed like a pale zombie. He only felt like five bucks.
       Kevin, bruised all over, decided to raise a glass to the table. “Ryan – happy birthday, man.”
       Everyone else, except for Brent, Lloyd, and Jamie (who was too weak to raise his glass) followed suit.
       “And sorry I screwed up the pre-drinks.”
       “Don’t worry about it,” Ryan responded, feeling uplifted by everyone’s – normal – behavior.

       At 6:30 that evening, everyone got ready to leave. An entire hour of socializing and summer plans had been made with just about everyone in that time, and nothing insane had come of it except for the instance Jeremy had tried to start a game of beer-pong with Kevin (they ended up in another low-key, nonsensical fight). Tom, who had deserted the party as soon as the rugby game had started up, had finally returned, and he was ready to keep hold of his older brother once again.
       Before she left, Ryan took future-Henrietta aside. He’d just remembered to get her possible account of the paradoxical circumstances, and he didn’t want her to leave before he potentially got an explanation.
       What future-Henrietta admitted was truly positive.

       Ryan was always making updates, improvements, and additions to what was originally his classroom desk. It had started in tenth grade; the 1960s-era school desk very quickly became a 21st century gadget.
       As Ian had noted to his older sister, Ryan had received inspiration from his uncle Peter when he’d stumbled upon his secret experiments up in the Bonnechere Valley. Indeed, the Deep-Woods Time-Travel Project had enlightened Ryan so much that he immediately began the preliminary measures for radically updating what had over time become an APV.
       As Ian had also noted, Ryan was failing considerably at this project. Initial testing had gone terribly, and at most, all he’d achieved was the creation of a temporal-free zone within the vehicle (once he established the correct perimeters). The zone meant nothing – except in a situation where, if something that existed when providence declared it ought not to came about, it could be considered ‘safe’ when contained within that zone. Ryan had by that point only guessed that such a zone would provide that concept because everything that existed did so without paradox.
       Ryan would continue to fail for another four years. Then, in 2015, he finally had a breakthrough when his uncle Peter unwittingly stumbled into the project, saw his problem, and gave him what he called an “unclassified thing-a-ma-jig” for his birthday as a gift. Ryan accepted the warm gesture with ebullience and immediately set to work implementing the part into his APV. Not a day later, Henrietta had messaged him on Facebook, wondering if he just had a birthday (she couldn’t remember the exact date). Hearing from him that it was the day before, they got into a conversation about the occasion, and Henrietta asked about his twentieth birthday party; she couldn’t for the life of her remember it, even though she remembered deciding to go.
       One thing led to another, and before long, Ryan was explaining to her in minute detail how to pilot his APV. To her amazement, he had just recently enabled it to travel through time – and he hadn’t gotten a chance to test it out yet. Was she willing to take that risk?
       “Consider four years ago as a test,” she suggested in her signature positive attitude. “Don’t worry about me. You’ve explained this to me for an hour now, and if I can remember one thing, it’s that you can enable the thing to record sound.”
       “Exactly. I was doing just that. If you really want to do this – after all, it’s only my twentieth birthday – you can listen to what I just explained on the sound system in there if you need any help with anything.”
       “Thank you. I’m sure it was a great time, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy myself.”
       Ryan thought back to that ridiculous party. Henrietta saw his eyes look off into the distance in contemplation, and she smiled.
       “Thanks, Ryan. I’ll be back in ten minutes. I promise.”
       “I really wish I could join you. I’d feel so much more secure in knowing it worked.”
       “I know. But you said yourself two Ryans would be an impossibility. I’ll be back soon.” With that, Henrietta closed the gull-wing door, started up the APV, and to Ryan’s excitement and worry, blinked out of sight.
       “So that’s what it looks like from the outside,” he acknowledged, having never been outside the APV when it was in motion before.
       In the blink of an eye, Henrietta found herself sitting on Arthur Street, on June 23rd, 2011. She and Ryan had set the geographical coordinates prior to her taking off, so she knew what street she was on and how to get to the party.
       Briskly, she turned off the device and walked around to the next street, keeping an eye on her watch. Ryan had used the device to calculate the length of time it generally took for one to walk from one street to the next beforehand, to factor in the exact time of the day she would travel there, so she kept an even pace to ensure she arrived right on time.
       By the time she stepped through the gate, Ryan, familiar as ever, was sitting in one of the chairs in an empty breezeway. His reaction was surprised and excited. “Hey, welcome, how are you?”
       “I’m great. Happy birthday.”
       “You look really mature.”
       Henrietta smiled to herself. She did not think four years’ age difference would be that obvious, but at least it didn’t betray her time-travelling to him. Responding in kind, she said, “so do you, you’re twenty now.”
       It had been quite a bit jarring to encounter herself dressed up as a convincing black dog later on, but at least Ryan had developed the temporal-free zone already. She knew that and felt a peace of mind about the matter.

       Ryan walked future-Henrietta back to his future-APV. He needed to see it for himself. Not noticing the “Stray Black Lab” posters on car windshields and telephone poles that four decent homeowners had put up after the stray had walked into their homes on its hind legs, they came upon the APV. It, too, had a poster on the windshield proclaiming the existence of the stray animal, as well as its apparent name being “Henrietta.” There were four optional phone numbers at the bottom, as the homeowners were looking for the dog so they could bring it to the Ottawa Humane Society in the hopes it would find a new home.
       But it wasn’t the poster the two were gawking at. It was the obvious damage the APV had taken; a tire was flat, two windows were crazed, and the metallic body was partly crushed and disfigured, as if something big had side-swiped it badly.
       Over in the next street, the roar of an engine whined into action. Smoke blowing out of its exhaust stacks, Ryan deduced that Kevin had started up his big semi-trailer truck for the ride home. A second later, they heard a jangle of gears as Kevin bungled up the change from first to second.
       Ryan thought about how Arthur Street was a one-way street going north, and that Cambridge, the next street over, the one Kevin had spent forty-five minutes reversing down, was also one-way, going south. Downtown Ottawa streets all had this commonality, to the ridiculous level.
       “Why, of anything in this damn universe, did I decide, in the future, to choose this street for you to park on!?” Ryan yelled.
       “I don’t know,” Henrietta answered in a small voice. It suddenly seemed like all her positivity had gone, and would not be coming back. “All I know is I promised future-you that I’d be back in ten minutes. 2015 time.”
       “Guy! Guy! Guy-di-guy-di-guy-di-guy!” a familiar voice called out from down the street. Ryan held his head, which was now unbelievably sore.

      “Guy! Hey! Who’s the cutie next to you? She looks mature! I like mature girls!” Brent smiled from ear-to-ear as he came up in front of them.
       “Now’s not the time, Brent,” Ryan croaked.
       “What do you mean? Oh, hey, happy birthday! What happened?”
       Henrietta and Ryan sat down at the curb by the totaled APV. Ryan needed to think; Henrietta needed to talk to Doug Elliot. But he’d gone home and was otherwise unavailable for counseling.
       “What happened?”
       “What happened, Brent? Everything. Every fucking thing.”
       At that moment, Ryan got a notification on his phone. It was an e-mail from Evan Mochizuki.
       “Ryan! Thanks for the fun times today. I’ve sent you my footage of the party – it’s up on YouTube. Don’t worry though, it’s private. I think. I’ve only uploaded a couple of videos on YouTube and I still haven’t figured out how to edit all of the settings. But don’t worry – believe in me.”
       The only thing that crossed Ryan’s mind upon that new information was this: Did he check “monetize” when editing the upload settings?

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Justin Campbell's website: http://justincottawa.blogspot.ca/

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