Outside it was raining clich├ęs.

Inside there were cats and dogs leaving to gather more drones.

Inside the walls the mice crept. Silently.

Below the floorboards the dead slept, disremembered and dismembered.

Above the ceiling, the clearing with sitar and knives and altar sat empty, single blue bulb shone above.

Inside the halls, dreck gathered dust.

Inside where there were more phones shut off for fear of unanswerable calls.

Outside we danced for four days. The shit had hit us hard like a cartoon circus train and we laughed over the rhythmic poundings of clownskulls on drone bones.

We sat in our chairs, sipping from styrofoam cups and watching the crowd walk by, our backs to the split-rail fence around a pond. The umbrella above us swayed slightly in the light breeze which was barely enough to cut the 90 degree heat, the framed caricatures we'd set out on the ground as samples reflecting dappled patterns on the underside. The smells of hot asphalt, funnel cakes, and suntan lotion permeated the air and our ears rang with the sounds of cicadas.

This was the perfect spot for days like today. Every few minutes the roller coaster would hurtle along the track above us and water jets would shoot out of the pond to spray the passengers. The breeze would carry over a fine mist, keeping us cool despite the sun.

Jason and I ran the caricature stand together—I did the drawings, he attracted the customers and handled the cash. He was a few years younger than me, maybe 17, and still had the youthful energy that I lost somewhere in college. The cliche would be to say that he reminded me of myself when I was his age but that'd be a lie. He was gregarious and friendly; not popular but personable in a way that offset his average appearance—I was not. Still, he's a good kid.

We both sat there, eyeing the crowd for the most likely takers. "Excuse me miss," Jason smiled at a group of teenagers, "would you like a picture of your boyfriend to take home?" The girls in the group looked at each other in the way that makes men uncomfortable. The guys shifted uncomfortably, sharing glances of their own. I smirked to myself as I pretended to arrange my supplies. Jason was always going after the groups with the cute girls. Not that I complained; they were good marks, especially the ones that liked embarrassing their boyfriends with silly pictures.

"Nick wants one!" one of the girls replied, glancing over at her beau who was valiantly trying to pull his grimace into a smile. She had a blonde ponytail and was wearing a top just tight enough to cling to her subtle but shapely torso. Her face was freckled with brown eyes framing a surprisingly attractive aquiline nose. Youthfully lithe the way high school athletes are with the kind of legs you can only get from running. I guessed either track or soccer. No knee scars from ACL surgery—probably track.

Jason was still trying to get his hormones under control so I took the lead for a bit. "Cool. Just go ahead and sit on that stool over there." I gestured to the seat we'd stolen from one of the bars on the other side of the park. I clipped a piece of paper to the easel and started sketching with a pencil, sizing up the boyfriend—not too symmetrical a face (those always make it hard), narrow forehead, pointy chin.

"Soooooo, where are you guys from?" My motions seemed to have reminded Jason that the small talk was his job. When you're paying a stranger to stare at you and then make you look ridiculous, it helps to have some conversation to fill the time. I pulled the lead across the page, the practiced motions producing a kite-shaped face in a half dozen sweeping strokes.

"Bluffton," he said with finality. Single-word answers, crossed arms, sullen expression; Nick was not enjoying this experience. I let my hand pivot slowly as I sketched the smaller arcs of the eyes—squinched and close-set. Looking up I compared my sketch to his face for a few moments, glancing between the two a few times to judge the likeness. I silently added some angry eyebrows. Jason chuckled quietly behind me.

As I took out another sheet of paper he tried prompting the group, "Whereabouts is that?"

"It's a small town a little south of Bowling Green. Only, like, 5000 people live there?" A boy in a striped polo shirt looked around the group to confirm his estimate. There were affirming murmurs while I redrew the lines of the sketch in black marker. Everyone quietly watched me for a few moments, the awkward silence filled by screams as the passengers above us were drenched with water. Nick shifted uncomfortably on the stool as a dozen eyes flicked back and forth between my paper and his face.

The blonde girl snickered. "Nick, you're going to love this." He half-stood from the stool, trying to lean around the easel to get a look.

I held up my free hand, motioning him to stay seated. "Not until it's done, please." I started shading, adding shape to the face with yellow and red art sticks as Jason entertained Nick's friends with jokes and his attempts to juggle.

"There you go," I said, as I finished blending the colors with my fingers, "I think your boyfriend will enjoy this." I smiled as I unclipped the drawing from the easel and handed it to the blonde girl. She laughed then rolled it up as I watched Nick's face turn red out of the corner of my eye.

Jason gestured to the lock box we used to handle transactions while I rinsed the smudges off my hands and dried them on a color-stained towel. As she handed Jason the bills she leaned forward and murmered something to him before closing her wallet and walking back to the group who by now were drifting back onto the path.

"Have a nice day." Jason said as they merged with the crowd and walked away. A little down the path I watched her unroll the drawing as everyone crowded around to get a look at it. The sound of laughter drifted over and we saw a few glances directed our way. I grinned at Jason and shook my head with amusement as I sat down and sipped the watered-down lemonade they sold at the concession stand. "So, what'd she say to you?"

"She said he wasn't her boyfriend." Jason separated the bills then paused for a moment. In between two of them was a scrap of paper with neat, feminine numbers written on it.

I laughed and turned to start cleaning up my area, "Pretty smooth, Casanova. I thought you'd blown it by talking to her chest the whole time."

Jason continued looking at the paper intently. "Yeah, she said she liked the eyebrows and that if you're ever around Bluffton you should call her," he said absently.

"Wait, what?" I stopped rearranging my markers and looked at the note in his hand. "Let me see that." I reached for the paper, jolting Jason out of his trance. He sharply turned and hunched his shoulders around it, glaring at me accusatively.

"Hold on a minute! I haven't memorized it yet!"

Secret Santa Summer Nodeshell Challenge 2011

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