I wrote this next piece for a writing challenge (issued by Livejournal’s The Dead Muse). They supplied a prompt (two teenagers are rowing across a lake when they discover an artificial leg and a clown suit floating in the water) , and I was to do the rest. This is what happened.
Scott was the first to break the silence. “Look at the lake, it’s gorgeous.”
And it was. The sun shone on the water, the sky was a pretty shade of orange, and it was absolutely quiet. Or, at least, there was no man-made noise, which, to a couple of city kids, was almost the same thing.
They rowed for a while in companiable silence. They had been friends since the fourth grade. This time next year, they would be at different colleges, with different lives. Scott hoped they would stay in touch, and often said so. Riley, the more gruff one, had the same thought even though he wouldn’t admit it.
Both their parents sometimes wondered why the boys were such good friends. Scott was shyish and fond of solitary things like taking hikes and reading. He did have friends, but not like Riley, who was outgoing, played football and had a different date every Saturday night. Despite their differences, the friendship thrived. They saw each other outside of school as well as on the weekends, and often went camping together. That proved to be the perfect activity to combine Scott’s love of nature and Riley’s outdoorsman spirit. They would roast ‘smores and talk until early morning. Then, even Riley opened up, and told Scott about his hopes and dreams for the future, about the girls he had been dating, all the things he couldn’t really share with his other friends. Scott was the first to hear about it when Riley lost his virginity, even before his football pals. Riley hadn’t been boastful then; it hadn’t been locker room talk, but honest words spoken to a good friend. But even though they talked about almost anything on those nights, there was always one thing Scott wanted to say, but never could bring himself to actually do.
They had stopped rowing by this time, and were just letting themselves drift. Riley had his eyes closed, and was enjoying the early sun. Scott studied him, and wondered again why they had remained friends. But he was glad they had, and only hoped he could find such a friend again when he went off to college. He was going out-of-state, while Riley remained in Washington. But whatever happened, Scott was sure they’d always at least send Christmas cards.
Just then the boat bumped against something. Riley opened his eyes, but as there was nothing to be seen, he closed them again. Scott looked at him again, and felt his stomach turn. He had to say something today. He had to say it now.
How does one say such a thing? It was something he had agonized over for the past months. Was it best to just state it, or to drop hints? He had tried the latter, but Riley hadn’t picked up on them. Scott desperately wanted Riley to know, but he didn’t want to scare him off. He knew it had happened before. He had talked to some guys online who had had that happen to them. But they survived, and he was sure he would, if worst came to pass.
Well, he thought, here goes nothing, to use a cliche. He swallowed and opened his mouth at the same time as Riley sat upright and started to talk.
“We should start rowing again. I mean, we have to break up camp and stuff before your folks come. Plus, we have that last lunch to look forward to, and -”
“Riley,” Scott said. “Riley, I’m gay.”
Riley looked at him with horror. “What the fuck,” he yelled, and scrambled backwards in the boat. Scott’s heart sunk. He had never felt so humiliated in his life. He wanted to be anywhere but here in the boat with the boy he thought was his best friend. In an impulse, and one he would regret later, he dove overboard. And landed on an empty clownsuit that was floating next to an artificial leg.
Riley looked at him like he was crazy. “Dumbass, get back in the boat. I was talking about the leg. I thought it was a dead body.”
“Oh,” Scott said, feeling extremely foolish. “It’s fake.” He took Riley’s hand and managed to get back in the boat. He sat there for a moment, shivering, and watched Riley haul the suit and leg on board as well.
“What happened?” Riley asked.
“The clown, of course. Why is there both a suit and a leg in the water, and nothing else?”
Scott relaxed and let his imagination work. He came up with several explanations, each one sillier than the last, until both boys were laughing hard enough to scare all the birds away. The final explanation was the most ludicrious, as final explanations tend to be. “The clown decided to go for a swim and was attacked by a shark or a man-eating piranha, or maybe just a goldfish. He threw his fake leg as far as he could to distract it, and swam asore. The suit dragged him down, so he took that off as well. That’s how the police found him; naked, cold, and with one leg. He was hopping down the highway,” Scott said with a straight face, or, at least, as straight a face as he could manage under the circumstances. Still laughing, the boys rowed ashore, and left the suit and leg in the boat as they cleared their camp. At last, they sat down to their last lunch at the campsite. After they had both burned the roof of their mouths on the undercooked yet somewhat charred hotdogs, Scott got up enough nerve to ask if Riley had heard him earlier. Riley didn’t answer, though, because at just that moment Scott’s parents drove into the clearing. The question was lost in the bustle of greeting Mr and Mrs Eglander, loading their bags into the car and explaining the debris in the boat. Scott’s parents shook their heads, but loaded the attributes in their car along with the tent and duffelbags. They’d figure out what to do with them at home.
It was quiet in the car. Scott and Riley were both tired out, and the adults didn’t talk because they didn’t want to disturbe them. Scott wasn’t sleeping though. He was hyperaware of Riley next to him, and wondered what Riley was thinking. At that moment, Scott’s dad turned around and asked if they were up for ice cream. Like any teenage boy, Riley loved junkfood, and opened his eyes quickly to reply in the affirmative. As they climbed out of the minivan, Riley touched Scott on the arm and said, “We’re cool man,” with a smile so geninune Scott knew he hadn’t ruined their friendship. The smile on his own face had nothing to do with the prospect of ice cream, even though he’d have his parents – and the rest of the world – think so.
I don’t think it’s any weirder than anything I normally would have written, even without the prompt. It was only a matter of time until a clown suit and an articifical leg found their way into my head…