Sunday, July 31, 2011

D.T. Kastn

Fiction by D.T. Kastn

Rufus said, "There’s a goat in the hall."

He said it again, too, because no one seemed to be paying him much attention. Or the goat, for that matter. It was a perfectly normal goat, of average size—for a goat—with a reasonably healthy gray coat the consistency of a shag rug. Maybe a little obtuse-looking but, again, this was par for the course when it came to goats. The other students appeared to be sidling past it, budging against the walls, as though it carried a dangerous curse other than the strong smell, which was—again—an integral part of its very goatiness.

Rufus approached the animal with caution. Everyone else was doing so—maybe there was something to it. Maybe it was a feral goat. A vampire goat. Maybe it was trying to get people to sign a political petition. Maybe it was a land-dwelling advocate trying to find help for its cousins, the goats of the sea—manatees. Or that was cows. Either way, this was a tricky proposition. Rufus sidled sideways up to it, ready to turn and run at the first sign of a charge.

The creature appeared pacific, however; the look in its mild golden eyes was bland and unassuming, generally sort of okay with everything, as though it had been drugged. Rufus assessed the situation.

"There’s a stoned goat in the hall," he said. "Why is there a stoned goat in the hall?"

The expected response on any given day was, Dude, it’s college. Why should there not be a stoned goat in the hall? Or a gargoyle on the toilet, or twelve Mr. Rogers impersonators locked in the basement with a typewriter, or an experimental machine for controlling weather in the common room, making the coffee pot go on the fritz. College had changed drastically since Rufus’ first time around. It was the legalization of medical marijuana, he figured. Suddenly, everybody had back aches, but they were very. Mellow.

Much like the goat, in fact. Which nobody had offered an explanation for, not even the expected one. Maybe there was something else going on here. Everyone looked terrified. Rufus narrowed his eyes at the goat, and the situation in general. Something else—yes. Something else was definitely going on.

"Has anyone seen Milford?"

Still no reply, but the student who was squeezing himself past the goat—which had taken a step or two towards the wall, as though it was trying to make things awkward—suddenly developed a hurry.

"Gibze! Where’s Milford?"

Gibze mumbled something incoherent and a voice floated down cloudlike to Rufus, a pronouncement from a higher power, the ultimate being: Milford’s girlfriend, Katy, who wore pink and was terrifying. And possibly a ninja. There was a rumor going around. Rufus wasn’t sure whether to believe it or not but the fact remained that he had once seen Katy take down a traffic cop whom she believed to have been mean to a puppy. And get away with it.

Katy slipped aimlessly down the stairs into Rufus’ line of sight and greeted him with an engagingly sloppy grin. Her mouth always looked as though no thought had been put into it, as though it were the happiest happenstance, a peach tree in the wilderness. It was at strict odds with the rest of her. Katy was a highly trained individual and her body reflected all the control that exercise, diet, panty hose and a professional bra-fitting could offer. She also had no business being on campus without Milford.

"Where’s Milford?" said Rufus, as coldly as possible. "You have no business being here without Milford."

"We’re not joined at the hip, you know, Mr. King."

"But in that general vicinity," said Rufus. But his voce wasn’t quite sotto enough and Katy flashed him a glare. He gulped, rallied his forces and went on. "There’s a new charter, missy. Milford probably told you. No visitors without express permission."

"Which I have."

"And without official accompaniment."

"Milford’s in the shower. He’ll accompany me when he’s clothed. Otherwise, that’s against the rules, too. You all are so uptight. Just because of those couple of incidents in the last month—"

"The nudist streak, you mean? Or—the streak of nudists? Either way, I guess."

"You’re going to have to help me with the goat. He’s stoned out of his gourd."

Rufus had been momentarily distracted by semantics and synonyms; returning to what was passing for a conversation, he found that Katy had the goat by the scruff of its neck, like a recalcitrant kitten, and was trying to haul it to the door. The goat seemed to be content with its current lot in life, however, and wasn’t keen on leaving the relative comfort of the hall.

"So it is your goat," Rufus murmured, eyes narrowed. Katy sighed.

"The next thing you’re going to say is, I suspected as much."

"I suspe—hey, why did you bring a goat in here, anyway? You’re not supposed to be here. Why compound the offense by trailing your entourage of farm animals like you’re some hopped-up pop starlet with meat on her head?"

This was a daring comparison to make, of course, because there had been that one ill-advised karaoke video.

"You are not making yourself any more likeable, Mr. King," said the possible ninja, in a voice that dripped with sweet danger, like honey laced with arsenic. She stepped deliberately towards him and he was suddenly, acutely aware of the fact that her pink heels were sharp stilettos; which, driven into a man’s foot, would undoubtedly cause months of pain and silly lopsided dancing. Although he could legitimately file for medical marijuana at that point. He shrank back for a split second before realizing that she was still tugging ineffectually on the goat, and rallied himself again. He was always rallying himself when Katy was around. He might as well get fitted for a cheerleading outfit.

"I wasn’t really trying to, to be honest," Rufus said.

"Let’s leave your impolitic rudeness in the dust for the moment, shall we? Are you going to help me with this goat or not?"

Rufus slid his hands slowly, deliberately, into his pockets hoping this would be answer enough. It wasn’t. She was still staring at him, waiting.

"Why should I?" he said. "Why not get someone else to do it?"

"Because everyone else is pretending I’m not here. It’s like I’m a leper."

"Or a ninja," said Rufus, helpfully.

"Or a ninja with leprosy."

"Which would not help the ninja’s stealth tactics, much. If you leave a nose or a finger behind, people usually know you were there."

"Why do they treat me this way?" wailed Katy in a sudden excess of emotion. The goat eyed her askance. She loosed her grip on its nape, and it took two very deliberate steps away from her before she hurriedly grabbed it again. "Just tell me, Mr. King. You’re the know-it-all."

"I’m a student advisor, if that’s what you mean."

"So advise me."

"You’re not a student!"

"Make allowances, Mr. King. Be a mensch, step up to the plate, pay it forward, play nice with others, and for God’s sake grow a pair." She glared at him. It was infuriating. He was actually infuriated. He hadn’t been infuriated for years. He hadn’t been told to grow a pair for years, either. But at least his doctor had finally said, No, really, it’s a recognized medical condition.

"They’re terrified of you," he said, letting the fury speak for him. "They’re terrified of you, because you’re older than they are, and your hair is perfect, and you’re beautiful, and you wear pink, and your very femininity is threatening considering we’re not exactly co-ed, and you have no tattoos, and you smile at them, and you exude something which, though indefinable, is the very essence of everything they’ve ever dreamed of and everything they wake up wanting in the morning, like a warm girl with a hot cup of coffee and the world waiting in the palm of her hand. Also, you might be a ninja."

His fury was eloquent.

"I’m not a ninja, Mr. King," said Katy. "If I was, I could have got this goat in and out before any of you ever realized it. And then there would just be this inexplicable pile of goat do’s in Milford’s bed. And in his closet, too, although he wouldn’t find that till later. He never bothers to clean in there."


Katy closed her eyes, briefly. "There were a lot of points covered in those last couple of sentences. What didn’t you understand?"

"Let’s assume I understood everything perfectly, but repeat what you said anyway. Why is—why were you—what—"

"Why is the goat here? To leave a reminder of its presence in Milford’s bed. Why were I doing that? That’s hardly grammatical, Mr. King. No wonder you had to come back to college."

"It was a personal choice," said Rufus, but it was automatic. "What—"

"—happened?" prompted Katy. "I brought the goat in to help me say goodbye to Milford. I’m breaking up with him. I have broken up with him, actually, but the goat was intended as a sort of farewell gift. Unfortunately, he got loose and discovered Mr. Gibze’s medical marijuana."

"He has a terrible backache," murmured Rufus.

"So I gather. Any other points you’re unclear on?"

"Breaking up—"

"With Milford. Yes."


"—bye. Yes."

"No," said Rufus. He was smiling strangely, the sort of smile a suicidal deer might give if caught in the headlights—loving its fate, welcoming it, feeling sweet relief in the very rushing of the wind of death. If deer could smile, of course, which was patently ridiculous. He was in college. He knew these things. "No," he said again, to make it perfectly clear. "Good."

He allowed Katy a moment to take that in. She took it.

"So are you going to help me with this goat, or not?"

There was a reason all the students at Eastbrick were terrified of Katy. Terrified, and yet strangely drawn to her, Rufus noted. It was the sloppy smile, the unguarded turn of her mouth. Maybe it was even the impatient tapping of her death heels. Or was it, perhaps, the professionally-fitted bra? No, it was definitely the smile.

He cleared his throat.

"It’s fairly obvious to me," he said, "that two people are needed to convince a goat to go up the stairs. Even when it’s stoned. There’s a mathematical equation in there somewhere. I know this. I’m in college."

Yeah, definitely the smile.

"You’re going to help me," said Katy, softly.

"Well, you need an official escort," Rufus pointed out reasonably. "It’s in the rules." He advanced on the seriously mellow goat and seized it by the scruff of the neck, like a fractious frilled lizard. "Come on, cabra. I’m also in Spanish 2."

"Bueno," said Katy.

"Show-off," said Rufus, glaring. "This is a task. This is a task and a half. I’m going to be half-starved by the time this is over. You should buy me dinner."

She peeled his fingers from the goat, replacing them with hers. "Is that so, Mr. King?"

"I could go for some barbacoa."

"Is that so," said Katy again, and tugged. "Get to the rear, Mr. King, and shove."

Rufus got to the rear. He shoved.

"Put your back into it," said Katy.

Rufus put his back into it. What did he care? This was college. Things like this happened all the time. It was one of the facts of life. There were probably rules about it.

Katy’s grin was shining at him from over her shoulder, and a handful of strands had fallen loose from her artful coif.

"We made the first step," she said.

"Yes," said Rufus. "Yes, we did."

"Shut up, Mr. King," said Katy, but she said it in a sort of pleasantly threatening way. Rufus grinned, and he continued putting his back into it, and he gave it his all. All he had to give. Up the stairs, and to the landing, and to the promised land.

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