Of Faith and Ferris Wheels
As her plastic ring flew through the air, its arc just as she'd envisioned it, Paula couldn't help but cheer. It clattered on the base of the ring-toss peg -- the fifth in a row, Paula gloated, and without even the slightest psychic nudge! Even the barker couldn't help but look a touch impressed. "Well-done, young lady! That'll be a prize for your gentleman, then?"
"Yes, I think so. I'll take that chameleon up there -- the cerise one." Paula glanced at Ness as the barker fetched the toy from the highest row of his stuffed-prize array, and she couldn't resist shooting him a wink in response to his speechless look. Wasn't it nice to take a boy by surprise, sometimes?
It took Ness almost five minutes, until they were halfway out of the midway, to work up some kind of response. "What was that all about, anyway?"
"I had to even the score." Paula gestured towards the powder-blue bear she carried, the product of Ness's remarkable performance on the strength-test bell. "Besides, everyone likes to show off sometimes."
"I know, I know, but...a chameleon? A pink one?"
"Not pink. Cerise: it's a sort of purplish-red, really. It's just light enough to look pink there."
Ness squinted, looking at her as if she'd grown another head. "Honestly? 'Cerise?' Do they give girls special classes in this stuff?"
"It's an art. Just trust me -- it suits you well."
"Guess I'll take your word for it!"
Ness's befuddled expression morphed into a grin, then laughter, and Paula joined in as the two made their way to the row of food stalls. They must have looked a sight -- but if you couldn't show off and laugh and look like fools at a country fair, where could you?
A half-hour and a corn dog later, Paula finally had to admit what a good idea this had been. When Ness had first suggested it, she'd found the idea of a date -- their first real date, even -- at a fair just a touch silly, but he'd managed to talk her into it. As he'd pointed out, their notoriety would keep them from having any kind of "normal" night out in Onett or Twoson, but who would recognize them at the county fair in the sleepy town of Septon? Just to be sure, Ness had shed his usual image, arriving at her house in a plain blue button-down shirt and dark blue tie, hatless, his hair combed so neatly it was hard to recognize him at first. Even now, thought Paula as she watched him from across their picnic table, she felt a bit underdressed compared to him. She'd thought her green sundress and a ponytail had looked nice and summery, but even with his hair a touch rumpled by wind, Ness was the perfect small-town farmboy in his Sunday best.
"So, what now?" said Ness. "We've still got a lot of fair here. We could go see the vegetable exhibition -- I hear they've got the biggest squash in Eagleland this year! Exciting, huh?" Heavens, he really was getting into this.
"Well... squash are nice, but I'd like to head back to the midway, if it's all right. Don't you want to do any rides?"
Ness lowered his voice, frowning ever so slightly. "Paula, I was trying to be polite. This is the first time I'm really taking you out, and I didn't want to rush you around to the Cyclone and the Mindbender and all of those things if you didn't want to." He blushed just a bit, and Paula had to admit it was charming, even if it was confusing. They'd crawled through the ugliest parts of the world and faced monster after monster together, and now he was worried about carnival rides?"
"Truth be told, I'm not sure I'm in the mood for the Mindbender either," she replied, "but I'd at least like to ride the Ferris wheel. The last time I was on one was at the Threed circus, when I was a little girl, and I've always wanted to try it again."
"Ferris wheel it is, then! I think we bought more than enough tickets..."
The line for the Ferris wheel wasn't long at all; the rowdy afternoon crowd seemed more focused on the faster, more chaotic rides, and Paula decided it was their loss. The Septon Country Fair Ferris wheel was a huge, grand contraption in the old style, and even if a bit of the gilt was flaking off and more of the spoke-mounted lights were dead than alive, the great wheel still had a touch of majesty above and beyond your average Tilt-a-Whirl or Bumper Car ride. Ness and Paula's car, graced with swan-shaped cutouts, was just big enough to fit both of them, although the stuffed toys made it a snug fit indeed.
No sooner had the ride attendant closed the bar over their knees that the wheel began its slow ascent, and Paula started to watch the midway recede below her. It was this awe she remembered from childhood: watching the attendant, the line, and slowly even the other rides and games become tiny abstract figures beneath her, like so many toys scattered over the great playroom floor of the fairgrounds. Soon, their car had reached the pinnacle of the wheel, and Paula could see nearly the entire fair arrayed before her, out to its gates and the horizon far beyond. She was poised at the top of the world, alone... except, as she remembered, for Ness, his warm leg pressed against her own, his hand reaching for hers. As the car's descent began, Paula broke from her reverie to watch Ness, who had begun to lean forward towards her, eyes shining with expectation. There was a slight psychic prod of hope against her mind, and she answered it with affirmation, closing her eyes and waiting.
Suddenly, Ness jerked back, and Paula snapped her eyes open again. Ness's gaze was locked on the fairgrounds below, his expression wide-eyed and shocked, away from her, and she turned to match his stare. Even with their car only beginning its re-ascent, she could see the cause of his shock clearly: one of the large exhibition tents, brightly and fully aflame. Smoke billowed in great plumes into the air, and the fire rose high, far too close to the other tents.
"Paula! We've got to do something! If that fire spreads..." Ness's voice was near panic, and Paula nodded hurriedly. Septon was near the end of a dry summer, and the fairground was full of canvas, old wood, and dead grass. Even a spark in the wrong place could light it all like a tinderbox.
"But -- what can we do?! We're locked into this thing, and it's a long ride. By the time it ends, it'll be beyond helping!"
"I've got an idea, all right? Just... trust me." Ness grabbed the latch on the knee-bar, clawing it open with brute strength and flinging the bar away from them to clang against the side of the car. He stood up and pulled Paula with him, the car shuddering from the sudden movement even as it kept climbing higher.
"Good thing we've been working on levitation lately, huh? Think light thoughts!" And with that, Ness launched himself forward as the car hit its highest point. They were in the air, Paula realized: Ness, rushing forward as if determination could give him some foothold in the air, and her being pulled behind. Somehow, they were gaining speed, moving forward, and she willed herself to keep her eyes from straying down, to think light thoughts, to trust. Yet they were in the air, still running, but she could feel gravity pulling down, even as there was a flash of light --
And then Paula's feet were on solid ground. She and Ness stood in front of the burning tent, now a true inferno. It didn't take a firefighter's experience to realize it was close to collapsing, and the screaming from inside reminded Paula that there was no time to lose with questions. Instead, she took a deep breath and found her point of concentration, the part of her brain that always held its power for when the rest of it was in disarray.
"PSI Freeze Omega!" Paula thrust her palm forward, projecting a massive blast of ice crystals and frigid water forward at the fire. The forces collided in a massive cloud of steam, large enough to to send a gust of scalding vapor against Paula's face, but she gritted her teeth and kept going. With the steam still expanding, mixed with the chemical foam from the fairground security's fire extinguishers, she could barely make out the fire, but the flashes seemed to be dwindling away. Finally, just as she could feel her reservoir of power begin to run out, the last flames died in a rush of steam, leaving the tent half-collapsed but the rest of the fair intact.
As Paula stepped back to catch her breath, Ness stepped into action, surveying the crowd with an air of authority. "Is anyone hurt?" he said, and almost immediately strode towards the first person to cry out, his hands already beginning to shimmer with the greenish energy of PSI Lifeup. "Please, let me do what I can!"
A collective gasp went up from the crowd that had gathered around the scene, and finally one woman towards the back exclaimed what most must have been thinking: "You're -- you're those kids! The Chosen!" Paula just nodded; after that display of power, there wasn't much use denying who they were. She glanced towards Ness, still busy with the wounded, and rubbed her hands together to remove the last trace of chill before regarding the staring crowd.
"Yes, we are. I know this must be a bit of a shock, but we saw the fire, and we had to do what we could. Can I answer any questions for you?"
Once the questions were over and the few burn victims were helped, there was an unspoken understanding that the afternoon was over. Ness and Paula headed out of the fairgrounds, stopping only to pick up the neglected stuffed animals back at the Ferris wheel, and one Teleport later, Paula found herself being walked home in silence. Ness, his face smudged with soot, looked utterly sheepish -- not what she'd expected from Septon's newest hero.
Finally, as they emerged from the fields and the city of Twoson was in sight, Ness cleared his throat to speak. "Paula... I'm sorry about this. I wanted this to be a chance for us to get away from the attention, just do something like normal kids for once, and here it all went wrong again."
"Unless you started that fire, you have nothing to apologize for," she replied. "We're two of the Chosen Four, Ness. We've been uniquely blessed, and now we have a duty towards the world. Maybe we'll miss out on normal dates, but even if we do, it's a small price to pay for being able to make a difference in the world. If we were normal, we'd have probably watched the fairgrounds burn down back there."
"I guess you're right," replied Ness. "It's just that there's so much I want to give you, and it's easy to get disappointed, sometimes. Which, uh, reminds me…"
"I'm sorry about jumping off the Ferris wheel. I was pretty sure it was going to work, but I'm not sure that 'pretty sure' was worth risking your life for."
"But it couldn't wait, and it worked, so what's the harm?" Paula stepped forward, taking both of Ness's hands in hers. His hands were shaking, and when she looked at him, he looked away, mouth twisted into a queasy-looking frown. His thoughts, Paula could feel, were undisciplined: images of terrible what-ifs, backed by surging regret and a touch of fear.
"I... I shouldn't have. If anything had happened..."
"It didn't happen. Don't try that trick again any time soon, but you're forgiven for now." She squeezed his hands and smiled as their shaking subsided. "You know I trust you. I'd say that I'd follow you to the ends of the earth, but you know full well I already have."
"Heh. You've got a point there. Just... it was rotten timing on that fire, wasn't it? I thought we were finally going to -- somewhere where it was going to be really special --"
Before he could continue, Paula leaned forward, only letting her grip on his hands slacken once their lips met. She wrapped her arms around him to pull him closer, and he responded in kind, holding her lightly at first but then tighter as the kiss intensified. Paula could still taste the faintest hint of smoke on his lips, warm and woodsy. When they at last released each other, Ness was smiling again. Paula sent out a psychic tendril: all okay? The reply followed swiftly: more than okay.
"See?" said Paula. "It was going to be special anywhere. Nothing worth being worried about."
"You're right. You're usually right about this stuff, aren't you?"
Paula shrugged as she began to walk forward, again, towards the main road and home. "Being a psychic helps. And on that subject: you really should teach me to Teleport, one of these days."
"Why not this weekend?" replied Ness, hurrying to catch up. "I'm free on Saturday, and if you can get to Onett, there's a nice big field east of town that'd be good for practice."
"Saturday, then? Okay. Why don't I get a picnic basket ready? We can have lunch out there if the weather's good."
"Oh, that's a great idea! ... This, uh, sounds a lot like a date, though."
Paula grinned. "It does. Do you mind?"
"Can't say I do."
"Then it's settled." Paula turned down the driveway and approached the door of the Polestar Preschool, Ness right by her side. "I'm looking forward to it."
"Glad to hear it. Well, I shouldn't keep you, but... thanks for going with me, Paula. I hope you had a good time."
Paula stood on tip-toes to give Ness a peck on the cheek. "I had a wonderful time, fire and all. Next time we're on a Ferris wheel, though, you're going to owe me a kiss."
Ness's anxiety finally broke down, and he flashed her the V-for-victory, blushing all the way. "It's a sure thing. Seeya on Saturday."
"See you then!" Paula waved and stepped inside. The house was dark and quiet; maybe, she thought, her parents had gone out for a night alone for once, and more power to them. It'd give her time to explain her day at the fair… and, for that matter, what a lucky girl she really was.