MY COMPUTER IS FIXED YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAY~! :D
Thanks for the reviews in the time I was out of action, it looks like the wishing well for my humble little laptop worked! And as for the review from Edward Nygma... I'm not sure whether to be scared or not you're reading this... (Whoever did that really made me smile! Thanks! XD)
Chapter 15 - Wonder
Ruth watched, hidden in the crowd as her friend willingly went into the carnival grounds, hand in hand with The Riddler. She couldn't help feeling some resentment towards him, even after she had told herself that everything would be fine. Caroline would have a nice evening, The Riddler would most likely forget who either of them were by the next day, no more problems apart from normal ones that normal people with normal lives get.
Yet she couldn't shake her doubts away. Something seemed wrong, but she could't quite put her fingers on what was so suspicious to her. It ate away at her confidence, and she loathed the dread it left in it's wake.
So, purely for her own security and knowledge that Caroline would be safe that night, Ruth pulled up the hood on her black sweatshirt and tried to blend in, keeping a fair distance from the couple whilst still keeping watch on them. Keeping her head down an being incognito, she was concentrating too hard on hiding herself to notice the other person stalking the couple from the back of the crowd.
The Twilight Carnival was completely teeming with life within minutes of opening it's gates. Stalls, tents and rides were perfectly spaced apart, with enough room between them for spectators to walk without being cramped and close enough so that the fairy lights that illuminated the entire area could be easily draped like a canopy above the paths leading all around the carnival. The sweet scents of sugary treats from the variety of candy stalls wafted through the air and making everyone smile with satisfaction as the buttery popcorn smell morphed into a toffee apple delight.
All of the typical carnival rides were found at the north of the carnival: various 'Fun Houses', two Ferris Wheels, Helter Skelters, a maze, even a small roller coaster. To the East and West were tents, each one's stripes matching the monochromed theme of the promotional poster. However, the inside of each tent as a different colour, varieties of shades individual to each one. Dressed to colour co-ordinate with the interior of the tent, entertainment acts of all kinds were featured, set up inside a ring surrounded by chairs for spectators to awe in amazement at the acts. Most of the food stands were occupying the south, but others were still dotted all over the map.
Both Caroline and The Riddler had never experienced anything quite like it before, seeing as this was the first time such a carnival as this had been brave enough to visit Gotham City (with someone like The Joker around, it was more of a surprise to see a travelling carnival than it was to not see one!).
He turned to Caroline. "So, where to?"
Caroline, still taking in most of what she could see from where she was standing, shrugged undecidedly. "I have no idea! This whole place is huge... Why don't we walk around a little first?"
"We have all night," The Riddler grinned and gestured for her to walk with him as they headed further into crowd to explore. He slid his arm around her waist as they walked, to guide her and keep her from getting lost in the mass of people. He half expected her to shrug it off, or at least freeze up, but she let him hold her without a struggle.
Meanwhile, Ruth was sat on a bench, watching carefully and critically as they began to vanish into the crowd. Although she knew better, anyone looking at them couldn't tell that Caroline and Riddler weren't actually a couple (according to both sides of the pair, anyway). But it was somewhat bothering to her that Caroline was seeming to actually be getting into the whole idea that this was a date. Normally, she wouldn't let him lay a hand on her without complaining or at least looking mildly disturbed, yet she had just displayed an action of either not caring or enjoying his company - God forbid.
Ruth sighed and got up from the bench, preparing to follow them. "They do look like a happy couple, that's for sure."
"I know, right?" An enthusiatically happy voice perked up from behind her.
Ruth spun around immediately to be greeted with a man who was doing just as Ruth was: watching Caroline and Riddler on their date. Except he wasn't looking on in suspicion, but in an almost dream-like state like he was admiring the sight. Ruth coughed, catching his attention. Baby blue eyes glistened as he looked up through a blonde fringe.
"Hm?" He smiled, childlike.
Ruth arched an eyebrow. "Why're you watching couples like that? Are you some kind of stalker?" She made sure not to mention their names or that she was spying on them as well.
To her surprise, the man giggled. "Hee hee, no! Of course not! I'm just watching a friend who's on a date, to make sure he's okay. You know, like security?"
"Security, right, how- wait." Ruth interrupted herself. "Do you know the girl, or the guy?"
"The guy - he's my boss. He actually asked me to do this, which of course I agreed to. But I kind of know the girl too. We met the last time she was meeting up with him, and we talked a little before I left them alone." The strange man said.
"You work for the Riddler?" Ruth asked, before realising what she'd just said.
His eyes widened and he paled slightly. "Uh... Well, I-" HIs voice became panicky, and he turned away to hide his face, but then lightning struck and he turned to face her accusingly. "Wait, how do you know that the man over there is The Riddler?... Which he isn't! I mean, metaphorically speaking..." He then stood, towering a intimidating half a head over her height. "Who are you?" He lowered his voice so it was just quit enough to hear.
Ruth didn't faulter, only looking up at him as he attempted to interrogate her. "I'm just a Scottish woman who wants to make sure her best friend is safe on her date. A Scottish woman who doesn't like to be-"
"Ohhhhhhh!" The man drew back, losing his asertive manner for a much more goofy one. "You're a friend of Caroline! THAT makes sense now!"
"... And if I am?"
He drew up the right sleeve of his grey trench coat and held it out to shake. "I'm Tom! Undercover henchmen for The Riddler and currently protection from flying rodent interferance!"
Ruth looked at him, then at the hand, then back up at his face somewhat confused. Eventually, she took the hand and shook. "... Ruth. Best friend who is making sure she doesn't get her life ruined by a date with a super villain. But I don't know what I'll do if Batman comes along, so lets just hope that doesn't happen."
"That would be best!" He took his hand back before looking back at the crowd. "So, what do you think of all this?"
"..." Ruth furrowed her brow and shrugged. "Eh. I wouldn't have agreed to it, but whatever suits her."
Tom chuckled. "I take it you're a little put off by the fact that he's technically supposed to be in a mental hospital right now?"
"I understand. I was a little like that too, but he's a great boss and an alright guy if you look past his obsessions and criminal record."
Both of their attention drew to a candy floss stand just in view, where Riddler was treating Caroline to a pink fluffy cloud of sugar.
"Y'know..." Ruth said smugly, as if plotting. "They seem okay. And I saw on the map that there's an arcade tent on the East side. I feel the need to waste the spare change in my pocket. Wanna come along?"
Tom frowned, pulling a strand of stray fringe back behind his ear. "I dunno, I think I should be around, just in case..."
"What's the worst that could happen? He'll look after her anyway. Tell you what!" She leaned in, smirking and holding up a coin. "First game of the dance machine is on me, and the next one if you beat me?" She tempted him, twirling the coin between her fingers.
Tom's smile turned devious, like a child slacking off to go out with his friends. "You're on!"
In the stall, there were six bowling-pin shaped clown dolls stood in a row on a wooden red shelf at the back, with sprouts of green tuft coming off from their head and little red balls on each of their noses. Their smiley faces were the first clown smiles Gotham was happy to see in a long while, yet like the rest were strangly prone to being shot at.
The cork flew from the gun and the unfortunate one fell from it's position and hit the floor with a thud. The stall runner, a short stout man dressed impeccably in a black and white striped shirt and black trousers held his hand up to stop Caroline firing again whilst he picked up the doll and placed it face down on the shelf to show she'd hit it. Although it was only a fairground popgun rifle, her arms were shaking under the strain of trying to fire straight because she had stubbornly refused to let The Riddler shoot and win for her. She figured getting help from a criminal who was probably used to firing guns was cheating and she didn't want the stuffed teddy that had been made from cheap fabric THAT much.
"A good shot on your second try! Well done," The Riddler was leaning up against the table top to which the rifle was chained to and watching Caroline with amusement. The first shot would have blown the cotton brains out of one of the prizes hanging on the ceiling were it a real gun, so her vast improvement genuinely surprised him.
"Don't patronise me!" Caroline smirked, pressing the butt of the rifle into her shoulder. "I've never even touched a gun before!" She was careful not to mention how he had aloud whilst she picked up one of the remaining three corks from the table top and pushed it into the front of the barrel.
He held his hands up in mock defense. "Was I really patronising you? I believe the word you're looking for is praising. Savour the moment."
Another bang, this time the cork nearly hitting the stall runner, who'd shielded his face in fright. Caroline huffed. "Because it's probably not going to happen again, seeing as that one good shot was lucky."
The stall runner spoke up. "You gotta get those last two hits to win a prize and I don't mean hittin' me!" He grumbled to himslef as he straightened out the creases in his shirt formed when he ducked for cover.
Caroline smiled sheepishly in apology before loading up again. Just as she raised her arms again, two steady hands gripped them gently to control and steady her. She glanced back to see The Riddler had snuck up behind her and had closed himself around her. He rested his head on her shoulder as if pretending to line up the sights, but Caroline just rolled her eyes at the gesture.
"... You do know this is a fixed rifle, right?" She said quietly, wary of the stall runner looking critically at his fingernails and waiting for her to take another shot.
"You do know I've been studying how it fires the last three times you've fired it?" He whispered in her ear but she just ignored his breath was warming up her ears. "I bet you I can help you get a good shot."
She thought for a moment before letting her arms slack a little. "Go on. Try and impress me."
Taking the challenge, he restraightened and moulded her shooting stance so that she was aiming to the right of the doll on the right-end of the line. Then slowly putting his hand over her's on the trigger, they squeezed.
Caroline's eyebrows arched in surprise. The stall runner started to think they might actually win if he was to keep playing with her, but said nothing. Now sure she was going to get a prize, she let her arms loosen again. The Riddler re-positioned her again, but just before he shot the rifle, he tilted upwards a little.
The cork whizzed over the clown's head, just brushing the hair.
"Better luck next time," The stall runner said mechanically, as if that was all he ever said on this job and went to reset the game for the next people to play.
Caroline's shoulders slumped and she put the gun back on the table. The Riddler backed up slightly to let her walk back before rejoining her to walk along to wherever they fancied next. But unexpectedly, once they were a few stalls away from the rifle-range, Caroline stopped him and asked, "Why did you shoot up that time? You could've made that easy."
"Ah," The Riddler smirked smugly. "But you didn't deserve to win that prize if I was helping you - I only agreed to help with a good shot, not two. You can't use someone who's better at you when it comes to firearms for the second."
"You didn't tell me that!" Caroline whined before pushing his arm playfully and going to walk away, knowing he'd catch up. She didn't look back but put her hands on her hips. "And why couldn't I?"
Expectedly, he looped his arm through the gap. "Because that would be cheating, my dear."
A small crowd had gathered around the Stepmania machine, the song "Cotton Eyed Joe" playing aloud only predominated by the sounds of excessive stamping and excited onlookers. The blare of bright lights coming from the screen lit up the concentration on both Ruth and Tom's faces. Beads of sweat were making their fringes stick to their foreheads, but both had their arms occupied with holding themselves upright using the support bars. Their feet were becoming a blur and, by the time the song had finished, were showing signs that they were going to ache later.
Ruth's head flew backwards in exhaust and triumph as her score came up marginally higher than Tom's moments after they completed the stage. She whooped and laughed, "I haven't done this much excercise since forever and I still win at this!"
Tom grinned as if he hadn't lost. "You just defy the laws of sense on a regular basis, don't you?"
"Screw laws!" She smiled before realising: "I shouldn't say that in Gotham, should I?"
Tom tilted his head and pretended to think. "Hmmm... Maybe not?"
The screen displayed "GAME OVER" and the two decided that was enough. They shook hands for a good game before jumping off to let someone else have a turn. Most of the crowd dispersed and the pair didn't get two paces before Ruth spied an air hockey table and dragged Tom over to it, convincing him to "redeem his failure" by trumping her at another game.
"Almost... got it... there!"
Caroline was leaning over the fence towards the pond in the centre, on her tip-toes and arms stretched out holding a wooden pole with a hook on the end. Rubber yellow ducks with small hoops sticking up from their heads bobbed up and down, and a motor in the middle swirled the water in a clockwise direction gave the image of a family of ducklings on a family outing. With one fluid motion, she caught a hoop and plucked the little duck from the water.
Bringing it closer to unhook and look at her catch, cute little blue eyes looked back at Caroline as if to say, "Thanks Caroline! I was getting a bit bored swimming around in there! It's about time someone caught me." She smiled with glee as she flipped him upside-down to look at the number on the bottom: a 7 had been marked on the base with a black marker pen.
She glanced up at the score board and smiled as she'd won a prize: an odd number would get her a stuffed toy or plastic sword. Yes, she was considered too old to be having a difficult time choosing between them, but no one was too old for a teddy bear and Ruth would find some sort of use for a plastic sword around the house.
Once she'd picked out a small white bear with a pink bow around it's neck and was carefully holding it around it's cuddly waist, she walked over to The Riddler who was looking at a map nailed to the side of another stall.
"Where to next?" Caroline asked. "Anything in particular you think will be fun?"
He stepped aside a little and gestured to the map with one hand. "Whatever you find fun I'm sure I'll enjoy as well."
Not wanting to argue after last time she insisted he pick something (it only ended up wasting time seeing as he was a stubborn as he was intelligent), her eyes ran over the black and white map dotted with individual illustrations of the attractions to mark their locations. Act tents, more stalls, food stands... Then a little symbol she didn't quite understand: A symbol for a labrynth like one they'd seen earlier, only this time accompanied by a rectangle with white lines diagonal across it. Caroline couldn't quite work it out, but in that sense it had piqued her curiousity.
"How about here?" She pointed out her findings, but The Riddler took her hand just as her fingernail graced the paper and brought it down to their sides, engulfing her rather cold hands in his warm ones.
"Of course, my dear," He smiled.
As they went to cross the area, weaving in and out of attraction-goers, the thought had finally hit Caroline like a steam train yet the impact was soft and painless like a kitten's paw slapping playfully at the hand of it's owner. She was actually enjoying her time with him and didn't feel odd or awkward or even remotely scared of the man holding onto her dearly. She'd thought of it before but it'd never actually crossed her mind as important. It felt weird, as if it was good but still unsure about what exactly was happening or whether she was just imagining the whole thing.
Out of the blue, he asked her, "Have your hands always been cold?"
Caroline looked down. This wasn't the first time she'd been asked about her unusually icy palms. "Yeah, it's nothing to worry about. Gloves don't make much difference and I can't really feel the cold tonight..." She shrugged, unable to think of anything else to say to justify herself.
"Well you know what they say," The Riddler squeezed her hand in his tighter as if he was trying to press some of his warmth into hers. "Cold hands, warm heart."
I tried to set this chapter out like a little collection of stories, but I'm disappointed at how couldn't think of many different activities :/ I haven't been to a carnival in ages. I hope it was okay to read? Leave a review with your thoughts and suggestions - I've really been wanting some constructive criticism, so what could I do to make this better? :D
But anyways, I'm really looking forward to the next two chapters! Oooh, I wonder what I have in store for my lovely little readers? *rubs hands in evil plotting*
The "Cold hands, warm heart" thing is something someone said to me recently when they realised my hands were basically ice. Seeing as it's snowing over her in England, it doesn't surprise me my hands are cold but it's a nice saying so I thought I'd just put it in at the end :)
Fun question - What's your favorite carnival/funfair ride? For me, it's always gonna be the Waltzer! (For those who don't know what that is, it's basically like spinning tea cups only the cars aren't tea cups and it's faster and over a bumpy track!)
Happy New Year folks, see you next chapter!