"Are you sure you want to go to the haunted house today?" Dana asked. "I haven't gotten a chance to swim yet."
Jules was rummaging through her friend's closet. "I swear, pretty girl- if you swim any more often, you're going to turn into a mermaid. But a cute one, not one of the ugly lumpy ones with big sharp teeth and flippers for hands." She shoved a short, strapless dress into Dana's arms. "Here, wear this. You are going to look stunning! Do you want to borrow my new earrings- the emerald teardrop ones? I know I saw you admiring them- and you'd look amazing, Dana. Completely, totally, amazing. Oh- andohmigoshI just had the best best best idea- we should wear cat ears!"
The theater department had set up a haunted house in a building scheduled for remodeling, and they were letting people in one or two at a time. "Come one, come all, and see…the abandoned carnival…of DEATH…and DESTRUCTION!"shouted a student dressed as a ringmaster. A drawn-on mustache completed his costume.
"Are you scared?" Jules whispered.
Dana, trying to adjust her dress so that it wouldn't show too much of her bra, just made a noncommittal noise. Haunted houses had never felt real to her- even in third grade, she knew the that fearsome clown was just Ashley's dad wearing a mask from the dollar store.
"Right this way, ladies," the 'ringmaster' said, ushering them in.
Inside, everything was dark. Dana blinked, trying to make her eyes adjust to the low light.
Suddenly, a deformed creature with a minotaur head and a tumor-covered torso lunged at Jules. She screamed, terrified.
Acting purely on instinct, Dana lunged forward, drove a knee into the creature's crotch, hauled it up, bopped it on the nose-
"Dana, no!" Jules caught both of Dana's arms and pinned them behind her back. "Seriously, what the fuck."
"You are so lucky I don't have a penis," the creature groaned. When she removed her mask, Dana saw that she was actually Laura, a petite theater student. No wonder Dana had been able to overpower the creature so easily. "I think you gave me a concussion, though… whatever, just-" she waved vaguely- "keep going. I'll, like, go get an ice pack."
Jules was appropriately frightened, jumping and gasping at all the right places. Every performer seemed energized by the possibility of spooking someone so radiantly beautiful. But Dana was too adrenalin-buzzy to really be aware of anything outside her own head. She kept replaying the few moments of the fight, thinking about how exciting it had been to just cut loose and trust her body like that.
"Wow," Jules said, giggling nervously as they emerged into the bright sunlight. "I feel so-"
"-alive!" Dana finished, twirling across the grass with her arms spread wide.
Jules gave her a skeptical look. "Dana, you almost gave that guy a concussion."
"Yes, but-" For a moment, defending her friend, she'd felt powerful, unstoppable. Like a warrior. Like she could do anything. But Jules, the sweetness-and-light extrovert, didn't understand. "Never mind," she murmured, and looped her arm through her friend's for the long walk back to the dorm.
"It's called the Truel," the teacher explained. Clicking her laptop, she projected a drawing of a cartoon cowboy onto the big screen at the front of the classroom. Marty was sitting in the third row, sipping a mango smoothie. He liked Probability. …well, he liked the clip art.
"Imagine a duel between three friends. Mr. White is the worst shot- he hits his target one out of every three times. Mr. Grey is slightly better, hitting his target one out of every two times, and never misses. It is decided that each man will get one shot. Mr. White will shoot first, then , then . Who should shoot at to increase his chances of survival?"
Other students got out notebooks and pencils, punched numbers into their graphing calculators, leaned towards each other to discuss possibilities.
But Marty just frowned at his smoothie container, turning it slowly. Why would friends shoot friends?
When the teacher asked the students to present their fidings, Marty, who never spoke unless called upon, raised his hand within an instant.
The teacher felt quite proud of herself. "Yes, Marty? If you were Mr. White, would you shoot at or ?"
"Neither. I'd shoot into the air. It seems to me that any quarrel that has friends shooting at friends is… well, pretty fucked up. If I could remind everyone how ridiculous it is to be, y'know, taking a gun and pointing it at people you've maybe even eaten multiple handburgers with, maybe they'd remember that nothing's worth dying for. I guess what I'm saying is…" He took a deep breath, trying to figure out what had just spilled out of his mouth. "Sometimes the best way to win an impossible game is not to play." And then everyone was fucking staring at him, so he concentrated on his smoothie until his classmates turned their attention back to the teacher.
Dana was a warrior, more powerful than she ever believed she could be. Her small frame concealed the fact that she had the determination to succeed in impossible circumstances. She wore fraying henleys and old rock-concert T-shirts- and she was absolutely effing fearless.
Marty's illogic was its own form of logic, one that solved problems by zigzagging around expected rules, then hitting those expected rules with a banana, putting little grass skirts on them, and teaching them how to hula dance to showtunes until they learned valuable lessons about the true meaning of friendship. He was, in fact, an unconventional genius.
Neither teen knew that they already had the skills they'd end up needing to survive.