Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #31

September 7th, 2009 by Wordsman


“Hey, you wanna run a couple of laps of this thing?”

Matthew eyed his friend with amazement.  “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I’m deadly serious,” Jack said, and Matthew could tell that, unfortunately, he was.  “We’ve got to stay in shape if we’re going to take down this conspiracy.  We’re up against the Catholic Church, or maybe the oil industry, or alien overlords, or possibly even something worse than all of those put together!  We’ll have to narrowly escape from certain death in the nick of time every time!  How can you expect us to be able to do that if we don’t get a little exercise now and then?”

Matthew didn’t know what Jack’s definition of “a little” exercise was, but he was pretty sure that it was not remotely close to what either he or Noah Webster thought it should be.  “We’ve been walking all day,” he pointed out.  “Ever since we got off the subway this morning.”

“So?  We’re going to be walking all day every day that we’re here, aren’t we?  We need to be prepared for any situation.  The agents of evil aren’t necessarily going to attack us first thing in the morning, you know.  Don’t you remember when we were chased out of the Vatican by those guards?”

There were many things from Matthew’s past that he wished he could remember but had been lost in the flow of time: the feeling of the fur on his first dog, the name of the girl he had had a crush on in fifth grade just before he moved, countless other glimpses of childhood innocence.  On the other hand, he recalled with crystal clarity every incident of his life in which Jack had been present, and he could only assume it was because he wanted so desperately to forget them.

“I remember,” Matthew said, though he remembered differently.  “But I also remember running all the way up the Palatine Hill less than an hour ago, so I think I’m going to have to pass on the exercise for right now.  Honestly, I’m surprised that my legs let me walk this far without giving up.”

At that moment, Matthew’s legs, deciding to follow the Central Tenet of Cartoon Physics (namely, that no force in the universe can take effect until the person on whom it is trying to act realizes that it should be), collapsed underneath him, settling him into a sitting position on the grass surrounding the great dirt oval.  “See?” he said, wincing and wishing that he had been standing over a slightly less bumpy patch of ground.

Jack frowned but nodded.  It was plain to see that he had forgotten, both physically and mentally, running up the hill like a lunatic.  “I guess I’ll just have to run twice as many laps to cover your share as well.  Wait right there until I come back!” he said as he took off.

For various reasons, Matthew had no intention whatsoever of disobeying Jack’s order.  He also had no intention of telling Jack that his plan to run extra laps to cover up for him was absolute nonsense.  The longer his friend spent running around the old racetrack, the more time he had to rest and recuperate.

As Jack tore around the ancient dirt track, forcing the other tourists to wonder if he was an athlete in training or just some lunatic, Matthew sat in the stands of the Circus Maximus during the height of its glory.  A young, up-and-coming freedman chariot racer (whom Matthew could not get to stop looking like Charlton Heston despite his best efforts) flew by, and Matthew was close enough to feel the sting of the small particles that the whirring wooden wheels kicked up as they spun.

The race was not his primary focus, however; Matthew was more interested in the people in the stands.  He heard them roar with excitement, and he heard them roar even more loudly in disappointment when the favorite was beaten by a wealthy merchant’s dissolute son (some things don’t change much over the centuries).  There was even an emperor in attendance.  Matthew decided it was . . . oh, I don’t know.  Vespasian.

Entranced by his vision of the world that was, Matthew was able forget about his surroundings.  He could ignore the pain in his weary legs, and he didn’t have to worry about all the strange looks his friend was getting as he ran around and around the Circus Maximus.

But . . .

Every now and then, when there was a lull in the action, his mind slipped back to the present, and it invariably spent that time searching for the figure in gray.  He looked under trees, atop buildings, all along the Palatine ruins.  He did not really expect to find what he was looking for, but that did little to quell his need to look.

Matthew decided that enough was enough.  He was not going to put up with this obsession with the mystery figure.  He was going to catch him in the act, pull off the white sheet, shut down old man Macgregor’s projector and kazoo operation.  If he found out who the person was, he felt, it would no longer bother him.  Matthew did not yet know how he was going to do it, but he was certain he could come up with something.  At that moment his biggest concern was making sure that Jack did not find out, because his friend would undoubtedly want to help.

An excited Jack returned to the spot where Matthew was sitting.  “Hey, guess what I found?”

“What?” Matthew responded.  Then he remembered what Jack was looking for and immediately regretted his decision.

Words spilled from his mouth.  “There’s some stone stuff over in the corner in this fenced-off area and—”

“It’s not the cave.”

“Well how do you know?  You’re not even helping to look.”

“I can’t,” Matthew said.  He did not add, “I’m looking for something else.”

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