Chapter 8: Alex the Great
...... While the great black horse faced the hot Mediterranean sun, Alex leapt on his back. Bucephalus took off like an arrow, flying like Pegasus. Alex leaned forward, his hands grasping the horse's mane. He breathed in the scent of sweating horse and felt the wind rake his hair. Soon, they came upon a huge carousel with live horses, each bearing an armored knight carrying a lance. Bucephalus circled the carousel but half-way around, a galloping shadow of horse came from behind Bucephalus, to under him, and then to the front. Bucephalus saw it and, with a piercing whinny. reared up. Alex spasmed to hang on.
...... The spasm woke him. Alex, prone and clutching his mattress, rolled onto his back. Breathing heavily from the dreamed exertion, Alex let his gaze go to the window. He saw no lights coming from the buildings across the Dalambertian. No lights anywhere. He didn't know what time it was, but it was certainly late. And he was awake--very awake, He rolled onto his stomach and closed his eyes. But it was hopeless. He couldn't trick himself into tiredness.
...... Nose to his pillow, he replayed his dream and as he recalled the carousel, found himself wondering if Mr. Thomas had been right. Was there really a horse on the carousel that looked like Bucephalus? In his mind's eye, he could still see the horse of his dream. He could draw it from memory.
...... He sat up in bed. He wanted to draw the horse now--but he couldn't, not in a dark dorm row of sleeping kids. He slipped his feet into his bathroom slippers, intent on padding down to the third form study room. There, at his desk, he could take out his notebook and draw. He liked the idea of sneaking out of the dorm row; it felt like a naughty, rebellious act. But before he could get to his feet, he got an even more rebellious idea. Why don't I sneak out of the building and over to the carousel? I could actually find out if Bucephalus is also a carousel horse. He slipped out of his slippers and into his sneakers.
...... He stood, slowly, and tip-toed out of the dorm row. As he left, he got the uneasy feeling that Todd was staring at him. He glanced at Todd's bunk but in the dark, couldn't see if Todd's eyes were open. Feeling a little nervous now, he padded to the stairs and then down to the ground floor. At the front door, he paused--wondering just how much trouble he'd be in if he got caught. He turned the doorknob. Maybe the door wouldn't open. Maybe everyone was locked in for the night. But the knob turned. He pulled and cracked the door open. Though he knew he was in a school and not a prison, he nonetheless was surprised how easy it was to get out in the middle of the night.
...... Holding the door open, he tried the outside knob. That did not turn. From the outside, the door was locked. Alex looked for, found, and pressed the little button on the lock-body that would let the door open from the outside. He tried the outside knob again. Fine!
...... To Alex, clad only in pajamas, the night was cold, but not horribly so. Aided by moonlight, he set off on a jog up to the Dalambertian's far end. He smiled; because of Kip, he thought of the Big Quad by its ESAP name. Alex pressed on towards the carousel. In the darkness, all the horses looked black. But as he drew close and his eyes adapted to the night, he saw them instead in shades of grey. He hopped onto the carousel and made his way along the outer ring of horses, pausing at each, stroking its forehead and muzzle, looking for signs.
...... "Bucephalus!"he said aloud, standing beside the forth horse he'd examined. There could be no doubt. Even in the near total darkness, he could tell the horse was black as coal with a small white blaze on its forehead. The tail was cut short and the mane stood erect, looking like an extended 'Mohawk' haircut. The nostrils were flared and the eyes savage. This was Bucephalus. Alex swung onto the horse. In the dark with neither lights nor music, Alex did not feel he was on a carousel. Astride his motionless steed, he felt frozen in time. And it could be any time: the present, ancient Greece, the time of the Knights of the Round Table. The Knights of the Round Carousel. He, a rider in the dark, a dark rider, could be anything he wanted. He thought of his lance from the golf course and imagined it couched in his arm. He was the leader of the dark riders, all...nine of them; it was a nine-hole golf course.
...... He led the Dark Riders on a charge against the forces of evil--the forces of Todd. He wished he could command the carousel into motion. It would be awesome--a dark carousel moving silently in the middle of the night.
...... Sitting immobile on his mount, its wooden saddle drawing body heat away though thin pajamas, Alex shivered. Minutes later, when the reality of cold conquered his imagination, he did a vaulting dismount to the carousel platform, and then jumped to the ground.
...... With the chill of the night gnawing at him, he loped back to the dorm, padded up the stone steps, and listened at the front door. Dead quiet. He tried the knob. But it didn't turn. He tried it again--wiggling it, shaking it, hammering on it with his fist. Stepping back, he glowered at the knob as if it were able to fulfill its purpose of turning but refused to do so out of willful nastiness.
...... Alex, now acutely aware of the cold, approached the door and tried yet again, but still the knob didn't yield. He stood motionless for a moment, unsure what to do. Then he ran down the steps and circled the dorm to try the back door. No luck. He looked for a window he might climb through, but his dormitory turned out to be well sealed.
...... He darted to Founders and tried its doors as well. He didn't really want to spend the night in a classroom, but at least he'd be warm and could take the time to figure something out. But he couldn't find a way into Founders either. He went back to his dorm to try the door again. Maybe it would be unlocked this time. Maybe the knob would take pity on him. But the knob was obstinate.
...... Alex gazed at the door--the impediment to warmth, to sleep, to avoiding acute embarrassment when he showed up in the morning in his pajamas. He shivered from a sudden breeze and tucked his pajama top into the elastic of the thin, summer-weight bottom. There was no way he could stay outside until morning. He backed against the entranceway, taking what shelter he could. Then, looking across the Dalambertian, he saw the ESAP dorm. Perhaps its door would be open. Probably not, but it was something to try. He jogged to it.
...... He tried the front door and, miraculously, it opened. Alex slithered inside and stood, absorbing the warmth. What do I do now? It would be almost as embarrassing being found in ESAP as in Founders in the morning.
...... He thought of his friend Kip. The kid lived in something called subdorm-8. Maybe he could hide out with Kip until morning. And maybe he could get Kip to fetch his clothes from his dorm. Kip isn't going to be crazy about being woken up in the middle of the night. But it wasn't as if there was much choice.
...... Slowly in the darkness, Alex made his way upstairs. He hoped that the ESAP subdorms would be labeled. And they were. Alex found a door with an eight on it. And better still, it was opened a crack--about six inches. Alex took a deep breath, blew it out, and pushed open the door. It was dark in the room but Alex could make out two double bunks.
...... Alex stepped inside. Suddenly a dark form leaped with a shriek from a top bunk. Alex jumped back with a cry. The thing landed with a thump and disappeared out the door.
...... A shadow of a body on the top bunk jerked to a sitting position.
...... Alex could make out eyes staring down at him. "I'm sorry," said Alex in a loud whisper. "It's me. Alex." He hoped it was Kip he was apologizing to.
...... "What's going on," said the shadow. The voice was Kip's.
...... Alex started to explain, but Kip shushed him. "Close the door, first," Kip whispered. "So you don't wake Dr. Ralph."
...... Alex closed the door but then, from outside, came an insistent yowl.
...... "Geez!" Kip bolted from his bunk and opened the door. "Okay, Paradox," he whispered. "Get in here."
...... Alex saw that the dark form had been a cat.
...... Kip closed the door, then picked up the creature. "You are a noisy cat." He hugged the animal and then dropped him gently on his bunk.
...... The two still sleeping woke.
...... "Is it morning already?" said Paul, rubbing his eyes.
...... "Who's this," said Wolfgang, sitting up in bed. He slipped on his glasses. "Alex?"
...... Kip switched on the light.
...... Wolfgang peered at Kip's clock radio. "It's the middle of the night."
...... "Boy, this place is great," said Alex in a whispered yet excited voice. "Your own room. You could put up pictures and keep Halloween decorations up all year and glue model train scenery on the ceiling so when you're in bed you can look up and see trees and pretend the cracks in the ceiling are rivers and--"
...... "There are no cracks in the ceiling," said Wolfgang.
...... "Well then the trees can be an oasis in a white desert and--"
...... "Why are you here?" said Paul
...... Alex explained his predicament. When he'd finished, Wolfgang asked, "Do you think it might have been Todd who locked the door?"
...... "Yeah. Maybe. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was."
...... "Before my god," said Paul, "I might not this believe without the sensible and true avouch of mine own eyes."
...... "Oh, no," said Kip. "He's doing it again! Wolfy, throw a pillow at him."
...... Paul laughed. "Stop me," he said, dodging a pillow. "Stop me, before I quote again."
...... Alex wrinkled his nose and canted his head. "What?"
...... Kip explained that Todd had paid Paul to do his punishment lines for money. And Paul memorized the lines.
...... "I had the same punishment," Alex said, evenly. "But I had to copy the lines myself." He burned with a feeling of injustice. "It doesn't seem right somehow, that some kid could just buy his way out of punishment."
...... Paul lowered his eyes. "Yeah," he said, softly. "I really didn't think it was right, either." He paused. "But... but, like, I really wanted that ten dollars."
...... "It's not your fault," said Alex. "It's Todd's...and his money."
...... "It must be nice being rich," said Paul.
...... "But it's nicer being intelligent," said Wolfgang. "No way I'd change places with him."
...... Alex, suddenly exhausted, glanced at the empty forth bunk. "I'm wiped," he said with a sigh. "Can I sleep there for a few hours. Maybe...and maybe tomorrow"--he looked imploringly at Kip--"you might go over to my dorm row and pick up my clothes."
...... "I don't know if they'd let an ESAP kid into your dorm."
...... "Well," said Wolfgang, "we could just lend you some clothes and you could do it yourself." He chuckled. "You'd be wearing grey shorts, of course. I don't think the Amdexter dorks would like that."
...... "Well, I don't care," said Alex. "I wish I was in ESAP and not Amdexter. Everyone hates me there. Charles is my only friend."
...... "Charles?" Kip narrowed his eyes. "Not Charles Yang?"
...... "Charles Wood," said Alex.
...... "You mean Woodchuck," said Paul. "The kid with the big front teeth."
...... "He's a good kid," said Alex, rising to his friend's defense.
...... "No offense," said Paul. "We call him that because there's another Charles, an ESAP kid. Charles Yang. We call him Chucky."
...... "Maybe it's like a Charles and an anti-Charles," said Paul. "And if they ever met, they'd self-annihilate."
...... Kip chuckled. "And the explosion would wipe America off the map."
...... "But the map is not the territory," said Wolfgang with a giggle.
...... "Yeah," said Alex, pretending he knew what they were talking about.
...... "Hey, guys. Let's, like, keep it down," Paul whispered.
...... Kip threw a worried glance at the door, then switched his gaze to Alex. "Okay," said Kip at a whisper. "How 'bout we make you an honorary member of subdorm-8." He glanced at Wolfgang and Paul. "Okay with you guys?"
...... "Yeah," said Paul.
...... "Fine." Wolfgang turned to Alex. "And you even have your own bunk." He paused. "And why don't you use it now, so we can all get some sleep. There's school tomorrow." He flopped back down on his bunk. "Barbaric--Saturday morning classes."