The day had come for the first real match of the tournament. Angela had determined that it was indeed easier to play tennis in shorts, and had come to the courts dressed accordingly. Unfortunately a cold front had blown into town the night before and the air sweeping about her was bitterly cold. Her racket partner, Stephanie Bowers, was also in shorts, but in stark contrast to Angela's plain gray sweatshirt, wore a clever oversized pink and white shirt upon which were printed the words "Meat is Murder".
The two of them sat on the edge of the agreed upon court for a while, but with the chill, Angela had to get up and walk around a bit to keep warm. They were a little early, but Stephanie had learned that if she couldn't get Angela somewhere ahead of time, chances were that they would be very very late instead.
"Hey, I'm frozen," called Angela. "Let's hit the ball around a bit." She started to karate-chop the air around her with her racket, as if the cold air that was attacking her could be defeated with physical force.
"We need to conserve our strength for the game," said Stephanie. "C'mon, let's do some warm-up exercises instead." She immediately began "stretching", an activity that seemed to involve flipping her legs about in all directions, pausing every few seconds in some new fanciful position. Angela watched carefully, and determined quite quickly that she would definitely not be joining Stephanie in this activity. Her stomach grumbled and she starting estimating in her mind where the nearest place to get a hot dog was.
"So who are these people we're up against, anyway?," said Angela. "Do you know them, this Joelle Barks and Seth Spunk, or whatever their names are?"
"That's Julie Sparker and Beth Yonks. And actually, I do know a little bit about them, though I've never really met them." Stephanie had just finished her wild gyrations, thankfully, and Angela found it much easier to concentrate on what she was saying.
"They live over in Parnell dorm," said Stephanie, "and I think they're both first year poly sci majors. I'll bet they're in this tournament just for fun, like us, and we should be able to finish them off pretty easily. It's the next round that's going to be the challenge. Unfortunately, this tournament is just single-elim, so once we lose a match, that's it."
"Well, it seems hardly worth all the trouble," thought Angela aloud. "I know when I agreed to this I wasn't planning to be standing out in the cold for half an hour."
"It's still early," said Stephanie. "Just to make sure we got here on time, I set all the clocks in the room forward before you woke up."
"Sooooo....," Angela started nonchalantly walking towards her roommate's seated form. "Exactly how early are we?"
"Well, I know that it always takes you longer to get ready than you would like to admit, and I thought we should have time to stretch -- which you haven't done yet, by the way. Luckily there's still at least fifteen minutes before the match is supposed to start." She looked up and noticed a weird gleam in Angela's approaching eye. "Ummm, why does it look like you want to strang-?" Stephanie was at this point interrupted by Angela's sudden lunge towards her throat with both hands. The blonde's reflexes were quick, however, and she ducked to the right just out of Angela's grasp.
Angela's forward momentum nearly pitched her down the steps at the edge of the court. But instead of falling, she was able to right herself and sat down very close to Stephanie, placing an icy cold left hand on her roommate's right thigh. Stephanie's leg twitched with the introduction of something so cold to its surface, but its owner did her best to grin and bear it. "I'm still not afraid of you, you know," she said defiantly. "In fact, I think more people should stand up to tyrants like you. You probably think you have it all, that you can just railroad over people and do whatever you want without any regard for their feelings. Just because you're bigger and prettier than me. Well, someday I am going to have the last laugh. So there."
Angela removed her hand from Stephanie's leg and looked a bit contemplative. "I'm having a little trouble with this. You're saying I have no right to be angry at you for deceiving me, even though I have agreed to join you in this little bonding exercise which was all your idea in the first place and which I have no real interest in participating in whatsoever?"
Stephanie nodded, eagerly. "The problem is that you don't have an open mind, that you always think you're right. Well, here's some news for you: sometimes you're not right at all, sometimes you're very much wrong! How do you like them apples?"
Angela could tell that Stephanie was getting a little overexcited, and chose wisely to change the subject altogether, while in her mind she started to plot ways to somehow get out of this roommate situation before she was knifed while she slept. "Hey, the point is that we're spending time together, right? What do you say we forget all this and go split a pizza at Frazetta's?"
Before Stephanie could respond, the two noticed someone walking towards them very slowly. So slowly, in fact that he had gotten very near to them without them even realizing that he was actually a moving person, as opposed to a stationary object, such as a tree or an oversized brown rock, et cetera. They assumed it was a man, though at first there was no real way of knowing whether it was man, woman, grizzly bear, or the apparition of Death himself.
The figure wore a long brown coat that was so thick it seemed more like a dirty mattress than an article of clothing. In fact, it was so dirty that it looked like pieces of ground that had been somehow sewn together, and little clumps of sod fell away as the man shambled along. The top of the coat was in fact the man's head covered with long, wild hair, which was just as dirty as the coat, but perhaps a little bit more gray.
At first that was all they saw, just the coat that stretched down to the ground from which it had been formed, and the hair on top which seemed to exist for no other purpose than to connect one side of the upper edge of the coat with the other in a nonstop curved motion. If the man had stood perfectly still he would have resembled perfectly a mound of dirt. But the fact was he was not standing still -- in fact he was quite close to them and now they could see little bits of pale face under the hair. They could also see his wild yellow eyes peering out over the front edge of the coat, and Angela could feel Stephanie start to shake a little beside her.
Angela remained quiet and waited to see what the man was going to do, but Stephanie did not have the patience. "Uhh, can we help you, sir?," she asked, her voice a trifle unsteady.
The coat seemed to nod up and down in one giant movement and Stephanie twitched, as if she was about to leap up and run away screaming. But then the strangest thing happened. A voice started to emerge from the coat, and when the large, thick, previously unnoticed pair of hands reached up to open the top of the coat a little, what they heard was not the expected big deep gruff voice of imminent doom, but was instead one of the most clear, articulate, and absolutely normal voices they had ever heard.
"Why yes you can help me. I'm looking for the Holy Grail." He paused for a second and then added, "Actually that's a bit of a joke, and this is the point where you're supposed to laugh." He looked from Angela to Stephanie and saw that they weren't anywhere close to laughing . On the contrary they were, for lack of a better term, apparently mesmerized by his presence. "Do you mind if I have a seat? I've been walking for quite a long time."
"Where did you walk from?," asked Angela, suddenly overcome by curiosity.
"Well actually, my house is only a couple of blocks away from here, but at my pace it seems to take forever."
Angela and Stephanie looked at each other, rather confused.
The man quickly interjected, "That was another joke, by the way. Actually I'm doing the whole pole to pole thing. I started up north at a flag stuck into a patch of ice designating the North Pole, and was hoping to eventually make all the way to the other end of the planet. I have been walking for a little close to a year now."
The answer seemed to greatly satisfy Angela, and she immediately held out her hand to the man. "Pleased to meetcha, my name's Angela and this here is my pardner Stephanie. We're in the tennis racket."
"My name's Bartholomew," he said, "and the pleasure's all mine." With that he took her hand in his and instead of giving it a hearty shake (which probably would have crushed bone), he gracefully held her hand with his oversized fingers while bending down to kiss -- not the top of her hand but rather the air just above the top of her hand, as is the gentlemanly way.
Chapter 17 was first written November 23, 2001
It was last edited December 6, 2001