Fiction — “Ren Rats”

Today, we crossed a field of grass bordered by the black-and-yellow bark of Ponderosa pine, and we stopped and took it in. The sun-through-the-clouds coated us in a bluefire, and when I looked at my friends, at Jo and his plate-mail, at Lobard and his mad beard, and they at me, in my deep cloak with a celtic braid, holding a longbow, we had to laugh. It seemed exactly like we were a fellowship for some quest, maybe to steal from a gluttonous dragon, or to stop a cult from resurrecting their god, not a couple of Ren Rats surveying the clump of trees behind a parking lot.

“I don’t see any signs,” said Lobard, plucking some fern. “Don’t smell them, either.”

I remember taking a sweet breath, feeling the wetness in the air and the aged-wood and butterscotch of pine. Relishing in the thought: the dead aren’t here.

Luckily, they avoid the mountains, or maybe the crevices and roots tear off their feet, slow their advance. In any case, we barely encounter them, only hear the reports on the radio (neither WIFI or TV work anymore) or from the dirty, scared families that claw at our gates, screaming, “let us in, let us in,” despite the fields behind them devoid of monsters. We do, too, after a few jests. It’s the cruelest thing we do. I often participate.

I know I’m supposed to be depressed, or scrounging for survival, or finding life’s little moments denied by overwhelming misery and chaos. But the plague has been a blessing in disguise for the Renaissance Faire. Without the glazed donuts of American capitalism, without weekends selling ourselves to abused parents and abusive children high on kennel popcorn and soda, without weeks spent in workshops painting wooden shields and hammering metal roses, without eye-rolls and mean laughs at monks pushing cheesecake carts and knights reciting poetry, without the most common, most stupid questions, like “Do people really buy this shit?” and “Why is this shit so expensive?”

Without the normal, we are free to be weird. And it is free to be weird. All our concerns have taken on the technical difficulties once held by a fifteenth-century European village. Food production, justice, border security, tradition. The exact concerns most of my people dreamed about in the first place, and had put aside to sell dragon-egg earrings to Game of Thrones fans.

Naturally, we don’t toss our poop in the streets. But we don’t use the restrooms, either. Things have become economical in a tightened, smart kind of way, and beyond economy, we are an extended version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s lovely.

We came back through the gates, and after Roderick (not his birth name) checked us for bites and wrote down our report, Jo gave Lombard a kiss on the cheek, they’re cute like that, and we went our separate ways. Would it be bad if I told you that as I headed for the shop I started to have depressing thoughts? I know how unoriginal this sounds but: Winter is Coming. In what, less than half a year? What will we do then? Jo seems to think the dead will follow the fur-scent of coyotes and deer, and find it easier to climb the deep, compact snow. And I keep having this pitiful image of a bear who was sleeping peacefully in her cave waking up to a rotten human feeding on her leg. Maybe happening a few times, until the bear rolls her eyes and dies.

Until then, we will salt our meat and play pretend and laugh at the small-mindedness of the dead. We won’t let them in until they come crawling over the walls.