Backlight chapter 2

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CHAPTER 2: STREET FIGHT

I wake up, mouth dry as the Sahara. Blech.

I check my phone. It’s two in the afternoon and there’s a message from Nigel. It was sent around at 5 AM.

xxEndOfAnEraxx: Report in at my place when you wake up, we have plans!!

Plans? I almost send him a message asking for more information, but I figure he’s probably still asleep. I guess I should have breakfast while I wait for him to get up.

… and I proceed to make absolutely no move to do so. Instead, I grab my phone again and check what’s going on on Instagram. I fuck around for a while until I get so hungry that I have to get up.

I drag myself out of the bed and get… well, calling it “breakfast” would be overly glorifying it. Even I wouldn’t call a cup of coffee and a slice of dry, untoasted bread a “breakfast”.

After I down the not-breakfast, I shower and head out. Ugh, fuck. It’s so hot that I start sweating almost immediately after stepping out. I showered for nothing.

I make a small sidetrack to a grocery store to buy a muesli bar and a protein milk shake to supplement my not-breakfast. And to give Nigel more time to wake up.

Eventually, I arrive at Nigel’s place and I ring the doorbell.

I wait.

I ring the doorbell again.

Maybe I should have called him to make sure he’s awake.

I ring the doorb-

The door opens. Behind it stands… Ivy? She’s dressed in one of Nigel’s t-shirts and her hair and makeup are a little messy.

She spent the night here.

Hm.

Ivy: Oh hey! You were with Nigel last night.

She steps aside to let me in.

Ivy: Your name… God, don’t tell me, I do remember it!

I let her struggle as I follow her to the living room.

Ivy: It was like… a noun, right?

She rubs her forehead and scrunches her nose.

Ivy: Gaah! I’ll remember it!

Ivy: Wait, you’re here for Nigel, right? Let me go wake him up.

She disappears into Nigel’s bedroom and I hear a muffled conversation.

I sit down to wait, trying to push the growing jealousy down. I’ve never seen Nigel’s bedroom and she prances in like she owns the place.

Ivy: VALO!! That’s their name!

…At least she got my pronouns right, I guess.

Some more conversation before Ivy steps out with a wide grin.

Ivy: He’s up now, Valo. Give him a moment to get dressed.

Valo: Okay. Awesome.

Ivy walks into the kitchen and I wait again.

Luckily it doesn’t take long for Nigel to stumble out of his bedroom, wearing an old worn t-shirt and boxers. His eyes are bleary and hair tousled.

C-cute…

Nigel: Valo, what. What the fuck are you doing here?

Valo: … You told me to come here when I wake up.

Nigel squints.

Nigel: Did I?

Valo: You did! You texted me at five in the morning.

Nigel is still squinting.

Nigel: I guess I did. What’d I say?

Valo: You said we have plans for today.

Nigel squints more, now humming in thought. Suddenly his eyes light up and he claps his hands.

Nigel: Oh right! Ivy told me about these street fights that sometimes happen.

Nigel: I mean of course I already knew those were going on, but I never knew where. Never managed to see one.

Nigel: But! It turns out that there’s one happening tonight, starting around midnight, some way away from the train station.

I nod, thoughtfully.

Valo: So you wanna go watch?

Nigel: Exactly. You always know what I’m thinking.

Nigel: I like that about you.

My cheeks heat up. Surely because of the heatwave.

Valo: But that’s still hours away. Why did you tell me to come here now?

Nigel rubs his chin. His stubble makes a quiet, gritty sound against his fingertips.

Nigel: When did you say I sent that message again?

Valo: Uuh. Fuck. I dunno, around 5 in the morning?

Nigel digests that and shrugs.

Nigel: I guess I was still half asleep and wasn’t thinking clearly.

He snaps his fingers.

Nigel: But since you’re here, there’s something else we can do until then.

Ivy appears from the bedroom, now dressed.

Ivy: Nigel? I gotta get going. Work and shit.

Nigel: Right. Have fun.

Nigel doesn’t even turn to look at her. Ivy rolls her eyes before smiling and waving at me.

Ivy: Bye, Valo!

I give her one dispassionate flap of my hand.

Ivy leaves and finally leaves Nigel and me alone.

Valo: So what’s the plan?

Nigel: We gotta look up good ghost hunting spots in Oulu.

… Did I hear that right?

Valo: I’m sor- I’m sorry? Ghost hunting?

Nigel beams.

Nigel: Yeah! That’d be awesome, right?

I give it some thought. I would have never thought of it myself, but since Nigel brought it up, I’m intrigued.

Valo: Yeah. I guess it could be.

Nigel: Right? We just have to find a place that could be haunted.

Nigel sits down on the couch, grabs his laptop and turns it on. I sit next to him.

Nigel: And I figured, since you live here and you know Finnish, you might find something.

I almost point out that he lives here too. But he does have a point. I know Finnish and he doesn’t.

Nigel: Actually, I’m gonna go get breakfast. You look around on the internet meanwhile.

He shoves the laptop on my lap and marches off to his kitchen.
The fuck am I supposed to do? Just type “haunted places Oulu” into Google??

I open the browser and head to Google.

By the time Nigel comes back with a bowl of cereal, I had found a forum thread of supernatural incidents people had encountered in their lives. Most of it is irrelevant, though, because there are replies from people from all over the country. It’s mildly interesting to read, though.

Nigel: Find anything?

Valo: I’m still looking.

Nigel hums and chews his cereal.

Wait. Now that I look at more website and forum threads, I realize that there’s been a lot of posts like that made within the past five years or so.

Ah, wait, but are any of these in Oulu? Or anywhere nearby?

Valo: How far from Oulu are you willing to go for this expe- this adventure?

Nigel: What do you mean?

Valo: Like, is it a dealbreaker if the place is in Kempele or something?

Nigel: Where the fuck is Kempele?

Valo: It’s… uh.

I open Google maps and show Nigel where Kempele is.

Nigel: That’s too far. Try to keep it in Oulu.

Valo: M-hm.

I click around on the web aimlessly, trying to find something Nigel would like. I do find articles about the tree he mentioned yesterday. The alleged haunting of that tree ended decades ago, though, like Nigel said.

So that’ won’t do.

Nigel sets down his bowl on the floor, splashing some leftover milk.

Nigel: Find anything?

Valo: Not really, no.

Nigel: Hm.

Nigel: Whatever. I have some errands we could run.

Nigel: Let me get dressed.

Nigel stands up and disappears to his bathroom. I hear the shower running for about five minutes. Then Nigel disappears into his bedroom and soon after emerges fully dressed.

Nigel: Alright. Let’s go.

We get out of the flat and Nigel taps his phone.

Valo: So where are we going? And what are we doing?

Nigel: I bought some second-hand parts for a project. And it’s a big load so I need an extra pair of hands to help me carry it back home.

Valo: Oh? What are you working on?

Nigel scrunches up his face.

Nigel: Mmmmmm I really wanna talk about it, but I also don’t want to boast about it in case it doesn’t work out.

Valo: Haha, aw.

Nigel: Just believe me, if it does work out, it’s going to be so fucking cool.

Valo: I can’t wait, haha.

We make it to what looks like someone’s house near the edge of the town. The previous owner of the huge container barely speaks English, so I end up translating the transaction for Nigel and him.

Man: Will you two be okay with that?

The box isn’t huge, but it is kind of heavy. Neither me or Nigel have a car.

Man: Why don’t you borrow my toplift?

Valo: That’d be great, thanks.

After Nigel agrees to bring it back to him whenever, we’re off with the box. We get a few odd looks on the bus, but we get back to Nigel’s without problems.

Nigel shoves the toplift with the box to his living room, chuckling like a madman.

Valo: What’s in the box?

Nigel rips the tape off of the box and digs in.

Nigel: Parts for my…

Nigel: Ah, hell, whatever. Might as well tell you.

Nigel: I’m going to try my hand at building an android.

Valo: As in… A robot?

Nigel: Yes. A humanoid robot.

Valo: Whaaat? That sounds awesome!

Nigel preens.

Nigel: Well… Yeah. But we’ll see if it goes anywhere.

Nigel: But with these parts…

He pats the cardboard box.

Nigel: I can get started!

I can’t help but stare. Nigel is amazing.

Nigel continues digging through the box, muttering to himself.

Valo: Can I… help?

Nigel: Huh? Oh, yeah!

Nigel: Take my laptop and open a text file. Write down the parts that are in here.

Valo: Alright.

I do as he says and Nigel starts rattling off about the parts. I have no idea what he’s saying 80% of the time, but I’m doing my best to write everything down.

It takes us about an hour to unpack the box, but after we’re done, Nigel orders us pizza. As we’re eating, Nigel gets a phone call.

Nigel: Hello?

Nigel: M-hm, that I did.

Nigel: Awesome! Where can I pick it up?

He humms and slowly writes down and address.

Nigel: Awesome. A mate of mine and I are gonna be there in… twenty minutes? Pretty soonish?

Nigel: Alright. Yeah. Cool, awesome. I’ll see you then!

He hangs up and claps his hands once.

Nigel: Another shipment! Ready to go?

Valo: You bet. Where to?

Nigel: This one’s closer. Let’s go.

And we’re off again. Like Nigel said, the place is closer and the person knows English too. The package is smaller too. Nigel plops it down on my arms unceremoniously. Thankfully it’s not heavy at all.

Nigel: The last package was like, actual parts, the chassis. The legs and arms and shit.

Nigel: What you have there is the brain.

Nigel: Assuming this project succeeds.

Valo: Ohh.

Valo: Good luck.

Nigel grins.

Nigel: Thanks.

We make it back to Nigel’s flat again and Nigel makes sure that the part works. It doesn’t take long, so he’s done very quickly.

I spend the rest of the day helping Nigel with blueprints.

Well, “helping”. I have no idea what Nigel is talking about, but he seems to appreciate my feedback, even if it’s just “sounds great!”.

Before either of us notice, it’s around 11 in the evening. Time for us to get going if we want to see the fight.

We leave Nigel’s flat again and head off.

When we arrive, it takes us some time to find the place where the fights are, so we’re a little late to the event. The first fight is already in progress. The fighters are two brawny white men. They’re swinging at each other and grunting.

Nigel starts pushing through the crowd for a better view. I follow him.

We end up with a good view of the fight, near a person who appears to be taking bets on the result.

I find myself having a hard time following what’s going on because the two fighters are almost identical to me and because I… I really don’t like watching violence. The crowd being so loud and so close also doesn’t help with my concentration. At some point though, the fight ends when one of the fighters gives in. Good for him.

The crowd around us hoots and hollers as the loser of the fight is dragged away from the ring and the winner lifts his fists up.

Nigel claps his hands.

Nigel: Awesome. Good fight.

He sounds so British, not joining the cheering. Adorable.

Announcer: NEXT FIGHT! Knuckle-Matti versuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuus NANA!!

The crowd cheers as a slender, but muscular Asian woman clad in orange steps up into the ring. The winner of the previous fight is apparently going to fight her.

Announcer: The fight starts in five minutes! Get your bets in before that!

The winner doesn’t look too good, though… His left eye is swollen shut and he cradles his side gingerly.

Nigel: Who do you think will win?

Valo: Huh?

Valo: Oh. Uh. The- the girl, I think. Nana.

Nigel purses his lips and humms.

Nigel: Are you sure? Because Nana is… You know. A woman.

I frown a little.

Valo: The guy has already- he’s- he looks pretty battered already. This looks like Nana’s first fight for the night.

Nigel: Yes, but Matty or whatshisface has size advantage. Nana looks pretty dainty in comparison.

I choke back a snort. Hasn’t he seen the size of Nana’s biceps? “Dainty” is the last word I would use to describe her.

Nigel taps my arm twice. When I turn to look at him, he’s holding out some money at me.

Nigel: Here. Go bet it on the muscle man. Since you know Finnish.

My heart skips a beat. He trusts me with his money…

Valo: O-okay!

I take the money and set out to look for the person in charge of the bets. I find him quickly because of all the people crowding around him.

Valo: Uh, hi.

Bet guy: Evening. You wanna place a bet?

Valo: Um. Yes.

Bet guy: Excellent. Which one do you want to bet on? Nana or Knuckle-Matti?

I blink. I’m sure Nana will win, but Nigel told me to bet on Knuckle-Matti. I could still bet on Nana, but I don’t know how Nigel would react to that…

I glance at the battle area, where Knuckle-Matti is spitting blood on the ground and Nana is bouncing from one foot to another and stretching her muscles.

Who should I bet on?

> Knuckle-Matti > Nana
Of course. Nigel knows what he’s doing. Of course. There’s no way Nana will lose.
Valo: I’ll bet this on Knuckle-Matti. Valo: I’ll bet this on Nana.
Bet guy: Gotcha! What name is it under? Bet guy: Gotcha! What name is it under?
Valo: Uh… Nigel. Valo: Uh… Nigel.

The bet guy pockets the money I give him and I return to Nigel.

Announcer: THE FIGHT IS STARTIIIING! NO MORE BETS!

The crowd circles the ground tightly and starts chanting the fighters’ names. The noise hurts my ears and is making it hard for me to concentrate on reality, but the way I’m pressed against Nigel’s arm makes it worth it.

Announcer: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN AND THE REST OF YOU FIIIINE FOLKS, IT’S KNUCKLE-MATTI!

The crowd cheers as Matti just lifts a fist in the air limply.

Announcer. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAND NANAAAAAA!!!

Nana grins and bounces a little, delivering a few lightning-fast fake punches into the air.

Announcer: AND START!!!

Nana bows to Matti and assumes position. The crowd’s noise rises in volume as the two fighters measure each other. Matti makes the first move. He swings at Nana, who swiftly dodges. Matti attempts another punch, but Nana dances out of the way again. This continues until the crowd is almost begging her to attack.

Nana shrugs and spreads her arms in a mock-clueless gesture. She spins to give the audience a questioning look, dodging yet another punch from Matti at the same time. It’s clear that she’s having a blast and milking this for all of its worth.

Nana: You getting tired of this?!

Crowd: YEAH!

Nana: Want me to end this??!

Crowd: YEAH!!!

Nana grins. Matti charges at her and she jumps, boosting herself in the air by his shoulders.

The crowd gasps.

Nana soars and reaches the apex of her jump, higher than a normal person could have reached. She swings her foot down on Knuckle-Matti’s head with a loud CRACK. Nana bounces and does a flip, gracefully landing a meter away from Knuckle-Matti.

Knuckle-Matti crumples onto the ground in a messy heap.

A stunned silence falls upon the crowd.

Nana lifts her arms.

Nana: WELL?! Are you happy now??

Someone starts clapping hesitantly. Soon everyone is cheering and hollering, chanting Nana’s name.

Announcer: I-I’m not sure what just happened, but the winner iiiiiiis NANAAAAAAAAAA!!

The crowd cheers harder and Nana looks like she’s soaking all the attention like a cat basking in sunlight.

Nigel: Ah shit, man. You were right after all.

Nigel: There goes my money.

> If bet on Knuckle-Matti > If bet on Nana
Valo: I’m sorry. Valo: … I may have- I have to confess something.
Nigel shrugs. Nigel gives me a look.
Nigel: Whatever. I just gotta work it back. Nigel: What?
Valo: I bet on Nana.
Nigel stares at me, astonished. Then he throws his head back and laughs.
Nigel: Oh man! You sneaky bastard! I like you!
Nigel: If you were a girl, I would totally date you.
My heart skips a beat and my cheeks heat up. I… I could be a girl. For him.

BWEEO! BWEEEO!!

???: Shit, it’s the cops!

???: RUN!

Nigel: Oh fuck, we have to go.

Nigel starts to run and I follow him. I almost lose sight of him in the panicking, scattering crowd. Thankfully his black coat makes him stand out and makes it easy for me to spot him in the chaos.

If the noise of the crowd earlier fucked with my head, the sudden panic does exactly nothing to help with it. It pushes my anxiety all the way around and now I feel oddly serene. The air feels like it’s getting thicker and more electric and all sounds become muted, like I’m hearing them through water.

I zero in on Nigel’s back. He becomes my beacon in the chaos. I trust him to find a safe way out of this.

We run for what feels like an eternity. But eventually, the panicked crowd around us peters out and the noise dies out. We’re alone.

Nigel stops running and leans down on his knees, panting heavily.

Nigel: Fuck…

Nigel: That was… That sure was something.

I’m too out of breath to reply, so I just give him a thumbs-up.

Nigel starts wheezing. It takes me a moment to realize he’s laughing.

Nigel: That was… (huff) fucking awesome! I’ve never (huff) felt so alive!

Nigel: Could’ve used less (huff) running though, haha.

Valo: You can… (huff) You can say (huff) that again.

Nigel laughs again and straightens his back, letting his head fall backwards.

Nigel: Whoof… I’m exhausted.

Nigel: It was a blast, but I’m wiped.

Valo: Me too.

I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline crash, but I’m kind of light-headed now. The air feels like soup…

Nigel: Is it just me, or…

Nigel: Does the air…

Valo: …?

Nigel: It feels a little… thick, right?

Valo: Oh.

Valo: I thought that was just me.

Nigel: … I guess it’s because we just ran for fifteen minutes straight.

He’s probably right. He always is.

Nigel looks around and I follow his lead. There’s no one around.

Nigel: I guess it’s safe. Let’s find a bus stop.

He starts walking and I follow him.

Soon we find ourselves in a bus on our way to our respective homes. We spend the bus ride in exhausted silence. I shuffle home through the soup-air.

The sun is already rising when I get there and I stop for a moment to watch it. I feel weird. The air feels so thick, but it’s so easy to breathe. The colours are so bright and vivid. It’s so warm.

My head jerks and I realize that I almost fell asleep standing up. I shuffle inside and get to bed.

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