Ray did not walk far. Like lovers quarreling in a studio apartment, he and Trivia tacitly partitioned the circle of stones. They stole glances at each other, but avoided eye contact, and neither drew closer or ceded additional ground. Roosevelt and Ray stood in one figurative corner, Trivia and Audubon had split up, and Wilson stood beneath the white fringetree counting out loud.
Ray rapped his knuckles on Roosevelt's shoulder. "Can I borrow you for a second?"
Roosevelt shrugged and kept checking himself out in Audubon's compact mirror.
"Thanks." Ray clonked his forehead repeatedly against Roosevelt's back.
Wilson stopped counting. "Done! Audubon, you made a compelling argument, but we had to go with our dorsal aortas. No hard feelings?"
Audubon accepted Wilson's handshake. "I am a model of tenderness. What are you apologizing for?"
"For defeating your proposal," Wilson explained. "Nays outnumbered yeas by one hundred seventeen thousand or thereabouts—we had some deaths during polling. Regardless, a clear majority opposes crowning Ray."
Ray stopped clonking. Wilson had acted so friendly before, but he didn't think much of Ray after all.
Audubon glanced at Trivia, who said, "You only get one vote."
"But that's not fair," Wilson said.
"Welcome to life," Audubon said. "Most of you are only a few weeks old, but you had to learn eventually."
"You see us as an individual, but we contain multitudes." Wilson said to Trivia, placing his hand on his chest. "Here, millions of impulses, desires, and fears wage endless, cacophonous war. Even selecting a moral framework that all of us can live with is a tremendous task—perhaps an impossible one. But you would have us reduce that framework to a single decision without knowing the consequences? How are we to know which impulse is right?"
"I don't think you can," Trivia said. "But you have to decide."
Wilson removed his trilby. Pulsating waveforms danced across his scalp; his sometimes-childish, sometimes-philosophical brain was churning. Ray bent his knees, in case Wilson's head exploded again and he had to leap clear. He could sort out how the hive-mind worked later.
"We must object," Wilson sputtered. "All of our impulses deserve expression. To give voice to only one silences the others. If we chose incorrectly, no one would ever know what we intended."
Trivia glanced at Ray, then back to Wilson. "You can't keep your intentions, just your choices. If you choose wrong, you keep your regrets."
Wilson deflated. He put his trilby back on. "We do not wish to regret our decision."
"You don't have to," Ray said, only incidentally to Wilson; he kept his eyes on Trivia, but she refused eye contact. "Just do what you think is best. That's all anyone can do."
"Then we vote nay," Wilson said. "But not without reservations."
"Your reservations have been noted and disregarded," Audubon said. "Move on."
Trivia nodded. "Audubon and Roosevelt vote aye, Wilson and I vote nay. The final decision is mine."
Audubon mock-saluted. "Then I defer to your leadership. Only name your enemies; they will hurl toddlers from their battlements forthwith, to save them from crueler fates."
"That is terrible," Ray said.
"It's terrible that I missed Troy," Audubon said. "At least I'll always have Béziers."
YOU ARE READING
King of the Woods, or Trivial PursuitFantasy
Florida Forest Service duty officer Ray Lumley is in love with a white fringetree. Not an I-read-Walden-in-high-school love; a sweaty, sappy, I-want-to-rub-against-you-'til-I-get-splinters love. It's awkward. So, he's relieved to learn that he's rea...