"Good morning, Mr. Paint."
"Hey, go easy on that beard. It's just starting to come in good."
"I'm just smoothing it off."
"Why'd you change your mind about shaving?"
... "I will tell you."
"Yes, uh-oh. We seem to make each other uncomfortable. Very good for us, no doubt. It's simple: I want to fit in. All the rest of you have beards. Even Fells has grown one, now that his daughter's arrived. Danny's so proud of his, he practically bristles."
"Yeah, he's always scratching it, and I don't think it itches."
"He's feeling for progress. Anyway, that's all: I want to fit in. It's something I was really bad at, before. That's why I volunteered. I wanted to change a lot of things I was bad at. I was tired of being a loner, and I wanted to have more moxie."
"American slang. I like the word. More nerve, spirit, punch, confidence."
"If you like. Well, horses aren't loners, and stallions have moxie, and I was sick and tired of myself, so... here I am. And another thing I decided was that I wanted to be open, not hide anymore. So I'm telling you this. Even though we don't know each other very well and I think it's making both of us very uncomfortable. It took me a while, but I think I'm getting the knack of it."
"You know, you philosophical types are easier to take when you do keep it all inside."
(Laughs.) "That's why they hand us cups of hemlock."
"Socrates. See? I do know some of that stuff."
"Cool. I never thought you were ignorant, Mr. Paint. But nobody knows all the angles."
"There's a painful truth. What if being open doesn't work out?"
"I think it will. You should try it. But if it doesn't, I'll close up again. I'm real good at that. Or I was. Maybe I'm not anymore. We're changed, Carlin."
"Yeah, I'm reminded of that every time I take a step and have three more feet to move."
"Souls as well as bodies. Minds, at least. Some of us, at least. I researched psychology of transformation–"
"I'm sure you did. Where do you get this hemlock?"
"Oh, there's always some kind of hemlock available. Shall I change the subject?"
"Yeah, I didn't sign up for a soul-baring session."
"Well, you did open with a personal question. But okay. I've been thinking about nicknames."
"You don't like 'Charliehorse'?"
"I didn't at first, but now I figure it was inevitable. Nor did you give it in meanness. And I do seem to put people into cramps. No, you're the one who's good at nicknames, and all you got back was 'Mr. Paint.' You need something better. What would you like?"
"You can't nickname yourself. Against the rules!"
"Is it? Okay, then..."
"Geez, you look like Fletcher, now."
"In what particular?"
"Those X-ray stares he sometimes gives. You think he has fits?"
"I think he's Receptant. How about 'Style'?"
"'Style.' For your nickname. Not 'Mister Style,' just 'Style.' You hang your duty jacket to minimize wrinkles. You pick up a fresh T-shirt right after doing anything sweaty. You often wear your dress jacket into the village in free time. You have a little wardrobe of rings you rotate through. You came in here to sharpen the point on your beard. If I find mustache wax in here, I know it's yours. You're growing your hair out into a ponytail. Which looks good. Above all, you keep that paint coat of yours gleaming. I bet you miss pants and shoes. You saunter when you walk, and you don't come into a room, you Enter. You clearly care about your appearance. And you do a good job of it, too. You even try to help us, with the nicknames. You know how much Renny likes being 'Horsepower'? A lot. So: 'Style.' "
"I think I liked it better when you were baring your own soul."
"Oh, that's not baring your soul. But don't worry, we have months together ahead of us. So what do you think?"
... "How do you do, Charliehorse? I'm Style."
Return to Cavalry Cycle
Return to Inkliverse
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2017