The MWC can be many things: funny, silly, melancholy, thought-provoking; but this one was a Challenge to stretch a writer's skill to the limit. Far from being easy, Leah put out the ultimate challenge— take the HL character you despise the most, and write a story about them. No restrictions for subject or location, but the scene must take place from their point of view. Not only did we have to talk about our most hated HLer, we had to get into their head too.

Now, if you asked me who is my favourite (non title) HL character, you'd likely get a different answer for every day of the week. Likewise for favourite K'Immie, best episode, etc. When it comes to most hated character though, the answer is instinctive— KENNY!!!! I'm one of those people who applaud every time they hear Anne's "Didn't you just want to smack him?" line at the end of The Lamb. I have no sympathy for the little brat whatsoever.  That's why, in this story, I finally get to do what should have been done a long time ago. Enough said.

Lost Child

Running, always running: running had taken him North, to Alberta and finally to the land of the Summer Festivals. Street Fest this one was called, not that it really mattered to him. It could have been called the Festival of Fools for all he cared; all he needed were the crowds, the barely controlled chaos, and best of all, the unarmed volunteer security. A kid could get away with murder in a place like this.

The biggest problem with being perennially ten years old went beyond the fact that he would never have a car, a girl, a drink, or anything that even remotely resembled respect. The real problem, he had soon learned, was being forced to spend time with kids his own "age." The screaming, the giggling, the infantile pranks and the pottymouth humour could drive a person mad. More than once he had just wanted to strangle one of the little Mortal brats, but some of the security volunteers were smarter than they looked and so he didn’t dare act out his impulses.

He wandered around the open park and no one even blinked at the sight of an unsupervised child. He could definitely get used to this kind of freedom; too bad the festivals only lasted through the summer months. He watched a street performer’s show begin its crowd-attracting finale; some part of him still reluctantly attracted to the excitement. He had to be ready though, because as soon as the crowd around the performance started to disband, it would be time for him to start his own routine. The old Lost Child act, he could do it in his sleep by now. While the crowds watched the performers, Kenny watched the crowds. He was sure he’d be able to find someone today; Immortals loved crowds: the ability to hide, for a few moments to pretend that they had normal, happy lives— weak-minded fools!

A voice announced, in rolling tones, that "I am a professional Street Performer, and THIS is what I do…for a living!" As if on cue, the back of the crowd started to shred, as the disappointed or the just plain cheap tried to slip away without paying into the hat. One such miser, concentrating on avoiding eye contact with the performer, ran straight into a straw-haired young boy with a quivering lip. He looked down at the poor frightened child, swiftly scanned the immediate area for a parent and, finding none, sought escape. Fearing he’d lose the man, Kenny let a convincing tear drop slowly from clear blue eyes; "Please Sir, I’m lost. I can’t find my Dad anywhere!" Male defences never had learned how to deal with crying; the man dropped to his knees like a felled tree, desperately trying to get the boy to stop his bawling.

Trying to ignore the half-hearted reassurances, Kenny reached out with all his senses… nothing: no Buzz, not a trance of power. Cursing silently but creatively, he dried his false tears and let himself be led to the Information Booth. While the man spoke with one of the Info volunteers, the other one looked down at Kenny with recognition and something that came uncomfortably close to suspicion. Glaring up at him long enough to fix both his features and his nametag in mind, Kenny swiftly ran off to join another crowd. That Ron could be trouble. Of course, if his abilities weren’t so vague and unpredictable, he wouldn’t have to play these foolish games. The range on his Buzz was short at the best of times; crowds seemed to confuse it completely. It wasn’t fair!

Kenny tried his teary-eyed routine again and again, with men, women and even a few teens who seemed reckless enough to possibly have died once or twice, never with any success. He snatched a handful of coins from a show hat, ready to drown his sorrows in self-pity and sno-cones. Rushing to the food tents, he passed a knot of Rovers, wandering characters who made the street-shows seem normal by comparison. He brushed past what seemed like a cross between a Newfie fisherman and a giant carp and, to his own surprise, Felt something. He looked back once, only to find the Newfie giving him an out-of-character frown from behind his (her?) thick novelty glasses.

Immortals among the performers? He’d never even considered it. Things had become more complicated, requiring serious thought; more than he could do while dodging Immortals and avoiding the attention of suspicious volunteers. Forgetting all about the snack booths, he rushed off the site, stopping only long enough to retrieve the bag he had hidden in a group of trees. He’d be back tomorrow and by then he’d be in control.

Kenny had just crossed the street, officially leaving Sir Winston Churchill Square, when a scruffy-looking hobo clown gave him what could only be described as a leer. He had the distinct look of a dirty old man as he offered a very unpleasant invitation. The "boy’s" lip curled in disgust; he’d seen this kind of predator too many times in recent years. On the other hand, he could use a way to let loose the day’s frustrations. Feigning shy innocence, he allowed himself to be led away from the crosswalk. Meanwhile one hand slipped into his pack, reaching unerringly for the familiar grip of a small but quite functional shortsword.

§ § §

Danny the Clown was dead; the news spread rapidly while the site was still being set up for the day. According to the rumours, "cut up" didn’t begin to describe the body that had been found; "in pieces" would be more accurate. Not that many people would mourn the loss of Danny; he had been a known pervert, a suspected pedophile and, at the time of his death, had been banned from almost every festival site in the city. But a death, any death, was bad news for a festival; volunteers and performers alike braced for the onslaught of media vultures.

Patti Stiles, who’d worked the festival circuit for years and been an entertainer for much longer than that, was still at the Performers’ Tent when the news reached her. Her reaction to the tragic announcement was a thoughtful frown that her fellow performers wouldn’t have recognised and some choice words only a few of them could have understood. She considered Danny’s well-known habits and, remembering the boy she had seen yesterday, didn’t like the conclusion that immediately came to mind. She had known right away that the boy wasn’t a boy at all, but now it seemed he might be dangerous. She decided to slip a little something extra into her costume today and keep an eye out for any other Old-timers who might be working this year.

Kenny had changed his strategy today and came early, before the crowds. Before even the first shows he was out on the Square, much to the irritation of the volunteers. One familiar face gave him a patronising smile; "Why don’t you come back later, little boy? The shows don’t start until around 11:00. You shouldn’t be around here right now." Him again, Kenny returned the smile with a sneer, "Or you’ll do what Ron, call security? I’m not doing anything wrong." He paused with a grin, "I think I like you better in your info booth."

He raced off in exactly the direction the man had been trying to herd him away from; straight to the Performers’ Tent. The one he had Felt the day before was there, and he discovered she was woman, a very attractive woman in fact. He was about to launch into his whole I Need a Teacher speech when he heard a burst of unforgettable laughter. Giving Ms. Stiles a convincingly fearful look, he disappeared where he could watch without being seen. Around the corner came one of the performers, the self-styled Checkerboard Guy, laughing and talking with a shockingly blonde woman who hadn’t been there yesterday. They talked with the easy-going familiarity of old friends reunited.

"David, the last time I saw you, you were juggling to pay your way through college. I can’t believe you’re still doing that old routine!"

"It didn’t take me long to learn that juggling pays better if you play your cards right. Besides, everyone knows if it works, don’t change it. I have fans who come every year just to quote my own act back at me."

She smiled warmly as she looked at her old friend; "They still want that old stuff: the Smelly Shoe, the 6-foot Unicycle of Death; ‘Seven balls, two hands, one juggler, no brains’?" The final quotation was recited in stereo, and by the end they held onto each other to keep from falling down laughing.

The hair might be different, but the voice was unmistakable, She was here! Amanda, who’d been like a mother to him, a mother and…so much more. Kenny frowned angrily, but what was she doing with him? — That second-rate juggler, that walking tablecloth, that Mortal! He didn’t deserve to stand near Amanda, never mind speak to her that way.

The two were still talking with shocking intimacy; "You know, when I showed you the amazing things that the human tongue can do, I was hoping you’d do a little bit more with it than just a ping pong ball routine." It was his turn to grin, "It came in handy for other things too. I am a father after all." In the shadows, Kenny’s anger turned to rage: how could she, how dare he!

If there was one thing that 800 years of being the Little Guy taught, it was patience. David Aiken, aka The Checkerboard Guy, was preparing for a show and thoroughly distracted when Kenny finally confronted him. "Hi," he said shyly, all wide-eyed innocence; "do you think someday I could do what you do?"

The juggler hardly looked up from his prop box, "Well, I’ve been performing for almost twenty years now, but if you work hard and practice every day, I’m sure you could learn what I do. It’s not easy, though."

The boy shuffled a few steps closer, eyeing an item he’d been admiring before. He laid on the Hero Worship thick, though it sickened him to do it; "Do you really think so?" A few steps more and he was within easy reach of that particular prop. "What’s that?" he asked, pointing vaguely, trying to keep the gleam out of his eyes. His thoughts still miles away, Aiken looked over at the boy. "That’s a replica battle-axe, I use it in my act. Be careful; it’s small, but it’s very sharp."

Kenny flipped the axe once experimentally; his voice had a hard edge to it, "Oh, I could definitely use this…" For the first time, the juggler got nervous, "That’s not something you want to learn on; give it here." A wicked grin was the only warning, "My pleasure."

He put the strength of his entire body into the blow, only wishing he could have aimed a little higher. An inarticulate sound of pain attracted attention from all over the square, including two Immortals and several undercover Watchers. Patti rushed forward to the aide of a fellow performer, resulting in the first case in Immortal history of a sword being drawn from the mouth of a fish. The weapon, nonetheless, was real and she used it to chase the boy away from the bleeding body. "Security!" she cried, dropping everything to cradle her comrade, "Medic!"

People were rushing in from all direction; Kenny’s window of opportunity was closing rapidly. Dropping the little axe, he pulled out his own weapon, aiming for the devastated woman kneeling on the grass. A voice from behind stopped him instantly; "Don’t even think about it, Kenneth."

He looked up at his former mentor, a touch of a whine entering his voice in spite of himself; "You can’t do anything here; you wouldn’t dare. Look at all the people." Amanda laughed once, a bitter sound, "Are you kidding, they’d probably throw money." Kenny turned back to his target, but Amanda was there, "I warned you." He started his swing, but she finished her stroke first, a look almost like remorse in her eyes. Clouds gathered out of a clear blue sky as she braced herself for the onslaught. "My son," she whispered, the words lost in the storm.

Amanda came to her senses with a pile of coins at her feet and a dozen men trying to disperse the crowd. A few of them were suspiciously organised for volunteer security, and she thought she glimpsed a telltale tattoo. Ms. Stiles looked at her with a relieved, but regretful smile as a blade swiftly disappeared into her costume; "I’m sorry, you had no choice."

One of the volunteers, a big man with a shaved head and a bemused expression turned to his neighbour; "Does that woman have a permit to use pyro on this site?" The second man tugged his sleeve down over his wrist and started to lead him away; "Wilkin, shut up."

The Checkerboard Guy and Patti Stiles are both real performers, though Patti is better known as an improvisor than for her roving characters. I decided to make her Immortal because I am a member of the small but vocal Patti Stiles Fan Club, who affectionately call her "The Goddess". Unfortunately, Danny the Clown is also based on a real person, one that all the local festivals would love see gone. Let's just say that several friends of mine who volunteer at festivals cheered when they heard I had killed off Danny.

Strangely enough, I already had the general idea for this story before the Challenge ever came up. Along with Folk Forever, it's part of the Festival Season series, which has various HL characters experiencing Edmonton's summer festivals. I'd like to declare that, for now at least, the Festival Season series takes place in a different universe than the Felicia DuChamp continuity. Of course, that may change at any moment (creative license, you know). Oh, and for those of you who are keeping score, yes, that is the same Wilkin from Pros and Cons.

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