(For an introduction to just what the hell this is, click here)
No one ever mentioned how everyone would be shipped. There were plenty of technologies that could’ve performed the task admirably, so the choice of large boats seemed odd.
Rita couldn’t remember the last time she was on a boat. She knew for certain she had never been on one so large. Somewhere along the way she heard that when vessels were this large they were called ships. She didn’t particularly care about the exact difference.
Watching the crew operate the ship was a good way to pass the time. Adults scurried all over, pulling levers, tying ropes, tending to different machines. Every once in awhile one of her fellow passengers would find some ounce of ambition in their chests and offered their services. Each time they were politely asked to take their seats again with assurances that while the responsibility of the ship was not theirs, there might be a task for them on the return trip.
When The Rampant Lands first came into sight, the excitement was marked by the buzzing of skin and widening of irises. Rita felt a bit of shame as she joined in with the others as they called out for more speed. The remaining water was only an obstacle that needed to be ignored and conquered.
The waves proved to be something that wasn’t easily pushed aside. It had been mostly smooth sailing for most of the journey. Glassy surfaces that provided little excitement. That job fell on the various passengers that didn’t acclimate to the seas well. By the time the end was in sight they were already pale and sickly. Rita didn’t have much hope for them. But as they grew close, the peaks formed snowy white peaks of foam. Each lurch forward was met by a retreat and a few extra painful whines from the engines.
”We’re crossing the sea to drink and screw, You’re with me and I’m with you!” A fellow passenger sang out.
He had been singing for most of the trip. His songs were his own, at least that’s what Rita hoped. She wasn’t as big of a fan of music as some kids she knew, but she felt like she could at least identify decent lyrics.
He called himself Big Denny Walsh. Surely his friends and he thought the nickname was clever at the time when whatever poignant moment gave off the wave of inspiration for it. If his songs were any indication, the event had something to do with revelry and illegal undertakings. Rita longed to despise him but, like most of the others she had become somewhat of a fan. He sang without shame, laughed loudly and refused to deny any who wished to join him in his musical endeavors. It was easy when he himself didn’t know the words to the tunes until they left his mouth.
There was something about his music that rang true. They were simple, crude, and short, just like the stories everyone had heard about The Rampant Lands. It was a place designed for primal expression. Perhaps not designed, but it’s potential was realized and utilized accordingly.
A long time ago, a decision was made. Before that, there was a declaration: Society was filled with demons. Faults and shortcomings that solidified into blockades and society desired to move forward. These sins had to be exorcised. They refused to be beaten away or ignored, much like the waves under the ship. The only way they could be removed was if they were exhausted. With that being considered as close to a universal truth as many could remember, it was decided that everyone would spend the five years spanning the ages of eighteen to twenty-five in The Rampant Lands.
The stories about this place always tended to be the same. Tales of love which sounded mostly like tales of sex. Drunken nights complete with violence and unexpected revelations. The most common theme though, was self-discovery. Somehow through all the words that combined to form reflections of lives that could crumble with the gentlest of winds the people who returned willing to speak, claimed they had identities. Apparently the decision had led to success.
“Perhaps I’ll find a woman bathing in the sun, or maybe a friend with two full bottles of rum.” Big Denny Walsh continued on.
The last few lines were delivered with a slight shake in his voice. Even he knew he was stretching a bit. Yet, a chorus of whoops and howls erupted. It didn’t take much to illicit a response when the blue waters, now turning grey, were the only stimuli around.
Rita didn’t fully understand the purpose of The Rampant Lands. It wasn’t as if those things weren’t present back home. She had tasted alcohol a few times already and while she didn’t long to lay with another girl in the sun, the feeling of flesh hadn’t eluded her. To her, those dark desires that the world just beyond her reach were so keen on removing, had a global citizenship. They didn’t stay in The Rampant Lands.
She knew the looks adults gave of when those supposedly terrible things were revealed In the younger population. They were the same as when a new baby was ushered into a house for the first time. Or when a family pet tore apart a piece of furniture. Annoyance mixed with admiration and sweet longing. The whole thing was a damned lie. They weren’t trying to help anyone or protect the world. They simply wanted a few years to themselves, without voices not deepened by years clouding the sky.
“And if I don’t come home to riches, maybe I’ll go back and join The Overnight Shift.” Big Denny Walsh sang, the last word elongated, to signal his song had come to an end.
He had gone too far. The chants and cheers subsided and were replaced by hushed words and exaggerated grasping for air. He refused to be embarrassed though and simply shrugged at the response, satisfied with his effort.
Every generation had a term or phrase that instantly drew a response. Whether it was positive or negative rarely had anything to do with whoever spoke it. Whatever those specific sentences were in the past, the current fiery words were “The Overnight Shift.”
The term was originally coined by a journalist who decided to spend some time with The Overnight Shift. His article was widely circulated, read, analyzed and enjoyed. In it were brief snippets of experiences, each giving themselves to the definition that everyone would have of this subsect of people. There was something missing though. The reason why this journalist named the group of people who refused to leave The Rampant Lands, what he did.
Rita had seen the interviews, read the most highly regarded theories and they all credited themselves to a deep academic understanding of the term. The problem though, was that for all her life Rita had been told about the abstract experiences that awaited her in The Rampant Lands, surely the inspiration for the name was something much more personal. Something that the author of the original article was holding close, unwilling to share.
There was an obsession that had been growing in Rita’s stomach since her first time, tangled up with the disjointed orgy of words that made up that fateful article. She was told that she had a crush on the author. He was handsome enough, so, maybe she did. It was easier to let her friends believe that rather than try and explain her longing to slip the consciousness that plagued her daily and tumble into whatever trance the author had. He spoke with such a Puck-esque mischievousness, informing his readers while playing barely seen pranks on their eyes. Whatever force, chemical, real, figurative or otherwise, that contorted his mind and squeezed the purest and most bittersweet recollection was somewhere among The Overnight Shift and their kingdom.
Although, whatever the journalist left to remain solely in his brain frightened Rita.
The hedonistic promises didn’t wait long to arrive. As soon as the ship landed and the passengers were ushered off, a party was thrown. There were kegs of beer, bottles of tequila, rum, whiskey, and brandy. Big Denny Walsh quickly found a group rolling joints and puffing skunkish smelling smoke into the sky. Rita opted for an unopened bottle of wine. After borrowing a corkscrew from someone, she retreated from the gathering to privately let her inhibitions wash away.
She was there, The Rampant Lands, sand underneath her, tall seaside grasses tickling her legs. The party raged on the wider parts of the beach. Rita knew that there were other parties being thrown. There wasn’t just one boat that had set out for the destination that Rita had found herself in. She couldn’t remember when she lost track of those other ships. Most of her friends had been on those other freighters, destined for more southern beaches. Some even were scheduled to take the long circular trip for the western coasts. Even though they had made it across the ocean and were in seperate places, Rita knew that all the people she had known and those she was now with wouldn’t begin their time until after the current party had ended.
Promises that went beyond the vague ones had been made. Rita had said she wouldn’t shy away from the temptations that were going to be present. With that in mind she let the wine ferment a bit more in her stomach before finding a young sinewy boy, high out of his mind. As they laid together and he awkwardly thrusted against her, she noted the first change of many to come. The sex she had partaken in before had generally been conditional. Depending on their status the boys would either demand secrecy, or were more concerned with how they would tell their friends about the night. She could always tell when things other than her were running through the sweating beasts’ minds. There’d be lapses in effort, hesitation to perform certain things, disappointment. The boy she found on her first night in The Rampant Lands though, he screwed the way that Rita always knew could be done. He did her, just to do it. To satisfy some random urge, he’d share his body, with no expectation for the morning or the coming days.
She knew that there was nothing pretty about what was happening. Her underwear hadn’t even made it completely off her ankle. It was the best she had ever had up to that point, it was hopeful and soaked in promise for things to come. She would find the source of the name that damned journalist had created. Those ten minutes in the sand were the first step. It was an outline. The pretense had to be abandoned. She didn’t ask for the boy’s name, it wasn’t important. All that counted was that he was there, just like The Overnight Shift was there, somewhere. Their members had names that mattered.
Rita adjusted herself, took a few of the pills the boy had on him and left the boy there to find his own meaning to what had happened. She found Big Denny Walsh, well on his way to an temporarily obliterated mind. Without hesitating she took a seat next to him, stole the bottle he was nursing, and looked out at the sea. She struggled to think about the street she grew up on, how many street lights lined it and how many houses she had been inside.
“Where are you planning on going?” She asked.
“I heard there’s a place down south where everyone knows how to play guitar.”
“Do you know?”
“Can you sing me another song?” Rita asked.
As his afflicted voice began to ring out, Rita laid her head in the sand. In the morning, she’d set out. Her mind told her west, but that was simply because there was nowhere out east except for maybe Atlantis. As she spiraled violently into sleep, she vomited.