Victor slapped his hands on his knees, and pushed himself up off the stone stool. “Well, if that’s everything…”
“Not quite everything,” said the Spectre, rising from the throne. He descended the platform steps and stood in the centre of the circle of chairs. “I have one more question for you to answer.”
“Uh, okay,” said Victor, sitting back down. “What is it?”
“A friend of mine… is worried about his pimples.”
“Pimples, right,” said Victor. “Your friend is self-conscious about how he looks—is that it?”
“Yes. You see, he has rather—ahem—rather a lot of pimples.”
Victor nodded. “Most teenagers get pimples. Some get a few, some get a lot. No one wants them, but they’re just part of growing up.” He stroked his chin and thought. “It can be embarrassing, especially around girls—you want to look good. But you know, pimples don’t last. They go away, and once you, or rather your friend, gets through the teenage years, he’ll hardly see another pimple the rest of his life. And you have to remember, all the kids are going through the same thing. Almost everyone is dealing with pimples.”
The Spectre sighed and dropped his head. “I guess so.”
Victor leaned forward in his seat and looked up at him. “Let me tell you something,” he said, pointing his finger. “And this is a true story.” (What followed was entirely fiction.) “I went to high school with this kid, Matthew Schneider. His dad was German—had a huge collection of beer mugs. We used to get a mug each, fill it with cordial and pretend we were drinking beer. Anyway, Matt had real bad acne—pimples all over his face. Especially his chin. And he had kind of big ears, a weird-looking rooster, you know? Some of the kids gave him a hard time about it. Well, after all the pimples and embarrassment and feeling self-conscious, you know what Matt is doing now?”
The Spectre shook his head.
“He’s a movie actor,” said Victor.
“What?” cried the boar knight. “No way!”
Wows whispered around the circle.
“He’s really in movies?” asked the snake knight.
“Oh yeah,” said Victor. “He hasn’t had any lead roles yet, but he’s done a few good supporting roles. He played a cop in his last movie.”
“How about that?” said the eagle knight.
“Now that he’s in the movies,” said the snake knight, “he must be famous.”
“I bet he has a girlfriend,” said the wolf knight.
“Girlfriend?” said Victor. “Oh no, not a girlfriend—about twenty girlfriends. They go crazy for him. And this is a guy who, when he was in high school, was embarrassed about how he looked.”
“Whoa,” said the stallion knight. “I bet all the people you went to school with are jealous of him now.”
“Ha! Oh yeah,” said Victor.
The knights were wildly impressed with the pimples-to-perfection story, but the Spectre of Puberty remained silent. As the knights began discussing how wonderful it would be to be a movie star, the Spectre approached Victor and leaned down close to his face. For the first time, Victor noticed two beady eyes shining within the thick darkness of the Spectre’s hood. “Is that true, what you said?” asked the Spectre.
Victor shifted a little on his seat; his eyes dropped for a second. “Yep,” he said. “He’s in the movies.”
The Spectre tilted his head a fraction. “And his pimples…?”
Victor cleared his throat. “His pimples are all gone.”
The Spectre stood upright. He bowed his head. Two pale, spindly-fingered hands extended from the sleeves of his cloak, then lifted to the sides of his hood and drew it back. A thick mop of wavy red hair flopped out from under the hood; the Spectre tucked it behind his ear and raised his head, revealing an awkward teenage face: ears protruding out like open car doors, cheeks and chin spotted with pimples, a nose like a clown shoe, and thin orthodontal headgear keeping his antique braces in place. He glanced shyly at the knights and then looked at Victor. “I’ve got lots of pimples,” he said.
Victor screwed up his nose and shrugged. “Yeah, you’ve got a few,” he said. “But I’ve definitely seen worse. And these days there are creams you can get that would probably clear up most of your pimples.”
“Yeah. Heaps of kids use them.”
A look of wonder came over the Spectre’s spotty face. “Wow. That would be—ahem—that would be great if I could get rid of these pimples.” He looked with hopeful eyes at Victor. “Do you think I could ever be a movie star—like your friend from school?”
Victor leaned forward in his seat and peered long and hard at the Spectre’s face. “Definitely,” he said, mustering his most serious voice.
A wide smile stretched across the Spectre’s face behind his headgear. He nodded to himself, staring somewhere wonderful in the distance.
After a few seconds, the Spectre gave a satisfied sigh. He looked down at Victor and shrugged his shoulders. “That’s it,” he said.
“What is?” said Victor.
“You’ve answered all my questions.”
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