Chaotic Neutral

Part One: Amanda

"It's a combination hookah and coffeemaker," I heard my step-brother mumble.

"What are you talking about, Paul?" I asked.

"Guaranteed not to break. Oops, it broke."

"Great, Paul, now do you mind answering my question?"

"Yes I mind. It's none of your business. Now go kiss a tree."

Another morning at the Crane house had begun. I came in to breakfast, my brother, stepbrother, really, already at the table mumbling about some nonsense or another.

"Don't eat the Cheerios," Paul warned.

"Why not?"

"Because." A typical Paul response. I went to give myself some anyway.

"I really mean it. Don't eat the Cheerios," Paul continued, "They're not good."

"What happened to them?"

"Um . . . well . . . you see . . . " He was stalling. I could tell.

I was fed up with his little games. "Spit it out, Paul!" I yelled.

That got him. "Never mind. If you're going to yell, then just never mind. Go ahead and eat them. See if I stop you. Just eat them."

Now I didn't want to eat them. Maybe it wasn't just one of his little games. If it was, he probably would have made some excuse for a reason after I yelled at him instead of him giving in so easily. Paul is like that. Crazy.

I poured myself some Wheaties instead. "Anything wrong with these?" I asked, just to be sure.

"No, those are fine. Those are real good, in fact."

"That's good." I still wanted to know what was wrong with the Cheerios, but I let it slide. If we kept arguing, it would only make us late for school. As I sat down to eat, I heard him mumble something else about his combination hookah and coffeemaker. Or it was something like that, anyway. With him, you can never really tell.

After breakfast, we got into his car and drove to school. I don't know why I still let him drive, crazy as he is. I settle for just telling him when he's going too fast or too slow.

We got to school uneventfully. Usually Paul tries to do one thing or another just to get on my nerves, but today he got us there in one piece. The only problem I had with the trip was that the whole time he was still mumbling about his hookah/coffeemaker combination.

Once at school, we went to our separate classes, and I didn't see him again until lunch. When I did see him, I found him running across the quad chasing after his friend James. I just shook my head. I don't think Paul will ever learn. People can't know that he's crazy. If they did, they'd lock him up for sure.

After school, we drove back home in Paul's car. I decided to try to get him to make his craziness less obvious. "You know, you should try not to act so weird," I told him. "People might think that you're crazy."

"So? Who cares if they think I'm crazy? It's not normal to be normal. Furthermore, normal is boring."

"I care. I don't want you taken off to some loony bin or something. Insane is not a good thing to be."

"People don't get sent to the loony bin unless they're criminally insane. Which I'm not."

"But you might be! If you're crazy, how would you know right from wrong?"

"Am I criminally insane?"

"Well . . . no . . . but you might become criminally insane."

"Only a madman is dead sure of his sanity."

"That's bull. I know for a fact that I'm sane."

He didn't say anything to that. He must have seen my point. I smugly sat back in the seat. He mumbled something to himself, and I asked him to repeat it.

"Chaotic neutral."

"Whatever." That didn't make any sense to me at all.

"You asked," he reminded me.

"If you can't make any sense, then don't say anything at all."

"You asked. Don't make me say it again. I don't like to repeat myself. I don't like to repeat myself. Had I not answered, you would have yelled at me for not saying anything. Had I said something else, you would have yelled at me for lying. It's a lose-lose-lose situation."

"Then don't mumble and I won't ask."

He didn't say anything to that, either, so I figured that I had just won another argument.

We were quiet in his car for a moment, then he realized that we had been going completely without music, so he put in a tape of all bass. I don't know what would possess anyone to make a tape of entirely bass music, but I guess that's just a part of Paulness. Only a bass player would find it interesting. And Paul is an awesome bassist.

When we got home, I went to go take a nap. I do that every day, because Paul likes to practice at night, and I can't sleep with a bass droning in the background. I have to get up at 6:30 in the morning, so if it weren't for my afternoon nap, I would never get enough sleep.

I awoke to a loud bang. I ran out of my room to see what had happened, and I heard Paul yelling. I couldn't hear the exact words at first, but as I drew closer, I heard that he was screaming, "Bloody murder! Bloody murder!"

"What's going on?" I demanded.

"They're after us! Women and children go first! Wait a sec, is that to face the enemy or to be saved? I dunno. Women and children go first! Run! Bloody murder!"

"What on Earth is going on?"

"They were shooting at us!"

"Who were shooting at us?"

"They were. The bad guys. You know. Them."

"When did this happen?" I wanted to know.

"Just now. Right before you came out here. While you were sleeping."

"Are you sure it was guns?"

"Whoever said it was guns they were shooting? I didn't. They were shooting rubber bands."

"Then what was that loud bang?"

"What loud bang?" He was grinning. This could only mean that he knew what bang; he was just trying to make me believe differently.

"You know what bang."

"No, seriously, what bang?" His grin grew even wider, to the point where his face almost split.

"THE BANG THAT WOKE ME UP!" I yelled. I was getting sick of his little jokes.

"Oh, that bang. You mean the bang that woke you up?" I don't know how he managed, but his grin grew even wider.

I rolled my eyes. This was obviously going nowhere. I decided to try to get it out of him anyway. "Yes, the bang that woke me up."

His grin fell back to normal, and he shrugged. "I dunno. It came from somewhere inside." Then he started grinning again.

"Inside? What could possibly have banged inside?" I inquired. An inside bang could be trouble.

"I really don't know. I just know that I don't know. I think. Or something. Never mind."

Paul can really be confusing at times. At a lot of times, really. Come to think of it, he's confusing most of the time.

I went inside to try to locate the source of the bang. I just couldn't think of anything that would bang like that. It had sounded like a firecracker, but there's no way a firecracker could have been set, what with me asleep and Paul outside; our parents weren't home from work yet, and they wouldn't have set one anyway. So it couldn't have been a firecracker. Unless Paul had set it and then gone outside before the fuse got to the gunpowder. Or maybe it hadn't been an inside bang. Things didn't look good for Paul. I kept it to myself. Wouldn't want him sent to the loony bin.

The next day started off about the same, with a couple of exceptions. Instead of mumbling about a combination hookah/coffeemaker, he was mumbling something about, "It's an onion broiler."

Of course, I had to reply with, "What's an onion broiler?" so he told me that "It is."

Also, instead of insisting against Cheerios, he insisted against Wheaties. I don't have a clue as to why.

School was more or less uneventful that day, but after I woke up from my daily afternoon nap (fortunately I didn't wake up to a loud bang this time) and went outside for some fresh air, I stepped into a hole in the backyard that hadn't been there before. Paul must have dug it while I was asleep again. I was lucky I wasn't hurt, and I went off to find him to chew him out for it, but he was nowhere to be found. I decided that I'd just have to yell at him later. Then I remembered that he was at band practice and wouldn't be back until late. He should have had the common sense not to dig a hole if he wasn't going to use it for anything any time soon, but with Paul, you never can tell.

The next morning, the topic of mumble was "Chaotic neutral." Just those two words. I didn't have a clue as to where they came from.

Still, "Chaotic neutral," he insisted.

I asked him what that was supposed to mean, but he just smiled and nodded his head.

In the car on the way to school, he decided to freak me out by going a different way from usual. He turned early, onto a winding road that seemingly went nowhere. It just kept winding around, until finally we got back on a road I knew. When I asked him what he was doing, he simply replied, "Chaotic neutral."

Other than that, nothing much happened that day, until on the trip home I told him that my friend Christie would be over later. Suddenly, he got this look on his face, as though he were plotting something.

I took my nap, and went to sleep hoping that Paul wouldn't do anything too drastic, and when I got up I took a firm look around the yard to be sure there were no holes or anything. Everything looked okay, and I called Christie to tell her that I was ready for her appearance.

Everything went along fine for a while, a few hours, anyway, until Paul began throwing the tennis ball around. It was around 7pm, on that beautiful day in late spring, the last day of May, in fact, so it was still quite light out. The pool was shimmering in the sun, and we had almost decided how nice it would be to go swimming about now, when we heard an "Oh boy." out of Paul.

We went over to where he had been throwing the ball up, and I asked him what had happened. "My tennis ball climbed on the roof," he said.

"So why don't you go get the ladder and get it?"

"I'm afraid the ladder will fall."

Christie could see that it was pointless worrying about it, and promptly offered to get it for him. She had often told me at school how much she liked Paul, and I think this was her way of trying to get him to notice her.

Paul got the ladder for her, and held it for Christie as she climbed up. When she got to the point where the edge of the roof was about waist high, she called down, "I can't see it. Are you sure it's up here?"

Paul said that yes, he was sure, but maybe it went to the other side. He said that he had checked the ground all the way around the house, and it wasn't anywhere to be found down there. He suggested that Christie climb down and they move the ladder to the other side, but Christie said no, she was already up that far, she may as well go all the way up and walk over to the other side.

She didn't get very far before it happened. She fell. It looked like she had slipped, but for now there was no way to tell. And I was worried enough as it was, because she had landed in a funny position. Paul ran inside and called an ambulance, and when it arrived, we followed it to the hospital in Paul's car.

Christie was badly injured, but she survived. And I mean badly injured. She was lucky that she did survive. She had two broken ribs, and a concussion, as well as a very broken leg. Upon inspection of the roof that she had slipped on, I found that a couple feet from the edge, it was covered in oil. Almost as if someone did that to keep people off. Or to make them fall on purpose.

I told Paul about this, and when I asked him if he did it, he just shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe I am crazy and just don't remember it. Or maybe I knew exactly what I was doing and meant to hurt Christie. Or maybe I didn't do it at all."

Needless to say, Christie's parents were not happy. They decided to sue. This put me in a fix. I didn't know whether to tell them that Paul didn't know what he was doing, that he was crazy, or to tell them that he wasn't crazy, no way, no how, no loony bin for him, he knew exactly what he was doing. If I said he was crazy, though, he would be sent to an institution, and if I continued to plead his sanity, he would probably be sent to a different institution. I decided that the only possible solution was to keep quiet.

Paul had different ideas. He told the lawyer different from what he told me. He told the lawyer that he did it on purpose; he did it to get Christie off his back. He said he was sorry, and that he would never do it again. Even when I tried to tell them that he didn't do it, they said go away, don't bother us, we're trying to run a legal business here.

Part Two: Paul

Amanda didn't know what to think when I told them that I put the oil on the roof. I just said it to get everything over with. I had no idea that she'd take it so hard. I didn't know it was even there until she told me. I guess I knew that it would happen eventually, what with her not remembering setting off the firecracker right after her nap that one time, or when she woke up, dug a ditch in the backyard, then went back to sleep, only to fall in it later. And her overreacting. It was all leading up to the next week.

Amanda took it hard when I said that I put the oil there on purpose, probably because she was almost over the edge anyway, and that just gave her that last little push. She probably went over because she knew, at least subconsciously, that she had done it, and she really didn't want me in any trouble, but when she tried to convince my dad that I didn't do it, he laughed, said that she was getting too attached to her step-brother, was too traumatized by what had happened to her best friend, and suggested that she go think things out in her room.

She went to her room. And didn't come out for a long time.

She didn't sleep, and she wouldn't eat, except what I brought her, and then not always. She was wasting away to nothingness. She never said anything, just got wilder and wilder, skinnier and skinnier, and she had bags under her once-blue eyes, now a sleepless red, and the once beautiful Amanda Crane was a picture of devastation.

A week after she had gone in, she finally emerged. We all thought that it was wonderful. At first. She was still wearing the same clothes she had been wearing a week ago, when she had gone in, only now they smelled something awful. My dad and her mom tried to talk to her, said things like, "Glad to see you out and about!" and "How are you today, Amanda?" and other parently things like that. She didn't answer to any of them. One could see her mother's face turn from the joy of seeing her out to the terror of seeing her unchanged. Her cheerful questions turned to a desperate, "Amanda?"

She went right through the kitchen, right through the living room, right outside without saying a word. I followed her out, to see what would happen, to make sure she didn't hurt herself. She made no acknowledgement of my presence. She walked right up to the swimming pool, and then stopped.

She started to say something very quietly, and I leaned closer to make out what she was saying.

"I see it all now. Yes. It's an onion broiler. A combination hookah and coffeemaker. And above all, it's chaotic neutral. I see what you were trying to tell me, Paul, and you were right. Don't eat the Cheerios, but now the Cheerios are okay, just don't eat the Wheaties. Yes. I see it now. Variety is the spice of life, and insanity is constant variety. Insanity must be an herb. But you're crazy, not me, so you're the herb. Even though you're right. I need to think about this a little more now in the pool."

With that, she stepped calmly into the pool, and just kept walking, and her head got lower and lower above the surface of the water, until it was under, the pool was 6 feet deep, and I saw bubbles, then nothing, and she stopped moving. But just for a second. Then she moved a final time. She floated to the surface, as death wrapped his merciful cloak around my wonderful stepsister; no, she was my real sister, in spirit, /and

I loved her more at that moment than I had ever loved anyone before or since.