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It’s quite fascinating to see how many people would trade in their stereotypical American lives in exchange for a life exploring the country. I’m not talking about a man who buys an RV because of a mid-life crisis, but rather the individuals who are willing to walk across the country with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a handful of supplies to craft a shelter. Yes, I’m talking about gypsies - or more commonly referred to as “Roadies” in America. Roadies don’t share any ancestry with original gypsies, but rather take on their tradition of living life with no particular home. They’re not particularly homeless nor insane, but would prefer a more quiet and peaceful life rather than one in the city. Of course, I’m not saying that all gypsies are perfectly sane - but that’s not the point. Before I get even more sidetracked, allow me to jump straight to the point. Most individuals who spend their lives in the city fail to realize the unique but rewarding life of a gypsy, so I thought it would be a good idea to give others an insight on what a typical life of a gypsy would be like. If you would like to put it in simpler terms, I’m shooting a documentary on the life of gypsies and I thought it would be a good idea to get a few good shots of a gypsy camp and the people who live there.
So here there I was, crammed in a van with a few crewmen, some cameras, and a large tangle of wires that don’t seem to serve a purpose. Driving the van was yours truly, Luke Mooney, the producer of the film. I had two long time friends and cameramen riding in the back, Chip and Dillon. I also had another friend there to help me with edits and transitions whose name was Bruce. We got to know each other through high school, and shared common interests. Not that we were the most popular guys, but it wasn’t like one of those 80’s movies with jocks tormenting us left and right. We didn’t have thick rimmed glasses or button up shirts tucked in; in fact, we were just like any other perfectly healthy nobodies just trying to get out of highschool and make a living. So here we were, riding in a van in rural landscape, zooming past hills of green and carefree cows grazing through endless fields. Word had it that there was an exceptionally large gypsy camp situated amongst these grassy fields, isolated from society in the quiet countryside. We had been on the road for more than 3 hours before seeing any signs of life other than cows and the occasional 18-wheeler hogging up the road before we ran into a gas station.
It was nothing special; just two rusty, faded gas pumps and a small, decrepit building on the brink of caving in on itself. We pulled into the station, parking next to one of the gas pumps. I climbed out of the van and strode towards the front door, which was just a collection of soggy boards of wood and protruding nails. Giving it a gentle push, it slowly creaked open, revealing a small store with nothing stocked on the shelves. No one was around, but upon shouting for service, I heard the ruffling of boxes and a grunt. A old, unshaven man worked his way to the cash register. His beard and baseball cap obscured the majority of his face, but he seemed friendly enough. It was surprising to see that this place was still functioning.
“Lookin’ for anything in particular?” he asked. It took me a moment to realize that he was serious.
“Are your gas pumps still working?” I said, “We’re running low on fuel.” “Course they do. Better than ever. 3 bucks a gallon,” he wheezed. I fished 45 bucks out of my wallet as the ancient man took the money with his boney hands. “Alright, just head out there n’ they should be workin. Anything else ya need before hittin’ the road?” He said, already retreating to the back room. “Yeah, I was wondering if you knew anything about a gyspy camp nearby?” I questioned, “We’ve been looking around for it for a few hours now.” He chuckled a bit, and leaned in the doorway. “Dem crazy folks, hm? The ones who live under a few mattresses and the sky? Theys quite a bit down the road, about 20 minutes. Can’t imagine why you pretty folks would go to them.” “You see, we’re filming a documentary, and we just wanted a look around one of their camps. But thanks for the help, we should be on our way.”
I quickly moved out of the store and towards the gas pump. After filling up the tank, we hit the road once again. We began to see less and less cows, which was quite concerning. After a good 25 minutes, we saw a dirt road linked to the mainroad. I veered onto the path, desperate to try anything. We continued down the path for a good 15 minutes, venturing further into the grass hills, until we reached the end of the road. We had driven so far that we could no longer see the main road. Fortunately, I could barely make something out in the distance; a makeshift structure.
“This is it, boys,” I cried out to the back of the van. I jumped out of the van and opened up the back doors for my friends. We had driven for so long that the sun was quickly descending behind the horizon. If we wanted to get some decent footage, we would have to move quickly. We had all our equipment arranged, and we began to trudge through thick grass towards the man made structures in the distance. It was such an exhilarating feeling, knowing all this driving would actually be worth it; we would finally get some footage to begin our film.
By the time we reached the outskirts of the camp, it was around 5:30. The sun had completely disappeared from the sky, and the moon quickly took its place. Realizing it would be too dark to get any meaningful footage, we decided it would be best to try to find someone in camp and ask them if we could stay the night. The entrance of the camp was marked with the beginning of a poorly made dirt road and two wooden posts stabbed into the ground. Carved into them were the words, “Vires in Numeris”. It appeared to be Latin, but having no background in Latin, I had no knowledge of what it translated to. Upon entering the camp, we could make out the light from multiple camp fires, but otherwise it was too dark to see anything else. We could hear conversation amongst other individuals, so we followed the noise towards a camp fire. There, we found two grown women and three or four young men conversing. From the light of the fire, we could see their clothes were made of leather, rags, and cloth. Some wore headbands of torn cloth and jewelry crafted with rocks. One man glanced towards us, and gave us a puzzled look. I looked over at my friends, who had looks of concern. Soon enough, everyone around the campfire was looking over at us, some possessing the look of fear, others with looks of hatred and pure confusion. In the matter of seconds, all hell broke loose.
“Outsiders!” one of the men screamed, “We have outsiders! Someone fetch Leader! Outsiders!” Everyone around the fire scattered in different directions, the screams of women filling the air.
“Luke, we need to get the hell out of here. We might get hurt,” Bruce said, obvious fear in his voice.
“Lead the way, because I have no idea how to get out of here,” I cried, “We shouldn’t panic. The best thing we can do either hide or try to explain our intentions to whoever their leader is.”
Before we could act, the sound of running footsteps thudding against dirt grew closer and closer, before the light of a lantern was dead ahead. We could see about seven or eight men armed with hatchets, shanks, and slingshots. One man stood at the head of the group.
“Who are you? Why do you invade our premises this time of night?” He called out. I walked forward with my hands in the air. I desperately searched my mind for an explanation, but I couldn’t think of anything. My heart raced as I began to sweat profusely.
“Please, sir, we mean no harm. We’re just normal people like you, and we just want to learn a bit about you.” I felt stupid for such a redundant explanation, and realized it would be my fault if we were to die tonight. The group of men refused to lower their weapons, as the man in the front moved closer towards us, holding a rusty axe in his hand.
“Back up,” I whispered to my friends, “I’ll handle this.”
“No…” The man said, frowning at us, “We know exactly why you’re here. You want to pillage our civilization. You want to burn our shelters, slay our men, and rape our women. We are tired of being walked upon by you city people. You will now pay the price of your wrongdoings.” “No!” I exclaimed, “We mean no harm. We’re here to learn about your lives. We don’t want to hurt any of you. Yes, we are from the city, but we are here to document your lives so that everyone can appreciate you a bit more. Listen, I don’t know how to explain this, but all I can say is that we’re friends. We’re friends, and we’re here to help and learn.”
The man cocked his head, and slowly lowered his weapon. He turned towards his companions. “Friends, lower your weapons. These outsiders are weak and harmless. They mean no harm.”
One by one, each of the men lowered their weapons and backed away reluctantly, until the so-called leader was the only one left holding a lantern at his side.
“We don’t take kindly to visitors. Please document what you want to document, and learn what you want to learn, and be on your way.” He murmured to me, still facing me.
“I don’t really know how to explain this so that it makes sense,” I sighed, “But we’re here with cameras. We are here to film your lives so that we can make a movie about you so that everyone can learn to appreciate you guys a bit more.”
“Movies? Cameras? I’m not sure that I understand. Please demonstrate your actions.” “We have these huge things in a car not too far away from your village. We have these...these boxes that will save what they see so that we can replay them and watch them over and over again. You never heard of them?” I asked. “I’m sorry, I was previously mistaken. I’ve heard of them before, I was not familiar with the term camera, though. How long will you be here for? I’m not sure our citizens will be happy with you here.” “I don’t mean to jump into things, but we kind of need a place to sleep or rest. We had a long day, and we just need some sleep.” The leader thought about it for a minute, and looked me in the eye. “Yes. I have a few beds that I can spare. Please do not disturb anyone here, though. Or else I will be forced to take action. Please follow me, and watch your step.” He began to walk.
I signaled for my friends to follow, and we followed the light of his lantern. We walked into a small wooden shed with five dirty sleeping bags.
“This is where you will be sleeping for tonight. Please shout for help if anyone causes any trouble.”
“Thank you. Have yourself a good night, sir.” I say. The shed was extremely cramped to the point where we would have to move against the walls if one of us wanted to leave the shed for some reason. I only got a few hours of sleep that night, but when we woke in the morning, it was extremely exciting. We finally were in the gypsy camp where we could begin our documentary.
In the morning light, it was much easier to see our surroundings; shacks and small homes lined each side of the dirt road, tightly bunched together. Clothing lines hung nearly in front of every house, and each house had a curtain or beads in place of a door. Some houses were expertly crafted, sturdily built with two rooms or containing decent living conditions. The most miraculous house, though, was the leader’s, which was pretty close to a seedy apartment room. The house was crafted with wood planks and contained a real door; from the outside, it appeared there were about three to four rooms within, including a living room which was visible from the front window. (Yes, there was a window.)
The houses were only the beginning, though; the center of the town contained a large public lavatory which was accessible to everyone in town, and a couple of markets which didn’t use money, but the process of trading in goods for more goods. Some of the shops included furs, quilts, meats, and jewelry. As Chip explained it, “I felt like I walked into an older time period.”
If there was one bad thing about this village, it was the people; they would cease their conversations to steal a glance at us walking by, or would completely stop what they were doing just to glare at us. Occasionally there would be an insult thrown our way or an attempt at projectile spit at us, but otherwise nothing more extreme than that. We felt as though we were monsters, and realized that we should get the footage we need and be on our way.
Chip and Dillon headed back to the van to fetch our cameras while I looked around for the leader for a brief interview on daily life. Bruce followed me closely, for fear that he would be attacked if he were alone. Their simplistic lives continued to amaze me; it was kind of sad to see the back-breaking labor these people went through as a part of their daily routine, along with children not having any time to have fun. Eventually, I found the leader helping a small group of men piecing together some leather clothing.
“Excuse me, leader, but would you mind taking some time out of your busy schedule for an interview? After the interview, we’ll be on our way.” I asked.
He hesitated, then agreed on one condition - “You never return back here for as long as you live.”
Chip and Dillon returned with no cameras and exasperated looks on their faces. Concerned, I confronted them. “Someone slashed our tires and stole our equipment,” Dillon spat, “I knew coming here was a shit idea. I knew it!” He ran his fingers through his hair, a vein bulging out of the side of his neck.
My heart sank as I turned to the leader for an answer. The leader’s mouth slowly curved into a grin, then into a whole hearted smile. He began to slowly laugh to himself.
“You think this is a game?” I shouted in his face, grabbing his leather tunic. I threw him backwards as he hit the dirt road. His smile vanished, and he screamed at the top of his lungs. Men fled out of their homes, holding shanks and axes, rushing us from all directions. I fled from my friends and into the town, realizing that if I was caught, I would be dead. I pushed past children and women, looking for a hiding place. I quickly turned a corner, and the last thing I saw before I blacked out was a man hiding around the corner I had just turned, holding a wooden plank in his hands.
I struggled to open my eyes, as my eyelids felt as they weighed a ton. After a few minutes of struggling, I managed to open them, and found myself tied to a wooden post on top of a bundle of sticks and leaves. Looking to my left, I could see my friends. We were on the outskirts of the village in front of a crowd of about 40-50 people. All of them booed at us, occasionally throwing rocks and pieces of feces at us.
“What is this?!” I cried, “Why am I here?” I looked over at my friends, who were speechless. They realized that this was it.
The booing of the crowd continued for a good five minutes until we were covered with sores from rocks and splattered with feces. I could hear Bruce, who was to my left, sobbing. We were stripped to nothing but rags concealing our private parts, and covered in blue paint.
“Let us out of here!” I cried helplessly, “Please. I just want to go home.”
“Silence!” A voice boomed. I glanced over, and my heart sank once again. There stood the leader, wearing a cow skull over his head. In his hands, he held a hatchet. The crowd went wild and began to cheer for him. He raised his hands in the air and turned his head towards the sky. “As all of us, we’d like to thank the gods for these four young men. In a time of need and famine, we were supplied with men containing tender meat on their bones. Unfortunately, we must sacrifice their souls to the lord as a sign of our appreciation for the feast we will have tonight. These men will breathe their last breath upon these planks of wood, and will be cooked to perfection. Tonight, we feast. Before we commence with the cooking, let us say our thanks to these beautiful city folk.”
The crowd erupted, a couple of men climbing out of the group and coming straight up to us, punching and kicking us while we had nothing more to do but hopelessly watch. One man came up to me and punched me right in the throat, and afterwards proceeded to scratch and tear at my bare chest. I cried and cried, until a few more men pulled him back into the crowd.
“Fuck you city folk!” He cried, madness and hatred boiling in his red skin, “Fuck you all!” My chest burned with countless scratches and scrapes. My friends had it worse, though; one man took a shank and jabbed it into Bruce’s thigh. I couldn’t bare to watch, but the screams painted a vivid picture in my mind. Dillon screamed and screamed until he most likely shredded his vocal cords. His voice was reduced to nothing more than a squeak. The men and women laughed at him, throwing more rocks and delivering more punches.
Chip was already unconscious. Two or three men began to tear the hair right off his scalp, until his face was covered in a steady flow of blood. His body hung loose over his pile of branches, blood dripping onto the dirt below. The torture continued for what seemed like hours, until all four of us were on the brink of blacking out. The ending results were not pretty. Chip was a mangled mess of blood, chunks of his scalp missing and his chest bearing deep gashes and wounds. His cloth covering his private parts was soaked in blood, and one or two of his toes had been severed. Despite Dillon’s loss of voice, his tongue was still cut out and pinned above his head. Blood profusely spilled out of his mouth. Bruce was unresponsive, having his thighs viciously stabbed by a shank. Bruce’s eyelids were also sliced off. As for me, I probably had it the easiest of the three. My chest was covered in scratches, my face a bloody, swollen mess. My right ear had been partially bitten off. We were nothing more than a couple of bloody pulps. We were as good as dead.
Most of the men in the crowd were covered in blood, insanity and hunger raving in their eyes. Anger had caused most of these men to snap, and it was terrifying to see what these men were capable of doing. Most of these men also had children and wives, but they were blind to the fact of insanity.
The leader walked in front of us, examining us as if we were works of art. He still wore the cow skull. “Good work today, everyone. Now that the sun sets, we shall illuminate our camp with the burning of their bodies. These city folk will be no more.” At this point, I had no emotion. I couldn’t cry, scream, or laugh. I didn’t have the energy to. I was passing in and out of consciousness, and most of my friends had stopped breathing. The leader approached Chip with a few matches, and slid them across some sandpaper. Eventually, the matches sparked, and he caught a few branches on fire with them. Chip’s stick pile turned into a ball of fire within the matter of five minutes. Chip was consumed by the flames, which now shot violently in the air, but showed no reaction, as he was most likely already dead.
One by one, the leader moved down the line of us, lighting our piles on fire. Dillon bursted into flames, though I would never be sure if he screamed or not. The charred remains of my friends were clearly inedible, but I don’t believe it was a concern to these crazed gypsies. They would eat anything. Bruce was next in line, but the leader was having trouble getting his matches to light. He cursed under his breath, furiously swiping the matches along the sandpaper. Abruptly, it came to my attention that the rope that binded my hands against the wooden post had been loosened; I couldn’t believe my luck. Quickly moving my hands, I loosened the rope even more to the point where I could free my hands. Seeing the leader distracted, I realized this was my last and only chance of survival. Summoning my strength and pure will, I slowly moved my hands away from the post. I kept a close eye on the leader, who was still struggling with the matches. The crowd seemed to be fixed on Bruce, who was now laughing to himself.
On the count of three I would run. I counted in my head. One. Two. Three.
I jumped down from the pile of sticks and bolted into the darkness. Screams began to come from the crowd as a few men began to chase after me. The leader, still unaware of what was happening, threw his matches to the ground and also began in the hot persuit after me.
“You’re dead, city folk!” A voice called out. They screamed towards the sky random gibberish. I was terrified out of my mind, and had no knowledge of where I was running. I just kept running. I ran to wherever my legs would carry me. I sweat profusely and panted heavily, but nothing would stop me.
It felt as though I ran for about 15 minutes before I collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. I struggled to keep my eyes open, but had a hint of relief in me, knowing I lost them. Closing my eyes, I dreamt of a hearty meal back at home. I dreamt of Bruce, Chip, and Dillon. I knew they would be disappointed to miss me up there, but I knew it wasn’t my time yet.
It was a good night’s sleep. My eyelids still had that heavy feeling, and my body ached all over. The scratches on my chest stung greatly. My arms felt so sore that I wasn’t able to move them. I wasn’t able to move them.
My eyes shot open, surrounded by the morning fog. I was standing up straight, tied to a wooden post once again upon a pile of sticks. A crowd of 40-50 people stood before me, screaming at me in fury. It took me a moment to realize what was happening. I vomited what was left in my stomach, looking up in sheer disbelief of where I was. I glanced to my left, and saw the charred remains of my three friends. I glanced to my right, and saw a man with a cow skull on his head.
“Glad to have you back, city folk. You really made us worry for you last night. But we found you. We always do.”
The man struck a few matches along his sandpaper. The cheers of the crowd grew louder as the matches sparked into a small flame. I laughed to myself as I saw the matches strike the pile of sticks underneath me.
It was all over quickly.
This pasta has received a rating of 6/10 or higher and has moved on to the finals of the 2015 freestyle pasta challenge.