Thursday, February 27, 2014

Leave it Out

There's a pivotal scene in the second season of the Gilmore Girls. This scene is a catalyst for the shifting of some major relationships over the next several months, and the repercussions of this scene are felt directly by most of the main characters for the next twenty episodes or so.

In case you aren't a Gilmore Girls aficionado, let me explain. No. There is too much. Let me sum up:

This is Rory:
Rory is a good kid. Straight A student, never been in trouble, thinks gin is brown, stuff like that.

At the time of the scene in question, Rory is dating Dean:
Dean is Mr. All-American. Plays multiple sports. Builds cars. Uses shop class to make jewelry for his girlfriend.

But Rory has a crush on Jess:
Jess also likes Rory. A LOT. Jess is also a Bad Boy. Skips school. Fights. Mouths off to authority figures. Listens to punk rock really loudly. But when it comes to Rory, he's a different guy. Around her, he's witty and intelligent and thoughtful.

Jess is the nephew of Luke:
Luke puts his neck out for Jess and it comes back to bite him in the butt. A lot.

Luke is friends with Lorelai, who is also Rory's mother:
Lorelai hates Jess. She hates him for all the reasons that mothers-of-teen-girls hate Bad-Boys-who-like-teen-girls.

While Dean is out of town, Rory is tutoring Jess. He doesn't need tutoring, he just wants to hang out with Rory. And she enjoys hanging out with him. They go for a drive. During that drive, he acts like a normal teen boy, driving competently but carelessly. Rory plays along and asks him to keep driving, instead of going back home to finish their homework.

And then they get into an accident.

But here's the kicker: We don't see the accident. 

We, the audience, don't even see the moments leading up to the accident, or a police officer describing the scene, nothing. We are given after-the-fact accounts from Rory and Jess, and we are given reactions from Lorelai and Luke.

You, the viewer, are forced to invent the narrative for yourself. You are forced to take what you know of the characters and sort out the truth and decide how you feel about everybody in the situation as a result.

You could believe Rory, who doesn't lie and says Jess didn't do anything wrong. But she's biased because she likes him.

You could believe Jess, whose story not only matches Rory's, but it also very plausible. But he has a vested interest in - and a history for - lying.

You could take Lorelai's side because she has a point: Jess is reckless and arrogant and dishonest and there's no real reason to believe him at all, ever. But she's sees nothing good about Jess, no matter what evidence is placed before her, and frankly, she felt the same way about Dean at the beginning, too.

You could take Luke's side because he knows Jess better than anybody else, but he also has been wrong before.
This scene puts a wedge between Lorelai and Luke, Lorelai and Rory, Rory and Jess, Rory and Dean, Rory and Luke, and Jess and Luke. It changes the way these characters all interact with each other for months and months, it sends Jess away from their town, it's the catalyst for every major relationship change over the next year.

But we never see it happen.

So what can we learn from this?

Sometimes you need to skip over the "important" parts. Sometimes that's what serves the story best. Harry kissing Cho. The "morning of" in GONE GIRL.

I'm sure there are more scenes like this, but they're hard to think of because their absence is just so... right.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bonus Think: Guffs and Snuvs in literary fiction

This story was inspired by one of the "Thinks" proposed by Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Thinks You Can Think!". If you are unfamiliar with the book, you can find an online version of it here. Every day from now through February 15th, I'll be posting a short story or poem based on one of the "Thinks" in the book. Enjoy! 


Back in my own room, I slam my fist into the wall. The wall may as well laugh at me for all the damage I have done.
My phone rings and I slide it from my pocket, hopeful.
It’s not Mullins, but I smile anyhow.
“Bennett! You’re home?”
“Almost. I’m ten minutes out on Highway six, headed your way. Want me to pick you up?”
“Oh God, please do. Everyone in this town is nutballs and I’m afraid it might be catching.”
Bennett is my boy best friend, the chromosomal opposite of Chrissy, but otherwise very like her. I used to think they should date, what with their similar interest in saving the world, but I’m glad it never happened. How would a break-up between the two of them affect my friendship with them both?
“Nutballs? Is that British?”
“No, it’s not bloody British.”
“Bloody is though. Bloody is bloody British.”
I laugh, and it feels good. I don’t think I’ve laughed once since my Mom called the Gladbury’s. 
“Priss, you need to sit down,” she’d said.
“I am sitting down,” I’d lied.
But then, she told me, and I wished I hadn’t lied. I wished I had sat down, because my legs went all wibbly wobbly and Mei had to shove a kitchen chair under me before I fell.
“Put on some make-up, and wear heels.”
“What for?”
“Because I’m giving up a night at a frat party with more hot college girls than a man can dream of to come home and take care of you. The least you could do is put on your hot chick costume for me.”
“You are such an arse.”
“British. Definitely British.”
Oh Bennett, I think. I am so glad you’re you.
It takes me fifteen minutes to change clothes and to dab on eyeshadow and lip gloss. That is about as made-up as I get. I do slide my feet into a pair of silver sandals with extra high heels. Honestly, the majority of the fifteen minutes is spent setting the new world record for fastest shaving of legs ever in the history of womankind. And not one nick on my pale skin. I don’t tan in the best of circumstances and London wasn’t exactly the best of circumstances sun-wise. 
“Bye,” I says when I walk past my brother’s spot on the couch. He’s still engrossed in his racing game, so he doesn’t actually look up, but I wave anyhow.
“I’m going out,” I call through Marly’s still-closed door.
No answer. I’m sure she’s disappeared back into her sad songs and mystery-tears.
Downstairs, Mom is sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by fabric swatches, her laptop open on a chair.
“I’m going out with Bennett,” I say to the back of her head.
“Have fun,” she replies. 
I wave at yet another person who doesn’t look up to see.
Dad isn’t home. Surprise surprise. I picture Investigator Mullins at home tonight, sitting at the dinner table with his wife and daughters, laughing. Rodney never knew how good he had it.
It’s not quite seven when I step onto the front lawn. It rained yesterday, releasing the grip of humidity just the tiniest bit. The grass is tall and the dirt is damp. My heels start to sink as I cross the grass to check the mail.
I hear Bennett’s car turn onto Gosling Circle, my street, and wave. For once, I get a wave in return. At least I’m not being ignored by everyone tonight.
As he pulls to the curb, he rolls down the window. “Hi, pretty lady? Going my way?”
I laugh and snatch the door open.
“God, it’s good to see you,” I say, planting a quick kiss on his cheek.
When we were little, Bennett and I thought we were cousins. He called my mom Aunt Abby and I called his mom Aunt Jillian, but we aren’t actually related. By middle school, we figured out that our mothers were sorority sisters, not biological sisters, both having been Chi Os in college.
“I’m glad you’re back in the states. An ocean is way too much water between us.”
“I should just be flying home today,” I remind him. 
“I’ll have to think Chris for bringing you back early.”
“That’s not funny.” My smile dissipates.
He frowns. “You’re right. Too soon.”
We go to the mall and land in the bookstore. This is another thing Chrissy and Bennett have in common. They’d both rather be rambling about a bookstore than doing just about anything else. No matter how many frat parties Bennett jokes about attending, he’s a nerd. He’s a rather well-built, green-eyed, perfect-skinned, ex-football playing nerd, but a nerd nonetheless.
“What’s that?” I ask. He’s holding a children’s book that’s been left behind on a shelf between volumes of poetry.
“Dr. Suess.” Bennett grins. “Remember this one?”
I step close enough to smell his Stetson, a scent I like to make fun of him for wearing, even if it does smell pretty good. He wraps his arms around me, pulling my back to his chest, and opens the book so we can both read.
“Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!” I find my smile again.
Doing his best impression of Morgan Freeman, which is pretty spot on, my friend reads to me from a childhood favorite. An elderly couple walks past and the woman has this soft sappy expression on her face, like she looks at us and sees her husband and herself a hundred years ago. It’s not like that though, Bennett and me. For starters, we thought we were related, remember? By the time we realized that was incorrect, Bennett had turned into one of the most handsome boys in school, only a year ahead of me in grades but lightyears advanced in getting through puberty. I’m not sure he ever had an awkward stage. By the time I noticed Bennett was a boy, every other girl in Iniwa had got there before me. For about a year, I pined silently, too afraid to even hint that my friendly feelings might have changed. And then I met Rob, and we spent most of high school as and on-again off-again couple, with a couple of other short relationships tossed in for good measure. I never loved any of them, no, but we had some fun times, and I’m glad I never ruined my friendship with Bennett over stupid middle school hormones.
“Remember the gruff?” The real live present day Bennett interrupts my memory of Bennett.
“The gruff?”
“My halloween costume, when we were kids.”
I look down at the open page. “Oh, yeah, everyone thought you were a teddy bear.”
“Yeah, I think it was a teddy bear costume, actually. Mom just made some additions and called me a gruff.”
“And you insisted I wear a yellow dress and pink gloves.”
“You were a snuv.”
“And no one had any idea what a snuv was. I was so mad at you, because I wanted to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz but Mom thought your idea was too adorable.”
“It was too adorable.”
“Don’t say that too loud. People might thing you’re not manly.”
“I’m super manly,” Bennett says, deepening his voice. “I’m the manliest man.”
Resting my head on his chest, I flip a page in the Dr. Suess book and remember how Chrissy was a kitten that halloween and she got to wear pink ears and a tail.
“How did my pink kitten friend become the Deadly Diva?” I almost gag on the nickname.
I feel Bennett’s whole body tense behind me, and then he sighs.
“I wish I knew.”
“Did you see her at all? While I was gone, I mean.” I step away to look at his face, and he drops the book back onto the shelf, towering over Emily Dickinson’s collected works.
“Yeah, a few times. I promised you I’d check on her, so I did.”
“And? What was she like? Was anything off?”
“Not at first, no.” Bennett takes my hand and leads me down rows of books toward the cafe at the front of the store.
“But, eventually? Something was wrong?”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, there was nothing I could put my finger on. But she’d broken up with Morgan and she kept saying it was because he bought a gun, but that just seemed ridiculous.”
“Which part seemed ridiculous? Morgan owning a gun or Chrissy breaking up with him over it?”
“Both, honestly. Morgan’s changed a lot too, yeah, but he’s still Morgan. And I can’t really picture him shooting with anything but a camera.”
“Since when is Morgan into photography?” I pick a table in the back corner and sit down. The chair is wobbly, the back right leg loose or broken.
“He’s not. It’s just something I heard someone say… shooting pictures, shooting movies, never shooting people.”
I rest my chin in my hands and watch Bennett arrange his thoughts. It shows on his face when he’s thinking deep thoughts. His eyebrows are thick and dark brown and they go crinkly like lightning when his brain is hard at work. His eyes look darker too, the brown around the edges of the pupil thickening.
“I hate guns as much at Chris does… did. But, I wouldn’t end a relationship over gun ownership. I mean, it’s not like Morgan ever shared her views to begin with, right?”
I close my eyes and remember Chrissy in her red and gray stripes in the interview room yesterday, that unexplainable crown of golden hair.
“I don’t know, Bennett. I don’t know anything anymore.”
He reaches across the table and touches my arm. I open my eyes and sniffle, not willing to let go and cry right now. Not here, in front of strangers. And classmates. I can see at least three kids from school trying to watch Bennett and me without getting caught. I haven’t wanted to go out a lot, for this reason. I’m the Deadly Diva’s best friend, so people want to gawk at me. One lady even accused me of being an accessory to the crime. According to one source, the news says, Chris Corbett and undisclosed others planned to start by blowing up the school and then move on to the rest of Iniwa. Right. There weren’t any bombs in that school. The police have found nothing to suggest Chrissy had any plans beyond what she actually did. And, she turned herself in as soon as she was out of bullets.
“People are idiots.” I say.
“Yes,” Bennett offers a sad smile. “That much we know for sure.”
“Can we go back?”
“Back where?” 
“In time.” I watch while he plays with my fingers. I really need to take off the chipped blue polish. 
“To when?”
“Three weeks ago?” I suggest. “Three years? I don’t know. Forever. Until you are a gruff and I am a snuv and Chrissy is one in a million pink kitten costumed girls at the church fall fest.”
“It was easier being a gruf than a college student. I failed a class this semester.” 
“It was easier being a snuv,” I agree. “It was easier when pink kittens didn’t shoot guns.”

Heather Truett writes literary fiction, poetry, and other things with deepness and feelings (I fear that sounds sarcastic, but it's not - her words are beautiful). She blogs at Madame Rubies and Middle Places. She lives in the deep American South where she's labors tirelessly to raise her children to be even half as awesome as she is. She tweets and you should tell her that her butt looks good in jeans. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Think #20: Left, Right, Low, High

This story was inspired by one of the "Thinks" proposed by Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Thinks You Can Think!". If you are unfamiliar with the book, you can find an online version of it here. Every day from now through February 15th, I'll be posting a short story or poem based on one of the "Thinks" in the book. Enjoy! 

The hallways of Rockford Asylum were as sterile as they were hushed.  The orderly, a huge bald man with a crease where his neck met the back of his head, marched Simon past closed door after closed door.   Room 18, 20, 22.  Judging by the hallways they were taking and the absurdly late hour, they were going to the behavioral ward.
Simon yawned and stared up at the back of the man’s head.  He was so tired.  It would be so easy to make it all stop.  He shook his head, rubbing the long cut on his hand.  No.  That wasn’t the answer.  He couldn’t let them win so easily.
They turned down another bland white hallway.  51, 53, 55.  He spotted the same scuff on the door of room 55 that had been there for months.  It was odd, that in this compulsively sanitary building, that stain had been left for so long.  Maybe it was supposed to be a reminder.  A warning. 
Or maybe the janitor wasn’t getting paid enough.   
“So, are you taking me to the beach?  Or, no, I got it, to see the circus?  Man, I’ve always wanted to see the elephants and stuff.  Idiots sticking their heads in lion’s mouths?  Awesome.  I bet you’d be good at it.”
The orderly snorted, and the movement pinched his neck roll above his crisp white collar.
“So, you must be into some messed up stuff,” Simon continued, stifling another yawn.  “I mean, you knowingly allow a fifteen-year-old boy to be psychologically tortured for like twenty hours a day, every day.  That’s jacked up, man.”
The orderly tensed.  They were almost to the end of the hall.  Almost to the Think Room.
“But you don’t have to keep doing this anymore,” Simon pressed.  “You can just stall.  Give me five minutes, and I promise, I’ll make it worth your while.  You know I can.”
The giant stopped so suddenly, Simon crashed into him.  It was like crashing into a squishy wall, but a wall, all the same.  The guy started walking again, but Simon caught a low chuckle. 
You dick.
The orderly opened the solid, white metal door and grinned at Simon.  He had two wicked-looking cracked teeth beneath his dull blue eyes.  But he didn’t scare Simon.  If anything, it was the other way around.  Simon glared into the orderly’s eyes until the man’s smile shattered.
“Get in,” he said, shoving Simon into the room with a rough hand.  The door closed, leaving him with his eyes tightly closed, alone. 
Alone in the Think Room.
It didn’t matter that he’d been sent to this room nearly every day for the past two months.  The Think Room had a way of making him thankful that he’d already taken his daily dump.  It had a way of making him wish he were still in whatever nightmare he was having before they woke him from his allotted three hours of sleep.   
He was so tired.  He’d give a kidney for a single night’s sleep.  But he had to open his eyes.  Because he knew he was being watched, and if he showed weakness…
He forced his eyes open, and he was instantly bombarded by color, by screaming patterns and bold, terrible optical illusions.  And everywhere, the subliminal message beneath it all was so blatant to Simon, so loud, it may as well have been written in an enormous black sharpie on a plain white wall. 
He looked all around the room, like usual, but it was the same thing everywhere.  Left and right, low and high: think, think, think, think.
Worst of all, though, was that stupid, decades old motivational poster on the back of the heavy door.  It bore the sinister, smiling faces of children whose eyes had been clawed out by the room’s previous victims.  And in cartoonish font, a word bubble came from the children’s mouths in an awful chorus Simon could almost hear.  “Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”
Oh, just end it all, already, the stowaway voice inside his head told him.
Shut up, he told Stowaway.
The speakers crackled, then a voice filled the room.  The distraction was almost a relief.  “Hello, Simon,” the voice said from everywhere at once.
Simon plopped to the padded floor, cross-legged.  “What’s up, Douche-Butt.”
The speaker tsked.  “Such language.”
“What do you expect when you kidnap a teenage boy?  I could scratch myself and fart for you instead, if you’d like.  And you would like that, wouldn’t you, Perv-Bag?”
Speaker didn’t take the bait.  “Simon, you know we didn’t kidnap you.  Your mother admitted you for the safety of your family.  Do you need me to remind you of what happened to your father?”
A drunken, enraged howl filled his mind for only a flash.  Simon winced.  He closed his eyes, blocking out the room, suppressing the sound of Stowaway’s cruel shouts and crazy, hateful laughter.
“Simon,” Speaker said, pulling him back.  “Haven’t you wondered about your mother?  About your poor sister?”
Of course, Simon thought.  What else can I do in this hellhole?  It’s not like you let me sleep—
“Your mother has told everyone that you died in the same, er, accident that took your father.  But you suspected that.  The day she admitted you, you felt her relief that she didn’t have to lock you in your room any longer, that she wouldn’t have to cry out in the night for you to spare her.  You knew it then, didn’t you?  That she wished you were dead?”
With his eyes shut, sitting in blackness, he could almost let this go.  Could almost let the words bounce off of him and be all I’m rubber, you’re glue.  But the taunts increased. 
“And your sweet sister, Pippa.  Well, I’m sorry to say that Pippa may have some of your…talents.  She was admitted for observation at one of our sister facilities.  Your mother thought it best.”
“My mother is weak!” Simon yelled, instantly cursing himself.  But it was true.  If she hadn’t been so weak, always letting the worthless drunk come home, cowering in the corner while he yelled and cursed and kicked—
Stop it! he ordered himself.  But just thinking of him made Stowaway’s voice rise again.  He was shouting at Simon.  Raging and roaring and fighting to be heard.
“Si-mon,” Speaker sang.  “Oh, Si-mon.” 
Simon’s eyes flew open, and the room seemed to attack him.  For a brief moment, he didn’t know where or when he was.  He didn’t know if he was at home, getting wailed on, if he was tripping on some horrible drug they’d dosed him with, or if he was having a vivid, Technicolor nightmare.  “Si-mon,” Speaker said again, invading his hell. Simon clung to the voice, letting it drag him back to safety.  Back to the Think Room.
How had he let himself go down that rabbit hole?
He shook his head.  “Enough.  We go over the same thing every day, and every day, I go back to my room.  And. You. Lose.  You must have had a lot of practice with rejection in high school to be at this for so long.”
“That’s cute, Simon,” Speaker said.  “But we’ve only just begun our fun together.  If you think you’re tired now, just imagine what more we can do to you.”
“See?  Here you are, flirting again.”
Speaker laughed.  It was a hollow, yet tinny sound that was neither high nor low.  It circled all around him, sounding genuinely delighted.  “Wonderful,” Speaker said.  “Such resilience.  I’ve never seen a mind like yours before, Simon.”
“Buddy, you still haven’t seen a mind like mine.  You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
“Oh, but I do, Simon.  I do.”
The tone was too earnest.  Almost breathless.  Simon shuddered and adjusted his legs under his butt.  “What do you mean?” he asked, wishing he didn’t sound so…nervous. 
Speaker chuckled.  “I’m not sure you want the truth here, but then, you aren’t like other children, are you?”
A chill ran up Simon’s back.  He stared at those mindless, eyeless kids on the back of the poster.  No.  I’m not. 
“How did you get that cut on your hand, Simon?”
He frowned, looking at the exposed gash. From the floor, the subliminal THINK screamed at him.  From his mind, Stowaway yelled.  He flinched and rubbed his sandy eyes.  “My dad.”
“That’s right.  Your sister thought maybe your father cut you with a broken bottle when you tried to protect her.  Is that what happened?”
If only, Simon thought, but he growled out, “Yes.”
“Does it hurt when you touch it?”
He refused to give Speaker the satisfaction of an answer.  But, yes.  It still hurt, whether he touched it or not.  It hurt all the time.
“Why hasn’t it healed, do you suppose?  After so long, what keeps it sore and festering?”
The walls were getting louder, the swirling and spiraling illusions trying to turn him, trip him, drown him. “Maybe it’s me,” Simon said, low. “Maybe I don’t want to let it heal.”
“Why would you do that to yourself, Simon?”
He shook his head, trying to stave off the visual assault.  But the message was so loud.  THINK.
“Why?”  Speaker’s demanding voice besieged him.  The question echoed, bouncing off the already deafening walls.  But instead of fading, it just kept getting louder.  “Why, Simon?  Why?  WHY?”
He jumped to his feet and turned around the room, yelling at Speaker from all sides, like Speaker did to him.  “Because maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to heal, okay?  Maybe no one who’s done what I did should!”
The room went silent.  Simon looked up, and gone were the images on the wall and floor and ground, replaced by something far, far worse.  Covering every inch of the ten-by-ten room was one word, scrawled over and over again:
It was written in tiny, scribbling letters and huge, blocky ones, slanted, semicircular, downward and up. 
And it was all written in blood.         
Simon backed up against a wall, then recoiled.  Because when he brushed up against it, the blood from the words rubbed off on him.  On his white shirt, his pants, his bare arms.  Blood was everywhere.  He screamed and wanted to fall to the floor, but it was there, too.  He was stepping on it with his bare feet. 
“Why are you doing this?” he cried, his voice seeming to split.
“Why are you letting us?” Speaker asked softly.  Its voice sounded almost sad, like it was trying to soothe him.  To help him.  “Why shouldn’t you be allowed to heal, Simon?  You killed your attacker.  You killed the man who beat you and your sister and your mother.  You did nothing wrong.”
Tears burned his eyes.  He stared down at his hands, covered in the blood of a million murderous thoughts.  But not the blood of his father.  A chuckle escaped him.  A low, menacing laugh that sounded nothing like his, but one he couldn’t quite stop.  Not even now.  After more than two months.
“Is that what you think happened?  You think I killed him?”
Speaker sighed.  “We know you did, Simon.  We saw the crime scene, the autopsy reports. And poor Pippa told us what you did.  He was hitting her, and you hit him to lure him away, into another room.  And then, well, we know what happened.  At first, we focused on how you…threw your bed through the roof.”
Stowaway’s heavy presence filled Simon’s mind, wanting to laugh again.  Wanting to call Speaker a fool, to say there was so much more to it than that.  Simon breathed, straining to keep Stowaway’s voice buried. 
“Yet, the odd part,” Speaker continued, “was that despite the fact that your father must have outweighed you by what, eighty pounds?  You didn’t have a single scratch or bruise apart from the first one he gave you, the one from the bottle…a bottle we never found, oddly.  Even odder, though, is that your father’s body was fine, too.  Completely unharmed.  But his mind…” Speaker gave a ragged exhale.  Was that excitement?  “All that, on top of the other reports we had on you from your school and neighbors, stories of strange things happening, things moving…”
Simon bowed his head and rubbed his temples.  He was so tired.
“I didn’t kill my dad.”
“Enough lies, Simon.  You didn’t harm his body, you left him brain dead.  Your mother may have pulled the plug, but you killed him.”
If only, Simon thought.                      
Stowaway bellowed at him, mocking his naïve longing.
Shut up, Simon said. 
“We know what you are, Simon,” Speaker said.
“Do tell,” Simon muttered.  His face was in his palm, and he was still massaging his temples.  He had to stay calm. 
“You’re a Stochastí̱s,” Speaker said in an awed tone.  “A Thinker.”
And Simon laughed, then.  A sharp, barking sound that was all his.  “You’re right.  I am a Thinker.  But you’re wrong, too.  I didn’t kill my dad.”
“Simon,” Speaker chastised.  “Where do you think you are?  Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“I’m at Rockford Asylum, and I’m talking to a creep from some military agency, if I had to guess, who has a thing for teenage boys.”
“No!” Speaker yelled.  Simon smiled.  He’d finally gotten to him.  “Do you think this is some kind of game, Simon?  That we’re just playing around?”
“Aw, are you saying you don’t like me?”
“Enough!” Speaker roared, and the room itself seemed to shake.  “Show me.”
A trickle of sweat ran down Simon’s cheek.  He dropped his voice.  “Show you what?  What really happened to my dad?”
“Whatever you want.  Show me what you can think up.”
A chill ran over him.  He walked in a circle with all the bravado he could muster, sneering and clapping to the camera.  “Bravo, man.  Really, well done. I expected a few weeks, but two months?  You should have gotten to the point a long time ago.”
“Enough blustering, Simon.”  Speaker said, sounding harsh and commanding.  “Show me.”
Suddenly, the whole room came back to life.  He was drowning in illusions, suffocating on colors, choking on patterns that seemed to be around him and over him and in him.  He crouched down to the floor, covering his head with his arms.
“Show me!” Speaker roared.
“THINK!” the walls screamed.  “THINK!  THINK!  THINK!”
And Stowaway let out a brutal, taunting laugh that made Simon scream to shut it out.  To keep it in.
The world was too loud.  There was too much going on.  And this full body cacophony, this assault on his senses…he had to make it stop.  He could end it all.  He had to end it all.  Had to shut up the violent laugher in his head.
Simon exploded to a stand.  “Stop!” he screamed.  He stared at the roof of the Think Room and blew it clear off.  Gone. 
Fresh, cool air caressed Simon.  “Wonderful,” Speaker gasped.  “We hardly dared hope for such power.”
You want power? Stowaway laughed.
Shut up! Simon thought, looking up at the clear sky and breathing.
The stars winked at Simon.  Stowaway didn’t shut up.  This raw burst…Simon wished it was enough.  But it wasn’t.  It never had been.  He never could control the hunger for power that overcame him.  Not when his dad taunted him and threw things at him and told him to think up beer and money and drugs for him.  Simon had thought the power trip was the biggest drawback of his “gift.”  But he was wrong.  He’d learned that the hard way just over two months ago.
And now that Simon had tasted it…that surge…he wanted more.
And Stowaway’s psychotic laughter just grew louder.
“More, Simon,” Speaker said.
 “No,” he begged, forcefully restraining his will.  His desire. “You don’t know what you’re asking.” 
 “Show me more, Simon.”
Yes, show him, Simon, Stowaway dared.
He was just so tired.  And so…hungry.  The room wouldn’t shut up.  Speaker’s voice wouldn’t shut up.  And now Stowaway wouldn’t shut up, either. 
Show him, Stowaway goaded.  Like you showed meHe wants to see it.  He’s begging for it.
“Please,” Speaker breathed, sounding reverent.  Perverted.  “Show me, Simon.  Then we’ll let you rest.”
Simon looked up at the stars, a slow smile creeping across his face.  “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Speaker whispered.
“You want to know what I can think up?”
“Yes.”  It was almost a prayer.
Speaker fell silent.
Then through the intercom, Simon heard the distinct sound of a body crumpling on the floor.   He took a long, deep breath, humming with pure, unadulterated power.  It was beautiful. Then a laugh burst from his mouth.  A new laugh, though one he recognized. 
He closed his eyes and breathed, quelling the glee, the mania that threatened to bubble up and take him over.  Sorry, pal, Simon thought.
With so much power expended, he wanted more than ever to sleep.  Holy hell, did he want to sleep. 
The temptation to blow off a little more power, though…eh, he’d just sleep better if it was spent.
He opened his eyes, and looked at the door.  It burst open.  Not just open, it smashed through the opposite wall, exposing the hallway to the sweet night air.  Simon smiled and left the room to see the orderly standing agape.  He looked like a jackrabbit, one too fat to bolt.     
“Go,” Simon Thought.  The orderly’s body lifted into the air and was hurled into the Think Room.  Simon Thought up a new roof and wall around the man. 
“Yeah, suck it,” he mumbled.
He walked through the hallways, Thinking the stain gone from room 55.  Clean.  He liked that.  Then he Thought all the walls in the asylum gone.  The doors stayed, though.  Just random doors with no walls.  No, there shouldn’t be a roof, either.  No roof, no walls.  Just floors and doors.  Ha!  He rhymed!  Floors and doors.  Nice.   
He turned the hall, spent, but reveling in the cries and squeals and prayers of shocked inmates as they awoke to freedom.  Everywhere, people ran around their doors, scattering past him into the night as he took the moonlit path to his room. 
At his door, he reached a hand out to turn the knob, and he saw a long, fresh cut on his hand…right below the first cut.
Wonderful, the new voice in Simon’s mind said.  Speaker’s voice.
Don’t act so impressed, you idiot, Stowaway said.
Simon sighed.  Speaker, meet Stowaway.  Stowaway, this is Speaker.
Stowaway growled.  Is that anyway to introduce your father?

Shut up, Simon told him.  Both of you, just shut up.
Simon stumbled through his exposed room as the sound of dark laughter bounced around in his mind.
He fell down onto his bed.
And slept.

Katy White is a Janeite, Muggle, Whovian, foodie, and BYU fanatic who writes ridiculously cute YA contemporary and YA fantasy.  Although Canadian, she loves watching BBC shows that help her perfect the nuances of her Mancunian accent and Suffex dialect.  She has eaten haggis but has only just learned how to order Mexican food.  She lives in Arizona with her pasty skin, freckles, and adorable daughter and husband.  She contributes to Mormon Mommy Writers and occasionally tweets.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Think #19: Everything Goes to the Right

This story was inspired by one of the "Thinks" proposed by Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Thinks You Can Think!". If you are unfamiliar with the book, you can find an online version of it here. Every day from now through February 15th, I'll be posting a short story or poem based on one of the "Thinks" in the book. Enjoy! 


“So many things go right,” she says, not even looking at me. Not that it matters. I know what her face looks like, the softness in her eyes behind her anger, the stubborn tilt of her chin. “So many things.”

“Then you should be happy.” It’s a stupid thing to say and I know it, even before the words leave my mouth, tripping off my tongue like lemmings.

“I should.” She curls in around herself now. Holding herself together. Holding herself back. Holding herself away from me. “This is what I wanted.”

There, midst of her studio, dwarfed by giant canvases and odds and ends of an actual life, I almost believe her. Except I know her too well.

An old coffee cup, cast aside in some fit of brilliance, catches her attention and she bends, ever so slightly, to delicately sniff the contents. The disdain on her face is almost comical.

“There’s fresh cream in the kitchen,” I remind her.

“Cream.” She laughs, but it’s bitter. “Yes. Cream and food and a warm bed to curl up in. People to cater to my every whim, parading me around like a sultana.”

“And yet you’re miserable.” My heart aches as I speak the words, aches because I don’t want them to be true. She should be happy here. I want her to be happy here.
“Miserable.” I’d call her dramatic, but that would diminish the depth that she feels it. “So many things go right. Except...” She trails off.

“Except it’s a prison.”

She snaps her heard around, her green eyes bright against the darkness of her face. “That is the key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if I’ve more boots than I could dream of or eat escargot whenever I please or have you to serenade me by the moonlight. None of it matters if I’m not free.”

I shudder. I’ve been on the other side in ways that she has not. I’ve felt the cold and the hunger and the distant stares of people who see you as less. “So many things go right,” I say. “But it only takes one thing to go wrong.”

She sighs, craning her neck to catch the moonlight. The jewels at her neck glisten. “I suppose.”

We hear the key in the lock then, the scrape of metal on metal just before the groan of aging wood.

Neither one of us moves, afraid to appear too eager, too anxious.

“Hello, kitten,” the woman says, dropping her keys on the table.

My companion rolls her eyes at me, but slides down from the windowsill, all soft fur and slinky muscles. She cranes her neck for a scratch behind the ears.

She’s beautiful, ebony and moonlight. Deadly and calm, so calm.

“So many things go right,” she says, sauntering past me again. “Except for the one thing I want for myself.” Her pink tongue flashes against black fur.

But I am safe behind the thick glass of my habitat. Or at least as safe as a mouse who fell in love with cat could ever be.


Jenny is a wife, mother, photographer and young adult writer. She likes her heroines smart and quirky, her heroes nice, and her kisses sweet. Her debut YA romance, THE ART OF FALLING, is available now from Bloomsbury Spark. You can follow her on twitter, tumblr, and her blog.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Think #18: Beft Go to the Left

This story was inspired by one of the "Thinks" proposed by Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Thinks You Can Think!". If you are unfamiliar with the book, you can find an online version of it here. Every day from now through February 15th, I'll be posting a short story or poem based on one of the "Thinks" in the book. Enjoy! 


Program now online.

I keep my eyes firmly shut, reveling in the feeling of control, ignoring the Beft Industries Control Center voice in my mind. I count the seconds, silently hoping to make it past ten—

Eyes open.

Nope. Ten seconds. Every day.

I sit up and place my feet on the floor, obscurely noticing the chill of the terracotta tiles. No rugs were spared for my room, nor any blankets. A plain sheet and thin pillow maintained the aesthetic of a bed, but what was the point in adding warmth or comfort? My body would regulate its own temperature, regardless of the weather.

Not that the weather was ever unpredictable. Four perfect seasons. Four smooth transitional periods. Rainfall only at night, so as not to interfere with workloads and recreation.

My legs push my body from the bed and propel me toward the water closet. I move through the perfunctory exercises of cleansing my body and preparing it for the day. My mind wanders; I don’t need it for this. I rarely need it.

I dress for the workday – a hideous blue-gray, shapeless uniform – and step out of my studio apartment.

Please keep to the left.

I sigh.

The tiny acts of rebellion – sighing, keeping my eyes closed as long as possible, even hating the uniform – buoyed me up. These little things, these miniscule pieces of who I was, they helped me stay sane. They quiet the louder acts of rebellion, the ones that would get me destroyed.

My feet, clad in utilitarian boots, carry me along the streets through my workday route. First stop of the day was always the sandwich stand to hand over my coin and collect my morning sustenance, a hefty sandwich made to mimic the fast-food glory days of the 21st century. Bread, eggs, meat, cheese. All synthetic, all enhanced with the exact balance of proteins and fats and carbohydrates to fuel the human portion of my body. I’ve been told the fast-food versions were pleasurable to eat, but I cannot conceive of such a thing.

Please keep to the left.

Chewing the sandwich, I sigh again, relishing in the feeling of discontent. I step back into the flow of foot-traffic, staying on the left side of the street, the yellow-and-black Beft Industries logo stamped everywhere. On the backs of uniforms. On the wrapper of my sandwich. On the face of the coin I traded for the tasteless sustenance. Everywhere I look – Beft Industries. The circular, coiling logo screams at me.



Please keep to the left.

I roll my eyes, pushing my luck.

Insubordination. A warning has been issued.

It’s too early in the morning to squander my warnings. And I can’t afford to lose my coin allotment. Insubordination will have to wait.

I chew in silence, keeping to the left side of the street. An identically uniformed man walks in front of me, another behind. Our footsteps are perfectly synchronized, as are the footsteps of every other person on this side of the street. Blue-gray uniforms, black matte-finish boots, simple hairstyles, basic grooming and hygiene.

We march to our work assignments. Mine is in a personal residence – where the non-Beft Industries-owned people live and love and make choices about the color of their clothing and shoes. The man in front of me goes to a production line. He exits the sidewalk three exits before I do and there’s a new-but-not-really-new back for me to stare at. Same logo. Same uniform. Different person.

I steal a glance to the right side of the street. Maybe it was my imagination – or what passed as imagination these days – but the right side looked brighter. Happier.

It was certainly more colorful. No blue. No grey. They wouldn’t insult themselves by wearing the Beft uniform colors, but instead seemed to take pride in being everything we were not. Red. Orange. White. Purple.

I always thought purple was the best color. A blend of happy and sincere, conveying a seriousness that wasn’t boring or bland.

Please keep to the left.

One exit before my workplace, a shriek rings out from the right side of the street.
A child.

Not an angry shriek. Not a scared shriek. But… one of … joy?

I turn my head, curiosity getting the best of me. A little girl in a purple dress flounces down the right side of the street, her curls bouncing around her head, her hand holding the hand of a woman in a pristine white dress. The girl bounces again, the shriek bubbling up once more before they move out of my field of vision.

No. Not now.

I haven’t seen somebody so happy in… I can’t remember. It was before my conversion, that much I was certain of.

Please exit the walkway.

I stop, the foot traffic breaking around me like a stream diverting past a stone dropped in its midst.

Please exit the walkway.

I turn.

I turn to the right, looking back over my shoulder, past the stream of blank, obedient Beft Industries faces.

I just want to see. I want to know what makes her so happy, how she has found such joy on a bland spring day. I want to know what brings about an emotion like that.

Insubordination. A warning has been issued.

Only one more for the day and I haven’t even officially arrived at work yet. I stand on the walkway, my exit at my back, the steps to my workplace yawning in the entryway.

But the shrieking continues, followed by a peal of laughter, loud and ringing.

I continue turning, turning to the right, traffic continuing past me without a second glance. Not one person on the left side of the street cares that I’m breaking protocol. People on the right side of the street do, though. Several of them turn back over their shoulders, much in the same way I have done, noticing the blockage in the flow, the change from the norm, the small difference that looks so huge in a landscape of homogeneity.

Insubordination. One demerit. Please keep to the left.

I long to follow, to step off the walkway, to step forward. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to enter that gaping stone staircase and I don’t want to follow someone else’s decisions for the rest of the day, the rest of the week, the rest of my life.

Insubordination. Two demerits. Please keep to the left.

This is it.

This is my last chance. Two demerits. I’ve lost my food coins until I prove myself to be compliant again.

The third demerit deletes my biometrics from the housing commission and my little apartment will be locked to me.

How can she be so happy?

Why does nobody on this side of the street, nobody on the left, notice me standing here, facing the wrong direction, blocking their path?

I scream. Scream into the void that surrounds me, hoping the sound will reach them – the people on the right side of the street. The people who are looking at me. The people who still see things and hear things and feel things.

Non-compliance. Insubordination. Three demerits. Please keep to the left.

And I do it.

I step off of the curb. The metallic voice of the Beft Industries Control Center rings in my head, but I block it out. I know what it’s saying. I know it wants me to do.
And I know that I am never going to listen to it again.

I am not owned by Beft.

I will not keep to the left.


Gina Denny is a homeschooling mom of three living in Phoenix, Arizona. She lives for summer (yes, Phoenix summer) and eats too many burritos. She writes fantasy and science fiction for people who like to think they aren't really grown-ups. She tweets a lot (like, a lot), she contributes to Mormon Mommy Writers, ANWA Founder & Friends, and runs this blog.