Displaying items by tag: fiction
First published in the print anthology Futuristica Vol. II (Metasagas Press, 2017).
Doctor Stephenson leaned forward and smiled reassuringly. “Tell me, Mandy, what do you experience when you switch between your implants?”
The girl across the table remained silent.
“Your parents are worried about you.”
She was usually difficult to get to talk and would just sit silently crouched in her chair like some frightened little animal – but there was something different about her now. Doctor Stephenson started being suspicious about its reason.
“Am I talking to Mandy?” he asked, suddenly with a very stern expression.
“No,” the girl said defiantly.
“I want to hear her opinion now.”
“Why? It’s my damned life too! Who ever cares about my opinion? Nobody!”
“I will hear you out, I promise. But I need to talk to Mandy first.”
After a short pause, she spoke: “Fine.”
The girl changed in front of his own eyes. It wasn’t dramatic, one might not even notice it at first sight, but he knew the signs. Her look changed. She lowered her shoulders and stooped a little. Her muscle tone rose up as if she was nearly in a spasm. She seemed a little nervous but also distant.
“Now, Mandy,” he said softly, “you do remember my question. Please, tell me.”
Sam sprinted down the pavement, vaulted a bollard, lassoed a lamp post with his right arm and swung himself over the fence next to the school playground, landing crouched but balanced, on the tarmac. He was late as usual. It was impossible trying to get Millie up, give her breakfast, get her dressed, drop her at school and still be on time himself. Meanwhile their Mum lay in bed, too sad to get up, since their Dad had left.
Sam slunk into the school building, trying to be invisible. Mrs Thompson, the school secretary, sighed when she saw him.
“So what”s the excuse this time?” Her hand hovered over the Late Book. “No more tall stories like “Chauffeur Assassinated” or “The Great Goldfish Escape” please, Sam.” Her smile was kind though. Her eyes warm.
At lunchtime Sam”s worst nightmare confronted him in the corridor outside the gym. Adam was everything Sam wasn”t. Confident, tall, with perfect teeth, gelled hair and sporting the latest most expensive trainers. As usual he had two of his hangers-on with him. Lads who”d do pretty much anything to fit in with Adam”s “cool” crowd. The trio pinned Sam against the radiator. Adam positioned himself in the centre, whilst the other two held Sam”s arms.
Starling snuggles deeper into her tangle of sheets, yawning as rain spatters and pings against the porch’s old wooden steps. The shutters will totally need painting after the storm. From her room, a tiny space just off the north side of the parlor, Starling can see almost all the way down Ocean Avenue to the sea. She reaches over to her nightstand, an old chipped wooden cabinet resurrected from the basement, and grabs the wire-wrapped pendant.
Even in the dark room, the quartz winks. The purple wire had been her special request. She turns the pendant in her hands, studying the tiny chips of garnet and aquamarine, peridot and labradorite laced across the face of the frosted quartz wand. Time to try again. Juniper said to keep trying, that crystals, especially Record Keepers, don’t give up their secrets easily. Too bad most of the girls in her class weren’t more like that.
Secrets of the Ancients, answers to the Universe’s mysteries, maybe even a prophesy? Starling drops the heavy pendant over her head, the waxy black cord soft against her neck. Ok, count to ten, breathe deeply…
On the day Priya got the strange message that would change her life forever, she returned home from school at the usual time (around three o clock), climbed into bed, propped her tablet PC on her belly, and began watching streaming TV shows. She preferred the shows about zombies, where dead people chased after living ones and tried to eat them. She watched the shows until Amma got home from work, which was usually well after 8:00 PM. By then, Amma was too exhausted and irate to bother about anything. It was best to stay out of Amma's way when she got back. If Amma asked her questions about school or homework, she just told Amma that everything was going well.
After Amma and Appa got divorced, their lives had become tough. Priya had been eight years old when it happened, and that whole period of her life was just one terrible memory after another — Appa and Amma fighting, court cases, strangers and relatives visiting.
Soon after the divorce, Appa got a job somewhere in Saudi Arabia and left India for good. For a few months after that, he stayed in touch, but his calls grew less frequent over time. Now he no longer called. Amma told her that Appa had married another woman and was living with this lady in Saudi Arabia. He had a child, too, another daughter. Which was probably why he had stopped calling.
Amma worked hard because there were bills to be paid — the rent, school fees, groceries, and so on. They lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment on MG Road in Sri Nagar. (Priya's bedroom was a little larger than a closet). Amma drove an ancient, beat-up Maruti and said they had two hefty bank loans to pay off. Amma often complained that her job barely paid enough to sustain their lives. (Amma worked as the company secretary and receptionist at a real estate firm). Amma also hinted ominously that men did not behave well with divorced women, although she never went into details.
When my mom picked me up from the airport last night, she didn’t say a word. She had taken one look at me, grabbed my suitcase, and threw it in the back of the car. We drove home in silence, the heat and unsaid words steaming up the car windows. I had expected her to at least ask me how my trip was, but her lips remained closed. It didn’t matter though ‒ I was tired, and I understood her reaction. She was upset, because of me.
Stepping off the plane, the details of the trip were still fresh and swirling in my mind. I remembered the colors of the countryside, the electric rush of people in the city, the smoggy Paris air. I recalled smelling the incredible French foods: the breads, the soups, the desserts. Foods I never actually ate.
I, once again, have let my anorexia relapse.
My month-long trip to France should have been one of the best experiences of my life. The sites, the language, the food. I should have enjoyed it all, but there was no one there to watch me eat. There was no one to hold me accountable for consuming the recommended 2,000 calories a day. So, I didn’t. Everything had started off so perfectly ‒ I loved France! ‒ but of course, whenever anything is going right in my life, my brain always has to revert back to my old ways. I had tried so hard to still enjoy myself despite not eating, but I quickly became too tired to leave my hotel most days. I had wasted the biggest opportunity of my life.
Now I’m sitting at the breakfast table, where mom has put waffles and fruit and a glass of milk in front of me. She stands in the kitchen with her back turned to me, pouring batter into the griddle, lost in her work.
The books started talking to Cosmint on a Friday afternoon at around 3:15. Xe— meaning Cosmint, who didn’t think the average pronouns “he” and “she” were awesome enough to describe hir— had popped into the high school library before heading home.
The outline for hir social studies report on World War II was due Monday, and Mrs. Nguyen had said they must use at least one “physical resource.”
“My iPad is a physical resource,” Tonya Marconi had mumbled from the back of the room. Super-ears Nguyen heard that, of course, and exploded with a machine gun volley of “Book, book, book, book, book.”
It was the funniest thing to happen the whole, boring day. Cosmint was reminding hirself of it while hunting for G. L. Mortimer’s The Soldiers of Patton’s Army. “Book, book, book,” xe whispered, tickling a dozen spines with hir sparkling gold fingernails. “Book, book, book.”
Xe found the book, but it resisted when xe pulled. No surprise, Cosmint thought. How gross must these awful, yellowed things be, with their cracked plastic protective covers cloudy with other kids’ fingerprints? But xe needed that book, so xe gave the binding a good yank.
“OMG, Sophie! Those looks so cute on you!” Becca squeals with delight, and pushes Sophie in front of the mirror so she can see too.
“You think so?”
“Yes! Distressed denim is so in this year. Come on, Grace, aren’t you going to try on any shorts?”
“I don’t know…” I look dubiously at Grace as she pulls the hems a little farther down her thighs.
“Come on!” Becca protests. “You can’t wear jeans at the beginning of the year; the school doesn’t have air conditioning. You’ll roast!”
“But doesn’t the dress code ban short shorts?”
“It says mid thigh. I’ve never been dress coded — have you Sophie?”
“Then come on! Here, this is the same pair Sophie’s got, in your size.”
I go into the dressing room and pull them on. Becca’s right -- they are cute shorts, and I’ll definitely overheat if I start the school year in jeans. On the other hand, my legs are a lot longer than Sophie’s. It definitely makes them seem shorter. But what the heck? They’re comfy, they fit, and they look good. I open the dressing room door.
“Yass girl.” Becca grins. Sophie, on the other hand, is frowning.
“They show more leg on you. Don’t you think Principal Lucas will think you’re too ‘distracting’?”
I walk past the smaller models lined up in rows on the store's shelves, feeling something like pity mixed with excitement. Seeing them reminds me of their sentimental value, and at that moment it really hits me that I’ll never go back. I feel almost like I’m betraying them. They’d gotten me through most of my teens, when my parents threw me, not without love and high hopes, into the cesspool of high school. I was surrounded by hormonal freaks that made me look like a fully-functioning member of society, but I never felt like one. People around me might have seen a quiet kid just trying to live his life away from the drama, but I knew better. I had my own drama, because doesn’t everyone? Just because I wasn’t willing to risk my self-esteem with the high school ‘elite’ didn’t mean I didn’t suffer. When you’re a teenager, suffering comes from interacting with other people, but no matter how painful that can be, it’s always better than being alone. So I had friends, and some people who were more than friends, and whenever they hurt me or I hurt them I’d turn to the Listeners.
Colin said to pay attention to how I coped out here. He said the wilderness was an Earth-sized mirror. Motherfucker sounded like a bumper sticker.
Fifteen days deep into a wilderness program for troubled teens, I just put one foot in front of the other, hiking until one of the guides said we’d reached our campsite for the night. I swallowed spoonfuls of under-seasoned grits and lentils until my stomach went from feeling empty to feeling nothing. I recited clichés around the campfire, droning mindlessly until the next kid took the talking stick and carried on the group therapy session.
Coping implied some sort of success – a problem solved. I didn’t cope. I barely existed. It’s not like I refused the program. Not doing anything was too obvious a choice. I’d watched other kids try that, declaring hunger strikes or going mute, and it always became fodder for therapy. I did just enough to stay under the radar.
“This is bullshit,” Dylan complained, right on cue, snapping branches with his forearm as he chased a water bottle cascading down the side of the trail.
Marco looked over at me and rolled his eyes. Dylan’s tantrums could be amusing, but they often led to power struggles with the staff, which meant we could end up stuck on the same part of the trail all day.
Lenny rubbed his salt and pepper stubble with his shoulder as he tightened the coupling. He tried to remember what was wrong with the college kid working with him. You have to explain things carefully, Lenny remembered Stanfield telling him. And you will take it easy on the young man.
"You're denser than a damn fence post,” he told the kid.
Alexander raised an eyebrow. "Ah, I am not. My body is made up of approximately 62 percent water while a fence post is composed of wood or even metal."
Lenny raised his own furry eyebrow back at the lanky kid with large brown eyes and straight teeth. He figured the kid could do well with the girls if he wasn’t such a moron. “I’m telling you, you’re dumb.”
“Urr,” Alexander said. “I graduated from high school at the top of my class.”