“Like what?” The pillow lowered, just enough for me to gaze into babyishly suspicious eyes.
“Something dreamlike.” Anything to get her to lay down. “Then you can head off to dreamland and have some of your own.” She relaxed back on the bed, and I slid her pillow under the brown curls. Pulling the blankets up around her, I talked as fast as my brain would think. “Okay, so. Um. Once there was this little girl. And her name was Patience.” She smiled and sighed happily. So far, so good. “And one day, she was walking to school and she saw a butterfly. She said hello to the butterfly and was surprised because the butterfly said hello back.”
Patience giggled and squeezed my hand. “And then what?”
“Then,” I racked my brain. Good question— and then what? “Then, the butterfly asked Patience if she would like to come and play with her. Patience said yes, so the butterfly sprinkled some special pollen on her head and she turned into a butterfly, too. A beautiful shining one, all purple and gold.”
Patience grinned, wider than I had ever seen her grin before. I smiled back at her, babysitting was actually a little fun tonight.
“Is that true?” My mother’s voice cut right through that fun, vivisecting our special moment.
“Ma’am?” I asked. I heard her, I just needed to buy a little time.
“Is that true? Did your sister turn into a butterfly today?” Her angry temple vein was in full bloom and the forehead wrinkle was cavernous.
“No, ma’am.” Of course my sister didn’t turn into a butterfly today.
“So you lied. You lied to your little sister. What kind of example is that?”
“It wasn’t really a lie. She was bored of all her readers, so I just wanted to tell her something new.”
“Well, you certainly succeeded. You told her a lie. I doubt she’s ever heard one before.” I was thinking about trying to explain, but the volcanic rage glistening on her eyeballs subdued me. “Enough, we’re done talking about it. Patience, go to sleep immediately. Verity, you go to bed as well. No phone or friends for two weeks, and you are not going to the Senior Dance tomorrow night.”
“Verity.” My name rang from her lips with the finality of unspoken consequences/doom. I fled to my room in disgrace.
It rolled off quickly, though, as I finished Patience’s story in my head. It was almost as good as a dream.
Noble was not amused. “Who am I going to go with the dance with?”
The golden wavy curl thing on his forehead got a little less cute. It always does when he annoys me. “Um, no one? Go by yourself or stay home.”
“Why would I stay home?” Now his dimple was annoying. I wanted to jam my pinky finger into the annoyingly asymmetrical little dent.
“I don’t know. Who else would you even want to go with?”
“I don’t know. A friend.” His freckles seemed to leap from his tan skin, taunting me with their audacious freckliness. They were begging to be plucked off.
I shoved his lunch tray into his chest. He grabbed it just in time. “Go away before I dismantle you.” He looked a little freaked out as he scuttled away. Not that I blame him.
Faith plopped into his vacant seat. “Ooh, he warmed it up for me.”
“With his big, stupid butt.”
“Watch your mouth, girl. Is that why you’re grounded?”
“No, I wish. This is totally unreasonable. Mom worked late last night so I was watching Patience, and you know how she is. She would not go to bed. Kept throwing her readers at the wall, yelling about how she was bored. So I told her this thing about her turning into a butterfly and flying around. She loved it.”
“But you made it up?”
“Of course I made it up. People don’t turn into butterflies. But it’d be awesome if they did.”
“Right?” Faith glanced across the courtyard at a lone monarch struggling through the mob of students.
“So. I’m grounded for being an evil child-corrupting liar.” I sighed. “Except I don’t really think I was lying. I knew Patience didn’t think it was true, it was just something neat to think about.”
“Yeah, I totally want to hear it.” Faith’s the best. Whether you need someone to paint your nails or someone to bury the body, she’s your girl
While I was beaming at her like a fool, the claw descended. Scrawny fingers with pointed nails rested heavily on my shoulder. Surprisingly so, considering the flesh-and-boniness of the appendage. The counselor had her talons in me, and I was going to be guided, whether I liked it or not. Usually she got me for attitude-- sometimes my sass can be mistaken for snark. Today I was sure it was going to be the whole “lying” thing. I swear, the lady must be a ninja. How did I miss her coming up behind us? I blame Noble.
“I’d like to see you in my office, Verity. As soon as you finish your lunch.”
The trashcan finished my lunch. It was hungrier than I was, and there’s no use putting off the inevitable.
I beat Ms. Rosen back to her office, leading to an awkward wait. Her secretary oozed disapproval as she led me back, pulling her glasses closer to her buggy eyes as if she must get a closer look at the girl in need of so much guidance. I am quite a specimen.
I waited in the gloom, watching crispy dead leaves fall from crispy dead potted plants into crispy dead piles on the floor. Every time I’m called back, the plants are a little deader and the piles are a little bigger. I stretched my foot out and stomped them, enjoying the crunch.
“What are you doing, Verity?” The ninja had somehow slipped into the office, unbeknownst to me.
“Just waiting for you, Ms. Rosen.” I tried to say it sweetly, but I think it came out kinda smart-alecky because she frowned.
“Good. I’m glad you’re prompt at least. Do you know why I asked you to visit?”
Visit’s an odd word choice. Visits are pleasant. “You overheard Faith and me talking?” Eavesdropped on a private conversation is more like it, but it wasn’t really the time for splitting hairs.
“I did. And I was very concerned. Tell me, you’re a smart girl, what do you know about the Truth Revolution?”
I took a deep breath and gave the history recitation. In my best newscaster voice. “Just a short century ago, deception was an integral part of our society. The media, politicians, and even everyday citizens had become corrupt. People lost all trust in the government and in each other, and everything devolved into chaos.” I paused, checking to see if I had it right so far.
“Then a band of brave and virtuous citizens had an idea. To repair society, they would need to get to the root of its destruction: dishonesty and mistrust. They fought and died to create a society free from corruption and fear. This had come to be known as the Truth Revolution.”
“And since then?”
“Since then the media, politicians, and citizens have adhered to a strict code of honesty. Any bit of media holding any information not factually true was destroyed, politicians were put on notice, and citizens were trained in authenticity.”
That was a bit of a stumper. I’d said all I knew of the speech, so I improvised. “And that’s a good thing.”
“Yes, Verity. That’s a very good thing. People have trust in one another and can live free from the fear of being deceived. You don’t want to be the one to break that trust do you? To take away that freedom?”
“No?” I knew that was the right answer, but I wasn’t sure we had same idea of freedom.
“You’re dismissed. I’ll put you down in my schedule for next Friday at 2:00. Just to check in.”
I needed to get off her radar.
Analyzing Informational Texts was in full swing by the time Ms. Rosen had finished guiding me. “Sorry I’m late,” I mumbled.
“It’s ok. Ms. Rosen emailed me.” Ms. C. looked at me kind of funny, and I wondered exactly what the email said. Controlling my face wasn’t easy, but my favorite and most discerning teacher changed the subject before my mouth screwed up and my eyes rolled. “Have a seat and take out your reading tablet. Scroll down in this week’s text to about 26%, you can begin there and start your notes.”
I slid into my seat and pulled up “Dust Mites and Their Effect on Childhood Allergies.” These vital bits of information were digested, analyzed, and regurgitated into my Reading Strategies Notebook. Accompanied by an overwhelming need to go home and clean. Those things eat skin.
Ms. C. yawned. She did it behind her hand, like that would make it secret. She’s not fooling anyone, she’s just as bored as I am. It made me like her a little more.
I turned back to the assignment. The article was accompanied by a photograph of a real, live dust mite magnified like a billion times. It was a truly horrifying creature, with a huge bloated body balancing on stilted, needly limbs. My notes needed an illustration.
At first, it was pretty accurate. But then my brain got the best of me, and I started adding things: flames coming from its pointed creepy mouth, a mustache, glasses, a hula hoop around its bloated middle.
I must have been having way too much fun Analyzing Informational Texts, because Ms. C. popped up behind me. She’s not so much a ninja as she is a rabbit. I don’t how she got across the room that fast.
“I know. I know. That’s not what they really look like,” I whispered, trying not to draw to much attention to myself. And failing, of course, everybody’s nosy at this school.
For a second, I thought she totally got it. Her eyes, pretty and brown, softened as she put a hand on my shoulder. Not claw-like, just friendly. But then her whole face changed, her jaw tightened and her mouth thinned. She snatched the page out of my notebook and ripped it into sad confetti before letting it flutter into the recycling bin.
“Verity, I can’t let this go. Especially after what Ms. Rosen told me. I’m going to need you to leave.”
“I’m going to need you to take your tablet and go have a seat out there.” She turned me toward the window and pointed to the corner at the far end of the courtyard, a crumbling brick wall flanking a cracked, stone bench. “You can study the section on the Truth Revolution.”
Oh, no. Not that again. “Please—”
“Verity, I mean it. Get out.” So I did.
Aggravated, I flopped onto the first bench I saw. Within seconds, Ms. C. stuck her head out the classroom door and glared at me.
“I said, sit there!” she hissed, gesturing to the Corner of Shame. Apparently, anywhere else was unacceptable. Funny, I never took her for a control freak. But at least she didn’t send me back to guidance.
Or call my Mom.
I settled onto the hard stone bench and leaned back, only to be shanked by the aging brick wall. Something small, hard, and a little bit cold wedged itself between my ribs. I jumped and turned to examine the wall behind me.
Sun flashed off a bit of metal, its rectangular edges protruding from a slathering of cement. Someone had fixed something into a crack between bricks. It looked vaguely familiar. I traced its shape with my fingers, trying to figure out what it was. The sun hit it again, illuminating the two punctures on top and its hollow innards.
It was a USB drive. Someone had cemented a USB drive into the wall, leaving only the connector exposed. But why? Luckily, Ms. C. had sent me out with my reader. I did a furtive look-both-ways and jammed the tablet into the wall. It couldn’t possibly have anything on it.
It totally had something on it!
I transferred the file to my tablet, then jerked it from the wall and commenced reading with the most innocent face I could muster. I didn’t need any concerned citizens checking on me.
The LitLink Manifesto
They say that we are living in a world that is free, in a world that is true. But that is the biggest lie of all. To be human is to dream, to imagine, and to create new ideas and worlds. We are being stripped of some of the most basic human rights and needs, under the guise of safety and security. As a result, our souls are smothering.
And our world is stagnating. In 100 years, there have been no developments. No steps forward. No change or innovation. We are still driving in cars our forebears designed, to the detriment of our Earth. We are still using medicines they created, with spotty effectiveness. Our technology, fashion, and entertainment are all identical to that of our great-grandparents. There are no advancements and no alternatives.
With LitLinks, we seek to remedy that. To jumpstart the creativity and imagination of the next generation. Each LitLink holds a piece of literature from the past, when people still dared to waking dream. We hope that by reading these novels and stories, the youth will learn to imagine, invent, and create. To envision a new and better world and bring it into being. It all begins with you.
Anyone may install a new LitLink, instructions are in the readme.txt file. We hope to reach as many likeminded individuals as possible, and open the minds of others. Be discreet, be kind to the architecture, but be fearless.
Enjoy the literature I have selected for you, and welcome down the Rabbit Hole!
By the time I finished reading the manifesto, I had almost thrown up my own heart. Never in my life had I been so excited, never had I felt like someone knew me so well. I had no idea what rabbit hole they were talking about, but I was ready to be down in it.
I opened the accompanying file. It was a book: Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carrol. Right away, I could tell this was a naughty book. Not like a naughty book, but like a banned book. People don’t have names like Lewis and Alice anymore. They’re not upfront enough in their meaning for the Legislation of Truth. So we’re all named after virtues now. Which can get pretty tiresome seeing as there are 4 Chastity’s in my French class alone.
I read steadily, read until I finished every last word and then reread all my favorite words. My skin was burned from spending the afternoon in the sun, but my mind burned even more fiercely. And I let it, I let all the ideas swirl around. Growing, changing, shrinking, falling. The world did as well. Everything looked new.
Ms. C. popped up behind me as I was still reeling. “You better get home, Verity. You don’t want to be late.”
“For a very important date?” I said before I thought.
She just smirked and scampered out of the courtyard. She really was the rabbit.
I behaved at school all day Monday. I controlled my face, kept comments to a minimum, and completed all assignments with the utmost integrity and factuality. You’ve got to hand it to Nature, it knew what it was about when it made it so people couldn’t see inside your head. I’d be committed if they could. I couldn’t stop imagining.
I had one slip-up at lunch. Noble was telling me about the dance (which I really don’t care about missing, by the way! I reread my book under the covers and that’s way better than getting my feet stomped to bits and listening to golf stories.) I couldn’t tell if it was honesty, bragging, or mind games, but he made it a point to tell me about each and every girl that he danced with. It got really boring, to quote my sister. So in my head, I concocted an enormous Mad Hatter’s chapeau for him and it looked hilarious. He got a bit miffed and huffed away after I laughed at him, so I probably won’t be seeing much of him anymore.
I must have a really good imagination, because I used to imagine I liked him a whole lot.
Ms. C. strolled by my locker after school. She put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry I was so hard on you the other day.” She paused. “It’s just that I expect a lot out of you. I think you have a lot of potential.”
It was so sweet, kinda sticky and cheesy, but it made me feel like blubbering. I held it together, of course. “No. Thank you. It was exactly the wake-up call I needed.”
“Well, good. Speaking of waking up. Do you like coffee?” She didn’t wait for me to answer. “You should try out the coffee shop on 3rd Street. It’s a great study spot. There’s a shady little alcove next to the rose garden, and it’s a lovely place to read.”
“Nice. I’ll try it out.”
I white-knuckled the handlebars of my bike all the way to 3rd Street. Completely out breath, sweaty, and red-faced I jumped off and tossed it against the bike rack. They better have iced coffees.
After ages of waiting in line for an overpriced cup of sugarcoated caffeine, I stepped out onto the terrace and searched for the rose garden. The blood-red blossoms bobbing on thorny bodies flagged me down. A breeze ruffled their petals and they bowed, inclining their regal heads towards the nearby alcove. Ropes of ivy hung from pots, curtaining the wooden bench in living green.
I started for it immediately, then stopped even more abruptly. There was a guy sitting on the bench absorbed in his reading tablet. I was right up on him, almost toe to toe, because it never occurred to me that someone might be sitting in my shady alcove. My shady alcove that I’d never seen before.
He looked up as I was trying to backtrack. His golden eyes glowed beneath his black hair, like sun breaking through the storm. They made me feel kind of funny.
“You going to be long?” I blurted out. Which was rude. And awkward. And not the slightest bit smooth. Or discreet.
He grinned, quirky and crooked, and raised an eyebrow at my reader. “Nah, I’ve got what I came for.” He stood up.
“Okay, cool.” Apparently, I’m no good at talking anymore. English… so hard, so few words I know.
“I’ll see you around. I’m Alt, by the way.”
“Alt?” That didn’t sound like a virtue.
“It’s Altruism on the birth certificate, but all my friends call me Alt.”
“Like an alternative?”
“Sure, I like that. See you….?”
“See you, Verity.”
I swooned for a second as he walked away, but only a second, because I knew there was a LitLink waiting for me behind that ivy. And that’s the Alt I was looking for. I plugged my reader into the USB that had been cemented into the cracked, stone wall. The second the files downloaded, I ripped it from the drive and scrolled to see what awaited me. The LitLink Manifesto was the first file. I didn’t need to read that, I’d memorized it over the weekend. The readme.txt. with installation instructions was next. Maybe I’d use that one day, but for now, I skipped it.
The last file was the one I was looking for: my new novel. This one was Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. Just the title made my brain itch. I crawled behind the ivy curtain and disappeared into another world.
Faith and I celebrated my ungrounding with a sleepover. I was thrilled because that meant I could get her alone. I’d enjoyed my subversive secret life in private for two weeks, keeping an eye out for any telltale flashes in lonely walls. So far I’d collected The Giver, Tiger Eyes, and Bridge to Teribithia. Through these characters, I began to see people differently. I was able to imagine how other people might be feeling, even they weren’t someone I could easily relate to. I’ll admit, I’ve always been a little self-centered, but since reading Tiger Eyes, I saw Hope from Algebra in a completely different light. She’s not weird, she’s just mourning her dad. Everybody should give her a break. Maybe when I get to know her better, I can show her my LitLinks.
But tonight was all about Faith and me. At midnight, when I was certain everyone else was asleep, I pulled out my tablet. “Okay, I’ve got a huge secret.”
“Is he cute?”
“Is he-- Faith, come on. Every time a girl has a secret, it does not have to be about a boy. This is way better.”
“Alright then, tell.”
I gave her a quick rundown of the scene with Ms. C. and my discovery in the courtyard. Then I pulled up the LitLink Manifesto and let her read it for herself. She read it at least three times before she spoke, maybe more, she reads kind of fast.
Her eyes were shining. “They’re right, you know.”
“Do you really, though? Do you get what this could mean for people? My auntie died last year. She had treatment, of course. The same treatment they always do, but it wasn’t enough and she died. And nobody’s trying to find a better way.” Her usually even voice turned furious. “Doctors don’t have any ideas that aren’t already handed to them. They’re too scared to try anything new.”
“Do you think it could be different? That people could change that?”
“I think we owe it to the world to try. So what should we read first?” I started her on Alice in Wonderland, but by the time the sun peeked around her frilly pink curtain, we had read them all.
Faith and I were skulking around the perimeter of park, inspecting the walls for modifications, when I saw him. Alt, the guy from the coffee shop, was emerging from behind a shady oak. Spanish Moss tousled his black hair and he brushed it away impatiently. He was holding his tablet.
“Come on.” I grabbed Faith’s hand and charged him.
He raised an eyebrow. “You stalking me?”
“I’m stalking your Links.” Thank goodness, I had my big girl words with me today.
“I see. Right over there.” He pointed to the No Skateboarding sign. In place of one of the bolts, a USB connector shone in the flecks of sun that dribbled through the leaves.
“Thank you. This is Faith,” I said, remembering my manners. Well, actually, remembering Faith was there at all.
“Nice to meet you. I’ll let you ladies get to it.” He took a few steps, then paused and turned. “You two want to meet up for coffee tomorrow? Talk about… stuff?”
Faith and I consulted using a complicated silent language made up of eye squizzles and face twitches. “Sure, we’ll be at the shop on 3rd Street after school.”
After he left, Faith elbowed me. “Not every secret a girl has is about a guy,” she mimicked.
“Shut up. I want my book.”
By the time I finished the book, I was mad. It made me happy a little bit, too, because I felt like someone really got me. But mostly it reminded me that I was mad. Mad that I had to grow up in this fake world where people parade around in masks of honesty, all the while spreading soul-killing lies. Where they say that the “truth has set us free,” but we’re only free in our dreams. I see the Truthers for what they are: hypocrites and phonies. And I’ll never be like them. I don’t think I ever was.
I wondered what Faith and Alt thought about The Catcher in the Rye.
We made the world’s worst small talk while we waited for Alt. We talked about Noble’s new girlfriend, Ms. Rosen’s new perm, and my mother’s new Volvo-- all equally snoozeful. But we had to fill the space with something, anything, other than what we really wanted to talk about. In a fit of self-sacrifice and sentimentality, Faith and I had vowed not to talk about the book until we were all together. It seemed like the right thing to do.
I slipped my hand into my pocket, closing it around the blank USB I had bought that morning. One day, when I finished my own book, I’d show it to them. We’ll install it on the nearest free wall, and they would be the first to download the story. A story of the future, what the world could be like if this project succeeds. Then we’ll meet back here and talk it over. But for now, all I wanted to talk about was Holden Caulfield.
The chimes on the door rang out, and Alt stepped in. It was beginning.