Short Story: Diesel Harper

The game had come. It was the day. The big one. College scouts. Screaming Crowds. Cheerleaders bouncing in rhythm. Gravity making fools of their breasts and perverted lechers of everyone watching. The stands were awash in red and white, streaming and waving as if pouring from Niagra. Within it, the floating detritus of signs held aloft praised players or urged the team on. Beneath the lights, late September mist glowed like evening sweat on players’ brows. Iridescent. Without time

The Reds versus the Knights, this was it; bigger than state, bigger than the Superbowl. This was what every high-school player dreamed of. But no player dreamed bigger than Devin “Diesel” Harper though. Life hinged on his moment. Not just for him, but for his whole family. Growing up in Podunk, Indiana was never going to be easy, especially for a black kid on welfare. Unlike some of the people he knew of living off government money– and he was certain race wasn’t a factor– he and his family were there rightfully, no matter how much they’d tried not to be.

Devin’s father was a truck driver doing long hauls along the interstates. The crossroads of America had taken his legs when his rig overturned outside Chicago one, snowy night. Paralyzed from the waist down, and with a wife confined to a wheel-chair from progressive M-S, there wasn’t much the elder Harper could do but swallow his pride and admit disability. The food stamps and welfare came a little later, when the M-S progressed further and medical bills racked up.

Devin thrived. Despite the pressures of life and school. He’d seen enough people fall victim to their own vises or those of a system attempting to lure them deeper into poverty. He’d so far managed to avoid them himself, graced as he was with a keen-sight and the nimble skills that had made him a star Running Back. There wasn’t a thing Devin couldn’t do if he put his mind to it. Enough people had told him as much. Football was the one thing he could use to pull his family up from the muck. So, he went at it with all cylinders firing.

The grid-iron was slick. The turf glistened. Minute pools formed in the tamps from cleats. The scoreboards showed the teams were neck and neck. 4th and nine. A single play would determine whether Diesel’s team won outright, or whether they’d pummel and hammer their way to victory in overtime. There was no other option.

Diesel was face-to-face with a wall of meat. He’d been there once before. He’d nicknamed the guy “Meat” in his head. Meat looked more like he belonged in a Mr. Universe competition than a high-school. So much mass would slow him down though. Diesel’d earned his nickname because he was a runaway truck. No-one could catch once he took off. If he got the ball, it was all over. He readied himself, planned his moves. Meat grunted steam into the air like a bull. A mix saliva and adrenaline over day-old spaghetti and fresh B-O hinted itself at Diesel’s nostrils.

Diesel heard the snap. His body worked. He juked right. Meat was too heavy. He lunged. Diesel weaved left, through a gap between defenders. He was half-way up the field when he turned back. The pigskin spiraled at him like a sidewinder missile. He leapt, snatched, clutched, tucked, and hit the ground with a roll. His elbows went down, but Meat hit him hard enough to knock the ball loose in his hands. He clutched it tighter to his body, allowed the impact to dissipate through him. He came to a stop less than ten from goal. The whistle blew. Moments remained.

It was now or never. He knew the play, saw his opening. Meat was back. He was going to go for it. 1st and goal. No other choice. Diesel wasn’t a secret weapon. He was the weapon. The only one. Unstoppable. Unbeatable. This was for Mom. Dad. Everyone. It was for the Scouts, eyeing him from around the field. Most of all, it was for himself. To pull himself out of the muck, his family with him– that was plan.

The snap came. Meat lunged. Diesel juked, weaved. Meat roared. Goal was a step away. He landed across it. His leg hit, the ball cradled against his belly. Meat hit too; a cruunnch tore away reality. He felt his elbows hit mud; the rumble of the crowd in the stands. They’d won. The team had won. The Scouts knew it was him. Before he could fully appreciate it himself, he was out. Unconscious from pain, and with a sight he somehow knew; he’d never play again.

Beneath his unconscious eyes, dreams began. They weren’t dreams as he knew them though. His dreams always involved football, cheer-leaders, in all the was a normal high-school boy might dream of such things But these dreams were different. They felt different. Most importantly, he knew they were different.

He was older, college-aged, getting recruited to the NFL. Contract signings and payday checks in the millions led to all-night parties. Mounds of drugs. Boozing. Fast, easy women. He saw Mom and Dad on holidays. They were worse off than ever, but lavished with ludicrous gifts. It pained his heart.

But the dreams did not yield. He got older, heavier, wealthier. Mom and Dad sank deeper. Their hopes sank with them. More holidays passed. He no longer lavished them. The entirety of the dreams shifted as if all at once: he was suddenly broke, selling cars, doing drugs, weeping in a rat-infested, hole-in-the-wall motel. Whatever had led him there, fame and fortune were part of it– or had been. They were certainly no longer present.

He felt it in his chest, the answer. He’d seen and heard of it through-out his life; players that went pro, formed habits too big for their money to keep up, and fell hard. He never thought he’d become one. Maybe he wouldn’t have. He wasn’t sure. No-one could know the future, after all. Let alone see it, right? He was even less sure about that.

In the end, all he knew was the undeniable feeling of relief he had on awaking in the hospital, his leg in a cast, and his body flooded with the mellow armor of painkillers. It allowed him to mull things over: he saw the path of life laid out before him while the dreams were still fresh. A nudge here. A push there. That was all it would take to set things right. Football or not, Devin’s grades were just right, and his mindset newly re-centered to still avoid tragedy. If he picked up his slack here, the career-killing injury might not turn out so bad.

Over the next few days, people showed up to congratulate him on his victory. He’d taken himself out of school to normalize himself to the pain pills he was forced to take. On a welfare living, it was tough enough to make food. Meds would be short. He felt it better to get as much healing in as possible while he still had them.

The third day of his self-imposed therapy, a girl from his geometry class appeared. She was advanced for her age, a Sophomore taking Senior classes. She’d offered to bring his homework over. They lived only a few buildings apart, had often waved or said hello between home and school. As any timid girl might, when insisted to by his mother, she lingered near his door to give him his homework. Devin wallowed in his latest dose of introspection and healing and almost missed her. When they finally said hello, she revealed her name was Amber. He thanked her.

She stuck around long enough to feel awkward before turning away. Devin stopped her, “Amber?” She turned back inquisitively. “I could use some company. And i-if you don’t mind… some help with the homework. Math’s not… my strong suit. Football is. or was.”

Imagine that, him— superstar Diesel Harper– stammering at her. Amber giggled desperately, but caught herself to keep him from feeling mocked. On the contrary, he seemed to understand things were usually the other way around. In fact, it was also the other way around.

“Ar-are you sure? I mean, if you really wa–”

“Yes. Please, stay.” Devin scooted over for her to sit. He reached for his backpack, determined to see his nightmarish dreams buffered by as much effort as humanly possible.

She sat with a shy smile. Devin smiled back, then rifled through his pack for his geometry book. They launched into work with as double the vigor Devin had used to launch himself across the goal time and again.

“You know,” Devin said during one of their breaks. “I had this dream about the future. More of a nightmare really. Now, it’s almost funny how scared I was.”

Amber’s eyes gleamed with intrigue. “What was it about?”

“Football… and math.”

They both laughed.

Short Story: Brace-Face

She looked at herself in the mirror, stretching her mouth and lips to better show her teeth. The gleam of wires and metal was far from visually pleasing. Aesthetically, she hated them. One day she might say differently of the whole thing– one day when her teeth were pearly white and perfectly straight. For now, she curled her lips closed and frowned.

Danielle had never been one to speak out of turn, or fuss over things. Mostly, she sat in her room, or in one of her various classes, and let life swirl by in silence. She didn’t have friends to speak of, or to. It kept her quiet most of the time. Maybe, she thought, she could hide her mouthful of metal until graduation. It was a couple years away, sure, but she’d managed the preceding ten without much peer-interaction. Then again, she wasn’t about to add a blotchy, red face to the mix by holding her breath.

She brushed out her long, bushy hair. Yet another of Genetics’ slights was to give her the thickest, curliest hair a girl could have without being of some exotic origin. Each day, she’d stand in front of her bathroom mirror, vainly fighting it. Whether morning, afternoon, or night, they battle raged until Dani gave up and wrestled it into a bushy ponytail.

“More like squirrel-tail,” she always muttered. As always, thinking of how akin her hair was to having a long-haired cat rooted into her scalp– but less cute and twice as angry.

And now, there was the metal. A literal ton of it. Okay, maybe not literal, literal, but there was a lot. She might have cried, had she built any type of social standing that was to take a hit. Otherwise, it was just par for the course of a life as dishwater-dull as stagnant. She did her best to settle into her nightly homework, added to by the missed assignments from the day’s be-metaling. The only time she rose was to answer her mother’s call for dinner. It was only afterward that she realized just how bad it felt to have someone drill, glue, and wire her mouth together. To say nothing of having to pick, brush, and clean them for the first time.

By the end of it, she was haggard, emotionally and physically. With the last finishing touches on her homework, she collapsed into bed. The night passed in a patchwork of introspective bad dreams until she found herself lucid and aware she was dreaming, and completely helpless to stop them.

In the same, befuddled manner of all dreams, enough reality melded with hallucinatory strangeness to form a believable dream-world. Dani found herself at a school not quite the same as usual. Never-ending hallways took eternities to cross, super-imposing vast barren dunes atop them. Peers with transmogrifying faces drifted here and there or accompanied her for unknown reasons, refusing to listen to her cries of help. Others wandered about without faces. More still kept up an unending chorus of “brace-face, brace-face” that followed her as if ethereal whispers on an ever-blowing wind.

The dream-school was the very definition of eerie strangeness. After a while, even dream Dani found the chanting more tacky than hurtful. For hours and hours, the hallways carried her across their deserts, her would-be friends came and went, strangers stared from black-holes in their heads, and the wind chanted incessantly.

When the sun decided to grace her window and rip her from sleep, she returned from dreamland with gratitude. She praised the sun, albeit silently. Dreamland had become more twisted and sordid over time, in ways she couldn’t describe nor recall, but that left her feeling uneasy. The monotony of her years-old morning routine was just what she needed. It remained largely unchanged, though slightly more dismal now from aching teeth and a metal-bruised ego. Fighting her hair into its hairy-cat state helped her feel a little more normal. Her best “don’t look at me” clothes formed a hopeful shroud that allowed her to make for school without collapsing in embarassment.

Bacatta High-School was a place filled with paradoxes at every turn. Certain class rooms were dark, dank dungeons, windowless and cold. Beside them were warm meadows, windowed along one side with vibrant warmth. A time-vortex or dimensional rift would be perfectly at home there, and admittedly, not surprising. In her words, “You know, a regular high-school.”

She entered school to the drone-procession of students too-asleep for the morning hour. At least there she was invisible. Good. No one would notice her new metal-mouth. Not even if they tried to. She kept her head bowed, flowed with the rivers of students toward class. There, she floated in place like them, but half-submerged to remain invisible. It seemed to be going well until midway through Algebra, when she was forced to speak aloud.

Mrs. Harmon eyed the room, “Who can tell me the value of x, if x equals seven, plus two, divided by three. Hmm, let’s see… Danielle?”

Danielle was a deer in the headlights, hit by the car before realizing it. She was expected to answer. Her brain had already worked out the problem, but the few eyes that turned her way froze her in place. Mrs. Harmon leered with expectancy. Never in a million years could it help. It made things much worse than she ever expected.

She grimaced, did her best to hide her teeth, and saw herself flipping up and over the car, headlights already long gone. As she end-over-ended through the air, she revealed her unintentional lisp.

“Exsss equalsss three?”

“Correct. Excellent,” Mrs. Harmon said, moving on, completely unaware of the slaughter she’d caused.

Dani shrank in her seat. It was even worse than she’d expected. She’d probably sprayed the girl in front of her with a fountain of saliva. She didn’t seem to notice, but Dani did. A hand suddenly tapped Dani’s shoulder. She nearly fainted. Her eyes met another girl holding a folded scrap of paper. She gestured for Dani to take it.

Me? She mouthed. The girl nodded. Dani opened the note.

Girly scrawl formed the words “New braces?

Danielle’s face almost fell off. She’d known. Things must be even more terrible than she realized. She glanced at the girl, whom nonchalantly divided her attention between Mrs. Harmon and Danielle, then scribbled a reply:

Yea, why?

The note changed hands, was read, scribbled on, then returned.

It helps to have water. Or get some wax to put on the back.

Danielle’s eyes were a portrait of confusion. She scribbled back; Thanx. Is it really that bad?

The girl took the note, read it, then shook her head at Danielle.

I know the feeling. Mine was sooo bad at first. BTW, I’m Sara.

The bell for class-end rang. Dani read the note, then stood next to Sara. “Danielle. Mosst people call me Dani.”

Sara flashed a metal smile. “Cool. I’ve gotta’ head ‘cross the building, but you wanna’ sit together at lunch?”

Dani followed her from the room, carefully evading any esses. “Okay.”

“I’ll meet you in the commons later,” Sara said with another metal smile.

She turned for the long passage across the school and waved good-bye. Dani waved back, managing a smile of her own; maybe being a brace-face wouldn’t be as bad as she’d thought.

Bonus Short Story: Indifferent Reactions

Marcus Emerson was one of the shy, introverted types that found few friends in school, even fewer through life. He was often bullied; both for his small, lanky size and his brainy smarts that regularly netted him high grades and the title of teacher’s pet. In truth, Marcus wasn’t a teacher’s pet. He wasn’t even much of a student. Most things of the academic nature came naturally to him, more instinct than nose-to-book study and grind. Nowhere was his natural prowess more obvious however, than the high-school chemistry lab.

There was something about the bonds of molecular structures that filled his lonely, longing heart with more excitement and intrigue than anything else he ever encountered. Perhaps it was their inability to truly break, but rather evolve, change over time to more. Chemistry was as much a metaphor for life to the teenage-recluse as it was its sole motivator. Where most kids his age worked for their first car, he made his first bout of cash to put toward a proper chemistry set. Then, with a constant income, he procured more and more chemicals and building blocks for his experiments.

It was not difficult to see how the boy might easily come to harm were he not careful, but he always was. He wore the proper safety suit of a lab-coat, rubber gloves, and goggles that did little to help his already-afflicted fashion sense. Day and night were spent in his parents garage at his father’s commandeered workbench. Across it were Marcus’ tools of trade and pass-time. Half-full Griffin beakers and Erlenmeyer Flasks were scattered where there weren’t racked test-tubes, droppers, burners or coiled tubing. Always to one side, was a sheet of paper of chicken-scratch formulas that gave all the more confusion to the Chemistry-genius’ ambitions and plans.

It was no surprise then, that Marcus became head of his chemistry-class in high-school. Finally he embraced the title of teacher’s pet and aided in demonstrative experiments. Before long, he took over the class, his teacher proud not to be capable of an edge-wise word. His appeal to classmates couldn’t stoop much lower by then. All it took were the needs of one, rather stubborn and more than occasionally disingenuous boy named Micheal for the seeds of tragedy to be planted.

Mike was a polar opposite to Marcus; a kind of ne’er do well that did nothing well anyhow. He was failing all of his classes, except the one with the teacher’s-aide he was dating. There was little doubt she’d changed his grades. It was said he had other, similar plans in the works for the rest of his classes. Marcus had heard all the rumors, knew something of the drug and sex-crazed kid that sought him out. Unfortunately, ever the social outcast, Marcus’ thirst for companionship was nonetheless unquenched when Mike approached him.

Marcus was at the edge of the high-school’s property, just past its football field, when Mike hailed him across the road. As was his way, Marcus approached with a feeble resistance and more than a gut-full of resignation. Mike needed help, he said with a little begging. He was going to fail chemistry, and with it, high-school altogether. It was enough to arouse Marcus’ sympathy. He’d never been hard of heart, least of all when his help was needed. If only he’d known what Mike’s real plans were, and where they’d eventually put him, he might have been more callous.

Instead, with a slow and insidious way, Mike used Marcus. First, to help write out his homework, the answers manipulated from the learned peer with blank stares and calculatedly-blunt self-flagellation. Then came the corrections and fully-written work by Marcus alone. Soon enough, Mike’s passing grade in Chemistry was as assured as his bad-boy-loving girlfriend’s Geometry class.

A single conversation between the two boys in the garage should have been enough for Marcus to spot Mike’s true intentions. Such was Marcus’ naivete that he couldn’t see the conversation for what it was. The two stood over a round of Hydrochloric Acid experiments that involved observing its effects on various materials– plastics, metals, rubber and the like. They wore respirators for safety’s sake, their voices muffled.
“Haven’t you ever thought about making stuff to sell on this thing?” Mike said innocuously.

Marcus was focused on his work, “I don’t make things here, Mike. At least nothing you could sell– what would there be to make and sell anyhow?”

“I dunno,” Mike lied sheepishly. He preempted the planting of a sinister seed with friendly laugh, “We could always make drugs. That’d be something to sell.”

Marcus snorted into his respirator, poured the contents of one test-tube into another. Perhaps if he were more socially versed, or slightly less-trusting, he’d have seen that playful banter for what it was; the feeling out from a juvenile reprobate ready to take his illicitness to the next level. Whom better to use for that next step than the easily-manipulated loner and chemistry-wunderkind that was Marcus Emerson? No-one would ever suspect someone like Marcus. He was a good kid, well-liked by adults.

It was the perfect plan, Mike knew, he bore all the risk as the bad-seed, could easily hide the worst of his wrong doings by deflecting with Marcus’ presence alone– the mentor to Michael’s apprentice. All he needed was Marcus’ compliance and ultra-powerful brains, and they’d be rolling in dough and dope.

In the scheme of things, it didn’t take long to convince Marcus to try it. Like all great snakes, he played on the boy’s curiosity and before long had his mouth watering for results.

“It’s not like we’re hurting anyone, Mark,” Mike said with his usual, pleading way. “We just gotta’ see if we can actually do it.”

“You swear this won’t get out?” Marcus asked, less concerned than he came across.

“Hand to God,” Mike said as he raised a hand.

“I mean it, Mike, if anyone finds out we–” he lowered his voice severely. “– made crack in my garage, the whole county’s going to come down on us.”

“I would never do that,” Mike assured him with a hefty lie.

To his credit, Mike didn’t tell anyone for the first week. It was purposeful; he needed to feel out the neighborhoods, find which ones were frequented by junkies. Then, with “samples” from Marcus’ trash-can, he made a thick of wad of cash he later taunted Marcus with. The promise of money lit in the boys eyes. After all, why wouldn’t it? He was only doing as he’d been taught– using his inherent skills for money– or at least that’s what Mike assured him.

No matter what way Marcus rationalized it, his state of mind decayed quickly. Before long, he was doing nothing more than slogging through classes to get home and whip up more batches of his new cash-cow. Mike did the running, left the boy alone to the cat-piss stench consuming the garage. His parents had long ago learned not to enter the den of chemical experiments, their senses one too many times assaulted by its innards.

Then, as with all tragic figures, Marcus fell to the vise he so casually created.

In the midst of a lonely bout of depression, spurred both my Mike’s obvious abuse and Marcus’ own, lack of sleep and nourishment, the boy vaporized a rock in a test-tube and inhaled its fumes. His world spun with euphoria until he fell over dizzy, vomited on the floor.

Over the next few weeks, he kept his pass-time hidden. Granted, the signs were there, especially to Mike whom noticed the dwindling supply to feed his dope-hungry clients. He was wild, entered the garage as usual, found Marcus hunched over a heated test-tube and huffing its fumes.

“What the–” he yanked the hot tube from Marcus, looked it over, burned his hand, then dropped it. The tube shattered on the floor. Mike’s eyes lit with rage. “God damn it, Mark. I fucking told you! I told you, don’t get high on your own supply. That’s how you fucking get caught. ‘Cause you fuck up.” He pulled Marcus up from the floor, his eyes still dazed, shoved him backward across the garage. “Didn’t I fucking tell you? You fucking loser! Screwing me over.” He spit venom as Marcus landed with a crash against the work bench, “You fuckin’ loser. You fuckin’ cheat!”

Mike fumed, released his anger the only way he knew. He left Marcus in a heap on the floor, bloody, bruised and broken, and stole the last of the drugs around for a sale. The boy wasn’t sure how long he lie their, half-dead, half-high, but it eventually prompted a search for him. He was immediately rushed to a hospital. His addiction was discovered, and preceded weeks spent getting clean and healing fully from the beating he’d continually blamed on a fall.

But Mike grew more paranoid, as addicted to cash and the rush of slinging rocks as others were to smoking them. Without Marcus at his side, he was forced into hiding, running from Junkies that needed their fix and pestered him relentlessly. Just as Mike was hitting his own bottom, Marcus was in recovery, finally able to walk again.

It was late in the evening when the two finally met again, outside an addiction recovery center Marcus had been court-ordered to attend. He didn’t mind. He’d found new friends. Real ones– however admittedly older than himself. They knew the perils of addiction and loneliness as he did. Mike on the other hand, knew only the paranoid terror that comes from having one’s deepest, darkest secrets known.

Mike was haggard; hair wild, face soot-blackened, and stinking of whiskey, “Marcus!”

The boy turned at the shout, saw the shambling figure, “Mike?”

He entered the light that shone through the doors of the recovery center, within arms reach of Marcus, demanded an answer, “You kept my name out, right!?”

“Of course, Mike, I’d never do that to you,” Marcus said earnestly.

Mike knew nothing of sincerity, trust, nor friendship. He didn’t believe him, “Bullshit.”

He launched himself at Marcus, shanked his gut with a shattered bottle. A large, middle-aged black man that had taken a liking to Marcus’ smarts– and saw enough of himself in the boy to sponsor him as a former addict– appeared at the door. Before he could react, Mike was disarmed, on the ground, pinned by the grieving giant. A crowd formed to phone the police and ambulance, apply pressure to Marcus’ wounds.

He died in his hospital bed, seventeen and lost too young with a corrupted innocence. Michael was taken to prison for murder without chance of parole, for life.

Many might seek a moral to the tale the two boys’ lives have formed. There are few, but not one seeks to place blame. It is neither boy’s fault to have been children, playing with adult toys and ideas, and too immature to know better. Morally, they cannot be blamed. Nor can Marcus’ parents, whom believed their son, like always, was teaching and bettering himself with the help of a new friend. Not even the oblivious school-teachers, administrators, or peers for their disregard of obvious signs, can be blamed. Though a case could be made against, Michael’s own, abusive and neglectful parents, such arguments are moot. Both boys were the sole masters of their lives, destined or not, to helm it toward tragedy.

Perhaps the only true entities at fault are those of the collective effects of loneliness, curiosity, and the lust for companionship. Even if that were true, they could hardly be blamed either. They are but mere fragments, indifferent reactions from a solution of human-consciousness and the human condition ne’er to be properly controlled.

Short Story: The Plain and The Pretty

The Plain and the Pretty

Sarah Morgan was a mostly normal girl. She brushed her teeth, combed her hair, and went to school. Day-in and day-out, she would sit in class at Bacatta High-School as dusty teachers lectured on about things as ancient or oxidized as themselves. These were things that would never affect her, that she’d never need in a million years. Despite the obvious trivialities that dribbled from their word-holes, sluiced across the other, assembled brains in class, Sarah took notes. Always. She dutifully copied every word of each subject, every single lecture, each day.

She would’ve stopped, but had no reason to. For that matter, she didn’t care to. It made her look busy and kept her hands at work. She scrawled pages with lightning speed, her eyes always down-turned at the back of every class, but her ears honed on each syllabic resonance and every phonetic clamor against her eardrum.

The only times Sarah wasn’t writing were lunch and dinner. Otherwise, when not recording lectures, it was creating magical fairy-lands, or dark, mysterious dungeons. All along the walls of her bedroom were stacks and stacks of notebooks, loose-leaf sheets of paper, even torn napkins. Each one was categorized, placed in a specific stack.

Where some teenage girls’ walls were splattered with friendly-faced photographs, budded artistic drawings, or the occasional half-nude pop-star, Sarah’s were empty. They were also impossible to find for all the towers of notebooks along them. And where most teenager’s rooms– whether girl or boy– were impassable from weeks-old piles of clothing, papers, and the general left-overs sloth-like youth, Sarah’s was impassable from used pens and nail-like pencil-stubs that created a fine layer of unstable floor above the carpet.

To enter Sarah’s room without agile feet was to take one’s own life in their hands– a fact that her mother and father loved to remark on. Whatever, it kept them out of the room, left her to work in peace. All she wanted to do was write, even skipped frequent meals when a particularly interesting passage flowed like a sieve from her thinker onto her pages.

While she wasn’t plain looking, Sarah didn’t have the bombshell-looks of the cheerleaders, or the brain-gasm smarts of the nerd-girls, or even the dexterous phalanges and sexual curiosities of the band and orchestra girls. In fact, whatever clique one could think to name, she wasn’t in. She was merely a hitch-hiker on the road of life, presently stuck on the far-side of the fast-lane that was high-school.

No-one bothered her, not even to pick on her. For that at least, she was grateful. She liked being alone, even if it was boring sometimes. So it was with extreme irritation to her inner-muse when, one day, she slammed notebook-first into someone in the hallway. Her notebook crumpled, fell. A pair of loud thumps signaled the collision of Sarah’s front-half with another’s. A catastrophic cascade of books tumbled to the floor. Opposite swears drowned the back-step and crouch of both Sarah and her new-found acquaintance.

The girl’s hands slipped beneath her pile of books and papers on the floor, while Sarah’s gathered the loose pages she’d added to certain, earlier sections of the notebook. Sarah’s eyes only captured her fellow victim of circumstance for a moment, but it was clear she was one of the “pretty girls;” a part of the clique that relied on genetics rather than talents– or anything else for that matter– to fit in. They held power over the boys, the prettiest of them alphas that dominated the other girls. Whether Alpha or not, this girl was certainly close to leading the pack.

“Sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

Sarah muttered something similar– more of a grumble than an apology. Even so, the message came across well enough that the girl continued with piercing, blue eyes. “I just moved here. Name’s Allison– most people just call me Ali.”

“Sarah,” she mumbled with less than a cave-man’s intelligence.

Allison gathered the last of her books, stood up, “Well, Sarah, sorry again. Maybe I’ll see you ’round.”

Sarah “mmm’ed” in reply, slid the last of her pages into her notebook, and continued on her way. The clack of Allison’s heels were distinct all the way down the hall, even over the din of lunch-time students in the halls. When the bell screamed through-out the school, it finally drowned the heels’ last reverberations, and ushered in a rise to the din as the students headed for class.

For the rest of the day, Sarah thought little of the collision, returned to her notebooks to record the geography lecture. The topic was long, as arduous as the formation of the lands that dictated the first part of the word. The teacher’s tongue and throat droned while his plump hands drug chalk across the board at an Earthly, slow pace. Sarah’s hands worked too fast for him. She had to drag out her other notebook just to keep moving. The jump between subjects and books made her eyes ache and her head spin, but even so, she managed to make it through the class.

The rest of the day was easy, mathematics formulas and theorems, and biology notes kept her busy. Both teachers were young, agile with their words, wasted no time between them. When the last of the two classes came to an end, Sarah had just enough time to stuff her notebooks in her backpack before the door uncluttered from the dismissal bell. By the time the mass of bodies formed the shapely, single-file line, she was up, headed for the hall.

She slipped out in the dissipation of students in divergent streams, floated out to the far-side of the hall to head for the stair-well. She dodged the few locker-clingers that blocked her path, her feet quick to juke sideways and back in-step without a missed beat. Near the end of the hall, a clamor sounded behind her like a band-geek’s tuba had just fallen and shattered on the tile floors. She smelled “fight” before the word was ever uttered. Her neck craned backward as her feet continued forward.

Indeed, a pair of the testosterone-fueled, genius-carriers of the Y-chromosome had begun to trounce one another. With what little Sarah could see, it was like one of those hockey-fights– sans the usual, impressive act of balancing on ice-skates while they pummel one another. It ended as quickly as it began, the two boy-children torn apart by a pair of teachers over shouts. Sarah rolled her eyes. The next moment came in actions that seemed to slow time. She lifted a foot, began to rotate her head back to her forward-path. As her eyes caught the view ahead, a locker door was flung open. Her foot came down just as the door’s edge bisected the bridge of her nose.

She was smacked by the door, fell to her ass. The locker-door made a thwanggg with the sound of cheap metal. Sarah was certain her tail-bone was broken– or maybe that was just the feeling of her fractured pride. The locker-door flung closed as Allison’s face appeared, her piercing-blue eyes wide as saucers.

A hand covered Allison’s slacked jaw, “Oh. My. God.” Sarah half-expected the pretty girl to laugh at the plain-girl’s misfortune, was doubly stunned when Allison extended a hand to pull her up. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry!”

Sarah took her hand, “S’ok.”

“Sarah, right? Are you alright?” She asked as her hand pulled a jacket from her locker.

Sarah’s wits returned slowly, “Uh, yeah. Allison, the new girl.” Allison nodded. “I remember– Ali, that’s what you said earlier.”

“Yeah, are you sure you’re alright? I totally wasn’t paying attention,” She asked while she fished an arm out of the jacket, stuck her arms into it.

Sarah shrugged, the interaction already belabored past her comfort-zone. She rubbed the bridge of her nose, “Yeah. Nothin’s broken. Was my fault anyhow.”

Sarah wanted to make a move away, but it was clear Ali’s guilt was beyond that of the other pretty girls. Her turned head and eye-contact made it all the more clear she wasn’t going to let Sarah go until they’d exchanged some pleasantries– at least there was some sign of life in that pack of wannabe-plastic people that called themselves rulers.

“Well, still, I’m sorry.” She fished out her backpack, shut the locker. Sarah sensed the dreaded walk-and-talk that people did as Ali started forward, “Those fights happen a lot here?”

Sarah had trouble matching the pace of Ali’s “don’t-quit” legs, but moved in-step beside her to the stairs, start down them. “Uh, I dunno’. I never see ’em, just usually hear ’em– and usually at lunch.”

Ali grimaced, “So they happen a lot then?”

Sarah shrugged, “Once or twice a week.”

Ali rolled her eyes with a huff as they rounded the first foyer, “God guys’re retarded. It’s like… they don’t even have half the brains they were given. Just drooling, slobbering, ogres with B-O and ape-brains.”

Sarah laughed. Genuinely. It surprised her too. It even started with one of those throaty-snort sounds people made when they were genuinely amused. It made Ali’s piercing-blues brighten, her lightly tanned face almost glowed as he cheeks dimpled.

Sarah nodded, “Yeah, they’re cave-people with less hair.”

“At least most’a the time,” Ali joked.

They giggled laughed all the way down to the main-floor, were at the hallway for the front doors before they could speak again. The doors ahead gleamed like a holy beacon– and indeed to some they were– as the autumn sun splayed late-afternoon rays across the floor before them. The buses had already begun to depart, the crowd of bodies thinned to only the last, few hangers-on that waited for rides from parents.

“Shiiit!” Sarah groaned as she watched her bus lumber away.

“What’s wrong?” Ali asked with a glance.

She threw her head back, her shoulders slumped, “Bus’s gone.”

Ali patted her back, “Ah, don’t worry. I can give you a lift.”

They stepped from the less-populated entrance, “It’s cool. I’ve walked before. No biggie.”

Ali sighed, “Oh come on, Sarah. I smacked you with that door. It’s the least I can do.”

Sarah contained the squirmy discomfort that wriggled within her. In truth, she didn’t much mind walking if the alternative was more intimate time with another person. Before she could protest further, Ali wrapped both her arms around Sarah’s right bicep.

Come onnn, my car’s right around the corner.”

Sarah sighed, “Okay, okay.”

Ali half-drug her the length of the red and white brick school, her gait double that of Sarah’s. They rounded the corner to the insanity of the Junior-Senior class parking-lot. All manner of cars from all makes and years filled the horizon; from old, rust-bucket clinkers whose mufflers were only such in a theoretical sense, to brand-new, shiny BMWs and Mercedes bought with the greasy cash of wealthier mommies and daddies.

Ali drug Sarah clear across the parking-lot, all along the way the two were forced to dodge the erratic, imbecilic drivers they called peers. Ali even heated up, flipped one guy off after he shouted, “Nice ass, baby. Now, move it!” She finally stopped at the rear-end of a relatively new soft-top convertible, Camaro. The car said enough to tell Sarah that Ali had some money– or her parents did anyhow. While she doubted it was BMW or Mercedes money, for a plain-girl forced to ride the bus everyday, Ali was leaps and bounds beyond her own fiscal benefactors.

“Wow. Nice car,” Sarah said with admittedly more awe than she’d have liked.

Ali slipped into the driver’s seat, and the engine roared to life, “Yeah, it gets me where I need to go. Sucks in the winter though– too much power and not enough weight.”

Sarah buckled her belt, “Better than the bus, I bet.”

“Oh definitely,” she agreed as she backed out, followed the aisles to the line of cars that waited for the turn onto Orwell Avenue. “So where we headed?”

Sarah was still enamored with the plush interior. It smelled of something like dream-sicles tasted; creamy and orange with just a hint of cold.


“Huh? Oh, right. Up Orwell to Marigold, then a right on Beech,” Sarah said oblivious to her driver’s ignorance.

“Gonna’ need a play-by-play,” Ali replied through the right from the school onto Orwell.

“Just keep going forward. It’ll be on the left.”

The shopping mall gleamed in Ali’s rear-view mirror behind and to the side of other student drivers. Ahead to the left, Orwell branched off in city-blocks that gridded the northern section of town in a long rows of quaint boutiques, shops, and various, other establishments too small for the sky-scraping madness further North on the horizon.

All along Orwell Avenue, traffic made its start-stop procession through the three-way stop-lights that made up the bulk of the South-side of “downtown.” The cozy, beige brick and mortar shops that were sandwiched side-by-side, ended abruptly with the Y-fork of Orwell and Armistice. Sarah kept Ali on track past the police-department that hid the first sections of the southern neighborhoods. Then, well-manicured lawns rose and fell with the hilly topology of the middle-class side of town. The more expensive houses were even further South, undoubtedly where Ali lived.

The hilly rise of the police-station fell to Lotus Drive. After a few houses, Hyacinth passed with its sloped, Northern incline, and Marigold peered out at its re-leveled height to match Orwell. Ali’s left turn was greeted by a block of cookie-cutter houses one either side. The Camaro slowed to a stop at Willow and Marigold, kicked up into second before the next intersection and the turn on to Beech from the three-way stop. At the left, the river that ran from Grove Park to the center of town, was visible between the side yards of Elm Street’s houses. It marked the property lines of the homes on either side, twisted and turned beneath the small bridges on Orwell and Asimov– two of the main Avenues through town– to deposit in a pond far ahead.

Sarah pointed to a tall white house, its lawn as well-manicured as the rest on this side of town, save for the few weeds that grew through the cracked, cement driveway. As usual, it was empty in the early afternoon. Mom and Dad wouldn’t be home for another few hours.

Sarah readied to slip out of the car– in truth, readied to bolt like a deer in the headlights– and glanced to Ali, “Thanks for the ride.”

Ali smiled with perfect, white teeth that met one another at crisp angles, were obviously the product of expensive orthodontics; yet another testament to the pretty-versus-plain girl contrast between them.

“Anytime, Sarah,” Ali said. She hesitated as Sarah pulled on the door handle. She was almost to freedom when Ali spoke again, “Hey umm… Can I ask you something real quick?”

Now Sarah was a deer in the headlights. She had the vacant face of terror and confusion, the dumb stare into mysterious, fast-approaching glowey things that even Sarah couldn’t name in the moment. The question formed on Ali’s lips innocuously, much like the graceful automobile that went about its business as unwittingly as that most mentally-stunted of animals.

Ali drove on, completely oblivious, “Do you mind if I hang out here for a while? I mean, I don’t wanna’ be rude or anything but home kinda sucks this time’a day.”

With all the nimble majesty of an airborne deer in mid-collision, Sarah replied, “U-uh, s-sure, I guess.”

She would have said no, knew she should have, but something had compelled her not to. Terror might have been its source, or perhaps mere stupidity. In either case, a mental five-K began for Sarah the engine cut-off and Ali stepped out of the car. Sarah followed, even to the door, where the only indication that something was expected of her was the way Allison stepped aside to let her reach the knob. While she dug for her key, tried to produce it to unlock the door, the five-K turned to hurdles.
Why’d she accept the ride? Why’d Allison offer it? Was this some prank by the other pretty-girls? Was it mere chance, or even fate? Even then, what was the point? Sarah was a loner; a fact she knew and liked-well about herself. What good was companionship to her? What good was her companionship to another? More importantly, what would Allison think when she inevitably twisted her ankle stepping into Sarah’s room? Would her neurotic note-taking and ceaseless word-smithing become a new focus of taunts for the pretty-girls and their gimps? And why’d Allison’s house suck with her undeniable wealth?

All these questions sprinted through her mind in the micro-seconds it took for her to unlock the door and step into the foyer. She held the door politely, half-prepared to slam it shut on Ali’s face, but knew she couldn’t. As much as part of her wanted to kick Allison to the curb, the rest was intrigued at how things would play out– what exactly the answers to those questions would be.

She followed Ali up the stairs as she rubbernecked the white, tastefully decorated walls filled with typical, middle-class photo-frames, knick-knack shelves, various electronics and faux-wood furniture.

“Wow,” Ali said as she stepped aside to let Sarah up the stairs. “This place is nice.”

Sarah snorted, “Nah, it’s just home.”

Allison shrugged, followed her through the dry-walled archway and into the kitchen, “I like it. It’s cozy.”

Sarah set her pack on the table across the kitchen, “Uh… cool I guess. Well, you want somethin’ to drink?”

Sarah went about the tedious process of listing the house’s entire beverage repository before they settled on pop. They sat at the table in an awkward silence while Sarah’s leg made restless shakes underneath it.

Again the perfect teeth appeared as Allison broke the awkwardness with a smile, “I’m guessing you don’t have many friends.”


She smacked her forehead, “Wow that sounded really insensitive.”

“No, it’s–”
“What I meant to say is; you seem nervous, like you don’t hang out much.”

Sarah opened her mouth to protest, but her mental faculties were tied up in the questions she’d asked. So much so that the lie-production machine in her brain had no room to cater to her already-minute ego.

She closed her mouth with a long sigh, sank back in her chair to open it again, “It wasn’t insensitive. I got what you meant. I’m not really easily offended anyhow. Stuff just sorta’ rolls off’a me.”

Ali chewed a corner of her lip, “You’re sweet, Sarah, but I’m an idiot.”

Sarah shrugged, attempted reassurance, “I can’t tell you for sure since we just met, but you don’t seem like one.”

“See what I mean,” Ali replied with a bigger smile than before. “You’re sweet.”

Again, Sara shrugged, “I dunno’ maybe. But you’re right anyhow. All I do’s hang around by myself. At home and at school.”

She frowned, “That must be lonely.”

Sarah slurped a sip from her can, “Sometimes, but not really. It’s just how I’ve always been. I mean, no one who doesn’t have mental problems wants to be alone all the time. For me, it’s just easier.”

Ali seemed intrigued, “Well, why don’t you make friends?”

“Just too busy, I guess.”

Her intrigue grew, “Busy how?”

Sarah was suddenly timid, quiet. Her mouth squirmed, her forehead hardened, angled closer together. Her face pointed downward at the floor, but Allison leaned to get a better look at it. Sarah was too scared to explain her utterly obsessive-compulsive writing habits. There was too much in her brain that didn’t want to come off like a freak. What little ego and pride she had was too delicate, fragile, to take the risk. All the same, Allison waited.

“Earth to Sarah. Come in Sarah,” Ali joked.

She shook off her petrified trance, “Uh, well, I um… uh… Mostly write.”

Ali’s eyes brightened, “Write? Like stories and stuff?”

Sarah was profoundly terrified– to the point that all the words she knew of to describe fear summed together still didn’t describe its depth.

Her words tumbled out like dice from an upturned cup, “Uh, well sh-yeah. I mean, um… most of the t-time anyhow.”

“Does anyone ever read ’em?”

Sarah shrugged. She knew the answer was no, but the ambiguity of a shrug seemed like it might keep the conversation from turning to its inevitable point. Eventually it would get there, no matter what, but Sarah hoped there would be time before then.

Ali was leaned forward, “Why not? You don’t want ’em to? I could read some if you want.”

Sarah sighed, “Ali, I don’t wanna’ sound like a jerk, but … it’s just not something I really wanna’ share with anyone.”

Allison’s pretty-face had that pinched frown and glisten that pretty-girls get when on the verge of tears from even a minor pin-prick on their feelings. Sara winced. Contrary to her expectations though, Allison blinked, and the gleam became depth-less intrigue.

“Well I get not wanting to be judged, but… d’you mind if I ask why you’re so worried about it?”

It was a fair enough question, and Sarah wasn’t rude enough to say “fuck-off” just quite yet, but even so, she wasn’t sure she had an answer. “It’s just not something I share with anyone. Just something I do ’cause I do it. I don’t really know why I do, but… well it’s like people who hang out with friends. That kinda’ takes the place of that.”

Allison grimaced, “Yeah, I get it, but… do you share anything with anyone? I mean, anything more than the air you breathe?”

Another fair question, granted more invasive than the last, and especially callous for two people who’d just met. But it was more than tame for a pretty-girl. Sarah was once more forced to run through the list of questions that had arisen at the door. She saw a clear pattern emerge from her knowledge of pretty-girl/plain-girl dynamics.

Sarah eeked out a grimace, “You’re gonna’ grill me about this ’til I let you read something aren’t you?”

Ever the more perceptive pretty girl, Ali giggled, “Most definitely.”

Sarah threw her head back, smacked it on the chair, “Blah.” She growled a throaty word that crescendoed in a whine, “Fiiine.” She stood with her shoulders limp, trudged forward, “C’mon.”

Ali followed her from the kitchen out to the right, down the long hallway that opened to the various rooms on either side. She stopped at the door to her room, only one arm limp now, the other with a hand on the knob.

“You light on your feet?”

Ali squinted confusion at her, “Huh? Oh. Well, I was in gymnastics for ten-years.”

“You’ll need it,” Sarah warned.

She shoved open the door. It only just cleared the height of the pens scattered at its threshold. In Allison’s view, the door gave way to stacks of notebooks, and the pen-covered floor. Her jaw fell open, her eyes nearly popped from her skull. Sarah stepped in– or rather-tip-toed– across the plastic and metal pens and wooden pencil-stubs. She slid sideways onto her bed as Alison planted one sure foot before the other to close the door behind her. Her eyes swept the room as she made a small circle inside the towers of notebooks and stacks of loose-leaf papers.
She almost came full-circle, but stopped on Sarah atop the bed, “Holy hell! I thought you were joking. But you aren’t. There’s gotta’ be five-tons of paper in here.”

Sarah shrugged, “Maybe. I’d have to do the math.”

Allison had the sudden urge to rush for a stack, begin tearing through it and soaking up the words inside. Instead, she stepped to Sarah’s side, almost slipped and fell, but managed to maneuver an upright sit from the near-fatal mishap.

Her jaw finally shut to wet her mouth, “Sarah, it’s really hard not to want read this stuff when you see it like this.”

Sarah was melancholic, “A lotta’ people’d probably disagree.”
“Yeah, but they’re not here.”

She had a point. “Dig in if you wanna’, I don’ really care.”

The bright-eyed intrigue returned to scan the room, “Wh-where should I start?”

“Doesn’t really matter I guess. You mind if I write?”

There was a slight shrug as Ali stood for a stack across the room. She walked for the stack like an acrobat; her hands flat, arms locked for balance across the strewn floor. She reached for a red-covered notebook, returned to Sarah’s side while she scrawled across a fresh piece of paper. The intermittent pauses between ink-scratches gave rhythm to Ali’s thoughts. In the span of a page and a-half, she was transported to a world where a king had sworn fealty to his subjects only to be back-stabbed by a traitor courtsmen whom viewed him as weak.

More short stories gave way to poems about love and death, beauty and pain. The words flowed with rhythmic rhymes and swelled with alliteration whose pace was ever-more kept by the tempo of Sarah’s pen. Every-few pages, detailed histories of worlds, cities, and people would arise with intriguing dichotomies, secrets, and flaws to put the greatest of literary contemporaries to shame. All of this, in only one notebook.

It could’ve been a fluke, Ali knew. She dove into another. Then another. The pattern held strong. All the while, Sarah’s pen worked. A pause a drum solo saw it tossed at the wall ’til it bounced, fell with the others on the floor, and was replaced with a new one.

Ali finished a fourth notebook, the sun already set in the sky. She looked sideways at Sarah, curiously absorbed in her work, as though the world in her mind was the only one that existed.

“Sarah?” It took a minute before her pen stopped, and her head rose from the page with a dull question on her face. Ali was hesitant, all the more emphatic for it, “I’ve read a lot of books and stories. But this is by far the greatest stuff I’ve ever read.”

Sarah’s brow furrowed in disbelief; partly from her self-consciousness, and partly from distrust that a pretty-girl like Allison would ever read, “You don’t have to flatter me, Ali.”

She was insistent, “Sarah, I’m not.” Sarah’s eyes narrowed skeptically. “I know I’m mostly eye-candy to people– like I haven’t got brains– but I know greatness when I see it. Apart from hanging out with friends, all I do is read– like you write. All these stacks of notebooks? That’s how my room looks, but with other people’s books. And I’m telling you this stuff is awesome!

Sarah was suddenly dumbstruck by her own prejudice, as if Ali had heard her thoughts all along. She was also, admittedly, flattered by the idea that someone found her work so intriguing. At the same time though, she was profoundly embarrassed by the way she’d thought of Ali. Here was a girl not unlike herself, save a hyper-critical label Sarah had applied to them both, defying said label to befriend and show her admiration and interest.

“Uh… I-I’m sorry,” Sarah admitted suddenly. She put her pen and paper aside, sat forward to speak openly to Ali. It was a curious thing to her, she’d never opened up to anyone, let alone a stranger. “I judged you, Ali, I’m sorry. I’m an ass.”

It took her a moment to connect the subtext that had lingered between them all day, “Huh? Oh you mean ’cause of the pretty-girl stuff, right?”

“Uh… I wanna’ make sure we’re on the same page… what d’you mean by that?”

Ali explained, “I know you know. You’re what pretty-girls call a plain-girl, someone who’s not super-model gorgeous, or otherwise wrapped in plastic to their eye-lashes. Truth be told, I’m not really either. I just got lucky genetically. I hate those girls.”

“You hate them? But I thought–”
“That I was one?” Ali asked. Sarah nodded in acknowledgment. Ali chuckled, “I know I look it, but I’m not. It’s one’a those weird coincidences– like the ISS they people confuse for a UFO… it doesn’t quite look like a star, and you know it’s not a plane, so what else could it be? Most people go for UFO ’cause they’re not thinking that the space-station’s there.”

Sarah simplified it for her, “You mean Occam’s Razor, right?”

“Exactly,” Ali replied. She pulled her legs in to sit cross-legged on the bed. “I didn’t keep talking to you at school today ’cause I’m an airhead who’s got boundary issues. I like you. You seem interesting. You probably didn’t even notice it, because you’re always writing, but I have two morning classes with you.”

Sarah’s brow furrowed, “Man, I really got pay more attention.”

Ali laughed, smiled, “Point is, I knew I’d either end up being poached by the vapid pretty girls, or be alone. I saw some one that looked interesting, got curious. I was just lucky that I bumped into you at lunch.”

Sarah rubbed her nose, smiled, “I don’t know if the after-school thing was luck, but I get what you’re saying.”

Ali chuckled again, “I really am sorry about that, by the way.”

Sarah shrugged, adjusted herself to hug her knees, “It’s no big deal.”

Ali grimaced, “Actually, it kinda is. If you hadn’t hit that locker door, we wouldn’t be hanging out right now. And I wouldn’t know how awesome you are. And you wouldn’t have someone to tell you.”

For once, Sarah felt perfectly at-ease without her hands constantly working her pen across a page, “That’s… actually a pretty good point.”

They met each other’s eyes with giddy looks that transferred glee between them, and suddenly fell into a mysterious fit of giggles. The plain and the pretty together at last, both equally enamored with the other; one, for its unquenched thirst for friendship, the other for its insatiable hunger for mental stimulation. It was a freak-accident-caused friendship that they both knew would last ’til death. The first few weeks of hanging out only further proved it as Sarah and Ali returned daily from school to write and read respectively. Long evenings soon turned to long nights and weekend sleep-overs, and the latter pushed the former ever-nearer toward greatness with her unassailable support.

The precarious nature of their meeting alone would have given Rod Serling another one for the black-and-white picture-show. The plain and the pretty, Sarah and Ali, writer and reader, entwined in friendship forever over a simple, innocuous mishap.