You’re Different, and That’s Bad

“What would make you an asset to this team, Mr Stevens?”

There it was, the clincher. I was about to land my dream job.

“I can work around the clock,” I answered evenly.

“Mr. Stevens, I don’t…”

“No, you don’t. Your team wastes valuable time, eight or ten whole hours a day, resting at home. But I can solve that. I can train them.”

“Train them?”

“To live like I do.” I presented her the files. “My typical week. Timelapse of course.”

The look she gave me was somewhere between confusion and dismissal, but I wasn’t concerned. No one else could offer what I did.

“Call me,” I suppressed a smirk, “Anytime.”

 

* * *

 

“How long can you go without sleep?” The technician eyed me suspiciously.

“I require three hours a week.”

“Medically impossible.”

“Difficult at first, yes. But not impossible I assure you. That’s why I’m here. Soon enough you will share the secret. You’ll be able…”

He scoffed. “Yes, that is why you’re here. And we will find your secret.” Suddenly, the room was flooded with light, and a dozen hands reached for me. “Let the testing begin.”

I must be crazy for picking up writing again. Also, I have no brain power left for editing. It is what it is. On to the next story!

This story is by Helen J. Mast (whom Jon happens to call his Bride). She got here a touch after everyone else, but she still got the story in! 

You’re Different, and That’s Bad

He stood out, even in the chaos of teenaged students and middle-aged teachers surrounding him.  Everyone knew everything about him; they all whispered and laughed as he found his way to his assigned seat.
“What kinda freak is that?”
“I heard he got kicked out of his old school because of that…thing.”
“Lookit him.  Got his nose up so high he’s showin us his boogers!”
He kept walking.  His tennis shoes scuffed the worn aisle carpet as he carefully wove through the crowd.  His worn gray t-shirt was caught and pulled a few times, but always “by accident.”  It wasn’t hard to locate his seat.  Being the only one under 5 feet tall in a room of giants, he could see it between their long, thin legs.  One wooden, high-backed chair, set near the foot of the stage, had been cut off at the legs to provide more of a floor cushion than a chair.  He settled down without making a sound, carefully evading the eyes of his classmates.  He didn’t have to wait long for the principal to come out onto the stage and begin the show.

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“You’re Different and That’s Bad”: Experimental Child

“Son, I need to speak with you.”

Adam slunk into his father’s study, his head hanging. “Yes, father?”

His was holding a sheet of paper, a printout of an electronic message. “It seems that maybe you know what this is about?” he said to Adam.

“Maybe,” Adam mumbled, sitting in the chair in front of his dad’s desk.

“Do you want to explain it to me?”

Adam squirmed, shrugged. “Well, it was just those meanie heads Basil and Myles. They just think that because they’re bigger and can run faster that they’re better than me.”

His dad cocked an eyebrow. “No reason that should bother you. If you know yourself, you don’t need to react.”

“But they called me a freak,” he murmured.

“What was that?”

“They called me a freak!”

“I see,” his dad stroked his chin. “So you felt it incumbent upon you to what? Prove them wrong? Do something only you can do and cause a serious disruption of the school day? You felt that would prove to them that you’re not a freak?”

“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” said Adam.

“Really? Here are the schoolmaster’s words: ‘The two boys were lifted into the air by their ankles, shaken like a pair of rabbits, and tied by their shoelaces to the top of the flagpole.’ Now, tell me, Adam, how would you classify that if not a disruption of the school day?”

Adam shrugged. “Just desserts.”

His dad sighed. “Adam, I understand that it is difficult for you. At the risk of sounding like I’m supporting Basil and Myles, you are different. But I’ve known that, and so have you, ever since you began school. I mean, after all, could you expect a new model like you to be the same as all the others?”

“But why do I have to be smaller and slower and not as good at physical things?” Adam whined.

“You don’t need those things, if everything we did works as planned. And it already looks like the experiment is a success. Don’t worry, Adam. Once we have confirmation about your abilities, every family is going to want one like you. Those models that Basil and Myles come from will be retired and every other child at school will be just like you.”

* * * * *

When I saw the prompt for this week’s challenge – “You’re different and that’s bad” – the first thing I thought about was not what the difference was, but why the difference. I’m sure this isn’t a new idea; I’m probably borrowing from something I’ve read before. But the habit we have of trading in our cars, phones, and computers for updated models combined with the idea of designer genetics is always a curious combination for me.

You Are Different and That’s Bad

Wenna’s wings glowed white in the moonlight. The dark dappled patterns danced as she fluttered toward the Home Branch. Wenna’s knees bent slightly as she set down on the rough bark. A hole in the trunk beckoned her with golden light spilling out into the chilled night. She took a shuddering breath, held her head high, and entered.

Every head turned her way. Fairy eyes can hide many secrets, but she saw astonishment in each.

Pernala rushed over and threw her arms around Wenna. “Darling! You’ve finally molted! And your wings! Aren’t they just divine? I’ve never seen white wings before!” Her own dark wings fluttered in silent jealousy.

Wenna backed away and twirled, giggling. Pernala still liked her!

A crowd gathered. They prodded her wings. They spoke glowing words. She basked. Jaega sulked in the corner, her black wings folded tight to her body. Wenna made her way over. “Guess being the first to get your wings doesn’t make you the best anymore, does it?”

A hush settled over the group and every face turned to the dais at the far end of the room.

Queen Mayrin stepped down from her throne. The assembled fae bowed as she waded through the crowd, her own dark wings spread wide. “My daughter. Long have I desired to see your wings. Long have you waited to come of age. But now, you must go into the night and tear off your wings. None of white wings may grace the presence of the Hall of the Home Branch. My daughter, you are exiled until you return with dark wings, or none at all.” She tilted her head, her eyes searching Wenna’s face. She whispered, “My daughter, you are different, and we cannot allow that. There are rules that even a queen may not break.”

The queen took a step back. “My people, we will mourn our daughter now until she returns to us. Let no merriment break this night of sadness!”

Black wings fluttered until they wrapped around each owner, a shroud of flight embracing each frowning form.

Every form but Jaega’s. A grin bloomed on her face.

Wenna stuck her tongue out at her in one last effort to save face. She spun, her head still high, her chin quivering, and stepped back into the cold, cold night. She leaped from the branch and let the air fill her luminescent wings.

Queen Mayrin was jealous. That was all. Why else would she send away someone with such beautiful wings? And Jaega? She had always been Mayrin’s favorite.

Wenna let the wind dry her tears as they leaked from her face. The moonlight gathered on her wings, shining into the dark forest.

Wasn’t it good to be different? Wasn’t it good to shine in a dark world? Wasn’t it better to stand out for who you were than to hide it?

Wenna didn’t even feel the owl’s talons wrap around her until it was too late.

If only she’d had dark wings, the owl would never have seen her.

This story shouldn’t have been written, but I was dared

A Sort of Semi-Review of The Storm by Frederick Buechner

Until recently, I had never read anything by Frederick Buechner. Because some of his most ardent admirers are people who I highly respect, I decided I should give him a try. My local library only has one book by him – The Storm – and so I tore through the first half riding across Montana returning from a long road trip. I finished up the second half over several days, slowed down a little by a quick rerun of The Tempest to catch the parallels.

I’m sure there have been plenty of reviews detailing all the ways Buechner masterfully draws from Shakespeare’s play, so I won’t go into that here. But in case you haven’t read The Storm, let me give you a two sentence summation: Kenzie, a writer and a ragamuffin, is well into old age, living off his wife’s money in his wife’s home on an island off the Florida coast. His past catches up with him in the form of his estranged brother, his illegitimate daughter, and a massive Atlantic storm, which all converge on the night of his birthday party.

The most striking thing about the book, as I found it, was the reality of the characters – they felt genuine, alive, human. Buechner applies Shakespeare’s method of giving each character a certain standout quality – Kenzie with his hair and mustache and too large face and brooding nature, Dalton with his hyper-organization and perfect dress sense – while at the same time filling out their personalities and histories. Each becomes a very real person with flaws and gifts and unresolved struggles.

This is where the story shines. It is a story about redemption and reconciliation, but isn’t contrived. There is no climactic moment in which two characters finally speak their peace and issue forgiveness to each other in eloquently scripted words, a la the thirty minute sitcom approach. It is simply authentic and mirrors our own experience. Sometimes the things we’ve held on to for so long simply fade in significance when we are confronted with the deeper realities of life on the fallen earth. In the end, this makes Kenzie’s statement about a happy ending in a world not famous for them all the more moving.

The Storm is a beautifully messy book. The story is well crafted, and there are many passages where Buechner shows his mastery of language. Yet, he breaks all the “writing rules” with abandon (“Show don’t tell! How do you get away with whole chapters without dialogue?”). There is no clear resolution to the story, it just sort of ends. And though it has clear religious overtones throughout, it ends with ambiguity in the message, at least as far as spiritual matters are concerned.

Yet, that beautiful messiness itself conveys the message at the heart of the book – that life is not often neat and tidy. It does not often follow straight roads, and those roads are seldom smooth. It is full of trials we don’t expect, graces we don’t deserve, and moments where the mundane is shattered by the imposition of the miraculous. It is not famous for happy endings, but once in a while the pattern is broken, to remind us who is guiding all things to the incredible ending he has in store. It is like a book that doesn’t follow the rules. It isn’t always pretty, and sometimes it is painful, but at the end there is peace.

Books Not to Write

Books Not to Write

Let the challenge commence!

Here’s the rules:

Each week I’ll pick a title from the list above. I’ll write a story. While I’m not imposing a word limit, I’ll be aiming for flash fiction for all of them. The story must fit the title. There are no genre restrictions, nor are there “seriousness” restrictions.

For the first week, I’ll be aiming at story #1. I may not be the only one posting entries! :)

If you’d like to join in, using the “contact us” form, and we may post it!

(And yes, that means, for now at least, Barrelbottom is done. I need to free up brain space for another major project — making another run at getting a novel published!)

Parasite

Parasite
by Mira Grant

Everyone has a tapeworm.

Symbogen has genetically engineered the tapeworm that will bring you true health and happiness. It secretes whatever meds you need – never worry about missing a pill! Birth control? Insulin? Antacids? Steroids? Whatever your medical needs, the Symbogen Intestinal Bodyguard is there for you!

In fact, it even brings people back from the dead. Just ask Sally Mitchell! She was braindead. Doctors were convincing her family to pull the plug, when Sally sat up and tried to detach herself from the machines.

(Rumors of her having no memory before that time are unsubstantiated. Pay no attention to such conspiracy theorists.)

Sally lives a normal life with her parents and sister in a normal home. She has a boyfriend and works at a pet shelter! Just imagine, if the Intestinal Bodyguard can give her a normal life after death, what could the Intestinal Bodyguard do for you? Continue reading