Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"The Spanking Collection": Porn With A Higher Purpose

It's one thing to be at peace with one's particular depravities; another to revel in them. And it is quite a rare and other thing entirely to be able to indulge those depravities as a service to the Greater Good.

But with this fine piece of literotica, you can do all three:



The world-famous Spanking Writers Abel and Haron devised a brilliant scheme that brings together imaginative fetishry, charitable kindness and everyone's favorite writers from the kinky internet and beyond. An anthology of spanking stories, with the proceeds going to support cancer research. How many other purchases can make you feel so good in so many ways?

You can read more about it (including info on where to buy it!) here.

All of these stories were written for the purpose of this book and contributed for free by the authors; none of the stories have been previously published. It's new, original, devilishly creative CP fun!

And, I wrote one of the stories.

And, having had the privilege of receiving an advance copy, I've read the whole thing, and can confirm that it is Quality. Entertaining, innovative, rich, well-written and full of peculiar depravities...

What are you waiting for?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Graham Goes West

It's times like these when I rue not picking the scene name "Fievel."*

Well, the title is true: A change in hemispheres is about to go down in this blogger's life. The tagline "a young American woman currently living in Eastern Europe and writing about the English Vice" will soon no longer be apt. I'm headed for my homeland, and the move will be (for the foreseeable future) permanent.

Probably. I think. We'll see.

I face my approaching repatriation with considerable ambivalence. It's time and all, and there are plenty of people I'm thrilled to be reunited with, but on the whole... Eh. I guess there are cool things about America. Snow Cones n'shit. Recycling bins, gay people, decent Mexican food, racial diversity. As far as countries go, it's a livable one.

I suppose.

However, one area of my life that the U.S. will surely improve (surely!) is kink. Because there will actually be a scene, and a community, and people, and some of those people gay, and all of those people kinky! And I can actually go to kink events and meet kinky friends and go out for decent Mexican food afterwards. So I am looking forward very much to the prospect of regular play. It is definitely time I got me some of that.

And what does all of this mean for The S Word? I'm not sure I know. As of this moment, I have no promises or predictions. I might return to regular updates, I might return to super-slow updating, I might not return to blogging at all. I haven't a clue. But I do want to sincerely thank all my readers and commenters and friends and lurkers, everyone who listened to the American Girl in Eastern Europe obsessed with the English Vice.

Oh, the end of an era!

Here's what I do know: I'm going to be out of internet range through the rest of June and all of July, and probably the better part of August, depending on circumstances. So if the S Word does return in a new Americanized incarnation, look for a Fall premiere.

And, if you're kinky, and you're in America, look for me!

*Probably not everyone gets this reference. This footnote isn't going to explain it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Warped," Part III (Final)

Take a shower. Wash your hair. Remove your shoes. Clip your nails. Wear only black, including belt and socks. Bring no books. Come with your hands empty. Come with your will encased in steel.

Isaac was determined to reclaim what he had lost. Dignity, check. Captured soul and angry girlfriend – these he’d fight for like a fiend. Step one: Clip his nails. As many of Greta’s demands as he could remember, he fulfilled fastidiously.

His mother caught the scent of her husband’s aftershave on Isaac as he clattered out the door. “Did our son get a girlfriend?” she asked. Isaac’s father didn’t look up from the paper. “Good for him,” he said.

Isaac's heart was miles beyond the speed limit, but he pedaled slowly to the Greenbaums’ house. He didn’t want to get sweaty, and he couldn’t bring anti-perspirant because that would be in violation of Greta’s rules. Of course, Drew had told him all about how pharamones attracted mates, at last explaining why girls insisted on dating athletes. Still, Isaac had given up on the dream that the ritual was actually code for sex. Somehow that seemed beneath Greta’s creativity.

Besides, the Warp had its own rituals for that. Did Greta expect him to ask her to prom?

Such were the questions that whirled through Isaac as he made slow progress toward the day’s second destiny.

By the time he reached the Greenbaums’, the sun had set, lending Willow Lane a sense of twilight beauty and menace. He could feel eyes watching him from the shrubs, breezes beckoning him in half-sinister tones. He could hear a music no one was playing – and he could feel, in his bones, the reverberations of the ancient ones who withheld his soul, that he might prove his merit.

Isaac parked his bike and smelled his armpit. Showtime.

No one answered the bell; not the first five rings nor the next twenty. He got no response when he banged the gilded door knocker with all his might. He called for Greta. He called for Mr. and Mrs. Greenbaum. Nobody came.

“Clip your nails… Wear all black… Steel-cased will…” Isaac breathlessly recited his orders, but recalled nothing on Entrance Procedure. Was this the first trial? Launch through a window, shimmy up the drain pipe?

Instead he turned the knob. It gave, the door swung, and Isaac entered to win back his soul.

“Hello?”

The lights were off. He closed the door behind him, and considered switching on a lamp, but he feared the ancient ones might take offense. There were no signs or arrows or stone-carved runes pointing the way. But he knew where to go.

Isaac clambered up the stairs. The darkness did not deter him. He dashed through the attic door and began blabbing — loudly, desperately, without bothering to take inventory of his surroundings:

“Greta! Greta, we have to talk. I don’t know what you saw, but it isn’t what you think — I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I can explain the whole thing, it was a counterattack, see, a gambit — and if you had said no I’d never have done the thing but you wouldn’t call me back and I didn’t know what else to do and it was Marisol’s idea and they were going to email it to my grandparents and…”

When breath failed him, Isaac blinked and saw where he was.

Greta’s attic, but not as he knew it. Thick, yellowed candles flickered through the dark. Easels draped in black cloth stood all around him. At the far wall sat Greta, perched on the familiar modeling stool.

She didn’t say a word.

“See, it was all part of a plan to get back at Josh,” he continued. “Actually I never could’ve done it without you. I mean, I never could have just gone and talked to… It was all you, Greta. And that, with Marisol, it was just a show, all it meant was – I don’t know, a preemptive strike. Cause I felt like such an idiot and… God. Greta, no one else is like you. No one comes even close. I’m… sorry. Say something.”

“You haven’t removed your shoes,” Greta said. “I instructed you not to enter wearing shoes.”

Isaac blinked. He took off his shoes.

“Better.”

Greta slid off the stool. The fluid movement arrested Isaac; he was a moth, fastened to a lepidopterist’s trophy case. Pinned forever with eyes wide open. Here was Greta, but not as he knew her. A black dress rippled over her glowing white skin. And oh, the skin! No sleeves burdened this dress; it fell above her knee, dove deeper into her chest than any garment she’d ever worn in public before. Isaac blessed the fingers of the tailor who'd sewn it.

She came toward him slowly, haughtily; the divine enforcer of the ancient code. A piece of Isaac longed to crack the tension with a joke, but a smarter piece of him bit his tongue. The other pieces of him shivered. It was like being under a spell, when everything around you blurred together and reality seemed to slide slightly off its course. It was not a girl who stood in front of him, it was an idol.

They were only a few inches apart. She peered at him – into him – like an oracle. And the world as he knew it dropped away; basketball team, Marisol, Cat’s Cradle and all.

“Why have you come here, Traveler?” she intoned.

It took a second, as the sheen of Greta’s skin was still causing Isaac’s nerve endings to crackle, but the words caught up to him.

“I’ve…” And as he gazed at her in the mystic half-light and breathed words into the ponderous quiet, something shifted inside Isaac. He felt an ember of excitement such as he’d only known at the climax of a Scott Card novel or his first kisses with Greta. It gave him vigor.

“I’ve come for what is mine,” he finished.

“By what right can you lay claim to that which you let be captured?”

“By the right of my will.”

“Your will,” Greta scoffed. “Your will may be your own, but your soul belongs to me.”

Isaac couldn’t remember what came next, so he said, “Like hell it does.”

The smallest grunt of frustration escaped Greta’s throat. She shook her head slightly, but with great meaning. Better ad libbing next time, then.

“Why have you come here, Traveler?” she repeated.

He remembered now.

“I’ve come to test my will.”

Greta circled him slowly, close as a shadow but never touching him. “Can your soul be of such great value?”

“To me, it is.”

“Perhaps you should have guarded it more closely.”

“I didn’t know the rules. I was deceived.”

Greta whirled in front of him. “Willful human!” she spat. “Do you think the ancients will abide defiance? Do you think you can endure the test?”

“I… well, yeah.”

Greta glared.

“Test me with all your might; I’ll show the ancients just what human will is made of,” he snarled. Isaac shook; his ardor swelled.

“The trials are not for the faint of will,” Greta murmured. “Nor the faint of flesh.”

“Only tell me what I must do.”

The strangest, evilest and most alluring smile curled over Greta’s transfigured face. She turned from him and strolled to her stool. She took a seat, leaned back and crossed her legs.

“With pleasure,” she said.

Isaac didn’t recall receiving any lines after this point. This was where the ancients took over; he was blind and powerless. He looked around at the labyrinth of covered canvasses. Might as well take a stab.

“Am I… Do I guess which one holds my — likeness?”

“You do not ask questions!” He was startled by the rage in her command. “You stay silent. You listen. You obey.”

Worked fine for Isaac.

Greta regarded him with a long, lazy look. And then she said:

“Remove your socks.”

Huh. Isaac had been hoping for something a little more climactic, but he did as he was told, quickly and quietly. He didn’t swerve his eyes from Greta’s, and as he held her gaze, a feeling of anticipation and daring blossomed inside. When his feet were freed, he even rolled his socks and placed them neatly in his shoes.

Greta coolly examined her nails.

“Move three paces forward,” she ordered without glancing at him.

Isaac wasn’t sure how long a ‘pace’ measured in Greta-units, but he took three generous steps toward the stool and stopped. She seemed satisfied.

“Kneel.”

He dropped to the floor. Try as he did to stay focused, he couldn’t help thinking, I wonder if she’ll take off her clothes. And, I wonder if she’ll try to sever my ear.

Greta slipped off the stool again. She approached Isaac, and without preamble grabbed his hair and jerked his head up. She searched his face, and, when she found no objection, released him. Then she reached for his wrist. She studied his fingernails before flinging it down.

Isaac was dumb.

Greta moved past him and made for a cabinet in the corner. His eyes followed her, until she snapped her head round and barked, “Eyes on the floor, time-bound slave!”

Isaac bowed his head.

“You have come far,” came Greta’s voice from the other side of the room. “You have done well.” He heard her footsteps approaching. “But you have many trials still to bear.”

The footsteps stopped just behind him.

“Take off your shirt.”

As Isaac stripped off his clothes for the third time, he noted that for a night of supposed trials, this was going remarkably well. Or perhaps this was how she planned to test his will? Pure malevolent temptation? Whatever, if the ancients needed him naked, he’d get naked.

He flung his shirt aside with something close to relish. At this apparent desecration, Greta’s face turned so livid he feared she might slap him. Instead, she swept the garment from the floor, crossed the studio and flung it dramatically out the window.

Isaac’s mouth opened, but didn’t release a sound. A voice in his head uttered: Dang.

“Eyes on the floor,” she repeated through gritted teeth.

She was hovering over him, he could feel it. And then he felt her seize his arms, and soon he learned what she’d been rummaging for in the cabinet. A length of cord. She bound his wrists behind him.

“Tell me why you need your soul back.”

“Because... Because I won’t be whole without it.”

“Of what value is it to the world that you be whole?” She tightened the knots.

The question caught him off guard. “I…”

“Perhaps you’ve overestimated your worth.”

“I haven’t,” he protested. He cleared his throat in an effort to deepen his voice. “I don’t care what the world thinks. I don’t care if I’m the only one it matters to... Maybe the world doesn’t care if I’m whole or half, but I do, and… that’s enough.”

She circled back to the front of him, and despite her repeated commands he lifted his eyes to her face. He couldn’t get enough of looking at it.

“Mortals have such vast egos.”

There must’ve been spiders in the attic cobwebs. Isaac felt hundreds of eyes fixed upon him.

“Rise.”

Easier ordered than obeyed. Bound and unbalanced, he fumbled slowly to his feet. Greta closed the gap between them. Without removing her eyes from his, without expression or the briefest blink, she unclasped the buckle of his belt.

After a prolonged contraction, Isaac’s stomach landed somewhere near his feet. This is actually happening. Sure, his non-subconscious incarnation had yet to experience it, but what could possibly be so trying about oral sex?

She slid the belt through his loops and let it dangle from her hand. And then, instead of reaching for his genitals as Isaac could not help hoping, she loped back to the stool and draped the belt across her lap.

“Why have you come, Traveler?”

Why haven’t I come? Whined a voice that Isaac was fairly certain did not reside in his brain. He shook it off.

“My soul,” he muttered.

“What is it worth?” Her eyes pierced him. “What are you worth?”

Was this the torment? Endless repetition of the same interrogation?

“Everything.”

“Everything?”

“Anything.”

Greta leaned forward. One hand propped up her chin and the other gripped his belt and swung it back and forth.

“Prove it.”

A sliver of understanding began to prick at Isaac.

The belt swung with the solemn leisure of the pendulum on the Greenbaums’ grandfather clock. Isaac wondered if the pressure he felt inside constituted a phenomenon previously unknown to medical science. Greta’s eyes held an unmistakable question.

“Let me,” he answered.

This was when the clocks wheeled; everything sped up. Swift as a panther, Greta leapt from her perch and carried the stool to the center of the studio. She whirled back and dragged Isaac off the floor with a sharp grip on his upper arm. He followed, hapless, breathless. And he made no protest — no sound at all — when she drew him over the stool.

It wasn’t exactly comfortable, with his hands tied and his body bent. The part of him that was still a teenage boy had vague impressions that this whole thing was getting thrillingly depraved; but the part of him that had given way to the world of his and Greta’s imagination was spellbound and tense.

Greta began to slowly pull off his slacks, and wicked as the sensation was, Isaac no longer expected oral pleasure. He felt her pause and heard her catch her breath. A second later, though, she had assumed her regal tone.

“Beg for mercy and it shall be granted. Beg for release and I’ll let you go. Beg for anything, and your soul stays lost forever.”

Fair is fair.

“On with it,” Isaac dared.

He could hear Greta’s breathing grow heavier. He could hear the candles burning and the stars spying. The molecules around them were alive and watching.

The air hissed, and a lick off a bonfire landed on him. He’d expected it, he’d braced himself, but he gasped from shock nonetheless. It happened again, three times, rapid and strong and sharp.

Greta paced around him, black belt trailing snakily from her pale hand. Isaac’s throat was drier than the planet Arrakis; his eyes were thirsty but he couldn’t blink, couldn’t look away from Greta. He wished she’d stop. He wished she’d go harder.

This sort of thing wasn’t exactly uncommon in the realm of speculative fiction. On more than one modeling-and-reading session, Isaac’s cheeks had colored over a particularly vivid description of physical punishment. He’d never looked to see how Greta reacted.

“Tell the ancients why this soul of yours matters so very much.”

Perhaps that had been an oversight.

Greta whipped his belt down again. And again.

“It just… does,” he gargled.

And yet again.

“I remain uncompelled.” She thrashed him at a rabid pace, her precision unsullied by her fury. Isaac held on and held still. He sucked at the air vampirically. And when she stopped, he felt rather sorry.

“You gave it away willingly,” she reminded.

“I didn’t know how it worked,” he argued. “Just like I didn’t know about this… particular… ordeal.”

Greta laid on another swift stroke.

“The ancients aren’t exactly forgiving of ignorance.”

Her next assault exiled all lines and protests from Isaac’s mind. It obliterated his mind altogether. He was his body more than he had ever been, everything that wasn’t pain and elation and heat and the urgency of skin was zapped up by a vortex.

Isaac was no stranger to abuse. This was new.

Greta knelt in front of him and searched his face. He thought he saw a flash of concern in a teenage girlfriend’s eye, but the cold wrath of an ancient arbiter soon masked it.

“It’s only a soul,” she whispered soothingly. “Wouldn’t it be easier just to give up?”

“Not. Happening.”

A mournful sigh. Isaac clenched his eyes. He didn’t have long to wait.

The ritual possessed him. It was hungrier than before; a cyclone gathering urgency and speed. Valiantly though he bore it, his knees still buckled as each bite gnashed harder than the last. When he closed his eyes he saw sparks and hands and paint and large clear eyes, heard the laughter of goons and felt the unglossed lips of a beautiful oddball; when he opened his eyes, all shapes smeared together. He tried hard as he could to control those parts of his body that proved hardest to control. He tried not to pant like a dog.

A whisper breathed against Isaac’s ear: “I like it when you gasp.”

At that moment, his whole body dissolved into the wooden stool, and the transmogrification of his molecules was complete.

“You’re up for more, then?”

Or not quite.

When the arbiter handed down her next set of trials, something changed. The sensation became less shocking-shuddery and more scathingly painful. There was a hard, ruthless edge now; a merciless progression. Instead of measured strokes doled out like questions in a test, it was a long stream of ritual justice that descended.

“All you’ve got,” he challenged.

She was perfectly willing to oblige.

“But why do you really deserve to be restored?” she started again, landing a particularly vicious cut on the top of his thighs. A vague thought occurred to Isaac: I can’t believe she’s doing this with my own clothes.

“Wouldn’t you prefer – ” another searing crack – “to be invisible?”

“No.” More a grunt than a reply.

“I’ve heard otherwise.”

“Well, you’re wrong.”

“Really? Well… ” Her fingers latched gently to the seam of his underwear. “Let’s make you a little more visible, then.” She dragged them down, nails lightly scratching the surface of his legs as she did so.

It was Greta’s turn to gasp. A small gasp, but enough to make Isaac realize that his hindquarters must’ve greatly expanded their usual color palette. He felt a twinge of pride, a prickle of concern and a mighty desire to survey his battle scars himself.

“This is hurting you quite a lot,” came a voice that was certainly trying to be the mystic arbiter’s, but carried more than a hint of Greenbaum.

“This? This is like… an ice cream fucking sundae.”

The back of his shins absorbed a swift kick. “Ancient sacred ritual!” she hissed.

“Sorry. I mean… I… Yes. Pain, trials. Very painful trials.”

“That’s it – ” The voice this time was unmistakably Greenbaum, but the stunning collision of blows was without question the work of a wrathful primeval sprite. Isaac gulped back the snark and took it.

“It’s not as easy as you thought it would be, is it?” Greta had developed a rhythm whereby belt lashes served as punctuation. “It never is, you know. Things of value have their cost.”

The leather found its mark once more; Isaac wondered groggily if Greta was attempting to paint a picture on him, in the medium of bruise.

“You thought you could just come here, demand we relinquish what you’d already surrendered, and not even give us a good reason? It’s not enough, Traveler, to say you’ve earned your soul.”

She held the whip still for a moment, and leaned over him in that predatory way.

“Tell us why.”

“I…”

She snapped the belt down, as if to preempt any waffling. “Be… specific!”

“Everyone needs a soul!”

“That smacks of generalism.” Emphasis on ‘smack.’

“I need it to be a person.”

“Is that what you want? You could be a wraith, you know. You could be smoke. You could disappear.”

“I don’t want to be invisible! I can’t be invisible…”

“How come?”

This dialogue, monumentally frustrating to Isaac’s battered nerves, was interrupted by agitated strokes. Sometimes, though, Greta would stop her onslaught to glide the leather softly over his ridged, mottled skin.

“I…”

The pain besieged him; wrapped him like heavy winds that thrust him headlong into a cloud. It wasn’t a cruel pain, though, not like Josh’s fist or Aidan’s laughter; it wasn’t trying to smash him apart or liquefy him. It was carrying him, to a brave new world, a galaxy far far away, a place no Isaac had ever gone before...

The vortex zapped back the sounds. He saw the sun shining, and a girl with loose hair and long limbs look up from a chalk drawing. He watched her crinkle her nose, stare at the sky, examine him, smile, laugh. He watched her laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

“Why do you need it?” Howled the arbiter.

“Because…”

“Why?” With a fierce blow.

“For the girl I love!”

The air around them seemed to choke.

“For her… to be worthy of her…”

“What her?” Breathed Greta.

“Her… She… ” Isaac had endured his trials, but at this point he was heaving over the stool, hanging on with all brash fiery will to his last shred of control.

“A girl you couldn’t begin to imagine,” he gasped. “She has hair like… ” Isaac wished he were a poet. “She has the hair of a genius,” he finished with false confidence.

“A genius?”

“She has the hands of a master. She’s an artist. Everything she sees is… layered, and extraordinary; it’s like she has six extra brains to think with that nobody else has. She can always surprise you. No one knows her. See, she pretends to be this inaccessible little demon, but really – really she’s kind. And extremely hot.”

“Oh?”

“Oh, devastating. And she’s brave. Strong. Don’t you get it? Anything less won’t cut it. She deserves somebody whole, mind and body, will and soul – for her I can’t be invisible and I can’t be half a man – for us. I… That’s why, goddamn it. Us.”

The only thing audible was a cascade of heavy breathing, but it was impossible to tell anymore from which set of lungs it came.

“Then…”

That’s it, this is it, she’s giving in this time…

But instead of the expected victory, Isaac received three more blazing lashes, the most brutal of the whole lot. He choked, he jerked; he did not beg. And then he felt Greta’s shaking body collapse on top of his.

Her hands traveled over his bare, sweating shoulders with a softness belied by urgency. Her breath on his skin felt like balm, like dew on a dry leaf.

“To be honest, the mortification of the flesh interests me far more than the fate of souls,” she whispered.

The fingers wandered down his spine.

“What a very good soul, though… What a quality choice of soul.”

“Greta…”

“Not yet,” she murmured. Her hands found his hips, his cheeks, his bruises. They ran soothing warmth over his goosebumps. The trailed up his arms and across his back; up and down; soft vertical brushstrokes. A longing to touch back throttled Isaac. Finally Greta disentangled herself from her victim.

First he felt her untie his wrists. And then he felt her lifting him tenderly from his prone position, and guiding his hands to his pants.

“Get dressed,” she said. “And close your eyes.”

Isaac did as told – though he only obeyed “get dressed” in as far as his underwear and trousers were concerned. He closed his eyes and tried to listen for Greta’s movements, to wait for her scent to surround him again. But he was still dazed and his senses muffled. Her body eluded him.

This happened. It was real. Ow. Drew won’t believe it. Ow, ow, god. I’m not telling Drew. Drew, get out of my head. Remember, how this actually happened? Ow. Where is she?

And then she was close, the heat was unmistakable.

“Open,” she commanded.

When he did, he found that the heat was caused by a candle flame, thrust precariously close to his chin.

“I’ve restored your soul,” she whispered solemnly. She thrust the candle in his hands, and fell back.

Isaac blinked, held up his light, and took a look around.

His own face surrounded him.

The drapings had dropped from all the easels, revealing a dozen portraits of Isaac, the Once Invisible. On his stool, reading. In the school parking lot, reading. Dashing across a starscape, sabre aloft. In a field with Greta. So this is what the center of a kaleidoscope feels like. He couldn’t blink his eyes.

This was not him. The guy in these pictures was not social refuse or hopeless molecules. He wasn’t a sad-note genre-dork or punching bag or pee-jar target. In one of the paintings he recognized his black eye – she made it look noble, she made it look like a piece to a story. An epic. The guy in these pictures was relaxed and resilient; he had a knowing look; hints of wit around his smile. He wasn’t normal, certainly, but the way she painted him you could tell he was warped in all the right ways.

“You said… You said it was just one…”

“Oh, Isaac.” She smiled kindly. “I finished that assignment an era ago. How long do you think it takes me to paint a picture?”

Now he could blink. “So. All this time. Just a big scam to seduce me.”

“I couldn’t afford to lose you as a muse, could I.”

“These are incredible. You’re a genius.”

She giggled and removed the space between them. “You mean, my hair’s a genius.”

“Shut up!” He kicked her with his toes.

“Did you know you made such pretty sounds when you’re in pain? No wonder those ogres like beating you up so much.”

“But it’s not nearly as fun when they do it.” He kissed her nose.

“Hey. Ritual trials are not supposed to be fun.”

“Well, too bad you suck at ritual trials then.”

She yanked his face down to hers and kissed his mouth aggressively. “Watch it, minion.”

“Wait! I thought I was your muse.”

“When you’re flippant I demote you to minion.”

Everything became quiet then. Greta’s hands were closed around his back, his hands held her elbows, and suddenly he felt very self-conscious as they looked at one another. He couldn’t think of a thing to say, a place to go, a laugh to break the quiet – and she, of course, kept staring with that intensity only she could accomplish.

“I like you a lot, Greta,” he said. He winced at the echo of his stupidity, but when he squeezed his eyes open, he saw that Greta hadn’t found it stupid at all.

“Thank you,” she said. She reached a finger to his face and trailed it gently along his forehead, over his eyes and nose, to his lips and chin, where she rested it thoughtfully.

“Isaac… ” She pulled her finger back to her own mouth, and bit it. “You are wonderful in all the ways that you are.”

He knew exactly what she meant.

“However…”

“What?”

“If you find that you absolutely must engage in prolonged public kissing to uphold your masculine honor, could you arrange it so the lips belong to me?”

Isaac’s cheekbones flushed more startlingly than his fresh welts. He swallowed.

“Yes. Yes, sure. Definitely. I will do that.”

They held onto each other tighter.

“Good then.”

Isaac ran his hand through her brilliant, wild hair. In Greta Greenbaum’s eyes, he saw forgiveness and admiration; he saw fear and friendship. He watched them, the eyes that had always seen him, seen all of him, and all that he could be; he watched them until he saw them glimmer with a different sort of feeling, until they closed from the pressure of craving, and watching became kissing, and kissing became traveling — a starlit journey across the newborn universe that they alone could inhabit.

***

[the end]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Warped," Part II

Evan leaned back against the cliff, exhausted by his sabotage of the Temporal Router. He closed his eyes and began to consider his strategies, once the Clock Guards inevitably regrouped. A voice interrupted his thoughts.

“This isn’t the safest place for a nap, you know.”


Evan’s eyes popped open and he instinctively looked behind him – of course, there was nothing but solid rock.


“I’m quite sure there’s no one else here.”


The speaker was a woman, or perhaps had been a woman once. She had the grace of a swan and her hair streamed from her head like trails of light off a shooting star. Beneath magnificent eyelashes shone silver eyes that could have pierced the night itself.
Evan gaped.

“How… How can you see me?”


She spoke gravely. “I am Silverlash. My eyes have been washed by droplets from the Pool of Immortal Truth. I see all that is true, even that which men wish hidden. You are as clear to me as children’s lies and villains’ secrets.”


Evan could hardly believe it. None of his enemies, not the Clock Guards or the Wrestling Team Warlocks or the Cyborgs of Pep Squad had ever been able to penetrate his shield of invisibility.


“Whose side are you on?” he croaked.


“I do not follow the loyalties and enmities of men, I am on the side of truth. I came here to right the wrongs being done against nature by the time-meddlers. And you? What exactly are you doing here, hiding from truth itself?”


“It’s not a disguise, it’s part of who I am,” Evan explained. “It helps me in my mission.”


“And what is your mission?” “The same as yours. I’m here to fight the Clock Guards.”

Silverlash suddenly reached out and grabbed his arm. “Then come with me. We haven’t got much time…”


Isaac Levinson had finally found an intoxicant better than sci-fi.

It wasn’t a girlfriend. No, it was beyond that – Greta was a whole new galaxy. For the first time in lightyears, Isaac looked forward to school. To school. Because even though he didn’t have any classes with Greta, he was almost certain to see her in the hall. Out of sensitivity to Drew, she didn’t join them for lunch every day, and never interrupted a comic collaboration or Babylon 5 debate. But school wasn’t important, anyway. School was a bearable monotony, a slightly-sweetened toil, to be endured before afternoons of freedom and fascination in the Greenbaums’ attic.

She painted. He read. She had him read aloud to her, and began to take interest in the mystical worlds to which he traveled. As always, she spoke whatever came to her mind, and soon they were building new worlds together, unraveling stories, finding magical motives behind the most mundane objects and aspects of their lives. Greta’s eyes caught colors that Isaac had never even noticed. There were miracles he’d walked right by. And best of all, there was the beautiful, warm reality of Greta; the living, thinking girl behind the mask of eccentricity that protected her in the Warp.

Making out with her was so awesome.

His parents had no clue. The less time their son spent holed up in his thicket of solitude, the better; and they were hardly over-protective of his virtue. Isaac saw no compelling reason to invite Greta to dinner just so Mom and Dad could not politely as she held forth on severed ears and pickled limbs.

People at school were just as oblivious. Greta wasn’t swimming in gal pals and Isaac remained invisible to the masses. Drew knew the score, of course. He was gracious enough about the physical Greta, but less indulgent of the intrusion of Silverlash into his and Isaac’s mythology.

“Please don’t forget that this is a serious creative endeavor, and not material to keep your left hand occupied.”

“Got it.”

“You know. When your right hand is busy jerking off.”

“I got it, Drew.”

Drew approved of Greta, though, given that she was female, and spoke to Drew sometimes about things like perspective and shadow, and listened gravely when he replied.

The only other person (besides Josh) who observed anything new was the clerk at the bookstore. He gave Isaac a knowing wink when he spotted him browsing the art history section.

It was a new dawn, all right. He wasn’t sure if there were names for this already – it bore no resemblance to the dull rituals his classmates performed in parking lots and on Facebook profiles; he found no models in TV sitcoms or cartoon embraces. Sitting on an attic stool for hours reading The Lathe of Heaven and discussing the Surrealists, kissing goodbye after an evening spent imagining an inter-dimensional space island and the customs of its inhabitants… They shared a Thing, but its replica could not be found inside the Warp.

Fine by me. Isaac couldn’t care less about weirdness anymore. He was challenged and inspired and frightened and glad, and this was the whole point of being alive. As he left his locker and headed for the door, he considered his contentment, the giddy zen of being Isaac Levinson. But a forgotten fray of doubt dangled from the edge of his confidence; as he cleared the flagpole, a pulse of undefined unease ran through him. He tried to ignore it. Contentment. Zen. Greta’s cheekbones. Greta’s everybones. But it remained, persistent and puzzling… Something noted and discarded, something that commanded his attentions, or should have… And then he placed it. Fourth period. He had walked down the English hall on his way to the drinking fountain, and through Mr. Miller’s window he caught a glimpse of something, the meaning of which was only now fully registering in Isaac.

It was Marisol. Mono-free and groomed to perfection, chewing her pencil and texting beneath her desk.

Isaac froze a few feet from the bike rack as the realization hit him. He was there approximately half a second before Josh’s cohort struck.

“Showtime, pissface.”

Josh and Aidan’s minions hoisted Isaac’s arms behind him and held him tight, at an inhuman proximity to their ripe armpits. They dragged, Josh talked.

“We’re kind of hurt by the whole avoiding act, Levinson. We just wanna make you a star.”

“Of course, your sabbatical did give us some time to re-develop the project,” Aidan added. “I’m sure you’ll be impressed by our creative progress.”

“It’s a whole new vision, Princess Leia. We’ve given the script a thorough re-write, and you’ll be happy to hear that you have not only way more lines, but costumes, props – ”

Jeff Clark, a minion of the first order, helpfully proffered a shopping bag. Isaac could only see the topmost contents – a large black dildo encircled by a lime-green cock ring, a pair of furry handcuffs and a gold-sequined bikini.

“…And blocking, stunts… Not to mention production value. Check it.” Aidan flashed a state-of-the-art digital video camera, red Record light throbbing evilly.

“But I think we’re most proud about what we’ve accomplished in the distribution department. See, not only are we going to throw this on YouTube, but we’ve managed to hack the e-mail lists of the entire student body. And alumni. And, uh – what’s that? Ah yes. Staff and parents. So the world as you know it is gonna have the chance to see your breakout performance, sunshine.”

Isaac began to struggle. “What’s wrong with you? This isn’t funny – you’re deranged – ”

The dickheads held him fast.

“Such a diva.”

“Can you just quit the hissy fit and learn your lines? Otherwise, you know, Aidan here is gonna run your dick over with his car.”

“Don’t waste the gas, I bet my little sister’s tricycle would do the trick.”

There were things he would bear. Names, taunts, bruises real and psychological. There were things he could bear. And then there were his parents – and his girlfriends’ parents – watching him thrust a plastic penis under the nose of Marisol Rojas while sporting a sparkly two-piece.

He fought harder.

Josh kicked him and Jeff kneed him in the back. “I see your agent didn’t fill you in on the terms, shitwad. See the thing is, the alternatives to cooperation are significantly worse.”

Marisol was in sight now. Inhaling iced lattes with her girlfriends at the edge of the courtyard. Isaac’s desperation reached Fahrenheit 451. Time to send this story up in flames.

“I get that you guys really like groping me and dressing me up in bikinis, but do you think you could take out your repressed homosexuality on each other, for once?”

It was Aidan who kneed him, in the balls this time, and Josh who delivered the punch to his face. And Ms. Stevens, the Algebra teacher, who called them into the principal’s office.

Even as his enemies’ sentence of suspension was announced, Isaac’s relief was mired in the urge to vomit and the grim knowledge that things were only going to get worse. This was punctuated by Josh’s parting words: “It’s only gonna get worse.” And the promise from Aidan – “Can’t run forever, bitch.”

Contentment. Zen. The abyss of unending despair.

* * *

“It’s almost ready, you know.”

“It is?” Isaac set down the book he’d been reading aloud to Greta, whose head rested upon his leg. “What is?”

“You, you dolt. Your portrait.”

“Oh, right.”

“Do you think I’ve just been inviting you here to engage in juvenile indecency?”

“Well. I would, if we ever did anything my grandmother’s garden club would find indecent.”

“Is that a complaint?”

“An observation and nothing more.”

“Would you rather I paint you nude?”

“Sure, if you don’t think you’ll get too cold.”

Greta sat up, claimed his book and used it to smack him in the head. “Are you going to congratulate my accomplishment or not?”

“Absolutely.” Isaac seized the book and set it aside, and took Greta’s hands in his. “Congra – hey, wait a sec. I haven’t seen the picture yet, how do I know it’s any good?”

“Isaac, I liked you better when you didn’t say words. Remember? Before the verbose, thrilled-with-his-own-wit incarnation of Isaac, there was this shy, unassuming fellow who would politely sit still and be painted, and occasionally kiss me. He’s welcome back anytime.”

Isaac kissed Greta.

“Well. How very literal of you.”

“Are you going to unveil the masterpiece?”

Greta nonchalantly fingered the tangles in her hair. “At some point.”

“Why not the point of now?”

Dismay darkened her eyes. “Isaac. How can you be so cavalier? This moment is the culmination of weeks upon weeks of effort, of… I mean, where is your sense of solemn ritual?”

Isaac caught it now — the glint in Greta’s eye, behind dismay, that meant there were schemes afoot.

“Ritual, huh.”

“Consider all the implications of this… The reveal… I mean… ” Greta leapt to her feet and began to pace, transfixed by visions.

“The ancients claim that whosoever captures your image, captures your soul,” she declared.

“Which ancients?”

She peered intensely into depths none but she could perceive. “Our ancients.”

A hint of light shone on the depths. Tremors of excitement coursed through Isaac’s limbs.

“Then… I’ve got to win my soul back.”

“Yes.” The attic air seemed to shimmer around Greta. An impudent hint of a smile intruded upon her solemnity. “The ritual.”

“What’s the ritual?”

“You must prove yourself worthy to possess your soul.”

“Pain and trials, you mean.”

“Of course.”

“Is my permanently dislocated nose not sufficient?”

Greta scoffed. “That’s not ritualistic, that’s barbaric.”

“Just saying, as far as pain and suffering goes, I’ve had more than average – ”

“No,” Greta murmured. “This will be completely different.”

She bent down to Isaac and took his face in her paint-flecked hands. “Isaac Levinson, are you prepared to prove yourself?”

* * *

The reprieve at school, besides being brief, was also not really a reprieve. Though Josh and Aidan were gone, they had exacted phase one of their vengeance: YouTube was now the proud host of a music video starring Isaac’s photoshopped head, Barbara Bush’s body and Winnie the Pooh in an unspeakable position. Cyndi Lauper’s “Touch Myself” played in the background.

Par for the Warp.

Worse was how the outer circle of Summerville jerks constantly made Isaac aware of his vulnerability. In the locker room, the corridor, during class, the bathroom– they were there, with insults and threats, with crude sketches, with kicks to the shins. Reminders that the show must, and would, go on.

Having reached the definitive conclusion that he could not learn judo, Isaac tried to focus on the Ritual instead.

It absorbed Greta completely. She insisted that Isaac not be privy to the details of his ordeal – “wouldn’t that just completely ruin it?” — yet her urge to give orders had not waned. The date, the time, what he should wear, where he should go, even what he should say. At least she hadn’t mentioned anything about gold sequins.

Marisol was everywhere. The library, the parking lot, the computer lab – always surrounded by girls with glossy hair and glittering lips. The Mocha, of course, outshone them all. She seemed curiously immune to the elements – dirt, dust, oil, static cling, perspiration, pores. It was unadulterated, magazine-grade, CW-style Hotness; and the girl who possessed it wielded a power more fearsome than Josh Elwood’s biceps.

“You could move to Arkansas,” Drew suggested.

“Arkansas?”

“Or Jupiter.”

But Isaac was fresh out of rocket launchers. All his options – staying home sick, hiding, running, fake moustaches, hiding – were but temporary remedies.

“Look at it this way,” Drew consoled, “it’s not like you were cool to begin with.”

When not submerged in mortal terror, Isaac was lost in a fantasy – not of Middle Earth or Caprica or any distant starlands, but of posing on a stool for Greta Greenbaum.

It was the only world he needed.

Evan and Silverlash peered down upon the entrance to the secret lair.

“Once I see through their plan, we can put a stop to this once and for all.”

“You mean, time won’t be warped anymore?”


Silverlash looked straight into his eyes. “No,” she said. “We will be free.”


Evan surged with excitement – could this really be the end of his torment?

Silverlash began heading down the path toward the Clock Guards' cellar door.


“Wait!” Evan grabbed her arm. “What happens when they see you? Don’t underestimate the Clock Guards — they’re dangerous.”


“Truth knows no fear.”
Evan wished he could say the same for himself. “Still. Please – be cautious.”

Silverlash wrapped her hands around Evan’s. They were much warmer than he’d expected.


“The time for caution is over.” She leaned very close to the face that only she could see. “So the question for you, Evan Kent, is – are you ready?”


One afternoon, in the middle of American History, a bee sting threw Mr. Kirkwood into anaphylactic shock, cutting the period swiftly in half. This meant thirty extra minutes with Children of Dune. Normally, Isaac spent History reading under his desk anyway, but today he’d been preoccupied with doodling Silverlash in the margins of his spiral notebook. So preoccupied he wasn’t even troubled by Jeff Clark’s presence three rows back. When Kirkwood was collected by the school nurse, Isaac joined the throng of giddy teens who spilled into the halls, and split from them with a turn toward the library as they processed to the courtyard.

A Bueller-esque boldness inspired him as he approached the library. The English lit classroom was just two doors away, and since he’d taken the quiet liberty of memorizing Greta’s schedule, he knew she was sitting near the window at this very moment. There were few things on this earth that Isaac would choose over a chapter of Herbert, and one of them was just behind that classroom door. Experiencing a jubilation unique to adolescents liberated by unexpected bee allergies, he put his face against the glass and tried to grab Greta’s attention through the power of his manly stare.

Instead, he attracted the attention of Ruby Edwards, who rolled her eyes and poked Greta with a pencil. Greta’s expression did not change as she comprehended her muse’s sheepish grin, but Isaac had become proficient at reading her blanknesses. He fell back from the door. In a few minutes, she’d request to be excused, and their kisses would be all the sweeter for having been freed from the grip of clock-guarding authority.

He dawdled at the end of the hall, reflecting on the inanity of his existence before he found his long-haired artist; the mental and bodily torments; the pain of unrecognized loneliness.

On the thought of pain, a finger tapped his shoulder. Isaac took only the tiniest fraction of a moment to realize it didn’t belong to Greta, but to Jeff Clark, whose other hand clutched a murky jar. It wasn’t til the contents were oozing down his face that Isaac understood what it held – Tuna Surprise, floating in what was probably Jeff’s own urine.

Two things happened. A cell phone snapped a picture – maybe several cell phones, who bothered counting – and Greta Greenbaum emerged from English Comp. Jeff-n-pals were jeering and cheering and throwing assorted litter at him, as always. But the sight of Greta sucked all the noise away.

He couldn’t look at her.

Isaac turned back to his tormentors, but came up with nothing — no searing retort, no deft right hook. Not even the chutzpah to laugh. He was liquid. He was vapor. His failure reeked worse than the slop on his face. He shoved past Jeff and dashed down the hall. He was trailed by a promise he barely heard: “Cologne for your lover, Romeo.”

Isaac did not return to class that day. If it were up to him, he wouldn’t return to school the next day, or Ever, or Ever times the universe. But it wasn’t up to him. And this fact pounded at his skull harder than the water that spewed from above, as he slouched dismally in the shower.

I. Am. Fucked.

And not in any way he’d ever fantasized.

Maybe Drew was right – maybe it didn’t matter, because what happened to social untouchables like himself made no difference to anyone who counted. He didn’t have popularity to lose. Play on, dickwads. Let them lead him like a lamb to slaughter before Miss Teen Queen Primadonna and roll tape. Who cared? Why should he? Give up already. Assimilate with the Borg.

And then her eyes dug into his skull, like a pair of spades. That’s why it matters, idiot. That’s why the shiny illusions he’d cast aside in junior high – dignity, mettle, self-respect – were suddenly worth more than the One Ring. For her. A girl who’d just witnessed his enemies cover him with filth.

And watched him run.

Say what you like about Greta Greenbaum: She’d never run. Greta would’ve ripped out his spleen. If they’d hit back, she’d have stood up again. Looked them in the eye. Batty, sure; but a braver bat there never was.

Way to go, Isaac. Way to prove exactly what you’re worth.

Isaac banged his head against the flaking tile. Isaac’s mother wondered aloud to Isaac’s father about their son’s unusually protracted stay in the shower. Visions of Josh, of Marisol, of Silverlash, of shrouded portraits and hidden heroes all bobbled around his brain, a carousel of scorn. Was it finished? Would she be too disgusted to ever look at him again? Would the destiny imposed on him by the Warp – a lifetime of unceasing humiliations – be too heavy a price for Greta’s lofty sensibilities? Did the whole cosmic joke of his existence amount to nothing more than a YouTube reel of shame?

The water ran cold. Isaac slumped lower into the tub. His life was over. Oh, what a life it had been. A quiet childhood of poor eyesight and even poorer hand-eye coordination; an adolescence steeped in crap; a brief jaunt into the marvels of young love. Over. He wasn’t a hero. He couldn’t even stay invisible.

“Isaac, honey? Don’t you think that’s enough showering for tonight?”

Of course it was too good to be true. The Warp didn’t look kindly on lepers finding happiness. And women didn’t look too kindly on cowards. Even the crazy ones.

Isaac stopped the faucet. He started to wean himself from the damp comfort of the bathtub, and then froze.

Crazy.

It was like watching photographs develop slowly under water. Greta brushing a wisp of hair from her face and picking up a paintbrush. Greta coaxing music from an antique gramophone. Slapping Josh’s face. Laughing at his jokes. Breathing fast and ragged as they kissed with the passion of the young, the heroic, the misunderstood. Asking him if he was ready to prove himself.

That night, it occurred to Isaac that perhaps he’d never fought back against the Warp because he’d never had anything worth fighting for.

One thing became clear through the shower steam and blurry snapshots. It was not the time, yet, to give up on Greta or himself. It was time to go completely mad.

***

At school the following day, when he wobbled toward his chosen fate on fish-stick legs, his confidence in the power of crazy had waned.

You are insane you are insane you are insane… The voice of reason sounded irritatingly like Drew. It was time to get his head in the game. Like a dog throwing off a flea, Isaac shook his head, and clutched the strap of his backpack with fury-driven purpose. Things can’t get worse, he reminded himself. The abyss of despair knows no worse. This voice was less convincing.

Blessedly, his feet lacked ears. And his feet moved ruggedly forward, past the gym, the science hall, the auditorium — all the way to the East wing lockers. At which point they stopped. Isaac thought of Greta and pushed them onward again. Then finally, he was there.

“Hi, Marisol.”

The hottest girl at Summerville High shut her locker and stared at Isaac.

“Do I know you?”

“There’s absolutely no reason you should. I’m Isaac Levinson. I… go here.”

At Marisol’s side stood a midriff-baring friend with shiny gold highlights. She spoke up. “I know you – you’re that kid from You Tube. The Winnie the Pooh vid.”

“Could I talk to you for a minute? It won’t take long.” Isaac twitched beneath Goldilocks’ contempt. “Someplace else, if you don’t mind?”

“Maybe he’ll ask you to prom,” the friend sneered. “Look Mari, Jake’s waiting for me– TTYL.” She kissed Marisol’s cheek and disappeared.

Marisol looked at Isaac.

“I’m not going to ask you to the prom.”

She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Just be quick.”

Isaac led her into an empty classroom, and as soon as the door shut behind him he gulped a mighty breath and confessed without preamble. The whole banana — bikinis, cameras, cuffs n’all.

“So… So I just wanted you to know, before it happens, that I’m sorry,” he finished. “If I could fight them off I would, but when they want something…”

“They don’t care about anyone else,” said Marisol. She dropped into a desk and stared at the wall. Her voice was quiet.

“They never leave me alone. Their… jokes and texts and… They send me pictures… Always grabbing me. When I got sick they told everyone it was from making out with Josh Elwood.” She shook her head. “That’s one of the nicer rumors.”

The buzz of a prowling mosquito and distant lawnmower crawled through the silence. Isaac was stunned, not least by the fact that the otherworldly Marisol Rojas was speaking to him. Of her free, non-teacher-mandated will.

“Did you hear how they spiked my drinks at Alyson’s Halloween party? I knew there was alcohol, but this was way more than… I blacked out. Now every guy in the senior class has pictures of me kissing Amy Winterfield.”

“No… I didn’t know that.” Isaac, somehow, had not been invited to Alyson’s Halloween party. “But, I mean, yeah. They are obsessed with you.” Even more so, he realized with no small wonder, than they were with him. “God. That must suck.”

Marisol gave a bitter laugh. “I have a boyfriend in Colombia,” she said. “No one cares. They just act like he doesn’t matter, or tell me he’s cheating on me. Maybe he is. Maybe word’s reached Medellín that Marisol Rojas is a slut.”

They sat for a long time without saying anything, a shared history of torment throbbing between them.

“I wish I was an evil mastermind,” Isaac at last mustered. “I’d go Vader on all of ‘em if I could.”

Marisol caught Isaac straight in the eye.

“Then we will.”

The mosquito landed on Isaac’s shoulder and began to feast, but be didn’t notice. He was listening to Marisol unravel her plan, which was shockingly radical and unnervingly simple.

“Uh. I mean, I see how that could work, but I’m not sure I ought to… It’s just that I, see – ”

“Trust me, Isaac. They won’t bother you again.”

It was a hope more tantalizing than the Dark Side.

“And you?”

Marisol cocked her head back thoughtfully. “Maybe I will also key their cars.”

***

The Day of the Ritual had come. Greta had not approached Isaac since the Unfortunate Incident, and Isaac couldn’t bring himself to face her. Cue much sweating and insomnia. In response to these anxieties, Drew advised Isaac to call her, because “girls generally don’t appreciate when their boyfriends lure them out of class to make out and then run off and not talk to them for three days.” Sound advice, for Drew. Isaac called. She didn’t answer. Then he emailed. His inbox stayed empty. She eluded him at school, and when another six text messages went unheeded, Isaac found himself on the brink of a full-scale Ice-9 apocalypse.

And then, just after first period, he spied a minute scroll of brown parchment poking out of his locker. Inked on the scroll in calligraphic script was a single word: Tonight.

Game on.

A dance took place inside Isaac, involving the music of silver harps and the frenzied dislocation of all his inner organs.

Perhaps it’s what pure joy felt like.

A finger tapped his shoulder. Despite his vows of valor, it triggered a leap of alarm.

Marisol. “Today,” she whispered. “Be at the flagpole after school.” Without waiting for a blink of assent, she disappeared.

His organs started moving again, this time with less joy.

Drew materialized at his side. “Did Mocha Rojas just talk to you? Dude, since when did you become a chick magnet?”

“She thought I was someone else.”

“Oh.” Drew considered. “That makes a lot more sense.”

“Have you seen Greta?”

“Hey, I may be a certified Geekophiliac, but I still ascribe to bros before hos, man. I’m not trying to get with your girlfriend.”

“Right. The question I asked was, ‘have you seen Greta?’ ”

“No.” Drew’s brow contracted with concern. “Trouble in Metropolis? She’s gay, isn’t she. Art girls are always bicurious.”

“Drew. Please shut up.”

He obliged, and though both boys were temporarily distracted by the enthralling images Drew’s assumptions inspired, neither bothered to admit it.

“Look, I just wanted to tell you that I was passing by the computer lab and heard Fields and Elwood talking… I think they might be planning a parking-lot assault after school. I’d go out the back way if I were you.”

“What back way?”

“Find one.”

Isaac endured the rest of his classes with Cat’s Cradle tucked under his desk and The Empire Strikes Back screening on a mental loop. His eyes developed an intimate relationship with the second-hand of the clock. Two teachers noted his inattentiveness, three students tried to trip him between classes. Besides that, he went unnoticed. How he treasured it. The obscurity, the oblivion, the precious anonymity. Invisibility.

In less than an hour, he’d lose it forever.

The bell sounded, shrill and punctual, at 3.05. Isaac J. Levinson zipped his backpack, clasped the tiny scroll in his fist like a talisman and marched headlong into the waiting arms of destiny.

Destiny was a little late. With a gulp of conviction, Isaac planted his feet firmly in the grass at the flagpole and began to count. It took one-hundred-thirty-two seconds for the fates, in the form of Summerville High’s biggest douchebags, to arrive.

They didn’t touch him. They didn’t throw anything at his skull or light any of his possessions on fire.

“Big day, DiCaprio,” Josh grinned.

Isaac didn’t answer.

“I wouldn’t bother running… We’ve got you pretty decently surrounded.”

A peripheral glance revealed this to be true. Jeff flipped on the camera switch. Varsity Forward Number Twelve dumped the props bag on the ground.

“Now, before we take you to Wardrobe and Makeup, we’d like to make sure you’re familiar with the script. So please repeat after me – nice and loud for the camera now – ”

Isaac looked past Josh, desperate for a sign of hope, but all he saw was a crowd of curious classmates gathering; dozens upon dozens of casual spectators to malice.

“Aw. Don’t feel like rehearsing?” Aidan Fields dangled the bikini in front of Isaac’s nose. “Guess we can skip to wardrobe.”

“There could be production delays, from us vomiting at the sight of this.”

“Creative dedication, gentlemen.”

“Hey Levinson, do you know we’ve got your grandparents’ email on file from when they donated to the Alumni Fund? Wonder what they’ll think of your new career path.”

In a flash of emotion certainly motivated by Drew, Isaac wondered which geek traitor taught these dickheads how to hack.

“This is getting boring. It’s go time, Levinson.”

The ring of evil was closing in. Isaac’s palms felt like a swamp. Maybe the plan was canceled. Maybe the plan had just been a joke all along; maybe it was even part of the set-up. It didn’t matter. He was alone.

Isaac met Josh Elwood squarely in the eye, stepped toward him, and said the first thing that hopped into his mind:

“Did you ever cut off your own ear and mail it to a prostitute?”

One moment. Isaac’s question knocked Josh off his guard for one single moment. And this proved to be all the time it took for Josh to pause in his advance, for Aidan to mutter a “wtf” and for Marisol Rojas to emerge from the spectators in a stride of fierce, determined beauty.

Without slowing her pace or turning aside, she knocked Aidan out of her way. Before Jeff’s camera, the onlooking masses of Summerville High and the American Flag, the hottest girl in the Western Hemisphere grabbed Isaac Levinson’s face and kissed him with open mouth.

It was not a quick kiss. It was not a soft kiss. For what could have been five generations of the Starfleet, Ewok and the Mocha made out like lovers reuniting after World War I. She stroked his hair, his arms, his back; she kissed him all over his face and neck. She shoved him against the flagpole, nearly cracking his skull in a display of passion. Isaac gripped the scroll in his hand as if his life depended on it.

When they finally disentangled, Marisol knocked the douche-throng a cheerful smile. She lifted the glittery bathing suit, which had fallen to the ground when Aidan’s fingers turned to stone, and raised an eyebrow at Josh.

“Nice outfit,” she said. She took a moment to survey the various items spilled on the lawn, then looked back and forth between Josh and Aidan a few times. “Oh – oh – ” a little laugh broke loose. “I didn’t realize you two were… Oh.” She bit back another smile.

As she walked away, she tossed a shampoo-commercial glance behind her shoulder. “See you later, Isaac,” she murmured, blowing him a kiss.

Eyes glazed, mouths agape, his former torturers fixed their stares on Isaac. He smiled, and shrugged, gave a shake of his head that suggested beautiful women often inexplicably set themselves upon him and feasted on his lips. Then he hoisted his bookbag and clapped a manly hand on Josh’s shoulder.

“I just want you both to know, I fully support and respect your relationship.”

It took much longer than a moment for the guys to return to reality and register their fury, and by that time, Isaac was long gone.

Triumph (and something like seasickness) buoyed Isaac on his way to the bike rack. He could feel the eyes of his classmates, could hear their whispers, but it didn’t bother him – he sucked energy from it, he barely felt his feet touch pavement. He paused near Josh’s jeep. In the name of the nation of Colombia, he dragged his key along its fresh-painted left flank.

Then he saw it. The tails of an old trench coat, streaming locks of wild hair blown by the breeze – disappearing at a gallop from the parking lot.

“Wait!” He called after her – it was her, wasn’t it? – but he was too far away; he wrenched his bike free and mounted it like a Samurai, but by the time he rounded the gate there was no one in sight.

Isaac sped around in a kind of frenzy, wondering how a human being could possibly outrun a bike and trying to predict where Greta Greenbaum would most likely go – park, coffee shop, art store, abandoned Seventh-Day Adventist Church. He called her – zilch to the power of zero. Finally he went to her house. He banged the door and rang the bell with a zealotry approaching OCD, but no one answered.

The roll of paper had never left his hand. He uncurled his fist and stared at the message: Tonight.

Clinging to hope harder than he’d clung to the scroll itself, Isaac went home to prepare himself for the Ritual.

***









Come back tomorrow for the third and final installment of the Randomly Long And Strange Novella, "Warped"!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Warped," Part I

I feel compelled to start this post with a few hundred or so disclaimers. But that seems like a rather hostile way to introduce a work of fiction. And why should I not leave the judging up to the readers, as is rightful?

Here is what I will say: This is the story I wrote in response to This Post. Except, it's not a story. It's what I like to call, "A CP(?) Novella in Three Parts." The riddle of the question mark is yours to unravel.

These were my wildcards: a watermelon-seed spitting contest, kingfishers, a first kiss, "ultimate mocha," a cellar door, a nice but shy-at-first sci-fi geek, a grandfather clock.

I will take the opportunity to also add this: In writing out the list of original wildcards, I realize I forgot to include one of them, and will now be hastening to slip it in somewhere in Part(s) 2 and/or 3. If you read the whole super-long thing, you can guess which one!

***

"Warped"


What’s it like to have the sex appeal of a gay hobbit?

From his thirteenth birthday til the day Greta Greenbaum asked him to sit for a portrait, Isaac Levinson was a hostage in an Impenetrable Totalitarian Time Warp. Also known as high school. Everything before 8th grade he flavored generously with the spice of nostalgia; Little League was all home runs and hot dogs, hardly a memory of wedgies. He forgot that most of his classmates aimed for his ear during the watermelon-seed-spitting contest and recalled only the sweetness of the juice.

Like he can help it, he thinks third base involves LARPing.

The details of the past were beside the point, anyway. Maybe he was never exactly Señor Popular, but still — things would be different if Cousin Phil hadn’t given him a copy of Ender’s Game for his bar mitzvah.

Got any tips for us, Lord Sir Space Fag? You know, moves, maybe some Dungeons & Dragons stratagems in case we wanna score at the next convention?

That damn book. It changed his life. In honor of his manhood, Isaac also received a bike, a digital camera and a sum of cash his mother told him would be impolite to repeat – but those he barely noticed and soon forgot. He spent the Hava Nagila cloistered in the cloakroom, lost. Though his pimples and cracking larynx suggested manhood was still some years off, Isaac had found his destiny.

He finished the entire Ender series in six days. Soon followed Stephenson, Wells, Tolkien, Asimov, Heinlein. The digital camera slumbered in its original packaging. The bike served mainly to transport him to the bookstore.

Like most adolescents who rush full-throttle at that which gives them joy, Isaac soon discovered the price to be paid for passion in junior high.

What’s Klingon for ‘I’m a cocksucking elf?’

He figured out quickly (and painfully) that it didn’t do any good to draw distinctions between Otherworlds for the benefit of certain prepubescent males.

He was Trekkie, hobbit, faggot, Spock, dork-ass, Jew-baca, Java the Butt, and the perennial favorite, retard. They picked him last in gym. Flushed his books down the toilet. Flushed his face down the toilet. Threatened, and sometimes perpetrated, violence against his person. Created false profiles for him on the internet wherein he professed lust for Alien Worm Ladies.

His parents suggested he read less.

“Books are the only reason I haven’t gouged out my own brain with a spork,” Isaac told his parents.

“Oh. Okay, then.”

Life pursued its cruel course for three years. Three wretched, earth-shackled years. His face broke out and his voice broke down, his arms grew too long and his legs too skinny and his hair too shiny, his body developed a keen sense of when and where it could rebel in the most humiliating fashion.

Like today. Locker room. Isaac had been withdrawn in some corner, working on his latest telemolecular transmogrification. That is, willing himself into invisibility. The Others were vulgar and vocal. It had been diverting, calling attention to Isaac’s supposed Middle-Earthly impotence, but they eventually moved on.

“Serious man, Crissy was looking at him like she wanted cock sandwich for lunch today.”

“Whatever, I don’t chase the chubbies.” Such was the assertion of Aidan Fields, the ‘him’ in question.

“Why so picky, Fields? Still holding out for the ultimate mocha?” Josh punched Aidan in the arm, to a lusty roar of approval.

Josh Elwood: Captain of the basketball team, douchebag of repute. Aidan Fields: Second in bro-mand. The ultimate mocha: Marisol Rojas, or more accurately, oral pleasure from Marisol Rojas. She was a Colombian exchange student whose legs and accent provoked what Isaac considered a disturbingly colonial reaction among the males of Summerville High.

Alas, he too was a victim of disturbing reactions. And his charming peers were quick to note them, cracking both jokes and towels.

“Yo, Ewok wants to sip the mocha!”

“Sweet. Let’s go find Marisol and ask her, all right, buddy?”

“Would you like her to dress up like E.T. for you?”

“ ‘Ooh, talk dirty to me Marisol… Tell me I’m sexy like Chewbaca…”

“How’s she gonna talk with her mouth full?”

“Please, it’s Levinson. Her mouth won’t be full.”

Even inside the Warp, there were rules, and one was that gym could not last for infinity. At lunch, Drew tried to cheer him up.

“Want me to ask Sam if he’ll lend us some pot?”

“No thanks.”

Isaac preferred his mind altered by books and films alone.

“It’s supposed to entirely radicalize the experience of Space Odyssey.”

“Maybe some other time.”

Drew believed strongly in geek solidarity. He took such relish in his perceived status that he basically nominated himself for the position of Isaac’s aide-de-camp. Even though Drew was really more comics-and-gadgets and not particularly well-versed in the genres. Still, a friend’s a friend. Isaac didn’t feel very much nerd empowerment. He just liked certain books, that’s all.

“What do you think. Should I learn judo?”

Drew appraised him. “Could you learn judo?”

“I haven’t tried.”

“Your athletic record doesn’t point to probable success, though.” Drew knocked back a tater tot. “You need a lady.”

“Yeah, you’re really the guru there.”

“Hey. I have a girlfriend.”

“For the last time, Drew, Jenny is not your girlfriend. She’s your lab partner.”

“Our love is real.”

“It’s not love, it’s an alphabetical coincidence.”

“She’s into me.”

“You’re like a stereotype of yourself, you know that?”

Whatever Drew’s quirks, he remained Isaac’s best non-fictional friend in the world. They were collaborating on a comic series (“graphic novel,” Isaac told his parents) about a teenager who fought against the wily Clock Guards – a malevolent body bent on manipulating time — with his powers of invisibility. Evan S. Kent: conceived before Drew’s and Isaac’s reading level comprehended the silent ‘c’ in evanescent. What happens to kids who read more than they talk. What with the silent ‘c,’ the pastiche-bordering-on-plagiarism of the surname Kent and the practical difficulties of drawing an invisible hero, they were at something of a creative impasse.

“See, what you need is a theater chick,” Drew continued. “They’re into all the wizards and swords and shit. They put out if you take them to the Ren Faire.”

“Sure, Drew.”

Isaac avoided girls. As a demographic they were generally more subtle than the Summerville males, but Isaac was wise enough to the ways of the hall to know that they were equally capable of malice, and usually far more skilled at it. He had seen too many freshmen shredded like cafeteria slaw at the fangs of the she-pack.

Mostly he hung out with Drew.

And he expected life to continue as such – Drew’s basement, 7 hours a day of state-mandated torment, literary escapism – ad nauseam til graduation.

But that day, the fates had other plans for Isaac Levinson.

“I need a model.”

That’s right – she never really did ask.

Isaac poked his head out of his locker, where he’d been stashing his physics textbook. The words belonged to a female voice, which belonged to a female human. Said human female was currently leaning against the locker next to his, and clutching sketchpads to her chest.

It was a long time before he realized he was supposed to say something.

“Hi?”

“I need a model for a project in art class. I’m a painter.” Her eyes made a quick vertical scan. “You’ll do.”

He didn’t know what to do.

“Um.”

She launched herself from the lockers and headed toward the lunchroom. “Meet me in the lot behind the Drama Hall after Seventh,” she called as she disappeared down the corridor.

That was it. And it was a long time before Isaac realized he was supposed to move.

Every public institution for the education of teenagers has at least one girl like Greta Greenbaum. An artistic waif with a calm, unapologetic eccentricity that fended off both friends and enemies. She doodled naked centaurs in the margins of her math tests, occasionally ate raw beets as snacks and had never been known to throw a birthday party. She carried her books in a carpet bag. It was rumored she wore a necklace made of dead snails. Any objective observer would concede that Greta Greenbaum really was much weirder than Isaac.

And yet, no one ever bothered harassing Greta. She floated through high school in her own little orb; moved through it like a scientist in the jungle, her lab coat impervious to the grime.

Still, though. She was unambiguously a girl, and this was new territory for Isaac. He hadn’t even infiltrated the nerd-girl circles of Summerville. Sometimes a bookish girl with a kindly face would catch his eye, but he couldn’t bring himself to ever talk to one. What would he say? He read a lot, but he wasn’t a genius. He wasn’t handsome or hilarious or dangerous or experienced… He wasn’t anything. Just Isaac, behind a tattered edition of Slaughterhouse V.

A lie about a dentist appointment excused Isaac from comic-book duties with Drew. As soon as 7th period ended, he made for the parking lot outside the Drama wing.

She was drawing on the pavement in chalk. What could have been a fruit bowl, or a sea kraken. She seemed deeply preoccupied.

“Hey.” Isaac felt barely humanoid. A hex had thickened his tongue and all the moisture responsible for sliding words from his throat had migrated to his clammy palms. The sun gobbled his black T-shirt with fetishistic greed.

Greta Greenbaum ignored him.

Should have known. Isaac stiffened, instincts raring to crouch or flee or assume the fetal position, eyes scanning for hidden wolfettes waiting to pounce. Were they giggling behind the shrubbery, iPhones poised to capture his humiliation? He shouldn’t have been so naïve. Not even freakatron art girls would meet with Isaac for anything but a setup. Twit.

“Do you believe in a manifest hereafter?”

Isaac was so suspended by paranoia that he hardly realized Greta was talking. Not until she set her chalk down and twitched her head toward him, a hint of reproach behind her glasses.

“Well?”

“Pardon?”

“Afterlife. Do you believe in a tangible realm of post-vital souls, coexisting eternally in some numinous parallel dimension?”

“Uh… I’m Jewish.”

Greta smudged the edges of her drawing with her finger. Isaac wondered if he should leave.

“Frankly, the decomposition of the body interests me far more than the hypothetical flights of the soul. After all, the soul…”

Greta examined her work, nose precariously close to the pavement, before standing up and turning to Isaac.

“My father’s Jewish, too. But in a hereditary-secular-socialist sense. Do you pray?”

“No. Not really. Like, on holidays I guess.”

Greta stared at him quietly and directly in a most unnerving way. Isaac slanted his gaze to his shoelaces, until his unease turned into annoyance. What was her problem? He stared back.

Her appearance was in no way outlandish, but there was something about Greta that made it impossible to compare her to any other teen at Summerville High. She wasn’t wearing makeup, but her lips were somehow as red as dark wine. Beets? Isaac couldn’t come up with a label for the shade of her hair — it seemed to reflect every nuance of brown. It was long, and clean but scraggly. Her limbs were loose as her hair – too long for her body, they dangled from her torso like the limbs of a marionette. She wore big round glasses, an oversized trench coat and clothes that looked like they’d been fished from an old attic trunk.

“You said something about a portrait?”

The lack of response in Greta’s expression filled Isaac with the sudden dread that their conversation at the lockers had been a hallucination. And then, understanding blinked back onto Greta’s face.

“Oh, yes. The painting. I paint.”

“I see that.”

“That’s chalk, not paint.”

“Well. Then that certainly explains my poor performance in Art class.”

Greta’s nose crinkled, her lips widened, and something very weird happened. She laughed. Isaac had never made a girl laugh before. It shocked him so much he thought he might hyper-vibrate himself into a parallel dimension, or something.

“There’s an assignment for Advanced Painting. I’ve decided I want to be ambitious in its rendering. I need a subject for a portrait. I see you all the time, always reading.”

Isaac blushed. This was also perhaps the first time a girl had admitted to noticing him.

“This is good for me. I need someone who’s good at sitting still.”

Pride tingled inside Isaac. “I’m the best at that,” he said, with an enthusiasm that immediately shamed him. Slow down, Skywalker.

“Didn’t anyone tell you it’s not cool to read for pleasure?”

“Oh, it’s definitely cool… The trend won’t catch on for another eighteen months, though. Then I’ll be elected prom king.”

“Then you’re clairvoyant. Or a time traveler.”

“Yeah. The second thing. But currently I’m caught in an impenetrable time warp that won’t break til graduation.”

Greta cast a bored glance at her chalk sketch. “I have a recurring dream in which I’m a wounded medic in the Crimean War.” Her attention returned to Isaac. “A still sitter with plenty of time. You’re the ideal muse, Isaac.”

It startled him, the sound of his own name. So much so that he only half-registered Greta’s ensuing instructions on how to get to her house and when to show up there. She also had wardrobe requirements – “wear that” — and advised him not to consume an excess of fluids before the sitting.

“Tomorrow then?”

Isaac must have answered, because she strolled away without further negotiation, but he had no clue what he said. The same single electrifying chord resounded again and again inside his brain: I, Isaac Jeremy Levinson, just had a conversation with a girl.

Cartoon stars were still twinkling around his head when Josh and company attacked.

“Time to find the Mocha, dipshit. Hope you’re thirsty.”

“Get off of me!”

“You’re getting off on me? Sick, dude.”

“Stop wriggling around and focus on learning your lines.” A wet whisper assaulted his ear. “Got that? Cause you’re gonna repeat that loud and clear for Marisol. Don’t forget to enunciate, either, cause this will be on YouTube.”

Isaac’s molecules were transmogrifying into pudding. He flopped like a fish in Aidan Fields’ grip; they dragged him like bait across the parking lot.

“Oh, yeah, and we forgot… If you don’t deliver, Marisol will have the pleasure of seeing us kick your Klingon ass.”

“That’ll also go up on YouTube.”

Isaac closed his eyes, willed his mind to teleport him to another universe, and thanked all that was holy he’d visited the bathroom ten minutes earlier. Soon they stopped, and after an elapsed pause in which Isaac was not pummeled into the asphalt, he opened one eye. They were standing in an empty parking space.

“Where is she?”

“Hey, Alyson,” Josh called out to a girl climbing into an adjacent Lexus. “Marisol leave already?”

“She wasn’t in school today. Sick. Mono or something.” She cocked her head. “Didn’t you give it to her?”

The arms holding Isaac slackened. “Tomorrow, bitch.” They threw him at the pavement and moved on.

***

“Was into abstract depictions of death and evisceration for awhile. Then summer in England last year was all country lanes and nature hikes… Explains the kingfishers, wrens and sheep series. Please don’t touch that.”

Isaac pulled his hand away from an Uzbeki water pipe.

“Sorry.”

“Who’s your favorite artist?”

“Sorry?”

“You like that word a lot. Your favorite artist.”

“Er… ” A series of uninspiring class field trips and PBS specials flashed through Isaac’s memory. Zilch. “I don’t know. I’m more into reading, really.” Stupid Cousin Phil. “Sorry.”

They were in Greta’s studio. Isaac didn’t know any other teenager who had her own studio. The Greenbaums lived in a sprawling old house with an aura of dilapidated grandeur. Dusty globes, heavy drapes, a grandfather clock. Greta got the attic. It was packed with canvases.

“Who’s your favorite artist?” he asked. Maybe it was time to check out some of the other sections of the book store.

Greta did not appear to be listening. She’d managed to find a canvas-free stretch of floor and had lain flat on her back, nose pointed toward a skylight.

“Greta… You’re on the floor.”

“Verticality can be trying on one’s scope. Not to mention spine. I ought to paint these cobwebs.”

She turned her face to Isaac.

“Van Gogh. But then, who doesn’t have a weakness for melancholic religious types who slice off their ears and send them to whores?”

Isaac started to wish he was back in his own room, reading.

Greta sat up, legs still stretched out in front of her. “Have you ever cut off a body part and sent it to a woman as a romantic gesture?” she asked gravely.

Isaac blinked. “No, Greta.”

“You don’t seem the type.” She started to pull absently at her toes. “I notice people at school aren’t very nice to you. Do you find this character-building?”

“Very much so.”

“In the fourth grade, Luke Sullivan pulled my braid and spilled Kool-Aid on my watercolor. I grabbed his throat and told him that if he ever grew any brains, I’d eat them.”

“Oh.”

“I haven’t had much trouble with bullies since. Of course, it’s possible Luke just had a crush on me. I’ve never had a boyfriend since, either.”

“Since?”

“In third grade, Tommy Walsh and I exchanged vows. So did me and Lisa Farrell.”

Isaac’s eyebrows peaked.

“You know what they say about the third grade,” she shrugged.

Greta got up lazily and began rummaging in a massive wardrobe.

“Am I talking too much?” she asked, muffled by the closet. “My parents say I lack adequate social intuition.”

“My parents say I read too much.”

“Parents are sensitive creatures.” When she emerged from the wardrobe, she was holding a sketchpad and a fistful of pencils. “Sit on that stool,” she instructed.

Isaac obeyed. The second he sat on the stool, he felt his body triple in weight and his sweat go radioactive. What possessed him to agree to this?

“Today will be just sketches,” she explained as she arranged herself several feet away from Isaac. “Maybe the next day too. I take sketching very seriously.” She eyed him sharply. “You’re sitting wrong.”

“How should I sit?”

“Naturally. Be at ease. You’re like a petrified cucumber.”

Isaac shifted painfully in his stool. Greta was not impressed.

“Come on, Isaac,” she goaded impatiently.

“You know I don’t have professional modeling experience, right?”

Greta didn’t answer. She was staring at him with acute intent, chewing her lip. Isaac longed for invisibility to kick in. Maybe Greta would fare better at portraying it than Drew.

Suddenly Greta stalked across her studio to the corner where Isaac had deposited his backpack. Without a word, she unzipped it and began rifling through its contents.

“Hey!” But by the time he leapt from the stool to protect his property, Greta had claimed her prize. She thrust his copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into his hands. Her next action put a thorough stop to Isaac’s protests, and his all-over verbal capacity: She grabbed his wrist and led him to the stool. He sat down dumbly, and continued to gape as Greta arranged him there herself. She opened the book to the page he’d saved and positioned it in his lap, adjusting his hand. His other hand she placed on his thigh. She took hold of his calf and bent his leg such that one foot rested on the top rail of the stool, and the other leg dangled freely over the side. She circled around him and tilted his head down. She stood back and evaluated. After a moment, she stepped forward, and nudged his glasses an inch down his nose.

“There,” she said. “Let’s get started.”

* * *

“No shit. Greenbaum?

Drew took a hearty swig of Dr. Pepper and gaped. Isaac nodded.

“Man. She’s on mad drugs, you know.”

“What?”

“All the art kids are. They drop acid and go all Jackson Pollack.”

It was Tuna Surprise day at school. Isaac had made it to lunch period without assault from Josh and Aidan’s assorted goons. Marisol was still absent, but Isaac intended to practice invisibility to the full extent of his powers.

“You have no proof that she does acid. You have no proof she does… Pilates, or her math homework, or anything.”

“Well, sorry, I assumed the rumors were corroborated by her behavior.”

“Shut up.”

Isaac slurped his soda, frowning. He was (mostly) sure Greta wasn’t on LSD, but he couldn’t deny a certain quality of… Well. Trippiness. He wasn’t entirely convinced she wasn’t the type to X-acto her own ear.

“Still,” Drew conceded, “she’s got that rebel-art-chick thing going, not bad. You could do all kinds of worse.”

“We’re not, like, dating.”

Drew granted him a half-pitying, half-reproachful look. “Oh, please. ‘Come up to my private attic and let me spend hours and hours painting pictures of you?’ Have you seen Titanic?”

“No.”

“Really? Good god. You know, the effects were totally ahead of their – ” With a shake of his head and grunt of frustration, Drew returned to point. “Look, she is transparently hitting on you. I mean, it’s Greta, she’s not exactly known for subtlety… Remember in ninth grade when she
let that wild turkey loose in school to protest Thanksgiving?”

“Well…” Isaac was about to suggest that it was a fluke brought on by the acid, but at that moment he caught sight of Greta making her way across the cafeteria. She had a way of stepping on the tile as if it were rolling beneath her. Isaac was debating whether to call out or duck when her eyes met his.

“Isaac, dude – she’s coming over here.”

Greta set her tray down on their table. “May I sit here?”

Drew stared at the tray, then at Isaac.

“Yeah, sure,” said Isaac.

Greta slid in next to Drew. “I almost always eat lunch by myself.”

Isaac provided a noncommittal “Yeah.”

With unnecessary flamboyance, Drew shook his wrist in front of him and peered at his watch.

“Oh, shit… You know, just remembered I have a Chemistry quiz next period. Should really study for that. Left the book in my locker.”

He disengaged from the table and winked at Isaac. “Nice seeing you, Greta.”

And then he skidded out of the cafeteria without a glance behind him.

“He’s an odd boy. Who is that?”

Isaac didn’t think Greta had much of a right to go throwing about the “o” word. But he didn’t say so. “That’s Drew. He’s my best friend. He draws, too.”

“All the cool kids do, don’t they. What’s his medium?”

“He draws cartoons, mostly. Com — you know, like graphic novels. We’re actually, um, collaborating on a project. A high school superhero.”

Greta smiled. “Let me guess. He’s a time-traveler.”

“Well… He does contend with certain irregularities in the time-space continuum, but his main power is invisibility.”

Greta crinkled her nose, but did not laugh. “Invisibility? Not much of a power.”

“What do you mean?”

“It sounds more like a debilitating condition. Not to be seen? Who’d want that?”

Isaac couldn’t even speak.

“If no one can see you… What on earth is the point?”

Drew must have been right about the acid. He was ready with a retort about entering secret labs, when —

“Yikes, didn’t mean to interrupt the Klingon mating ritual.”

Josh Elwood had stopped at their table to cock a grin of pure malevolence.

“Just use protection, Frodo.” He winked, then eyed Greta. “Wow. Well, that’s definitely outside the species, so I guess she’s just your type.”

He slouched across the caf, back to his adoring posse. Isaac turned to throw a so-there in Greta’s invisibility-doubting face, but when he looked up he found her on her feet, glowering at Josh’s table.

“That is completely intolerable.”

“Greta, no, let it go – ”

But she was off. She stalked straight to his table and tapped Josh on the shoulder. A quiet so unnerving you could taste it settled over their section of the lunchroom. She bent creepily close and spoke in a calm but noxious tone.

“Please listen closely. I realize that you are so pathetically thick-skulled you barely qualify as sentient, and a corroded sewage pipe has more interesting thoughts than you, but speak to me that way again and I will laugh when I watch you suffer. You are a nonentity. No woman will ever find you gratifying and no man will ever take you seriously. I’d wish syphilis to ravage your loins, but then, there’s not much to ravage, is there.”

An awkward laugh broke from Josh’s face.

“God, Greta, if it’s my loins you’re after… Sorry, I’m morally against breeding with mutant.”

Greta pulled back. And then she slapped Josh in the face — with a force that was not merely symbolic. Its echoes seemed to reverberate in slow-motion. There were about eight seconds of total cafeteria silence: unprecedented. Something leapt inside Isaac, perhaps a fear that Josh would take a swing at her – but she marched out of the lunchroom with purpose and without fear, and Josh turned back to his lemmings, muttering about “the psycho bitch.”

Isaac relaxed. A split-second later, he contracted with tension again. No good could come of this. The rules were out of wack. Greta was supposed to be immune from violence within the Warp – half a lunch with him and she was smack in the path of the douche-ray. She can handle herself.

True enough. Could he?

For the rest of the day, Isaac shuffled through the halls, downcast and hidden in a series of inconspicuous slumps. He was nearly marked absent in Spanish class. A sense of foreboding followed him, thicker than the crowd at Worldcon. His classmates flirted by lockers and competed for teachers’ praise and texted each other rapidly from opposite sides of the courtyard. Athletes and artists and stoners and punks and representatives of the student council. All adamant and bitter about things — academic success, sports scores, resume building, rebellion, sex… Isaac couldn’t see where he fit into any of it; even in his wildest fantasies, he was a hero nobody could see.

And Greta – Greta fit into the scheme about as well as Drew fit into his Green Lantern costume.

He was thinking about the enigma of Greta when a pair of steel tentacles coiled around his arms and dragged him into a vacant chemistry lab. Further observation revealed that the tentacles were in fact Josh Elwood’s arms.

“Oh, shit. Look’s like Levinson’s psycho-freak slut isn’t here. Whatever will he do?”

Spit followed. Pain followed. Isaac’s gut absorbed most of Josh’s retribution, but his face won a couple shiny bruises, and one of the stems on his glasses snapped.

After Josh loped off, Isaac lay on the floor of the chem lab for ten impossibly long minutes. It wasn’t a bad view. Fluorescent light installations. Air vents. The abyss of unending despair. Tile.

Later that day, Isaac found himself bicycling around Greta Greenbaum’s block for the third time. You’re an idiot, squeaked his tires from the concrete. Don’t I know it. Here was a quandary. He didn’t have Greta’s number, and ditching their appointment without notice struck him as particularly uncordial… However. Not like he could play model with a fucked-up face. Or be seen, again, ever.

So he circled the block over and over, like one of Asimov’s Eternals circling the centuries.

“Isaac! What are you doing?”

He almost tottered off his bike. Greta was leaning out the attic window. He skidded to a stop and stared up at her.

“Hi, Greta,” he called.

“Get up here.”

“Um, see, that’s the thing – well I sort of came by just to tell you that today isn’t really a good –”

“You’re late.”

As Isaac plodded up the Greenbaums’ stairs, he wondered if he should try just ordering people around. It seemed to work pretty well for Greta. Then, his brain and his feet entered into a heated dispute – his brain commanded his feet to head the opposite of up, and his feet responded with gross defiance. His brain was then distracted by the task of figuring out how to conceal his face in a way both speedy and believable – this was not a fruitful venture for the brain.

He met Greta at the top of the stairs, and words evaporated. He stared at her feet. Moron, creaked the echoes of the stairs.

“Go to the stool. I feel very artistic right now.”

Then he looked at her directly.

“I can’t, Greta.”

She took inventory of his bruises with a placid gravity.

“This?” Her hand reached out, and the tips of her fingers tested the air around his injuries.
“I can work with this.”

Greta walked to her easel and picked up her tools. Isaac didn’t budge. He was transfixed by her business-like movements, by the echo of her hand as it cracked against Josh’s cheek, by the throbbing in his left eyelid and the contortions of his intestines. Keep listening to Greta and you’ll both get hurt, a voice told him. She waved him to the stool. Isaac went.

“Don’t forget the book. Get in place.”

He sat.

“So I guess you and Drew came to blows over artistic differences.”

Isaac smiled. “His aesthetics are way too commercial.”

“True art always requires sacrifice.”

“Plus, his jokes suck.”

He watched Greta’s eyebrows clench in concentration, watched her hands work invisible magic on the other side of the easel. Thought, none of this can really be happening, this is either the Matrix or I finally let Drew get me stoned.

“Greta…”

“Yes?” Her tone carried a constrained indulgence that indicated she was busy.

“You’re not going to – I mean, don’t paint the bruises, okay?”

Greta took her eyes off the canvas and set down her instruments. “Look at the book, Isaac.”

“I will, I just want to —”

“No, I mean, look at the book. Now.”

“Were you born this bossy?”

“What’s it say? What’s it about?”

“This? It’s… ” Isaac turned the volume over in his hand, staring at the cover. “It’s about this guy…”

“A hero, right?”

It was about an android bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic future, but Isaac felt it best to humor Greta. “Sure, yeah.”

“Fighting against the odds, braving dangers and enemies, standing up for truth, struggling against adversity… Young, untested heroes. Quests and trials. Those are the kinds of stories you like, aren’t they?”

“Well, yeah… And alien battles, and stuff.”

Greta came to the stool and took the book from Isaac’s fingers.

“You’re the hero, Isaac,” she whispered, staring into his eyes in that horrifying unblinking way she had. “Don’t you get it?” She set the book on his lap, brushed her thumb over the bruise on his eyelid. “This is your testing.”

This is not actually happening. “Greta, if you’re on drugs, can I take them too?”

She didn’t take her eyes away. She didn’t take her thumb away. Isaac listened for his brain, but got no reception. So he grabbed Greta’s face, and kissed her mouth instead.

***

[END PART I]



Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow! (Or, you know. Read real CP stories. Do productive things. Your call.)