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Day Fifty: Breakup

As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.

This story features Dr. Traci Keniston, who was mentioned but not seen in day 48, Creative Thinking; Ty Palmer, one of the leads from day 7, Confession; and Treva Vanderberg, who was shot and injured in day 33’s Monsters. Let’s watch and see what happens…

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Dr. Keniston put the phone down and shook her head. She didn’t know how Dr. Bettencourt had gotten that grant money, but it had clearly gone to her head. She took a look around her desk and did a quick mental calculation. Papers were graded, the exam was nearly finished, and she’d just finished inputting grades for the semester. There was nothing on the schedule until the faculty meeting at three. Just time for a quick lunch.

The student union was nearly empty, being just after the lunchtime rush. There were pockets of students sitting around tables, studying and listening to music on headphones. Some of them chatting about whatever it was they were going to do instead of study. A could who knew her waved and said hi, and she waved back. Not a lot of professors liked to eat with the students – some sort of professional pride or other nonsense. Dr. Keniston felt that it was best for the teachers to know a little bit about the kids they were teaching. To mingle, and get a feel for the world. She ordered a burger and picked up a salad to go with it, and drummed her fingers on the counter while she waited.

An idea for a short story popped into her head – a short-order cook who overhears a murder plot – and quickly jotted it down in her idea book. It might not go anywhere, she thought, but there was no point wasting it. She got her burger, paid for it, and sat down in one of the booths.

Luch was a great time to think, so she ate in silence, without her usual lunchtime reading, until the conversation from the next booth over caught her ear.

“Ty, it’s not you, it’s….” The girl’s voice caught, and she sounded like she was trying to get herself under control. “No, it is you, Ty. I’m so sorry, but it is!”

“Treva, I don’t understand.” Dr. Keniston knew this voice – Ty Palmer, one of her students. She took out her idea book and started spinning the pen in her fingers. Was it right to eavesdrop on what was obviously a breakup? No, of course not. Completely unethical. Only a monster would mine it for dialog ideas.

She tapped the pages, impatient for the next line.

“Ty, it’s just that you’re never… there. Even when you’re here, you’re not here.”

“What does that even mean, Treva? I’ve always been here!”

The girl sniffled again. “No, you’re not, Ty.” She paused, and it was a meaningful pause. “Ty, when we’re… together, you always seem like you’re thinking of something else. Maybe someone else, I don’t know. You don’t look at me, and when you do…” Now the tears came, and there was little point in trying to stop them. Keniston made a couple of notes, but so far nothing had really struck her. Ty said something soft, hard to understand.

“No, Ty,” Treva said. “It’s not just that. I don’t think this is something you can really fix, and I know you want to. I…” Keniston got her pencil ready. This should be it. “You left your computer browser open the other day, Ty. When I came by to drop off your sneakers.” That meaningful silence again. “I saw what you were looking at, Ty.”

There was a sound of someone – Ty, probably – trying to get out of the booth, and she was trying to keep him there. Their words overran each other. He tried making excuses to leave, she tried to stop him, and it wasn’t until she finally came out and said what she’d been holding on to for the last fifteen minutes that he finally sat back down.

“I know you’re gay, Ty.”

The quiet made Keniston’s fingertips itch.

Treva’s voice was quiet, but there was some core of strength to it. “I want you to be happy,” she said. “But I can’t be the one to make you happy.”

“But…” His voice was dry. “But you do make me happy, Treva. You do.”

“Not the way you need,” she said. “And if letting you go means that you can find that person, then… Then that’s what I have to do.” She slid out of the booth and stood up. “I’m so sorry, Ty,” she said. “I love you too much to let you stay with me.” With that, she walked away. Keniston caught a glimpse of her as she headed for the door, a beautiful girl who walked with a cane. She’d seen her around the science buildings before, but never had her in class.

She looked at her notebook, where she had written Treva’s parting lines, and she could feel, like a kind of pressure, Ty in the booth behind her. Perhaps it was a trick of the ears, or her mind making her hear what she wanted to hear. She was pretty sure he was crying. She looked at the notebook again, sighed, and tore the page out and crumpled it up. She took her tray and stood, trying very hard not to look behind her at the poor, ruined boy in the booth. She stood there a moment, not moving, and then turned around.

Ty looked up as she sat down across from him. His eyes were red – she had been right. Even so, he was a handsome one. He’ll make some lucky guy very happy someday, she thought. She set the tray aside and leaned towards him on the table. “I overheard, Ty. I’m sorry.”

He nodded, sniffed, and wiped his nose. “Yeah,” he said. “Me too.”

“Dessert,” she said. “My treat.” She stood up, waiting for him to do the same. He rubbed his eyes clear again, nodded, and stood, not even bothering to sling his bag over his shoulder. “C’mon,” she said. “Nothing like ice cream when you’re the dumpee.” She put an arm around his shoulders. “Make it through this,” she said, “and you’ll have a great story on your hands.”

He started talking before they even got out of the student union. And she was right.

Day Thirty-eight: A Friend in Need

June 28, 2011 4 comments

As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.

This week features Rachael Decker, the ill-fated Girl Next Door from day 9, Reunion and Evelyn Pierce (AKA Botanica, a former metahuman) from story 36, Interviews. Let’s watch and see what happens…

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Green hair isn’t something you can hide easily in high school. Evelyn Pierce certainly tried, but she found that trying to go from a deep, mossy green back to her normal blonde was asking for more than modern cosmetics could offer. The new tint ignored the bleach utterly, and she knew she wasn’t goth enough to pull off dyeing her hair black. So green it was.

She got complaints from teachers, who called her parents, who said they had no idea what was going on. There was no history of green hair in the family, of course, and they were as concerned as anyone.

Compared to what else was happening, though, green hair was the least of Evelyn’s problems.

The real trouble started in biology class, as it so often does. The project was simple: clone a plant. Take a cutting, put it in some agar in a tube and try to cultivate cells from it. Each student pair did just that – plant, cutting, agar, incubate. Evelyn was paired with Rachael Decker, which made life easier. Rachael was a rarity in high school – someone who was incredibly popular, but at the same time genuinely nice. She didn’t care who you were, but rather treated everyone with basic human decency.

No one knew how she managed. But if there was any better person to have to work with when your hair was turning green, Evelyn didn’t know her. All Rachael said when she saw it for the first time was, “Wow! That looks nice!” And that was it. From anyone else, Evelyn would have suspected sarcasm. But not Rachael Decker.

The results of the experiment were, for most of the pairs, fairly ordinary. Lots of fungal infections from improperly cleaned equipment, a few that showed some sign of growth.

Evelyn’s had exploded. It broke through its glass tube and sent blind tendrils all through the incubator, infiltrating other experiments and completely ruining half the class’ work. Mr. Peters, the bio teacher, was amused, if anything. “Looks like we have a success,” he said, carefully disentangling the thing from all the others. He handed it to Evelyn and Rachael. “What’re you going to name it?”

Rachael laughed, but Evelyn didn’t even hear him. She was too busy listening to the horrible thing she was holding in her hands as it screamed at her. It was… crying. Like a horrible, twisted baby. And no one seemed to notice.

She dropped it and ran out of the bio lab. She went to the nurse, who called her parents, who took her home. As they drove, the whispering voice of that thing tickled her mind, and wherever she looked she felt like she was being watched.

She missed school the next day, and the day after. She wouldn’t leave her room – going to the living room with her mother’s potted plants was painful enough, and when her father mowed the lawn she nearly went mad. The grass screamed at her. The begonias begged for their freedom. She couldn’t even take a shower – as scrupulous as her mother was about cleaning, there was still mold somewhere, and it spoke to her in a horrible black voice that made her teeth hurt.

After a few days, her mother poked her head into the bedroom. “Evey, honey? You have a visitor?” Everything her mother said sounded like a question. It always had, and it always bugged Evelyn, but not now,

“I can’t, mom,” she said.

“She says it’s important? It’s your friend Rachael?”

The thought that Rachael could make everything better was stupid, she knew. Childish. No one could make things better, not ever. But it planted itself in her, and took hold. If she could talk to anyone, it would be Rachael. “I’ll… I’ll come down,” she said.

She brushed her hair and changed her clothes for the first time in two days. Rachael wouldn’t mind if she smelled a little.

She heard them as she walked down the stairs. Her mother was a big believer in houseplants and kept them all over the place. Every room had green, growing things in it and until this week Evelyn thought they were nice. That they added some life and some freshness to the house. Now she could hear their voices as they strained for sunlight, called for water and ached in the pots that were provided for them. They wanted to be outside, to have their roots in deep soil and to be able to feel the breeze, to host insects and to be wild again. All of that in a cacophony of noise in her head that was so very loud. By the time she was in the living room, she was whimpering, and didn’t even notice that Rachael was there.

“Evey?” Rachael asked, putting her hands on her Evelyn’s shoulders. “Evey, are you okay?”

All Evelyn could do was shake her head. She wanted to speak, but she couldn’t unclench her mouth.

“I’ll leave you two alone?” he mother said. “If you want anything…?” She left, looking worried.

Rachael guided Evelyn over to the sofa, next to a sprawling philodendron on the side table that was singing, of all things. Singing! Evelyn whimpered as she sat. Rachael sat next to her, her hand on Evelyn’s knee. There was a rubber plant on the other side of the sofa that was growling something Evelyn couldn’t make out. “I know what you’re going through,” Rachael said.

Evelyn wanted to laugh, but that seemed like a very bad idea. What had Rachael gone through that was like this? What had she had to endure? The pitch of the plant noise ebbed for a moment, and she could sense a change in the room. An attention that wasn’t there before. A quiet, definite attention.

They were listening to her.

“Sometimes, life just gets weird, y’know?” Rachael continued. “But I want you to know I’m here if you need anything.” She leaned in. “Is it those guys from the swim team? Because they’re just assholes, and you know it.”

Evelyn shook her head again, but thinking of the laughter and the taunts she got when her hair changed just made it worse. She could feel something uncoiling inside her, something horrible and deadly. The plants had fallen utterly silent. Except for one of the spider plants hanging in the large bay window. It was laughing.

“But in order for me to help you, I need to know what’s wrong.” Rachael tilted Evelyn’s face up to look her in the eyes, and she smiled. She had such a pretty smile. She had red hair that set off gold-brown eyes, and those eyes just looked so honest. So sincere. Evelyn heard her own voice in her head, cutting through the silence. You can tell her, she thought. She’ll believe you.

Evelyn relaxed, and the thing inside her lashed out. The plants in the living room burst into life, their tendrils and leaves exploding outwards with a sound no human ear had ever heard before. Under that quiet roar was a louder one in her mind, a cry of freedom and rage. They had been given a horrible vitality that Evelyn knew was coming from her, flowing from her, but she couldn’t stop it. She didn’t know how it started, and stopping it was like trying to stop a river.

“What the hell?” Rachael stood up and started at the plants, then at Evelyn, who was rigid on the couch. “Evelyn, what’s-” She was cut off as the long stems of a large porthos plant whipped around her neck, cutting off her breathing. The long, grassy leaves of the spider plant whipped around, binding her hand and foot and lifting her, twisting and writing, off the floor. The great, stiff branches of a jade plant held her up, lifting her nearly to the ceiling.

From the couch, Evelyn was helpless. She saw her friend in the air, wrapped in twisting, choking green, and she couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. She tried yelling in her head for the plants to stop, to let her friend down, but they couldn’t hear her – or wouldn’t.

Please, she implored them. Please let her go!

The mad chorus of voices surged, voicing primitive, needy thoughts. The room was filled with the sound of rustling leaves and the smell of steaming, living soil. The plants were happy, she realized. Happy for the first time in their lives. They were calling out – sun, water, soil – over and over again, like a chant, like a ritual – sun, water, soil – getting louder and louder and ignoring the screams in Evelyn’s head to stop, to put down her friend, to please just stop!

There was a loud snap.

The plants went quiet. For a moment, Evelyn thought that maybe one of the branches had broken, that they had pushed too far, too fast. But she heard the plants and knew that wasn’t so. They were murmuring, whispering, quiet. The leaves and vines and tendrils, so alive and vicious just a moment ago, went limp, and Rachael’s body fell to the floor. There were cuts all over her arms and neck where the leaves and vines had sliced into her skin. Her head lolled on a broken neck and rested awkwardly on her shoulder.

Finally, Evelyn was able to move. She dropped down beside her friend and begged and pleaded and sobbed.

The plants watched, and whispered.