Short Story Sunday #2

February 23, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Posted in Finding your voice, Foster Care, Invisible, Short Stories, Suicide, Sunday, Teen, Writing, Reading, YA, Young Adult | Leave a comment

Short Story Sunday

THE LION WITHIN

by Abby Goldsmith

Cherise planned to become a ghost. She was halfway there already, unseen and unheard, just another kid in overcrowded Hollander Home. After she dumped her duffel bag in the attic bedroom they’d assigned her to, she grabbed a pair of scissors from the bathroom drawer, sought solitude, and found it on the back porch.

She sat on a rotting bench and angled the open scissors against her wrist. Rain whispered in the darkness. It sounded alien to her. In her mother’s trailer, rain would have pattered on the tin roof.

Blood welled in the cut. Cherise pressed the blade deeper, sawing quickly to stay ahead of the pain. She almost didn’t hear the porch door creak open.

Then she registered the sound for what it was. Furious at her own stupidity, she hid the scissors in her lap and tried to hide her blood‑slicked wrist. She’d never lived in foster care before. For all she knew, this house had hidden surveillance cameras. She wished she’d checked.

A little boy maneuvered his child‑sized wheelchair onto the porch with difficulty. He appeared to be alone. The door fell shut behind him, followed by the creaking screen door.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m your suicide watch.”

Someone had mentioned a child genius living in this house. Judging by the arrogant way he spoke, Cherise guessed this was him.

She stood. No one would bother her in the woods. By the time this kid alerted the household and they found her, she’d be dead.

“Everyone says you’re mute,” the boy said. “But you’re just afraid to talk. Afraid of what you’ll say.”

Cherise walked down the porch steps and into the rainy night.

“If you start speaking,” the boy said, “you’re afraid you’ll scream.”

No one had articulated her problem quite so accurately. Cherise wondered, just briefly, if he was genuinely sympathetic. That seemed impossible. Kids were never nice. Kids in foster care had a lot of problems. This handicapped genius kid probably meant to reel her in so he could slap her with a harsh joke. He was toying with the new girl.

“I’m not toying with you.” He spoke as if he could hear her thoughts. “I just want a little talk before you’re gone. I’m Thomas Hill.” He flipped open a small notebook on his lap, tore out a sheet, and began to fold it. “The resident genius, as you’ve guessed. You’re less blind than most people. There’s nothing wrong with you at all, other than your speech phobia, which is no big deal. You’d be surprised at how many seemingly ordinary people suffer from phobias and deeply buried psychoses. A good ninety‑five percent of the population. And you have far better reasons for yours than most people do.”

Walk away, Cherise urged herself. Her wrist throbbed sharply. She needed to finish the job before she lost her nerve.

Curiosity held her in place. Could Thomas Hill really hear her thoughts, or was he just prescient?

“Your mother punished you every time you spoke.” Thomas fluffed the paper, sculpting it. “For most of your life, you couldn’t speak without suffering for it. That’s why your throat closes up when you try to talk these days.”

Cherise had never considered her muteness in this light. She felt the pain of thirst and hunger, smelled the dirty gag in her mouth, heard flies buzzing around the trailer. Glitzy, the baby, her sister, had died crying.

It’s true, she realized. Ma Chavez hated complaints. The comprehension made her gasp, and tears came to her eyes, riding a wave of hate. She made me mute (and pathetic). She killed my baby sister. Her mother’s parole would come in ten years, way too soon. I hate her, hate her, hate her. I’ll kill her. Cherise clenched her bloody wrist. The pain of torn flesh was nothing compared to the agony inside her. If she’d seen her mother’s face at that moment, she would have ripped it to shreds.

“You’ve earned your anger,” Thomas said. “It’s not your fault. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It means you’re right.” He studied Cherise with the unabashed interest of a child, but his eyes, a vibrant purple color, didn’t match the rest of him. His eyes looked much older.

“You associate speaking with pain,” he said. “It’s so ingrained, even knowing the cause won’t help you much yet. But time will. You won’t be mute forever.”

Heart thudding, Cherise opened her mouth, wanting to ask how he knew these things. Her throat thickened with terror. Words stuck there, aching. Thomas was wrong. She would never speak.

“We’re having a conversation right now,” Thomas said.

The last of her uncertainty vanished when she met his gaze. He saw her. Not the mute girl, not a victim of abuse and neglect, not a tragic news story, but her. Cherise Chavez. It made no difference if he was psychic or just guessing; he saw the truth.

Crickets chirped blithely on, unaware of the miracle taking place. Cherise walked back onto the porch.  Do you hear my thoughts? She directed that thought at Thomas. It felt strangely natural to speak this way.

“Yes.” He answered exactly as if she’d spoken out loud. “I’m a mind reader.”

Rainwater dripped down her hair, mingling with her blood‑soaked sleeve. Now she had another question. Why would a mind reader take notice of Cherise Chavez? She was doomed.

She supposed Thomas must be an altruist. With his ability, he probably rescued suicidal losers all the time. He would fail this time. Cherise knew she wasn’t worth his effort. She was defective, broken, incapable of having a bright future.

“You’re wrong about yourself.” Thomas faced her with a pained expression. “I don’t waste my time saving people. There are way too many problems in this world, and time is precious to me. But you’re worth my effort; you and what you survived.” He looked haunted. “Cherise, I know what your mother did to you. It’s usually easy for me to see the reasons behind what people do, but some people have a darkness that I can’t fathom. Some memories are bad enough to make me vomit. Or weep.” He made the latter sound worse. “Your mother’s behavior went beyond anything I can understand. And yet you still see beauty in this world. That makes you amazingly resilient. I’ve never met anybody like you.”

Cherise had never been so complimented in her life. “Why?” she began to say, and heard her own voice. It quavered like an old lady’s, yet she felt no fear of speaking in front of Thomas. None at all. There was no danger that he would misunderstand. He’d know what she meant, whether or not she messed up the words.

Why are you trying to help me? She finished in her mind.

“We’re both lonely,” Thomas said. “There’s no point treading around that issue.” He faced her squarely. “Let’s get something straight, Cherise. I’m not trying to buy a friendship. You’re the first person I’ve approached like this, and I’m only doing it because I want your mind nearby. But if you disagree, I’ll understand. If you decide you’re better off alone, I’ll stop bothering you. I promise. I’m not acting as an altruistic savior or anything like that. This is my own self interest. I absorb things from people. Memories take me minutes or weeks, depending on the person’s age and how much I want to absorb from them. Talents and inner strengths take longer. For those, I need to live with the person for at least a few months. You have phenomenal inner strength and other rare qualities. I’d rather not see your mind go to waste.”

Cherise had the impression that he was sincere. He meant every word. His honesty made her smile a little. The expression felt brittle and unfamiliar.

He indicated her bloody wrist. “I picked up your intent, so I packed a bandage. I can wrap up your wound. No one else would have to know. I’d check it periodically to make sure it doesn’t get infected.”

The more she studied Thomas, the more she realized how ancient he looked. His eyes belonged to someone who had lived hundreds of lifetimes.

“You see me,” Thomas said quietly. “Your perception is a little like mind reading. You understand everyone, but no one understands you.”

He handed her the folded paper, transformed into a perfect origami lion. “For you. Squeeze his mane ‑ here and here ‑ and he’ll roar.”

Cherise tried it. The lion roared silently, soaking up spots of her blood. She wondered what Thomas wanted with her.

“There’s a lion inside you,” Thomas told her. “Your words have potential to change history. When you rip your mother’s grip off your throat, everyone will listen.”

<><><>

Abby Goldsmith

Abby Goldsmith is an animator by day, and a novelist by night. Her animation credits include Nickelodeon and Disney games for the Wii, Nintendo DS, and other platforms.  Her short stories and articles have appeared in Escape Pod, Fantasy Magazine, and other online venues. She’s currently seeking a literary agent or publisher for her epic science fiction series of books.

Connect with Abby:

www.abbygoldsmith.com/
www.twitter.com/abbyland

www.facebook.com/TheTorth

www.art.abbygoldsmith.com/
www.abbybabble.blogspot.com/

Abby’s story “The Lion Within” appears in Suddenly Lost In Words, Volume 2 available at Amazon US or Amazon UK

www.suddenlylostinwords.com

HAVE A GREAT SUNDAY!

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