I know I always say this, but this story is a little different. (That will be the epitaph on my tombstone, for sure.)
E is a short story prequel to a fantasy serial entitled Kwahlah. I plan to release Kwahlah in weekly installments next year. If I was pitching it to Hollywood, I would call it Harry Potter meets Ender's Game, as written by Friedrich Nietzsche.
See? I told you this one was a little different.
Right now it's available on Amazon for $0.99. Check it out and let me know what you think.
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Here's an excerpt from E:
The Teacher was looking for volunteers.
The Teacher started up and down each aisle, stopping to look at each student. Everyone avoided her gaze.
Everyone except E.
E wasn’t really her name. It was just the letter they’d assigned her when she’d been enrolled in this school. She didn’t remember her name anymore—wasn’t allowed to remember her name as a matter of fact. They’d burned it from her memory somehow. They could do things like that.
E waited. The Teacher was still walking down the next row, looking at each student individually. Finally, when the Teacher passed by, E met her stare.
E had learned about reverse psychology and hoped by doing the opposite of everyone else, by projecting confidence (which she didn’t feel), the Teacher would select someone else.
E wanted—had—to avoid getting called on today.
E was terrified of being in front of the class under normal circumstances. She always got lightheaded, dizzy, and her knees went weak. And that was under normal circumstances, when she just had to stand up there and summarize some topic or do something she was okay at. But today was different.
Today the Teacher wanted someone to create.
She wasn’t good at that.
No, she was worse than not good. She was bad. The worst in the class.
The Teacher smiled at her and continued down the row and went on to the next one, looking at each student as she went by. E hoped it had worked and the Teacher would call on someone else.
“Anyone?” the Teacher said again.
Creation was really hard. The Teacher hadn’t given them any instruction on how to do it. One day she’d simply called B to the front of the room and told him create a piece of paper using just his mind. At first E thought the Teacher had been making a joke. But then she’d looked around the room to see if the other kids had had the same reaction to the Teacher’s request.
They didn’t. They just watched B like they expected him to be able to do it.
It was on that day that E realized the other kids were much more powerful than her. They could do things she didn’t even know were possible.
That night she’d gone to her room and practiced, though she had no idea what she was doing. She couldn’t ask anybody for help. That would just be more ammunition for them to make fun of her. Every night for a month she tried to create something in her room.
But then she’d gotten lucky.
In a rare occurrence, the Teacher had permitted the class ten minutes of free time. They could study, or talk, or practice, or do homework. Everybody used it as down time.
But not E.
She had begun to develop a friendship with C, a boy her age. He was tall and socially awkward, like her. He’d offered her advice the day before on telekinesis so she walked over and asked for his help on how to create. After giving her a few pointers, E tried different things. They used up the whole ten minutes of free time and at the end she’d only been able to create an inferior replica of the paper airplane C had created just as an example for her. He’d done it in less than two seconds. One moment there was nothing, the next there was a paper airplane in his hand.
Her airplane took her a minute to create. A full minute! And hers couldn’t even fly, while C’s glided easily all the way across the classroom, pulled a 180 degree turn, and flew back to him. C had used the opportunity to show off his telekinetic powers, which admittedly were impressive.
She had appreciated his help but the exercise had been humiliating. She hadn’t been able to create one of her own ideas and the copy of C’s plane hadn’t even worked.
C had been encouraging, like always. But the other kids had tormented her. Because her paper airplane sucked, because she couldn’t throw her voice, because she couldn’t even move a pencil with her mind…because a lot of things. They constantly ridiculed her, both in and out of the classroom.
E was good at one thing. But she couldn’t tell anybody. Her hidden talent was her One Big Secret and she’d never share it. Not with C. Not even with Mom and Dad.
If only the other kids knew what she was capable of…they wouldn’t make fun of her at all. Not even K.
K was the worst. She was a couple years older than E and everybody feared her. She was powerful and always knew exactly the worst thing to say. Just last week, K had called her a talentless, ugly moron.
E had gotten so mad, she was ready to punch K in the face. But all the other kids were there, laughing at her. E’s overactive anxiety had kicked in and she’d passed out before she’d gotten a chance to even throw a punch.
E had woken up to face the added humiliation of fainting, with all the other kids calling her weak, or a coward, or other awful things she hoped she was not. Complaining to the Teacher only invited more torment as the Teacher would not intervene and as news of her tattling would inevitably get out.
The Teacher knew all of this. Knew of E’s fears and must have known E was far, far behind everybody else. Knew E had failed at the last two things. There was no way she’d call on E. She couldn’t.
The Teacher finished walking up and down the aisles and returned to her desk at the front of the room.
Again, everyone kept their eyes down. Everyone except E. She looked right at the Teacher.
“E, you’re looking eager,” the Teacher said.
Reverse psychology hadn’t worked.
E felt her heart kick into second gear. And her mental display confirmed it. Her heart had gone from an already-nervous 100 beats per minute to 115.
She started sweating.
“E, everything okay?”
Not really. She was wondering what would happen to her if she failed at demonstration. The school had very few rules in place, but one of them was the Rule of Three. She shuddered at the thought of it.
Everyone snickered. The Teacher smiled at E innocently, as if this were all a game and everyone in the room was friends.
But E had no friends, except for C.
She didn’t know why the other kids tormented her. Perhaps because she was a soft target, a concept they’d learned about in Warfare. But she’d never teased or taunted or bullied or talked behind anybody’s back.
But it went beyond torment. Deep down, E knew she was hated. Not by everybody, but by most. She didn’t know why, but assumed they hated her because she was different. She was never on the inside of any jokes, never the first to know some gossip, never privy to what the other kids planned on doing at recess or after school before Principal sent everyone to their rooms for more studying and the usual five hours of sleep.
“Come on up, then,” the Teacher said.
E pushed her chair away from her desk and stood. She was self-conscious of how she looked. She’d hit a growth spurt and now her uniform was two inches too short. The other girls, especially K, looked good in their uniforms. The Teacher kept all of them in great shape, but still, some girls looked better than others. It all came down to genetics and what you were born with. E wasn’t as pretty as the others and her uniform just didn’t fit right. Short in the legs, long in the arms, wide in the hips.
Everyone else had been through braces but E’s teeth were bad so she still had hers. And the worst part? She had to wear glasses. Visual improvement surgery worked for 99% of the population, but of course E fell into that other 1%. That was how her classmates saw her. That was how she saw herself.
As an other.
The Teacher waited patiently while all eyes tracked E as she headed to the front of the class. K stuck her foot out nonchalantly, but E saw the trip coming a mile away. Normally she’d just step around it, but today she was in no mood.
She stepped hard on K’s toes and pretended it had been an accident.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t see your foot there,” E said.
K called her a dirty word, but of course the Teacher did nothing. The kids got away with anything, up to and including murder. There was no punishment, like in the regular school she used to go to. E spent her time at recess with her back on a wall, or looking over her shoulder.
E hated using dirty words so instead she made a face.
K just smiled. “Rule of Three.”
E pretended like she hadn’t heard K, but her words were like a knife twisting in E’s stomach.
E had never seen the Rule of Three enforced. But the Teacher had referenced it on a number of occasions. And the thought of it terrified her.
Fail at three consecutive tasks, and you’ll disappear.
Most people thought the disappeared were just expelled, but E wasn’t so sure. She got the feeling this school was top-secret. The kids weren’t allowed off the grounds and weren’t allowed to communicate with the outside world, the rare exception coming when Mom and Dad visited or called her through the internet.
She didn’t know exactly what happened to the disappeared. But whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.
And E was one step away from violating the Rule of Three. She had failed at the last two consecutive tasks. The first, remote viewing. No matter what she tried, she couldn’t see into the adjacent classroom. The second, pyrokinesis. She hated fire. It scared her. One of her earliest memories was of the fire in her house growing up. She’d been trapped in her room. She’d always thought she’d accidentally started it by thinking about fire. The fireman had rescued her through her window though, and Mom and Dad had never spoken of it again. But deep down, she knew. She’d started it.
E reached the front of the classroom. Her heart was pumping 120 times per minute like she’d done hill sprints in gym class. The walls of her vision seemed a little narrower. She could feel it happening. She was going to pass out unless she calmed herself.
Deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
She couldn’t fail.
E knew from C that creation was easiest when you came up with your own, clear idea of what you wanted to make. It was better to form a detailed image in your mind, rather than relying on some vague thought to generate a new thing.
Also, smaller was easier. So E kept the idea simple. She pictured a pen. She was always losing her pens so it’d be useful to make more. Useful was also good. It gave you a reason to make something. What was that saying?
Necessity was the mother of invention.
That was the general idea. Easier to make something you needed than to imagine some new kind of unicorn. That was all the other girls always made, magical creatures, robots, jewelry (which they couldn’t wear, anyway).
“Okay, E. Stand right here and face your classmates.”
E did. Another deep breath.
Her classmates were all smiling wickedly, waiting for her to fail. She kept picturing the pen in her mind, giving it more and more detail. She picked a color. Blue. Then she further refined the color. Sky blue, midnight blue…she settled on teal. She could do this. She could make this pen. She just had to talk herself into it.
Heart beats per minute was now 130. Her vision got a little narrower. K was on the edge of her seat, just waiting for E to mess up. E wanted to smack that evil smirk off K’s face.
But E wasn’t going to mess up. She was determined to create a working pen with just her mind. Something out of nothing. That would show everybody she could do it.
“Thank you, E. Now, class, let’s think of something for E to create.”
Oh no. No. Not that. She was ready to make a pen. She had an idea already. It was always easier to create your own idea rather than somebody else’s. This was bad.
She had always failed at telepathy, but she tried it now anyway with C.
Say a pen. Say a pen. Say a pen.
SAY A PEN.
Amazingly, C was the first to raise his hand. Had her telepathy worked? That would be a first.
The Teacher called on C.
C said, “How about a plate?”
Okay, so the telepathy hadn’t worked. But at least C was trying to help. A plate was an easy thing to visualize and theoretically an easy thing to create.
“That’s good but pretty straightforward. Any other ideas?” the Teacher said.
K raised her hand.
Beats per minute: 140.
K said, “A hairy tarantula.”
“Ohhh, creepy. I like that,” the Teacher said. “Anyone else?”
K’s best friend, M, raised his hand. “A hairy tarantula with lots of eyes!”
“Good!” the Teacher said. “Vivid. Anybody else?”
K shot everybody else a look that said, No more ideas, let’s force her to make a tarantula.
E shuddered at the thought. She hated bugs. She knew spiders weren’t technically bugs but that was a minor, unimportant detail. They’d studied tarantulas and poisonous spiders in science class, up close and personal. They were usually hairy. They all had fangs.
They totally grossed E out. She could barely look at the things inside the terrarium. And then K had picked one up and stuck it in her face. Its legs wiggled and she swore she heard it hiss. K went to put it down E’s uniform but thankfully, for once, she passed out before that could happen and the Teacher had intervened (for once also).
The Teacher said, “Okay, E. Hairy tarantula it is.”
K couldn’t hide her smile. Neither could the rest of the class. C watched in horror, the skin around his eyes crinkled.
E said, “Okay.”
There was no way to create something without visualizing it. Without studying it in your mind first. She pictured all those eyes watching her. The mandibles. The seemingly hundreds of tiny moving parts. The eight legs. All of them jointed. All of them hairy. There were 900 species of tarantula, all of them disgusting. Female tarantulas could live up to forty years, some of them surviving on water alone for two years.
She formed the image in her mind. This tarantula was black and orange and had a big round abdomen.
“Come on, E, you can do this,” the Teacher said.
E squeezed her eyes shut and felt the cold sweat on her back and brow. She tried to ignore her vitals, but the mental display made that impossible. Her beats per minute were up to 155. She felt like her head was going to explode.
Then K started the chant.
“Rule of Three! Rule of Three! Rule of Three!”
The other kids jumped in.
E tried to block out the noise, but she couldn’t. All she could hear was their chanting, their laughing, and now the insults too.
The Teacher didn’t stop them.
E could feel her pulse throbbing in her head. Her beats per minute spiked to 170. Her chest heaved. If she kept this up any longer, her head might explode. She focused every ounce of her being on the spider forming in her mind. It was just an image, still flat like she’d drawn it, and immobile. It wasn’t real until it moved. She had to get it to move.
“You can do it!” C shouted.
Brave boy. She was grateful for the encouragement, but then she heard K.
“He’s got a crush on her!”
And everyone was laughing at C now. And her. Both of them. They sang that ridiculous song about two kids sitting in a tree together. The Teacher did nothing.
E got mad. She got mad as hell. Madder than the last time K had picked on her. E had never hated anybody in her life.
She despised K. She wished she could use her power to hurt K instead of creating a spider. It felt like a waste of energy when she had such a better use for it.
As her anger rose, the tarantula took shape. It flexed its legs and then molted. It popped out of its skin and grew in size. It had impossibly many eyes. Those eyes watched her. It made her skin crawl. It was huge, it had ten legs instead of the usual eight and its mandibles were chewing on something. It was big. Bigger than any normal tarantula. And she heard K laughing. Always laughing. Always.
E couldn’t take this.
Heart beats per minute: 75.
How was that possible? Dropping by 100 beats per minute?
The walls of her vision closed and the world went black...