androktone: (old)
[personal profile] androktone
I decided to start writing more short stories with a view to trying to do something else I think is good enough to submit. I am 37 years old godammit I should be able to conjour up something good enough to go in a science fiction magazine.


Here's the first attempt. Comments are welcome! Particularly any errors or inconsistencies.



The first time it happens, I wake up and I'm in the bushes round the back of the old substation, and Kevin McElroy is fumbling in my bra. I push him off and scoot away, horrified.
"What are you doing? Get off me!"
Kevin recoils like he's been bitten. "You said you wanted to!"
"I most definitely did not!"
I stand up and straighten my top, spin round and march back to the road. "Crazy bitch!" Kevin wails from the undergrowth behind me.

*

The second time, I'm running. I stop for breath, disoriented, and hear several pairs of footsteps approaching fast. Panicked, I take off again, without looking round. My grubby converse smack hard on the pavement. A tram is just leaving and I jump through the open door. I brush my wallet over the electronic reader and I slump on the back seat as the tram moves off. Three - no, four - security guards in Mall uniforms skid to a halt at the terminal, breathing heavily. One takes out his phone and aims it at the window; I turn quickly and slide down in my seat, ignoring the stares of the other passengers. There's something hard tucked down the front of my jacket. I surreptitiously sneak a peek. A high end games console, new in its shiny box. I don't even PLAY console games. What is happening to me?

*

I've been strange since I was tiny. I can't remember that far back, but Mum says that like a lot of children, I had an imaginary friend. I called it Lala. She'd tell the neighbours about the time she caught me, covered in red paint, holding the brush in my hand, staring at a giant red squiggle on the freshly painted living room wall. "Oh Ella," she'd sighed. "You bad, bad girl."
I'd burst into tears. "Not me - Lala!" I'd protest. "Yes dear," said Mum, but I went to bed without any tea anyway.

Mum loved me so much when I was small, she said. More than anything in her life. I was her golden child, her obsession. She'd married young and, perhaps unwisely, but she was still very much in love when she fell pregnant with me and my sister.

"Twins," said the doctor. "Aren't you lucky?"

In those days ultrasound was new and expensive, and they didn't routinely scan throughout healthy pregnancies, so it wasn't until the midwife introduced herself to Mum in the third trimester and felt the bump that they knew there was only the one baby. "How odd," said the doctor, but I was born healthy with downy skin and the right number of fingers and toes, so they didn't press the issue.

I was a pretty child, with long eyelashes and sparkling eyes, strong limbs - everything a mother could wish for. Old ladies couldn't resist cooing at me as I was pushed in my buggy down the street. Mum said she felt like the entourage for a minor celebrity.

Occasionally, she said, I showed flashes of genius. When I drew my squiggly little figures, with a felt pen clamped in my fist, all the faces had real expressions. Not nice expressions, perhaps, but real. I learnt to read early, Sometimes I piped up with words or phrases that sounded odd in my young mouth. "Despicable," I said, and "Absolutely outrageous!"

At the time Mum and Dad were going through a messy divorce, so they put my peculiarities down to stress. Under the umbrella of a divorce, a lot of strange childhood behaviour goes unnoticed.

Once I woke up on the bottom of a swimming pool, looking at the patterns the sunlight made on the rippled surface of the water above me. I was entranced. I didn't know where I was. I was about to take a breath when my mother plunged into the water beside me, frantically grabbing at my shoulders, wrenching me back into airy reality.
"Why, Ella?" she demanded. "Just why?"
I looked at her, not knowing how to answer. She shook her head, exhaled angrily, and rubbed me dry too hard with the rough towel.

Mostly it was more prosaic - I'd be asked a question in class but wouldn't be able to remember what the lesson was about. I'd forget to do chores, I would spill things and drop and break crockery. I'd catch myself muttering quietly under my breath, repeating the same words over and over again - as soon as I noticed, they'd evaporate - I wouldn't remember what they were or why I was saying them. People would accuse me of glaring at them when I didn't think I was.

When I was a bit older, my oddity manifested in other ways. I started to put on a lot of weight. Mum took me to the doctor who explained what I should and shouldn't eat, and she put me on a diet, but nothing helped. I was growing bigger and bigger.

My friends called me "Elliephant" and "Jabba". Mum stopped buying any food except vegetables, lean meat and wholemeal pasta. I cried but still got bigger.

One day our neighbour stood awkwardly on the doorstep and hesitantly spoke to Mum. The night before she'd got up quietly to go to the bathroom and heard a noise. Thinking it was a burglar, she had crept downstairs, and there I was. Like a little feral animal, she said, prowling round their house in the dark. I must have climbed up on the recycling bin, and slithered through the bathroom window. When the stair creaked under her foot I spun round, made a sharp animal hissing noise, showing my teeth - and darted back out of the window while she stood there, stunned, looking at the half eaten chicken drumstick I'd dropped on the floor. Her face was white and she shook as she talked.

I stood behind the half open kitchen door and listened to the conversation. I didn't even realise they were talking about me until Mum closed the door and saw me standing there. Her face was hard and foreign as she took my hand. She marched me upstairs into my room and told me to bend over the chair. She took a slipper and smacked my podgy thighs as hard as she could with the sole, over and again until they were red and purple. I squealed and begged her to stop but she didn't until she had hit me twenty times. Then she put down the slipper and went out of the room without looking at me. I heard the key turn in the lock and knew I had been locked in. The pain was something awful - the shame and humiliation and confusion were worse. I threw myself down face first on my bed and swore fiercely that I would make Lala go away.

I don't know how I did it, but the brain is very malleable when you're young. I had twenty four hours in that room with no food or water and nothing to distract me except my pain and desperation. I concentrated fiercely, and it seemed to work. I didn't have any more "Lala episodes". I went back to a normal weight. I went back to a normal life, more or less.

Mum didn't hit me again.

we moved to a new town and I went to a new school. I made new friends. I joined clubs - I was good at tennis and rounders. I liked to run. As I grew older, I did notice a few physical differences about me - I had an extra pair of teeth which came out above my canines, and had to be removed. The dentist said she'd never seen anything like it. They didn't grow back though, so we soon forgot about them.

When I started to wear leather shoes for secondary school, they rubbed my ankles terribly. There was a bony protrusion on my inner ankle just below the medial malleolus. Mum didn't want to take me to the doctor, since it was inert, so I looked it up on the internet. It's called talonavicular synostosis - where the talus and the navicular bones don't separate properly during development, leaving a second bony nubble. I've got them on my wrists, too. It's rare - it shows up in less than a tenth of one percent of the population. So yeah, I'm special. I found a pair of shoes which didn't rub, and wore those instead.

These days I'm quite popular. I don't really talk or think about how odd I was as a child. If I do, I attribute it to the stress of divorce, or not fitting in at school. The school I go to now is nice - the kids are pretty calm and decent, I have three close female friends in my form, and I get on okay with all of the boys. Except Kevin McElroy.

And that's why I can't understand why I'd go off into the bushes with him. Kevin's not a nice boy. He's not a smart boy, and he's not a cool boy. He's not even a clean boy. Of all the boys I could get entangled with, Kevin is the only one that makes me shudder with distaste. I'm only fifteen - I've only just started having my period. I wouldn't go into the bushes with anyone - but certainly not Kevin McElroy.

And this other thing - stealing a console that I didn't even want. What's up with that? Why would I do something so stupid and self destructive? Now I don't dare go in to town - I have to turn down invitations to go and hang out at the smoothie bar in the Mall in case the security guards see me. Paranoid, I persuaded Mum to let my cut my long hair into a bob, and start wearing skirts rather than my usual uniform of jeans and converse.

"You look nice, dear," says Mum as I come home from the hair dresser's. I glare at her and stomp into my room, but she's used to it. Just a normal teenager these days. I lock the door, go to the mirror and stare into the eyes of my reflection. What is wrong with me? I put my hands on either side of the mirror and stare hard. Tears prick my eyes but I ignore them. My pupils dilate and the face around them seems to wobble and change slightly, so that the person staring back at me is a foreign, different version of myself. It sends a chill down my spine. The other face smiles and there is something cruel in the expression. I try to move away from the mirror but I can't, and then..

*

I wake up in hospital. I hurt all over. Mum's sitting, sniffing, by the side of the bed. I reach to brush her hair from her face but my hand is restrained to the side of the bed by a leather cuff; my wrist is agony where I pull it. She notices the movement and turns her puffy red eyes on me.
"Why, Ella?" she sobs. "Why? I thought this was all behind us. Why would you do that?"
"Do what?" I want to say, but my mouth is fuzzy and dry and not entirely under my control - it just comes out as a croak.
Mum carries on anyway, though. "I've never seen anything so ..horrible .." she continues. "It's the worst thing - the worst thing, Ella. You screamed and I heard smashing glass and the door was locked and by the time I got in - why would you do that to yourself? What could possibly make you hate yourself that much? Did I bring you up so badly?" Her voice trails off as she's overwhelmed by another huge hiccuping sob.

"No," I whisper, but she doesn't hear me. A nurse pops her head round the door and seeing I'm awake, ushers my mother out.

"Lala," I croak urgently, She turns and gives me one last, startled look before she leaves the room. I don't know if she heard.

An elderly man replaces her by my side. He pours water into a plastic cup and holds it to my mouth so that I can drink.

"May I call you Ella?" he says to me, when I've finished. He doesn't wait for my answer. "My name is Dr Franks. I'm your doctor. Do you want to talk about what happened?"

I want to talk, but I can't. I want to tell him that there's somebody else in here too, but there's interference. My mouth is twisting against the words I want to say. "Fu.. Fu.. " I bite my lips shut resolutely before I can blurt out anything offensive and try to indicate with my eyes that I'm not fully in control of myself. Unfortunately all Dr Franks sees is a writhing, twisting maniac. He sighs, writes something in his book, and gestures to the nurse, who briskly rolls me onto my side and injects a sedative into my upper thigh.

*

The next time I wake up, I'm already talking. Incredibly, Lala has recovered from the sedative before I do. This is the first time I've heard her talk, rather than just swiping my motor functions, and she sounds like me, or a bitchy version of me.

She's telling the doctor that she's - I'm - fine. She's pretty smart. She wants the wrist cuffs off, she wants to go home, where she can carry on being herself. She's agreeing to take an antipsychotic medication, anything, just to go home.

I keep quiet. Maybe she's not so smart. Does she know what an antipsychotic does? It reduces the amount of dopamine and other neurotransmitters slopping around making my overactive little neurons fire off these crazy hallucinations I've been having.

She'll disappear. I relax and let her think she's won. All I have to do is submit to another few injections and I'll be fine. Well, there might be side effects - headaches and nightmares and sore joints - but I'll be ME as long as I keep taking the pills.

The nurse comes up again with another injection. It hurts going in - the needle is thick. It seems a bit unfair that I'm not in control of my body but I can still feel pain. There's another sedative too. We go back to sleep.

*

I yawn and stretch. My hands aren't in restraints any more. I don't feel that good - muggy, achey, slow, like I expected.

Running at half speed. The antpsychotic must be working. My brain has slowed right down to basics. I won't be wrestling with any complicated maths questions for the next little while. Luckily my exam aren't till next year. I'll be fine by then. My head hurts like a bastard, but there's no one else in there.

Dr Franks comes in holding a clipboard and smiling. "How are you this morning?" he asks.
"Good," I say carefully. The words seem like marshmallows in my mouth.
Dr Franks gestures to the jug of water by my bed and I pour myself a cup. The weight of the jug in my hand surprises me - I must have been in hospital for ages, long enough to get weak. My hand trembles a little but I don't spill anything. I look at the doctor over the top of the cup.

He riffles through the papers. "Glad to see you're feeling better. I'm here to talk about your treatment - it may surprise you."

He holds up two scans. I squint at it. "Is that normal?" I ask finally.

"One of them is," says the doctor. "We'll call it the 'after' picture." He gestures at the first image. "You see this lump? We thought it was a tumour. A large tumour, on the frontal cortex. Your mother gave us permission to remove it. But it's not cancerous material."

"I know," I say. I reach up and touch my head, where there is a bandage, and hair missing. "It's a brain, isn't it. Mum said that when I was a baby, the doctor thought that she had twins, but there was only me."

"Smart girl," says the doctor approvingly. "It's called Craniopagus parasiticus. We think that sometimes, when twins start off separately, the stem cells get confused - they're searching for similar cells in their own body but find the cells on the twin instead and fuse the two together. The pair never separate, and one twin continues developing at the expense of the other. You end up with one healthy twin - you - and sometimes some remnants of the other twin - the rest is absorbed. It's very rare - just a handful of children in every million births."

I swallow. "Do you still have it?" I ask. "My sister's brain? I'd like to see it - Even though she's caused me such trouble over the years. I - almost miss her."

"I understand," says the doctor. "I thought you might. I'll get it for you before you sign out. It's going to be an emotional time for you. But you won't be having any more of these attacks." He takes a torch out of his pocket and bends to peer into my eyes. "Now, if you don't mind - just a couple of tests and after a day or two you should be free to leave."

*

It's a bright crisp autumn morning as I step outside the hospital, for the first time in what sees like months. The air is beautifully cool and clear, like my brain. Mum goes to find some change for the parking meter and I head on to the car, swinging my arms, smiling. I'm free, literally for the first time in my life.

There's a grey municipal bin on the way into the car park. I pause for a moment to throw away the jar.

"Goodbye, Ella," I say. "It was nice knowing you." And I smile.


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