By Kelly McGowan
Out in the Open
I will forever and always remember the morning of Saturday, June 25 2011. Why, you might ask? That was the day when I fell asleep with my thoughts on the inside of my head, and woke up the next morning with them on the outside. I mean, literally. In my perfectly normal bedroom, the contents of my brain were swimming about like holographic fish. Through sleep-blurred eyes, I saw a bagel and a tub of butter chase each through my collection of music boxes while a neon-green interrobang (a ‘?’ and a ‘!’ squished together) hooked itself around the handle of my dresser. A knotted clump of salmon-pink yarn nearly collided with a glittering sword with a ruby in the pommel below the pull-chain on my ceiling fan. A gerbil with a fish tail whizzed between the legs of a pair of grey-wash skinny jeans, and a patch of purple mushrooms sprouted across the corner of my wall. The things themselves weren’t actually there, just shimmering, semi-transparent figures like the 3-d images in an IMAX movie. As my brain plugged itself in for the day, more and more images spun dizzily through my room. There were even some bizarre, abstract-concept-y things too, like the scent of anger (harsh and metallic, with a hint of burnt sugar and stale beer) and the texture of romance (kind of like warm sand with oil).
It was cool having the contents of my brain displayed in the air around me for all of five seconds, at which point I tried to do something actually functional. I thought I had seen my sweatshirt whizzing between my bedposts while I was getting dressed, and I accidentally smashed the porcelain soap dish when I snatched the image of my toothbrush from the cabinet above the sink. When I finally finished getting ready, I stumbled down the stairs to get some breakfast. Immediately, breakfast-y images popped into being. I groaned, and tried to bat them away as I rounded the corner into the bright, tiled kitchen.
My mom was standing in front of the microwave, waiting for her Hot Pocket. She’s pretty short, about 5-foot-6, with shoulder-length auburn hair that has a perpetual scrunchie kink from her ponytail. Her blue-grey eyes have that exclusive-to-moms quality of being able to see through any and all pretenses.
“Are you okay, Izzy? I thought I heard something shatter in the bathroom.” As she turned away from her preoccupation with her Hot Pocket, she noticed all of the holographic thoughts swirling around me like some kind of hurricane. She freezes. “What in the name of-” Ding! The microwave turned off, and at that moment an image of one of those dome-shaped ‘ring for service’ bells with the button on top swooped by my mom’s astonished nose.
She staggered backwards. “F-f-flynn?” she squeaked.
Flynn is my dad- Flynn Morgan. He’s an engineer for NASA, and he’s pretty smart. He could probably figure this out. That’s only if my mom could get him out of bed, though. I kid you not, he sleeps like someone whacked him over the head with a frying pan.
She cleared her throat and tried again. “FLYNN!” she screams, and my dad staggered blearily into the kitchen a minute later. He’s a tall guy, at least a foot taller than my mom, and he almost always whacks his head on the low doorframe. Today is no exception.
“Whazzamatter, Lily? Oh, holy-” THUNK! At the same moment that he registered the maelstrom of thoughts now crowding the kitchen’s airspace, his head collided with the too-low door lintel. For a minute, his elongated body clothed in a pair of blue-and-white plaid lounge pants and a t-shirt with the NASA logo appeared headless. But, eventually, he ducked under the doorframe and I saw his full features. His rumpled black hair is not long by any imagining, but it’s no deterrence to his chronic bedhead. His hazel eyes, slightly unfocused from the whack he received from the doorframe, soon widened in astonishment before quickly narrowing in deep thought.
“When did you first notice the thoughts?” he barked, as he paced across the kitchen floor- a route he had taken so often that the tiles’ luster had been scuffed off in the exact same spaces. I mentally rolled my eyes, then winced as a pair of holographic eyeballs copied my thought from in front of the toaster oven. When my dad goes into ‘rocket-scientist mode’, there’s no stopping him.
“Umm, as soon as I opened my eyes this morning, Dad.” I answered. “It’s kind of hard to miss a random sword swooping around my room- even if it’s just an image of one.”
Dad’s eyebrows furrowed. I swear, if they get any closer they will knit themselves together. He suddenly stopped running a hole into the floor and stared at me. A few question marks in varying neon colors flounced around the kitchen, as I contemplated the reason for his sudden and unexpected about-face. He soon dispelled my questions.
“Well, you know what we have to do now, right? We have to figure out what went wrong last night and fix it. And that means lab tests.”
My mom and I gaped at him for a few seconds. If I went out in public, I would end up in a circus cage- or worse!
To be continued.
Fading Stone, Fading Soul
I peer out from the bushes of day lilies lining the graveyard fence’s interior, looking at the visitor, kneeling on the grass and clovers in front of my crumbling gravestone. She is young, maybe only twelve or thirteen. She is wearing her long, black hair loose around her shoulders, along with a pair of tan cotton shorts, a teal tank top, and a sad expression in her blue-grey eyes as she looked at the weathered inscription. Not that there was much inscription left, after almost 200 years of wear, tear, and lichens- all that was left were a few barely legible letters.
I had felt despair for a while now, because once a person’s gravestone inscriptions are weathered off, they lose their connection to the mortal world. It makes sense, if you look at it- a gravestone is the thing that keeps a person’s memory alive in the hearts and minds of the living. As a gravestone’s words fade, and people can’t read it, their memory of the person fades with it. My epitaph was the first to go.
It was only a decade or two into my death, and the words were slowly blurred into inexistence. The roses carved into the corners withered a few years later, as lichens and mosses took their place. Then came my birth and death dates. I don’t even remember them anymore- they were gone over ninety years ago. The last thing to go was my name. That was when I lost all hope of remembrance- what is there to a person without their name? I still remember the first letter of my name, though- M. My last name definitely started with an M. It’s gone now, though- gone with the rest of my tombstone. All except my first name, and even that’s blurring out of my memory. I think it was something like Caroline, or maybe Cassandra. But what’s the use in trying to remember? The girl before my tombstone won’t know what any of the words are, and nobody ever probably will. I am just about to reconcile myself to my nothingness, when something happened.
The girl leaned forward, her nose almost touching the stone. I felt a tingle of surprise run through my ghostly form. Is there even a chance that this girl will rediscover my name? No, surely not. As if to prove my words, she leans back. But not to walk away- no, she does something even more unexpected. Delicately, almost trancelike, she traces the tip of one finger across the once clearly marked surface of the gravestone. As she traces, black ink flows from her fingertip. But she isn’t just putting ink swirls on my stone- she is tracing my name! First a C, then an A is drawn with that stark, black ink. Then a T, followed by an H. An E, then an R. An I, an N, an E. Catherine! My name is Catherine. But she doesn’t stop there. As though the realization of my name acted as a trigger, black ink not only seeped from her fingers, but flowed through the very stone itself. She continued tracing the letters, until my full name was spelled out. Catherine L. Manson. The ink was still flowing, though- my birthday was filled out and my death day, too until she finally moves on to the epitaph. The ink here flows only from the stone, with her fingers guiding it through the almost-nonexistent creases that marked its space. After a few minutes of this, my epitaph was finally clear. It read,
Beloved daughter and devoted sister,
you were taken from us in your youth.
May your body and your soul
My gravestone was complete! I looked at it with wonder. The ink, even after the words were defined, was still flowing- it filled the engraved words, then hardened into black, glassy obsidian. Even the roses carved into the corners were filled, the glass forming a superimposed image on the once-white stone. The ink flowed down the edges of the stone as well; it created a cascading, ebony vine. I could feel my connection to Earth, once fraying and almost snapped, splice together into an unbreakable chain of memory. I’m not forgotten- not anymore.
NOTE-this story is inspired by a tombstone in a graveyard in Lancaster, PA near the Franklin and Marshall campus. Everything except the first name on the stone was illegible. I take no responsibility for misrepresentation of the deceased’s name and age, or of the other inscriptions on the tombstone.
Ms. Kelly McGowan is 14 years old and living in the PEG dorm. She is an avid fan of Doctor Who, Sherlock, Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, and an obscenely long list of other fandoms. She isn’t much of an outdoor person, but might sometimes take a nap in the sun- depending on the weather! In her free time she looks around on Tumblr, but more often than not she’ll be writing a parody of whatever song happens to be stuck in her head at the moment.
PS – will write for food!