I don’t talk about it much, but back in my college days I was kind of successful with a few things. Along with journalism, I had majored in creative writing, and for my short story writing class, we had to submit one of our stories to a national literary magazine/journal of our choosing. We had dabbled in science-fiction writing, non-fiction writing, humor writing, etc. I found that I loved to write weird, off-kilter stories so I chose a quarterly humorous literary journal called The American Drivel Review to submit my work to. I was surprised when they informed me that my story had been chosen for publication. (The American Drivel Review is now gone; it was one of the victims to the decline of print media.)
Anyway, flash forward to now and I was very happy when I was cleaning my room and found a copy of the the literary journal. It is one of the stories that I still have with me. Some of you might have heard that last year my house was broken into and the thieves stole my laptop and my portable hard drive, which contained all of my writing that I did over the year. Unfortunately, unless luck smiles down on me and I find my hard drive lying around somewhere, this is one of two or three short stories that will ever be recovered.
Here are some photos of the journal, and the one paragraph they make each author write about themselves. Reading my paragraph makes me kind of sad about how far I’ve strayed.
Note: This story originally had a different ending that explained the mom’s name more (hint: her last name is Injun), but my classmates and I agreed the ending didn’t match the rest of the story. I also still have the original crappy ending if anyone wants to read it, but this was the version that was accepted for publication:
Merriam was a lover of words. While other girls were busy writing the names of boys in their notebooks, Merriam wrote “I love words” all over her binder. While other girls were going on dates with other boys, Merriam carved “I love words” on every tree she could find. “I’m going to marry words someday,” she would say, making everyone around stare at her as if she had just murdered a family of twelve.
Merriam’s mother, Searchina, was a physician. Like everyone else, she noticed Merriam’s outrageous obsession with words. She once caught Merriam making out with a dictionary. Searchina had checked the book to see if there were any pictures of cute boys in it, but there weren’t. She came to the sad realization that her daughter might be mentally ill.
So the following Tuesday, Searchina went and borrowed (or maybe stole) medical supplies from her hospital. She then called Merriam into the living room as she took out several psychiatric tests. Over the next four hours, she subjected Merriam to test after test, but Merriam surprisingly aced each one, proving that she was medically sane, except for her obsession with words. So Searchina let it go and apologized to Merriam for putting her through all that.
Then one day Searchina received a call from the principal. Merriam had been caught sneaking large words into the girls’ bathroom and was spouting them uncontrollably at her fellow classmates. “Precocious! Luddite! Finitude! Contraception!” she was shouting.
Searchina was livid. She went immediately to the school (without clocking out) and rushed to the girls’ bathroom and pulled Merriam out by her hand and dragged her home. She gave Merriam a good spanking (it was in the days when beating a child was considered a proper means of discipline). Then Searchina went into every room of the house and pulled out every dictionary and book, and threw them in the trash. She confiscated every pen and piece of paper in the house and tossed them, so Merriam wouldn’t be able to generate her own words. Then she took duct tape and placed it over Merriam’s mouth and only removed it when it was time for dinner.
The next day, Merriam returned to school. Everyone, including her classmates and her teacher, was shocked at the duct tape over her mouth, but didn’t say anything because they were glad she was shutting up for once. Merriam didn’t show any sign of distress. She never liked to cry or show that anyone affected her. So she sat at her desk while they excluded her from English lessons. Then during lunchtime, Merriam’s teacher decided to take the duct tape off Merriam’s mouth so that she could eat. Merriam’s teacher expected a flurry of words, but for the first time in her life, Merriam felt no need to say anything. She didn’t even look at the name of her school banner and counted the letters and formed them into anagrams like she would usually do. For the first time, Merriam felt void of words.
After lunchtime was over, it was time for art lessons. Merriam’s teacher attempted to put the duct tape back on Merriam’s mouth, but then decided that she didn’t need to because Merriam wasn’t speaking anymore. The teacher was about to begin her lesson on Jackson Pollock when there was a knock on the door. The principal walked in with a frail freckled-faced boy. “This is Webster Brown,” announced the principal. “He’s your new classmate and has just moved here. Please make him feel welcome.”
Webster looked for a seat and noticed all the empty ones were surrounding Merriam so he sat down next to her. “I’m Webster,” he said. Merriam looked at him, but said nothing. Just then the teacher noticed them and scolded, “Merriam! Webster! Pay attention!” At that, both of them refocused their gaze on the teacher and the lesson plans. After school, as Merriam was walking home, the image of Webster popped into her mind. She liked his freckles.
As Searchina watched Merriam enter the house, she was mad that Merriam’s teacher had not kept the duct tape on her mouth like she was instructed to. But she let it go. “What do you want for din–?” Searchina started to asked, then quickly realized that it might unleash Merriam’s words. But Merriam just shrugged. For three days, Searchina tried to get Merriam to speak again. It seemed as if Merriam had gone mute. She took out the psychiatric tests again,and Merriam passed all of them, except this time without speaking (yes, it was possible). Searchina didn’t know what was wrong. She was beginning to doubt the effectiveness of the psychiatric tests. She went and bought several dictionaries (and some women’s magazines for herself), but it was to no avail; Merriam would not speak.
The next day at school, while Merriam was gluing together a collage during art lessons, Webster came up to her. “Why don’t you speak? Are you a mute?” he asked. At which point, Merriam shook her head. “My uncle was a mute. He wasn’t born that way. He was a ball player who chewed so much tobacco, it rotted out his tongue and the doctors had to cut it off,” continued Webster. Merriam looked at him. Those kinds of things were very common in her town. It had happened to both of her grandfathers.
Webster went on. “So if you’re not a mute, why can’t you speak? Are you mentally challenged? My aunt was mentally challenged. Eventually they moved her to this place just for mentally challenged people, and they played games all day. It seemed really fun.” Merriam looked at him again. It was a very common thing in this town. It had happened to both of her aunts. And maybe one of her uncles. Merriam turned away from Webster. She wondered why the new boy wouldn’t leave her alone like everyone else. But secretly she liked that he was giving her attention.
During lunchtime, Merriam went to the front of the school as usual for her lunch. She enjoyed that area because it was secluded and free of annoying classmates. She was just about to bite into her peanut butter and banana sandwich when she heard a scream followed by the sounds of a blunt object hitting human flesh. She’d recognized that sound anywhere. It was very common in her town, but she had never been personally related to any victim of that sort of violence. She ran toward the sound, initially because she enjoyed watching violence, but then was shocked to find out it was Webster who was getting the lights beaten out of him.
“This is your official initiation at this school, punk,” said an overweight boy with a black baseball cap and an evil smile that suggested he liked to kick puppies. He was holding a baseball bat and was beating Webster with it. Merriam dropped her lunch and ran back through the school to find a teacher. She gestured frantically over to the front of the school, but the teacher didn’t understand her. “Spit it out, you stupid girl!” the teacher said (it was in those days when calling a student stupid was approved as proper discipline). But she couldn’t. Merriam couldn’t speak.
Webster landed in the hospital. For weeks, Merriam felt guilty. Even after Webster recovered and planted drugs in the overweight boy’s locker leading to the overweight boy’s arrest, Merriam felt guilty. She blamed herself for what happened to Webster. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to talk.
One day while Merriam’s teacher was teaching the class about art and explaining how to successfully bid on art auctions, she was interrupted by a knock on the door. The principal poked her head in, and dragged a shy girl in with her. The girl had blond hair in pigtails and pink glasses that rested on her delicate nose. “Everyone, I’m here to introduce your new classmate,” the principal said as she gestured toward the girl. “This is Polly. Polly Nomial,” said the principal. Merriam looked at the new girl. She thought Polly was pretty despite the fact that she wore glasses.
Polly nervously glanced around the room, then chose a seat near Webster and Merriam. Webster immediately tried to strike up a conversation. “Hi, how are ya, Polly? I’m Webster. I’m new here too. Well not that new, but still new. I had a nephew who was new, but then he turned one year old, and we no longer thought he was new… So tell me about yourself.”
Polly smiled at Webster. “Well…I like math,” she said softly. Webster smiled back. Merriam waved to the girl. For some reason she felt that this girl could be her friend. However, Polly never waved back to Merriam. In fact, Polly scooted her desk closer to Webster and away from Merriam.
From then on, Webster and Polly became great friends. She showed him how to perform long division and he showed her how to ramble. Merriam watched this from afar (and sometimes near). She secretly grew jealous of how much time Polly and Webster were spending together. She didn’t want to admit it, but she was starting to get a crush on the freckle-faced boy before Polly entered the picture.
One day while Polly was showing Webster how to multiply fractions, Merriam decided she had had enough with the jealousy. She thought the jealousy was getting out of control and turning her into a bad person. So she did the most civil thing she could think of: she went through Polly’s desk during recess and took out all of Polly’s favorite things, from her protractor to her calculator, and hid them in the bushes.
When the class returned from recess and was preparing for the teacher’s exciting lecture on sacrificial art, Polly looked through her desk. She immediately screamed. Merriam smiled and listened more intently to the teacher, who was too busy discussing artistic mutilation to hear Polly scream.
The next day, Merriam went to school, looking forward to see what would happen with Polly next. However, both Polly and Webster were absent. Merriam thought that was strange, considering the school never allowed more than one student to be absent on the same day. As the teacher was taking roll call, Merriam saw a piece of paper jammed into her desk. She took out the paper and saw that there was a note in Webster’s handwriting. It read:
Polly is kidnapping me. She’s taking me to the school basement. Don’t question how I know this. Please save me.
Merriam fumed. She was right about Polly all along. She knew there was something suspicious about a blond girl wearing glasses. Luckily she also knew how to deal with kidnappings. They were very common in her town. It had happened to two of her distant cousins.
Merriam went up to the teacher, grabbed the bathroom pass, and left the classroom. Then she ran furiously to the basement. She heard sounds of evil glee coming from one of the rooms and knew it was Polly. However, it was only the lunch lady killing cats and armadillos for the lunch special. Merriam then looked through the next door. In that room were Polly and Webster. Webster was tied to a chair and his mouth was covered with duct tape. Polly was standing over him with a knife. “Let’s see, if I stabbed you from a 45 degree angle, it would kill you instantly. Or should I do it from a 60 degree angle?” Polly was saying.
Merriam felt her mouth tingle and before she knew it she shouted out, “Hold it right there!”
Polly almost dropped the knife in shock, and stared back at Merriam. “Oh look who it is, Merriam the Sperriam.”
“Sperriam isn’t a word, you stupid-head,” said Merriam.
“Oh, I thought it was. But so what? I’m about to kill your friend. And you can’t do anything about it,” Polly said with an evil nerdy laugh.
Merriam looked at the knife Polly was holding. It was long and sharp.
“For you see, your friend, Webster here, witnessed something he shouldn’t have and was sent to the Witness Protection Agency,” Polly continued. “I was sent here to kill Webster and prevent him from telling what he saw.”
“What did he witness?” Merriam asked, trying to stall for time.
“He witnessed my sister stealing a lollipop from a candy store. The police have been on her tail ever since and if they got more witnesses, she could be put away for life,” Polly said. Merriam looked at Polly and thought, what a weird town Polly must have come from.
“Oops, that means I now have to kill you too,” said Polly.
Merriam felt a rush of adrenaline (or perhaps it was all the sugar and caffeine she had that morning) and looked around frantically for a way to stop Polly. Then she saw a sign.
“Hey Polly, do you know the difference between flammable and inflammable?” Merriam quickly said.
“Nothing! Take this, you witch!” Merriam said as she took a big five-pound dictionary from her backpack and slammed it over Polly’s head. Polly fell to the ground, unconscious. Merriam quickly untied Webster and they both ran upstairs to their classroom and told the teacher what had happened. After Polly regained consciousness, she was immediately arrested and was considered guilty until proven innocent, which was common in the town’s justice system. Merriam was pronounced the town’s hero, and they held a parade for her in the town square. Nobody ever criticized her love for words again, including Searchina.