This is the current draft of the first chapter of Alienated.
(Manuscript is a YA novel, complete at 68,000 words.)
Comments, feedback, likes, dislikes-- any and all would be greatly appreciated.
Nate is a loner with anger management issues. He gets sent to a special school for troubled teens. It's full of interesting kids-- there's a quirky autistic, a brooding pyromaniac, an overly chatty schizophrenic-- Nate finally fits right it. He falls for a beautiful girl named Alexia who tells everyone that she's an alien from outer space. Nate doesn't believe she's really an alien. And she doesn't believe he's really a homicidal maniac. (One of them turns out to be wrong.)
♫ ♫ Pennywise- "Alien" ♫ ♫
Nate's fist slammed into the guy's face.
There was a crunch.
The sound, the ominous crunch of breaking bone, seemed to echo like the snap of a final straw. (It was a useful, multitasking sort of sound.)
Clearly, it was not the moment that Nate's final straw snapped, as he was already in the process of beating some nameless guy's face in. Nate had passed the point of restraint. But it was usual for his contempt to be thinly veiled and weakly reined; he snapped easily and often.
No, the final straw in question would come to belong to Nate's father. The punch was really not going to go over well with him. (Nate's father had had it with his son's lack of restraint.)
But Nate wasn't worried about that yet. The present was taking up all of his attention. Nate felt hyper-aware; flooded with adrenaline; his nerves sang and danced, thrilled to be drowning in the rush. His thoughts felt distant but clear. The present moment was not happening in slow motion, but a pocket of time had stretched out in his head, giving him the illusion of enough space for his racing clarity to seem leisurely.
The some-guy's head rocketed sideways from the impact. No blood dramatically spewed from his mouth; no blood whiplashed wetly in a graceful arc through the air. There was, however, some drool. Some of the people in the hallway were screaming, and Nate distantly wondered if it was due to the violence or the drool. (It was mostly due to the drool, which had not actually landed on anyone, but it had come close enough, that several girls were insisting that it "literally" had.)
Nate felt disoriented by his heightened senses, the surreal sound effects. It was as if his current actions were just background music to the larger movie of his life-- a glib soundtrack of sickening snaps, all straw and bones and... whatever other things made snapping noises. Noises that only existed for the future cueing of memory-- prophetic glimpses later to be remixed. (SNAP! Fingers! Ah yes, that was it. Memory recalled!) Memory recalled and reshuffled. Every glitch of sound was the mark of a clever editing device-- right now, something to punctuate the moment that straw broke the back of the cantankerous camel (the camel, in this case, being his father). A small herald sounding impending doom.
Nate considered punching the guy again. There was a little blood now, just a couple of drops. The guy was testing it with his middle finger. Nate waited to see if he was going to hit back.
The guy had called Nate a crazy psycho. That would have been fine. But then he had gone on to make a disparaging comment about Nate's mother. Nate was very sensitive about his mother. That was when he'd decided to hit the guy. More accurately, it was when he decided to stop preventing himself from hitting the guy.
It was the five-minute break between classes and the hallways were full of students. Nate hated the crush of other people milling around him, the laughter and causal touching of happy people. He was not a fan of crowds. He also didn't like the whine of the fluorescent lights in the hall, they egged on the black rage in his skull, made him feel like he couldn't think.
Even when people were not insulting his mother, his thoughts were scrambled with blood and violence. He had wanted to stab the overhead light in the eye socket. Short-circuit it. Fry its brains out. Then some guy had irritated him, said things, and knocking the guy's lights out instead had sounded like an acceptable substitute.
But apparently, the guy did not want to fight. His nose was now bleeding profusely. He held up his hands, palms out, in a gesture that indicated cessation and said, "Whatever, Man." It seemed to be over.
But then it wasn't.
A slender girl ran up to Nate and slapped him across the face. Nate stared down at the top of her head. She was a blur of pink shirt and black mascara. Apparently, Nate had just punched her boyfriend. For some reason, this made her go berserk. She slapped, hit, and screamed at Nate.
Nate was a chauvinist in the sense that he had reservations about punching a girl full in the face, or, at all. He did not treat her as an equal. He just stood there.
This seemed to make her more upset because she started hitting him harder. She was a surprisingly strong little thing. Nate had to concentrate on not flinching.
He kept his arms at his sides woodenly-- no deflection, no self-protection, just absorbing it all in, taking everything she had to give. Nate wished his chest and arms were as numb as his facial expression. Pain and swear words crowded in on his thoughts.
Nate wondered if there would ever come a point at which he could count on numbness. He imagined his life continuing like this indefinitely-- being pummeled. Perhaps he would reach an age where he was nerveless and unbreakable.
Having absorbed so many mental and physical blows, year after year, his skin ought to get thicker. Roughened and beaten into one huge callus. Skin aged and strengthened, weathered into proper armor. Skin trained to take anything. A deadened outer shell keeping everything vaulted.
But for now, Nate was all chinks and cracks.
Something was always splitting through-- his eyes, his lips-- something would always crack and give him away.
Instead of fighting this weakness, Nate occasionally tried to use it to his advantage. He let things slip though on purpose. He let some of the crazy shine through the cracks, so that people would back up, so that they wouldn't peer too closely at the rest.
He focused on doing this now.
Nate knew he made people uncomfortable. People mock what makes them feel uncomfortable. They attack what makes them feel upset and unsure. Nate thought this was perfectly reasonable. He made people feel angry. They verbally attacked him because he was a threat to them. Nate understood the need to attack threats. He wanted to be a threat.
He let his thoughts bleed into his eyes.
I'm not secretly a nice person, Girl. Or even if I am, my patience is running out, and I may punch you in the face after all...
Nate let her see that he thought about killing her. He hoped it would make her uncomfortable enough to stop hitting him.
Luckily, it did.
The girl held his gaze for a second too long. She was spitting mad one second and stuttering to a stop the next. She backed up, grabbed her boyfriend's bloody hand, and fled.
Nate had thought of the girl as tiny, but she wasn't. She had been of average size. Nate was just tall for his age. At sixteen, he stood at a decently filled out six foot two. Even thought he wasn't overly skinny, he gave the impression of being all angles-- a wiry creature made of elbows and sharpness. His eyes were dark and so was his hair. He rarely slouched but often kept his eyes down; he didn't shrink from people but he didn't find most of them worth looking at.
Administrative authority had finally been roused by all the commotion. A fat beast of a man was walking purposefully toward Nate, coming to collect him and deliver him for punishment. He was speaking into a walkie-talkie. Nate went with him quietly.
The school year was almost over; there were less than two weeks left. Nate wondered if he would be suspended or expelled. He glanced down the hallway that contained his locker, trying to recall if he had left anything in it that he wanted.
The man ushered him into the principal's office, holding the door open and gesturing for Nate to walk in first.
"Here he is. The boy he attacked is with the nurse-- she says his nose is broken."
"Thank-you." the principal said in a clipped voice.
The man left.
The principal was wearing a gray dress with a matching jacket. The dress was tight through her middle, producing finger-sized fat-rolls that outlined her sides in links of gray sausages. She straightened the large walkie-talkie that was sitting on the corner of her desk and indicated that Nate should have a seat.
He sat across the desk from the principal and watched her make phone calls. She didn't call his Dad right away, she took care of other inconsequential business, making him wait.
Nate thought she was trying to make him sweat. She was. She wanted him to grow restless, uncomfortable, to ask what was going to happen to him. Nate did not oblige. He waited her out. They both wanted the other to be the one to speak first.
However, Nate had all the time in the world and the principal did not. She did have an actual job to do. She could afford to waste a little time trying to assert power, but not all day. Finally, she turned her attention to him and nastily told him that he would be expelled.
Then she called his father.
Nate cringed, inwardly. Outwardly, he tried to look unconcerned. Part of him felt bad. He couldn't hear the other side of the phone conversation, but his imagination unhelpfully filled in the gaps.
"Yes. I'll be waiting with him in my office." The principal said, itching her chin on the left shoulder pad of her jacket. "There is paperwork you'll need to sign... No, I'm sorry, he most definitely can not be sent home on his own recognizance. You will need to come and pick him up."
She hung up the phone and sent Nate into an inner room adjacent to her office. She watched him through a large glass window. She continued to make phone calls but Nate could no longer make out what she was saying. He considered learning how to read lips-- not that he was all that interested in what the principal was saying, but just because it seemed like a useful skill to have. He stared back at her through the thick pane. He wondered if any student had ever broken that tempting window. He fingered the seat of his chair thoughtfully and imagined throwing it through the glass. The window was crosshatched with thin black lines; Nate didn't know what the lines were (Wire perhaps?), but he assumed they prevented the window from being easily broken by a casually tossed chair.
Nate spent a lot of time staring at the window while he waited. Two hours and eleven minutes passed before his father arrived. When he finally did, he barely glanced at Nate through the window; he immediately got into it with the principal. Nate very much wished he could read lips at this point. His dad was talking heatedly, but not loud enough for Nate to catch what he was saying. He argued with the principal for a few minutes and failed to sign papers that the principal pushed across the desk at him. He walked toward Nate and opened the door.
"Let's go. NOW."
As Nate had anticipated, his father was not pleased. He looked sweaty, red, and breathy. His father did not wait; he turned and stomped out of the office. Nate scrambled to grab his stuff and ran out after him.
The car ride home was tense and silent. It was an absolutely beautiful day outside; the sun was shining in a cloudless sky of deep and brilliant blue; the trees and plants lining the street were lush and alive; birds were singing; squirrels raced along power lines-- not a single one getting electrocuted.
Nate sourly watched it all rushing past the windshield.
Nate's Dad unlocked the door and let them into the house. He threw his keys noisily into the bowl by the kitchen table; He poured himself a drink; He loosened his tie and sighed.
Nate hovered, wondering if he was going to be yelled at now or if he would be allowed to escape to his room for a while. His Dad did not look like he was about to start yelling... he looked somewhat defeated.
Nate's father sat slumped in a chair pushed back from the kitchen table. He took his glasses off. The bridge of his nose was shiny and red where his glasses had been.
"I don't know what to do with you, Nate. I really don't." Dad sighed.
Nate laughed without humor, a short bark of sound. "I don't either, Dad."
"Fighting again? Why can't you make more of an effort to get along with people? Why can't you just adjust!?" Dad said in frustration.
Equally frustrated, Nate replied, "Why? I don't know. Apparently, humans can get used to anything, so maybe I'm not human. Apparently, people hear the wail of constant sirens screaming in their ear and they learn to smile and hum and not lose their concentration. People get their hands chopped off, over and over, and then stuck back on, and chopped off, over and over again, every day, and they learn to smile and nod and plod along without screaming. Well, screw that! I do not understand that. I cannot do that. I happen to find intense amounts of pain and annoyance painful and annoying! And when the stupidity of other people happens again and again and again and AGAIN AGAIN AGAIN!!! It doesn't become less so. I just feel more annoyed. I feel more pain. I do not adjust to it. Insanity is adjusting to it. Why don't I adjust?? Because I don't want to adjust!"
"EXACTLY!" Dad yelled, "You don't WANT to."
Nate paced the room, feeling sullen and alone. He wished his Dad understood. He hated his Dad for not understanding. He hated himself for caring so much what his Dad thought. Nate's thoughts were chaotic, he couldn't put it all into words, he didn't know the right words to reach his father.
He tried again, speaking more softly, "Dad, it's like there is too much disconnected knowledge in the world, too much red tape, too many steps of how and why and what department do I have to go to have that filed... and there is no way to keep all of it in one head, so no one really knows how to do anything, no one knows how it all works, the world is all just ants and pieces of ants, each one a little fraction of another piece, this carried to that, and place that bit here, and it's not cohesive, it's not a unit, it looks like a machine because there is so much bustle, but it's all this mindless frenzy of moving parts that don't quite connect up, that never GO anywhere or DO anything as a whole, it's all just the nicks and snips and sniping bits of circling rats..."
"Yes. That's life." Dad said unsympathetically. "You seem to think that this is some profound thought of yours alone-- it's not. Life has been called a 'rat race' for decades. Being angry and disaffected is only going to make your life, not to mention mine, that much more unpleasant. Suck it up."
The muscles in Nate's jaw twitched in response. (This was not out of desire to suck something.) Nate took a couple of deep breaths and visibly tried to swallow his temper. It struggled rebelliously, straining against his attempts to choke it down.
Nate had always had a bit of a temper. He had been born an impatient child but not a homicidal one. That had come later.
When he was eleven, Nate had been relatively normal. Life had been relatively normal. He had had friends. He'd lived with both parents. They used to live in a two-bedroom apartment. It wasn't a dump, but it was small. At the time, they had been waiting for their house to be built.
His mom used to complain about how thin the walls were. Nate remembered listening with her, standing next to her, grinning at each other, each of them with one ear pressed to the wall. But even without trying it had been easy to hear the neighbors. In the bathroom, lying in bed at night-- the apartment had always been rustling. Neighbors clanging around, everything distorted into odd echoes, fractured and muffled like cockroaches scuttling around inside the walls. That's what his mom used to say-- They're like cockroaches scuttling around inside the walls! She had seemed so excited to move into the new house.
But his mother had never moved in. She'd never lived here; she'd never sat at the kitchen table that his Dad was currently brushing free of crumbs. She'd never even come to visit. She wasn't dead. She was just gone. Nate hadn't seen her since he was eleven. Apparently, she couldn't be bothered with being his mother anymore.
Nate and his Dad had moved into the house anyway. They had lived here four, almost five, years. The house was quiet and cockroach free. Neither of them had made an effort to meet the next-door neighbors, who stayed properly behind a tall wooden fence and had no interest in meeting Nate and his father either.
Nate woke up sometimes in the stillness and found himself missing the apartment. The desire annoyed him. It had been a space that pulsed-- it was never quiet-- it thrummed. It had been filled up with those restless walls, the hum of electronics, and traffic from outside. Nate liked quiet. When he awoke to these thoughts, he stubbornly yelled at his subconscious to stop displacing his feelings.
Nate was homicidal, not suicidal. Mostly, he imagined guns blasting into other people's skulls, not his own. But sometimes he imagined a gun blasting into his own skull. He liked the image. He loved the thought of the shocking ringing silence afterwards. The idea of that silence was peaceful.
Things had not been peaceful after his mom left. Nate temper deepened. At first, his teachers had nodded sympathetically and pretended to be knowledgeable. They spoke in grave voices about 'acting out'. Back when he was eleven and twelve, his Dad had still been in shock. He had also been surprised; it was hard for him to discover that his wife couldn't be bothered with being his wife anymore. Nate was given a lot of slack, allowances were made for his behavior. It was only to be expected. His father was adjusting to being a single dad and had his own issues.
But as time went on, teachers quickly grew less tolerant. People stopped blaming his actions on hormones, puberty, or the fact that his mother had abandoned him-- they held Nate accountable for his own behavior.
It had been the gun that got him in trouble. (Not a real gun.) A mannerism that stemmed from his imaginings-- a gesture to go with the image of a gun blasting into his skull and leaving a giant silence. He had started making a gun with his finger and putting it to his head. He did this whenever he wanted to block everything out, which was often.
People were disturbed.
This resulted in Nate being sent to see a psychologist and a psychiatrist when he was thirteen.
He didn't fixate on the idea of gun-blast silence much anymore. The gesture made his dad upset. Nate, who knew his dad hated it, cheerfully did it now. His dad ignored it while continuing to sweep away crumbs that no longer existed.
"Actions have consequences, Nate." Dad said tiredly.
Nate was aware of this. However, he had not yet been able to work out the actions that would result in all of his ideally desired consequences.
"Yeah. But like, say I want some cake, right? And you're trying to tell me-- Nate, don't punch people because that will not get you any cake! Fine, I get that. But sitting in class doesn't get me any cake either. Going for a walk or doing my homework doesn't get me any cake either. Not punching people in the face doesn't get me any cake either! So, the consequences are all the same! I still don't have any freaking cake. The cake is a lie! So sometimes, I feel like I might as well punch someone about it, because, at least that's something." Nate said darkly.
"Oh yes, it is something. Now you do not have what you want, but you do possibly have an assault and battery charge! That's brilliant. Very well thought out. How did I raise such a clever son?" Dad said sarcastically.
Nate scowled. Actions and emotions notwithstanding, Nate was quite clever. He didn't always sound as intelligent as he actually was, because his thoughts tended to become disorganized when he was angry, and he was angry a lot of the time. Being smart was part of his problem. Part of his officially diagnosed 'insanity' resulted from his ability to hold opposing ideas in his head. He was always at war with himself. His mind flip-flopped logic, keeping him at loggerheads.
He did try to look at things from every angle. He did try to question everything, even himself. Because of this, he knew his dad had a very good point. Part of him even completely agreed with his father.
He understood there were going to be all kinds of unpleasant consequences because of his actions. But, at the same time, he really wanted to know how to get at that cake. He was angry his dad did not know, or would not tell him, this secret. He was angry his dad refused to acknowledge the point Nate had been trying to make.
Nate was seized with a strong and sudden desire for some actual cake. Thinking about metaphorical cake had made him hungry. He investigated the contents of the refrigerator and discovered half of a red-velvet cake. He cut himself a large piece, poured a glass of milk, and sat down at the table.
His dad stared at him.
Nate chewed some more.
"I can't deal with you anymore today." Dad finally said, "We'll talk more tomorrow, once I figure some things out."
Nate's father left the kitchen and went to his room, shutting the door. It was a pity; he left just as Nate was creating dozens of new crumbs for him to fuss over. Nate finished his cake, he gulped the last of his milk and set the glass back down on the table.
A few drops of milk sloshed over the side, nothing to cry about, just enough to slowly drip down the outside of the glass and pool at the rim around the bottom-- crescent like. When Nate picked up the glass again, a wet slice of moon was revealed. Nate grabbed a napkin to blot the milky smile.
He stared at the milk-stained napkin, the shape of the moon preserved in negative. He turned the napkin around, making the grin into a frown. He bared his teeth at it.
That night, Nate dreamed of werewolves.
His dad spent the next couple of days on the phone, arguing with the school. They finally agreed to let Nate pass his sophomore year, which they had not wanted to do, even though it was so close to the end of the school year. They were firm about not taking him back; he remained permanently expelled.
The parents of the boy with the broken nose also had to be dealt with. They wanted to press charges, but Nate's father managed to talk them out of it. Nate ended up having to pay for a ridiculously expensive doctor's bill (a plastic surgery consultation). His father had offered to pay this bill on the condition that they would not take any legal action against Nate. In addition, Nate would complete twenty hours of community service each week for the entire summer. Nate thought this was excessive. His father disagreed.
It was not an enjoyable summer. The mood in the house stayed tense. Nate worked mowing lawns, earning money to pay the outrageous doctor's bill.
On the first day of his 'volunteer' community service, Nate listened patiently to his dad's speech about helping others and getting his priorities straight. He secretly resolved to try to have a good attitude while maintaining a look of disgust. He shrugged noncommittally at his father when the speech was over.
Nate was slated to assist in the civic beautification of a local park. This meant he spent the next four hours picking up trash, planting flowers, and painting over the graffiti on the racquetball courts.
There were four other people beautifying the park with him. He tried to be friendly. He attempted to strike up a conversation with the boy who was planting flowers next to him.
"Hey." Nate said optimistically. He was trying to think positively. He was holding out hope that this guy would actually be interesting or funny, and not fill him with an overwhelming desire to punch his face in.
"S'up." The guy said.
"My dad is making me do this because I don't play well with others." Nate volunteered.
"Oh, yeah?" The guy chuckled. "I don't either. People? Man, people are pricks."
Nate felt encouraged by this. He nodded in agreement. They both stared solemnly at the people in the park, as if contemplating humanity.
"Yeah, it's like-- whoa-- so weird! People's heads? Weird." the guy said.
Delighted, Nate said, "Yeah... people's heads! What goes on in there? I'm always wondering. Not just whether they are thinking about lunch or politics or porn or something like that, you know? Not just content, but what it all looks like. Does the inside of their head look like watching a TV? Images pouring in smooth and clear? Or is it just all murky and stupid and filled with big globs of nothing-- thoughts unformed, like they are-- impressionable sheep. Do sheep people just KNOW stuff, without thinking, like how you sometimes just know things in dreams, without words or landmarks? Sheeple instinct? Or is it all words laid out neat like a book? And, if it is, then why are they all so stupid? And why don't people ever TALK about stuff like that? People never talk about anything interesting. It's all just-- How are you, how are you, fine, fine, a guy threw a ball, a team won a game, smile, laugh, how nice, goodbye, goodbye. Heads without evident substance. Weird."
The guy blinked. He had been referring to the actual shape of people's heads, which seemed weird to him because he had dropped some acid before coming to beautify the park.
"I think I'm thinking about lunch and porn." He said.
"Wow. Deep." Nate said despondently, stabbing his dull spade viciously into the earth. Turning the dirt over, he discovered he had severed a worm. Its two halves writhed painfully. Nate sadly scooped dirt back over it and patted it down. (The worm went on to beat the odds. One half did end in a piece of dead worm, but the half with the head grew a new tail. The worm lived happily ever after in the flowerbed Nate was replanting.)
Later in the day, while painting, Nate half-heartedly tried again with a man who was painting the neighboring racquetball court. That conversation was even less successful. Nate's faith in the human race was not renewed.
Some of the graffiti Nate was painting over contained swear words, and some of them were misspelled. Nate though that was just bad vandalism. If you wanted the whole world to know how F-ing tiny Red Dawg's genitalia was, you ought to do a proper job of it. The hyphen in F-ing was kind of important. The writing on the wall did not have a hyphen. The wall informed Nate that, "Red Dawg was a bish with a fing tiny pienis." Better yet, lose the hyphen and spell the word out properly. Nate was struck by the irony of a person who didn't mind committing a crime, but didn't want to spell out a swear word. He made this observation to his fellow painter, who failed to appreciate it.
Nate's brain went to war, arguing with himself since no one else seemed up to the job. It helped to pass the time. Nate argued that swear words were just words, there was no need to get so upset about them, words only have power because people freak out about them, they don't really have power on their own. The devil on Nate's other shoulder countered that words have power for exactly that reason, people give them power, and so they become infused with the strength of ages, backed by decades, encrusted by society, like barnacles on the bottom of a boat, a crust entrenched and scraped into the brains of every new generation, becoming more and more impossible to remove.
Nate stepped back and stared at the freshly painted wall. It was blank as a newborn page. Nate left it naked, empty as raw words in a dictionary-- something clean and clearly defined, before future usage tacked additional things on. For now, its situation was free of connotation, aggravation, arguable interpretation, gutters and deviant penetration. Sadly, for now was always momentary.
Nate was happy to see his dad when he came to pick him up, but the feeling soon wore off. (Nate did have a driver's license, but he did not have a car and his dad was not allowing him to drive. Driving was a privilege.)
"How did it go?" Dad prodded.
"Red Dawg is a bish with a fing." Nate shrugged.
"What the hell is a fing?" Dad asked suspiciously.
"That is an excellent question."
His dad was silent for a minute. Nate stabbed at the buttons of the radio.
"Is it, perhaps, a thing?" His dad went on, still puzzled.
"There isn't any fing I can do?" Nate asked skeptically.
It was the best conversation they had had since Nate got expelled. Unfortunately, it did not last.
Summer plodded on. Nate continued to be depressed by humanity while performing community service. His father continued to try and find a school that would accept Nate for his junior year. Nate had been suspended several times before he was expelled and he had a long history of fighting. Nate suggested he get his GED instead of going back to school, but his dad would not hear of it. His dad was going to have to put him in a private school, since none of the public schools would take him. Nate felt guilty about this because he knew private schools were expensive.
Nate was miserable.
(Luckily, this was not a permanent condition.)