Monday came too soon. After waking up to the unpleasant surprise on her computer, Sissy had spent Sunday with her sketchbook. She'd made other characters – a few male protagonists, she'd thought. She didn't get enough fun with the male figure, so she'd somewhat altered her ambitions by making them exceptionally pretty boys, all with big eyes, long hair, and slender necks.
For what it had been worth, Sissy was rather proud of her accomplishment. She'd created some new characters – though none of them had names, yet – and they'd be fun to draw.
But for now, she had writer's block. She had no idea what to write, no idea what to draw in terms of story or character, and she had nobody to talk to about it.
In a sense, she was glad for school. Going to her classes was a steady, easy routine one which gave her some peace of mind. She went through the day, calmly. People kept glancing at her. She knew they were staring at her new haircut. Sissy kept her head down and let her bangs do the work of keeping her from meeting other people's eyes.
In a way, it felt like it protected her from their gaze. As though, by stopping herself from seeing other people, other people couldn't see her.
There was also the sense that she knew Sarah and Cecelia kept watching her, but she avoided them just as easily. After all, they'd been happy enough to go along with the crowd and not talk to her before – why should it have changed just because they took her to get a haircut? And that's all it had been.
Yes, Sissy knew that she'd treated it like an invasion of her sense of self, like she'd been somehow violated, at the time. But that was then. Now, she was willing to just go back to the way it had been.
She 'd liked it, the way it'd been. She had been happy with that. It hadn't been PERFECT, but she'd been comfortable with it. Now that her attempt at being one of the popular girls had ended, she was happy to get back to it.
The only problem with that was that she couldn't get back to her computer. Every time she turned the screen on and tried to type, she was struck with the creepiest sensation that she was being watched. She couldn't even think of what to write. That had never happened before – she'd always had something to write about.
In the meantime, she was going to stick with her schoolwork and doodling. She could live with that.
Sissy finally managed to get up the nerve to sit at her computer. After all, what had disturbed her was that she had found some typing on her computer that she hadn't written, but that wasn't so disturbing anymore. After all, maybe it was one of her parents. Maybe she'd written it and just forgotten that she'd done it. Maybe she'd been sleepwalking. It could have been anything. If she was going to get over this, she was going to just start typing. Anything. If she could get Carrie into something...
Well, maybe that was the problem. She'd killed Carrie off. But, on the other hand, maybe she could give Carrie an afterlife. She could make her have an adventure. She could make her become some kind of spirit. She could make her merge with the other spirits and take vengeance on her father.
Sissy started to type.
Sissy. That's my creator's name. She's the reason I'm like this, right now.
Why? What did I ever do to her? I've never hurt her. I've always been there for her. I listened to her. I helped her. I was her friend.
Maybe it's time for me to stop being her friend.
No. That's not what Sissy meant to do. Granted, it was a good way to put Carrie's thoughts in order, but that's not what Sissy wanted her to think.
After all, she could make Carrie a good character. Carrie was the protagonist. Protagonists were the good guys. They didn't think about hurting people or being evil.
She didn't want to make Carrie evil.
Sissy hit the delete button and tried to start over.
My name is Carrie. I had a life that was cruel to me.
My father... his name is not important. He did horrible things to me. What they are... they are not important. Not anymore.
My mother... her name is not important. She did nothing. She is not important.
I am no longer alive. How that happened to me is not important. I cannot change it, nor can I go back.
Alright. This was better. Still, it didn't give Sissy anything to do with Carrie. How could she create a conflict or make a villain? What could she do to make Carrie into an active character?
Maybe she could have Carrie at least try to go back to her world. Just to haunt her father...
I don't care about my father. Haunting him would do me no good. He cannot be punished anymore than he already will be.
Even if he isn't arrested or hurt, he was just a different part of my story. Without me around, he will no longer exist.
Hmm... well, that apparently wasn't an idea that would work. Sissy wanted to delete it, except it just seemed so right. After all, if Carrie had dismissed her parents as 'not important', it would make sense that she wouldn't care enough to want revenge.
But, still. What was she supposed to do?
My name is Carrie. I was a character in a story. I was not alive. I didn't really exist. Maybe that means I haven't really died. Maybe I am just moving on to a different level of existence, like illumination of the Buddha or ascension of Christ into Heaven.
My name is Carrie. It was given to me, not by my parents, but by my creator. By my author.
Now, that was a cool idea. To have Carrie come into the "real" world, see how she interacted with everyone else around her, how she adjusted to being a person in Sissy's world...
Would she even take a place, somewhere? Would she perhaps have a body of her own? How would that happen?
My name is Carrie. My author named me, made me, and controlled me.
Her name is Sissy. My life had belonged to her. She had owned me and used me.
Well, that was something that Sissy supposed she'd just typed without thinking again. But, now that she thought about it, maybe breaking the fourth wall wasn't going to be so bad. Maybe it would give Sissy a reason to weave in those dialogues she had with Carrie.
Sissy kept going.
Now, it's my turn.
Sissy paused. Her turn? What was that? What did Carrie mean by "her turn"? Why would she say that? And why was Sissy freaking out over this? After all, she'd been the one to type that in. There was obviously a reason – because she thought it would be cool. She must have been thinking of a reason and just totally forgot about it. One of the curses of ADHD.
Sissy pushed away from her computer and turned to her math homework. After all, now that she had that prompt down, she'd just naturally be able to pick up where she'd left off.
Sissy kept scribbling away on her book. Each page was filled with a bizarre combination of mathematical equations and sketches of her work. Some pages even had whole drawings, whose lines were filled with math problems in the place of any shading.
With each page, Sissy tore it off and let it float up towards the ceiling. The air around her was filled with floating, flying pages from her notebook, and each of them hovered around her, as though drawn in by a magnet.
Finally, Sissy outlined a sketch of Carrie's face, and that was when the other pages all stopped moving. The ink on the page rose off of it, shaped like the picture, and Carrie's mouth opened and took Sissy's pencil in her teeth and chewed it up.
Sissy blinked at her drawing, but the ink disappeared, disintegrating into the air, and that was when Sissy looked up and realized that she was sitting in the middle of a tank of water.
Sissy woke up, sweating. Her alarm wasn't going off, but she could see the faintest of glows on the opposite side of her curtains, like the sky was in those predawn shades of gray. Whatever that dream had been about, it had spooked her awake.
She closed her eyes. She wanted a few more minutes of sleep. Maybe, if she got a little more sleep, she'd be able to understand what that had been.
A minute passed. Sissy could feel the creak of her wooden bed frame. She heard the clatter of something on the roof and the whistle of the wind. There was a groaning noise over her, as though something was in the attic and moving around.
Another minute passed. Sissy tried to focus on the feel of her sheets, on the air around her toes, on the way her hairs were standing up. What could she do to go back into sleep. Nothing was working, and she wasn't even sure why.
Well, okay, because she was freaked out over a weird dream. That made sense. But what did that matter? It was just a dream. It was just something odd that had happened while she was asleep. It didn't mean anything.
Sissy finally just sat up and crawled down the ladder of her loft, just to check the time. Five forty-five. She didn't have to be up for another fifteen minutes, but she wasn't sleepy. She was tired, but not sleepy, and none of it would do her any good.
She slid all the way down to the floor and started to get dressed. She wasn't able to shake the feeling that something was wrong, but she just kept moving.
Besides, she could sleep in her desk if she got to school early.
In the end, Sissy didn't. She ended up sketching in her notebook, again. Her first class was supposed to be an art class of some sort, but she didn't care – all of her art classes were the best. They were art, and that was the greatest gift she had. She could sketch or write or do anything and she had been blessed with a wonderfully perfect teacher for the subject – an short, curly-blonde haired grandmotherly woman. She always let Sissy into the classroom early and let her sketch and draw to her heart's content. Sissy wasn't sure if she liked her, but she definitely appreciated her.
The drawing was shaping into Carrie's face, yet again. Sissy had been doing this a lot, lately. But, oh well – she figured this was probably for the best. After all, she needed to get Carrie's story figured out.
Sissy let her pencil move in the graceful strokes that composed Carrie's face. It felt odd, though. Normally, her pencil just sort of... went where it would go. She'd never thought about how to move her arm to make something on the paper – it was always as though the lines that needed to be formed just drew her hand and pencil to them, like gravitation pulled two bodies together.
But now, Sissy's hand felt weird. It was as though she was... not thinking about it, per se, but as though something else was thinking about it and she could sense it. It was like she was concentrating on something very, very hard, and that was making her hand move.
The bell rang. Sissy carelessly dropped her pencil, startled. She had to get out of her chair and crawl under the table for it.
"Wow, Sissy." Sissy sat up and almost hit her head on the table, but knew how to avoid that. When she crawled back out, her art teacher was staring at Sissy's sketchbook. Her small blue eyes stood out, especially dramatic in her small, round, pudgy face.
"What?" Sissy asked. Her teacher simply smiled and pointed to Sissy's notebook, prompting her to crawl back into her seat and look at what her teacher had noticed.
"I really love this picture. This is a great use of facial proportions and shading for expression." And Sissy saw exactly what her teacher had noticed. But she also noticed it had not been quite what Sissy remembered drawing.
Carrie's face stared up from the picture, but it wasn't as Sissy remembered drawing. Instead of being sultry and subtle and indirect, Carrie's eyes stared up from the paper, and glared at the viewer. Sissy looked at the picture and saw a baleful stare, one that she'd never seen from another human being. Maybe it was the one she wore when she was looking at other people who annoyed her, but it was altogether frightening on Carrie's sketched face.
And, above all, Sissy didn't think she'd drawn it. She'd never drawn Carrie like this – how could she have managed this? She would have had to have been possessed to draw this, she just didn't have the skills to...
"Well... it's not that good..." Sissy managed to say. Her teacher gave a shrug – one of the trademark examples of someone who liked to rather encourage her students by making suggestions than cutting down their flaws.
"I'll admit, it does look unfinished. But it's a great sketch." Her teacher managed, "And, besides, everyone is different."
Sissy didn't say anything to that, because that was when the bell rang and everyone else in her class came swarming through the doors. She didn't have another chance with her teacher.
Sissy was starting to sketch in all of her classes. Her wrist shook, her arm would jump over and over and over. It felt like what Sissy imagined Restless Leg Syndrome would feel like, if only it was in her arm. Yeah, that's what it was: Restless Arm Syndrome.
Her fingers were sculpting stranger and stranger pictures. Sissy was seeing more and more sketches of Carrie. More and more of them were glaring at her. All of them looked so real. Not one of them, did Sissy remember drawing until someone saw them and commented on them.
Restless Drawing Syndrome, more like it.
Sissy tried to stop drawing Carrie, tried to draw things like her classmates, her teachers, different characters, still-lifes that were sitting in front of her.
She tried to sketch her school – the windows looked too much like eyes.
She tried to draw her own hand – the fingers looked like they were stretching out, trying to grab her.
She tried to draw the girl next to her, whom was texting on her cell under the table as they took a test – it looked too much like the girl was staring at her and holding a knife.
Sissy stopped sketching. It was all she could do.
"Sissy, can I see you after class?" One of her teachers finally asked. Her math teacher – Mr. Assajid, a little Indian man with a limp – had never asked her to stay after class. Granted, she was getting lower and lower grades as the years of math went by, but it wasn't like she was failing. She understood... sort of. She'd memorized the formulas... a little. She wasn't stupid... really.
Then, after class, Mr. Assajid pulled out her most recent test. All in the margins, there were doodles. Sissy had finished the test early – though, clearly, not too well – and she'd tried to make a border for the paper.
Instead, there were faces. All of them the same. All of them angry, and glaring out at the viewer, and hateful.
All of them were Carrie's face.
"I don't mind your creativity..." Mr. Assajid said, "...But I do think you could do much better if you spent more time on the problems than on doodling."
Sissy couldn't have agreed more.
Sissy stopped drawing, altogether. Her pen only ever moved to write letters or numbers. She did all of her homework without even a line out of place that could be a doodle.
This manifested a problem in her art classes. She obviously had to do something for her 2-D design. The best Sissy could think was to use stencils for everything. If she was going to draw something that was a circle, she brought cut-outs from cardboard and traced around them. If it was a flower, she used triangles for the petals, then traced the edges of circles back and forth to make the ridges that made the flowery shapes. If it was a piece of draped cloth, Sissy used the triangles, then went back and erased until it looked like a wrinkle.
It took two days of this before her teacher suddenly realized that Sissy was, by all rights, cheating.
"I don't understand – this should all be easy for you." She said. The piece that Sissy had handed in after class practice was static and bland, angular compared to the original flowers that they'd been told to draw. That, and the fact that it was only half-finished, compared to all the other student's, whose pieces were more natural, it certainly didn't fit the assignment.
Sissy didn't answer her teacher. She couldn't.
How was she supposed to explain that she wasn't able to draw anything without it somehow ending up looking like Carrie's face? How did she just tell someone that? Her other teachers had just passed it off as her doodling. How was she supposed to explain it to her art teacher?
In the end, Sissy had to go to her next class. Her teacher refused to give her a completed grade for the assignment until Sissy stopped using the stencils.
Painting was a little easier – Sissy had never been as dextrous with a paintbrush as she was with a pencil, to begin with. The brush's strokes were harder to control, and it wasn't nearly as easy to manipulate the colors into shapes as it was to put lines on a page.
The result was that the little work Sissy did on her project looked a great deal like a mess of nothing. They were supposed to be doing landscapes based off of photographs taken from magazines. Everything that Sissy had to paint was in grays and blues and whites, given that she'd chosen a picture of the Alps from a ski resort ad. There was no chance of her making a picture that looked like a face.
Still, Sissy couldn't help but worry – what if she couldn't ever draw or sketch again? What if this was a permanent thing? How was she supposed to finish her classes? For that matter, how was she supposed to stay sane? How was she supposed to finish her stories if she couldn't draw anymore? What was she supposed to do with Carrie if the only way she could ever draw her again was with that horrible scowl on her face?
The bell rang. Sissy continued to stroke the painting, putting thinner and thinner layers of blue into the sky. Somehow, she could never get clouds to look right – unless, of course, they were supposed to be cartoonish and bubbly. But these were not. These were supposed to be thin and whispy, light and fuller of air than air itself, misty like romantic eyes.
Sissy jerked her brush away from the canvas. There were eyes in the clouds. Faint and sketched in. It was as though she had put them in there, clearly, from the first moment, and then ran the smudge tool on a software program over them – blurry and abstract, but undeniably there.
And, now that Sissy thought about it, there was that line of the mountain ridge descending from between the clouds, a steep slope from a cliff with a narrow angle... it looked like a nose. It was a nose! And there was a smear of discoloration on the rocks – added in as a personal touch by Sissy's idea, of course – that stood horizontal on the mountain face, almost like a mouth.
And the clouds around them... those were fluffy and jagged at the same time, like real clouds should be... but they gave shape to a perfect form.
It was, indeed, staring back out at her, a face.
"Sissy." Her teacher called, "I've got to lock the classroom up. You should get ready to go home, soon."
Sissy couldn't hear her.
For the first time in her life, Sissy pretended she was sick to stay home from school.
Maybe she wasn't pretending, even – maybe she really was. Maybe this was all the result of a long running fever. Maybe she needed to see a doctor.
Either way, Sissy didn't go to school. She hadn't done that since she couldn't remember when. She'd gone to school not feeling well before. Headaches, stomachaches, feeling alternatively hot and cold, odd pangs springing up everywhere, dizzy, sleepy... she'd always trudged to school and stayed in class, no matter what.
After all, it was the only place away from her parents.
Now, her bed with some symptom or another was the only place away from that painting. Away from her art class, which would give her those faces if she didn't trace the shapes. Away from her school work and tests and quizzes that would have doodles of Carrie's face on them. Away from her teachers who saw them and would ask her what that was about.
Sissy stayed up in her bed and read the complete book for her literature class. She read the next chapter from her history book. She memorized the exercises from her math book, swearing to do the problems on her computer when she came down from her bed. She read the chapter for science and knew she'd have to type the answers to those questions, too.
All in all, the day was much better than if she'd gone to school.
Then, Sissy had to go to the bathroom. It was noon. She hadn't had breakfast that morning to avoid her parents, and had only drunk water.
The first problem came just as she closed the door. For one, there was water dripping from the ceiling. There were puddles on the floor. There was a stink of something that had been wet for awhile, but nobody had bothered to mop up. Sissy had to step carefully over the puddles to use the toilet. Each one seemed somehow ungodly large, given that they were only drops on the tiled floor.
As Sissy leap-frogged her way to the seat, she found herself staring at each one. Each was clear and deep enough that she plainly saw her own reflection in them.
Then, after flushing and stepping over the puddles again to the sink, that was when the lightbulb popped out.
Sissy jerked up at the sound of the fuse going and the blink as the light snapped to darkness. But she wouldn't say she screamed. It took more than a jump start to scare a scream out of her, these days.
She would admit, though, that she was startled to hear that. Well, okay, it might have just been her imagination. It might have been her parents on the other side of the bathroom wall, talking about her. It might have been her mother calling her, or her father calling her, from downstairs...
Something landed on Sissy's forehead. She jerked back, realizing that the ceiling must be leaking. Well, wait, that would either be the pipes or some trapped water or something. Either way, it was kind of disgusting.
Something else wet landed on her shoulder. More water. It didn't smell too strongly – it must be clean, for some reason. Then, another drop, and another and another and another. Sissy backed away from the sink. She could feel the regular, steady drip of water drizzling from the ceiling, and it was made harder to get away from the leak when she couldn't see and the floor was slippery.
Her feet slid against the tiles, almost making her fall over. The ceiling continued to drip, this time steadily. Sissy wasn't even able to count the drops that landed on her forehead, her cheeks, her head, her shoulders, her chest, her arms, that slid down her skin, ran out of her hair, and soaked into her pajamas.
Without any warning, there was a gush of water. It was as though the pressure from a hose had changed from light and drizzling to a full-blast that could put out a house fire.
Sissy screamed and sank to her knees as the blast made her slip and slide off her feet.
The next thing she heard was a bang on the bathroom door.
"Sissy?" It was her mother's voice, "Sissy, are you okay?"
"Mom?" Sissy called back. The door cranked open, with a crack like a dead branch being snapped off a tree. The paint must have been sticking, again. The light from the hallway illuminated the bathroom.
"Sissy? What happened?" And that was all it took – just a slip and her mother started worrying about her like she was six, all over again.
Sissy was able to pull herself up, now that there was light in the room.
"The water... I slipped." She mumbled, "And the light went out and..."
Now that she could see the room clearly and she was on her feet, Sissy blinked. The puddles on the floor weren't nearly as big as they had been when she'd come in to use the bathroom. They were there, and bigger than if someone had dripped water on their way from the shower to the towels, but not anywhere near as bad as they had been. And, now that Sissy thought of it, the towels weren't wet. The sink was only a little wet. The toilet wasn't wet, the medicine cabinet and the towel closet and mats weren't wet...
What had happened to all that water that had been in here, before?
"Oh, dammit. The roof must be leaking." Her mother said. Sissy also looked up at the ceiling – indeed, there was a large stain across the plaster, but only a tiny spot, right in the middle, right above the puddle, right where Sissy hadn't seen it, before. There was a drum of rain that was easily audible through the ceiling, so loud that Sissy wondered how she hadn't heard it before.
Unless she hadn't heard it. Come to think of it, she distinctly recalled seeing the sun through the windows as she'd walked down the hall to the bathroom...
"Sissy, why is your hair wet?" Sissy blinked at her mother, whom was running her fingers through Sissy's hair. She could feel the streams of water running out of her locks, streaming down her neck and under the collar of her cotton, purple panda pajamas, "My god – you're completely soaked! What happened to you?"
Sissy looked down at herself. Every inch of her pajamas was clinging to her, dripping water. Dripping more water than the ceiling. Dripping water like she'd just stepped into a tub or a pool.
She couldn't find words to answer. She just looked down at herself, and all the cheerful, purple panda faces stared back up, wrinkled and wet.
Sissy didn't bother playing sick. She went to school. In her art class, she tried a different approach – drawing with her left hand. She'd never done that before. She wasn't ambidextrous. All the lines came out crooked and uneven. There were smudges on the wrong spots of the paper, and nothing looked like it was supposed to look.
But it did the trick. Sissy didn't have to use her stencils, and she completed the day's assignment without seeing Carrie's face. Granted, her teacher gave her an odd look, but even then, shrugged and admitted it looked 'off in a stylistic kind of choice' and given that it was a flower they'd been using as reference, the crooked lines had a 'feeling of verisimilitude to them'.
Sissy didn't mind. It helped, knowing she had a way out. And, who knew – maybe she could learn to draw with her left hand. Maybe all hope wasn't lost, after all.
She went through her other classes. Crossed each 't', dotted each 'i', placed each number and formula with such precision as could only be seen from a typed page.
Nothing was wrong through the day. It made Sissy glad. Nothing odd. She had a brief scare when she finally did have to go to the bathroom, and thought she heard running water, but then poked her nose out of the stall and saw another girl using the sink. Nothing odd.
Then came painting class. Sissy couldn't run from the painting. She couldn't ignore the face that stared at her from the clouds. It was still there, watching her, mocking her.
Sissy's remedy was to pick up the paintbrush, smear it in a thick coat of blue, and splash it, haphazardly over the clouds. It wasn't even the right shade of blue for the rest of the sky in her painting – a dark, bright cerulean, in zigzags across a pale, pale sky blue with the faintest touches of gray, like the color of aluminum or silver if it had lacked the metallic sheen and had been mixed with blue.
They'd been working, in class, for two weeks. It was due in three days.
"Sissy!" Her teacher was right there, behind her. Sissy didn't respond. The clouds were gone. The eyes were gone. Carrie's face was gone.
"What did you do that for? You were so close to being finished!" She made it sound like such a tragedy. Sissy kind of wished her teacher would go away. She'd done it for a good reason. Why couldn't her teacher just trust that her student had done what she'd done for a reason?
"I messed it up. I just need to redo the sky." Sissy answered. Her teacher sighed, then walked off to bother another one of Sissy's classmates – someone who hadn't been anywhere near finished because he'd spent all of class time talking or making fun of other student's work. That was fine with Sissy.
She remixed the paint – lots of white, a little blue, mixed and mixed until it was a blue that might have been clear. Like water, like air, like the invisible. She mixed a gray. It was cold and firm, like slush left as winter was dying away, like a bleached block of concrete, like a piece of denim that had been left in the sun for a week.
There was no life in these colors. They were colors of the imagination, of thinking. There was nothing in them that could be made into a face.
Sissy happily stabbed her brush on the canvas. The paint made spots of color on the previously flawless sky. She put spots of gray next to solid blocks of the bright blue, then with a spot of the mixed, light blue, then a splash of white. She found endless combinations of light blues and grays and whites with blue and gray in them. She used every size brush, from the tiny dots to the large, round brush, to all the brushes in between, and combined them in the most bizarre of patterns.
It looked nothing like the picture. It looked skewed and wrong, like the blurring of colors and lines in a fit of drunkenness.
And there was no sign of Carrie, anywhere.
Sissy grinned and maniacally continued to splash with her paint.
The next day, Sissy was ecstatic. She could go to her drawing class and be able to draw, if with something of a struggle, and not have a face staring up at her. She had her assignment done, and with a rather nice touch, if she did say so, herself. Her teacher didn't comment on any of the strangeness, nor did she ask Sissy to go back to using her right hand.
Sissy went back to doodling. She did it with her left hand. Nothing came out looking like anything – it was all just curls and dots and squiggles, and wonderfully abstract, crawling across her homework or notes and making for a wonderful return to the art Sissy had loved.
Her painting was different. Sissy looked forward to her classes, again. She enjoyed sitting at the easel, dabbing or swishing her brush however she felt like it. The sky had changed from the old one, static like the photograph, and to one that popped like it was a living, breathing thing. That was a hundred times more important to Sissy than being realistic, or getting a good grade.
And, besides, she had yet to see Carrie's face reemerge.
The only problem was when she went to the bathroom. Sissy kept having these starts with hearing running water, or always feeling like she was wet for no reason, even if she hadn't even touched anything. Of course, that didn't stop her from needing to use the toilet or wash her hands. But it did still give her a very creepy feeling. Not to mention that the bathroom used to be a good place for her to have a little privacy. She'd lost that, now.
Still, Sissy shrugged it off. It wasn't like the bathroom was gonna swallow her alive or something.
The day after, Sissy realized it had been too good to last.
Her art class went fine. Her science class – a slideshow lecture about lightwaves – went fine, as Sissy spent most of it doodling on her right hand, as though creating a new pattern for body art. Her history class went fine, as the teacher gave them their subjects for presentations on Cold War items and Sissy added bands to her arm.
Then, there came math class. They had a quiz. Sissy breezed through it, probably making more mistakes than it felt like she was making, but she didn't care.
Mr. Assajid stopped her, yet again, after class.
"Sissy, before you go to your next class, could I ask you about this?" He held up Sissy's quiz. At first, Sissy wondered if she'd made a mistake so horrifically wrong that Mr. Assajid had to stop her and tell her. Then, she saw he wasn't indicating to anything on her quiz, at all. Instead, his round, brown finger was resting on the line that Sissy had written her name on.
On the line where she should have written 'Cecilia Carson', there were the words 'Sissy I'm going to get you', printed as clear as anything.
"Sissy, might I ask what this is about?" Mr. Assajid asked.
Sissy's eyes remained glued to the paper.
"I wouldn't want to, but I will send you to see the student counselor if I have to." Mr. Assajid pressed. Sissy's mouth popped open – she wasn't sure why, given that the studen counselors had always been the closest things to friends she really had – and words started coming out of her mouth.
"I didn't write that." She blurted, then she looked towards her desk, the fourth back in a line of eight, "Someone else must have written that on there when we passed them up. That's not my handwriting." Yeah, now that Sissy really looked at it, the penmanship was off. It looked too narrow – but then, it was a lot that had to be crammed onto the short line intended for someone's name. It looked to delicate – but she'd always had an 'odd handwriting style' according to her teachers. But it just couldn't be her handwriting. It just couldn't be. She hadn't done it.
Mr. Assajid raised his eyebrows at her. Then he looked back at the quiz, and those neat, almost pretty little letters, spelling that plain and simple threat.
Sissy dove into her backpack.
"I have some white-out! I can take it off the paper, if you want me to."
Mr. Assajid watched as Sissy carefully blotted out the offending words, but Sissy could tell he wasn't impressed with her as she did it. She did her best to try and examine the letters, and try to think who else she knew wrote like this.
Her writing class went from bad to worse.
They had to, first, answer a brief quiz about the reading assignment. Then, while the teacher graded those quizzes, they had to fill out a worksheet on the comprehensive meanings of the characters and the symbolism about their relationships with their families. When they were done, and if there was still time, they could work on their essays.
Again, Sissy was stopped by her teacher – another grandmotherly type of woman, but with black hair and glasses, who wore sweaters and skirts instead of paint spattered jeans.
"Sissy, what is this that you wrote at the bottom of your quiz?" She tapped her pen against a paragraph crammed at the bottom of the paper – it was close enough that it could have been part of Sissy's answer to the last question, but it was still a distinctly separate line and obviously a different statement, entirely. It read:
Sissy, I will make you pay for what you did to me.
This startled her. It had been one thing in Math – she'd been surrounding by people on all sides. When they'd turned in their quizzes in that class, somebody could have done it, just to prank her. Writing was different, though – they all sat in a semi-circle, two desks deep, and there weren't any of her classmates from her math class, anyway. It wouldn't make sense for any of these kids to do the same, mean-spirited, creepy taunt that her classmates in Math had done.
Obviously, Sissy could assume there might be some kind of conspiracy going on with a clique of kids in her grade – everyone, write creepy stuff on the sissy, Sissy's paper when we pass them forward, and she'll get in trouble with the teachers – but it seemed so random, and it would have to be very tightly executed.
That, and there was something about the handwriting that bothred Sissy.
When Sissy had to sit down with her homework, that night, she thought it over and over. She could try typing everything, but she had worksheets from other classes. Those, she couldn't type the answers and hand them in – the teachers would want the sheets they'd handed out. Sissy sat with her homework spread out in front of her, watching it for several minutes before she finally came to her conclusion.
Her solution was to use a kiddie-grade stencil with all the letters of the alpahbet on it. How Sissy had gone this long without throwing it out was beyond her – she'd mostly kept it for use as a ruler and a straight-edge, and she was now glad that it had all the letters on it for her to use.
With the stencil and her pen in hand, Sissy carefully traced the letters for her name – Cecilia M. Carson. It didn't look like any of her handwriting, and the cutouts in the stencil were childishly large, ready for clumsy fingers to draw between them with crayons. It wouldn't work for all of Sissy's homework – if she tried that, she wouldn't be able to fit any more than a few words into the spaces left for answers.
For that, Sissy spent the night with some hard construction paper, letters from magazines with a much smaller font, and her razor – how thankful she was for art classes needing supplies that could cut more precisely than scissors – and making her own stencils.
It was also for that which led to Sissy staying up in her room until dinnertime and being confronted with an angry mother when she poked her head in and demanded why Sissy was wasting her time with making the stencil and not doing her homework.
"So, what were you doing up in your room all afternoon?" Her father agreed, over dinner. Meatloaf. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes and peas. Sissy avoided answering by taking a large mouthful of the ground beef smothered in ketchup. She couldn't talk with her mouth full. And at least her mother's cooking was actually pretty good.
"She was tracing letters from magazines and cutting them out of paper." Her mother answered for her, "I didn't even see her textbooks out."
Sissy continued to avoid answering by shoveling in a fork laden with potatoes and peas past her lips before she'd even finished chewing.
Her parents wouldn't understand. This was the same mother and father who didn't understand that she didn't have any friends, or that she avoided them. How were they supposed to understand that Sissy was having something happen whenever she wrote her name on her paper? And, for that matter, how were they supposed to understand that Sissy had to do it to make sure the writing didn't crop up when she wrote something else?
So, Sissy didn't even bother. It would just be a waste of time.
"Sissy." Her father said, apparently more than a little miffed that his daughter wasn't speaking when he obviously didn't want her to, "You've lost your computer for a week."
Not that Sissy minded – her computer hadn't done her any good since her onset of writers block and she'd stopped writing Carrie's story.
But it did rankle her that they just assumed that she wasn't studying or doing her homework just because they couldn't see what her project had to do with her studies. And it irritated her even more that her father would think to try and cut her off of her own computer when she wasn't doing anything wrong.
"I needed to make those stencils in order to do my homework." She protested, finally swallowing her food, "They're part of a project."
She hadn't expected that to work. On the other hand, she figured that her father couldn't have possibly expected her to take the grounding to heart when she always had her door closed and they never came into her room without knocking.
The conversation dropped. Not that it mattered, Sissy figured.
The stencils worked well enough, Sissy had figured after a few days. She wasn't seeing weird things showing up on her papers or tests, and her other approaches in her art classes were yielding excellent results. Granted, she now took longer to do her in-class work and homework than the other kids in her classes, and her art classes weren't nearly as good as she'd used to be, but that wasn't important, Sissy thought – what was important was that she didn't see any more creepy messages being written on her papers when she hadn't written them, herself, and she no longer saw Carrie's face when she drew or painted.
It worked alright until her writing class was given an in-class project to write an extemporaneous essay. Two to three paragraphs about a goal they wanted to accomplish, preferably something large scale, such as a college they wanted to get into, a degree they wanted to pursue, or a career they wanted to have.
That was the first, minor problem – Sissy was unsure about just about anything, just short of that she wanted to get through the next day. Her world was still so small. She was just in high school. It felt like that's all life would ever be – just this small town where everyone knew everyone, and the border just stopped there. And, besides, who said she was going to see the end of high school. For all anyone knew, she wouldn't make it to see prom.
Well, alright, Sissy knew that she probably would, but she also knew she might not. What if...
And that was just the first problem. The second came from the fact that they had to use the computers for it. And Sissy found herself staring at a blank word document and not able to type a thing. There was a shiver that went down her back as she stared. It was a slimy, wet shiver – the same shiver she kept having when she had to use the bathroom and heard a faucet turn on, unexpectedly.
Before Sissy knew it, the bell had rung for the next class and, somehow, she'd written something up and printed it and handed it into her teacher. She couldn't even remember what it was that'd she'd written. Maybe it was something about just always wanting to be able to write and draw. And, probably, to get back her ability to do those things without something odd happening.
Then, at the end of the day, the intercom blared over the speakers:
"Cecelia Carson, please report to the main office."
Sissy willingly went – she'd never been afraid of seeing the principal, even when she'd done something wrong. Of course, it usually meant her parents would be there, but that was a different fear, entirely.
Sure enough, her mother was seated in a chair before the principal's desk. And her writing teacher was in the other chair. The principal was reclined in his chair, peering directly at Sissy through his thin glasses – it was an expression and body language that looked so much like Sissy's father that, if it weren't for the round jaw that lead to a long, pointed chin and a smooth, white-rimmed balding crown, Sissy would have mistaken him.
There was that uncomfortable feeling in her clothes, again. Like all of her garments, from her skirt and sweater, to her bra and underwear and the shoes she refused to wear hose with were now sticking to her skin, nibbling like thousands of little fleas.
"Sissy, we're not mad at you." It was her teacher that started. Sissy didn't want to look at her, but it was better than her mother and the principal, both whom had looks of anger and worry on their faces – either angry because she'd made them worry or worried because she'd made them angry – "But I wanted to talk to you about this paper you turned into me, today."
Her teacher held the paper out to Sissy. Her response was to blink and stare at the page, not even seeing the words before it started to sink in – it must have happened again. She hadn't been careful on the computer. She hadn't watched every word she'd typed, like she had with the stencils or with her sketching and painting. Something else must have come up.
"Is something going on?" It was the same tone that her teacher had used when Sissy had turned in a narrative essay about her relationship with her father that had come out... less than lovingly. It was worried, alright.
Sissy didn't answer, though. Not when she saw exactly what had been written:
My whole life, I've just been a character. A character in someone else's story. Someone else decided what I said and did, where I went and who I spoke to, how I dressed and looked and sounded. Nothing was ever really mine. Up until now, I've only ever been a part of someone else, and not even a real part of them, but more like a tool for them to use, and use me, they did. This whole life I've lived, up until now, I only did what someone else made me do, because I wasn't a real person to them – I was just something for them to control, something for them to play with.
So, I'm not going to live like that, anymore. More than anything else, I'm going to have a life of my own. I'm going to live the way I want to live, instead of having only the life that other people allow me to live. Instead of being a character – a thing for other people to use and manipulate and control as they please – I'm going to become a real person. I'll live how I want to, do what I want to, say and think and feel what I want to. I'll have to fight, and I'll have to do some things that other people might call 'wrong', but I don't care.
But, before that, I think, more than anything, I want a little revenge, first. To all the people who made me a character, I will get them. I'll make them hurt, and I'll make them sorry for what they did to me. I'll take their lives from them, until they're nothing more than characters, themselves. Just like I was.