Monday, October 14, 2013

Nightmare Fuel, Day 13. This is a Silent Protest

One more horrible thing! Now a day short of a full fortnight.

I noticed that I've been a bit dialog-heavy on some of these, so decided to go without dialog on this one. Other experiments include the present tense and... well, read on. Is there something about the protagonist I've not told you? How does making the assumption one way or the other change how you see the story? 

Thanks as always go to Andrea Trask for the prompt, and the rest of the Nightmare Fuel community for playing along.

More AV soon, I promise. For the nonce, read on.

This is a Silent Protest
by L Czhorat Suskin

If High School were a place for the dead, Danny is right at home. He is dressed as a ghost.

Not a damned soul with jangling chains still bearing the scars of his death. Not a prophetic ghost, eyes wide with hidden knowledge from beyond the veil. No, Danny is a cheap Halloween ghost, in the kind of costume you'd always seen in cartoons and comic books but which nobody has ever worn: a plain white sheet tossed over his head with two holes cut out for eyes. They're cut into quite neat circles, but the effect is still as laughable and slapdash as you'd imagine.

It isn't even Halloween.

Danny gets on the bus, ignores the questioning calls, the mocking reminders that the date is wrong. To a locker, stows things and unstows things. Questions of why and how come and what the fuck bounce off the sheet like water from the proverbial duck's back.

Kids are watching now, a bit curious. Nobody's ever paid Danny much attention, but this is weird - even for a weird bookish kid. If kid is even the right word for these young men and women straggling across the bridge to adulthood. No matter. By now everyone's realized two things:

Danny is dressed as a ghost.
Danny isn't speaking. At all.

And now it's time for homeroom. The role is  called. Eyes slowly turn to Danny as the call and response goes on, they slowly realize that the game will soon be over. Danny's name will be called, Danny will mutter "here" or "present". Except, of course, Danny does no such thing. The name is called,  a crisp white index card is revealed from beneath the sheet with a clumsy flourish, like that of a magician just learning the trade. The card does not say "here" or "present" but, in plain block letters, "THIS  IS A SILENT PROTEST".

Confusion and annoyance bubble through the room. Silent protest about what? Why? What does one person's silence for a day (will it only be for a day) say about anything? These questions and more are asked, but the only answer is a flourish of that same index card. Danny won't accept a pen, won't write out what the protest is about. That lone index card seems to be the sole concession to the world.

The day goes on. Kids make a game of trying to get Danny to talk with an engineered collision in the hallway, a called out name, a sudden noise. Danny remains the perfect ghost, silent. Teachers just ignore the ghost and get on with the lesson. Tests are coming (tests are always coming) and there's no time to waste trying to ferret out what this silent protest might be. The index card develops a pronounced curvature from all the flamboyant flourishes with which it is displayed (and it is numerous times). The midday meal is lifted, one bite at a time, under the sheet, from whence it vanishes into the ghost's inner mouth.

Late  in the day someone tries to snatch the sheet, to unmask the ghost and bring Danny back. Of course they do. This is high school and these are not yet adults. So, the sheet is snatched, the index card is snatched,  but not grabbed back and fought for as imagined. Danny stands in the hall, face shockingly naked, eyes wide. Blinks, reaches into a backpack (and who wears a backpack in school? Our silent protester, that's who), pulls out another sheet and another index card.

Just like that, Danny is gone and the ghost is back. The crowd deflates with muttered "whatevers". It wasn't as much fun as they'd expected.

What happened next? That will tell you what kind of story this is.

Is it a fable, with a clear moral? Does Danny come back the next day, sheet absent and voice present, to explain the lesson of the silent protest?

Is it a modern ambiguous fable, with a heavy-handed message? Does the silent protest drag on, day by day, until it becomes expected that Danny will never speak again, and a play-ghost becomes, for all practical purposes, a real one?

OR are we looking to shock the reader into greater compassion? Is Danny's body found the next day, red stains already drying on the once-white sheet, beside a tattered index card reading "THIS IS A SILENT PROTEST".

Does it matter? 

Is this a silent protest?

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