I’d been there when my cousin Todd went through his Twist, when we were playing in Grandpa and Grandma’s back yard a few years ago, and he’d passed out completely, while the sparks shooting out of him burned off all his clothes and killed all the grass where he fell. I seemed to have burned a few holes in mine, but I was still decent, and still conscious.
part 2 of 25
by Trismegistus Shandy
This story is set, with Morpheus' permission, in his Twisted universe. It's set about a generation later than "Twisted", "Twisted Pink", etc. A somewhat different version was serialized on the morpheuscabinet2 mailing list in January-April 2014.
Thanks to Morpheus, Maggie Finson, D.A.W., Johanna, and JM for beta-reading earlier drafts. Thanks to Grover, Paps Paw, and others who commented on the earlier serial.
I managed to find Sarah Kendall in the halls between Calculus and Modern History, and chatted with her for about thirty seconds before we rushed off to different classes. She hadn’t changed her mind about our date Friday. I was in a good mood when I sat down to listen to Ms. Rutherford’s lecture; she was talking about the presidential election the year after the Antarctic Flu.
“Many people wanted to make the CDC’s emergency powers permanent,” she said. “They felt that the epidemic might have been stopped sooner if the CDC had had the power to quarantine whole cities at the first sign of trouble, as it began doing a few months into the epidemic. Three of the candidates in the primaries proposed giving the CDC that or even more extreme powers...”
My mind wandered, thinking about Sarah Kendall. I’d broken up with my previous (and so far only) girlfriend, Laura Weller, a couple of months earlier — or rather she broke up with me. Her family had moved to Atlanta at the end of the last school year, when her father got a new job there; we’d talked on the phone every few days and exchanged net messages every day for a while there, but she sent me fewer and fewer messages, and I was always the one calling her... and then she called me and said she wanted to break up. It didn’t make sense for a couple of high schoolers to carry on a long-distance relationship, she said. She was probably right.
But Sarah Kendall’s family had been in Trittsville for a long time, though not as long as the Harpers, and that wasn’t likely to happen to us. Unless we went to different universities... I chided myself for thinking too far ahead; we hadn’t even been on our first date yet. I tried to focus on the lecture again.
“But the most historic thing about that election was that the Democrats nominated Erin Ann Pendergrass, the governor of Oregon. Who can tell me what was so important about that?”
I’d read far enough ahead in the textbook that I was pretty sure I knew the answer to that, but I didn’t raise my hand. Olive Sanchez did, and said: “She was the first transsexual presidential candidate.”
“Correct,” Ms. Rutherford said. “She didn’t win that year, but she paved the way for Kenneth Cho’s successful candidacy twenty years later...”
Later, at lunch, I looked around for Sarah but didn’t see her. I got my lunch tray and sat down next to my friend Lionel. Our friend Vic wasn’t there; I figured he was probably still out sick, as he had been Monday, and I was going to ask Lionel if he’d heard from him. But he was engrossed in a game on his tablet and not in the mood for conversation, so I pulled out my own tablet to do some reading.
Ms. Rutherford had said, a few weeks ago, that we’d need to do a term paper on some historical figure from the past hundred years. I’d considered several, but hadn’t made up my mind yet, and I really needed to start working on the paper soon. I looked up articles about two or three of the people she’d talked about during the last couple of days' lectures, including Simon Ortega, the director of the CDC who’d done so much to stop the spread of the Antarctic Flu, and Erin Ann Pendergrass. With her being transsexual, and having such a successful political career, it reminded me of my own family’s having so many Twisted, and our political history.
My Grandpa had served several terms on the Trittsville city council, like several of our ancestors, but when he’d run for the state legislature, too many people in the wider district didn’t like the fact that he was Twisted, and that was the end of his political career. (I’d actually asked Ms. Rutherford if I could write about Grandpa, or my great-great-grandfather the sheriff, but she’d said I couldn’t write about someone I was kin to.) And one of the reasons I was hoping I wouldn’t be Twisted was that I wanted to go into politics myself; but I didn’t plan to let that stop me, unless my Twist gave me a form so inhuman or compulsions so scandalous that I couldn’t hope to get elected dogcatcher. (People always say that, and I guess there must have been places that had an elected office of dogcatcher, but I don’t know where or when. In Trittsville the animal control people are just employees of the city council.)
I found several articles about Governor Pendergrass, including an interview she’d given when she was running for governor. I hadn’t known much — anything, really — about transsexuals before; Trittsville had a couple of dozen Twisted, most of whom were related to me, and thousands or at least hundreds of blacks and Hispanics and Asians and gay people, but if there were any transsexuals in town I didn’t know them. I’d had the vague impression that they had a sexual kink that made them want to change their sex — not that I objected; my parents raised me to be open-minded and tolerant. But I realized I was being tolerant about the wrong thing. Governor Pendergrass said in that interview:
“I didn’t change my sex, and never wanted to. I’ve always been a girl, and I’ve known it since I was a little kid, just barely old enough to know something (not much!) about how girls are different from boys. The operation just made my body match my mind better.”
That was well-said, and made me want to know more about her. I pulled up another biographical article about her, followed several links from it, and read another one and another.
Several things happened simultaneously. Lionel yelled “Yes!”, and gave a thumbs up — apparently he’d just beaten the game, and was right happy about it. I looked up from the article I’d been reading, startled, having nearly forgotten where I was. And a tingling feeling started up all over my body, like I’d touched an electric fence. It got more and more intense, and I had time for several thoughts. The first was: “I’m going through my Twist!”
The next was: “Great. I’m going through my Twist while doing extra reading for History; now I’m going to grow up to be a historian instead of somebody who makes history.”
The third was: “Oh shit, I can’t afford to buy a new tablet!” There were little sparks shooting off of me, from my arms, hands and (Lionel told me later) my ears, and when that started happening, my tablet gave an audible pop and its screen went black.
The electric-shock feeling got steadily more intense for a few more seconds, I think, though it was hard to judge the passage of time, I was feeling so weird; I shivered and shook, and I realized everyone at the table was staring at me. Then it faded, and I slumped over, exhausted, onto the table and half onto my tray — I got mashed potatoes all over my hand and forearm.
“Dude, are you all right?” Lionel asked.
“Not really,” I said weakly. “I think I just went though my Twist.”
But it wasn’t near as bad as some other Twists I’d heard about, and even seen. I’d been there when my cousin Todd went through his Twist, when we were playing in Grandpa and Grandma’s back yard a few years ago, and he’d passed out completely, while the sparks shooting out of him burned off all his clothes and killed all the grass where he fell. I seemed to have burned a few holes in mine, but I was still decent, and still conscious. So I hoped I’d gotten a fairly mild Twist, nothing that would show and hopefully nothing anybody who hadn’t known me really well before the Twist would even notice.
“Should I go get the nurse?” he asked.
“Maybe...” I sat up straighter and wiped the mashed potatoes off my hand with a napkin. “Let me see...” I stood up, or tried to stand up, but I felt dizzy.
“Yeah, you’d better go get the nurse,” I said, sitting back down.
He went, but before he got back with the nurse, rumors about what had just happened spread in waves over the lunchroom, and my second cousin Todd (a senior, Kerry’s little brother) came over, followed quickly by my first cousin Renee (a junior, my Aunt Rhoda’s daughter).
“You look rough,” Todd said, “but not as bad as Kerry after her Twist.”
“You don’t look any different,” Renee observed.
“That’s good to know,” I said weakly.
Other people were gathering around to stare at me, probably wondering if I’d show off my new trick (if I even had one) or what new compulsions or personality changes I might have. Then Sarah came hurrying up and looked at me in horror.
“Oh my God, are you okay?” she asked.
“I think so,” I said. “Just a little tired and dizzy. Could be a lot worse.”
“You don’t feel anything weird yet?”
“Just the aftereffects of the Twist, I guess.”
Then Lionel came back with the school nurse. She shooed everyone away, except Todd, whom she drafted to help her get me to the office. The nurse supported me on one side and Todd on the other; I was strong enough to stand up and walk, but still a little dizzy. Lionel grabbed my backpack and my apparently ruined tablet and followed us.
Once I was laying down on a cot in the office, the nurse sent Lionel and Todd away, and checked my vital signs, and said I seemed okay except for slightly elevated blood pressure.
“That’s normal enough right after a Twist,” she said. She should know; she’d seen several of my cousins go through their Twists at school. “I’ll go call your parents.”
My Mom came to pick me up a little later. Meanwhile I tried to get my tablet to work, and to my surprise it turned back on. But the memory had been wiped; I’d have to fix all my settings and install my games again, and I’d lost the articles I’d looked up earlier, along with all the other things I had saved on it. I pulled yesterday’s homework assignments from the school website and started working on the things I’d neglected yesterday in favor of visiting with Uncle Jack.
I was trying to avoid thinking about my Twist. Renee had said I didn’t look any different, and the fact that my clothes hadn’t been destroyed by my change proved that I certainly hadn’t changed radically. But once the dizziness and bleariness I’d felt right after the Twist wore off, I started feeling weird and uncomfortable. I felt like I had changed physically and somehow nobody around me noticed. Maybe that was my trick, to make myself look like my old self even though I’d changed under the illusion...? Aunt Rhoda could do illusions like that, though she couldn’t keep them up for more than a few hours.
And I felt, too, like there was something I wanted to be doing differently, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Uncle Jack had described that feeling to me once, how right after his Twist he didn’t realize he wanted to travel, he just wanted to be doing something different, and he wasn’t sure what yet. Then he started going on long walks all around town and in the woods, and thought at first that was all he needed, until he’d explored the town and the nearby woods thoroughly enough that he needed to get out and see other places. He’d run away, and when the police found him and brought him home, Grandma and Grandpa realized they couldn’t keep him home for long because of his Twist. They arranged for him to finish high school with online courses while riding around the country with Great-Aunt Karen’s son Will, who was a long-haul trucker; once he turned eighteen, he started traveling on his own.
I still didn’t know what I wanted by the time Mom got there.
“I’ve already made an appointment for you with Uncle Greg,” she said. “And I’ll make an appointment with the Twist specialists in Atlanta as soon as I can. How are you feeling?”
“Antsy and uncomfortable,” I said. “I don’t look any different, do I? Renee said I didn’t, but I feel... I don’t know. Weird.”
“You look just the same, at least on the outside... Probably your Uncle Greg can figure out why you’re feeling this way,” she said. She looked uncomfortable, too, and worried; she’d known about Dad’s Twist since before they started dating, and when she married him she must have known there was a good chance she’d someday go through this with one or more of her children. But I could tell, looking at her, that expecting it didn’t make it easier.
“Can you stand up?” she asked.
“I think so,” I said, and I stood up. “I don’t feel dizzy anymore.”
We went home, and Mom made me go to bed right away, though I was feeling reasonably okay by then. I mean, I didn’t feel dizzy or nauseous or lightheaded or anything. Just vaguely uncomfortable. When I changed out of my burned clothes and into pajamas, I realized that I’d burned some holes through my underwear too, and if those spots had burned all the way through my pants, I’d have been indecent. Fortunately my pants were of tougher material than my underwear or shirt, and weren’t totally ruined, though I wouldn’t wear them to school again. After I’d changed, Mom brought me a sandwich and a glass of juice on a tray, and sat by my bed and felt my forehead and took my temperature, as though I had a cold or something; it would have been funny if I hadn’t felt so weird and uncomfortable.
Dad came home early, and came up to my room. “How are you feeling, Cyrus?” he asked.
For some reason I flinched when he said that; something wasn’t quite right about it, but I wasn’t sure what. “Uncomfortable,” I said. “And anxious to be doing something, but I’m not sure what.”
“You did not lose consciousness during your Twist, I gather?”
“No. I felt dizzy for a while afterward, but that passed in, I don’t know, probably half an hour.”
He nodded. “It was much the same when I went through my Twist.” He’d told me about that before, and he didn’t go into detail again now. He looked around at Mom’s arrangements and smiled. “I see that your mother has determined to treat this as an ordinary minor illness. Perhaps it is best if we humor her. Do tell me, son, if you begin to feel any more definite inclination. Whatever it may be —” He frowned, thinking probably of Ryan and Aunt Wendy. “It is much better if you tell us, son. To conceal any new desires you may have, through a sense of shame, could be harmful. Please be assured that we will not judge or condemn you.”
“Sure,” I said. “I promise I’ll tell you first if I, um... start wanting to hurt myself.” Like Aunt Wendy. “Or anybody else.” Like, I suspected, his cousin Ryan.
“Thank you, son. I will retire now, and allow you to rest.”
Several times when he’d been talking, I’d felt a twinge of uneasiness at what he was saying, but I wasn’t sure why — as though he were saying something wrong and I wanted to correct him, maybe? But I couldn’t figure out what he was wrong about; everything he’d overtly said, at least, I agreed with.
I did some more homework then, and ate the sandwich Mom had brought me. After a while I needed to go pee, and I did. The weirdly uncomfortable feeling I’d been having got worse as I was peeing, and slightly better when I was done. While I washed my hands, I looked in the mirror, and flinched. Did I really look like that? Had I always looked like that? What was I thinking when I grew that goatee?
Well, that was a problem I could do something about. After I washed my hands, I got out my razor and shaved it off. That made me feel slightly better, but still not right. I didn’t like the way I looked, and I couldn’t figure out what felt wrong, or what I wished were different. My memories told me I hadn’t changed at all, physically, and Renee and Mom and Dad confirmed it, but I felt, looking in the mirror, as uncomfortable with my appearance as Kerry said she felt when she turned green, or Paul when he got his permanent clown makeup.
I went back to my room, and tried to distract myself from all that by concentrating on homework. I got the homework for the afternoon classes I’d missed from the school website, and started working on that; I’d gotten through most of my Mandarin homework when there was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” I said, “I’m decent.” But I realized that I didn’t like other people looking at me any more than I liked looking at myself in the mirror. That was bad; but I wasn’t going to let it make me a recluse.
Uncle Jack came in; he looked sweaty. “I just got back from a long walk, and your dad told me what happened... Oh. You lost your goatee?”
“I shaved it off,” I said. “They say the Twist didn’t affect me physically, but I’m not so sure... anyway, at least part of the personality change is that I don’t like having facial hair, apparently.”
“Oh... well, it could be a lot worse. That’s a pretty harmless quirk.”
“Yeah. I think there’s more to it than that, but I’m not sure what yet. I don’t like the way I look, and so far the goatee is the only thing I’ve been able to pin down and figure out how I want to be different.”
“Hmm... are you thinking of tattoos or piercings? Some people I know in Spiral are like that.”
“Maybe.” I considered it for a few moments. “Yeah, maybe a couple of earrings would be nice... I don’t have a real craving for them though, and I don’t think I’d like any more than that. And I don’t think I want any tattoos.”
“Maybe you can look at a bunch of photos of different people and see if you can find someone you want to look more like.”
“That might help. Thanks.”
Just then I heard a pounding on the stairs, and Mildred poked her head in. “I just heard — oh, you lost your goatee.”
“I shaved it,” I explained again. “Just a mental Twist... I think.”
“So your Twist is that you don’t like having facial hair? Lame!” She stuck her tongue out at me, and I returned the favor. I didn’t explain to her that I felt uncomfortable about my whole appearance.
“What were you doing when you Twisted?” she asked. “Mom said you were eating lunch?”
“Yeah, and I was reading some stuff for Modern History on my tablet. Figuring out who I’m going to write my term paper about.”
“Huh. I can see how that’d make you more interested in schoolwork or just in history, but why would it make you want to shave?”
“You can’t always explain why people Twist the way they do by what they were doing when they Twisted,” I said.
After Uncle Jack and Mildred left me alone, I worked on my homework for a while longer. I saw a message notice, and checked; Vic said:
lionel told me you went through your twist today. you feeling okay? what kind of twist did you get?
I messaged back, telling him the little I knew so far: no physical changes, but the beginnings of some vague indefinable compulsions. Later on Lionel and Sarah messaged asking me basically the same thing, and I told them the same thing.
Not long after that, Mom came upstairs. “Your Aunt Rhoda called, and said she and Uncle Leland and Renee might come over if you’re feeling up to visitors yet.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’m pretty much recovered from it, physically.” I didn’t like the idea of them seeing me like this — even though “like this” was exactly how they’d seen me any number of times. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me from visiting with family.
“I haven’t figured that out yet. But I haven’t felt any weird compulsions yet, so I think I’m okay. I hope.”
“Mildred told me you’d shaved...” She looked at me. “It looks good. Not that it looked bad before, of course.”
“You don’t have to pretend,” I said. “I know it looked silly. Thanks for being so indulgent.”
“I wasn’t pretending before,” she said. “I really did like the way it looked. I suppose your Twist has changed your tastes, but I think you look good either way.”
By suppertime, things had snowballed until it was not only Aunt Rhoda’s family coming over, but Grandma and Grandpa and Dad’s cousin Vernon (Uncle Darren’s son). I stayed up in my room doing homework (and finally writing a few opening paragraphs of my term paper for Modern History) until Mom told me that Aunt Rhoda and her family had arrived, then made myself put on some nicer clothes and a cheerful face and go downstairs.
Uncle Jack and I were the main focus of attention during supper; after I’d told everyone about my Twist, and the little bit I’d figured out about it so far, and said I had no idea what my trick was if any, they mostly listened to Uncle Jack tell stories about his recent travels. During the conversation after supper, I had several little twinges of that feeling I’d gotten while talking with Dad, that someone had said something wrong and I needed to correct them — but again I couldn’t figure out why.
I didn’t quite tell them everything — I said I didn’t like the way I looked, and wanted to change my appearance, but hadn’t figured out how yet, except that I didn’t like the facial hair and wasn’t keen on getting piercings or tattoos. That was all factually correct, but I downplayed just how revolted I was sometimes feeling at my own body, and how embarrassed I felt at them seeing me like this.
“People tell me I look just the same as before, and when I look in the mirror and compare my reflection to my memories I know they’re right, but I can hardly believe it; that face in the mirror doesn’t look right.”
Grandpa said, “Your Twist is a reverse of many Twists, yet causes you to feel the same discord. When I first changed and looked into the glass, I saw a face I’d never seen before. That feeling strange took many days to pass.”
(Grandpa Twisted during school, like me; he was in Literature class, and they were doing a group reading of Hamlet — I think he was playing Polonius. After his Twist, he started talking in blank verse, and he sometimes uses old-fashioned words to fit the meter, or stresses a word on an unexpected syllable.)
“But look at the bright side,” Aunt Rhoda said, “once you figure out how you want to look, and fix yourself so you look that way, you’ll be satisfied with your appearance. Some people who get a physical Twist and no mental changes to go with it never become happy with their appearance.”
“Poor Kerry,” Renee sighed. “I hope she gets used to being green eventually.”
“It looked to me as though Jeff has helped her a lot,” Mom said. “He adores her, and being loved always makes you feel beautiful.”
The conversation changed course then, as we talked about our kinfolks and other friends in Spiral we hadn’t seen in a good while, and Uncle Jack told us the latest news.
If you've enjoyed this and the other free stories I've posted here, you may also enjoy these novels and short fiction collection -- available from Smashwords in ePub format and from Amazon in Kindle format.
|Wine Can't be Pressed into Grapes||Smashwords||Amazon|
|When Wasps Make Honey||Smashwords||Amazon|
|A Notional Treason||Smashwords||Amazon|
|The Weight of Silence and Other Stories||Smashwords||Amazon|
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