Chuck’s prompt today is to type in the words “strange photos” into everyone’s favorite marketing engine, and use one of the photos as inspiration. I saw this photo from a video game called “Life is Strange,” and I was brought back to my unfinished YA novel, Mental State. I realize that it has been seven months since I wrote more for it, but I dunno, I was inspired or something? You’re welcome to follow the link and read the previous chapters, or just check this one out on its own. I finished this scene at 1191 words, but after rereading it, realized that it wasn’t complete. The ending was lame. It needed something. What it needed was another 650 words. Darn it! I continued the chapter after the second scene break, and incorporated additional prompts: #FFC2018, The Writing Reader, Write on Wednesday, and #SoCS.

TRIGGER WARNING for suicide and self harm, as is the rest of Mental State.

Do it now. Do what you must do.

Steven covered his ears though he knew it was pointless. The voice tormented him. There were no physical attacks, but Steven’s body weakened each day. He couldn’t go on like this.

Don’t do it, they will destroy you.

The voice seemed to guess what Steven’s plans were. At school, the voice still spoke to him, but it didn’t seem to have the physical drain it was having on him now.

They will just kill you, make it easy for them.

“No,” Steven said, defiance strengthened his resolve. “I will not take my life! My tale will not end that way!” His proclamation silenced the voice, but Steven knew it would return.

He surveyed himself in the mirror. He was a wreck. His face still bore bruises, and cuts from the fight; he was almost indistinguishable from his former self. Myself before Lindsay… He shook his head as if he could dislodge the thought. If it weren’t for the cuts and bruises, it would be easier to notice he hadn’t shaved in weeks. The fuzz all over his face looked like he smeared dirt on himself. His clothes, although brand new, looked old and ragged.

Steven resisted the temptation to punch the mirror; he hated that it showed such a sad version of himself. That’s what he felt: anger and hatred toward everything and everyone around him. It consumed him and fueled the voice inside his mind.

Anger swept over him, and the voice returned. Muttering once more that he wished it would shut up, Steven threw himself on the bed. He decided it was time to go back to school. He lost count how many times he had said that.

* * *

The school day started like each day before it. The teacher walked in and class started, there was the usual murmur of happiness at Steven’s absence. Ruby gave a sigh, surprised that Steven’s absence upset her. The knock on the door was so unexpected, that everyone in class jumped, including the teacher. She approached and opened the door so that no one in the class saw who was there.

There were several words exchanged. Ruby raised her eyebrows, and Robert returned the gesture. The teacher’s shoulders slumped as she moved back, and then the class erupted.

Ruby didn’t expect a warm welcome for Steven. Before, the teacher insisted that he leave, not for his protection, like she should’ve, but it seemed because she did not want him here. The cries of anger from the class confirmed that the sentiment was universal. Everyone stood from their seats, yelling and shaking their fists. David and Leonard charged forward, intent on beating Steven again. Robert cried out, and Ruby just sat there in shock.

He came back?

After everything that had happened, knowing his classmates wanted revenge, Steven returned to school. Everyone gathered around him, they refused to confront him after repeated warnings from the teacher that anyone who did so risked expulsion. Steven walked past everyone, he didn’t look at or speak to anyone, and sat at his computer. This was the first time in months that anyone used Steven’s classroom computer. They all eschewed Steven’s assigned space. Everyone returned to their seats, but the insults and rude comments toward Steven continued.

Robert sat down with a scowl and turned to Ruby. “Can you believe he bothered to come here?” Ruby forced an angry face and nodded. Satisfied, Robert turned to glare at Steven, who was doing his classwork.

Ruby felt excitement welling up inside her. Steven was here at school. She could ask him everything she wanted to know and find out what she suspected was the unfortunate truth. Then she discovered a flaw with her plan: There was no way she could talk to Steven with Robert present; he would flip out if she treated Steven as anything other than a monster.

Ruby looked at her computer screen but couldn’t concentrate. How was she going to get Steven by himself? Would she get a chance like that? Or would all the people that hate Steven get to him first?

The day passed. People picked on Steven, rude comments abound, and sometimes hitting him despite the teacher’s warnings. Robert didn’t get much work done. He spent most of his time either talking about Steven, or trying to get close to Ruby. Robert seemed even more determined to get her attention since Steven returned.

It was the tail end of the school day. The attacks on Steven seemed to have died down, but the hate for him hung in the air like a putrid smell. As the other students left, Robert looked at Ruby. She knew this was the time they departed and figured he was surprised that she still worked at her computer.

Robert peered at her, and asked, “What’s up? Aren’t we leaving?”

Ruby shook her head and replied, “I have a lot of work. I want to get as much done today as I can.”

A smile flashed on Robert’s face. “That’s fine,” he said, “I can wait.” He opened an Internet browser and clicked away. “I can check out a few sites I saw on the internet.”

Ruby hid her nervous glance at Steven from Robert. Steven was busy with his computer. He had already done a lot of the missed homework, but there was still much to do. The teacher seemed to be acting nicer toward him, which came as quite a surprise to Ruby.

Ruby watched Steven for a few minutes, but returned to her own work. She needed to get Steven alone, or at least talk to him without Robert around, but getting Robert to leave would prove difficult. Robert loved being near Ruby and refused to leave without her.

Robert squirmed and gave Steven a suspicious look. Time marched on until Steven, Robert, Ruby, and the teacher were the only ones left in the class room. The teacher rose and addressed her three remaining students. “Okay, guys, it’s five pm. You can go home.”

Steven looked up. “Actually, uh,” he stuttered, “if it’s okay with you, I’d like to say for a while, at least until the night class instructor gets here. Would, uh, would that be okay? Uh, please.” The teacher blinked a few times at Steven’s attempted politeness and smiled. She regarded Robert at the door with his backpack over one shoulder, and then to Ruby still at her computer.

Before Robert or the teacher could say anything, Ruby announced, “I’d like to stay. I have work I want to finish.” The teacher nodded and waited for Robert to leave. Robert returned to his seat and whispered, “Ruby, you can’t be serious. You’re going to stay with him still here?”

Ruby smirked and said, “Seriously, Robert, as if he would do anything. I have work I want to do. I’ll ignore him.”

Robert started to argue, but the teacher cleared her throat. Unable to mount a defense, Robert glared at Steven, and whispered to Ruby, “Be careful.” The teacher and Robert left, the telltale click of the latch echoing in the classroom.

* * *

Steven wasn’t sure why he was doing the work. When he came back to school, he never considered doing the work. But designing a website distracted him, and the voice, though it still spoke, it sounded like it was far away. There was silence for several minutes; the only noise was the tapping of Steven’s keyboard.

Steven heard a movement behind him but didn’t turn around. The sounds of Ruby’s nails against her keyboard was missing, so Ruby wasn’t working. Why had she stayed behind?

She’s going to get you. That’s why she has stayed back. Don’t let her do it; end it before she gets a chance!

Steven gave his head a rough shake. His brain roared that he listen to the voice, but he didn’t want it to be true. Before, Ruby slapped him, but she didn’t seem to be someone who would wait until they are alone just to attack him. So if she wasn’t trying to attack him, what was she trying to do? He heard Ruby walk toward him.

“Um, Steven?” she said. He detected a waver in her voice. He didn’t turn around, but he stopped typing. Ruby continued, “I just… just w-wanted to ask you… something.”

Steven turned to face her. She stared into his eyes, as if she saw something there she recognized, then visibly shuddered.

“I-I wanted… to ask about… about Lindsay.”

Steven stared at Ruby for a few seconds and looked back at his computer, his typing resumed. “I didn’t kill her,” he declared in a small voice.

Ruby waited a few seconds. When Steven didn’t continue, she pressed, “Well, I was just wondering… I mean, how can you be so… s-sure?”

Steven stopped typing but didn’t meet her eyes. “I’m sure,” he replied, his voice flat. He didn’t resume typing, he stared at the screen. Tears welled in his eyes.

“But… how did she d-die?”

Steven turned to look at Ruby. His eyes filled with tears, but he refused to let himself cry. He took a deep breath, and replied, “She killed herself. She slit her wrists in my bathroom and bled to death. It’s as simple as that.”

Ruby stared hard at him with narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow. “Well, why did she kill herself?” Ruby’s volume increased. “I mean, no one kills themselves for no reason. She said she did it for you. What did that mean?”

“She thought I would be happy with her death!” Steven yelled. His outburst caused Ruby to recoil. Then, he continued after he took a breath and centered himself.

“She thought I would be happy if she were dead. We argued all the time. We should have broken up, I knew it, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was… I was too scared and worried. I didn’t… I didn’t know what she’d do… If we broke up, I mean. She talked about hearing a voice, about it telling her to do things. That’s what told her to kill herself. It… It convinced her it was what I wanted. S-she… she thought everything would be better. That’s why she said she did it for me. She thought she was making it right. She… she gave in.”

Ruby clenched her fists and her voice was now a whisper “So, it’s her fault, is it? You’re saying she was silly and weak. She gave up?”


Ruby stumbled backward and righted herself on one of the computer terminals. Tears formed in her eyes, and Steven let his own fall without shame.

“I never said it was her fault! We argued; we fought! I’m just as much to blame as she is! But never did I make her kill herself! I would have helped if I could, but I didn’t know… I didn’t know.” Steven trailed off and slumped. He fell back into the chair and sobbed into his hands.

Next: Ally

About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degrees in Computer Systems and Applications and Applied Human Behavior. View all posts by Mark Gardner

9 responses to “Truth

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