Saturday, April 5, 2014

Never Give Up

(This is a short story I wrote for a contest. I didn't win. Either way, here it is.)

Never Give Up

I don’t know how to start this. I never really had a diary or journal or anything like that, I’m not really a typical girl…but I figure now, there isn’t much else to do, so I’ll write down what’s been happening in the back of my notebook, just so I don’t go mad waiting for a rescue crew.

I figured today would be an average Friday. Wake up, get dressed, eat half-burnt eggs & toast while ignoring dad’s ranting against President Carter, take the bus to school, sit through classes, see what Becky’s doing tonight, maybe try (and fail) to ask Todd Baxter to accompany us to whatever some punk rock concert or late night horror show…but probably just stay home and read comic books until the Incredible Hulk comes on. I told you, I’m not a typical girl. Heck, I’m not a typical 16 year old. I don’t have a driver’s license or a car and I still read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, in addition to the comic books. Anyway, I got on the bus like I have dozens of times before. I assumed Mike the bus driver (never asked his last name) would be his usual creepy but friendly self, and for most of the drive he was, but what he asked me when I boarded kind of set me on edge.

“Do you ever feel like just giving up, Vicky?” I was the only one he asked that question during the trip, unless he asked someone before I got on. I paused and then shot back that us Powells are all raised never give in, which I think disappointed him. He stayed silent and motioned for me to take my seat, which I did. He picked up a few more kids, but then he made a turn towards a more remote part of town. He turned to us quickly and said “sorry kids, slight detour. We’re picking up a new student today.” That happened sometimes, so nobody thought anything of it, at least for the first three miles.

“How much further?” asked Millie, the preacher’s kid, who sat in front of me. “I got a test I don’t wanna be late for.” A few other kids voiced similar concerns, then a few more. Mike ignored them for what seemed like eternity, and then burst out in a terrifying display.

“Shut the fuck up you little shits!” He hissed it as much as he shouted it. “You’re not going to school today. You’re never leaving this bus until I let you.” It was at that point that we realized the lever for the emergency exit was broken. One boy tried to open his window, but the handles had been broken off. “Only way out I didn’t break is this front door here, and you ain’t getting out of it.” I’m not sure how many of the kids heard this, but some of the boys stood up and started moving towards the driver. Most of the rest of us started panicking. I stayed calm, of course. Just like my daddy taught me. “I don’t recommend that, kiddos. You try to rush me, I’ll drive us off into the ditch.” Given how big of a drop that would have been, everybody wised up and sat down.

“Wh-where are you taking us?” asked some little girl whose name I never learned.

“Let’s put it this way: you’ll know when we’re there.” He was calm and cool, but there was an edge in his voice that let us know he could snap at any moment. We all sat as still as we could, silent except for a few coughs and stifled sobs. This went on at least fifteen minutes, maybe longer. At least it felt that way.

Without warning, the bus flew off the road, down a cliff. It wasn’t clear at the time, but it was intentional. Mike had a seatbelt, but no one else did. I went flying. I landed on the top of one of the seats, and my back went into an unnatural angle, or at least that’s what makes most sense. I’m not sure how long I was out for, but the blood from my head had dried enough to make my hair stick to the floor. I could hear screams. When my eyes had focused enough, I saw Mike piercing Bobby Young’s chest with a large knife. I tried to get up, but my legs didn’t respond. That’s when I realized I couldn’t feel them. Mike must have heard me.

“Still alive, eh?” I did my best not to cry, but a tear went down each cheek. “That makes you the last, Vicky Powell.” He grabbed my hair and pulled me up hard enough to rip some of my blood-stuck hair out. I tried to wrench his hand away, but he was too strong. Much stronger than I expected. “You’re not going to make it.” I didn’t care what that asshole said. I wouldn’t go down without a fight. I dug my nails into his wrist as hard as I could, and I think I drew blood, but it didn’t make a difference. He smirked. “You lost use of your legs, didn’t you?” It appeared as if an idea just came to him. He dropped me so I landed on my butt in the middle of the aisle, then he crouched in front of me, really close. His long, greasy hair smelled like it hadn’t been washed for days. He just stared at me for at least a minute, silent.

“Why?” That was all I could say. It took a few moments for him to respond. He needed to catch his breath.

“The state took my kids from me last week. I’m taking some kids from the state now.” He paused for a long moment, stared at the front of the bus, got up, casually walked over and kicked the lever to open the door until it broke. It was still probably usable to an able bodied person, but I’d have a heck of a time doing it. Soon, he was standing over me. “You still haven’t given up, have you?” I had been scowling at him this whole time, and as I shook my head I felt a tear mix with the blood on my face. Powells don’t give in. “Right. All the others wigged out when they knew nothing could stop them, but you’re not. You’re strong.” He crouched again. “Nobody’s that strong, girlie. You’re gonna find that out. I want you to know how I feel. No hope, no friends, stuck in this fucking bus ’til the day you die.” He put his knife to his own throat. “You’re going to give up, Powell.” Then, he slashed, and blood sprayed everywhere.

It isn’t easy getting around without legs, but I manage alright. I’m not worried about being stuck in a wheelchair the rest of my life. I’ve heard of people recovering from things like this, and if not, at least I’ll still be alive. I’m the only one who’s still alive. I mean, it took a while to determine this, but everyone is dead. It’s just me. I tried but couldn’t open that front door, and can’t find anything to break the glass. I figure I’ll gather the other kids’ lunches and maybe find a book to read. Somebody has to have a good book assigned to them for homework. I know I need it, anyway. I need a break from my own thoughts.


After the sun went down I slept a little. When I woke up, the windows were half covered in snow. Shit! A snowstorm! Other than a few of the windows, it looks like the whole bus is covered in the white stuff. God damn it, now they’ll never…no, don’t think that. I can’t think that. I’m Vicky Powell. Powells never give in. I’m going to make it through this. And I’m going to have to do it on my own.

I’ve been rationing the lunches the other kids packed. I figure I can survive a week, maybe, if this stuff doesn’t start going bad. It’s so gosh darn cold in here that it might as well be a refrigerator. Good thing I have a good jacket. I’ve been wondering how the town has reacted to this. They have no way of knowing what happened, but they must know we’re missing by now. I’ve been thinking about my mom and dad, how they must be so worried about me. I’m a good kid, more or less, so I almost always let them know where I’m going. But it isn’t just me. There are thirty six dead kids on this bus, all of them have some family, even if they aren’t biological. I try not to think about that too much, but there is so much tragedy here that this town may never recover. Sorry. I shouldn’t have wrote that. We’ll make it through this. I’ll survive, I’ll walk again, and we’ll get through this. Powells never give in and I know town won’t give up the search.

I’m going to try a new tactic. Mike’s knife is long and thin enough to use as a kind of makeshift lever. If I can use it to pry open one of these windows, well, I’m skinny enough to crawl through these little bus windows. Other girls like to mock me for being so thin, they call me “Vick the Stick” sometimes because they think that’s clever or something. If this works and gets me out, I’ll be the one who’s laughing. It shouldn’t be too hard to get climb up the hill after that and get to the road, where I’ll probably find someone passing by. I’m doing my best to keep away dark thoughts like “I’m too weak to open the window” or “I can’t climb that far without working legs” or “I’ll freeze to death before I’m rescued, or get run over” because darn it, I’ll make it out of this. I never give in.

The other students…maybe it’s my imagination. There was too much snow built up for me to get through the window I managed to open, and it can’t close. I decided to sleep by the bus driver’s seat and…they began talking to me. They fucking talked to me! I couldn’t see anyone but I heard them clear as day. “Join us,” they said. “Join us, Vicky.” For a few hours, nonstop chatter, hissing and rasping at me in perfect unison. Eventually, they changed tactics. “You’re doomed. You’ll starve or freeze to death before they’ll ever find you. You might as well kill yourself now.” Part of me thinks it’s true. Even if I get out of here, in my condition and given where I am, I’d freeze to death before I could get to anyone. I’m supposed to die here. Why couldn’t that asshole have just killed me? How cruel he was to do this to me! How cruel they are to keep taunting me. Even now, they just can’t shut up. I’m trying to keep sane by writing this and it isn’t helping. I’m not strong enough to make it out of here. But I know what I am strong enough to do…

I almost did it. The other kids quieted down when I had the knife to my throat. It stayed there for at least a minute. Something in me really wanted to join the other kids, but I know…I know I can never give in. Never give up. Powells never give in. Vicky Powell never gives in. I can do this. I can get out if this nightmare. There isn’t much food left, so I have to try soon, while I have the strength. The side facing away from the cliff doesn’t have quite as much snow, maybe I can get out there? I have to try.

It took a while, and a lot of effort, dear diary, but I managed to get a window open. I had to climb over Danny Zimmerman’s body to get there, but I got it. There’s enough room that I can get out, so this is where we part ways. I’ll be back for you, with help. We have to get the others out of here, bury them. Maybe then they’ll stop talking to me.

Detective Gordon Hanson sighed and put the notebook into a plastic evidence bag. Such a shame, he figured. This poor girl had no chance, and no idea of what lay in store for her. A hiker found the bus earlier that day, and it was quickly identified as a missing school bus from 1978. When he checked out the site, he noticed the decaying corpse of a girl outside the bus, her head caved in by a rock. Based on the journal, it must have been Vicky…and she must have landed very poorly. Poor girl. But, the story checked out. Mike Stollznow, the bus driver, did have his kids taken by child services, and every kid that didn’t die from the crash was stabbed. Open and shut case. She didn’t give in, even in the face of death, which Hanson found admirable. Her death was quick, as were her classmates’ deaths. No one suffered. Open and shut case. One thing, however, puzzled him, however: why were the other children in the bus seats with their heads facing Vicky?
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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Micro Fiction

These are all twitter length stories, as in, 140 characters or less. Some are meant to be funny, some scary, some are just meant to be. Some were posted on Terror Tortellini as well, all were posted on my twitter (@benfromcanada) Hopefully, you enjoy this little experiment.

Creepypasta Microfictions

My constant coughing didn't bother me, not even when I coughed up blood. When the blood started crawling away, however...

I woke up, saw men in surgical scrubs in my room, working on me. I figured it was a bad dream until I noticed the scar on my stomach.

I figured I'd be heartbroken over my dog's death. After a few bites, however, I was quite fine with it.

A loud bang. We figured someone dropped something & went on with our days. A stolen gun, no fingerprints. The killer got away.

They say our souls absorb a little bit of everything we kill. Eventually, it can overpower us. Think about that next time you step on a bug.

They said Jill could sleep through the end of the world. They were wrong by about an hour.

Comedic Microfiction

I once killed a man. The courts called it "justifiable homicide." The bastard just wouldn't Leggo my Eggo.

First they came for the guns, but I did not speak up, for I am not a gun. Then they gave me a better quality of life, & I was OK with it.

Sometimes when I'm at work I just zone & imagine I'm somewhere else for a little bit. At least I used to, before the malpractice suit.

I just took the angriest, most painful shit ever & now a copy of Atlas Shrugged lies in my toilet.


There is a cesspool at the entrance to my home town. I wish my parents realized what a bad omen that was & moved on. [This one is actually true, one of the major entrances to my home town does have cesspools right next to it. It's terrible to drive in.]

I'll never forget the time I heard what sounded like muffled screams coming from the trunk of dad's car.What an odd sound for a car to make! [Uncategorized because it's both scary and funny]

The government went from benevolent public servants to brutal cannibalistic fascists so gradually we barely noticed the change. [This one is also true, in a metaphorical sense, at least here in Canada, except a lot of us did notice. The 38% of the people who voted for our government are incapable of noticing.]
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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dealing with my latent transphobia

Most people who know me know I have little tolerance for bigotry, or bigots in general. I've become somewhat of a pariah in the "new atheist" movement for calling out the anti-religious bigotry of some of the main leaders of said movement. I regularly battle with homophobes and sexists both online and off, I have made a few blog posts against racism, and I had a brief twitter fight with noted transphobic misandrist Cathy Brennan (one of the few people I'd use the word "misandrist" on in a non-ironic fashion). However, I very recently realized that I still am holding on to a lingering amount of transphobia, much to my shame.  

For some time now, I've followed Jeph Jacques' excellent webcomic Questionable Content. There was a time when I was a huge webcomic fan, reading 20+ every week or so, and QC was one of the first I truly fell for. Most of the comics I read during that time have either ended or lost my interest, but QC is one of 5 that I still read.* If you aren't familiar with the comic, it's a humourous slice-of-life comic focused mostly on the relationships (romantic and otherwise) of Marten Reed and his friends. While it does have a few fantastical elements, such as the AnthroPCs and the sentient space station that Hannelore was raised on, it's a pretty realistic and true-to-life strip. Despite the name, there is little content that is questionable in Questionable Content. There is swearing, yes, and some conservative sexual taboos are broken (mostly off panel) but otherwise it's pretty tame. When I say "conservative sexual taboos" I mean that there's a good representation of "alternative" relationships in the series.** My old conservative self would freak out at a comic with lots of sexual relationships where the only married couple was gay. 

Which brings me to Claire. Claire is one of three new interns at the library Marten works at. The other two have received little characterization (one of them seems level-headed, the other is WEIRD in a zany way and possibly insane, and aside from their appearance that's all we know about them) but we've gotten a decent chance to get to know Claire. She's shy, kind, level-headed, smart, and socially awkward. She was also born male. From what we've been told, she still has male genitalia but is on hormone replacement therapy and self-identifies as female.

The interesting thing is that if someone revealed to me that they were trans, I'd probably have basically the same reaction as Marten did: acceptance without making a big deal about it. This in and of itself is a major progression for me, as there's no way I would have been as cool with that a decade ago, or even a few years ago. 

However, during QC's most recent story arc, there was some hinted romantic tension between Marten and Claire...and I wasn't OK with it. In fact, I was mildly disgusted by it. At first I told myself this was because it was so soon between relationships, but then I realized that Marten's last relationship was with Padma, and that ended more than a year ago in real time. In fact, his last flirtation that almost turned into something (but didn't) was last summer. Then, I tried to tell myself that Marten went through this sort of thing with every female character, and I was tired of it...but that isn't true either. QC's cast is very female-heavy and Claire is the fifth female character (out of 17 listed on the cast page that are not related to him, underaged or homosexual) that Marten has had any real romantic chemistry with.+ Eventually I came to the unsettling realization that I was not ok with the concept of a pre-op trans woman having a romantic relationship with a cisgendered man. 

The weird thing about this is that in most other areas I've been an ally to the trans community for some time. I'm in favour of letting trans people use whatever washroom they want, I've petitioned against disqualifying trans beauty pageant entrants, I've publicly defended at least one transgendered person from bullies who were verbally harassing her. I almost hired a trans woman (I was only stopped when a more qualified individual came along) and once even asked a post-op transwoman out on a date. She said "no" but that's beside the point. The point is that this revelation surprised me. But it probably shouldn't. 

Even though I've pretty successfully thrown out all notions of traditional gender roles that I once held on to, I don't think I ever tried to throw out the traditional idea of gender that I was raised with. "Men are men, women are women, anything in-between isn't natural." It wasn't hard to find space for "some men like men, some women like women," but it was hard to move anywhere positive regarding transgendered people. I did know one transgendered woman I asked out was trans, but if she didn't tell me that, I'd have not known. She was physically 100% woman, having completed the hormone therapy and the operation. My reasoning for why trans women should be allowed in beauty pageants is, well, they're women now, regardless of what they were born as. As for the other cases mentioned before, those were all cases divorced from sex, sexuality and romance. The reason I'm telling you this, dear reader, is so that I have some incentive to work to change myself. As minor as this bit of transphobia in me is, I want to get rid of it. 

*In case you're wondering, the other four are Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Order of the Stick, Jesus & Mo and Comic Critics. The latter three of those have semi-regular schedule slips, so I normally catch up on them once every week or so, but I check QC & SMBC almost every day. 

**Marten's mother is a dominatrix, Marten's father just got married to a man, Dora and Tai are in a lesbian relationship, and the few interracial relationships in the comic (Marten & Padma, Tai & Dora, Marten's DEATHM0LE band mates Amir and Nat) are all portrayed as mostly normal relationships. Also, Hannelore is asexual by default, as she finds the thought of sex to be repulsive, and I'm fairly sure Raven was polyamorous before Jeph quit using her. 

+Most of the strip's early narrative was driven by Marten and Faye's unresolved romantic/sexual tension, until they both realized that Faye was incapable of any sort of relationship and Marten got together with her boss, Dora. Marten and Dora lasted quite a while until they broke up, and Marten started a relationship with Padma on the rebound, which ended when she had to move across the country. The only other time Marten had any sort of flirtation was shortly after Padma, with Lt. Potter on the aforementioned space shuttle, and that went nowhere.
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