So, I think it’s seventh grade, I’m trying to be a theater kid, but I’m not actually talented enough to be a theater kid. My dad died last year. My mom’s working like a crazy woman and I’m living in Bedford, New Hampshire where it seems like everyone else in the world is rich except for us.
I manage to go to theater camp at school for the summer. I’m not sure who is actually paying for this. I’m guessing my nana maybe?
Anyways, I’ve got a tiny bit of a reputation for being sort of weird. This is because:
- I am weird.
- People tend to die on the highway outside my house.
- I sometimes know things I shouldn’t know.
- The whole automatic writing thing.
Back in fourth grade, I read this book that talked about automatic writing. So, I tried it. Grabbed a pen and my notebook and didn’t pay attention to the words that were coming out while my stepdad and I watched a Chargers game on tv in the family room. Our family room used to be a garage. Then it was my brother’s bedroom and then my stepsister’s bedroom, but she was long gone by the time I hit fourth grade.
During a commercial break, I decided to read the five pages in my notebook. It was first person narrative of a girl who came over on a boat and lived where my house used to be. She was hurt and scared and hated it there. Then her house caught fire and she died.
I was little. The story scared me, mostly because it was actually a story written in cursive in a handwriting that didn’t look much like mine and because at the end it said, “Tell my story.”
“Daddy?” I asked. “Was there ever another house here?”
“I don’t think so, honey.”
It wasn’t a good enough answer. I ripped the papers out of my notebook and threw them in the woodstove and Mom called us to dinner.
I tried again. “Mom? Was there ever another house here?”
“Yes. A long time ago. If you look in the book we have about our town you can see in one of the old maps that there used to be a house here. Your father found pieces of the foundation when he built our house,” she said this all like it was the most normal thing in the world.
“What kind of people lived here?” I asked, remembering the story.
“Oh, I’m sure they were nice.”
“What happened to the house?” I asked.
Two seconds later, I saw a weird orange glow on the snow outside the picture window. My mom asked me what I was staring at. I told her and my dad jumped up from the table, running outside and shouting back, “Betty! Call the fire department. Our roof is on fire.”
They put out the fire. It could have totally been a coincidence. But when my mom researched what had happened to the last house, it really did burn down.
It was the sort of place where the piano would play by itself, where you walked by the windows and were certain that someone was outside in the dark staring in at you. When I told people where I lived they’d say, “The creepy brown house? You live there?”
Yep. I lived there. I loved it there, actually, because of the woods and the big hill to sled down and the giant boulder in the background that I used to pretend was an island.
In seventh grade, we decided to have a séance. A bunch of the theater kids from camp went to my house. My mom was working. We did automatic writing in that same family room. The drapes across the living room closed by themselves. A pencil caught fire. One of the boys acted possessed. I’m not sure if he was really possessed, because… theater kid.
It was terrifying.
One of the things that was written down was, Tell our stories.
It’s years later and I try so hard to be normal, but obviously constantly fail.
My high schoolwriting teacher, Mr. Sullivan, has this laugh where his tongue darts out between his lips and his mouth hangs wide open and I swear, his tongue looks like a freaking lizard tongue. It’s creepy and hysterical all at once and everyone in class points and starts laughing at him whenever he laughs this way. He doesn’t even care. He just laughs harder.
But this day? He just stops abruptly, right in the middle of a laugh.
So, Mr. Sullivan? He looks at me and says, “Carrie Barnard. What is going through your head right now?”
And my mouth opens and no sound comes out. No words. Not even adverbs.
He cocks an eyebrow, which is white and gray and black with old-man extra hairs squiggling out everywhere. “Well….? I would have called your look inquisitive.”
“I was just staring at your tongue when you laugh.”
Everyone in class starts cackling as I say this.
“Because…” Mr. Sullivan prompts, leaning back against his desk. Papers crumple under the edge of his butt.
“Because you look like a lizard when you laugh?” I offer and instantly feel bad about saying this.
“A lizard?” He stares at me for a second. Another second passes. “I look like a lizard when I laugh?”
I shrug, which will hopefully end this conversation and keep doodling, not looking down at my notebook. “Pretty much. But… um not in a bad way?”
This just makes him laugh more.
One of my friends announces, “Carrie thinks lizards are cute.”
“Which is why she liked you, right?” another friend says.
Everyone just cackles more and my first friend bows. “Perfect setup. I gave you the perfect setup.”
And that’s when I start thinking that maybe people aren’t just people. Maybe we all have angels and demons stuck inside of us and the reason that good doesn’t last and good people die is because the angel people are being wiped out by the demon people in some sort of eternal, perpetual war. But then I just realize that these are symbols that I’m making up to distract myself from the fact that people suck so badly.
I’m not going to tell Mr. Sullivan all that. If there is one thing I know about this life, it’s that when people ask you what you’re thinking, they only want to know the top surface level of it, not the muck and mud and layers, not the way your thoughts spiral out in a million directions. People only want the tiny truths, not the complexities, which basically means they want nothing at all.
I shouldn’t write basically because Mr. Sullivan hates adverbs. He insists they are weak ways of writing, but I think they have purpose, right? Because people are weak. People created adverbs specifically because we are weak and have a hard time expressing ourselves in strong enough verbs all the damn time.
Words fail constantly. . . all the time… a lot. So, you have to grab the best ones you’ve got, right? But sometimes… sometimes… there are no words at all and the big ass pit inside of you stays huge and horrible and threatens to swallow you whole, which is not an original image, but whatever.
“Write!” Mr. Sullivan tells us as he gesticulates wildly with Sharpie-smudged hands and frayed-cuff khakis. He paces the front of the room like a baseball coach. “Free write! Tell us about lizard-tongue people. Tell us what the brilliant Carrie Barnard observed.”
But I have already told him and I have nothing else to say.
I just stare at the ceiling and then this whisper comes into my right ear – just the right one and it says, “Tell our stories.”
I jerk so hard that my chair legs scrape against the floor.
“What?” I look around.
Mr. Sullivan sits at his desk now. He meets my eyes. I can’t tell what his eyes are thinking.
Nobody else is even looking up. They are all being good students, worker bees.
“Barnard? Are you all set?” Mr. Sullivan’s voice isn’t mean. It’s just a question.
“Yes,” I lie, yanking my hair back into a ponytail, gathering it up into a cheap, black elastic. It must look as wild as Mr. Sullivan’s. “Yes, I’m fine.”
I look down at my notebook, full of doodles, but it’s not full of doodles. There’s just one sentence, written over and over again, in every font ever – obscure and weird and traditional, messy and neat, capitalized and not.
Tell our stories.
Tell our stories.
Tell our stories.
Tell our stories.
Tell our stories.
Tell our stories.
Next and Last Time Stoppers Book
It’s out! You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.
People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.
The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?
It’s awesome and quirky and fun.
OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.
Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!
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Ebook on Sale for October!
And finally, for the month of July, my book NEEDis on sale in ebook version on Amazon. It’s a cheap way to have an awesome read in a book that’s basically about human-sized pixies trying to start an apocalypse.
I’m WRITING BARN FACULTY AND THERE’S A COURSE YOU CAN TAKE!
I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn!
Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?
Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.
Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here.