Dot, Dot, Little Dot

Submitted into Contest #200 in response to: Write a story that includes the line “my lips are sealed.”... view prompt

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American Coming of Age Drama

Now

Thomas hadn’t expected to be alive when the town’s time capsule was opened. Susanna turned on the TV in the sun room in time for the news segment to premiere for all of the guests at Sunset Brooke Care Home. “Mr. Wilkers, were you alive when they buried that thing?” she asked as she pulled her huge legs up so that her feet, clothed in pure white sneakers, were on the seat. It made Thomas grind his teeth together and mumble a curse. The TV screen showed a crowd of people gathered for the event. A makeshift stage had been built to the side of the old, oak tree.. 

“I was fifteen,” he whispered to no one in particular.

“What?” Susanna turned in her chair to look at him. She noticed tears running down the old man’s velvet cheeks. He could smell her coffee breath. Her eyes softened slightly.

“It was seventy five years ago today that they buried that stupid thing which would have made me fifteen,” he said. 

“Huh,” Susanna said as her attention shifted back to the screen. Thomas shifted his weight in his chair, placed both hands on the arms of the chair, and stood. He shuffled back to his room and collapsed into his twin size bed. Dusty, murky light streamed through his window. 

A knock came, waking Thomas. “Mr. Wilkers?” called a voice. When Thomas opened his eyes, he suddenly felt ravenous. His back shot a lightning rod of pain down his whole body and he pushed with his hands on the bed. He smacked his tongue and blinked, attempting to clear sleep from his eyes. Vaguely, he sensed Susanna had taken it upon herself to enter his room. He could feel her looking around his room—noting the photo from his wedding, the collection of photos of his grandchildren, the long since wilted orchid. She exhaled a deep breath. Just as Thomas managed to negotiate himself into a sitting position, his nurse returned from the bathroom with a damp washcloth. He let out a loud cough. 

She set down her cleaning supplies and walked to his desk where breakfast had been served. With a quaking hand, he accepted the warm cup of coffee and she set a bagel sandwich on his bedside table. “I was fifteen,” Thomas said. 

“Fifteen, Mr. Wilkers?” Her voice was soft and full of youth like a newly bloomed tulip. 

“When they buried the time capsule…I was fifteen,” he repeated.

“Tell me about that, Mr. Wilkers,” she encouraged while grabbing her trash bag that billowed out like a parachute from her bag. 

Then

The dots came in packs of 100. And according to the latest mandate, Imogene was expected to have at least five dots on her face and five on her neck. A pack a day keeps the police away. 

Imogene’s fingers traced the dots which were rubber in texture. They were clear and in four quadrants of 25. There were 10 pages per pack. Imogene stared at her face in the vanity, practicing the facial expressions she had studied in class last year. Her nose scrunched, right where three little freckles that made the shape of a heart. It was too pointy, she decided. Her right hand traced her hollow cheeks. Imogene’s favorite feature were her lips with their perfect Cupid’s bow shape, beautiful, even in this world. 

Imogene heaved a deep sigh and began to pluck the first dot from its plastic sheet. She noticed that her hand trembled as she applied it to the center of her forehead. Imogene scowled, the dot began to glow a soft pink, then a bright red. Imogene’s sharp, black eye brows furrowed. She applied two more dots so that they all formed a triangle on her forehead. Imogene then added one dot to the cent of each cheek. Then, she ran a single line of dots down her throat.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” her mother, Amani, seemed to magically appear wherever she pleased. This time, she lingered in the doorway, her cheeks flushed pink. Her dots were glowing pink, too, but as Imogene rolled her eyes, they began to turn red with anger. “I like that dress, good choice for the first day of school. The blue brings out the blue of your eyes,” Amani complimented over her shoulder as the two of them raced down the stairs which led to the living room of their new apartment.

Imogene noticed the daunting, bright yellow of the school bus parked right in front of her home. That bus picked up all the “study abroad” kids. Bus number 1632. Amani reappeared at her daughter’s side, shoving an orange ball into her hand. “It’s an orange—local fruit,” she explained with a smile, “It’s good; I promise.” The juice began to leak into Imogene’s palm. She took a deep breath, grabbed her bag, and headed out the door.

It was silent on the bus. Imogene’s nose flared at the scent of rubber mixed with body odor, mixed with gasoline, mixed with God knows what else. The dots on her face and neck flushed green with disgust. “You’ll get used to it,” a voice rang out from the window side of a seat in the back. A young girl tucked her blaze orange hair behind her ear. Her dots were blending into her skin, indicating a calmness. She patted her seat.

The bus lurched forward and Imogene practically dove in beside her. “Kimmy,” the girl stuck out her right hand which Imogene took cautiously. Kimmy wiped her palm on the hem of her dress, choosing not to bring up the uneaten orange. “Didn’t they teach you that everyone shakes hands out here?” she laughed. Imogene’s dots turned bright blue like her eyes. She felt tears pricking like cactus needles. “Hey,” Kimmy’s voice softened and her dots began to glow a soft silver—the designated color for shame and forgiveness. 

“I’m so embarrassed,” said Imogene. Her cheeks flushed pink, her dots chartreuse. “Um, do you want some?” she held out the orange her mother had given her. Kimmy nodded and began to show Imogene how to peel the sections apart for eating. The burst of sweet, but slightly acidic, juice filled Imogene’s mouth. She let out a giggle. Her dots began to change to the color of the bus. And so did Kimmy’s! The orange was gone very quickly. The girls sat in silence as the bus wove through the Transfer Housing Development. They watched as they passed rows of beautiful, white houses, spaced perfectly apart with matching narrow driveways and tiny, green front yards. 

As the bus turned out of The Development, it became louder. Even Kimmy called over to her old friends. She made introductions to Imogene who practiced her hand shaking. They arrived at the school which was bustling with Humans and Transfers. Kimmy led Imogene to the huge double doors of the school which opened into the common area. It was incredibly loud and Imogene’s hands rushed to her ears to protect them. Her dots began to glow orange which meant fear. She lost Kimmy in the crowd.

The sea of Humans threatened to overtake her as they all seemed to know where to go. More tears threatened to make an appearance. Her dots turned blue. Imogene felt a cool hand on her bicep. She whipped her head around to see Kimmy smiling softly at her. 

Imogene nodded and followed like a lost puppy to the table while Thomas looked on, gripping his schedule in his right hand.

“Hey, man, get moving,” groaned a boy behind Thomas. 

“Sorry, sorry,” Thomas said.

Now

“She was the most beautiful creature I had ever laid eyes on. I got lucky,” Thomas said with a chuckle, “She was in my home room. She sat at the very front, which she’d tell me on our third date was because it made it easier to block out the noise of the Humans. Of us…” He took a sip of his coffee.

Susanna groaned as she finished placing the fresh sheets on the bed. She began fluffing his pillows and tossed them on the bed. He said, “She dropped her books one day. Imogene was so embarrassed—papers flew everywhere and the cover tore from her math book. Her dots were all blue.”

“Mr. Wilkers, the knight in shining armor,” she glowed with pride. 

“You could say that,” Thomas winked. “I just scooped up the books and took her to the library to see if she could get a new book. We walked in silence, her dots, suddenly orange. The school wanted to charge her…made her dots go all blue.” 

“What did you do?” The last pillow fell onto the bed as she asked the question. Susanna began balling up his dirty sheet and wandered into the bathroom to collect the towels. 

“I offered to pay for the book,” he said. “I had been a lifeguard that summer. So I promised her to keep the accident a secret saying, ‘my lips are sealed.’ And they have been.”

“Until now,” laughed Susanna as she headed into the bathroom. Her departure left Thomas wanting to jump up, offer a hand, but knowing he couldn’t, Thomas fell back to his bed.

Then

Imogene stood in front of Thomas’ desk, her palm open, with the $20.00 bill laying on it like a leaf on a still lake. He blinked back at her and accepted the money. As she turned, he called out, “Wait.” But she pretended not to hear him. He watched her back, stiff as a board in a baby blue dress, for the entire class period. When the bell rang, he held back, choosing to pack his journal and textbooks back into his bag slowly. Imogene stood, her hands clasped in front of her, right above her belly button. 

“What?” she asked and tilted her head to the side.

“I’m Thomas,” he held out a hand and let her take it. Her handshake was slow and dramatic. Her dots turned white to show she was concentrating. He offered her a smile asking, “Can I walk you to class?” She nodded, he grabbed his bag, and headed into the sea of students with her. Imogene felt her heart flutter when a kid pushed Thomas making him crash into her slightly. She could feel the warmth of his shoulder against her own. She knew her dots were flashing into a rosy pink. 

At lunch, Thomas felt the $20 burning in his pocket and approached the table to buy tickets for the dance. 

Thomas had never been to the Transfer Neighborhood. He knew the ghost stories—that if you went after midnight you could see aliens performing their rituals to the stars. Apparently, bonfires were made and animals were sacrificed. Even though Thomas was certain that it was all just gossip, his hands were still slick with sweat as he wove his way through the neighborhood. All of the houses were dark and he strained to read the numbers, aided by the occasional street light. He parked in the driveway of house 16 and took a deep breath. His car door echoed ominously when he shut it. He listened for crickets or a dog’s howl and was unnerved when he heard nothing. A porch light flickered on as he approached the front door. It had a white swing on it and a flower pot filled with dirt, but no flowers. 

Then, Imogene appeared. She donned a silver gown which sparkled in the dim light of the porch. He helped her into the car and took her out to dinner at a steakhouse, using the last of his lifeguarding funds to afford dessert. She didn’t laugh at his jokes and struggled to make polite conversation, but with the help of the dots, he was certain she was happy. When the check came to the table, he placed his money onto the tray. Imogene noticed how many of the green rectangles he put down and her dots began to go chartreuse. “Hey,” Thomas took her hand, “Would you maybe wanna skip the dance?”

She looked up, clearly contemplating, “What would we do instead?”

“Dances are lame,” he said. “They’re loud and annoying and everyone is just…awful. And The Neighborhood is the most quiet place in the world. What if we just went back and…I don’t know…” He stared at the table the second the words left his mouth. 

“OK,” she said. They stood and he drove back through the Neighborhood. This time was easier because Imogene was guiding him. He parked in the driveway and led her to the porch swing. She laughed when he tripped over his own feet before he took a seat. 

“How long do you get to stay?” Thomas asked. He stared at his hands in his lap.

“A year,” she stared, eyes expressionless, out in front of her.

“Pull your feet up,” Thomas instructed. She fumbled for a moment like a baby giraffe. “Here,” he said and leaned close to her so he could smell her—she was unlike anything he had ever encountered. Her skin radiated a coolness that was akin to a swimming pool and the air around her smelled like the world after the first rain storm of spring. “May I?” he asked and reached out two hands for her ankles and helped her fold them into a criss-cross applesauce position.

He dropped his feet to the porch and began pushing with his toe on the ground. When the swing squeaked and groaned, she let out a gasp. Her dots glowed blue for a moment. But when Thomas took her hand, they returned to flesh colored. He explained, “It’s a swing.” Thomas moved his left hand onto the chain and began to pull at it as his legs pumped. Out of the corner of his eye he caught Imogene mimicking him. Her hand went up the chain on the right. Her legs flopped down and began to pump in time to Thomas’. And her dots? They began to glow a beautiful, sunflower yellow.

Now

“Mr. Wilkers?” she asked. “Do you wanna go for lunch?” Thomas blinked his eyes, taking in Susanna. Her nose scrunched, right where three little freckles that made the shape of a heart. He reached up his hand to trace her hollow cheeks. She was so familiar to him. And she smelled so sweet, like rain.

He continued his tale, “On our last day of school, they took us all on a field trip to the park they had just finished building in the center of the Transfer Neighborhood. They…they…planted a tree, I think.”

“Yes, the Oak one from the news,” Susanna said. 

“Yes, yes, but it was so tiny back then. All spindly branches and tiny green leaves the width of my pinky,” Thomas said, “Imogene’s friend was there and so…so…she felt safe. The principal was standing up on a stage. The birds were singing softly, the air smelled like Imogene’s skin.”

Susanna leaned in close to hear the words leaving Thomas’ mouth, like whispers on the wind. “All the students got to bring one thing the size of our palms or smaller. And Kimmy put in a necklace in the shape of an I for ‘Imogene.’ My girl had the other one, all silver with fake diamonds, in the shape of a K for ‘Kimmy’,’' he added and smiled. His teeth had long since been replaced by dentures.

“Imogene was next, she put in a sheet of dots…dots that would be banned in less than one year because it was found they didn’t convey the aliens’ emotions accurately. Not enough colors,” Thomas said with a wry laugh, “And there were no more Transfers after that, best to let aliens be aliens and Humans be Humans.” Thomas’ eyes began to flutter closed. He felt a cool cheek against his own, almost like he was back on the swing with his Imogene. 

Susanna clocked out of her final shift at 7pm. She caught a cab and when she gave the address, her driver’s brows furrowed in the rearview mirror. He asked her if she’d need a ride back, but she shook her head. He drove through the neighborhood slowly; she was certain he felt fear. But not Susanna. She knew this path like the back of her hand. Finally, they arrived at house number 16. Susanna stopped out and gave a small wave to the driver.

A single street bulb flickered. When she listened, she heard the sound of crickets. First, Susanna took a seat on the swing, the way she had with Thomas a lifetime ago. Her people lived significantly longer lives than the Humans. They devised a technology that would allow them to disguise themselves to look like Thomas. Ironically, using the techniques that their scientists had hammered out during the testing of the Dots.

But, Imogene knew she couldn’t come back as Imogene. Especially, since the Humans remained blissfully unaware that her people had ever returned. Imogene shook her head at the naivety of Thomas’ people—the vanity it must take to believe that just because Humans no longer had use of the “aliens,” the “aliens” didn’t have use for them. She found herself smiling the way that Thomas had taught her.

Imogene hopped off the swing and began to meander down the block to the park with the tree. It loomed in the center of the field of now long dead grass that crunched beneath her feet. There was a rusty plaque at the base of the tree. Roots embraced it in a hug from mother nature herself. When Imogene bent down, she could read the words: HERE LIES THE FIRST TIME CAPSULE CONTAINING HUMAN AND ALIEN ARTIFACT TO BE OPENED ON MARCH 25TH….

Imogene frowned, the date had been overtaken by a root. She shrugged, took out her light, and flashed it to the charcoal black sky. In a beam of white light she disappeared.

May 26, 2023 16:17

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12 comments

Michał Przywara
22:12 May 31, 2023

Ha, that's absolutely wild! Very creative :) An alien student-exchange program, a high school romance, a senior reminiscing near the end of his life, a time capsule - you managed to put a lot of things into this, and it all fits together nicely. The pace of the revelations is good, as we're eased into the situation. By the time we learn they're aliens, it's surprising but not so shocking we can't accept it. And, I really like the premise of living long enough to see your own time capsule open. It seems like a mostly sweet story, of remin...

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Mary Bendickson
17:25 May 26, 2023

So imaginative and how did you put this out here barely an hour after the prompt was posted?

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Amanda Lieser
17:50 May 26, 2023

This is a story that’s been weighing on my mind. I just needed an excuse to buckle down and get it out there. :)

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Graham Kinross
02:54 Nov 18, 2023

We should all have such rich stories to tell about our lives. I’ve read a few autobiographies recently and this nails that feeling of getting out the story that means something to us. What inspired the dots? Braille?

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Éan Bird
01:20 Sep 15, 2023

I really enjoyed how the story unfolds under a series of contrasts...the contrast of the story's structure, the contrast of setting, the contrast of ages, contrast of tone, even the contrast between apparent humans/non-humans. It's such a cool concept that yields a clever, innovative, and creative story. Thanks for an original read!

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Marty B
05:28 Jun 15, 2023

It would be very helpful for us humans to have 'dots' to describe emotions. Would solve many problems in communication! I thought the two timelines, then and now, were great for this Romance story, (more Rom tropes, than of Coming of Age IMO) The slow release of exposition was fantastic. Great story!

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Anna W
05:28 Jun 09, 2023

Wow! I really enjoyed this story. I loved the perspective of someone at the end of their life, telling a story of the love of their youth. I liked the way there’s a tenuous relationships between humans and aliens, and simultaneously that gap is being bridged by young people, innocently in love. This feels like a tale as old as time, in the most beautiful way: humans drawing barriers around ourselves due to our differences, and love being the thing that truly breaks down those barriers. But with aliens (which is great, because I’m a big sci-f...

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Zack Powell
04:32 Jun 08, 2023

Whoa, didn't see this kind of plot coming. When I see an Amanda Lieser story, Speculative is probably the last genre to come to mind. Not your typical kind of story here. Which is to say: It's nice to see you expand your horizons and try some new things, Amanda. Proud of you. That's how we grow, after all. Some good things I enjoyed in this one. First: The occasion of the story. I like the time capsule element a lot as a reason why this story is being told now. Likewise, it segues nicely into both the theme and the ending of the piece, wher...

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Helen A Smith
08:14 Jun 04, 2023

What strikes me are the contradictions here. On the one hand, it feels like a touching story filled with love and emotions (even if they are mixed). But there’s also the vanity of humans and the fact that aliens use them too. Who’d watching who here? The symbolism of the oak tree gives a sense of continuity. I like how fluid this is as you ably move back and forth in the relationship between alien and human. “His back shot a lightning rod of pain” - such strong imagery. Enjoyed reading.

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Zatoichi Mifune
06:44 Jun 04, 2023

Love it! So creative and really interesting. I think my favourite idea was the Dots, just in themselves really, I don't know why. I love how you didn't mention the date once, and the way you avoided mentioning it at the end. Obvious but not so obvious, if you know what I mean 🙂

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J. D. Lair
00:26 Jun 04, 2023

Loved this!

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Viga Boland
14:45 May 29, 2023

Ah…to have an imagination like yours, AmandA. I couldn’t write something as unearthly real as this one! I’m so not into fantasy, aliens, etc., and yet…what do I know? Now I’m going to wander around wondering which of my friends I actually have met in another life. After all, all the deja vues I’ve experienced are still inexplicable to me. Great story again!

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