Contest #208 shortlist ⭐️


Teens & Young Adult Science Fiction Funny

Maths Land

Tariq opened his eyes and looked at his alarm clock. The time was 7:15. He had fallen asleep at 22:05. He noticed things like that. Everyone in Maths Land noticed things like that.

Breakfast consisted of half a grapefruit each for his mum, his dad and his sister. He hated grapefruit. Mum had bought them yesterday at a 20% discount. She had also had twelve apples in one bag and fourteen oranges in another and spent some minutes checking that they weighed the same.

Tariq walked to school following streets which led in suspiciously predictable directions. The streets were all straight. He looked at the street names as he passed - North Street, Hill Street, Station Street. That one led to the station. The streets all had incredibly simplistic, predictable names, describing where they were or what they passed.

At 8:15 he knocked on the door of his friend John. John’s mother was a shockingly stereotypical woman who stayed at home all day apparently baking and shopping for baking ingredients and sharing her baking with friends.

Today was February the 29th. It was Tariq’s least favourite day of the entire year, as John would constantly remind him of how unusual the day was.

Tariq’s stride was 10% shorter than John’s but frankly he didn’t care. John was fat, white, wore glasses and had a bewildering range of dumb hobbies, like folding pieces of paper or collecting prime numbers. Tariq should have hated him, but somehow didn’t.

The trouble started at the school gate, standing at exactly 45 degrees to the line of the fence.

“Where is your partner?” asked Mr. Green the teacher who wore a brown tie and drove a white car. He played tennis all the time with Mr. White and Mr. Brown when not teaching.

“John is my partner” answered Tariq.

“But where is the girl?” asked Mr. Green.

“She left last week, remember? Her father had saved £1500 per year for 10 years to afford a house somewhere or other. They moved, having compared the price of different moving agencies.”

That’s when Susan turned up.

“Here is the new girl. She will be your partner.”

Exactly one third of the school were girls. They were all obsessed with something – each to their own obsession.

It turned out Susan was obsessed with measuring.

She had brought her own ribbons and scissors.

The day passed in hellish torment as always. There was the usual unfeasible rate of absenteeism, always an exact fraction of the school population. Workmen appeared to build unnecessary shelving all over the school and never seemed to have worked out what length of planks they needed in advance. Susan was sickeningly good at helping them out.

Bob with the huge hands was sharing out apples again at break time. Always fruit. Always bloody fruit.

PE lessons were a drag in the afternoon. Everyone had to run at an exactly constant speed in the races, and, weirdly started at different times. Susan was employed measuring the distances. John was allowed to draw graphs of how fast they ran. Tariq concentrated on keeping his running speed constant.

Tariq particularly hated lunch time. Always round things. Pizzas, flans, pancakes, pies – and always divided into fractions: 25% ham, 25% pineapple, 50% tomato... Tariq was always given the job of drawing a chart of any pie that was served during the day.

He resented always having to share everything he owned with John and now, presumably, Susan. He couldn’t sneak a pack of biscuits into the place without having to give 30% each to John and whichever girl they were forced to mingle with.

Tariq would have loved to be in a group with other South Asian kids, such as Mohammad, who was in a group with Paul and Mary, but there seemed to be a rule that the BME kids were not allowed to be in the same group. Exactly 1/3 of the school’s population were from BME backgrounds.

The worst lesson of the day was undoubtedly maths. As if there hadn’t been enough calculations to do already, he had to spend ages answering stupid questions about clones of himself, John and Susan doing pointless things.

He arrived home at 3:45 p.m. having taken a bus into town for no reason. The bus timetable was almost indecipherable. He hated buses. He wasn’t sure why he had caught one.

At home, Dad had come home early having worked 25% faster than usual. He was struggling to conform to the expected norm of throwing balls towards little sister Samina in perfect parabolas at the rate of one per minute. She wasn’t interested anyway. She was only 46 months old, and by this time of the day nobody could be bothered to work out how many years that was. She was more interested in the toys shaped suspiciously like regular solids, as if anyone cared. She kicked a dodecahedron towards Dad, but it collided with the parabolic path of the ball he was throwing towards her and ricocheted onto Tariq’s head. He would have a pentagonal bruise in the morning.

After a square meal consisting of meat slices, waffles and weirdly shaped vegetables (square) served on square plates, Tariq spent exactly 2 hours on his homework (5 minutes for English and 1 hr 55 on maths) before watching TV for 4% of the day and going to bed at precisely 10pm.

Something snapped inside Tariq that night. Maybe it was the pentagonal bruise forming on his head. Maybe it was the new girl, or the fact that he had just had enough of it all.

The next day he deliberately ran to John’s house so that he arrived ten minutes early. John didn’t answer the door. Tariq peered through the letter box and a horrifying sight met his eyes. There was nothing there. No hallway, no curtains, just blackness.

Tariq wondered what this meant. He could see the hall light through the window above the front door. Was the letter box covered over for some reason? He tried pushing the door, and it swung open - not locked. Blackness. Tariq was really unnerved now, but something made him press on. His feet made no sound on the floor. Only the rectangle of the doorway behind him made any sense, beyond which the normal world stretched. But the further he strode into the house, the smaller the rectangle behind him became.

There was an alarm, like from a clock. The reality of John’s house jumped into existence around Tariq. He was in the kitchen.

“Oh hello, Tariq,” called John’s mum. “I’ve just been baking. I’m going to give you three buns.”

“Why?” he asked.

“It’s what we always do, dear!”

“But why? I mean, have you asked me if I like buns?”

“I have been baking!”

“No, you haven’t. You didn’t even exist ten minutes ago; the place was just blackness!”

There was a sound like the chiming of a small gong, and John’s mum froze. The blackness returned. Then the light returned, but Tariq seemed to be in a completely different place. In front of him stood – if that is the right word – something like an octopus with a jellylike body. Another octopus stood behind. There was no sign of the house. There was just a diffuse green glow.

“You have discovered that you are in Maths Land,” the creature said completely normal English.

“I know – what do you mean? Who – where – “

“Don’t be alarmed,” said the second creature, in a voice identical to the first. “We placed you here as a precautionary measure. After the collision we thought you would be at home in a temporary micro-universe made just for you based on the cultural literature that you had with you at the time.”

“Collision?” Then Tariq remembered the automated shuttle, the catching up with maths homework on the way to the Vesta Academy from his home on Ceres, the crash. Some “cultural literature” - a maths text book.

“You were hurt and are currently lying unconscious in our sick bay but we should have you returned to your ship within four or five solar cycles. Meanwhile, please enjoy your return to the virtual environment of Maths Land.

John’s house appeared again, John’s mother still proffering her stupid buns.

He had at least another four years of this to go.

Tariq hated maths.

July 23, 2023 15:59

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Chris Bullivant
18:15 Sep 12, 2023

Thanks for the kind comments. I too used to really hate maths, but now I work some of the time as a maths tutor! A lot of Young People I work with don't like the subject and I try to lighten things a bit by poking fun at the world in which maths questions happen. This world is Maths Land. Where else would anyone do all the crazy things they do in maths questions?


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Amanda Lieser
14:54 Sep 12, 2023

Hi Chris, Congratulations on the shortlist! This was an incredibly clever take on the prompt, and I loved smiling through each, and every sentence. Although you managed to create lots of creepy moments, I thought that the humor you used to balance out the piece brought it home. I, too, despised math as a child. The twist at the very end was a perfect payoff to the story. Nice work!!


Chris Bullivant
18:16 Sep 12, 2023

Thanks so much!


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17:55 Sep 10, 2023


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Philip Ebuluofor
18:52 Aug 07, 2023

Congrats. Little confused but it must be due to math appearing here many times. I am useless with that.


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Chris Bullivant
19:24 Aug 05, 2023

Aww thanks for the kind comments guys. I spend a lot of time talking to teens about exams (I sometimes work as a tutor) and the questions are so weird that I started saying they were "in maths land". I have another sci-fi short that's just been e-published but I'm not sure I'm allowed to mention it as it's on another platform.


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18:07 Aug 05, 2023

Fun story Chris! Reminded me of the educational videos I used to show my kids to help them learn their numbers 😄 they were truly horrendous. I think being stuck in one of them would be a special kind of hell. Poor Tariq. Congratulations!


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03:32 Aug 05, 2023

Congrats on your story! It made me laugh. I hope you will continue to write! -H.M.Pierce


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Kevin Logue
17:10 Aug 04, 2023

Well that took a turn ha. Micro universe's, aliens, life on Cere's. Would have been nice to have a little more of the realisation act to build suspense and mystery, but regardless of my opinion congratulations on the shortlist Chris. And welcome to Reedsy.


Chris Bullivant
19:24 Aug 05, 2023

Good tip - thanks.


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