“Have you ever walked into a room and found a vampire? Not the sexy kind, but a foul creature that has bony limbs and ashen skin? The kind that snarls as you enter, like a beast about the pounce? The kind that roots you to the spot with it’s sunken, hypnotic eyes, rendering you unable to flee as you watch the hideous thing uncoil from the shadows? Has your heart started to race although your legs refuse to? Have you felt time slow as the creature crosses the room in the darkness of a blink?
Have you shuddered with fear when it places one clawed hand atop your head and another under your chin so it can tilt you, exposing your neck? Have you squirmed as your head is licked by a rough, dry tongue that slides down your cheek, over your jaw, to your throat, in a slithering search that’s seeking your artery? Have you felt its hot breath release in a hiss against your skin when it probes your pulse-the flow that leads to your brain? Has its tongue rested there, probing slightly as if savoring the moment? Have you then experienced a sinking, sucking feeling as you discover that not all vampires feed on blood, some feed on memories? Well, have you?"
I looked around at the rest of my slack-jawed, open-mouthed, fourth-hour senior English class, all of whom were staring at our teacher, the forty-something Mr. Jasper Russell. He looked over the sea of heads, all of which were awake and checked-in, which for some, was the very first time in any class, on the first day of school.
"Well, maybe not. But let me rephrase the question. Have you ever walked into a room and suddenly forgotten why you came in?" Whispers of 'shit' and 'damn it' rose from my classmates, and Mr. Russell looked satisfied.
"HA!" he shouted suddenly, and a kid at the front of the class actually fell out of his chair. "Alright, seniors. Welcome to AP English Comparative and Literature," he said, “Let’s go through the tedious task of roll call and introduce ourselves. I’ll go first. My name is Jasper Russell, I’m the English teacher here at Myworth High, and I’m a part-time horror writer.” He mock bowed as the guys at the back wolf-whistled.
“Ok, first name. Rufus Aber.” One of the guys at the back stood up.
“Hey, guys. I’m Rufus, and I...uh play basketball and like DC movies.”
Boo DC. Marvel is way better. How dare you watch that filth.
“Marena Carabas.” She stood up.
“First of all, booo Rufus for watching DC trash and not Marvel,” The entire class booed him and he laughed, “Secondly, I’m Marena, I’m on the bowling team, and I like to sew,”
How cool. I like to sew too. I wonder if-Nah, she’d never want to come over and hang out with me. Don’t be ridiculous.
“Hey, I’m David, I like to eat Subway, and play chess.”
Ooh, I love Subway. And Chess? Don’t get me started on that! My father loves teaching me how to play.
Finally after about twenty names, “Adison Steele.” I slowly got up.
I’m Adison, I love watercolor painting and dot-art, and I have three cats, all named after the Three Musketeers, Athos, Aramis, and Porthos.
“I-I-I’m Adison, and I have three cats,” I mumbled quickly before sitting down just as fast. I heard a few snickers from the back, but I ignored them. Mr. Russell looked at me quizzically, and opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it and continued to the next student.
The bell rang an hour and a half later, and everybody jumped, not wanting this eccentric class to ever stop. We had spent the entire time going over the syllabus, which ordinarily would be super boring, but Mr. Russell made it very entertaining. Everyone reluctantly grabbed our bags and headed out the door.
"Ms. Steele, would you mind staying back for a minute?" Mr. Russell called out, as I passed his desk, my head down.
Yes, of course. I wouldn't mind whatsoever. Thanks for paying attention to me.
"Sure," I mumbled. My problem wasn't that I didn't like to speak. It was that I was always thinking of things to say to people but never ended up saying any of them. I couldn’t explain it. It was just something natural to me.
Mr. Russell pulled out a manila folder and opened it, taking out a piece of paper and sliding it over to me. I didn't have to read it to know what it was. My report card from last year's English class.
"You caught my eye, Adison, while I was flipping through my students’ previous report cards to glean an understanding of their work ethic."
Oh, dear. Yes, I am different from most students, but if you'll just give me a chance, you'll see that I can do anything I set my mind to.
"No, no. I'm not saying you're a bad student, but perhaps you could explain why your grades are exceptional, but your speaking grade is way below average?" he crossed his arms and looked at me expectantly.
You don't understand, Mr. Russell. It's not a big problem, it’s just I think too much and I don't end up wanting to say what's on my mind. I promise I'll work on it this year.
"I don't like talking. Much." I said, wincing internally. Mr. Russell's eyebrows raised, but then he looked back at my report card. He sighed, and looked at his watch, then back at me.
Oh no. He hates me. I should leave. Why did I even bother thinking he wanted to pay attention to me.
"I'm sorry," I said, hunching my shoulders inward. Mr. Russell looked at me, surprised.
For being like...this. For hating to talk. For not being the best student out there.
"For not talking," I said, peeking up at him. He laughed, and I shuffled back a step, surprised.
"If I was going to get mad at every single student of mine that didn't want to talk, I'd have to quit teaching." I smiled hesitantly.
But I'm not like everybody. I don't think I compare with everybody. I'm just...different.
"And you're...not? Mad?" I said, scrunching my eyebrows in confusion. He smiled.
“I was a real quiet kid in High School, but I got over it, and you want to know why?”
Of course, I do. I need help.
“Yes.” He put his hands on my shoulders.
“Because I found out that actions speak louder than words, and my actions helped me find my voice.” The voices in my head went silent.
“R-really?” I asked, my voice cracking.
“Really.” I smiled up at him, “Now go to your next class before I get yelled at.”
Thank you so much, Mr. Russell. You’re amazing.
“Thank you,” I said, before walking out of class.
The hallway, as usual, was a seething mass of people congregating after classes, or between lunch breaks. I struggled to make my way through the mass, heading to the cafeteria for my break. Suddenly, a guy crashed into the locker in front of me, books spilling out of his bag. He looked at the floor and at the wayward person who had crashed into him, before kneeling and starting to pick up his things.
Are you ok? Did he hurt you? I can’t believe he didn’t even say sorry. Here, let me help you with that.
I knelt to the ground next to him and quietly helped him with his books. He shot me a grateful smile once we’d finished.
No problem. Have a great day.
I smiled at him, before standing up and walking to the cafeteria. My feet felt light. My heart felt happy. It felt great to not have to speak, and instead, let my actions speak for me.
I walked into the cafeteria and grabbed a lunch tray. Today’s options were Sloppy Joe, greasy pizza, salads, or pasta. I chose the greasy pizza. Seemed the safest option. I was finishing up buying my lunch when I turned and bumped into a guy walking the other way. I fell backward, my lunch flying into him, his lunch flying into me. I sat up, lettuce and tomatoes all over me, and looked at the destruction around me. The guy groaned, sitting up, my slice of pizza sliding down his face. I couldn’t help it. I started giggling.
“Are...you laughing at me?” He asked incredulously.
Duh, that was hilarious. Jesus, you look stupid. And so do I.
I snorted and laughed some more. He scowled at me, but then started smiling too. I got up, and wiped lettuce off me, reaching out a hand to help him to his feet.
“Thank you so much...uh I didn’t catch your name.”
My nam-SHUT UP
“I’m A-Adison Steele.”
“Well, Adison Steele, It’s nice to meet you. I’m Ben Howard. Uh, see you around?” He looked at me questioningly.
“Yeah, that’d be nice.” He smiled and walked away. I couldn’t believe it. I was able to...speak without needing the voices in my head! I whooped, and people sitting next to me looked at me strangely, but I didn’t care. See, one of the risks of being quiet is that other people fill your silence with their interpretation: you’re bored. You’re depressed. You’re shy. You’re stuck-up. You’re judgemental. When others can’t read you, it terrifies them, so they write your story for you, choosing to ignore who we truly are in favor of who they think we are.
Breaking free of that? The best damn thing I ever did.