Count to Ten

Submitted into Contest #74 in response to: Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.... view prompt

6 comments

Coming of Age Teens & Young Adult Fiction

Seething, Hallie began the count. One. This counting thing was so stupid anyway. It’s a classic, cliché, and characteristically oversimplified psychological idea. Taught by every parent ever. If you’re mad, count to ten. The idea was unfortunately also touted by Hallie’s therapist as a way for her to slow down her “infinite train of thoughts” and “take back control of the situation.” Control. That would be nice. Hallie wished she had control over her thoughts. She also wished they would slow down. The counting didn’t help. She had done it so many times it was muscle memory in her brain; neurons firing in an untracked sequence. 

Two. Hallie’s problem was language, or perhaps lack thereof. Hallie had been appalled to discover that her therapist, along with others on this overcrowded planet, allowed her thoughts to be guided by words. Hallie’s thoughts knew no such bounds. Maybe her brain wished to be rebellious too. She had no guiding narrative. Only flashes: images, smells, colors, memories, anything but sentences. Something else, too, which Hallie couldn’t describe in all her hours of therapy, limited as she was by language. If they could see inside her brain, beyond the MRIs: they would find her thinking resembled a string of candy floss.

Three. Above all else, Hallie hated being limited. Limited by language gaps. Limited by her parents, who could never and would never hear her. Still they managed to scold and ground her every time she shouted, and to send her to therapy as well. Limited by the law, which said she couldn’t attack those guys no matter how terrible they were. “Unless it’s self defense.” Unless.. Unless—an exception. Exceptions were warmth. The feeling of holding a candle in her hand, of her first puppy nestling into her arms. A radiating warmth that started to calm her until she got to number

Four: and remembered why she was counting in the first place. So much for distractions. Four was the worst number—the number she never used to get past. The best number to throw a punch on. It always worked out that enough seconds had passed where her adversary wasn’t expecting it, but not enough for punching to become irrelevant. Four punched Hallie’s own gut for keeping the anger monster in. The anger monster—her dad’s term. A term that made her laugh at the gnawiest of times: when the monster gnawed at her feet the most, making her itch to run or kick.

Five. Or both. Her therapist would interpret that reaction, for sure. Clara was on vacation anyway, so why was she even doing this? There would be no one to report it to, no “good job” or gold star. Not that her therapist did that anyway. Why not? Positive reinforcement—isn’t that psychology? A moot point, since Clara was currently posting photos from Dubai. The most therapeutic part about having a therapist was following her on Instagram. Sometimes, Hallie pretended that was her life. She could stare at the photos for hours and never acknowledge their existence outside of her own convoluted thoughts. 

Six. Her therapist didn’t know about the Instagram photos, of course. She didn’t know that Hallie followed her on Instagram, as a result of Hallie’s selection of carefully cultivated Instagram accounts. Clara would probably have some typically hypercritical comment about the behavior being “unprofessional.” Hallie’s mom would have called the behavior concerning, but the word unprofessional could almost swallow up the word concerning. ‘Unprofessional’ was bursting to the brim with judgement. It seemed to taunt her. The worst part of the word unprofessional, perhaps, was that the word offered no comeback. Unlike ‘concerning’, the word unprofessional was unfortunately nothing but professional. 

Seven. The smell that she associated with that last thought ripped her back to reality. Only now, she could focus on the faces in front of her. The focus only furthered the clouds twisting in her mind. Sometimes, she wished she too was deaf to the obnoxious sounds of the world. She wished she was blind as well, then no one could bother her. She could shut anyone out and owe no acknowledgement to them. Acknowledgement. That was the absolute worst part about socialization. Not to mention the worst part about being bullied. Bullying was impossible to not acknowledge, especially internally. 

Eight. She didn’t like the term bullying. The figures of authority in her life always seemed to think that bullying was a personal attack. If you were bullied, responding might be self-defense. If your brother, sister, friend, parent, or the general population was attacked, a response was not justified. Responding to bullying was essentially what qualified Hallie to have “an anger management problem” in the first place. Empathy was apparently not an appropriate response. Figures. Hallie couldn’t stand the attacks, though, whether directed at her, her parents, or the homeless man down the street. She had to do something about it. 

Nine. Today’s tyrants were especially bad. Those boys had the faces of bullies, and her lungs sank into her stomach when she saw them. A feeling of dread that went beyond emotion and skipped straight to drowning. She could still unfortunately hear their words, though. Cruel meanings, which paled in comparison to the complete apathy on their faces. Hallie didn’t understand apathy. Purposeful evil-doing she could understand on some parallel level, but a complete disregard for all other humans seemed unnatural. Anger might prevent apathy. If she could spread her anger, she might get people to care, just for a moment. 

Ten. Well, she made it to ten. Yay. When Hallie told her parents about it later, they might reward her with some ice cream. The sticky sweet sensation of eating ice cream, that was nice. Cold. Hallie hated the sensation of being cold. She shivered. She heard a laugh echo. She felt the energy from her shiver reach out, with permission, and punch the nearest boy in the face. So much for ice cream. Hallie would take this moment as a reward instead. Casually, she pulled out her phone, as if to check a text. She noted the time: 3:00. 

Later, checking Instagram, Hallie would make the connection. She punched the guy the same moment that the fireworks exploded from the Burj Khalifa. A new year, but not for her.  

January 02, 2021 00:20

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6 comments

Elaine Entenza
19:13 Jan 07, 2021

I’m most impressed by your telling of an actual story with the top ten prompt, instead of telling a story about a top ten list. Does that make sense? Your creativity is impressive and inspiring! The inner dialogue is so relatable as well, and the ending is just brilliant.

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Zorana Lorden
22:10 Jan 07, 2021

Thank you so much! It's not really a list so much of a count of seconds, but I think I get what you mean! Thanks for reading :)

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Andrea Kepple
18:38 Jan 07, 2021

Nice interpretation of the prompt. I liked the progression in the character's thought process.

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Zorana Lorden
22:08 Jan 07, 2021

Thanks!

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Kim Hart
17:51 Jan 02, 2021

Thanks for checking out my story, and I’m glad you did because it led me to yours. I really enjoyed it, especially the way you used the prompt. It was very well written and kept me engrossed till the end. Loved the connection between the fireworks and the punch as well, very clever. Well done and good luck!

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Zorana Lorden
18:19 Jan 02, 2021

Thank you so much, and thanks for reading! It means a lot :)

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