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Writing Greyscale [PG]

Guest Mushroom Pie

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Guest Mushroom Pie
Oh boy, I always hate starting in new forums. It always feels so awkward. But anyway, yeah, hi, I'm new, saw this area of the forum and thought, "What the heck, I'll post something." So, yeah. Here I am. I wrote this a little while ago. It is (obviously to me) inspired somewhat by FLCL. I'd love to hear some good input.


My arms were getting tired. It wasn?t much of a surprise, really. They always get tired about now. I gazed up at the towering stack of papers that rested heavily on my intertwined fingers. It teetered back and forth a little in the fall breeze. I exhaled, a puff of vapor flowing out of my mouth. I had been up until three last night working on the assignment I held in my arms. No other kid had done half as much, of that I was certain. I was the only one who had completely filled out the five-foot tall stack of papers. I was the only one who ever did.

You probably want to know my name or something, don?t you? That?s one of the stupid things people tend to do; have names. How can randomly assigning an assorted group of letters to a person be of any use? If it?s for identification purposes, why not just call some one by their social security number or something? But I doubt you?ll stop wondering about it until I tell you, so I may as well save us both a lot of annoyance. My name is Jake. It?s a pretty plain name, but like I said, names in general are dumb.

I?m in the seventh grade. You probably wouldn?t expect some one as smart as me only being in middle school, but it?s true. All the kids in this town have become smarter than you might expect since the University was built here. But none of them are as smart as me.

People tell me a lot that I have no sense of humor, that I?m not ?funny? enough or don?t laugh enough. What does ?funny? mean, anyway? Just that electrical impulses are moving around in my head to try and get me to open my mouth and say ?ha.? What?s the sense in that?

Anyway, I was standing on the street corner, like I did every day on my way to school. I could barely see anything in any direction because of the heaviness of the fog. The fog was always heavy in the mornings, especially in the fall. The cross walk in front of me menacingly illuminated the words ?DON?T WALK? in bright orange. Later on in the day, this three-way intersection was really busy, or so I?m told. But in the mornings, it?s almost completely vacant. On this particular day, I hadn?t seen a single car go by. I suppose that means that it would be safe to just cross the street, but the crosswalk says not to. And so I stood there. This frustrated me a lot every morning, but frustration?s just as pointless as laughter; just electricity moving around in my head. So I ignored the feeling every day, and just stood there. My impatience was evident only through the loud tapping of my foot against the sidewalk. I could stand at that crosswalk for some thirty minutes at a time on occasion, but it didn?t really matter. I had plenty of time to get to school, and it?s not as though there?s anything worthwhile to do there until class starts. Socializing is pointless. I won?t know any of these people in a matter of years, so why bother getting to know them?

So, my arms and my right foot were all starting to get tired. I exhaled again. Finally, the crosswalk changed to a compelling ?WALK,? lit in a much less forbidding white. I took a few steps forward, but just as my feet landed on the asphalt, a sound caught my ear. It was a really loud roaring, coming from my right. Some one was coming, and by the sounds of it, they didn?t care that the light was red. This, in itself, was a bit of a shock; If I stand in front of that crosswalk every day, even when there?s technically no need to, why would some one else drive past a red light, especially when they?re threatening some one?s safety?

The surprise of the moment caught me off guard and I just stood there, my tower of papers swaying back and forth precariously. Because of the fog, I couldn?t make out what it was that was coming until it was almost right in front of me, and it passed me up quickly. It was a motorcycle, one of the biggest I had ever seen. The driver was kind of small, and his or her (I couldn?t tell, and it would be bad grammar to say ?their?) small body contrasted the gigantic bike to make a scene which would seem comical to anybody who wastes their time with laughter. I jerked my head to the left to follow the trail of the bike.

Like I said before, this was a three-way intersection. The road the bike had come from hit a dead end in the form of a big, black, metal fence, behind which was a small park. The cyclist apparently didn?t realize this as soon as they should?ve, probably because of how fast he or she was going, and tried frantically to swerve to the right. The bike?s momentum kept it going forward, though, and it slammed into the curb, throwing the driver off and flying into the fence, severely denting the bars and getting entangled in it. The driver skidded about ten feet down the road and landed in the middle of it, and wasn?t getting up.

I wasn?t really worried about the driver; after all, it was his own fault that he was driving so recklessly (I had figured out at this point that it was a guy who had been driving). And yet, for one reason or another, I walked out into the middle of the road and surveyed him. It hadn?t really occurred to me at the time, but I guess that was the very first time that I had broken a rule; I had walked out into the middle of the street. Nonchalantly, I looked the accident victim over. His clothes were kind of dirty, and a little torn. His shirt was a bright shade of yellow, so bright that it almost hurt to look at directly. It seemed even brighter in contrast to the black of the pavement and the grey of the surrounding buildings. One sleeve had been torn off, but I don?t think it was during the accident; he had landed on his other side. His pants, meanwhile, were a shade of blue that, for some weird reason, bothered me. It was like that shade of blue represented absolutely everything I stood against. I don?t know. It?s hard to explain. The point is, his clothes were annoying.

The person himself looked to be about my age, if not a few years younger. I knelt down to get a closer look at him, which was a little difficult because of the stack of papers still in my hands. When I got down close, his eyes flung open and he jumped up, knocking me away. His actions surprised me a lot, mostly because I had thought he was dead, and I?m surprised I managed to hold on to my homework after that. I got up and looked at him. He didn?t return the gaze, though, as he looked about him left and right, mumbling to himself.

?You know, you should try to be more careful,? I finally said to him. He shot upright and turned to me, as though he hadn?t even realized I was there before. He had a strangely curious look in his eye. I had never seen a look quite like it before.

?Why?? was the only thing he said in response. The question threw me off guard a little; how could you not know why to be careful when driving a motorcycle?

?Well-because... You could hurt yourself. Are you even old enough to drive that thing?? I asked, pointing towards the totaled vehicle.

?You saw me driving it. Since I was able to, I must be old enough, right?? This kid was starting to bother me. How could some one be so ignorant?

?That?s not what I mean!? I shouted at him.

?Then why is it what you said?? I ignored this question.

?Do you have a license for that thing or not?? he cocked his head at me.

?Why would I get something like that??

?Because it proves that you?re old enough to drive it!?

?But I thought we had both decided that I was old enough to drive it? And old enough to wreck it. If I wasn?t old enough to do those things, I couldn?t have done them.? I had had enough. With a growl in my throat, I pushed past him. I didn?t need to put up with obnoxious people like him. It?d be a rush to get to school, now. And it was all his fault.

Despite my frustration, I couldn?t help but look back at him after a little while. He had apparently forgotten about me, and was looking over his damaged bike. He reached an arm into the ruin, and tugged hard. He ended up flying backwards, but he now held in his hand a big, red, metal box.

?Woo! I?m glad this is okay!? he proclaimed to himself. I turned away, and kept
heading towards school.


?All right, class,? Mr. Jonston began. ?Please bring your homework assignments to my desk. Everyone in the room, including me, got up and got in line. Just as I expected, my stack of paper was massive in comparison to everyone else?s. The real slackers of the room only had about ten pages to turn in, and the only stack even coming close to mine in size was only about half as big. In turn, we each stepped forward and set out our paper towers somewhere in the vicinity of the teacher?s desk. He smiled as the last of us set down our homework and returned to our seats. He stood, and rested his hands in his pockets. Mr. Jonston wore thick, square-shaped glasses, with lenses so thick that it was hard to actually see his eyes. His tie alternated between dark yellow and black stripes. There was a kind of eerie quality to him, like something was off ever so slightly. He glanced around at each of us, and then walked around a bit, examining the stacks of papers that had made his desk all but invisible.

?Heh... heh... heh...? he laughed slowly. ?Why am I not surprised? Jacob is the only one who completed the assignment as usual. At this rate, the rest of you will have to repeat the class.? I heard some mutters from behind me, but I didn?t really pay attention to them. It was their fault that they didn?t want to do the work, not mine.

?Remember, class, tomorrow we?ll be taking a field trip to the University. Perhaps seeing how things work there will inspire you to do your work. Now...? He grinned again as he turned to the blackboard, chalk in hand. ?Let?s get started.?

I didn?t say anything. Admittedly, I was a little surprised to see the motorcycle kid again, and at my school of all places. But I didn?t know him, and there was no reason to talk to him; fortunately he hadn?t nearly run me over this time around. Still, the whole scene was odd. Large groups of kids who had been heading home had stopped, looking at him with a combination of curiosity and amazement. He, meanwhile, was ignoring them all, and was wiggling about left and right, all the while keeping that box I had seen before balanced on one corner on his nose. Finally, I couldn?t help myself; some one had to end the stupidity, so it may as well have been me.

?What on Earth do you think you?re doing?? I asked in the frustrated tone that the sight of this kid seemed to invoke. He stopped suddenly at the sound of my voice, and looked at me, his box dropping to the ground. He smiled.

?Oh! Hey, it?s you! I?ve been waiting for you!? I raised an eyebrow.

?What do you mean?? He ran up to me wildly, as though he were having a difficult time controlling which direction he was headed in.

?I was thinking about what you said earlier, and I decided that you were right. I should get a motorcycle license. So, I did! Take a look!? With that, he withdrew an old, dirty piece of cardboard that had been haphazardly cut into a rectangle. I looked it over. On one side was some kind of stick-figure with the word ?Liff? next to it.

?Idiot...? was the only word I muttered before walking off, a five-foot tall stack of incomplete worksheets in my arms.

?Hey, wait up!? I heard him yell as he ran to catch up with me, stopping only to pick up that red box. I sighed. It looked like I was going to have to put up with this freak for a little longer.

For a little while, we walked in silence. The whole time, I kept noticing that he was staring at me, like there was something wrong with the way I looked or something. I didn?t like the look that he was giving me; it seemed almost like he was looking into me or something. Every now and then, he would smile, like he liked what he saw. Finally, I couldn?t stand it.

?Just what are you looking at!?? He smiled and turned away.

?Nothin?.? Now it was my turn to stare. Something about him struck me as... odd. It was almost like he was... I don?t know.... out of context or something. Like he didn?t quite fit with everything else around him. It probably had something to do with his weird clothes or his strange behavior. But then, what if it didn?t?

?Hey... What?s your name?? I asked him. I know, I know, names are dumb and useless, I said so myself. But, in this kid?s case, it was... different. Something about him just sort of... compelled me to ask him his name. Like it would be weird not to.

?Huh? Didn?t I show you my motorcycle license? My name?s Liff!? I thought back to earlier, back at school.

?Oh, that?s your name? That?s kind of... strange.?

?Who says?? I really couldn?t think of an answer, something that was rare for me, so I just dropped it.

?You know, that thing?s not really a driver?s license.?

?Why not? It?s the exact same as any other one. I mean, I only had cardboard and not plastic, but it?s still the same thing.?

?Yeah, but, you made that, so it doesn?t count. You have to have a license issued to you.?

?How come the person who issues licenses can make them, but I can?t??

?Er, well... Just because.? Feeling somewhat defeated, I glanced down to see Liff?s box.

?What?s in that thing, anyway??

?Huh? Oh, this? I dunno. It?s got a lock on it, see, and I lost the key a while ago. I don?t even remember what the last thing I put in it was before I lost it.?

?So why do you always carry it with you??

??Cause it?s the only thing I own!?

?What about that motorcycle you crashed earlier??

?Oh, that? That wasn?t mine. In fact... That guy back on the highway is probably pretty mad right now,? he sad with a mischevious chuckle. I really didn?t have anything else to say. Liff suddenly changed the subject.

?It?s sure dark out today...? he said casually. We both glanced up. The sun was shining brightly, almost completely unobstructed by clouds, but, like Liff said, it was dark. Not dark like night time, but dark like the kind of dark you have on a rainy day. It wasn?t really anything new to me. I gestured behind us.

?It?s the shadow being cast by the University,? I told him. Liff turned to where I was pointing, and for the first time ever, he laid eyes on the University. It?s a gigantic structure, positioned at the top of a tall hill in the dead center of the town, a cylinder some seven hundred feet tall, and a circumference of even greater lengths. It?s design resembled that of the Roman Coliseum, though I didn?t know if the middle was actually a court yard or arena or something.

?University? What the heck is that??

?It?s a college. It?s the biggest one in the whole world. It was only built about thirteen years ago, but it?s already pretty world renown as one of the most prestigious schools ever. That?s why I?ve got so much homework. The people in this town want to make sure that their kids can go to the University after they graduate.?

?Blech, I hate school. All that math, science, English-?

?The University doesn?t have any English courses, or any other arts.?

?Wow. That sounds even more boring! I guess you at least have after school sports...?

?It doesn?t have any of those, either.?

?Blech! Sounds like the most boring place ever!?

?It?s a place of education, not of entertainment. They?re not going to waste precious time with pointless and impractical things like art.?


?Yeah, stupid things like arts are totally useless. They in no way aid in the betterment of mankind. Any logically thinking person could see that they should be done away with.? Liff didn?t say anything in response, but the expression on his face looked a little distressed, like the fact that I thought like this worried him. Whatever.

?Hey, how come you?re going a different way from this morning? I think that crosswalk is a couple blocks over.?

?That street is really busy this time of the day.?

?So what? There?s a crosswalk.?

?Why should I interrupt peoples? busy lives just so that I can cross the street, when I can just go a different route and get home??

?Have you seen these busy people??

?No. I don?t need to. People have told me that that road is really busy. Adults have told me. Why should I question that?? Liff was really starting to look bothered by the things I was saying. Fine with me, because I didn?t have anything else to say. So, for a little while longer, we continued in silence. Suddenly, however, Liff stopped and did a handstand, and started walking along on his palms. He kept his balance pretty well, and even managed to hold the handle to his box between his teeth. I furrowed my brow.

?Why are you doing that? Human beings evolved legs for the purpose of walking on them, not their hands. So why put extra effort into walking like that?? Liff let go of his box and jumped upright, and turned to me curiously, like he was dumbstruck as to why I would ask that question.

?Because I feel like it,? was the only answer that I got, with an accompanying shrug. I was taken aback by it; I know it probably sounds a little weird, but the concept of doing something ?because you felt like it? was somewhat foreign. I mean, why would you do something with no practical reason or purpose? Why would you listen to those stupid little bolts of electricity moving in your head? What kind of nonsense was that? Neither of us said another word for the rest of my walk home, though I could feel him still staring at me every now and then. I didn?t really notice that he never went away, not even after I got home.

?Honey! You?re finally home!? my mother exclaimed. I turned my gaze away. The way she talked was so annoying.

?Hey mom,? was all I said before I tried to escape up the stairs to my room, to get a jump on my homework.

?And who is this?? she asked cheerfully. I turned around to see that Liff had walked in. I didn?t like him being in my house. It was like he had just crossed the final lines of defense. But, what could I do about it?

?That?s Liff. I met him on the way to school this morning.?

?Oh, that?s so wonderful dear! You finally made a friend! But now I don?t want him disrupting your schoolwork, understand? That always comes first.? I rolled my eyes. My mother preached to the choir so much in this subject that she may as well have turned the pulpit around.

?So, where do you live, Liff?? my mother asked as she bent down Liff?s level.

?Well, I don?t really live anywhere. I don?t have a house or parents or anything like that, if that?s what you mean.? My mother stood up straight again, both hands covering her mouth.

?Oh, you poor dear! That?s awful! Dreadful! Wait, I know! Why don?t you stay here with us for a little while? Would you like that, Jake?? I most certainly didn?t. I didn?t want that... thing living under the same roof as me. I didn?t let my disgust show through, though.

?It?s your house, not mine. Do whatever you want.? As far as I was concerned, the conversation was over, and I climbed the stairs up to my room.

?Remember, Jake! Just because you have a new friend doesn?t give you an excuse to slack off in school!? I groaned as I shut the door, but I could still hear them downstairs.

?You can sleep in the spare bedroom upstairs, Liff. Jake will show you where it is. Now, the most important rule about living here is that you can under no circumstances open that door there. That leads into my husband?s office, and he?s very protective of it. He?s in there paying bills right now, so you probably won?t see him for a few days.?

I immediately set to work on my homework. After about an hour, the stack to my right was already about a half a foot tall. I was making good time. I was surprised only for a second when I heard the door open behind me, but I didn?t look up from the paper as my pencil continued to answer the questions at a furious pace.

?Your mom wanted me to bring your dinner up to you,? I heard Liff say. He set a tray down on the right edge of my desk, then backed away.

?Left,? I grunted.

?What was that??

?Put the tray on the left side.?

?How come??

?Because I?m right-handed, and I?m using my right hand to write.? Liff picked up the tray and placed it on my other side. Without looking up, I grabbed a bun off the plate and took a bite out of it.

?Do you really have to do all that by tomorrow??


?There?s no way you have enough time!?

?You?d be amazed at how much work people can get done if they don?t let themselves fall prey to distractions, like conversations.? Liff missed the hint, but at least he ultimately left like I wanted him to.

?Well, this is pretty boring, so I?m gonna go outside and play, all right??

?Do whatever you want.? I heard his footsteps thumping down the stairs and the front door swing open. A few moments later, I could hear his laughter from outside my open window. I ignored it for a while, but suddenly, I didn?t hear the scratching of my pencil anymore. My head was turned towards the window, and I saw him running around in circles, his arms spread wide as though he were pretending to be a bird or something. He looked ridiculous, but for a moment, for one fleeting instant, I felt the urge to go outside and join him. I shook the feeling off quickly, and got up and shut the window. I turned back to my desk, and my eye was immediately drawn to the tray. Alongside the plate with my half-eaten dinner on it was Liff?s mysterious box. I shook my head in an attempt to regain my focus as I sat back down and picked up my pencil. Mentally, I logged this moment: 22.8 seconds. The longest break I had ever taken.

?Huh? Hey, why?d you stop?? he asked me. I didn?t turn to acknowledge him or say anything. I just kept looking up at the crosswalk.

Last night had been a little rough. Because of the distractions that Liff had caused me, I had to stay up later than usual to get my homework finished, so I was even more tired than usual. Finally, since Liff wouldn?t stop asking, I pointed up at the words ?DON?T WALK.?

?Hm? Oh, that? So what? There aren?t any cars coming. Come on! You?ll be late to school if you don?t hurry!?

?The crosswalk says ?don?t walk.? So, I?m not going to walk.?

?Oh, come on! What does that stupid crosswalk know? Nothing?s going to happen, now let?s go!? I heard a clatter as Liff?s box fell to the ground, and immediately afterwards I felt his hands on my back, shoving. Instinctively, I resisted, my heels skidding ever closer to the curb.

?NO!? I yelled as I turned, and shoved Liff away. He stumbled backwards and fell over. I looked at him hatefully. For a few moments, I just glared at him, and he returned it with a surprised and somewhat frightened stare. The fog all around us started to settle in thicker when I heard a low ding; the crosswalk had changed. I was surprised. We couldn?t have been there for anymore than a couple minutes. It always took longer than that to change. It was like it was calling me over to the other side of the street, away from the person that sat before me. I obeyed, and turned on my heel to cross the street. I didn?t hear anything for a few moments, but then I heard the distinctive sounds of him scrambling to his feet.

?Hey, wait up!? he called out. Seconds later, I heard the ding of the crosswalk, but his footsteps didn?t stop. I turned. I could just barely make out his silhouette through the fog. If I wanted to, I could probably just turn and walk away, and get away from him. I did want to, right? So then, why wouldn?t my feet move?

As Liff approached, his form became more and more clear through the fog. Just when he had caught up to me, he tripped. He flailed his arms around to try and rebalance himself, but it was no good. He fell over, and crashed right into me. I fell backwards, and my homework papers scattered everywhere, some landing in the road.

?Oh, I?m sorry Jake! I?m really sorry! Lemme try and get ?em back!? With that, he rushed out into the street, but jumped back onto the sidewalk almost immediately. He had narrowly avoided a speeding car that had just flew by, dragging a lot of the fog along with it. Soon, another came from the other way. The road progressively got more busy. I was a little surprised. It wasn?t as crowded as it supposedly was in the afternoon, but it was still busier than I had ever seen it before. Liff didn?t look like he cared, though. Instead, he just dove right into the street, grabbing at my papers. I watched him as he jumped out of the way of car after car, grabbing at the pieces of paper that were being flung around by the wind the cars were making. I had that feeling again. The feeling that he didn?t fit in with everything else.

Finally, after about ten minutes, he came back up onto the sidewalk, panting.

?Sorry, Jake, these were the only ones I could get back.? He held out a crumpled mess of about five or six papers, the words smeared by tire tracks. By now, a breeze had carried the rest away. I didn?t take the ruined papers in Liff?s hand. Instead, I just continued to stare at him.

?Why did you do that? Why did you risk your life to get those back??

?They?re important to you, aren?t they??

?But why are you helping me? Especially when I?m so mean to you.?

?I like you, Jake. I wanna be friends with you. You?re a little weird, but you?re neat.? Friends? Friends? What kind of nonsense was that? And, he thinks that I?m weird? What kind of backwards logic is that? I opened my mouth to reply, but the words I intended to say didn?t come. What did come out didn?t sound like anything I had ever said to anyone before. All of it was right, I guess, but it was weird that all of it just suddenly came pouring out, without my permission.

?Liff... When I?m around you... It?s like... something inside my head wakes up. Like, there was a bunch of thoughts that I had trapped behind a dam, and when you showed up, the dam burst.?

?What kind of thoughts?? I was surprised that Liff, who usually seemed kind of slow witted, was still following me.

?It?s like... Everything in my life that I?ve ever seen, has been seen through a screen, and it dulls everything. Or, more like, everything has been covered in a thick coat of grey paint. You can sort of discern colors, see things shining underneath ever so slightly, but the glamor has all been drowned out by paint. Everything painted over;
cars, buildings, plants, people, animals. Gallons and gallons of boring, grey paint.?

?It?s a good thing that it?s not really like that, ?cause if it were, people would be in pretty bad shape.?


?Oh, come on, you know what I mean. Paint?s toxic; breathing the lead in it is bad for you. With that much paint around, people would be awfully unhealthy.? I contemplated that concept for a few moments in silence.

?But you, Liff... It?s like they missed a spot when they were painting. You were the spot the missed.?

?The spot who missed??

?The painters.?

?The University??

?What?? I turned and looked up at the University. Why had Liff brought it up?

?How long ago did you say that place was made??

?The University was completed on November 6th, 1986. So thirteen years ago.? That was a date I had memorized.

?How old did you say you were?? I gave him an odd look. What was he getting at?

?Thirteen.? My mind suddenly caught the connection.

?When was your birthday??

?February 6th.?

?Nine months to the day before the University was built...?

?So, what does that mean?? Liff grinned, and the semiserious personality he had taken on during the conversation suddenly vanished.

?Absolutely nothin?. I?m just playin? around! Now you?d better hurry if you wanna get to school on time!? I wasn?t so sure that he was just kidding, but he was obviously done talking about it for now.

?What are you gonna do all day?? I didn?t even realize that I had slurred ?going to.?

?You?re going on a field trip the University, right? I?ll meet you there.?

?Wait... I never told you about-what?? I had turned around midsentence, and was left dumbstruck to find that Liff was gone.

?And to your left is the janitor?s closet,? the tour guide said. I was getting bored. The University guide had been ridiculously descriptive, and learning the layout of the massive complex wasn?t particularly interesting anyway. I turned to Mr. Jonston, who rounded up the back of our group. He was writhing, and his skin was sickly pale. He had been like that ever since I had gotten to school, and he had found out that I didn?t have my homework. Why was he so worked up about that, anyway? I was the one in trouble, not him. I turned to Liff, who had snuck in with the rest of us. His face didn?t show it, but he seemed to me that he was downright terrified of this place. Why on Earth was that?

?And this door here belongs to-? the guide was cut short suddenly when the door he was talking about flung open. Out walked a tall man, wearing a deep purple suit with a dark yellow tie. His glasses were square frames, similar to Mr. Jonston?s, but the lenses were a shade of yellow that matched his tie. He was extremely well groomed, and his teeth were shockingly white.

?Why, hello there children! I am the Director of Juvinile Communications and Psychology here at the University! It?s very important that we keep in touch with children such as yourselves. After all, each and everyone of you is a potential future student here! By high school, many children can find themselves cracking under the pressure, and their work often reflects this. Some of it also has to do with a student slipping into the mindset that they?re a drone, just another worker amdist hundreds of other high schoolers. Therefore, it?s part of my job to make sure children can find ways to express their individuality, as well as try to soften the apparent difficulty of completing twelve years of school and continuing on into a place of higher learning, such as our establishment here.?

?What a nutjob,? I heard some one in the crowd mutter. I couldn?t say that I disagreed with the sentiment. This Director guy certainly seemed eccentric, to say the least. And that haunting smile. It refused to go away. I turned to see who had said it. I didn?t know the kid?s name, but I did recognize him as one of my classes biggest slackers. The absolute most work I had ever done was a measly twenty pages.

The Director, if he had heard the remark, certainly didn?t act like it. Rather, he turned to the tour guide.

?Why don?t you let me take over for a little while?? the guide seemed a little surprised.

?Oh, uh, sure, sir. Whatever you want.?

?Excellent! Now, if you?d follow me, children. Through this door is-? the Director opened the door, and suddenly a massive wave of papers and text books flooded into the hallway.

?Oh, woopsie. It seems I unwittingly disrupted this Physics class.? A couple of the kids, including Liff, laughed a little. The kid who had made the remark earlier got caught in the wave of papers, and got pushed backwards by them. He stumbled, then fell, and crashed into a scaffolding. The whole thing shook, and then a can of grey paint fell from the top of it and drenched the kid, eliciting even more laughter.

?Oh, dear me! How awful! You!? he pointed towards the guide. ?Take this child and get him washed up. He could get sick if any of that lead paint got into his mouth!?

?Er, yes! Right away sir!? With that, the guide took the kid away. Liff was still laughing at him, which immediately drew the attention of the Director.

?Well, who do we have here? You?re certainly a charismatic little fellow, aren?t you?? Liff smiled as the Director patted him on the head. Mr. Jonston stepped in suddenly.

?Hey, who are you, kid? You?re not in my class. You?re not supposed to be here!? Mr. Jonston grabbed Liff by the wrist and dragged him away. As he left, he turned to me.

?Don?t worry about it, Jake. I had something I needed to take care of anyway.? I almost laughed, which, as you know, is something I don?t do. Liff was acting like I actually cared what happened to him. Let me tell you, I most certainly didn?t. Something from earlier caught my attention, though, once Liff had left.

?Why are you guys using lead paint?? I asked the Director.

?Hm? Oh! Well, it just so happens that one of the buildings torn down to build the University was an old paint manufacturing company. A little while ago, one of our students discovered an entrance into the basement of the place, which was completely loaded with lead paint. Since we usually don?t have children walking around in here, we figured that it would be a cost-efficient way to repaint some of the areas in the University that needed it.?

?But.... This hallway isn?t grey. It?s brown. What was grey paint doing here?? A
loud beeping interrupted the conversation, and the Director removed a beeper from his pocket.

?Oh! Duty calls! I?ll send for some one else to guide you children around. Have fun now!? He walked off quickly, and a faint dripping caught my ear. I looked down at the ground, and saw that the Director was leaving behind a trail of drops of paint, the same purple color as his suit. I squinted, and saw that a small spot on the bottom of his pant leg was grey. Had he painted a grey suit purple? What for?


?They want rid of me, you know,? Liff said.

?Who wants rid of you??

?Those University guys. That?s why they made that Director guy. They thought they could get through to me through him. None of them act that friendly normally, trust me.

?What the heck are you talking about? That?s one of the most paranoid things I?ve ever heard. You can?t ?make? a person, anyway.?

?Who said anything about that guy being a person??

?What... on... Earth??

?Huh? Oh, that. There was an accident,? Liff said plainly. I was standing, dumbstruck at what I saw. A single line of police caution tape stood between the two of us and a huge mass of wreckage. Some twenty cars, a bus, and even a phone booth were all piled high in the intersection.

?Guess you?ll have to go home the same way you come to school, huh?? he added with a grin. That tipped me off that something was wrong here.

?You did this, didn?t you??

?What are you talking about? How could I do this? Now come on!? Liff took off towards the three-way intersection, whatever was inside his box clattering. I turned and glared at him as he ran. Something was definitely starting to seem weird about him. Not even weird; downright bizarre.

I was in shock. How could... why the... what? There I was, standing on the opposite side of the crosswalk, staring at the words ?DON?T WALK,? the road as empty as it was in the morning.

?Sorry Jake. I can tell you?re upset. But it was something I thought you needed to see. Anyway, I gotta go take care of some things. I?ll see you at home later, all right?? I guess he left then, but I didn?t turn to look and make sure. I was just too shocked but what I saw to do much of anything but stare. If there was never any traffic on this street, then WHY did this crosswalk take so long to change!? I had wasted hours upon hours of my life in front of this stupid crosswalk, and now I learn that it was for nothing!? I was furious, livid. That mild frustration I felt every morning suddenly felt like it was about to explode out of me. I wanted to... But then I calmed down. I shut my eyes tightly and clenched my fists. I wouldn?t let that stupid electricity control my actions. Not like Liff. With all the strength I could muster, I stood and waited until I heard a ding.
* * *

"Oh, Jake! I'm glad to see you're home! A man from the University came to see you! He's waiting upstairs in your room." I raised one eyebrow. What could anyone from the University want with me? Suspiciously, I headed upstairs.

The man looked like a generic secret agent from TV. Not that I watch TV, but still. He had a pair of black pants, a black jacket, black tie, and even a pair of black sunglasses. He was sitting at my desk, holding in one hand a piece of paper, and in the other was a paint stirring stick, one end of which was stuck in his mouth. The side in his mouth was covered in wet, grey paint. He glanced up at me, and removed the stick to talk.

"Hello there, Jacob. Please, sit down." He gestured toward my bed, and I obediently sat on it. He turned on my desk lamp, which dimly illuminated my dark room.

"Do you know who I am, Jacob?" His voice was slow, solemn, serious.


"I'm a scouting agent for the University. It's my job to talk to promising young students about one day coming to the University to study."

"Scouting agent? Like baseball?" He ignored the question.

"Do you know why I'm here, Jacob?"


"It's because we've been watching you."

"Watching me, or stalking me?" He smiled.

"We like what we've seen of your work. You strike us as an intelligent, devoted young man."

"You can take off those sunglasses, you know. We're inside." He chewed on his
stirring stick thoughtfully for a few seconds, then removed it and stuck it out to me.

"Taste this."

"Is that lead paint?"

"Yes, it is. It's sweet, like sugar. Go on, taste."

"I don't think so." He retracted the stick and sucked on it for a few more moments.

"You're clearly not in the mood for talk right now, so I'll cut right to the point.
Should you continue to exhibit the level of proficiency in school that you are now until you graduate, the University is willing to give you an all-expenses paid scholarship. Food, board, text books, tuition, the whole shebang. However, we're worried that you won't keep up your work."

"And why's that?"

"According to your teacher at school, you failed to turn in your homework this
morning. Why is that?"

"What business is that of yours?"

"You've made a new friend recently, haven't you?"

"Why are you even wearing those sunglasses? It's Fall! There's no reason to wear

"His name is Liff, isn't it? Tell me about him."

"Are you trying to hide something underneath them?"

"Is he the reason you didn't turn in your homework?"

"What are you hiding?"

"Why did you come to the crosswalk this afternoon?"

"TAKE OFF THOSE SUNGLASSES!" I reached up and tried to yank them off
myself, but he pulled his head back. He bit straight through his stirring stick in frustration. We both knew this conversation was over.

* * *

"Listen to me, kid," he said. I don't know why I had followed him outside to his car, but I had all the same.

"You've got a lot of potential, potential I'd hate to see go to waste. I'd stay away from this 'Liff' guy if I were you. He's nothing but trouble." I wasn't really listening to him. Instead, my eyes were drawn to the back of seat of his car, in which sat three open cans of grey paint. Apparently, he realized that I was looking at them.

"Just remember this, kid. Your friend is a liar. Lead paint doesn't make you sick from breathing it. You have to eat the stuff. If it doesn't get in your stomach, you're safe. Before you start thinking the people who painted the world grey are bad people, just remember that it's everyone else who's licking up the paint chips. The crosswalk takes forever to change for a reason. Remember that." With that, he got in his car and sped off. Shrugging, I turned around and went back inside.

"Well honey, how did it go?" my mother asked suddenly.

"Ooh! Never mind! You probably have lots of homework to take care of. I'll leave you be."

"Actually mom, I don't. We had a field trip today. No homework."

"No homework? Well, couldn't you have asked Mr. Jonston to give you tomorrow's homework, so that you could get a jump on things?"

"No, I couldn't've. I kind of wanted a break for a change."

"A break!? Jake, children who take breaks are children who end up homeless later on in life. How would you like that? Then your whole life is just one big break!"

"What is your problem, Mom!? I'm the only one in class who ever does all of their work, and for once, I would like a break. One stinking day where I don't have to work from sun-up to sundown. Is that so bad?" I really didn't know what had overcome me. It was like that voice, the one from that morning, had come back and taken me over again. And my mother didn't look like she appreciated it.

"Yes, it is Jacob! How do you expect to get into the University and live a successful life if you're going to start acting like this!?"

"Who says I even want to go to the University anymore!?" This was fast turning into a shouting contest.

"What do you mean, you don't want to go!?"

"There's something wrong with that place, Mom. I'm not going there."

"You know, Jacob, this isn't all about you! When you're successful, I'm successful, and when you fail, I fail!"

"If you were so concerned about succeeding, then YOU should have gone to college!" My mother suddenly started to tear up.

"Jake, when did you stop loving your mother!?"

"SHUT UP!" I screamed, and then did something really drastic. I flung my arm forward, which caught a clock that was sitting on a nearby table. The clock flew forward and hit my mother in the head, causing her to fall over with a crash. After a moment or two, I came to my senses, and walked over to her to see if she was all right. Scattered around her head were little gears and springs, presumably from the clock. But then, a sound caught my ear: a ticking. The clock was still running fine. So then, where had those little mechanical parts come from? I crouched down and looked closely. My mother had a small hole in the side of her head, but there was no blood. I watched closely, and suddenly, a spring dropped out of her head. I suddenly noticed the smell of fresh paint in the air. What on Earth was happening? Why was my mother bleeding gears and springs? Was she some kind of robot or something? On the outside, she looked like a real person...

"Dad!" I called out to my father down the hall. I didn't know whether to make heads or tails of this, but he could probably clear things up.

"Don't bother me, I'm paying bills!" I heard him yell back through his door. Fine, whatever. It was his robot wife that was lying dead on the floor. He could worry about it when he finally emerged from that office of his. Having nothing better to do, I did something I never have before. I sat down on the couch and turned on the television. In fact, I watched the TV all the way until eight o'clock, when it struck me that I could actually go to sleep at a decent hour for once and catch up on my sleep. I immediately headed upstairs and went to bed, and even left the TV on.


I awoke at seven AM, like always, a blaring alarm clock urging me out of bed. But this time, I felt much more rested. Eleven hours of sleep is certainly better than four, that's for sure. As I got out of bed, something on my desk caught my eye. It was a note, written in one of the sloppiest handwritings I had ever seen. After a few minutes of deciphering, I figured out what it said:


You really shouldn't kill people just because they're Grey inside. If all the Grey people in the world were killed, there wouldn't be too many of us left. Just because they're wrong doesn't mean you have to hurt them. I didn't hurt you, after all. If you remember that, I think you'll be okay.


P.S. The box is your responsibility, now. Take good care of it.

I looked up. Sure enough, Liff's red, metal, dented box was also sitting on my desk. I wondered why he would give that to me. It was his lone possession. And what the heck did the rest of the note mean? Shrugging, I got dressed and headed downstairs, grabbing the box on my way.

As I headed downstairs, I immediately noticed that something wasn't right. I smelled... blood. Glancing around, my eye was immediately drawn to a puddle of red, right next to where my mom was laying. I bolted down the staircase and crouched down next to her. There was no longer any gears, or springs, or sprockets, or anything. Just blood that was leaking out of a lethal wound in her head. I looked at the carpet. The area right around the blood puddle was a greyish color, and looked kind of flakey, almost like some one had smudged some paint into the carpet and it dried up into chips.

"Wha... What's going on?" I demanded, though there was no one around to hear my question.

"This wasn't... This wasn't what it was like before! This wasn't what it was like last night! She wasn't real last night! She wasn't!" I could feel myself getting more and more hysterical and worried. The smell of paint filled my nose. My thoughts were rushing. Why was she a robot last night? Not last night. Always. Always nothing but a machine, doing nothing more but what she was supposed to do. It only made sense that her insides reflected that kind of robotic lifestyle. But machines can't die. That's something reserved strictly for people. She couldn't do her duties as a machine anymore, and she turned human again, so that she could die.

Where were these ideas, these thoughts, coming from? Was some one putting them in my head? Liff? Was it Liff who was doing this? I didn't know, but I did know that I couldn't handle this situation by myself any longer.

"Dad! Dad, we have a real problem!" I shouted.

"Don't bother me, I'm paying bills!" he yelled back.

"Darn it, I don't care!" I shouted back as a jumped up and charged into his office. It was a messy room, the desk completely covered in papers. There was a window on one side, and it combined with the glow of a computer screen illuminated the room. There was, however, no sign of my dad. I looked on his desk. At the very top of all of the papers was a manilla folder labeled "Jacob's medical records." It was open, and inside of it was an X-ray. I examined it. It was a black silhouette of me, nothing visible except for one thing; a big, grey gear where my heart was supposed to be. I turned around. Duct taped to the door was a tape recorder that was hooked up to both a microphone and a large speaker. Curiously, I pressed the play button. Immediately, I was greeted with the sound of my dad's voice.

"Don't bother me, I'm paying bills!" was the sound that came through the speaker. The whole thing did nothing but perplex me even further. Where was my dad? What had happened to my mom? What was happening to me? I turned and went back into my living room, where the sound of the TV caught my attention.

"If you have just joined us, there is currently a boy standing on the roof of the local middle school, and is giving all indications that he is going to jump. Police negotiators are currently gathered around the school, doing their best to stop the situation from ending in tragedy."

Then they cut to a live camera feed of the situation, and my jaw dropped when they zoomed in on the kid at the edge of the roof. It was Liff! Without even giving it a second thought, I rushed out the door, his box in hand.

I never stopped running, not until I made it to the crosswalk. Then, I stopped short, and looked up at the words. "DON'T WALK." This thing never wanted me to walk. Never.

"I'm not listening to you anymore, do you hear me?" I shouted out at it. "My friend needs me, and I'm not just going to stand by idly until you feel like letting me pass. I hate you!" Suddenly, I took the box in my hands and swung it violently at the pole, making a satisfying clang. I didn't know what I was doing. I could feel myself losing control, feel the electricity in my head gaining power over me, but I didn't care. It felt good. It felt right.

To my surprise, with just the one hit, the crosswalk toppled over. I guess I never
realized just how old and weak that thing was. But even still, one hit like that shouldn't have knocked it over. Well, the rest of my life was falling apart, why not that too? As it crashed to the ground, I ran out into the street, only to feel a sudden rush of air on my back as a car zoomed by behind me. Before I had even realized what had happened, the entire road was as filled with speeding cars as a highway. I let out a yell of frustration as I got ready to time a run through the traffic. After about thirty seconds, I found an opening, and rolled over onto the sidewalk. Not having any time to spare, I dashed onwards towards school.

"All right son, now whatever you do, do not jump," was the first thing I heard a policeman say through a megaphone as I arrived. As I began to struggle through the barricade that the police had put up, I heard the familiar voice of the Director of Juvinile Communications and Psychology.

"Unless of course you really want to, Liff!" He called up to Liff after swiping the megaphone from the cop.

"What do you think you're doing!?" the officer demanded.

"It's very simple, officer. We must cradle Liff's individuality, not oppress it. If he wishes to express himself via suicide, then he needs to know that not only does he have freedom to do so, he has support for it.

"You're just making the situation worse!" the officer retorted. I didn't really listen to the rest of what they were saying, since I had finally gotten through the barricade. I shoved past the two of them.

"Hey, just where do you think you're going?" the Director demanded.

"Shut up!" I replied as I turned and clipped him across the face with Liff's box. I distinctly heard the sound of metal hitting the ground as a wound opened on his nose. I looked down to see his yellow glasses, amidst some gears and springs. I looked up, and gasped in shock; where his eyes should be, there was nothing. Just skin.

"Liff was right... You're not human!" The police officer looked at me like I was crazy. Couldn't he see that this man had no eyes? Couldn't he see that he was bleeding pieces of machinery? Whatever. I didn't have time to argue with him. I bolted inside the doors of the school, and hurriedly ran up the staircase.

Liff turned when he heard the metal door swing open. I was standing there, panting and breathing out big puffs of air.

"Why, Liff? Why are you doing this? Why are you letting them win? Why are you throwing your life away!?" Liff cocked his head and looked at me. It was a look I had received before.

"Because I feel like it." That was all he said. Then, he turned back around, and leaned forward until he fell off of the roof. My eyes opened a little wider, and my jaw dropped a little lower. Something about all of it had made it click. I realized it. The electricity in my head wasn't trying to take me over. It was me, and wanted to win me back. And it took watching Liff fall off the roof for me to understand. Was that what he had wanted? Who knows?

The same instant I heard his body land with a gruesome thud, I felt something in my chest. Thump thump. Thump thump. My heart was beating, hard enough for me to feel it. Or maybe it was just that this was the first time I had experienced it beating at all. Maybe the gear in my chest had finally been replaced with a human heart.

I trudged home slowly afterwards, mulling over everything that had just happened. I was free now. I wasn't a robot anymore. But did that do me any good? Liff was free, and his own desires ended up killing him. My mom wasn't a robot anymore, and she was dead too. Is that how the world works? Do you live your life as either a miserable, slaving robot or some one who was free but doomed? No! Those couldn't be the only choices! There had to be a medium, a halfway point, where you could achieve happiness. Where you could be free from the Grey, and still not be overcome by the colors. I decided then and there that I would strive to find that medium, and I would, even if it took the rest of my life.

When I got home, I went up to my room, laid down on my bed, face down, and cried. I cried long, I cried loud, and I cried hard. Finally, I looked up at my clock: 2:30 PM. My eyes were read and dry and my pillow was soaked. I sat up, and walked over to my desk. I grabbed a paperclip, and straightened it out. Then I picked up Liff's box and tried to pick the lock. I probably shouldn't have. It probably would've been respectful to leave it be, but I didn't really care. After a while, I heard the lock come undone. The lid was dented, though, so it took some strength to get it to open. I reached inside and pulled out the box's contents.

It was a can of paint thinner.
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