Powerful Writing Submission
We have very talented readers and some of them are talented writers. We get lots of writing submissions that we print in the magazine but this submission really stood out to us so we wanted to share it with you! We love the theme of this story, showing how our words stick with us and our decisions matter. We hope this short story moves you as much as it did us.
By Kasumi, age 17
I had a dream recently. As many dreams are, it felt at the time like a real and likely situation. I saw myself asleep in my bed. Suddenly, my soul evaporated from within me like a cloud. I was then standing in a windowless room with a bright white light overhead and a large metal table in the center. A man in a crisp white doctor’s uniform was sitting at the table, his hands clasped in front of him. “Come. Sit down,” he invited, and he indicated to the chair on the other end of the table. Unsure of what to think, I did as he said.
“I’m not sure where I am,” I said.
“Why that is understandable. Most people do not.” His voice was placid, almost otherworldly. “You have died and are in the room of decision.”
I looked at him quizzically. “What decision do I have to make? I am dead.”
“Ah but of course. It is not your decision, but mine.” He reached out beside him and produced a folder from thin air. Opening it in front of him on the table, he began to inspect its contents.
After sitting in uncomfortable silence for some time, I inquired of him what his decision was and what he was reading. He looked up with a curious smile. “I am reading your life’s story. As for my decision, I have made it, and now I have decided to give you a decision.”
I did not like that he was reading my life story, and I did not care for him very much either. But upon inspecting the room for an escape route, I found that there was none. There was absolutely nothing but four perfectly white walls, a ceiling, a matching floor, and the table at which we sat; nothing else, excluding the oddly placed bowl of almonds in the center of the table.
“Would you rather enter the oblivion of non-existence or reenter the world as a spoken word?”
“A what!?!” I demanded.
“Do you know what a word is?” he drawled. I nodded. “Do you know what it means to speak?”
“Yes!” I replied exasperatedly, “but I am a living being! How could I be something as silly and frivolous as a word?!?”
“You are wrong,” he replied flatly. “I already told you that you are dead. Besides words are not, by nature, silly or frivolous. From your life’s story I see that you failed to learn this during your days as a living being,” he said sharply, “but I am not here to discuss this with you. You have a decision to make. Which will it be, a nothing or a word?”
I hated this senseless man with all of my deceased being. I spewed every profanity at him I could think of. I began to rack my brain for all the insults and threats I had heard of in my life.
After what seemed like forever, it became clear that the only way to move forward was to succumb to his stupid game of decisions, so tired and panting, I thought over his question. If it were possible that he could change me into such a thing as a nothing or a word, which would I prefer? How could I know? So, attempting to be sly, I asked him this question: “I have never been either a nothing or a word. How could I know which I would rather be?”
He looked up from my life, which he had been reading while I had been ranting. “I suppose you couldn’t know. Could you?”
This was not the answer I had been expecting or hoping for. Out of trick questions, I wearily asked him straight, “Could I test one first?”
His face changed to amused surprise. “Be reasonable! If you were a nothing, you would be by definition nothing and could not know either way if you had made the right choice or not? And if you were a word, you would be spoken once and thereafter remain spoken that way forever, never to change, never to be erased. That is the way words are. So you see, either way it is impossible to simply test one. No. Your decision is to be made once, only once. But take your time, you have forever to decide.” After explaining this, he went back to reading my life, chuckling to himself.
I rolled my eyes with frustration. But it was one or the other, a nothing or a word. Neither choice was particularly favorable to me. I did not much like the thought of simply ceasing to exist, but being on the tip of someone’s tongue was not exactly desirable either. If I chose a word, I would be spoken once and that was it. I would then be a nothing. Ha! I had just outsmarted the insane old know-it-all. I could be both!
I smacked the table in triumph. “I’ve made my decision!” I proclaimed. “I’ll be a word!”
He looked up with surprise. “So be it.”
All of a sudden, I was no longer in that dreadful room, but I was not sure where that put me now. I was standing in a room with red walls and a high arched ceiling. Actually, I wasn’t standing. I was being in the room. I had no body. I supposed that made sense for a word. There were other words in the room with me; many others. We all stood there in a line, as though waiting.
After much waiting, I asked my neighbor what was going on. “We are all waiting to be spoken.”
Oh right I’m in someone’s mouth. Great! “Of course,” I replied, “and how does one go about being spoken?”
My fellow word turned around and pointed at the bulbous chandelier ahead of us. “That is the uvula. When a word is moved underneath it infuses the blank word with a meaning drawn from intention. Then that word is made audible in the tongue and hot forth by the lips.”
“Can a word be spoken more than once?” I asked.
“Nope. You can only ever be spoken one time, but they say that one time lasts forever.”
I wonder what he means by that. But we grow silent and wait for a long time. The person, in whose mouth we are are in, begins to speak. Words fly out rapidly. We can hear the sound of angry shouting echoing back from the front of the mouth. My neighbor and I are pulled closer and closer to the uvula. We are pulled forward by force. It is not our will that carries us this way. Closer and closer, I can clearly hear the words before us: “WHY… DO… I… PUT… UP… WITH… YOU?”
We are so close now that I feel the vibration all around me. “YOU… ARE… A…” My neighbor has just been trust under the uvula. Then, I am pulled under it. I feel the irony as I am infused with a meaning and shaped into a sound… “NOTHING!!!” I am a word and a nothing simultaneously.
It is over now, right? I wait to die away… to fade into history, but here I am… not floating exactly because I don’t have a body… but somehow, I’m still here. I can see everything now, as I am not in my speaker’s mouth anymore. I watch what my spoken meaning does to the little girls at whom I was thrown. She is crushed, beaten as through by a club. I am outrage at what my speaker has done.
I hang in existence perpetually. Through the years I watch the little girl grow up. I follow her all her life, as only words can. She carries me with her in her subconscious. When things don’t go as planned or they go downright badly, she often calls me up and plays me over and over in her mind. I’m a nothing. I’m a nothing. I’m a nothing. The memory of my speaking wears her down and she crumples. I am a curse to her, a shackle, a label, a limit.
I hate my speaker for making me this way. When I am recalled, I repeat the damage that was done that day. I wish at very least to be forgotten, but I am a vivid memory, a blow that leaves no bruise but does more damage than a bullet to the head, and yet - I am just a word.
I exist all her life and am a frequent caller to her self-esteem. As she grows old, I am called upon less often until one day she falls down some steps and is taken to the hospital. On her deathbed, all kinds of discouraging thoughts swirl in her mind. I know them for she has picked them up along the way, but none are as sure or rooted as I, for I was planted at a very early stage and have been tended to all her life. Though she does not even remember where I came from, she repeats me to the tearful people surrounding her. “Nothing. I am a nothing.” she rasps. I watch in agony as her soul evaporates from within her, convinced she is a nothing.
But I am just a word, a silly frivolous word. Not meant when I was spoken and never spoken again, and yet look what I have done. I am a rot and a venom. I am a word. The agony is like a consuming fire, I can hardly stand the guilt. It would have been better to be nothing, but here I am forever, ‘A nothing!’ If only that wretched Dr. Decision had told me of the torment of being such a word.
Dr. Decision sat at a shiny metal table, turning the pages of an epilogue. He smiled ruefully. “Ah humans; always compelled to speak, seldom prone to listen, and never inclined to think.”
I awoke from my dream as my mother came into my room, turned on the light, and began to quote scripture to my sister and me. This is her normal routine. I was about to complain, which is my normal routine, but I remembered my dream and thought twice. It might just have been a dream, but then maybe, just maybe, there was something to it.