Trolling around for writing prompts, it occurred to me to find an unfamiliar word and see if I could write a story that would convey its meaning to my readers. The word is Limerance. If you know what it means, let me know in the comments if you think my story illustrated it; if you don’t know what it means, try your hand at a definition based on the story and post it in the comments.
Kal was out of ideas. Three weeks from today, by far the youngest person ever to stand before the doctoral committee of Lakeland Graduate School would declare his topic to be – nothing, nada, nil, zilch. His hands began to sweat. He wiped them on his jeans so as not to dampen the paper in front of him. Taking up the pen again, he stared at the blank, white page until his eyes began to hurt. After several more minutes, he threw the pen down in disgust.
“What’chu gonna write about, Kal?” Grace asked from behind, eyes lighting up at the mere thought of her baby brother filling up the paper in front of him with the strange marks he called letters. It did not bother her that at twenty-four years of age, she still found the marks indecipherable. One of the advantages of her Down’s Syndrome: – she did not know what she did not know.
Despite his superior intellect, Kal had always believed Grace was the truly intelligent one in the family, and at times he envied the childlike simplicity of her life. “I haven’t decided yet, Grace,” Kal said, quietly. He hoped his mother had not heard the question. All he needed now was her breathing down his neck! “I have to pick something by the time your Birthday comes or I’m sunk!” he added in an anguished whisper. “Any ideas?”
A voice bellowed from the back of the shack the three of them called home, “I told you he’d never amount to nuthin’! All that time and money, nuthin’ but a waste, jes’ like his deadbeat pa!” Margaret Ann Patterson had never seen the value in, as she put it, “anymo’ schoolin’ than’s nec’sary for fig’rin when ta sow and when ta reap – that’s all a body needs ’round these parts. Anymo’s jes’ foolish pride.” His mother could not understand why Kal had foregone high school to attend the local college, and, to this day, begrudged Kal the pittance she had thrown at his first semester fees seven years ago. Furthermore, she blamed his education for stealing away “the only able-body man this farm got lef'”. She refused to acknowledge the extra hours Kal had worked since his father abandoned the family, college or no college. But Kal never complained – he wouldn’t wish that man back if it meant a free ride to Harvard! At least now he could focus on the things that needed to be done without having to protect his mother and sister from a madman.
“Give him a chance, ma,” his sister pleaded. “One day it’ll be Kal who gets us outta this hell-hole, won’t ya Kal?” Grace’s broad, crooked grin revealed not one, but three missing teeth. Too bad his Pa hadn’t run out before relieving her of them.
“Where’d you hear that sorta language, Grace?” Kal chided in the fatherly tone he often adopted when speaking to his older sister.
Grace dipped her head and shame ran up her pale skin like red flames. “Sorry, Kal. I did’n know. On the bus into town today, Sue-Ann asked when we was gettin’ outta the hell-hole where we live, and I jes smiled and said, ‘thank-ee, Sue-Ann’.”
Kal sighed. “I’m trying, Grace, you know I am,” he said with little enthusiasm.
His sister smiled broadly again, her brother’s reprimand quickly forgotten. “Let’s see, now,” Grace said, “What do you want most in this world, Kal?” As she asked the question, she tilted her head and stuck the end of her tongue out of the corner of her mouth. Then her eyebrows puzzled down as if thinking were the most difficult thing for anyone to do.
“To get out of here,” Kal said flatly, without hesitation.
“No,” Grace chided, “We all want dat, I mean, what does your heart truly desire in this here world? What would you die for, Kal? What do you really love?”
Kal did not have to think about his answer, “Not what, Grace, who,” he said, a dreamy quality coming into his pale hazel eyes. “Remember I introduced you to Brittany last week at church? I’m going to marry her someday,” Kal averred, leaving out the part about Brittany ignoring him until she had needed his advice on what shoes she should wear to the dance tonight. She would be going with Eddie, of course. The two had been inseparable since the fifth grade, when it was rumored that Eddie had saved Brittany from an uncle intending to take what he wanted from the girl. A common enough problem in the small mountain town, but if anyone but Eddie had stood between Mr. Calhoun and his niece, he would have been charged with assault and left in the county jail to rot. Eddie’s father, the mayor, made sure Mr. Calhoun kept quiet about the incident, even implying he should find a new town with new customers to tend to. No one had seen Mr. Calhoun since, and, apparently, Brittany’s gratitude knew no bounds.
All of the difficult concentration on Grace’s face softened around a small, shy smile. “I know’d there’s sumpin’ you love, Kal. I’s kinda hopin’ i’was me,” she said. Before Kal could answer, her grin broadened and she nearly shouted, “Write about dat girl, Kal! Write about Brit’ny!”
Kal opened his mouth in protest, then thought better of the retort and closed his lips tight. It would have been a monumental waste of time to explain to his sister – again – that he was a scientist and not what she called a “story penner.” Scientists conducted experiments and wrote about theories and such, not people. “Thanks, Grace, maybe I’ll try that,” he managed to say before getting up from the table and heading out to the barn. The time for chores had arrived; the paper would have to wait.
~ ~ ~
It always amazed Kal what things Grace’s mind grabbed hold of. She could not for the life of her remember how to count the chickens in the barn on her fingers, but for the next week, Kal awoke every morning to her sing-song voice repeating a nonsensical rhyme about Kal and Brittany together in a tree, and he thought he heard something about kissing and babies, too. He shook his head in amusement at her tenacity.
The daily reminder of Brittany from Grace’s lips had a strange effect on Kal. He began to wonder if Grace didn’t have a point worth considering. Hadn’t his advisor repeatedly told Kal to write what he knew? What he knew most about was the girl he had pined over for more than half of his young life; he knew about loving someone who never noticed his existence; he knew about falling head over heels for a girl who loved someone else. This made him wonder, what was it about Brittany that so attracted him? It certainly had nothing to do with her feelings for him – or did it? And, what was it about Eddie that attracted Brittany? Was it just the gallantry that had saved her virginity, or was there more to it than that? By Wednesday of the following week, Kal was spending every spare moment in the university library, pouring over books detailing experiments on love and their scientific conclusions. Finally a topic had snared his attention, and about time too! Next Friday he would have to declare or lose the grant that had paid for his education since September, two years ago.
~ ~ ~
The night before Kal’s big day, there was a commotion in the barn. Grace slept through it, ears not tuned to trouble of any kind in her gentle world. Margaret Patterson assumed the noise was Kal finally catching up on all the work he had neglected for the past fortnight. Maybe she was too hard on the boy. He had saved the majority of Grace’s teeth after all. But she could not forgive him for traipsing off to that school every day! What in the world were they teaching him up there, anyway, that she didn’t already know?
As the night wore on, Margaret Patterson’s jealous obsession with Kal’s ‘smarts’, combined with her inability to sleep due to the noise coming from the barn, turned to a smoldering rage. Who did that son of hers think he was, anyway? He had never shown her the respect she deserved, she was sure of that; and he placated that idiot daughter of hers until it set Margaret’s teeth on edge. She wished her deadbeat husband had smothered the girl like he’d wanted to the day she came out, clearly not right in the head. When the clock struck two, the woman could take no more.
“KAL!” she bellowed. “What in blazes you doin’ in the barn this time of t’evenin’? GET IN THIS ‘ERE HOUSE!”
There was no response. The frustration at not being answered further enraged Kal’s mother. Nearly flying from her rough spun straw mattress, Margaret Patterson strode out of the house in frayed pajamas, carrying a long, leather whip, the one thing her husband had left behind. Her objective could be read in every raised vein that pulsed through her neck and across her temples: beating the sense out of that no-good son of hers! Three steps across the yard, she stopped. There were strange, colored lights flashing through the slats of the structure before her. “Aliens…?” she whispered. “Nah, there’s none such thing!” she spat. With renewed purpose, she completed the final twenty steps and threw open the heavy barn door.
Some folks claim they heard the voice of Margaret Patterson that night clear into the next county, at least thirty miles due west. Most people blamed the mountain pass for taking Mrs. Patterson’s scream and magnifying it into an echo loud enough to scare the trout straight down the river that ran out of it, never to return. If only the people of Brandam county could have witnessed what she saw that night, no one would have begrudged her the wail of terror that escaped unbidden from her chapped lips.
There, in the middle of the barn, hung Brittany and Eddie, naked, and soaking wet. Each of their hands had been pierced by a heavy hook attached to the end of a rope draped over the main beam running along the length of the barn’s roof. Their feet did not quite reach the floor, and little drops of blood were forming pools in the dirt and straw below them. Their wide eyes looked down at Margaret with pleading agony, but, although their jaws worked, no sound came from their open mouths. Wires and tubes protruded from every orifice of their young bodies and electrical patches had been sewn over their hearts. Looking up, Margaret saw that the two were connected to a machine humming and whirring from the hayloft in the back of the barn. Kal stood to one side of the couple, dressed in what looked to be a tattered blue hospital gown, but thicker, like the heavy saddle his mother used on Bess when she rode into town sometimes. In his hand was a long stick, made out of wire twined tightly together. It sizzled and glowed like a firebrand.
“Ma, you should have stayed in bed,” Kal said calmly, his voice muffled by the mask covering his nose and mouth. At least she thought it was Kal’s voice, but she was having difficulty seeing his eyes through the strange glasses covering most of his face.
“Maybe they’is such a thing as aliens,” she croaked, her throat too raw from screaming to be heard above the sounds coming from the machine behind Kal. Finally she managed, “What’you doin’ son?” the leather whip hung limp in her hand, all the anger drained away to make room for the terror that now filled her body, causing her to shake uncontrollably.
“It’s called an experiment, Ma. Do you know what that is? It’s when you study something and then write about it. I decided what to write about – Grace helped me figure it out. Grace, Ma! Grace is going to make me the most famous scientist in the world. Imagine that, Ma, your son, famous!” Kal’s voice rose steadily into a shrill screech the longer he raved.
As Kal looked back and forth between his mother and his subjects, the light from the stick in his hand reflected off of the thick glasses, casting bright spots of light onto the straw at his mother’s feet, across the barn wall, and along the length of the two bodies hanging silent and terrified before her. Suddenly Margaret Patterson fell to her hands and knees, retching. As if that were his cue, Kal walked over to her and placed the end of the stick on the exposed area at the back of her neck. Sparks of electricity flew from her eyes, mouth, and fingertips as she convulsed once, then fell, smoking, to the bloody barn floor at his feet.
“Now,” Kal said, turning back to Eddie and Brittany, “Shall we continue?”