The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2021 Winners Anthology, A New Story Rises here.
“Tingles” by Rose Gray, South Eugene High School
Honorable Mention, High School Level, 2021
By Rose Gray
South Eugene High School
Whirring androids, bubbling strawberry milk fountains, overbearing old world jazz-themed music, and pleasantries exchanged in about a hundred different languages melded into an excited buzz that filled the air with static, vibrating all the way down to my toes and filling me with all too much energy.
There is really only one word to describe the Annual Inventors Gala: Chaos.
And, oh, do I love it.
I balance on the tips of my toes as I weave through the crowd like some sort of expert sky racer, twisting and twirling my gold leaf bell-shaped dress around me like a prima ballerina. Hmmm, Interstellar racer by day, beautiful ballerina by night. Is there anything Nym Wexler can’t do? The deep announcer’s voice pauses in contemplation. Why I don’t believe there is! A girl–wait, no–a woman of so many talents!
I put a hand over my mouth in graceful abashment, stepping around a grouping of the luminescent neon bubbles that float throughout the Gala. Why George–George seems like a good old timey name, right?–you are just too ki—
A tray of flaky pink pastries aimed right at my face comes zooming out of nowhere, interrupting my train of thought and making me dodge in a decidedly less than prima-ballerina-graceful way. The waiter who’s holding the tray turns around, his three other hands also holding various treats and his one eye narrowed down at me.
“I’m very sorry, miss.” He does not sound sorry. “Pardon me.” He turns away, but not before I catch a glimpse of the little shining cufflink attached snuggly at his wrist.
But he has three others . . .
The announcer’s voice is gone, replaced instead by the very unwelcome pest that sends infuriating little tingles to my fingers, making them twitch with want. I stuff the traitors in my dress’s gold-trimmed pockets (yes, flashy and convenient) and force myself away, again moving through the multicolored simpering crowd.
It didn’t used to be like this. I don’t know why it started, maybe my love for collecting little shiny things just reached a new height. Or maybe I was just aching for some attention from a parent who seemed to think I was beneath any consideration and quite often forgot about my existence altogether. Honestly, it’s all quite confusing, and I don’t feel a real need to think it out at the moment. All I know is that keeping random buttons, abandoned dice, and bottle caps is a very different thing than sneakily pocketing a person’s possession while they’re turned the other way.
I force my brain back to the gala. I’m probably supposed to be socializing with other young inventor’s daughters, but that sounds unbearably boring, and I’d much rather have a look at this year’s array of gadgets. Ahead of me, just outside the outer reaches of the crowd, a cacophony of sounds and sights fill the scene. There’s a wig that changes color and length with merely a thought, eye contacts with an instant sleep and awake setting. A little further down are the more defensive creations, varying from things marketed for everyday protection to upcoming military weaponry. There’s a pen that expands out into a taser that paralyzes for up to ten minutes, a group of rings that meld into killer iron knuckles, and, of course, all of my father’s tech. “Weaponry for a new era” or whatever. “A genius like no other.” Yuck.
He’s up there, too. They gave him a stage this time, a metal platform that hovers about two or three feet above the ground floor, rotating slowly to showcase all that pretty tech and his pretentious, pointed smile. I wonder what those couple feet of height accomplish, maybe he likes being slightly raised above the potential investors who smile with sparkling blue sangria in hand. I wonder what he likes in general.
I realize I’ve stopped walking, standing instead outside the thrall and trailing my father’s gaze down to a large man with a deep plum-colored complexion, his sizable stomach stuffed into a lavender suit with violet tie that somehow looks kinda snappy. Or maybe I just like purple. I recognize the man; he’s one of those rich investors my dad’s always after. Showcasing his wealth are about a million rings covering his fingers, all shades of sparkling precious metals. One in particular shines a vibrant turquoise, seemingly stealing the blue from the sangria he’s gripping and reinventing it into some oceanic glow. It reminds me of days spent on planet, near the crisp shifting waters of my home. My dad’s hand in mine, playing giggling water games, castles built from the black sands surrounding us. Back when he smiled at me. Back when he looked at me at all.
I want that ring.
I find my feet moving of their own accord. The smooth music seeping from the walls seems different now, trumpets and drums hitting with a sharp stabbing effect, gradually speeding up with me as I move.
Duh dum, duh dum, duh dum, duh dum.
The huge fluorescent bubbles seem suspended in place, their dull glow throbbing to the beat. The unending chatter melds with the song.
Duh dum, duh dum, duh dum, duh dum.
It feels like I’m dancing again. Elegant ballerina legs carry me between two goggling young boys entranced by a projected display of the milky way, star racer speed propels me around a person with two mini androids circling their head, helping guide the blind being.
I shouldn’t be doing this. I don’t need it.
My father hasn’t seen me, still focused on the rich eyes admiring his designs. He’s speaking, but his voice is lost on me over the thumping of my heart.
Purple suit bellows a laugh as boisterous as his appearance, his arms around two young things with mini planets circling the crowns of their heads, sangria tipped dangerously at one’s shoulder. I’m right behind him when I cut it a little too close, bumping the back of his hand and letting the drink slip from his grasp.
For a split second it falls, blue liquid drops tossed into the air like spray from the ocean surf. I’m five years old again, watching the waves roll down around us. My dad isn’t looking at a crowd. Just me.
My fingers wrap around the glass, only fumbling slightly, tangy drips falling on my hand.
“Oh, my gosh,” I will my cheeks to heat as I straighten up. Purple suit’s ruddy face is blank, like he’s still trying to decide what happened and how he’s going to respond. Not the sharpest man, I decide.
“I am so sorry, sir,” I push the drink into one hand and grab the other, my eye brows knit and eyes wide, wringing his giant fingers. Can he feel my pulse? I hope not. “I wasn’t watching where I was going, I’m such a clutz.”
He clears his throat, posture regained, apparently deciding lenience is the most admirable reaction. “Don’t fret about it, darlin’.” He gives me a smile that makes me uncomfortable and wraps a sizable arm back around the girl beside him. “Have a nice night, sweetheart.”
I grin back and duck away. Hardly anyone noticed the incident except his inner circle. My father didn’t. I wonder if I wanted him to.
Walking back through the crowd I pocket the cool metal ring, smile slipping off my face.
The tingles are gone. I’m numb.
Well, folks, I guess there is one thing she can’t do.
I put my hands over my ears, but they don’t stop my thoughts.
Keep her hands to herself.