Disclaimer: In the name of all that is good and logical, we give thanks for the wonderful television show known as Futurama, owned by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, and no one else. To quote the Prophet Jeramatic, 10001010101010011000101101101011012. Amen.
A month or so ago, if you’d asked anyone I knew, they would have told you that I was the most ordinary person on the face of the earth. Can’t say I would have blamed them. There was nothing extraordinary about my life at all. I lived in a regular two-story house with my mom and dad, who were in a healthy and functional relationship. They still kissed each other good morning, once at breakfast, and once when they went out to their jobs (bank teller and lawyer). I was a B-average student at my high school. My teachers liked me, I’d never been in detention, and I got along well with my classmates. I was a fourteen-year-old miracle; the perfect example that every parent wanted their own kids to follow.
Some life, huh?
I think that’s kinda why I didn’t like it. I think it was too perfect. There was nothing to be proud of. I got an A on a test, so what?! Was that going to get me a girlfriend? No. Was it going to get me on some sports team? I wish. It wouldn’t even matter which sport, either. Just something that could take me in some other damn direction!
But I digress.
That was a month ago, anyway. Back then I was a somebody and a nobody at the same time. What happened next was what turned my life around at least three times.
It had been the same as any other day. I’d gotten off the bus, unlocked the door with the key from under the fake rock, and walked inside, my footsteps echoing inside the empty hallway.
My house was about as plain as everything else. My mom had decorated every room. Powder blue walls, plush green couches and clean white carpets. Stainless steel appliances filled the kitchen. All were from Sears. The granite in the kitchen was white with choppy black whisps. Everything sparkled, spotless, motionless, soulless.
I tossed my backpack aside underneath one of the stools that sat beside the kitchen counter. It was practically empty; I had finished all my homework in study hall. The day was mine to do with what I wished. Would I read a book today? Watch a movie? Again? I don’t think so.
I climbed the stairs to the second floor and entered my bedroom. It had a bit more personality than the rest of the house, but not much. Just a few posters of bands that had broken up decades ago and a pile of dirty laundry at the foot of the bed. Other than that it was just a regular bedroom. Regular. It was a word I hated these days.
I leaned my forehead against the window pane and gazed down at the back yard. There was the porch, with its patio furniture all neatly placed in the center, and the grill that hadn’t been used since our last Fourth of July barbecue. After that was a twenty-foot expanse of fresh-cut grass that rolled all the way down to the edge of the woods that stretched on for miles beyond. After that my vision was obscured by a twig from the oak tree that grew near my window, its branches reaching towards the house as if beckoning me to climb out and nest in its branches. The most I’d ever done was look at it. I told you my life was exciting.
I sighed, and my breath collected on the glass, creating a shrinking white spot on the window. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to have some fun for once.
Without really thinking about it, I grabbed a fleece sweatshirt and went outside. For five minutes I stood in front of the tree line of the woods, staring intently at the shadows and branches and leaves that appeared between each other. I was getting this weird feeling in me, like I was going down on a roller coaster. I figured it was nothing. I started walking into the woods. I wondered how it had changed in the ten years since I walked down that path.
Someone once told me, though I can’t remember who, that forests are like people’s minds. They’re dark and unexplored. There’s mystery lurking in every corner, and things fester in places without you knowing about them. To enter is to explore the undiscovered self. Whatever the exact words were, they stuck in my mind after that.
I couldn’t imagine what there would be to explore in my mind. There wasn’t much there but textbook knowledge from fourteen years of public school education. At least up until I’d heard those words.
That had been a regular day, too. At some point at school, the words reached my ears. They made something so commonplace seem so wondrous. What they did to me was, in a word, curious. It was like I had woken up for the second time that day. Or rather, my perspective on my whole life either emerged for the first time or shifted to something different. Either way, it changed me. It was like I was walking around inside another person’s life and being repulsed by it.
That’s how I ended up like I was that day. If I hadn’t heard those words I never would have been so dissatisfied with my life. I probably wouldn’t have found it necessary to go into the woods, and who knows where I’d be now? Going into the forest was what started everything.
I walked down the path with my hands in my pockets, the hood of my sweatshirt pulled over my head. The air felt damp beneath the thick canopy. My sneakered feet carried me deeper and deeper into the mysterious wood.
Fifteen minutes later I saw a girl bathing in the river. She was stark naked from head to toe, her clothes thrown unceremoniously on the ground in a small pile. She was standing in the water up to her knees with her back to me, wringing water out of her long dark hair.
I froze on the path. This was the river that cut through the forest and down to the lake where the historic saw mill was. The water was calm, and so was she. She had perfect curves, rivulets of water tracing out each shape of her body. Her skin was flawless and beautiful, peach colored and rosy. Her head tilted back as the final drops of water fell from her hair into the rippling water. As she did so her neck stretched back, the lovely form of her throat and breastbone perfectly refined. I saw her lips, full and pink. Her chest heaved as she drew slow, full breaths of the intoxicating fresh air. She bent over and soaked her hair again, letting the cool water rinse it out.
It was then that I realized that her hair was purple. Real purple, like the kind that you get in a rainbow; not the kinds you can mistake for the real thing in Photoshop, but the color wheel, light spectrum kind of purple.
With a flip of her head, she swung her hair around to reveal her face. She had one eye!
Now remember, I was new to anything like this at the time. It was one thing to see a girl naked, but to see a cyclops was impossible, especially for a guy like me. That’s why when I gasped, she heard me.
She turned and gazed at me. For a split second our eyes met; all three of them. I got one good look at her, and then she screamed. She lunged through the water towards her clothes, screaming an indiscernible mixture of insults and swearwords. I turned on my heel and I freaking booked! I ran down the path at breakneck speed shouting “I’M SORRYYY!!”
I didn’t stop running until I got back to the edge of the forest. I leaned against the trunk of a young tree, one hand clutching my chest to calm my heart rate. It was beating as fast as I had been running. Maybe I should have joined the track team?
I sat down with my back to the tree. I sat there for a long time, waiting for that girl to come running up the path fully clothed and beat the crap out of me. She didn’t.
Finally I calmed down long enough to think about what had happened. That was the first time I’d seen a girl naked in my entire life. It was such an impossible experience; I didn’t even know how to describe it. But I’d liked it! A lot! I felt like I’d spent my entire life in a coma and I had just woken up! The day before I wouldn’t have believed it, and right now I couldn’t imagine growing up without believing it, but at that one moment, the possibilities of what the world could deliver to me became impossibly real. I finally believed it. Life could be exciting!
My glorious mental rebirth was interrupted by the sound of a car door slamming shut. Mom was home.
I rushed back inside the house, grabbed my backpack, and slowed my pace when I was halfway up the stairs. Mom walked in through the front door, and as far as she knew, I was just heading on up the steps.
“Hi, sweetie,” she said in her usual bright tone. “Anything special happen today?”
I thought about answering. But then I remembered that she and Dad were still stuck in the same state of mind I had just escaped. Could she handle the idea of me seeing a girl naked?
“No,” I said in a bored tone. “Nothing special.”
Our dinner table has always been square. Even with only three people in the house, where a triangle would have been fine, it was a perfect square; three and a half feet on each side. The empty side allowed us to watch TV if something good was on. Like the news.
Mom sat on my right, Dad on my left. We ate in relative silence. It was ravioli tonight. The chinks of silverware were starting to sound creepy when Dad spoke.
“Hey, honey, did you see what happened to my red tie, this morning? I wanted to wear it to work today but I seem to have misplaced it.”
Mom finished chewing a piece of ravioli before responding. “I don’t think so, although you might have mixed it up with an orange one and put it in the wrong place.”
“I suppose it is possible.” Dad said. “Even though I do keep my ties color-coded if I’m half-asleep then I could easily put one of my ties in the wrong place.”
I looked back and forth between my parents, struggling to keep my face straight. Was this the best thing they could think of to talk about?! What a couple of stiffs! You had to feel sorry for them, being so naïve. I wonder if they even knew just how diluted their minds were. It was like they were trapped!
I finished my dinner quickly and excused myself without seconds.
Upstairs in my room, I lay down on my bed with a heavy sigh. It had been hours since I’d seen the girl, and everything had settled back to normal; just me feeling bad about how boring life was. I mean sure, peeping at a girl had been fun for a change, but it wasn’t as if stuff like that happened every day. Perhaps God had been cutting me a few minutes of slack? Great. That ought to last me the rest of my life.
I woke up at midnight to a clicking sound. I heard it again and sat up. I heard it again and turned towards the window. I heard it again, and this time I saw it, too. A pebble flew out of the night and bounced off the window. At first I felt scared. Who in hell would want to talk to me in secret like this? Then I just felt curious. Who would want to talk to me? Why?
I got off the bed and approached the window. Just as I reached it another pebble rebounded off the glass. I opened it wide and peered down at the ground. Another pebble hit me in the eye.
“Dude, cut it out!” I rasped in a loud whisper.
“Serves you right,” said a feminine voice.
I froze. If this was who I thought it was I was screwed. I looked down into the yard. In the light of the waxing moon, or maybe waning, I could see the girl. She was dressed in a white tank top and black form-fitting pants, with boots. Her purple hair was tied back in a pony tail, and her bangs were long.
“What are you doing here?” I asked hesitantly.
“Come down here.”
“It’s like midnight!”
“So why now?”
“Would you just get down here?”
I sighed. This chick was unbelievable. Realizing that I had slept in my clothes, I carefully climbed up onto the window sill. I’m not gonna lie to you. I was scared enough to wet my pants. I had never done this before, and yet here I was, climbing out my window to talk to a girl I’d peeped at.
As I squatted there, I realized that this was actually kind of cool. A girl was coming to my house at night! How awesome was that?!
“Any day now!” The girl said from below.
I looked indignantly at her and reached out for the first branch. I was nervous again, and my hands were shaking so hard the branch shook. I grasped it with both hands and let my feet fall. One hand after the other, I inched closer to the trunk. I could hear the girl giggling down below. I was really starting to get annoyed. Finally I reached the trunk and slowly climbed down.
As soon as I reached the ground, I felt myself rising back upwards into the air. The girl had kicked me in the nuts that hard. I’m not kidding here.
I fell to my knees. The only thing that kept me from crying out in pain was the will to not get caught outside after dark. My face twisted in silent anguish. And you know what she did? She laughed!
“I’d say that makes us even, now.” She said in a flighty voice.
I wanted to do a lot of things right then. I wanted to punch her in the face. I wanted to scream at her. But more than any of those, I wanted to know why she was there. So instead of getting all violent and stuff, I calmly rose to my feet, took a deep breath, and said quite calmly: “All right, bitch. What in Satan’s glorious name do you want with me?”
To my surprise she didn’t get mad. She just laughed a bit more.
“I just wanted to talk to you.”
“Well you sure got a funny way of starting off.”
A bit of guilt appeared on her face. “Yeah, sorry. I guess I just really wanted to get back at you for today.”
“If that’s how all women work I’m gonna die a very lonely man.”
She laughed again, but this time it was a friendly laugh, not the evil revenge kind I’d heard seconds earlier.
“Well,” I continued, “there are other ways of starting off. For instance I might say ‘Hi, I’m Lars.’”
I held out my hand. She shook it. Her hand was soft, but her grip was firm. She stared at me interested.
“Lars.” She said thoughtfully. “I like that name. I’m Leela. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to be met.”
We both laughed at that one.
I looked closely at her. She was about my height. She had rather high cheekbones, and a nice smile. What demanded my attention the most, no doubt, was her eye. It was large and oval-shaped, and stretched across her face to fill the place where a normal person would have two eyes. Her nose was smaller than average, and she also had very little forehead. Obviously her eye demanded a lot of room, but the rest of her facial features were arranged so that even with an outlandishly freakishly impossibly singular eye, she looked pretty good. Especially when she was smiling.
“So what brings you here, Leela. I mean, apart from revenge.”
“I told you, I just wanted to talk.”
This was confusing me. She just wanted to talk? What did that mean? Did she want me to talk to her, or did she want to talk to me? And why do it at night?
“Okay.” I said.
Leela and I walked down the path through the woods together. I was starting to feel the chill from the night. Beneath my window it was just a nip, but here in the woods it was intense. I wanted to rub my arms to warm up, but Leela was showing no signs and I didn’t want to look like a wimp.
“So they’d stand around you and chant it nonstop?” I said in a shaken voice.
“And no one did anything about it?”
“Not even Mr. Vogel?!”
“Sorry. I just …can’t believe that…”
“Don’t sweat it, Lars. It’s not your fault. It just…”
There was a moment’s pause.
“Makes my life look like Paradise.” I said. “Although, I guess it doesn’t take much to do that.”
“Really? Why?” Leela asked. She seemed overly interested. Despite this, I got into the details. If you need to hear it again, just go back to the beginning.
“Well, that’s quite a situation you got going there,” she said after I’d finished. “But can you really be ashamed of that? I mean, there’s nothing bad there. No one to make you feel bad, and nothing standing in your way.”
“That’s the problem, though.” I pressed. “It’s boring. Every day is exactly is the same, and you know exactly what the next day will bring. Nothing ever happens. There’s nothing special.”
Leela’s eye widened. “Oh I see,” she said. “So it’s like even if you’re alive, you’re hardly actually living at all.”
My eyes widened. I looked at her. “Yeah,” I said.
I felt happy. She really understood! For once in my life, there was someone who felt exactly the same as I did! It felt great!
Two hours later we stood at the edge of the woods. We had talked about so many things it was unbelievable. I didn’t even know I had that many things to talk about! I’d had more fun than I could ever remember having. I’d never laughed so much in one night, either. I tell you, it was a night worth remembering, though there were better times to come.
We said good night and promised to meet again in the near future. Leela said she was going to go back to her Orphanarium. I’m guessing that’s a slang term she uses, but it’s kinda cool.
We waved to each other and she disappeared back into the trees.
Climbing back up the tree turned out to be quite easy.
The following morning I woke up early. I’d dreamt about Leela a great deal, and woke up feeling completely energized. Meeting her had changed my entire world, and I could tell that today was the first of many new days. For the first time I looked forward to getting my day started.
I showered and did all my other stuff. In no time I was dressed and heading downstairs for breakfast. What awaited me there was about as appetizing as week-old pizza made with blue cheese and dry olives. And if any of you have ever had something like that then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
My parents were sitting at the table, not in their usual across-from-each-other formation, but together at a corner. They had broken their routine; something was up.
I sat down across from Dad. I could feel my stomach clenching in nervousness. At that point I’d never been confronted with something in a negative way, so I’d had no idea what the hell to do. So I let them start.
“Lars,” Dad said, “is there anything you need to talk to us about?”
Turning my strategy against me. For someone with so little experience, they were good.
“Not really,” I said truthfully.
“Your mother went to check on you last night, and your bed was empty.”
This took me by surprise. “And you do this every night, do you?” I asked calmly.
“Oh of course not, Lars,” Mom said. “It’s just that last night I-“
“Mom you’ve done the same thing every day for the entirety of my life. Do you really expect me to believe that your intrusion was just a coincidence?”
I could tell from the look on Mom’s face that I had her, but Dad wasn’t about to let me get the upper hand.
“Look Lars,” he said sternly. “We want to know why you weren’t in your room at midnight last night.”
“All right,” I said. “I confess. Last night I snuck out to go for a moonlit stroll with a girl.”
My parents gaped at me for a moment. “Okay where were you really?” Dad said.
“I was in the bathroom popping zits, Dad. Sheesh.”
It was the lamest excuse ever. Even I found it to be ridiculous.
“Is that really it?!” Mom said almost laughing. “Oh that’s a relief. I thought it would be something much worse.”
“Yeah, I feel better now.” Dad said. “How about some eggs for breakfast, then?”
I looked at them both. They were looking and acting as if our conversation had never taken place. Did they really think I wasn’t bothered by the fact that they “checked on me” every night? It was outrageous!
I skipped breakfast that morning.
I couldn’t pay attention in school. My mind was reeling like clockwork, but it was going counterclockwise. I got lectured several times for daydreaming, and my English teacher even thought I was sick. At first I thought so, too. My mind felt kind of stale, like some kind of dry depression had taken over it. Nothing interested me, and I felt tired all the time. I’d lost my appetite at lunch. Looking back on it I still don’t know why I felt that way. Maybe it was because of Leela. I’d thought about her a lot, but then I’d thought a lot about my parents, too, and how disappointing it was that they were so dull.
When I got home, I’d had another confrontation with Mom. Apparently my English teacher had called and told her about my different attitude. Basically it was breakfast minus Dad, with a whole new problem that worried her. My changed behavior was making her think something was wrong with me.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in my room, my homework done, wondering why I was living this way in the first place. I began asking myself the big questions, like what I wanted to do with my life. A year previously I had never even thought past the end of the day, and now my mind was going whacko. I wondered what I was worth, being nothing more than a teenager with nothing special to say for himself.
I was desperate for some answers to my mental grog, and the instant I heard a tap at my window I felt that I was certain to get them. My spirits picked up at once. I opened the window. There she was, waving at me and beckoning me outside. I checked the clock. It was 12:30. Her timing couldn’t have been better.
I landed feet first on the ground in less than ten seconds.
“Hey, stranger,” Leela said.
“I figured you’d want to talk about something.”
“You figured right. I feel like something’s wrong with me.”
We walked together into the woods. It was dark and cold, just as it had been last night, but I didn’t really notice it. We had reached the river by the time I was done. I had gone into that much detail.
“Wow,” Leela said. “You just went from perfect life to teen angst in less than a day. I can’t leave you alone for even a little, can I?”
“I hope not.”
She laughed. “I can see why the whole thing with your parents would make you feel bad, but don’t sweat it. Now that we both know, we can be more careful. It’s not the end of the world if they’re acting like normal parents. Personally I’d give anything to have someone do that for me.”
There was a bit of an awkward silence. Then Leela grabbed my hand and started pulling me toward the river.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s swim.”
“Yeah.” She began stripping off her clothes.
“Hey wait a minute!” I cried. “What are you doing?!”
“What does it look like? I’m taking my clothes off.”
“But I’m right friggin’ here!”
“So? You’ve seen me naked already, underwear should be no problem.”
She jumped in the river in her underwear. I sighed the biggest sigh of relief in my life. But you probably know that I wouldn’t have minded too much if she’d stripped completely.
I ripped off my shoes and socks and my shirt and jumped in after her. The water was freezing. We played around and splashed each other for half an hour before we just floated on our backs breathing heavily. The air bit at my skin like a bunch of mosquitoes. Leela was floating a few inches away from me. I had to keep my eyes looking straight up to avoid staring at her too long. She had one hell of a body.
“Look Lars,” she said. “I know you’re bored with your own life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. If you want to have fun, then make your own fun. Don’t wait until after midnight for me to show up.”
I almost gasped in amazement. She was right. Because I’d had so much fun being with her, my regular life had become even worse. But it didn’t have to be that way. It was all in my head! I could fix everything and make it better!
I suddenly became aware that our hands were really close to each other.
I’m sure that by now you’ve figured out that I liked Leela. The thought did occur to me back then as I walked home soaking wet carrying my clothes, but at that point the possibility of me falling in love seemed too far fetched to be real. My life had barely picked up at all. So I wasn’t completely aware of my feelings back then. Stupid, really. I mean I actually fell asleep thinking about her, and I didn’t even find it odd.
Too bad though, since I should have been trying to think of an excuse for why my shorts were wet.
I told my parents the only excuse I could think of: the worst. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you’re lucky. I wish I had been, too. Worst moment of my life.
I tried to let it go, though. I intended to make up for it later that day. Leela’s words had left quite an impression on me. I had to make my own fun, and I was going to. I wanted to crate a situation that would be disruptive and annoying. I wanted to do something to interrupt the flow of the day, even for just one person. I still can’t believe I didn’t know the word for it at the time, but what I wanted to do was prank somebody.
I started with something basic. It was a prank that most people knew about, and it would be perfect for me to get my feet wet. I just needed to plan it carefully enough so that I wouldn’t get caught.
It was around noon when the rain started falling. Perfect. I was having lunch in the cafeteria with a couple kids from my study hall. We weren’t really talking about much. The weather had us feeling tired, and the cafeteria felt about five degrees colder than it usually did. I was immune to all these effects. I had a mission to do.
At 12:15 I got up to go to the bathroom, same as I did every day. I had to stick to the same routine or else someone would suspect me. As soon as I was clear of the cafeteria, I hurried in the opposite direction. My target was in the next hallway.
I approached the door to the girls’ bathroom cautiously and pulled the fire alarm next to the door. I ran for it like I’d peeked at Leela again. I was back at the entrance to the cafeteria by the time people started coming out of classrooms. Smooth as silk.
As everyone filed out the doors into the pouring rain they groaned. It was bad enough for them to go outside, but it was raining, too. I hadn’t counted on that happening, but it was a nice finishing touch.
I felt fantastic. Thousands of people were on edge, thinking that danger was at hand, all because of the actions of one single person: me. I had done all this in a matter of seconds! I’d had that kind of power in my hands my entire life and never known it! It took everything I had to force myself not to jump for joy right in front of everyone.
We were called back inside an hour later. I was soaked to the bone, but I didn’t feel cold at all.
I strutted in through the front door. I felt like a million bucks, and I wanted the whole world to know. I threw my backpack aside, and it flew across the kitchen and landed on the couch in the living room.
I practically skipped straight out the back door and did a cartwheel across the dampened grass of the backyard. I ran down the path into the woods.
The air felt extremely thick beneath the trees. I had to restrain myself from whooping like crazy. I was in the best mood I’d ever been in. I’m serious. If you had seen me there you would have thought I was high.
Finally I reached the little alcove where I’d first seen Leela. She was there, leaning up against a tree, smiling widely.
“I see you’ve taken my advice at face value,” she remarked slyly.
I held my hands up in fake modesty. “Well, you know me,” I said. “I’m just full of surprises.”
“Oh, yes, the daring, unpredictable livewire, ready to strike at any minute!” she kidded.
“Crazy and wild, a raving madman!”
We laughed hysterically.
“So what’s your next move, hotshot?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you can’t expect the joy of pulling a fire alarm to last forever,” she said matter-of-factly. “You need a hobby; something that can give you this kind of pleasure any time.”
“Are you saying I should become some kind of ‘serial prankster’?” I asked.
“Why not? If that’s what makes you happy then prank the crap out of that school. Heaven knows I should have done something like that.”
“Why?” I asked. “What do you do?”
“Nothing. That’s the problem.” The laughter seemed to have gone from her voice, to be replaced with regret. “When I was in grade school, people made fun of me, as usual. I wanted revenge on them, and I thought pranks would be good. But I’d spent my entire life being timid. So when the opportunity came, I lost my nerve.”
I felt sorry for her. She was standing with her back to me, like she didn’t want to see how I was taking this. I put my hand on her shoulder.
“Leela, you only get one life. I’ve done a pretty good job of not living mine until recently. Before you showed up, I never would have had the guts to pull a prank either. Yet here I stand.”
Leela turned around and looked at me. She looked as if she was finally “seeing the light” or something. I was getting through to her.
“You can always come back to the point where you realize that you can surprise yourself. It’s just like you said: If you want to have fun, then make your own fun. I did it, so can you.”
She looked happy.
We spent a long time walking around and talking. I filled her in on the details of my “adventure.” The way I talked about it, you’d have thought I was briefing James Bond on his next assignment or something. Leela did. She thought it was the funniest thing ever. And she was glad I’d taken her advice. It seemed to firm her resolve to take her own advice. I was glad to have helped her.
I was surprised to learn later on that she practiced something called “Arcturan Kung-Fu,” and even more surprised when she offered to teach me some. We stood in a clearing doing punches and kicks and stuff. Our bodies actually got pretty close to each other, especially when she tripped and we fell down in a tangled heap. My heart was pounding like crazy.
We parted ways later on in the afternoon.
The sun was disappearing behind the trees as I entered through the back door, my elation higher than ever, not just because of my prank, but because of Leela.
Mom was stirring some pasta in a pot on the stove, and Dad was going over a case file in the living room.
“Hey, Lars?” Mom asked as I went into the living room. “I heard about what happened at the school. What exactly was--?”
I snatched up my backpack from beside Dad. “Haven’t the slightest, Mom.” I said nonchalantly. “Try asking the principal, I’m sure he can fill you in.”
I headed towards the stairs. “Look, I’m not very hungry tonight, and I’ve got a crapload of homework, so just go ahead and chow down without me.”
I disappeared into my room in an instant.
I lay down on my bed with a smile on my face. My happiness had showed in my behavior. I felt so high-and-mighty I’d blown off my parents! No doubt they’d be wondering if I’d hit my head. To be honest, I didn’t care. I kind of liked that I was upsetting their natural order of life. It was good for them. They needed to pull their heads out of the ground.
I fell asleep.
“Would Lars Fillmore please report to Principal Campbell’s please?” the intercom hissed. “Lars Fillmore to the principal’s office.”
Everyone in the room turned to face me. I felt my stomach clench like a fist. I was screwed.
It was the day after my little stunt. The previous day there’d been an assembly at which Campbell had delivered an incredibly loud speech about how despicable it was that someone had scared everyone and ruined their day with such “an immature and immoral strike against authority.” I actually felt guilty. Most principals have ways of pulling on your minds to get you to think and feel in ways they want. It kinda creeps me out. The guilt passed, though.
Now all I felt was anxiety. Had I really been caught?!
I wandered down the halls awkwardly, my footsteps echoing off the linoleum floors. I could feel in my gut that I was really in for it. Any trip to the office set off a person’s nerves, but this was a different kind of fear. I could feel doom creeping up on me. By the time I turned the knob on Campbell’s door I was sure I’d wet my pants.
My parents were there.
I knew I was boned.
I sat down in the only remaining empty seat. Principal Campbell did not look happy, but not mad, either. Just stoic.
My parents weren’t talking, either. They were just looking at me like I was someone else. In a way, I kinda was, but that’s not the point. They seemed to be as tense as I was. But it wasn’t being called here that made them tense; it was me. Something weird was going on, and it did nothing to improve my mood.
“I’d like to thank you all for coming,” Campbell said. His voice was smooth and cool. It made me think of an ice cube sliding across a counter.
“Actually, Mr. Campbell,-“ Mom said.
“Call me Tim,” Campbell said with a smile.
“Tim, uh, we’d like to be straightforward here,” she concluded.
She had me confused with this. What had Campbell said that was not straightforward?
“Very well,” Campbell said. “I’d like to thank Lars for coming.”
I was beginning to understand, but I didn’t want to believe it. “You mean,” I began hesitantly, “you didn’t call them here?”
“No, Lars. They came to me. And they told me a very interesting story.”
I was royally boned!
“When you came home the day before yesterday,” Dad said, “you were so different. You were ignorant to us. You were acting all ‘high-and-mighty,’ like nothing mattered to you.”
“We didn’t want to believe it at first,” Mom said, “but when we heard about the fire alarm…”
“You put two and two together.” I finished.
Mom didn’t say anything. Everyone was silent for a while. The clock on Campbell’s desk read 11:42 on the dot.
“No one’s accusing you of anything, Lars.” Campbell said to me.
Rage was boiling inside me. It was unreal, the strongest emotion I’d felt in my entire life. My parents were accusing me! They were right, though, but this was impossible. They were a couple of idiots who lived with their heads shoved up their asses. I was the only one in the world who had become aware of how stupid everything was! What did they think they were doing coming in and ruining it for me!? I was finally living! Was that so bad!?
The clock struck 11:42 and one second. I stood up.
“Yes you are.” I growled. “You all are. And you’re right. I did do it! I pulled the fire alarm! And I’m damn proud of it!”
“But Lars! Why did you-“
“Oh, I’ll tell you why, mother! I’ll tell you all why! Do you really think your lives are really lives at all?! Is there anything that you’re actually proud of?! NO!! There isn’t! All you ever do is you goddamn jobs! The most exciting thing you can find to talk about is what color your goddamn tie is!! You could die tomorrow and no one would notice! Look at me! I’m pranking this place and having the time of my life! I cause widespread panic, all with the flip of a switch! In my hands lies the power to control the world. And I’m gonna use it.”
Campbell and my parents were staring at me with wide eyes. Looking back on it I’d have done the same. If I’d had a clearer head at the time I probably wouldn’t have gone so mental, no matter how good it felt.
I got suspended for a week, and my parents took me straight home and locked me in my room.
It was the first time in living memory my parents had fought. If your parents are regular parents, they’ve probably fought before. So you know just how horrible it feels. But if your parents are more like mine used to be, you can’t possibly imagine.
It sucked. I was sitting on the window sill with one leg dangling out the window, and I was listening to everything they were saying. There were shouts going back and forth, rebounding off everything and making their way out the open kitchen window, five feet below me. It felt as though all stability had gone from the world. Nothing seemed right, nothing was certain, least of all me. They were fighting because of me. They were fighting about why I was doing this. What had started it. What they should do. I didn’t know how to feel. I guess I was afraid to feel. I didn’t want to feel guilty for changing, but I didn’t want to cause any permanent damage here. And what I heard coming out of the window sounded pretty damaged to me.
I thought about Leela. Even thinking about her made me feel better. She had done so much to help me. She had opened my spirit to its full potential. It seemed that in times of stress she was the best relief there was. When we spent time together I felt happy, even if we were just talking. And when we practiced Kung-Fu together… I smiled at the memory of being so close to her.
Eventually the shouting gave way to sighs and distressed statements.
I was called downstairs.
My parents were sitting at the table the same way they had on Tuesday morning; on adjoining sides.
“Lars,” Dad said. “We want to talk to you.”
“So I gathered.” My tone was blank. No anger, no joy, no nothing.
“And we want the truth.” Mom said. “You have us so worried.”
“Why?” I asked.
“What do you mean ‘why’?” Dad said. “You’ve been acting up and doing so many strange things, son. Did you really think we wouldn’t notice?”
“I mean, what is it that’s got you worried? The way I’ve been acting up, or the mere fact that I’m acting up?”
Neither of my parents could respond to this.
“You’ve never done anything before, Lars.” Mom said weakly. “It worries us that you would start doing such different things now.”
I had to force myself not to smile. I was right.
“What’s wrong with different?”
“Nothing’s wrong with different, Lars,” Dad said. “What’s wrong is-“
“Okay,” I interrupted. “Maybe I went too far with the whole fire alarm thing. But it had to be better than letting myself live in a humdrum meaningless life. I’ve been doing the same thing every day for my entire life and not even thought wrong of it.”
“What are you talking about, Lars?” Mom asked.
I looked at both of them somberly. “If I were to die tomorrow, I wouldn’t be able to say I had lived.”
Both of their eyes widened. I knew they understood.
“That doesn’t change the fact that you did something wrong, though.” Dad said. “What on earth would compel you to do that?”
“I wanted to make my life interesting.”
“And getting yourself suspended is interesting?”
My parents looked shocked. I knew I was screwed then. Perhaps I’d taken it too far again.
“Her name is Leela,” I said quickly.
“Leela?” Mom said. “A girl?”
“Yeah,” I said. “She told me that if I wanted to enjoy life, I had to make my own fun.”
“So she told you to do this?!” Dad said.
“No, that’s not what I-“
“I can’t believe this!” he said. “I can’t believe my own son would actually follow someone’s orders to do something bad!”
“Dad, you’re not—“
“No! I don’t want to hear it! I forbid you from seeing that girl again!”
“WHAT!!” I shouted. “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!! LEELA’S THE ONLY FRIEND I’VE GOT! I HAVE TO SEE HER! I LO—!”
I stopped myself. I couldn’t believe what I’d almost said. And I couldn’t believe that I’d meant it. Did I really love Leela? I’d barely even known her a week. But then I pictured her face in my mind, and I smiled.
“I don’t care how you feel, Lars.” Dad said. “What matters is that you’re ruining your life by doing all these crazy things. Go upstairs. You won’t be coming out until you’re back in school.”
“Well, that seems strangely cruel and unusual…” I said.
I walked upstairs. I kept my pace firm. I couldn’t let him feel victorious, no matter how badly I needed a new pair of underwear. What was worse was that for one glorious second I had converted my parents, and made them see the light. But I had ruined it; I’d failed.
I lay awake on my bed, hands behind my head as I gazed up at the ceiling. I barely even blinked. I was so zoned out I could actually feel my heart beating inside my chest. I felt surprisingly tranquil. I could hear the door of my room open every hour up to midnight, but it didn’t phase me in the least. I didn’t even look over. Whoever was outside looked in at me for at least five minutes each time, but I didn’t care. All I could think about was Leela. I had almost said aloud that I loved her. Even then, I still didn’t quite know if it was true. I guess my emotions were so new to me it was hard to define them. It was the first time I’d ever been in love.
In a way, I thought, it’s like what that person said to me, about the mind being a forest. So are my emotions. There’s so much I don’t understand, so much to be explored. I’m finally starting to understand myself.
I’m sure you all realize by now that I was starting to grow up, at least, in a mental sort of way. It felt like Enlightenment.
I was finally starting to doze off at about one in the morning when I heard a tapping at my window. I sat up and looked out. Leela was hanging from one of the branches by one hand, the other tapping on the glass. The sight actually looked a little ridiculous.
I walked over and opened the window.
“What’s up?” I asked her.
“I am.” She said.
I laughed. “Seriously, though, how’s it going?”
“I want to talk to you.”
“Okay,” I said.
Suddenly, the branch Leela was hanging onto snapped and she fell to the ground with a thud. I leaned out the window.
“Are you okay?!” I cried.
“Fine,” she said. She stood up next to the fallen branch rubbing her ass. “Just had a rough landing, but I’ve had worse. Anyway, come on down.”
As I leapt out toward the tree, I realized that all my conflicted feelings about my parents and my issues with them were gone. With Leela around, I felt better.
When I finally touched down, Leela was staring at the ground with her hands clasped behind her back. She looked extremely nervous, yet she was smiling.
“I did what you said,” she said. “I took my own advice.”
“And?” I asked expectantly.
Her smile widened. “I did it! I got back at them! I sprayed them down with a fire hose! God, it was so great!”
She looked happier then than at any point I’d seen her before.
“Anyway,” she continued, “I wanted to thank you for helping me. If it weren’t for you, I would probably have gone insane with loneliness.”
“Don’t thank me,” I said modestly. “It was your idea. If anything, I should be thanking you. It’s because of you that I can finally be happy in my life.”
We gazed into each other’s eyes for a long time. We smiled.
Then Leela took my hand. “Come on,” she said happily, leading me into the woods. “Let’s go.”
Even though I was walking right beside her, letting her lead the way, Leela hadn’t let go of my hand. Not that it was a problem, though. I found that I liked it. It was really dark in the forest. There was an earthy smell to the air, like some kind of air freshener smell, but without the chemicals. It surrounded me and filled me up. It was coming from the ground, and the trees, and the leaves. I realized that this was what fresh air smelled like; nothing but life.
Then I heard the sounds. They weren’t sounds that belonged to the forest. It was music. Someone was playing music up ahead. Leela and I hurried onward. There were bright lights shining between the trees.
Finally we arrived at the source of the music. We found ourselves in a large clearing, big enough to house three large mobile homes. At one end of the clearing a DJ with a goatee and dreadlocks was scratching records while a loud techno song was playing. The sounds blared furiously out of two large speakers on his sides. Lights were strung up everywhere, like the ones hung out over Christmas tree lots. The yellow wires crisscrossed over an enormous crowd, which was dancing outrageously. Giant figures and shadows were swinging from side to side, jumping, and flailing themselves all over the place. The entire atmosphere was vibrating with excitement. I found myself laughing just from watching.
Leela and I looked at each other once and we both knew. We jumped out into the crowd and started dancing.
I had never danced before, and looking back on it, I don’t think I did very well. But, considering how crazy everyone else was, I don’t think Leela could tell. I forgot everything in the world and was just having fun. That was the point.
We danced on for fifteen minutes straight. The music died down for a minute. Everyone stopped dancing and applauded. I didn’t know who was being applauded, the crowd or the DJ, but I joined in anyway. I leaned on my knees and tried to catch my breath. I was sweating. Leela was doing the same. We smiled at each other.
The music started up again; it was slow music.
I froze with fear. The music was ambient and touching, but all I could think about was what it meant. I had never danced before in my life, let alone done a slow dance. Was I really gonna slow dance with Leela?
I didn’t even know if I wanted to, or if I was comfortable, but Leela and I came together and put our arms around each other. She looked as nervous as I felt.
The music played softly in my ears.
Maybe it’s intuition,
But some things you just don’t question.
Like in your eyes,
I see my future in an instant.
And there it goes,
I think I’ve found my best friend.
I know that it might sound more than a little
Crazy, but I believe.
I knew I loved you
Before I met you.
I think I dreamed you into life.
I knew I loved you
Before I met you.
I have been waiting all my life.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Leela. We swayed back and forth, like ocean waves. I couldn’t feel it. There were at least a hundred people around us. I couldn’t see them. There was only Leela. I’d never really appreciated how pretty she was. With the lights shining around us, I could have sworn she looked like an angel.
“I’m glad I met you,” she whispered.
I leaned in so she could hear me. “Not as glad as I am.”
We were smiling. Her eye glinted in the lights.
We leaned in closer.
The party went on for a long time. Soon only ten people were left, including Leela and I. We’d had a blast, and not just because we’d kissed. We’d danced for a long time. Deep down, I think we were both thinking of this as our first date. The thought actually made me feel happy. I had tried to make my life more fun, but I hadn’t seen this coming. This was better than any prank I could have pulled. I didn’t think anything could spoil it. But I was wrong.
With so few people around, one of the guys there finally noticed how “different” Leela was. He walked over to us. He was a head taller than me, with extremely broad shoulders and jet black hair.
“Hey, babe,” he said in a gravelly voice. “Why don’tcha ditch the weasel and come with me? We can have some fun together.”
He drew his hand up and down Leela’s arm. She swatted it away. The boy frowned.
“Hey, no one says no to the King!” he barked. People started to stare. “Or are you afraid I’ll poke your eye out!?”
“Enough!” I said to him. I stepped in front of Leela and stared the boy in the eyes. “She’s with me! Take a hike!”
The boy smiled. “So, think you’re pretty tuff, huh? Think you got what it takes to handle the King?”
He flexed his muscles. I suddenly realized how much bigger than me he was.
The boy grabbed my throat and threw me back. I hit a tree. He held me to the tree, his fingers closing on my windpipe. I could hear Leela shouting my name. Someone tried to pull the boy off me. His nails dug into my skin. I could feel my vision fading. I was dying…
I woke up. That was the first sign that I was alive. The second was that I was in tremendous pain. My head hurt, and my throat was killing me. I sat up and forced my vision to fix itself. What I saw didn’t make me feel any better.
Everything was gone; the DJ and his equipment, the party-goers, the lights, and Leela. I wasn’t even in the clearing; I was next to the river, at least ten minutes away from where I’d been. Or, where I thought I’d been. Had I been mistaken? I couldn’t tell. Everything was such a blur. I couldn’t even remember how I’d gotten here. How long had I been unconscious? What had happened afterward?
I was starting to feel scared. Where had Leela gone? Did she save me? Why wasn’t she here? Or, I thought with a shudder, what was keeping her from being here?
I crawled down to the riverbank and splashed some water in my face. I watched the rippling water become peaceful once more. In the pale moonlight, my reflection was nothing more than a hulking shape, with different shades of black and blue. But even in the poor light, I could see that I had a huge bruise on my neck, in the shape of a hand.
Everything was so unnerving. I sat there by the water’s edge fretting for five minutes before I managed to pull myself together. I stood up. I decided that the best thing for me to do was to go home. At the very least I would be safe there. Leela was a Kung-Fu master, so I figured she had to be okay. I just had to wait until I saw her again, and everything would make sense.
I shivered all the way home.
I emerged into my back yard. There were no lights on in the house, so my parents obviously hadn’t discovered my absence. I knew, however, that I’d have to tell them everything when they saw the bruise on my neck.
As I started to climb the tree, I noticed something odd: the ground beneath the tree was bare. I knelt on the earth beneath my window. It couldn’t have been real. Leela had broken one of the branches. Where had it gone? I looked up, and I saw it, still attached to the tree.
I climbed the tree cautiously. I didn’t know what to expect. My window was still open. Had someone been here? Were they in my room? I checked the branch on my way inside. It was there, unbroken and new. It had never snapped. At least, that’s how it looked. I was freaked out. I jumped in through the window.
I switched on the bedside table lamp. The soft light washed over everything in my room. No one was there. I sighed in relief. I closed the window and locked it tightly from the inside. I walked over to my mirror and looked at my reflection. The bruise was gone!
I nearly screamed. I whipped around and saw Leela standing right behind me. How? Why hadn’t I seen her reflection? I looked in the mirror again. There she was.
“Sorry I snuck up on you. I hid under your bed. I didn’t want to scare you when you came in here.”
“Where were you, Leela? What happened?”
Leela sighed and sat down on my bed. “I had to run away,” she said. “It took everything I had to outrun them all. I just had to get them away from you. They would have killed you.”
“The people who were there were a gang.” She whimpered. “They were from my town, and they wanted to get rid of me. But…”
She started crying. I immediately forgot everything else and sat down beside her and put my hands on her shoulders.
“Don’t worry, Leela.” I said. “You’re okay. You’re safe. You saved us both. I can never repay you for that. You should be proud of yourself.”
“I was so scared, Lars. They could have-.”
I pulled her into an embrace. She sat there for a while, shuddering in my arms, until she finally calmed down. She looked up at me.
“I love you,” she said softly.
All I could think about was how helpless she looked. She truly needed me more than she needed anyone. She wasn’t the mischievous girl who’d called me out of my window on that first night. Not anymore. She was desperate for someone to help her. All I wanted to do was help her. For the first time in my life, I wanted to live, not for my sake, but for hers.
“I love you, too.”
I took her face in my hands and kissed her. I absorbed everything. The sweet sensation of her lips against mine. Her soft breathing. Her pounding heart. Her arms, wrapped tightly around my neck. Every part of her I could feel. She was there. Leela, the girl of my dreams, was there kissing me, and I never wanted to let her go.
I worked my way down, kissing her neck. She breathed heavily. Her chest heaved harder and harder. I could feel the tension building between us. Nothing else existed but the two of us, there in that room, at that hour.
We kissed again, and she leaned backward. I finally understood what it meant for us to be there. She was one in a million. She was the most special girl in the whole world. I loved her more than anything. And of all the people in the world to love me, it was her. As she moaned into my kiss, I knew that what we had was nothing short of a miracle.
She reached up and turned off the light. There was no going back, now.
I woke up late on Friday morning. I wasn’t surprised; eight rounds of nonstop love-making can take a lot of energy. At least I wasn’t late for school, being suspended and all.
I noticed that I was the only one in bed. Leela had probably left so that we wouldn’t be caught, but I still felt disappointed that I couldn’t wake up with her lying next to me. It would have been the perfect ending to a perfect night. Oh well.
I threw the covers off from over my head and sat up. The sheets were a mess, and the comforter was warm. I was naked.
I glanced over at the window. It was closed, but still locked from the inside. It seemed kind of weird to me, but since I was in such a good mood, I decided to dismiss it.
Quickly, I got up and took a shower. I got dressed and went downstairs.
Sitting in the living room were both my parents, and a man I’d never met before. He had a suit and a handlebar mustache. He was pretty old. They all looked at me. None of them looked happy.
I sat down cautiously in an armchair. “Am I in trouble?” I asked.
“I dunno,” Dad said coolly. “Should you be?”
It sounded like a ‘yes,’ but I didn’t know how to respond.
“Who’s that guy?”
“My name is Dr. Baumel.” He said in a thick European accent. “I specialize in psychiatry.”
“If you want to think of it as that, then sure, why not?”
He even sounded like a shrink.
I addressed my parents. “What’s going on here?” I demanded.
“Lars,” Mom said almost fearfully, “we saw you last night.”
My entire being froze in terror. I couldn’t believe it. They had seen us?!
All I could manage was: “Oh.”
“Is that all you’ve got to say?” Dad said. “’Oh?’”
“What we want to know, Lars,” Mom said. “Is why you kept saying ‘Leela.’”
“What do you mean?” I asked. I was getting confused.
“Don’t play dumb with us, boy!” Dad growled. “You were doing…that, but you kept saying that girl’s name!”
“Was she who you were thinking about?” Mom asked.
“Thinking about?” I said. “She was there!”
My parents looked at each other, and then at the shrink. He leaned forward in his seat. “Lars,” he said calmly. “From what your parents have described to me, it seems as though you were masturbating while thinking about a girl you like. Am I right?”
“No!” I said. “She was there. In the flesh! I should know. I’ve seen every inch of it!” I couldn’t help but smile at this.
“Damnit, Lars,” Dad yelled, “no one was there but you!”
“Leela was there!” I yelled back. “I f**ked her brains out and I don’t care! I love her! If you’ve got a problem with that, you can go to hell!!”
I stood up to leave, but Dad pushed me back down. “You’re not going anywhere!”
I grabbed the TV remote and flicked through channels. I wasn’t going to listen to their crap. Dad grabbed the remote from me and turned it off. I looked at the screen as he did so and gasped.
“I said--!” He shouted.
“Wait!” I cried, staring at the screen. “Turn that back on!”
“I’ll do no such thing! You’re going to--.”
I punched him in the stomach and wrenched the remote out of his hands. Mom and the shrink shouted at me. I didn’t care. I had to see it for myself. I turned the TV back on. I screamed. It was Leela, there, on the TV. She was a cartoon!!
“I’m sorry, Lars.”
I turned around. It was Leela. She was standing behind the couch, looking at me, tears in her eye.
I walked past the adults, who were now watching me intently. I stepped over the couch and approached Leela. I was shuddering fearfully.
“Leela?” I practically pleaded. “What’s going on? Why are you on the TV?”
“Because that’s me, Lars.”
I looked back. Leela was talking to a bunch of other animated characters. Amidst all of my fear and rage and confusion, I felt the strongest sensation of Déjà vu ever. It was so bad it was like a headache, scratching my skull from the inside.
“You watched this before, Lars,” Mom said. “About a month ago. You saw it.”
“No!” I said quietly. “I couldn’t have! I can’t remember it!”
“Lars,” Leela said. “If you hadn’t seen it I wouldn’t be here.”
“Don’t say that!” I said. “Don’t talk like that! You’re not a TV character! You’re real! You’re REAL!!”
“Lars,” the shrink said, “there’s no one there.”
My eyes were wide with terror. Sweat was dripping down my forehead.
“YES THERE IS!” I shouted at him. “SHE’S RIGHT HERE! JUST LOOK AT HER! LOOK AT HER!”
Leela started to back away. I was crying. “I’m sorry, Lars. I’m sorry you had to end up like this. You wanted so badly to live your life. So I came to help you.”
“I DON’T CARE ABOUT THAT ANYMORE! ALL I CARE ABOUT IS YOU!!”
“Please Lars, stop saying that!” Leela shouted. “I can’t stand to see you like this!”
“Leela isn’t there, Lars,” the shrink said. “She’s not real.”
I fell to my knees and clutched my ears. “SHE’S REAL! SHE’S REAL! SHE’S REAL! SHE’S REAL! SHE’S REAL! SHE’S REAL! SHE’S REEEEAAALL!!!!”
Everyone rushed up and tried to put a comforting hand on me. Everyone but Leela. She stood by the back door, waving her last goodbye. I knew. Everything I had seen and heard. The party, my bruise, the branch. It was all true. I knew the truth. But I didn’t want it. For the first time I’d been happy. But why did it have to be this way?
As I knelt there, sobbing, watching her, I saw everything I’d seen in her. She was my one true love. She’d made my soul complete. And she wasn’t even real. Why did she have to leave? It wasn’t fair!
Leela let one tear drop down her cheek, and then she faded away.
“Forests are like people’s minds. They’re dark and unexplored. There’s mystery lurking in every corner, and things fester in places without you knowing about them. To enter is to explore the undiscovered self.”
Those were the words that changed my life. I still can’t remember when or where I heard them, but they were the first words I ever thought about. I just didn’t understand them.
I haven’t seen Leela since that day. I’m not sure why. The doctors say it’s because she served her purpose. Whatever that was, I regret it every day. Maybe she was supposed to make me happy. Maybe I had to live my life. Maybe I had to understand the words.
Whatever the reason, I still wish I could be with her forever.
I can still remember how beautiful she was, and how happy she made me. Everything about her was beautiful. Even her bad qualities. You could have said anything about her and I would have told you I loved it. I’ve spent most of the past month telling everyone who would listen.
Sometimes I pretend she’s still here, talking to me, walking with me on the grounds, just like we used to walk through the forest; the forest of my mind.
When that happens they take me back to my room and lock the door. That’s when I get to be with her. Because I finally understood those words.
Even in a small white room with nothing but a bed, I can find her. No matter where I go I take her with me. She is a part of me, as she always has been. My other half. My soul mate.
All I have to do to be with her…is make one more step into the forest. I close my eyes, and I dream. One more step, and the trees are there, and she is there, waiting for me to take her by the hand, and go off on our next adventure.
That’s how it works. In our enchanted place, in the forest of my mind, Leela and I will always be happy.