Day 10 of My 13 Horrifically Silly Days of Halloween – Allison McWood and her 2nd ChapterRegan Macaulay
Without further ado, here is Chapter 2 from Allison McWood’s I Broke the World: A Rollicking Dystopian Comedy…
I Broke the World: A Rollicking Dystopian Comedy
By Allison McWood
(SEVERAL MONTHS EARLIER)
Clarity burbled her lips as she gaped at her reflection in the mirror. Holding up a rather wholesome, floral frock, still on the hanger, a sinking feeling of self-conscious disappointment overwhelmed her. She looked practically translucent with her alabaster skin and stringy strawberry blond hair dangling limply over her face. Somehow the dress looked more worldly hanging on a rack at the thrift shop. But then, Clarity was not expecting to go anywhere important. She rarely left her compact apartment. The protective, concrete walls of the Brutalist residential tower block kept her safe.
Outside was too people-y.
The frock dress would have to do. She wasn’t sure the whole Baptist church lady motif was the look she was going for but what other choice did she have? Her closet was lined with a perfectly symmetrical row of identical, white T-shirts. Up until now her only intention was to blend. To not draw attention to herself. But people are supposed to stand out in job interviews, right? Make an impression? Speak to an actual person? Make direct eye contact?
Clarity suddenly felt seasick.
The dress slipped onto Clarity’s willowy body quite easily, fitting her like a potato sack. Clarity liked it that way. No need to draw attention to her hips or anything else that might suggest a womanish silhouette. She could not emotionally tolerate the feeling of people looking at her. She could sense people’s opinions like a million, stinging tattoo needles pricking every nerve ending in her skin. What if they disapproved of her hair color? Her stutter? Her blinking compulsion? Her bony elbows? Her life choices? What if society cancelled her? What would happen to her blog?
Clarity winced as she bunched clumps of frock in her fists. Frumpy. Pathetic. Unprofessional. Why couldn’t Daryl De Voort conduct a nice, anonymous phone interview like a normal person? It was too late to go shopping for a pant suit and even if that were a possibility, the situation would end calamitously. Pant suits gave Clarity stress hives. Pant suits and all that pant suits imply. Such attire is meant for women with poise and ultra-short, power haircuts. Not anemic, socially awkward bloggers who ugly cry whenever they have to order a coffee.
“Mmmfff!” Clarity whimpered, clutching her chest as her computer made a startling noise, alerting her of an incoming video call. Her heart gradually reduced tempo when she noticed her father’s face on the screen. The jovial face of Torrence Trout, whose cheeks and button nose were perpetually pinkish, despite the lack of windchill or alcohol.
“Da,” Clarity stuttered, sliding into an uncomfortable, wooden chair as it screeched across the cement floor.
“You’re wearing color,” Torrence said, his eyes bulging with wonder.
Clarity blinked hard. “Job interview. Today.”
“In person?” Torrence asked, quirking a solemn eyebrow. Clarity swallowed hard, hiding behind a fringe of wispy hair. “You didn’t tell me about this.”
“Didn’t want to disappoint you, Da,” Clarity said, barely audible. “If things didn’t work out. It’s big, Da. The interview is with a major news outlet. Ever heard of Verisimilitude Media?”
“I…I suppose you wouldn’t,” Clarity blinked. “It’s very urban. This could be my big breakout. I…I’m not the best at landing interviews and the other three I did were duds. This could be my chance.”
Torrence groaned like a deflating helium balloon. “You’ve got your blog,” he droned gingerly. “Why put yourself through…”
“I’m a…” Clarity stuttered with a hard blink. “I’m a journalist, Da. I did college by correspondence.”
“Your blog is very good,” Torrence nodded slowly and reassuringly. “You don’t have to go out there, Clare Bear. You can stay in your cocoon. Or come home to the mushroom farm. This big, creaky house is so empty…”
“My blog is just a bunch of…I just…I write quality control reviews about refrigerators. I…” Clarity stuttered, “I want to write something important. I want to serve a purpose. I…” Clarity whispered confidentially, scoping the room for imaginary moles. “I reckon people think I’m…off.”
“If you tell me refrigerators are important, I’m going to ralph all over myself on… on this here frock. Then what’ll people think?”
Torrence bit his lower lip.
“I…I’m a grown-up, Da. I have a… a diploma.” “I worry sometimes.”
Clarity blinked hard.
“Why did you ever move to the city?”
“To…to be a journalist, Da. I…I want this so bad. Why else would I be torturing myself in this urban nightmare? With all these…all these people everywhere? People give me hives.”
“I have a fern.”
“You were so happy here on the mushroom farm.”
“How are things?” Clarity stammered, trying desperately to change the subject. “On the mushroom farm?”
“Subsisting,” Torrence dimpled. “But grateful. I’m particularly proud of the creminis this season. Got a deal with a local pizzeria down the hill. Giuseppe. From Naples, I think. Nice guy. He’s gonna’ source all his mushrooms locally. Doesn’t get more local than us,” Torrence chuckled, shaking his head fondly. “It’s not the same around here without you though. I miss your ephemeral presence wafting down the stairs every morning, sniffing around for toast.”
“I…” Clarity blinked. “I want to be a journalist. More than anything, Da. It’s all I ever really wanted to do. I…I can’t express… I express myself better in writing. I…need…expression. I want to be…heard.”
“Your blog though…”
“The blog is just…just buying me time.”
“We have a local newsletter here in the village.”
“I just worry, is all.”
“Please don’t make this harder.”
“Such a modest girl with such big goals.”
“I need this, Da.”
“Try to manage your expectations, okay? If it gets to be too much…” “Da, I promised Ma.” Torrence whistled a slow exhale.
“All she wanted was for me to be…” Clarity stumbled, blinking hard. “…to be happy. She made me promise I’d give it all I had. Never give up until I made it…big. She knew I could. Even though I’m not always sure.”
“S’pose you can’t break a promise with your ma.”
Clarity closed her eyes and exhaled softly through her nostrils.
“I do believe in you, Clarity.”
“You’ve got the talent. It’s just…”
Clarity squinted interrogatively at the screen.
“Eye contact and a firm handshake,” Torrence advised. “Just as important as talent. Remember that, okay?”
Pearls of sweat formed on Clarity’s forehead. “Oh God…” she whimpered.
The hallway was empty. Clarity secretly thanked God for peepholes. She could slip discreetly out of her apartment and avoid human interaction on her way to the elevator. Once outside, she could disintegrate into the throng of people, anonymously walking like currents of fish through the city streets. She didn’t realize she was holding her breath until she had a mild dizzy spell. Her face felt hot, and her eyes were stinging and reddening.
All this for a measly job interview.
Dammit, Daryl De Voort.
This could have been a phone call.
The empty hallway smelled like boiling marshmallow root as she brisked-walked towards the elevator, keeping her eyes on the cement floor. The twenty-third floor was perpetually quiet, which influenced Clarity’s apartment choice. Apparently, the unit next door was haunted which would discourage any normal person from renting on the twenty-third floor. But Clarity didn’t seem to mind. She figured the fewer neighbors she had, the fewer paper bags she would have to breathe into. Her only neighbors were a centenarian across the hall who had lived there since the tower block opened, and a doomsday prophet in apartment 2303 who ranted eschatologically on the street corner, wearing a sandwich sign. He was more concerned with apocalyptic horsemen than he was ghosts.
Taking refuge in the elevator, Clarity blew out the air she had been hoarding in her cheeks. Another perk to living on the twenty-third floor was that the elevator was usually empty by the time it reached the top level. The challenge was going down. Every time she heard the elevator beep as it reached the next floor, a wave of nausea would well up inside her. Nothing was more disturbing than being trapped in a confined space with another human. Small talk made Clarity chafe.
One floor down. Stop.
Gripping white-knuckled to the handrail, Clarity watched with recoiling anxiety as the elevator doors opened. She was greeted by a smile which happened to be on the face of Pax MacLeod, an amiable sort dressed with professionalism in an unpretentious suit. Despite there being literally nothing intimidating about Pax, Clarity instantly diverted eye contact and turned into a pickled beet. His genuinely compassionate glow was wasted on her.
He’s looking at me.
Why is he looking at me?
Do I have a bat in the cave? Jaysus, Clarity. You know this guy. Sort of.
You know him from the elevator. And the internet?
He’s too glowy for a politician. Politicians don’t smile like that. Seems harmless.
True, the man in the elevator was largely unoffensive, even to a train wreck like Clarity Trout. But Clarity knew from prior experience that elevator rides seem eons longer while trying to be invisible. Would she sweat through her ridiculous frock right before her life-altering job interview?
You’ll smudge your mascara.
You never wear mascara.
Why did I wear mascara?
“Twenty-third floor?” Pax said as though it was the most natural thing in the world to talk to another person in an elevator.
Don’t barf, don’t barf, don’t barf, don’t barf.
“Pax,” said Pax, extending his hand. His eyes formed into crescents of friendliness.
“Wh…what does that mean?” Clarity stuttered with a hard blink.
“I’ve seen you in the elevator a few times,” Pax explained, “but we haven’t formally met.”
No response from Clarity.
With lips pursed with concern, Pax shifted gears. “Do you know Norman?” he asked. “He’s on the top floor too, isn’t he? Norman is fantastic,” he continued, smiling and shaking his head fondly. “He stops by my place a couple times a week to see how I’m doing. Sweetest guy. So much verve. Must be good times up on the top floor with Norman around.”
Biting his lower lip, Pax continued.
“Level with me,” Pax said, jokingly confidential. “Is it true what they say about the unit upstairs being haunted?”
Clarity blinked hard.
“Back home in the Hebrides,” Pax continued with a gleam of enthusiasm, “ghosts are kind of a big deal. Almost like they’re part of the community. There was this one time in Stornoway…”
Clarity squeezed her eyes shut, hoping if she concentrated hard enough, she could teleport herself somewhere else. A place that lacked Paxes.
“Is everything okay?” Pax asked, cocking his head at Clarity who was now murmuring unintelligibly under her breath. “Are you in distress? Need assistance? Is there someone I should call?”
Pull it together.
The things he must be thinking.
Why can’t I control…
Why does this have to happen to me EVERY time I’m in an elevator?
Maybe if I keep my eyes squeezed shut and focus hard enough, he’ll dematerialize.
Sigh of relief.
“See you around,” Pax said in a way that did not make Clarity want to crawl in a hole and die. “Oh, and here’s my…”
Clarity’s eyes bulged when Pax pulled a business card out of his pocket and humbly handed it to her.
“You sure you’re okay?” Pax asked, tilting his head quizzically.
Clarity nodded, but only in her imagination. In real life she was staring blankly, somewhat like a fainting goat in that brief moment before it buckles into a coma.
He’s clearly not a sociopath, please don’t cry.
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry…
Damn tear ducts.
“Call if there’s anything I can do, okay?” Pax said, trying futilely to make eye contact with Clarity. “I’m around if there’s something you need help with. I don’t mind. It’s kind of my thing.”
By the time Clarity opened one eye to scope her surroundings, Pax had already unoffensively slipped out of the elevator like a normal person, waving at someone with a smile the moment he stepped outside.
“That went well,” Clarity croaked hoarsely to herself.