What are you working on now?
There's a novel, yeah, and maybe there's more than one. There are plenty of dead novels too. But I'm going to break my own rule by forgoing specifics. Instead, let's talk David Lynch; more specifically, the Twin Peaks Project, spearheaded by Shya Scanlon, the reason this excerpt is being published today, as contribution to the project as well as a capstone, the conclusion to my curating duties for Everyday Genius. Lynch, like JG Ballard (and insane, loud, violent metal music), continues to be one of my biggest influences. If I'm writing a sentence that takes a strange, unexpected turn, or outlining a concept that reveals something darker, less contemporary, more odd and surreal, than expected, I blame Lynch. With this novel, Miseryhead, I went in figuring I should embrace the Lynchian tendencies. Things got real weird. Really fucking weird. Yeah... Anyway, cheers to Lynch. Cheers to Shya Scanlon, and the Twin Peaks Project. Cheers to those that dig this excerpt. Cheers, and keep it, as always: \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/.
MY LIFE CAN BE CUT UP
My life can be cut up into a number of layers, but of the half-dozen or so that exist, only two are worth talking about.
There’s the layer involving leisure, and the layer involving a much graver, sinister longing.
With the former, it involves a lot of myself trying to enjoy the minutes and hours of my day on items and events that should be something I enjoy, but 80% of the time, don’t, I simply don’t.
There might be a laugh, a nice buzz, but I’m back to the same pool of what-ifs and worries. 80% of the time.
The other layer, one involving longing, takes over most, if not all, of this existence. It’s this idea that I should be doing something with my existence. It’s this idea that I should put something out there, being someone.
I should be the best that I can be. But no one is there to tell me if I am or if I’m not.
What they don’t know is what I choose not to tell them.
Harvey wants to be seen next to me, so I let him take the mannequin for a walk while I retreat to the locker.
I’m anxious and I don’t know why.
In the darkness and warmth of a cramped locker, I am able to relax. I relax, knowing that right about now, everything that’s said and done is ‘said and done.’
Not a single word of it is memorable.
I’m not missing anything.
I’m at wit’s end and the worst of all falls at the very end of a school day.
“Oh shit, someone really fucked up your schedule.” Harvey.
“Just… skip.” Laura.
“Petroff’s going to try to kill you!” The facelessnes of a crowd.
Sixth period I find out is none other than Principal Petroff himself, the man that, until now, I had only heard about and hadn’t a clue that he was a man that couldn’t be seen in public without wearing a suit of armor, a man full of honor codes, worry, and blame.
“I’ll try and get you out of class.” Mallory.
“What are you a creeper?” Laura to Mallory.
It’s understandable, given that Mallory shouldn’t really belong to this, the most valuable of social cliques, but as she had said, she’s a bit of a “go-betweener,” and the rest of the group isn’t as hostile to her presence.
Harvey even says “Hey.”
I’m angry and showing it, forcing the mannequin to randomly kick at lockers as we pass by. Say something like, “Fuck this!”
Reassurance from all those around me.
But I still have to go to class.
It’s proof that inevitably it’s all kept among the student body. When it comes to faculty, we are at the whim of dollar signs and seniority.
“Don’t worry,” Mallory the mannequin aside, “I’ll get you out of the class. Okay?”
Say nothing, be doubtful.
Then say “Okay,” all uncertain and despondent. The rest of them disperse for their own sixth period classes.
Laura looks back before turning the corner, eyes twinkling with curiosity. Mallory stands next the mannequin, looking right into its face.
What the hell does she see in it?
I mean to say, what is her type?
Anyway, this is where I walk away, toward the classroom in the back where a bunch of “trouble students” dread being lectured by the armor-suited psychopath himself, Principal Valentin Petroff.
Mallory in the hall by herself, thinking about the mannequin.
Valentin Petroff has us standing, not sitting as he wanders around like a drill sergeant talking to us not about how to be better people, better students, or some kind of issue with our student performance. No, he talks to us about what’s going to happen next.
Our story, “the story of our pathetic lives,” is the topic of the lecture.
Everything we hear is exclusively our own.
He addresses us collectively while pointing at us with a cardboard knight’s sword (I guess he couldn’t manage the real blade due to school regulations), exposing something about us that shouldn’t, not ever, be discussed around others.
Even if no one here is giving a shit.
All twelve of us, “You problem students, oh yes, you will learn!”
To one kid, “You will face your father, with mixed results!”
To another kid, “It will take a failed suicide to turn your story into something more than just a bleak and depressing tale of ‘yet-another-emo-kid!’”
And to me, “You will go home and discover that you can’t just forget what didn’t happen throughout the school day.”
I don’t say anything because he’s unpredictable.
Does he see the mannequin or does he see what he wants to see?
I can’t tell behind the mask of his armored suit.
The visor down, his face is his own sort of facsimile.
Whatever prevents him from having to face us, I guess.
“Every damn day, you will regret your decisions.” To the class.
At the front of the classroom, he faces all of us.
“Every damn day is edited out of a life story that has yet to complete its first act!”
One of the kids in the class interrupts, “What the fuck are you talking about?! You’re so crazy!”
Petroff stomps forward, the armor plating clashing loudly.
The kids standing to either side of the one that just said something, who I will come to know as CJ, they inch away as Petroff sends the cardboard sword towards him, stopping an inch from landing.
“This is for your own good!” Petroff.
Eyes rolling, not believing a word.
“You may think you’re fitting in but one day, one day, you will be found out!”
Sure thing Petroff.
None of our stories seem to be functional. Petroff ruins the next couple scenes for us. For me, that means Mallory breaks into Petroff’s office and uses the PA to call me to the office, getting me away from more of my story being spoiled, and then I’m thanking her in a very lax, almost nonexistent way, and then she asks, “How was your first day?”
That one’s not worth answering.
My plan is to head to locker, then to bus stop, then home, to the real safety of my basement, where I’ll be better off.
I feel like I need to shake free of the layers of tension trying to wrap around me, forcing me to stay around after school, hanging out when I should be hungering for freedom.
“A bunch of people go over to Xavier’s after school.” Mallory. Trying hard. Too hard.
I’m trying harder not to let the mannequin return to its place in my locker.
“Maybe some other time. I have to be somewhere.” Me.
“Oh,” disappointment, “well, I’m sure everyone will be looking for you. Maybe tomorrow?”
Let her off easy. “Yeah, tomorrow. That’s a possibility.”
She won’t be walking the mannequin back to the locker.
And like a good girl, she remains near the office as I leave the way I first entered the building –
A few short minutes before everyone poured out into the halls.
I return to my locker, stepping out coughing but I run anyway, right outside into the torturous sunlight and down the sidewalk, running those seven blocks to the bus stop.
Running, sprinting home.
Flicker on, flicker off, so many of them I leave confused. “Where did he go?” And maybe even a little bit of uncertainty, “His name was Blake right?” There’s always tomorrow, yeah.
But so much of me wants nothing to do with the school outside of the school day itself. No pride, no will to get along with these people outside school hours.
I run and flee like part of the day has been stolen from me.
I feel like I need to catch up.
Need to make the most of what little is left.
Michael J Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels, including The Fun We’ve Had, Mother of a Machine Gun, and The Laughter of Strangers. He serves as the Reviews Editor for Electric Literature as well as Publisher-in- Chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in innovative fiction and poetry. Find him on Facebook, Twitter (@mjseidlinger), and at michaeljseidlinger.com.