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22 November 2016 @ 11:34 pm
LJ Idol Season Ten: "Chasing The Dream"  
Chasing The Dream
idol season ten | week 1 | 754 words
I need the struggle to feel alive


People say that nothing ever happens in small towns, but I think they're just not paying attention.

Something was always going on in my town if you looked hard enough, and me? I always did.

It started when I was eight, and my mother would send me on errands to the corner store. "We need milk and eggs," she would say, counting out money to pay for the food and dashing off a quick note to the grocer.

I would go to the store and gather the things she'd asked for, and show the note to the man behind the counter. I couldn't read the note—my mother always wrote in cursive—and the grocer never said anything, but I knew those notes were secret messages. Maybe my mother was reporting on the day's activities on our street, or maybe something extra was packaged in with the food and sent home with me. Either way, I was the courier of something bigger than a simple errand.

At ten, I biked to my friends' houses over a network of ever-changing routes, in case I was being followed. I never carried anything more valuable than a couple of quarters for ice cream, but for all they knew, I could have been carrying information for my mother. Whoever "they" might have been.

I kept a diary—in code—of the things I saw around town and what I thought they meant. The mayor's wife went to the liquor store a lot—was she smuggling alcohol somewhere? Billy Traskell was taking violin lessons and he didn’t even play in the school orchestra. What was he hiding?

My friends never joined me in uncovering any of these secrets, and they weren't particularly interested in what I found.

"God, not this again," Pete would say if I suggested biking downtown to watch the comings and goings at City Hall for a few hours.

Ted Barker was no help, either. "Can't you just have, like, a normal life?"

None of them seemed to realize that my way was a lot more exciting than theirs. I mean, watching TV and playing catch was okay, but what about adventure and intrigue? Why settle for the ordinary stuff?

My mother told me to get a new hobby and stop being so nosy. Hey, thanks for the support, Mom! Way to encourage your kid!

Nobody else was very enthusiastic about my work, either. In high school, I found out Coach Waters was running numbers on our football games. Was anyone grateful he'd been caught and disciplined? No.

"Geez Mike, no one actually wanted to know that!" they all said.

Could I help it if I thought honesty and integrity actually mattered? Which was exactly what Coach Waters used to tell us, by the way, before his gambling problem got away from him…

Now I'm in college, which is full of all kinds of new challenges. When I turned in my Freshman year take-home English final to the professor, I also handed her the solution to the cipher she'd hidden in the questions.

She gave me this sort of dazed look. "What the hell is this?" she said.

So, yeah. I think she was impressed.

Sophomore year, I got kicked out of my fraternity when a couple of guys caught me peeking through the windows of the girls' dorm.

"Dude," the frat president said, "we talk about stuff like that, but we never actually do it. What the hell were you thinking? You know that that kind of behavior is totally creepy, right?"

Yeah? Two of those girls had a major pharmaceutical enterprise going on in their room, how about that?

"Oh, for crying out loud. Just—keep it to yourself, man, you know? Seriously. Don't dig the hole deeper."

That kind of response was all too typical.

"God, what is wrong with you?" people were always saying. "Why are you always looking for puzzles everywhere?"

Why? Because without those puzzles, what was the point of doing anything?

So now I'm a Junior, majoring in business and accounting. Total snooze-fest, right? But it doesn't have to be.

After graduation, I'll go work for some big corporate firm, or maybe the I.R.S. Wherever I wind up, I'll keep doing my own form of investigating.

I'll poke through records and paperwork and Internet trails, and anything else I can find. I'll keep at it day and night until I'll figure out what people are hiding, because believe me—everybody's hiding something. Everybody.

Even if they don't know it.

-- fin –

If you liked this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.

adoptedwriteradoptedwriter on November 23rd, 2016 05:07 pm (UTC)
This was fun to read. I hope this story continues! AW
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 23rd, 2016 09:27 pm (UTC)
I love this kind of "unreliable narrator" situation, where the reader has a completely different take on what's happening that the main character does.

Though the fact that he sometimes gets results (even if they're unexpected)... that just feeds into his obsession!
Rebecca Sparrow Wanderlustrswndrlst on November 23rd, 2016 10:22 pm (UTC)

None of them seemed to realize that my way was a lot more exciting than theirs."

Wow, this was good. That ^ line jumped out at me because as a writerly type with a vivid imagination I legit like to pretend sometimes that I'm being followed or I'm a spy on a way to a rendezvous just because it's fun.

I like how sometimes he found real hidden secrets. This is funny and frightening and clever. Good job!

Edit: what does div mean?? it's a code thing right? i've seen used a lot lately and your story having to do with patterns and observations, i just had to ask

Edited at 2016-11-23 10:36 pm (UTC)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 25th, 2016 08:18 pm (UTC)
It's nice to have that sense of play in everyday life-- it gives you a different perspective on things, not to mention being fun.

To be honest, we have had two different cats at times who sometimes run around scaring themselves for entertainment-- so you can see how widespread that appeal is!

I had to look up "div," because I think of it as pseudo-code for "divide" (vs. modulo), but you probably mean the HTML version? It allows you to group things under a particular style, where you state style elements in the opening statement, and then show where the block ends with the /div. It stands for "Divider" (as in, I've divided this document into sections. This one begins here).

There's a tutorial on it here that has a decent explanation and shows some examples of what the output looks like. Hope that helps!
(no subject) - rswndrlst on November 26th, 2016 01:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on November 26th, 2016 06:58 am (UTC) (Expand)
rayasorayaso on November 23rd, 2016 10:49 pm (UTC)
I loved this! You are always able to evoke small towns and children so well using such concise language and imagery! I wondered, with the obsessiveness and pattern-seeking, if he didn't have a little Asberger's. God help anyone he investigates if he works for the IRS! Mike is paying a high price for his interests, and so are those around him.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 26th, 2016 07:00 am (UTC)
This is someone who is looking too hard for something exciting to be lurking under the surface of things, and once in a while he actually finds something. Anyone he sets his sights on is probably in trouble (or will be, when he's through with them). :O
cindy: misc fictsuki_no_bara on November 24th, 2016 04:20 am (UTC)
i love this! at first you think the narrator just has a good imagination, and then you realize... he's kind of crazy. it's a really nice kind of slow burn.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 26th, 2016 07:02 am (UTC)
When you're a kid, it could so easily be an active imagination. But as you get older, it sounds a little paranoid.

Now, how will anyone persuade him that he's inventing things out of thin air when he sometimes finds something real? He'll think he just needs to try harder...
lilmissmagic71lilmissmagic71 on November 24th, 2016 06:35 am (UTC)
Way cool! A fun read... :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 27th, 2016 06:56 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! :)
A Karmic Sandbox: Mona Lisa Impressionkarmasoup on November 25th, 2016 07:20 pm (UTC)
This makes me think of what I imagine it must have been like for John Nash as he began to suffer symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. Was sad to lose him last year.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 27th, 2016 07:53 pm (UTC)
The paranoia is a little advanced here, but it isn't quite like what Nash went through-- poor man. Schizophrenia is so cruel. You can quiet some of the symptoms, but you can't really resolve it the way you can most depression or other mental illnesses. There's no turning the clock backwards. It's amazing what he was able to accomplish while fighting through that.
morettaallstarmorettaallstar on November 25th, 2016 10:58 pm (UTC)
I like this type of story a lot, where the character is the protagonist of their story in their own mind. Well written!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 27th, 2016 07:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Yes, he certainly imagines his life to be "bigger" than it actually is, and will sometimes accidentally make it so! To the woe of other people... :O
mamas_minion: Confused Minionmamas_minion on November 25th, 2016 11:01 pm (UTC)
I really hope Mike doesn't become a part of the IRS. that would be a bad thing not only for him but a lot of other people.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 27th, 2016 07:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, can you imagine? He would find _something_, and much of the time it would be an innocent mistake, but that wouldn't save his poor victims from an audit and possible fines and fees. :O
Direst Ryl: Diana Trentryl on November 26th, 2016 12:17 am (UTC)
I did not expect that ending. I was thinking he was going to drop out and become a private eye, but no he was going on to even more mischief. :D
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 27th, 2016 07:56 pm (UTC)
Hahaha! Exactly. :D

I thought about having him become a PI, but really, his problem is finding schemes in ordinary life where they don't necessarily exist-- not following up actual problems he's been asked to look into!
i_17bingoi_17bingo on November 26th, 2016 01:21 pm (UTC)
...in case I was being followed.

Kids always view themselves as more important than they actually are, to an incredible degree, and you've really captured that here. And I love that you've made his child-like focus and attitude ageless. As a standalone this was really fun, but as a prologue it would be fantastic.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 27th, 2016 07:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It's true, tending to think of yourself as the center of the universe is a stage all kids go through (and often never leave or get very far away from). How can he know that nobody is even remotely interested in what he's up to? Though maybe they should be...

Nice to see you back! I hope you and yours are doing well, and the cats are out of quarantine and back home again.
(no subject) - i_17bingo on November 27th, 2016 10:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
l0retta on November 26th, 2016 03:10 pm (UTC)
i love this soooo much! and it kind of reminds me of myself XD.

People say that nothing ever happens in small towns, but I think they're just not paying attention.

Something was always going on in my town if you looked hard enough, and me? I always did.
- i've pretty much said that in so many words more than once.
and as a child i used to carry a notebook around with me and make notes about things i saw people doing that i thought were "suspicious". my grandma got me hooked on mystery shows at a young age and i became a real people watcher with an observant eye as a resilt XD
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 28th, 2016 07:48 am (UTC)
Hahaha-- I love that you were such an inquisitive child, so devoted to detail and certain those clues would add up to something.

That all comes in very handy for a writer, so that was good preparation!
(no subject) - l0retta on November 30th, 2016 09:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
Kellykajel on November 26th, 2016 03:43 pm (UTC)
Oh goodness, if he goes to work for the I.R.S., some people may be in trouble! lol I really enjoyed this.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 28th, 2016 07:48 am (UTC)
I know-- I would hate to be one of the people whose tax files fell under this guy's scrutiny!
Ellisonellison on November 27th, 2016 01:46 am (UTC)
Oh wow, this is really interesting. It was cool going from "games a kid plays" to "oh, he sounds schizophrenic." And that's when I felt sad. In abnormal psych, we watched documentaries on schizophrenia and it's so sad how homeless schizophrenics wouldn't take sandwiches from people trying to help because they "knew" the government was trying to poison them. Anyway, it's really interesting wondering what's going on with him and watching what he does and says and peoples' reactions to him. I felt like there was a lot going on in such a short piece - well done!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 28th, 2016 07:51 am (UTC)
This one definitely doesn't reach the point of schizophrenia-- he's just a little paranoid and obsessed and more than a little weird. Though I did write about a schizophrenic homeless person in the mini-season, and yes-- that is such a sad situation. Resist taking your meds (or forget to), and soon you'll be convinced that the meds are poisoning you rather than helping you. Someone mentioned a 30-day implant or injectible being tried in his town, which would be such a huge benefit to people in this situation. Longer-term stability with less risk of missing the next dose.
Teo Sayseternal_ot on November 28th, 2016 08:06 am (UTC)
Heh! Mike could have been my alter ego. I LOVE mysteries and was always fascinated by the Famous Five, Secret Seven series. This was an very interesting take and I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 28th, 2016 10:12 pm (UTC)
I always loved mysteries, too. One of my favorite childhood books was "Harriet The Spy," in addition to all the Nancy Drew books I read-- and later, Nero Wolfe and others.

If only regular life were as interesting as we would like it to be!
kick_galvanic, zagzagael, skull_theatrebleodswean on November 28th, 2016 04:48 pm (UTC)
Oooooh! Great job on this slightly anxiety-inducing read! :) I love how sympathetic you made this character and their self-imposed struggle!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on November 28th, 2016 10:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

Boy, when personal entertainment becomes the only obsession that keeps a person going, we are all in trouble. Who doesn't have secrets, including ones they're not even aware of?