Last time, I posted a short story “Gift of Healing” to advertise for my upcoming eBook, Mabutay’s Lyric. This month’s post is…pretty much the same. As is the case with “Gift of Healing,” “Bottle of Insanity” will feature characters that appear in the ebook. Hope you enjoy!
Bottle of Insanity
By LG Alfonso
My hair roots are burning. My tongue is burning. My throat is burning. I can’t breathe. I can’t stop choking.
The grip on my head finally loosens. I swallow the last of the salt and bend over, gasping and wheezing.
“That’ll teach you to keep your mouth clean, Timothy Pardel.”
My shoulders ache. My back aches. My legs ache. My feet ache. How much time do I have left of this?
The door opens. I take a glance and see the almighty Reverend Gelere fixing me with a glare. He humphs before removing the backpack of rocks.
“Perhaps now, you understand the importance of reading the Holy Proverbs.”
It’s been a week since my exile started. I have a little water to spare, but I ran out of food this morning. I don’t dare go back yet. If I come back to town even an hour early, then my exile will start all over again.
Finally, I see my father approaching. He sighs before leading me back to town.
“If you would just—”
“Timothy, please don’t interrupt me.”
“Dad, I don’t even know if I want to be a merchant!”
There. I said it. His attention is finally on me. He stares at me for a long time, surprised, before he puts his fork down.
“Timothy, what will you do with your life? Science?”
“You know I don’t want to—”
“Why would I want to—”
“I barely even understand legal terms!”
“Then it’s settled. You’ll be my apprentice this summer. And when you’re ready, you’ll take over the business.”
The conversation echoes in my head as I leave the dinner table and stomp up to my room. I slam the door closed and kick the bookshelf, knocking a few books to the floor. I pick one up—the Holy Proverbs. Ulgh! I throw it. It hits the wall with a bang! and thumps to the floor.
I have to get out of here. I have to get away. Far away.
There’s an old bag at the bottom of my closet. I pull it out and throw some clothes inside at random. Then I hide it under my bed and bury myself under the covers, waiting.
I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I won’t be anything like my dad or Reverend Gelere if I can help it.
Sometime later, I hear footsteps coming upstairs. A soft knock on the door. An even softer “goodnight, Timmy” from my foster mother. The lights go out. No sound.
I quietly pull the bag back out from under the bed and sneak downstairs. My lifesavings are hidden in a drawer in the kitchen. I take it all and put it in my bag, and I take a few cans of nonperishable food too. My parents were the ones who kept track of how much I’d saved from weekly allowances and odd jobs, but I should at least have enough for a ticket out of here.
I don’t look back as I walk away from the house.
I jolt awake. The train is pulling into the Pepperville station. I stretch my muscles before taking my bag and stepping off.
Pepperville isn’t too far from Mabutay Valley, but already everything feels so different. The grass is greener, the hubbub is louder, and the air is cleaner. I breathe in deeply.
…and hungry. And…maybe a little lonely. I’d left everyone behind without even a note. Maybe Aidan would’ve…no, that wouldn’t have worked. Aidan’s a horrible liar, his aunt and uncle would’ve found out the moment I showed up on their doorstep. And they’d drag me back without question. There’s no other way and no turning back.
I check my life-savings with a frown. The train ticket cost more than I thought it would…I’ll have to plan my next move carefully. My stomach grumbles again.
Time for some protein.
I walk around town looking for a decent (cheap) place to eat. It’s Saturday, so I see more kids my age, showing off their Talents and getting into fights. I could get used to this place…but then, my foster parents are bound to go looking for me. And who knows what punishment the almighty Reverend Gelere would give me for running away? I’d have to go farther if I don’t want them to find me.
Finally, I find a place that looks good and step inside. The first thing I see is a tall, thin man standing by the window, a small microphone taped to his face, while onlookers watch him.
“And speaking of dictators of small towns, here’s a Gelere knock-knock joke for you: knock-knock, HOW DARE YOU?!?”
The other patrons laugh hard. In one second the man vanishes with a puff of smoke, and in the next second he appears next to another customer.
“Pardon me, miss, what’s your name?”
He looks her over quickly. “But you don’t look purple.”
She rolls her eyes as the other customers giggle. “My mom’s favorite color.”
“And what does mom’s favorite color do for a living?”
“I’m an environmentalist.”
“Oh, so you’re a tree hugger?” He teleports back to his spot by the window, hugging a plastic tree and taking its branch in his hand like he wants to kiss it. “Oh, darling…with leaves so green and bark so coarse, how can I resist your charms? Oh, but you’re plastic! This will never do! You’re a cheap copy of real beauty, is what you are! Shame on you!” He goes at this for another minute or two before he teleports to another person in the crowd—some twenty-year-old who looks both happy and gassy. “Hey, sonny, where you from?”
“I’m a college student from Bostago, and I’m a huge fan!”
The guy disappears, replaced by a giant, paper fan.
“Well, now you are,” the comedian says, and the student reappears after another puff of smoke. The comedian teleports back again, this time in front of me. “And where are you from, kid?”
“Uh…M-Mabutay Valley, sir.”
“Oh, you poor thing.”
Even I can’t help but laugh.
“You must be familiar with the esteemed Reverend Gelere, we were just making jokes about him. So tell me…does Mai ever get drunk?”
“I mean, look at us. Look at half our Talents. Look at the platypus. Come on, Mai had to have been drunk when he created the platypus. He must’ve been like ‘I’m getting tired of this, but I’ve still got three days left of creation to go. I’ll just take a break and take a shot of strawberry peach vodka, and another, and another…you know, I’ll just let the alcohol do the work.’”
The crowd explodes, but I stand there in shock. He just told an alcohol joke and got away with it. This man is my hero.
He teleports back to the window and looks serious for a moment.
“You know, when you get to be as old as I am, you think about your younger years a lot. Nothing’s more depressing than remembering how spry you used to be in the days where everything in life just hates you. Those years where it feels like nothing goes right for you? Me, I had so much energy bottled up inside and no outlet for it. I couldn’t sit still, and I always got in trouble for it. My laugh was so hysterical and high pitched that I scared off all the ladies. I had the energy of a chipmunk who swallowed a year’s worth of sugar, caffeine, and energy oil in one gulp. I had all the emotion and joy of a former drug user who discovered rehab and realized it was all part of Mai’s plan.”
A few chuckles.
“When I was a teenager, I had some serious dance moves. I wanted to act, I wanted to dance, I wanted to move around and around and around until I got dizzy and puked on every audience member who heckled me. The problem? I was too tall. No, really. Even by Dutch-Aninoan standards, I was too tall for high school drama. Play director’s words, not mine. For a long time, I considered surgically removing half of my shins. I mean, come on, do we really need those gazillion inches of lower leg? That’s just nuts.
“If I knew then what I know now, I’d tell myself ‘you’re crazy, Liam, and that’s your strength. They can take away your love of dancing, they can take away your youth, they can even take away your lower legs. But this here in your heart? This little bottle of insanity you’ve got? This is the fuel for your soul. This is what keeps you alive. This is what really helps you breathe. If they take that away, you’ve got nothing left. It doesn’t matter if you have a healthy body or a king’s fortune or a million fans. If you don’t have this bottle of insanity to keep your soul alive, you’re as good as dead. So for the love of Mai, keep that bottle of insanity. Keep your soul alive. Because one day, you’ll be traveling the country telling jokes. And in your very own hometown, you’ll have an entire crowd of people turning their backs shouting ‘Forget you!’ Thank you, everybody!”
The rest of the café springs up and applauds as he bows over and over again. My stomach is both hungry and sore…but damn, it feels good. He said he was traveling…I check just in time to see him standing next to stacks of books by the counter, selling and signing to an already long line. The colorful explosion of a sign standing next to him reads “Signed joke books by Liam W.B. Sirloni.” I check the price and then check the rest of my life-savings. Maybe with just a small investment…
Finally, it’s my turn.
“Hey, kid! Mabutay Valley, right?”
“Y-yes, sir. My name’s Timmy.”
He gives a nod while writing in the hardcopy joke book. “Where’s your family, kid?”
I freeze. “U-uh, right outside. We…snagged a table?”
There aren’t any tables outside. Sirloni fixes me with that look my foster mother always gives me when I try to get out of reading the Proverbs book. He knows.
“You must be hungry. Grab a table, and I’ll join you when I’m wrapped up here. Order whatever you like, it’s on me.”
I think my heart stops beating. He knows, and he’s not getting me into trouble. “Thank you!”