Tina, Destroyer of Worlds
1136 words long
She canâ€™t do anything about her teacher or the other kids. But the universe is hers....
Notes from the author:
Like most fictionettes, this one has a backstory that, due to word count and time constraints, didnâ€™t make it onto the page. Tina, it turns out, is sort of an alternate history version of me.
When youâ€™re a kid diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness, there areâ€”roughly speakingâ€”two ways your friends might respond. They might rally around you, give you love and support, and, should worst come to worst, make the most of having you in their lives for what little time remains.
Or they might abandon you utterly, finding the whole idea too uncomfortable to face. They might decide that, should worst come to worst, watching you die and saying goodbye will be just too hard to bear. So they opt out. They pretend youâ€™ve already died, and they adjust. They might figure, if by some miracle you survive, well, they can patch it up then, when itâ€™s safe to come out from hiding. Only of course they never do. They know, and you know, that they abandoned you when you needed them the most. Friendships donâ€™t come back from that easily.
I was lucky. The vast majority of my friends chose door number one. Tinaâ€™s friends didnâ€™t.
Admittedly itâ€™s no excuse for destroying whole solar systems, but as a supervillain origin story itâ€™s plausible enough.
Tina looks up from her personal galaxy when Mr. Bertramâ€™s nagging voice becomes too strident to ignore. â€œTina? Tina!â€ Reluctantly, Tina allows her gaze to focus on less cosmic distances. â€œSorry to drag you down from whatever cloud city youâ€™re currently inhabiting,â€ Mr. Bertram sneers, â€œbut would you please do the class a favor, and solve this equation for X?â€
His baton thwacks the chalkboard. Muffled giggles scatter across the sixth grade classroom. Tina rolls her eyes and affects a bored voice. â€œIf 24 equals 6X, X equals 24 divided by 6. X equals 4.â€ She does not say, Will that be all? Can I go now? but she thinks it very loudly.
Mr. Bertram pauses a reluctant moment. â€œCorrect.â€ But heâ€™s not mollified. â€œAnd you will see me after class.â€
More giggles, louder now, bold with the teacherâ€™s presumed blessing. Tina sighs and lets her focus soften once more. Her personal galaxy leaps back into view. She flicks a wish at a handful of ice chunks and asteroids. Comets swarm the solar system. Down on the surface of a tiny green planet, fourth one out from a pair of miniature suns, the sight of so many cosmic wanderers at once inspires revelation and prophecy. Sentient lizards like human-sized T-rexes open their hands to the sky and intone worshipful phrases. Small sheep-like mammals are slaughtered in roofless temples. Their wool is carefully felted into religious iconography.
Tina alternates pure observation with gentle nudges of thought that influence the development of her Lilliputian world. The minutes until the end of class dissolve in her fierce concentration. She hasnâ€™t gotten nearly enough done by the time the bell rings. Students shove books into bags and boister out the door. Mr. Bertram sits at his desk, scribbling something on a piece of paper.
He waits until the door shuts behind the last of Tinaâ€™s classmates before looking up. â€œHere,â€ he says, holding out the yellow half-sheet. It has his signature and a blank below for her parents to sign. At the top, a number in a column of numbers has been circled, indicating ten oâ€™clock.
Tina recognizes the form. â€œDetention?â€ she blurts in disbelief.
â€œWell-spotted.â€ Mr. Bertramâ€™s voice drips with sarcasm.
â€œButâ€”but I answered your questionâ€”I got it rightâ€”â€
â€œYou misunderstand. You have earned Saturday detention not for inattention but for flagrant disrespect.â€ He waves a hand to cut off any further reply then points toward the door. â€œGo on. You made your impatience to be gone very clear. Get out.â€
Tina inhales sharply and draws herself up as though to deliver a scathing retort or to spit in her teacherâ€™s smug face. But all at once the futility of either reaction, of any reaction at all, crashes into her like a punch to the gut, deflating her righteous stance and filling her with helplessness. She flees the classroom before her tears can start.
Everyone else has gone to lunch. Tinaâ€™s late. Everyone will see her walk in late. Theyâ€™ll look up as the big doors open and there Tina will be. Sheâ€™ll have to bear the weight of all those eyes as she crosses the linoleum and steps up to the counter alone. Someone will whisper something to their neighbor, someone else will snicker, and then the whole lunchroom will erupt into derisive laughter and sheâ€™ll still have to find a place to sit in that crowded, hostile cafeteriaâ€”
She canâ€™t. She wants to throw up. When she gets to the stairwell at the end of the hall, she heads up instead of down. She climbs to the highest landing, leans against the locked rooftop door, slides down to the cold cement, and finally lets herself cry.
Part of her crying is sadness, and beyond sadness, despair. She has no friends, her teachers hate her, and nothingâ€™s ever going to get better. Another part of her crying is simply because sheâ€™s crying and wishes she could stop. But thereâ€™s a third part to her crying and thatâ€™s anger, just this red hot rage boiling up out her heart and aiming itself square at Mr. Bertram, and at all her classmates laughing at her, and at the whole wretched universe for conspiring to make her miserable.
She canâ€™t do anything about her teacher or the other kids. But the universe is hers. Her eyes are so blurry from tears and swollen from crying that she doesnâ€™t even have to squint to bring her personal galaxy into view. Thereâ€™s her little planet tick-ticking along peacefully beneath its binary suns, all its reptilian inhabitants and their ovine herds going about their business. They donâ€™t even know that they owe their existence to Tina. With a blast of pure fury, she causes their suns to go nova. Boom! Take that! Her field of vision goes white as the little solar system is engulfed.
If only she could do that to Mr. Bertram.
After a while she calms down and begins to regret her hasty action. Sheâ€™d put a lot of work into that world. Well, she can always start over. She settles down to do just that, scanning the galaxy for another planet well-suited for complex life forms. There, that little ocean-blue ball third out from an encouragingly young yellow dwarf. Look, itâ€™s already bustling with life. Itâ€™s like it was just waiting for her to come pick up where she left off.
She gathers herself up off the floor and makes her way back downstairs to the classrooms. The hall clock shows five minutes to physics. She likes physics. Her physics teacher actually seems to like her, too, or at least to appreciate a sixth-grader with a head for astronomy.
Somethingâ€™s wrong, though. That focused, involved joy in manipulating planets and their populations is greatly lessened now. Itâ€™s like thereâ€™s no point. With a startled gasp that draws a few looks from her nearest classmates, Tina realizes why. If she can destroy whole worlds with a careless thought, if everything those little people on that little planet have worked for can be wiped out in a blink, then, really, what is the point, for them or for Tina herself?
Iâ€™ll never do it again. I promise, Tina thinks. And she wreathes the little blue planet in rainbows, just to show she really means it.
The classroom windows are shuttered, blinds pulled down to help darken the room for Ms. Winslowâ€™s projector. But the office where Tinaâ€™s mother works has a wall thatâ€™s all window, and all Tinaâ€™s motherâ€™s coworkers are standing beside it, looking up in wonder and murmuring to each other. A double rainbowâ€”no, triple, quadruple, more! They lose count and donâ€™t bother starting over. And they ask each other, how is it possible? It never even rained.
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