Friday, December 18, 2009

Silver Bullet

I sit in back, behind your sycophants. Schizophrenic mouse brain cross-sections fill the projection screen. Your nasal drone bores me, so I surf the net. Of course, I know these data -- this is my work of which you talk.

Spit gathers in my mouth. But I close my eyes so I do not have to see your white hairy face, and breathe deep: Truth is virtue.

You cannot steal my energy.

When I open my eyes you are small again. I boot-up my laptop. Headlines flash on tweetdeck.

Stocks up at bell’s open.
Explosion at Afghan prison kills 9.
Lockdown @ V-Tech - gunman still at large.

I click. The url takes me to Blacksburg, a place I do not know. But I do know this school, this Virginia Tech. Two cousins went there, long ago. Now they teach in Cali.

“Compound J-23 induces glial cell regeneration.” You point the laser at the dendrite’s pink-stained branches. “In other words, my compound rebuilds the brain’s hardwiring!”

Our compound.

“The dual efficacy of J-23, so novel among antipsychotic agents, is why the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health have funded my work.”

Three students down.
Professor dies in classroom.

The silk bow-tie flaps around your fatty neck, gobble-gobble like a turkey. Your hypocrisy at the seat of truth nauseates me. I turn back to the news, imagine you cowering behind your desk, shitting your pants in fear, and smile.

“J-23 is a perfect silver bullet for refractory schizophrenia,” you say. “As well, as you can see in these tables, it also reduces symptoms of mania and anxiety.”

Chairman Professor, you fail to mention the serious side effect. But I know you will not. Not while I sit before you. I reach into my backpack, to make sure. Yes, yes, my dissertation is still here. I am proud of my work, it is a contribution to the field, but you refuse to sign. You do not tell me why you refuse.

At first, I believe you refuse because you think I am stupid. You think all of us Chinese not so smart because we hesitate before we speak. We know because when you talk to us, your voice gets loud and you enunciate every syllable. We only wish to be precise – it is Chinese nature.

Now I think you refuse because of that night last year. I worked late, past midnight, we had a grant proposal to submit. You came in from a dinner, surprising me.

“We could be such a team,” you whispered, your liquor breath hot on my neck. You pressed me against the bench. When I struggled, you covered my mouth with your hand. I closed my eyes when you unzipped my pants. You did not forgive me when I cried afterwards.

“We do not air our laundry,” you said before leaving me on the cold floor. The next day I switched advisors. You did not forgive me that either.

3 professors, 13 students dead in engineering hall
Multiple shooters feared

You disgust me. I click on the blog, the one I made in case you refuse me again. It is linked to a sham account no one can trace to me. One post holds three pages. My experiment, the one where six mice treated with J-23 bit and clawed each other to death. You left that part out of the grant proposals. You know of this finding, your name is on the report. Scanners make so much easy.

Now, I am finished my work. I am to become Doctor of Philosophy, just like you. But you do not sign the papers. Because of you, I do not graduate, do not accept post-doc. I lose visa and now, I will return to Guizhou Province to teach biology to children. All these years, a waste.

I feel the hotness in my head, behind my eyes. I close the blog and stare at the news.

Gunman shoots self
Shooter identified, sophomore student Cho

Cho. Korean. Stupid, he should know violence is not the way of justice. He gives us Asians a bad name.

You stop talking. The students pack away their computers. I wait until everyone leaves. Then, I go to the front, to you. I bring my dissertation. You look up from the podium. Your jaw hardens.

“Yes?” you say.

“Please, Professor, sign off on my thesis,” I say.

You shake your head. “Fatal flaw.”

Hypocrite. You never read my work. You should, it is about our compound. But you refuse to read at your peril.

“Data limitation,” I reply softly. “It is good research.”

“We have a level of excellence to maintain.” You close your book and walk away.

My breath heaves in my chest. I walk to the back desk. The hotness returns. This time, I let the tears come. When my eyes dry, I click on the blog. It takes a second to paste the url into tweetdeck, a few more to address the link: @NSF, @NIH, @reuters, @AP, @googlenews, @Fox.

I push update.


As described HERE, I am participating in the DZANC Book Write-a-Thon to raise awareness and funds for all the great work this small independent press does for emerging writers and young people's writing groups. If you believe in their mission, please help out and CLICK HERE AND DONATE UNDER MY NAME - Linda Wastila.

The above very experimental fridayflash was written for this effort in response to this prompt:

For purposes of the write-a-thon, we'd like to have everyone write a piece - a poem, short story, nonfiction, memoir, etc - where some bit of news that a character has come across via the reports on the internet affects the events of a particular story. This can be the major motivating focus of a piece - a character hears about starving children in Kenya and decides to fly off to work for Doctors without Borders - or some minor thing - a news report of a fire working as a metaphor or motif within the piece.

Please give generously. I'll be raffling off a copy of LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES (Peter Selgin, Dzanc Books) top everyone who drops some change.

Peace, Linda


  1. The story fits the DZANC brief well.

    I salute the courage of your protagonist.

  2. Nicely written. This piece held my interest.

  3. multi-tasking - the dilemma of every conference goer. well done. fatty necked warblers don't deserve much attention..

  4. Terse, angry fiction. I like. Very affective. But what a horrible man!

  5. I had the HARDEST time with this prompt. Then, a real-life tiff with a fellow faculty member and viola! Real life made into fiction.

    It still needs work - any and all suggestions welcome. Peace, Linda

  6. I loved it, got really involved in the story! I want more!

  7. A gripping piece, Linda. The buildup and reveal was done very skillfully, great pacing.

    By the way, what a stupid arrogant bastard... just sign the dissertation and cut her loose.

  8. Interesting - Tony said 'her' while I was thinking 'him'.
    Very gripping piece, Linda.

  9. I am officially a fan or your writing. This is a success on so many levels. First and foremost being that it is (sadly) believable. It also stands on its own without knowing the prompt. And you really pull off the feeling for the reader that they're in a slow-motion car accident which we cannot prevent. The ticking clock, the desire to change the dynamics, the horrible knowledge that we won't be able to. Excellent.

  10. Excellent work, Linda. I think you did a great job with the prompt. I love pieces like this--so many things going on on so many levels--all the big questions are dancing. Ethics. Politics. Prejudice. Sexual violence. The origins/causes of physical violence. Brava!

  11. Ah sweet conflict: it's the engine driving every good story and sometimes it is the fertilizer for the imagination. Good work, que Linda.


  12. Linda,
    Your writing raises the bar for me. I love it when you experiment like this. Fantastic write to improv. It leaves me feeling very disturbed.

    It's a wonder that this stuff can come out of such a sweet chirpy person.

    I will definitely be checking out the link above.


  13. Yes, I'm with Laura, I thought the protagonist was male (and at first I had it in mind that the awful prof. was a woman and kinda got that stuck in my head even though it was clearly a man).

    For whatever reason, I really eat this up and want to hear more about the crazy politics and corruption of academia.

  14. I liked how you handled this. I liked the choppy, broken English-as-a-Second-Language cadence in the sentences. You added just enough to make it ring true without over doing it, and with none of the usual phonetic spelling tricks so many (like me!) resort to.

    A job well done and a good, tense read.

  15. Great piece, Linda. The tie in with Virginia Tech was particularly disturbing. Unfortunately this kind of junk goes on in PhD programs all the time. I love that the protag had a way to get even, but am still sad at all those years, which will still remain wasted. Hope the Write-a-Thon goes well.

  16. Thanks for reading folks. I'm still editing this piece a bit, it feels unfinished...

    The V-Tech piece served as the internet element called for in the prompt. I liked juxtaposing the violence of that tragedy against the decision of the narrator which is, in a sense, itself a violent act.

    This story is based, in part, on two true and disparate events I've witnessed whilst in the Ivory Tower. Violence and disrespect are common here; funny how college and collegiality come from the same word root. Survival of the fittest is the name of the academic game, and quality of work rarely plays the largest or only factor in 'success'.

    (And friends wonder why SURVIVOR is my favorite television show (indeed, the only show I watch on a regular basis other than INTERVENTION). Politics is politics, and they're just as raw and horrible in universities as on desert islands.)

    Gender of my MC... hmmm... not sure. Started out female, but the voice has a male edge to it. Take your pick, either works.

    Thanks again for reading -- and if you enjoyed please take a minute to contribute to the DZANC write-a-thon!

    Peace, Linda

  17. Yes, I did think MC was female.

    Having a family member in the Ivory Tower, I do know violence and disrespect is all part of the game.

    Your story really captured and gripped!

    You are a very, very good writer...

  18. Great voice for the narrator (female, for me!), the quiet anger comes out very well, as does the disgust. Nice job with working in the news from V-Tech, too!

  19. An excellent flash to the prompt, Linda. I love science, and when mixed with romance and violence, whoa, watch out! Great unfolding of backstory too.

  20. Powerful flash, as is, but should you flesh it out I'm sure it'll make a powerful longer story.

  21. Powerful indeed. You tied so many social..things together in such a short space Linda. Wow.

  22. Love this kind of build up, and so appropriate for the prompt.

  23. Great flash Linda. Powerful and riveting. Super job tying in current events with her emotional state. I couldn't stop reading.

  24. This piece breaks my heart. So much of this type of thing goes on all over the world. As usual your work is exceptional.

  25. Well done Linda, well done...

  26. Thank you all for reading! Peace, Linda

  27. Awesome piece, Linda! It left me wanting more. (Voyeuristically, I really want to watch as the SOB gets it, but it's so compelling as you left it!)

  28. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.