“Sea of Strangers” by Michael M. Jones
(Originally published in Inscription.)
There was a weird vibe in the halls before first period today. As I made my way towards homeroom, weaving between people with experienced ease, I picked up a thousand different emotions– everything you’d expect from a building packed to the gills with hormone-ridden teenagers and long-suffering adults– and something new, strange, and impossible to identify. A slippery, elusive, emotional flavor that tinted the rest without revealing itself. It poked at my subconscious, put me on edge, made me just a little careless. I bounced off a man-mountain wearing a football letter jacket, and got a snarled, “Watch it, lesbo,” for my troubles. The shove he gave me wasn’t gentle; I stutter-stepped away, trying to regain my balance.
It was going to be one of those days. Some people hate Mondays; this was proof that Tuesdays could be just as bad, given the opportunity.
Sometimes, it really sucks to be queer and out in high school. I blame the combination of pack and herd mentalities. Those who aren’t preying on the weak and different, are shunning those who don’t belong… and every group has a different idea of what’s appropriate. Unfortunately, when you draw a Venn diagram of “different” and “doesn’t belong,” the overlap tends to include people like me. The black-clad loner types with few friends and a thing for the same sex.
Michael M. Jones lives in Southwest Virginia, with too many books, just enough cats, a plaster penguin, and a wife who once clothes-lined a legendary author without remorse or mercy. His fiction has appeared in such anthologies as B is for Broken, Clockwork Phoenix 3, and A Chimerical World. He also edited Scherazade’s Facade and the forthcoming Schoolbooks & Sorcery.
Author’s Note: “Sea of Strangers” came about when I asked myself the question, “What would I have feared most in high school?” The answer: losing my individuality. And so I explored the idea of my heroes fighting to restore the individuality of their peers–the same people who can simultaneously be your best friends and worst enemies. With Aud and Charm, I wanted protagonists who defied the traditional mold, who embraced diversity, and who, most importantly, possessed immense amounts of internal individuality. As usual, this story takes place in the city of Puxhill, home to many of my other adventures, and features a guest appearance by Irene, who can also be found in “The Secret Life of Ramona Lee,” which is available in my reprint collection, Puxhill by Night. (Caution: adults only for those stories!)
About the Narrator:
Heidi Hotz is a voiceover artist with a range of personalities who has been in the industry for more than 10 years, and has worked on TV commercials, radio, documentaries, audio fiction, and narration in general. She can be found at Voices.com.