Quitter: A short story based on a workshop at Linus Pauling Middle School

This story was written after an amazing brain storming session with students at Linus Pauling Middle School. We worked together to build a character whose world was specifically tailored to help them confront their biggest emotional issue and grow. The character we created was a boy named Fred who was green and lived in a black and white world. I wrote my version of Fred’s story, and I hope some of them will do the same. When they do, I’ll share those stories here!

QUITTER.

My foot feels like it's on fire.

I don't care. It's working. My toes nails are a kind of summer cloud gray, and my skin is almost white, with a little deeper gray gathering in the creases between my toes. This is the first time my foot has ever looked normal. Ever.

The rest of my body is still a disgustingly vibrant array of greens. All different shades. There aren't even words for all the different kinds of green I am, because they aren't colors that exist in nature. Well, that's not true. I was born this way, so I guess it IS natural. Just really, really ugly.

Humans only started being born in color thirty years ago. My uncle is yellow. Probably cuz of the same genes that made me come out this way. Nobody even had words for what we are, back then. That's what he says. He thinks I have it lucky, cuz they let me go to school and stuff now that we know it's genetic and not contagious.

Lucky.

That's not the word I'd choose.

I go to school, but I can't be on any of the sports teams, or in the school play or on student council or the yearbook staff. The principle says I'd be distracting, and she's totally right. I distract myself, sometimes, when a strand of my almost yellowy green hair falls in my face. Or if I wear shorts and I catch the super dark, almost black green of my legs moving under my desk. None of my colors belong. Anywhere.

That's why I'm learning to drain.

The technique was developed by a purple woman a couple years ago. It turned her into a beautiful marble gray, with black hair and white highlights. She swears it doesn't hurt anymore, once you get used to it.

I can't even drain more than my foot without the pain becoming so unbearable that I quit. My uncle says I should stop trying. I can't. If I do that, I'll be green AND a quitter. And I still won't be on the track team.

 "Fred!" Mom calls. "It's time for dinner."

"Just a sec, Mom!" I call back.

My foot stops hurting.

Crap.

It's green again. 

I hardly touch my dinner. I can't stop staring at the blue-ish green of my toenails inside my white sandals. They're so gross. Especially next to my sister's perfect egg-shell white toenails and storm cloud skin. Why did she have to come out some beautiful, if I have to be like this?

What kind of person am I, wishing colors on my own sister just so I don't have to suffer alone?

After dinner, I go for a run. I run so fast. This is the only time I can forget I'm green, because all I'm thinking about is being fast. Unfortunately, by the time I get back to my house all of my shades of green are brighter. I feel like I'm glowing in the dark, and maybe I am because someone calls out to me from across the street.

"Hey, Fred!"

"Hi, Jack," I call back, trying not to sound nervous. Jack is basically the coolest kid in school. He's also the captain of the track team.

"How far did you go, tonight?" he asks, sauntering across the street to where I'm standing.

"Oh, just a, like, five miles," I stammer.

He raises a charcoal eyebrow. "You were only gone for twenty minutes."

I shrug.

"Is that your usual time?" he asks.

"Yeah," I say. "I guess."

He looks me up and down.

"Too bad you're green," he says.

Then he turns and walks back into his house.

I run into mine, up the stairs, and into my room. I lock the door.

I concentrate.

I drain the color all the way up to my waist this time. But when the cement gray of my drained skin gets to my back it hurts so bad I start crying.

My mom comes in, takes one look at me and walks out again. A few seconds later I hear the bathtub running. Then she comes back and helps me up the hall and into the tub. The color comes back into my legs as I lower myself into the hot water. The pain goes away.

Neither of us says anything.

Two weeks later, I manage to drain all of the color out of my body.

It hurts.

It hurts so much, I can hardly breathe.

But I'm normal.

Cement and eggshell and storm cloud and black.

I walk up the hall at school and nobody notices me. Nobody stares. It feels good.

Nothing else feels good, of course. Even my hair hurts. But it's worth it. I am not a quitter.

I'm also on the track team.

Jack offered me a spot on the team the second he saw that I'd drained.

 Today is my first practice.

I'm almost limping as I walk out of the locker room, but I'm sure I can push through the pain once I start running. Once I start running I can forget everything except being fast.

Jack smiles when he sees me.

"Congrats, bro," he says. "I know draining isn't easy."

"No," I say, trying to sound like every word doesn't feel like a jackhammer inside my skull. "It isn't. But I'm not a quitter."

"Clearly," he says. Then he raises his voice to include the rest of the team. "Fred here is the fastest kid I've ever seen."

"Wasn't he, like, green or something?" Eddie Lin asks. It's not a real question. Eddie knows I used to be green. Everyone does. He just doesn't want to be on team with a green kid.

"I'm not anymore," I say. "I drained. I'm normal now."

"And you're gonna help us win regionals," Jack says, firmly. "No more chit chat, guys. Five laps. Let's see how bad Fred beats you all."

Everyone starts running.

I fall over.

I struggle back to my feet and try to run again, but it feels like my shoes are full of broken glass and my bones are on fire. Pain snaps through me with every stride.

It's unbearable.

I fall to my knees.

I can't do this. It hurts too much. There's no way I can run. I can hardly breathe. 

"You okay, bro?" Jack calls.

I am not okay.

I can't run and stay drained. I know it the same way I know that two plus two is four and the sky is white. I have to choose. I can be normal. Or I can be fast.

But if I'm fast, I'll be green. I'll have to give up on track. I'll have to give up on draining. I'll have to be a quitter.

If I'm not fast, Jack will kick me off the team anyway. He'll have to.

I stagger to my feet and start running. I just go. At first, it hurts, but I keep going. I focus every single part of me on fast. I run and I run and I run and as I run it stops hurting. I know why. I'm green again. I can feel it, even before I catch hints of yellow-green hair floating in the wind as I hurtle past my shocked classmates. I'm green. All of my hard work to drain has been lost. My skin is black-green and my fingernails are blue-green and I'm sure when I look in the mirror my eyes will be the same old swirls of different green wrapped around the bright green circles of my pupils.

I'm green. I'm going to stay green.

I know that makes me a quitter. I don't care. I quit. I quit forever.

I'm green. I'm always going to be green.

But I'm fast.

I like being fast.