Updated: Feb 24, 2019
My most recent speculative fiction story is The Sugar Parlor written under my pen name Lorenzo Samuel. I had a challenge with it due to the amount of story that took place in the character’s head. In the protagonist’s mind laid much emotional response to what was happening in her world.
The challenge was how to make the story move along when a lot of it was mental. Where was the physical action that so many readers look forward to? To solve my dilemma, I wrote much of the action, especially that which happened near the end of the story, in the protagonist’s mind. By placing it there, I hoped that it would logically follow her inner turmoil.
My proof reader said that she liked the story a lot, which let me know that I hadn’t completely failed to carry it off. Without her saying so, I knew that I had handled also the other problems writers have with their tales, i.e., characterization, language, setting, environment, flow, and plot. With that said, here is an excerpt that begins the story:
Just one more year. She grinned and ate another sugar bomb to counter the swat team of mood depressors and elevators coursing through her body.
Thank God for these weekly meetings with Big Sister, she thought. The rose walls, the smell of lilacs, the tinkling of wind chimes out on the patio, even the pressure of the cushioned seat pushing up on her buttocks, fed into her imagination. They gave her hopes and dreams solidity; they pointed her to a future much different than her daily life at the Laboratory.
While waiting for the other novices to finish their weeklies, she got a head start. She surged into what psycho-politicians call radical imagination. There she repaired advanced optical systems for space voyages.
She remembered reaching for the stars when only 2 years old after her mother had read her "Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky." That ended when the social adjusters carried her shrieking through the door, away from her parents when she reached 4 years old.
We see that right off the bat, the story is a mix of mental and physical realities. The girl's name is Francine; at this time of her life she is a 16-year-old teenager. She exists in a world where education has fallen out as the main tool to prepare children for their adult lives. It has been replaced by adjustment. No more teachers; mental mood adjusters and experimenters rule the day.
No more students either; now they are called patients. These patients are toxified with mood drugs, but Francine and her friends fight against their effects. They resist in two ways. First, is a help organization called the Quiet. Second, is sugar. The teens have found that sugar nullifies some of the effects of the toxins (drugs) that have been loaded into their bodies. The combination of the toxins, sugar, and the Quiet may cause illusions that at times seem real to the young people.
Here is another excerpt that occurs late in the story:
She awoke before she hit the ground. The chair crashed against the table leg, then got tangled up with her feet while she floundered on the floor. The chair scooted under the table. She sat up groggily and tried to steady her head by putting her chin on the table. Her eyes came to rest on Flatter's [her mood adjuster at the Laboratory] hand pulling out a small vial from a coat pocket.
Deep from the ether, the adjuster reached out to help her up. Francine fell back against the wall in an attempt to avoid his hand, but she could not cast the motion from her mind. Those horrid fingers were like ice. Up her body went a frigid wave, numbing her hope further.
Slowly, she stood up. A molasses shake sat among candy in disarray. The vial, empty, sat alongside. She stared at the vial, trying to comprehend why it was empty.
“Ah,” Flatter said. “You ordered it earlier while I was in your mind. Something for the road as they say. Drink up.” Faintly, he chortled and gestured at the shake.
Disturbed air mingled with Francine's thoughts. “Dread rides the wind,” she remembered from some poem she’d read. Trembling, she reached for the shake. “I need the sugar, but I will not drink it,” she whispered as her hand continued to slide inexorably across the table.
Impatiently, Flatter indicated the shake with a forefinger. Francine touched the cool glass. She was surprised at how very real it felt. As she pulled it toward her, a slide of water film formed, reflecting the ceiling lights. The film turned into beads on the table. When the glass was under her chin, she looked for tell-tale flecks of foreign material.
None there. “What’s the use?” she heard her voice say off to the side. She brought the drink to her quavering lips. Anything to kill the dread that had begun to immobilize her nerves again. She took a sip, then told herself, “Of course, it is drugged. That’s why I’m here! This is the most delicious molasses shake I’ve ever had.”
If you compare the two excerpts, it may strike you that the mental and physical aspects of the story have changed. You would need to read the entire story to see if I was successful in the attempt.