“I’m sick,” the boy said, moaning and holding his head.
“What’s the matter, Tom?” his mother asked. “Where does it hurt?”
“It’s my head. It’s full of stories.” Tom sighed. “And I can’t get them out.”
“Sure you can. Here.” She handed him a pen and a notebook. “Write them down.”
So Tom tried. He sat at the kitchen table with the pen in his hand and wrote down words and sentences. But it didn’t seem to do any good.
Some of what he wrote made no sense at all. Even when what he wrote turned into a story, there was always more. As fast as he wrote, his head felt just as full. It was like it was going to explode if he didn’t get it all out.
“How’s it going?” his mother asked a few hours later.
He showed her the notebook. It was practically full.
“That’s wonderful! Do you feel better?”
“No,” he said, holding his head. “I can’t get it out fast enough.”
She took him by the hand and led him into the family room, sitting him down by the computer. “Here, honey. Write things out here. It’s faster.”
So Tom typed his stories onto the computer screen. He was a fast typer so he did get more done, but just the same he could feel that his head was still full of more stories.
He was sitting at the keyboard, weeping, when his father came home from work. “What’s the matter, Tom?” his dad asked.
“My head is full of stories,” Tom replied.
“That’s not a real problem. A problem is if you have a bad tooth or a lousy day at work.” His dad went into the kitchen. Tom could hear him pop open a beer.
And Tom felt no better. He kept writing. His mother brought him a bowl of chicken soup and sat near him for a half hour, watching him with a worried look on her face until his dad called her to come watch TV with him.
The keyboard kept clicking. The stories kept starting and ending. Characters appeared in Tom’s head. His stomach felt sick at what some of them said or did in his stories. A few made him laugh and some made him cry. Some of them even wrote stories which he found very confusing. But even with all of them floating around, he never lost track of who each character was.
“You need to go to bed,” his mother said hours later.
“I’m not done yet,” Tom replied. He kept typing. He didn’t feel tired. He could hear the neighbors come home around midnight then he saw the outside lights on the house turn off around 1 a.m. Soon the family dog padded over and laid down near his feet, sighing.
Still Tom typed on through the night. 3 a.m. 4 a.m. The birds began to sing outside as dawn came. He was writing about a pirate ship and the main character had just jumped from the deck of the ship onto another vessel when he realized that his mother was standing over him and speaking to him.
“Were you up all night?” she asked.
He nodded. “Mom, please. I’m on a pirate ship,” he said.
“No, Tom, you’re in the family room. I’m worried about him, honey,” his mom said to his dad.
“Me, too,” his dad said. “No one makes any money writing stories like that. He better get those stories right out of his head when he grows up.”
I’m trying, Tom thought, I’m trying.
His dad left for work. The school bus came and left without him. His mom kept him home, hoping he would just write the stories out and feel better.
Tom wrote about travelling across the world and flying through space. He wrote about rich people and people who lived in cardboard boxes. He wrote about so many things that the ham sandwich his mom brought him at lunch time sat on the plate next to him untouched.
“Tom?” his mom said to him around supper time. “Are you okay?”
Tom was in Africa, fighting off a lion.
“Talk to him, dear,” his mom said to his dad.
“Tom, get your butt back to Connecticut,” his dad said. “It’s dinner time and your mom made macaroni and cheese.”
But Tom didn’t hear them any longer. He could no longer feel himself typing. All he could see was the lion in front of him, its teeth bared. The lion did not feel sick. No one told the lion he should not be a lion. So the lion roared and fought and in the lion’s head was raw energy and power.
Tom knew because the lion was in his head too.
Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan