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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Cousin(s) (05/22/08)

TITLE: Quirky
By Jan Ackerson


When Baylee and I were little, we played with books every Saturday while our mothers—twin sisters—drank coffee and laughed musically. We didn’t read the books; although we were both precocious readers, reading was for weekdays. On Saturdays, we arranged our books—by size, by color, by thickness. I guess we were weird little girls, but there are few happier moments in my childhood than those spent with Baylee, categorizing our libraries.

The summer that Baylee turned nine and I was ten, she moved away. Uncle Dan had taken a job in Pascagoula, Mississippi, a place that sounded breathlessly exotic. I didn’t miss Uncle Dan or Aunt Constance (who looked exactly like my mother except for a hardness shadowing her eyes). But I ached for Baylee while listlessly stacking my scores of books in haphazard piles.

I didn’t see her for years—except once, at Grandma’s funeral, when we were both suffering through a pimply, pudgy adolescence. We sat together, the wooden pew cold on our legs. There was nothing to say, but we smiled shyly, a little embarrassed at the memory of our quirky childhood.

A few weeks before my junior year, my mother told me that Baylee and Aunt Constance were moving back. Uncle Dan was staying in Pascagoula, where he had succumbed to the humid charms of a Mississippi woman. My mother cupped my cheek. “Flynn,” she said, “your cousin’s had it rough. Help her get settled at school, okay?”

I didn’t see Baylee until lunch of the first day. I scanned the cafeteria for her auburn hair and missed her, but eventually my eyes fell upon a hunched shape sitting alone at a far table. I sat next to her. “Hey, Baylee,” I said. “How’s the first day going? Who do you have?”

Baylee didn’t look at me, but mumbled into her wall of stringy, dyed-black hair. She looked rumpled, her clothing unmatched. Maybe that’s the way they dress in Mississippi, I decided. “Baylee? Do you have Willis for Bio? You’ll like him, he’s pretty cool.”

She studied my face through squinted eyes. “Flynn. You’re too thin, Flynn. That’s a sin.” I laughed—I was hardly thin. Baylee lowered her gaze. “Willis is too green. I couldn’t listen to him.”

Green? I pictured the Biology teacher: tall, balding, pale. Not green, but perhaps Baylee was speaking environmentally. “Baylee, can I see your schedule? Maybe we can walk to 4th hour together.”

She passed me a crumpled paper, and I filled her in on her teachers—Maroney was a push-over, Veldman could be distracted if you asked about her cat. Baylee listened, giggling at random moments. I hoped I could persuade my friends to accept her. Baylee was…unusual.

We had one class together—choir, 7th hour. She was already there when I arrived, sitting at the back and mumbling. I tapped her shoulder. “Hey, Baylee, this is the bass section. Are you alto or soprano? I’ll show you where to sit.”

She followed me to the alto section, whispering “Flynn sings low, what does she know, long time ago.” I wondered if she was a budding rapper.

I stayed close to Baylee for the first few weeks of September. She seemed perpetually frightened, vulnerable. I changed my mind about those quirks that I originally thought were Mississippi-isms. Something was wrong with Baylee. I didn’t think it was drugs—she wasn’t associating with the druggie crowd, and she spent every evening in her bedroom. I joined her there sometimes, with my Brit Lit homework. Baylee’s books, I saw, were arranged alphabetically.

Our conversations were odd—sometimes Baylee was delightful, witty, sharp. But other times she pulled away, muttered, stared beyond my shoulder. She spoke of people in terms of their colors: “Why Flynn, you’re yellow today!” she would chortle, pretending to shield her eyes.

Had Aunt Constance noticed Baylee’s quirks? She and my mother were spending a lot of time together, mostly analyzing Uncle Dan’s faults. I think Baylee had simply faded out of Aunt Constance’s sight.

In mid-October, I read chapter 3 of my Psych book and felt something huge shift, then thunk into place. Delusions: Baylee. Self-neglect: Baylee. Rhyming speech, bizarre behavior, inappropriate emotions: Baylee.

Onset in early adulthood...

Symptoms of schizophrenia…


I ran downstairs, startling my mother. “Mom—we have to call Aunt Constance. Now.”

In my mind, seven-year-old Baylee steps out from behind a neat stack of books. Her matchstick arms encircle my waist, and she blesses me with a toothless grin.

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This article has been read 1661 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sheri Gordon05/29/08
Wow. This gave me goosebumps. So many teenagers are "lost" in one way or another, and no one notices.

I love the girls' names, and the voice of this was excellent.

I'd love to know more of this story.
Shirley McClay 05/29/08
Oh man.. my heart is breaking for Baylee... you pulled me in and had me hanging on every word. I love these two girls!
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/30/08
This story is chillingly well told.
LauraLee Shaw05/30/08
Wowzer, quirky sums it up. Your ending was brilliant and chilling. Masterful descriptions and dialogue, especially packing so much into just 750 words. Well done!
Kate Grey06/01/08
Well done. I was captivated. Your MC is kind and believable. I felt the pain mixed with understanding as she read her phsych book. And I loved how you framed the story with books.
Marilee Alvey06/01/08
The heartbreak of mental illness is captured well in your story. Its onset comes, often, in adolescence, taking everybody by surprise. What a crushing blow. People are allowed to have sickness in every part of their body except their brains. It's just another part of their body, but when it goes awry it colors every part of their lives. Catastrophic. Thank you for your inventive story.
Seema Bagai 06/01/08
Wow. Another fabulous story. I liked the way you left clues throughout the story and then wrapped it up at the end.
Karen Wilber06/01/08
I loved "humid charms of a Mississippi woman". And I got that sinking feeling right before Flynn did. I went to high school with a Baylee--you got the rhyming part right. Heartbreaking condition to watch progress. Good story.
Debbie Wistrom06/01/08
Your first two paragraphs stirred something in me. The worlds kids can create are astounding sometimes.

Sad too, how as adults we get wrapped up in other worlds.

This story tugged at my heart.
Yvonne Blake 06/01/08
oooohh! so sad... Your descriptions and dialogue pulled me through the story, wanting Baylee to 'wake up" to remember her cousin and their happy childhood.
Cheri Hardaway 06/01/08
I so hope the outcome was a good one for Baylee. You portrayed Baylee's mental illness well. Having worked with the mentally-ill as I acquired my degree in psychology, I recognized your description immediately. Wow! I sense this might be a true story; I pray all has turned out well.

Your story also tugged at my heart because I too had a cousin I was very close to. Our family was the one to move far away, and she and I lost touch. We were eight and nine years old. I rarely talk with Deb since then, maybe a phone call every few years. Makes me kind of sad.

Blessings, Cheri
Betty Castleberry06/01/08
Such a heartbreaking realization. Great job developing the characters in such few words. I liked this.
Sharlyn Guthrie06/01/08
This is so sad, but realistic, too -in every detail. You left us with questions...will Baylee's mother have the wisdom and strength to investigate further? How did her life in Mississippi contribute to her mental illness, or did it? Of course these questions aren't typically easy or quick to be answered, so your open-ended conclusion is perfect. Very good!
Beth LaBuff 06/02/08
A sad story of cousins caught up in situations beyond their control. I enjoyed the teacher descriptions and wondered if, "Veldman could be distracted if you asked about her cat" is based on a real-life person? :) Wonderfully written story and I learned something too. Thanks.
Lyn Churchyard06/02/08
Well done. I was captured from the start. Your characters are very believable. I wanted more to be able to see Bailee get help. Great job on topic.
Amy Michelle Wiley 06/02/08
Wow, powerful entry. I too, suspected something of the sort as I've know people with this illness and have done a little research on it. Well written!
Joshua Janoski06/03/08
My former pastor's brother suffers from schizophrenia, so I was able to guess what was going on as you began to reveal the girl's strange behavior.

I'm very glad that you shared this story about this heartbreaking illness. You took a tough subject and made it a pleasure to read about, and I was rooting for Baylee to get the help she needs. Well done.
Dianne Janak06/04/08
loved the way the MC ( is this a true story?)... took care of her even at that age when many teens would have rejected her. What a sad, but compelling story. Not on drugs and yet acting weird. Loved the hidden story behind the story of the moms as twin sisters, and how their roads had gone to different places... This really piqued my interest of mental health and the lonliness of those who suffer... Great writing.. simple but profound... Dianne
Gerald Shuler 06/04/08
This is chillingly accurate. I almost wrote about a cousin of mine with the same problem. I'm glad I didn't because you did it so much better than I would have done.
Peter Stone06/04/08
I was not sure where the story was going, but like a jigsaw puzzle, once I got closer to the end, all the pieces started coming together. Wow, what a conclusion.
Loren T. Lowery06/04/08
Setting cousins aside, what a precious story of frienship and compassion. What is remarkable, too is that these two were brought together at first for a very good reason, even though that reason did not become evident until years later. It is memory, sometimes of the simplist things, that causes us to care and be empathetic; and, in this case to help in the healing of what life has dealt to those we shared those memories. Wonderful work, wonderful story!
LaNaye Perkins06/04/08
I felt so sorry for Baylee and how her mother got so preoccupied that she didn't see the illness in her child. Your story captivated me from beginning to end. Great writing.
Sara Harricharan 06/04/08
So sad! I'm glad that Flynn did find out and try to help, but I felt bad for Baylee. At first, I just thought she was abused or something, but then it took the little twist at the end. That was good-nice job! ^_^
Caitlynn Lowe06/04/08
Wow...very well written. I really got drawn into story. And I definitely got connected to the characters -- I feel awful for poor Baylee.
Dee Yoder 06/04/08
I can't wait to show this story to my husband, Jan. He works with people with schizophrenia-he sees so much that's good and valuable and lovable in them. It's a heart-breaking disorder. I've always wondered what happens in the brain to cause these changes. Excellent-simply excellent story.
Joy Faire Stewart06/04/08
What a sad and compelling story. Beautifully written!
Aaron Morrow06/04/08
This is a study in power writing. Absolutely outstanding and I thought your ending was superb. Love your work Jan, truly.
Lyn Churchyard06/05/08
Ah Jan, another EC Award :-) Congratulations, you are a true Master.
Cheri Hardaway 06/05/08
Wow! Your research paid off! Nice job on a well-deserved win! You go, girl! Blessings, Cheri
Dianne Janak06/05/08
I'm happy for your well deserved entry. Besides your masterful writing, it was a refreshing new angle on a not well known topic. Hope someday this will be published. We all need more sensitivity of the mental health issues. SOO happy this will appear in the book!
Sharlyn Guthrie06/05/08
Congratulations, Jan. I'm glad this entry placed.
Sally Hanan06/05/08
Wow Jan, this was amazing.
Helen Dowd06/05/08
This story about Flynn and Baylee was chilling. Well told. I actually had to read it twice to fully understand the ending. But it snapped into place...Poor Baylee! Flynn was very astute to recognize the symptons of Baylee's problem. And I liked the ending. Flynn didn't see the Baylee she knew now, she saw the little Baylee of seven. And my mind goes on to finish the story. Flynn will help her cousin overcome her problem..Well done...Helen
Mariane Holbrook 06/06/08
An extraordinary piece. And told with compassion.
Lollie Hofer06/06/08
This was an incredibly sad story but also one of hope. With a diagnosis and proper treatment, things could look somewhat brighter for Bailee. I liked how you even gave some hint when the cousins were young...every Saturday they arranged the books in proper order...until the one cousin moved away. Congratulations on your well-deserved win.
Betsy Markman06/06/08
Very absorbing and sad. Well written.
Lynn Jacky 06/06/08
Jan - excellent story well written I really enjoyed reading it.