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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Beginning and End (04/16/09)

TITLE: Marionette
By Jan Ackerson


Melissa feels the tug of the strings before she gets out of bed—even before the sound of the alarm has finished jangling in her ear. They will make her dance and jerk through a grotesque routine, from beginning to end, and if she falters, the Puppeteer will send her back to the beginning, to get it right.

Out of bed, then, Melissa—left foot on the floor first, but your right foot takes the first step toward the bedroom door. There’s the doorknob; touch it once, twice, three times before finally grasping it to open the door. Very good so far—but you’ve barely begun.

Step over that spot on the carpet—the spot where you killed a spider several weeks ago. But be careful, dear, you mustn’t step too far over it, or you’ll have to touch the wall for balance, and that would send you back to the beginning. Carefully, carefully now…

And here you are, at the entrance to the bathroom. Don’t look in the mirror yet, not until you’ve washed your face. Hot water tap, cold water tap, soap on the washcloth. Scrub while you count to fifty, then rinse. Look in the mirror now, Melissa. Is everything fine? No blemishes? Wait—there below your left eye, a small red spot. No need to go all the way back to the beginning this time, though. Feel the tug on your wrists? The puppeteer will settle for fifty more seconds of scrubbing.

Turn off the hot water, then the cold. Count the drips from the faucet; if there are more than six, turn on the hot again, and then the cold. Turn them off. Do it again. Do it again. Do it again. Very good.

Not too many jerks of the strings in your shower—the Puppeteer is saving the difficult maneuvers for dressing and eating.

Dance your bizarre dance to the closet now, and pick a blouse and slacks that match. Careful—if there’s a pattern in the slacks, even the tightest herringbone weave, the blouse must be a perfectly solid color. And the total number of fasteners—snaps, buttons, zippers—added to the total number of pockets mustn’t be an odd number, and mustn’t exceed ten. Socks now. Left foot, right foot, and don’t even think about the time you wore navy blue because you mistook them for black in the dim morning light. Check the socks. Check again. Shoes now. Left foot, right foot. Check the socks again. Check again.

You’re almost to the end—that last little bit of puppetry that will allow you to leave the house. It’s essential that you not become entangled in this last, intricate series of steps. You don’t want to have to start over now, do you?

Walk to the kitchen now, Melissa, and fix your breakfast. Cut the toast exactly in half and pour a glass of orange juice. The jam is in the cupboard…oops, can you feel it? There’s something sticky on your hand now. The puppeteer will walk you over to the sink, where you’ll have to wash your hands. Wash them again. Again. Wash them again. Your toast is cold now, and although the clock says it’s time to leave, perhaps you should make another piece. Yes, you definitely should.

Take the plate and glass to the sink. Wash them, then wipe the table. Feel for crumbs, and don’t forget the floor.

Yes, there they are—your fingers have found some crumbs, haven’t they? Better clean those up.

Better check the floors in the other rooms, too.

Wash your hands again.

It’s been a good morning, hasn’t it, Melissa? It’s nearly the end of the morning show. Hardly any start-overs. Seems like you’re done now.


Did you touch the bedroom doorknob three times? Are you sure?

Back you go, girl, back to the beginning.

Melissa sheds hot angry tears at the Puppeteer who puts her through this herky-jerky dance, morning after morning. On the way back to the bedroom, she stops in the hall and tugs back against the strings. Very deliberately, she steps with her left foot onto the invisible spider-spot on the carpet.

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This article has been read 1121 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Chely Roach04/23/09
You have completely captured the seemingly external, forced nature of OCD. This was marvelously out of the box. My heart broke for the MC, and rejoiced in her small triumph at the end. Loved it...
Seema Bagai 04/23/09
This is one of those pieces I will remember long after reading it. Great work.
Tallylah Monroe04/24/09
This is an astounding entry!
I do think the last paragraph weakened it.
I would have preferred an author's note saying something about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder instead.
Sonya Leigh04/25/09
This is so powerfully written. I felt like I was sitting on Melissa's shoulder, walking through every agonizing step of her wretched routine. The insight into this illness and how you have conveyed it is brilliant.
Kimberly Russell04/27/09
It's amazing how you captured the essence of the MC's pain. I too loved the ending- made me cheer for her!
Bryan Ridenour04/27/09
Your creative take on the topic is quite riveting. Incredibly done!
Betty Castleberry04/27/09
I could see your poor MC going through her tedious routine. This is *very* creative and I enjoyed reading it.
Carole Robishaw 04/27/09
I don't think I can add to what's already been said. This really put me inside your MC's head, I was sure i could feel the pull of the stings. I'm so glad there was a spark of rebellion at the end.
Carol Slider 04/27/09
Oh, I could just feel her frustration and her mingled longing/inability to escape from her compulsions. As others have mentioned, I was so glad to find a bit of hope at the end. Absolutely superb writing!
Gerald Shuler 04/28/09
Incredible entry! It doesn't surprize me that this is your writing, Jan. You have a way of making me feel exactly what the MC is feeling. I even felt the extreme satisfaction of victory in the last paragraph. If this isn't high on the judges' list this week I will be amazed.
Verna Cole Mitchell 04/28/09
When you get to the end of a story, and you have to stop and just think about what you've read, you know the writer has achieved excellence. This reader did.
Myrna Noyes04/28/09
WOW! This is so well-done!! You very clearly portrayed the struggle those with this disability face each day. It gave me a better understanding of their pain. Thank you!
Tim George04/28/09
I take so little time to read all the entries. it would have been my loss had I missed this one. Unlike another post, I found the last paragraph the most powerful.
Sharon Kane04/28/09
Awesome. No textbook, lecture or even interview with a sufferer of OCD has given me as vivid and memorable an insight into the condition as this story has. Wow!
Dee Yoder 04/29/09
Spot on--all the way from beginning to end. It lacks nothing!
Joy Faire Stewart04/29/09
I'm not familiar with this condtion, but the descriptions were so vivid, I felt the mc's agony.
Beckie Stewart04/29/09
Wow, this was good. I like the way in which you presented the MC's struggle.
Rachel Rudd 04/29/09
What a description...what a story...what a way to get in to the head of someone who suffers from a terrible condition. Extremely well-written!
Loren T. Lowery04/29/09
You said in one of your previous entries that you were struggling to find the right title for some of your work. This one is beyond right, it is both perfect and profound. This kind of title prepares the reader for all the nuances of the piece to follow - allowing them to explore all the depths the author intended. Beautiful!
Karlene Jacobsen04/29/09
The prison of OCD, oy. You painted the picture well.
Joshua Janoski04/29/09
Right away I could tell this was a story about OCD, though that made it far from predictable.

Having suffered with a mild form of this myself and knowing others with far worse cases of it, I could totally relate to your story. I think your comparison of the disorder to that of a marionette in a puppet show is a great way of explaining the problem to readers or anyone who doesn't understand it.

This is smart and educational reading.
LauraLee Shaw04/29/09
Ok, wow. I will NEVER forget this story. Perfect.
Patricia Herchenroether04/29/09
I just Knew this was yours before I even looked at the brick thing. Powerful, extraordinary, exactly on OC target!
God has indeed given you one huge measure of talent.
Patricia Turner04/29/09
I think I liked the last paragraph best - her rebellion against the puppeteer's strings. Thanks for a gently humorous dance with your MC through a difficult and painful malady. What God given talent you have!
Leah Nichols 04/30/09
I loved it and thought it a very literary piece. Definitely captures the inner turmoil of those who suffer from OCD.

I don't think the first and last paragraphs are necessary - they work, but the piece does stand alone without them. I would rather see her pause in her thoughts, and then make the decision in "real time" through her inner dialogue.

Nicely done! You are so creative!