Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
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The Piece of Paper

by David Smith

I looked at the computer monitor and saw the image on the screen. I didn’t know that much about computers, but I had pulled off something that I had been working on for a long time. When my teacher first gave me this assignment, I panicked. I knew I wouldn’t know how to navigate anything in the school’s damn computer lab. I was used to my laptop and desktop at home, but all this was foreign to me.

I had asked my teacher a few times if I could do this at home. It was easy enough. Just go onto Google Paint and alter a picture of yourself and a loved one. Alas, however, she was a tough one and wouldn’t budge. So, I was stuck doing it here, not knowing how to do anything, and constantly asking for help because despite the presentation the library staff had given before we began our individual projects, I was still very much lost. I was sure I would fail this simply for not turning anything in. The teacher helped the best she could, but at a certain point she became frustrated at my ignorance of how to work the school’s cyber-system. However, if that bitch thought she was frustrated, she should’ve opened my brain to see just how fuming I was! Everything about this dumb goddamn project pushed me to the limits of my temper!

The blood, sweat, tears, and all-around hard work had finally paid off, and I just sat back in the grey metal chair upon which I was seated, which had created a distinct, quite literal pain in my ass and took a look at the fine-looking photo I had chosen for this project. A picture of my dad and I in front of Niagara Falls. I looked around to see if that wonderfully neglectful so-called “instructor” of ours was anywhere to be found. Nowhere, as per usual. So, with no real risk of getting in trouble, I decided I would get up and stretch my legs.

“I’ll be back, Kate,” I told my girlfriend, who was seated just to the right of me. I was seated at the far-left side of the row. I liked sitting at the end of the row.

“Sure, big guy,” she said back. She looked at my screen with slight envy. She sighed. “So, you’re done, huh? Asshole. I know more about these computers because I come up here to study after school, unlike some people I know. Hell, you probably run out of this building as soon as the bell rings and start getting down and dirty with one of the Senior girls. And who’s finished first? My dumbass boyfriend.”

“Yup,” I responded, “you got everything just about figured out, I think.” I paused and looked at the finished project on my screen for a minute. “But it’s the Junior chicks I screw. The Seniors are too old.”

“Ah, got it,” she said. “I’m glad to know the exploits of the adventurous Benjamin Travis! Now go on with your exercise. I’ll admit it. You could use some of it after all of this.”

“Thanks, babe.” Off I was. Part of what I loved so much about this lady, Katherine Grace, was her seemingly endless supply of sarcastic slyness. She was very pretty. Though, as her boyfriend, it’s my job to think that. She wore a green Maroon 5 shirt, one with a list of upcoming concerts of theirs on the back of it. She also wore light blue skinny jeans that exposed her ankle, and white Converse shoes. Her brown hair was in a bun.

I walked slowly around the library and checked out some of the titles the library had in store. I had always enjoyed reading. I had first read Stuart Little at 7 years old, and the fantastic worlds created by the written word had been an addiction of mine ever since. At 14 years old now, I had just started reading the third Hunger Games novel, after which I thought I might check out some of the works of this fellow I had heard a lot about named Stephen King. I had just seen The Shining, and I was interested in some of his stuff. But one thing at a time, of course.

After some browsing, I saw 2 whole sections dedicated to respective authors. One section was full of Tom Clancy novels, and the other Stephen King.

Boy, I thought, I have a lot of reading ahead of me.

I continued browsing and saw all the genres and authors. Over here was Bradbury. Over there was Agatha Christie. And another one was full of stuff by Lee Child. Eventually, I found a book I had been looking for a while, The Lord of the Rings. I had heard so much about this trilogy of books and wanted to devour them, and here they were. All 3.

I’ll get to you, don’t you worry! I exclaimed internally.

I went to the window and glanced at the sky. It was a cloudy day. There had been weather reports all over the place that day about thunderstorms, on and off. I loved this kind of weather, especially going to bed. I would listen to the raindrops hitting my window. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter. Ah yes, I was viewed as eccentric by some and I got my fair share of ridicule, but I didn’t pay any mind – they were all idiots - and I had quite a few friends anyway. What did I give a crap if some of the other kids thought of me as weird?

I felt I had gotten the exercise I needed, attested to by the lack of pain in my poor ass, and I went back to my seat. The screen was dark and I shook the mouse to get my project back on the screen.

“So, besides bitterness, what do you think of my little picture?” I asked my favorite girl in the world.

She looked at it for a minute. “Awesome!” she said. “You might not know much about this stuff, but it looks like you got the hang of it.” She paused and looked at her screen, which contained a picture of her and her family at a relative’s Christmas party. “Mine’s just about finished. Just a few touches and I think this damn thing will be finished with. Finally.”

“Um, thanks for helping me with all this,” I said with the most sincerity I had ever put forth while talking to anyone. “I couldn’t have done it without you, babe.”

She looked at me with those pretty eyes and sexy smile, both of which had taken a part in attracting me to her in the first place. “Ahh, it was no problem. You’re my boyfriend, the guy I love. I’d do anything to help you.”

“There’s no woman in the world more beautiful than you, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” I said.

That’s the part that earned me a soft kiss. On the lips. We did it very quickly so no accusations of PDA would be able to be made.

After that tender moment that had a touch of corniness, she leaned back on her seat and produced a deep, tired sigh.

I pushed the keyboard forward a little and sat my elbows on the table and rested my chin on my clenched fingers, just staring at the screen for a moment.

I looked back at my girl, who had her arms crossed, and remained leaning against the back of her chair, her eyes closed. Checking for holes.

“You know, if they ever give us another project like this – not that it’s hard to alter a picture or anything like that, but it’s still a royal-“

“Pain in the ass, I know,” she said with her eyes still closed.

I flustered. “Uh, yea, right. Anyway though, if we ever have to do this again, I swear to God Almighty I might have to drop this friggin’ Art class!” I paused, sighed, and clenched the bridge of my nose between the tips of my index finger and thumb. I let my nose go and rubbed my hands together. “Then I’d just have to do it during the summer, though, of course,” I said quietly, but not quite whispering. I paused, and then looked over at my girl in her chair, at her screen, and then back at her. “Are you planning on printing that out at some point and…I don’t know…turning it in?”

Eyes opened. She looked at me with wide eyes. “Hm! To be honest, I was waiting on you.”

“Okay,” I said slowly. “Why?”

“I don’t know. I thought it would be romantic if we both went up and got our papers together.” She laughed.

I laughed with her. Obviously we enjoyed each other’s company. I decided it was time to print this sucker out and put it in the bin at the front of the library, to the left of where the librarian stood at her station, and if the woman ever got to it, the instructor would grade it and I would hopefully get the A I rather desperately needed in this class. Even besides the trouble between us regarding the computers, my instructor and I were not on the best of terms. She was old-fashioned, in my opinion, and she talked in ways that I found weird and annoying. I was myself, which she didn’t like one bit. She always had a keen eye on me, as if I was going to do something wrong at any moment. Of course, that didn’t seem to be the case today, as she was nowhere to be found. Luckily for me, though, I was all done. My name was on it, the instructor’s name was on it, and so was the date of its completion. I went to the “SAVE” menu on the computer and clicked “PRINT.”

At the printer right next to the entrance of the library, I watched this god-forsaken thing print out, almost with a childlike sense of excitement. It got finished printing, I grabbed it eagerly, and looked at the hard, tangible version what I had created. Yes, I know I’m being a little too excited over a small Art class project, but this freaking thing was nothing short of a nightmare.

But something was horribly wrong when I looked at the paper I had printed up. It didn’t have on it the pleasant photo of my father and I. No. It had two words on it that scared me to the point where I was on the floor.

On the paper, in big letters: “GO DIE!”

“What the hell?” I exclaimed as the librarian and Kate came over to me.

“Are you okay?” the librarian asked.

Caught completely off-guard, I stood up, with the librarian’s assistance.

“Uh…yea…it’s just…well, I think something’s wrong with the printer,” I said breathlessly.

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, I sent a picture over to print and…and it wasn’t my picture that ended up being printed out.”

“Oh?” said the librarian with a raised eyebrow. “Let me see.”

I gave it to her to look at, but her reaction didn’t turn out to be quite the same as my reaction.

“Um, young man,” she said with her face still pointed to the page, but her eyes at me, “all I see here is a picture of you and some man.”

“Yea, Ben,” Kate said, also looking at it. “It’s just you and your dad. It’s exactly the same picture as what was on your computer screen.”

“What?” I said and snatched the paper from the librarian’s hand and looked at it again. “What are you two talking about? There’s no picture on here. It has the words ‘GO DIE!’”

Kate and the librarian looked at each other with concerned eyes, and then looked at me.

“’GO DIE!’?!” they said in unison.


The librarian touched my hand and I looked up at her. “Ben? As I believe your friend just called you – are you okay? Do you need to see the nurse?”

“No, I’m perfectly fine!” I said, thoroughly frightened. I looked at the paper again. Same goddamn thing! “Guys! There’s no picture on here! How do you not see the words ‘GO DIE!’?!”

Kate came closer to me, our faces close enough that we could kiss again, and I looked from the paper back to her. “Baby, I’m worried about you.”

I placed my hand on her cheek, looked into her eyes for a few seconds, and then showed her the paper again. “Tell me what you see on this piece of paper, Kate.”

I took my hand off her cheek and she looked at the piece of paper. She closed her eyes, sighed, and shook her head slowly. She put her hand on my cheek and said softly, “All I see is you and your dad. No ‘GO DIE!’ or anything like that, Ben.”

I brushed her cheek off my face, crumpled up the piece of paper and threw it in the recycle bin, and went back to the computer I was at before.

“What are you going to do?” the librarian asked as I passed her and Kate.

“What do you think, ma’am?” I said as I sat back down and brought up the picture again, which on the screen I actually saw as a picture. “I’m printing it again!”

I clicked “PRINT” on the desktop, went back to the printer at the front of the library, and picked up the printed paper.

The exact same 2 words: “GO DIE!”

At this point, I was out of my mind in fear. Was there something wrong with me? Was I going crazy? I saw on the computer screen a picture of me and my dad, John, when we went to Niagara Falls when I was 8. I remembered it so well. We had such a great time on that vacation. It was the picture I had picked for this project, and I was proud of what I had done with it on the Google Paint program. But something was definitely not right here. At least, not with me. I must have been going out of my mind because when I showed it to them again, same thing. It was me and my dad, exactly as I had had it on the computer.

I took the paper and, in panic, ran down the stairs leading directly to the bottom floor of the school. I ran as fast as I could down the corridor and I barged out the front double-doors and ran across the street. Cars stopped in their tracks and drivers blasted their horns at me as I passed down Walker Street and Field Road. I ran as fast as I could toward home, bumping into people and knocking some people to the ground.

“Hey, dude, watch where you’re going!”

“Are you trying to kill somebody, asshole?!”

“Hey, dumbass, I’m sure whoever she is she’s not worth it!”

I arrived at my house and stopped in the driveway to catch my breath and look at the paper again. Those two words that only I could see were mocking me. Did I have some kind of ability that only just now made itself known, or was I truly going insane in such a short period of time? I looked at my house, a very nice house considering the neighborhood, which wasn’t that bad, but did tend to have lower middle-class people living in it.

Once I gathered myself together again, I walked slowly toward the front door of my house, paper in hand. With my uncontrollably shaking hand, I, after several seconds of searching, dug my house key out of my pocket and walked in. I saw my parents on the black leather couch in front of the flat-screen television mounted to the wall with “CSI” on it. But obviously they were looking to see who managed to make their way in to their house. They had expectantly dumbfounded faces as they saw me in the doorway. They got up and walked toward me as they noticed my pale complexion and uncontrollable shaking.

“Sweety…are you okay?” my mother, Linda, said as she put a hand on my shoulder. “What are you doing out of school?” She paused to take a good look into my eye, and then she visually scanned the rest of my body. “You’re shaking like a leaf on a tree! You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

I couldn’t talk. I was totally petrified.

My dad took a look out the front door. “Is someone chasing you or something, son?”

I still couldn’t talk. I was afraid I might never talk again. Yes, I was losing my mind.

My mother snapped her fingers in front of my face. That woke me up a little, and I started looking around. I recognized my home. That was good. I wasn’t hallucinating anything in the middle of the air. I walked toward the dining room, still in a little of a clueless daze.

I was worried about what my parents were going to say when I showed them the paper. I knew what their response would be, and that it would thoroughly confirm that there was something wrong with me. They would take me to a doctor and find that there was nothing wrong with me except a bad case of psychosis that only seemed to manifest itself in a piece of paper. A God-forsaken piece of paper of all things!

I looked at the paper again. Those two damn words! “GO DIE!” “GO DIE!” “GO DIE!” “GO…!”

“Ben!” my dad suddenly called to me.

I turned around with the bulging eyes that I would’ve thought a man on crack would have.

“What is going on with you, kid?”

They both started walking toward me, and I gained my composure just enough to ask, albeit in broken, breathless phrases, “Would…you two please sit down at the table?” I pointed to the table as if they didn’t know how to navigate their own home.

We all sat down.

I looked at my parents for several moments. “Could…could…you please tell me what you see on this piece of paper?”

I rose my shaking arm, whose hand attached to it was holding the fateful paper.

My mom and dad both looked at it. They both smiled.

“Why,” my dad began gleefully, “that’s the picture we took during that vacation to Niagara Falls we went on a few years ago!”

“Wasn’t that fun, Ben?” my mom asked

I suddenly put my face on the glass table and put my hand over the back of my hand and wept, much to my parents’ confusion.

“W-What’s wrong, sweety?” my mom asked, and then looked at my dad who shook his head and shrugged.

My mom came over to me and lifted my head up with her hands. “What is wrong with you, Ben?”

“Yea,” my dad added, also coming over toward me, “you’re hysterical. What the hell is wrong with you, son?”

I stopped weeping, but just barely able to control my emotions at this point. My mom and I wiped the tears from my face. And then, I simply looked at my heavily concerned parent for several moments. Switching my eyes back and forth between them for almost a minute. I sighed, my head now hung over, and my arms crossing, both of them rubbing the other one. “I don’t see any picture,” I said quietly.

“What?” my mom said.

I snapped. “I said I don’t see any goddamn picture, mom!”

“Well,” my dad said, chuckling and not yet completely understanding the seriousness of my dire psychotic situation, “what do you see, buddy?”

I slowly rose my head, eyes red and nearly bulging out of their sockets. “I see…”-I almost lost it all over again-“…two words.”

Needless to say, that made my parents take a few steps backward.

“Are you sick or something, baby?” my mom said as she felt my forehead. “You don’t feel hot. John, what do you think?”

He sighed. “I don’t know. What 2 words, exactly, did you say you saw on the paper?”


“’GO DIE!’?”

“Jesus,” my mother said, thoroughly alarmed, and put her hand over her chest.

“Have you been experiencing any hallucinations lately, Ben?” my dad asked.

“N-No. I haven’t. This is the first thing of its kind to happen to me.” I paused. “I was working on an Art project for school. It was very hard to complete, but I managed to finish it. Relieved that this thing was finally done, I sent it to the printer. I didn’t see the sweet picture of us two, but what I did see were these two monstrous words on it.” I paused again. “I showed the paper to my girlfriend Kate, and the librarian. They saw what you two saw.” I buried my face in my hands and the tears came back swiftly.

My mom hugged me tightly, starting to cry herself. “Oh, baby, it’s okay,” she said, trying her best to console me.

This went on for several moments. My mom had me in her arms. I was crying hysterically, and she was weeping lightly. My father stood on the other side of the dining room table with his hands clenched behind his back, a very clearly concerned look on his face.

“We have to take him to a doctor, Linda,” my dad suddenly said.

My mom let me out of her grasp. “And then what, John? They’ll put him in the loony bin! Everyone sees a picture of you and him on this piece of paper. And he sees the words ‘GO DIE!’ They’ll lock him away forever!” Then she looked at me. “I’ll never see my baby again.”

“Relax, mom,” I suddenly said, feeling a little dreamy. They both looked at me with wide eyes, my dad now just as terrified as my mom and I at what I had just said. I looked at them, too. I smiled. “Maybe that’s just where I belong.”


2 weeks later

I simply stared at my parents and doctors outside the padded room in which I was confined, my legs against my chest. They stared at me, too, all with hopeless eyes. They had the looks of people who had lost all hope in a human being. I had no thoughts going through my mind, happy or sad, good or bad. I just sat and stared at the small window near the top of the door leading into the room. I got bored, though, and broke my stare. I looked around at what would be my new home for the rest of my life. Nothing but padding, padding everywhere the eye could see. If I had gone crazy before, this would likely seal the deal after a while. At this point, however, it was what I wanted. I didn’t want to see any more pictures. Pictures that, to everyone, were just that-pictures. But to me were two words. Two words that would haunt me until my dying day, which I hoped would come soon.

“What do you mean you’ll have to keep him in there for the rest of his life?!” my mother said, having leached her hands onto the doctor’s coat, her face right up at his. “That’s my baby in there, you dirty rotten bastard!”

The doctor took her by the shoulders as she let go of his jacket, and he shook her to calm her down. He sighed. He was in just as much despair as these two desperate parents. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Travis,” the doctor said. “I’m afraid we’ve tried everything we can and there is simply nothing more we can do for your son.

“We’ve showed him dozens upon dozens of pictures, given him all sorts of visual tests, and the end result is always the same. ‘GO DIE!’ You told me it was just the one picture of you and him that set off the delusion, right?”

“Yes,” my father answered.

“Well, Mr. Travis, he doesn’t see any pictures anymore. All he seems to see are…those two words.”

“Why did this delusion come up so suddenly, doctor?” my dad asked.

The doctor looked down and scratched the side of his head. “We don’t know, Mr. Travis. I’m afraid to say this, but it’s just a much of a mystery to us as it is to you.”

“We’ll…never see our son again, though, huh?” my dad said, his hand in a fist, and holding it against his trembling lips, on the verge of tears.

“He’s only going to go farther down from here, we predict, and he’s going to become a threat to both himself and others. This is the only way we’ll be able to keep him contained. This is the only way we can keep an eye on him. I’m so sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Travis.”

They all looked at me again, and I looked back, not in any vicious or evil kind of way. I just looked at them. My mom put her hands against the window and broke down with waterworks. My father grabbed her and held her against him as he looked at me.

After several minutes, they all left, my father just barely able to keep my mom on her feet.

I sat quietly.


2018 David Smith

Bio: David Smith is a 20-year-old aspiring fiction writer from Bolingbrook, Illinois. He is a full-time student, a Junior, at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, where he is pursuing my Bachelor’s of Arts degree, majoring in English/Writing.

Email: David Smith

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