A girl with schizophrenia, pudding, a spork, and a need for a spoon.


Literary fiction


Khrysta Lyn Rivers (United States)


Everyone is curious about crazy people. It’s human nature, I suppose. One is usually curious if a person starts screaming mid-sentence or stares off in the distance at someone who isn’t there.

In a moment of irony, it seems whatever up above force made even the crazy people curious about crazy people. Then again, all kinds of crazy are different. Not everyone is screaming the same phrase repeatedly, nor do they scream for the same reason should they have one. Not everyone is speaking to the same nonexistent entity. The rooms they stick us in are never different though. They use the same off white that’s meant to keep us calm, the same straight jackets to keep the confused from hurting themselves and the violent from hurting others.

I have quite a few voices clogging up my head, my brain filled with rooms in a hotel where the guests never check out, but I’m rather certain that this voice of thought is one I’ve produced on my own.

I barely know who I am. Remembering isn’t something that comes easy to me. It’s similar to opening a book and trying to find page 86 and yet somehow I end up in the kitchen with a potato and no clue as to how I got there or where said potato came from. But by that time I’ve already forgotten about page 86 and now I’ve gotten caught on something else.

Catch that chair on fire, will you?

I remind Thirteen to keep quiet. He’s a nasty voice. One of the ones that makes my skin crawl with his horrifying requests. For the most part I can tune the voices out. Only about three are ever really occurring constantly, and I’ve named them as if they were puppies.

“It’d be hard to catch that chair on fire,” I say aloud, just to get him to stop complaining. “All I’ve got is pudding and a spork.”

Maybe if it were a real spoon. I close my mouth, thinking about how the people in the white coats might start with the funny looks again should I speak too loudly to someone who isn’t there. No need to worry them.

“No need for the little room and the-” I curse silently, letting out a puff of air. I’ve got Miss Cross’s attention. She’s a nice little lady, tiny and delicate. I try not to think of all the terrible things that Thirteen has come up with to do to her.


Oh is that my name?

No, it’s mine.

We’re you, so it’s mine too.

“Who are you talking to sweetie?” She asks kindly.

“Thirteen. And Roo.” I tell her honestly. Roo is a bit of a troublemaker too. But surprisingly, the third of my most common voices has yet to make an appearance.

“Don’t listen to them,” She reminds me gently. Miss Cross must be worried I’ll try to set the chair on fire. Pffft. As if a spork would work. A real spoon, like I said. Then we’d be talking.

Oh sweetie, Maria mocks. It’s like she read my mind and came from hiding. Well, she’s part of my mind, so she probably did read it. I’d wear a foil hat, but I don’t think it’d help much with something that’s already snuck its way into my head. Did I leave that potato in the kitchen? Oh well.

“Ash,” Miss Cross snaps her fingers a little and my attention is pulled back to her. “Just remember your therapy, okay?” She smiles gently. “The voices aren’t going to hurt you if you don’t do what they say.”

I’d tell her that they’ve never threatened me. The voices, for the most part, have never been much more than company. A bit of a house party going on inside my skull. Drinks and party favors for all. But I’m not that unstable, not really. Not compared to some of the others in the left wing of the ward. Then again, I’m still not entirely sure if Miss Cross is a figment of my imagination.

Sarah is a severe schizophrenic- I’ve been told I’m a rather mild case, and though Roo, Thirteen, and Maria always shout at me for thinking it, I’m glad. Sarah is a screamer. She’s also a wide eyed girl with matted blonde hair that explores the ward every night until someone drags her back to her bed. I’ve been in the ward two years, and I don’t think she’s ever slept a wink. Maybe she’s a robot. She screams every morning at exactly 6:23 sharp without fail. She must have been an experiment; an alarm clock gone wrong that was sent to wake up the crazy house in the morning. I wonder if anyone ever got around to rewiring her, because I’d assume that’s what is wrong with her hard drive.

Did you catch that chair on fire?

I glance over at the chair. It looks like it’s on fire, but I have to be hallucinating because no one else in the game room has noticed. Maybe no one really cares, anyway.

“No,” I mutter to Thirteen. A Cheshire grin is floating just above the flames, and it must be Thirteen. That’s the only way he’s ever shown himself to me. “But you did.”

I had been meaning to lecture Thirteen about his need to set thing ablaze, but it’s night now, and half the day has slipped from my memory.

Someone has ushered me to my bed, and they’re talking to me, but it’s not computing correctly. Whoever it is that’s screaming needs to stop. Why won’t the aids make them stop screaming? The lady helping me has run off, and I’m glad. Her perfume smells like smoke.

The cheshire grin floats just above the foot of my bed and I blink rapidly.

Catch that chair on fire yet? Thirteen asks.

I had forgotten I had a spoon in my hand.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1


Read Reviews

Review 1:

Compelling hook?


Strong characters?


Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • The protagonist didn’t always respond believably against the backdrop of the story. Ask yourself if people would really answer to a situation in that way. Think about whether the characters’ voices could be more convincing for their age, background, gender, time period, genre, gender and ethnicity. Dialogue should be natural and consistent throughout the story.
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Connect us to your main protagonist with a deeper characterization. Could your protagonist have a few more distinguishing character traits?
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot. A truly absorbing story!
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Think about the conflict and tension in your story. How effectively has it been introduced?
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice. Impressive.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The scene needs to be vivid and realistic in order to hold the reader’s attention. Being concise and plausible at the same time is tricky. Giving this further attention could perhaps be worthwhile.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Your great opening was a promise of wonderful things to come. I was hooked!