15 Feb

This is part of Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge here:

An unlikable protagonist in less than 1000 words. Here’s my attempt:


The doorbell rang.

Mr Thomas opened the door and greeted the immaculately dressed guest.

‘Guest’ may not be the right word as she’d invited herself, but the local education authority letterhead usually grabbed a parent’s attention. She was shown into the sitting room and offered a cup of tea. She declined.

She sat rigidly in the proffered armchair, perching on the front of the cushion. Her grey skirt suit seemed to keep her sat bolt uptight, as if it were made of steel. She wore a pair of thick rimmed, rectangular glasses, which, with her hair tied in a tight bun, almost gave her the look of a sexy secretary just itching to shake it loose in slow-motion.

This was not, however, a woman who could be described as sexy. Her glasses stayed on. It was the only thing that gave any character to her plain, expressionless face. Shaking her hair loose in slow motion to the accompaniment of a power ballad was out of the question.

Mr and Mrs Thomas sat across from her, nervously holding hands on Mrs Thomas’ knee.

“Thank you for letting me see you on such short notice,” she said. Getting straight down to business meant she wouldn’t have to put up with the banality of small talk with this couple.

“Of course,” replied Mr Thomas “Anything that concerns Katie is the most important thing to us.”


“So, what seems to be the problem Mrs Bell?” asked Mrs Thomas

“Ms,” she replied curtly.

“I’m sorry?”

“Ms. Ms Bell.”

Mrs Thomas shuffled slightly.

“Oh, I see. Forgive me, Ms Bell. What’s this about Katie?”

Ms Bell bent to pull a folder out of her bag.

“Your daughter Katie has been brought to my attention because of certain… Difficulties she’s been having.”

“I, I don’t understand.” Mrs Thomas glanced at her husband, who was equally clueless.

“Of course, parents often have difficulty being objective in these situations. That is why I’m here, to help. As I was saying,” she shot a cold glance at Mrs Thomas, “Katie has been having difficulties at school and it’s starting to affect more than just her schoolwork”

Katie’s parents were now very worried. What could it be? Katie was only nine years old, it could hardly be anything sinister. She had a few good friends, maybe not the extensive network that a lot of children appeared to have, but some sweet girls came to play quite often. However, they had observed recently that she was maybe a little… Distant? Was that the word? As if she was watching more than playing. A nearly imperceptible gap had opened between Katie and the other girls.

“Tell me, does Katie read many books at home?” Ms Bell asked.

“Oh yes,” replied Mrs Thomas. “She’s quite the little bookworm, isn’t she David?”

“Yes, always got her nose stuck in a book. That, or writing little stories of her own.”

Ms Bell nodded solemnly.

“I thought that may be the case. You weren’t to know, you shouldn’t blame yourselves for her obvious learning difficulties.”

Mrs Thomas held her husband’s hand tighter, her eyes wide.

“Please don’t be alarmed” Ms Bell continued, reading the rising concern in their faces. “Katie’s problem is quite common and easily remedied these days. We believe Katie is hyperlexic and is leaving her classmates behind.”

This diagnosis was little comfort to the Thomas’, who continued to be perplexed.

“Are you sure?” Mrs Thomas asked. “She’s seem so normal, I hardly think she has a problem as drastic as that.”

“We are rarely wrong Mrs Thomas. I would like to administer some tests, naturally, but I am quite confident.” She seemed almost arrogant with her response. This was the worst part of the job, having to argue with ignorant parents who simply wanted to protect their ‘little darlings’ and deny everything. They needed a dose of reality.

“Simply put, Mr Thomas, Katie is leaving her classmates behind and it is affecting her in more ways than one. She is finishing her work halfway through her lessons, creating extra strain for her teachers and humiliating her peers. Surely, you can understand why we must step in to help.”

Mr Thomas struggled for words. He had had no idea things had become this bad. He’d seen a few reports on TV about the spread of hyperlexia, but had dismissed it as a silly fad. Now it was affecting his own daughter, he started to see it differently. The school had sent them an expert after all, specially trained, who was he to argue?

“Well, I suppose you could be right,” he admitted.

“As I said, this problem is quite straightforward to remedy.” She pulled out a sheaf of papers. “I will show you how to fill these in correctly and then you can simply take them to your GP who will provide you with a prescription.”

“Prescription? You mean medication?” Mrs Thomas’ eyes were starting to well now. Ms Bell sighed irritably.

“I mean medication. It is the most effective solution to your daughter’s condition. It will bring her down to her friend’s level allowing her to socialise normally. She’ll lose interest in all those books, and soon be playing with her dolls and watching television like a normal girl.”

Despite being irritated by these typically tedious parents, Ms Bell was satisfied with her work. She knew that she was helping poor Katie, and saving her from a life of intellectual solitude. She smiled inwardly as she assertively indicated where to place signatures and initials.

Katie would soon be normal, just like everyone else.


5 Responses to “Normal”

  1. Tony Dowling 15 February 2012 at 21:15 #

    A nice idea, and pretty well done. However, you may want to reconsider your use of the term ‘Hyperlexic’, and the implication therefore that this child has hyperlexia

    while you are correct in the inference that children with hyperlexia have ‘above average’ reading abilities, it is at the expense of other, particularly, social and communication skills

    Hyperlexia is usually but not always, considered as an autism spectrum disorder, and its unlikely ‘Katie’s’ parents would have been so blissfully unaware of their childs precocious super power

    they would have been far more concerned with her lack of ability to speak, and her inability to form relationships, the sensory issues that would have made her and their life so difficult since she was a young child.

    its an extraordinarily complex condition and even more complex area, and I don’t right from a perspective of criticism rather to try and inform, as my own child suffers from this awful condition

    Might I ask where you came across the term and why you decided to use it here? Its just that no one Ive ever met has heard of it!

    • Stu 15 February 2012 at 21:31 #

      Wow, big comment, thanks!

      I didn’t realise it was such a well defined and recognised condition. I simply thought of it as an opposite of dyslexia. I suppose I could have gone with something like prolexia instead?

      I was playing with the idea of some people’s view that those with low intelligence are unnecessarily labelled with a medical condition, and what if those smarter kids start getting labelled too?

      I really appreciate your comment though and I hope you don’t feel I’ve belittled the condition.

      • Tony Dowling 15 February 2012 at 22:27 #

        not at all, my immediate thought was as you’ve confirmed, not that you had a hyperlexia axe to grind!

        Its a really interesting idea, just unfortunate that you picked that term. It is indeed, exactly the opposite condition to dyslexia, in that those kids are ‘held back’ by the inability to read, and it hampers their writing skills as well etc. Whereas Hyperlexic children have a precocious ability to read that hampers their ability to understand language.

        Hyperlexic kids read at a much higher level than they understand – so ‘Katie’ would certainly not have been so far ahead with this condition! My little boy aged 6 can read a ‘grown up’ novel out loud, but not understand a word, he has a stunning audio and visual memory, but can’t describe how he feels, or instigate conversation with his peers or parents.

        If you are really interested in the development of ‘gifted’ children and their labelling, you may want to read ‘Bright not Broken’ by Diane M Kenndy and Rebecca Banks with Dr Temple Grandin.

        thanks for such a positive response!

  2. Tony Dowling 15 February 2012 at 21:16 #

    Sorry about the spelling too!

  3. Lori Oster 16 February 2012 at 02:37 #

    Oooh, I really enjoyed this. You set such a tense mood, it was wonderfully difficult to wait it out with the Thomases.

    As a reading specialist, I have to say I wish we had more problems with pesky parents who allowed their children to read at home. The nerve! I won’t even get into the way we have systems set up that beat the exceptional out of our children, so let’s just say I really appreciate the ideas behind this story.

    A great story. Well done.

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