“Don’t Sit Too Close” by Sara Puls
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. In this week’s story, Lizzy discovers the consequences of sitting too close to the television.
We present our Feature Story: “Don’t Sit Too Close” by Sara Puls.
“Don’t sit too close to the TV, Lizzy,” Mom called from the kitchen. “It isn’t good for your eyes.”
She was busy making spaghetti; I was busy studying Henry’s forest. Henry’s the old man who draws and paints on our local TV channel. And as far as I was concerned, studying his every stroke and curve was important work. I didn’t want to be underprepared if I ever got called on to do a composite sketch of some depraved criminal.
That’s what I wanted to do back then: be a professional sketch artist who got called on to sketch America’s most wanted.
“Okay, Mom, whatever you say,” I called as Henry finished the tip of a bare branch in the foreground.
“I mean it, Lizzy,” she insisted. “It’s downright dangerous.”
“Uh huh,” I mumbled, ignoring her advice.
Besides, the episode was one of my favorites. It wasn’t a portrait—which was the most useful in terms of my professional pursuits—but I could still learn a lot from Henry’s skillful creation of light and shadow; his perfect balancing of the foreground and background, his masterful use of hatching and stippling. His forest was mostly dark, but a dim blanket of light touched the tallest trees and gave the snow a faint glimmer. The giant oaks and pines cast imposing shadows on the ground.
Henry soon began work on my favorite part of the piece. In the far right corner, way off in the distance, he brought a little log cabin to life. It wasn’t meant to be the focus, but it had remarkable charm.
Then it happened. In the blink of an eye, I found myself in the depths of a moonlit winter forest.
At first, I stood perfectly still, trying to make sense of the situation. Then, fear took over and I spun about wildly. Snow crunched beneath my feet. Giant oaks swayed in the heavy wind. No explanations came to me.
Terrified, I began to run. As my legs moved beneath me, I realized I wasn’t in just any forest. It was Henry’s forest.
Turning around, I suddenly saw my body, sitting there in front of my family’s TV. The me I saw was just a shell, though. A container made of skin and filled with only muscle, blood, and bones. No soul. The real me was there in the forest, alone.
I could see Mom in the background, too, still cooking away. It was like our world had been displayed on a giant panoramic screen.
I ran forward, trying to reach our house. But as I ran, my world remained ahead of me, elusive.
I was trapped.
“Just breathe,” I told myself. “Just breathe.”
As I exhaled, my breath crystallized. I hadn’t noticed the temperature until that moment. Suddenly chilled, I rubbed my hands over my bare arms. My X-Men t-shirt wasn’t exactly proper snow-trekking attire.
The cabin, I thought. A little hope pooled in my heart, then trickled into my veins. If my senses proved right, I knew which way to go. Turning over my left shoulder, I picked up pace.
Not two minutes later, though, something in my head told me to turn around.
That’s when I saw Mom enter the family room. She seemed to be speaking, but I couldn’t hear anything. My shell didn’t acknowledge her. Then Mom’s hand reached for the remote. I prayed she wouldn’t do it. I needed to see my own world in order to keep a grip on it.
She pointed the remote at the TV—at me.
“Mom, noooo,” I yelled.
But it was too late. My old world disappeared; I couldn’t stop it.
Trees filled in the open space. Snow fell from the sky to give the forest its proper winter guise. Soon, no trace of the panoramic view of my home remained.
Tears pooled in my eyes, but I refused to cry. I had more important things to do. Like find that cabin.
Eventually, I saw the log cabin appear on the snowy horizon. Sprinting towards it, I focused on escaping the cold. On escaping the icy wind that had chaffed my skin and chapped my lips.
As I pushed open the wooden door, an invisible blanket of heat embraced me. Looking up, I gasped. Henry was there, putting the finishing touches on his drawing of the forest. A giant fire roared in the hearth.
As I shut the door, Henry turned. A quizzical look adorned his weathered face.
“I don’t think we’ve met, dear,” he said, breaking the silence. “Name’s Henry.” His voice was the same rough, aged voice I knew from TV.
He extended his hand.
“Liz–Lizzy. I’m Lizzy,” I stammered, shaking his wrinkly hand.
“What brings you here, Lizzy dear?” Henry inquired.
“Um, it’s a long story.”
“Aha! Aren’t they always?” he said with a wink.
I didn’t respond.
“Well,” Henry continued, “we have all the time in the world.” His tone was serious, grave. Not like before. “You can tell me when you’re good and ready.”
My heart sank. I had a bad feeling Henry knew I was stuck in his painting, his world, his imagination. (Or was it mine?)
That was weeks and weeks ago. Henry’s forest still holds me captive. It shut me in the day Mom turned off the TV and now punishes me without relent. It mocks me for thinking her foolish and myself immune to her old wives’ tales. For ignoring her advice.
Henry hasn’t hinted at a way out, if there even is one. I’ve gone looking over and over, but always return. When I do, he just shakes his head with pity.
We spend nearly all of our time in the cabin. Just about the only thing to do is draw and paint.
I don’t mind it so much. Except for one thing.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t draw what I want. My hand and pencil move without my permission. They see only one subject; they know only one image. That of little boys and little girls watching TV. Usually, they’re watching superheroes fight the bad guys (and gals). Always, they sit with their noses just inches from the screen. And despite my protests, the title is always the same: Don’t Sit Too Close: It’s Downright Dangerous.
If only I’d listened, I might be catching criminals via my perfectly lifelike portraits by now. Instead, I’m stuck in here, replaying my own end through every painful stroke and every fateful line.
Sitting too close is dangerous, all right. But not in the way Mom imagined.
Sara Puls is a Wisconsinite who absolutely hates the cold. Accordingly, she now lives in South Texas and
is happier than ever. By day, she is a migrant farmworker attorney for a non-profit law firm. By night, she reads and writes as much as she can. Sara’s work has appeared in Liquid Imagination, Kazka Press,
Scout & Engineer, and other places. Her twitter handle is @sarapuls.
Tags: metro fiction, sara puls, short stories