There are some things in the world that people just can’t explain—like how you cry when you’re happy, or how your brain, a big lump of pinkish mystery, can make you feel so many things. And though it’s almost impossible to make sense of it all, it’s fun to try. Maybe the emotions that your brain initiate aren’t just feelings after all. Maybe they’re alive. Take Heth Daria, for example.
You shouldn’t really judge a book by its cover (unless the cover looks enticing, which supports the idea of a good book) but Heth was not a very normal-looking girl. That is to say, she was born with an extremely wide and flat nose, pale skin that was so pasty it looked like over-floured bread dough, eyes that were a watery blue that no one wanted to look at, and hair that was as light and dingy as a feather duster that had been used too much.
Heth Daria was plain ugly, and everyone knew it. Heth’s mother, who was very attractive compared to her daughter, knew it. The principal of her high school knew it. The bullies Heth had encountered also knew it, though they never did anything. Heth may look ugly and weak, but her strength was in her words and the things she said to people who bothered her was worse than a black eye.
Heth might seem mean, but perhaps that’s only because nobody bothered to be nice to her. Maybe if she had a friend, she would learn to ignore bullies until they got tired and walked away, instead of provoking them further. But due to her unfortunate looks, she was heckled by just about everyone.
Heth’s story starts on a cold November Friday, when winter was budding and the wind nipped at her cheeks. She was walking home from school, her jacket hood pulled over her eyes, white hands plunged deep into her pockets. If she was lucky, nobody would see her face.
Heth despised her home. She also despised school. Heth despised nearly everything. The self-consciousness she felt due to her looks had manipulated her. She was so worried that she’d get discovered and have noses wrinkled at her that she turned in on herself. She trusted no one—not even her own mother.
She had completely tuned out her mom, of whom she had loved so much when she was little. And now she was jealous of her mother’s good looks. Heth wasn’t ashamed of the jealousy she felt towards Ms. Daria. She felt that her mother deserved it, though she had done nothing wrong.
As Heth passed the playground and watched little kids building snowmen, loneliness gnawed away at her chest. She could never bring herself to talk to people, though they talked to her much too often. And not the nice kind of talking. Because of this, Heth could not help but feel lonely all the time, especially when she saw people having fun together.
She sighed and plodded on through the snowy path until she had reached her house without being spotted—that was the way she preferred it; walking silent and hidden. Like a shadow.
Heth put her hand down the front of her shirt and pulled out the house key she wore as a necklace. Inserting it into the lock, she pushed open the front door. A semi-messy living room greeted her. Heth’s mother was sitting on the couch, with her feet propped up against the coffee table as she watched the news.
“Hi, sweetheart,” Ms. Daria said without looking up. She could barely even look at her daughter these days. The hatred in Heth’s eyes was enough to make anyone cry.
“Don’t call me sweetheart,” Heth said in a sour voice.
Ms. Daria stared at the television instead of answering, sadness and regret leaking into her broken heart. Her daughter—Heth, the only family she had—loathed her. What Ms. Daria had ever done to encourage Heth’s furious behavior was unknown. Heth’s mother was a kind and honorable woman. It was shocking at how anybody, let alone her own daughter, could hate her.
Ms. Daria didn’t try to comfort Heth. She didn’t want to try to talk to her; the ongoing conflict might get worse.
But when Heth had said those words, even though similar—and sometimes worse—ones were said every day, Ms. Daria could no longer bear it. She needed her daughter back.
“Heth.” Ms. Daria turned off the TV. “Heth, come here.”
Heth returned from the kitchen, where she had been making a sandwich. She pushed the unappetizing-looking bready lump into her mouth, making her white cheeks bulge.
Ms. Daria slowly rose from the sofa and stepped towards Heth, who swallowed.
Heth took a step back. “What do you want?”
Ms. Daria took a deep, shaking breath. “I want my daughter,” she said, fighting back tears. “I love you, Heth. You’re my baby. Remember all the fun we used to have together?” Memories of picnics with Heth in the park flooded through her mind.
“No.” Heth narrowed her eyes. “One, I am not a baby, much less your baby, and two, I… I hate you.”
Ms. Daria’s eyes sank to the floor. Heth saw tears in her mother’s eyes as she lifted a hand to swipe them away. She felt a stab of pain in her belly—what was that feeling called? Oh, right. Guilt. She hadn’t felt that in a long time.
Heth pushed away the aching conscience from her mind as she watched her mother wipe her nose on her sleeve. Gross.
Shaking, Ms. Daria looked into Heth’s blue eyes. “What have I ever done to make you hate me?” she whispered, her hands trembling with the sobs she kept inside. She had always known that Heth had hated her for some reason, but hearing the words out loud felt as if someone had thrown a knife into her heart.
Heth swallowed again, then spoke. “You’ve done nothing,” she said in a low voice. Guilt clenched at her chest, pleading her not to continue, but she did. “But I still hate you. I hate everyone, and I don’t know why.” Without looking back, she raced up the stairs.
Ms. Daria knelt down on the ground and began to weep.
Heth’s footsteps echoed off the upstairs walls as she stomped off to her bedroom. Emotions bounced off her head like they never had before; Anger, hurt, guilt… they all pounded against her brain relentlessly, unwilling to leave her alone.
Heth ran across the hallway, stopping in front of her bedroom door. Angry tears burned the corners of her eyes. Why couldn’t her mother just let her be?
She reached out a hand and turned the brass doorknob, then walked into her room. Heth’s bedroom was nothing fancy—a single wooden twin-sized bed with black sheets, a metal desk, and three long shelves that lined a wall. Everything in her room was either black or grey. Heth hated the color white, and it showed. Her white skin and hair made her want to take out a bucket of dark paint and color herself. She envied those who had beautiful chocolate-colored skin and black hair, some with curls that bounced off their shoulders—unlike her own stick-straight hair which was so thin that when she brushed it she scraped against her own scalp.
Heth walked to her desk, picking up an iPod. She plugged in her earphones and scrolled through her music options. Rock? Too weird. Pop? Too jumpy. She never even liked those songs anyway.
Her finger came to rest on Raging Thunder. Perfect.
She pressed play and lay down on her bed. The loud thunder pounding in her ears flooded through her. The thunder sounded angry—just like Heth felt.
Her troubles were too exhausting. After a few minutes, the iPod slowly began to fall from her hand. Heth’s eyes closed, her mouth opened, and her breathing came out in even patterns.
She’d fallen asleep.
“Heth! Heth, let me in.” Ms. Daria rapped her knuckles on her daughter’s bedroom door. There was no answer.
She tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. Ms. Daria glanced at her watch. 7:04 AM. Heth should have been up by now.
“Heth!” Ms. Daria banged on the door with her fist. “Heth, you have your piano lesson in an hour! Come out!”
Still no answer. Ms. Daria sighed, knowing that Heth must still be upset from the day before. She put her mouth closer to the door and whispered. “Listen, Heth,” she called softly. “I’ll call your teacher and postpone your lesson for next week, so you can rest and calm down. Is that okay?”
Silence. Ms. Daria frowned and left, going into her own bedroom to call the piano instructor.
Heth hadn’t heard a word her mother had said. She was still sound asleep.
Hours later, Heth opened her heavy eyelids. Sunlight poured into the room from her open window. She heaved herself out of bed and closed the curtains. She felt more comfortable in the dark.
Heth’s sleepy mind began to clear. How long had she slept? An hour? Two, maybe. She scratched her head and felt her wristwatch brush her ear. She glanced at it, her eyes widening.
10:21 AM! She’d missed her piano lesson! And she slept through the night without eating dinner. What would her mother say? Not that she cared if she yelled at her of course, but she could still take away her phone…
Heth went straight for the door, worry clouding her face. Her piano teacher, Mr. Strong, hated tardy students. And she wasn’t just tardy—she was absent. She’d have to call him and explain… why didn’t Ms. Daria wake her up?
Heth grasped the doorknob and turned. The door didn’t open. She tried again—nothing. Heth jiggled the doorknob and gave the door a halfhearted kick, but it was no use. The door was jammed shut.
She considered calling her mother for help, but quickly decided against it. Heth would rather eat a spider than ask Ms. Daria to help her. It would be a sign of weakness. Heth had never gone so far as to ask anyone to assist her. Not for years.
Turning around, she sought for another way out of the room. The single window she had was barred; the house had come that way, with all the windows having bars on them. Cursing whoever designed the place, she frantically searched for some other opening.
There was no other way out. She had nothing else to do. On the verge of panicking, Heth put her face close to the door and shouted,
“Mother! Mother, I’m stuck in my room, the lock’s jammed! Come here and LET ME OUT!” She banged on the door helplessly, but her mother didn’t come to help. Great, Heth thought. The only time I actually need someone to help me is when nobody wants to.
What Heth didn’t know was that Ms. Daria had gone out to buy groceries, and left a note on the dining room table for Heth, explaining where she went.
Heth was starting to panic. Where on earth was her mother? Maybe she was angry over what had happened yesterday. Heth scolded herself for being so rash—she should have lied about how much she hated Ms. Daria. Now her own mother had locked Heth into her bedroom.
But it was too late now. Worry wormed its way into Heth’s heart. What if her mother never let her out? What if she was going to keep Heth inside forever, leaving her to rot and die? She’d have nothing to eat! There was a bottle of water on her bedside table, but that would hardly last a few hours. Maybe she could try kicking the door down…
But we both know, of course, that Ms. Daria had not locked anyone away, and that her daughter’s door had jammed itself. If Heth had known her mother well enough, then she would know that Ms. Daria would never lock her daughter inside her room, no matter what she had done.
The worry in Heth’s chest grew. What would happen now? How long would she be able to survive in her room without food or water? How long could a human go without nourishment again? Three days? A week? Maybe two weeks, if she rationed out the water she had…
She tried again. “MOTHER!” she cried, kicking the door. “MOTHER, CAN YOU HEAR ME?”
She kicked and kicked at the door, but it was as if something—or someone—was holding it on the other side. Probably her mother.
She’d never been punished this terribly before. Her foot began to sting, and she slid to the floor. “Please, let me out!” she begged. “I didn’t mean it, I promise I won’t say I hate you again…”
The door didn’t open.
What if it never opened?
What if her mother hated her back, hated her so strongly that she would willingly lock her up until she died?
She couldn’t believe this was happening. A strange feeling she had never felt before entered her heart, like a cold block of ice settled deep in her chest.
Heth shook. I’m scared.