Allison Rose is a novelist and screenwriter from Los Angeles. Tick, the first in her young adult science fiction series, tackles themes of mental illness, artistry and violence. It will be followed by Vice, part two of the Tick Series. While Rose’s stories vary in genre, her focus centers on the struggles of complex female characters.
Read more on Allison’s website.
by Allison Rose
“Tick stands its ground in a crowded field of dystopian fiction. The story is exciting, fast-paced, and full of surprises.” – IndieReader
Jo Bristol has a secret…
In an Orwellian Los Angeles, people with any sort of abnormal brain function are deemed a menace to society and sent to brain adjusters. Sixteen-year-old Jo Bristol wants nothing more than to be an artist, but her biggest fear is being discovered of her gruesome abnormality: she has visions in which she brutally kills people.
If Jo’s brain is adjusted, she will lose her most intimate sense of self, along with her artistic insight. The struggle becomes nearly impossible when her violent visions shift from fantasy to reality.
Tick – excerpt
My crash did damage to my bike, and now the motor screeches like a dying cat. I coast away from the fancy hills of Los Feliz, weave through the jam of AEVs that are eerily silent next to my noisy mobie, get caught behind a foul-smelling gasser that somehow ended up on the auto-route, nearly run over two giggling women popping spinners, dodge three drones, and make my way home.
Hollywood Boulevard. I’ve heard stories about my street, about the glitz and glamour that used to be LA. Whatever it was, I’ve never seen it be anything other than a total dump. Lyle won’t come near my block because he’s afraid someone will sneeze and give him hepatitis. In this part of town there isn’t a street corner open enough to walk on because the bums have turned them into campgrounds. There are more people living on Hollywood Boulevard than there are living in the buildings along it. The glitz is covered in dirt and trash, and the glamorous people who used to walk these avenues have either moved away or locked themselves within the gated Zero-Toleration Zones.
My apartment building is just off the Hollywood auto-way, behind the FutureTech Hollywood-Highland Center. The complex is massive compared to our building and is covered in giant illuminated signs that flash ACTA propaganda and advertising and all kinds of FutureTech gadgets and gizmos that no one should ever need. It’s also a main location of brain adjusters, so, you know, it’s super convenient that I live right behind it.
I plug in my mobie in the apartment garage, and the moment I reach my floor I know Rick is here. My legs twitch and I have the urge to flee, but I need something from my mom. And that means I have to see Rick.
Rick is yelling at my mom in Spanish. My mom doesn’t know a lick of Spanish. I don’t know why he’s never figured that out, but he just keeps on insulting her in a foreign language, and all she can do is make excuses for whatever it is she doesn’t know she did wrong. She’s dressed in her work clothes, a clean-pressed pantsuit, her light-brown hair tied neatly into a bun. I have to wonder why she’s home at one in the afternoon.
“I know you’re upset, Rick. I’m trying to understand why you’re upset with me,” my mom says in a voice far too sweet for such a conversation. “I can only do so much on my own.” She spots me standing in the doorway and flashes a smile. “Hi, honey, you’re home early.”
Rick squints at me. “Yeah, aren’t you supposed to be in school?” He squeezes a clear plastic spinner capsule onto his tongue and shudders.
“It’s not your problem,” I say.
My mom tilts her head. “Jo, don’t be rude.”
“What are you arguing about?”
“We’re not arguing,” Rick says, his eyes crossing as the spinner takes effect. He’s dressed in business attire with his hair slicked back. I’ve only seen him once in the company of other FutureTech employees and he spoke quite eloquently, but most of the time, when he’s around my mom, the slur comes out, that lazy drawl that makes him sound like his lips are about to slide off his face.
My mom eyes Rick carefully. “That’s right, sweetheart. We’re having an adult conversation.”
“Mom, I’m not a kid anymore. I know the difference.”
Rick sways over to me. “I’m trying to explain to Lauren why we can’t stay in this apartment. We have to move.”
“We? You don’t even live here.”
“Honey, Rick lost his job today and now I’ll be supporting all three of us—”
“How did you get fired from FutureTech?”
Rick grunts. “What makes you think I got fired?”
“I made an educated guess.”
He moves toward me like an asteroid drawn into the earth, his huge belly bursting through his button-down shirt. “What do you know? Who told you? Tell me what you know!”
“What are you talking about? I don’t know anything.”
My mom moves in, but stops short of getting within arm distance. “Rick, dear, please calm down.”
But Rick doesn’t listen. Instead, he points a gigantic finger at my forehead, pressing his fingernail into my skin. “I’ll figure you out, fancy. I know there’s something in that brain of yours, and I’ll find out. Just because it’s in your head doesn’t mean it’s safe from the scanners.”
I’ve never heard Rick talk like this before. He usually ignores me. In fact, most of the time he pretends I don’t even exist; he spends his time in our apartment yelling at my mom about everything under the sun. I hardly remember them acting like a couple, and I still can’t imagine why my mom would have gotten involved with a guy like Rick in the first place.
And that’s when I see the equipment in the corner of the living room, all marked with FutureTech labels. There are laser lenses, optrodes and diodes and wires and light tubes, and a whole mess of stuff I recognize but have no idea what it does.
Rick is lying in a medical exam chair, his arms and legs strapped down. I take a saw and slice off the top of his skull—
Rick’s stinking hot breath on my face pulls me from the vision. “You stole that equipment, didn’t you? They fired you because you stole FutureTech property!”
My mom looks to the corner where I’m waving, and she squints like it’s the first time she’s seeing any of the equipment. “Rick, where did you get all of this?”
Rick turns to glare at her, never moving his giant finger from my forehead. “Leave it alone, Lauren.”
“I don’t think you’re authorized to remove the equipment from the labs—”
Rick bellows at her. “Lauren! Cállate!”
My mom abruptly stops talking as a thin sliver of blood trickles from her right nostril. She touches her nose with the back of her hand, and her eyes widen at the sight of the blood. She frantically searches the living room for something to wipe it up with, and when she looks back at me it’s as though she’s surprised I’m in the room. “Jo, honey, I didn’t hear you come home.”
I shove Rick’s arm away and glare at him. “What are you doing to my mom?”
Rick’s eyebrows knit into a scowl, and he sways because the drugs have subdued his physical control. “I’m not doing anything to her. She was like this when I found her.”
My mom pulls a bloodstained tissue from her purse and dabs at her nose. “I told you, Rick, I asked for more hours at FutureTech, but they can’t justify giving me more money. And if I ask for more, they’ll probably let me go.”
“You cannot lose your job at FutureTech.”
My mom waves him aside. “I can get a programming job anywhere, maybe someone else pays more money.”
“No! You have to stay at FutureTech!”
I point to the pile of equipment in the corner. “I’ll tell FutureTech that you’re stealing from them.”
“Jo, don’t be absurd. Rick isn’t a thief.” She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear with such a casual movement I’d think we were talking about the weather.
Rick’s belly jiggles as he chuckles. “Stay out of my business, fancy girl. You go anywhere near FutureTech and they’ll discover how screwed up you are and you’ll become their next lab rat. Lauren has a job to do at FutureTech and don’t you dare get in the middle of it. I’m warning you!”
“She’s my mom!”
“Any more of this and we’re moving to South LA with my brother.”
My mom straightens her posture and runs her palms down the front of her skirt. “Jo, we need to do what’s necessary.”
“But, Mom, this isn’t necessary. None of this has to be this way.”
Rick glares at me. “It is all the way it is supposed to be.”
I don’t have a clue what he means. Rick is sweating through his dress shirt and heaving in my face, and it is completely grossing me out. My mom has been dating Rick for months now, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. I’ve never seen them pretend to be happy together. Rick is nothing like my dad. In fact, he’s the complete opposite of my dad. Nothing has been the same since he died. Nothing will ever be the same. If I were braver, I’d go straight to the brain adjusters and insist they turn me into a bothead, because at least then I wouldn’t give a shit about how wrett my life has become.
But I am just not that kind of girl.