Vanishing Point by Jonathan Auxier
A story by the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award winner for children's literature — text
Lou found a magic pencil on her way to school. It was black and had the word "Paloma" on the side. She found it in the gutter, but the point was still sharp. So sharp it looked like it could draw blood.
It had no eraser.
At first Lou thought it was an ordinary pencil, but she quickly discovered the truth. The pencil did not make lines —
The pencil made walls.
Lou could draw a wall anywhere she wanted. Once the wall was up, you couldn't see or hear what was on the other side. It was amazing. All her life, Lou had wanted people to leave her alone — her parents, her little brother, her teachers, other kids — and now she had the key.
When Dominic started bragging at lunch about his new dog —
Lou drew a wall.
When Mrs. Frick started lecturing her about paying attention in class —
Lou drew a wall.
When Ravi picked on her in recess for not joining his kickball team —
Lou drew a wall.
After school, Lou tried an experiment. She found an ant crawling across the sidewalk and tried drawing a wall around the ant. Just like that, it disappeared!
Where did the ant go?
Who cares where it went, she thought. This is awesome.
Already she was making a list of annoying people she could trap inside walls. Everything was going great until the dog showed up.
Yip! Yip! Yip!
Lou recognized the dog. It was one of those little yappy dogs that sort of tremble when they get excited. She saw a green collar with the word "Rusty," and she knew it belonged to Dominic from her class. Dominic had gotten the dog for his birthday, and now he wouldn't shut up about all the tricks he was teaching it.
The dog must have escaped and now he was loose in the neighbourhood and yipping at Lou's heels.
Lou knew just what to do. She knelt down and started drawing a wall. But before she could finish, the dumb dog ran around the side of the wall and kept yipping.
"Hold still, you stupid dog!"
Lou kept extending her wall, and the dog kept running around the edge, forcing her to extend it even more and even more until she had made a sort of rough oval shape that connected to itself.
The second that happened, everything went quiet. No yipping, no traffic, no birds. Nothing.
It took Lou a moment to realize what she had done. It took her a moment to realize that she had drawn a circle around herself.
"Stupid dog," she muttered.
She looked around. Her world was smaller now, maybe two metres across.
But she liked small. At least no one can bother me, she thought.
Lou paced the length of her world, learning every inch. She sang a goofy kid song she had learned at camp years ago. She told a dirty joke she knew. She picked her nose and ate it. No one could ridicule her or scold her or make her feel bad.
There was one small problem, which was a clump of grass where a dog — Rusty probably — had pooped. Easy enough to fix, she just drew another wall around the grass and the smell went away.
With the grass gone, there wasn't enough room to walk, and so she just stood in one spot. She stood like that until her foot fell asleep.
Lou would have walked it off, but there wasn't space for walking anymore. She wiggled her toes, but it didn't help.
What would happen? she thought.
She only hesitated a moment before she drew a wall around her foot —
And it was gone!
It was totally painless. A relief, even.
Having only one foot made it difficult to stand. She was all lopsided now.
She crossed off the other foot, just to keep things even.
She felt better for a moment.
But then she looked down at her legs, which sort of just ended. It didn't look proper. And it was still hard to stand — like being on stilts.
I don't need legs. I can just sit.
When it was done, she rested against a hydrant, grateful that her world had a fire hydrant. She tried to get comfortable.
But then —
She looked down at her arms. They were stretched awkwardly out to either side — forearms resting against the damp concrete. She had no lap to rest them in. She hadn't thought about needing a lap.
Lou needed to keep one arm, of course, to hold her pencil. But the other was pretty much useless. And heavy.
Dead weight, she thought.
Off it went.
It turns out that the other arm was sort of propping her up, and so now she was just lying on the ground, staring at the nothing sky above her. Still, it was peaceful in its own way.
She felt a rumbling in her stomach. How long has it been since I've eaten? She couldn't see the sun because the sun wasn't in her world. She thought of checking her watch, but then she remembered that her watch was on the missing arm. She should have checked the time before crossing it out.
She thought about her parents sitting down to dinner. Probably something gross they got on Granville Island. Something spicy and unpronounceable.
But right now, thinking about spicy and unpronounceable food made her hunger worse.
Her stomach made a loud, rumbling sound.
Lou wasn't exactly thrilled about the thought of getting rid of her stomach, but neither did she want to be hungry forever.
She closed her eyes and did a quick wall around her middle.
Much better, she thought.
Next was her ear. And that was honestly a mistake. She went in to scratch an itch and —
Having only one ear made her feel a bit dizzy, so understandably the second one had to go, too.
Lou stared up at her Little World, which had gotten much littler. She tried to embrace the simplicity of it all, but there was a sort of creeping panic that kept intruding on her thoughts.
Was the rest of the world gone? Or was it bumping along just fine without her? Could people on the other side see her? She hoped not. That would defeat the whole purpose.
Speaking of purpose. What was the point of this pencil, anyway? Who ever heard of a pencil that drew magic walls? Who would leave something like that just lying around?
She wasn't really in the mood for Deep Questions. Trying to answer them all just hurt her brain. She eyed the pencil in her hand …
It would be hard for Lou to account for what happened next, because as soon as she walled off her brain, things got sort of fuzzy.
Every time a new part of her started to annoy her, she got rid of it.
Eventually she was vaguely aware of just being a hand holding a pencil, and then just two fingers, and then…
It was nearly dark by the time Dominic found Rusty. Amazingly, the dog was only a few blocks away from the house.
"You okay, boy?"
Rusty was acting sort of weird. He was just staring at a fire hydrant, growling softly.
Even when Dominic knelt down to pick him up, the dog didn't lick him or react. He just kept staring at that spot, his furry body trembling.
"Let's get you home," Dominic said.
But before he got up, Dominic noticed something on the sidewalk in front of the hydrant.
It was a black pencil with no eraser. He picked it up and saw it had the word "Lou" on the side. The end was very sharp.
"Neat," he said, and stuffed it into his pocket.
About Jonathan Auxier
Jonathan Auxier is the author of Sweep, the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award-winning novel about an orphaned chimney sweep in Victorian England.
About the series Borders
CBC Books asked each of the Governor General's Literary Award winners to contribute an original piece on the theme Borders: lines that, when crossed, mark a change. Vanishing Point is Auxier's contribution to the series. He also appeared on a special episode of CBC Radio's Ideas. Listen to the audio below.
- Perseus/Andromeda/Medusa by Sarah Henstra
- Spanning Borders by Darrel J. McLeod
- This Face by Jillian Tamaki
- Bare Witness by Jordan Tannahill
- Thoughts on Translation by Phyllis Aronoff & Howard Scott
- tally recounted by Cecily Nicholson