Humor Horror

Paula Dean and the DMV

April 30, 2019
By: amandat
User Level:
Average Rating: 4.17

Janvi walked into the Department of Motor Vehicles with an air of confidence that she didn’t quite feel. Her sixteen-year old younger sister had driven her, a charitable but humiliating journey that Janvi hoped to forget once she had her own driver’s license. In her hand, she held required documents that stated she was twenty years old. She wore a knitted sweater to battle the coolness of October.

The DMV building was flat and spiky, with plain, brown walls and a bowed roof with pointy lumps in certain sections. The sky was bleak, and the sun hid behind black clouds.

The air was only slightly less cold inside the DMV building, which was better than the last DMV Janvi had ventured in. Last time, she and her father had scooted their plastic chairs together for warmth and waited three hours for Janvi’s number to be announced. Last time, however, hadn't been the last time at all. 

There were only twenty or so people in the waiting room. The perks of arriving at eight a.m., Janvi reflected.

Her sister, Layla, shifted her attention from her phone to intermittent, off-handed remarks.

“Turn on your blinker as soon as you stop.”

“I know.”

Layla wore an embarrassed expression on her face, one that was figuring out how to give respectful advice to an older sister. Janvi was privately mortified.

“Also, don’t cross the connected yellow lines, only the—”

“Only the dotted ones, I know,” Janvi said wearily. She patted her sister’s shoulder in a thank you but also in a shut up way.

“And—”

Janvi busily filled out the forms given to her by a middle-aged woman at the front desk: a Mrs. Riley Thompson. Mrs. Thompson smiled cheerily at her. 

Too many forms, too many questions. The first time she had filled the forms out, she had assumed they were for informational use. Now, she knew they were for numbing anxiety in face of the driver’s test; they medicated her with so many questions of who she was and where she lived that she likened the experience to dissociation.

Once done, Janvi and Layla sat in the very front row. They almost looked like twins; brown Indian skin, dark eyes and hair, deepened cheekbones. Layla’s face was bare and relaxed while Janvi, haggard and worried, wore round, black glasses. By round, it was unfashionably so, encircling her eye line so that her eyes seemed buggy, like she was wearing goggles. When she had arrived from college with the odd spectacles, Layla had teased her for it. After a few days however, Janvi noticed her sister admiring the glasses and she wryly counted down the days when Layla would buy a similar pair and claim that she had come up with the idea all on her own.

The clock struck 8:10.

The people in the room were mostly like Janvi’s parents' neighborhood: mostly Asian and black and Hispanic. The employees were largely white. Sighs and snorts broke out in the room; it was evident that everyone had someplace better to be. A fly buzzed softly in the air, almost hidden by the loud buzzing of the white lights casting down on the room. It smelled like AC, and without it, Janvi felt sure that it would smell like body odor.

She was sweating. It was 8:20.

“Janvi Jain!” a woman announced. She pronounced it like jan-ve, when it should have been john-vee. John-vee. Janvi.

She stood up abruptly and felt a tug on her sweater. Alarmed, she looked down at her sister.

“It’s okay whichever way it goes,” Layla smiled encouragingly. “I’ll be here."

Janvi shook her off, irritated, because once they call you, it’s business-time, no talking, no last-minute advice, no tic-tac grabbing, nothing. She was theirs.

Heading swiftly to the cubicle area, her attention was caught by a woman waving at the side-door. With a pleasant smile, Janvi shook the woman’s hand firmly.

“My name’s Paula Dean. I’ll be conducting your driver’s test today.”

Paula was a southern grandma, overweight in a maternal way, with simple brown eyes, a beige cardigan, and rectangular glasses linked by a clinking chain. As Paula led her through the door to outside however, Janvi wrinkled her nose in disgust. The woman smelled weird.

She didn’t make it a habit to sniff out strangers, but the wind had pushed Paula’s scent towards her; it was flowery but underneath lurked something unpleasant of which Janvi couldn’t quite place. Only later, when she would wake up in the hospital, did she identify the smell as rotting milk.

She needed to charm the pants off Paula, she reflected. Paula was her life-line, her angel sent from above, or at least Janvi needed her to be. 

She jogged over to the DMV issued car and slid into the driver’s seat. Her area of vision seemed to narrow, as it usually did when she was driving. As soon as Paula settled in the passenger’s side—making the car slightly dip to the right—Janvi immediately turned on the car and its AC. It was instinctive; she didn’t want Paula’s smell to affect her perception of her angel, her life-line. She wanted to think well of Paula Dean.

“Oh-ho,” Paula said, tapping her clipboard. “Slow down there. Before we get started, I want to sit and talk to you about how I do things and how this test is going to go. Turn off the engine, please.”

Reluctantly, Janvi turned the keys, cursing herself for already making a mistake. She held her breath unconsciously as they sat in silence.

“Janvi Jain?”

“Yes.”

“Born May 24th?”

“Yes.”

“Is this your first time taking a driver’s test?” Paula asked, scrawling on the clipboard.

Janvi hesitated. “No, ma'am. I’ve taken it a few times before.”

Paula grunted.

“I’m hoping to pass this time,” Janvi added hopefully.

“Seven,” Paula muttered.

“What?”

“You’ve taken the driver’s exam seven times. Or six, and this is your seventh attempt.”

Janvi nodded, mouth dry. She looked over and met Paula’s steady, brown eyes in wonder. “Is that in my record somewhere? I didn’t know DMV’s kept track of how many times you take the test.”

They didn’t, as far as Janvi could recall. Her other driving proctors had no idea the number of times she had attempted the test, and if they asked, Janvi kept the answer vague and pitiful.

“Have all your attempts been at this DMV?”

“No, ma’am,” Janvi swallowed. “I’ve taken the test at a couple of one's here and near the college I go to. This is the first time I’ve been to this one.”

She had heard that the exam was easier here, a faint whispering that the office was understaffed and underpaid.

“Because we’re not too strict, right?” Paula guessed. Janvi whipped her head to deduce whether or not she was angry, until Paula let out a laugh.

Janvi relaxed slightly.

It was the kind of grating laugh that was disharmonious to the ear, but it was laughter, nonetheless.

Paula seemed to melt, her brown eyes twinkling. “Well, I’ll go easy on you, huh? Why seven times though? What’d you do wrong? Don’t worry, I won’t judge.”

Janvi melted too, wanting so desperately to please her. “Oh, something always unexpected happens, like a slanted hill during the parallel parking. Or one time, there was a line of cars at a left signal and I had no room to enter so I took up two lanes by accident and the proctor failed me. Or...it was always some condition that made the test harder than normal. But I’ve definitely gotten better each time. I’m prepared now.”

“Confident?”

“I-I, yes.” Well, it wasn’t the most reassuring statement, but it was an answer that seemed to appease Paula.

 “No traffic,” Paula pointed out. “Smooth riding. Adequate weather.” She buckled up her seatbelt. “You can start the car now. Adjust the mirrors if need be, okay honey? I’ll announce your results at the end of the test, once we arrive back at the DMV.”

Janvi nodded eagerly, adjusting the rear-view mirror until she could see the parking lot where Layla’s car was parked. She leaned to the right and left, with one eye closed to check the distance of the side view mirrors. As she leaned right, the sweat on her nose allowed her glasses to slip off, where it hit the middle arm rest and landed in the crevice of Paula’s seat.

“Oh, sorry,” Janvi said, horrified. She wiped her nose with her sleeve and rolled them up so that her elbows were bare. “Do you mind—”

Paula smiled gently. She leaned down, her meaty hands plunging in between the seats. Janvi shifted back, unsettled. Paula’s head, a blurry two inches away from her own, contained a small bald spot in between thinning, brown hair. She hummed a tune that sounded a lot like ‘A Bird In A Gilded Cage.’

“Here you go, honey.” Paula held the glasses by one temple and deposited it on Janvi’s lap.

“Thank you so much. Sorry about that.” Just before she was about to place the glasses back on her head, Janvi froze. She shrank back, confused. “Er, what’s this?”

The glasses seemed normal at first glance, perhaps dustier, but looking closer, around the round rims of the lenses were tiny, jagged spikes. Like tiny metal horns that Janvi had never seen before; it was as if they had just sprouted out of thin air.

Paula looked at her expectantly. A cloud of smoke puffed from outside the car, also waiting.

Janvi felt quite foolish, like she was admitting a naughty act to her mother. “Ms. Dean, something’s wrong with my glasses.”

“Then put it away, dearie,” Paula replied, honey tone in voice.

Oh, yes put it away, Janvi thought, relieved. What a smart idea, what would I do without Paula

A horrible thought struck her.

“But I won’t be able to see,” she said out loud, suddenly. “I need my glasses to see the road, the other cars.”

The air turned rather hostile then, and Janvi turned to Paula, frightened. Paula looked disappointed, angry even, like she had had a personal stake in Janvi’s exam.

Paula tapped the clipboard with a pen. “But you were just wearing your glasses a second ago.”

“Y-yes but, look!” Janvi could only hold out her glasses helplessly as if to show her that yes, something was really wrong with it. The spikes gleamed viciously. “I don’t understand but—but it’s changed! It’s dangerous!”

“Dangerous,” Paula repeated. She chewed on the back end of the pen. Saliva dribbled all the way to the tip. She straightened up. “So, you can’t drive today, then? Is that what you’re telling me? That I have to fail you?”

Janvi flinched. “Wait. Wait, no that’s not what I’m saying. I just need a new pair, or I got to fix—fix this one.” She attempted to pluck out the little spikes around the rim, before drawing back in pain. Blood swelled from her finger. The jagged, menacing teeth of glasses had pricked her.

She glanced back at Paula, panicking. “Wait here, I can get a new pair—from somewhere—”

Her voice trailed off. This was her only pair...she’d have to go to the eye doctor’s, order a new pair and wait for it to come in, but no...she was being stupid, she only needed someone to wrench these spikes off. Her sister or someone inside the building with some sort of tool...

“Just wait, I can get someone to take it off...”

Janvi’s heart sunk as Paula began to frown. “Now, looky here,” Paula said slowly. “This isn’t no car dealership, in and out as you please. This is a driver’s test. You’re either passing or failing. You’re welcome to schedule another appointment tomorrow or next week.”

“Listen,” Janvi pleaded. She squinted at her proctor. “Ms. Dean. I go to college in another city. It’s not easy making trips back and forth and it’s definitely not easy getting my family to drive me to another one of these tests. It’s—I can’t, it’s impossible to do it all over again. Besides, the appointments are all booked, I checked. I booked this one weeks ago.”

Paula rested her elbow on the arm rest, the weighty flesh flattening on the surface. She said nothing.

Janvi figured that she needed to make her case stronger. “You said it yourself seven times, right? I can’t do an eighth, I can’t. I practiced really hard for this—”

She swallowed.

“It’s impossible to take the bus in college every day. I’ve been doing it since freshman year, in the hottest of heats and on the really, really cold days, but I’ve done it. Everyone else can drive except for me. And—and now, I have an internship, so that’s school plus extracurricular activities plus a job on the other side of town, and I’m getting really late all the time, to everything. Don’t—don’t you understand, Ms. Dean? That I’ve got no other options except to pass today?”

Paula frowned again, the silence so deafening that Janvi could barely handle it.

“And my sister drove me here,” Janvi begged. “It’s humiliating to get her and my dad to drive me to fail over and over again. I-I can’t.” She looked up suddenly. “Actually, you know what? Forget the glasses, I’ll manage without them.”

Affronted, Paula spoke up. “Without them? You just told me you can’t see the road without your glasses! It’s illegal to drive without full vision, Ms. Jain!”

“I know,” Janvi faltered. “B-but I’ll do it anyways, I just can’t—”

“You will not!”

Paula’s chest rose up and down, as if she was wounded. Janvi, tears forming in her eyes, was beginning to understand.

“Pass or fail, Ms. Jain?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Put on the glasses or get out of my car!” Paula roared.

Janvi flinched, real tears sliding down her cheeks. “I can’t. It’ll hurt.”

There was no apology or compromise in Paula’s stoic brown eyes. It was like talking to an iron fist.

“P-please, my sister,” Janvi sobbed. She had a vision of Layla driving her back in smug silence. I could do it, so why couldn’t you?

Janvi couldn’t understand what was happening. The test wasn’t supposed to go like this.

The test. The driver’s test. Her mind cleared somewhat.

She stared at the glasses and then back at Paula. Paula nodded. Janvi wiped off her tears and gingerly slid on the glasses.

Wincing, she set them loosely at the furthest distance from her eyes, the spikes grazing the trunk of her nose painfully. She tilted her head upwards and blinked, able to see past the car now, onto the open road.

“Ah,” she said, as it began to slip off. There was a movement near the passenger’s seat. Paula leaned over and smacked her right on the face, so that the glasses—the spikes—were pressed up against her eyes.

Janvi screamed. The spikes sunk under her eyelids, around her eye ball. She jerked around, hitting her head against the wheel and clawing at the glasses, but it wouldn’t come off. The spikes seemed to grow longer, attaching itself around her eyeballs.

“Why would you do that?” she screamed, hating Paula, wanting to kill her. Her eyes rolled upwards from the pain.

She screamed and screamed and slowly after a minute or two, with holes around her eyes, she was quiet. Blood slipped down her face as the tears had before.

“Drive on, Ms. Jain.”

The car rumbled, swaying like Janvi in her seat.

“T-the test?” Janvi was hoarse. “You’ll do it?”

Paula nodded. “Well, you can see now, right?”

Numb, Janvi shifted the gear to drive. Her vision was strange; blood-red and bright, as if pain had brought with it a clarity. The car jerked as the adrenaline made her limbs feel moist and loose, like someone had poured oil-like fire in her muscles.

“Turn left at the entrance, and then drive straight until I say so.” Paula ticked off something on her clipboard.

Janvi found it difficult to breathe, letting out little gasps every so often. She turned on the indicator. With a fright in her heart, she realized that she hadn’t adjusted the right-view mirror.

Paula began to sing softly.

I stood at a churchyard just at eve;

When sunset adorned the West

Janvi, unable to stand her singing, wanted to pull over and vomit. But the test had begun.

Braking at a stop sign, hands trembling, she touched her face again. She stifled a cry and then wiped at the blood blurring her vision.

“Ahem,” Paula said, disapproving. Her eyes flickered to her hands and the wheel.

With a whimper, Janvi quickly placed both hands on the wheel. It was slick with blood. Right over left, she had to pass. Right over left, she had to pass.

“Take a right here.”

It was the driver’s test in its entirety. The checking of turns, the parking, the backing out, the U-Turns, seven times was the charm. The whole routine seemed burned into Janvi’s mind. She avoided looking through the rear-view mirror, the vision of a red, punctured thing in the corner—herself—too unimaginable a sight. She was driving erratically, she knew, but she did her best to follow the road signs. She hoped Paula would take pity.

At a stop sign, over in the next lane, a man inside a nice Volvo looked at them. He frowned and squinted, then lowered his window.

“H-hey, there,” he yelled. Janvi could only barely make out the words, as Paula didn’t allow her to lower the window. “Are you okay?”

Paula muttered out loud, writing on her clipboard, “Waiting too long at the stop sign…”

“N-no!” Janvi shouted. She slammed the acceleration. “I-I didn’t! It was him, it was the guy!”

Next was parallel parking. They entered an empty parking lot where two orange cones a car’s length from each other were placed. Mouth open, Janvi sobbed as she parked the car.

“Please,” she begged. She didn’t know what she was asking for. Her vision was starting to go in and out, black spots swimming in her skull.

“Just don’t touch the cones, honey,” Paula simpered. “And you’ll be on your way to pass.”

The right-view mirror, Janvi reflected, the wrongness of the angle would matter in this part of this test. A wailing noise escaped her mouth by accident as she jerked the car back and forth into the parked space. Paula crooned,

She’s not, though she seems to be

‘Tis sad when you think of her wasted life

Janvi reversed and then braked. “O-okay,” she croaked. “Did I touch anything…”

Paula exited the car, leaving Janvi to blink excessively at the road. The painful fire spread to her temples. After a few quiet seconds, Paula returned, promptly buckling her seatbelt over her chest.

“Okay, you can head back to the DMV,” Paula announced.

Janvi licked her lips, dying of thirst. “But what about my parking…?”

Paula sounded stern. “Didn’t I say I would tell you your results at the end? Now drive!”

Janvi’s head wobbled to her chest. Horrified, she could see blood. And when she looked up, she could see blood too.

The car jerked slowly, painfully onto the street as they sped off to the DMV. It took every inch of Janvi’s willpower not to swerve into the next lane’s traffic.

Blinker. Left. Right. Blinker.

For youth cannot mate with age;

And her beauty was sold for an old man’s gold

Paula sang softly to the beat of Janvi’s frequent gasps of pain.

“Park right over there, where we first started.”

Near the metal door and under the arch of the DMV, Janvi clicked off the engine. Her neck cracked as she looked over at Paula.

“Did I pass?” she asked through gritted teeth. Strange, she thought, why do I taste blood?

She closed her mouth immediately.

Paula rustled through the paperwork, again singing. Fifteen seconds later, Janvi screamed, “Ms. Dean! Did I pass?”

Paula sighed, looking up. “I’d like to pass you, I really do, but you hit the orange cone during the parallel—"

Janvi’s eyes rolled up and she began to thrash, her body out of control. She scratched at her eyes—at the damned glasses. Then, her hands grasped at Paula, who was inching away in disgust, and she tried to choke the living hell out of her. 

Cold air burst into the car as Janvi felt large arms grabbing her body.

“What the hell is going on?” A man had opened the car door, manhandling Janvi onto the ground, bewildered.

Janvi writhed. “Get it off me! THE GLASSES—GET IT OFF ME!”

There was some hollering and then more pairs of hands touching and pulling at Janvi’s face. Unbearable pain ensued until finally, with a scream, the metal tendrils shortened and retracted from her eyes, and the glasses were pulled off.

There was Layla, sounding frightened and concerned, steadying her to her feet, and asking inaudible questions that paled in comparison to the confused buzzing of the still-forming crowd.

The middle-aged woman who had signed her in at the beginning, Mrs. Riley Thompson, was staring through the opened driver’s door in horror. “Who—what happened here?”

Janvi pointed, red, glistening hand trembling. “She—Paula Dean did this! She did something to my glasses! She’s crazy!”

Ms. Thompson stared uncomprehendingly at the glasses skewed on the concrete.

No one touched it.

“There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with them…”

“Janvi, what’s wrong with the—"

With Layla grabbing her shoulders, Janvi bent down and retrieved the monster glasses. To her shock, there were no sharp spikes—only smooth, black rims slick with blood.

“No,” she shook her head. “No, no, no. She did something again! Tell them! Tell them!”

Mrs. Thompson looked over at Paula Dean who was struggling to get out of the passenger’s seat, flattening her cardigan in what looked like distress.

“What did happen?” Mrs. Thompson asked, sounding worried. “What’s the meaning of all this, Paula?”

Paula shrugged. “She went nuts in the car, Riley. Screaming and hijacking me into passing her. When I didn’t, she turned mental—"

“Lies!” Janvi bellowed. “Where’d the blood come from then? What about the holes in my head?”

Mrs. Thompson glanced at her face, looking sickened. “At any rate,” she said finally. “An ambulance needs to be called. And the police too, I bet.” She surveyed the car in shock. “All this blood in the DMV car. What in the world?” She looked at Paula Dean who merely returned her gaze in an I don’t know, don’t ask me way.

Unable to find the balance to stand, Janvi rested most of her weight on Layla. She felt tired suddenly.

“Don’t let her out of sight,” she warned the others.

They all looked speechless. And it was clear why; Paula Dean didn’t look like she’d hurt a fly.

The ambulance was called and parked in less than five minutes. The side door of the building was propped open, people spilling out and onto the street. All the employees were out of the cubicles; work was effectively done for the day from the excitement.

An EMT pressed a gauze onto Janvi’s eyes. She moved it away quickly, not wanting to let Paula out of her line of vision. Paula had wanted to go inside, get something from her cubicle but Mrs. Thompson had stopped her.

“No, you better stay here, Paula,” Mrs. Thompson said nervously. “Until the police arrive.”

Janvi couldn’t remember the last time a ruckus of this magnitude had surrounded her—perhaps never. Even the policeman, who rolled up in his flashing blue and white car, seemed puzzled.

“And you say she glued on spikes on your glasses?” he asked, sounding thoroughly confused. “And you put it on?”

“I-I don’t know about glued, but the glasses fell on her side of the car and then it—it was spiky,” Janvi said thickly. “Then she smacked the glasses right on my face.”

Paula was stubbornly sticking to her story of Janvi’s deteriorating mental state. “She clawed her own eyes when I told her that she failed—”

At the word ‘failed’, Janvi practically foamed at the mouth. “Lies!”

The policeman had to step in between the two, “Hold on—”

Mrs. Thompson spoke up, “Officer, I can vouch for Paula. She’s worked here for nearly seven years now. We’re good work friends, no trouble at all.” Mrs. Thompson’s eyes flickered towards Janvi’s wounds. “But something did happen, whether the girl’s story is truthful or not. And, by the grace of God, the truth is attainable.”

Heads swirled immediately in her direction.

“The DMV car has a dash cam,” Mrs. Thompson said, voice wobbly. “If we look over the recording, we can see what really happened.”

Janvi’s heart leapt. “Yes, let's look it over!”

The policeman nodded. “Show the tapes.”

No one would let him take it to the police station. It seemed like Mrs. Thompson and the other employees wanted the matter done right then and there. The EMT also wanted to bring Janvi to the hospital, to ascertain the severity of the wounds but with Layla’ assistance, she waved the EMT off and limped inside the building, towards a cubicle and a tiny desktop. The EMT followed behind her, frowning.

It was Mrs. Thompson’s cubicle they gathered around, as evidenced by the smiling photos of her and her family. Paula Dean seemed to sulk as she was escorted by the policeman who was sizing her up curiously.

“Y-you believe me, don’t you?” Janvi whispered to her sister.

She felt a wave of relief at Layla’s gentle words. “Of course. Who else would have brutalized you like that?”

The tape was filched from the car’s camera and brought to the cubicle. People were crammed around it, staring at the screen. Some employees were shooing away the nosy outsiders but most of them were glued to the spot, riveted. Hot coffees were made. Paula was sat down courteously by the policeman, smack dab in the front. Janvi stood on the other side, the furthest side, leaning against the wall and Layla, with a blurry view of everyone and everything.

“This isn’t how we do things…” the policeman said, sounding ruffled. Someone shushed him and Mrs. Thompson clicked play.

Janvi was shocked at the image that emerged, of herself looking nervous but normal, and chatting with Paula Dean. She had to squint but she didn’t dare touch the monster glasses again; they were warily deposited into Layla’s hands.

“You’ve taken the driver’s exam seven times. Or six, and this is your seventh attempt.”

Janvi clenched her fist, wincing from the throbbing in her head. There was a snicker from the back, and the policeman turned around in what seemed like a warning look before glancing at Janvi briefly.

She forgot that she would have to relieve the humiliating conversation in front of everyone, including her sister. Layla wrapped her arm around Janvi’s back and she rested hers on Layla’s shoulder.

“Confident?”

“I-I, yes.”

The audio was scratchy, the words minced and deformed. Janvi was absorbed, waiting, feeling almost demented until—

“There,” she croaked. “I dropped my glasses there…”

She squinted hard at the video Paula searching under her seat, and then the real Paula sitting rigid in the cubicle chair. A feeling of bile rose in her throat. She couldn’t wait until the policeman wrestled her to the ground and booked her in the station.

“I don’t see anything,” the policeman said, scrutinizing the screen. Janvi leaned forward as the video continued to play.

“Something’s wrong with my glasses.”

“But you were just wearing your glasses a second ago.”

“I don’t understand but—but it’s changed! It’s dangerous!”

Janvi, uncomprehendingly, couldn’t visibly see anything wrong with her glasses on the screen.

“B-but that’s impossible!” she exclaimed. The others began to look at her suspiciously. Janvi felt quite frightened.

She glanced at her sister yet again, teetering on the edge of unconsciousness. “You believe me, don’t you?”

Layla’s strong arms gripped her back tighter. For a horrible moment, Layla’s face looked blank. Then, she kissed her on the cheek. Janvi felt a fierce love for her sister wash over her.

They returned their attention to the screen, Janvi’s mouth dry. It was impossible…

There was her wailing and screaming in the car. Talking about college.

Her sobbing.

Janvi trembled, about to cry again from witnessing the worst moments of her life.

Blood fell from her eyes in the video, which she brought up with a raspy voice. “I’m bleeding, see! It’s the glasses, it has to be!”

She was scared by the amount of blood pouring out of her. How had she even survived? How in the world was she still standing?

It was oppressively hot in the cubicle; Janvi could feel prying, inquisitive eyes attack her figure, could hear the terrified whispers of crazy bitch coming from the others.

I stood at a churchyard just at eve;

When sunset adorned the West

Janvi almost fainted at the sound of the wretched singing, Paula’s melodious, monstrous voice following her all the way from the screen. The EMT looked at her, forehead creased, and said something inaudible to her sister.

Janvi felt strange; stranger than she had felt in her whole life. Her temple throbbed; her body shook. On screen, her cries filled the air. She tasted blood yet again and closed her mouth.

Paula’s singing filled her ears, making her want to vomit on the carpet floor.

“What? What is it?”

Janvi could barely glance in the direction of the voice, swaying in and out of consciousness. Through the haze, she could see the policeman turned towards Mrs. Thompson, questioning her. “What’s wrong?”

Even Janvi could tell that Mrs. Thompson looked pale. White with fright, her freckled face froze in fear.

“T-t-that’s not her!” Mrs. Thompson collapsed in the policeman’s arms. “My Paula Dean had her vocal cord damaged in surgery years ago! She couldn’t have sung that song in the video! Paula Dean can’t sing!”

Janvi saw the rigid back of Paula Dean tighten ever so more. And the DMV erupted into chaos.


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Driving tests have never been so terrifying. I physically recoiled, great job.
nenatia rated this work:

May 5, 2019, 6:57 p.m.

My reaction to the first part: "I relate to Janvi's experience at the DMV on a visceral level." My reaction to the last part: "I take it all back. I can't and don't want to relate. Oh god."
Suffice to say, I loved this. Pacing, emotions, story concept-- all excellent. I just have a few comments that hopefully will make this piece even better:

I don't know how I feel about the image of the DMV as a mashed-up cake. More than illuminating, it was confusing.
"Only later, when she would wake up in the hospital did she identify the smell as rotting milk." This needs a comma after hospital, but I singled out this sentence mainly because it's great. I love this kind of foreshadowing. If a sentence like this came even earlier, that would amp up the dread and suspense and make the beginning more engrossing.
I think the ending could be a little stronger. One, I want to know what happened after, both from a reader (oh my gosh this is amazing and I want to know more) and narrative (it would strengthen the horror and not seem so abrupt) perspective. Maybe when they turn to Paula Dean they see that she's disappeared?
The writing could also be tighter. And I'm being nitpicky because everything else in this story is great. For example: "Paula was her life-line, her angel sent from above, or at least Janvi needed to persuade her to be." The last part is clunky. I suggest making this two sentences, and then rewording the part after "or." Also, I'm confused where "man-me" came from.

You do a great job showing emotion, and this story was so unique! Anything that makes readers truly feel emotion (did I mention that I flinched, a lot? You should have seen my face during the driver's test scene) is a great piece. That's what writing is about. Great job.

Plot Pacing Originality

Comment Rating: 5.0

Rate
Well-written and horrifying as intended
naricorn rated this work:

May 3, 2019, 1:59 p.m.

I enjoyed this piece so much and thought it was well-written. Is this your personal nightmare? I don't read horror, typically, but there were so many moments that made me flinch. Pieces that make me visibly react are always the most memorable.

*There were some sentences that tripped me up. As a general rule, comparisons are supposed to clarify rather than confuse. For example, "like a mashed-up cake with the candles still lit on top." It took me out of the story because then I was thinking about a fire atop the building.

*I thought Janvi's embarrassment was described well. Loved the dialogue with her sister. "She had heard that the exam was easier here, a faint whispering that the office was understaffed and underpaid." <-- relatable.

*You depart from Janvi's POV several times. "They almost looked like twins; out of Janvi's POV," "Janvi, looking haggard and worried."

*Typo: "parents'"

*I thought "man-mee" wasn't the way I'd think of describing mispronouncing Janvi? I'd think something like "jan-vee" with an n. I also don't see the connection between "Murder. Man-me. Janvi. Murder."

*"Janvi felt an unnatural pang of disgust." - think you could describe this more originally. Telling us how a character feels isn't compelling.

*"Only later, when she would wake up in the hospital did she identify the smell as rotting milk." This really came out of nowhere for me. If you want to hint at the horror that comes later on, I'd recommend more frequent and subtler hints earlier.

*Janvi's mouth can't be ashen if it's her POV. Did you mean that she tasted ashes?

*"she only needed a doctor or a handyman to wrench these spikes off" - not believable as a reaction to spiked glasses

*"grab her body, plural, as in rude, male hands." - this is awkward.

*"My Paula Dean had her vocal cord damaged in surgery years ago." So... the ending. I think the ending is the weakest part of the story. It felt too convenient. I would have preferred that either you kept it consistent with no one believing her (maybe the footage was doctored by Paula Dean) or that everyone can see Janvi was tortured. Otherwise, the big reveal is kind of like "and turns out she WAS a devil," which we of course knew all along. And what's the aftermath? To me that could be the most exciting part.

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Comment Rating: 5.0

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