“Color Zap!” by Sam Sommer from Wilde Stories 2012 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.
Here’s a short story that truly is a short story, not a fraction of a novella or novel.
Spencer has a secret: his hair is periwinkle, not beige like that of everyone else on his planet. It’s more than an embarrassment, it’s mortifying, and possibly dangerous, so for his entire life his family has gone to lengths to keep those around them from discovering the truth. But when Spencer reaches his teen years he develops a teenager’s sense of invincibility and superiority, and rebels by refusing to again shave his head or dye his hair. Instead, he keeps his locks hidden beneath hats while they grow out, and then unveils his wild blue hair to a horrified citizenry.
Most people react cruelly to what they cannot understand and therefore fear, no surprise there, but there is one exception to the negativity. A mystery man appears who commends Spencer’s bravery before revealing that he is similarly afflicted (or blessed, depending on your perspective). His name is Gavin. Unfortunately, Gavin melts back into the crowd immediately after making his presence known to Spencer.
Armed with the knowledge that he is not alone, Spencer begins attempting to navigate the beige world while also trying to figure out how to find Gavin and any other people like them. He’s aided in this when, a short while after his big reveal, an invitation arrives.
Spencer faces choice after choice: cover up who he is and hope the beige world will ignore what they now know is true, or take a stand and strike out to find comrades (and, ultimately, to forge a better world)? It’s a lot of fun to watch Spencer make his choices, just as it is to root for his successes, and at the end of the story I’m not left with questions. I don’t wish there was more to the story. The author provides all the information necessary to enjoy his tale, and the moment in time that we’re shown is the one we need to be shown, the critical point in Spencer’s story. Once it has passed, the story is finished, which is just as it should be.