The Bench (A Short Play)

Well.  This is supposed to be a creative writing blog and I haven’t posted any creative writing for some time, so I decided to post a play scene which I wrote for a class.  And of course, being me, I had to make it… well, you’ll see :).

Image result for park bench

ALLISON:

(Jogging through park)  Okay.  I’m okay.  I can do this.  It’s been six months, and it’s not like I can avoid riding by this spot forever.  Besides, just because he’s usually on his bench at this time of day doesn’t mean he’ll be there now.  But even if he is there, probably nothing will happen.  He’ll just ignore me.  Or maybe he won’t see me.  It’ll be fine… it’ll be fine… And oh gosh there he is.  So much for him not being here.  Aaaand he sees me.  Crap.  Crap.  Crap.

CHAD:

(Face breaking into grin and standing) Allison!  Is that you?  It’s been forever!  I can’t believe you’re here.

ALLISON:

(Continues on her way, muttering) Just ignore him, ignore him…

CHAD:

(Runs to Allison and throws arms around her.) Hey!  I missed you!

ALLISON:

(Wrenches herself away and shudders.)  Don’t touch me.  I don’t like hugs, remember?

CHAD:

But… I thought… I thought…

ALLISON:

Yes.  You were an exception.  Once.  But not anymore.

CHAD:

Umm… okay.

ALLISON:

Now let me make myself clear.  I did not run by here because I want to visit.  I ran by because this is public property and I have the right to it just like anyone else.  And because I was sick of the route I designed to ensure I would never run into you ever.

CHAD:

Oh.  I guess I was just hoping you coming by meant you were ready to be friends.

ALLISON:

How could we ever be friends?

CHAD:

Look.  I do care for you.  Deep down inside you have to care for me.  Isn’t that enough to be friends?

ALLISON:

No, quite frankly it isn’t.  No matter what, I can’t be friends with the man who abused me.

CHAD:

Allison, I never…  I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life but I’d never abuse a woman, much less you!

ALLISON:

See!  That’s just the problem.  You refuse to admit to what you did and you expect me to just get over it and have us be best friends?  I don’t think so.

CHAD:

I never hit you.  Hell, I never even yelled.

ALLISON:

You didn’t have to.  Abuse is never about what you don’t do.

CHAD:

I just don’t see what you think I did.  No physical or emotional abuse…

ALLISON

(Smirking) Did you forget the sexual abuse?

CHAD:

(Throws hands in the air) Everything we did was consensual!  I don’t know what you’re talking about!

ALLISON:

Was it, Chad?  Was it?  Because you pushed.  And I gave in because you promised you loved me.  That we’d be together forever.  Then you turned your back on all of that.

CHAD:

Look, Al.  I’m sorry things ended the way you did.  But none of what you described was actually rape.

ALLISON:

Then what was it, Chad?  Chronic lying?  Manipulation?  Using me for sex?  Because those things seem pretty abusive to me.

CHAD:

(At a loss) But… but… I’d be there for you for anything.  Promise.

ALLISON:

Then where were you when I was trying to get over this?  Where were you the nights when I stayed up at three am crying because I missed the man I thought you were?

CHAD:

I couldn’t be there.  Not when I caused the problem.

ALLISON:

And see.  That’s why we can’t be friends.  None of your promises are ever true.  I don’t need that in my life.

CHAD:

Allison, please!  Stay!

ALLISON:

(Starts jogging again).  Good bye, Chad.  I won’t be coming by here anymore.

Write What You Know: Good Or Bad Advice?

One of my favorite things to talk about is writing.  I could daily give long (and probably rather annoying and repetitive) speeches on the subject, but since there are few people in this world who would be interested in such a monologue, I’ve decided to post my thoughts here, where I hope such people will find this and read it.

  (Source: Jantoo.com)

Here’s a piece of writing advice we’ve all heard at some point: write what you know.  Since writing has become a serious hobby for me, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering whether this is really good advice or not.  (That’s what everyone spends their free time thinking about, isn’t it?  No?  Just me?  Okay.)  If you write what you know, you will probably tend to do these three things: writing stories set in places you’re familiar with, writing about characters based on real people you know, and writing about emotions you feel/ issues you deal with.

One opinion  and another opinion

Obviously, not all writers stick to settings they’ve been to.  If that were the case, then we would be bereft of fantasy and science fiction, which would be a terrible tragedy indeed.  On the other hand, several writers have penned wonderful books set in their own hometown.  I don’t think it really matters whether writers choose to write in settings that they’ve visited or not, so long as they are familiar with them.  Regardless of what kind of writing you want to do, you have to know about your  setting.  If you write a book set in Portugal and get the name of the capital city wrong, then people who have actually been to Portugal will be disgusted and possibly throw your book aside.  If you write about a fantasy world and have no idea what it looks like, then you’ll run into several problems and weaken your story.  So in a way, writing what you know is good advice for setting.

If you truly stick to writing what you know, then all your characters will be based on real people.  This can be a little risky, as the models for your characters can catch on.  Again, this is something you can go either way on, and authors have been successful with both fictional and real characters.  Personally, I prefer to write about characters of my creation, although sometimes I may get inspiration from a character trait of a real person.  For example, if some one I know stands out as really caring, then I might try to work that aspect into one of my characters.

One thing that writers commonly do is base characters (especially protagonists) on themselves.  The advantage to this is that it can help you create a more complex character.  There probably aren’t many people you understand better than yourself, so it helps you understand your characters better if they’re like you.  The downside to this is that all your characters will start to sound the same.  You might be a great person, but your readers will get tired of reading several books populated with characters exactly like you.  Another risk (which becomes even riskier when you base your protagonists on yourself) is that you might be tempted to portray yourself without your flaws.  It’s hard to publish the ugly side of yourself  for everyone to see, and it will sound much more appealing to play up all your strengths instead, possibly even adding a few strengths you wish you had.  The problem with this is that you’ll end up with an obnoxiously perfect protagonist that your readers are more likely to want to throw up on than to admire or relate to.

So if you’re able to create characters based on yourself without avoiding these errors, then go for it.  Otherwise, I’d stay away from this.  When I create a major character, I always try to think of specific  things that make him/her similar and different from me.  I keep some similarities so that I can relate to them, and make some differences so that… well, I believe I’ve explained that.

So basically, don’t do this.

Now for the final part of my post: the emotions.  This is one area where I usually write what I know.  I do this because I’m afraid that if I write about an emotion or issue I’m too unfamiliar with, it will come out all wrong and people who have been through what I’m writing about won’t like it.  I also stick to feelings I know because I think my heart will be in it more and I’ll do a better job of making the reader feel the right emotion with me.  I’m not saying that’s the right way, I’m just saying that’s what I do.

But then again, it is possible to have success in writing about characters in situations you’ve never dealt with.  For instance, John Green has never been a teenage girl dying of cancer, but The Fault in Our Stars was still a bestseller.  Though before writing this book, he did spend time with cancer patients.  (You don’t have to write what you know, but always do your research.)

Well, I think that’s all I have to say.  If you’ve made it through this ridiculously long blog post, then here’s a gold star for you:

Graduation Day: The Blame Game

Today is Saturday, meaning it is time for me to continue this lovely story.  Well, perhaps it isn’t so lovely, but I’ve started it, so you get to hear the end anyway.  As I have it planned, this will be the second to last part.  For those who are interested here is part one, part two, part three, and part four.  (wow, this thing is getting long)  For those who are not interested I have a summary:  Graduating high school seniors Joe, Ruth, and Fred remember and grieve the loss of Annemarie, their classmate and friend who committed suicide a year ago.  This part of the story opens with their graduation party.  (I’m not sure how good this section will be, but here it goes)

Fred

For the first thirty minutes of the graduation party, we just sat there staring at each other.  No one said anything, but I felt like everyone was screaming.  Even Mr. and Mrs. Jones, the parents hosting the party for us, didn’t want to talk.  And I figured it would all just go on like that until someone was brave enough to stand up and say the truth.  So I decided that person should be me.

“Okay,” I began.  A few people gave me surprised looks.  “So, at this party, I know we were supposed to sit around and share memories from school and stuff.  And we have a lot of them.  Some of them are good, but well… we all know that we share a lot of really bad memories, too.

“And some of you are probably wondering why I pulled that crazy stunt with the valedictorian speech.  Others of you already know.  So I’m just going to tell you all why.”

Everyone stared at me like they’d never seen me in their lives.  In a way it was true.  They’d never seen me like this, anyway.  They’d never really seen me be honest and reveal the true me.

“So here’s the thing.  When I became an upper classman, suddenly everything became about getting into college.  I wanted to get into a good school, and one of the things that would help me do that was getting first in my class.  Well, I didn’t think that would be too much.  All I had to do was work a little harder right?  Yeah, well it wasn’t that easy.  Not as long as Annemarie was in the class.

“No matter how much I tried, she always beat me.  Even in math and science, which were my best subjects, and her worst.  When I thought about it, I realized it was because she was just smarter than me.  I started to feel really down about myself, because I realized it didn’t matter how hard I worked, she would always be better.  There would always be someone better.  And I thought that being the best would make me some one, so that really bothered me.

“Annmarie and I had been friends for years, but I started to really resent her.  Most of you probably remember how I acted, and I’m not proud of it.  I put her down every chance I got, stopped including her in anything I did, and was pretty much just an enormous jerk.  Man, I don’t deserve half the credit any of you give me.

I started to get a little choked up.  Even though most of my friends knew this, it hurt to admit it.  It hurt to destroy the image of Fred, the gallant, smart, easy-going guy that everyone liked.  I depended on that image, but now I had to destroy it.  I owed it to my class.  I owed it to Annemarie.

“But that’s not the worst thing I did.  Because even after I was so awful to Annemarie and destroyed a valuable friendship, she still beat my scores.  And I wanted to be at the top.  So I started stealing her homework assignments.  At first I just took the assignments she had already turned in, so she couldn’t study off of them.  Some of her test scores dropped, and I caught up a little.  The teachers just thought she was getting disorganized.

“But it only worked for a little while, and she still was still ahead of me.  So I took the next step.  I started stealing her homework assignments before she could turn them in.  At first the teachers had some grace with her, but they started passing out zeros eventually.  And during that time, I kept bringing up my grades.  Part of it was because… because I copied her answers.

I couldn’t look anyone in the eyes now.  Some of my buddies looked at me with shock.  Like, no way, our Fred did all this?  It made me want to run away right then.  But I had to hold my ground.  Telling the truth was the closest thing I could do to redeeming myself.

“Although Annemarie was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, it took her a while to figure it out.  I think it’s because she still trusted me some.  I mean, even if one of your best friends turns into a total jerk, you don’t exactly expect him to try to sabotage your grades, right?  Because that’s a really low thing to do.  But I didn’t deserve her to think me above that, and soon enough, she caught on.

“It was because I started to get too reckless.  I actually stole one of her essays and turned it in as my own.  She had worked extra hard on it, since she was trying to bring her grade up.  It was so good that the teacher read it out loud to the class.  The rest of you probably remember this part.  She ran out of the room and no one knew why but me.

“Gosh, I’ll never forget when she confronted me about it after class.  Here’s my advice to you all before you graduate.  Never betray someone.  Because when they find out, it hurts.  Not just because they hate you.  It hurts to know that you deserve to be hated.  She yelled and cried and asked where Fred went, the fun, admirable guy that she had been friends with since kindergarten.

“I just stood there, not knowing how to answer that question.  I wanted to know, too.  So I just stood there and denied everything, which was the worst thing I could have done.  And stay seated boys and girls, because this is about to get worse.

The words started flying out of my mouth before I could stop them now.  I felt like I kept all this inside of me like campaign in a bottle, and now that I took the cork off, stuff was spewing everywhere.  It wasn’t pretty, but it needed to happen.

“Annemarie wouldn’t stomach me treating her like that, so she told the teacher.  And the teacher took it to Mr. Jacobson.  When Mr. Jacobson asked me about it, I still denied it.  I had dug a hole so deep that I thought the only way to get out was to keep digging until I reached the other side of the world.  If I admitted to what I did, I was afraid everyone would find out the dark truth about fabulous Freddy, and I couldn’t stand that.

“Mr. Jacobson let it go, because my family is friends with his and my parents are on the board.  And here’s what’s worse.  I let him do it.  I observed an awful injustice—one that I could have stopped—and I let it just fly by.  Anyone with any character wouldn’t have done that.  So that’s the truth about me, who I am, and why I did what I did today.  And for the record, it’s the truth about Annemarie, too.”

Before I admitted it, I caught Joe’s eyes.  He gave me a nod, encouraging me to say it.  Because he knew it, too.  I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.  Hot tears streamed down my face and I could hardly choke out a word.  There was nothing I could do to stop the crying.

“That’s why she died.  It was because of me.”

Ruth

I stood up, my face such a mess of tears and snot that I had given up on tissues.  No one really noticed though, because they were all gaping at Fred, who had reduced to a mess of uncontrollable sobs.  I felt a huge weight lifted off of me.  The truth wasn’t out in the open yet, but it showed itself, piece by piece.  And most importantly, we stopped pretending.  We acknowledged that something had gone wrong.

“Fred,” I started in a small voice.  “I really appreciate everything you said, but it’s not all true.”  He looked up at me with a confused expression, and I started blabbering.  “You know it’s not really your fault.  I mean, part of it is.  If I’m honest I’ve blamed you some of the time, but that was because it was easier than blaming myself.  It was my fault, too.  I helped kill her.”

My golly it sounded so dramatic when I said it (and the expressions of my classmates told me they thought so, too) but it just seemed really true to me.  I didn’t feel like I was exaggerating.  After Fred told his story, I felt like it was time for me to tell the truth, too.  So I did.

“We all knew Annemarie was getting depressed her junior year.  Fred told us part of the reason why, but I think there were other things involved.  Things we don’t know about.  Anyway, she started to look kind of different.  I had known her for years, so I knew when there was a change.  She always looked at the floor and she hardly looked anyone in the eye.  (Which was sad, because she did have the prettiest grey eyes.)  And whenever I did see those eyes, I saw they were puffy red and had dark circles under them.  She didn’t used to be that way.

“She also started pulling back.  I knew Annemarie was shy, but this came to a whole new level.  Whenever I asked her if she wanted to do anything, she always said she had to study, even though her grades were perfect.  Then she got disorganized with school (well, that was what we thought anyway) and her grades started dropping, which just wasn’t like her.  And she still always told me she had to study.  Then one day at lunch, a friend of mine (I won’t name her, but she knows who she is) told me she thought Annemarie was addicted to drugs.

I tried not to glance at Martha, but I could see her blushing out of the corner of my eyes.  I did love Martha (I really did) but that girl had to learn to get control of her mouth.  If anything would teach her, this would.

“Anyway, that seemed to be the missing piece of the puzzle.  I didn’t stop to think whether it would fit in Annemarie’s character to do something like that.  I didn’t even stop to think where on earth she might be getting drugs.  It just explained so much that I latched on to it, and because Annemarie was my friend, I determined I would help her.

“So one day after school I confronted her and told her (my golly, I actually told her) that I knew about her drug addiction and the other girls did, too.  I told her I didn’t judge her and I was there to help with anything I could.  Well, she just exploded.  She asked me how I would know that she had a drug addiction and where I would even get the idea.

“I had to admit that I gotten the idea from the school gossip.  (I felt so ashamed then.  I questioned my friend’s character because of what other people said.)  That just made everything worse.  She didn’t know about the rumors flying around about her, and by then everyone was half convinced that she took drugs.  When she found out the whole school was talking about her behind her back, she broke down, poor thing.

“I tried to help her, but she wouldn’t listen.  I deserved that.  She told me that her eyes were red from crying, the dark circles came from insomnia and nightmares, and that her grades were because of what Fred did.  She ran away after that, and I never really spoke to her again.  And what really hurts is that I instead of being a friend, I only showed her she didn’t have friends.  I showed judgement and rejection.  She died of it.

Joe

“well, i’ll take it from here.”  i stood up, brushing off my khakis.  ruth and fred were too emotional to say anything anymore.  besides, they didn’t know this part.  well, they did, but not as well as I did.  everyone looked kinda surprised i was even talking.  i kinda shut down after Annemarie died.  never talked or did anything friendly like that.

“so one day i did something wrong at school.  heck, i don’t even remember now, i’ve done so many dumb things at school.  but that time i got a detention for it, so i hadta stay after school in that room ya know?  and you straight-laced kids that have never even touched a detention slip won’t know what i’m talking about here, but in the detention room you can hear everything that goes on in jacobson’s office.  i mean everything.  wouldn’t believe all the things i heard.

“so yeah anyway, i heard annemarie’s voice that day.  and she was one of my best friends, so i knew that voice.  it kinda freaked me out at first, since she never got in enough trouble to go to jacobson’s office, but i figured it must have been some kind of friendly conversation.  then i heard what they were talking about, and i got real upset.  i mean, i was already pissed off at fred for the way he was treating annemaire.  one second we’re all best friends, the next he hates her.  i didn’t like that.

“and kinda like ruth, i was real worried about annemarie.  i mean, she wasn’t acting like she usually did.  when i found out what fred was doing to her, i just about blew it.  i mean, it was one of the dirtiest tricks i’d heard of.  sorry man, but it’s true.  and to find out my friends were going against each other like that just about killed me.  ’cause, you know, my friends were the only people i really trusted.

“but i decided to relax, because even though i never cared much for old jacobson, i figured he’d take care of the thing.  so i watched for a while.  and that idiot principal didn’t do a freaking thing about the situation.  he just let it continue.  i was getting more angry by the minute.  so finally i decided to take care of it.

“one day after school, i cornered old fred.  i told him i knew everything about him and annemarie and said that if he didn’t fix things real fast, i would fix them for him.  well, freddie here got kinda nervous, but he played it cool.  he told me to screw off and mind my own business.  i told him that annemarie was just about the best friend i had, and if anyone hurt her it was my business.

“then we started yellin’ at each other and i don’t even remember what we said, or even who threw the first punch.  you know how they talk about you getting so mad you see red?  well, i really think i did see red then.  i think the whole world just turned red as a cherry.  at some point, some teachers started pulling us apart.  i was so mad i can’t even remember who they were.

“but i do remember one thing.  and it’s the important part.”  suddenly i started to get all emotional and couldn’t talk anymore.  tears started falling everywhere, all those tears i’d been keeping in since the beginning of the school year, when i swore to myself that i wouldn’t cry about it anymore.  that was after dad told me no real man would cry over something for so long, and i should quit being a little girl and get over it.  i think that’s just about one of the worst things to say, and i kinda hate him for it, but i still stopped crying ‘cause i couldn’t stand the way he’d look at me when i did it.

“the one thing i really can remember from that whole thing is this.  when the teachers pulled me away, i was fighting and screaming and doing everything i could to get back to fred.  then i saw a couple of kids watching us from the doorway of the school.  some of you were probably there, but i don’t remember.  all I remember was that annemarie was there, those grey eyes of hers shining with tears instead of pride.

“ya see, i thought she’d be happy to have a friend defend her, but she didn’t see that.  all she saw was that two people who used to be such great buds were now practically trying to kill each other.  two of her old friends.  so instead of going to her and helping her like i should have, i just made another piece of her world fall apart.

“’course i got suspended for a week because of the fight, and i couldn’t explain anything to her.  heck, i couldn’t even ask her what she thought of the whole thing.  still don’t know.  fred didn’t get a single day’s suspension for the incident, mind you.  jacobson said it was because he only fought out of self-defense, but i can tell you it was more than that.

“and you know, by the time i got back to school…”  i couldn’t talk anymore.  i choked on these hysterical sobs, like the ones i had at the funeral.  gosh, i just couldn’t get a hold of myself.  i think it was several minutes before i could actually say it, even though i’m not sure anyone heard it.  “when i got back she was dead.”

Annemarie

They almost had the whole story.  They understood what they knew, but there were

            Bits

            And pieces

            That they were missing.

            People are always thinking they know everything when they’re missing pieces.

            Here’s what they didn’t know:

            First was my family.  That was the original problem, the first one that threw me into depression.  There was no love in my home.  Not for one another, not for God.  Although my dad was a Baptist pastor, he had dozens of affairs.  Mom always kept her head down, accepting whatever he did.  Even the way he treated me, the unwanted child of an unwanted marriage.

            Then there was Mrs. Goneril, coach of the girls’ soccer team at Jude Christian Academy.  I knew I couldn’t play well, but I could play as well as most of the girls on the team.  With practice, I could have been as good as the star player.  Yet she didn’t let me on the team.

            When my timid freshmen self asked why I was the only one who didn’t make try-outs, she snapped at me, told me I had no talent and never would.  Then, being the naïve girl I once was, I appealed to Mr. Jacobson, sure he would do something to rectify the situation.  I think he looked me in the eye exactly one time when I went into his office.  He brushed it off like it was nothing, like my feelings were a cheap vase that he wouldn’t mind to see broken.

            I walked away from that office a shell of a person I once was.  My parents, who I was supposed to be able to turn to in times of trouble, who presented themselves as upright Christians, were liars.  Then Jude Christian Academy, the place that promised to nurture me and provide the caring environment that my family couldn’t, shattered me and stepped on the broken pieces.

            And then came everything else.

            Now, watching my friends, the thing I most wanted to tell them was that I didn’t blame them.

 

Graduation Day– The Hidden Truth

Today is Saturday, which means it is time for me to continue this story.  Honestly I’m not entirely sure how much I like it myself, but some of you seem to be enjoying it, so I’ll continue.  For those of you who are interested here is part one, part two, and part three.  For those of you who are not interested, here is a summary of what’s happened so far:

It’s graduation day at Jude Christian Academy, an international Christian school.  Joe, Ruth, Fred, and Annemarie all should be graduating.  Something happened the year before that makes them all feel uneasy today.  It made Joe fail his classes last year, preventing him from graduating.  Ruth did better, but barely.  Fred is graduating valedictorian, but something is bothering him.  And Annemarie… is gone, but she’s watching them.  When Fred gives his speech, he emotionally falls apart, and it is revealed that Annemarie is a ghost.  (It’s much more interesting when you actually read it.) 

Joe

funny what the weather does sometimes.  when I walked home from graduation, it was pouring buckets, and you’d think it’d be sunny, ‘cause it was supposed to be happy day, you know?  and last year, with all that crap that happened, it was sunny.  every freaking day.  i really hated the sun for shining like that.  i know it’s dumb, but i did.

though during that time, the sky did have the decency to rain on one day.  i remembered that a little better than i wanted to.  i was sitting outside during the service.  just sitting there, letting myself get soaked and shivery cold.  it was actually the last time i talked to ruth.

“joe, why aren’t you listening to the service?”  she sat down next to me, pushing that frizzy blonde hair out of her eyes.  always getting concerned for others, that ruth.

“i don’t wanna.”  i didn’t look at her.  i just couldn’t.

she sat there for a while.  “why not?”

“’cause.”  i figured i had to tell someone, and it might as well be her.  “’cause I don’t care what that idiot pastor has to say.  it’s all a load of crap.”

then she gave me that look.  that oh my gosh I thought you were a better person than that how can you say such a thing? look“joe, I know you’re going through a hard time.  my golly, we all are.  but this isn’t the way to deal with it.”

“then what is the way to deal with it?”

“turn to god, joe.  find his love, his comfort.”

“oh yeah?  well, what did that comfort do for Annemarie?  did god’s love help frank become a good person?  and don’t even get me started on jacobson.  then there’s us to talk about.   we all believed in god, and look where that got us.  i’m done.  i’m just sick of the whole thing.”

she turned kinda pale and trembly.  “no joe.  no.  please, please don’t give up.”

“i’m not giving up on everything.  just on god.”

ruth looked so hurt and upset that for a moment, i kinda regretted sayin’ all that, but not really, ‘cause it just felt so good to say the truth.  she started to say something, then she just shut her lips and walked inside.  and we never talked after that.

and now that i could look back, it wasn’t just depression that made me fail all my classes my junior year.  it was that i hated jude christian academy so much.  ‘cause I could believe in god before i went there.  and you know, i make about as much sense as the weather.  i’d wanted something bad to happen to the school for so long.  now it had.  but it didn’t make me feel happy.  i just felt empty.

Ruth

I could only remember three times when my family left me alone like this.  (When our dog died, last year, and today).  Not even mom tried to talk to me, which she usually did.  But I was kind of relieved, because there are sometimes you just want to be alone.  (Like when you’re staring at a picture of your kindergarten class and you think it might kill you.)

Taking a picture is like taking a piece of the world and freezing it forever, so that even after your world shatters and rebuilds itself a million times over, the world you took a picture of still exists in a small way.  But sometimes pictures just tell you how much you’ve lost.  (Like right now)

First on the left was Fred, with his crazy carrot hair and a splash of freckles.  (His looks never changed much, but I hardly recognized him anymore.)  Then came Joe, with sparkling dark blue eyes (which no one would remember without pictures because he stopped smiling) and his perfectly combed brown hair (which has been a mess ever since he lost his smile).  Then came me (and I can’t name all the things I’ve lost) and then came Annemarie (the biggest loss of all).

And I couldn’t stop thinking about Joe, and how life is so unfair.  (I know everyone says that too much, but that’s because it’s just so true).  Because last year, when the world fell apart, I stopped doing my school work, too.  I was just as bad as Joe.  And now here I am graduating and heading off to university, while Jude Christian Academy refused to give Joe a diploma.  So instead of doing what he wants this summer then going to the university of his choice, he had to do summer school and then go to community college until he could transfer.  (not that there’s anything wrong with summer school or community college, just that Joe should have had the choice)

That wasn’t because he was smarter than me, or dealt with the trauma any better than me.  Here’s the truth.  Mr. Jacobson didn’t like him.  Joe was ADHD and never a serious student like the rest of us, so Mr. Jacobson was happy for an excuse to throw him out.  I, on the other hand, was a just the kind of studious, happy, church-going kid that he wanted at his school.  So I was allowed to keep attending school and graduate.  It was so unfair.

I picked up another picture from the floor, one of our junior class, of all the people who had been my best friends throughout the years.  But even though I loved all of them, (I did, really) Joe, Annemarie, and Fred always had a special place in my heart.  Now Fred thought I hated him. (which if I’m honest, I did a little.  And Joe definitely did)  Joe and I hadn’t talked. (which was all my fault.  I really hated myself for showing him judgement when he needed love)  And Annemarie…

Blinking back the tears, I thought about how much I missed all of them (so much that it physically hurt).  Right then I made a decision.  I pulled out my phone with shaking hands, and for the first time in over a year, I texted Joe.  Coming to the graduation party tonight?

            Because even though I didn’t know if he would come or not (or if he would even read a message from me) I knew that we all needed each other more than ever now.

Fred

I didn’t go home after graduation.  I just took off and roamed the city without telling anyone where I was going.  My family didn’t call, so they must have known where I was, or at least that I wanted to be alone.  I had only done this once.  Last year.

As I walked around the park by myself, still wearing my graduation outfit, I thought over everything that happened, down to the last detail.  I remembered how Principal Jacobson stood in front of the room.  I remembered how we were all still talking and laughing then, since we didn’t know what he was going to say.  I remembered someone wondering where she was, then me feeling relieved she wasn’t there.  I remembered hating myself for that later.

But most of all I remembered what it felt like when Principal Jacobson announced the news.  All of the sudden the whole world started sobbing and screaming, but I just sat there, feeling like I had been run over by an eighteen wheeler.  I didn’t know if I should feel loss, pain, guilt, or indifference.  I felt all of them but the last one.

Then after that day at school, I just wandered around the city, not sure where I was going or where I came from.  For the first time in my life, I didn’t do any of my homework assignments, but no one noticed, because pretty much no one did homework that whole week.  What they did notice was that one day later, I started doing my homework again.  I was actually probably the first person in my class to start doing homework again.  And I started doing more homework than ever before.

Everyone thought that I did homework because I didn’t feel as upset as the others.  That wasn’t true.  I did homework because I felt as upset as the others.  I just dealt with it differently.  Even though I always played it cool and made jokes about having senioritis, I almost never stopped working.  It numbed the pain, somehow, and I thought I was accomplishing something.

Now that I was walking through the city again just like last year, I saw that I had accomplished nothing.

Annemarie

Here’s the awful truth about what happened last year.

            Here’s the tragedy that tore the world apart and took me away.  That revealed the dark side of everyone I know.  That perhaps showed our lovely school community for what it was.

            I died.

            The world piled on pain after pain, shoveled on shame, and tore away everyone I trusted.  Until I decided it wasn’t worth it.  Nothing could make me live through another day.  I was through.

            So I killed myself.

            I had no pills or poison, so this is what I did: One day after school, when no one was home, I went to my kitchen and took the biggest knife.  Then I locked myself in the bathroom.  And I cut.  I cut one smooth line across my left wrist.  For good measure, to speed the process, I cut the other.

            And I watched my life pour out.

            I left the world

            Drop

            By

            Drop.

            Now I was a ghost, watching from above.

Author’s  note: I don’t believe in ghosts haunting places.  I’m not sure if I believe in people watching us from Heaven, as happens in this story.  I just used it for the sake of the story.

Graduation Day– Ghost

So the story continues.  Part one is here and part two is here.  Or, you can read on without reading the prequels if you like.  This week’s episode is a little shorter.

Fred

I stepped up to the podium, holding on to my robe to hide my shaking hands.  Meeting the eyes of the audience, I cleared my throat.  They all stared at me with unblinking eyes, waiting for me to deliver my grand valedictorian speech so they could wipe their eyes, clap, and go home.

Taking a deep breath, I started spewing out everything I planned to say about the wonderful time I had at Jude Christian Academy and how much it prepared me for the great adventure of life.  I kept going on and on, faster and faster, not even caring if they could understand my words.  I was top of my speech class, but I just wanted to get off that stage as soon as possible.

I knew they would all wonder if I would mention something about what happened last year, but of course I wouldn’t.  If there was something I could never do, it was talk about that.  Because if I talked about it, I would have to tell the truth.  And if I told the truth, they would hate me.  They would also know how little I deserved to give this speech.  I should’ve been expelled, not honored.

I made sure I met the eyes of everyone in the crowd without maintaining eye contact for too long, just like my speech teacher told me.  Although I tried to avoid it, I made eye contact with Joe at one point.  Instead of glaring, he gave me this look that told me I was doing exactly what he expected, because lying and pretending was all that I was capable of.  Somehow that was much worse than glaring.

Getting more nervous, I looked away, trying to push the words of my speech out as fast as possible.  People started to give me strange looks, but I didn’t care.  I just wanted off that stage.  When my words became so jumbled I couldn’t tell what I was saying anymore, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

Man, that was a mistake.  Because as soon as I did, I got this picture of Annemarie.  Not from when she was a kindergartener with cute brown curls, but when she was sixteen years old, gaping at me with confusion and hurt, saying that I betrayed her.  Those grey eyes looked deep down in my soul, seeing all the darkest parts of me.

I gasped, my eyes opening wide again.  The audience put on fake smiles to encourage me, but some of them couldn’t hide their concern.  Or their disgust.  Then I saw my little brother Drew, looking up at me with scared wide brown eyes, wondering what was happening to the stable big brother he always knew.  And I knew he was asking something, too.  He was asking me to be the hero that he thought I was, to give him some one worth looking up to.  And I think that’s what did me in.

“I’m sorry,” I said, dropping my papers and backing away from the podium.  “I don’t deserve to give this speech.  I don’t deserve this tassel.  I cheated to get here.  The real valedictorian is Annemarie.”

Ruth

It’s like a dam broke.  When Fred said that, all the tears held inside of me came bursting out, and I started crying so hard I wasn’t even sure what was happening.  I think I heard some commotion.  A mess of people started talking and crying all at once, while Fred ran off the stage.  Maybe someone put a comforting hand on my shoulder.

But all I could really do was cry and hurt and miss her and miss her and miss her.  I wanted Annemarie back.  I wanted her to give her valedictorian speech (and me the salutatorian speech).  Then I wanted for us all to talk and laugh about our memories, especially Annemarie, Fred, Joe, and me.  I wanted us to be best friends again.

That could never happen anymore.  We lost all that last year.  When I watched Fred breaking down (I really hate to admit this) I almost felt happy.  Not just because someone finally spoke the truth, but because he deserved this.  He deserved to hurt, too.

Joe

i’d been waiting for something like this to happen for so long.  dreamed it up so many times.  but when it actually happened i just kinda sat there, wondering what in the world was going on.  everyone was startin’ to get worked up about it, and jacobson tried to get fred to go back on the stage.  that idiot jacobson.  the one time fred’s right and he tries to correct him.

though thank god that fred didn’t get up there, ‘cause i couldn’t’ve stomached that.  ‘specially since jacobson wanted it.  i hated the guy more than fred.  so I just sat there, watching the salutatorian speech that no one was listening to, watching everyone freak out about what fred said.

and even after all fred did, i hadta kinda respect him for what he said back there.  ‘cause it took guts, and i was just so freaking glad someone finally told the truth.  or something close to it anyway.  so i sat there through the rest of that dumb puppet show of a graduation, feeling the closest to happy that i had felt in a long time.  “well annemarie, what do you make of this?”

Annemarie

I watched the truth start to unfold as graduation fell to pieces.  The administration tried to end the event as soon as possible, pushing all of the guests out before anyone could ask questions, especially questions that would ruin the school’s reputation.  When I saw Fred running off and crying his eyes out, I wanted to speak to him, to say that I forgave him for all he ruined.  But I couldn’t.  He had to deal with the consequences on his own.

            I never thought I’d live to see the day when Fred told the truth.  Or when any piece of the truth started to come out.  Then I almost smiled at my mistake.  Because I didn’t.  I never could.  I was never really there.

            I was a ghost.

Graduation Day– An Unfair Occassion

So this is part two of a series I’m working on.  The plan is to post one part each week.  You can find the first part here, although you can (probably) follow without it.

Fred

When I walked in the door, of course he had to be there.  “Hi Joe!” I called out, trying to act casual.

He turned around, giving me a glare with dark blue eyes.  “Hi.”

I started to feel my hands sweat, just like they always did when he was around.  It wasn’t just because he hated me.  It was because he knew the truth.  He knew what happened last year and how it was my fault.

“Joe!  It’s so lovely to see you,” my mom said, giving him a great big smile.  Joe didn’t bother to smile back, or even look her in the eye.

“Yeah… I didn’t expect you to come,” I said, which was true.  He stopped coming to any events last year.  After the school told him he didn’t have the credits to graduate, he hardly even attended.  So I couldn’t figure out why he showed up at the graduation of a bunch of people he didn’t like.

Joe’s expression when he looked at me made me want to bolt for the door.  “Well, we’ve known each other for an awfully long time.  Least I could do was come.”

“That’s right!” my mom said, not picking up the hint that Joe and I both wanted to end the conversation as soon as possible.  That or she pretended not to.  “You and Fred were in kindergarten together.”

Drew yawned.  “I don’t care about ancient history, mom.  Can we just go?  I want to get my tie off.”

“Young man, you will not have that attitude,” dad scolded.

I checked my watch.  “Right… umm… much as I would love to sit and talk about old times, I better be heading up.  See you around.”

I turned and started up the steps two at a time, trying to ignore Joe’s glare following me.  I’d forgotten that he was in my kindergarten class.  Our school was tiny back in those days.  There were only four people in my class—Joe, Ruth, Annemarie, and me.  We were all best friends back then.  Gosh, how did we get here?

Joe

didn’t expect you to come.  ‘course fred would say something like that.  no one’d expect the school looser to put his pants on.  forget coming to graduation.  i didn’t say anything else to him, his kid brother, or his parents as I pushed down the hall.

i swear, i really would’ve punched him if i could’ve beat him in a fight.  or if it would’ve done a thing.  ‘cause right then, I couldn’t think of one single thing worse than having to listen to that moron give some phony speech.  ‘specially if he fed us a load of crap about how much he loved school.

if there was something i couldn’t stand worse than fred, it was hearing people blabber about the holiness of our stupid international christian school.  there was a time when i actually believed that stuff.  back when i was a dumb little kid, but i knew better now.  i knew what lies were.  this place had taught me.

here’s the thing.  everyone has to learn at some point that life isn’t a pretty little fairy tale.  that there are more evil stepmothers than fairy godmothers, and when you do find a fairy godmother, she’ll lie to you and stab you in the back.  just like anyone else.  everyone has to learn that eventually.  it’s one of the stupid parts of life we all put up with.  but that doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t hate the person—or the place—that teaches that lesson to them.  that’s why i would always hate jude christian academy.

while i plopped down in my seat and pretended to read the program, i wondered if anyone’d mention all that happened a year ago.  then I almost started laughing like a phycho.  ‘course no one would.  ‘cause it was the truth, and everyone hates the truth.  ‘specially when it hurts as much as that did.

Annemarie

When Mr. Jacobson stepped on the stage to address the crowd, I expected all the old emotions to come back. 

Hot, boiling anger. 

Searing pain. 

Death wishes. 

Then I felt relieved to see that not a single one could come.  Only cool, refreshing forgiveness washed over me, the peace that only God could give.  I used to blame Mr. Jacobson for my Choice, but now blame felt foolish and childish, something to leave in the old world.

            Instead of thinking about my Choice, I thought about how happy I was for my old friends.  How grand it must have been to teeter on the brink of the rest of their lives, to have everything that I had given up.  Music played and they walked on the stage.  Although I couldn’t regret, I still felt that I should have been there, experiencing this with them.

            I wished I could have told them I was here. 

I was watching. 

I still cared. 

But they would never know I was there. 

Ruth

Every year at graduation, I wondered how I would feel when it was my turn to wear these funny outfits and hats.  I thought I’d feel so grown- up, so sure of my future.  Now that I would get my diploma within the hour, I still felt like a kid.  And I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.  (Well, I knew what college I was going to, but I had no clue what to study there.)

I smiled in front of the crowd, singing a song with my class.  It was hard not to wave back to my little brother, who was sitting in the middle with my family.  (All ten members, minus me)  To avoid looking at him, I searched for other familiar faces.  I found Joe watching us, which made me happy and sad at the same time.  I wanted him there, but I wanted him on the stage with us.

It was so unfair that Mr. Jacobson wouldn’t let him graduate with us.  I knew Joe failed his classes last year, but all of our grades dropped.  If my GPA hadn’t already been high, I would have failed, too.  And Joe’s suspension (which was unfair, too long, and unnecessary) had a lot to do with those grades.  In a way, I felt like a little bit of a traitor celebrating today.  It almost felt like graduation shouldn’t be happening, or that I should have been excluded like Joe.  (It would have been fair.)

As I kept smiling and singing, I caught sight of Annemarie’s mom.  It kind of killed me inside to see her.  I didn’t think she’d be able to come, after all she’d been through.  But she was there, smiling through the tears.  If she could do this, then I could too.  I forced a braver smile on my face and hit the high note.

But everything just felt so empty.  I wanted to grab the microphone and scream, “This isn’t right!  Just stop pretending!”  Sometimes people say there’s an elephant in the room.  I felt like there was a giant, stinking corpse of a dead elephant that everyone was trying to step over.

I swallowed the lump in my throat.  Nothing felt right without Annemarie there.

Graduation Day (Part 1)

Well, it appears that I missed my first scheduled post. >.<  Sorry, but I was BUSY.  Anyway, this story has been on my heart to write and…. yeah, we’ll see how it turns out.  

Disclaimer: Although the setting of this story is very similar to the one I grew up in, it is not necessarily based on that setting.  None of these characters based on real people, and none of these events are based on real events.  In other words, while this story might relate to my life in some ways, it is entirely fictional.

Joe

i straightened my tie in the mirror, trying to remember the last time I even bothered to put the thing on.  then i remembered the funeral, and it all came crashing down on me so quick that I wanted to just throw the stupid tie off and forget the whole thing.  or something dumb like that.  before anyone could walk in, i washed off my face a little so that no one could see how my eyes got all puffy red the way they do right before I cry.

funny.  i hadn’t gotten all emotional like that in a long time.  it made me want to forget about the graduation and just stay home like i wanted, but i promised them i’d be there, and though they can be kinda lousy, they’re all i really have.  if i’m honest.

so i walked out the bathroom door and went over to the kitchen to grab one of the muffins mom made.  she’d been trying to make a lot of my favorite foods ever since i lost all that weight last year.  it’d worked some, but i was still skinny as a pencil.  when i walked down the hall, i could feel dad glaring at me, even though he had his face stuffed in some old newspaper.

figured he’d be kinda mad today, considering the circumstances, but i didn’t really want to think about all the ways i’d earned the title of world’s most disappointing son.  failing my junior year and not graduating today was just one thing on the list.  when i ran into mom in the kitchen, she gave me this kinda sad smile that made my insides all twisty turny.  i was used to disappointing dad, but letting mom down really hurt.

“oh.  you’re going.”  her voice sounded surprised when she said it, which made it all worse.

“i said i would.”  well, we both knew that didn’t mean much.  i said i’d do all kinds of things.  like graduate, for starters.  “you?”

“i’m afraid i can’t joseph.” seriously, she’s the only one who called me that anymore.  she put on a fake smile and pushed a plate of muffins at me.  “i have a bible study today.”

yeah, figured it’d be something like that.  always some bible something or other goin’ on with her.  and of course my parents wouldn’t get off their butts for this.  who’d go to a graduation their kid wasn’t apart of?  well, a lot of people I guess, but not my folks.

“i can’t be late.” i grabbed a muffin and acted like i was in some big hurry, even though i had plenty of time.  i think she might’ve called out one last thing to me, but i didn’t hear.  i just wanted to get graduation over with as soon as possible.

Ruth

“Essie, do you have any waterproof mascara?” I asked my older sister, who was using the same mirror as me.  The twins (Abby and Grace) were using the other one.

She smiled and handed me a grey tube, keeping the other hand on her curling iron.  (Essie was always the more put together one)  “Afraid you’re going to cry?”

“Oh I know it,” I answered, wresting the old thing open.  “My golly, I’m going to bawl and bawl to no end.  I just don’t know how I’m going to make it out alive.  Agh!  I got some on my nose.”

She laughed, pulling the curling iron out of her hair and letting a perfect blond lock fall to her shoulders.  “Here.”  She took a tissue and dabbed at my nose.  “I don’t know how you manage, Ruth.”

“Well I don’t either,” I groaned, making another feeble attempt at applying makeup.  (Without mascara, my eyelashes are invisible.)  “I make messes wherever I go, and I’m probably going to make a mess today somehow.”

“You’re not going to ruin anything.  Just relax and have fun.  It’s your day.”

“Easy for you to say.  When you graduated from high school, you got through your entire valedictorian speech without a hitch.”  I screwed the mascara cap back on, examining the clumsy makeup around my blue eyes.  It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

Essie turned to smile at me, which just showed how perfect her makeup turned out.  (People told us we looked alike, but she was much prettier.)  “I stayed put together for the speech, but you should have seen me after the ceremony.  It was pretty bad.  But you don’t have to worry about ruining a speech…”  She stopped short, realizing what she said.  Without saying anything else, she started fixing her hair.  (It was already perfect)

I pretended like I needed to get something from my room, hiding my face so she wouldn’t see.  I ran down the hall to my room, almost tripping on my little brother on the way.  (That’s the problem with big families; you’re almost never alone.)  When I reached my door, I shut it behind me and sat with my back to it, relieved that no one was there.

I knew I was overreacting, but I wasn’t upset that I had finished middle of my class, even though I should have had a chance at salutatorian, maybe even valedictorian.  Burying my face in the skirt of my dress, I fought back the tears welling up in my eyes.  The whole day felt surreal and wrong, like we shouldn’t even be allowing it to happen after what happened last year.  (But there’s no pause button on life, and the world doesn’t have enough time to put itself back together when tragedy strikes.)

Fred

“Drew, if you don’t get off the sofa, you’re never going to make it to my graduation,” I told my little brother.

He yawned.  “I can’t Fred.  I’ve got senioritis.  Like you.”

I laughed.  “Dude, you’re in sixth grade.  If you have senioritis now, you’re in serious trouble.  At least I didn’t get it until I was a freshmen.”

“You got it and you’re still valen—valetori- something.”

“Valedictorian,” I corrected, pushing him off the couch.  He was still wearing his space ship pajamas, the ones I passed down to him.  I was a little embarrassed I ever wore them now.  “But I never would have made it this far if I didn’t learn to overcome the seniorities and work.”

“Okay,” he groaned, dragging himself off the couch and jumping up the stairs to his room.  Old Drew.  All he ever wanted to do was become like me.  If only I was really worth living up to.

“Valedictorian,” I muttered under my breath, turning to straighten my bowtie in the mirror and smoothing my bright orange hair before running through my lines again.  Hey, maybe I was being a little self-conscious, but today was my day.  After everything I’d earned, I didn’t want anything to go wrong.

As I practiced my role of happy-go-lucky, 4.0, Bible-reading valedictorian, I started to wonder what would happen if I showed the real me in this speech, the Fred that wasn’t so pretty.  I couldn’t help but picture it—everyone at Jude Christian Academy looking at me with disgust, my family crying with disappointment, and, worst of all, my classmates looking at me with these faces that told me they  knew all along.

“It’s not true,” I muttered.  “I worked hard.  I deserve this.”  But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the valedictorian tassel didn’t really belong to me.

Annemarie

            From above, I watched the community of Jude Chritian Academy filing into the room, chatting and laughing as they took their seats.  I wondered how I should feel about the place, the international Christian school that used to be my home.  But I stopped calling it home long before I found my real home.

My eyes scanned the room, searching for familiar faces.  I caught a glimpse of my mother, smiling as she talked to my old English teacher.  Her grey eyes, the ones I inherited, had a sad, distant look in them. 

But no tears. 

Not yet. 

Noticing the empty seat next to her, I searched for my father.  No sign of him.  My eyes flitted to my mother’s left hand, which bore a tan line around the fourth finger.

No rings.

            I didn’t feel surprised, or even disappointed.  Ever since I was old enough to add two and two I knew they didn’t really love each other.  My Choice gave them the excuse they had always been looking for.  Perhaps they’ll see it that way one day.

            Then I looked behind the stage, where the graduates stood, adorned in awkward blue gowns.  They laughed and hugged each other, whispering about nervous butterflies and plans for college.  If I still had pain, I’m sure I would have felt at least a twinge of sorrow at the sight.  I could be standing with them, getting everything they have if I had chosen differently.

            Out of curiosity, I searched for the person wearing the valedictorian tassel.  Then I saw it, draped around a pale neck holding a head of red curls. 

Fred. 

Of course. 

Had I not been well beyond bitterness, I would have felt it then.  Despite what everyone said about the students at Jude Christian Academy loving and caring for one another, I knew he would have done anything to rise to the top and get that tassel.  Anything.

            If Fred got valedictorian, Ruth should have made salutatorian.  The thought gave me some hope as I searched for her rosy cheeks and blonde hair.  But when I found Ruth, I saw her dressed just like the other graduates.  So she didn’t make it.  Pity.  She deserved recognition more than any of them.

            Although I knew he wouldn’t have any academic awards, I looked for Joe, too.  I looked into the face of every one of them two, three times without seeing his brown hair and dark blue eyes.  If I could have felt upset anymore, that would have upset me most of all.  As much as I wanted to have him near, I didn’t want him to end up like me.

            I wondered how they felt today, doing this without me.  Most probably would have ignored my absence, but I knew I must have haunted the consciences of some.  That was why I Chose to leave, after all.  Even though I knew now that I had made the wrong decision.  Suddenly I felt the urge to wave, just to see if I could get their attention, if they would see me.

            But I knew I couldn’t.  I was a ghost to them.  I always had been, in away.  I flitted about the halls without being there, joined in conversations without speaking, seen but never noticed. 

            And now

            I had

            Completely

            Faded

            Away.  

S7: Assignment Gone Wrong

It’s the time of the week when we all post our assignments at the last minute!  With this sandbox, we were supposed to write about our main protagonist or antagonist in our novella giving a speech.  I did, well, you’ll see…

With sweating hands, Lacey drags her feet to the front of the room, trying not to look at the seated students who will soon be her audience.  She doesn’t want anything to do with this public speaking class, but an Auroran teacher told her it would be a good idea, since everyone should have to step out of their shell.

Keeping her hands steady, Lacey glances down at the speech they gave her to deliver, then meets the expectant eyes of the audience.  None of them take notes of any kind, and most don’t appear as if they plan on paying attention.  They are here to learn how to speak, not to listen.  Clearing her throat, Lacey reads the words planned for her.

“There was a time all of you inhabited the Outskirts, a place dominated by anarchy.”  Out of the corner of Lacey’s eye, she sees a boy doodling on the edge of his paper.  They’re not interested, since they’ve all heard this information before.  Discouraged, she presses on, explaining how the only communities in the Outskirts had tyrants for leaders, the adverse living conditions, and the overall lack of any hope.

“That is why the Aurorans gathered young people to take the Evaluation.”  Lacey pronounces each word with precision.  Although her audience doesn’t care, there’s an Auroran sitting at the back of the room, watching her with a hawk-like gaze and taking notes on her performance.  “With the world in the state that it’s in, our hope lies with the next generation.  Thus, the Aurorans selected the most talented young people the Outskirts have to offer in order to prepare them to take positions of leadership and bring change when they come of age.”

That doesn’t make sense, she thinks as she continues.  They expect next to nothing of us today, yet they expect us to change all of the world’s problems tomorrow.  Problems we didn’t cause.

After giving a tirade about the improved living conditions for students, Lacey reads the conclusion.  “At Auroran Learning Institute, we all have the opportunity we deserve.  Everyone is treated equally and given complete freedom.”

Lacey drops the paper, immersed in her own thoughts.  She doesn’t notice the next person standing up to read the same speech.  “That isn’t true,” she mutters.

“What?” a person from the audience asks.

“That isn’t true,” she repeats in a louder, bolder voice.  A few heads snap up.  “How are we free?  We can wear whatever we want, so long as we wear what they tell us to.  We can do whatever we want, so long as they approve of it.  We can be whoever we want to be, so long as it fits the mold they have planned for us.”

Lacey keeps talking, growing faster and louder with each sentence.  She can’t stop herself.  “Why am I taking this class?  Not because I want to, but because they think I should speak out more.  They force the timid to talk but not the loud to listen.  Is that being treated equally?”

There isn’t a single person in the room not paying attention now.  “And what is the point of the Evaluation?  To put people in boxes and categories, to decide who deserves the better treatment.  Then those of us who are lucky enough to be categorized as good enough have all the expectations to fulfill and orders to carry out.

“Our lives may have been horrible before, but are we happy here?  None of you will honestly answer that because we aren’t allowed to! We–”

Before Lacey can say another word, she feels a cold hand wrap around her wrist like a metal shackle.  She whirls around to find their Auroran supervisor standing over her, a blizzard of fury in his eyes.  “That would be quite enough, Miss Gorse.”

Dun dun dun.  On that lovely note, I’m ending my sandbox.  I’m not planning on putting this in my actual novel, but I hope you gained more insight on the conflict I’m trying to develop.  If you’re reading my novella, I’d appreciate it if you give me feedback on how well I’m portraying this conflict.  (You can tell me I’m failing completely.  It’s okay.  After all, this is only my first draft.)

Sandbox 6: The Mind of an Auroran

Here is the sandbox that you have all been waiting for  you get to read this week. 🙂  I rewrote Chapter 1 from the perspective of *drum roll* an Auroran.

1

One week.  Her time is up.  Clutching her clipboard to her chest, the Auroran walks to the prison’s door.  They told her to watch out for this one.  She can be too smart and strong for her own good.  A rebel.  But no matter.  A week in isolation should have done the trick.  The Auroran punches in a code, and the door opens.  The student sits in fetal position, on the breaking point though not yet broken.  Good.

The student’s head lifts up to examine the Auroran with wide brown disbelieving eyes.  “Come with me,” the Auroran orders.

The student peels herself off the floor.  “Come?  I’m leaving?”

The Auroran resists the urge to roll her eyes.  For the smartest young individuals in the Outskirts, the students sometimes asked the most infuriatingly simple questions.  “Yes.  Up now.  We don’t have all day.”

While the student eyes her suspiciously, the Auroran jots down a few notes.  Untrusting.  Confused.  Take advantage of the latter quality.

            “Are you my imprisoner or my liberator?” the girl asks.

Amused by the question, the Auroran smiles and answers, “Both.”  Then she turns and walks down the hall.  The girl will follow.

“Where are we going?” the student asks, stumbling behind.

“Save your questions for later.”  When they reach their destination, the Auroran turns to face the bewildered student.  “I’m going to explain everything to you in a condensed, brief manner, so it would serve you well not to interrupt.  Your name is Lacey Gorse.”

The student steps back.  “No.”

Again, the Auroran finds herself wanting to roll her eyes in annoyance.  Uncooperative.  Some hint of identity left, she jots down“I told you no interruptions.  Your name is Lacey Gorse.  Your past was bleak with a grey future, so when the Aurorans offered you a chance to take the Evaluation, you readily accepted.  Since you scored among the top twenty percent, you earned yourself a place at the Auroran Learning Institute, commonly known as ALI.  Your results are here.”

The Auroran makes pauses her recital to hand the student her Evaluation results.  They were impressively high, especially considering they had to take away any points for emotional strength.  If the results reflected her true performance…

“What’s the Evaluation?” the student asks.

“An accurate measure of beauty, intelligence, personality, creativity, and strength.  You just completed the final part.”

“The prison… and the memory loss was part of a test?  Does that mean I can have my memories back now?”

The Auroran ignores the student’s hopeful stare as she recounts the planned response.  She was told to expect questions like this.  “The prison was a test of emotional strength, yes.  The memory loss I’m afraid was an unfortunate side effect.”

“Why… how did it happen?”

There’s one question the girl will never receive an answer to.  “I’m afraid I don’t have time to explain.”  The Auroran checks the timer on her electronic board.  “When that door opens in thirty seconds, you will begin your life at ALI.”

“What do I do there?”

The Auroran bites back a sigh.  Why can’t the students understand their only job is to finish their childhood then take their place as world leaders, mending all the problems the previous generation left behind?  Instead of voicing her opinion she says, “You learn.  You live.  You’re liberated.”  The door opens.  “Come now.  The assembly is waiting.”

She walks up to the front of the stage, undeterred by the students’ expectant and confused stares.  “Students of ALI.  Today Lacey Gorse will be joining you.”  They’re surprised, of course.  No one prepared them for this to happen, because the Aurorans had only recently determined that Lacey would be able to join their number.

“Now we know you thought no one else would be joining, but these are unusual circumstances,” the Auroran continues, silencing the crowd.  “You also need to know that Lacey has unfortunately experienced amnesia, which may cause some trouble to her adjustment, but we’re sure we can leave her in your care from this point on.”

There.  Her job is done.  The Auroran walks off the stage and through the door, ignoring the new student’s desperate eyes following her.  She feels no guilt.  If the student was incapable of taking care of herself, she wouldn’t be where she is now.  Even if she is an anomaly.