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ECFairWeather
February 9th, 2013, 09:58 PM
Hello everyone!

As noted in the thread title, this piece is over 4,000 words long; however, it is a completed short story. With regards to feedback, specifically I would like to know what your initial reactions were after reading this, what you think it's about, and what are some areas that need further development or clarity. Also, grammar, syntax, spelling, punctuation, etc... I'm generally pretty clean for the most part but I'm human and miss things, too. There are a few instances of slang and foul language (PG-13 type stuff, really) but other than that, if you're feeling adventurous and/or you're like me and trapped under two feet of snow with nothing else to do but watch Once Upon a Time on Netflix all day, then please settle down in a comfy spot and enjoy! ;)

And as always, have fun!

~EC


***


Short-Change Hero

We had to summarize our reports in social studies today, and I just couldn’t see the point of swapping spit over things we’ll never need to know about. The teacher Mr. Hines picked us at random and had us each stand up in front of the class and deliver a “brief” summary on the topic we chose to write about. Although, some people in this class have an opposite definition of brief. It was all I could do to not grab my bag and book it out of there, sure to find solace in a can of Sierra Mist from the vending machines in the cafeteria. I had to do a recount of the loose change jangling in the side pocket of my bag, but I was pretty sure I had enough.

It didn’t matter anyway. I wasn’t gonna run. I wasn’t going anywhere. Sitting at that desk in that moment I saw my life flash before my eyes as one monochromatic blur of mediocrity and boredom. The pen in my hand came to life and scribbled a menacing-looking devil on my notepad, next to the notes I was supposedly taking on my classmates’ presentations. I shaded the eyes a bit darker than I meant to, but then again I was no artist. I just liked to sketch on my stuff when my brain couldn’t focus. I guess I sketched a lot but I never really took much notice until that day. Everything sort of just came together that day without me noticing.

To be fair, I notice so very little of what goes on around me anyways. Like, I don’t know about any rumors going on, if any, with the so-called popular boys and girls. I don’t think there is such a thing as popular in my school anymore so much as it’s just the natural order of things. People aren’t mean here, but they don’t go out of their way to be nice. I’m just glad that, for the most part, I’ve been left alone, if only it wasn’t for my parents riding me on about doing my homework and keeping straight A’s and B’s. They’re hounds from the hell that is my unknown future in the apparently “real world” that they have come to despise so much. They want me to be prepared for anything, but I’m thinking that just means they haven’t a clue as to what to do and are leaving it up to me to figure it all out – just like everything else.

We went through about four or five presentations and the class wasn’t even half over yet. I took a deep breath and sighed, my stomach tingling as Mr. Hines scrolled down the list of names to pick the next drone. I wish Mr. Hines was cool. I know that TV is not reality and that my favorite shows to watch are nothing more than hyper-sexualized versions of school melodrama blown way out of proportion and scope. But if there could be a ray of hope, I wish it would be in my Social Studies teacher. He’s so passionate about the stuff he tries to teach us, but I don’t think anyone gets it like he does. I think I do, but who the hell am I to try and curry favor with a teacher? I’m no teacher’s pet – at least, not his.

Mr. Hines calls a name and sure enough it’s Jyoti Setty. She’s his pet. Actually, that kind of sounds gross and oddly inappropriate to me for some reason. She’s not his “pet” per se, but she does tend to do a lot better in this class than I do. Before this semester started, I was somewhat looking forward to this class. I’d heard some good things about the teacher, how Mr. Hines was fair in his grading and in his homework assignments, and that he always planned at least one field trip per semester for his Social Studies class. Field trips were my favorite thing. Unlike everyone else, I actually did learn something and wasn’t goofing around with my friends. Mostly, my friends were in other…advanced…courses, and I was just happy to be getting through the ones I had. I thought I could change things around this semester, show my parents that I could pull higher grades, maybe they’d get off my back for awhile. It wasn’t like it was a hard class, after all. Just talking about the world and stuff that goes on when we’re not paying attention.

Like I said, I don’t notice things too well at first – and I didn’t notice that Jyoti Setty was in my class until after the first day when Mr. Hines had taken roll call. I knew her to be smart, in fact brilliant, which surprised me as to why she was here in this average-IQ level class. She could be in all AP courses if she wanted to and I’m pretty sure she was. I was nervous. This was the one class where I could do well, maybe even shine once in awhile. I wasn’t asking for a gold star, just a nod of approval. Jyoti could, and probably would outshine me very quickly. She dominated the lectures and every time she opened her mouth to give her opinion on something it was like she was speaking on a much higher level than the rest of us. There would be a lot of moments where she’d get into a long discussion with Mr. Hines over some war story in Afghanistan, and the rest of us would do nothing but watch the clock. Occasionally, some other kids would interject with something clever, something original, but I was never one of those kids.

I thought I’d get to change things around this semester but Jyoti Setty stopped all that – because unlike me, she was special. I don’t notice too many things that go on in my life, but I knew that like it or not there was still a class system in our world, and I knew exactly where I belonged. Jyoti was going places. She would be a foreign news reporter making headlines and showcasing third-world revolutions. She would run with her camera crew, hardly needing to touch up her makeup because it would always be spot-on, and cover a breaking story that would stop the world in its tracks. She had that spark, that gift of life, that I just didn’t have. And like a good little commoner, I just stayed out of her way and kept my place in the world as an ordinary, do-nothing.

Oh, but it’s not all doom-and-gloom. I’m not wanting to make you feel bad for me. I know it’s the price I pay for telling this story to you from my perspective but don’t pity me. This is reality and I’ve accepted it. I’ve accepted that there are some women in this world born to achieve and others born to serve. Well, I don’t serve anyone but myself, so I guess that means I was born to just be a…drifter of some sort. Anyways, what I mean to say is that I’m just different, but not special. Jyoti was special. Mr. Hines made it obvious to everyone when she was called out to present next. She stood and he asked what her topic was on (when we all damn well knew that they had been conspiring about it two classes earlier when he’d given out this assignment and she went up to talk to him after class about it) and she replied with an air of authority and determination that I just knew meant it was going to be some kind of heart-sick love tale from the Middle East to make us all white suburban American kids feel guilty about not being in a war-torn country at that very moment.

I was surprised because I was wrong. It wasn’t some heart-sick love tale. It was really just an amazing story. I had heard snippets of information here and there over the last few months about it but never really cared to seek out more than I had already heard. Apparently, some girl in Pakistan was shot in the head by the Taliban because she just wanted to go to school. The amazing part about it was that she survived. Jyoti told this girl’s story with such passion for justice in her voice. I could tell she was moved by this girl’s tragedy and how this girl continues to fight for women’s rights to education. It made Jyoti quiver with anxiety. Her hands trembled. I’d never seen that in Jyoti before. It was…humanizing. It meant that there was someone out there, a hero, fighting a real battle, while Jyoti was here, talking about these things, wishing she could be out there, too. I don’t really know if that’s true, but there was a lot of tension in Jyoti’s voice that day to make me believe anything was possible.

In a way, I guess it was my fault for being so goddamn indifferent. The girl Jyoti talked about is an activist because of what happened to her. I tried imagining what it would be like to be that girl, and all I came up with was me – a skinnier version of me, that is – dressed in standard kick-ass garb, holding a long stick in my hand like I knew how to wield it as a weapon, and showing those smug assholes a thing or two about how to treat a lady. I smirked to myself. I was the hero in my head. I couldn’t be killed. I couldn’t be shot in the head. I could fight and defend myself and save others from tyranny. I could beat them all down with a single ferocious blow and show them all that my fury knows no bounds.

I got distracted by my doodling. Jyoti had finished her summary and the next presentation was halfway through when I had stirred from my fantasy. I looked around quickly and hoped Mr. Hines hadn’t noticed that I had been miles away for a few minutes. That’s just what he or any other teacher needed was ammunition to gun all us “self-absorbed, narcissistic, generation Y-ners” down with cynicism and misjudgment. We weren’t all self-absorbed assholes. At least, I knew I wasn’t. I cared about the world around me, most of the time, but I didn’t have those same tools that Jyoti had. In reality, she’d be the one wielding that stick like a weapon, and I’d be an innocent bystander, one of the many that superheroes are always saving.

When Mr. Hines called my name, I was the last to go up and deliver my summary. By that time, the class was antsy, and I was right there with them. I hurried my summary along, blazing through the words on my paper and hoped I didn’t miss anything or mess anything up. I had a terrible tendency to just gloss over my topics without any real depth, as Mr. Hines had pointed out to me several times before. Just before I finished, I looked at him, and then at Jyoti, and then I realized then that it didn’t matter what I wrote or said – no one was listening. Not really. Mr. Hines was the only one who would grade me on it, but I had a feeling he’d already been satisfied with today’s summaries. Mine was just the last to go. It was almost the end of the day. I still had one more class to go but perhaps I could pick up that Sierra Mist I was dreaming about earlier. Maybe I did have just enough pennies down there somewhere.

Mr. Hines gave me a curt nod, thanked me and the class, and let us out. I figured I passed with a B. It was good enough, it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great, but it was enough. I picked up my things, slowly, for some reason curious as to what Jyoti was going to say to Mr. Hines after class had ended. She always had something to say to him after class had ended. It was one of those things that just irritated the hell out of me for some reason – yet I knew the real reason why and it had nothing to do with Jyoti.

I quickly slung my bag over my shoulder and hauled ass out of that room before I could hear anything else they were saying. After all, it was their conversation and they were entitled to their privacy. I’m a big supporter of privacy.

As it turned out, I had just two nickels shy of enough loose change to grab a Sierra Mist. It’s not like I would have been able to enjoy it anyways, what with our school’s no food and no drink policy in the classrooms (water being the only exception, or light snacks if you were diabetic and had a note, of course). I glanced at the clock on the wall and high-tailed it to my next class Biology, which started in five minutes. This day was going just as I would have expected it to go for someone like me, ending on a sour note with me not finishing my homework for today’s class, and I think we had a test, too. I couldn’t remember. It was while I was on my way to my destination when I heard the loudest sound I had ever heard in my life, a whip crack like thunder followed by a thud so heavy it shook the building, and that was when I fell to my knees.

The initial shock wave had shattered all the glass windows nearby, shook tables in the cafeteria, and swung hanging posters from the school’s theater club violently back and forth. I’d fallen to the ground, though I don’t remember how exactly because everything had happened so fast in that instant.

After the sound of the explosion dissipated, I heard the screaming following right after it. Girls and boys from my school were running everywhere. I looked at them for any sign of knowledge of what was going on – but we were all in the dark. The lights had gone out, too. It was something I had noticed for the first time: without lights on in the school, it was surprisingly dark in here even with all the open windows. I had been in the hallway that separated the cafeteria from the Biology labs when it happened. I was only a few steps away from taking a test I was sure to fail, but I was pretty sure that test had been postponed…indefinitely.

I peered in to the room and found students, some of them rolling off the lab benches, some of them gripping themselves in pain. The teacher was in the room – Mrs. Blanchard. She was old and fat and had long, hippie-like hair, but she was usually such a bitch to everyone. Now, she was scrambling to get to her feet and wore this look of such utter shock and terror on her face that I had never seen on her before. As a matter of fact, everyone wore that same mixed look of fear and confusion on their faces. I must have been wearing it, too, but I doubted anyone was looking at my face at that moment.

We were all as one in that moment of chaos. I had never been in a situation like this before. I just stood in front of my classroom, waiting. At first, I thought it was because I was waiting for something else to happen, like another explosion, or something more terrifying. But after five whole minutes of nothing happening and watching Mrs. Blanchard struggle to get her grip, I realized that the only thing I was waiting for was for someone to tell me what to do. I had come to this class waiting to obey someone. She was a bitch, but I still had to obey her. I was a student and that was the unwritten law for all students under the age of 18 in this country: if you want to grow up and get a job and get married and have a family of your own someday, you obey everyone and don’t get out of line. Because of this, I never did anything remotely bad or even the least bit mischievous. I always did what I was told, except homework, but I still felt guilty over it. The thing is, if I didn’t obey my teachers or my parents, I expected that I would have to live with that guilt. It wasn't the threat of punishment that scared me so much as all the negative press it would have garnered around me. I hated being ignored, but I hated being yelled at even more than that and I’d stuck with the lesser of two evils and had made a pretty decent living out of it, even though most days I’d rather throw myself out the window.

Today was the first day that I noticed things, though. The window that I had long fantasized throwing myself out of (it was only one story and wouldn’t have done me any damage) was now blown out and pieces of its original glass pane stuck out of the frame like evil dagger-like teeth. It was when I began to realize that no one was telling me what to do, that everything that had been routine for me for as long as I could remember had been thrown out along with the glass of that window, that I suddenly realized how much I really didn’t give a fuck about any of it. I turned around and took off on a run in the opposite direction, back towards the entrance of the school, feeling for the first time what it felt like to disobey the law of the school. Funny, how it only took a massive explosion to get me to move.

While running, I felt this oddly-timed sense of freedom. I knew I should have been scared for my life, and I was, but there was this other feeling of…of…satisfaction, like, it was my destiny to runaway at a time like this. It was my chance to break out. The prison would get itself together after awhile but right now the riots were going on and I was an inmate intent on escaping.

The other students were too dazed and petrified to notice where I was going. Some stopped me to ask me if I had seen someone they knew or if I knew what was going on, but I would shake my head and keep jogging along. I noticed, too, that some students, teachers, too, had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and were bleeding all over the place. I think I saw a kid with a compound fracture screaming as he was being walked along somewhere by a few teachers. It wasn’t long before I saw the principal and he was looking rough but somewhat still in control. He stopped me to ask if I was ok and then if I saw anything. I told him I was fine, but I was clueless as to what was going on.

Just as I made it to the anteroom, where all the administrative offices were, another explosion ripped through the place. I must have been closer to this one because it not only knocked me on my knees – in fact, the air pressure sent me flying backwards a few yards and I hit my head on the ground. When I came to, my ears were ringing and I couldn’t hear a word anyone was saying. I noticed that they were all screaming and running around like chickens with their heads cut off, but I just sat up and scooted over to the lockers, careful to not shake my head too much. I was dizzy, the back of my head hurt and as I touched it, I felt a warm liquid graze my fingers. I knew it was my blood. I tried to stand up, but I struggled. Eventually, my determination to get the hell out of there pushed my legs into action. They trembled and felt like jelly but I had to keep moving.

What was going on? I saw people shout with their mouths wide open. I still couldn’t hear anything. The ringing was abrasive in my ears and I covered them, thinking that I could concentrate and just make it go away. I closed my eyes and shut them for a moment, taking in all the air I could to fill my lungs. I smelled gas and ozone and dust, nothing at all like the cacophony of smells I came across normally in here. The linger of cafeteria food, layers of strong female perfumes, old textbooks and moldy walls – that was what I was used to. But it was gone, or at least masked over by this new, sudden odor of chaos and destruction.

I opened my eyes and found myself in a new world. For a moment, I recognized no one. Purple lights clouded my eyes and I felt the edges of a black out forming, but I shook them away, waited for them to pass, before I continued making my way outside.

Past the anteroom, which was enclosed by four walls and doors with security locks on them to keep unauthorized parents and other people out in the “real world” away from us students and our learnings, was the lobby. The lobby had been rebuilt a few years ago and was fairly modern compared to the rest of the school. Glass had covered each door and let in lots of light. As I approached, my hearing started to come back to me. I reached for the anteroom door, pushed it open, and entered into a war.

Or what was left of one.

People were out here, screaming, running in every direction, adults trying to wrangle the students and corral them back together. It was the first time I had seen the totality that the explosions had caused – and stood frozen at the entrance to the school where all the glass doors had been blown out and glass shards crunched under my shoes. I gaped at the scene. I can’t even begin to describe to you the horrors that I witnessed, but I’m sure you can get a pretty good idea of it just by turning on CNN after a suicide bombing in Iraq.

Only this wasn’t Iraq. We didn’t have suicide bombers. At least, that’s not what I thought it was. Someone earlier had mentioned it being a mass shooting, but what kind of mass shooting involved heavy explosions? I hadn’t heard gun shots at all that day and I hadn’t seen a fellow classmate dressed in black and decked in a military-grade arsenal. No – this was something else entirely. As I watched students and teachers help themselves to safety, I looked around and for once was trying to notice something. Many people had been asking me what was going on today. My teachers had always asked me what I thought was going on in the world. Well, to tell the truth, I hadn’t cared a wit about what was going on at all and just wanted to make it through to tomorrow, because it was one day closer to not having to answer to anyone.

And then I saw it. It wasn’t that hard to miss on a day like today when I had been looking for an answer to today’s events. It was in the sky, flying over the trees. It looked like a remote controlled toy airplane – the kind my brother’s into and bugs me about all the time. Only this one’s a lot bigger. It flies straight overhead and makes a sound like the jets sometimes do when they’re headed to Boston or on Memorial Day. It has a long, slim design. It’s meant to be fast – and then I look all around me and I realize it’s also meant to be efficient.

At that moment, I found the answer, although no one had asked me this question. They had all been asking me what I thought was going on in the world but that had been the wrong question. I could see it now, I could see it all now very clearly. Jyoti, Mr. Hines, even Mrs. Blanchard, my parents, my classmates, everyone I had ever known as either a friend or an acquaintance – I could see them all very clearly and the reason why I knew, how I just knew exactly why it was never going to work out for me ever.

After all, this ain’t no place for a hero.

mber341
February 12th, 2013, 08:49 PM
First, I liked it and found it easy to read and follow. I enjoyed getting into the mind of the storyteller and seeing her outlook and how Jyoti's essay gave her a different point-of-view even though she disliked the girl. I also found her thoughts of being the invincible hero in the little girl's situation realistic coming from a typical American high-school student. Maybe its because I was the same way in high school, keeping to myself and ignoring the so-called popular kids. I also liked how the Jyoti's essay kind of put a spark under her when the explosions occurred. I was expecting her to start helping others but again the drive for self-survival probably is more realistic.

There wasn't much I didn't like, only a couple of minor quibbles. As far as I know the term "swapping spit" means kissing, so I feel it was out of context in your story. In the third paragraph, the sentence that begins with "the hounds of hell" was hard to follow. Regarding the ending, I'm assuming the reason she feels it was never going to work for her is because they are under attack (foreign nation? alien?). Is that right? Or perhaps she knows they're all about die from another explosion?

I'm terrible at feedback, as you can tell, other than saying what I liked and what I didn't but I hope it helps.

ash
February 12th, 2013, 09:17 PM
I will second the sentiment on the phrase "swapping spit". I always assumed that meant kissing.

The sentence "I’d fallen to the ground, though I don’t remember how exactly because everything had happened so fast in that instant." seems a bit redundant. "In that instant" pretty much explains how fast it was.

Overall I enjoyed the read. I feel like I didn't get the ending though. It may be a little unclear with questions being the wrong questions etc... I might see if there is a better way to word it. Overall, good stuff. Thanks for the read. Good luck!

ECFairWeather
February 14th, 2013, 09:33 PM
Thanks mber341 and ash! I appreciate that you both took the time to read and comment on my work. I was hesitant to post this, given its rough nature, but I was looking for some honest feedback since I felt stranded after writing it; although, I must say that I didn't anticipate the phrase "swapping spit" would get the attention it did because my thinking was when I first wrote it, it was just another way of saying that "we're exchanging dialogue". Then again, I think very weird like that sometimes and I forget that not everybody can read my mind lol

In response to your confusion regarding the ending ash, that's exactly the kind of reaction I was hoping to get. After I wrote it, I re-read it and went "ack!" because I knew it was finished but I had no idea how to move forward with it. I want there to be a good balance of telling the story and not giving too much away. It might help for you or future readers/reviewers (if I'm lucky) to know where I was going with this: what happens in the story, as you read, is that the narrator experiences a huge traumatic event when drones attack an American school. Her mind throughout the story goes through this process of typical indifference towards U.S./Foreign affairs, then as a result of her insecurities hiding herself into a fantasy where she plays as some kind of bad-ass superhero, and then finally confusion and utter shock when a real, terrifying situation occurs right before her eyes. It's this process of being coddled and comforted then being ripped apart by something unexpected and catastrophic and seeing what the human mind does in this situation.

I agree with you ash that the ending is not as clear as it could be, and that's where I was struggling the most. How do I convey this sense of shock and confusion without explaining everything to death? I want to hint that these are US drones attacking American soil but I don't want to be explicit about why they're there. I just wanted the reader to experience what the narrator's experiencing in real-time, so what you get is the sensation of being thrown out of your comfort zone. Should I detail more on the damage surrounding the narrator? Should there be more carnage? I'm not sure what level of violence would hammer home the point.

Any thoughts?

Again, thank you both for your feedback and I'm really glad that you enjoyed my writing overall!

If you have some posts that you'd like to receive feedback on, I'd be more than happy to help!

~EC

ash
February 14th, 2013, 10:37 PM
I love that concept and it's very current concerning the news. What if you keep that as the end of your story and add in the super heroics? Maybe preface it with super hero like abilities and how she uses them, then her day at school, the attack where she saves lives with her abilities, and then as she walks out and sees the drones, she looks back and realizes the whole thing was a fantasy and she just happened to be the only one to escape the attack. The reader would get a sense that it's a superhero story, then at the end, BOOM, she just made it all up because of the trauma of the attack. That's my input. I would really like to see where you go with it. Just remember, nothing is too crazy or far fetched, it's all in how you sell it.

ECFairWeather
February 14th, 2013, 11:40 PM
Just remember, nothing is too crazy or far fetched, it's all in how you sell it.

Indeed ash! :D

I like your suggestion. I do have plans to expand the story a bit, and I'll definitely consider this approach and incorporate it somehow in the rewrite. The ending is the hard part, though. I just don't want it turning into one of those M. Night. Shamaylan things where you see the plot twist coming from a mile away. Hmmm....I have some thinking to do but thanks for the help!

~EC