In the time I’ve been away from this blog wrote five books. Three are published under my romance writer name on Amazon. The fourth was inspired by a persistent group of 6th graders who insisted I write a book they could read. Using the nanowrimo challenge to keep the motivation levels high, the story was done in November. Now we’re in the revision stages and those darling children are unwilling to wait until May (the date I told them the story would be finished) to hear what they inspired. (Seriously, one of them is destined to be my business manager)
In the name of accessibility, I recorded and audio track. It is rough, like I’ll keep my job as a librarian rough, but if it gives a kid a chance to hear a story, I’ll put it out there.
I hope it is successful in transporting you to the world in my head…
~ ~ ~
The sense of excitement in the air was so thick Demetrius thought he could reach out, grab it, and contain it in a jar. This year, when the class presented their science fair experiments to the council in Helena, they were certain to win. He saw most of it in his mind. Damien confidently explaining how they conducted the experiment. Then Peter sharing their results, and finishing it off with Demetrius offering the conclusion. He also saw their research becoming a part of the system to improve the soil that was being contaminated, and consequently deteriorating many facets of life in their town.
Responsible for corroding pipes, softening the soil to the point of it being in a quasi liquid state, and altering the taste of their water, the white powdery substance offered various reasons for people seeking to live elsewhere in Montana. If they didn’t do something soon, the fate of the town was headed in the direction of becoming a ghost town with only old maps and train conductors to remind people it ever existed.
A dreamer for as long as he could remember, Demetrius saw something and thought or said, “what if we could?” After overhearing his parents discuss over coffee the possibility of moving, his once drifting focus honed in on the possibilities of doing something to save the town.
Before this idea, the times when he wondered outlandish things frustrated his teachers. Like the time he said he wanted to capture feelings in a jar. Mrs. Pryor, the fifth grade teacher, put an end to the idea and the various others that followed.
Reliving the memory, which he did often, still made Demetrius flinch inside. Believing his ideas were a form of mocking her, Mrs. Pryor kept him in from recess every time he shared one. The front of her hair stood straight making her look like she was caught in a wind storm and hadn’t realized it or didn’t care. “Every time you make fun of a lesson by giving a stupid idea, your recess becomes mine.”
Other kids in the class had equally bad ideas, but none of them were kept in. Over time things went from bad to worse. Demetrius never realized his ideas were bad until he saw Mrs. Pryor’s reaction. Recognizing he was on the losing side of a battle he didn’t understand, he grew used to the idea of not having an outdoor recess and used the time to his advantage. It gave him fifteen minutes to roam inside his head and analyze problems he otherwise wouldn’t have considered.
He survived three years of her, and although he was a little singed around the edges, Demetrius made it to eighth grade with Mrs. Almstead. To his surprise she embraced his ideas. The look of elation that crossed her face when he suggested something to the effect of capturing energy and using it to alter the physical properties of the alkali was the first of many signs the school year was going to be pleasantly different. Guiding his friends towards the vision, and empowering them to run with it was more than Demetrius was able to comprehend at time. He lived, yet still failed to understand how two teachers with completely opposite styles successfully worked in the same building and never conflicted or contradicted each other. Every once in a while, Demetrius watched the two women talk in the hall, and they seemed to be good friends.
A strong wind, stirring the landscape around him, pulled Demetrius away from his musings towards the primary reasons for their trip—the land that according to local legend used to be an ocean floor. Over the years, exploration trips and fossil finds removed the cloud of wonder with the tales transforming the legend to something people took on as being fact. In daydreams the rim became an ocean wall containing a life including whales, sharks and other awe inspiring creatures. And, the children learning within the walls of the building were once schools of fish.
Throughout the area, pockets of land coated in white dust reminded them of the substance spreading and threatening to take over their homes. Alkali bore the same consistency of a fine salt and softened the soil to the point of it being unsafe for people and animals. After rain storms, and the water evaporated, acres of a thin layer of alkali dusted the topsoil with a white film. It left farmers in a quandary. The precipitation they needed to survive, also served as a means for spreading the land altering chemical that threatened the livelihood of families who had been there for generations. If they didn’t do something, eventually Arcadia would become one of the ghost towns dotting the highway.
In that vein, the class shared Demetrius’s vision and added their own interpretations of how it could become a reality. Months later, they were scheduled to present three of their exhibits at the science fair. Damien thought using electrical impulses to alter the ph would make the soil more stable. Eugene, using his engineer’s mind, tried something a little more complicated. He believed pumping sturdier soil with an absorbent soil and extracting the water through a filtration system was a viable solution to their problem. The triplets, Angelica, Selene, and Marjorie went simple and proved plants that thrived in the soil also helped its host resist deterioration. Selene always explained it like it was common sense and she didn’t understand how people hadn’t come to the same conclusion. “When the plants soak up the chemicals the soil will return to normal. It’s not that hard people.”
Other people found Selene off putting. Demetrius found her honesty endearing. At least he knew where she stood on a topic. When he wasn’t thinking about the science fair, he spent his thinking time trying to figure out how to change her thoughts about him.
Caitlin and Andrea had the difficult task of finding the flaws in all of their arguments. Inadvertently, they knew more about alkali, physics, and earth science than all of the class combined. If given the choice, Demetrius preferred Caitlin’s thoughtful questions over Andrea’s argumentative approach.
Mrs. Almstead supported both methods of inquiry saying, “A presentation can make or break a judges decision.” Beginning with making them practice their presentation skills on younger elementary students, the class grew to have the attitudes and behaviors of a science consortium, and shed the typical antagonistic antics that develop from knowing someone for all your life.
Peter, the loudest of the group, balked at the idea. “How is helping little kids going to help us with the science fair?”
She patiently guided him towards her logical conclusion. “If you can explain something complicated to an eight year old and have them walk away understanding it, you’ll capture the attention of the judges. This is about more than winning. It’s about presenting your ideas in a way that will attract the right people to make it a possibility.”
As a result of her guidance, the class had two personalities. If they talked about the properties that resulted from a chemical conversion, the conversation grew lively and thoughtful. Change the topic to what to play during indoor recess—they ended up sitting quietly at their desks for the fifteen minutes. Yes, they were good at science. However, being friends was still a work in progress.
It was safe to say the competition strained the friendships as evidenced by the self chosen seating arrangements on the bus. Usually they sat clumped together in varying sections of the bus. Not wanting to be in the same room as, let alone talk to each other, the teams huddled in clusters around the bus. The groups separated by at least three rows of bus seats forced Mrs. Almstead to speak louder than her usual teacher voice.
Standing in front of the bus beside Alex, the driver, she began her pre trip talk. “Regardless of the outcome, I am proud of you.”
Demetrius couldn’t speak for the others, but he appreciated Mrs. Almstead’s ability to help them see their dreams could change the future if they shared them well.
“You are our future, and your dreams whether they’re big or small will change our world.” She gave the pep talk so often, the kids rolled their eyes when she wasn’t looking. This time her voice wavered lending gravity to the talk.
Pausing to let the words sink in, she looked at the roof of the bus until she was able to regain her composure. Her voice more stable, she went over the procedures for the science fair. ”The class will go as a combined team to the location where you are presenting. Once we get there the people who organized the science fair will separate you. Last year somebody complained that we were more like a television program than a group of kids trying to get a scholarship to college.”
The comment made the classmates look at each other and smile. Every year their school won the science fair. Not because they were better, it seemed like everyone in the community lived what most people only read about.
“On our way there, I’d like for you to discuss ways you can connect your exhibits in their mind. Caitlin and Andrea will be there intermittently to add comments to help. Remember, you are a team working for a solution not trying to win a prize. If you conduct yourselves as having like minds, you’ll present more professionally.”
Turning around to look at each other, the kids exchanged serious facial expressions. Their anxiety levels increased as she talked. They knew the science fair was a big deal and they didn’t want to be known as the group responsible for breaking the winning streak. Even more important, for the well being of their community, they needed the support the officials from the science fair were able to provide. Otherwise, within 50 years Arcadia would cease to exist.
Mrs. Almstead sat in the first seat behind Alex, the bus driver, and nodded her head as a sign for him to do what everyone really wanted. He plugged his iPod into the radio and began the playlist the class made for the trip. When the first song came on the radio they all asked the same question, “Who’s song is this?”
~ ~ ~
Too strong for any of their liking, The wind hissed through the windows. Out of habit they scowled at the window as if one day one of them would have the power to seal out the annoying sound. Blending with the music, the hissing made it difficult to discern if the song was country, dub step or heavy metal. For the first couple minutes Demetrius strained to hear the song. Eventually he could tell by the lassoing gestures the girls acted out, it was Andrea’s song. After a while, the distortion became so annoying he decided it wasn’t worth listening to the music and leaned into the aisle to join Peter and Damien’s conversation.
He almost immediately wished he hadn’t. Damien was trying to convince Peter why he shouldn’t be interested in Selene. “I know I can be bossy, but she has me beat. Do you really want a girl telling you what to do all the time?”
“Are you sure you’re not talking about Marjorie?” Peter asked.
Demetrius swore Marjorie had cat like senses. No sooner had Peter said her name when she peeked up from over the top of the seat. “Did you say something to me?”
Damien shook his head no. A wide eyed Peter leaned back into his seat and shrank lower. Demetrius turned to Marjorie and held his hand over his ear. He mouthed the words “I don’t know what they were talking about.”
Marjorie rolled her eyes, smiled and turned around to join the conversation with her sisters. Sensing they were in the clear Damien and Peter’s bodies began to shudder with the chuckles they tried holding in.
Suddenly the bus jerked, hurling people to the other side of their seat. The jolt was so strong, Alex, the usually short tempered bus driver, didn’t have to tell them to sit still or remain in one place. The girls pulled their knees up against the back of seat in front of them to brace themselves for the shaky ride. Using their backpacks for cushions, the boys leaned against the window and reclined in their seats.
Knowledge of the seriousness of the alkali storm tempered any good natured conversation that may have arisen on any other occasion. No one wanted to speak of the toppled semi trucks in years past. Outside the windows, a blizzard of white dust obscured their ability to see past the lane beside them. If a semi toppled, nobody would know until it was too late. Caitlin pulled a baggy of string out of her backpack. “I made these last night for good luck. Perhaps, now would be a good time to wear them.” The clear bag revealing the various colored string bracelets passed from row to row. Several kids hid the string bracelets in their pockets. Peter, who sat on the row opposite Caitlin’s seat, knew it was better to placate her than admit he didn’t want to wear the bracelet. He placed his on the bench beside him. “I’ll try putting it on when the ride is smoother.”
Alex’s tight voice came over his shoulder. “It’ll be alright kids. If I keep it at a slow pace I’ll be able to control the bus. The only thing we really need to worry about is the fool that thinks it’s safer to park in the middle of the highway.”
As though his voice stirred the storm to be stronger, the dust whirled brighter around them, like the glow from a candle, rendering them completely blind to anything outside the bus. Sensing something was going to happen, the boys who had been reclining, placed their feet on the floor and braced themselves for the jostle nobody really wanted to feel.
And then, something worse happened. The music stopped signaling the loss of power and the bus crawled to a stop. Alex’s arms flexed from trying to steer the bus without power steering and his back tightened to help against the push of the wind.
The bus slowed to a stop. He yelled back to whoever was listening, “I used the momentum to get to side of the road, but we’re still in dangerous territory.”
Instead of being at risk of hitting a smaller vehicle, they became sitting ducks. One semi truck pulled by the wind at the perfect time doomed them to be thrown in the middle of the alkali lake.
Coughing occasionally, the engine struggled to turn over, stopping when Alex pulled back from his effort to get it started. He tried several times until he rested his hands in the middle of the large steering wheel in a gesture of resignation.
He reached for the radio to call back to the school for assistance. The loud static faded and Alex pressed the button repeatedly as though there was a secret code that would revive it. He spoke to the air in front of him. “We did all the safety checks before we left the school. I don’t know what could be wrong.”
The wind died down to a gentle breeze, gradually increasing the visibility. Slowly, the landscape, slightly different than before the storm, appeared. Alex managed to park the bus within inches of the dirt road. If he had been to the right four more inches, the bus would have been on unsteady ground.
Using the back of one of the bus seats to brace herself, Mrs. Almstead spoke in hushed tones with Alex. The class could only hear pieces of words like “town,” and “I don’t know,” and Mrs. Almstead’s usual exclamation of “Oh dear.”
Sensing their conversation was not appropriate for the class Mrs. Almstead addressed them. “Kids, Alex and I are going to stand by the door and figure out the cause of the bus stalling. You need to stay here for just a moment.”
Peter motioned to speak and Mrs. Almstead held up her finger before Peter had a chance to voice his objections. He remained silent until they were outside the bus talking.
“Talk about bad luck,” Peter blurted.
“We’ll be okay,” Andrea, one of the few people who was able to keep Peter on the calmer side of a stressful conversation, consoled. “We can’t be that far out of town and one of our parents will see the bus parked on the side of the road.”
The entire class moved to the one side of the bus to watch the conversation through the window. None of them read lips well enough to decipher any of the words. Occasionally Mrs. Almstead’s eyes followed Alex’s gestures towards town or the engine of the bus. They both walked to the front of the bus and Alex raised the hood making it impossible for the kids to see the conversation.
Nicholas Dale opened his backpack and pulled out a piece of beef jerky and his water bottle. “It looks like we might be here for a while. I might as well get comfortable.” He held up his cell phone to confirm his suspicions. “We can’t get a signal. Until someone misses us we are sitting ducks.”
“I may be a lot of things, but a duck isn’t one of them,” Darien stood to go to the front of the bus. “C’mon Eugene, if any of us could fix this it’s you.”
Eugene crossed his arms in defiance. “But Mrs. Almstead said to stay here.”
“She’ll stop being upset when you tell Alex how to fix it.”
“But I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“Look!” Darien held his hands in the air to punctuate his statement. “Sometimes we have to do things without knowing the outcome. Just this weekend there was a rugby game between New Zealand and Australia. We’re talking important game on an epic scale. When their coach told them to win the game, the players from New Zealand never said ‘we don’t know how.’ They got in the game and figured it out. If we want to get to the science fair we are going to have to get involved.”
“Alright,” Eugene walked to the front of the bus. “If she yells at me, it’s your fault.”
“Did you just use Rugby as a metaphor to fix the bus?” Nicholas asked Darien.
Darien shrugged sheepishly, “It was all I had.”
Nicholas nodded his approval. “Nice.”
“They’re gone!” Eugene stumbled up the stairs.
He wasn’t the type of person who upset easily. The boys stood to run to the front of the bus and the girls used their knees to see above the bus seats.
“Did you look on the other side?” Selene rolled her eyes, “It isn’t like two adults could disappear in the atmosphere.”
“I may be awkward, but I’m not stupid, Selene. Of course I looked on the other side. They’re nowhere. They’re gone.”
The boys hurried to the front of the bus and pushed their way out the front door. The wind settled enough for them to see around them. They covered their mouths and noses with the front of their jackets. From the windows the girls watched them run around the bus, look under the bus, and divide themselves into two groups and go around the bus. They converged in confusion at the front of the bus.
“I don’t know where they could have gone.” Brian ran his fingers through his hair.
Selene gasped, “Now what are we supposed to do?”
****Author’s note : Please post a comment to let me know what you think of the story so far. I’m curious to know what works and what needs to go into the recycle bin.