My earliest memory of writing takes place in 1995 in my mother’s kitchen. I was in elementary school (maybe third grade?), and I had to write sentences using assigned vocabulary words every week. I hated it.
When it came to writing sentences, my mother and I had a routine: I would read the vocabulary word aloud, and then complain loudly that I couldn’t think of a sentence using the word. My mother would then make up a long, complicated sentence while kneading dough or stirring something on the stove, and I would use my fingers to count all of the words in her sentence. After almost every sentence she recited, I would impatiently inform her that the minimum requirement for each sentence was only five words, not ten words, and I couldn’t possibly write a sentence with more than five words. That would be too much work.
My mother would shrug and say, “That’s all I’ve got,” and I would sigh loudly and immediately make up my own sentence using only five words. I’m sure my mother smiled every time I bent my head to carefully write all five words on the paper. Then, I would read the next word aloud, and we would repeat the process.
Later, in eighth grade, I was painfully shy. I read constantly. So much so that it negatively affected my grades. I was the kid in the back of the class hiding her open book under the desk, completely oblivious to the teacher or the lesson. That was the year I turned in a personal narrative about my family’s Christmas tradition, and my teacher, Ms. Fabiani, was so impressed she read it aloud to the class. I was startled to hear my words come out of her mouth and thrilled by the polite applause when she was done.
At the end of the year, Ms. Fabiani had us write an eleven-sentence paragraph as our final exam. I remember swelling with pride and joy at the sight of the big red 100% written on the top of my paper. I ran up to my teacher after class, beaming and screaming, “Ms. Fabiani! Ms. Fabiani! I got an A on my final! I passed!” She just looked down at me and said, “Yes, but you still failed, honey.” Her words were like a brick to my chest. I hung my head and walked away, and at the end of that summer I started my second eighth grade year at a different school in a different state, my heart still heavy with shame, finally understanding the weight of a zero. Or twenty zeros.
I started my freshman year in college with a malnourished English education. I was able to substitute English 11 and English 12 with Creative Writing 1 and 2, and I remember my first college essay came back covered in bright blue corrections. The most glaring mistake was the word “defiantly” circled more times than I cared to count. That’s when I learned that there is no A in definitely. In spite of this, I earned high marks on the other essays, and continued to excel in my other English classes as well.
That’s when I decided to become a teacher so I could help kids like me. Kids who need the extra push. Kids who need a person to notice that they need to be noticed more than once or twice a year.
Teaching became my passion. During my first year teaching, I enrolled in Reading and Writing Digital Texts with Penny Pence. She made us blog. A lot. I loved it.
I kept up with the blog for a while even after the class had ended, but eventually stopped posting new blogs because summer and a social life got in the way. When I stopped blogging regularly, I would occasionally feel the itch to write. I started a couple of new blogs here and there, but eventually deleted them because I would lose interest in the topic or become too lazy to write something worth posting.
I suppose my problem with writing is that it comes in waves. I’ll have periods where I write constantly, and longer periods where I’ll hardly write at all. I have a lovely collection of beautiful journals, all mostly empty. The first few pages are always full, though. There’s something about a brand new journal that always motivates me to write for a few days, but then the desire pitters out. Then next time I feel the urge to write, I’ll go buy another brand new journal and do it all over again.
Currently, I’m “writing” a young adult dystopian novel. I put writing in quotation marks because I haven’t actively written anything in about three months, but I’ve realized that writing doesn’t always involve scratching words onto paper or pounding them onto a screen. Sometimes, writing involves taking the dog for a walk or meeting up with friends. Other times writing involves staring at a blinking cursor for twenty minutes without typing a thing before jumping onto Facebook and posting a witty status update.
There are also times when I want to write, but I just don’t have the time. Right now, for instance, I’m staying up way past my bedtime because I’m finally feeling inspired. I feel inspired to finally start chapter four of my novel, but those pesky lesson plans keep tugging at my anxiety. I feel inspired to start blogging again, especially now that I’m at a new school teaching a new curriculum to a new age group, but that pile of grading is already large, and it’s only the third week of school.
I feel inspired to write, but guilty for setting aside the time to write when I know I should be doing other things. Like making dinner. Or sleeping.
I guess I should stop writing and go to sleep now. Ugh.
Holy crap. I haven’t written a poem in years. I used to write poetry all the time back when I was still young and unfazed by what others thought about my eclectic combinations of words and emotions. Now that I’ve been tainted by age and experience, I care far too much about what people think.
BUT, since my goal is to improve my creative writing skills, I figured I should participate in the Monday Poetry Prompt I stumbled across while perusing the most recent posts tagged with “writing”…particularly since I need practice in order to write a creepy sing-songy rhyming thing for Josiah Remington’s character to whisper maliciously in the next chapters of The Six Provinces of Debris.
Anyway, since I’m supposed to be grading right now instead of writing (naughty teacher), I figured I would write something related to success and failure, as dictated by my iconic (though neglected) red pen.
Here were the rules:
- You have 20 minutes or less
- The title should be an item (instrument, utensil, etc.)
- A call to someone/thing
- The phrase “what will you say”
- A type of bird
- At least 25 lines
- And the words: plum, nearsighted, string, open, gate, slip.
What will you say
if I don’t make the grade?
If I just fly away
like a raven?
Or a dove?
What will you say
if I slip?
if I fall?
Nearsighted – candor,
tethered to dreams?
I know what I’d say
if you couldn’t appease –
if you were tied
to a withering dream.
I know what I’d say
if you dyed your face
like a plum
from wondering right
while stepping wrong.
I’d say “open a casket”
or “unlock a gate,”
the only importance
is what you make
of your fate.
Author’s Note: The short story you are about to read is the backstory for three of the characters in the novel I am writing, The Six Provinces of Debris. To read the first chapter of that novel, click here.
Emmeline paced the marble floor, back and forth, back and forth. The balls of her bare feet made gentle slapping sounds on the floor with every step, her heels a dull sounding thunk. The sound, the rhythm, soothed her. The sector doctors had requested that she stay in the hallway, refusing to let her into the birthing room. Periodically, rhythmically, she could hear the moans and screams of labor. With every moan, with every scream, she quickened her pace, slapping her feet against the floor with purpose.
She didn’t usually come when Amabel gave birth. It had become such a regular occurrence that Amabel didn’t even bother losing the baby weight afterwards.
“What’s the point?” Amabel had said once over tea. “If I lose it, he’ll just try again sooner rather than later. I may as well stay fat and delay the inevitable for as long as possible.” She then sipped her tea daintily, averting her eyes in an effort to avoid Emmeline’s worried expression.
Usually, Amabel didn’t even bother telling Emmeline that she was pregnant. What was the point? She spent more time pregnant than not these days. She married Merrick, a powerful senator in the sector fifteen years her senior, more than seven years ago when she was seventeen.
This pregnancy was different, heavier somehow. Amabel didn’t need to tell Emmeline that it was wearing on her; Emmeline could just see it in the lines on her young face, in the way she carried herself to council meetings, in the way she stopped voicing her strong opinions so fervently as she had done in the past.
Two weeks ago they took the children to the park one Sunday afternoon. The great marble wall surrounding the sector glinted with a pinkish pearly hue, the great stone figures carved into the wall looking down lovingly on the city, protecting them from the uneducated masses beyond. Emmeline and little Willy had arrived first, and Willy, only eighteen months old with white blonde hair, was digging happily in the sand at the foot of the slide. Amabel arrived fifteen minutes later with her two children Pullox and Castor. The boys were fraternal twins and had just turned six two months earlier. Pullox had red hair and a light smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks, with a random spattering of darker freckles across his forehead. Castor had a darker complexion and was more serious, but he also had freckles to match his brother’s.
Emmeline and Amabel sat in silence for a while as the children played. Amabel’s belly was round under her dress, and she rubbed it absentmindedly as pregnant women often do. Emmeline watched her, noticing the crows feet etched in the corners of her older sister’s eyes, thinking she looked far older than twenty-four.
“What is wrong, Amabel?” Emmeline asked, placing her hand on Amabel’s.
Amabel squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head as if to clear her thoughts and regain composure. “Did you know this is baby number nine?” She said, adding a second hand to her large belly. Emmeline was silent, ashamed to admit that she had lost count of her sister’s babies.
“I can’t lose another one, Emmeline.” Amabel said quietly, smiling at Castor who looked over at the two women with curiosity.
Emmeline didn’t say a word. What was there to say? It was out her control, just as it was out of Amabel’s.
“How do you do it?” Amabel asked, watching little Willy stick a fistful of dirt in his mouth. “How do you keep from being…like me?”
Emmeline was silent for a while, unsure of how to phrase her response. When she married Langston three years earlier she told him she wouldn’t be a “birthing cow” like her sister. She was ashamed of the memory and ashamed of her words. She could feel Amabel’s eyes watching her, waiting for a response.
“Well, I told him I didn’t want to give any away.” Emmeline responded, watching Willy absently, “So we find other ways to satisfy his needs…and mine.”
“And yours?” Amabel responded, sounding confused.
Emmeline looked her sister in the eye. “Yes, and mine. I enjoy it too. Langston…he’s very gentle, and very…sensitive…to my needs as well as his own.”
“I don’t enjoy it,” Amabel said. “I never have. Merrick, he claims to be doing his ‘duty as a senator’ by ‘spreading his seed around the Provinces.’” She had deepened his voice to imitate him.
“I think he just enjoys the act, and damned if he gets me pregnant or not.” She sighed, and started rubbing her belly again. “I’m tired, Emme. I can’t lose another one. Not again.”
Another scream sounded through the double doors leading to the birthing room, and Emmeline couldn’t take it any longer. She looked back at Langston who was sitting on the couch at the end of the hall. “I’m going in.” She announced, and Langston nodded his head and stood up to follow.
As soon as Emmeline pushed the double doors open, the screams grew much louder. She broke out into a run, and pushed her way past the doctor and nurses to her sister’s side.
Amabel’s face was covered in a sheen of sweat, and she looked pale and delirious. Next to her a nurse checked her pulse, watching a timepiece on her wrist intently.
“We asked you to wait in the hall!” The doctor said angrily, motioning for the nurse to grab Emmeline’s elbow to lead her out of the room.
“She’s not doing well…” The nurse said, looking uncomfortably at Emmeline. “Perhaps we should let her stay.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Emmeline said, grabbing Amabel’s other hand and squeezing it. It was cool and clammy, and Emmeline couldn’t remember if that was a normal reaction to labor.
“She’s not leaving.” Langston said coolly at the doctor’s shoulder, and the doctor glanced over his shoulder at Langston’s large, muscular frame.
The doctor shrugged, defeated. “Amabel, you need to push.” He said, sounding annoyed.
On the bed, Amabel just shook her head slowly, her eyelids drooping shut. “I can’t.” She whispered, looking at Emmeline. “I can’t lose another one. I won’t.”
Emmeline brushed the red hair out of her sister’s eyes. “Shh, don’t worry about that right now. Just push like the doctor said.”
“You have to take her.” Amabel said, looking at Emmeline desperately. “You have to take her. Don’t let them take her. I can’t lose another one!”
“Shh, you have to push, Amabel.” Emmeline said again, her heart quickening with the doctor’s stern commands to “get her to push or we’ll lose them both!”
“You have to take her, Emme. I won’t lose another one. I won’t let him give her away like the others. Please, take her, Emme.”
“Okay, I’ll take her, but you have to push, Amie! I can’t take her if you don’t push!”
A tear fell down Amabel’s cheek. “I can’t, Emmeline, I just can’t. I have no more energy. I just want to sleep.”
Emmeline looked at the doctor frantically and shook her head.
“We’ll have to do a caesarian.” The doctor announced, frustrated.
The nurse shook her head sadly, and turned to get a silver tray on the table behind her.
“No!” Emmeline shouted, growing frantic. Women in the sector rarely survived emergency caesarian procedures because the doctors were more concerned with the life of the baby than the life of the woman they were about to render infertile.
“Amabel, you have to push now! You have to, Amie!”
“I’m just so tired,” Amabel whispered, closing her eyes.
“Nurse!” Emmeline called, shaking Amabel’s shoulders to keep her awake. “Nurse!”
The nurse set the tray down and peered over her shoulder at Amabel. She walked over and picked up her wrist, checking it for a pulse again. She shook her head and shoved her fingers into Amabel’s neck, moving it around a few times to find the telltale pulse. She pursed her lips disapprovingly and shook her head at Emmeline.
“You’ll have to leave now so we can finish the procedure.”
“No!” Emmeline shouted, “I won’t!”
“She stays.” Langston said angrily to the doctor. “She stays or I will speak to your supervisor about your lackadaisical attitude about the lives of the wife and daughter of Senator Merrick Xadic.”
The doctor glared at Langston, and Langston glared back. Finally, the doctor sighed and said, “Fine, you may stay, but this part is not pretty.”
Emmeline didn’t move. She just clutched Amabel’s hand hard enough to crush the bone. Amabel didn’t react at all.
“Here we go,” The doctor said, holding a large silver scalpel in his hand and moving it across Amabel’s round, rippled belly in a single, smooth motion. The sharp smell of iron filled Emmeline’s nose, and she continued to grasp Amabel’s hand, now more for her own comfort than for Amabel’s.
Suddenly, her ears were greeted with the weak cry of a newborn. She turned and looked, immediately wishing she hadn’t. A bloody baby with a shock of dark, slimy hair screamed as the doctor swept her into the waiting arms of the nurse. He promptly removed his gloves, covered Amabel’s open belly with a cloth, and turned to walk out the door.
“Wait! Aren’t you going to stitch her back together?” Emmeline called after him franticly.
“There’s no point now.” The doctor said, shrugging. Emmeline looked down at her older sister’s big, green eyes, staring vacantly into a world Emmeline could not see.
“No! Amabel! Amie!” Emmeline shook Amabel’s shoulders, slapped her face, stroked her forehead, all the while repeating her name and hoping for a response.
Finally, Langston pulled Emmeline off of her sister and into another room, free of blood and afterbirth and sharp doctor’s tools.
“Shh, quiet.” He said, gesturing to a bundle in a basket on a table in the middle of the room. Emmeline took deep breaths, trying to steady herself and her pounding heart.
“Look, here she is. Amabel’s little girl.”
Emmeline looked down at the baby girl and remembered Amabel’s final words. You have to take her! Don’t let them take her!
“Langston,” Emmeline said, tears running down her face, “we have to leave. We have to leave the Sector. We have to take her.”
“Leave? Where? Why?” Langston asked, confused.
“Amabel, she asked me not to let them take her. She didn’t want to lose another baby. I think – I think she gave up, Langston. She stopped fighting. We have to leave, become readers, something. We have to leave the Sector.”
Emmeline’s body shook with distress as tears streamed down her face, “We have to leave. We have to take her.”
“Shh,” Langston said, holding Emmeline close to his body. “Shh, we’ll figure something out. Let me find the nurse.”
Emmeline nodded and gathered the newborn baby into her arms. She held her close to her body, whispering gently to her.
Langston returned shortly with the nurse, who looked uncomfortably at Emmeline and the baby.
“We need you to do something for us,” he said to her, placing his hands on both of her shoulders gently. “We need your help.”
Three days later, Langston and Emmeline submitted their resignation from the Senator Council and left the Sector to become readers.
They concealed the baby in a basket in Emmeline’s lap in the back of the wagon, and as they approached the large, marble wall, Emmeline looked up at the marble figures carved into the stone. Was it only two weeks ago that she had looked up at those same figures with fondness, thinking of them as protectors rather than jailors?
Their wagon was searched at the wall, and Emmeline pulled a sourdough roll out of the basket and passed it to the guard with a smile. “You look hungry,” she said, pressing the roll into the guard’s hand. He smiled back and bit into the roll gratefully. “Yes, ma’am, thank you very much,” he said through a mouthful of bread, moving on to the next part of the wagon. Both the baby and little Willy slept through the entire ordeal, and the guards accepted Langston’s transfer orders without hesitation.
Emmeline couldn’t believe how easy it was to leave the Sector. Not just physically, but emotionally as well. The death of her sister had disillusioned her from the Sector’s controlling laws: No more than two children to a family, one to replace each parent upon their deaths. Any and all children born after the first two would be sent beyond the sector to be adopted by the illiterate villagers of the provinces, sent to help repopulate the human race that was still suffering from the devastation of years past.
Once well beyond the walls of the Sector, Emmeline looked down at the baby in her arms. Only three days old and she was already growing quickly.
Langston glanced over and said, “You know, she still needs a name.”
Emmeline nodded, and remembered a conversation she had with Amabel when she had first married Merrick, flushed with excitement at her first pregnancy.
“If it’s a boy…Castor,” Amabel had said giddily, “And if it’s a girl…Adelaide.”
“Adelaide,” Emmeline said aloud, testing the name on her tongue.
“Adelaide Anders,” Langston repeated, “Adie.”
They rode in silence as baby Adelaide slept in Emmeline’s arms, Willy’s head in Langston’s lap, surrounded by the quiet dark of the unknown.
Want to read more? Check out chapter one of The Six Provinces of Debris, “The Table of Joy“
Adelaide’s eyes snapped open at the sound of breaking glass. She lay there, awake, her ears alert and her heart beating quickly. It was too dark for her to see anything but shadows, and she wondered if the noise had been from a dream. She rolled over and closed her eyes, willing herself to go back to sleep, when the door to her bedroom burst open. She sat up quickly and saw the silhouette of a man rush into her room, closing the door behind him. She held her blankets close to her chest, breathing hard. The figure stood at the door for a moment, listening, before turning to Adelaide and approaching her bed.
“Adie,” the man whispered urgently. “Put this on,”
She breathed a sigh of relief. It was her father. “What are you doing?” She asked as he hastily swept a chain around her neck.
“Wear it under your shirt so nobody sees it.”
“Dad, what is going on?” Adelaide whispered, stuffing the cool chain under her nightshirt.
“Somebody broke into the shop,” he said, looking back to the door. “Take your mother and go. I’ll catch up.”
“Go? Go where?” Adelaide asked, growing frantic.
“Do you remember the shack outside the orchards?”
Adelaide nodded, feeling numb.
“Go there. Wait for me. If I’m not there by sunrise, move on without me.”
“You have to go now!” Langston walked back to the door and stood there, listening with his hand on the knob. Adelaide franticly pulled on her shoes and a jacket. Suddenly, Langston threw the door open and leapt out silently. Adelaide heard a loud thump and rushed to the door. Langston was straddling a strange man that Adelaide had never seen before. He was punching the man in the face over and over again. Adelaide shuddered when she saw a spray of red fly across the floor. Shiny wet droplets settled and spread through the cracks of the wood.
Emmeline ran out from the door to the largest bedroom that she shared with Langston.
“Langston!” She shouted, “That’s enough!” She glanced up and saw Adelaide standing at her door, staring at the blood on the floor.
“Adie! We have to go.” Emmeline ran around Langston, who still sat over man on the floor, breathing hard. She grabbed Adelaide’s arm and pulled her toward the stairs. Langston stood up and followed with a dark look in his eyes. His fists were covered in blood, and Adelaide wasn’t sure if it belonged to her father or to the intruder.
Before she knew what was happening, they were down the stairs. Adelaide ran her fingers along the spines of the three books on the shelves as she passed before crouching by the front door of the shop next to her parents. The window by the back door was broken, and Adelaide could see the shards of glass glinting on the floor underneath it. They could hear shouts coming from the street outside, and Adelaide shivered when she heard a woman’s scream.
“What’s going on?” She whispered to Langston urgently.
“Shh,” Emmeline said, behind her.
Adelaide felt annoyance bubble up in her chest in spite of her terror.
“Just tell me!” Adelaide said louder than she should have, but she already knew the answer.
Langston turned away from the door and said, “It’s a raid.”
Adelaide’s heart stopped in her chest. Her brother had died in a raid twelve years earlier. She knew that raids still plagued the poorer sections of the village, but she never thought the raiders would dare venture this deep into the wealthier center of the town. Not again.
Langston turned and crept across the room to the back door. He crouched under the window for a moment, and Adelaide could hear the glass from the broken window crunching under his shoes. He stood up slowly and peeked out the window before crouching down again.
“Okay, here’s the plan,” Langston whispered, “There are a couple of men just outside. I can hear them talking. I’ll go out the front door and distract them, while you two run out the back. Wait for me in the garden.”
Emmeline nodded and pulled Adelaide across the room to the back door.
Langston tore off a piece of torn fabric from his shirt and wrapped it around one end of a shard of glass. “Careful,” he said, handing Adelaide the long glass shard. She stared down at it blankly. “Just in case,” Langston whispered. He hugged her, stroking her hair. “I’ll see you in a minute,” he said, kissing her forehead.
“Be careful,” Emmeline whispered, a tear falling gently down her cheek.
Langston didn’t reply. He rushed across the room and waved at them to go. Emmeline pushed the door open and ran out, pulling Adelaide behind her. Adelaide turned to see Langston throw the front door open and shove another shard of glass into the neck of a man standing just outside. Another man came up behind him and thrust a long bladed knife at Langston’s back, but before the knife could make contact Langston turned to the side and the blade sunk into the chest of the first man. Langston buried his knee into the second man’s groin, pulled the knife from the first man’s chest, and thrust it into the second man’s back. The second man immediately fell on top of the body of the first man.
Adelaide screamed, and Langston rushed over to her, pulling her into the small shack that protected their gardening tools from the elements. Emmeline followed.
“Where did you learn how to do that?” Adelaide cried, frantically once they were safely in the shack.
“Shh,” he said, stroking her hair back with bloody hands. “Do you have the box?” Langston asked Emmeline quickly.
Emmeline shook her head, and Langston moved to the doorless opening of the shack. “Wait here.” He said firmly.
“Wait, you’re going back in there?” Adelaide asked, horrified.
“I have to.” Langston replied, and he disappeared.
Through the small, dirty window of the shack, Adelaide and Emmeline watched him run through the garden and into the dark shop. Time seemed to slow to an unbearable pace. They waited in silence, pretending to ignore the sounds of shouting coming from the rest of the village. Adelaide could smell smoke, and the sky above was an eerie orange and black haze.
Adelaide heard the crunch of gravel outside and ducked away from the window. Since there was no door to the shack, Emmeline and Adelaide could only hide in the shadows and hope that they couldn’t be seen. Adelaide held her breath, but nearly gasped when she saw three men pass the shack. Two of the men were wearing boiled leather armor. The taller of the armored men carried a long, heavy knife, and Adelaide knew it was a sword. The smaller armored man carried a large bow and wore a quiver of arrows on his back. The third man wasn’t carrying a sword or a bow. Instead he cautiously held a small dagger out in front of him. He hung back behind the first two men, and Adelaide noticed that he wasn’t wearing any armor. Instead, he was wearing dark clothing and narrow glasses. She tightened her grip on the shard of glass, ignoring the painful pressure in her fingers.
She didn’t understand. Why would Josiah Remington, proud auditor from the Senator Sector, join the raiders who’ve been plaguing the Six Provinces for years?
“I want you two to stand guard at the doors of the shop while I go inside. Don’t let anyone out alive.” Remington ordered, and the two men obeyed. The man with the bow went into the shop to guard the front door, while the man with the sword stopped at the back door facing the garden.
“Give me your sword.” Remington demanded.
The tall man hesitated and said, “Sir, it is the only weapon I carry.”
Remington sighed loudly and gave the tall man his dagger. “Now give me your sword,” he said again. The tall man handed it over. In the flickering glow from the nearby fire, Adelaide saw Remington smile before he disappeared into the house.
Adelaide looked at her mother frantically and saw that she wasn’t watching the tall guard. Instead, she was looking up toward the house. Following her gaze, Adelaide saw that Langston stood at the open window to her parents’ bedroom on the second floor. He was holding a rusty sliver box that glinted in the strange light outside, and Emmeline was silently motioning to the armed guard at the door, who had not yet noticed Langston in the window.
Langston nodded, seeming to understand. He moved away from the window for a moment, and when he returned he threw a rope through the open window and leaned out to make sure it was long enough to reach the ground safely. Tugging on the rope to make sure it would hold, Langston started to climb out the window, the silver box resting on the window sill.
But before he could make it out the window, he turned quickly to look at something inside the bedroom. Before he could react, the silver blade of a sword pierced his chest and emerged from his back.
Adelaide collapsed to the ground, and Emmeline clasped her hands over her mouth to keep from screaming.
Remington pulled the sword away, and Langston stumbled backward, knocking the silver box off the window sill and into the dark soil below. Remington followed and grabbed Langston by the neck. He leaned down as if whispering something in his ear, and then he pushed Langston out the window. His body seemed to fall in slow motion, and Emmeline had to hold Adelaide tightly to keep her from running to him as he hit the ground with a sickening thud.
In the room above, Remington inspected the bloody blade of the sword before using the curtains to clean it off. A moment later, he called the guards from inside the house, and the tall guard disappeared from the doorway.
Emmeline finally let go of Adelaide and they both ran over to Langston. He wasn’t moving. Adelaide dropped the glass shard, tore his shirt open, and inspected the wound in the middle of his chest. She refused to believe that Remington had punctured his heart. She frantically searched his neck for a pulse and started performing the lifesaving pumping and breathing movements Borvo had taught her early in her apprenticeship. Emmeline was saying her name, but she was too busy counting and pumping and breathing into Langston’s mouth to listen. She didn’t notice Langston’s head rolling around or his eyes staring vacantly into nothing.
“Come on, Dad,” Adelaide whispered, breathing hard from the strenuous job of reviving life. Tears streamed down her face, and she pumped and breathed and pumped and breathed, stopping only to check for a pulse.
Suddenly, she was knocked into the dirt and a sharp pain blossomed in her ribcage. Every breath she took felt like agony. She looked up and saw the tall, armored man with the dagger standing over her.
He chuckled, “Well, what have we here?”
Adelaide scrambled backwards in the garden soil as the man took slow, confident steps toward her.
“You’re a pretty little thing, aren’t you? Remington only spoke of the wife’s beauty, but he never mentioned the daughter’s.” He licked his lips as he bent down to grab Adelaide, but before he could reach her, he was hit over the head with a large garden shovel. He fell on top of Adelaide and his body went limp.
She looked up to see Emmeline standing over him with the shovel. Adelaide struggled to get out from under his weight, and Emmeline helped to roll the tall man off of her. When Adelaide was safely back on her feet, Emmeline lifted the shovel above the man and thrust the blade into his exposed throat with all of her strength. Adelaide looked away but she still heard the sickening crunch of bone and cartilage as the shovel made contact. She felt queasy, unable to accept the fact that her mother had just killed a man.
“We have to go, now!” Emmeline whispered, looking around the garden.
Adelaide took one last look at her father. She noticed the silver box jutting out from under his leg and the shard of glass he had given her only moments before. She grabbed both quickly before following Emmeline.
Just as they were about to reach the road, Adelaide heard a yell.
“There they are!”
She turned quickly to see two more men chasing after them through the garden. One of them was the man with the bow, and the other she didn’t recognize.
“Run!” Adelaide cried breathlessly.
Despite her injured ribs, she ran harder and farther than she had ever run before. Her heart felt as if it had moved up to her throat and her already damaged lungs where desperate for air. Her sandaled feet slapped the hard ground beneath her. Her legs were moving so fast, she felt as if she might lose control and stumble to the ground at any moment. She could feel the cold, hard box slipping out from under her arm as arrows whizzed all around her.
She looked back and instantly regretted it. One of the men was right behind her. Turning around had slowed her down and gave the man a chance to reach up to grab her long hair. Adelaide was still clutching the glass shard in one hand, and without thinking she swiped it back, catching the man on the face. He screamed and slowed down, his hands covering his eye and his cheek where the glass had made contact, blood seeping between his fingers. Adelaide continued to run, refusing to let go of the glass shard even though it was cutting into her fingers and the palm of her hand, making her bleed.
Another man had caught up to Emmeline, who was a few paces ahead. He tackled her to the ground and threw himself on top of her. Emmeline screamed, and slashed at the man frantically with a knife Adelaide didn’t know she had. But before Emmeline could make contact, the attacker caught her wrist in his and wrestled the knife away from her, holding it to her neck.
Adelaide ran up behind him and swung the metal box into the back of his head. It wasn’t heavy enough to knock him out, but it did knock him off of Emmeline. He dropped the knife and it went sliding across the dirt road. Adelaide helped Emmeline up, and Emmeline scooped up the knife. The man groaned on the ground and started to stand but Adelaide jammed the glass shard into his neck using the same move she saw her father use against the man in front of the shop. Hot, red liquid streamed out of wound with a sickening pulse, and she knew the glass had hit the man’s carotid artery. She turned to Emmeline with trembling hands, now coated in sticky blood. Emmeline nodded and continued running. Adelaide picked up the metal box and followed.
They slowed down when they finally made it to the orchard. It was quiet and dark, and that made Adelaide nervous. One of the raiders could be hiding in the shadows, and Adelaide was afraid they would pop out at any moment to attack. She no longer had the glass shard and she felt defenseless.
They approached the shack. Emmeline walked slowly toward it, knife held out in front of her. Adelaide followed closely behind. They reached the door and stood on either side of it, listening for sounds of movement inside. After several minutes, Emmeline eased the door open slowly and waited. When nothing happened, she stepped in and looked around, the knife held high.
“It’s empty,” She said from inside the shack. Adelaide quickly followed her inside, closing the door behind her.
The shack was larger than the one in their garden. It was damp and smelled like earth. Shovels, rakes, hoes, and other tools were hanging from the walls, and a half-full water bucket sat in a corner alongside an old wheelbarrow. Adelaide dropped the box into the wheelbarrow and began scrubbing her hands furiously in the water. She felt like it would never come off again, her hands permanently stained with what she had done. With what she had had to do. She suppressed a sob. Emmeline pulled her into a hug, but Adelaide cried out from the pain in her ribs. Emmeline loosened her grip and helped her to the floor. Together they cried. After a few minutes Adelaide noticed that the knife had cut into Emmeline’s neck.
“Mom, you’re hurt,” Adelaide said, using the moonlight outside to get a better look at the wound.
“It’s just a scratch.” Emmeline said, brushing her hand away. “And you’re hurt too.”
“It’s just a scratch.” Adelaide responded, but Emmeline ignored her and caught Adelaide’s cut up hand in her own and studied it for a moment before ripping a strip of material from her skirt to wrap the hand. When she finished, Adelaide said, “Now your turn.” She inspected the wound in Emmeline’s neck. It was shallow, and Adelaide held another strip of material from the skirt to Emmeline’s neck with her good hand until the bleeding stopped.
Emmeline looked around the shack and found a lantern and a panel of wood large enough to cover the window. She leaned the wood against the wall.
“Look around for some nails.”
Adelaide found nails and a hammer in a leather pouch hanging by the door. She handed them to Emmeline.
“Aren’t you worried that someone will hear the banging?” Adelaide asked as Emmeline positioned the panel over the window.
“Not out here. Hold this.” Emmeline replied.
“I don’t want anyone looking in while we’re sleeping.” Emmeline explained.
Adelaide obediently leaned her weight against the wooden panel so it wouldn’t move. She tried not to wince from the pain in her ribs. Emmeline lit the lantern, and the shack filled with a dim, flickering light. She then used quick, powerful blows to quickly hammer the nails in to the wall.
Feeling safer with the window covered, Adelaide settled down onto the floor again, leaning against a burlap bag filled with something that smelled suspiciously like manure. But she was too tired and the bag was too comfortable for her to care about its contents. She gingerly lifted her shirt and gently prodded her ribcage. They didn’t feel broken, but they were probably bruised.
As she lay there, she remembered the necklace her father had given her only an hour before. Pulling it out from under her shirt, she found a strange silver pendant. It was about the size of her thumb, and heavier than it looked. One end was flat and the other curved. A strange symbol that Adelaide didn’t recognize was engraved into the flat side of the pendant. It looked like a series of horizontal lines, all different lengths, connected by one vertical line. The flickering light from the lantern reflected off of the silver box and caught her eye. She struggled to get up and picked up the box.
Her father had died for this box. Had he not gone back into the house for it, he would still be alive. She studied it but couldn’t see why it was important. It looked seamless, like a metal cube. She could barely make out a faded symbol on one side: an ominous combination of sharp, circular shapes. She carried the box back to her resting place, and settled down, ignoring the pain once again. She looked at Emmeline, who was watching her.
“Open it.” Emmeline said softly.
“How?” Adelaide responded, turning the box over in her hands.
“Use the necklace,” Emmeline responded, sliding over to Adelaide. She pointed to the center of the symbol. She then gestured to the pendant around Adelaide’s neck.
Adelaide took off the necklace and gently placed the flat side of the pendant against the circular center of the symbol. Suddenly, a steady band of light glowed out of the pendant, and it grew warm under her fingers. She quickly dropped it, startled.
“It’s okay,” Emmeline said, gently. “I was surprised the first time, too.”
“What? You’ve done this before?”
“Of course. Now, try it again.”
Adelaide stared at her mother for a moment, baffled, before turning back to the box. She picked up the pendant again and pressed it into the indentation. This time she was prepared for the light and the unexpected warmth. A strange hissing sound escaped from the box, and Adelaide was shocked to find a seam where the box was once smooth.
“How…” Adelaide trailed off and looked at Emmeline, wide eyed.
“You can slide the top off now,” Emmeline said gently.
Adelaide picked up the box and was surprised to find that one side now slid easily away. Inside the box she found two books. One was the book of poetry Langston had given her only three days earlier. The other she didn’t recognize. It was leather bound and it didn’t have a title. The leather was faded in some places, and there was a curious dark ring in the top right corner of the book. Adelaide knew it must be very old, but she was surprised to see that the pages were still in very good condition, and it wasn’t as delicate as most other books.
“Open it.” Emmeline said. She looked away, seemingly uninterested. Adelaide gently coaxed the cover open and read the neat, handwritten words centered on the first page:
Dr. Adam Hughes
Adelaide gasped. Books were already a rare find, and hand-written journals were even rarer. But this was a hand-written journal hidden in a magical box. Her father believed that the box and this book were important enough to die for. Heart pounding, Adelaide turned the page.
10 Jan 3014
I know this is a bad idea. I have no choice. Cyber security is too tight, they monitor all our activity. This journal is the only way to keep a record of my results that they don’t have access to. They’ll catch me eventually. They always do. I just hope I can finish my work in time. Damn them! We were so close! We had finally started to get positive results! I’ll do it anyway. This is too important. I know the team is on my side, but will they have the courage to see this through?
Of all things to cut my research funding for…the Z project will only make things worse, why can’t they see that? In the last century we’ve already lost half of our habitable landmass to the oceans, not to mention the sun fried wastelands at the poles. It’s hardly safe to walk outside anymore without a nano-rebreather and solar cloak. A new set of irradiated craters will only create more uninhabitable areas for another century. We have too high a population density in too small an area, conflict is inevitable. The only real solution is to adapt the human body, open up these areas for colonization, free us from the prisons that we have made for ourselves.
It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve used manual input since grade school. Setting everything in writing makes the whole thing feel…real. There’s no going back now.
Adelaide stared down at the book in her hands, trembling. It was a four-hundred-year-old journal. She looked up at Emmeline.
“Daddy died for this?”
Emmeline nodded without saying a word.
Continue reading Chapter 4: Josiah Remington
Author’s Note: You are about to read the second chapter in my novel, The Six Provinces of Debris. Since these chapters do not stand alone, you may want to read Chapter One first.
“Audited?” Langston replied angrily, ignoring Josiah Remington’s outstretched arm. “We were just audited four months ago! We aren’t due for another until May!”
Remington nodded his head. “I am well aware of that, Mr. Anders.” He pushed past Langston and Adelaide and set a stack of parchment onto the table where the book of poetry had been only moments before.
Adelaide shifted her weight uncomfortably. Every time she moved, the book threatened to fall out of her waistband and down to the floor. She glanced nervously at her dresser. Emmeline was standing in front of it, her eyes on Adelaide. They made eye contact, and Emmeline nodded her head slightly to the bed. While Josiah Remington thumbed through the parchment on the table, Adelaide sat down on the bed and slid the book under the pillow.
“Ah,” Remington said, pulling a piece of parchment out of the stack. “You are usually audited in May by Mr. Samuel Tusky,” He took off his glasses and rubbed the lenses with the edge of his shirt as he spoke. “Unfortunately, the Sector has found Mr. Tusky’s work to be…of poor quality.” He held his glasses up to the light spilling through the window to ensure that every speck of dust was gone. “The Sector has appointed me to take over his caseload. After finding a few…discrepancies, it became necessary to double check his work in other villages. Including yours.”
Everyone was silent for a moment until Langston finally voiced the question bouncing around Adelaide’s mind, “What happened to Sa– Mr. Tusky?”
“I’m afraid I am not at liberty to say,” Remington replied offhandedly. He finally looked at Adelaide and Emmeline. “I certainly hope you weren’t close to Mr. Tusky.” He added darkly. “And if so, I’m sorry for your loss…and any future losses.”
Remington looked around the room seemingly oblivious to the emotional tension brewing around him, “Is this where I’ll be staying, or do you have something more suitable to my needs?”
Adelaide had never seen her father look so dark and so dangerous. His fists were clenched at his sides, and his eyes were wide with fury.
Emmeline was at his side in an instant. As soon as her hand touched his arm, he blinked, relaxed his shoulders, unclenched his fists, and transformed back into the man Adelaide knew as her father.
“We have a spare bed in our office,” Her voice was calm and unwavering. “Adie, will you please make the bed for Mr. Remington?”
Trembling, Adelaide nodded and slowly got up from the bed, readjusting the pillow to make sure the book was concealed.
Emmeline turned back to Remington, “Would you like some tea? I’m happy to prepare some for you in the kitchen.”
Remington nodded and gave Emmeline a smile that made Adelaide’s skin crawl. She hoped her father didn’t notice the way Remington was looking at her mother. As Remington followed Emmeline out of the room, however, Langston’s fists were clenched again and his eyes were narrow. He noticed.
I’m sorry for your loss…and any future losses. The words ran through Adelaide’s head over and over again as she made the bed for Remington. He said they found discrepancies in Sam’s work, Adelaide thought to herself, tucking the edge of a patchwork sheet under the small mattress in her father’s office. Why kind of discrepancies? She thought of the book of poetry. It didn’t fit in the small, hidden compartment where she kept her copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, so she had to give it to Langston for safekeeping.
Adelaide froze. Grimm’s Fairy Tales! Sam had given her the book when she was seven. Could that be the discrepancy? Did Sam give books to all readers’ children? She hastily threw an old quilt on top of the straw filled mattress, not bothering to smooth the wrinkles. If Remington discovered the book, her family would be done for. But where could she hide it?
She rushed to her bedroom, but before she could open the drawer concealing her book, she stopped. She was being careless again. Moving the book now, without a plan, would be reckless. I’ll wait until tomorrow when Remington is busy with the files, she decided. Besides, it’s well hidden. It’ll be safe where it is. Thinking that she should probably help her mother with dinner, she left the room, closing the door carefully behind her.
“This stew is delicious, Mrs. Anders,” Remington said, holding the spoon delicately in his fingers as he blew the steam away. He was sitting in Adelaide’s usual spot at the table, next to Emmeline and across from Langston.
“Thank you, Mr. Remington. Adelaide made it.” Emmeline responded without looking up.
Remington glanced at Adelaide with a look of surprise, “Oh? Are you a cook’s apprentice?” He asked, setting his spoon down.
“No, I’m the healer’s apprentice.”
“I see,” Remington said, narrowing his eyes at the stew. “So, what magical healing powers have you included in our meal?”
“None,” Adelaide responded curtly. She didn’t like Remington’s tone.
When Adelaide chose to become a healer, Borvo, the master healer, told her that the Sector didn’t take village healers very seriously. They didn’t see how natural remedies such as herbs and prescribed exercises could prevent disease, especially when they had their extravagant Sector medical center to cure any and all ailments.
“The Sector’s problem,” Borvo had explained, “is that they don’t bother to prevent illness, they simply fix it with potent concoctions and potions.” He continued to mutter to himself about witchcraft and the devil’s work after that, convinced that the Sector’s medical center did more harm than good. Borvo was slightly crazy, but he knew his trade well and he was a good teacher to Adelaide.
“And you’re attending school as well?” Remington asked Adelaide, snapping her attention back to the present.
“Yes, Diotima is my teacher.”
“Is she good?” Remington asked, but this time the question was directed at Langston.
“She is,” Langston replied.
“For a village teacher, you mean.” Remington replied with a smirk.
Nobody responded. Adelaide was surprised to find herself angry with Remington for his comment about Diotima.
Adelaide couldn’t help herself, “Why did you become an auditor if you hate the villages so much?” She demanded of Remington. “Who did you piss off?”
Before he could respond, however, Emmeline said, “Adelaide! Apologize right now!”
Adelaide just crossed her arms across her chest and stared at Remington, eyebrows raised, waiting for his answer.
“Adelaide, I think it is time for you to go to bed.” Langston said. His voice was firm, but Adelaide noticed a small tugging at the corners of his mouth, as if he was trying not to smile.
“No,” Remington said, studying Adelaide, “I didn’t ‘piss anybody off’ as you put it. On the contrary, I was the one who discovered Samuel Tusky’s disloyalty to the Sector, and I was the one who revealed his crimes to the proper authorities.” His eyes narrowed into a nasty smile. “I volunteered for the position. I am determined to catch and penalize all of his known conspirators.” He continued to study Adelaide for a few seconds without speaking before he finally picked up his spoon again and continued eating his stew, as if nothing had happened.
Adelaide shoved her chair back and stormed out of the room, leaving her dirty bowl behind. Remington was responsible for whatever had happened to Sam, and now Remington was staying at their house, eating their food, searching for discrepancies. Adelaide wouldn’t let him find any.
The next day, Adelaide met up with Ivy after finishing her required morning hours with Borvo. As they trudged up the hill for their afternoon class with Diotima, Adelaide told Ivy about Josiah Remington.
“He is horrible,” Adelaide said. “He insulted Diotima.”
“So?” Ivy replied, cocking an eyebrow at Adelaide. “We make fun of Diotima all the time.”
Adelaide hadn’t thought about this, but it didn’t matter. She still didn’t like what Remington had said. “Yeah, but we’re allowed to make fun of her. We’re her students. It’s expected.”
Ivy didn’t respond.
“Remington doesn’t even know her!” Adelaide continued.
When Ivy still didn’t respond, Adelaide changed the subject to Sam. “Remington also said that he was the one who caught Sam. Apparently he violated the edict, and now he’s in jail or something.”
Ivy shook her head, her blonde curls bouncing off of her shoulders. “That’s terrible! I can’t believe Sam would violate the edict! And to think, our own auditor! How could he do this to us?” Ivy’s words continued to tumble out of her mouth. “Doesn’t he know what happens when people violate the edicts? We could end up like –” She gasped midsentence. “He audited my father once, you don’t think we could be in trouble do you?”
Adelaide sighed, frustrated with Ivy. She just didn’t understand. The conversation died as they reached the top of the hill. Adelaide was grateful that they were both too winded to talk. She didn’t know what to say to Ivy to make her understand how awful Remington was.
They were early, so they sat in the shade of the crumbling statue. They could see Diotima’s small cottage on the other side of the hill, and Adelaide stared at it, feeling guilty for making fun of Diotima the day before.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the cabin door opening. Two people walked out. The first was a tall, dark woman in a flowing white dress. Diotima. The second was a small, pale man dressed in strange, black clothes. Adelaide sat up suddenly.
“Ivy!” Adelaide cried, pointing to the cottage. “That’s him with Diotima! Remington!”
Ivy looked over at the cottage with curiosity. “He’s tiny!” She said, giggling behind her hand. “That’s probably why he’s so unpleasant.”
“What do you think he’s doing with Diotima?” Adelaide wondered aloud.
“Who cares?” Ivy said, lying down in the soft green grass. She closed her eyes and sighed happily. “It’s so beautiful today!”
Before Adelaide could respond, David, Erma, and Paulina arrived and sat down next to them. Paulina, Erma, and Ivy chatted happily about the weather while David and Adelaide sat in silence. David wasn’t much of a talker.
Diotima looked flustered when she finally reached the top of the hill. Her fingers clutched at each other, and her hair, usually held up in a tight bun, looked frazzled and lumpy.
“Good afternoon,” she said, releasing her fingers to smooth her hair back on her head. Her voice sounded tight and her words were clipped. “Unfortunately, I am not feeling very well today. Would you mind if we canceled class?”
Ivy sat straight up, looking delighted, “Of course not!” She caught Paulina’s eye and winked excitedly.
Adelaide was less thrilled. She had never known Diotima to cancel a class. What did Remington say to her?
“We will have class again tomorrow, then.” Diotima said, turning around to walk back down the hill.
When she was out of earshot, Ivy said, “Wow! Can you believe our luck? Diotima has never canceled a class!”
“Yeah…” Adelaide said absently, watching Diotima walk down the hill.
“So, what do you want to do with the afternoon?” Ivy asked the rest of the group.
“We could go to the river,” Erma suggested, “I saw the fishermen’s apprentices heading down there before my morning hours, and let’s just say it’ll be a good show!” She winked and nudged Adelaide in the ribs.
Paulina shrugged, “We really shouldn’t indulge in lustful thoughts,” she said uncomfortably. “It’s sinful.” Paulina was an apprentice of the church, but Adelaide suspected that she wasn’t thrilled with her placement.
“Well, I want to go,” Ivy said decisively, “But you don’t have to come if you don’t want to, Paulina…”
“No, I’ll come.” Paulina said quickly, clearly not wanting to be left out.
“I’m going to stay here,” Adelaide said, turning to the rest of the group. “If Diotima isn’t feeling well, maybe I can help her feel better.”
Ivy smiled, rolling her eyes to the others, “That’s sweet of you, Adie! Catch up with us later?”
“Sure,” Adelaide agreed, turning away.
She walked down the opposite side of the hill toward the small building they used for classes during the wintertime. Diotima’s cottage was next to it. As she walked through the gate in front of the cottage, she realized she had never been inside Diotima’s house before. She took a breath and knocked on the door.
“Just a moment!” Diotima cried through the door. Adelaide heard a shuffling inside, then a soft thud, like something heavy falling onto the floor. It was quiet for a moment, and just as Adelaide started wondering if she should break in to make sure Diotima was okay, the door opened.
“I thought I told you, Mr. Reming–” She stopped when she saw Adelaide at the door.
“Oh, Adelaide, how can I help you?”
Adelaide took a step back, feeling foolish for coming down. “Well,” she said nervously, “you said you weren’t feeling well, and I’m Borvo’s apprentice, so I thought that maybe I could help you feel better.”
Diotima’s stern look softened and she gave Adelaide a small smile. “That’s very kind of you, Adelaide, but I’m afraid you can’t help me right now.”
Adelaide saw an open trunk in the middle of the room behind Diotima. Some clothes and blankets had been thrown in hastily.
“Are you going somewhere?”
Diotima’s eyes widened slightly, and she closed the door a little more to block Adelaide’s view. “Oh no,” she said, “I’m just cleaning up a little.”
Adelaide had never seen Diotima lose her composure like this. She took a breath and said, “Is it Remington? I saw him leave here right before class.”
Diotima shook her head and said, “You should go. Enjoy your afternoon off.”
“He’s staying at my house,” Adelaide said quickly, “What did he say to you?”
“Goodbye, Adelaide,” Diotima said. She closed the door and Adelaide heard the bolt slide into place.
The shop was closed when Adelaide got home twenty minutes later. She found her mother sitting alone in the kitchen.
“Why is the shop closed?” Adelaide asked anxiously.
“Remington insisted,” Emmeline said, massaging the bridge of her nose with her eyes closed.
“Where is he?”
“In the office with your father.”
Adelaide bit her lip. “Remington was at Diotima’s cottage today. Diotima cancelled class.”
Emmeline’s eyes snapped open and Adelaide told her about Diotima’s strange behavior. Before she could respond however, Langston and Remington walked into the kitchen.
“Adie! You’re home early,” her father said, taking a seat at the table.
“Diotima canceled class today.” Adelaide replied, watching Remington closely.
“That’s strange,” Langston muttered, “I’ve never known Diotima to cancel a class before. Did she say why?”
“She said she wasn’t feeling well.” Adelaide continued to watch Remington, who had pulled out a stack of parchment and was marking individual sheets with a quill. Watching him, she felt anger building deep in her chest. Before she could stop herself, she said, “Would you know anything about that, Mr. Remington?”
Remington’s quill froze mid-mark, and his beady black eyes settled on Adelaide. Behind him, Emmeline was shaking her head quickly, warning Adelaide to stay silent. Langston simply looked from Adelaide to Remington with a furrowed brow, confused by the question.
“Excuse me?” Remington replied icily, removing his glasses.
Adelaide took a deep breath, but before she could ask Remington about his business with Diotima, Emmeline stepped in.
“Adelaide was simply wondering if you heard anything while you were in town this morning. As an Auditor from the Sector, you are privy to more information than the rest of us. Adie is simply worried about her teacher.” Emmeline made eye contact with Adelaide, and gave her a warning look.
Adelaide sighed, and nodded without speaking.
At Emmeline’s comment, Remington straightened in his chair, a smile tugging at his lips. “I see,” He bent over his stack of parchment again and continued marking individual sheets. “I’m afraid an Auditor’s business is far more important than village gossip about the local teacher.”
The anger bubbled up to the point of boiling, and Adelaide had to bite the inside of her cheek for relief. She stood up quickly and pushed her chair away from the table. “I’m going to go find Ivy,” she announced, not bothering to push in her chair.
Nobody responded. Once out of the room, she lingered on the other side of the door.
“When can we reopen the shop, Mr. Remington?” Adelaide could still hear Emmeline’s soft, musical voice clearly from the hall outside of the kitchen.
“In three days,” Remington replied.
“Three days?” Langston’s voice was tight and controlled, “Is that necessary? Mr.
“Thankfully, I am not Mr. Tusky,” Remington said dangerously, “The shop will reopen in three days when I have completed the audit.” Silence followed his comment, and Adelaide left to find Ivy, Erma, and Paulina.
The three days passed slowly. Diotima was nowhere to be found, so Adelaide spent the extra time working with Borvo. On the third day, while grinding up herbs to help quicken an expectant mother’s labor, she turned to Borvo and said, “Tell me about the hospital in the Sector.”
Borvo didn’t look up from his work. He was setting the arm of a young boy who had fallen out of a tree. The boy was asleep thanks to one of Borvo’s many potions, but his mother had been hovering anxiously, questioning every step of Borvo’s treatment, so Borvo made her leave.
“What do you want to know?” He grunted, jerking the boy’s arm back into alignment. The boy moaned a little, but he wouldn’t remember the pain. “Bring me that splint.” Borvo said, ignoring the boy’s moans.
Adelaide set down the pestle she was using the grind the herbs, and handed the splint to Borvo who shook his head and held up his hands.
“You do it.” He said, stepping away from the boy.
Adelaide stepped up to the boy. She had a strange fluttering sensation in her stomach, and she was glad the boy’s mother wasn’t in the room with them.
“Notice how the bones line up again?” Borvo said, indicating the location of the break on his own arm. Adelaide nodded, gently prodding the boy’s arm. “They say that in the Sector, they can see through the skin to the bones.” Adelaide’s eyes grew wide at the thought of seeing through someone’s skin and muscle. She lined the splint up to the boy’s arm and wrapped it with a soft, quilted material. With trembling fingers, she then dipped strips of old, donated clothing into a fresh mixture of flour and water and wrapped them around the boy’s arm, making a cast.
When she was finished, Borvo inspected her work, nodding silently. Borvo only gave compliments through grunts and nods. “Now we let the cast dry, and the boy can go home.”
“What else can the Sector hospital do?” Adelaide asked, mesmerized.
“I’ve heard that they can block all pain,” Borvo replied, stroking his gnarly beard.
“But we can block pain too,” Adelaide said, unimpressed. She gestured to the still sleeping boy.
“No,” Borvo said, “We cannot block all pain. The boy still feels pain, it is just dulled. We can provide herbs and potions to lessen the pain, but the Sector doctors make it all go away.”
Adelaide was doubtful. She wasn’t sure she believed Borvo. “How do you know all of this?” She asked him, picking up the pestle again to continue grinding the herbs.
Borvo shrugged, “it’s just what I’ve heard,” he mumbled. He walked out of the room to fetch the boy’s mother. Adelaide watched him leave, wondering if what he said was true. She decided to ask her parents after Remington left the following morning.
She sensed tension in the house as soon as she got home that evening. Her father was hunched over the table, looking over the records from the shop. Her mother was sitting next to him, stroking his arm nervously.
“What’s going on?” Adelaide asked, looking around the room for signs of Remington.
“Remington left this morning to run an errand and hasn’t returned,” Emmeline said.
“So? Good riddance,” Adelaide responded, shrugging it off. Perhaps something terrible happened to Remington. Adelaide felt guilty for the wave of satisfaction that swept over her at the thought of a wounded Remington, but she pushed the guilty feelings away, replacing them with memories of Sam and his books. Remington was responsible for whatever had happened to Sam. He deserved to die.
Langston shook his head, “No, this means that Remington will have to stay another day, which means the shop will be closed for another day.”
“And if something did happen to Remington, our village will be swarming with soldiers from the Sector to investigate,” Emmeline added.
“Oh,” Adelaide said, taking a seat at the table. Even though she didn’t like the idea of soldiers invading the village, she was still savoring the idea that something horrible had happened to Remington.
Langston slid the records over to Emmeline and stood up from the table. “Help me with dinner, Adie,” He said, walking over to the small pantry, “Fetch some vegetables from the garden, please?”
Adelaide nodded and went downstairs and out the back door to the garden. As she was inspecting a zucchini on the vine, she heard heavy footsteps coming from the gravel pathway. It was Remington.
She knew she should be happy to see that he’d returned, but she wasn’t. “Good evening, Mr. Remington,” She mumbled, breaking the zucchini off the vine. She wasn’t being careful, and the top of the zucchini remained on the vine. She didn’t care.
“Adelaide,” Remington replied with a curt nod. Adelaide noticed that his boots were muddy, and his clothing, which was usually freshly pressed, was wrinkled and stained with sweat. He stepped over her basket and walked through the door. Adelaide added some tomatoes and peppers to her basket and followed him inside. Traces of mud marked his path through the shop and up the stairs.
“Mr. Remington! We were worried about you!” Emmeline said as they walked into the kitchen.
Remington smiled at Emmeline and took her hand, “I’m sorry to have worried you, Mrs. Anders. My errand today took a bit longer than I had anticipated, but that just means I get to stay with you another day.” He bent his head and kissed her hand.
Emmeline snatched her hand from Remington’s and turned away from him. “Dinner will be ready soon,” she said, quickly. “I suggest you go wash up.”
As soon as Remington was out of earshot, Langston said, “I know I should be relieved, but I agree with you, Adie. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if he never returned.”
Adelaide smiled, but she knew something was off. Where could Remington have gone for the day? His boots were covered in dried mud, but it hadn’t rained in a long time. And now he was staying an extra day? As she chopped the zucchini, she decided she would share her concerns with Emmeline in the morning after Remington and Langston disappeared into the office to continue the audit. After all, there wasn’t anything she could do about it now.
But as she went to bed that night, she noticed her hairbrush wasn’t in its drawer with the false bottom. Instead, it was sitting on top of the dresser, along with the leaf her father had used to mark the Langston Hughes poem in the book of poetry. The side with her brother’s name was face up. Unnerved, Adelaide quickly opened the drawer and removed the false bottom. The book of fairytales was still there, undisturbed. She placed the leaf on top of the book, replaced the false bottom, and swept the brush into the drawer. As she crawled into bed, however, she couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that something was seriously wrong.
Author’s Note: You are about to read the first chapter in my novel, The Six Provinces of Debris. This is a working draft, so I would love it if you would leave constructive criticism in the comments! I hope you enjoy it!
Adelaide’s heart pounded. She was so nervous, every cell in her body was buzzing with anticipation. Only three students left before she would have to recite a random portion of the Edict of Debris from memory. Her hand flew down to her pocket and fingered the parchment that wasn’t supposed to be there. She wanted to look at it one last time before the assessment, but how could she without Diotima noticing? She released the parchment and pulled her hand out of her pocket.
“…and it was dictated that Debris would be divided into Six Provinces, each to be governed by two honest senators, immune to corruption and greed–” Diotima cut Erma off with a satisfied nod.
“David.” Diotima said crisply to the brooding warfare apprentice.
“…oh, uh, one senator is to rule the affairs of the state, and the other is to protect the people from violence and harm…”
As David struggled with his portion of the edict, Adelaide wondered if it was possible to die from nerves. She brushed her hair out of her eyes before thrusting her hand back in her pocket. She just needed a quick glance at the parchment. If only Diotima would look in the opposite direction for a few seconds.
“…and through care and hard work, the citizens of Debris will be nursed, nurtured, and nourished by the earth, creating village independence and sustainability…”
Adelaide slowly inched the parchment out of her pocket without looking away from Diotima, whose focus was on Paulina just a few feet to the left of Adelaide. She was too slow. The parchment was crumpled in her fist when Diotima stopped Paulina’s strained recitation with another curt nod.
Adelaide dropped the parchment back into her pocket and quickly brushed her hair away from her face again. Next to her, Ivy’s hazel eyes were squeezed shut as she recited the edict as quickly as possible. How does she cram so many words into one breath?
Adelaide wondered, her nerves momentarily forgotten.
Adelaide jumped at the sound of her name, and her cheeks grew red and hot. She took a deep breath before slowly reciting the last paragraph of the edict, surprised at how easily the words came to her. Once she reached the last sentence, however, her mind went blank. How does it end? How does it end? Adelaide fumbled with the parchment in her pocket, desperate to pull it out.
“And…um…the Six Provinces of Debris will prosper by rejecting dead discourse in favor of living speech, and…um…that’s it.” There was a silence as Diotima studied Adelaide with an intensity that made her skin crawl. She forgot the last line of the edict. She felt naked and exposed. Diotima’s eyes moved down to Adelaide’s pocket, bulging from her clenched fist.
Finally, Diotima’s gaze moved over the rest of the class. “Sit.” She commanded, gesturing to the grass at her feet. The students sat in the shade of the large, bearded statue that marked the center of the grassy hill. The statue was dirty, and Adelaide thought it was quite ugly. The nose was too wide with flaring nostrils, and the eyes were too far apart and seemed to pop out unnaturally.
Diotima continued to stand in its shade. She wore an expression similar to that of the crumbling statue: contemplative and grim. “You’ve memorized the edict, but memorization is not understanding. Some of you may still wonder why we shun the written word.” Diotima’s eyes settled on Adelaide again, who shifted her weight uncomfortably on the grass. She grabbed a few blades and pulled, satisfied with the ripping sound that followed.
Diotima continued, “Never forget the three reasons for rejecting dead discourse. Say it with me,”
Adelaide sighed as she pulled up another clump of grass, but she automatically recited the three reasons along with the rest of the class:
“Reason one: The permanence of dead discourse negates the dialogic process imperative to learning.”
She didn’t even have to think about what came next; the three reasons were burned into her memory. Adelaide ripped up another clump of grass and added it to the growing pile in front of her as she, and everyone else around her, took a breath in preparation for the second reason: “Reason two: Dead discourse implants forgetfulness into the souls of men, causing themto rely on that which is written rather than on that which is from within themselves.”
Ivy glanced at Adelaide’s pile of grass and raised an eyebrow. Adelaide shrugged and added another clump to the pile. Another breath: “Reason three: Dead discourse is a pestilence that, once released, cannot be contained.”
Ivy added a few blades of grass to Adelaide’s pile with a small smile. Adelaide returned the smile, but wondered if Ivy even understood what she had just recited. They had been taught to recite the three reasons for rejecting dead discourse at a young age, and Adelaide remembered running home to tell her parents that she had finally memorized every single word a few weeks later. She didn’t fully understand the words she recited weekly until her fourteenth birthday, when she realized that she had been verbally condemning her passion for most of her life.
Diotima was speaking again, “I believe that the second reason is most pertinent to our class today.” Her eyes were on Adelaide again as she continued her lecture, “At first glance, dead discourse appears to be knowledge, but it is not. It is simply a reminder of what should be in your head, but isn’t. It is simply false wisdom.” Her eyes swept over the class with her final statement: “I warn you all, do not fall victim to false wisdom, to false knowledge. Only death and destruction will come of it. You’re dismissed.”
As they stretched their legs, Ivy said, “Wow. That was dramatic.”
Adelaide feigned a smile and said in a mocking tone, “Scratches on parchment will kill you!” She usually enjoyed making fun of Diotima with Ivy after class, but today she wasn’t in the mood. The assessment replayed itself over and over again in her head, each replay just as painful as the actual moment.
Ivy laughed and started to speak, but she was interrupted by Diotima. “Adelaide, come see me for a moment before you go, please?” The instructor called out, still standing in the shadow of the statue.
Adelaide’s stomach filled with lead as she slowly trudged up the hill to Diotima. When she was close, Diotima said, “You seemed nervous today, Adelaide.”
Adelaide nodded. “I remembered the first part of the edict much better than the end.”
“I see.” Diotima said. She narrowed her eyes and said, “I noticed you were fiddling with something in your pocket. May I see it?”
Adelaide’s blood ran cold and her heart stopped. She couldn’t show Diotima the parchment. She didn’t know the penalty for creating and interacting with dead discourse, but she knew it couldn’t be good.
Just as she was about to make a run for it, a man trudged up the hill behind Diotima. Adelaide’s heart instantly swelled. It was her father. “Dad!” She cried, running toward him. As he embraced her in a tight hug, she quickly slipped the crumpled parchment into his jacket pocket.
“Hey, Adie. I’m sorry to bother you at school, but I missed you too much to wait for you to get home,” Langston whispered in her ear.
“Don’t be.” Adelaide replied quickly.
Diotima walked up to them and said, “Langston, I’m glad to see that you’ve returned safely.”
“It is good to see you as well, Diotima,” Langston said politely.
“I’m sure you two are eager to catch up, but do you mind if I talk to your daughter for a couple of minutes, Langston? Your reunion interrupted an important lesson.”
Adelaide glared at Diotima. An important lesson? It felt more like a gotcha than a lesson.
“Certainly,” Langston said cheerily. “I’ll just wait by my friend here.” He gestured to the statue.
“Adelaide, please empty your pockets.” Diotima said without hesitation.
Adelaide sighed dramatically and pulled out a few strands of grass. “It’s grass. I was really nervous, and playing with the grass helped me calm down.” She lied easily.
Diotima sighed. She seemed disappointed, as if she wanted an excuse to punish Adelaide. “Very well. You may go.”
Adelaide walked back to her father. “Let’s go home.”
As they walked down the hill and into the village, Adelaide glanced nervously at her father. She wasn’t sure how he would react to the parchment in his pocket. She couldn’t suppress the reasonable voice inside of her head that chastised her for being careless. Seeing Langston again reminded her of the seriousness of her actions.
She stole a sidewise glance at Langston, trying to gauge his emotions, but he just whistled a tune and threw an arm over her shoulder, squeezing her close to his body. They walked in silence, maneuvering the poor sections of the village quickly. The buildings were still damaged from the last raid. Two boys sat on the opposite side of the street, watching them pass. They wore filthy rags for clothing, and Adelaide wondered what they thought of the upper class families wealthy enough to send their children to school.
As they entered the poorer section of the city, the damage from the recent raid was still evident. The acrid smell of smoke lingered in the air as they passed an unlucky house; the roof had collapsed inward leaving the blackened and crumbling walls a lonely monument to the unfortunate owners.
Adelaide pulled her father forward a little faster. It’s not that she felt unsafe exactly, in the daytime the government garrisons outside of the village kept a careful eye out for raiders. Everyone knew that. It was only at night that raiders would dare enter the town. Besides, in the village nearly every face was a familiar one.
Perhaps it was just their eyes.
Two boys sat nearby and she could feel their eyes on her, red-rimmed with exhaustion, defeated. It seemed like the raids always seemed hit hardest to those who already had so little. They were field hands, like most everyone in town. They were nearly her age, she new, but they seemed so much older. It’s as if the constant toil in the field tanned and wrinkled up their skin, soaking up their youth. It was hard to tell what they were wearing; their rags were stained with mud and dung and filth. She felt embarrassed for them, sad for them. She wondered what they carried behind those eyes, what they thought of the upper class families wealthy enough to send their children to school.
The boys were driven out of her mind as they approached the main square of the village. Maybe he hasn’t found the parchment, Adelaide thought to herself, studying Langston’s complacent expression.
“So,” she said, filling the silence, “did you find anything exciting while you were gone?”
Langston winked, and said, “I did. I’ll tell you about it when I get home.”
He found one! Adelaide thought excitedly, momentarily forgetting her guilt. But then, her heart sunk again. Had she gotten caught today, she wouldn’t be the only one in trouble. Their house would be searched, things would be found…
Adelaide smiled in spite of her inner turmoil. She looked around the square and noticed people waving cheerily at Langston, glad to see he’d returned safely. They were being watched, and Adelaide couldn’t afford to compromise their carefully constructed façade by looking guilty on the day of her father’s return.
Langston and his wife, Emmeline, were the village readers. As the only legally literate citizens in town, they made their living mostly by composing and delivering messages from their village to other villages in Fourth Province. They provided other dead discourse services as well, but they wouldn’t be able to afford three meals a day without correspondence between the villages. Their status as readers made them public figures of the community, constantly under public scrutiny.
People both admired and feared Langston and Emmeline since they were from the prestigious Senator Sector, the affluent neighborhood of political leaders, lawyers, doctors, officers, and all other professions that required the ability to read. It was rare for those born in the Sector to leave voluntarily since there were sharp differences between quality of life in the Sector and quality of life in the villages. Village readers were usually assigned to their posts against their wills, and only after being deemed unfit for a profession in the Sector. They earned just enough money to ensure a lifestyle slightly more comfortable than that of the illiterate villagers, but they were also audited frequently and required to pay an annual tax to the Sector on behalf of the village. Langston and Emmeline wouldn’t tell Adelaide why they left, only that they were “happy to leave the Sector to live in a village filled with kind souls who value compassion and community.”
Their house was in the middle of the village square. It was small and tired looking, but had two floors, making it one of the larger houses in the village. The entire bottom floor was dedicated to her parents’ shop, and the top floor to living space. The sign above the front door swayed gently in the breeze. It was imprinted with the silhouette of a feather quill and piece of parchment, the symbol identifying a reader’s shop. Langston and Emmeline had the same symbol tattooed on their right wrists, protecting them from prosecution in case their identities as certified readers were ever called into question.
Emmeline had the front door to the shop propped open to let in the light and air from outside. As soon as she walked in, Adelaide caught a strong whiff of body odor. Two grungy looking men stood at the wooden counter opposite the door. They seemed to be in the middle of a heated discussion regarding the amount of sheep one man would trade for a section of land owned by the other.
“I’m givin’ you six of my fattest ewes! Two of ‘em pregnant already!” One man said, pounding a weathered fist on the counter. “How kin you say that ain’t enough?”
“You want the piece by the river,” The other man responded calmly, “and that’ll cost ya more than six fat ewes. I want eight ewes an’ a ram. An’ if one o’those ewes don’t pop out a lil ram, I’ll want another one.”
Emmeline was leaning lazily over a piece of parchment laid out in front of her, the details of the contract scribbled across the page. She rolled her eyes as Adelaide walked in, half smiling at the men in front of her.
“They’ve been bickering in here all day,” Langston whispered to Adelaide as they inched past the men. As she passed the shelves behind the counter, Adelaide ran her finger across the bindings of the only three books allowed in a reader’s shop: a dictionary, a thesaurus, and the Reader’s Handbook. She climbed the stairs and walked straight to her room. Perhaps a story or two from Grimm’s Fairy Tales would help her feel better. She rarely got a chance to smuggle it out of its hiding place away from prying eyes, but it was always worth the risk.
When she walked into her room, however, she found Ivy brushing her hair on the bed. “Emmeline let me in.” Ivy said cheerily in greeting. Adelaide’s eyes nervously swept the room, making sure nothing else was out of place. If Ivy found her hairbrush, what else did she find? Adelaide casually walked over to the dresser and glanced in the open drawer where she kept her brush. The false bottom was still in place. Good.
Ivy continued, oblivious to Adelaide’s behavior. “So, what did Diotima want? Did she hear us making fun of her?”
Adelaide took a deep breath. She couldn’t tell Ivy the real reason Diotima had asked her to stay behind without raising Ivy’s suspicions too. “Yeah. She didn’t hear you though, just me.”
“Oh, good!” Ivy said, obviously relieved. She looked at Adelaide and quickly added, “I don’t mean ‘oh good, you got in trouble and not me,’ I just mean that I’m glad that’s all you got in trouble for. I mean, I’m not glad you got in trouble, just –” Ivy interrupted herself with a sigh and started fiddling with the hairbrush, “anyway, what did she say?”
Adelaide rolled her eyes. “She just gave me a long lecture about respect, taking my education seriously, appreciating how much my parents are paying, blah blah blah.”
“Ugh,” Ivy said, flopping back onto the bed. “She’s so dramatic! I mean, your parents are readers. Of course you’re going to take your education seriously! They’re like, the smartest people in the entire village!”
As Adelaide gave Ivy a small smile, she was overcome with a fresh wave of guilt, reminded again that she wouldn’t be the only person in trouble if Diotima had discovered the parchment in her pocket. When Langston and Emmeline left the Sector, they signed a contract agreeing not to teach their children how to read. Only children born and raised in the Sector were allowed to learn how to read and write in order to prepare them for the various Sector jobs. Very few children born and raised in the villages were formally educated at all, and those who could afford to go to school were expected to memorize all of their lessons. This both preserved their memories and protected them from the dangers of dead discourse. Adelaide didn’t know what the punishment was for breaking the contract, but she couldn’t believe she had almost caused trouble for her parents. All just to pass a test.
Adelaide was about to respond to Ivy when Langston knocked and poked his head in the door. “Hey Ivy, I need to talk to Adelaide alone for a while. Would you mind coming back tomorrow?”
“Sure, no problem.” Ivy said, hopping off the bed and grimacing at Adelaide. She opened the drawer with the false bottom and tossed the brush into it with a clatter before rushing out of the room.
When Adelaide was sure Ivy was gone, she looked down at her hands and said, “I know why you’re here, and I’m sorry. I messed up.”
Langston sighed and pulled the parchment out of his pocket. “What were you thinking?” He asked quietly, disappointment dripping off of every word.
“I wasn’t.” Adelaide responded, looking at the small, crumpled parchment in his hands. “I was so nervous about the test, and…” She trailed off for a moment before continuing, a lump rising in her throat. “I’m not going to make excuses. I messed up, and I’m sorry.”
Langston nodded and said, “I know you’re sorry. But Adie, the penalty for a reader who teaches his child how to read and write is very severe –”
“I know!” Adelaide interrupted angrily. “We would lose our license, our shop, our house, and our freedom. We would be accused of being in violation of the Edict. You’ve told me this before.”
She was angry with Langston, but angrier with herself. Couldn’t he understand that she already felt guilty for bringing the parchment to school? Why was he trying to add to her guilt? She couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. They slipped out quietly, and Adelaide brushed them away impatiently, embarrassed for crying in front of her father. She was sixteen. Sixteen-year-olds don’t cry in front of their fathers.
Langston put a hand on Adelaide’s shoulder, “Adie, after your brother – we can’t lose you too.” Thinking about her brother just made her cry harder. Langston wrapped his arms around her and she found comfort in his familiar, musky smell: a combination of leather, ink, and his natural odor.
After a couple of minutes she pulled away, pushing the parchment and her dead brother out of her mind.
“You said you found something…” She said, changing the subject.
Langston smiled and reached into his jacket pocket. “It’s not very big,” he said, handing her a small, aged book, “It’s poetry.”
Adelaide rose from the bed and walked over to a small table next to the window with a small smile on her face, her curiosity growing stronger than her guilt. She set the book down carefully and studied the faded cover. The title read Cries for Freedom: Select Poems by Various Authors. They hadn’t found a new book in years, and never a book of poetry.
Langston sat at the table next to Adelaide. “I already marked my favorite,” He said, pointing to a cottonwood leaf poking out from between two pages.
Adelaide gently coaxed the cover open. It fell open easily, too easily. Adelaide was afraid it would fall apart. She turned the pages until she found the leaf. Langston had written a name on it: Willy. Adelaide set the leaf aside, ignoring the pain in her chest. She didn’t want to think about him.
“This one,” Langston said, pointing to a short poem. Adelaide read it aloud:
Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy,
Sometimes a bone
To some people
Love is given,
Langston Hughes, 1959
“It was written by someone with your name!” Adelaide said, surprised.
Her father nodded, and said, “What do you think?”Adelaide reread the poem before answering. She knew it reminded her father of her brother, and she knew that’s why he was showing her the poem.
“It makes me sad.” She decided, “It reminds me of the boys we saw today. The ones in the rags,”
“Why?” Langston prompted, looking slightly disappointed.
“Well, it says here, ‘sometimes a crumb falls from the tables of joy, sometimes a bone is flung.’” She ran her finger along the lines as she read them aloud. “It’s just…I was so worried about the test today, but that was just a crumb. Those boys though…they looked miserable.” She tapped the word bone, “They’ve had a bone flung from the table of joy. Or maybe they are the bones –”
She was interrupted by a sharp knock at the door. Langston stood up quickly, standing in front of the table, blocking it from the door. At the same time, Adelaide snapped the cover shut, wincing slightly at the damage she may have caused in her haste.
Emmeline poked her head in the room, carefully keeping the door mostly closed. Her blue eyes were wide and frantic, her voice strained.
“Oh, good, Adie, you’re decent.” Her eyes darted around the room quickly, “Langston, there you are! I’ve been looking–”
Before Emmeline could finish her sentence, however, the door was pushed open all the way by a small, thin man in strange clothes. His eyes were black and beady behind a pair of narrow glasses, his thin hair slicked straight back on top of his pointy head. He pushed past Emmeline and walked up to Langston with an outstretched arm. Adelaide quickly stepped behind Langston and swept the book off of the table and into the waistband of her pants, not noticing the leaf floating gently to the floor to land under the table.
“Good evening, Mr. Anders,” He said in an oily voice. “My name is Josiah Remington, and you are being audited.”
I’m in beautiful Florida this week for spring break, and it is obviously very different from New Mexico. First of all, there is water everywhere! And what is up with all of the green stuff growing from the ground? Where is all of the dirt?
Oh. Right. On the beach.
On the flight out here, I was finally able to finish reading Divergent by Veronica Roth. It was an excellent read about a dystopian society in what used to be Chicago. I was quite tickled during our first flight because we had a layover in Chicago and I was reading a story that takes place in Chicago, and because I’m a huge nerd who finds joy in small coincidences.
I travel a lot, and this isn’t my first trip to Florida, but I can’t help but think about my students. I know! It’s spring break! I’m not supposed to think about work while on vacation, right?
But here’s the thing: many of my students have never left New Mexico. Some of my students have never even left their hometown! When reading Divergent, I was able to connect my prior experiences visiting Chicago to the setting of the book, which might be why Roth decided to set the story in dystopian Chicago instead of a dystopian made-up city. It helped me to comprehend and connect to the story, and isn’t that what we want our students to do when they read, too? Connect to the story?
Now, back to Florida. Kinda. Imagine you grew up in a small town where the only naturally occurring body of water is the mostly dried up Rio Grande River. You need sprinklers to keep your grass alive, so most homes have yards full of beautiful rock gardens and a few drought-resistant plants. When reading a story that takes place in Florida, you’ll read about yachts, waterways, drawbridges, and hibiscus flowers. I can tell you right now, most of my students will not know what a yacht is.
Something language arts teachers love to do is give students books that they can relate too. We live in New Mexico, so we just read The Last Snake Runner by Kimberley Griffiths Little which takes place at Acoma Pueblo during the time of Oñate. Now that we’ve finished the book, the students are going on a field trip to Acoma with the social studies department. It’ll be a great learning experience for them.
As expert readers, we know that the beauty and joy of reading comes from experiencing new places and experiencing new things without ever leaving home, but that’s because we have either the prior knowledge necessary to connect to the story, or we have the skills necessary to seek out those connections. Heck, for avid readers, prior knowledge was often acquired from something we read before!
So, my point: how can we hook students into the cycle of reading for learning and building to more reading for learning and building at a young age? It reminds me of something I read by Kelly Gallagher in his book Deeper Reading (and I don’t have the book with me, so forgive me for any errors). He says that as readers, we have many reading branches that continually grow into new branches over time. For example, as a student, I grew a branch for books about magic after reading the Harry Potter series, which led to other YA series such as Hunger Games, which led to dystopian books such as Divergent. After reading and enjoying Kite Runner, I developed a branch for books that take place in Afghanistan, which lead to me reading more books about Afghanistan, but it also led me to reading books about different cultures, such as Ceremony. This led to more Native American literature, but it also led me to historical fiction as well. Each branch leads to more branches of your “reading tree.”
Having my students read a story that takes place near their hometown is a great way to hook them into reading, but now I have to help them develop new branches on their reading tree.
Exposing them to different genres is helpful, but we must also nurture the need for prior knowledge. Reading a book about Florida? Take a trip to Florida with the whole class using Google Earth. Give the students the information they need in order to feel connected to the reading. Then expose them books that might start new branches on their reading tree.
They may not be able to physically visit Florida, but they can read about it. And that’s almost the same thing.
*Disclaimer: I typed this entire post on my phone. It was hard. Please forgive any typos and mistakes.
Hot diggity, the Diction Door was a success! Here’s some proof:
Student A: “Geez, class is already over? It feels like it just started!”
Student B: “This was fun, Miss! Can we do it again?”
Student C: “Aw man! I wanted to define Aesthetics!”
Student D: “Miss, it says that bantam is a chicken! Are they saying that Kit Carson was a chicken?!”
Student E (in response to Student D): “Ooh! That’s a metaphor!”
Here’s how it all went down
When the students walked into class, their desks were already arranged into groups so they could work in their literature circles. Since we’ve been reading the first four pages of Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides, I had each literature circle pick one difficult word from the text to contribute to the Diction Door. They were not allowed to choose a word that was already on the door.
Once they picked their word, I passed out the Diction Door Templates (one of each color per class), a black Crayola marker, and a pair of scissors. I told the students that they were to write down the definition and the original sentence that used the word, and that they needed to create a new sentence using the word. Finally, I gave each group four small pieces of paper that matched the color of their template, which they used for synonyms.
After that, I simply walked around the room and listened to the students work and talk to each other. Once they finished, I taped their word and synonyms onto the door.
But not all went as planned…in a good way
I’ll admit, I was a little stressed out about it during 1st period. Originally, I thought that it would take the students about 10-15 minutes. I was wrong. Like, WAY wrong. It ended up taking the entire class period, which surprised because I expected the students to just look up the word and then write down the definition. Instead, they looked up the word, didn’t understand the definition, looked up more words in the definition, and then rephrased the original definition so that it made sense to them!
The Diction Door also provided many teachable moments that I hadn’t originally anticipated. For example, one group of students realized that the word “deliberate” could be an adjective or a verb. Then they had to decide if it was being used as an adjective or a verb in the passage. Not only did this help them understand the word, but it also helped them understand the difference between verbs and adjectives!
With the word “Womanize,” the students found the dictionary.com synonyms first. They used words and phrases like “flirt,” “fool around,” “stud,” and “ladies man” as their synonyms. I explained that these words were too positive, and that womanizing isn’t a good thing. I told them that “objectify” would be a good synonym for womanize, but I couldn’t think of any others and the students were struggling to find appropriate synonyms online. I sent them across the hall to ask their social studies teacher. He started rattling off words like “chauvinistic” and “sexist.” Perhaps the feminist side of me kicked in during this exchange, but I’m totally okay with that.
Originally, I just wanted to have a Diction Door because I didn’t think I would have enough space for a word wall, but I actually ran out of space on the door. I had to extend it a bit and now the word wall is covering a white board that I don’t use very often. I made a sign for the word wall, and I still have a sign for the diction door up, but I decided to make a poster to maintain the diction door theme. It says: Deliberate diction unlocks the door to success! We navigate our whole lives using words. Change and improve the words and I believe we can change and improve life.
Overall, I am extremely pleased with my diction door/word wall. The students had a blast with it, and I added a word to the wall today: allusion. I also referred to a couple of the words on the wall while talking to the students about avoiding redundancies in their writing. Next year, I’ll have to rearrange my classroom so that the word wall has room to grow. I’m sure it’ll end up spilling out into the hall outside of my room like this teacher’s word wall.
Oh, and for the record, my diction door/word wall is very aesthetically pleasing! Too bad I’ll have to cover it up when we have NMSBA testing in a couple of weeks.
‘Twas the eve of the Diction Door
and all through the school,
every student was wondering
how it would be used.
But nobody knew –
except for Ms. Bloom –
who smiled mysteriously
at every question anew.
She said, “Tune in tomorrow,
it’ll be quite a show!
Just come prepared
to learn the lingo!”
And as she walked off,
the students replied,
“That Ms. Bloom
OH EM GEEEE! I won something! Thanks for nominating me, Mary!
So, according to the person who nominated my nominator, “The Liebster Award is given to upcoming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. So, what is a Liebster? It is a German word and it simply means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.”
Official rules for the Liebster Award are as follows:
- Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.
- You must answer the 10 questions given to you by the blogger who nominated you.
- Nominate 10 of your favorite blogs with fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.
- Come up with 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
Here are the questions Mary had for me:
1) Describe, in detail, your favorite beverage.
Lately, my favorite beverage is beer! Ha! I really like Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, but I’m also a big fan of some local breweries that I’m not going to name for the sake of anonymity. I can tell you about a brewery I really enjoyed last time we drove down to Denver, Colorado, though. Wynkoop Brewing Company has a delicious beer called Rail Yard. It had hints of caramel and vanilla, and it’s kind of like drinking a cookie. Yum! I just wish it was closer to home.
2) What’s your pet peeve?
Spelling “a lot” as one word. Allie explains this pet peeve perfectly in her blog, Hyperbole and a Half. If you haven’t already, check it out. It’s hilarious.
3) Tell us the book that has most impacted what matters most in your life.
Ummm…this is an impossible question. Picking one book is like picking children! I love anything by John Steinbeck for his excellent analysis on human nature. I also like all of Khaled Hosseini’s books and his incredible talent for writing about ugly truths in a beautiful way. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, of course, will always be a favorite for obvious reasons. There are many, many more, but I’m short on time so I need to move on to the next question.
4) How do you take care of your soul?
Walking, blogging, and drinking beer with close friends.
5) Favorite quote or Scripture?
6) What’s your favorite post you’ve written and why? Include a link.
A Trip to the Principal’s Office: Turning Negative Experiences into Positive Outcomes because it is a big reason why I decided to start blogging again. I’ve blogged before, but I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for an audience. It didn’t work out. I got bored and lost interest after only a few months. After that experience with my principal however, I realized that I had stopped focusing on my passion, and started focusing on politics. In typing that post, I felt like the fog had lifted and I was able to enjoy my job again.
7) What’s your favorite post of mine and why? Include a link.
When Saying No is Saying Yes, because it is so, absolutely true! As a young teacher, it is WAY to easy for me to take on more than I can chew. The problem is, I can do everything and be mediocre, or only take on a couple of extra responsibilities and be spectacular. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn, and an even more difficult thing for my boss to accept.
8) What is the greatest joy of blogging?
Discovering new ideas through reading others’ blogs and reflecting my own practice!
9) What is the greatest anxiety of blogging?
Honestly? That my secret identity will be revealed!
10) Which blog speaks most poignantly to you? Why? Include a link.
Becky Says Things. I love laughing, especially as a way to lighten up some of the uglier things in life. She’s awesome!
11) Bonus question, if you’re so inclined: give my some feedback on my blog.
You have some great posts! Since you have a static homepage, use your Top Posts widget to direct your readers to the posts you would most like them to see.
Introducing Ms. Hayes’ Liebster Nominees…drum roll please….
- Magpie That
- My Strange Brain
- Teacher Versus Mum
- Unsolicited Tidbits
- Teaching +
- Norah Colvin
- Cathy Miyata’s Blog
- Joystick Learning
Congratulations! You now have homework. Please answer the following questions:
- Congratulations! You just won the Liebster Award! What are you going to do next?
- Describe yourself in three words.
- Describe your thoughts on your very first job.
- If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
- I like food. What is your favorite recipe?
- Give a short summary of the book you are currently reading.
- What inspired you to start blogging?
- How did you come up with the name for your blog?
- What do you do when you experience writer’s block?
- Which post are you most proud of and why? Provide a link.