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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Bold (emotionally) (08/30/07)

TITLE: Pieces of Autumn
By Sherrie Jackson
09/05/07


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Choices define character.

Eldon couldn’t remember where he had heard that, but it meant little until a warm night in September, sitting with four friends at a table in the Student Union. Dr. Reese had assigned the composition of a Bach chorale, and Eldon complained good-naturedly as he pulled out several music theory texts and notebooks. They bought coffee and muffins, scattering their iPods about. It took a good ten minutes for everyone to settle down.

Everyone but Autumn.

She sat staring down at her open book, her long auburn hair falling forward as though to curtain her face. As the group conversed, Autumn was as disconnected from them as she was in class, where most days she appeared almost comatose. Eldon wasn’t sure why or how she had agreed to meet here that evening, or even who invited her.

He worked steadily, and before long thoughts of her were lost amongst chords and cadences.

“…and I can feel them rising, interlocution and the month of May. The sheep say ‘baa’ but I’m not ‘blah,’ I’m rather interesting, thank you very much…”

The group fell silent. Eldon blinked up at them. They were staring at Autumn, who continued: “You can see the master, but only when the tide opens, and I’m opening up, up and away with all of you.” Her eyes were vacant, fixed on her book, only rising to stare at them with a chilling question. “Have you ever killed anyone?”

Todd lurched back in his chair. Mary looked down at her hands, and Jim stared at Autumn with distaste. He was the first to speak. “I told you, Mary, I heard her saying these crazy things before. Do you believe me now?”

“Maybe we should go,” Todd suggested, reaching for his stack of books. “Yeah, let’s go. Library?”

Mary and Jim agreed and began packing up as well.

Although she had ceased her stream of unsettling words, Autumn seemed not to have heard Jim or Todd. She folded her arms and hunched forward, rocking back and forth.

“Hey, hold on,” Eldon said. “Are you sure we should just leave her here?”

“Dude, just come on,” Todd pleaded. “This chorale’s due in a week.”

Eldon’s hands were shaking but he answered, “I know, but…this just doesn’t seem right.”

Jim shrugged. “Suit yourself.” And they left.

Eldon could think of a million better things to do than stay with pale, muttering Autumn, but when he saw the desperation in her face, he felt convicted.

Swallowing with difficulty, he croaked, “Um…Autumn?”

Her rocking slowed, and she looked up at him with large, gray eyes. “Have you ever killed anyone?” she asked again.

His heart raced. “No,” he answered gently, “I haven’t.”

“I have. Whole populations, with just my thoughts. They want to kill me.”

Eldon’s arms were lined with stiff hairs; he even felt the tiny ones on the back of his neck start to prickle. “Who does, Autumn?”

“The creatures in the walls. They’ve walled me in, but I’m in here, no cheers, just forty-eight years, beers, Sears, jeers.”

“Autumn,” Eldon said, leaning forward slightly. “Is there someone we need to call? A friend, or a doctor?”

She nodded right away, tears in her eyes. “Yes, Dr. Forsythe. He’ll know what to do.”

Eldon took a long breath, closed his eyes for a moment in fevered prayer, and then said, “Alright then. Let’s call Dr. Forsythe.”

It would be weeks before she found a way to tell him what was wrong, and in that time Eldon learned how much she needed a friend. She sheltered in quiet, lonely places and could hide out for hours, sometimes days in her apartment. Now, he was by her side. He marveled at the strength she possessed to fight for lucidity; he listened as she confessed to a reality that was forever slipping through her grasp. On a chilly fall afternoon, as they sat on a bench across from the music hall, Autumn leaned her head on his shoulder and whispered the truth: schizophrenia.

“Are you going to leave me now?” she asked plaintively.

A few of their classmates passed, and Eldon watched their furtive glances, the way they shook their heads, the way they whispered. He’ll end up crazy like her.

Eldon put his arm around her shoulders. “No, Autumn,” he said. “No, I won’t leave you.”




*********

“…I was sick and you looked after me…” ~ Matt. 25:36


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Member Comments
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Virginia Bliss 09/06/07
An excellent story. It shows great depth of character. Best wishes!
Dee Yoder 09/06/07
Oh, this story is just wonderful! You are right on with the way the disease shows itself in young people of college age. Good job with dialog and the manner in which Autumn displays her schizophrenia. The title fits perfectly, now that I know what the story is about!
Patty Wysong09/08/07
Excellent job!! The dialog was real and their confusion and fear were palpable--so was Autumn's. Excellent.
Amy Michelle Wiley 09/11/07
Oh wow, this is powerful and very well written. When I was growing up my dad had a friend with schizophrenia.
Jan Ackerson 09/11/07
This one made me tear up like almost no other story I've read here. Perfect title, and perfect illustration of the title word, with the addition of amazing compassion. I loved, loved, loved this.
Betty Castleberry09/11/07
Having worked with mentally ill people, this got my attention right away. You made me have compassion for Autumn, and also reminded me that we need to care for those others would abandon.
This is *very* well done.
Janice Cartwright09/11/07
This story could have alternate endings. I wasn't sure where you were going with it - would all Autumn's fellow students ignore her resulting in tragedy, or would she perhaps take her own life? I loved that Eldon did it Jesus' way. I have to ask myself would I have done so in his place. Really good writing!
Catrina Bradley 09/11/07
Extremely powerful. I was not familiar with the disease, but through your subtly descriptive writing, now I am. The way you used dialog and descriptions is a perfect example of "showing not telling." The only suggestion I have is maybe break up the long paragraph toward the end. I love the ending and love his boldness in staying with her. Great writing! Kudos!!!
Brenda Welc09/12/07
Love knows not boundaries! (First thought that popped into my head) This was VERY well written. I was surprised when I got to the end, I wanted to read more. Great job!
David Butler 09/12/07
This was so moving. A bit close to the bone, too. My brother suffered from this disease, and his story didn't have a happy ending. We often forget about those that are locked into that horrible little cage, not knowing how much they need us. You treated this story with such sensitivity and compassion.
Loren T. Lowery09/12/07
Powerfully written and you did a masterful job showing Eldon's emotions and how he chose to do the right thing.
Thank God for those that take time to care!
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/12/07
Your title is so fitting. This story demonstrates great writing ability, especially in the characterization.
Laury Hubrich 09/19/07
I have a friend whose son was diagnosed with schizophrenia after years of misdiagnosises. He's very intelligent but can no longer function in life most of the time. Thank you for bringing this topic to our attention.
Laury
Seema Bagai 09/27/07
Your descriptions and storyline are excellent. Brought tears to my eyes.