Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Expert (09/05/13)
TITLE: Seven Hours
By Mike Newman
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Had they pictured a map in their minds of the surrounding area it would have been medieval in its depiction of the north. No real definition and Here There Be Monsters scrawled across it in looping 15th Century script.
It was a place of such effectual foreboding that they could not bear to let their thoughts land there, even for a moment. To linger there would be to chance madness, bony fingers gripping the mind and growing tighter ... ever tighter. It had the pull of a thousand suns and was relentless in its pursuit. Always seeking. Always hungry.
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt Junior High, and these boys had no intention of darkening its door on this fine April morning.
Spring had made itself comfortable and was in it for the long haul. It could usually rest easy at this point on the calendar. Its hold on things might be tenuous in March, but April was another story. It owned April. Winter locked in the cellar and summer, arrogant as ever, still making final arrangements for its mid-year stay.
No, this was a day meant for something other than study halls and lectures. It had stayed warm overnight, so there was no heavy lifting to do first thing in the morning to reach the anticipated high of 75. Chris watched the sun as it broke from behind cover for its slow crawl west. Mikey took a slow breath and looked around for the lawn that had been mowed. Teagan heard a dog bark, remembered he hadn't fed Dooger that morning, and realized he was hungry.
Yes, today was going to be a good day.
"Well boys, what are we doing?" Chris asked as they walked.
They had spent seven-plus months quietly listening to instructions and doing as they were told. Wise teachers deftly guided and directed every part of their tedious days. Told them when to get there and when to leave, what to do and how to do it. They couldn't even take a leak without it being preceded by a raised hand and a plead for permission.
"Let's get something to eat," Teagan suggested. The other two knew this was coming and ignored it. Teagan was fat and invariably encouraged progress toward the next meal.
"Mikey?" Chris tried again.
"Let's hop on the tracks and follow 'em out by the lake."
And on that Tuesday morning, the weight of school no longer borne on their skinny shoulders, that was a fine idea indeed.
Ten minutes later they were on the tracks. Two of them walking the rails and Mikey hopping from tie to tie. They laughed, gave wet willies and punched twice for flinching. They gave their expert opinions on cars and Green Lantern and Katie from third period (who somehow managed to make big ears and crooked teeth adorable). But mostly they were silent. Each had things that needed thinking about, and each wanted to savor the moment, to stretch out this day as long as possible.
Chris remembered trips with his dad to the same lake they were headed to now to skip rocks and float stick boats. They had sent them out and then tried to sink them with launched rocks from the shore. He had died last year on a motorcycle and left Chris to look out for his mom and little sister.
Mikey wondered if the other two would be mad if he told them about the kiss he and Katie had snuck after school last week. He thought she really liked him, and also thought the guys wouldn't let up if they knew.
Teagan's mind had stayed on breakfast. Everyone gave him a hard time about his weight, but it was usually just good-natured ribbing. And Chris was always around if it wasn't.
It was a contented silence. They were the captains of their ship, the masters of their domain. No opinions other than their own about what was best; they were the experts on how to spend this day.
Possibility and adventure awaited, and they had seven hours to track it down.
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