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By John Kalkowski
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 John Kalkowski
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Chapter OneTop Secret.
The red stamp stained itself diagonally across the manila folder. The warning was clear, though rarely do such furtive things so boldly announce their presence. Yet confidential files as this were not uncommon in this government office. In fact, the man behind the desk where the folder lay might well be asked to review dozens of these in a given day. But what made this particular folder so interesting was that he wasn't examining this one. He was the mastermind behind the project. And by mere notion, it had become classified. It wouldn't just be his reputation on the line if it became public.
Even though he firmly stood by his theory, its contents made him more excited and more apprehensive than any covert operation he had ever been part of. Never had such extreme feelings played tug-of-war with his guts; one moment his stomach would swell with nausea and the next flutter with butterflies and his enthusiasm could instantly condense into cold sweats.
Yet, to the untrained eye, he was a pillar of composure. His finger smoothly traced the rounded edge of the folder's tab as his left hand held steady the morning's newspaper. Crumpled and smudgy under his grip, the paper had aged under his intense stare and scrutiny-he had been clutching the page for most of the morning. If not for the conscious movements of his right index finger, one would think he had been petrified by what he had read, yet his finger easily enough gave away his thoughts. Holding the folded paper open to the third page of the sports section, his thumb underscored the headline, "Injun-uity!"
The article told the story of the thrilling finish for a local Pony League baseball team as they triumphed over a bitter rival the night before. The Chiefs might not have come away with a "W" at their summer season's opening game had it not been for the remarkable quick thinking of their fourteen-year-old star shortstop. Though the Chiefs had been ahead by a run since the fifth inning, the sportswriter noted the deciding play came just moments before the final at-bat.
The night before, during the bottom of the ninth inning, Will Conlan, from his shortstop position, glanced over at the runner on third and calculated how many paces off the bag the guy had stepped for a lead. Digging his fist into the pit of his glove and sweeping the loose gravel with the inside of his cleat, Will readied himself to snag any hit in his vicinity. The opposing Knights had their backs to the wall, and Will figured the batter would be desperate to put the ball into play to try to score their runner. Will hoped Cody, the pitcher, would throw something that could only be chopped for a grounder.
Stepping off the back of the mound, Cody flipped the rosin bag over with a puff of powered dust in his right hand and took a deep breath before dropping it to the ground. Shuffling back up to the rectangular plate, Cody dug his eyes into the catcher's mitt. Kicking his leg high, he let loose with the ball. The second it left his hand, the batter slid his hand down the bat for a bunt. The ball shanked straight and hot instead of down the line.
Will noted that Cody's follow-through had twisted him away from the rolling ball. Knowing Cody might not get to the ball in time, Will charged inward, pumping his legs with exertion. He couldn't simply be a spectator and watch the game slip out of their hands. To Will's right, the base runner was paralleling his dash homeward.
Just as Will was lowering his glove, Cody's hand came out of nowhere, snatched that ball from the grass, and turned toward first base. Bug-eyed, Will wanted to scream. Couldn't Cody see what was happening? Had he forgotten about the man on third? The play was at the plate!
In a moment of panic, he desperately called out to Cody, but the play was happening too quickly. Closing in on the pitcher's mound, Will was badly out of position, but what did it matter now? His head turned to watch the ball leave Cody's hand and, in that split second, Will's vision caught a second spot of white-a pouch that resembled a ball. Obeying his intuitive nature rather than logic, he countered to give his team their only chance. Reaching downward to the incline of dirt, he stretched his fingertips toward the pitcher's rosin bag. In one fluid motion, he seized the pouch and snapped it sidearm toward home plate.
Will saw the watermelon-sized eyes of the catcher swell between the bars of his facemask as he raised his arms to make a target of his catcher's mitt. He snatched the flying object out of the air and slapped his throwing hand inward to secure the cupped object, holding it there behind home plate without another movement of his body.
The runner snapped his head back-and-forth between Will and the catcher and locked his legs, digging his heels into the dirt. Spinning backward, he charged back to third. The catcher didn't give chase.
After a long umpires' conference, the home plate umpire ruled the runner had not been "obstructed" from crossing home plate. Immediately, two screaming coaches stomped toward the home plate umpire. One shouted that the run should count. The other countered that a run couldn't count if the base runner never crossed home plate. Shaking his head, he further contested that there was no specific rule against what had happened. Will watched the umpire shift uneasily from foot to foot as if he were wondering how kids could possibly think of these things.
The man leaned slightly forward in his office chair and rested his forearm on the desk. He had replayed that scene over and over in his mind until it almost seemed as if he had been there to witness it. Clasping a thick sharpie, he drew a red circle around the article. Tapping the newspaper with the cap of his marker, he seemed to make up his mind once and for all. Then, very deliberately, he traced a second circle around the name of the athlete, Will Conlan. Lifting the front flap of the ink-stamped manila folder with the tip of his finger, he slid the article now framed like a bull's-eye directly inside.
Chapter TwoThe Giver by Lois Lowry Essay Response Test #1
Thoroughly answer the following in complete paragraph form: If terrorism can be defined as "a calculated use of fear against civilians to reach ideological goals," could Jonas (the book's hero) have actually been a terrorist?
Will heard the collective sigh across the classroom as each student completed reading the response question of the now infamous "Mr. Tenepior's Essay Tests." The more thinking it took to answer them, the better. Every kid dreaded them. Eighth grade wasn't supposed to be this difficult.
Ryan, seated in the desk behind Will, muttered, "This is impossible."
Robin, the girl two rows to his right, even started crying silent little sobs, probably because she didn't understand the question. She probably hadn't read the book either. Will could just see her writing about some giant whale.
But, for Will, it was different. There was something intrinsically fulfilling about pushing his mind to find answers. He even slightly enjoyed the challenge. Because this question was not part of the novel's actual story line, requiring it on a test was probably a little unfair for most of the students, but for Will, it fed his competitive nature to prove himself.
Glancing briefly to his side, his eyes found Stacey Chloupek. Even though she was silhouetted against the lone bulletin board emblazoned with the blocked lettering of "THINK," she made it difficult to concentrate. Not only did her long athletic frame drive Will crazy, but her piercing blue eyes added such a depth to her already beautiful face that they seemed to lase rather than look at a person. Her sandy blond hair swayed just below her tan spaghetti-strapped shoulders. She tilted her body slightly sideways and crossed her long smooth legs, sleek enough to accent the mini skirt she wore.
Beads of perspiration started forming on Will's forehead as he watched Stacey lift her pen to her mouth and place its clicker between her sparkling teeth. Obviously pondering over the question before she began, she rolled the pen side-to-side between her finger tips with thoughtful contemplation. Her tongue ever so slightly slid forward and caressed the pen's metal tip. With a sudden jerking gasp, Will lost all control as his head-rested elbow slid off the edge of his desk and his own pen slipped through his fingers onto the floor tile.
"This is a test, Ladies and Gentlemen. We need to concentrate," growled the stern deep voice behind the teacher's desk. Will snapped out of his fuzzy ponderings as he caught Mr. Tenepior's challenging glare. The man shared the frame and demeanor of a Doberman pinscher, Will decided.
Had Mr. Tenepior seen what had happened? He couldn't possibly have known what Will had been thinking. Quickly reaching for his pen, Will exhaled.
Tilting her head, Stacey rested on her elbow as she slouched sideways in her chair. It didn't seem that Tenepior's presence was tensing her. Shaking his head, Will tried to focus past what normally occupied his thoughts and concentrate on the test question.
Thoughtfully Will gathered his wits. He could easily enough see his teacher's ploy. He figured Mr. Tenepior wanted to see if anyone would be audacious enough to actually agree with his test question. Will guessed that every student would automatically argue the opposite since Jonas had been trying to help his community by giving back the memories and therefore couldn't be viewed a terrorist. Disputing contrary stances on controversial statements like this essay question had often earned his classmates extra credit during class discussions. Supporting the accusation against Jonas would make his essay original and stand apart from his classmates' papers. And Will knew Mr. Tenepior liked that even more.
He slowly put his pen to his paper and began. "It's reasonable to assume that the memories would cause the community fear. After all, the Giver himself described the panic Rosemary's memories caused the community after her release." He paused, letting his mind wander at the possibilities. What he had written sounded just like something Tenepior was after.
"Always support your thoughts with evidence from the text," is what Mr. Tenepior had preached from the very first lesson of the year. That day they had read the short story "Rain, Rain Go Away" by Isaac Asimov. The story described a very odd couple who always seemed concerned with the weather. It turned out they were actually made of sugar and feared being dissolved by rain. By handing out magnifying glasses and stacks of yellow sticky notes to each student, Mr. Tenepior had encouraged the students to decipher clues like a detective. He told the class to question everything they read. "In a short story an author does not have space to waste words. If something seems out of place or unusual, question yourself as to the reason why it's there. There has to be a reason the author used it; you just have to figure out why."
As Will had read this short story, he had torn written notes from his yellow pad and stuck them right in the book along with the words of the story. Clues had started popping out in all directions. After the first few paragraphs, Will's eyes had seemed to sense words floating off the page, standing out as if they had been written in 3-D. It had taught Will not only to be aware of subtleties, but had also helped him clarify the connection of details.
Satisfied he had connected enough similar hidden meanings for his test after twenty-five minutes of writing, he flipped over his paper and glanced around the room to see exhausted students scribbling furiously to finish. A few slackers were slouched backwards playing with their gum and staring off into space. Will was happy that he was one of the lucky ones to have finished such a difficult test. Turning back toward the front of the room, he noticed that Mr. Tenepior had been staring directly at him.
Then abruptly without any warning, Mr. Tenepior announced, "Check over your responses and make sure that you have at least ten specific examples to support your conclusion or I won't accept it as a completed answer." Will knew Mr. Tenepior tailored his lessons to the smart kids, but this was borderline unfair. The test had been hard enough. Any why did it seem that when he finished early, Tenepior instantly added more to it? It wasn't the first time that Will felt that Mr. Tenepior expected more from him.
Chapter Three"Conlan!" Will knew the voice all too well. Will turned backwards to see Ryan's square jaw moving, "How'd you do?" as he passed his test forward.
Will and Ryan were best friends. Ryan was well liked by almost everyone because of his easygoing, even personality. A sports enthusiast with dark black hair parted to one side and a somewhat lanky yet athletic frame, Ryan played with Will on their select baseball and basketball club teams. Competitive, yet always the good sport, Ryan used his social nature to always be part of the conversation, but oddly seemed too shy to ever ask Samantha, his long-time crush, for a date.
Ryan was one of those kids who liked the sharp look of wearing his jeans with a belt, but rarely tucked in his shirts for anyone to see it. His infectious laugh was readily available, although his smile often skewed into a crooked puzzled look as if he didn't get the joke. Will affectionately considered these inconsistencies in his best friend and liked to tease that Ryan could be compared to "half and half" while Will was naturally "smooth as milk." Even Ryan's scores on Mr. Tenepior's tests demonstrated his "half and half" nature-parts of his essays were marked as clear and concise while others were crossed-out as gibberish filler.
"Dictator Tenepior is going to waste all of us if you don't slow down." Ryan knew firsthand Will's theory about Mr. Tenepior tacking on an extra workload.
Kyle, who had been assigned to collect the papers, had obviously overheard Ryan's comment as he walked down the row. Leaning down so only the two of them could hear, he used his best mocking imitation of Mr. Tenepior. "Will, really stretch your mind here. Will, dig deeper; go as far with this as you can!"
Behind Will, Ryan snickered. Then his eyebrows worriedly rose upward as though he were fretting the awful possibilities of the joke.
Kyle regained his step and strode around Ryan's seat to the next row while keeping his sneering gaze focused on Will. "You need to quit daydreaming about Stacey and concentrate on my class, Will."
"Cut it out, Kyle," said Will as he swatted at Kyle with his rolled-up test. "She might hear you!"
Taking up Kyle's argument, Ryan added, "Hey, if you don't quit staring at her, you're going to kill all of us."
And that's what confused Will the most. Like many in his class, he was a good student. Maybe the top students should be expected to do more. But it was more than that. Did all students have to try as hard as he did? And when did expectations suddenly become demands?
One particular class period where Will found himself surpassing the normal effort curve had involved a writing lesson on the subject of trying to show and not tell what was happening in a story. Mr. Tenepior had pounded into their brains that they should create inferences for the reader, explaining, "Show smoke; let the reader infer fire." It had become one of his most popular sayings. Mr. Tenepior pushed them to find five examples from their independent reading books and then mimic those examples by writing five of their own. Will cost them five more.
And that was exactly how each class period had been. By having the students read vigorously, Mr. Tenepior spent every day discussing how to develop one's thinking potential. "Let's think outside of the box!" was one of his most-used phrases, usually adding "Dig even deeper" in Will's direction.
It didn't seem to Will that Mr. Tenepior even cared that the students really learned that much about word acquisition or fluency when they read; he was more concerned with what they could learn from the reading. What new ideas students devised through reading a particular passage seemed to be one of their most common day-to-day activities. Not only did Mr. Tenepior want new ideas to be found, but the more original, the better. He seemed to get particularly excited when a student would come up with some off-the-wall solution to a problem even if it didn't really have anything to do with the reading at all. Sometimes in a fit of excitement he would even take out this awesome iPAQ 210 Enterprise Handheld PC and start recording the conversation or begin typing some notes of the things the kids were devising through their discussions.
Excerpted from Red Cell by John Kalkowski Copyright © 2010 by John Kalkowski. Excerpted by permission.
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