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Winter, 2004
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
She looked behind her once again before she pushed open the largest door in the house. She only had a few seconds to search her employer's office or she risked detection. Her eyes were immediately drawn to a handwritten note sitting in the middle of the desk...



Midnight Ruminations

By Emily Poole, Kotlik, AK

It was after midnight when he stopped staring up at a darkened ceiling. He had tried to sleep, knowing how little good he would be to anyone the next day if he didn't; but sleep would not come. Rather than continue to lie prostrate in the dark, Jeremiah decided to go to work.

This was only his third year working for the school district and new Laws were making him think about whether he'd made the right choice of career. He knew before he started teaching that working with disadvantaged students would be challenging. Fresh out of college, he had wanted that challenge; had wanted to give his energy to students who might appreciate it, if not at the moment, then down the road. But he had expected most of the difficulty to come from the students, rather than being externally imposed upon him.

He pulled on the heavy jacket, the wool gloves, and the fur hat he'd purchased during his first winter, and stepped outside. The night sky was alive with the purples and greens of the aurora borealis, and he paused on his way across the playground to stare at it with open wonder. He didn't think he would ever tire of that sight. When he moved again, his numb toes reminded him that, as beautiful as the sky had been, it was not a good idea to remain still for very long in weather that cold.

Inside, Jeremiah took off his boots and put his feet up on a corner of His desk. He contemplated the mounds of paper before him. Picking up a Copy of the test data from the year before, he tried to pay attention to the words and numbers on the page. After scanning the paper for the third time, still without comprehension, he gave up and left his classroom to pace the halls.

Jeremiah was under a great deal of stress, lately; the entire faculty was. Federally mandated testing was taking its toll on students and teachers alike. Everyone had been informed that there would be a loss of funding and jobs should the students fail. The constant practice kept the tension high, and Jeremiah found himself wishing he could get on with the business of being a teacher, rather than the proctoring position into which he and the rest of the staff had been drafted. His hand traced the line where the wainscoting met the cheerful yellow paint as he traveled up and down the main hallway. He thought about the realities of this new world, and how it clashed with his idea of teaching.

He wanted to teach students to read, write, and think critically, to Live in a world full of objects and people with whom they would need to interact. The tests only wanted them to fill in bubbles with facts that they were supposed to memorize. But to keep their jobs, the faculty had spent the past several weeks improving their students' ability to pick the right answer.

Stopping at the end of the hall to stare out the window, Jeremiah considered his options. He didn't want to leave teaching, despite the current difficulties. The profession still offered more rewards than problems. He didn't believe that the situation elsewhere would be appreciably different. That left only one choice, to make the best of the situation where he was.

"If the students do well enough," Jeremiah thought aloud, "We should be allowed to go back to teaching." Already the staff did daily drills and activities designed solely with this purpose in mind, but the scores on the practice tests weren't significantly different from the year old scores. Without giving the students access to the real test questions, it seemed doubtful there would be any real improvement.

As his eyes watched the moving lights in the sky, Jeremiah sighed deeply. There was a way. The tests were all locked in the principal's office For the testing next week. He could simply look at them, and give his students A leg up on the actual test. The thought turned his stomach, and he tried to concentrate instead on the shift of color from green to purple. But as he stood, the thought returned, buzzing like a mosquito, unwelcome, in his ear.

Rationalizations, like more buzzing, joined the original idea. He wouldn't have to copy the tests. He wouldn't have to tell them the answers. If he were to just peek at it, himself, he'd be better able to prepare them for the test. It was only fair that they be taught what they were to be tested on.

Jeremiah closed his eyes against the wave of nausea that welled up inside. He shook his head to clear it and turned away from the night sky.

After a short while, he started back toward his own classroom. It was Now almost two, but he felt no closer to being able to sleep. He slipped Into the staff room and made himself a cup of tea. Cup in hand, he resumed His idle walk through the school.

His pacing took the young teacher in and out of classrooms, and into the main office. A general clutter of files and notes blanketed the desk. Papers were piled higher even than on his own, handwritten notes jotted On the outsides of manila folders, reams of paper seeming intent on forming new pieces of furniture. The disorder of the office at first seemed just the normal state of affairs, but there was something that brought him out of his reverie.

He hadn't planned to go into the principal's office. It hadn't been conscious thought that brought him there. He didn't even remember taking the key out of his pocket or opening the door. And yet, there he was. Despite his revulsion, despite having decided in no uncertain terms that he would not come look at these tests, here he stood, only feet away from where they were kept. Jeremiah fought back the urge to vomit. All the rationalizations came forward, all the wishes and concerns. He thought very carefully about his motivations. He could feel sweat beginning to form upon his brow, feel his heart pounding in his chest. Slowly, he turned to the file cabinet behind the door and stopped short.

Standing there now, Jeremiah could see that someone had already been there, and the open drawer was testament to his activities. Left in the otherwise empty drawer was a clipboard with a sign-out sheet, and a handwritten yellow sticky-note that read, "Please be sure to enter time for the convenience of other users."




What Emily won:

$300 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)


ENTER THE NEXT 24-HOUR SHORT STORY CONTEST HERE!
Contest guidelines are HERE.

 


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