Short Story Sunday, um Monday #3

March 4, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Posted in Homework, Short Stories, Sunday, Teen, Writing, Reading, YA, Young Adult | 2 Comments

Short Story Sunday

Well, it’s Monday night so this is hardly Short Story Sunday. No internet access all weekend is the reason, but the repair man has been and we’re back. So, we’d like you to meet Frank; a teenager with a homework assignment. As if homework itself wasn’t bad enough, Frank has been asked to boldly go where no teenager has gone before; into the future to look back on life. It’s quite a trip. Enjoy!

FRANK’S THREE

By Amanda Yskamp

“Given three days of limbo between death and beyond and the chance to live them in your happiest time, what would you choose?”

Develop your answer in 250 words or more.

Why did teachers always ask such crazy, impossible questions? As if his sixteen years had an endless wealth of times, plural, happy or otherwise, into which he could just dunk his dipper and have a drink. He just didn’t think that way. As far as he could tell, it was all one time, with ups and downs, but just one time that began on his birthday and just kept going until it didn’t anymore. And limbo? What the hell was that? Not to mention “beyond.” Was that meant to satisfy all the kids in his class from the devout to the devoid? To Frank these three days sounded more like the hour to gather what you could before the Gestapo marched in to get you. A measly three? And then what? What was he supposed to write? What was it with teachers’ endless quest to quantify and grade?

His essay was due tomorrow, and since he’d discovered no escape or loophole in their all‑powerful schedule, he sat in the screen’s glow and wrote:

So I’m dead now. Don’t ask me how it happened because that’s not part of the story, or how old I am, though I hope to hell that I make it past sixteen. For the purposes of this tale, let’s just say I died today and that it wasn’t too painful, and seconds after the old heart pump stopped and my last breath evaporated, a stopwatch started, tick tick ticking out three days of bliss or whatever before the next end, which I can only assume is the last and final terminality of ends called “beyond”, unless you happen to see that as a varied eternity opening outwards, which who knows might be true, though I kind of doubt it, not to be too pessimistic . . . only logical, but that’s not part of this story either.

He stopped there, looked it over for typos. He clicked on email, Facebook, Youtube, Hype Machine, several music blogs, and Facebook again. One hour had elapsed.

“Why didn’t I ask any questions in class?” He thought. But he hadn’t and almost never did. He felt that if he let out just one, a terrifying torrent of questions would spill from him and mark him as the freak he alone knew he was.

“I should have asked if we get to have lots of different moments or just one three‑day joy event. But what the hell would that be?”

He clicked on his Facebook photos. Skiing? That blast of white speed? The week at Karina and Paula’s bungalow on the beach in Mexico? He was so tan, and everyone was together still.

“I should have asked what she meant. Happy how?” He thought, clicked into an online Thesaurus and read through all the synonyms for happy, copied and pasted this list onto the page:

blessed, blissful, blithe, captivated, cheerful, chipper, chirpy, content, contented, convivial, delighted, ecstatic, elated, exultant, flying high, gay, glad, gleeful, gratified, intoxicated, jolly, joyful, joyous, jubilant, laughing, light, lively, merry, mirthful, on cloud nine, overjoyed, peaceful, peppy, perky, playful, pleasant, pleased, sparkling, sunny, thrilled, tickled pink, up beat, walking on air

The differences between these words, he thought were not just a matter of degree, but something else he couldn’t really say. Had he ever been on cloud nine or was the feeling as dated as the slang? He clicked on the links to follow the branches to etymological derivations and quotations. Sparkling? Probably never. Albert Einstein said, “A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” So simple, but was that true? If so, then why did old Albert need relativity? Frank thought. Maybe it didn’t make him happy to be brilliant, to be privy to the universe’s secrets. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Happy is the hearing man; unhappy the speaking man.” Well, that’s it, Frank thought. That’s the loophole. I can just put that in and be done with it. It would be an act against happiness to write this essay. He copied that and pasted it into his essay, attributed, of course. Ralph Waldo never ceased to wow teachers. Another hour was given to that.

“Come on,” he thought. “Write. Write anything.” He let his fingers hover over the keys.

When I got to Limbo it looked like, he typed, and then erased it.

Typed; Limbo is a kind of threshold. You enter it one way, but then erased that. It was pointless. He’d lost the whole idea. He changed the font of everything to 14 pt. That sometimes worked to fake out teachers. He started typing again,

You’re thinking, I don’t want to be dead, I want to be alive. Unless your life is miserable, and yeah, I know lots of people have that kind of life, but most people don’t want to die and leave everything and everyone they know and love. But then you find out there’s this consolation prize. You get three days of whatever was your happiest time. I guess somebody is standing there at the doorway and gives you a slip of paper when you come in, like from a fortune cookie

But with the words all big like that, what he wrote looked like a child’s writing, so Frank went back to 10 pt., cut some words and added others.

You’re thinking, I don’t want to be dead; I want to be alive, if you still have the power to want at all, being dead. There’s somebody standing there at the doorway with a slip of paper like from a fortune cookie, and it tells you that you have three days to return to your happiest time. But isn’t that a weird way to live and die? You’re kind of launched on a forward path, leaving your life, why would you want to go back to some other time?

Homework

Frank pushed away from the computer and stood up. What time was it? Where the hell was Leon? He said he would text by now. Frank took out his phone and keyed his message with his thumbs: “WHERE R U? I M N LIMBO”

He waited for the rumble of the vibration.

“3 DAYS KID 3 DAYS” Leon’s text said.

“I K R? HAVE U MADE IT OUT?” Frank texted back.

“Y. I M N HEVEN EATIN ICECEAM.”

“SHUT UP.”

“Dinner!” his mother shouted for the third time. Another hour had elapsed.

“Just a second!” Frank called back.

Attendance at dinner was non‑negotiable. The seven, no six of them, all sat down together at 6:00 to eat whatever had been cooked, and if you complained, it was your turn to cook dinner the next night. Frank erased the last two sentences, and before heading out to the dining room, typed,

This three‑day limbo will have to wait until I die, because it hasn’t been written yet, though I have hope for happy, happier, happiest times ahead. Give me the F already and let’s move on.

<><><>

Meet the author of Frank’s Three, Amanda Yskamp . . .

Amanda Yskamp

Amanda Yskamp’s work has appeared in such magazines as Threepenny Review, Hayden Review, Caketrain, Redivider, and The Georgia Review. She lives with poet Doug Larsen and their two children on the 10-year flood plain of the Russian River, where she teaches writing to young people through Northwestern University’s distance education program and privately. She has never and would never assign such a preposterous writing prompt.

Amanda’s story appears in Suddenly Lost In Words, Volume 2 available now at AMAZON US or AMAZON UK 

www.suddenlylostinwords.com

THANKS AGAIN FOR READING!!

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2 Comments »

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  1. As a former English teacher who made such annoying, pushy writing assignments from time to time, I loved the search, the adventure and confusion that followed in this story. You never know what writers will create when pushed by a deadline.
    Well done!


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