United States

18 | she/they | hypothetical astronaut | ekphrastic poet | haunted house

Message to Readers

Hi! This is something I've worked on for a very long time. Grammar help and comments on characterization/world building would be helpful. Thanks!

Second Choices

November 20, 2018

    At five o’clock sharp on a Saturday, the ferry would leave the harbor, a dozen or so anxious children leaving their anxious parents smiling tightly on the dock. The boat had extra room below deck for the sheep, and plenty of spray paint to go around. The chaperones took headcount, handed out windbreakers, and gave everyone hot chocolate. After all, the children were going to make their fortunes, a hot drink was in order.
    At around six o’clock, a withered professor who had grown too old for the even older art of augury would make his way to the school house. He would sit down in an abandoned classroom, open his briefcase and remove twelve tests, eleven pencils and two erasers. The numbers kept dwindling because the Department of Oracles had lost faith in him and his town. He would dutifully place a test at each desk, break one pencil in half, sharpen the dull end, and cut each eraser into six parts with scissors.
    Then he would wait. After an hour he would leave and get his coffee, then look at the birds for a long time. And then he would complain to his wife about the board of the Department of Oracles and the weather and his eyesight.
    This time however, there was a knock on the classroom door and a short red-haired boy stood, fidgeting, in the doorway.
    “You’ve come to take the test?”
    “Yes, I brought my own pencil.”
    The professor nodded towards a chair.
    The boy went to a seat, fiddled with the nub of the eraser, looked over the test and wondered if he'd made the right decision. His parents thought he was on the boat with the rest of the children, headed for the Island.
    At around this time, the children on the boat had given up huddling below decks in favor of squinting through the biting fog in search of land. There was only the grey of the mist merging into the grey of the ocean. And where the sameness ended, the hull of the ferry cut a path through the water and the waves churned up white and angry. They could not see the Island.
    What seemed like hours passed, and then someone spotted it, a shadow in the fog. It was startlingly close, a little bump among the roaring ocean, mostly rock, blanketed with sparse grass and heather. The sheep were little gray blots, hardly moving.
    The chaperones took the spray paint out of cardboard crates and gave the children their pattern. Orange dot, blue zigzag, red star. Four sheep must be left on the island. Hands nervously gripped bottles, shaking them, or maybe they were just shivering. It was almost time.
    The redhead passed his test back in, aware of the silence he had created in the classroom, the air allowed only for pencil-scratching and the gentle pattering of the old man’s pocket watch. He said nothing as the man looked at the paper, nodding and then frowning and then nodding again. The silence was broken as the man looked up, clearing his throat jarringly. He looked almost disappointed.
    “I’m sorry young man, you didn’t pass.” They were heavy words, the man seemed to regret having to say them. The boy opened his mouth, as if to speak, and then sprinted out of the classroom.
    There were only gravel roads in the town, he ran through them, limbs wild and unruly. Two lefts and right, past the homes of people he knew, the old post office, the convenient store, then he could see the harbor and the froth of sea beyond.
    The ferry was gone, but what had he expected, what had he expected from the test? He wanted to scream at the entire world and its unfairness, instead he walked numbly to the dock, shivering in the suddenly-cold air. There was a fisherman shoving off in his weathered motorboat, whistling tunelessly. The boy gave a startled shout, and he looked up, annoyed.
    “Can you please, wait, please, sir,” the redhead was breathless. He rummaged in his pockets for money as the fisherman waited, unimpressed. The boy shoved a five into one wrinkled hand. A displeased snort.
    “Don’t expect me to bring you back, one way trip, boy.” There was nothing else to do. The boat rocked with extra weight, then was still. And then it was moving, slow and silent into the mist.
    When they arrived, the fog had swallowed the entire Island, muffling it. There was a murmur of wind, the waves conversed, but no sound of children or the ocean slapping against the ferry. The boy’s heart sank. He almost opened his mouth to plead for a ride back, but something stopped him, maybe the wind, maybe the ghosts of voices.
    The fisherman left without a word.
    Then a figure appeared out of the fog, a girl that he knew, the one who was said to be able to do anything. Her mouth was tilted into a frown as she considered him. He felt that maybe he should say something
    “A fisherman dropped me off,” he said, gesturing vaguely at the water behind him, “he’s gone now.”
    The frown deepened.
    “The boat left,” she said, flicking a damp strand of hair over her shoulder. “Me and two of the boys got left behind.”
    He didn’t know what to say to that so he shrugged his shoulders—a meager attempt to show her how he felt. Lost. She rolled her eyes and began to walk back into the mist, calling back to him as she disappeared, “You can join us on the rocks. We’re discussing the bleakness of our futures and I assume you’d have something to add.”
    He nodded, and, not knowing what else to do, followed her into the great unknown, the blank slate that he shared with the occupants of the island.
    The boy who failed a test, two boys left behind, the girl who stayed with them, and four lonely sheep.


See History

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  • Norah

    Thank you so much guys!

    over 2 years ago
  • _________

    Congrats!!! :DD

    over 2 years ago
  • rosemarywisdom

    Hey, congrats on runner up!

    over 2 years ago