Monday, February 21, 2011

A, B, C, or D

Thomas sat down at a desk in the testing center in preparation to take his Certificate of Risk Licensing (CRL) exam. The computer screen stared back at him blankly as the testing attendant logged in on the keyboard. Thomas was nervous, but prepared. He had been studying for months, and the 100 question CRL exam would help further his career at the insurance firm he worked for.

“You’re all set; any questions?” the woman quietly asked.

“No,” Thomas responded. “Thank you.”

After the woman left, he went through the introductory questions, the tutorial, and then clicked “Begin exam.”

Here we go, he thought. His heart beat anxiously as the first question appeared.

This one’s easy, he thought. I’ve seen this before. He selected option ‘c’ and clicked ‘next.’

Thomas got through the next ten questions fairly easily and was feeling confident about how the exam was going until he came to question 12.

He had to read the question a few times in order to understand what was being asked. As he contemplated the answers, Thomas looked down at the keyboard and noticed that the letter ‘c’ was highlighted. Must be a glitch in the keyboard, he thought. He read through the answer options again and selected ‘c.’

The next five questions were answered in a matter of minutes and Thomas was still feeling good about the exam. All the questions he had answered thus far were basic review questions, with a few case study examples. I knew I was ready for this; this is much easier than I expected. I’ll pass for sure, Thomas thought. He then clicked the ‘next’ button and stared at the screen.

This question was a bit tougher, and Thomas tried to rule out obvious wrong answers. He looked down at the keyboard again to process his thoughts and noticed that ‘c’ was no longer highlighted. Instead, the letter ‘d’ glowed with a dim, orange light. Thomas’ brow furrowed, and he wondered what was wrong with the keyboard. He quickly clicked ‘previous question’ until he got back to question number two. He looked at his answer on the screen, marked as answer ‘c,’ and then down at the keyboard where ‘c’ was highlighted. Thomas looked over his shoulder at the testing officiator on the other side of the glass wall to see if she had noticed. He knew he was being videotaped and was unsure whether or not this was a practical joke. Thomas clicked forward in the exam to his current question, checking every answer against what key was highlighted on the keyboard; ‘a,’ ‘b,’ ‘c,’ or ‘d.’ He was certain of his answers thus far in the exam, and so far everything he had marked matched up with what the keyboard highlighted.

This keyboard knows the exam; it’s giving me the answers, Thomas realized.

He read through the next question and, sure enough, the keyboard was giving him the correct answer. He clicked the ‘next’ button after confirming with the keyboard and answering the question, and continued the exam. He looked over his shoulder, then back at the keyboard, and thought about what was happening.

I’m not doing anything wrong, he thought. I came prepared for this test. I just so happened to sit at the desk with the cheating keyboard. He paused. Will I be caught? Could they catch me? Thomas noticed that he was sweating as he tried to justify his actions.

I won’t look at the keyboard, he considered. I’ll decide on the answer, then look at the keyboard for confirmation. I’m prepared anyways. Maybe this is just someone’s way of making sure I pass. He thought again about what he had decided, and then nodded to himself. Okay, let’s do this.

Thomas continued the exam, following his outlined plan, confirming with the keyboard after every question. He felt confident until he got to the third and final portion of the test, where he saw an exact question from his practice exams.

It was a basic question, taken from the first chapter of his study book. He had answered this question dozens of times, but the keyboard was giving him a different answer than what he knew was right. This is ridiculous, he thought. I know the answer is ‘a’ but this stupid keyboard is telling me ‘d.’ He clicked the ‘previous’ button, then went back to the question to make sure that the keyboard wasn’t stuck. The ‘d’ key glowed when the ‘a’ key should have been lit up. Agh! he thought. What is going on?

He selected ‘a’ and clicked the ‘next’ button, but couldn’t focus enough to read the next question. He went back to the previous question and stared at the screen, then the keyboard. It has given me the right answers every time; why is it doing this now? Thomas thought.

He considered raising his hand so the testing attendant would come to his computer, but realized what a fool he would look like. His mind started to spin and his eyes glassed over, and he tried to shake off the feeling of stupor. He looked back at the screen.

Maybe I shouldn’t be doubting the keyboard, he considered. Maybe I’m confusing what I thought. But this is such a basic question.

He changed his answer to ‘d’ and clicked ‘next.’ Thomas went through the final part of the exam, second guessing himself and everything he thought he knew. He became more and more frustrated with himself and the keyboard for disagreeing, but he decided to side with what the keyboard told him. When he had finished all 100 questions, he looked at the clock in the top right hand corner of the screen and noticed that he still had thirty minutes left.

I have enough time to review all the questions again, he thought.

Thomas when back to the beginning of the exam and, while reviewing his initial answers, realized that the keyboard was giving different answers now. Thomas frantically clicked the ‘next’ button, glancing from the keyboard to the screen as he reviewed each answer. Terror gripped his mind. He let go of the mouse and his hands shot to cover his face.

What is happening?

He looked back over his shoulder but nothing had changed. The room was deadly silent, but he was screaming inside. He wanted to smash the keyboard, to throw it against the wall. He looked back at the clock, noticing that only eighteen minutes remained.

I have to calm down, he thought. Just go through the questions again, and do what feels right. Don’t look at the keyboard. Forget the keyboard.

As Thomas clicked through the questions, he became more confused and unsure of his answers. He couldn’t help but look at the keyboard for what he thought was right. He wondering if the keyboard had been lying all along, but couldn't bring himself to go against it. He began changing answers based upon what the keyboard was now illuminating, even thought it meant going against what he had initially known. He had five minutes to go as he sped through the last few questions, feeling ever more uncomfortable about his answers.

With one minute remaining, he completed the last question, and a screen popped up with the option to ‘end exam.’ Thomas knew that this was either a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ test, and that he had to get at least an eighty percent to pass and receive his CRL. He looked down at the keyboard and noticed that neither ‘a,’ ‘b,’ ‘c,’ or ‘d’ were illuminated. Only one key was bright, with that cheating orange glow: the ‘escape’ key. He looked back and forth from the ‘escape’ key to the ‘end exam’ button, and wondered if he could ‘escape’ after hitting the ‘end exam’ button. Something in him knew he could not. His left index finger hovered over the ‘escape’ button while his right index finger rested on the mouse.

Where would this escape key take me? Is this some kind of magical keyboard? I’m pretty sure I failed this test, but I did what the keyboard said, so maybe I passed? He felt a small glimmer of hope, but it wavered.

He hit the ‘escape’ key at the same time the screen flashed a message saying ‘time expired.’ The screen went white, then black, then faded to a muted gray. With a slight popping noise, the computer shut off. Thomas looked from left to right in bewilderment but nothing changed. After a moment, the woman testing attendant came in the room with a troubled look on her face. She leaned over to whisper in Thomas’ ear.

“I’m so sorry, your exam didn’t save. The computer malfunctioned and we have no way of collecting your answers. You’ll have to come back and take the exam again.”

Friday, October 1, 2010

Say It Ant So!

The fruit loop fell from a pudgy hand like a hoop of manna from heaven. It bounced between a gauntlet of legs and feet and began to roll down the sidewalk of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s cohorts remained ensconced within a small Tupperware bowl jammed into a nearby coat pocket.
Rants and chants filled the air while the sugar-encrusted loop rolled straight and true, miraculously avoiding the marching shoes, flip-flops, and occasional bare foot. It eventually wobbled and fell, lying just at the edge of tramping oblivion.
She came quietly, unnoticed by the riotous crowds, wandering in apparent blindness, yet seeking with intense determination. Much like the picket signs waving fervently far above her, she waived her antennae to and fro, smelling the faint traces of sugar in the air. Oblivious to her danger, she marched back and forth, back and forth. She would not be denied!
After miles of inches, she found the sugary path. Her six legs churned, carrying her millimeter-long body swiftly over the weathered boulders of lime and sand. She could taste her salvation! Its sweet, tantalizing tang powered her forward. “Food! Food! Food!”
An unfathomable distance away, the pudgy hand reached for a skirt and pulled. A woman turned, recognized the pained hunger and loss in the girl’s eyes, and lowered her sign with a frown. It read, “Feed the Needy, not the Greedy!”
“What happened?” She asked her daughter.
“I loosed one!” a round, tear-streaked face cried over the chants. “It went that way!”
Glancing a few feet away, the mother saw the little, red loop appear briefly between the marching legs of fellow protestors.
“Well, let it go. I’ve got more.” She replied as she turned away, hoisted her sign high and resumed chanting, “Feed the hungry!”
Tears welled up again as the child turned to look longingly towards the wayward loop.
The sun shone bright and hot for an early spring day and reflected off the carapace of the hungry ant, only inches from the coveted loop. The FD&C Red 40 glowed with promise, but the color was lost in her compound eye as she hurried up at full speed. “Food. Hunger. Queen. Eggs. Need….”
At first touch, she halted immediately with two legs suspended. She felt quickly and thoroughly, feeling overpowered by flavor. Her feelers padded gently across the sharp crystals of pure sugar embedded within waves of oat flour mortar. It arched up and out of sight, like a giant candy castle. “Perfect!”
The ant paused to sample a delectable crumb. Then she began to climb. She needed to know how large this treasure was before reporting back.
The child looked on, measuring the distance to her lost morsel and gauging her chances in the unruly crowd. Suddenly, she bolted.
The ant climbed carefully. Grasping the sugar crystals like a pro rock climber, she ascended the overhanging curve with ease, feeling no vertigo. She reached the top and began to walk the circumference. A shadow fell upon her and she paused in mid-stride. Her compound eyes sensed danger as the air stilled.
A small hand reached down.
All at once, the air rushed. The old ant felt the vibrations of the slap. The girl flinched and rubbed her stinging hand. The mother looked angrily down and exclaimed, “Don’t run away! I could lose you in this crowd. Didn’t I tell you that over and over on the bus?”
The girl scowled and looked back at her lost loop as she was dragged back into the marching crowd by her coat sleeve.
“Help the Helpless!” shouted the mob.
The child turned, looked up sweetly and said, "May I have s'more?"
"No." the mother replied without looking. "It needs to last." She fumbled one-handedly with her over-sized sign, still clinging to the daughter.
"Why?" the little one asked.
"Because it's all we brought for the march!" She looked down scornfully.
"No! Why we here?" Her exasperated voice rankled the mother.
"I told you that already!" the mother exclaimed, grabbing the sticky, little hand and resuming her march in double-time.
Struggling to keep up, the little girl panted, "But...we...don'...know...needy...."
"Yes, we do!" interrupted the mother, "They're all around us. Now keep up!" She raised her voice to join the new chant beginning around them.
"Share food, not war!"
Swept in a small circle, the pair soon approached the fence again and the girl began to watch the ground forlornly.
A few squares of sidewalk ahead, the ant finished her review of the sugar coated castle. It dwarfed her minuscule body, but that didn't daunt her in the least. She knew just how her nest would disassemble this feast! It was time to return for help.
Heady with the overpowering scent of artificial cherry flavor, she decided to take just one more taste. Her old body could use the sweet sustenance for the return trip.
She located a smallish morsel. Leaning down, she bit and the sun went dark. She felt tremendous force lift her skyward and the brilliant sun returned.
Speeding away from the earth, her minimal depth perception was soon gone leaving her in a world consisting only of the sugar-studded loop and two pudgy mounds pressing in.
Despite the strange situation, she felt calm from her sweet intoxication. She was now much higher above earth than ever before in her short life, but she couldn't see to feel fear. She raised her antennae into the rushing air, tasting a breadth of sensations and aromas that overwhelmed her, knocking her from her sugary bliss.
She made her way to the nearest pudgy mound and tasted carefully. However impossible it seemed, she tasted a cornucopia of food! Her discovery had gone from wonderful to unbelievable!
And then the sun went out again and her world collapsed.
The mother looked down at the smiling face of her daughter, tugging on her coat.
"I found it mommy!" she exclaimed, beginning to skip along side.
"Good! Now keep up”, said the mother.
They marched on. 


Jana Hawkins is going to the Halcombe Smithers rally tonight!!!!! It’s gonna be awesome! lol :)”

Jana was very excited. Her first political rally! She wasn’t exactly sure what this Halcombe Smithers guy was all about, but that didn’t matter. She felt so active, so patriotic, so… American. She went out and bought an entirely new outfit just for the occasion. She made a huge sign with Smithers’ famous “Pick Up the PEACEes” slogan in bright blue and red. She even posted about it on her Facebook status so everyone could see how serious she was about politics.

“Wow girl i am sooooo jealous lol that rally is going to rock!!!!” commented an old friend she hadn’t seen in more than a decade.

“That is wonderful. I remember when you were just a little junior high schooler, giggling about the cute boy you sat next to in geography class. And now you’re a responsible adult, attending an important civic occasion. I am impressed,” said one of her old church leaders.

“We'll see what the rally turns out to be, but I have a hard time believing that it's a plea to both sides to listen to each other when he's made it very clear that he has nothing but contempt for the. . . see more” said a friend of Jana’s sister, who commented on every picture Jana ever posted, and whom Jana had not really wanted to “be friends with” in the first place. Jana felt a thrill of excitement run through her at all the comments. She was just so involved!

Making sure to check that no new comments had been added while she was getting ready, Jana looked at the clock at 6:43 and decided it was time to leave. Nervousness had given her a temperamental stomach, so all she had been able to force down for dinner was half a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. The other half was sitting, slowly turning to soggy mush, on the counter in the kitchen. She carefully took stock of the things she was holding in her hands and, with a thrill, walked to the garage, got in her car, and headed out.


“So, you’re sure this girl is gone for the whole night Kev?” Sitting in the passenger side of the old Chevy truck a few houses down the street, Manuel watched casually as Jana pulled out of her driveway and headed towards them. As she passed the truck and turned left at the corner behind them, he scanned the neighborhood around them.

“Yeah man, I told you like a million times, she’s been posting about it on Facebook for like three months. She won’t be back till like eleven at the earliest.” Kevin smoked his cigarette with the air of someone who thought he was on an MTV reality show. He made every inhalation seem important. The minutes ticked by. It was 7:30 when Manuel spoke again.

“Alright, let’s go.”

Kevin pulled the old truck slowly up to the curb in from of Jana’s house and the two men got out. They walked confidently to the side gate and Manuel took one quick look around him before he sprang nimbly over. A dull ‘clip’ and a few seconds later the gate was swinging steadily open. Kevin passed through and shut it quietly behind him.

They did not have to speak as they broke the screen off a back window, broke through the glass, and reached through to unlatch the lock. They had done it all so many times. They moved like two parts of a whole. By 7:34 they were in Jana’s bedroom.


Jana Hawkins is totally making history at the Halcombe Smithers rally!!!! this man is so the next mahatima gandii lol!!!”

“And that’s why we’ve got to pick our sorry carcasses off the cracked and crumbling soil of this great American nation, dust off our pants, and put the PEACEes back together.”

The crowd roared around Jana and she found herself screaming in ecstasy, almost as though she couldn’t help it, along with them. Brilliant, she thought. Every word he said was just so deeply moving, it was like she had heard the words before in a movie, but this time she was actually in the movie along with all the famous actors. And to think, she was actually witnessing it all first hand. Smithers, a distant figure on a stand hundreds of feet in front of her, pumped his fist in the air again, for added emphasis, and the crowd roared even louder.

Jana had been getting a flattering amount of comments on every status update she had done. She had been posting about once every twenty minutes, and she couldn’t believe how many of her friends cared. One of the new friends she had made, a guy named Kevin Baldwin, had commented on every one of her updates. She couldn’t quite remember where she had met Kevin, but in all the pictures she looked through on his profile he looked really cute, and she was pretty sure she had known him in grade school or something. Life was just so good right now.


Manuel stopped suddenly in the kitchen and Kevin, who was carrying Jana’s 21’ flatscreen TV, ‘oomphed’ as he barreled into Manuel’s back.

“What, dude?” Kevin grumbled but Manuel just continued to stare at something Kevin couldn’t see.

“Kev, do you see that?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Right there, on the counter.” Kevin swore, shifting the TV from his right arm to his left.

“Dude, what the…” Kevin’s voice trailed off as Manuel moved enough for him to see what he was staring at.

“How the @$%& did she know?” Manuel whispered, almost reverently as his eyes bored holes into the mushy half-eaten bowl of cereal on the counter. A siren screamed suddenly, from some distance away, getting closer at an alarming speed. Kevin dropped the TV with a crash and ran desperately for the garage.

“Manuel,” he screamed, slamming his hand on the garage door opener affixed to the wall. He leaped into the truck they had pulled into the garage earlier.

“Get the &@$% out here dude!” The siren was getting closer, a lot closer.

“How…” Manuel whispered again, his voice almost a breath. Finally, as though snapped out of his trance by some unseen force, Manuel looked up in horror and whipped his body into action. He made a bolt for the garage. Kevin had already started to peel out as Manuel lunged for the passenger side door, wrenched it open, and flung himself in. Kevin hit the gas and forced his way through all the furniture and appliances they had been stacking by the open bed of the truck, which went flying in all directions. Jana’s brand new desktop computer escaped being crushed to pieces by about two inches.

The sirens were close now and Kevin looked around the neighborhood wildly as he tried to decide which way to escape. Manuel pointed frantically to the left and Kevin sped off, never once looking back.

Seconds later two police cars and an ambulance pulled into the driveway of the house across from Jana’s. Mr. Brooks, an elderly gentleman, came hobbling out.

“She’s breathing easier now, but I’m still glad you folks are here,” he said, wheezing slightly. A policemen and a paramedic walked calmly up the path, following Mr. Brooks back into the house. Two other policemen stayed out on the porch, looking disgustedly after Mr. Brooks’ retreating back.

“This is the third time this month,” one of the men said to the other in an undertone. “I wish the old lady would just kick the bucket and get it over with.” The other man chuckled and nodded sympathetically.

“Well, at least it’s a nice night, huh?” he said and turned to survey the pretty evening sky.

“What the…?” he said, starting, and the other policeman turned in to look. They noticed, for the first time, the utter mayhem across the street.


Jana Hawkins got ROBBED tonight!!!!!! :( :( :( well almost!!!!! I am totally FREAKED OUT right now!!!!! :( :(“

Jana sat slumped in a kitchen chair in her now empty living room. It was going to take forever to get everything back where it was supposed to go. Police officers were swarming everywhere, jabbering excitedly to each other, walking briskly through the rooms of her house. She felt so betrayed. So violated. And on this night of all nights. The glow of the rally had long since faded, wiped brutally away by the sight of her savaged home. She got up and walked gloomily towards her battered TV which was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, a piece of the plastic frame cracked and scratched. She picked up the plug, wondering vaguely if it still worked. She plugged it in to a nearby outlet and pressed the power button ‘on.’

“Police are still looking for the two men known as the “Cereal Robbers,” a smart looking woman in a bright red blazer said, her face creased with professional concern. “There have been six break-ins in the east valley this month alone, all by the same two men who leave a strange calling card at every victim’s home. A half eaten bowl of cereal…” The woman paused for the strangeness of her words to have their full effect and a picture flashed on the screen of a bowl half-filled with grayish mush. “Please contact the police if you have any information regarding these terrible crimi-“ Jana pressed the power button again and the TV screen went blank. Well, she thought, at least it still works. She pulled out her phone and pulled up her Facebook page again.

Jana Hawkins is totally not sleeping at home tonight!!! :( im going over to my moms i dont think i'll be able to sleep here for a long time oh my gosh how could someone do something like this i'm so upset…”

Black and White

His car jolted to a stop and his eyes glazed over. L49 A9W. He looked up from the license plate on the car in front of him and stared at a homeless man pushing a shopping cart full of his belongings down the sidewalk. The homeless man walked up to the stand where one could sell cans for 70 cents a lb. He’s maybe got 300 cans in that bag. Not bad, the man in the car thought. Just then, the car in front of him sped forward, and he took off.

The man had made the trip thousands of times. Right on Backwood Drive, left on Harris, all the way to his office. Harris was the fastest way to get to work. He was so used to the trip that he knew exactly which lane to be in at which intersection. However, the trip was such a routine that the man could practically do it in his sleep. Sometimes he would pull into the parking garage at work and realize that he had made the 45 minute commute without thinking at all. He had tired of the radio and would occasionally listen to CD’s, but most often, he didn’t listen to anything. He picked at the back of his teeth with his tongue and thought, that Malt-O-Meal really leaves something to be desired. It tasted about as soggy in the bowl as it does in my teeth one hour later.

Today was different though. The man didn’t realize it, but today was different. He would finally think about something worth thinking about.

As he approached 48th Drive, the man noticed more brake lights than usual. That’s odd, he thought. An accident, maybe? He was so thrown off his usual course that the man made an abrupt turn on a street that would help him avoid the traffic. He only went on this street when there was an accident or construction on Harris. Again, the man knew the quickest way to get to work; he was no novice here. As the man turned on the street, he saw throngs of people, all in white t-shirts, gathering at the nearest park. In fact, they were coming from everywhere. The man looked closer, trying to make out what was on their shirts. A logo, he thought. No, wait, it looks like…a road. No, a track. A train track. The people looked mad. What is this about, he wondered. Just then another group caught his eye. These people were wearing black shirts with the logo “Get your railroad off our ROAD!” in large print. The man pulled forward in the intersection, but was so intrigued by what was going on that he decided to pull to the side of the road and watch. The two groups converged in the middle of the park, white on one side, black on the other. On a raised platform were two women: one finely dressed woman and one overweight, ragged-looking woman. He recognized the finely dressed woman from posters around town. She was running for mayor and was obviously siding with the white shirts. The ragged-looking woman was wearing the black shirt with the logo on it.

The man unrolled his windows so he could hear what each woman said. They each had microphones so the crowd could hear what they said. The mayor candidate was composed and relaxed as she began. “This railroad is just what the city needs. It will bring jobs and tourism to our city, which so desperately needs increased revenues. If I am elected mayor, I will make sure this train makes all the right stops, and folks, it’s stoppin’ here.” The last word was said with emphasis (and attitude), and the man thought it sounded clever, her little pun. The raggy woman then gathered her thoughts and said, “Listen; I am a business owner, along with hundreds of you gathered here, and we know that this railroad would ruin our businesses! Her promises of increased revenues would be at our expense! Our shops would be shut down! Our families forced to move so factory warehouses could go up! You must understand that this is just some ploy to get her elected! It’s just being draped under the guise of “helping the community!” It is no help! So get your railroad off our ROAD!” This was met with screams and cheers, support and hate. The crowd was even more worked up. The candidate tried to say something in her microphone, but was drowned out by noise.

The man got out of his car, and the noise was deafening. People were continuing to swarm towards the park, and he soon found himself being drawn in as well. He found himself drawn towards the white section, as he was wearing his customary white shirt and tie for work. I don’t even remember hearing anything about this issue, he thought, as he watched the two women argue on the stage. However, all the “Vote Yes on this or that Prop” signs did crowd each other out on the street corners. He must’ve not noticed.

The man began to look around at his fellow white shirters and it donned on him that he was supporting a railroad going up. Why?, he thought. Why would I want it to go up? The ragged woman made some good points. Hm. I wonder what to do. As the man thought that thought, someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and recognized the elderly gentleman, a popular news reporter for TRX News, Channel 7, immediately. “Can I ask you a few questions, sir?” the reporter asked. The man nodded unsurely as a cameraman turned his camera on.

The man followed the gentleman off to the side of the rally. The elderly gentleman was dressed in a nice suit, and his hair was slicked back, with an even part on the right side. He wasted no time.

“How do you feel this railroad will positively impact our community?” the reporter asked.

Uh, how do I get out of this?, the man thought.

“Well, I uh, feel that we will…see increased revenues and good business skills. For…it.” No. What did I just say?, the man thought. He caught the reporter glancing at the cameraman and they shared a look. An annoyed, unimpressed look.

“Well, thank you for your time, sir,” the reporter said.

The man looked up at the crowd, back to the annoyed, elderly reporter, and then thought to himself, this is why I never go to political rallies.

Math is Everywhere

As Gwynneth stared into her bowl of wheat checks, she thought how beautiful a sight it was—tiny little concentric squares that formed a netting of wheat, trapping sugared milk in just the right way. A mathematically perfect balance of cereal and milk.

The bowl was the contrast: round, with a deep blue rim and a floral pattern on the side. But the blue, against the golden brown of the cereal—that was beauty.
She felt a tap on the head and looked up to see her mother’s disappointed face.

“I told you to get your clothes on before breakfast,” Mom said. “And here you are, sitting and watching your cereal get soggy, and it’s about five minutes until the bus comes.”

“I’ll walk by myself right now,” Gwynneth said as usual.

“No, you won’t.”

“I promise I won’t stop.”

“You aren’t capable of not stopping, Gwyn. Put your cereal in the sink and get your clothes on, please.”

Gwynneth took her bowl to the sink and emptied it, feeling a stab of mourning at the site of so much beauty gone down the drain. She walked up the stairs (one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten-eleven-twelve) and down the hall (one, two, three doors) and into her room.

There they were, neatly laid out at the foot of her bed.

She slid her legs into the stretchy flowered leggings, put the jean skirt with the heart pockets on, slid on the light-blue T-shirt and the white hooded sweater over it. She walked past the mirror, keeping her gaze trained away from it, and got her shoes.

One loop, two loops, cross over, knot.

One loop, two loops, cross over, knot.

She walked back down the stairs (tweleve-eleven-ten-nine-eight-seven-six-five-four-three-two-one) and met her mother at the door.

“You don’t have to walk me,” Gwynneth said again, flicking a glance at her mother.
Her mother didn’t answer, just followed her down the sidewalk to the sign.

“All right,” Mother sighed finally, as the bus drove up. “Come right home, Gwyn. I don’t have time to pick you up this afternoon. Please don’t miss your bus.”

“OK,” Gwynn replied.

On the bus, trees flashed by. Fenceposts streamed by, too fast to count. She watched the fenceline buck and tumble along, rising and falling with the hills that ran along the road.

It was a long ride, to Skaggsvile Junior High. And there were plenty of thoughts to have; plenty of things to think about. One of the things Gwynneth thought about was the fact that she’d left her red Music binder on her bed. She felt her heart race, then slow. Oh well. There wasn’t much she could do about it, now.

Cows. Black and white. How many spots?

Sheep. White, with black legs.

Posters, posters, posters. Deanna Skaggs for city commissioner. Emily Helman for school superintendant. Marshal Lindstrom for sheriff… great blue and red letters on blinding white squares. So bright they almost seemed to wiggle in Gwynneth’s vision.

The bus slowed. Gwynn sat up in her seat and craned her neck, trying to see out of the bus’s broad windshield.

She could see there were people—people, with more of those blinding signs. They were marching across the road, in one big pack, like a herd of loose cows.

“What’s going on? Why’d we stop? What are all those people doing?” The kids started throwing out questions to the bus driver, who looked just as puzzled as anybody. She pulled the pump handle to open the door. There was a hiss of air as the door folded in, and the bus driver jumped to the ground.

The children watched as she talked to a few of the people, who each shook their heads. Then the driver shrugged and began walking toward the bus, pulling a cell phone out of her pocket.

“What’s going on?” A curly-haired boy behind Gwynneth demanded.

“I don’t know,” Gwynneth turned to reply.

The curly-haired boy stared at her. “I wasn’t asking you,” he said finally.
The doors hissed and folded open again, and the bus driver came tromping up the steps.

“We can’t go for a while,” she said. “I’ll call the school and let them know.”

“What is it?” The curly haired boy cupped his hands around his mouth so that he would be heard over the roar of chatter.

“Some kind of protest,” the bus driver said, then sat heavily in the seat.

“Political protest,” Gwynneth said quietly to herself.

She knew what those were. They talked about them a lot on the news lately. She liked the news—most of the kids her age liked cartoons. But the news was so much more quiet and calm. And planned. In a cartoon, any old thing could happen; crazy things that should never happen.

No, give Gwynneth the news any day over cartoons.

Gwynneth stood (even though it was against the rules), and poked her head and upper body out the window, leaning away from the bus so she could get a better look at some of the signs. On one of them she could make out the president’s name, but that was about it. She slid back into her seat.

“See anything?”

Gwynneth saw the curly-haired boy peering over the top of the seat. She shrugged.

“Hey, what’s your name?” He asked.


“You’re in special education, right?”

“I’m in the gifted program.”

Curly haired boy chuckled. “Right.”

Gwynneth frowned and turned back around in her seat.

“How long is this going to take?” Somebody whined from the back.

The bus driver turned around. “Don’t know,” she said. “Siddown.”

“Can we get out?”


Gwynneth glanced at her digital watch. It had been twenty three minutes almost exactly since the bus had stopped.

“What time is it?” Curly haired boy asked, coming around the seat and sitting in the space next to her.

“Seven fifty-six.”

“You could’ve just said eight.”

“It’s not eight.”

“You’re weird.”

“Good for you, for figuring that out. You must be brilliant.” Gwynneth snapped.

Curly haired boy straightened up in the seat and grinned. “My mom thinks so.”

“Everyone’s mom thinks they’re smart.”

Curly haired boy pursed his lips for a moment. “Whatever,” he said, finally.

There was a sudden rise in the volume of the voices outside. Gwynneth realized that the protesters were approaching the bus.

“What are they saying?” Someone in front of Gwynneth asked.

“No Bussing,” Gwynneth answered.

A pigtailed head appeared above the line of seats. “They don’t like busses?”

“No, it’s about how they change the school boundaries so that kids from all different places can go to school together. You know how we went to a new school this year, and drive a lot farther?”

“Yeah,” curly haired boy groaned.

“Well, I’m the last stop, and I go a lot farther than you,” Gwynneth said. “And because of the bussing thing I can go to the gifted. I’d have to go to Blueridge Elementary with Mrs. Eldridge and her counting cubes.”

The loudness of the protesters, as they streamed out on either side of the bus, suddenly made talking impossible. Gwynneth stood again and stuck her head out the window. This time, she looked down on several people, who stared up at her in surprise and stopped chanting for a moment.

“Hi,” Gwynneth said.

“Hello,” a lady wearing a red straw visor responded.

“When are you going to be done?”

The lady looked taken aback. “Well...” she stammered.

“We’re missing math.”

“I’m sorry about that.” The lady paused. “Maybe just think of it as a little holiday, you know? You’re missing school. I bet that doesn’t upset you all too much.”

“You’re wrong,” Gwynneth said, and pulled her head back into the window. She sat, slumped in her seat for a moment, glancing at her watch and feeling the anxiety rise. The chant resumed, and didn’t get any quieter—nobody was moving away.
It seemed that this bus was going to be the target of the protest.

Gwynneth looked at the giant mirror that hung over the bus-driver’s head. All around her, kids were throwing pieces of paper at each other, chattering, digging through their lunch sacks. The bus driver was balancing a paper-back book on the steering wheel, looking up occasionally to gripe about keeping the bus clean.

Gwynneth began to boil.

She stood up on the seat again, and stuck her head out the window. “All of you should just GO HOME!” She yelled.

“Hey!” The bus driver set her book down. “Siddown!”

Several people stopped, and stared up at her, open-mouthed.

“What is your problem, anyway?” Gwynneth continued. “Why do you care where our bus goes? Is it such a bad thing to have to watch a yellow bus drive by every day?"

“Siddown!” The bus driver repeated.

“You don’t understand, little girl,” said a man wearing a red, white and blue shirt with a picture of some guy's face on it. “It’s about the government telling us what to do. Don’t you hate it when people give you rules?”

“NO,” said Gwynneth. “And if you hate rules so much, how come you’re not marching around the school?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Well, the government pays for the school. They give money and it’s a rule that every kid has to go to school. They do tests to make sure the rules are followed about what we learn. How come you’re here walking around our bus instead of walking around the school?”

The people who had stopped under Gwynneth’s window looked at her like she was crazy, which Gwynneth was used to. The bus driver was staring at her, too. But at least she had stopped yelling.

“Can you please just let us get going again so I don’t miss primary analogies?” Gwynneth pleaded. “And… write letters, or something?” She pulled her head inside the bus and shut her window. She pulled out her blue math binder and stared at it. She felt deflated. Like the whole world was collapsing in on her. No Math today.

There was no chance now, because everybody at school was putting away their math binders right now, and starting Primary Analogies. And then it would be music, which Gywnneth had accidentally left at home. Math was over.

Gwynneth’s fingers trembled as she clutched the straps of her backpack.

Maybe she could just look at the lesson. Maybe the numbers on the page would make things just a little bit better.

She pulled out her math workbook and turned to today’s lesson, which was about dividing fractions. She looked at the problems for a long time, thinking how they might be done. The textbook was at school, and of course, her teacher, too. She was surprised at the taste of salt—was she crying? How strange. How embarrassing.

“You flip them,” Curly Haired boy’s voice shattered Gwynneth’s thoughts.
She hastily wiped her cheek and glared at him.

“I did this math last year. I can show you.” He slid back into the space next to her and reached for her book.

She whipped it away from him. “You’re not my teacher.”

“So? If I know how to do it, and you don’t, and you want to know… why shouldn’t I show you how?”

“Why do you want to show me how? I bet you don’t even like math.”

“I’m kind of bored.”

“You’ll teach me wrong.”

Curly haired boy shook his head. “It’s the same, Gwynneth. You have to do the same thing to get the right answer… math doesn’t,” he shrugged. “It’s not like writing an essay or something where you can put any answer you want. There’s only one answer and there’s a best way of getting the answer, too. And I know it.”

Gwynneth stared at him, astonished. He knows, she thought. He knows about Math. One answer. Just one, for each problem, making the world such a safe place, where at least in one thing, nothing that shouldn't happen ever did.

“We’re not in class,” she ventured.

“Classrooms are just seats and desks and a big thing in front to write on. You’ve got a seat, and your binder can be like your desk, it’s hard enough to write on. And I don’t need a big thing to write on, I”ll just write on your page and I can erase it if you want me to.”

Gwynneth edged the workbook in his direction.

“Now who’s the genius?” He said, grinning at her.

“Just show me how to do it.” Gwynneth said. “Thanks,” she added quietly.

She watched him as he read through the directions, silently forming the words with his lips, an intense look of concentration on his face.

Outside the chant continued, but it slowly faded into the background for Gwynneth, as she began to focus on the beautiful symmetry of division and fractions. When she set her pencil to the paper she sighed, feeling the safeness of it all fill her, make her warm to her fingertips. It was beautiful.

Numbers were the same whether they were on the bus or in class, whether your teacher or a curly-haired boy taught them to you. The windows on the bus seemed, to Gwynneth, to expand until the whole world had opened up for her, letting her in, surrounding her vinyl bus-seat.

Kind of like God, Gwynneth thought, Math really is everywhere.

Uniko For President

Part I

Mag sighed as she finished her breakfast of Honey Bunches, then trudged out into the passageway. As always, Abb was waiting for her. And today she was positively glowing with excitement.

“So about that rally this afternoon…” Mag began nervously as they made their way to class. “I’ve been thinking it over and I really don’t know if--”

“Mag, you promised!” her sister interrupted. “You have to come. Uniko herself is going to be there!”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of,” Mag muttered.

During dance class, she had a hard time concentrating. Ebs, the instructor, made her do extra rotations during the break.

“Remember, Mag,” Ebs intoned. “You really must focus on what you are communicating with your movement. Every movement has a purpose, tells a story. What message could you possibly be trying to convey with that drooping posterior?”

How about, “I’m confused,” or maybe, “I’m scared and have no idea what to do”? Mag thought to herself.

After class, Mag reluctantly agreed to meet Abb ten minutes later in their secret spot.

This was all incredibly dangerous, and if it had been any other time of year, Mag would have refused to go to the rally. It was too cold outside to go foraging for food though, so no one would be monitoring her comings and goings after class. And Abb had always come through for her, so she at least owed her this much. Mag decided she would attend the rally and then refuse further involvement.

Anxiously, she slipped through the dark passageway and felt her way to the meeting place. She waited for a long time. Too long. Where was Abb? Something was wrong.

After a while, she became aware of a faint buzzing sound. It grew louder.

Someone was coming.

The noise increased until it enveloped her in a deafening roar. She knew she was surrounded. She felt the cell begin to heat up. She started to struggle for air, and knew it was no use.

Curse you, Uniko! she thought bitterly, the heat overwhelming her. Despite all your promises, all you do is divide us and get us killed.

Ironically, as she took her last gasps of breath, she thought only of the waste of all of this on her. They should have been using their energy to warm the winter passageways, not to kill her. She was only a lowly worker.

I will be faithful… she recited in her mind as she faded away. I love our way of life, our harmony. I will always serve LaReyna...


And then she came to in a small, hexagonal cell. Abb was leaning over her.

“You’re awake!” her sister cried, embracing her.

“Yes…” Mag began, starting to get up, then noticing that they were not alone in the room.


“I am deeply sorry for what happened to you,” Uniko said. “Your valor will not be forgotten.”

“Uniko saved you,” Abb explained eagerly. “She saved you by starting a fire. When they smelled the smoke, they left for the storehouses to gather as much as they could in earnest.”

Mag shook her head and looked at Uniko. Little Worker Uniko, the cause of so much disorder and violence in the colony. “Just more proof that you are willing to destroy our home for your own purposes,” she said.

Uniko nodded. “I can understand why you might feel that way. I wish it weren’t so dangerous to meet together and that there were peaceful alternatives. But LaReyna makes that impossible. As my following grows, so does the danger, and thus the need to protect ourselves in any way we can.”

“For the record,” Mag said, rising, “I am not a part of your following. I was only coming with Abb as a favor to her. There is nothing your little rallies achieve except more disharmony among us.”

“Say what you will, LaReyna’s rule is unjust,” Uniko replied with increasing fervor. “She rules with tyranny. She kills those who oppose her. She forces all to be her slaves and works us to death. All for the good of the colony. The harmony of the colony. We should be able to make decisions for ourselves, to vote for a leader who will truly represent us. I won’t stop until I can make sure every single one of us is treated equally, with an equal chance to be something great and to choose our own destinies!”

“Save it for your rallies,” Mag said, lying back down. “Destinies! Hah!”

Part II

It had finally come: Election day.

Mag was still in shock that the day had come at all. Voting? Presidents? What would her grandmother have thought had she been alive to see this day? But, of course, she wasn’t alive. LaReyna’s workers had made sure of that.

Suddenly, LaReyna’s voice was deep and powerful in her mind. It pushed out all other thoughts.

Vote for me, it said. Vote vote vote for me me me.

And then the rich smells hit Mag. They filled up her cell. They were overpowering, overwhelming, intoxicating, inviting, delicious.

Of course you will vote for me. I have kept you safe. Given you a home. Provided you with food. I am your family. I provide order. Shelter. Love. I have allowed you this vote to show you that I truly love you and care what you have to say. We must rid ourselves of all doubt, all betrayal. We stand united…

Mag moved to cast her vote. Of course she would vote for LaReyna. She had kept her safe. Given her a home. Provided her with food—

Then Mag heard them.

“Unik-o! Unik-o! Unik-o for Pres-i-dent!” they chanted.

Snapped out of her reverie, Mag realized that the smells had lessened, dissipated. Fresh air wafted into her cell. She could think on her own again.

She voted.


The results were in. Mr. L. Drone, a recent addition to the colony, was to tally them and make the announcement.

At the grand podium, Uniko at his right hand and the magnificent LaReyna at his left, he read the final count.

“28,062 votes for the Grand Queen LaReyna,” he announced. “And 29,650 for Worker Uniko. Uniko is the new President, by vote of the people.” He then quickly, hurriedly, frantically, made his exit.

There was a long silence. And then LaReyna turned on Uniko and attacked.

It all happened so quickly, but in the end, there were two dead bodies fallen next to the grand podium. One was LaReyna’s. The other was lowly Mag’s, her stinger dislodged from her body and driven deep into the heart of the Queen.

Part III

March 13th – Recorded observations of neighboring hive activity [as notated by Log Hive Reporter #43]:

“…The number of workers who leave Tree Hive in the morning seems to be smaller every day. When they do leave, they don’t seem to fly very quickly or to be headed in any particular direction.

The foragers we have observed also seem to take frequent rests—they are often found dozing in the West Red Long-Stemmed Patch in the heat of the day. (Such a decline in work ethic is puzzling now that the spring foraging season is here.) When questioned, they often use a perplexing word, DESTINY, as some kind of explanation for their behavior.

One observer recently reported a fight that broke out between two Tree Hive scouts. Two scouts on the same team.

It is even whispered by some that the Tree Hivers have stopped producing honey and are slowly starving to death. Sadly, there don’t seem to be any new workers in the hive to replace the old ones. Such a shame…”