In The Beginning There Was War

In The Beginning There Was War

A Chapter by Stephanotis

An English professor gives Eleanor a book she's read many times before, and Vanessa knows what she wants in a guy...or thinks she does.


                  The only person in the lecture hall, besides myself, is a young woman in a sleeping bag in the middle of the floor.  Her black shoulder-length hair has fallen over her face.  Her book bag lies open on the floor, some textbooks sliding out.  An alarm clock is on its side by her head, and she clutches an old, stuffed lamb in her sleep. 

                  I sit on the front row reading Selected Essays by Governor Ramsay, turning the pages as quietly as possible. 

                  Twenty minutes before class starts, another student struts in.  He’s wearing a suit and tie, and it is only his walk that shows that he is not a teacher.  He opens his briefcase on a chair and removes his notebook and pen.  Then, strutting with his hands in his pockets and whistling a lively tune, he comes to the girl in the sleeping bag and takes the stuffed animal from her grip.  She jolts awake and sees him dangling the lamb above her, just out of reach.

                  “Damn it, leave me alone!”  She pulls herself out of her bag and I see that her pajamas are old and ragged.

                  “Nina, you still sleep with your little Lambchop?”

                  “Give that back, you little f****t!”

                  They are posed in some odd duel, Nina lunging for the lamb again and again, but he yanks it away every time.  Finally, he throws it on the floor and she snatches it up.

                  “What are you doing sleeping in here anyway?” he laughs.

                  “I’ve already taken this course once.  I can never get up for nine-thirties, but I simply cannot miss any classes this semester.”  She gathers her sleeping bag in her arms and dumps it in a less visible corner of the room.  Her alarm clock goes off, and she hits it with her palm until it stops.

                  “Really?  I thought you couldn’t afford real housing.”

                  She throws her clock at him and barely misses.  The smirk disappears from his face for a mere second, and then he laughs at her.  “You’re making yourself look bad,” Nina says.

                  “What?”  For the first time, he notices that I’m sitting here, trying to read my book.  He takes a seat next to me and holds out his hand.  “Hey, I’m Demetri Fowler.”

                  His handshake is firm and professional.  “Eleanor Reed.”

                  “Never heard your name before.  So, are you a political science major like us?”

                  “I’m thinking about it.  It’s either that or history.”

                  “Yeah, well, we don’t have a history department here.  It merged with the political science department years ago.”

                  “I guess I have no choice but to declare poli-sci, then.”

                  “But you’re taking a journalism course?” he says, looking down at the journalism textbook at my feet.

                  “Yeah, the class turned out to be an independent study.”

                  He whistles.  “Don’t let that fool you.  Independent study courses are some of the hardest.  They take discipline.”  He checks his watch.  “Starting the Tawney countdown,” he says.

                  “The what?”

                  “You know how Governor Ramsay instituted a new time schedule where we would all set our clocks back eight minutes?”

                  “Never heard of it.”

                  “Well, the only two people who have ever done it are Dr. Tawney and myself.  Here, watch this.”

                  Demetri walks across the room, studying his watch.  He lets a few seconds go by, and he opens the door just as Dr. Tawney walks in.

                  He is a rotund man with sparse, gray hair and a pockmarked face.  He’s wearing a tweed suit and strong cologne, and he carries a briefcase identical to Demetri’s.  “Good morning, Mr. Fowler,” he grunts with approval.

                  “Good morning, Dr. Tawney.  I rearranged my schedule just so I could get into this class.  I just couldn’t resist the…intense lure…of the greatest political thinkers of all time!  With your unique twist on the subject, sir.”

                  Nina whispers, “Brown-noser.”

                  “Nice to see you again, Miss Buncombe,” Dr. Tawney says.

                  “It’s great to be here, sir,” Nina mumbles.

                  He turns away, piercing eyes lingering on her for a moment.  “Here is someone I haven’t seen before.”

                  I mark the page in my book and set it aside.  “I’m Eleanor Reed.  It’s good to meet you, Dr. Tawney.”

                  “Miss Reed, I see you’re getting ahead of the class?”

                  “I couldn’t help it.  Governor Ramsay is just that interesting, sir.”

                  I catch Nina giving me a wink.

                  “You don’t know how to read him yet.”  Dr. Tawney shakes a finger at me.

                  “I’m sorry, sir.  I had forgotten that there are different ways to read literature.”

                  “In this class, we don’t start reading a piece until we know the necessary background information.”

                  “I know a bit, sir,” I say.  “These essays are all from years eleven to twenty-three, so they would be Ramsay’s thoughts on establishing social structures, how to handle the Alec Fitzroy situation, and determining who should be the next leader.  Is that right?”

                  Demetri smiles as broadly as he can.  “I haven’t even cracked the book open, sir!  I’m waiting on your instructions!”

                  Dr. Tawney walks to the front of the room and opens his briefcase on the table.  “Miss Buncombe, would you please move to the front row with Mr. Fowler and Miss Reed?”

                  Her eyes wide, Nina grabs her bag and takes a seat next to me.  She looks at the clock.  “Is this…is this all of us?”

                  “There are only three students on the roster for the nine-thirty section.”  Dr. Tawney hands us each a syllabus and stands behind the podium.  He speaks as though the room is full of thirty students.  “You are all in Political Science 103: Political Thought, and I’m Dr. Richard Tawney.  Over the next three months, we will be studying selected works from modern and ancient political thinkers.  Miss Reed…I believe I just said something about reading ahead.”

                  I turn the syllabus page back.

                  “Your grade in this class is based on your essay responses to the reading and to prompts I will assign randomly throughout the term.  Each response paper must be five to seven pages long.  The first paper is due this Friday, and it will be on the first half of Selected Essays by Governor Ramsay.  Miss Buncombe, you would be wise not to reuse the papers you wrote last semester.”

                  Dr. Tawney spends the next forty minutes explaining the setting of Governor Ramsay’s essays.  Ramsay started writing these essays in the eleventh year of the Republic, and he wrote about the success and failures social policies, his theories on relations with Fitzroy’s North Carolina, and his thoughts on elections, corruption, and the will of the masses.  I already know this information from working in the black market, speaking with educated, literature-hungry clients like Karabatsos.  We leave eight minutes late, and Nina gives me a light punch in the arm before we part ways.

                  “How’s it going?” Schwartz says.  He has been sitting outside the door, playing a game on his laptop.

                  I groan.  “You found me.”

                  “I hacked into the administration system to get your class schedule.  Did you know that you’re the only Eleanor on campus?”

                  “Is my car fixed?”

                  “No, but it should be by this weekend.”

                  “All right.  Call me then.”

                  I reshoulder my book bag and walk away.  Schwartz scoops up his computer and follows me.  “Hey, listen,” he says, “I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot.  I saw that we were in the same English class, so I thought it would be a really awkward semester if we didn’t get along.” 

                  I stop walking.

                  “Friends?” he says, holding out his hand.

                  “All right, have it your way,” I say, accepting the handshake.

                  Schwartz does a little skip.  “Awesome!  Okay, so, what I was going to tell you was that I got an email from Dr. Nix, and she said that she has our textbooks in her office.  We just need to pick them up.  I figured, if you’re Bronze,” his voice falls to a whisper.  “You wouldn’t have a computer and can’t check email.”

                  “Wow, you’ve done something useful.”

                  “We could go over there right now, since you’ve got a free hour.”

                  “Okay, lead the way.” 

                  Schwartz knows the campus better than I do.  I follow him out of the political science hall and across a courtyard into another building.  The English department is a ring of offices at the far end of this hall.  I see no one in the corridor except for a student asleep on the floor against his book bag.  

                  “Here,” Schwartz says, stopping at an office door.  A little placard by the window reads, “V. Nix.”  The door is open, and I see her inside, unpacking moving boxes full of books.  She is a tiny woman in her seventies or eighties, but her arms are surprisingly strong and nimble, easily lifting hefty stacks of books and binders.

                  Schwartz knocks on the door.  “Good morning, Dr. Nix!” he says.

                  She turns around and her face lights up.  “Oh, you must be here for the books!  Please come in.  How are you?  Would you like some sweet tea?”

                  “No, thank you,” I say.

                  “Yeah, I’d love some!” Schwartz says, drowning out my voice.

                  Dr. Nix pours us each a paper cup of sweet tea.

                  “Let me guess,” Dr. Nix says, “Ya’ll are in my Tuesday-Thursday class?”

                  “Yep!” Schwartz says, shaking her hand.  “I’m Schwartz Schwartz.”

                  She laughs, a sort of explosive, chime-like laughter that makes me think of someone else’s grandmother.  “If I hadn’t seen you on the roster, I wouldn’t have believed you!”

                  “Yeah, I get that all the time,” Schwartz says.  “My quiet friend here is Eleanor Reed…”

                  Dr. Nix clasps my hand in hers and looks into my eyes.  I get the urge to back away.

                  “You look like your father,” she says.  Her voice has gotten quiet.  “How have you been?”

                  I shrug.  “Been doing great.”  I take a step back, sipping my cup of sweet tea. 

                  Schwartz looks from me to Dr. Nix and back to me.  “Is your dad a teacher?” he says.

                  “No,” I say.

                  “But he associated with a lot of teachers,” Dr. Nix says, “Actually, Walter Reed was one of the greatest writers of our time.”  She takes a book off of a pile.  “This semester, we’ll be reading The Broken Web…”

                  “No,” I say.  “No, no, no, that’s banned.”  I look to the other piles of books.  I see A Shade Apart by Pamela Thompson, a woman I did business with before she was arrested.  Next to that pile is Rewriting God by Christopher Harill, a writer from Columbia who disappeared one night only to be rediscovered weeks later in Pickens County with his head missing.  I also see a pile of Pariah Rising by Laura Garrett, who, right now, is holed up in her house in Anderson, unable to write material or communicate with her editors because her entire property is bugged with cameras and microphones.  One of the boxes on the floor is full to the top with copies of Walls on Walls by Paul Karabatsos, who I met only a few weeks ago.

                  “Every single one of these is banned,” I say. 

                  “Are you going to tell anyone?” Dr. Nix says with a smirk.

                  “I won’t say anything,” Schwartz says. 

                  “This is dangerous,” I say.  “People have been arrested just for owning books like these.”

                  “Of course it’s risky,” Dr. Nix says, “But since I’m the one assigning them, the blame will come back to me if any of my students are caught.  All the same, it would be nice if no one ran to the police.”

                  “Someone will run to the police.  Have you ever assigned these books before?”

                  “No, but there’s a first time for everything.  I find that, the older I get, the more reckless I can be.”

                  I shrug and shake my head, looking at the piles of books.

                  “I appreciate your concern,” Dr. Nix says, “You know exactly what’s at stake.  But you know how the literary world is, don’t you?”

                  “A little bit, but I don’t think I understand what you’re trying to say.”
                  “The people in the literary world,” she says, “Are old, and they’re getting older.  My generation was exposed to Old World literature from a young age, but most people of your generation don’t get that privilege.  Our society forbids the transfer of old philosophies, values, and history, and I’m afraid that, if my generation doesn’t find a way to pass it on, it will die forever.  So, it’s up to you to preserve the knowledge, because someday, when society…how should I put it?  When society loosens up a bit, we’ll need this knowledge again.  Here are your books!”  She picks two books from each stack and box and hands them to Schwartz and me.  “Don’t let anyone see you carry those out of here.  If you have to make two trips, that’s fine.”

                  I manage to stuff all of the books into my bag.  I catch Schwartz sticking a copy of Pariah Rising in the back of his pants.

                  “Okay,” I sigh.  “I’ll…see you in class tomorrow.”

                  “Happy reading!” Dr. Nix says.

                  Schwartz waves goodbye and we step toward the door.  “Wait!” Dr. Nix says, and I jump.  She comes to me with a worn, faded book with loose pages and dog-eared corners.  “I want you to have this.”

                  She puts the book in my hand.  It’s a first edition of The Broken Web.

                  “I had Mr. Reed sign this when it first came into print,” Dr. Nix says.  “Such a nice man.”

                  “Dr. Nix, I can’t accept this,” I say.

                  “No, I insist!” She puts the book in my hand.

                  I flip the cover.  On the first page, my father has written with a thick, ballpoint pen, “To Viola, Enjoy the struggle!  Godspeed, Walter.”

                  “Thank you,” I say.

                  “Not at all!”

                  I put the second copy of The Broken Web in my bag.  Schwartz and I leave the English department.  He starts looking over his shoulder as though he has a tic, so I elbow him in the side.  When we’re in the empty hallway, Schwartz says, “What’s The Broken Web about?”

                  “It’s about a couple of guys who fought in the Fitzroy-Ramsay War,” I say.  “It compares their post-war experiences with their pre-war flashbacks.  The censors didn’t like how the book showed discrepancies in the official version of state history, so it got banned.”

                  “Wow.  So your dad’s a writer, huh?”


                  “Oh…what happened?”

                  “Don’t you need to be somewhere?”

                  Schwartz checks his watch.  “My physics class doesn’t start for twenty minutes.  I can hang out some more.”

                  “Well, I think I’m going to go do some reading.”                 

                  “But it’s the first day!”

                  I nod.  “Good time to get ahead.  You can study a whole lot of physics in twenty minutes, if you try.”

                  We walk out of the building and into the courtyard.  “Nah, I don’t like to study.”

                  “What are you doing in college, then?”

                  “Networking, of course!  Knowing people is more important than knowing physics.  You should go make friends with everyone you meet.  Students, professors, janitors…they might be able to get you a job someday.  Just this morning, I got five people’s cell phone numbers, and I’m going bowling tomorrow night with some chemistry majors, and Wednesday, I’m going drinking with some guys I saw playing Frisbee.”

                  “When in your schedule are you getting my car back from the repair shop?”

                  “Saturday?” he says.  “Maybe Sunday.”

                  I stop outside the door to the political science building.  “Okay, I’m off to--”

                  “Transformation of South Carolina Politics,” Schwartz says.  “With Dr. Banks McKenzie.”

                  “Don’t hack my records again.”

                  “Okay, I won’t…”

                  I leave him standing in the breezeway and find the lecture hall my next class is in.  The only other people in here are three girls in sorority jerseys in the back of the room.  I tune out their voices and take a seat in the front row to read Selected Essays by Governor Ramsay.  After a few pages of Ramsay’s musings, the lecture hall is nearly full.  Demetri Fowler passes an empty seat on the front row and takes his place in the back.

                  At eleven-thirty sharp, Dr. McKenzie strolls in, humming a lively tune I don’t recognize.  It’s difficult to guess his age�"anywhere between thirty-five and fifty.  Fine brown hair speckled with gray sticks out from under a plaid cap on his head.  He has a green army satchel over one shoulder and carries a long, black umbrella.

                  He puts a stack of syllabi on the first desk he passes and takes a seat on the table at the front of the room.  “We all think that university campuses are liberal places, but there are things we’ll talk about in this classroom that you don’t want to shout aloud at the administration office.”  He speaks as though to three people instead of thirty, his sandalled feet dangling over the edge of the table.  “But ya’ll need to know this stuff before you go on to become politicians and lawyers.  Keep those syllabi passing around.  I’ve also posted them online for posterity’s sake.”

                  The syllabus is a single sheet of paper, fresh off the printer.  I take one and pass the rest to the next person.  Dr. McKenzie continues.  “A certain head of department requires us to read aspects of our syllabus aloud to you, even though you can all read for yourselves.  There are two grades in this class: attendance and participation.  Each will count for half, but I’ll tweak the weighting in individual cases for your benefit.  I don’t believe in grading.   It’s just something we’re required to do.  If you want to get an F in this class, you need to start putting forth your best effort right now.  That’s how easy this course is.  Any questions before I move on to the fun stuff?”  He waits.  “Why are all the Kappa Alphas hiding in the corner?”

                  Demetri and his fraternity brothers shrink in their seats.

                  “The theme of this course, and state politics, is containment,” Dr. McKenzie continues, “We are contained within physical borders and within social classes.  This is a good and a bad thing.  Does anyone in here know someone over sixty?  Grandparents, coworkers, teachers…not Dr. Tawney.  He doesn’t count.  And no one who is employed by the government.”

                  Most of the people in the room raise their hands.  Some of them hesitate. 

                  “These old people are treasures,” Dr. McKenzie says, “The next time you run into that old person you know, rack their brain.  Ask them what life was like before the Republic began, and yes, there was life before the Republic.  I know--”  One of the sorority girls raises her hand, but Dr. McKenzie waves her question aside.  “I know what you’ve been told.  The government has lied to you.  In the beginning there was chaos…yeah, right.  Fifty, sixty years ago, the world was cleaner, more populated, and overall, more technologically and intellectually advanced that it is today.  People could pass freely over state borders, but that was too conducive to weapons trafficking.  The government shut that down, and then went even farther, restricting communications.”  He leans forward and speaks softly.  “This especially does not leave the room.  They tell you that the reason we can only receive signals within thirty miles is that there are particles in the atmosphere left over by Fitzroy’s bombs.  They just don’t want you to call or email your terrorist friends.  Folks at the very top of the government still have access to radar, the world wide web, and all sorts of services that they can’t trust us with.  If you break into Governor Slater’s office, you could pick up a phone and call China, or at least, what’s left of China.”

                  The classroom is unnerved.  Dr. McKenzie seems amused by everyone’s discomfort.  One of the sorority girls pipes up.  “Who’s China?”

                  “A very thoughtful and enlightening question,” Dr. McKenzie says, “But I need to establish a few points before I can answer it.  Is that okay?”

                  The girl nods.  Dr. McKenzie opens his army satchel and removes two stacks of children’s books.  “You have permission to laugh,” he says.  “I have with me thirty copies of ‘Solomon’, which I think you all heard as a bedtime story at some point, or maybe in Ramsay Cadets, if you were involved in that.”

                  I hear some of the fraternity boys chuckling as Dr. McKenzie drops the books on a front row desk.  The books get passed around the room, and I take a copy as they go by my seat. 

                  Dr. McKenzie stands in the front of the room with a copy of the book.  “Has everyone got one?  We’re going to read ‘Solomon’ from a different perspective.  You can follow along if you want.”  He clears his throat and opens the book to the first page.  In the beginning, there was chaos.  All the people lived underground.  On the surface, there was fire, explosion, and sickness…Here, let me reword that.  In the beginning, there was war.  Everyone lived in bunkers.  Above ground, there were nuclear explosions, bomb raids, engineered plagues, and radiation.  Everyone got that?  Stop me if you have questions.”

                  “Can we take notes in the book?” a female student asks.

                  “Yeah, of course,” Dr. McKenzie says.  “Those books are yours.  You can write in them, fold them, burn them, whatever you want.  Next page.”  He turns the page.  A brave young man named Solomon Ramsay came to the surface…he built a wall…the state prospered…the people elected him their leader.  That’s a bit of a stretch, there.  Solomon Ramsay was a state senator during that ‘war’ or ‘chaos’ or what have you.  At that time, South Carolina was part of a bigger state, called the United States of America,” he speaks slowly.  People take notes.  America was at war with other big states a lot like itself.  Ramsay’s idea was to break away from America so that we wouldn’t have to fight a war anymore.  He got the state senate to announce secession and then closed off the borders with North Carolina and Georgia.  Am I moving too fast?”

                  He waits for all the pens to stop scribbling.

                  “Moving on,” he says.  Solomon Ramsay established a government…he did not establish a government.  He tweaked what we already had…He picked the smartest and most trustworthy citizens and made them the Gold Class…Ramsay picked the people who were indifferent to his cause and named them the Silver Class, knowing they would soon become completely loyal to him.  Everyone else became the Bronze Class.  These people were dangerous.  I, personally, find this section offensive, being Silver Class myself.  And don’t think that these classes were Ramsay’s idea.  He stole it straight from Plato’s Republic.  Anyone heard of that book?  No?  Well, that’s not your fault.  Next page.”

                  He turns the page.  Solomon Ramsay had a friend named Alec Fitzroy…Fitzroy agreed to be Lieutenant Governor.  But Fitzroy committed the worst crime we know of…He tried to kill Solomon Ramsay…Alec Fitzroy fled north over the wall, and there, he established his own government.  Let me set this straight.  Alec Fitzroy never tried to kill Governor Ramsay.  That was something the government put out there to incriminate Fitzroy.  Why?  Because Fitzroy is a communist, and Ramsay says communism is bad.  Ya’ll know what communism is, right?”

                  “That’s when people eat other people, isn’t it?” a frat boy says.

                  “No, you’re thinking of cannibalism.  Not the same thing.  Communism is, in theory, a state where everyone is equal, everyone receives the same amount of goods, and no one has ownership of the land.  From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.  I have some articles about it if you’re interested.”  He closes his book and sets it on the table.  “Now, the question from earlier…”

                  “Dr. McKenzie,” an older student says, “There are two more pages left in the book.  It’s the part about the war and Governor Slater finding Fitzroy’s hiding place…”

                  “Oh, yes,” Dr. McKenzie says.  “Those two pages are absolutely true.  Slater did find Fitzroy’s hideout, he ended the war, and that’s why Ramsay chose him to be the next governor.”

                  He steps toward the whiteboard and takes a dry erase marker.  “Earlier, one of you asked ‘who’s China?’  Good question.  Actually, the question should be ‘where’ is China or ‘what’ is China.  I’m going to draw something on the board, and I need to warn you…every semester, someone gets upset and runs out of the room.  So brace yourselves.”

                  He walks to the left half of the board and draws a distorted, triangular shape.  “Excuse my poor drawing skills,” he says.  “This is Ramsay’s Republic.  South Carolina.  And we are here.”  He puts a tiny dot in the northwest corner of the state.  “And this is Fitzroy’s Republic.  North Carolina.  And down here is uninhabited, radioactive Georgia territory.”  He draws the two states.  “This is what you see on the big maps, and that’s the way the government wants you to see the world.  But there is a little bit more than that.”

                  He draws coastline to the south, the Florida peninsula, the coasts of Louisiana, Texas, Mexico, and Central America.  He draws the coast of Brazil jutting out to the east, drags the marker down and around the tip of South America and traces the coasts of Chile, Peru, and the western coast of Mexico and the Baja peninsula.  He draws the west coast of the former United States and puts some messy dots on the west coast of British Columbia and the Aleutian islands.  “Whole lot of islands up here,” he says, sketching the northern reaches of Canada.  He draws the coasts of Quebec, New England, and connects the coastline back with Fitzroy’s Republic in North Carolina.

                  He steps back from the board.  “I’m gonna give ya’ll a few seconds to take that in.  You don’t have to copy it, but try to remember it.”

                  I have seen maps before.  Atlases are popular items on the black market.

                  “You’re making it up,” one girl says.  “There isn’t anything outside of here.”

                  “My father was an Irish immigrant,” Dr. McKenzie says.  “How do you explain that if the world is comprised of North and South Carolina?”

                  “Irish?” the girl says quietly.

                  “Yeah, Irish.  From Ireland.  You know that holiday in March where you drink ‘til you pass out?  They came up with that.  Here, let me show you.”

                  He walks to the right half of the board and draws Ireland.  “And here’s the rest of Europe,” he says, drawing the various peninsulas and islands.  He draws Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the coastline of India.  Every student in the room stares at the board.

                  “And this here, to answer the original question,” Dr. McKenzie says, “Is the former People’s Republic of China, the most long lived empire in the world.  It met its end when the oppressed minorities in the west got hold of the nuclear weapons--”

                  A girl in a sorority jersey runs out of the room, covering her face.  The door slams behind her.

                  The room becomes silent.  Dr. McKenzie clears his throat.  “Sorry about that.”  He quickly draws Indonesia and Australia and puts a messy blob where New Zealand would be.  “Someone has to tell you all this.  You can’t go run for a senate position if you still think Governor Ramsay created the world.  I’m not trying to discredit your faith, just encouraging you to ask questions.  The more you learn about a subject, the stronger your stance can be.”  He draws the coastline of Antarctica along the bottom of the whiteboard.  “Any questions?”

                  No one says anything.

                  “All right, class dismissed.”  Dr. McKenzie erases the map as people pack their bags.


                  For most of the afternoon, I lie down on Vanessa’s noxiously pink couch and read Selected Essays by Governor Slater, scribbling notes in the margins.  My suitemates play loud music and jump on their beds.  I can hear people running down the hall outside my closed door.  Vanessa doesn’t come back until ten o’ clock.

                  “Hey! I’ve been hanging out with Josh Gordo all afternoon. He’s such an awesome guy! How was your day?” she says, swiveling in her desk chair.

                  “Good.”  I scribble a note in the margin of my book.

                  Vanessa lowers her voice to a whisper.  “Do you remember the dance Friday?”

                  “I may recall something about that�"“

                  Vanessa jumps up from her seat and claps her hands, giggling. “And guess what?  I already got you a date!”  She tosses a worn, silk tie in my face.  I take it in my hand. It’s bright orange and covered in twisted, humanoid cartoon characters.


                  “Nope!  Not telling you!  It’s going to be a surprise.  And when you find me a date, don’t tell me who it is either.  Not even if I beg you.”

                  I sit up and put the tie on my desk.  “So,” I clear my throat.  “What kind of guy are you looking for?”

                  She bounces up and down. “I’m so glad you asked!  I made a list.”  She hands me a sheet from a legal pad.  I glance at the list: “HOT, gentlemanly, musical, HOT, sweet, sociable, easy-going…

                  “This should help,” I say.

                  Vanessa giggles.  “The best place to look is the floor right above us.”  She looks at me and then to the door.  I put the piece of paper in my pocket and leave.

                  I get to the floor above, and I hug the walls to avoid contact.  The ground tremors with the loud music, and a group of guys with beer bottles sing along, missing every note.                   Someone flies past me on a skateboard, hopping over a poker game in the middle of the floor.  One guy and his girlfriend chase each other through the hall, completely nude.  Gray smoke seeps out from under one door.

                  I knock on the door with the name “Josh G.” by it, but no one answers.  I duck through the open door of the next room, narrowly avoiding a skateboard accident.  Josh’s neighbors live here.  One is sitting on the air conditioner, scribbling on his sketchpad.  “Hey, what’s up?” he says.

                  “Are you Josh Gordo’s suitemate?” I ask, thumbs in my pockets.

                  “Yeah, are you looking for him?  I’m not sure where he is right now.”  He glances at the wall separating his and Josh’s dorms.  “I’m Martin, by the way.”

                  Martin’s roommate is in the corner, sitting at an electric keyboard, wearing reading glasses and a set of earphones almost as big as his head.  His small, thin body sways with the music that only he hears, unaware that anyone is watching.  Strong, spidery fingers dart across the black and white keys, playing from a sheet of hand written music.  Martin throws one of his crumpled sketches, and it bounces off his head.  He takes off his headphones, runs a hand through his fine, dark hair, and sees me beside him.  “Hey, I’m Oliver,” he says with a genuine smile, shaking my hand.

                  “Eleanor,” I say.

                  He puts his reading glasses in his shirt pocket.  “It’s great to meet you.  Sorry about…”  He nods to the keyboard.

                  “I just came to get a tie from Josh.  I’ll be in and out.”

                  “No problem.”  Oliver leans back in his seat and shouts through the open bathroom door into the next room.  “Hey, Josh?  Are you in there?”

                  Josh maneuvers his way through the bathroom.  He is wearing a guitar from a shoulder strap and nothing else.  He grins mischievously.  “There are supposed to be more girls than this.”

                  Oliver averts his eyes to a neutral spot beside the door.  “Never mind.  Just keep doing your thing.”

                  Josh disappears from the doorway.  “Put some pants on before you go walking around!” Martin shouts.

                  After waiting an appropriate amount of time, Oliver gets up and gently shuts the bathroom door.  “I cannot, with a good conscience, help set him up with anyone.”

                  “I understand,” I say, taking a step toward the door.

                  “What kind of guy is your roommate looking for?  There are a lot of really nice people on our hall.”  He catches himself.  “Not to say that Josh isn’t nice.  He’s just…”

                  “Sleazy?” I say.

                  “…a nudist.  Full-time.  Really, I try not to go over there if I can help it.”

                  I unfold Vanessa’s list and hand it to Oliver.  He sits on his piano bench, reading it over with a bemused expression.  “She’s a girl who knows what she wants, isn’t she?” he laughs.

                  I take a seat next to him.  “Does anyone come to mind?”

                  “That depends.  I know someone who can really knock a rhythm out of a napkin dispenser.  Would she consider him musical?”

                  “Probably not.”

                  Martin jabs a finger at Oliver and says, “Music major!”

                  Oliver hands me Vanessa’s list.  “Girls are more into guitars.  Pianos are nerdy.”

                  “Quit playing yourself down, man,” Martin says.  “Find her a goddamn tie already.”

                  Oliver looks at me.  I shrug.  “You’re above Vanessa’s standards,” I say, “She can’t complain.”

                  He slides a suitcase out from under the bottom bunk bed.  “Sorry, I haven’t unpacked everything yet.”  He starts searching through his clothes for a necktie.  Inside the suitcase, I see a lot of plaids and earth tones.  “So, what major are you?”

                  “Political Science,” I say.  “I haven’t declared yet, though.”

                  “That’s great!” he says, “My uncle’s a political science professor.  Banks McKenzie, do you know him?”

                  “Yeah, I just had his first class today.  I don’t know how he gets away with half the stuff he tells us.”

                  Oliver laughs.  “I figured.  He really tells it like it is, and he gets criticized a lot.  But he’s good friends with the governor, so he can get away with almost anything.”

                  Through the open door, I hear a skateboard crash and a string of profanities.  Schwartz sneaks into the room.  “Hey, Eleanor!” he says.

                  I cross my arms. “Am I wearing a tracker?”

                  Oliver pulls a few neckties out of his suitcase.  “Hey, Schwartz!  Good to see you.”

                  Schwartz notices him for the first time.  “Dude! You remember me!”  He runs forward and grabs Oliver in a bear hug.  “I’ve still got that autographed shirt!  I never wash it!”

                  Oliver pulls away politely.  “You’ve met Eleanor?”

                  “Yeah, yeah, she’s cool.  Eleanor!” he says to me, “Do you know who this is?”  Oliver’s cheeks go red.

                  “Yes, we just met a while ago,” I say.

                  “He’s Oliver McKenzie from the Spare Nicks!”

                  “Dude,” Martin says, “That was supposed to be a secret.”

                  “No, it’s totally fine,” Oliver says.  He shows me the ties.  “Pick one.”

                  I pick a handsome green one.  Schwartz wanders to the keyboard and stands in awe.  “Is this the one you use at concerts?”

                  “That’s the one,” Oliver says. “Do you play?”

                  “I used to.  May I?”

                  “Of course.”

                  Schwartz unplugs the earphones and strokes the keys as though the keyboard were a historical artifact.  Then he clumsily plays “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”  

                  I take this opportunity to slip out of the room.


                  At five ‘til ten, I am the only student in the classroom.  I have just started reading A Shade Apart by Pamela Thompson.  I’ve read the book a few times before.  It’s a romance about a man who casually dates three different women, each of a different class.  In the end, he marries the Gold Class woman, the Silver Class woman marries a rich old man, and the Bronze Class woman throws herself off a bridge. 

                  If Dr. Nix associates with writers like these, she must have contacts in the upstate black market.  I’m going to ask her to connect me with some of them.  I don’t know if I’ll get a steady job or if I’ll make enough money to support my studies, but if I can make enough to hire a lawyer, it will be worth it.  I’ll call the Marlow and Connor office again and see if they can get my father’s life insurance back from Kathy.

                  The clock hits ten, and no one has arrived.  I put my book away and leave for the English department.  Dr. Nix might be in her office.

                  I glance through some of the classroom windows on the way.  Classes are just starting right now.  Students are running through the halls, late.  I see Schwartz come through the door from the courtyard.  He waves to me, out of breath.

                  “Did I miss an email?” I say.  “No one’s in there.”

                  “I was going to slip this under your door, but you had already left,” Schwartz says.  He gives me a printed copy of an email.  The time stamp is from seven o’ clock this morning.


Dear English 101 Student,

                  Dr. Nix will not be able to teach this semester.  Within the next month, another English teacher will be found to take her place.  Please note that the course material will be different.  We apologize to anyone who may have purchased textbooks.

                  If, for any reason, no one is found to teach the class after one month, the class will be cancelled, but each student will be given credit for English 101.  Please respond with any questions, comments, or concerns and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.


Mr. Jacob Maddox

Literary Censorship Council

© 2010 Stephanotis

Author's Note

I am wide open for criticism!

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Demetri is a bit of a twat, isn't he? XD Such vivid and interesting personalities, you've created!
Its so sad about Dr Nix, I love the sudden change of atmosphere the reader feels at the end iwth the note. One can only imagine what will happen to her.
Also, you've painted college/university life AMAZINGLY. The details in the academic and social atmosphere are dead on perfect, like the roles and personalities and the general vibes that usually come with every university. Also, and I hope its not me being a geek here, but its so nice to read something surrounding uni like that, with the academic side to it presented too, like the syllabus and the interesting topics Elanour will be studying. Normally, with books set in university, all you get is the air-headedness, the arificialness, and they're normally just about teens partying. But you've included everything, and it makes it more real, more beleievable, and, to studious geeks like me, more interesting.
Another brilliant touch is the social statuses, which you've included ever so subtly, that make a real impact. For instance, the teachers being of the highest status, but still beneath the authority, and Vanessa and Demetri being of a very high class, and looking down on people like Nina and Schwartz, who are obviously of a less wealthy and respectable place. Its fantastic, and really well-done, and status isn't an easy thing to convey in story form either.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 13 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


I really love the way you've described the university and everyone in it. I can see parallels in my own friends and peers in my university. It's very realistic! I'm not so sure about the identity switching thing being common knowledge to everyone except teachers. Word gets around fast and I would think in a world like you've created something like that would be caught on to quickly. One more thing: Is Dr. Tawney male or female? You describe Tawney as male, but then one paragraph seems to switch into "she" and "her." I think maybe you changed the gender at one point and maybe didn't catch all the pronouns?

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 13 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Demetri is a bit of a twat, isn't he? XD Such vivid and interesting personalities, you've created!
Its so sad about Dr Nix, I love the sudden change of atmosphere the reader feels at the end iwth the note. One can only imagine what will happen to her.
Also, you've painted college/university life AMAZINGLY. The details in the academic and social atmosphere are dead on perfect, like the roles and personalities and the general vibes that usually come with every university. Also, and I hope its not me being a geek here, but its so nice to read something surrounding uni like that, with the academic side to it presented too, like the syllabus and the interesting topics Elanour will be studying. Normally, with books set in university, all you get is the air-headedness, the arificialness, and they're normally just about teens partying. But you've included everything, and it makes it more real, more beleievable, and, to studious geeks like me, more interesting.
Another brilliant touch is the social statuses, which you've included ever so subtly, that make a real impact. For instance, the teachers being of the highest status, but still beneath the authority, and Vanessa and Demetri being of a very high class, and looking down on people like Nina and Schwartz, who are obviously of a less wealthy and respectable place. Its fantastic, and really well-done, and status isn't an easy thing to convey in story form either.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 13 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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2 Reviews
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on July 16, 2009
Last Updated on July 29, 2010
Tags: War, Books, Dating, Censor, Arrest, Police
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