by Alexander Mahdavian
11th grade, Ridge High School
Teacher: Ms. Julie Harding
Honorable-mention prize: $50
The clock ticks, the lights flicker gently, and the air conditioner accompanies the clock with its gentle hum as it brings the room to a cool temperature amidst the summer heat. A boy stands at the kitchen counter, gazing out the window at the sun which has just begun its descent beyond the horizon. The house is silent and all lights have been shut off with the exception of the kitchen lights under which the boy stands. Periodically, he looks down at a sealed envelope which he clutches in his right hand, and trembles as beads of sweat form on his forehead.
As time passes, the trembling of his hand grows violent, and with each glance at the envelope he grows more frustrated, until he tears it open. He does so with great speed, ripping the envelope and pulling out a folded sheet of paper. His eyes widen and he lifts his wrist to his forehead to wipe the sweat from his brow as he scans each line of the letter repeatedly. Again, he looks out the window at the sun, which has now been consumed by the horizon, as all remnants of light begin to fade. Tears begin to flood the bottom of the boy’s hazel eyes and stream down his face as he stuffs the letter in his jeans pocket and quietly makes his way to his bedroom. He grabs a duffel bag from under his bed and packs clothing and other necessities inside, as well as retrieving his wallet, which contains twenty-five dollars and his driver’s license, from his desk. A clean and spotless electric guitar leans against his wall with a note attached saying, “congrats grad,” along with a small Fender tube amplifier to accompany it. A Byrds poster sits above a turntable with a healthy collection of vinyl shelved beneath it. The boy grabs his things and walks down the stairs.
He lifts a pair of car keys from a hook by the door and walks out into the garage and unlocks the door to his father’s car. He looks back then at the relics of his childhood stuffed in the garage––bicycles, sleds, a well-worn baseball bat––and then at an old “Johnson for President” lawn sign, which has been shoved between two bicycles, sitting oddly juxtaposed to the rest of the family’s belongings. The boy sighs and looks down at the garage floor for a moment before shutting the car door and hastily exiting the garage, making his way into the kitchen.
He grabs a notepad and a pen from a drawer in the kitchen and leans over the counter as he brings the tip of the pen to the paper. The ink of the pen bleeds into the paper, forming a small dot, before the boy lifts the pen, tosses it to the side, and looks up out the window at the pitch black sky. All light has fled to cover beyond the dark horizon. He runs his fingers through his hair and leans over the counter before cradling his face in his hands, with audible sobs penetrating the silence. He lifts his head, grabs his bag, and retreats up the stairs into his bedroom.
He throws the duffel bag on the bed and frantically retrieves the letter from his pocket, staring at it with wild eyes as he paces around his room. His face turns red, his eyes swell with tears, his breathing grows frantic, his heart rate begins to speed up, the clock ticks faster and louder than before, and the room begins to spin. As he watches his room whirl around him, he starts to stumble and collapses onto the carpet.
* * *
Light pours through the window of the boy’s bedroom, as he wakes up to the sound of birds chirping. The carpet feels soft and gentle against his body, which lies sprawled out on the floor. He rubs his aching head gently as he looks around and notices the letter on the carpet, and he sighs and leaves his bedroom. Down in the kitchen a young girl sits at the table eating cereal, and the boy enters. “Good morning, Jack,” she softly says to him.
“Good morning,” replies the boy. A news story plays on the television about the war. The newscaster reads from a teleprompter in a monotone while images of boys with machine guns trotting through a jungle flash over the television screen.
“Can we go to the diner for breakfast sometime?” the girl asks. The boy glances down at the floor, sighs, and then looks back at her. A slight smile forms at the edges of his lips.
“We ought to go today.”
“We can go another time if you want––”
“We can take dad’s car.” He walks to the door, lifts the keys off the hook, and looks back at her with a smile. “Quick, before he wakes up.” She laughs and follows him out the door.
* * *
Upstairs, a middle-aged man with gray, thinning hair knocks on the boy’s door. With no reply, the man opens the door to find an empty bedroom with a folded sheet of paper lying face down on the carpet. He picks it up and unfolds it. At the top, it reads, “SELECTIVE SERVICE SYSTEM: ORDER TO REPORT FOR INDUCTION.” The man stares for a moment before the letter slips through his grasp, back onto the carpet. The man covers his mouth and shuts his eyes as he starts to tremble. Hastily, he turns around and rushes down the stairs into the kitchen.
No one is present but the newscaster and the footage of the boys donning camouflage uniforms while running through a jungle with various sorts of weaponry. He looks to the counter where a notepad and pen sit. A small dot of ink occupies the top left corner and, in the center, a quickly scrawled message: “out for the morning.”
Linda L. Hellstrom, Founder
Wendy Supron, Chair
Elizabeth K. Parker
Diane Naughton Washburne