Monday, January 25, 2016

Write Like A Wizard 2016 Writing Challenge Entry- "By A Nose" Michael W. Holman

Write Like A Wizard 2016 Writing Challenge Entry

In 3000 words or less, tell a story about a teenaged boy that has prophetic dreams. What happens when he can't wake up from one of the dreams?


Title:  "By A Nose"Michael W. Holman


Brent Larson groaned while in his semi-conscious state and rolled over in his effort to get away from the stench that permeated his dorm room at the Intrepid Academy.  He was reluctant to be brought back to his mundane world of monotone lectures when he was in the middle of a dream where he was about to rescue the Academy's most beautiful substitute teacher, Miss Olesen, from 30-foot logs that rolled down a hill from a jackknifed truck accident.  Besides, it had been agreed that one of the Sandman Project technicians would wake him by remote notification when it was time for his day to start, not some putrid smell he would not subject an attacking feral dog to.  Alas, rolling over in his bunk didn't work.  Ditto his thick-blanket-to-the-face maneuver.

"Okay, this is just stupid," he said as he sprung up and, annoyed, put his foot gear on.  He had slept in his more worn out street clothes since a "suspicious parcel" incident during his freshman year had led to a full evacuation of the entire campus two years before.  It was that 2:35 AM adventure, caused by what turned out to be a homeless person's collection of pudding mix boxes with a manual-wind clock inside a Glad trash sack left forgotten by a utility shed, which prompted Brent to keep his socks on in the colder months and his Nikes ready for action.

"If you're referring to our current circumstances in which your smitten girlfriend has managed to burn her popcorn in the break area's microwave oven again, we're in agreement," George Lopez declared with a quick look up from his studies at the table they shared.  Brent's roommate adjusted his wire rim glasses and focused again on his laptop as he added, "Going into a common area out of uniform on a weekday morning also qualifies as stupid, by the way, since the Enforcer is on duty for this rotation.  That's just my opinion."

"You're always ready to grace everyone with your opinion, Lopes, that's why I pray every night you and the Enforcer will never again be allowed to have a debate during Public Forums that fall on Mondays.  You should just ask her out and get your business handled.  Who knows, maybe she'll let you drive her broom."

Brent finished tying his shoes and began to walk for the door, which had been opened by Miss Enford, also known as the Enforcer, when she made her building rounds that always commenced promptly at 6:45 AM on weekdays.

"Students can't date faculty," he heard George point out uselessly behind him as he left.  "And she drives a black Jaguar.  It even still has its United Kingdom plates."

"As if I care," Brent muttered.

 He took the concrete steps two at a time up to the fourth floor, which was co-ed, and, unfortunately, where the extra crispy popcorn smell originated from.  His roommate could be a massive pain at times, but he had been spot-on so far as where ground zero was for the disaster site.  Many of his classmates walked around with washrags held over their lower faces, and some in the break/dining area had irritated eyes, too.  That included Cassandra Tilley, the pretty junior he had retrieved a scarf out of an oak tree for after a wind gust within an hour of their Freshman Orientation. 

 She had left smiley faces on Sticky Notes for him on the Larson/Lopez whiteboard mounted on their dorm's door ever since, hence his roommate's "smitten girlfriend" remark.  It wasn't like that.  Cassandra and some David guy who went to one of Lake Oswego's high schools were an item, as anyone on Intrepid Academy's campus knew who didn't have trivia from every continent on the planet vying for prominence with lecture notes from the past three years in their brains.

Brent realized he had actually done well in the roommate sweepstakes as he made his way to where Cassandra and a few of her friends tried to munch on snacks without coughing in the remnant burned food haze.  For all his quirks, George was all right.  He didn't try to stash contraband, such as recreational drugs or booze, and if he did listen to his 1960's vintage pop music, he was good about using headphones.

"Hey, here's one of my favorite morning crews," he hailed the girls cheerfully as he took a seat at their table across from Cassandra.  "Please tell me George is wrong for once, and it was someone else who burned the popcorn, Cass," he mumbled quietly.

She just looked at him with a remorseful expression, and he wondered if her red eyes had to do with the haze or the fact she had caused it.

"Aw heck," he sighed, and crossed the room to get a box of tissues, which he put in front of her when he returned.  "Never heat popcorn in that particular microwave using the button which says 'popcorn' my friend.  You're lucky the Enforcer wasn't here when it happened.  She would have chewed you out in front of everyone, after she made us all evacuate the building and stand around in the deep freeze outside."

"Very lucky," Cassandra agreed as she nodded.  "And I appreciate your keeping your voice down the way you did when you asked about who did it so people don't get mad at me."  Her dark, long hair swung as she looked out at the campus below their table's window.  "Where do you suppose she is?"

"Oh, Enford probably finished her rounds early," he mused aloud, and didn't notice the others had stiffened.  "Ha, I wouldn't be surprised if the witch is zipping her skinny butt around campus side saddle on her broom.  Nah, that's not fair of me.  She's too pretty to be a witch.  I heard the cougar actually has a Jaguar.  Is that appropriate for our fave British blonde or what?."  He noticed Cassandra and her friends had all gone pale.  "She's standing right behind me, I reckon."

"Good reckoning, Mister Larson.  Although I'm flattered you find me pretty, and as amused as I am about your speculation regarding my personal transport vehicle's make, I'm afraid you must trade this social confab of yours for the Applied Science Wing," Miss Enford said as she looked with raised eyebrows at what he wore.  "Miss Olesen would have been the designated faculty member to escort you there, but she rang in to say her arrival will be delayed because of a traffic accident.  At any rate, you are to proceed to your assigned lab quarters as is.  For you alone, the Academy's uniform rules have been waived temporarily.  Come on, then."

"Is it okay if Cassandra comes with us?  Her first class is Biology Prep, after all."

"Very well.  But we shan't dally about on the way there." 

Brent gave a low whistle as they headed for a cluster of single story buildings set apart from all other structures.

"Whoa, the only other time I've seen this many security guards walking the campus was after our bomb scare.  By the way, did Miss Olesen mention if Oregon State Police responded to that jack-knifed log truck accident on Interstate 5?"

He wanted to see if the campus' most stern disciplinarian would react, and he wasn't disappointed.

"Did you go online to find out about that?" she demanded as they arrived at the Applied Science Building.  "It's a violation of Academy guidelines to use campus time for non-study searches."

"Do you want to drop by my dorm room and check out my laptop?" Brent shrugged his shoulders.  "Be my guest.  George will be thrilled to see you, Miss Enford.  I think you're pretty, but he thinks you're beautiful.  If either of you want munchies, there's vending machines in here."

He nodded to the seated security guard, then gave the indignant, tight-lipped English woman and his amused friend a casual wave as he went down the building's wide central corridor.

"Let's go, Larson!  What did you do, get here by way of Australia?" an exasperated technician asked and gestured impatiently at a turned-down bed beside electronics equipment.  "Move!  What, do you think you're an undercover $25 million secret counter intelligence asset so you can stand around twiddling your thumbs?  Wake up and smell the coffee!"

"You need to lay off the coffee," Brent retorted as he sat on the bed to remove his shoes.  "I can never get to my deep sleep stage if you're yapping in my ear like some terrier, Steve."

"It's Scott, as I've told you umpteen times.  Lay down.  You know where these go by now, right?"

"Sure thing, Boss.  Let's do this," Brent looked around the sterile room as he applied two lead wires high on his forehead.  "Hey, your posse hasn't installed a nightlight in here yet.  I am appalled."

"You are a jackass.  Can you be serious for any length of time at all?"

"I dunno, I don't remember.  You would have to ask Dad about that."

Scott sighed heavily before he spoke again.

"Your dad saved my bacon three times while we were deployed in Iraq.  He and your mom are both salt-of-the-Earth people.  You're a good kid.  I get rather harsh sometimes because it's not one of your big toenails we're working with in here, it's your brain.  If I mess something up, you're a vegetable."

"I may be bad with names sometimes, but I'm with it enough to know you don't mess up.  Ever.  We've got this."

Brent offered his right hand, and Scott shook it earnestly before the teenager settled beneath a few plain white blankets.

"Okay.  See you in a few hours, Larson."

Not quite seven minutes later, Scott gestured toward his computer monitor's screen to a subordinate technician.

"Wow, he's already sawing logs in there.  I guess he didn't get enough sleep last night."

"Look at his rapid eye movement statistics.  Where ever he is in the land of Nod, ten bucks says it's not exactly tranquil," the female intern remarked.  "And his pulse is still within the green range, but it's starting to flirt with the yellow zone, sir."

"Roger that.  Keep a sharp look out.  We'll abort this session if necessary."

Meanwhile, Brent found himself hiking on the sidewalk of a wide street.  There was an intersection with a side avenue that sloped upwards at a steep angle about a football field's length ahead.  He looked around at several surrounding buildings and realized where he was as heavy snow began to fall on the frozen ground and began to accumulate rapidly.  He realized the drifted snow represented elapsed time.  

"That's the intersection of Commercial and Ewald ahead, one of Salem's most dangerous spots in the winter," he told a tiger stripe cat which peered at him from under a nearby concrete birdbath.  "It's a good thing no one is trying to drive out here now.  There's ice under this snow on Commercial, and Ewald has to be just ridiculous."

That's when he saw a black Jaguar with a foreign license plate mounted in back headed south on Commercial, its cautious driver using the far right lane while a furniture truck gathered momentum as it came down Ewald.  The British luxury car got T-boned, and all he could do was watch.

"No!  Miss Enford, hang on!" he yelled and began to run, but he could not get any traction under his feet.

"Sir, Brent's pulse is 135 and climbing!  It's in the red zone," the intern said sharply and pointed urgently at Scott's monitor to get his attention away from another chart's data he examined.

"This session's terminated!  Wake him up!  Get him out of there!  Now!"

The dream repeated itself again.  Then again.

"Sir, the leads have malfunctioned.  I can't rouse him, and his pulse rate is going north of 150 beats per minute!"

Scott cussed in frustration and sprang out of his chair.

Before he could reach the lab room's partially ajar door, a horrid smell so bad it stung his eyes stopped him in his tracks.

"Marvelous.  Someone burns their popcorn now?  Really?" he sputtered, incredulous.

Brent woke up as he coughed violently.

"His pulse is returning to its normal green range, sir," the intern said, relieved, as she pinched her nostrils shut.

The teen dreamer rolled off the lab's bed and scrambled out to them in his stocking feet so wildly his right shoulder slammed into a wall.

"Scott, get Administration on the phone!  Tell them to contact Miss Enford and get her over here!  I don't know where she is on campus and  I've gotta talk to her!  Tell them it's important!"

One look in his eyes and the technician had no question about how serious his Army buddy's son was anymore.

"I read you.  Hang on."

In less than a minute, the boy and the intern watched Scott's eyebrows raise as he concluded his call with "Um, okay, I'll pass that on, thanks."

"Pass what on?" Brent fumed.  It was his turn to be impatient.

"They told me she was last seen coming this way with you.  As far as anyone knows, she never left this building."

Before Scott had finished his second sentence, Brent sprinted for the lobby, where he saw the no-nonsense English woman open one window while an obviously sheepish Cassandra sprung the latch of another, just before he bashed his left shin into a coffee table and landed in a sprawl after he crashed into the leather cushions of a long sofa.

"Egad!" Miss Enford exclaimed and walked over to him quickly, his friend right behind her.  "Right, then, let's have a look at your poor leg, you daft oaf.  Surely someone taught you not to careen about indoors like a drunken ostrich by now, I should think."

Cassandra gasped at the sight of Brent's five-inch red welt, but he could not have cared less in his desperation to get his message understood by the intended receiver.

"Miss Enford, please don't use Commercial Street when you leave campus tonight!" Brent almost shouted.  "Use some other way!  You've got to, for your own safety!"

"What?" she asked in a stunned whisper as Scott and his intern joined the trio.

"Sabrina, my advice is that you listen to this student," the technician told her firmly.  "He's a rare boy with a very specific dual gift.  Not only does he have prophetic dreams, he knows how to interpret them.  His accuracy rating is 98% according to our data we've compiled since he started here at Intrepid Academy as a freshman."

"Earlier this morning in my dorm, I dreamed Miss Olesen ran on a driveway below I-5 as a bunch of logs tumbled down an embankment toward her," Brent explained.  "But her feet were not making contact with the ground, and her Lady Nikes had tire treads instead of soles, so I knew in the real world she was driving near Eugene, known as 'Track Town USA' when she saw the log truck had jack-knifed and caused the traffic jam she got stuck in."

"I didn't take her call myself, but yes, that's where I heard the trouble was," Miss Enford recalled.  "Incredible."

Brent paused before he continued.

"Just a few minutes ago, in the lab, I had a recurring dream where a furniture truck's driver lost control of his rig on Ewald Avenue because of icy snow and smashed into the side of your Jaguar as you drove in the right lane of Commercial Street, in south Salem.  I tried to run and get to the accident to help you, but my feet had no traction.  It was way too real, too vivid, and it wouldn't quit."  He gestured outdoors with a sweep of his right arm.  "Look what's started to come out of the sky."

A few snowflakes drifted into the lobby, let in by the half-opened windows.

"I guess we can close up again," Cassandra ventured.  "The bad smell I caused by burning another packet of microwave popcorn is gone.  I'm sorry, everyone.  That was stupid."

Scott shook his head somberly.

"Actually, your mistake may have saved your friend's life.  He couldn't wake up from a very bad prophetic dream on his own, nor could my assistant and I bring him to consciousness with our equipment while his pulse rate began to go off the charts."

"So our poor drunk ostrich was awakened in the nick of time by way of a scorched snack," Miss Enford mused aloud.  "Jolly good.  Oh, and thank you, Mister Larson."

"Sure thing, you're welcome," Brent nodded, then smiled at Cassandra.  "One could say I outran serious trouble by a nose." 

***THE END***