Sunday, March 4, 2012

Always Hardcore

Hey y'all.  So this is one of the stories that I wrote for the Writer's Digest Short Short Story contest.  Sadly, I have failed.  Not only did I not win, but I didn't even place.  And they had 25 slots.  Ouch.  Do I really suck that bad, or did the competition simply knock me out?  Or was what I wrote simply not something the judges were looking for?  In any case, I have five stories I sent in, and every few days I'll post another one.  This is the first of those stories, Always Hardcore.


Emily Lewis liked fifth grade. Fifth graders learned more about history, and Emily always liked history. Today, however, that wasn’t the topic. Mrs. Phelps, the middle-aged brunette that taught the class, was talking about jobs. Emily pondered employment options as she stared around the room. The posters were the same as always, ones with cute animals and trite sayings about friendship and education. Emily didn't mind looking at them again. She admired their cheesy eighties color schemes. There were other things to stare at too. Jamesha had a new hairstyle that involved lots of braids. Carter up ahead was sitting in the exact right spot for her to see his marvelous doodling: an apple holding a knife.

Oops, I'm supposed to be thinking about my talents. What am I good at?

The question depressed her. She only knew how to play “Top Gun” on the piano, she wasn't very organized, and math made her question the worth of schooling. She didn’t have constructive hobbies. She spent her days dreaming of beating up bad guys and saving Earth. Of course, saving the world would be easier if she knew anything about fighting, weaponry, and strategy. She had a strategy game, Tactics II, but no one to play it with. Being an only child was pretty lame.

Emily stared at the paper lying on her desk. There wasn't much to it. Her name was at the top, and there were three slots where she could write the names of jobs she liked. It was a daunting exercise, worse than staring at a blank piece of paper and forcing a story out of it.

So, what would she like to do? For some reason being a bank teller came to mind, but she didn't want to do that. She didn't want to be a news anchor, a sales clerk, or a stewardess. Being an actress sounded appealing, only Emily wasn't sure she liked fame. Besides, actors were lame. They made lots of money pretending to be fake people and then lived lives that were boring. Another divorce? Ho hum.

She figured a firefighter might be fun. Firefighters had to be constantly ready, but that entailed waiting at the fire station for something to happen. Emily figured she could do poetry or something while she waited. All the same, it sounded a little monotonous.

I don't really know about it, though. Emily went ahead and wrote "firefighter" in the first blank. I'm only ten.
She stared at the two remaining blanks. Normally Emily never cheated, but it wasn't exactly cheating to look at someone else's paper when she wasn’t being graded. She found herself staring over at Mike's sheet. The curly-headed boy sitting to her right chose “marine” and “film director”. That sounded right for him. Mike was always shooting little movies at his house, generally about wars on the moon. They were very silly, so everyone said, but they sounded like fun.

“Hey Mike.” Emily poked him with her pencil. “Can I be in your next movie?”

Mike looked up with a grimace. “No. You're a weirdo.”

“Please? I'll be the person that gets shot. I can do a good death scene.”

“No. Mom doesn't like me inviting girls to the house.”

She wrinkled her nose. “You're too young to date.”

“Mm.” Mike shrugged. “Whatever.”

Emily settled back in her chair. She didn't know why she was sad. What was she expecting? After all, she didn't have friends. She'd never even been to a sleepover. Emily went to a birthday party once, but only because Mrs. Lewis said so. The birthday girl didn't even know her.

Besides, girls were girls. They liked makeup and all that stuff. Emily wasn't done climbing trees, roaming the woods, and reading fantasies. All the other girls had passed that invisible barrier into teenhood. They liked famous singers and shiny nails. Emily liked shiny nails too, but not when they interfered with digging for buried treasure. She had to wonder when she would cross that haunting divide.

“Alright,” Mrs. Phelps called above the din of the children’s talk. “Does anyone have any questions?”
Emily liked Mrs. Phelps. She agreed heartily with the teacher’s belief in planning for the future. Emily only had eight more years to stay in her parents' house, after all. She would have to figure out her employment before then. Emily raised her hand.


Richard lowered his hand. “How do I get to be an astronaut?”

Emily immediately grabbed her notebook and opened it up. She hadn’t considered going into space.
“I'm not sure. That's definitely something I'll look up for you.” Mrs. Phelps promised. “But remember, you need math to be an astronaut. Astronauts have to use math to choose where the spaceship goes.”

Emily shut her notebook with disappointment. Her great nemesis math had defeated her once again. But she still had her question, and she raised her arm.

“Yes, Marcy?”

“How can I make a stuffed animal shop?” Marcy asked. “Do I sign up somewhere?”

“Sorry dear, it’s more complex than that.” Mrs. Phelps said. “But next week I’ll show you how to start a shop of any kind, not just stuffed animals.”

“So I can sell candy too?”

“Well, sure.”


Emily smiled. Marcy was so cute. Marcy was ten, but anyone looking at her swore she was much younger. However, her desk neighbor distracted her only a moment, and Emily kept her hand up.

“Alright, finish your papers.” Mrs. Phelps said. “Pass them to Abigail when you're done.”

Emily's waving hand at least made Mike look up from his paper. “Hey Mrs. Phelps, Em's got a question!”

"Oh?" The teacher finally looked Emily’s way. “What is your question, Emily?”

The girl lowered her tired arm. “Can you suggest a job that's hardcore?”

The room fell silent. The entire class stared at Emily, but she didn't notice. She did see the teacher's odd look as the latter really hoped that she'd misheard the question.

“…What was that?”

“I want a hardcore job.” Emily repeated. “I don't want a boring job. I just want to stop bad guys.”

“Well...” Mrs. Phelps was at a loss. “There's always going to be parts of a job that are boring. For example, teachers have lots of boring paperwork. Also, by creating a happy world, people won't want to become bad guys in the first place. Or maybe you could join the military.”

“No, Ma'am.” Emily shook her head. "I don’t want to. Soldiers get bossed around a lot. Besides, the army is fun for boys. They get to make jokes that girls don't hear 'cause they don't say 'em in front of girls.”

“But women can join the army.”

“Yeah, but it's not as fun.” Emily shrugged. “What can I do instead?”

“Well...I’m not sure what you mean.” The teacher went to her desk and pulled open a drawer. “Here, look through the yellow pages of this phone book. Maybe you’ll find something inside that’s…hardcore.”
The students in front of Emily passed the phone book back, giggling along with everyone else. Mike in particular made no attempt to hide his mocking smile. Even Marcy stared with wide eyes. Emily shyly hunched down, but took the phone book offered to her.

Mrs. Phelps was very smart, Emily decided. The phone book was a good idea, though she wasn't sure one could just turn to the 'H' section and give a hardcore person a ring. Of course, it would be great fun if she actually did find someone hardcore. Emily silently agreed with herself that if she found one, she'd ask them to go skydiving.

“Find anything hardcore, Em?” Mike asked.

“No, I just started." Emily scarcely let her attention leave the book. "I'll let you know if I do.”

Mike and other boys listening in started to laugh. Emily hunched further downwards in her seat. She'd done it again. She'd done something normal people don't. It wasn't fair; why didn’t she know what normal was? What was wrong with her? Now the boys had more ammo for their jokes. Emily sighed and went back to the yellow pages, running her fingers like a zipper over her mouth. She wished she would stop doing odd things. Maybe then Mike would be her friend.

Emily glanced over, trying to hide that she was looking at Mike. He was so cool. He was always saying funny things, and everyone liked him. Emily liked him too, but not in a boyfriend way. She needed friends before she needed a boyfriend.

If Mike is nice, Emily promised. I'll let him come skydiving with me and Mr. Hardcore.

She had to find “Mr. Hardcore” first, so she went back to the phone book and started going through the “A”s, hoping one of them stood for “Awesome”. And if they were hiring, so much the better. Especially if they printed business cards.

“Emily Lewis.” She whispered, imagining what her cards would say. “Always Hardcore”.

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