What Do You Think Of This Story?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic & Chit Chat' started by threenorns, Mar 25, 2013.

  1. threenorns Well-Known Member

    i've had it done a while but something was really wrong with it. i didn't like it. i think i've fixed it - but what do you think? can you visualize what is happening? are the characters "real"? does it make sense? does it have veracity (iow, do you think "yeah... i could see this happening" or "i wish this would happen"?)?


    The sky was blue - a pure, clear, hard blue usually paired in documentaries with fields of wheat stretching as far as the panoramic camera lens could see. Tall, mature trees lent a stately gravitas to the neat communities made up of bungalows and backsplits. Moms wearing crisp aprons hung laundry out in the back yard, set pies to cool on the kitchen window sill, or deadheaded the flowers in the neat plot of yard in front of the house, waving friendly greetings to people strolling by and keeping a sharp eye on young children riding their bikes. If the house had a porch, the porch had a rocking chair, probably occupied by an elderly grandparent enjoying a peaceful respite from the sound of the vacuum cleaner. Anderson County was a neat, clean town and a great place to raise a family.

    Johnny Pinkett hated it, right down to the last atom of dust.

    From the sadly wilted tips of his blonde crewcut to the soles of his navy blue, dust-grimed runners, he was the very image of a dejected nine year old as he scowled his way down the street leading to his house. Red dust drifted off his red-and-white striped t-shirt and the back pocket of his denim overalls flapped loose, ripped most of the way off by Chet's dog, Bruiser. A snapped shoelace trailed behind him on the sidewalk pointing accusingly at the backpack he dragged by the strap - it had broken when he'd swung the pack into Chet's big, ugly, stupid face.

    A door slammed up the tree-lined street and he looked on with eyes fierce with longing and hot with bitter envy as the boy, not much older than he, ran down white wooden porch steps onto a manicured lawn fenced in with whitewashed pickets, a small white Cairn Terrier racing along beside him, jumping up and yapping at him every so often. Johnny had woken up this morning with such hope, such confidence - today was the day! He'd been so sure! He stopped in his tracks and glared at the front of his house just coming into view down the block. His bottom lip trembled and a grubby hand angrily dashed away a new set of tears, leaving his freckled cheek smeared with wet clay dust. He dreaded the moment that he walked in the door and told his parents not only that he'd been fighting again but that he was a complete and utter failure. Nobody else in his family had ever had to retake the exam so many times, let alone failed so completely on each and every attempt!

    And he'd really really tried! This morning for the first time since never, he'd had his bed made and was scrubbed, dressed, and seated at the breakfast table before anybody else, his books and school lunch already in the backpack by the door beside his freshly-brushed shoes. In spite of the late night spent in intense study and review with his parents and older brother, he felt energized and ready to take on the world but, just like every other time, it all started to go wrong as soon as he stepped through the classroom door.

    For one thing, his teacher, Miss Prudence, wasn't there. Instead, a man sat behind the desk. Except for the very white shirt collar and cuffs and the very black glasses, everything about him was brown: brown hair - longer on top, short back and sides - combed to the side and gelled in place, the part razor-sharp and ruler-straight; lightly tanned skin; brown suit; brown tie; brown shoes. When he spoke, even his voice was brown.

    "Mister Pinkett, please be seated." He did not introduce himself and Johnny was too scared to ask his name but he thought privately that he wouldn't be surprised if it was Mr Brown. On the other hand, he was glad he'd paid attention this time, as he was pretty sure this was how they got him the first time. The mild request was a trap: the first thing assessed was the seat you chose. Too far forward would be interpreted as attention-seeking. Too far back would be antisocial. Next to a window was dicey - it could mean he was an outdoor-loving, active child or it could mean he lacked focus. Definitely stay away from the door - that was nothing but seeking an escape route. Sitting on the easy chair indicated self-indulgence while a straight-backed wooden chair pointed to a dogmatic, unyielding personality. He hadn't bothered looking up the plastic chairs - he hated their hot stickiness so much nothing could've made him sit in one. Johnny carefully selected the wood frame armchair with the thinly cushioned seat and moved it so it was just forward of centre and angled so that he could look out the window if he chose but kept his attention clearly directed forward.

    "Thank you, Mister Pinkett. You are punctual. Very commendable."

    "Thank you, sir," Johnny replied promptly and correctly.

    "Do you know why we are here?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "You have taken this exam before. Why will this time be different?"

    "Sir, I have spent the past year studying and I know I have the necessary knowledge."

    "Why did you select the seat you did?" Johnny gaped - this was not part of the standard question set.

    "Uh..." he floundered. "I... I don't want to look like I'm lazy or not interested or bored. Besides," he finished with a shrug, "I like this chair. It's my favourite. It looks like the one at my nana's house."

    "Your nana," the examiner repeated. "Do you love your nana?"

    "Of course I do," Johnny frowned.

    "But she is not a nice person. She is quick to anger. She has struck you."

    "Oh," Johnny said, understanding, "no, that's not my nana. That's just the Oldsymer's. She has a problem with her brain that makes her do those things. She wasn't like that before she got sick. You just have to be careful and pay attention - if you watch, you can see when she's going to have a bad spell and then it's easier to stop it from happening or to make sure she doesn't hurt herself or someone else if it does."

    "You must get angry or frustrated with her."

    "Sometimes I do. But then I remind myself that I'm young and healthy and she's old and sick and needs help so it's up to me to be the strong person." There was a long silence as Johnny and the examiner stared at each other. Johnny sensed the examiner was not happy and that worried him.

    "Do you like dogs?" Johnny lit up like a candle - enthusiasm radiated from every pore and his eyes blazed with passion and interest.

    "Oh, yes, sir! I really do!" Aaaaah, thought the examiner as he leaned forward, eyes behind the impenetrable shades suddenly sharp and alert. Here was the real Johnny Pinkett, not the over-prepared, over-rehearsed automaton that had walked into the room! This was a boy he could use!
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  2. threenorns Well-Known Member

    "What kind of dog would you choose?" Johnny liked this question - he'd been giving it a lot of thought and it was nice to talk it over with someone and make sure it sounded as logical as it did in his head.

    "It depends what you mean. If you mean what kind of dog would I like to look at, I like Irish Wolfhounds because they're so big. I like Border Collies because they're so fast and they look like dolphins swimming when they run - sort of all--" he made a swift flowing movement with his hand. "But if you mean what kind of dog would I, personally, like to have, that's difficult. I couldsay well, I like this breed and that breed but really what it comes down to is personality. When it comes to having a dog to live with me, I'd go with the dog that likes to do the same things I do - play ball, go swimming, explore in the forest, lie on the grass and watch the clouds, read books, that sort of thing. He might be big, he might be small, he might not be a he - maybe he'd be a girl."

    This was when Johnny noticed that, unlike all the other exams, the examiner was not taking notes. He had no clipboard, no recording device, nothing. There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Johnny held in the questions that fought to burst free and maintained a calm, interested expression - at least, he did until a dog barked and he couldn't help a quick glance out the window.

    "I will be honest, Mister Pinkett. We are having considerable difficulty placing you. We need to take you to a more advanced assessment facility than this primitive setup can accommodate. Come with me, please." Johnny scrambled to gather up his stuff as the examiner stood up and left the room without a backward glance. At the door, he turned around and raced back to set the chair neatly in its original position before running full-speed out the door where he slammed straight into the man's chest.

    The examiner didn't even notice - he caught Johnny in time to prevent him from rebounding into the door frame but he, himself, budged not a fraction.

    "Sorry," Johnny said breathlessly, "but we have to put things back after we use them." The man didn't even look at him - the boy might never have spoken at all.

    "This way, please," came the bland, brown voice.

    Outside the red brick single-story building, Johnny looked back as he was escorted to a black SUV with tinted windows and a small "DCA" badge on the door. A kid from one of the higher grades gaped at him through the window before turning to say something over his shoulder. More faces appeared - confused, fascinated, frightened, and at least one maliciously gleeful - naturally it was Chet Cartwright. Then they disappeared as a teacher shooed them back from the window and pulled down the blind after a quick, worried glance out and around. The man opened the rear door of the vehicle. Johnny swallowed hard - nobody had ever said anything about going anywhere in a government vehicle.

    "Am I in trouble?" he asked.

    "Not to my knowledge, Mister Pinkett."

    "Well... why do I have to go somewhere? Do my parents know?"

    "Your parents have been apprised. Their consent is neither required or sought. If you wish, you may return to school now and we will forget this ever happened."

    "What does that mean?" Johnny asked, his forehead furrowed.

    "It means you forget the whole thing."

    "I'm going," Johnny said instantly, and climbed into the back seat of the SUV.

    Examining the interior occupied Johnny for a few minutes and the drop-down screen with movies and games occupied him for quite a while longer so that he wasn't fully aware of how long they'd been driving. When he did look out the window again, he was astonished to see not only that they'd reached the county wall, but also that the gates had been flung wide without so much as an inspection stop, the guards saluting very precisely as the DCA vehicle blew through at speed.

    Johnny stared and stared through the windows as the high walls of Anderson County retreated behind them. After a lifetime of anticipation, the reality of what lay outside the town was a bit disappointing. In sharp contrast to the lush, green grass and tall hardwood trees inside the county wall, out here, the grass was dull and sparse. There was the odd tree here and there, but mostly it was short, weedy shrubbery struggling for existence. He tapped on the window separating the back of the car from the front and the glass slid down silently. All the questions he wanted to ask suddenly vanished.

    "May I please have a drink of water?" he finally asked, feeling foolish.

    "Mister Pinkett, you may have anything you find back there. It is all age-appropriate," and the glass slid back up.

    Johnny was on his third orange Lottafruit and hoping there'd be a rest stop soon when the vehicle made an abrupt right turn off the highway. Picking himself up off the seat, he peered out to see the road disappearing into a rock formation ahead. It was farther than it seemed - the rock face was that high. The road became narrower, flanked higher than he could see by striated layers of yellow, brown, and ochre. Even though the car was air-conditioned, the shade was a welcome relief from the unremitting glare of the sun.

    After a short while, the car stopped. To Johnny, it was a strange sensation after feeling the hum of the tires on the road for so long. The car started up again and drove slowly through a high gate topped with red revolving lights and tangles of wire that had evil-looking sharp barbs on it. The guards wore full military dress and they stared stonily as the car proceeded past them. Johnny shrank back onto his seat, his mouth dry, as the rock walls sheered off to left and to right to surround a large, open area with walls a hundred feet high.

    The compound was full of grey corrugated metal buildings - one very large central one flanked by smaller huts set in the middle of a large grassy area surrounded and criss-crossed by fencing. It was easy to see that each building could be sectioned off from all the others or that adjacent buildings could be combined just by opening or closing gates.

    They pulled up in front of the large central building and a guard stepped forward briskly to open Johnny's door with a quick wink that did much to reassure the little boy.

    "This way, Mister Pinkett," said the examiner, and Johnny followed him through the grey metal door held open by the guard. Johnny jumped when the sound hit him - a wall of barks, yaps, snarls, yips, and howls. Dogs! His heart beat faster and he was about to rush ahead when the examiner stopped him with an arm across his chest. "You may approach any you wish. Interact in your own fashion. Be aware that you may get hurt."

    "I know," Johnny swallowed, but his eyes were huge and pleading.

    "Proceed," the examiner said.
  3. threenorns Well-Known Member

    Johnny went through the yellow door with the big sign reading AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT with a feeling of privilege and anticipation. Once inside, he thought all his Christmases had come at once! A central aisle was flanked by cage after cage, each built of brick painted with pleasant colours and fronted with a chain link gate. The floor was rubber matting and each caged section had a low cot, a dog house, a back exit to the fenced-in yard, a water bowl that could be replenished by stepping on a pedal, and a selection of toys. Immediately to his right was a litter of four little black, brown, and white dogs with floppy ears - "Beagles", he said immediately, and smiled, careful not to look directly at them. He enjoyed watching them but had no desire to run in and play with them.

    To the left, a Yellow Lab menaced him from just out of reach. Johnny, unfazed, said "It's okay, mama, I won't come and bother your little babies" while keeping his body turned sideways to her.

    "Why do you say that?" asked the examiner from behind him. Without turning, Johnny replied

    "I saw her belly. She's nursing pups but her nipples are not very large and I can't see any of them, so the pups must be very small - not walking yet. Mother dogs are very protective of their babies."

    The examiner watched him make his slow progress down the aisle and noted that while the child was not particularly bothered even by the more aggressive-sounding dogs, the dog themselves were a lot less agitated than they normally were in the presence of a stranger. Rather than charging the fence and barking or even chewing on the mesh, they would bark a few times from the back of the cage and then stop. Some even laid down or turned their backs. Johnny wasn't even halfway through when the last of the barking died away. That was a very good sign but the examiner was particularly curious about how Jimbo would react - he was looking forward to it, actually.

    Johnny was nearly at the end of the row when suddenly there was a booming "WAUGH!!!!!" right at his ear! He waited until his heart slowed down before turning to look calmly at the top of the cage to his right. Without looking directly at him, he could see the dog sitting in the middle of the cage, his fawn-coloured plush coat, tightly curled tail, incredibly creased and wrinkled face cocked to one side, and size proclaiming him to be a cross between a Chinese Shar-Pei and possibly a Mac truck. Without hesitation, Johnny opened the cage and stepped in.

    The examiner waited but there was no sound. Concerned, he seized a catchpole and walked briskly to the cage, pulling on bite gloves as he went. Instead of a child bleeding out all over the floor, however, he found nothing - the cage was empty, the back door swinging loose. They were outside racing around the yard, Jimbo keeping just ahead of Johnny who was giggling and laughing breathlessly. As soon as the dog saw the examiner, his entire demeanour changed: he turned sharply, blocking Johnny from getting any closer, and faced the man with the catchpole. Johnny tapped him on the side and walked calmly to the examiner.

    "It's time to return you to your school," the examiner said, and Johnny's heart broke. He went back and gave Jimbo a hug, kissed him on top of his massive head, and said a sad little goodbye.

    The ride back was silent and for some reason, much shorter than the ride out had been. In front of the school, Johnny screwed up his courage and asked

    "Did I pass the exam? Will I get a dog?"

    "The results are conclusive: you are not suitable to own a dog," the examiner said, the words sounding like coffin nails being driven through Johnny's hopes and dreams.

    The final bell rang and all the kids came flooding out just in time to see Johnny bolt out of the SUV and run down the street, the door bouncing open. He made a good two blocks before the tears came, running down his cheeks in scalding tracks, and of course that was when he heard the taunting voice: "Whatsa matter, Jooooohnny, you didn't get approved for a dog?"

    And of course, it had to be Chet. Twelve years old and already as tall as a grown man, Chet outweighed Johnny by a good bit - Chet outweighed everybody by a good bit. His dog, Bruiser, was naturally by his side. Bruiser was actually a pretty good dog, Johnny considered. It was just too bad he was in the hands of someone like Chet. Johnny had overheard his parents discussing it the last time he and Chet had tangled so he knew Chet had already gotten three citations and was in danger of losing the dog completely. Johnny couldn't imagine having a dog taken away - he thought he'd probably rather just die. The injustice of it all rose within him like magma exploding from the molten core of an indignant planet: Chet - lying, sneaking, bully! - was suitable to have a dog and he wasn't!? Chet smirked again and Johnny watched his arm swing his book-laden backpack just as the strap snapped and sent it straight into that jeering open mouth. He stood, frozen in shock, before the sight of blood spurting from Chet's nose and split lip made him turn and run for his life.
  4. threenorns Well-Known Member

    He hadn't expected to see the brown man sitting at the dining table when he snuck into the house a long while later, nor did he expect the man to be calm and sound reasonable about the whole thing.

    "I didn't mean to actually hit him but the strap broke and the backpack just went... pyew," he said, smacking his hands together like he was holding cymbals.

    "What happened then?" asked the examiner, sitting on the couch in his livingroom. Johnny snorted.

    "Are you kidding? Have you seen Chet!? I ran like stink!"

    "Which is when the dog attacked you, correct?"

    "Well, no," Johnny hastened to clarify, "Bruiser didn't attack me. If he wanted to attack me, I'd be in a million pieces. Honestly, I think he just thought it was another game. When he pulled my pocket off, I turned around and yelled and he sat right down looking really confused. That's when Chet came running up and told him to get me - but Bruiser didn't want to play any more and just rolled over onto his back and that's when Chet... " Johnny swallowed hard, "kicked him." Johnny's mother hid her face in his father's shoulder and his father's mouth turned hard and grim as he comforted her with one arm around her shoulders.

    "And that's when you attacked Chet."

    "Well, he was going to kick Bruiser again! Someone had to stop him!"

    "Even though it meant you were going to get seriously hurt. Even though you knew you were going to get a citation for violence, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and violating community standards."

    "Someone had to stop him," Johnny repeated, his set jaw and folded arms making him look remarkably like his father.

    The examiner stood up and faced Johnny's parents.

    "I've heard enough. He comes with us today. Room and board are provided plus he will be earning an income to be paid into a trust fund payable on the day of graduation. Visitation is not permitted however he will be allowed regular visits home. Transportation to the county gate is provided and you are responsible for arranging transport from there. Do you have any questions?" Johnny was frightened - why was he being taken away? Why did his parents look so strange - scared but also ... proud?

    "What is going on, sir?"

    "Be patient and you will understand everything." He held his wrist to his mouth and said "Bruiser, care of Chet Cartwright, immediate pickup for medical and temperament assessment and reassignment. Chet Cartwright sentenced to 5 years probation and three hundred hours community service for violation of trust, abuse, violence, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, violating community standards, and violating diplomatic treaty rights."

    "I packed your things, Johnny," his mother said, indicating a large suitcase. "I also packed you a something to eat on the way."

    "Here," his father said gruffly, pressing a wad of money into his hand. "You probably don't need it but it's always good to have a reserve in your sock drawer."

    "Now go with him," his mother said with a watery smile. "We'll see you real soon. Don't be afraid - this is very, very good."

    "Son, you done your family proud," his father said, and crushed him in a bear hug before pushing him toward the door. "Go now, Johnny. You be a good boy and work hard."

    Even though he was a whole nine years old and practically grown up, Johnny found himself reaching for the examiner's hand as they returned to the same black SUV. Another man - the driver, guessed Johnny - walked quickly past them to the house to collect the suitcase and Johnny's backpack. The ride to the compound was different - the glass stayed down and a ham sub was in the fridge. It was exactly how he liked it, too, including the black olives.
    Back at the compound, the guard didn't wink when he opened the door. Instead, he gave a low bow of respect. In front of the building stood a man and a woman in the military "at ease" stance, both dressed in loose-fitted army green and grey clothing with combat boots. They stood completely still, looking straight ahead.

    "Please, sir," Johnny said, his voice wobbling. "I don't understand." For the first time, the examiner took off his sunglasses. Johnny was amazed to see that first, he was not old at all, and that second, his eyes were very blue and very kind.

    "Do you know who I am?" The examiner asked, and Johnny shook his head. "My name is John, too. John Detweiler. I'm the local administrator for the DCA - the Department of Canine Affairs. We control all human-canine interactions. We administer and assess the temperament testing needed to ensure a good match between human and canine. We enforce canine diplomatic laws and uphold canine rights and territories. Every so often, someone takes the test and is found unsuited to pet ownership. I don't mean in a bad way, either. Even after years of education, it's still surprisingly common that a human is temperamentally unsuited to cohabit with a dog - Chet is an example. We saw signs of trouble but we'd hoped having a dog would head him down another path. Very rarely, however, someone comes along who cannot be matched to a dog because they're suitable for all dogs.

    "You are such a one. You understand them. You were not frightened when Jimbo played his little trick on you - I have to tell you, I've known Jimbo for years and he still gets me with that one. You have a true passion for dogs and you are not afraid to defend them. You are uniquely suited to be here and not at a general academic facility. I would like to introduce your instructors, Adam Kent and Felicity Turner." The teachers stepped aside and for the first time, Johnny noticed the sign on the lower part of the door: DEPARTMENT OF CANINE AFFAIRS DIPLOMATIC TRAINING FACILITY - Anderson/Grissom Campus.
    The guard opened the door and Johnny, flanked by his instructors and followed by Detweiler, stepped into a new world.

    Ten years later:

    John Pinkett stood, his army green cargo pants, body-contoured grey t-shirt, and well-broken-in combat boots making the most of his tall, lean, broad-chested form. Leaving the door open in case the four canine companions who had attached themselves to him chose to exit the vehicle, he stepped away from the company SUV and surveyed the horizon from calm, deep blue eyes in a tanned face from which most of the freckles had faded. His hair, sun-bleached nearly white now, was still cut short but was long enough to flop rakishly over one eye to highlight diamond-sharp cheekbones, a narrow nose and a lean, hard jaw.

    A decade of intense training showed in the serenely confident expression. The day he'd been told he was unsuitable to own a dog went from being the worst day of his life to the best: it took months, sometimes years, to locate those suitable to be Canine Ambassadors. If he'd loved dogs before, he was now completely bewitched, enchanted, and obsessed by them. All he'd learned had served only to increase his admiration for such a marvellously resilient and intelligent species. He was now the diplomatic liaison between the humans of Anderson County and the dogs of AC-G-C-13; that is, the dogs of Anderson County/Grissom District-grid coordinates C-13. He would live in the diplomatic residence - a three-room house with a hospital outbuilding. It was his mission to provide food, medical treatment, and, most importantly, assessment to identify the dogs that were unsuited, physically or temperamentally, to the rigours of life out in the open and needed the comfort and safety of a human companion. Those dogs would be brought to live inside the diplomatic residence and taught basic social skills and communication before being placed in a home with a suitable human companion.

    "Do you see them?" Detweiler asked, standing beside him. Ten years had apparently rolled off him like water off a duck's back - he was exactly the same brown man Johnny had met in the classroom.

    "No, but I know they're there." John opened the back of the SUV and pulled out duffel bags, tackle boxes, cooler, and backpack frame. Detweiler watched silently as the backpack frame was competently and quickly assembled then loaded with nearly a hundred pounds of goods and equipment before being shouldered with ease.

    "We'll be by in a week. Call if you need anything," Detweiler said, then held out his hand.

    "No problem," John said, shaking firmly and looking him straight in the eye before making a brisk about-face and, surrounded by four dogs, and striding confidently into the future.
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