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!