Ponderings from a Procrastinating Prognosticator

Archive for April, 2012


Posted by samatwitch on April 26, 2012

I wrote this for a short story contest earlier this year.  I had a really good opening few pages but had to scrap it all because it was a short story contest, not a novel!  So this was written in the last few hours before the deadline and posted to the contest with one minute to go!  It’s not great, but it is mine.


Molly braced herself, then stared defiantly at the boy who had done everything possible to make her life miserable since she and her parents had moved to this small town three months ago.  Gerald and his friend Lewis delighted in tormenting their classmates, especially the girls, but for a few minutes she had the upper hand.

She was enjoying being the helper for the school photographer, even though it mostly consisted of standing beside him and acting as a focus for the students he was shooting.  Somehow it seemed to relax them to see another student in the gym where the photos were taken.  Nobody would call Molly intimidating; she was small for her age, with blonde hair and delicate features.  Along with her shy demeanour, those attributes meant she was usually ignored, except by the bullies in the school.  She smoothed her fingers over the small bottle in her pocket that she carried with her at all times.

The photographer had chosen Molly deliberately – not just to relax the other students, but to help Molly overcome her shyness.   He had seen how Gerald had pinched her and kneed her in the back while they were posing for their class picture and decided to do something about it.

Now he had Gerald in front of him, squirming around in the chair as the photographer readied his equipment.

“Sit still, please, Gerald,” he requested pleasantly.  “I want to make sure I have the perfect shot so your parents will be pleased.”

“My Ma’s not going to pay for any old pictures of me,” the young boy said, “I don’t know why I’m even here.”

“Because everyone is having their pictures taken individually this week and then your mother can decide whether or not she wants to purchase them.”

Finally the photographer seemed happy with his arrangements, staring through the lens for what seemed to Molly to be a long time before finally snapping the picture.

“Thank you, Gerald,” the photographer said quietly.  “You may go back to your group now and send in the next person.”

Gerald seemed to stumble a bit as he got up, but then he walked stiffly out the door.

A few minutes went by and no other child appeared

“Molly, could you go and ask the next child in line to come in, please?”

Molly went to the door and looked out.  The line-up of children were waiting, some patiently, others fidgeting, Lewis as usual trying to intimidate his classmates.

“Andrea, you’re next,” said Molly to her friend who was standing at the front of the line.

“Didn’t Gerald tell you to come in?” she asked as they crossed the gymnasium floor.

“No, he didn’t say anything.  His eyes were weird and he just walked by all of us without hitting or pinching or anything,” she replied.

“Probably the flash affected his eyes,” said the photographer, overhearing as they drew near.  “Some people react badly.  As for not hitting or pinching, I would think that’s a good thing.  He shouldn’t be doing that at any time.  That’s something that should stop right now and I know just what to do about it.”

“Oh, no,” cried Andrea. “If he finds out I said anything, he’ll be worse than ever.”

“Nonsense,” said the photographer.  “That kind of behaviour must stop immediately, but don’t worry, I have no intention of telling him that you said anything.  I’d already seen his bullying for myself.”

Andrea settled down and the photographer seemed to be quite happy with the picture he took of her and the rest of the students that afternoon.

“Is there a student missing, Molly?” he asked. “My list says 32 students but I’ve only taken 31 pictures.”

“Lewis didn’t come in,” she replied. “He was in the line-up earlier but Mrs. Anderson said he left to see what happened to Gerald and he didn’t come back.  They’re best friends.”

Just then Mrs. Anderson bustled in.  “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.  I was looking for our last straggler, but it seems Lewis felt he needed to make sure his friend Gerald got home safely.  He didn’t seem well when he left.”

“No problem,” said the photographer, “I’ll be here all week taking pictures of the other classes.  We can just slip him in during one of the other sessions.  After all, it’s very important he get his picture taken just like all the other children.”

“Yes, I’ll see that he does.”  Mrs. Anderson flitted out the door.  “Molly,” she called back, “you can leave now; it’s three o’clock.”

Molly walked home slowly, thinking about all the things that had happened today.  Who would have thought this morning that the day would have ended so well?  And she was going to be the photographer’s assistant all week.  He had asked Mrs. Anderson and she’d said yes.

Passing by the park, Molly caught a glimpse of Gerald and Lewis standing, huddled together by the swings.  She walked faster, hoping to avoid a confrontation, but they didn’t even seem to notice her.  It looked as if Lewis was doing all the talking for once, but she wasn’t taking any chances.

The next morning when she arrived in class, Gerald was absent.  Lewis was in his regular seat but he looked lost without his constant companion.  Just before the bell rang, Lewis stalked over to Molly.

“What did that photographer do to Gerald yesterday?” he demanded.

“Nothing,” said Molly. “He just took his picture.”

“Well, Gerald was in there longer than anyone else and he wasn’t the same when he came out. His eyes weren’t right and he was just different.  Last night he wanted to go hunting!”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” muttered Molly, somewhat surprised at her bravery.

“With his bare hands?”  Lewis slid over to his seat just as Mrs. Anderson entered the class.

“Molly, you can head down to the gym to help the photographer with one of the other grades today,” she said.

Over the next two days, as Molly stood beside the photographer, she heard whispers and mutters from some of the other classes about Gerald.  Everyone seemed to have a story about what had happened to him.  Some people had actually seen him and said he just stared right through them.  Reports of students’ pets going missing were also circulating throughout the school.  Some people were blaming the latter on Gerald and his strange behaviour.

“Nonsense,” scoffed the photographer when he overheard a couple of students discussing the latest rumours.  “Gerald is probably home with the ‘flu.  As for the animals going missing, it’s probably a coyote or raccoon, maybe even a cougar.  Now one of you come in for your picture.”

“Molly,” the photographer asked at the end of the next day, “Has Lewis been behaving?”

“No, he’s worse than ever.”

“Hmm.  Well, make sure he comes in for his picture tomorrow.  It’s my last day here.”

“I’m not sure he’ll come,” said Molly.  “He thinks you have something to do with why Gerald is acting strange.”

“Really?” the photographer asked in exasperation. “It’s not as if I’m stealing souls!”

Molly looked startled.  “Why did you say that?”

“Some cultures believe that taking one’s picture steals that person’s soul.  We know it’s not true, of course.  Nobody can steal a soul.”  He laughed softly.

“Oh, of course not,” Molly said unsurely. “That would be ridiculous.”

“Absolutely.  You don’t think I did anything to Gerald, do you, Molly?”

“Oh, no,” she was quick to reply. “I didn’t see you do anything and I was here all the time.”

“Good.  I’ll see you tomorrow then – and don’t forget to add Lewis to the list.”

When Molly got home, her parents were speaking to each other in the living room in the low voices that always seemed to be a preface to moving to a new town and school.  She had so hoped that this one would be the last.  In spite of Gerald and Lewis, she was enjoying her time here and had even made a friend, Andrea.

She overheard her name and the words “bullying” and “hurting”.  She heard her mother say that they needed to protect her.

Molly quietly opened the kitchen door and then let it shut firmly.  The conversation in the living room cut off abruptly and her parents came into the kitchen.

“How was your day?” asked her mother as she helped Molly off with her coat.

“It was good,” she answered.  “I’m still helping the photographer.”

“That’s nice, dear.”

“Why are you home so early, Daddy?”

Her father glanced at his wife.  “Oh, I just came home to discuss a few things with your mother and take my two favourite girls out for dinner.”

“We’re not moving again, are we?” Molly asked apprehensively.

“Maybe.  It’s not settled yet, Molly, but we may have to move.”

“I don’t want to move! I like it here.”  Molly crossed her arms defiantly.

“We’ll give it a few days and see what happens.  It may turn out that we can stay.”

“Oh, please, please,” begged Molly, running to her father to give him a hug.  Her parents exchanged looks over her head.

“We’ll see.  In the meantime, why don’t you run upstairs and wash up so we can go out for dinner?”

“Okay.”  She ran off cheerfully.

Her mother looked after her.  “It would be a shame if we had to move again, just when she’s getting settled and making friends.”

“If the bullying continues, we’ll have no choice.”


“I know,” sighed her mother as she left the room.

“You seem to be a little quiet today, Molly,” the photographer said the next day. “Are you tired of being my assistant already?”

“Oh, no.  It’s just that my parents are talking about moving again and I want to stay here.”

“Does your father get transferred often?”

“No, he works for himself so he can work anywhere.  It’s just that they don’t like it when I’m bullied so we move.”

“There must be a better solution than that,” said the photographer.  “Running away isn’t the answer.  You must stand up to the bullies and not let them get away with it.”

“Yes, but that’s really hard to do when you’re small like I am and there’s two of them.”

“Gerald seems to have changed his behaviour.  Maybe we can persuade Lewis to do the same.”

“I think that would be a great idea,” beamed Molly.  “Then we can stay here.”

“Let’s see what we can do, shall we?  Why don’t we get Lewis in next?”

“I’ll go and get him out of class.”  Molly almost bounced out the door, while the photographer adjusted his camera.

A few minutes later she was back with a reluctant Lewis in tow.

“Here he is.”

“Welcome, Lewis,” said the photographer. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

“I don’t wanna have my picture taken.  My parents won’t buy it anyway.” He struck a defiant pose.

“Nonsense, I’m sure your parents will love it, so please sit down and behave as if you are a properly brought up young man for once, not someone raised by wild animals.  Come to think of it, wild animals probably treat other animals much better than you have been treating your schoolmates.  Bullying is unacceptable and you need to stop before something terrible happens to you.”

“Yeah, what are you going to do about it?  The same thing you did to Gerald?” As he said those words, Lewis seemed to shrink a bit and his eyes darted to the door.

“I did nothing to Gerald and I wish you would stop spreading stories that I did.  I saw Gerald back at school today and he seemed fine.”

“That’s because you didn’t know him before.  He’s totally different – quiet and just walks from class to class by himself.”

“Sounds like an improvement to me, young man.  Maybe you should do the same.”  The photographer finished adjusting his lens and looked at Lewis.  “Please sit up straight and look straight at Molly.”

Molly stared back at the young man intently, with a slight smile on her face, the fingers of her right hand clasped around the smooth object in her pocket.  Lewis couldn’t tear his eyes away, not even when the flash went off.  The photographer dismissed him without looking up from his camera, but did look over at Molly as Lewis slowly left the gym.

“I hope that’s the end of his bullying tactics, Molly.  I think he just needed someone to point out how wrong his behaviour was.”

“I’m sure you’re right, sir.”  Molly said as she smiled slightly.  “I think he’s learned his lesson.”

“Thank you for being such a good assistant this week, Molly,” said the photographer.  “If I don’t see you again, I hope your life goes much more smoothly from now on.”

“It will, I can feel it,” said Molly.  “Thank you for giving me the chance to help.”

As she left the gym to head back to class, she saw Gerald and Lewis standing in the hallway.  She noticed that Lewis now had the same blank stare as Gerald and neither of them made a move towards her as she walked by.  She waved at them gaily and continued on her way.

Entering her room at home, she took the small bottle from her skirt pocket, swirled the black contents and placed it on the shelf next to a similar one.

“There,” she said with satisfaction, “no more bullying from either of you. You’re souls are safe with me.”

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