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Fiction

THE RECRUIT " This is the second time that you have been sent to the Correction Facility , " the lnstructor 's voice was cold. " Why is it so difficult for you to learn the basics?" Of course, l had no answer. None of the students had any answer. I stole a glance at Veronica. She was looking down, her gaze fixed on the ground below her feet. She and l were the only 'repeaters'. The lnstructor handed out the time - table. " Classes begin at dusk, " he said. "Theory and Practical. " He gave me a withering glance. " And don't be late ! Oh excuse me! You already are late ! " He laughed uproariously at his own joke. Nobody said anything, we were used to his PJs. Morosely, Veronica and l wandered to my apartment. That it was at the very edge of the facility and that the boundary wall was broken didn't help. A huge vacant ground lay adjoining the road that ran alongside the boundary wall. This area had been taken over by the rowdy boys of the area. They played all kinds of games and the only thing common in all their games was the screaming and shouting. Sometimes they jumped over the wall and continued their games in our facility. With no one to stop them, they had a field day . I could hardly hear myself think ! Veronica gazed despondently at me. " What are we going to do, Steve ?" All of seventeen , about my age, she always deferred to me . She always asked my opinion and advice on everything. Both of us had moved in recently. I had moved in three months before her. We were still getting used to the place. Mr. Phillips glided up to us. He was one of the oldest residents . ' Fifty years! " he used to say proudly. He lived in one of the biggest plots in the middle of the facility. " Now don't worry, " he said kindly. " You'll soon get used to your new status and duties. " " I'm not able to concentrate, " said Veronica tearfully. " I miss my family. " " Well, they do come and see you, don't they ? And look at the beautiful flowers they bring. " It was okay for Mr. Phillips to speak. Most of his relatives were here anyway. He glided away. I turned to Veronica. Together we went through the Instructions for Beginners. 1. Remember who you are - new status. 2. Remember your duty - show them who the boss is. 3. They should actually fear coming to the facility. 4. Begin with once a week success and move to once a day success. 5. VERY IMPORTANT : Stop feeling sorry for yourself or for anyone else. Pretty simple to read but awfully difficult to carry out. At dusk we all assembled in the tiny garden in front of Mr. Phillips apartment . The instructor, Mr. Gustavus Gordon (everyone called him Ghastly Gordon ) began , " Good evening, everyone . Or should l say EVERYBODY - if you excuse the pun ! " Again he laughed uproariously. This time everyone joined in. Everyone except Veronica and I. " Remember your status." Predictably he turned to me. "Tell the others how you came to live here. No dramatics , please. " " Well, l was riding my bike and l was singing along with the music in my earphones... ." I began. " I thought l said no dramatics." " Okay. So here l was speeding along when a truck hit me from the back and flung me on the road. " " You weren't wearing a helmet, were you ? " asked Billy who had joined us last week. " How could l wear headphones AND a helmet ?" I wryly commented. Everyone laughed. " As l saying l was flung violently on the road. There was a searing pain , a blinding flash of light and then nothing. " I explained how the police, the ambulance, the medics , had done a fine job; how my family, especially my Mom had wept hysterically. Finally l was 'laid to rest ' in the vacant plot at the edge of the facility near the boundary wall. All the new residents explained how they had come to live here. No one used the word ' interred ' - too high brow ; or ' buried ' - too pedestrian. We preferred 'came to live here. ' Not strictly grammatically correct as none of us were actually alive . But a laudable euphemism. Ghastly Gordon had taken it upon himself to teach us how to scare people - some of us especially Victoria and l were reluctant learners. Now we were being instructed yet again. Mona Darling was the Guest of Honour and was being facilitated as she had scared a middle- aged woman witless. One moment the woman had been taking a shortcut through our facility ( we never referred to it as our cemetery - too depessing) , humming to herself and the next moment she was shrieking ' like an express train going through a tunnel' - Mona's words, not mine . Mona Darling was explaining her feat "........so when l smiled, she smiled back. Then l began to disappear a little at a time - first my hands and feet, then most of my body , then a part of my face , until only my smile was left...." The crowd went ballistic - they laughed and cheered and clapped. " But that was Wilma of the Whatever You Want Store , " I said . "She always used to give us peppermint and chewing- gum. " " You again ! " said Ghastly Gordon angrily. "You have to stop feeling sorry for people. " I shrank into the corner of a white apartment ( actually a grave - we called all the Graves, apartments ) , too mortified to face anyone. Ghastly Gordon went on and on. My mind began to wander. I hardly paid attention to what he was saying. Then another Star Performer began to speak. It was David Doornail ( as in dead as a door nail ! ) " Last night , " he said, "When that crusty old curmudgeon , Col. Cruthers was passing by ......" and he went on and There were two other speakers. After every speaker , Ghastly Gordon looked pointedly at me. Then he began speaking again. He emphasized stealth , secrecy, the element of surprise. " They must not suspect a thing. They must be lulled into a false sense of security. " The same old rhetoric. " Practical 1 today , " he concluded finally with a ghoulish smirk. My assignment was to scare the first person who walked on the road that ran along the boundary wall , after sunset. I lay in wait. I was tense as usual. I sat on the broken wall balancing myself like a cat. Then l heard a whistling. It was Rowdy Ralston , the football player and the campus bully. I gave a growl. Only it came out as a squeal. Without looking up he flung a stone in my direction. " Bloody cat ! I hate cats ! " and resumed whistling as he continued walking. My score 00/100. *** The next evening, l lay in wait again. Around 7.00 pm, l heard footsteps. It was Gladys - the dimpled five- year- old and her Mom. The moppet used to rush to me whenever she saw me , shrieking with delight , her golden curls awry. " Steve ! Steve ! " and lift her arms to be picked up. Now how could l scare them ? My score 00/100. *** Day 3. I sat there morosely. Clearly l was not cut out to be a ghost. I had got a real yelling. " Who do you think you are ? Casper the Friendly Ghost ?" He had yelled at Veronica too. " Who do you think you are ? Wendy the Good Little Witch ?" So why do l have to scare people? Why can't l live laid back life ( if you excuse the pun ) ? I thought to myself. Of course there were benefits. If l passed Level 1 , l would get to leave the boundary of the facility upto a five kilometer radius. Level 2 meant a ten kilometer radius and Level 3 ( it was the top grade - like Black Belt) would mean l could go anywhere l liked. Just then, l heard a conversation. Voices l recognized. Who should be coming down the road but Rowdy Ralston with Monika on his arm. Monika ! I had always wanted to date Monika . She was not only a cheer - leader but also the undisputed Queen of our campus. Of course she had preferred Ralston to me. He was in the football team ; had a faster , sleeker motorcycle - a Harley Davidson , no less , and more importantly his dad was stinking rich. I heard her dulcet tone and Ralston 's responses. I could imagine her fluttering her eyelashes and l could imagine too his self - satisfied look, like a cat who had got all the cream . Suddenly, l was filled with rage - unlike anything l had known before. It was like a fire raging inside me, burning me up - only there was nothing to burn . Why was life so unfair ? I gave a howl of rage and frustration. To my utter astonishment, they stopped dead in their tracks. " D..Did you hear that ? " Monika asked fearfully. Both looked up. They saw a cloudy representation of a human form - me ! " Oh my God ! " this was Ralston. Not so cocky any longer. Then they were running helter - skelter ! Absolutely terrified ! By the time l recovered, they had disappeared. One of Monika 's heels lay abandoned on the road ! Then it struck me ! I had actually scared someone!! But this truly sank in when Ghastly Gordon and the others clapped and cheered. Good Heavens! I had got an audience! I didn't know what to say - but l needn't have worried. I didn't have to say anything. Ghastly Gordon and the others couldn't stop congratulating me . I had cleared Grade 1 with flying colours ! *** Guess who the Guest of Honour is tomorrow? That's right, it's me ! And while l prepare my speech for tomorrow, my mind goes into overdrive planning my extra classes for Veronica and my POA ( Plan Of Action) for Grade 2. ******************

March 03, 2022 08:33

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10 comments

John Passadino
15:11 Aug 24, 2022

Hi Rabab, I am always intrigued, as are many, with the behind-the-scenes life of someone in the afterlife. This story can be turned into a TV series. Keep writing chapters. Regards, John

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Rabab Zaidi
02:41 Aug 25, 2022

Thank you so much , John . l am so very happy that you liked my story. That is such delightful encouragement.

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Yves. ♙
21:35 Aug 07, 2022

What an interesting interpretation of the prompt, particularly given that you went academic with it. I'll second the other commenters in wishing it had just a bit more paragraph spacing! Keep on writing.

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Rabab Zaidi
02:38 Aug 25, 2022

Thank you so much , Yves .l am so happy and honored that you took time out to read this story. I'll keep your suggestions in mind .

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Ava Raim
05:27 May 31, 2022

Hi Rabab! Your story has so much promise and I really enjoyed the concept and how you interpreted the prompt. If you could add some spacing and edit for grammar, it would be much easier to read :)

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Rabab Zaidi
04:24 Jun 01, 2022

Thank you , Ava. Your comments mean a lot to me. I'll try to keep your suggestions in mind .

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19:30 May 16, 2022

Hi Rabab, I promised you a critique so I am back to do that now. Please let me start by saying that I only aim to offer constructive comments. I personally find it most helpful when people let me know how I might improve my writing and offer suggestions to that effect. So that is what I will try to do here. If you disagree with me feel free to ignore my notes. Firstly, the thing that really stands out about this piece as a potential place you could improve is the formatting. You don't separate out paragraphs or dialogue and that makes it...

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Rabab Zaidi
16:25 May 21, 2022

Thank you so much. I'll keep this in mind. How considerate of you to give me so much of your time!

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08:16 May 15, 2022

Hi, this is an interesting concept. If you would like me to leave a full critique please let me know by replying to this comment.

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Rabab Zaidi
00:47 May 16, 2022

Thank you for responding. Yes, l would like a full critique, please.

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