Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ted Stories: Patterns (Part 5 of 5)

© 2011 by Henry Melton

Bus 12 unloaded, and he quickly identified each student that unloaded, carrying bags and books. 
Oh, ho.  Hank Waer stepped down and looked around.  He hefted his load and walked toward the back of the athletic building where guys in letter jackets tended to collect in the early morning hours.
Hank Waer had been in Louise’s class for years.
He stepped over to the shelf of class annuals.  A quick check confirmed that she and Hank had been a couple just last year.  Louise was avoiding the bus, risking regular tardies, just to avoid Hank.  No wonder her brother was lacking in sympathy.  A break-up had happened.  When? And what caused it?
Martha and Sarah exited out of the Suburban and chatted, arm in arm.  Martha was even wearing a sweater Sarah had worn a few days ago.  The overnight must have gone well.  Still, Martha was wearing her bruise obscuring long sleeved clothes and eye makeup.  He would need to be right on top of any email addressed to Z.  Somehow, in spite of the new friendship, he doubted Martha had opened up about her problems.
In Ms. Calvin’s class, Martha showed signs of being on top of her class work.  Perhaps he could just put her project on the wait list for now.  If she could just get past the bruises and avoid getting new ones, expanding her social range would probably solve the depression problems.
In computer class, he narrowed down the Hank/Louise breakup to the past month.  That was when the tardies started.  There were no related reports, no public fights or anything like that.  A cross check against social events showed nothing suspicious.  A date gone bad?
There were times when he wished he were more connected to the school grapevine.  This is a situation where gossip would be invaluable.  Unfortunately, his public persona, the near-autistic little kid, was a poor match for that kind of thing.  Gossips wanted to look you in the eye, and gain social points for knowing something you didn’t.
That was a possibility.  What about an underground social network, just for the Hillside, where people could text their latest tidbits and earn social standing for being the most plugged-in person on campus?
I actually have two personas now.  Ted the wallflower, and Blue Note.
Perhaps Blue Note should make an appearance.  But that would require some preparation to set up an anonymous website.  In addition, gossip was frequently mean-spirited, and Blue Note only gave good advice.  That would have to be resolved.
Ted located Hank’s cell number.
He tracked him until Hank was alone on the bleachers, waiting for buddies.
Hank, whether it was your fault or not, you need to apologize.
He pulled out his phone and frowned.  He tapped on the keys.
Who are you?  And what are you talking about?
Ted was probing the waters.  He had to step carefully.
She’s pestering Jason, remember him, just so she doesn’t have to ride the bus with you.  You don’t want Jason on your case.
Hank looked around, but didn’t notice him.  Jason, Louise’s brother had a school record in the hammer throw.  He must have been strong, and around when Hank was younger.
It was an accident. I didn’t know she’d be upset.  And now she won’t talk to me.
I’m not saying you’ll ever get back together.  I’m not saying it’s your fault.  But YOU HAVE TO APOLOGIZE.  This is girl logic, here, and they gossip. Apologize and they all know you’re a stand-up guy.
Who are you?
Just a guy trying to get Jason’s little sister off his back.
A group of guys walked up the bleachers and called to Hank.  He waved back, but left them there as he stalked back into the school building.
Ted watched Martha get back into the red pickup when her father picked her up.  Was she moving with a quicker step?  Time would tell.
He had watched ten seconds of an intense conversation between Hank and Louise as he walked through the hallway.  At least they were talking.  That was progress.
But it was Friday, and he had a weekend to deal with.  It was enough to dampen the glow of seeing progress on his other projects.  He packed his bags and climbed into Bus 7, waiting for the other students to join him.  The door closed without Isis.  Perhaps she had a date with Bob.  He would have to find out on Monday.  The bus began to pull out of the parking lot.
His phone vibrated.  He fished it out and cupped his hand around the screen.
Are you there?  It was a text from Martha.
What is the problem?
My dad!  Police are after him.  He dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and police cars are chasing him.  I can still hear the sirens.
Ted’s mind raced through the possibilities.  Either an old alert about the stolen car, someone else’s 911, or else a new crime had alerted the police.  In any case, they would catch him.
But Martha was stranded and alone.
Where are you, exactly?
St. Johns and Highway 1245.
In four minutes, school bus 7 will come along the highway.  Walk into the lane and flag the driver.  David has a soft spot for stranded girls.  Call him by “Mr. Ellis”.  Your father’s car was stranded and you need a ride.  Sit with Ted Lambert.  He is a little flakey but safe.
But I need to call my Mom.
There was an alert showing up on his email system.  Edgar was arrested.
Right.  But that can wait until you are safe.  Exit with Ted and he will keep you safe until she can get free.  Once you are safe, you can call your mother.
I’m waiting for the bus.  What will I tell Mom?
Tell her your father put your safety ahead of his escape, and that he has been arrested and she needs to go be with him.
The bus began to slow.  From where he sat, he couldn’t see, but the driver pulled to a stop and opened the doors with a metallic squeak.  They spoke and many of the students strained to hear what she said.  David nodded and she stepped back to his row.
“You are Ted, aren’t you?  Can I sit here?”  He nodded and scooted over to make room for her.
He didn’t make eye contact, and had his cell phone hidden in his pocket with even the vibrate turned off.
She smiled a bare minimum.  Tears had caused her eye makeup to begin to run.  He was tempted to offer her a tissue, but it would have been out of character.  Everyone knew Ted was terrified of girls.
She pulled out her phone and typed.  He could read her screen, just barely.
What do I do now?
Ted pressed a key in his pocket to send the message he had already composed.
Stay with Ted.  He will exit in just a minute.  Call your mother when you get off the bus.  Your father was arrested.  No shots were fired.
When his exit showed up, he pulled the cord as usual and stood up.  She got off with him, attracting considerable attention.
The bus pulled away on its route.
Ted stood motionless, watching her. 
“Could I wait at your house until my mother comes for me?”
He nodded.
“Do you mind if I make a call?”
He shook his head.
She called the Freshmart number and asked for her mother.  There was a wait until she could get free to make it to the phone.
“Mom?”  She turned away from Ted.  “The police arrested Daddy.  No.  I’m safe at a school friend’s house.”  She told the story in a halting fashion, interrupted by her mother’s questions.  “Just go to the jail.  I’m okay for now.  Tell him I’m safe.  I’m sure he is worried.”
She put away her phone.  Her eyes were a mess.  He hesitated, then handed her his little pocket packet of tissues.
“Thank you.”
He took a couple of steps toward the gate, then turned to see if she was following.  She did and he led the way.  When they got to the pasture, he pointed at the rut in the dirt that his daily route had cut.  “Follow this.”
She nodded, puzzled.  After a couple of minutes of walking the convoluted, twisty pathway, she giggled.  “What is this?”
He just pointed ahead and kept on going.  As they went through the next gate and entered the front lawn, he led her to the porch and pointed back to the pasture where they had trod.
She looked,  “Oh!”  She saw the image that the pattern of trails made in the grass.  “Who is she?”
“Mother.”  He unlocked the front door and went inside. He set down his bags and waved her to a seat while he went into the kitchen and brought her a coke from the refrigerator.
After a couple of minutes, he pressed the send button on his hidden phone again and the message he’d keyed while in the kitchen appeared.
I assume you are safe at Ted’s house.  If you need anything else, send a message, but otherwise just wait for your mother’s call.
Martha looked at her phone and keyed, Yes, I’m safe.
She sipped and looked around.  “This is a nice place.”  She got up and walked to the mantelpiece, where there were a few pictures and an urn.  “I’m sorry about your mother.”  The inscription told the basics--the date was nearly the same date as Ted’s birthdate.  One of the pictures was the model for the pattern in the field.
She pointed.  “Could we sit on the porch?”
He nodded and they went back outside where the sun was slowly setting over the waving grasses.
Several hours later, after Sue Lister arrived to collect her daughter and thanked a puzzled Mr. Lambert for his assistance.  Ted’s phone flickered with a message:
Thank you for everything.
No problem.  I assume you are home safe?
Yes.  But, I was wondering.  I don’t know who you are, but you help people.  I met Mr. Lambert, Ted’s father, and he’s nearly as closed off as his boy.  It’s sad.  Do you think you could do something for that family?
Possibly.  I’ll look into it.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ted Stories: Patterns (Part 4 of 5)

© 2011 by Henry Melton

Taking the pre-dawn bus as usual, he was at his second story perch as the students began to arrive.  When the red pickup appeared, he took special note of the blue tote bag Martha was carrying in addition to her school books.  It was likely her clothes for an overnight.  
Now, he had to decide.  While Martha was out of harm’s way, he could feed an anonymous tip about seeing a stolen red pickup to the police. If he were going to act, this way would be best.  If Sue Lister was emotionally vulnerable, then having her husband arrested might be less damaging than being abandoned again.
In any case, he didn't know Edgar's daytime schedule.  Sue would be working today at the Freshmart.  What did he do during the daytime?
He would have to make sure Sue wasn't arrested, leaving Martha with no parent.
After starting at the horizon for a while, the class bell rang.  He would make the decision later.  This thread was a little more substantial than the others.  The potential side effects could be worse than the problem to be cured.  Any police arrest could turn violent.
Louise Watson was late to first period.  He saw her dashing down the hallway. 
By the time computer class rolled around, he still hadn't decided to pull the plug on Edgar.  He set up some alerts so that any mention on the internet of the red pickup's license tag, Edgar's name, Martha's home address or several other key items, would trigger an email that would vibrate his cell phone.  He would wait for more information or an explicit request for help from Martha.
Louise was an interesting case, and looked to be much less serious than Martha.  School records were incomplete.  Sometimes Ms. Fletcher flagged her tardiness, and sometimes she didn't.  But all the incidents fit a Tuesday/Thursday pattern.  It wasn't the school's pattern, that art class started the same time every day of the week.  It had to be Louise's ride.
On a hunch, he checked school records for 'Watson' and discovered her brother, Jason, who had graduated two years ago.  Soon enough, he had the reason.  Jason attended the local city college and had a French class that started thirty minutes later than the high school class.  He must have been drafted as Louise's transportation, and did not care to get to his class early so she wouldn't be late.
So how to solve the problem?  Force the brother to be more considerate?  He suspected Louise was already working that issue, either by an appeal to the brother or to her parents.  It wasn't working.
Make the brother want to be at school early?  Was there a suitable girl he could get interested in that shared his class?  Since he didn't have any way to observe the people, it would be unlikely he could find the threads to pull there.  He should stick to what he could affect, rather than speculate about things he couldn't reach at this time.
Alter Louise's patterns?  She could take a bus like he did, couldn't she?  He checked her home address and identified the bus.  Number 12.  He would check who got off of it tomorrow morning.  He listed her classmates -- people who she knew well.  If one of them took the same bus, that might give her incentive to ride it as well.  More research was needed.
Lunchtime observations showed Sarah and Martha chatting more comfortably. They actually talked and looked at each other.  Ted could understand Martha's remaining hesitation.  Bruises would still be visible from the last known incident, but she was used to hiding them.  She could probably manage.
He noted everyone Louise associated with.  He memorized that list, along with the larger list of her classmates.
One table consisted of three girls in intense conversation.  It was the two girls he'd overheard before and Isis.  She pulled out a blue note and passed it around.  A second note came out, and they began comparing handwriting.  It was good that he had used a stylized block printing method for those notes different from how he wrote his class papers.  Until this blew over, he'd have to avoid that style entirely.  The cell phone texting would be useful, but he'd probably have to investigate other ways to leave anonymous messages.  Perhaps more email aliases, like Z.  He should start building them now, rather than wait until he needed them.
He spent Economics class creating life histories for imaginary Kent, Saul, and Jasmine.  Kent and Jasmine dated.  Saul lived in London.  He'd have to do a little research on British English speech patterns for him.
As he watched Sarah and Martha head off with Sarah's mother, he was reasonably satisfied with his descision to chicken out and fail to call the police on Edgar Lister. He had the thread and could pull it at any time, but it was Martha's life.  She had his number if she needed the help.  Maybe new friends would be sufficient.
As he walked the pasture, his head filled with the details of the lives of his imaginary friends, he wondered what he would have to do when Ms. Calvin insisted that he join the standard culture of school grades and academic plans.  If she had spent the time to become a school teacher, she would not be open to a child his age choosing an alternative career path. He had seen the patterns of American life.  There was the public school life he was faking, private school versions of the same and home schooling which required more effort from a parent than his father could give.
Until his growth spurt hit and he appeared more like an adult, he was constrained to this life, or to gamble on a runaway’s life that appeared considerably more dangerous than gym class.
He let his hands pass through the tall grass that grew in this unoccupied pasture.  If he’d grown up in another time, maybe he would have found something appealing about the patterns of land and cattle and crops.  But that wasn’t his fate.  The world of computers and finance had lots of potential in a few years, when he could sign his name  to a contract without committing fraud.
Until then, Hillside High School was his playground, and the students there his to care for.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ted Stories: Patterns (Part 3 of 5)

© 2011 by Henry Melton

From his early morning lookout from the second-story window in the library, he watched a red pickup pull into the circle and drop Martha.  The driver's face was hard to make out, but he looked roughly the same hair and skin color as Martha.  It could be Edgar, but it wasn't a positive ID.
Isis was also dropped off by parents.  She was in another yellow outfit and Bob walked up to greet her before she was half-way to the steps.  They chatted animatedly as they dropped out of his view.
"Hello, Ted."
He didn't look back.  "Hello, Ms. Calvin."
"I had heard that you spent the morning before first period up here in the library.  It's pretty quiet this time of day."
"Yes."  He normally would have ignored her.  Silence put up many effective barriers, but with the Martha issue, he had to be careful to keep his options open.
"I just wanted you to know that I'm holding the advance placement tests in a couple of weeks.  It would be possible for someone with your abilities to get college credit without having to take the normal classes.  Even a freshman could jump ahead to more challenging material. Would you be interested in something like that?"
This was all old news.  He'd researched it all years ago. He turned to watch her face.
"Sometimes," he said, "other things take priority."
She nodded, puzzled and then frowned.  "Are you talking about your things, or someone else's?"
"Ignore me for a month."
She hesitated.  "If you're sure, I can do that."
He nodded.  Giving her a fixed time span gave her conscience a way out.  And in a month, he'd have to have a plan to deal with her.
She turned and left.  He looked back out the window.  There were still several people on his list he needed to see.
The phrase he dreaded flickered past in the hallway.  Two girls were whispering, heads together near their lockers.  " post notes..."  He kept walking, but emptied his pocket of string and poster putty before he reached the next class.  He knew he'd left a pattern others could detect, if they compared notes.  The blue note pad joined a collection of others on a teacher's desk.
It would have been useful to use the blue notes to converse with Martha, but he wasn't ready to be identified.  His little notes had affected the lives of half a dozen girls and a couple of guys.  It was bad enough that two of them were comparing stories.  If it got around, and he had to deal with more people watching for someone leaving notes at lockers, the side effects were unknowable.  Let the blue note mystery stay contained, and not connected to him.
Computer class was a minefield, where teachers expected students to get off the lesson plan and hack the system.  That's why the computers were all on a special firewalled network, where 99 percent of the Internet was off limits.  But he had made sure that the rules had exceptions.  The classroom computers had addresses ending in .2 through .63, all given out by a server.  Since teachers also had to use the network, they were assigned addresses ending in .64 through .127, with the firewall restricting the lower numbers but not the upper range.  One early morning, a few months back, he'd gotten on the librarian's computer and accessed the server that handed out the student computer's addresses and added an exception that allowed a computer to reassign its address to the higher range if it made multiple requests in short order. By clicking the Renew DHCP Lease button at a certain pace, the address would flip up into the unrestricted range.  This gave him full access to the Internet, but it also made the school administration computers visible.
His requests were quick and to the point.  Martha's requests to skip gym class were signed by her mother, but no one had followed up on the phone.  It was possible the names were forgeries.  The requests were for a week each, and had occurred three times, the most recent being yesterday.  Just time to heal, but not enough to cause raise too many flags.
There was also a parent/teacher conference note that listed Edgar and Sue Lister in attendance from five months ago.  It was Edgar.  While the abusive parent could be the mother, the statistics and the stolen red pickup pointed at Edgar.
Using the student chat system, he queued up a message for Martha:
Login to as ANNAJ with password HoneyBee9$ and leave honest reviews on the last three books you checked out at the school library.  I have to know what you think.
Using a Gmail account he had established months back, he left an email to Sarah Miller:
Hi Sarah,
It's me again.  I just had an idea.  Wouldn't it be great to look around you and discover someone dark, vulnerable, and in need of simple friendship.  You could invite them for a sleepover, and just give them an evening of safety and welcome openness.
Sarah was a nice person.  It was her defining personality trait--wanting to help people.  Z was a fictitious, like-minded person that she'd only met online.  As a result, since he couldn't reach out and be warm and fuzzy when his projects demanded that, Sarah had become his proxy.  He had to be careful that he didn't drain the goodness out of her, since there was always the risk that a hand of friendship would be slapped away.  Long term, he wanted to hook her up with someone like Bill Monty.  Good people should find each other.  Unfortunately, Bill was two grades older than she was, and he suspected that would be a problem.
He had a cell phone, supposedly for the sole purpose of calling his father if there was an emergency, but it had a limited web browser.  It was just enough to allow him to check for new reviews by AnnaJ.  Anna was also fictitious, the name deliberately chosen to avoid any accidental association with another student at school. He had checked the library records, and Martha had three books checked out recently. For privacy reasons, the titles weren't logged, but the dates were, and check-in dates of books were also recorded to keep track of which were popular and might need replacing. A couple of loose matches gave him titles.  A quick look at the shelves showed stories of girls in stressful home situations. 
It was a perfect opportunity for Martha to speak out, wearing AnnaJ's mask, if she took it.
Gym class was between sport seasons, and so Coach Gleason was random about his activities.  Organized days were better for Ted.  He could do exactly what was expected of a weakling freshman with no sports skills and get by.  Random games outdoors just get some fresh air were more dangerous.
"Hey Ted!"  It was Hank Waer, from the Junior class.  He was twice his size, and he knew it.  Ted ignored him.  Play autistic.  It worked more often than not.
"Come on.  Let's see you run."  
Coach was off on the other side of the field, talking to his more promising athletes.  Maybe he'd come to the rescue, but that wasn't the way to bet.  Hank and his buddies circled around Ted, now that he'd been cut out of the herd.  He avoided eye contact and stared at a spot on the ground about ten feet ahead of him. 
"Ted?  You hear me?"   They were in street clothes.  Coach hadn't thought anyone would likely get sweaty today.  Hank snagged his collar and lifted him off his feet.
"Hey, you don't weigh a thing do you?"  There were laughs from others in the class.  It was all good natured fun.  He grabbed him by the ankle and dangled him upside down.  "Nothing to say?"  He didn't.
"Psst.  Hank."  There was a warning that Coach was looking their way.  Hank lowered him enough so he could put out his hands and cushion the drop, but not before loose change and his cell phone fell out of his pockets. 
Crunch.  "Oops."  Hank had put his mass to use before walking away.  As Ted ignored him still, concentrating on picking up everything that had fallen out of his pockets.  The cell phone had a smashed screen and the buttons were misaligned.  It was useless. 
There was nothing to be done about it.  Fighting would be counterproductive.  He had no reputation to defend and passive prey were no fun.  Complaints to a Coach weren't likely to be well received either.  Tugging at a few invisible threads and making Hank suffer might feel good, but what was the point?  He had played his autistic card, and it worked with no permanent damage.
Unfortunately, the phone was dead, and getting computer access to check on Martha would be difficult.
There were no after effects of the Hank incident.  No one commented on it, nor tried to followup on it.  It was like it had never happened.  They were in different classes and had no interaction other than mixed grade gym classes like that one.
Lunch showed Martha and Sarah sitting together.  Sarah always talked with her hands gesturing wildly, which made it easier to decode the conversation from across the room.  Sarah was inviting her, and making her case about how much fun it would be.  Martha kept her eyes on her food and shrugged a lot.  She said little, but there was no outright rejection.  He would just have to see how it played out.  At least Sarah had made overtures of friendship, and that could be useful in the future.
In the hallway, he passed Bob and Isis chatting with his friends.  
"...she was just standing there like a golden trophy herself.  I'd be an idiot not to ..." 
So it had worked out like he'd planned.  The clock was ticking.  He'd given Isis her heart's desire, but what she did with him was going to be up to her.  He would monitor it from a distance.  People were too complex for him to make more than a few little adjustments.  Real changes came from within, as a result of trauma or self-realization.  Staging something like that was beyond his capabilities.  Which is why punishing people like Hank would be a futile exercise.
Ted walked off the school campus as soon as he could.  Home was an hour and a half walk, but he needed a new phone.
Across the highway from the Best Buy was a gas station and convenience store.  He walked in and looked around, checking out the people as well as the racks behind the cash register.  After a few minutes he walked up to a man who was standing on the curb, scratching off the numbers on his lottery ticket.
"Pardon me, sir.  But if you could buy one of those tickets, I'll share the winnings with you."  He held out a two dollars. He was clearly under age to make the purchase on his own.
He frowned down at the little kid, but he had little to lose.  "Get the bingo ticket and let me scratch off the numbers."
A minute later the man was back.  Ted stared at the numbers, just to make sure it was the same one he had examined a few moments before.  Using the frequency of the exposed numbers on the 'bingo' cards, he chose the concealed numbers to scratch off, and the card proved to be a $20 dollar winner.
"You're a lucky little guy."
"Not luck.  I can do it again."
"For real?"
He nodded.
They went in together and bought five more cards.  Ted looked them over.  "This one is trash.  But this one..."  He revealed it to be another $20 dollar winner.  As were two more.  With two duds and three winners, the man pocketed his  $30 cut and was ready to try another round.
"The clerk is looking at us funny.  Let's go across to the Shell station."  The man knew a hot streak when he was on it, and was happy to let the little kid call the shots, as long as they were still winning.
After his adult purchaser was trained to watch for Ted’s signal--choosing only winning tickets, letting other people get in line ahead of them when a dud was showing in the display, they quickly made more progress.  When Ted had enough, he took his share of the winnings and said, "Thank you.  I have to meet my dad now."
"We're done?"
Ted nodded. 
The man counted his gains.  "Come by any time.  We can do business again.  I'm here every day."
With the cash, Ted played on the Best Buy lady's sympathies, pleading that it was a present for his mother, and let her use her own driver's license number to fill in the form.  "Your mom will have to buy top-up cards on her own, you understand?"  He nodded.  The starter card he'd purchased ought to last him a couple of months of careful use.
Now, for the first time, he had an untraceable cell phone with a thousand texts available to use.  He hid it carefully in his backpack and started on the hike home.
Martha's book reviews, as AnnaJ, were revealing.  She was scathing in her review of the characters in the first book, kinder in her assessment of the second, and ridiculed the last.  Making the translation, it was plain that she was on the road to hating her father, but her mother was emotionally dependent on him and if he left her again, her mother would have a hard time recovering.  Probably the mother was unaware of the beatings.  Considering the way AnnaJ talked about one of the book characters, Martha's abuse was likely bruises only, and not sexual.
Well, then, it was up to Sarah.
When Ted's father walked in the door and saw the smashed phone by the door where he set his keys every day, he was lectured about how expensive phones were.  His defense that another student had stepped on it made little difference.
"I just can't afford a replacement right now.  Now go do your homework."
Sarah had emailed Z about her attempt to invite "this cute little goth girl who can't smile to save her life" to her house.  She was optimistic about her chances.
Z emailed back her encouragement. 
A little research while his father went out to the grocery store produced a cell phone number for Martha Lister.  Confirming his own cell number was suitably anonymous, he sent her a text:
M. Accept the overnight.  It will be good for you.
There was an immediate response.
Who are U?
He considered possible responses.  Finally settling for:
I'm here if you need help.
She didn't reply to that. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ted Stories: Patterns (Part 2 of 5)

© 2011 by Henry Melton

Ms. Calvin handed out a math study sheet and told everyone to work quietly.  Ted took his and waited until she had passed by before looking at the second sheet, stapled to his worksheet only.  It was the test page.  Up at the top was the computer printed 72 score, but it had a red line marked through it and a hand lettered 100.  Red ink covering his pattern.  In very fine lines, red ink marks had circled all the ovals where he'd erased his initial correct marks and left betraying buff marks on the paper.  She had also seen his pattern and outlined its major strokes showing the house and stream.
He showed no reaction, but it was a wake up call.  He wasn't as invisible as he'd thought.  The initial correct marks had been a mistake.  He should just have memorized and visualized the initial pattern, rather than rely on the marks as a crutch.  It shouldn't be difficult.  He'd memorized everyone's locker numbers, hadn't he?
But what should he do with the worksheet?  Whatever he wrote would be examined. Leaving it empty would be a sign of defiance and possibly lead to more attention. 
The real question was, was Ms. Calvin trustworthy?  She was likely watching him.  However, she had not written any personal questions on the test sheet.  It was a chess match.  His move.
He read down through the problems on the worksheet and then in tiny letters, wrote all the correct answers in the bottom margin.  He turned the worksheet over and closed his eyes.
In the darkness, he listened to the sounds of the school--the classmates scratching away at their worksheets, the air-conditioner whistling faintly though the grill that had accumulated dust and lint on its white painted louvers.  Footsteps in the hallway marked their owners by their pace and the texture of the steps.  Slow and massive was a male instructor.  Likely Coach Haskins, given this time of day and the corridor.  Fast and light, with the swish of a skirt had to be a late student.  He went through his mental checklist and guessed it was Louise Watson.  She was frequently late.  That was a puzzle to follow in a few days.
At the back of the room, he could identify Ms. Calvin's steady breathing.  Slight variations in the sound told him she was looking around at the class, not fixated on him.  That was good.
In fact, she appeared to be more concerned about someone to his left. Indeed, someone was breathing hard, showing signs of distress, sniffing and sighing.  He turned and looked.  It was Martha Lister. She was on his project list, part of the loner group, and had been displaying signs of depression for a month or so.  He raised her priority.
Ms. Calvin turned her eyes on him.  He didn't look away, glancing back at Martha before turning back to face forward.  Hopefully she would turn her instructor sympathies towards someone who needed them more than he did.
"Sign your worksheets and pass them towards the front of the class."  He marked his and added it to the stack moving up the row.  The bell rang and he made his escape.
Isis wore a bright yellow dress, and it suited her.  When he was ready, he'd like a pretty girlfriend.  That was no time soon, however.  For now, he was content to watch. Bob Denton, sitting with the other football players glanced her way a couple of times, which he hadn't before.
Today's person of interest was Martha.  If dark eye makeup could conceal facial bruises and long black sleeved dresses could hide other marks, wouldn't that be an ideal costume to wear if bruises were an unresolved problem?  It was only conjecture, however.  She'd been wearing dark clothing since the Christmas break.  It was notable at the time, but he couldn't recall her dressing that way before.  Had something changed in her home life at that time?
After ten minutes of careful observation, he was convinced.  She was favoring her right arm, and possibly a bruised rib.  She moved carefully, but the very care showed patterns.
Unfortunately, while she could report abuse herself, she had elected to hide it.
He pulled out a blue pad and lettered:
Your bruises have been noticed.  Teachers are concerned.  If you do not want help, discard this note in the trashcan to the left of your locker.
He marked it with M. and left it inside her locker.
Every available minute between classes, Martha lingered near her locker, watching people, checking to see if anyone looked into the trash can.  Ted, as first mover, had the advantage, watching the watcher from various vantage points.  She did not discard the note, not in that trash can. She had torn it to tiny bits and scattered them on the lawn.  She was terrified that her problem would be discovered, and yet was loathe to cut off an offer of help.
Isis did not take the 4:15 bus home.
He paused at the fence line, and ignored his path through the front pasture.  He went directly into the house and logged onto the computer under an established alias.  
Martha Lister's mother Sue was a checker at a Freshmart grocery store, with 8 years work history.  The store's HR records were well secured, but her union's computers were not.  He filed the data and started researching her house and medical records.  One list of data had leads to others.  Soon a pattern developed.
Martha's father Edgar had vanished from the record five years ago.  However, six months ago, the archived images her house on Google's mapping system showed a red pickup that was not listed in Sue Lister's financial records.  A lucky angle by the street view system gave him a license plate.  The number, from two states over, led to a stolen vehicle report, from six months ago.
A number of possibilities existed. Was the driver of the red pickup Edgar, or a new friend of Sue Lister?  What were the family dynamics that were in play?  Was the mother aware of Martha's abuse? 
Ted's father came home before he could complete his research.  He wiped the traces of his research from the computer.  His memory was good enough to retain the data.
He opened his school books to his fake homework assignments and started at the pages without reading.
An anonymous tip about the stolen vehicle could remove the driver from the household.  There were any number of ways that the abuse could be 'accidentally' discovered.  And there was no guarantee that other teachers hadn't picked up on the situation.  How had Martha avoided gym class disclosures of her bruises?  Had she been reporting sickness to get out of gym, and if so, was her mother complicit to give her excuses?  He needed to get more information, and he needed more information from Martha herself.
Making changes in her life 'for her own good' might just make things worse.  Sometimes a defective home life was better than none at all.  He had offered to help, not to make her life fit his patterns.  He had to watch that impulse.  It was too easy to pull strings.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ted Stories: Patterns (Part 1 of 5)

© 2011 by Henry Melton

This is a new YA short.  Not science fiction for a change.

Ted took the sheet and his number 2 pencil.  He flipped open the test questions and quickly went down the list, tapping the answer sheet with his pencil in the correct spots.  He'd fill them in later.  As usual, he finished the first stage quickly.  Setting aside the questions, he stared at the standardized test form.  Yes, he should go through the list and fill in the ovals where the dots representing the correct answers were marked.  But that was boring.
The pencil marks made a pattern, a bit random, but suggestive.  He rolled the pencil in his fingers.  If he filled in this set...and then moved that set a few millimeters that way... and added this one..and that one... and left the rest alone, then it was clearly a house beside a stream.  A bit minimalist, but enough for him.  Of course, that would drop his score down to a low C, but that was still enough to avoid trouble.  He smiled, added a little density by filling in some of the ovals darker than the others, and erased the stray marks, and he was done.
He wrote TED LAMBERT on the sheet and turned it in to Ms. Calvin.
Hillside High School was not the first item on his favorite places list, but it was better than home, and there were girls to watch.  Soon enough, he would like to progress to the level of actually talking to girls, but watching was interesting enough for now.  There were social rules to be observed, and he was only a freshman. He was content to spend his time trying to make sense of all the social patterns. 
"Hey Ted," Bill Monty walked past in the hallway and slapped him on the shoulder in passing.  He didn't wait for a response, because Ted never gave one, but it was a friendly enough gesture.  Most people gave him a few seconds to respond to their greetings, and when he didn't, they flagged him as slow, or autistic, and never tried again.  That was okay by him.  The hardest thing in the world was to hold a conversation with someone.  He was smart, but he wasn't glib tongued, and that's what it took to hold a conversation.
He had a few minutes for lunch, and since making decisions in the lunch line was too uncomfortable, he always brought his own.  A square of wooden flooring, just behind the flag at the side of the stage was his favorite spot.  He leaned against the wall and unwrapped his sandwich, while watching the other students. 
Different clusters of people gathered in predictable groups.  There were the football players, and there were the younger cheerleaders.  The older cheerleaders seemed to attach themselves to dominant males, and so migrate from one cluster to the next as status changes occurred.
Betty was always the center of an art focused group, and they were always working on some project.  Leanna was the anchor of a fashion oriented group.  Samuel was surrounded by a tight group of males, that were always turning to look at various girls.  From their expressions, the discussions were salacious.
Fully a third of the students were in flux, sitting with one group one day, and changing to another the next.  Fifteen percent appeared to be loners, sometimes watching the groups with envy.  Ted classed himself with them, although a 'group' of loners wasn't a reasonable description.
Isis Kelly had caught his attention.  He spent fifteen minutes watching her every move before pulling out his pad of blue colored sticky notes. 
With careful block letters he penned:
Bob's favorite color is yellow.  At 4:52 daily, he exits the boy's gym after seeing nothing but guys for two hours.  There is a comfortable place to stand there, next to the trophy display case.
Folding the note in half, trapping a short piece of string, he wrote ISIS on the outside.  He put his trash in the barrel and left the cafetorium and walked quickly to locker 742 and slipped the note into the grill on the door.  The other end of the string, bound into a small wad of poster putty, caught in the grill, just out of sight.  He was gone in two seconds.
Ms. Nelson, of Economics class had been the source of his greatest stress.  It appeared to be her personal goal to make everyone participate in her class discussions.  He had been given detention for causing disruption twice, although he had not intended to cause trouble.  In fact, his goal was to cause as few ripples among the faculty as possible.
"Mr. Lambert, do you think Angela is correct?"
Progress.  The only safe question to ask him was close ended, with a yes or no answer.  The only problem was to choose one which would elicit fewer follow-up questions.  Angela was obviously incorrect, art was a marketing expense, not a charitable one, but if Ms. Nelson asked why he disagreed, that could be difficult, and might lead to another detention.  The case could be made that a company could fund an art project as charity, but wasn't that public relations, which was  branding, which was marketing?  Unless the company had charity functions as part of its charter, but that might just be so that their stock could be sold at a premium to people who valued charity.  Of course, the whole argument was false if it was a privately held company, not answerable to stockholders.
It was obviously not the answer Ms. Nelson wanted, but the long delay before his answer served its purpose.  Eventually, she would either stop asking him questions, or else only give him very easy yes/no questions. 
She went on to ask another student their opinion, and if history was accurate, he would be safe for the rest of the day.
On the bus ride home, he sat three rows behind Isis, who had not attempted the 4:52 rendezvous since that their bus, number 7,  departed at 4:15.  Besides, she was wearing a brown and white outfit today.  But he did see her pull out the blue colored note and read it again.  She looked around the bus, but her eyes did not lock onto his.  To most of the students he was invisible.
He was the only one at his stop.  His house was on twenty acres, with nothing visible beyond the tree line.  His father would be home in a few hours, and he would be pretending to do homework by that time.  He went in through the front pasture, following an imaginary labyrinthian path.  He stared at the dirt underfoot, kicking at pebbles and scuffing the topsoil.  There was a pattern here, even if he was the only one who could see it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Introduction to Henry's Stories

Stories written by Henry Melton will appear in serialized form on these pages.  There will be short fiction and novels, old stories and new ones.  Think of it as my own private magazine.
For many years, I have been blogging on writing, publishing, travel, book and product reviews, etc. at Idle Thoughts, and that will continue, but this one will be for stories only, plus a very few notes like this one.  My intent is to showcase some novels, as well as to find a home for short fiction that keeps coming out of my keyboard when I get distracted.
Comments are welcome, both on the content and on how the site is presented.  Many of the works will be added to my list of e-book and paper book titles available for sale, so corrections are a necessary part of the process.  There is a link in the sidebar in case you want to purchase things I have published.
Once a story begins, I'll attempt to keep episodes coming on a regular basis, but there will likely be longer gaps between stories as I prepare material for this site.  
This is an exciting experiment for me, and I hope it will collect an audience large enough to make it worthwhile to continue.  Please share this location to others.
----  Henry