Today’s Story-a-Day May prompt was conflict. While I think I put some conflict in my stories, I never start with a conflict in mind. I start all my stories with an image in my head, and then I ask myself questions about that image until I find the conflict.
So, starting with a conflict didn’t really work. I couldn’t think of anything. Instead, I went back to some character from the work in progress and switched from the main character to a minor one. I thought of where she was and her life. I came up with the image in my head and then looked for a conflict. This was what I could do for today.
No one expected this inspection to be different from any other. No one except for Hopeful Jones, that is, and as her fellow classmates lined up for review, she considered who among them was most likely to get in her way.
Hopeful had thought about this many times already. Her timing had to be exact and her predictions couldn’t be far off. Of everyone in the corridor, Ponder she’d tagged most likely to stop her. Just last he week he declared his love. Real flowers were beyond his ability to find or afford, and so he’d drawn a page full of awkward crayon blooms. He’d used up the last of that term’s paper rations to do it too. How could she not have smiled at his declaration? And he could run a mile in seven minutes and once busted a teacher’s nose, though that was, everyone agreed, an accident. Hopeful gauged the distance from the door to where Ponder stood staring at the screen in his hand. She suppressed a laugh. How often had she scolded others for not paying attention, for missing the rare butterfly or strange color in the sky? Now they weren’t taking any notice of her and she couldn’t have been happier. It was strange to be happy.
Her breathing mask pinched her skin under her ear, but her gloves made the strap hard to adjust. She gave up. It didn’t matter anyway. She clicked off her communication device. She wouldn’t be able to hear anyone if they shouted.
Her stomach fluttered. At the far end of the row of students, the inspector was looking over Tru’s suit, checking for weak seams and worn tubing. The tubes needed the most maintenance. They dried and cracked. They worked their way loose. But as important as they were to replace, they were more important not waste. People risked their lives to use the tubes as long as possible. Students were lucky. For them, maintenance checks and replace parts were free.
The inspector seemed to be taking issue with the way Tru’s air tank was attached the suit. Hopeful smiled at Tru’s insistence on making the damn suit unique.
She’d miss that. The thought brought her mind back to her plan. She’d waited long enough and the inspector was as distracted as she could wish.
Hopeful took one sideways step closer to the front doors. Because the inspector wasn’t supposed to stay long, the front doors weren’t locked. They should’ve been, of course. But locks doors didn’t fall under this particular inspector’s purview, and the school staff hated dealing with the locking mechanism. Besides, when was the last time they’d needed the doors locked? Why would today be any different?
She took another step. And still no one noticed. Another. And another. One more step and she’d run. They’d notice her then, but it would be too late.
The inspector was moving on to the next student. Ponder had yet to look up from that screen.
Her breathing echoed in her suit. It was all she heard, and she knew better than to risk looking back.
Hopeful reached the doors. They opened as if they’d been waiting for her. Adrenalin hurtled through her. She ran across the courtyard, which seemed the stretch further than she’d measured. But she would reach her goal. She would be free.
Hopeful Jones had prepared for this very well. She’d watched the weather reports and matched them up with the school schedule. She consider each person who’d make an effort to stop her. Ponder, of course, and their teacher, Ms. Fairway. Other teachers might too, but she knew who was in shape and who wasn’t. She knew who cared and who didn’t. She hadn’t told a single friend of her plan, but she knew her friends through and through. They would think it all a joke until it was too late. And she’d been running with Ponder almost every evening for weeks. She’d worked her up to an excellent speed even with all the damnable gear.
But she had left out one thing. The suit with its head cover and mask worked brilliantly in every necessary way, but the mask gave its wearer a quite narrow view, and Hopeful was focused on the school gate. It hadn’t occurred to her that a classmate might not have been in the inspection line. Ms. Fairway had been clear. Everyone to the line. No exceptions.
Hopeful couldn’t stop when Miracle June crossed in front of her. They plowed into each other. They each staggered backwards. Miracle June steadied herself first and grabbed Hopeful’s arm.
Hopeful looked from Miracle June to the gate and back to Miracle June. “Let me go!” she screamed. But of course Miracle June couldn’t hear her. And whatever Miracle June was shouting, Hopeful couldn’t hear either.
Hopeful pointed and jerked back.
Miracle June held on with one hand, and with the other hand, she hit at Hopeful’s neck. Hopeful thought Miracle June meant to fight, but then her voice rang in her ears. Miracle June had clicked on the sound. “What in the name of the sun are you doing?”
Tears came. Hopeful jerked her arm again. She didn’t want tears! “I’m almost free! Let me go!”
“Go where?” Miracle June shouted back. “Where?”
Crying in the atmos suit was a misery. It was impossible to wipe away a tears. Hopeful cursed. “The field. I just want to go to the field. Where there’s grass. And you can feel the breeze.”
Ms. Fairway and the inspector appeared in the school doorway across the courtyard.
Miracle June stopped shouting. “But…how can you feel the breeze? You’d have to remove your mask for that.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Hopeful replied. Her energy drained from her. The teachers and the inspector were coming.
“But you’d die.”
“I’d feel a breeze.” She didn’t look at Miracle June again. She kept her eyes on the gate. “Haven’t you wondered what it would be like? To feel a real breeze?”
Miracle June didn’t reply though she let go of her classmate.
The adults reached them. The teachers gathered around and took hold of Hopeful Jones. They lead her back toward the school. The inspector stayed with Miracle. “What was the foolish girl doing?” the inspector asked. “Doesn’t she know how to behave for an inspection?”
The group of adults with Hopeful at its center disappeared into the building. Miracle June looked straight through the inspector’s own dingy mask into his expectant face. She wonder what color his eyes were. It was hard to tell.
“Well?” he asked. “Did she tell what she was doing?”
“Yes,” Miracle June replied. “She forgot something.”
He blinked. “She forgot something? What?”
“I don’t know. But it was something important.”
The inspector snorted. “You kids have no idea what’s important. Now get back to the line. I’ve got an inspection to finish.”
Miracle June nodded and followed him. The breeze picked up a piece of trash, a scrap from a food wrapper, and tumbled it across their path. Over and over it went, across the courtyard and out the gate. Only Miracle June saw it go.
Thanks for reading!