“The problem with you, Mr. Charles Dart,” Dr. Lich explained, narrowly glaring down between her leopard print old-woman spectacles, “Is simply lack of enthusiasm.”
“Please. Give me a week-just a week. I promise I can come up with a better article, doctor. Fires! Droughts! World domination! I can make it more exciting! Come on, maybe all a guy needs is a good ol’ glass of old-fashion hope. This paper is my life,” Charles pleaded. He sat in the office, shuffling his feet silently, his eyes stapled to the carpet with a vacant glare.
“Charles, I hope you do understand my reasoning when I say that this was your final shot at producing a decent piece for our company. I informed you that this was your one and only opportunity to prove that you still possessed the gift for words I thought you did back in 1992. Unfortunately, this article is nothing but letters and sentences. I’m going to have to let you go.”
“But maybe just one more-.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Dart,” Dr. Lich interrupted without looking up. With that, she handed the decrepit Dart his article and strutted out of the office, leaving Charles alone with his misery of failure. He watched as she disappeared through the doorway with her nose in the air, and listened to the *click, clack* of her heels slapping against the hallway floor. He grunted heavily and gathered his jacket from the seat.
“Another one down the drain,” Charles muttered, shoving through the glass doors of the Lancaster Journal building. He had become so familiar with it over the past 8 years. It’s old red brick walls and the smell of citrus cleaning spray. He had almost gotten used to the “mystery” liquid chili in the cafeteria and the breath-taking journey to the top of the hill in front of the driveway that he had collapsed on so many times.
But now it was all gone. Just like that! Time had changed since he was really a true success. Back when he was 50 pounds lighter and the sun seemed to dance from leaf to leaf. Back then everything was so immaculate and exciting. He had been young and ambitious and full of new inspiration with every corner he turned. Now he was nothing but a fat 40 year-old man who lived with his mom and existed off of 99 cent cheese doodles and Dr. Phil. Sometimes he did the miraculous and walked all the way over to the counter to get the remote but other than that, the only excitement in his life was his job. He had never thought he was going to end up as one of those people who ate out their feelings, suffocated their life in crazy TV shows so that they would feel better about themselves, and dreamed about the extravagant fantasy where they were more than just pudgy old men. He hadn’t felt alive in a really long time and now he was nothing but a hopeless loser.
He yanked the keys out of his rusty blue Mustang and got out of the car (only getting stuck in the door once). The night was cool and blissful, a sneaky wind occasionally sweeping the perfectly manicured lawns of the small town where Charles had lived all his life. He lagged across the Nelson’s yard and knocked on the front door of the cute little white house on the corner of Morning Lane.
The short, baby-cheeked version of Mrs. Clause answered the door.
“Charles,” Mrs. Dart greeted him, taking his jacket and hanging it beside the fireplace. “You’re home early, dear.” Charles flopped onto the couch.
“I don’t want to talk about it, Momma,” he muttered, ripping his mud-stained boots from his feet. Mrs. Dart, being the neat freak that she was, immediately took out her cheap perfume and spritzed it where Charles’ feet had been. (In the Dart house, if you dropped as little as a sock on the floor, you would be shunned.)
“Now of course, darling. You can’t tell Mommy about a bad day on an empty stomach now, can you?” Charles nodded with an innocent little-boy look on his face and sat down at the table. Mrs. Dart placed a glass of apple juice and a plate of turkey subs on the large mahogany table, taking a seat across from her son as he tackled loaf by loaf. The room was silent as he finished his last bit of turkey and leaned back, patting his pot belly with satisfaction.
“I’m a failure, Mama,” Charles’s moaned.
“Oh, dear, don’t say that. Today was just a rough day, that’s all,” Mrs. Dart assured him, patting his hand.
“No. It’s been a rough day for years. I got fired from my job, I have no friends, and I live with my mom,” he responded grumpily. Mrs. Dart scowled but shook her head.
“Charleston Elliot Dart, no son of mine is a failure at anything. Don’t fret about what others think. When the time comes, you will realize how remarkable you truly are, whether you live with your mother or not.”
“How will I know when that time is? What if it never comes?” Charles questioned doubtfully. He held his head down, his eyes displaying confusion.
“You will know when it does. And I have a feeling it’s very soon.” She winked at him and walked over to his chair.
“Now off to bed, liebling. Tomorrow is a new day.” Mrs. Dart kissed him gently, leaving a bright red lipstick mark on his forehead, and scampered up the stairs.
Charles sighed and went to his room. It was covered with old report cards, pictures, and paintings he had made when he was a little kid. The room was pink from when his parents had first thought he was going to be a girl. He didn’t mind much. Being Charles Dart was a difficult life but he would find a sanctuary sooner or later. Someday he would be vibrant and glistening like the stars out his window that rested in the blanket of the black fall night.
That morning, Charles woke up with a bad case of I-hate-my-life-itis. His stomach ached as if there were a million little kitchen flies swarming around in his belly. His eyes were framed with crust as he blinked them open, his pupils shrinking as they adjusted to the blaring sun of Saturday morning. He grunted enthusiastically and sat up, his face bright red with anticipation as if he was pulling a broad train on his back. Slowly, Charles swung his leg over the side of his lumpy racecar bed and stood up. He wished he could stay cuddled up all day but that didn’t appear to be an option for that had been his routine for most of his life.
Charleston sniffed. The seductive aroma of homemade pancakes intoxicated his nostrils with utter glee. He was drawn to the living room, almost floating across the polished wood floors like an angel.
“Good morning, Charles,” Mrs. Dart greeted him, laying a steaming plate of golden, crusty Betty Crockers down on the table. “Now sit down and have some breakfast. They’re fresh out of the oven. You know my pancakes can cure anything,” She boasted with a wink. Charles nodded and took a seat, his eyes not leaving the comfort of the breakfast dessert that seemed to call his name.
“No need to wait for me, dear. Just don’t eat too much at a time. Don’t want things to end up like last time, do we?” She muttered, skipping back off into the kitchen in her light blue apron.
Charles stabbed a pancake with his fork and drove it into his mouth with delight. He chewed loudly and wiped off his syrup mustache with a napkin. A few (well maybe more than a few) pancakes later, Charles quickly gulped down some fresh-squeezed orange juice and got up.
Large meals tended to eliminate the depressing emotions.
“I’m going out for a walk, okay?” He called, slipping on his old hiking sneakers.
“Don’t forget to bundle up, love. And bring an umbrella-my husband said that there’s an 80% chance of heavy rain this afternoon.” Charles rolled his eyes. Lately his mother had been going a little insane. She seemed to think that she was married to the middle-age, gel-suffocated-haired weatherman on the news channel.
“Be home in time for supper, Charleston!” She shouted as he walked through the door.
The day was rather foggy, a warm, wet mist layering the town. It felt like a rainforest. The streets were cold from a midnight shower as Charles slowly hopped along the sidewalk. It was a lonely morning. No overwhelming traffic or teenagers riding around on their red bicycles. Charles enjoyed being alone. It gave him time to deeply think.
He continued walking along the pavement, humming old show tunes as he passed each identical house. Maybe being a low-life wasn’t the complete end of the world. He could be lazy and jobless and still have fun, right? Well, maybe. If you considered fun playing SpongeBob games online or counting the hairs on your head. Of course, that wouldn’t work since Charles’ hair had disappeared with the record player way back when.
Maybe he was just too good for everyone else. He had been very intimidating back in high school. Your typical bad-boy, riding around on school grounds on his shiny motorcycle, different girls hugging his masculine chest every week.
The world must change quickly. How could anyone expect him to turn his life around when it had already been driven into the ground? It seemed impossible to be a success like everyone else had turned out to be. Why couldn’t anyone understand? Writing used to be his passion-his enlightenment. Now that had been taken from him too.
The parade of trees seemed so sinister as they swayed in the contumacious wind, their orange and red colors floating down to the ground as he turned the corner. Oh no. There it was. A mountainous, uber-terrifying, brown bear. Charles darted behind the car on the curb. He panted, his heart thundering in his chest, his breath coming out in sharp shakes. He wheezed, blinking back tears of fright. He stood very still, daring to lean and peek at the monster that could easily strangle the life out of him.
It growled- its fur shaking as the air seemed to rumble with the ringing of the deep, bloodcurdling sound. Charles had never seen such a sight. It was on all fours, pawing at the trashcan, searching for a meal. Charles had the instinct to run away as fast as he possibly could but something about this event seemed so exhilarating that he couldn’t drag his eyes from the creature. It felt like he was in the presence of a powerful sorcerer, like in all the movies he wasted time watching, when their magic abilities were so empowering, that the victims froze before them.
The bear had long, sharp claws. They seemed to have a life of their own as they drove through the bottom of the trashcan. Charles continued watching in amazement when he felt it. His nose began to tingle with a sharp sensation. He lifted his head back, trying to suck up his sneeze but it was too late. His nose erupted like a shotgun. Uh-oh. This was bad-really bad. Charles darted behind the trashcan waiting for the bear to pounce on him. He hesitated for a few seconds without action and finally turned his head. He almost screamed. There it was, glaring at him with large, feeble brown eyes, striking him with a steaming fiery terror. The staring contest did not come to an end.
Charles skidded around and raced down the block, looking back as he ran, not daring to trip. The bear seemed to gallop down the street, it’s legs shuffling with speed, it’s eyes ambiguous and determined. Charles ran faster than he ever had before in his life, the world around him blurring as he turned the corner and rammed through the wall of foliage into someone’s private yard.
He stalked back and forth, his heart continuing to jump. He would not go back out there. There was no chance. The minute he stepped outside the comfort of the yard, the bear would most likely catch his scent with it’s super-sonic nose or track him down with it’s sonar navigation powers or whatever.
Wait a minute. There were people out there, wandering around. They didn’t know that there was a vicious bear ready to attack. He had to save them and quick. But what could Charles do? He was weak and a loser. Charles couldn’t even face the bear like a man. But there could be innocent citizens. He just couldn’t let them go without a fight. Besides, what did he have to lose?
With hope in his eyes, Charles pulled up his trousers, and rummaged through the bushes. He looked left and then right. No sign of the animal.
All he needed to do was manage to get back to his house without letting the bear kill him so he could call the police and save the day. But it was like playing hide-and-seek in the Cimmerian. If he couldn’t see his predator, how could he avoid it?
He speedily tiptoed across the street, feeling like James Bond, as he ducked behind a trash can. The stars were now dancing and he was getting hungry. Charles was about to sprint again when he saw movement in a driveway across the lane. It was much smaller than a bear-a girl in fact, with long light brown hair and sad eyes.
Wait a minute. He knew this girl. Her name was Mary Jones and she lived a few blocks down from him. Even though Mary was deaf, she was one of the most popular kids in town. She was always playing hopscotch on the sidewalk with her little brother or buying cherry lollipops from the candy store. Charles didn’t really know Mary or why she was outside without an adult but he wasn’t about to allow her to get mauled by the 200 pound bear.
Mary’s eyes rested on him. She was pretty and seemed mature for her age. After several minutes of charades, Charles was able to instruct the girl to go inside. Why wasn’t she moving?
Then he saw it. The bear was coming toward her very slow. She kept still, not making the mistake Charles had made to frighten it by dashing. She looked helpless but did not cry. Charles had to do something. The bear was coming at her and there was no way he was going to let her die. This is when quick thinking came in handy.
Charles took off his yellow rain boot and launched it across the street. It clanked, causing the bear to turn in that direction. Before it could get a chance to understand his sly move, Charles raced across the lane and grabbed the little girl.
The bear was not stupid. It lunged at them. Charles picked up the deaf child and she held onto his neck. He scurried away, twisting and turning at different streets, trying to shake the bear from his tracks. Finally, he reached Mockingbird Lane. The girl still clinging to his neck, Charles banged on the door repeatedly until it cracked open.
“Charles?” Mrs. Dart blurted, confused. She looked down at the girl and frowned.
“No time, Mama. Quick, lock the door and call the police.”
After the police had chased down the bear and put it to sleep, Mary and Charles had cuddled up on the couch with the comfort of Mrs. Dart’s famous hot cocoa and managed to fall asleep without hair-raising nightmares. Now it was time for the Jones family to take their daughter home after a long worried night.
Mary and Charles watched the birds scatter in silence until her parents arrived. Mary immediately rain into their arms and they kissed her cheek, tears cascading down Mrs. Jones’ face. After a few minutes of rejoice, Mr. and Mrs. Jones gazed up at Charles.
“Sir, what you accomplished two nights ago was very courageous. Our daughter could’ve been gone if it wasn’t for you,” Mr. Jones replied sincerely, shaking Charles’ hand.
“Yes, Mr. Dart, you truly are a hero of this town. You are welcome to come by and see Mary whenever you’d like. She seems to have quite a love for you,” Mrs. Jones added.
“I’m glad I could help,” Charles grinned. He watched as his new-found friend disappeared down the road. Then he turned around and walked through the doorway of 573 Mockingbird Lane.
“Maybe being Charles Dart isn’t such a bad thing,” he thought to himself, grabbing a slice of toast, “Maybe it’s not a bad thing at all.” He smiled to himself.
Age 12, Grade 7
The Clinton School for Writers and Artists