ARTIST STATEMENT

Last year, I self-published my first novel, “The Divine Beauty,” and ever since, my fellow ISU students have come up to me with the same question: When do you have time to write? It is usually accompanied by a look of astonishment, because every college student knows how hectic these four years can be.

My answer is simple: You always have time to do what you love.

For me, writing stories is just as enjoyable as a night on the town with friends. I have found that the stresses of college life simply melt away when I sit at my desk and compose an exciting story. Why? No other activity gives me the freedom that writing does. In one sentence, I can change the past, the present, or the future. I can mold characters and events from my imagination and give them meaning. I can convey messages to those who read my work and give them a good time in the process, which makes it all worthwhile.

“The Hole in the Drill” is the tale of Devin Mills, a foolish but well-intentioned high school freshman that comes to the first day of marching band camp woefully unprepared. As he attempts to survive the punishing heat, fit in with his peers, and grow as a musician, he unexpectedly stumbles across the blurred line between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Not everything is what it first seems, so I implore you to pay careful attention, dear readers. But even more importantly, have fun!

A Hole in the Drill

Evan Stalter

 

snap two, three, four, HALT two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, STEP! NO, NOT AGAIN!

 

Devin Mills was a freshman in every sense of the word. He had come to the first day of the Orwell High School Marching Angels band camp pasty white, equipped with no sunscreen, one bottle of lukewarm water, a hand-me-down trombone with the surface of an asteroid, and a black school shirt that screamed the fight song on the front in blinding yellow block letters (MIGHTY ORWELL, LET'S WIN THIS WAR! GO YOU ANGELS, FIGHT HARD AND SOAR!).

 

“You just fall out of a turnip truck?” sneered the senior section leader of the trombones, Nathan Urban, upon Devin’s arrival. “It’s August, newbie!”

 

Devin had reddened instantly, and not just because of the stifling heat. Every musician he could see—from the cutest of the flutes to the geekiest of the trumpets—was gawking at him as if he were from Mars. All, it appeared, had read Mr. Talcott’s requirements (come to camp tanned, and bring plenty of water!) except him. While he had spent the summer indoors exercising his thumbs with the Xbox, the rest of the OHS band seemed to have camped on a toasty French beach for three months.

 

But ignorant as he may have been, Devin Mills wasn’t lacking in the entitlement department. He took offense at Urban’s comment, because although he had come to camp exemplifying the embarrassing stereotype of the high school freshman, the trombone section leader looked like an outright dweeb. He was tall, blonde, and lanky, clothed in a white shirt with the words PARK AND BONE spread over a rather lame picture of a car with a trombone pressed up against its grill.

 

At least his pockets were protected, though.

 

So, Devin unctuously replied, “Yes. In fact, turnips are what I’m having for lunch, if you don’t mind. Maybe I can share them with the section.”

 

Nathan’s face narrowed. “Funny,” he said in his nasal, ingratiating voice. “But trust me, Devin Mills, you won’t be laughing when we’re marching drill in the heat this afternoon, so I’d advise you to cut the comedy for now.”

 

The section leader slapped the freshman on the shoulder and went over to where the other four senior trombones were milling about, waiting for Mr. Talcott to commence camp. Devin looked at them, hoping they would welcome him over, but he only saw Nathan say something that prompted an exclusive smatter of laughter and a few taunting glances.

 

No greeting. Just jeers at the only freshman trombone player, who had failed to even gain acceptance in a group clothed in shirts that carried the weakest sexual joke he’d ever heard. He looked at his lone water bottle and his rattletrap trombone, and as he did so, he felt the first bead of sweat cascade down his face.

 

He sighed heavily. Why did I sign up for this?

 

As if on cue, someone clapped him on the back, and hard. Devin whirled around, nearly losing his grip on the water bottle that would provide his only hydration for the hot day. A young man with red hair and a very kind face was before him, and even though he looked in a hurry, it appeared as though what he was about to say was worth halting for a moment.

 

“Hey, chin up!” the red-haired youth said in a terrifically soothing voice. “Don’t let your mistakes get you down, and don’t ever listen to those who try to ruin the fun of band. They will always fail. Today’s going to be tough, but in the end, we’ll see who’s sighing and who’s having fun.”

 

And before Devin could give his enthusiastic response, the encourager winked and stealthily slipped away, disappearing into a crowd of talkative saxophones. He had never experienced anything quite like what had just happened, and wished the moment had lasted longer so he could pinpoint exactly what he was feeling. Wonder? Satisfaction? Devin didn’t exactly know, but what he did know was that for some inexplicable reason, he believed every word with all of his fourteen- year-old being.

 

The day was tough.

 

After Mr. Talcott, a short, passionate man in his early sixties, had given his introductory speech, all wind players went out to learn marching fundamentals in the roasting sun. Devin had never taken a marching step before in his life, and so he drew constant criticism from Nathan Urban for his poor form and erratic feet.

 

“Get that steady beat in your head, Mills,” said Urban condescendingly during a break, “or else learning drill this afternoon is going to be a nightmare for you.”

 

“Okay,” responded Devin timidly. His wit had left him by late morning. He was drenched in sweat, his mouth was as dry as a desert, and his stomach was screaming for nourishment. One would have thought by looking at him that it was likely he would faint before the end of the day, but the inspiring earlier words from the upbeat young man had strengthened Devin. He still believed that if he managed to get through the day, neither the snide upperclassmen nor the searing heat would get to him.

 

Many hours later, with the water bottle he had refilled at lunch almost out and the sun more ruthless than ever, doubt was beginning to creep into the freshman’s mind like a cancer.

 

The band had learned about ten pages of drill to the show, which consisted of arrangements of works by Igor Stravinsky. Devin, who was still having trouble rolling his feet to a solid beat, was struggling mightily. Mercifully, Mr. Talcott worked at a calm, methodical pace, increasing everyone’s ability to remember his or her specific path in the excessive heat.

 

By the time the perspiring young musicians began to run through all they had learned that day, Devin found his concentration fading dangerously. His battered trombone began to dip as a dull, persistent ache swelled in his skinny upper arms. His mind wandered back to his bedroom, where his Xbox was waiting for him in the luxurious air-conditioning. And his feet worsened, causing mistake after mistake on one particularly precarious move of the opening movement...

 

Snap two, three, four, HALT two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, STEP! NO, NOT AGAIN!

 

He had stepped off four counts too early. Again.

 

“Cut, cut, cut!” Even Mr. Talcott’s temper was starting to show, for he and another unknown man—tall, bald, and in a black polo—had been roasting up in the small press box all afternoon. After the band stopped, Talcott sighed and rolled his eyes, frustrated. The unknown man, who Devin presumed was Talcott’s assistant, jotted a note on his clipboard and shot the freshman trombone player a scrutinizing look.

 

“For God’s sake, Devin!” exclaimed Nathan Urban, who was panting far to Devin’s left. “This was the third time!”

 

Mr. Talcott, painfully patient, merely motioned to Urban as over one hundred peeved eyes glared Devin down. “He just said it,” he said into the microphone. “Listen to Nathan, Devin. I’m not coaching you anymore. Remember, everyone: we rep every ten sets until they’re perfect, and THEN we move on. Reset.”

And so the OHS band begrudgingly returned to their initial formation on the practice field because of

Devin’s mistake. Devin himself plodded back, aching head down, feeling powerless and doubtful.

 

“Hurry back, Devin, let’s go!” came Urban’s nasal call from the center of the field. Devin trotted like a wounded horse to his spot, four yards away from Urban and two yards away from another trombone player, Nick. He had been too tired to notice the discrepancy that afternoon, and might have missed it completely had Mr. Talcott not spoken next.

 

“Goes for you, too, Ronnie!” the band director called, as his bald assistant continued to stare at Devin.

 

“Are you confident in where you’re going?”

 

Total silence. Devin felt his headache intensify as sweat dribbled down his burnt nose.

 

“Good!” came Talcott’s voice again. “That’s what I like to hear! Horns up!”

 

The band’s various horns all came up in a militaristic motion, and Devin’s almost did the same, but he caught himself halfway. Did Mr. Talcott just ask a question of and respond to no one?

 

“We’ll wait until everyone’s horns are up,” Talcott said evenly.

 

“Devin, get the damn horn up to your face!” hissed Urban, from four yards to Devin’s left. Two yards to his right, Nick stood still as a statue. “You, too, Ronnie! Quit fooling around!

 

Devin looked at Urban with blank shock. “Who’s Ronnie?”

 

What?

 

“Are we having more problems in the trombone section?”

 

“Shit,” murmured Urban before calling out, “No, sir, we’re all good! You can start whenever you’re ready!”

 

“Are you sure, Nathan?” Mr. Talcott’s face seemed to be twitching with restrained fury, while his assistant kept staring and taking notes. Despite the heat, Devin felt a shiver creep up his back. “It seems to me as if

Devin and Ronnie are wanting to hold us all up.”

 

A collective groan rose from the band, and Devin had never felt more confused and uncomfortable in his life. Both Mr. Talcott and Nathan Urban were addressing a person named Ronnie that was not on the field. And they disturbingly seemed to be indicating the hole in the drill to Devin’s left. Even more disturbingly, the entire band seemed to pay no notice to this error, as if it wasn’t really an error at all...

 

“Fix it, Nathan.”

 

“Sure thing!” shouted Urban before lowering his horn and shooting Devin a vicious look. “Get that horn up or I will get it up for you!

 

Devin was about to when the section leader turned his intimidating gaze to nobody. “Don’t give me that look, Ronnie! You’re holding up the whole band!”

 

An inexplicable jolt of fear shot through Devin, and he lowered his horn to his side, stumbling backward and pointing at the gap in the formation, or Ronnie. Before he knew it, he was shouting. “What is going on? Who’s Ronnie, and why can’t I see him?

 

Every Marching Angel lowered his or her instrument, turned, and faced the fearful freshman, eyes wide. Nathan Urban looked as if someone had just dropped a bloody ball of phlegm down his mouthpiece. Mr. Talcott merely kept silent, his mouth hanging open. And his assistant was staring, staring.

 

“Is this a joke?” yelled Devin. The miniscule amount of moisture remaining in his throat flew out of his mouth and landed on the practice field, where it sizzled. “Some sort of sick joke you play on the worst freshman? Come clean now, or else I’m quitting this band! Maybe then you can talk to MY hole in the drill!

 

More stunned silence, during which Urban’s already sunburned face reddened further. For a few horrifying seconds, the only sounds Devin could hear were his own labored breathing and pounding, painful heartbeat. But the sensation eventually passed, and soon after, Mr. Talcott spoke again. His voice was neither incensed nor edgy. It was, however, weak and somewhat mechanical.

 

“I think it would be in our best interests to take a twenty minute break,” he said, “to...ah...clear our minds a little. See you back in this spot at four.”

 

Talcott turned off the microphone and said something to his assistant, who finally turned his gaze away from Devin. Unfortunately, there was one person who did not, and while the rest of the band trod tiredly to the sidelines, he strode up to Devin and stuck his scarlet face up in the freshman’s grill.

 

“Ronnie Williams is a sophomore in this section, and he’s been here all day,” said Urban savagely, his forehead almost bumping Devin’s. “If you’re having a hallucination, I recommend you get your bony ass up to the hospital. If you’re not,” Urban shook his head threateningly, “then I recommend never embarrassing me like that again. There will be consequences if you do, whether you quit this band or not.”

 

And he marched off with the rest of his colleagues, leaving Devin ashen on the field. After a few moments that were enrobed in anger, fear, and loneliness, Devin trudged after him, hoping he’d left more in his water bottle than he thought he had.

 

He had begun to doubt the words of the mysterious young man he’d encountered that morning, but now,

he knew there was no hope their message was accurate. Fun? Not a single soul had looked on him with happiness that day, and he was being cooked alive on a deadened practice field with a band that now no doubt thought he was a worthless, riled mental case.

 

But I can’t help what I didn’t see, his confused, throbbing brain said. There was no Ronnie marching next to me; I haven’t seen him all day. Either this is a horrible trick or I’m hallucinating...

 

Devin reached his water bottle and saw there was only a splash left at the bottom. His entire body seemed to weaken, and he turned to briefly meet the baleful gazes of his section mates, who were chatting a good distance away. There was a person-sized gap between Nathan and Nick.

 

Devin shook his head and closed his eyes, the tears beginning to come. I guess this weather has gotten to me. I AM hallucinating. And why not? I’m the weakest one here...

 

A familiar hand dropped onto Devin’s shoulder and he whirled around, overtaken by shock. This time, the useless, dried-up water bottle flew out of his hands and clattered to the asphalt below.

 

It was the red-haired boy, and he was still smiling. Devin could barely speak. “What...? I...you...”

 

The young man held up a patient hand and contemplated his freshman counterpart with gentle eyes. He extended his other hand and Devin gave it a scant, sweaty shake.

 

I’m Ronnie,” he said soothingly. “Forgive me for not introducing myself earlier; I’m sure it would have saved you a great deal of trouble, Devin.”

 

“How do you know my name?” asked Devin. Behind him, Nathan Urban and his four trombone buddies ceased chatting and stared over at the troubled freshman with bewilderment.

 

Ronnie laughed. The sound was oddly pleasing to Devin. “The whole band knows your name by now, my friend. You’ve become the talk of the town!”

 

Devin turned around, looking past the gaping trombone players. The rest of them were talking fervently despite the tiring heat. The zealous gossip got to Devin’s heart, and he slumped, eyes pinned to the ground. “Yeah, I guess...”

 

Ronnie put his hand on Devin’s shoulder yet again, and the freshman raised his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Sit with me, Devin. You need water, and badly.

 

Devin did. Suddenly, a small red jug that was shining with sweat appeared before his eyes. Ronnie was offering it to him, but weren’t Ronnie’s hands empty just a second ago? Devin thought so, but after the fiasco on the field, he mistrusted the images his burning eyes were relaying to his mind.

 

“Drink up,” said Ronnie kindly. “Not near enough water has been getting to your brain today. That’s why you perceived me as an invisible man out there.”

 

Devin drank up, and when the icy water first hit his parched mouth, he became a new man. The painfully bright world came into better focus and the headache he’d been fighting all afternoon dissipated, as well as the pains in his overworked limbs.

 

“Good, isn’t it?”

 

Devin removed the jug from his satisfied lips and smiled. “Extremely,” he said. “Thanks a bunch, Ronnie.”

“Don’t mention it,” said Ronnie, taking back the container and quenching his own thirst. “You needed it, man. You were starting to scare me out there.”

 

“Well, if it’s any consolation, I can see you now,” said Devin. My, did Ronnie’s red hair gleam in the August sun! “And who knows, maybe it was better that I couldn’t earlier. Listening to Nathan and Mr. Talcott, I gathered that you weren’t exactly following orders.”

 

Ronnie flapped an unconcerned hand. “Talcott doesn’t really care, as long as your heart’s in the right place,” he said. “The heat is getting to him, and don’t even get me started about the guy up there with him. As for Nathan Urban, well,” he looked around to make sure no one was within earshot, “between you and me, he’s a sanctimonious snob.”

 

Devin laughed loudly, unable to help a glance over at Urban, who paled immediately upon eye contact.

“You’re damn right, Ronnie.”

 

“Point is,” said Ronnie, “you can’t listen to those who are constantly trying to make band a nightmare for you. Because like I said this morning, they will never succeed. You may’ve thought Nathan Urban had succeeded with you a few minutes ago, but do you feel that way now?”

 

The taste of the world’s coldest, freshest water was still in Devin’s mouth. He said, “Absolutely not.”

 

“Right. Positive influence outweighs negative influence. Nathan Urban still doesn’t understand that, and the calculating baldy up in the press box will never understand it. But I do, and on a temperate day, Mr. Talcott does, too.”

 

Devin was awash with wonder. I should never have doubted you, Ronnie. Not for a second. Not even when Urban was chewing my brains out. “Of all the people my mind could’ve erased, why did it choose you?

 

Ronnie laughed and shrugged. “Beats me, sport,” he said. “But that’s unimportant. What is important is that you understand what I’m saying to you. Capiche?”

 

Devin’s smile was the widest it had been all summer. “Capiche.”

 

His new red-haired friend clapped him on the back. “Right on. Another drink?”

 

Devin took the bottle and chugged once more. It was pure bliss.

 

“Tell me more about yourself, Devin Mills,” Ronnie said when Devin was finished. “Have you lived in the Big O all your life? What do your parents do? Got yourself a girl?”

 

And so, during the last water break of the day, Devin Mills was finally able to have a casual conversation with a fellow band member. The kind and mysterious Ronnie listened with undying interest as Devin told him that yes, he had lived in the Big O all his life, his mother was a dental hygienist, his father was a psychology professor at Orwell College, and no, he did not have a girl.

 

“And I doubt I’ll ever get one after my meltdown today,” mourned Devin.

 

Ronnie kept up his radiant, understanding grin. “Nah, you’d be surprised,” he said. “Some girls are crazy enough to go for crazy. And the fact that you’re a Marching Angel?” Ronnie let loose a high, practiced whistle. “Major turn-on.”

 

Devin arched his eyebrows. “Really?”

 

“Really,” said Ronnie comfortably. “Marching band isn’t a cake walk, as you’ve figured out from today. It takes a magnificent amount of effort. But in the end, as you’ll see, it pays off. You gain skills that last you a lifetime. Skills that chicks dig.”

 

“And if I don’t want to be a Marching Angel?” The temptation to quit had been growing ever more significant to Devin during those last ten minutes of rehearsal, and it was still present, Ronnie or no Ronnie.

 

Devin’s new friend paused contemplatively, his smile a trifle frailer. Then, for the last time, he put a hand on Devin’s shoulder and said, “Once we go back out there, you’ll realize that this is what you were meant to do at Orwell High School, Devin. You’ll never quit.” And with a twinkle in his eye and an edge to his voice, he added, “Trust me.”

 

Devin’s eyes met Ronnie’s warm, encouraging ones, and he realized that he did trust this young man, and boundlessly. The young man that had picked him up twice on the scorching first day of band camp, the young man that he’d had trouble seeing out on the practice field...

 

“Who are you, Ronnie?” asked Devin. His voice sounded as if it were coming from an unfathomable distance away.

 

Before Ronnie could answer, the shrill cry of the drum majors’ whistles sounded from below the press box. The break had only lasted twenty minutes, but in it Devin felt as if he had grown a lifetime’s worth.

 

Ronnie helped him up with a strong, sure hand. “Duty calls,” he said lucidly. He and Devin walked confidently to their spots while the rest of the band followed sluggishly. Devin didn’t notice that half of his peers were watching him with amazed eyes. “Time to fall in love with band again.”

 

And that was when everything the enigmatic Ronnie had told Devin that scalding Monday in August came to pass.

 

Ronnie indeed marched in the spot between Devin and Nathan Urban, trombone held confidently at a perfect angle toward the press box. Mr. Talcott’s bald assistant, the man who Ronnie seemed to disdain, had returned his shrewd gaze to the trombone section, but this time, it didn’t bother Devin a bit. With his red-haired encourager working effortlessly through the formations at his left, Devin had suddenly become brimming with confidence. He nailed every note and hit every spot. And he did it in enviable, unflawed form, prompting even more flummoxed looks from those around him.

 

Your favorite part’s coming up!” hissed Ronnie midway through the opener. “Conquer it, Devin!”

 

Devin hit his dot, closed his eyes, and felt a rush of exhilaration. Snap two, three, four, HALT two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, THIRTEEN, FOURTEEN, FIFTEEN, SIXTEEN, STEP!

 

He stepped off on the correct count for the first time that day with Ronnie at his side, and a surge of adrenaline and unbridled relief rifled through him. “There it is, Devin!” came Ronnie’s muffled, joyful exclamation from behind his mouthpiece. “Well done!

 

Devin’s ecstatic smile was quite noticeable from behind his horn. Anything was possible now that this milestone had been achieved. Anything. And that meant band was going to be okay, after all.

 

But okay’s not the right word for it, Devin thought as he marched. ‘Fun’ would be the appropriate term.

 

A stressed Mr. Talcott cut off the ensemble and pointed at the trombone section. Devin and Ronnie had marched everything correctly, but someone amongst them had not.

 

“Nathan, why are you stepping off on the twelfth count?”

 

The section leader flushed with humility. The other trombones, including Devin, sniggered at this. Ronnie erupted in bombastic laughter.

 

“Sorry, sir!” shouted Urban, walking back to his spot in an extremely flustered gait. “Won’t ever happen again!”

 

“You didn’t answer my question,” replied Mr. Talcott evenly, and the trombone players’ laughter augmented as they returned to the previous set. “It’s a sixteen-count hold, Nathan.”

 

Urban didn’t respond, looking off snootily while trying to cool his burning face.

 

“Don’t keep the band waiting for your self-importance to dwindle,” said Mr. Talcott poisonously. “Do you understand the move?”

 

“Yes!” cried Urban awkwardly.

 

Ronnie leaned over and whispered in Devin’s ear. “Hey, Nathan, when you get to the twelfth count, you still have four more counts to park and bone!”

 

Devin cackled happily, patting his new friend on the back. “That was a good one, Ronnie!” he exclaimed.

Nathan Urban, who had been dangerously close to a tirade ever since Devin’s odd behavior had caused him to make that mistake (he was above mistakes; he was a section leader, for the love of God), finally snapped. “SHUT UP, DEVIN!” he shrieked in a vicious, crackly tone. “JUST SHUT UP! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA—?

 

ENOUGH, NATHAN URBAN!” screamed Mr. Talcott from the press box, causing even his stoic assistant to flinch. “PICK UP YOUR SKINNY, SUPERCILIOUS BUTT AND GO RUN A LAP AROUND THE TRACK!

 

Urban’s temper vanished like the candlelight over a birthday cake. He paled instantaneously, stumbling backward as if the band director had shoved him with his stinging words. His mouth opened and closed like a goldfish staring dumbly out of its transparent bowl.

 

DO YOU WANT ME TO MAKE IT TWO? RUN!

 

Urban jumped as if a spider had crawled up his shorts and sprinted with his trombone away from the field. The rest of his musical colleagues stood awkwardly in their spots, not knowing whether to smile or grimace at what had happened to one of the group’s most respected players.

 

But Ronnie knew what to do. With that infallible smile on his face, he turned to Devin and said, “I told you so, my friend. It’s the end of the day, and who’s having fun, now?”

 

Devin lit up inside and came to a clear decision: until he reached his last day as a high school student, he would be a Marching Angel.

 

Mr. Talcott called the band to attention and they marched while Nathan Urban ran the track under the unforgiving sun.

 

 

When rehearsal was over, Ronnie and Devin Mills forever parted ways, although the latter did not know this at the time. Such an idea would have been absurd to Devin’s blissful mind; he strode away from the field smarter, emboldened, and primed for a bright tomorrow. He accepted his new band family, and blessedly, despite the numerous oddities that had surrounded him that day, they would come to accept him, too.

 

Ronnie, meanwhile, turned and walked toward the press box, his smile slowly becoming malicious.

In the press box, Mr. Talcott, eager to get home, had one more question to ask of his bald acquaintance.

He asked it quietly. “When can we expect the check?”

 

Dr. Henry Rawls, professor of psychology at Orwell College, surveyed his clipboard. There were quite a lot of notes, and they were quite brilliant. “Next week at the latest,” he said suavely, extending a gnarled, moist hand. “Thank you for your participation in this study, Mr. Talcott.”

 

Talcott raised his free hand in the air, shaking his head. “I regret it dearly, Rawls. What happened out there was...was...” He couldn’t find the word. Despicable? Inhumane? Nothing seemed profound enough to adequately describe what he and his band had done to that poor freshman, all for money...

 

“Helpful,” finished Rawls, shooting Talcott his fiercest smile. It was a smile he often gave Terry Mills, his archrival at the college. “Enjoy your evening, Mr. Talcott.”

 

The director left, in a rare foul mood. Never before had he been this angry with himself for being so corrupt, so greedy... So angry was he that he failed to notice a kid with red hair slip past him as he descended from the press box.

 

As the last of the OHS Marching Angels departed, Dr. Rawls went over his notes again. He had just pulled off something truly extraordinary, a feat unmatched in the field of psychology. Something Terry Mills could only dream of... No, he wouldn’t even dream of it! Terry wouldn’t have had the spine to bribe a local band director into persuading all but one of his students to treat a hole in the drill as a person that didn’t actually exist. Furthermore, he wouldn’t choose his own son as the guinea pig, but that’s what made this experiment so sweet, so delicious.

 

Through mass mental deception, Dr. Rawls had gradually and indirectly made a fourteen-year-old boy believe he was seeing a nonexistent human being. And the boy he had turned insane was his rival’s son.

It was amazing what people would do for fifty thousand dollars.

 

“Victory,” Rawls muttered gleefully, gathering his bag. “And they were all so shocked when they saw him talking to thin air... Well, the world will be shocked when they learn of this, and of the scholar that made it happen...”

 

Will they?”

 

Rawls started and turned toward the door. A young red-haired man in a white tee and khaki shorts was standing there. The setting sun made his somewhat eerie outline more distinct.

 

“Because it seems to me that you’ve failed, Dr. Rawls,” the boy said in a grave, taunting voice. “Devin Mills left this place a sane, happy man.” And Rawls’ notes flew from his grasp, landing in the redhead’s hand. “Also, it appears as though you have no evidence to substantiate that your experiment ever existed, let alone worked.”

 

Rawls’ mouth opened and closed, as Nathan Urban’s had done earlier. The figure in the press box doorway frightened him in a way he couldn’t explain. It was human, but at the same time, it couldn’t be real...

 

“So,” the boy continued, putting a hand on the doorknob, “this just boils down to another case of a positive influence defeating a negative influence.”

 

The scholar’s brain had turned to quivering mush. The only part of him that could move was his mouth,

which asked a simple, terrified question. “Who are you?”

 

“Why, I’m Ronnie Williams,” the boy said with a terrible smile. He began to pull the door closed. “In the future, I’d advise you not to let your hateful imagination take you too far. It may just become reality. Enjoy your stay in the Hotbox Hotel, Dr. Rawls! A janitor will arrive in the morning as your wake-up call.”

 

Ronnie slammed the locked door to the press box where Henry Rawls would stay the night with no food, water, or phone. When his fearful paralysis finally broke, he began crying as loud as he could for help, but to no avail. His shouts never left the dense walls of the Hotbox Hotel.

 

The boy descended to the ground, stuck the professor’s notes in his pocket, and strolled across the ordinary field that had been touched by the extraordinary that day. Had there been a witness, he or she would have seen Ronnie’s image fade slowly with each step until he blended beautifully with the late summer landscape, in transit from this world to another, unexplored realm.

 

 

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