Stirrings Beneath a Mask (Updated 5/17)

This is a work in progress that I am writing from the hip (title subject to change). I’ve been mulling over the general plot for a while but it’s been on the backburner due to school. This is my first exercise in creative writing, so please feel free to be as critical as you want (within reason, of course). Specific concerns are wordiness, line breaks, and dialogue, but I’m open to any and all suggestions. (Grammar mistakes in dialogue are intentional for the most part).

Stirrings Beneath a Mask

Prologue:

Void. Even with everything going on around him, that was all he felt. The bright, swirling white that his gaze was fixed on only seemed to reinforce what he felt inside. There were other distractions; noises, faces, sensations, but they all seemed to drown each other out, devolving into a white noise of perception. Indeed, void was all he felt, and perhaps all that he wanted to feel, for only by embracing nothingness could he replace the contents of his aching heart.

Chapter 1: Take it from the Top

Part 1: Dawn of the First Day

As the sun’s rays crept through the half-drawn shades, any grogginess that remained from Jackson’s sleep was immediately dispelled. Something felt off. What should have been the warm, cozy embrace of his bed was replaced with a cold and clammy feeling that caused him to instantly sit up in his bed. While his body was busy wondering about this new, altogether unpleasant sensation, his mind was still processing the feelings remaining from his recently finished dream. As residual feelings of sadness and loneliness washed over him, Jackson began to tear up. Still trying to process all of the sensations, his mind was interrupted by a call from outside his room.

“Jax, time to get ready for school,” the female voice called, in a rehearsed style that every child has heard before in his/her life.

He had just enough time to catch the meaning of those words and dry his tears before he figured out the cause of his weird sensation. Crap, I wet the bed. But why? It’s never happened to me before. I don’t have time to think about why, I have to figure out how to hide it from Mom.

In a streak of “brilliance” that only an adolescent could conjure, Jackson quickly got dressed, tore the sheets off his bed, and dropped them off at the laundry hamper on his way to the kitchen. “I’m coming! One sec,” he called out as he finished his secret mission, turning the corner to walk into the kitchen.

There before him sat his Mother, reading the newspaper while she sipped from a mug of coffee. To say that this sight had been burned into Jackson’s memory was an understatement; this same scene had played out every weekday since second grade. Even though he usually glossed over it in a zombified, half-awake state, this morning ritual held a lot of meaning. To Jackson’s, a legal assistant who worked in excess of 60 hours a week, this precious little time she got with her son meant the world.

“So, anything new going on at school?” She asked, peering over the edge of the newspaper to catch a glimpse of her son before he was whisked off in the hustle and bustle of the school day.

“Not really. Ms. Albridge gave us a stupid math packet yesterday that we have to do in class to study for the SPARK exam. Oh, and Tommy just got the new Pokemon game,” he replied between mouthfuls of cereal.

“Oh, the one with the snake?” She asked, trying to show interest in her son’s hobby. Truth be told, she tried to take time out of her day to research the things that he was interested in, so she could talk to him as a friend as well as a parent.

“No Mom, it’s a dragon. Just 'cause it doesn’t have wings, it isn’t a snake,” he replied, with a sigh of frustration.

“Oh. Well, I still think snakes are scarier. And besides, the yellow one will always be my favorite” she casually replied, before changing the topic of the conversation. “I’ll be working another long shift today since we just picked up a new case, so when you get home I won’t be here. There are dinners in the freezer, so just put one in the microwave and have that. I’ll be back after you go to sleep.”

“Okay Mom. I’m gonna go over to Tommy’s house after Youth Center so we can play Pokemon and stuff”

“Alright honey, just make sure you come home before dinner time,” she reminded him.

Just as their conversation was nearing to an end, Jackson put his cereal bowl in the sink, quickly gulped down the last of his juice, and headed toward the door. “Bye Mom, I gotta go catch the bus,” he called out, as he grabbed his backpack.

“Okay honey. Have fun at school,” she called back, getting up from the kitchen table to put her coffee mug in the sink.

Jackson opened the door, and walked around the corner to the bus stop. ‘Living in a neighborhood sure does have its perks’, he thought to himself as the bus pulled up. ‘I don’t even have to walk that far to get to the bus anymore, not like back before we moved’ The bright yellow bus creaked to a deafening stop as it opened its door before him. Greeted by the familiar roar of elementary school students all catching up with their friends in the morning, he took a step onto the stairs leading into the vehicle.

While Jackson’s Mom finished cleaning up the kitchen before she got ready to drive to work, she wondered aloud, “Were Jax’s eyes red this morning? I wonder if he was thinking about Robert.”

Re: Stirrings Beneath a Mask

Well, this is enough to catch my interest. You’re off to a good start with regards to pacing and fleshing out the characters. Good portrayal with the mother saying “the one with the snake” in contrast to Jackson’s “it’s a dragon”. Shows the typical disconnect between a parent who is caring and trying but just doesn’t get it and their child.

Re: Stirrings Beneath a Mask

Seconded. Please continue as you find time and inspiration

Re: Stirrings Beneath a Mask

Thanks for the encouragement guys, it means a lot to hear that.

I’m currently trying to resolve a small paradox with how I want to show character development, so I’ve been mulling it over for the past couple of days, as well as how I want to flesh out the supporting characters. Combine that with my self-critical nature whereby I self-edit as I type, and it’s made churning out material slow going. Just that first bit took me 1-2 hours, and gives me an appreciation for how much time it takes to write a good story.

I’m gonna try to tackle things one at a time and work on what I can (the beginning) and hopefully find the answers to my questions as I get further along.

Re: Stirrings Beneath a Mask

You are off to a good start….keep going.

Re: Stirrings Beneath a Mask

I’ve decided to stop trying to segment the story cleanly into chapters and parts for now, and focus on the content. Once I get more content flowing, I’ll worry about segmentation. Here’s another chunk to hold over while I work on writing more.

As soon as Jackson crossed the threshold of the bus’s entry all animation washed off his face, replaced with what could, at best, be called a blank stare. Casually avoiding eye contact with everyone else on the bus he walked all the way to the back, sitting down in the familiar, empty, corner seat.

‘If there were ever a perk of going to a nice school that most kids didn’t think of, it would have to be new buses,’ Jackson thought to himself as he sat alone, staring out the window and watching the trees pass by. As he mused inwardly, the roar of the large, diesel engine combined with the noise of the kids’ voices, becoming a sort of white noise that he tuned out. ‘The bus I used to ride back at our old house was probably older than Mom, and I hated getting stuck to the seats all the time. And since there are so many kids on this bus, nobody talks to me and I can just ignore everyone.’ As these thoughts crossed his mind, he wished that life could be like this bus ride and that everyone would just not bother him, so that he could be free to zone out the rest of the world.

Eventually, though, the bus ride neared an end as the monolithic, concrete structure rolled into view. If there was a single irony about public education, it was that as the buildings became larger and more expensive, the creativity, individuality, and freedom seemed to be sucked out of them. Bloomdale County Elementary School’s ranks were composed of around 1000 students, 30 teachers, and an assortment of faculty, all working together to produce a factory of education. Its favorite colors consisted of light grey, medium grey, and dark grey, interspersed with some brown and tan. Here, modern suburban culture was boiled down into its essence and each child that passed through was imbued with that essence.

Even new busses could not avoid their most annoying aspect, the shrieking grinding of the breaks. This fact once again made itself clear as the bus came to a halt in the line of busses out front of the school, snapping Jackson out of his thoughts. As the rest of the kids on the bus got up and started walking with their friends Jackson mindlessly followed the herd, eventually ending up at the entrance of the building. From there his legs seemed to walk of their own accord, down the labyrinth of hallways, and he eventually ended up at Ms. Albridge’s classroom.

Filing into Ms. Albridge’s classroom, Jackson walked over to his cubby and, after withdrawing his notebook and pencil, placed his backpack in it. His cubby lined up with the myriad others, amassing into a collection of colorful, if not plain, decoration that seemed to contrast against the square corners of the receptacles. As he got up and walked over to his desk he passed by the colorful, cliché, posters that lined the walls of the room. In this bastion of earth tones, the posters waged a never-ending battle to fight for the creativity and individuality of the space they encircled.

Sitting down, he continued to go through the mechanical motions that had been drilled into his body from years of repetition, setting his desk up. In the middle of the process, another boy walked over and, sparing no time in announcing his presence, immediately growled, “Don’t forget that you’re coming over to my house today. You better have told your Mom.”

The air of confidence and command the boy gave off was almost stifling, causing the now un-animated Jackson to tense up and respond meekly, “….I t-t-told her this morning, Tommy. She said okay.”

“Good,” he snarled back. With that, the small exchange was over. As Tommy walked back to his desk on the other side of the room, Jackson breathed an audible sigh of relief, his shoulders lowering as the tension drained from his body.

Just as he finished relaxing, Ms. Albridge finished a conversation with one of her students and addressed the class. “Okay guys, before we start I just wanted to say that today is the first day of Math Awareness Month. Because of that, we’re going to celebrate today by doing brain teasers during math today! I hope you all like puzzles as much as I do,” she happily chirped to the class as the majority of kids started to whisper to each other in excitement at the prospect of having a change of pace as compared to their normally boring multiplication and division exercises.

She started to write a problem on the board, speaking it aloud as her hand traced the letters. “Okay class. The other day I was going to the store to buy a piece of candy that cost thirty cents. I had two coins that I got from my piggy bank to pay for it, and one of them was NOT a nickel. What did I use to buy the candy?” She asked the class.

All of the students started thinking, and nobody answered for almost a minute. Eventually, Tommy raised his hand. Ms. Albridge, noticing his hand, called on him saying, “Okay Tommy. What coins do you think I had?”

“You had a quarter and a nickel,” he proudly stated while the rest of the confused students looked at him, wondering how that could possibly be the answer.

“And why do you think that?” She probed, trying to get an explanation out of him.

“Because,” he replied, “You only said that one of the coins wasn’t a nickel, not that neither was, and a quarter isn’t a nickel.”

“Correct!” She praised, as the rest of the class looked at Tommy in awe. Meanwhile, Jackson was scribbling away in his notebook, completely ignoring the lesson going on around him.