This is the second part of a short story I wrote last year for a kid’s publication. I never submitted it, because I felt it didn’t match what they wanted, but I understand it now as a way to cope with saying good-bye to my students. Part III comes next week. Part I here.
The walk home was pleasant.
Leaves littering their tree village had begun to change, bouncing the setting sun off their bodies. This created a hazy, orange mist that engulfed the teach and student.
Though no name was given, their village offered many small wonders. Branches rose upward like fingers reaching for the sun in every direction. Small cottages and homes were built along the massive limbs, each secured with wood plank and rope foundations. You could walk up or down, or if you were really brave like many of the kids were, slide down the pathways.
Even though the village was a little removed, McNiven didn’t mind. His education came from the grand capital city of Gaea. He insisted on spreading knowledge as best he could in the smaller, rural areas needing the help. He hopped on a Mana Train and rode it into the country fields, stopping at every village possible, asking if they were in need of a teacher. Many politely declined, some insulted his fancy city coat, but most said they didn’t need it.
Finally, this little hideaway village in an Elvenwood tree took him in and hosted his wild fantasy.
Mykael had been in his class for two years. From her first day, she appeared unwilling and unready to learn. She’d hide behind her long black hair, talk to the other students during lectures, then ace each test she was given. Nothing drove Professor McNiven madder or made him more proud.
Those were strange days.
Unfortunately, Mykael had no parents to celebrate with. The family that did house her cared for her greatly, but were so busy with their own lives they rarely had time to be guiding figures. That job for better or worse, McNiven still hadn’t decided, fell on him.
“Thank you for helping me present in front of the class,” he said.
“Oh, sure,” she said. Her eyes wandered around. Dozens of people moved about, setting up chairs and tables outside, readying elevated fire pits for the roasts, and hanging banners and streamers from the low rising branches. “Thanks for not failing me.”
“Well, you did do your part in a way. Although it makes me wonder why you didn’t just do the report to begin with if you had all the facts in your head,” he said.
“Well,” she started, in a tone meant to mock her teacher, “I only memorized the facts to understand it my own way. I didn’t think I could explain it to the rest of the class, so I didn’t try.”
“That’s just it, though. If you only tried, even a little bit, you could be so much more than what you’re going to become. People in Gaea need a mind like yours!” the Professor begged.
Mykael stopped walking. Her head remained down. Nothing he said reached her. McNiven could tell his words bounced off her head like the falling leaves off the sides of the cottages. That didn’t stop him, however, and he continued.
“Mykael, what do you want to do with your life?”
She remained silent for a minute. McNiven noticed how she blended in with her surroundings, never standing out, so much so you’d might miss her. Finally, she looked up with a beaming smile. “I want to work the fields.” So many teeth showed behind that fake smile McNiven covered his eyes to keep from going blind. “That’s all I can do, right? I didn’t do well in your class, so, I guess I’ll work the fields. Pulling carrots is fun, right?”
McNiven was awestruck, dumbfounded by what he was hearing, but there was nothing to change her mind. Not once had McNiven been able to do so.
“Oh yes,” he said, “pulling carrots is loads of fun.”
They laughed. He walked to her house, waved good-bye as she ran to the front door, then strolled home to his own small home.
The festival was starting soon.
The celebration of the Harvest was as raucous as it had been in previous years. Villagers danced and laughed without care. Bonfires filled every safe space. Adults drank way too much mead while the kids dirtied their hands on the oily, juicy meat platters.
But Mykael sat alone.
Even though she made them laugh on a daily basis, none of her classmates took the time to talk to her. She was perhaps a too out there, a little too rambunctious, and her peers didn’t wish to risk getting in trouble alongside her. Kids approached almost any dog they saw, but if that dog had a scowl, they’d know to stay away.
Though everyone seemed to be having a good time around him, the dancing and laughing being the biggest clue, McNiven couldn’t focus on any of that. There was no way he was going to let Mykael go off to work the fields without taking something away from the last lesson he taught.
McNiven walked back to his tiny schoolhouse. It was a small school, barely able to fit in the limited space the Elvenwood’s birch afforded them. Most days he’d fear it’d be flung off in a gust of wind more than he feared attacks by angered parents.
He headed to his desk to grab the Mana Engine from today’s lesson. Small, almost unnoticeable if you didn’t know what one looked like, but powerful. Each had the capability to manipulate as much Mana as the size allowed. This one only stored a small amount, making it safe to bring to class.
In his hands, it was no bigger than some of the kid’s leather balls they played games with. He shooed a speck of dirt off the top and rubbed his coat on a fingerprint smudge left behind. McNiven wanted Mykael to see this little invention for the wonder he knew it was.
An innovation that brought him to the village on a train in the first place.
Mykael would see.
She’d have to.
He stepped back out into the chilly night air, far enough away from the fires and lanterns of the party. Music and talking peppered the night air. McNiven smiled and began to head back towards the celebration with the Mana Engine in hand.
Then, suddenly, the sky rained beams of fire down onto the village, ceasing the celebration, and bringing with it cries of fear and terror.
Thanks for reading,