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Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction

The following is a piece of writing submitted by Douglas on November 9, 2007
"I can't take credit for the basic idea of this piece - the premise comes from a dream (nightmare?) that my sister-in-law had last week."

First Day Back to School

It was the first day I'd set foot in a school in over twenty years. As I stepped through the doors of the building, I kept telling myself I wasn't crazy, that I could do this, and that I needed the money, so I'd better be able to do it.

My first stop was the main office. Considering there were signs all over the place announcing that visitors had to check in at the main office, and there was a monstrously big sign declaring "MAIN OFFICE" right over the double doors, the office wasn't too hard to find.

I introduced myself, and the secretary said, "Thanks for coming in, Mr. Emerson." She handed me a folder filled with papers - presumably lesson plans - and said, "Mr. Tilton is out with the flu; he probably won't be back until next week. Here are his attendance sheets, lesson plans, and notes."

I peeked into the folder and groaned. Mathematics. I had done moderately well in high school, but Mathematics was never my strength. And my college math classes had been way over my head. Statistics, Differential Equations, Fractal Geometry, Abstract Algebra - it all made my head spin.

Fortunately it looked like Mr. Tilton's classes were all basic math. Consumer Math, Algebra One, and so forth. I can do this, I told myself, trying to build some confidence.

The secretary said, "Mr. Tilton's room is number 214."

I thanked her, and walked out of the office.

I spent the next five minutes trying to find room 214. I'd never seen a high school so large, and it seemed like the network of intersecting hallways was designed to confuse me. After five minutes of fruitless searching, I ended up back at the main office. I didn't want to admit to the secretary that I couldn't even find the classroom, so I set out again.

I decided I would turn left at each hallway intersection. After another five minutes I was back at the office again.

So I tried turning right at each intersection. Back at the office again.

All around me students were arriving, locker doors were slamming, laughter and shouts echoed up and down the hallways. In a few minutes the bell was going to ring, and if I hadn't found room 214 by then, my first day back at school would end up being my last.

I interrupted two students who were caught in a rather revolting lip lock, and asked for directions. The boy looked at me with disdain and said, "You need to go down this hallway, then turn left. Two intersections later turn right, and then go three intersections, and turn right again. When you get to the five way branch, you need to take the third branch from the left, and go seven more intersections, until you get to the round-about. At the round-about you'll need to take the fourth exit. That'll get you into the math wing. From there..."

I interrupted him to say, "I think I'll just go to the office and get a map."

The two students went back to their previous lip locked configuration before I'd even turned away.

Back in the main office I apologized to the secretary, and asked for a map of the school.

She smiled and said, "It is a bit confusing, isn't it?"

I nodded. I was embarrassed, but glad that other people found it confusing.

I waited while she pulled a map out of her drawer and ran a photocopy. She handed me the map, and I stared in disbelief. I was getting dizzy just looking at the mind bending configuration of intersecting hallways. Then, in a moment of insight I remembered something from my college days.

"Oh," I said flatly, "That's why it's named Mandelbrot High School."

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