Stefanie Allison,lesson planner…our contest continues

(Stefanie Allison, whom I watched graduate from Cal State, discovers core principles inside every apple.)


Still hard at it, posting stories.  this will be 11 of 24 since the marathon began after Thanksgiving. This is from one of our most diligent and prolific writers (how did you do with nanowrimo, Stef?)

Here is

Darkest Before Dawn

by Stefanie Allison


I realized too late that the knocking wasn’t my dead-beat husband; before I knew it, there was a gun pointed to my chest.

“Move real slow,” he said. “Into the living room.”

I took careful steps backward, unable to turn around to at least surprise him with a candlestick to the head. He prodded the gun into my breast bone, signaling me to sit on the couch. Blank pages of my teaching planner fluttered as I collapsed into the couch. I stole a glance around my living room, wondering why he wasn’t even eying the flat screen I was still trying to set up.

“Just take what you want,” I mumbled.

“I don’t want anything you have.”

“Then why do you want to kill me?”

He scoffed. “I don’t.”

“Then what’s with the gun?”

“Just shut your trap.”

“What do you need from me?” I gasped when he jabbed the gun into my chest.

“I said shut your lying trap up!”

“Lying? We haven’t even met!”

“I figured you’d say that,” he said smugly. “They all did.”

I hoped gulping didn’t qualify as speech. “Who?”

“All of my old teachers.”

When my eyes widened, I got a good look at him. He had very high cheek bones, but wrinkles ripped through his face, leaving few spots with youthful, smooth skin. Blond and gray hairs poked out of his black hoodie.

But it was his eyes. Eyes that still reminded me of a lonely meadow, still recovering from winter. I bit my lower lip to keep from crying out in recognition.

“You loved The Old Man and the Sea,” I whispered. “I remember how you lit up every time we talked about it—even when we were working on something else.” The gun began to tremble.

“I wanted so bad to be in that boat,” he said. “Nothing but empty, free water as far as the eye could see.”

“You could have told me that in your book report,” I said. “If you had actually done it.”

He jabbed the gun barrel so hard I thought he was going to break skin.

“You and every one of those liars!” he screamed. “You all think giving us homework will make the world a better place, one scumbag student at a time!” He raised the gun over my head, and I could already feel my skull breaking open.

“And you’re the worst,” he snarled, “because you fed us the false hope that we would be more than that! Now look at me! I’ve been in jail more times than I’ve been home, I’m barely qualified to flip a burger, and I’m not even sure if my girlfriend is at her due date yet! You didn’t save me! You couldn’t save me!”

The only thing louder than his sobs was his knees hitting my dirty hardwood floor. Daylight was slowly peeking through the curtains, though it was still the wee hours of morning by anyone’s standards.

“What did I say that you wanted to know was true?” I asked. “If you owe me anything, it’s that.”

He lowered the gun to produce a crumpled up greeting card with maroon and yellow roses and handed it to me.

“‘You are worth something’,” I read. “‘No matter what happens or where you go, you matter. You have a spark in you that can light up a room. Don’t let it go out.’” I closed it and pressed it to my chest.

“It’s probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me in my life,” he said. “But I noticed everyone got a card just like it. So what I want to know is this: did you mean what you said?” I shed my first tear in the whole ordeal—not because I was sure I was going to die, but because I knew I deserved it.

“I wrote it to everyone,” I said. “But not the ending. Everyone had their strengths. And that’s what I noticed about you—if only when you wanted to. But just because I said it to everyone, it doesn’t make it untrue. When you’ve been teaching for this long, you still care, but you also get tired. You’re right. I failed you. I played roulette with your future, and you lost. It’s too late to change the past. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you…Jordan.”

He perked up, hearing his name, probably for the first time in a long time that it wasn’t preceded by a verdict. He put the gun down and took my hands in his. They were so rough from whatever dead end job he left before this.

“I swear, it’s not too late,” he said. “At least not for you.” He stood up, grabbed the gun and walked to the door.

“Where are you going?”

“I owe money to my lawyer,” he said, then waving his gun. “Gotta use my ATM card.”

I saw him to the door, as if he were late to catch the school bus. He turned around one more time, gently grabbed my shoulders and kissed my cheek.

“Thank you, Mrs. Kyle,” he said. “For everything.”

I waited until he was far down the street before I called the principal, giving him my two week’s notice.

10 thoughts on “Stefanie Allison,lesson planner…our contest continues

  1. KYLE Katz says:

    Stefanie, this is so exceptional! All the landmarks of a great writer. “A lonely meadow, still recovering from winter.” Golden! You come a long way baby!!!!! This for me belongs in the finals. If it stood on its own. This would be my choice amongst the many outstanding reads to be the WIN. You have the WOW factor.

  2. Parisianne Modert says:

    I am going to agree with Kyle Katz on the line, “A lonely meadow, still recovering from winter.” which is apt to the inner journey Mrs. Kyle is presently at. Mrs. Kyle in tendering her resignation at the end I thought was a powerful ending, however, with this written, I needed to know more of why Mrs. Kyle resigned leading up to that moment. I wanted to feel her decision process. She loved part of teaching so much that resigning had to come with anguish as well as quiet acceptance. The more inner journey of the characters was too little and incomplete for me. 1000 words is very few to draw from a palette, so each word must be carefully chosen to allow the reader most fully into the scene and the characters’ mindsets past and present. I liked the use of the struggle of “The Old Man and the Sea.”, but here is a young man, so I would have chosen a different subtext.

    The greatest disappointment to me about your story was that there is much left unsaid about the emotions of Mrs. Kyle in those moments after Jordan has left. We could expect she would be almost numb and paralyzed during the verbal exchange, but where did her mind go when she finally realized she wasn’t going to die?

    I see this story as better suited for a play stage than in story format. Perhaps it was all the tags to the dialogue lines which distracted me from remaining present with the young man’s angst and her fear of dying. I just didn’t feel the emotions enough to react to either character which is what I also said when I heard you read this in a writers’ group. The play format would get rid of the tags of dialogue and allow the actress and actor on stage to breath a greater life into this story. Sometimes actions talk louder than words. Watching a gun pushed in someone’s ribs or brought down towards a skull is more dramatic than saying so. The shifts in focus point out the young man’s warring thoughts, but sometimes the best part of bringing this to an audience is acted without words. It is found in facial gestures and body language, groans, sighs and use of stage. That’s what a story like this needed for me that I didn’t feel. Mostly I agree with Kyle Katz on the quality of a work, but in a contest with such overwhelming talent and word craft, I found your story not to be among the best, because of the reasons I gave above.

    With these words constructively meant, I would like to say that judging is subjective to the reader. I wish you well in both the contest and your life.

  3. Michael Stang says:

    Emotional bullets from both characters kept me glued to my teeny PC. Each time the gun entered the scenes I held my breath. There is so much to say and for them to feel about each other and themselves it would have been easy for you to get in the way. But, you didn’t. You allowed them to be human, make mistakes, forgive, and never forget. Terrific job.

  4. FJDagg says:

    I concur with Mike re, “…each time the gun…held my breath.” This succeeds well on a number of levels–the shift from disgust to sympathy for the Jordan, the accusation about the “form letter” card, and the defense about the endings being individualized, the well-modulated tension underlying all. Excellent, Stefanie!

  5. Laura G says:

    Fast-moving, tongue in cheek. I like how it starts with dialogue shot back and forth like bullets. Captures the issues between students and teachers and makes them larger than life in a hilarious way.

  6. Parisianne Modert says:

    I would like to add a thought. My second read of your story was more comfortable for me, but I still see your story presented better as a play. I had the thought of a collaboration with a playwright such as Suzanne Morse to bring out all the nuances of emotional power within your storyline. Imagine, expanded memories of the school day class with the “Old Man and the Sea”, the young man in prison, the teacher’s memories of successes and failures. I believe there is enough room for a very moving stage production here.

    • Stars Fall On My Heart says:

      I haven’t the slightest clue where to begin writing plays or screenplays. So I open the floor to someone who does. Anyone willing to take on the challenge of converting this short story into a play, hit me up =)

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