AUTHOR

STEVENMANCHESTER

Audio of Prequel read by Steve

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Episode 2: The Spiral (set in the world of Ashes)

 

Tom Prendergast dialed his daughter, Caroline. The call went straight to voicemail. He hung up and rang his son. Caleb’s cell phone also went to voicemail. These kids don’t go anywhere without their phones, he thought, a mix of anger and sadness filling his chest.

 

Sue Nedar, his assistant, stepped into his office. “Professor,” she said, “you have class in ten minutes. ”

 

“Ten minutes,” he repeated before flicking his tongue at the back of his mouth to test the pain level. Ahhh... The gentle touch made him flinch.

 

“You should get that tooth fixed,” Sue suggested.

 

He nodded. “If I could only find the time,” he said, looking at his watch. “Poetry 101, right?”

 

She nodded.

 

He could feel his face wince; this time, it wasn’t due to his toothache.

 

“Not your favorite, huh?”

 

Grabbing his leather satchel from the floor, he slid a stack of papers into it. “It used to be,” he said, sighing heavily. “There was a time when I loved nothing more than teaching poetry to first- timers.” Then, without volunteering to take the trip, his mind immediately warped back thirty years.

At the conclusion of his senior project—before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature—Tom stood behind a narrow lectern. Two dozen apathetic sixth graders stared back at him. “My name’s Tom Prendergast,” he announced, the words feeling like they’d been sifted through cotton, making him squirm to get comfortable. The anxiety rocked him; for years, that very same sensation had been inspired by his cruel father. He cleared his throat again. “Sitting under the dim light of a desk lamp, the artist gazes down at a blank white-lined canvas. Searching his vocabulary for the exact phrase, the perfect opener, he begins to reveal his soul for all. With a loving hand, each word is delicately brushed into sequence, one after the next. After immeasurable hours of meticulous effort, the vivid details of the picture come to life. At last, he can smile, knowing his portrait is complete. Although it will take more than a mere glance, the masterpiece must be appreciated through the mind’s eye where the reader will be swept away by their unlimited imaginations, fond memories of the past and the journey which the artist has chosen to guide.”

 

He looked up. The class obviously didn’t expect the quick recital and were taken aback. He smiled. “I’ve been writing for a few years now. In fact, I wrote my first poem in the fourth grade. And now I’m working on a collection of poetry that I hope to share with the world someday.” He scanned his young audience.

 

“Who cares,” one of the boys in the rear of the room mumbled under his breath, drawing a few laughs.

 

“Obviously not you,” Tom answered the disruptive kid, making everyone sit up straight. “If you don’t want to be here, then please don’t waste your time—or mine. Feel free to leave,” he added, making Ms. Willis—their teacher—shift uneasily in her chair.

 

While the red-faced boy shook his head, Tom smiled to himself, knowing that he’d handled the rude boy exactly as he should have. Maybe I do have the chops to be an effective teacher, he thought.

 

“I’m...I’m sorry,” the boy stuttered.

 

“Apology accepted,” Tom said, softening his tone. “Now let’s get on with it, shall we?”

 

Everyone nodded.

 

Tom jumped right into the lesson. “Okay, what is poetry?” When there was no response, he answered, “It’s a type of communication. In many literary circles it’s considered the purest form of expression. For me, it’s a place where I can take one idea, one feeling, and describe it in detail.” He paused. “Do you guys know why most people don’t like poetry?”

 

“Because it’s hard to understand,” a timid female voice called from the front of the room.

 

Tom nodded gratefully. “That’s right. It’s not easily understood and, in many cases, must be dissected and analyzed. This is true because the poet conceals or hides the poem’s meaning in a web of woven words.” He grinned wide. “But I have good news—that’s not every poet’s style.”

 

Again, there was little reaction.

 

“Does poetry make money, bring fame or fortune?” he asked. When no one volunteered, he answered, “Hardly! Very few poets make money. But that’s not what matters. As you guys get older, you'll find that there are more important things in life. Trust me, you'll look back and value your accomplishments and achievements so much more.” As the words left his lips, he was more surprised than the kids. “For me, it’ll be my writing and, of hopefully, the family I plan to have.”

 

Keeping to his promise, Tom never broke stride. “Most poets who make money do so posthumously, which means after they’re dead.”

 

Everyone laughed.

 

Tom shrugged. “Then why write it?” Before they even had a chance, he said, “There are thousands of reasons: To share ideas, to give back, to make somebody happy, to live on forever, to feel better yourself—to let people know that no one is ever alone. Many people wish to live on forever by becoming a voice of their generation.” He paused. “Mostly, it connects the writer to other people. By taking the pictures he has in his head and placing them into the minds of others, there is a magical connection.”

 

They looked confused.

 

“It’s exciting to some people that their thoughts and ideas will live on long after they do. Ironically, most poetry is personal. It’s based on feelings, where the poet is inspired to write his or her feelings down and capture them; feelings that may change from one moment to the next. Knowing that, I’m not sure how much immortal value is placed on most pieces that are written.”

 

They were now completely lost.

 

Tom grinned at the truth of it. Dumb it down, he told himself. “The reason I write poetry is to make a difference in the world, an impact, so when I complain about the world I can also say I'm trying to do something about it. I write it to give back what others have given me. Writing poetry allows me to stand up and speak out. And even if only one person listens and finds that their life is better because of my writing, it was worth my time and effort.” He took a moment, allowing his words a fair chance at being received. “There are four major purposes for poetry: It tells a story. It presents a picture. It expresses an emotional experience. And it reflects on life.” Searching their faces, he inquired, “Where can poetry be found?”

 

A freckled face girl wearing pig tails raised her hand. Tom called on her. “In Hallmark cards?”

 

“Excellent! And in the Bible, and in music, and pretty much everywhere else you can imagine.” He reached beneath the podium and pressed play on the portable CD player. Accompanied by a techno beat, the musical group Boyz II Men sang their melodic rap, rhyming nicely as they sang.

 

The kids were ecstatic. Tom sighed heavily. The teacher, however, didn’t look as thrilled. Tom waited a few minutes before replacing Boyz II Men with Don McClain, and served Ms. Willis a healthy slice of American Pie. The teacher nodded her approval. I have them all now, Tom thought.

 

He pressed stop, asking, “Who can tell me the difference between good writing and great writing?”

 

Still, there was no response. But something’s different, he thought. This time, the reason the kids didn’t answer was because they didn’t know the answer, not because they didn’t care. Most of them were now leaning in toward him.

 

He cut to the chase. “Good writers make people think, but great writers make their readers feel. Poetry should stimulate the imagination, touch the heart, bring strength, inspiration, laughter, and even tears.” He shrugged. “So how do you get started?”

 

“At the beginning,” the class clown in the rear answered, trying to redeem some of his dignity.

 

While the other students laughed, Tom agreed. “You’re absolutely right. Everything starts with an idea. I know a little more about poetry than you do, but not much, believe me. The difference is—I practice, which is the only way to get good at anything.” He scanned the room. “There are two major types of poetry. What are they?”

 

“Rhyming,” an anxious voice called out.

 

Tom went with the momentum. “Right, or what we call verse. And there’s also non-rhyming, also referred to as prose.”

 

They nodded.

 

He passed out a set of handouts. It was his poetry. He intended to read each and ask their meanings. He needed to prove that poetry didn’t have to be mind-numbing. “I wrote a poem that was inspired by an experience I had when I was a little younger than you are right now. Do you guys want to hear it?”

 

“Yes,” the class sang in chorus.

 

He recited the first poem.

 

“Roller Coaster

We stood in line afraid as hell

and heard those riding scream and yell. The line grew long, no turning back. We took off down the twisted track. Holding on with all our might

we climbed a hill, no earth in sight

and at the top we held our breath,

then took a plunge that met with death.

Hairs on end and knuckles white,

we screamed like children with delight. Accepting that without control,

we placed our faith: We’d come back whole. So up and down, through loops and screws, our hands reached for a sky so blue

and in our hearts the truth beat clear...

trust releases joy from fear.”

 

Several students exchanged surprised glances, making Tom smile.

 

“Recently, I wrote this next poem, Beauty, about a girl named Carmen. It’s in prose.” He cleared his throat.

 

“She radiates with the light of a thousand candles,

while her movements have the energy of a lightning storm. The sweetest aroma lures even the strong,

though it is the scent of confidence which takes the kill. With the giggle of an innocent child,

her tone is soft and gentle, almost heavenly.

She expects nothing,

but her silence demands the best.

Her forgiving heart beats in the ears of all men,

yet it is her untamed spirit which screams out loudest. Like a beacon in the darkest night, her comfort is safety. Rarely revealing her deepest thoughts,

her words remain simple, for she is a mystery.

Her tender touch can be soothing or sensual,

as she is unconditional love—

both maternal and passionate.

In a word, she is beauty...

and you should see her on the outside.”

 

The applause shocked him. They’re hooked, he thought, so he alternated a few more between verse and prose. When he was done, he looked up to find the loud-mouthed boy in the back of the room smiling at him. He felt like leaping. Even the smallest victories were cause for celebration. This one’s huge, he thought and grinned back before shutting off the lights. “Get comfortable, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths,” he said, stifling a giggle that tickled at the back of his throat. “This is supposed to be fun, not work.”

 

Once the excited chatter subsided, they did as they were told.

 

“Now picture your favorite, safest, most comfortable place in the whole world. Take your time, but once you have it open your eyes.”

 

All eyes gradually returned to him, most filled with a growing interest.

 

“Now using what you’ve just experienced with all five senses, write this place down, describing it in prose and take your reader where you want them to go.”

 

“What if I can’t?” a young boy asked.

 

“Can’t?” Tom asked. “Now there’s a word that should either be stricken from your vocabulary, or used as nothing more than a challenge. You can do anything you put your mind to— anything!” He drew in a deep breath. “As long as you can speak, you can write. Rather than opening your mouth, use a pen. The words won't just drift off with the wind and become lost forever. Instead, you can write them down and stick them in a book where they’ll live on.”

 

The students were given fifteen minutes to play with their vocabularies and paint their vivid pictures. Tom strolled through the classroom, checking on their progress, inspiring each with genuine compliments as he passed their desks.

 

“Okay,” he said, “next, I want you to close your eyes again and imagine an event that you’ve attended; a circus, an amusement park—whatever—and describe how it makes you feel. And I want you to do it in free verse, or rhyming form.”

 

After this assignment was complete, he asked for a topic he could tackle. The kids agreed. “Write a poem about something that should change in the world.”

 

There’s plenty to write about there, he thought. “Great,” he said, “so while you’re finishing the same assignment at home, I’ll be doing mine. And once we’ve all finished, perhaps your teacher, Ms. Willis, wouldn’t mind compiling them into a bound collection to create an anthology?”

 

The impressed woman nodded, exciting the kids even more. They were now working on their first collection of poetry. They were going to have their own book.

 

As Tom gathered his things, he decided to leave them with one last nugget of wisdom. “Poetry cannot be taught,” he said, “only inspired. And remember this: Talent can be cultivated, but discipline is rare.” He knew this final statement would only click with those who cared to give it some extra thought.

 

“Thank you, Mr. Prendergast,” they sang in chorus.

 

“No,” he replied. “Thank you—for inspiring me. You’ve reminded me of the many reasons I write and I’ll never forget you for it.”

 

One week later, Tom sent his contribution to Ms. Willis’ anthology:

 

A Walk in the Clouds by Thomas Prendergast

I walked amongst the clouds today and then I took a seat

to try to understand the world

that spun beneath my feet.

It was the grandest picture my eyes had ever seen.

I couldn’t make out colors except for blue and green.

And yet I could see people,

a whole race on the run.

To tell the truth, from where I sat they clearly moved as one.

With fear, they searched for answers

they thought were on the ground.

And though they spoke in different tongues they made the sweetest sound.

They had the wrong perspective, with no way they could know:

There are no individuals, but just parts of a whole.

And so I made a wish for them that someday they would see: Only when they really love

is when they’re really free.

I’ll dance amongst the stars tonight, while others search in vain.

For just above their point of view there’s no such thing as pain.

 

“Professor,” Sue said, infiltrating Tom’s vivid memory and pulling him back into the present.

 

“I know,” he said, “I know. I’m going to be late.” As Sue turned and left the room, he stood—his aching molar shoving a hot spike into his brain. I need to get this damned tooth fixed soon! he thought.

 

As Tom started for his office door, he caught his passing reflection in the mirror. He stopped for a moment. Still physically fit, his hair was now salt-and-pepper while his round eye glasses contributed to his intellectual appearance. He took a deep breath and exhaled. There was a time when I loved to teach, he thought, thinking it would be so wasteful not to pass on my passion and knowledge to people who cared enough to listen. He shook his head. Instead, I ended up becoming a college professor.

 

As he walked toward his classroom, he grabbed his cell phone and dialed both of his kids again—experiencing the same hurtful avoidance. This is bullshit, he thought, his rising heart rate throbbing in his rotten tooth. I’m so sick and tired of being disrespected by these entitled brats.

 

A moment later, he swung open the classroom door, bringing a dozen separate conversations to silence. Let’s get this over with, he thought, trying to ignore the blinding pain that pulsated in the back of his mouth.

 

 

 

Thanks so much for subscribing to my author mailing list and entering our inner circle.

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As a token of gratitude for joining us on this amazing journey, please select the version you prefer of Episode 2: The Spiral (pdf print copy to read online, or the mp3 audio file for your listening enjoyment).

Thanks so much for subscribing to my author mailing list and entering our inner circle.

I will be using this list to provide instant updates on book releases, upcoming projects, promotions and discounts.

 

As my first token of gratitude for joining us on this amazing journey, please select the version you prefer of Episode 1: Serving Time (pdf print copy to read online, or the mp3 audio file for your listening enjoyment).

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