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The Halloween Project 2018 Story 6: Aptitude Test


Aidan put his pencil down and breathed deeply, centering himself. He thought of the techniques Dr. Brasil had taught him. In through the nose, out through the mouth; slow, extended, measured. Dr. Brasil coached that a 'whoosh' noise at the end would help, but that wouldn't work here. It was the Scholastic Aptitude Test, better known as the S.A.T.'s and Aidan was taking it for the fifth time. His father had insisted. "How do you expect to get into a top tier school unless those scores come up Buddy?" Aidan's father always called him Buddy like he was an old high school pal or college roommate. Maybe a partner in the eight man sculls at Choate or a fellow rugby player at Bowdoin. Aidan always hated that and he even told his father once. But his father didn't listen. Never listened. Sometimes Aidan thought that he hated his father as well but he didn't want to start thinking about that now. It would make him upset. A boy in the corner coughed. Aidan thought it was easily about the 200th time that kid had coughed. About an hour ago Aidan started counting. On the corner of the S.A.T. answer sheet he had been ticking off the coughs with a little grid system. Four straight up and down lines and a diagonal. Five per box. Aidan guessed he had a couple dozen boxes. The room was set up perfectly to make him lose it. Yesterday, a couple hundred students carried desks from their classrooms down to the gym. They were instructed to place them in long rows, about 20 per row, 10 rows across. Two hours ago all the juniors filed into the gym, found their alphabetical places and began the S.A.T. Two hundred sad sack students hoping the miracle gods of academia would descend on them and result in exemplary scores. Fat chance. Aidan was taking the S.A.T. for the fifth time. The Faber Castell eraser at the top left corner of his desk was slowly being shredded into a tiny mound of pink, crumbly eraser bits. Aidan always liked that name, Faber Castell. He imagined that the eraser was manufactured somewhere interesting and afar, perhaps Montreal or somewhere in France. He had an entire box of them at home. His six, perfectly sharpened, Dixon Ticonderoga pencils balanced his desktop on the right top corner. He'd only used one on the exam, at least those parts of the S.A.T. that he had done, but he liked to have them there just in case. Two rows to the left another kid, Aidan thought his name was Eric, and maybe he was in the Robotics Club, was tapping his pencil. And tapping his pencil. And tapping, and tapping and tapping. Sometimes Aidan found himself tapping along, but caught himself. An hour ago Aidan decided he was going to count the taps, but that was impossible. Another cough from the corner. The air conditioning system, high in the gym ceiling, kicked on again. Aidan measured it would run for exactly two and a half minutes and then switch off. Eventually, it would start up again, but there was no regular rhythm to its "on" switch. He thought it must have something to do with the temperature in the gym. Didn't his father understand that he was not going to a "top tier" college? Once, Aidan said he might not even go to college. That did not go over well. In fact, his father nearly blew a gasket. Literally. His face got so red in between his yelling, ranting and ridicule that Aidan thought his father might have a stroke or a heart attack. At least that's what he hoped. But in general it wasn't too bad at the house. His father mostly traveled and played golf every Saturday if he was home. Sunday too sometimes. His mother left him alone. Very alone. She had enough difficulty with her own problems. And those she had in spades. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, from two rows over. Mrs. Benedict, along with six other test proctors, made her way slowly down the aisle as she had a dozen times before. She hesitated over a student here or there peering down, like a bird of prey. What was she going to do, snatch a paper away from some unsuspecting kid who she held a grudge about? The problem was her shoes. Other teachers wore comfortable loafers or sneakers or flats. No, not Mrs. Benedict. She wore black high heels and they clicked at every step. Here she came again. A slow steady click at each step like a clock set to sound every five seconds. She neared his desk, clicking. Aidan closed his eyes and breathed. In. Out. She stopped over him then moved on, clicking her way down the long row to the back of the gym. The air conditioning unit went on. The kid coughed. Three times. Three more marks on Aidan's grid. Pencil tapping. Tapping. Tapping. Tapping. Attention Deficit Disorder, On the spectrum, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Personality Disorder, Anti-social, loner, Obsessive-Compulsive. Aidan heard it all over the years. How about Dad? What about him? Aidan thought about college. He looked down at the test. What part of the test were they on? Vocabulary? Writing? Why didn't his father ever go to Dr. Brasil with him? Or his mother? His very fragile, very messed up mother? What was that noise? Mrs. Benedict began to come down his aisle again. She clicked her way toward him from behind. She closed the distance, feet, maybe inches behind him. She stopped, the heels stopped clicking. He could feel her bending down. He looked down at those damn, black high heels. Bending lower, she hovered, first her body, then a hand, finally a pointing finger just an inch over the mounting pile of eraser bits, now grown even larger. Her finger descended, a sharp red fingernail lingered, an inch above his Faber Castell pile. He never even looked up from the black high heels. Reaching out his right hand to the top edge of the desk he fingered the pencils and grasped one. Clenched in his fist like a spike, arm rotating in a nice arc any baseball player would be proud of, he rammed a needle sharp Dixon Ticonderoga down as hard as he could into Mrs. Benedict's Achilles' tendon. He was surprised when he saw the sharp point, now broken, protrude from the other side of her ankle. She screamed and fell to the hard but smooth, and finely polished, gym floor. The room exploded. Yelps, gasps and screams reverberated, assailing the long overdue silence. Several students nearby jumped from their chairs. One desk overturned. Several more jumped in surprise not knowing what had just happened. Aidan stood solemnly and began to move away from the desk. Abruptly, he stopped, retraced the few steps, reached down and grabbed the five remaining sharpened Ticonderogas. He placed them in his pocket. He'd save those for his father.