The following short story was submitted for the Michael J. Doran writing contest for Wootton High School and was selected as the first-place winner. The fictional story is set at Wootton but is inspired by real-life events.
Everett Chambers strolled down the hallway, ready for his first day of high school to be over and football practice to start. According to his schedule, his last class was Operational Studies in room 274.
For Everett, nothing was more important than football, least of all school. He was tall and blond and had a lot of muscle packed into his thin wide receiver frame. A varsity spot was up for grabs and that alone was his focus.
Finding room 274 was a challenge and he arrived ten minutes late. He cautiously walked into the dark classroom and was relieved that a teacher didn’t scold him.
The room seemed empty, with three students, two boys and a girl, seated at a rounded table in the middle of the room. The African-American boy was reading a copy of Time magazine while the other boy, who looked Chinese, was solving a Rubik’s Cube. The girl was studiously working.
“Where’s the teacher?” Everett asked. The girl looked up with a slight look of surprise.
“That’s the question,” the girl said. “I’m Olivia and I didn’t sign up for this class. This is Edison (she pointed to the Chinese boy with the Cube) and this is Allen (she pointed to the other boy).”
Suddenly, a laptop on the middle of the table emitted a bright flash. A 3D head appeared on screen.
“Welcome to Operational Studies,” the head buzzed in a mechanical voice. All four pairs of eyes transfixed on the screen.
“Operational Studies was created to educate students on espionage. We searched for the students that best exemplify intelligence, excellence, and competence and you four were selected. We hope you’ll be up for the job.”
“For your first mission, you will solve three challenges in order to locate Doran’s box, a secret capsule with a valuable treasure. The challenges will be solved on this laptop and the box must be put in a red truck in the parking lot. This mission is worth half of your summative grade.”
The screen showed a blueprint background with a white start button in the center. Everett pulled out his phone, feeling little motivation to do any work until football practice. The others were huddled around the laptop.
“Aren’t you going to help us?” Olivia pleaded.
Everett’s initial thought was a swift no, but he paused and changed his mind. At the very least, it would be interesting. It didn’t hurt that he’d be working with Olivia.
“Sure,” he muttered, tucking his phone into his pocket. He pulled up a chair and sat at the table. Edison, gripping the mouse tightly, clicked the start button. The screen displayed a list of ten assignments with different point values and grades.
“Calculate the lowest possible grade needed to get an 89.5 total grade,” the mechanical voice stated.
Edison whipped out a blank sheet of paper and a calculator and started frantically writing and saying numbers aloud. Olivia had an intrigued look on her face as she watched him.
At last Edison dropped his pencil and placed his hands behind his head.
“Done,” he announced triumphantly. He moved his hand to the mouse.
“Not so fast,” Olivia said. “If we get a single point off, we’ll fail.”
Everett still had no idea why he was in the class. He was a dumb football player with three brainiacs as classmates. He felt tempted to turn his phone back on.
When Olivia completed her check, she nodded and typed the number 28 into the box. Edison cautiously clicked the submit button. The screen shot to a view of the Wootton football field. The players were 3D and animated fans filled the bleachers.
“This isn’t work,” Everett said. “It’s Madden.”
Everett nudged the others over and took over the controls. The scoreboard read 1st and 10, with Wootton trailing Churchill 21-16 and two minutes on the clock. Everett called run plays on his first three plays but didn’t reach the first down marker. With a minute left, it was 4th and inches.
“Run a trick play,” Edison suggested. “The odds are that they expect a run.”
Everett knew just the play. The quarterback received the snap, faked a handoff to the fullback, and threw a bullet across the line of scrimmage to the receiver. Everett pounded the B key. Instead of running, the receiver stepped back, lined up, and launched the ball downfield. One of the Wootton receivers caught the pass over a defender and high-stepped into the end zone.
Everett jumped up and pumped his fist. The others focused on the screen.
“Task three,” it read. “Fill in the correct dates of these historical events.”
There was a list of five events and Everett knew only one or two. Hopefully one of those geniuses knew them.
“When was the Declaration of Independence signed?” Olivia read aloud.
“1776,” Allen replied immediately in a cool, composed manner. Olivia looked over and typed in 1776.
“When did the Civil War start?”
“When was the Star-Spangled Banner written?”
“When was the first Super Bowl?”
Everett opened his mouth to speak, but Allen beat him to it.
“When did Wootton High School open?”
Olivia checked the numbers, glanced at Allen, and hit the enter key. The numbers rearranged into one line.
“The coordinates!” Olivia gasped. Everett, seizing the opportunity, turned on his phone and typed the numbers into the GPS app.
“I’ve got them,” Everett said. “Follow me.”
The four students sprinted down the halls. Olivia ran with such long, graceful strides that even Everett struggled to keep up. Edison, with a fierce game face on, was far ahead of both of them.
“Down this stairway,” he ordered. They chopped their feet down the stairs.
“Past this hall, then two lefts.”
“Room 100, on the right.”
“Destination reached,” the computer voice said. They turned into the classroom and slowed down, Everett panting hard. Allen was missing, but that was the least of Everett’s worries.
The room was an old computers classroom with desktops lining every wall. All three carefully paced around the room in silence. A loud bang reverberated through the room and Everett whirled around and saw Edison on the floor. Next to Edison, a tile had come off the floor, revealing a gold plate.
Everett reached in and pulled the box out.
“Doran’s box,” all three marveled at the shiny box.
“Should we open it?” Everett asked. “It could make us rich!”
“No,” Olivia replied firmly. “We must put it in the red truck to complete the mission. You run it out.”
Everett clutched the box and ran out of the classroom. He bounded down a flight of stairs and lowered his shoulder into the door. There was the red pickup truck, just outside. Everett didn’t see a driver, so he carefully placed the box in the back of the truck. He pumped his fist and strolled back, his mission complete.
Then it hit him. Why was the box being delivered outside? Why was there a mission on the first day of class? Why was there no teacher present and an empty room used for class? Something wasn’t right.
Everett wheeled around and saw the red truck moving away. He started sprinting, dodging cars left and right. The truck ran through a red light and onto the parkway, weaving in and out of traffic. Everett pursued the truck and reached an intersection. Forced to stop, he could only watch as the truck cruised down the road. A hand appeared out of the driver’s window and waved. Everett walked back to the school, all of his energy drained. Olivia and Edison found him on his knees outside the stadium minutes later.
“The whole class was a fraud,” Olivia said, tears streaming down her pale face. “I talked to one of the staff members. That guy tried to break in last month. He used us…”
“I know,” Everett trembled.
He looked back at the school and saw Allen walking towards them, beaming. Something didn’t add up.
“I found Doran’s box,” Allen announced. The three others turned around instantly and stared at him.
“I don’t trust the internet, so I went to the library instead. Turns out, the coordinates gave a location in the library. I found this between two books.”
Allen held out a blue and red box with Doran’s name inscribed. He slowly twisted the key and the box opened. The inside looked like a time capsule, filled with pictures and letters and keepsakes.
One pictured him with the hockey team, while another captured him with students at a science competition.
“I can’t believe it,” Everett noted, still stunned. “I thought it would be money.”
Allen looked again at the box and, in his peaceful demeanor, looked back at the other three.
“I suppose the memories were what Dr. Doran really treasured.”
2 thoughts on “Short Story: Operational Studies”
Congratulations again, John. Thanks for letting me beta read! 🙂
John did you say you wrote this? I really like the story and it was interesting from beginning to end. I’m glad it won first place. Let me know if you wrote it. It was a great mystery and had me curious until the end. I love the sentiment and the touching ending.