Off Highway Twelve – A Very Short Story

Hall Five could have been divided into three smaller rooms, but the accordion style partitions were not open and the unused area behind the trainees remained in darkness except for a red EXIT sign on the far opposite wall.  And though several vents in the carpeted floor clattered with warm air, Hall Five was too large and the seats of the chairs were cold.

Eaton Hudderson, who sat in the front row,  leaned back and looked up at the six fluorescent squares overhead. They hummed. And the bee like hum, common to long vacuum tubes, made Eaton Hudderson desperately desire to lay his head on the floor, curl up under his chair like a cat, and fall back asleep.

Before the hotel desk clerk rang his room, Eaton had been dreaming. It had been a very important, sensual dream and now, as he sat on his folding chair in Hall Five, Eaton tried to remember something of what the dream had been about. “The color blue? There was a boat. Two boats. I was swimming,’ he thought.

In front of Eaton was a wooden lectern and a whiteboard with the words DAY TWO written on it in green marker. Mrs. Ghaston did not use the wooden lectern.  Instead, she moved about in front of the trainees with her note cards in one hand.  And whenever Mrs. Ghaston moved her arms, she expelled a sweet scent of rose perfume from her entire body.

‘The Eight Pillars are essential to the performance of each trainee,” said Mrs. Ghaston. ‘Without them, your entire network is in danger of collapsing.”

She spoke at a steady, conversational level. She punctuated each sentence. And when Mrs. Ghaston completed a thought, she blinked terribly hard. And when she blinked terribly hard, she also contorted her face as if she had just bitten into a lemon slice or as if she had just seen a ghost which she absolutely refused to accept as having been seen.

“Each Pillar is equally essential,” said Mrs. Ghaston.  And she squeezed her face tight, shook her head left to right, and twice blinked.

“Of course,” echoed Agnus Dunfold, “Essential. Yes.”

Agnus sat directly behind Eaton and Eaton looked back over his shoulder.  She was the oldest of the trainees in Hall Five. She wore a heavy black dress and copper bracelets that clinked as she swept her long graying hair from off her shoulders.

“Essential,” Agnus repeated with great authority and then turned and nodded at the others in attendance around her. However, the other trainees were all in some state of drinking coffee from small white cups, or stirring coffee in their small white cups, or crossing and uncrossing their legs on the cold black folding chairs and so did not witness Agnus’ invitation for approval.  One woman, at the end of the second row near the double entrance doors, still had wet hair and was applying lipstick in a hand mirror that was discovered at the bottom of her purse.

Eaton turned back to face Mrs. Ghaston.

“We will start with Pillar Number One,” said Mrs. Ghaston. “Open your training guides to page twelve, please.”

“Page twelve,” echoed Agnus.

Overhead, the six illuminated squares in the long white sea of panels hummed with a bee like hum common to long fluorescent tubes. “If only I could doze off,” Eaton thought. “Just for a moment. I could remember. Was it my father eating a sandwich? On a blue boat? I was swimming.”

“Now,” said Mrs. Ghaston, “who thinks they can recall the Twelve Main Points of Pillar One?”

“Yes,” echoed Agnus. “Who can recall?” And her copper metal bracelets clinked approvingly.

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