Joseph S. Pete
His campaign to be student president cratered.
Maybe it was his lack of personality or his lack of populist ideas or his proposal to have salads every day in the cafeteria, perhaps with kale and pistachios since that was what his mom liked and his worldview was as narrow as his suburban cul-de-sac. Maybe it was the fifty tentacles that protruded from his back and writhed involuntarily like a frothing tank full of eels in an unrestrained feeding frenzy.
Whatever the reason, no one had his signs taped to their lockers. He affixed a campaign sign with his prominently featured surname to his own locker, but it was stolen by third period.
He tried to sleuth out the surreptitious thief himself, traversing the hallways and scouring the trash cans to figure out who done it. After failing and giving up, he told a teacher, who apathetically sent him to tell the main office. Some wild-haired wiry kid was in there reading announcements over the intercom with theatrical aplomb. Everyone else seemed pretty indifferent to everything, seemed not to care at all about the whole soul-crushing affair. One of his tentacles involuntarily, reflexively curled around a pencil sharpener, ripped it off the wall, and silently deposited it in a trash can.
No one even noticed.
This wasn’t the way it should have been. He was going up the chain of command as he was supposed to, but everything in the central office was just matter-of-fact, business as usual.
The secretary told him this kind of thing happened all the time and they’d try to help him, they really would. But she had to be honest, they didn’t know what they could realistically do under such circumstances. Signs vanished all the time.
His tentacles raged, coiling up like muscles and then flailing around with mounting fury. It was almost a blur, a flurry of unruly, obstreperous tendrils. She didn’t bat an eye.
He felt betrayed, like no one would ever do anything for him. His head drooped. His shoulders slumped. He completely gave up. He sagged like a deflated balloon. His tentacles froze, sagged a little, suddenly crashed down, and languished like day-old calamari.
The secretary smiled, told him it was just student council, something like that scarcely mattered. She turned back to her computer, clicked a few times, called up surveillance footage of his locker and started fast-forwarding through it.
“Here, let’s check the tape anyway,” she said.
Soon she found the correct place, and they watched the screen together. He was in the hallway, walking away from his locker when one of his tentacles suddenly lashed out all herky-jerky and knocked off his own campaign sign. He then continued obliviously on, and a janitor swept it up a few minutes later, long after the bell had rung and all the students that had crowded the hallway cleared the frame.
A great weight was lifted off his shoulders. He’d done it himself. No one was persecuting him. No one was targeting or ostracizing him.
“Kiddo,” she said gently, “sometimes we self-sabotage. Sometimes we undermine ourselves without even realizing it.”
The secretary scrunched her face, exposing rippling gills along her neck. She smiled knowingly.
“You know, I was the next Queen of Atlantis, the heir apparent, but I skipped too many classes and never finished college,” she said. “Now I’m here in the front office. It could be worse, but it’s not great. My Mazda has 200,000 miles on it.”
He gulped, nodded.
“Sure, you might lose this election,” the secretary said. “But so what? There’s a lot more you’re going to lose in life, even if it generally goes well. Just don’t sabotage yourself. There’s enough obstacles out there. It’s hard enough.”
All this seemed confessional, strangely intimate. He was so nervous he felt well-night catatonic. The sudden trilling of the bell gave him a reason to make an exit. He turned.
“Just don’t trip over your own tentacles, kid,” she said as the hallways flooded with students. “Mind yourself.”
He frantically stumbled out into the jostle and bustle of the hallway, immediately tripping himself as if on cue and face-planting.
An epiphany struck. Hallways! Of course! Hallways were too crowded, downright dangerous. Hallways would be his issue.
Then he realized he had no policy, no solution, nothing substantive on which to hang a campaign. He just had the vaguest outline of an idea, nothing more.
Still, he thought as his tentacles gathered up all the books that spilled from his bookbag, it was something. ♦