Prose, Grades 10-12: Third Place

A Cold December Day— Joseph Lauer

What a dreary day, Maya thought as she stared out the window at the slate-gray sky. At least the goldenrod lived up to its name. The dead stalks shimmered under their thin layer of snow, and rustled as a breeze blew past. Maya clicked her pen and began to write again.
“No one was expecting winter this year… Not even the plants…” she mumbled as she scribbled in her notebook. “A cold December day has gripped—”
“Ms. Carver,” said an old voice, right in her ear. Maya jumped and almost hit her nose on the glass. “That,” said Professor Rodrigo, “is not a test.” He gestured to her notebook.
“Oh, uh, sorry sir…” mumbled Maya as she swiftly stuffed her notebook into her satchel.
“As you should be, with grades like yours.” Rodrigo’s eyebrows rose comically as he said this.
“Won’t happen again, sir,” Maya quickly said as she grabbed her test from the corner of her desk. Rodrigo watched her with a disapproving stare as she clicked and unclicked her pen nervously and began to answer the first question.
“If it’s so distracting, I might as well turn the blasted window off,” he said to no one in particular. Some of the students looked up from their tests as Rodrigo tapped out a five-digit pin code in the corner of the window to bring up the menu. Suddenly the December landscape was replaced with a dull black much colder than the eerie gray snow.
Maya sighed and tried her best to remember the aerodynamics of a delta wing pattern. Why did she even have to know this? She was supposed to be learning how to fly aircraft, not build them! She kept staring back at the window, as if the virtual snow-covered field would appear again. She needed to do something productive, not a bloody aerodynamics test. She set down her pen and cleared her throat awkwardly. Professor Rodrigo had just wobbled back to his desk and picked up a page of two-week-old Sunday comics when he heard her. His eyebrows raised again.
“Carver, do you have a question?” he said in a soft voice as he wobbled back, squeezing between desks.
“May I leave to use the restroom?”
“Of course, Carver. This isn’t high school, you know; you can leave any time you like. Just be warned, one more failing grade and you might be dropped off next time we land! We have no use for failures.” The emphasis was clear enough. You’re a failure, Maya.
“…Yes sir.”
Maya glanced back down at her unfinished test, then quietly packed up her things and left, feeling the cold stare of Rodrigo behind her right up until she ducked through the doorway. Out in the corridor she leaned against a wall and let out a suppressed breath.
“Oh man…” she said, rubbing her temples.
She had never seen the corridor outside of Rodrigo’s classroom this empty. She could see almost a hundred feet in each direction. Here metal rings served as doorways at every intersection, and bare, bright white light bulbs lined the ceiling. Upstairs Maya knew there were carpets and elegant-looking lamps in the crew quarters, but no one cared about the students. One disadvantage of being deep within the hull was the lack of a view. If she could just find a real window…
Maya began to walk briskly to the nearest lift. Fresh air was what she needed, and if she could sneak into the engineering hangar, she might also get to see some of the planes take off. To hell with the test, she didn’t really want to become a pilot anyway. At least not right now.
She passed a woman in a crew uniform who gave her the you-aren’t-supposed-to-be-here look, tying a tight knot in the pit of Maya’s stomach, but she was able to dash away before the woman said anything.
As Maya’s lift arrived on the engineering deck and she scurried out into the red-lined hallway, she thought about her grades again. She would give anything to be a pilot, wouldn’t she? A coward, that’s what she was, she was a coward, and there was nothing to be done about it. Maya stopped at the automatic door leading into the engineering hangar and took two deep breaths. Here we go, Maya thought.
She waved her hand above her head to activate the motion detector and the door whirred open like a camera shutter. A blast of warm air blew past Maya as the air pressure changed. She walked into the hangar and stared wide-eyed at the planes around her. Jets in all stages of disrepair lay scattered about, crawling with mechanics and engineers. Tools and scrap metal were scattered about, and a little runway led to the giant hangar door, a huge window out into the open air. Maya stared in awe until she was approached by a mechanic, still wiping oil from his hands with a dirty rag.
He questioned what Maya was doing in the engineering hangar, and she lied to the man, saying she was here for a project and needed to ask him some questions. As they talked, the mechanic walked her over to a piece of a wing, using it to explain the aerodynamics of certain patterns.

Then he picked up a scrap of metal shaped like a strange W and told her why some planes were testing forward-swept wing designs. Maya threw in questions every so often. This went on until another man approached them and began reprimanding Maya’s new friend. Apparently he wasn’t “being paid to chat with students.” Maya took this opportunity to slip away.
Wait a minute, Maya thought, did I just actually learn the advantages of a delta wing pattern? Why planes couldn’t really fly upside down? Did I just… learn the test?
Maya couldn’t help a satisfied chuckle. Who was the failure now? Was it that Maya couldn’t learn? Or that Rodrigo couldn’t teach?
At that moment Maya heard a woman’s voice behind her. “Who… what are you doing here? Hey! You shouldn’t be on the engineering deck!”
Maya whipped around to find a woman in a crew uniform quickly walking toward her, a stern look on her face. Oh no, this wasn’t good. This really wasn’t good. Maya fought the urge to freeze in fear, and forced her legs into a run. She was not going to the headmaster’s office now. She only had a couple minutes before Rodrigo’s class was over! She had to get back—she had a test to take!
Maya almost skidded around the corner of the lift corridor, the crewwoman hot on her heels. Maya managed to duck in the lift with just enough time to mash the “close door” button as her pursuer advanced on her. Maya shrank to the back of the lift and clutched her satchel protectively as the crewwoman reached the lift seconds before the door slid shut in her face. Too close, much too close.
Maya realized she was hyperventilating as the elevator reached the academy deck. She scurried out into the corridor and dashed to Rodrigo’s classroom, watching a couple other students already filling out. She pushed past a couple people and into the classroom as Rodrigo was collecting finished tests.
“Mr. Rodrigo, please, I have to finish—” Maya stammered, talking too fast for her own mouth.

“Calm down. Your test is still at your desk. You have seven minutes, Carver — I advise you make them count.”
“Yes sir. Thank you, sir,” Maya said, already vaulting over desks to get to her own. She plucked her pen from her satchel and began to scribble down the advantages of a delta wing pattern, as Rodrigo ruffled his newspaper and began to read again. You got this, Maya, she thought. This test doesn’t stand a chance.