Cast of Thousands, chapter 18
"All right, now, everyone get out a piece of paper and something to write with." Mr. Bunting waited through the ensuing rustling and exchanges of paper and pens. "I'm going to have you do a free-write for five minutes on anything you want. Meanwhile, I'll be up here watching you. Every few seconds I'm going to say a word at random. At the end, we'll see how that affected what you wrote. Is everybody ready? Start writing."
Jess immediately began scribbling whatever she could think of. She didn't want him to start saying words before she even began the assignment. "The lily pad was big and wide and green," she wrote. "It supported many frogs. Frogs filled the lake with hopping and emptied it of flies."
"Banana," remarked Mr. Bunting.
Jess hesitated. She was very aware of his voice. Should she be working these words in on purpose? Maybe the words were supposed to just sort of influence what they all wrote. But then what if they didn't? She knew she could easily block out everything he said while she wrote. Would she be doing the assignment wrong that way?
"Island," he intoned.
Jessie quickly came to a decision. She would use each of the words on purpose and just see how it turned out. At least he wouldn't be grading this work.
"Frogs do not like bananas," she wrote. "They all lived on an island together."
"The island had a monkey for its king." He was reading the words more frequently now and she began throwing them all in together. "Kings are politicians. A lollipop was the monkey's favorite food. Also it liked burritos and cheeseburgers, but only vegetarian ones. They were made with sweet leaves from a special tree. They shared the island with a tribe of kittens who bounced around high up on pogo sticks to match the frogs. The sky was brown because they were on an alien planet to ours and the grass was pink. This did not bother the frogs because it was all they ever knew about the universe.
"One day a flying automobile arrived on their planet. It perched on a column made of tofu bricks and frog bones. Some people climbed out of it. They were having a party on a different planet nearby and wanted to invite the frogs.
"The frogs filed into their car. They were happy cause they liked to party. They all thought parties were terrific. But the kittens were sad not to go. They were invited but all the kittens were afraid of flying cars so they couldn't come. This caused them to have much angst. They started yowling and wailing and making a very vivid noise but the frogs went anyway. They thought the kittens were making a big deal over nothing. They packed all their worms and flew away in the big flying car.
"The car went as fast as a silver bullet. They zoomed off to the humans' party planet very fast and got there in no time. It was full of pine trees and mountains. There were no lakes for the frogs.
"The frogs feared they might start drying out! The air was searing their warts already. They had not thought ahead enough to bring frogscreen, which is like sunscreen but for frogs. They humans offered them sunscreen but it was all oily and did not help.
"The frogs found an ocean, but the ocean was salty and gross. They thought that it might dry them out even more.
"Finally they found a human who was doing laundry. 'Water!' the frogs all said and hopped into the washing machine to cool off decisively.
"The water spun them around and around. Some of the frogs thought it was like a fun ride. 'This is the best party ever!' those frogs said. Other frogs felt like they were going to be sick from the churning.
"Just then a cow came up. The frogs all tumbled out of the laundry machine to say hi to her. 'Hi horse!' they said. They were all mixed up from the wash but they were very clean!
"The cow was a very special cow who was the ruler of the whole planet. She had a turtle riding on her back. It was her Vice Turtle, the Prince.
"The turtle said, 'Hello my frog brothers and sisters. We are all green here and now we will party.' The cow said 'Although I am a purple cow I agree. I decree this whole planet to be a Frog Party Zone for the next three days.'
"'Yay!' said all the frogs. But wait! A giant spaceship came tearing through the air! It landed and tons of kittens came pouring out.
"'Oh no! They will be mad at us and turn us all into unguents!' said the frogs. But the kittens were not mad. They were very proud because they got over their fear of flying all by themselves!
"They showed the frogs and humans and Cow and Turtle their massive spaceship. 'We brought water for the frogs and a place for everyone to play and a lot of good board games to play with!' they said."
"All right, everyone wrap it up," Mr. Bunting ordered.
Jessie hastily went on, "'Wow! Thank you for thinking of us!' the frogs said. 'We found laundrymat water to use, but this is even better because it holds still.'
"And they all got in the pod-shaped spaceship and had a big party that lasted for days and days and days. The end."
Slowly everyone stopped scribbling and put their pencils down. Jess was content with her work; she usually couldn't get to a stopping point in her writing by the time he asked them to finish.
"Would any of you like to read what you wrote to the class?" He looked around at their anxious faces. "Peter, why don't you start?"
Peter, a tall spindly boy with serious blue eyes, sighed and turned his page over. "Why I think freewrites are stupid, by Peter Killian. One: I have nothing to write about. Two: my mom says they're just busywork. Three: I'm not making anything real or learning anything new. Four: I'm bored. Five: I have to keep writing the whole time even if I'm done. Six: I'd rather be drawing comics or doing my math homework. Seven: I'm bored. Eight: My pen is running out of ink. Nine: I can't even think of any more reasons and I still have to keep writing. Laundry. Decisive. Cow. Turtle. Unguent. Massive. Pod."
Mr. Bunting chuckled. "Good, Peter, that was very articulate. Does anyone else want to share what they came up with?"
Jess raised her hand timidly, figuring that hers just had to be better than that because at least it was more or less what he had told them to do.
"All right, Jessica, take the stage."
She began reading her freewrite, slowly putting more expression into it as she became more comfortable with what she was doing. A few people giggled here and there, at the random switches and frogs and unguents and especially the washing machine sequence. She took heart and read it all through in a clear strong voice.
"Very original, Jessica," Mr. Bunting complimented her. "Now we've seen two different takes on the assignment, would anyone else like to show us how it turned out for them?" He selected an eager girl in front. "Okay, Xuemin, show us what you got."
Xuemin began reading her freewrite proudly. "Kyra was a secret agent in search of the secret island of Dr. Filibuster. She had been trained in eight kinds of deadly combat arts. As our story begins, she was climbing up the Statue of Liberty, step by step, step by step, to get to the very top where she believed she could see the whole ocean and every island in it. BOOM!" They all jumped. "An explosion went off, knocking her free of the statue! She swung back and forth, flailing her arms and legs like a monkey to grab on again. BOOM!" A few students gasped. "A bullet flew past her ear and knocked a chunk out of the Statue of Liberty! The President would be sure to be mad now! She hid behind a fold of the statue's dress and threw a massive hand grenade out where she thought the assassin was hiding! It went off, BOOM!" The bell rang, cutting her off. Some of the students groaned.
"I'm sure Xuemin would be willing to stage private readings for interested students. Maybe we could feature her action novel at Poetry Club next week. Remember, it's open to everyone!" Mr. Bunting announced.