30 June, 2007

Admissions Interview

I'm not sure I really like this one, so I doubt it's going to go anywhere. I like the idea, but I just couldn't describe the conversation the way it went in my head.

“Please, come in, have a seat,” the tall older gentleman politely said as he rose and extended is hand to greet them. “I’m Tom Crenshaw.”

“Thank you. I’m John Peters, and this is my wife Anna, and this is little Johnny.” Mr. Crenshaw shook their hands as they were introduced, lingering briefly over the boy.

“It’s a pleasure to meet all of you,” he said, holding the gaze of the boy as he said it. Looking up, he invited them again to have a seat, and took his own invitation. They all sat the large oak desk that dominated the scholarly office. The wall behind the desk consisted of a large window that offered a stunning view of snow capped peaks and lush evergreen forests. The other walls were hidden behind large oak bookshelves filled with terribly impressive, leather bound volumes, interspersed with various antique instruments of art and science. The shelves were only broken for the door and window. The desk was neatly arranged; an old fashioned in and out box on one side was balanced by a large computer screen on the other, with a few executive knick-knacks and family photographs in between. The chairs were leather and comfortable, the kind of chairs a successful businessman would have in his office.

“Thank you for seeing us,” said Mrs. Peters once they were seated, “We realize the semester has already begun…,”

Mr. Crenshaw cut her off with a wave of his hand, brushing aside their concerns. “Think nothing of it; it’s a very minor matter. If young Johnny qualifies for admittance into our institution, we’ll be happy to enroll him, whatever the date.” Leaning forward and resting his forearms on his desk, he said, “Now, your email suggested that your son has some remarkable abilities.” He arched an eyebrow, inviting the family to elaborate.

The two sides of the desk were a study in contrast. Behind it, Mr. Crenshaw sat, calm, collected, very much in control of the situation. In front of it sat the Peters family looking very nervous and very much out of their element. The boy looked more disinterested than nervous, letting his gaze wander aimlessly, but he cast frequent furtive glances at the man across the desk. These looks were not lost on Mr. Crenshaw.

The two parents looked at each other, than back at Mr. Crenshaw. “Before we discuss our son,” said Mr. Peters in a slightly apologetic tone, “we were hoping to learn a little more about your school.”

Mr. Crenshaw smiled in a way calculated to put them more at ease and leaned back in his chair. It had a positive affect on the family as they relaxed a little more. “Of course. What would you like to know?” His voice had gained a little grandfatherly quality to it that helped the family gain a little more confidence.

“Well,” began Mr. Peters, “we had some questions about the curriculum.” Mr. Crenshaw nodded in encouragement. Mr. Peters continued, “Well, we went through website pretty thoroughly. Very interesting, very informative.” Mr. Crenshaw’s smile faded into a thoughtful, but still friendly, frown. It was a difficult expression to master, but he had years of practice to perfect it. “We just have a few questions.” He paused again, then continued when Mr. Crenshaw just waited. “Well, for example, we found where the curriculum is outlined by subject, and we studied it pretty thoroughly, and there was one topic which caught our attention.” Although Mr. Crenshaw’s gaze was steady on Mr. Peters as he spoke, Mr. Peters did not seem able to maintain eye contact for very long. Mrs. Peters did, but not in any confident manner, and since she was not speaking at the moment, Mr. Crenshaw did not attempt to hold her gaze.

“Go on,” invited Mr. Crenshaw.

“Well, it was buried pretty deep, in the sciences, almost like it wasn’t important, so maybe it’s nothing, but it still caught our attention.”

“And what is this topic that caught your attention?”

Mr. Peters frowned and finally locked gazes with Mr. Crenshaw, almost challenging him. Mrs. Peters’ eyes narrowed in a more intent stare than before. “Paranormal phenomena.” Mr. Crenshaw took a deep breath and nodded slowly. “What exactly is taught about this subject?”

The Peters were still nervous, but now they added a certain expectancy to their attitude. Mr. Crenshaw felt distinctly that he was being tested. He had a ready answer, and gave it, “It is a case study for the scientific method, to show that anecdotal evidence, no matter how prolific, is not conclusive evidence, and that only proper testing under controlled conditions can offer conclusive evidence.” The emotional intensity in the room suddenly dropped, like a great sigh, but it was not from relief. All three of the Peters seemed somehow disappointed. Mr. Crenshaw studied them for a moment, then decided to take a leap. Leaning forward again, he asked, “Am I to understand that young Johnny here exhibits abilities in this vein?” That caught their attention and held it, though no one responded to the question. He looked into each of their eyes by turn, and then addressing them all said, “Perhaps we should begin the interview.” Before any of them could respond to this suggestion, he turned to his computer and clicked the mouse around a few times. Turning back, he addressed Johnny directly in full grandfather mode. “How about it, Johnny? How would like to answer a few questions?” He beamed at the boy. Johnny looked at his mother who nodded encouragingly.

“Ok,” he said. He seemed much more sure of himself than his parents. It was a confidence tempered by caution, as evidenced by his looking to his parents first.

“Alright then, first question. It’s a tough one, so think carefully before answering.” He paused for dramatic effect, then said in a very solemn voice, “How old are you Johnny?”

Johnny grinned at the joke. “Nine.”

“Good. I remember being that age once, long, long ago. It was a lot of fun, as I recall.” Mr. Crenshaw turned to the computer to enter this information. “What sorts of things do you like to do? Do you play any sports?”

Johnny shook his head. “I don’t really play with the other boys much.” This didn’t seem to bother him at all, just another fact. “I play with my dogs instead.”

“I love dogs! Tell me about yours.” Mr. Crenshaw managed to continue typing on the computer while giving Johnny his full attention as they discussed Johnny’s dogs for a while. Johnny became quite animated as he described their personalities and shared some stories of their adventures together.

Laughing after a particularly amusing story, Mr. Crenshaw said, “Dogs sure can be wonderful friends, can’t they?” Everyone had relaxed at this point, and Mr. Crenshaw felt that he had their trust. “So,” he said, again addressing Johnny, “what else interests you? Video games, books, TV?”

“I can draw,” he said, enthusiastically. Then his face suddenly changed, as well as the faces of his parents, as he realized what he just said. They were back on uncertain territory. Mr. Crenshaw pretended not to notice, and pulled a pad of paper from a desk drawer as he said, “Really? Would you mind drawing something for me right now?”

The boy looked down at his hands in his lap and said in a hesitant voice, “I don’t really draw on paper. Wood is much better.”

“Right. Will this do?” Mr. Crenshaw pulled a wooden board about the size of a piece of paper and about a quarter inch thick out of another drawer without blinking an eye at the unusual medium. This did surprise the family, though. “Don’t worry,” he said, deliberately misunderstanding their looks of concern, “I’ve got plenty of these lying around and nothing to do with them. I really would like to see what you can do with it.” Johnny thought he heard a little too much emphasis on the last part of the statement. Looking yet again to his parents for reassurance, he waited to take the proffered board.

Mr. Peters was looking very intently at Mr. Crenshaw. Still nervous, but now with confidence of a man defending his family, he said, “Mr. Crenshaw, I’m not sure if we should pursue this matter any further.”

The kindly old man met the father’s gaze equally intently, and said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Peters, few things surprise me anymore.” They held each other’s eyes for a few moments, then Mr. Peters looked at his son and nodded. Johnny took the proffered board in his hands and stared at it for a moment. Without looking up, he asked, “What do you want me to draw?”

“Anything you like.” Seeing him hesitate further, Mr. Crenshaw suggested, “Perhaps you could draw one of your dogs if you like.”

The boy nodded and touched the board with the tip of one finger, then hesitated. He cast one more look at Mr. Crenshaw and then began to trace an outline with his finger. Mr. Crenshaw could not see the board as the boy moved his finger across it, but he did not fail to see the thin wisp of smoke that trailed up behind it. The sweet and acrid scent of burning wood soon filled the office. The parents seemed frozen as they watched their son draw on the wood. He worked swiftly, changing fingers, sometimes using more than one, and finished after a few minutes. At last satisfied with what he had wrought, he held the board out across the desk to Mr. Crenshaw.

“Remarkable,” he said at last, after studying it for a few minutes. The family tensed, as if expecting a blow. “The detail is exquisite. This must be Rufus, correct?” The detail was amazing; the picture burned into the wood was very lifelike. The family let out a collective sigh.

“You aren’t… surprised by how he drew it?” Mrs. Peters asked.

“No,” he responded succinctly. Setting the board down on the desk, he leaned forward again and looked very intently at each of them. “I believe it is time to stop beating around the bush, as they say. The Academy of Arts and Sciences is no ordinary prep school, as I’m sure you have already guessed.” The parents nodded and Johnny looked at him with a suspicious frown. “We are in fact a school for people who are gifted in much the same way as your son. Like you, Johnny.”

“You mean there are others like me? Really?” He almost pleaded the question.

“Oh yes, many more. There are currently seventeen students in your age group alone, and we have students of all ages here.” He could clearly see many questions in all of their faces. He reached into another drawer and pulled out a thick, folded pamphlet. “I expect you have many questions flying through your thoughts right now. Most of them should be answered here, in our real brochure.” He handed it over to Mr. Peters.

“Thank you,” he said in bewilderment. He opened it up and read the first heading aloud, “’So Your Child is Telekinetic.’ Is that the official word for it?”

“For your son’s talent? Yes, we have found that families more readily accept telekinesis as the explanation than a few other words it could be called, including magic and the like. It all amounts to pretty much the same thing, that your son can manipulate the environment around him through rather unconventional means.”

They talked for a while longer about the school and its real curriculum, its history and purpose. Mr. Crenshaw told them that the key purpose of the school was to teach the students how to use their gifts responsibly and ethically. When they began to delve into the deeper philosophical questions implied by the tremendous power wielded by members of the Academy, Mr. Crenshaw deflected the questions by saying, “We could spend hours, even days and years, discussing these questions. Indeed, many in the Academy are still debating the answers. Will you be satisfied for now if I tell you that we will do our best to give your son a strong code of morality and ethics?” As they reluctantly nodded their agreement, he added, “You will, of course, never be shut out of this process. In fact, we encourage extensive participation from the parents, and any objections you have to what we teach your son will be duly noted and immediately acted upon. We will teach your child nothing that you do not want us to.” They nodded with more assurance this time.

“Alright, we’re convinced that this would be a good school for Johnny,” said Mr. Peters, “but what about tuition, and books and things? The rates quoted on your website were rather high for our means.”

Mr. Crenshaw chuckled. “Don’t worry at all about that. Those rates are all part of the fa├žade we have to put up. We have other means of financing our operations. To be honest, our costs are far lower than expected for a normal school, as I’m sure you can imagine, and our alumni take care of what expenses we do have. Sort of a student loan with voluntary payback.”

“That’s very generous,” said Mr. Peters.

Mr. Crenshaw nodded in agreement, then said, “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to continue with Johnny’s interview.” The family nodded, completely relaxed by now. Mr. Crenshaw cleared his throat and addressed Johnny, “By the way, just so there is no confusion, you do meet the qualifications for this school and there is definitely a place for you here if you want it.”

“Thanks,” said Johnny in a very sincere and enthusiastic voice.

Mr. Crenshaw continued, “The questions I’m going to ask now are mainly to measure your potential, and where to begin your education. Ready? Good. Ok, the first thing I need to know is where you are in regular school. I assume you’ve started the third grade?”

“Actually,” interjected Mrs. Peters, “we’ve been home schooling him all his life, and he’s almost passed the state standards for fourth grade.”

“Excellent,” said Mr. Crenshaw as he typed some more on the computer. “Our standards are a bit higher than most state standards, so we end up doing a lot of remedial work with our new students. But it sounds like you will be able to jump right in.” Finished typing, he turned back to Johnny. “Alright, next question. You drew the picture by burning it into the wood. Is there anything else you can do with fire?”

The interview continued for some time after that, mainly focusing on the boy’s more extraordinary abilities. They set up an appointment for further academic testing and a tour of the campus. By the time the family left, the entire afternoon had passed, and all their concerns had been allayed. They were very relieved to finally find a place where their child wouldn’t be the unusual one.

When his office door closed behind the Peters family, Mr. Crenshaw sat back in his chair with a heavy sigh. It had been a successful day; though he had not revealed it to the family, Johnny was definitely the strongest in his peer group, and perhaps in the school. Mr. Crenshaw offered a prayer of thanks to the fates that had led little Johnny to his office, and not to one of his rivals. He would have to protect him from their prying eyes. He knew to what lengths they would go to have the boy’s power for their own, if they ever learned of his potential. He suspected that he would find very little rest for a long time to come.

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