Story Written by James Rada, Jr.
Part 3: Unfair Education
“The Anger of Innocence” is a six-part original serial set in the Graceham area during 1973. Serialized fiction is something that older newspapers often did as an additional way to entertain their readers. We thought it was about time for serial to make a comeback. Let us know what you think.
Sarah Adelsberger woke in the morning feeling tired rather than refreshed. She hadn’t dreamed about the birds covering Christine Weber and the teenager not being there when the birds flew off. She hadn’t even dreamed about bringing the bird with the broken neck back to life. She would have expected to have nightmares about those things because they had happened, but she had dreamed about something that hadn’t even happened.
In her nightmare, she had argued with Mrs. Zentz, her science teacher. She couldn’t remember what they argued about, only that they had been shouting back and forth. While Sarah believed Mrs. Zentz didn’t like her, the teacher had never treated Sarah as poorly as she had in the dream. The teacher made fun of Sarah’s questions and laughed at her answers. She called Sarah a “stupid, fat girl.” Sarah had also felt a lot angrier toward the teacher than she had ever felt in real life. Maybe it was because of the way the dream teacher acted, but Sarah had felt disconnected from her dream self. Although she was awake now, Sarah still seethed with anger.
She got herself ready in a fog. She dreaded going to school because she knew Christine wouldn’t be there. Christine was a popular student, and people would wonder where she was. No one except Sarah’s family would have cared if Sarah had gone missing.
At Thurmont Middle School, Sarah heard Marci Robertson say Christine was supposed to come over to her house after school, but Christine had never showed up. John Poole mentioned that Christine hadn’t seemed sick yesterday, and she was probably playing hooky.
Most kids wanted to talk about all the birds that were in the area. The thousands of blackbirds, grackles, cowbirds, and starlings had started arriving in the area yesterday, and only Sarah knew that she was the reason they had come. She didn’t know how she had called them or how to make them go away, but her aunt had explained to Sarah that she had power.
Sarah walked into her science class and felt angry at the sight of her teacher. Mrs. Zentz was a few years older than Sarah’s mother, but not as old as Mrs. Smith, Sarah’s English teacher, who looked like a dried apple. Mrs. Zentz’s straight, red hair had to be dyed, as bright as it was, and her dark, brown eyes felt like daggers when they narrowed in on you. When Mrs. Zentz smiled at Sarah, all Sarah could do was frown.
During the lesson, Sarah heard some other students murmuring. She turned around in her chair to ask what was happening, and she saw a line of blackbirds and starlings perched on the windowsill. They all faced into the classroom, and they were all staring at Mrs. Zentz.
The teacher tried to ignore them, but she kept casting glances over her shoulder toward the windows. Then she would stare at Sarah.
Sarah’s bad dreams continued, and they were wearing the young girl down. As the weeks progressed, she became sullen and depressed. She lost her appetite and started losing weight. Even the Christmas break didn’t improve her mood. She still dreamed of Mrs. Zentz, but now, they physically fought each other in Sarah’s dreams, punching, kicking, and pulling hair.
Sarah’s father wrote off her attitude as one of the unpleasant symptoms of puberty. Her mother didn’t seem as certain. She kept asking Sarah what was bothering her, but Sarah knew her mother wouldn’t understand. Only Aunt Anna knew what Sarah was going through. She gave Sarah exercises to do to control her power. Sarah did them and felt she was making progress. Then she would try to make the birds leave, but instead, more flew into Graceham.
The longer the birds stayed, the more problems they caused. Dead birds abounded. People hit them with their cars. Other birds starved because there wasn’t enough food for what was now estimated up to 10 million birds. Chirping and shrieking kept residents awake at night. The birds coated the ground with their droppings.
When Christine never returned to school, the playing hooky story changed to her running away from home. This only seemed to make her even more popular because students thought she ran away to chase her dream to be a singer in New York City.
When spring arrived, Sarah’s father often talked about the Frederick County Government’s efforts to drive the birds off. County employees tried loud noises and explosions to scare the birds away, but it didn’t work. Next, they tried thinning out the pine grove where many of the birds liked to perch, but that didn’t work either.
Sarah had come to accept the birds and didn’t mind them. If her aunt was right, they were here to help her. That thought brought her a small measure of peace of mind, before her nightmares drove it away each night.
Sarah watched the birds sitting on the windowsill outside of her science class every day. The number of birds had increased so that they were jammed wing to wing on the sill. They all still looked into the classroom, and they all still stared at Mrs. Zentz.
“The birds must want to know more about science,” Mrs. Zentz sometimes joked.
No one mentioned that hers was the only classroom where the birds gathered, and that they were only there during Sarah’s science class. Odd questions without answers no one wanted to ask.
Sarah still had no idea how to control the birds, which she didn’t mind so much now, seeing how she had forced the cowbird to break its neck against a wall in November.
Sarah’s head jerked around to face front. Mrs. Zentz had asked her a question.
“Pay attention,” the teacher said. “I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of birds these past few months.”
Although Mrs. Zentz still smiled, Sarah could tell having the birds only on her windowsill worried her. She had become short-tempered since last fall, although she still wasn’t as mean as dream Mrs. Zentz.
“I like watching the birds,” Sarah said.
“Well, you can watch them when you’re not in class. It’s not like they’re hard to find. Now please explain the process of photosynthesis to the class.”
Sarah’s anger surged. She wanted to scream and yell at the teacher. Instead, she controlled herself and said, “No.” The other students whispered, “Oooooo!”
Mrs. Zentz put her hands on her hips. “No?”
“And do you have a reason for that?”
“I don’t want to. I want to watch the birds.”
“Then perhaps you’d like to watch them while you’re in detention.”
Sarah shook her head and turned away from her teacher. “No, I’ll watch them now.”
The teacher walked over next to Sarah’s desk. “What has gotten into you, Sarah? You are being insubordinate.”
“And you’re being nasty and mean,” Sarah said without turning back.
Mrs. Zentz slapped her desk. “Enough! Take your books and go to the office. I will call down and tell them to expect you.”
Sarah stood up quickly, knocking over her desk chair. Mrs. Zentz jumped back, and Sarah smiled. She pulled her books out of her desk and stomped to the door to the class. She didn’t even bother to pick up her overturned chair.
As she left, the birds pecked hard at the windows. When one of the panes cracked, some students yelled in surprise. It lasted only a few seconds until Sarah was out of the door and walking down the hall.