Mythic Stories within Assigned Primary Sources
The stories below are those included in assigned primary sources for the course, which will be analyzed during team assignments. As part of the guided reflections, you will also choose two of these stories to describe and compare with your own storytelling practice, examples for which are provided further below.
Unit 1: Native
Americas & the Pacific Rim
* the restoration of Chichen Itza ruins reveals the true nature of history and the passage of time
"Keita: Heritage of the Griot"
Conversations with Ogotemmeli
Suns of Independence
* possessed individuals enact
the distinct features and habits of Ogoun, Erzulie & other Loa
Ibrahim Kone's afterlife journey
"King of Masks"
Travels of Lao Ts'an
* Fat One's
encounters with spirits & walk in the
* Lao Ts'an's dream vision from Pinglai Pavillion
* stories of injustices by Prefect Yü, unnamed irrigation planners, and assorted murderous rougues (with implications re: wrathful spirits of the dead)
* scattered references to Yellow Dragon's life story
* Yellow Dragon's mythic explanations of contemporary political turmoil
"A Storyteller's Tale"
The stories below are intended to give you an idea of the range of mythic story you might choose from for your storytelling practice. Included are the full text of stories contributed by former students of this class, as well as additional sources available at the Reserve Book Room and Library Media Center. Especially recommended is a DVD entitled Diane Wolkstein: A Storyteller's Tale (@ the Media Center) which describes the life and method of an expert storyteller, showing several examples of her work.
If you like one of them, you may use it, but you should you should adapt it to fit your own situation and storytelling style; for example, tell the first-person accounts in the third person since they didn't happen to you personally.
(See below for a sample of the kind of fantasy story you should NOT choose.)
CONTEMPORARY MIRACLE STORIES
At my Catholic High School, we were required to take theology, philosophy and logic classes that examined the idea of religion and a higher power. I was totally closed minded and rejected these ideas. At my school, there was an optional retreat that we students could go on for four days in the last semester of our senior year. Of course, as an opportunity to get out of school for a couple of days, especially since I was only months away from graduation, I went on this retreat. Plus, a lot of my friends were going, so it would be like a vacation to the hills of Applegate.
When I arrived at the retreat house it was unlike what I had expected. The leaders of the retreat placed us into little groups. I was with none of my closet friends, but I knew everyone in my group pretty well. Then, we were given exercises and topics to talk about for four days. It was intense because these conversations brought out every emotion a person had. I learned the guys in my group had been physically abused, gone through harsh divorces and the deaths of parents, mutilated them selves from depression, even thought about suicide. And this was only a fraction of what I learned and what I shared myself. For the last two hours of the last day we were given time to reflect. So, I walked to the pond they had and reflected on the psychological things that were stinging my mind.
The pond was about the size of a football field. I sat right next to the water. I started playing with some bugs on the ground, but was mostly looking at every detail around me. The sky was cloudy, so the sun would shine through every couple of minutes and then go behind a cloud. After I had looked at every detail of the hill and pond, I began to wonder about why people had to go through all these tough times. I mean, I began to think that there had to be something more to life then this destruction, “evil,” that people had to face all the time. Feeling confusion and pure desperation, I looked up at the Sky and said, “Okay God, if you are up there, here is your time to show me there is more to life then here on earth.” I then lay down and waited for a response.
After about five minutes of lying, a leaf fell on my face. I opened my eyes to see the sun shinning over me. As I turned to my side to get up I saw my name “David” on a piece of paper on the ground. It was from a package of sunflower seeds, David brand.I had looked over the area thoroughly, and that paper had not been there before. As I sat up an looked over the lake there was a flock of ducks. It had also been windy that day, so the pond had waves all over it except in the middle. The ducks were on the left side of the pond, and as I moved my head from left to right overlooking the pond, the ducks began to fly over the middle of pond. As they crossed over it, the middle became wavy, and so the entire pond was completely moving in the same current. It felt complete.
This scene may not seem to be such a big deal, but my whole body, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, felt calm and satisfied. A smile grew over my face, and I just started shaking my head saying, “OK, alright, that was a good one.” Up to this day, all through these years in college, whenever I questioned whether or not there was something working in this world that could not be fully proven in human terms, I thought of that moment, and figured just maybe something supernatural was at work.
Three years ago my mother passed away from cancer. After her death I had a few experiences where I have felt her presence. I know this sounds crazy, but I really believe that they are true.
The first one happened about six months after she passed on. I was at an Honor Choir concert, and the band played this amazingly beautiful song entitled O Magnum Mysterium. It was a very long piece and I cried the whole time. I could feel my mother’s presence in the room during that song. I could feel that she loved me. I could feel that she wasn’t mad at me. I have had a lot of guilt since her death, because the last time I talked to her I was yelling. I was mad that she had woken me up. All she kept saying was “Be Kind and Caring”, her last words to my knowledge.
The second time I could feel my mother’s presence was about eight months after she passed away. I was at a concert listening to a vocal jazz group. They sang an amazing arrangement of "Blackbird." I could feel her presence in the room. I could feel how happy she was that I was pursuing music. I could feel that she was glad I was going to school. She was a musician, and she always had wanted me to be also. I cried tears of joy because I could feel her love.
The third time I felt her, was when I was on a road trip. It was a little over a year after she passed away. I was driving my car, and realized it was her birthday. There was a big storm, then everything cleared and there were two amazing rainbows. I knew it was her telling me she was fine. She was telling me that she loved me. These beautiful rainbows told me not to be sad anymore. They gave me hope.
The last time I felt her presence was two months ago. It was just about exactly three years after she passed away. I was at a concert where the same vocal jazz group sang "Blackbird" again. It was the last concert I would ever hear some of my closest friends sing. This time they sang that song I could feel her leaving. I could feel that she finally was free. The lyrics in this song told me to get over it. “Take these broken wings and learn to fly”, I knew she was telling me to learn to be the best person I can be, to do great things in my life. She is finally free. She told me everything I needed to feel. Since this experience I have been able to start dealing with the loss of my mother. I try everyday to be the best person I can be. I try to fly.
I saw my sister recently and I told her this story, and she told me that "Blackbird" was one of my mother’s favorite songs. I never knew that. This made me believe even more the truth in what I felt.
3. "The Black Cat"
My grandmother has a thing about black cats. When I was 13 my grandma explained to me in teary eyes about how my grandfather had passed away. It was a Tuesday and we were in my room because I had to share it with her every time she came here from Guam. The air smelled of the aroma of baby powder and baby oil, which she would use to massage people in order to remove all the “evil” from their body. She was a very religious person and would use prayers and chants to do this. It would be like a sacred ceremony every time someone came into my room to get a massage from her (of which most of her customers were close family members or friends).
The summer’s hot humid air baked my room along with the products my grandma used. I dreaded my grandma coming to the US because I lost my room for three months. I know it’s not something a grandchild should feel, but I couldn’t help myself. It was the way I felt even if she was my grandmother. In reality, it did feel like she was my only grandmother because my other one on my mom’s side didn’t speak a bit of English. It was frustrating at times. I could only recall her cursing at my brothers and me in a language we would fail to decipher because we were born in the US. She was born in the Philipines and came here at an old age, too late for her to learn a new tongue.
Within no time my grandma had transformed my dresser into an altar with a huge cross in the middle and candles surrounding it. My room is now an exorcist parlor, I thought to myself. Yuck. I didn’t like the smell or the way it looked any more, but she was my grandma and I had to respect her no matter what.
As I observed the dozens of candles on my dresser my grandma began to tell the story of how my grandfather had passed away. My grandfather had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his brain and remained in the hospital for many months. He remained their unconscious with my grandmother always there by his side to keep him company. My grandmother always prayed the rosary with him everyday.
One day, she routinely looked into her purse for the rosary she had used for an endless amount of years. It was a rosary made out of wood that showed obvious signs of wear and good use. It was nowhere to be found and she told my grandfather she would be back in a while and to forgive her. She ran hurriedly down the street to and waited for a friend to pick her up.
She searched her home for about an hour and couldn’t find her rosary anywhere and made her way to ask her friend to help her. In her front yard her friend waited to drop her back to the hospital and that was when she saw, at the corner of her eye, a black cat moving ever so slightly in front of the jeep her friend drove as if it were gliding the way snakes do. It horrified her and that’s when she thought about my grandfather; something was wrong. Without thinking twice about it, they crossed black cat’s path and to go back to the hospital.
They hit traffic, which delayed them for an hour before they reached the hospital. In the hospital, the bed my grandpa lay in was clean; sheets replaced with new white ones as if he was never there to begin with; as if he never existed. My grandma fell to her knees crying why asking God to bring him back to her. She let her head drop carelessly and there beneath the bed was the rosary she held so close to her heart all these years lying there lifeless unaware of the events surrounding it. The black cat, she thought, it was his fault.
Now some people believe that loved ones won’t leave us until you let go of them. This is what my grandma needed to do. My grandpa needed to be alone so he could pass into the next life. That’s what I believe. The black cat had nothing to do with it.
4. "Missing in Action"
The saga of BAT 21 started on the afternoon of the 2nd of April 1972 when two EB-66 (radio call signs BAT 21 and BAT 22) were flying as jamming escorts for a cell of three B-52 bombers on a strike against North Vietnamese invasion forces near Camp Carroll, just south of the demilitarized zone. SA-2 batteries had recently been moved to South Vietnam and the extra jamming power of the EB-66s was required to protect the B-52s.
As the B-52s drew close to their target, at least 10 missiles were fired from to salvos, but all of them missed. When the EB-66 turned northwest to clear the target area, a SAM site from the north of the DMZ launched three more missiles, one of which hit BAT 21 at 24,000 feet. The missile struck the tail section of the plane, where the four Electronic Warfare specialists were sitting. The navigator, Lt.Col. Iceal Hambelton ejected from the aircraft before the missile hit and parachuted down near the Cam Lo River. He was rescued after spending 12 days on the ground evading the enemy. The other five crew members were never seen again. Because of the severe cloudy weather conditions and hostile activity in the area at the time, accompanying aircraft and rescue teams were unable to determine the fate of the plane’s crew. Thus, these five crew members were listed as Missing-In-Action (MIA).
One of these crew members was my grandfather, Maj. Henry Muir Serex. Serex was a Tactical Electronic Warfare specials on the EB-66. Because of the nature of the crash, Serex was assumed to have died in the crash, but since no body was ever recovered, he was listed as MIA. This leaves the possibility open that he was captured by the enemy and taken as a Prisoner of War (POW). He was promoted to the rank of Lt.Col post-mortem.
For 20 years, he was assumed to be deceased. Then, in 1992, a US military satellite photographed a series of numbers and letters trampled into a rice patty in North Vietnam, near a known POW camp. These numbers and letters spelled out SEREX - 72TA88. 72TA88 was an Escape and Evade code issued to airmen in Vietnam, but not at the time Serex went missing. 11 months later, the US military investigated this case and searched the patty and the nearby prison. Both were deserted and nothing was discovered.
Since then, no proof either way has been given to the fate of Lt.Col Serex, but if you were to ask my family, we would say we hold some hope that he may still be alive. How else could those distinctive numbers and letters have appeared 20 years after his death? And yet, where is he now? Perhaps some day I'll find out.
5. "Johnny Appleseed"
Growing up, I heard the story of Johnny Appleseed so many times from many different teachers, and was always inspired by it. His real name, which few people know, was John Chapman. He was born on September 26, 1774 near Leominster, Massachusetts and little is known of his early life. Apparently, he received a good education, which helped him when he became a nursery man and planted apple trees in the western portions of New York and Pennsylvania.
In the early 1800’s, John Chapman was among the first to explore what was then referred to as the “new territory,” which included Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. He roamed these territories for nearly half a century, planting his apple seeds. By the time the settlers arrived, John Chapman’s young apple trees were ready to sale, and in the years that followed, he became known as Johnny Appleseed.
He obtained his apple seeds every fall in western Pennsylvania to plant them the following spring. He planted his apple seeds by going into the wilderness with a bag of apple seeds on his back. He would search for a likely spot for planting, where he would weed and level the ground by hand. Then he planted his apple seeds in neat rows and built a barrier around the area to keep out stray animals. There is no way to estimate how many millions of seeds he planted in the hundreds of nurseries he created in the territories he roamed.
He did all the work himself, living alone with the Indians and wild animals for friendship. Like many of the settlers, he mostly went barefoot because shoes were hard to come by. He ate no meat, but carried a stewpot or kettle with him so he could gather nuts or berries, carry water, get milk from a settler’s cow, boil potatoes, or drop a handful of coarse-ground meal. He preferred to walk, carrying his precious apple seeds and the simplest of camping gear on his back.
He was a religious man who lived by the “Golden Rule”--do unto others as you would have them do unto you--and because of this, he had no fear of man or beast. One night, caught in a snow storm, he crept into the empty fallen tree for shelter, and found it occupied by a hibernating bear and her cubs. Of course, he was startled and concerned at the sight of the slumbering mother bear, whose powerful body could easily rip a man apart. Yet he quickly remembered his trust that God provides provides for all creatures by guiding them to what they need. He thanked heaven for guiding him to such a warm shelter, and slept the night peacefully with the bears. In the morning when the storm had subsided, he quietly tip-toed away, offering thanks once again, newly reinspired to provide for others through planting his seeds.
This sincere Christian was also a practical businessman. He sold his trees for a few pennies each, accepting any of the coins current on the frontier. For those that have no cash, he accepted a simple promise to be paid at a later date, and few failed to keep their word. He sometimes accepted payment in used clothing as well. He willingly endured the hardships of his wilderness life as he worked to make his dream come true. His apple trees lightened the hearts and lifted the spirits of many settlers.
Sometime in March of 1845, he died of a sickness known as the winter plague, but in his last moments he experienced the deep peace of one who has worked hard to bring a better world into being. He was remembered as the kind and gentle Johnny Appleseed, and today this name is known throughout all of the United States, and even the world.
6."Traditions of the Peacemaker"
an Iroquoi legend told by naturalist John Young,
included in CD #5 under "Community & Ecology"
of the "Seeing Through Native Eyes" CD.
(available at the Library Media Center)
7. "'Tristan & Iseult"
& "Layla & Manjun"
chapters 6 & 7 in The First Love Stories,
(available at the Reserve Book Room)
8. Esther's Story
the Hebrew Bible story told in a diary form,
with beautiful illustrations
(available at the Reserve Book Room)
9. Treasures of the Heart
Hebrew Bible stories about Moses, Solomon, Ruth & other biblical characters,
each associated with the annual cycle of Jewish holidays
(available at the Reserve Book Room)
10. "The Water Spirit"
a Hasidic Jewish tale included on the
"Diane Wolkstein: A Storyteller's Tale" DVD
(available at the Library Media Center at the back of the library)
STORIES OF HIDDEN WORLDS
11a. "Fantastic Voyage"
(Wikipedia plot summary of the 1966 film novelization by Isaac Asimov)
During the twenty-first century, the United States and the Soviet Union both developed technology that allowed matter to be miniaturized using a process that shrinks individual atoms, but its value was limited because objects shrunk would return to normal size after a period of time: the smaller an object was made, the less time passed before it reverts. Scientist Jan Benes, working behind the Iron Curtain, figured out how to make the shrinking process work indefinitely. With the help of the CIA, he escaped to the West, but an attempted assassination left him comatose, with a blood clot in his brain.
To save his life, Charles Grant--the agent who extracted him from the Soviet Union--along with pilot Captain Bill Owens, Dr. Michaels, surgeon Dr. Peter Duval and his assistant Cora Peterson boarded a submarine, the Proteus, which is then miniaturized and injected into Benes. The ship was reduced to one micrometer in length, giving the team only one hour to repair the clot; after that, the submarine would begin to revert to its normal size and become a target for Benes' immune system – and, more importantly, expand to full size while inside Benes, ripping his body apart.
Many obstacles hindered the crew on their journey. They were forced to travel through the heart (a temporary cardiac arrest must be induced to avoid destructive turbulence), the inner ear (all in the lab must remain quiet to prevent similar turbulence) and the alveoli of the lungs (where they replenish their supply of oxygen). When the surgical laser needed to destroy the clot was damaged, it became obvious there is a saboteur on the mission. They cannibalize their radio to repair the laser. When they finally reach the brain clot, there is only six minutes remaining to operate and then follow the veins to the removal site.
The traitor, Dr. Michaels, knocked Owens out and took control of the Proteus while the rest of the crew was outside for the operation. He then tried to run them down, but crashed and was trapped in the wreckage and killed by a white blood cell, as he has begun to grow in size and could now be detected. After Duval successfully removed the clot, the crew swam desperately to one of the eyes, to escape via a teardrop. The crew also provoke the white cell into following them, so that it dragged the submarine to the tearduct, where its wreckage then expanded outside Benes' body.
Dr. Benes recovered from the microsurgery. However, despite the success of the mission, he still suffered some minor brain damage: specifically, the portion of his memory that contained the secret of how to maintain a miniaturized state for longer than an hour was destroyed!
11b. "Fantastic Voyage: Destination 2009"
(adapted from "Wired News," www.wired.com, 1/18/07)
In the twenty-first century, an international team of scientists developed the world's first microrobot, two human hairs wide, which could swim through the arteries, spinal column, and digestive system of the human body. The robot could transmit images and deliver microscopic payloads to parts of the body. It could also perform minimally invasive microsurgeries, thus reducing the risks normally associated with delicate surgical procedures.
The secret of this achievement was a micromotor designed using piezoelectric materials: crystals that create an electric charge when mechanically stressed. Standard electromagnetic motors had proved impractical at such a small scale. The piezoelectric materials vibrated a twisted microstructure inside the robot at ultrasonic frequencies. When the twisted structure compressed against the rotor, it untwisted and the rotor turned. As the compression was released, the twisted structure unwinds back to its original shape, while the rotor slides.
The microrobot's design was based on the E. coli bacterium, complete with flagella that propelled it through the body. Working with the flagella, the tiny propulsion system created enough power to carry the device through the viscous, fluid environment inside the human body. Scientists initially made the flagella out of human hair, and eventually changed to using a synthetic substance known as Kevlar. The microrobot's propulsion system was modeled after turbine and helicopter blades.
Going through the spinal canal on its first mission was relatively easy. The spinal canal is a little bit bigger, and there isn't the high flow that exists in the bloodstream; thus the required propulsion power was smaller. Having passed its first test, it then moved on to arteries.
The tiny robot, small enough to pass through the heart and other organs was inserted using a syringe. Guided by remote control, it swam to sites within the body to perform a series of tasks, then return to the point of entry where it could be extracted, again by syringe. The first to benefit were stroke, embolism and vascular-disease patients.
During its first mission, the microrobot delivered a payload of expandable glue to the site of a damaged cranial artery -- a procedure previously fraught with risk because posterior human brain arteries lay behind a complicated set of bends at the base of the skull beyond the reach of all but the most flexible catheters. Puncturing one of these arteries during traditional procedures is likely, and almost always results in the death of the patient. Other regions of the body were completely outside the reach of technology prior to the robot's invention.
The robot's creators had planned for the possibility that their sophisticated motor might break down. They swam the robot against the current of the blood, so that if it ever lost power it would return to the point of entry. For the riskiest procedures, the robot was to be tethered by a microcatheter. Eventually these precautions proved skillful, allowing the microrobot to save the day even when damaged.
12a. "My Creation Story"
Long before life existed, a rock floated in space. Although the rock recognized its own existence, it had no concept of its relation to the other things that floated around with it. It couldn’t talk to other rocks and it couldn’t contemplate its reason for existence. It only knew it had to avoid collisions, or it would be broken into millions of little pieces. Strangely enough, other rocks seemed to be attracted to it. They would fly by the rock closely, as if to greet the rock and recognize its consciousness.
One day many of the smaller rocks began to fly by the rock. Their motion and attraction caused the rock to spin. As it spun it became more and more conscious. It began to wonder if any of the other rocks had consciousness. It began to feel millions of elements of its own personality. The rock began to feel stress, love, hatred, and pain. These feelings overwhelmed the rock and increased its desire to keep spinning. Although the spinning caused the rock to lose control and forget about collisions with other rocks, the presence of feeling caused the rock to forget about its previous aversions.
After a long period of spinning the rock began to feel the smaller rocks getting dangerously closer. Eventually, one of the smaller rocks hit the rock and obliterated a portion of its surface. Although the rock felt pain, the pain it felt was a welcome presence compared to the absence of feeling it had experienced before it began to spin. Over time, the rest of the smaller rocks began to explode into the rock. The rock felt excruciating pain. The only thing that eased its pain was force its feeling to the surface and push out its pain.
As the rock pushed its pain to its surface, it began to feel a spinning towards its surface which spun at a separate rate than the rock’s physical rotation. Pieces of this other spinning would slow down and rise to its surface. Each time the spinning rose to the rock’s surface, the pain would subside. The rock continued to push its pain, its hatred, and its love to its surface until it felt balance. Over time, these pieces of consciousness the rock pushed out began to float randomly about its surface and then filter back into the spinning consciousness of the rock. Eventually, the rock realized these little pieces of consciousness also took pieces of the rock away from its surface. Despite these unusual occurrences, the rock continued to be content with its balance of emotion and spinning.
At first, the beings that floated around the rock seemed to encompass the perfect balance the rock had come to be content with. One day, one of the beings began digging at the rock’s surface and controlling the other beings around it. It would force painful strands of consciousness back to the rock as the other beings stopped and fed back into the rock’s spinning consciousness. Reacting to these new forms of consciousness, the rock forced new consciousness back out. Again, the being would control the beings around it and force more consciousness back into the rock. Eventually, the rock became frustrated with the beings and forced only its hatred and stress out to the surface. Armed with only hatred and stress, the beings floating around the rock all began to control each other. With so much pain and hatred feeding back into its spinning surroundings, the rock forced all of the pain and hatred out again. After a long period commotion on the rock’s surface, the beings had completely destroyed each other and rejoined the spinning consciousness toward the surface of the rock. After all beings were gone, the rock continued to spin and mix the various forms of consciousness.
12b. "The Spirit's Cry"
The galaxy once exists as a complete spherical ball. A baby sprit sleeps within it, which surrounds itself with nothing but darkness and streams of white clouds until it finally woke up. Upon it’s awakening, the sprit realizes that it is alone and does not see another sprit around. It broke out into a cry for the first time that caused a massive vibration inside its encompassed ball. The dark ball rumbled and began to crack. Another cry was let out again and a big bang caused the ball to shatter and explode. Thus, the galaxy formed and expanded further with each cry of the young sprit. As the young sprit grows, it stop crying out, but continue to shed tears as it fed off the white clouds that used to stream inside it’s ball. With each visit to the while clouds, the sprit’s tears would land into the white clouds, thus forming the Milky Way.
At adulthood, the sprit continues to shed its tears as it wonders around the vast and endless galaxy searching for another sprit. After the long journey, the sprit came to realized that it is truly alone and started to get angry. The sprit’s angry caused it to start question its existence. Now angry, the sprit continues to wonder through the galaxy with tears of anger. The tears the sprit left behind now were no ordinary tears like before, but burning tears that melted some of the sprit’s body off with it. The tears were filled with so much heat and anger that it started to harden and catch on fire, thus it created the suns around the galaxy that we now see as stars. Each star held a piece of the sprit that was left behind and the sprits anger still burns within them as the sprit slowly dies from shedding tears. As one star starts to burn out, the sprit within it cried out again and caused another explosion, a super nova. The debris from these super novas created our moons and planets, each with the sprit still living within it. Then life form from these distributed parts of the sprit on the planet. Humans and animals now live with a part of the sprit that still questions its existence and how it came to be.
13."Sun Mother Wakes the World"
an aboriginal creation story with contemporary relevance
(available at the Reserve Book Room)
a Taoist creation story performed with Tai Chi movements,
included on "Diane Wolkstein: A Storyteller's Tale" DVD
(available at the Library Media Center at the back of the library)
Ellen in University Underworld
by Joël Dubois
(c) 2008--for free distribution only
This story is presented as a counter-example to the ones provided above, in order to clarify the nature of mythic stories during the introductory section of the course. DO NOT CHOOSE THIS STORY FOR YOUR STORYTELLING PRACTICE! Consult the criteria listed in #1(a)-(c) of the storytelling practice guidelines to make sure you are on the right track.
Ellen loved Professor Flowerette's "Fantasy Literature" class. This woman told such fascinating stories! It's true she got carried away sometimes as she descibed in amazing detail the subterranean world of Alice's wonderland or the alternate reality of Narnia, which she descibed as if she were telling you about her own home town. When she glanced back during such moments, Ellen could see the glazed eyes of students in the back, a few of whose iPods she suspected were turned on. Those sitting towards the front with her had to act awake, but often rolled their eyeballs at each other when Flowerette wasn't looking.
Overall, though, hearing so many wacky stories gave Ellen hope in the midst of an otherwise depressing schedule. Flowerette's class enabled Ellen to stay awake and fairly calm as she scribbled the seemingly endless stream of formulas, computations, and diagrams written on the board into her notebook during pre-calculus. The hour spent with Flowerette would magically clear away all the anxiety she would otherwise have fel, since she was fairly certain to earn a C in math this semester. It also gave her the courage to face the icy abstraction of her ancient philosophy class, her last general education requirement, which followed directly after "Fantasy Literature."
There was one thing that puzzle Ellen about the class, though--or rather, about this professor. How is it that Ellen never saw her arriving or leaving the classroom? No one else seemed to notice or care about this as they gathered before class and then hurried out at the end, some pulling out their cell phones to continue their last conversation as if they had paused it just five minutes earlier, others chatting with each other about their weekend plans. Ellen herself never thought that much about it until the day she stayed after class to tell Flowerette about her idea for the midterm paper assignment. Ellen told her she wanted to write about Lewis Caroll's life and where he got the idea for Alice, and the professor's eyes twinkled as she said, "Great choice! That classic work never seems any less relevant to me." Ellen had walked just fifty feet from the door after leaving the classroom when she remembered the water bottle she had placed under her desk, and went back to get it. She was sure no one had come out the classroom door after her; yet Flowerette was nowhere to be seen! Disconcerted, she retrieved her bottle and rushed out to get to ancient philosophy in time.
The next class period, Ellen resolved to investigate this mystery. She gave up her usual seat in the front of the room, choosing instead the desk tucked into a small alcove behind a pillar at the back of the room. She knew she wouldn't be completely hidden, but she also knew that like many professors, Flowerette usually didn't look past her table and podium at the front of the room once class had ended, apparently focusing all her attention on organizing her books and papers. She hoped that the "Fantasy Lady" (as some students called her) wouldn't notice the change, and indeed Flowerette seemed as usual to be off in a world of her own as she spoke of the reading for the week, providing real life context for the fantastic settings and characters of the featured author. When Flowerette dismissed the class that day, Ellen took extra time to write a few extra notes and slowly gathered her books as the other students filed out. As the last few were leaving she squatted down next to the desk, fiddling with the book bag she had uncharacteristically stuffed under her desk. Soon the last student had gone out and the door shut behind him; Ellen froze in her corner as the din of students changing class rooms was silenced by the shutting door.
Flowerette glanced quickly up at the door as she finished piling books and notes into her briefcase, and casually tapped the floor behind the podium three times quickly with her foot. Ellen heard a slight creaking noise, and from where she was squatting she could see an opening in the linoleum floor. To her amazement, the fantasy professor gracefully sat with her legs placed at the edge of the opening, took her briefcase in her lap, and quietly disappeared into the opening. Ellen realized from all the fantasy literature she had read this semester that she would have to act fast! She leapt up and ran to the front, hardly thinking of her books. She saw that the opening in the floor, which seemed to be the beginning of a long, dark slide, was beginning to close. Before she had time to doubt herself, she jumped onto the slide, into the unknown, pulling in her limbs to avoid harm as the opening closed behind her.
Down, down, down into the darkness she slid, for quite a bit longer than she would have thought possible. She wondered if this was how Alice felt on the way down to Wonderland. She kind of trusted that Flowerette knew where she was going and wasn't just suicidally throwing herself into an abyss--but still, this was taking a while. Anyway, it was too late to stop and try to crawling back up; the surface under her was too slippery. She relaxed into the ride, thinking that whatever came next had to be better than listening to her ancient philosophy professor drone on about Aristotle's ethics.
Just when she had let herself relax into the ride, Ellen landed on a pile of cardboard boxes, which cushioned her fall surprisingly softly. The space around her was like the bottom of a stairwell, bounded by cinderblock walls darkly lit by a single flourescent tube. At the metal door that looked like a stairwell exit stood Professor Flowerette, holding Ellen's book bag.
"I thought I heard someone down coming after me," she quipped, her eyes twinkling. "I'm not entirely surprised it's you. Every few years one of my students gets curious and follows me down here. When I see someone attentive in the front row, attending every class, planning ahead for papers that are two weeks away, I always wonder if they'll be next."
Ellen really wasn't sure how to respond. "Cool," she answered tentatively. "How did you get my books? And where are we, exactly?"
"Under the university, of course! You didn't think that Alice was the only one who experienced the underworld, did you? All world cultures speak of an underworld, so why..." She cut herself off abruptly. ""Well, you'll find out for yourself. It seems to silly to lecture you about fantasy worlds when I'm you're down here and can experience them for yourself. Your books automatically get kind of sucked down here when you jump. The underworld wouldn't want students losing their books."
"No problem, its all good," replied Ellen, thinking of her participation grade. She wondered if this slide down under would be considered an extracurricular activity.
"But wait--I'm supposed to read you your responsibilities as a member of the underworld community."
Ellen was a bit nervous to hear the word "responsibilities;" but Flowerette lookied serious, so she didn't want to laugh. "Oh...um...is there an additional fee for this? I'm afraid I'm broke right now. Still recovering from purchasing all my books, and also with gas and all."
"Oh, don't worry, money is no issue down here," reassured her underworld guide. "It's really very simple: you must promise, first, never to invite anyone down here; and second, to administer this same oath to anyone who discovers the secret and follows you down. Should you violate this oath, your grade point average will mysteriously change to a 0.5, your name will appear on the career center black list--which means a bright red "NOT RECOMMENDED" stamp on all letters sent from there--and any graduation petitions you submit will be immediately deleted from the system. Should you decide you cannot make this commitment, simply place your head against the wall here"--Ellen noticed a metal plate where Flowerette was pointing--"and you will find yourself once again in one of the restrooms up on the surface, having forgetten all that has taken place in the last fifteen minutes. This should still allow you to remember today's lecture and do well on the upcoming test." The fantasy professor smiled.
"Hm...do professors have to take this oath, too?" Ellen didn't want to be ornery; she was just curious.
"Certainly, for us its the personnel files--our ticket to promotion--that would disappear, and would we get consigned to teaching courses in a department whose subject matter we don't know anything about. So, are you ready to go past this door into the underworld, or would you like to go back? I want to reassure you that your decision will in no way affect your grade. I offer no extra credit for anything you do down here, though of course you might get some interesting ideas for your paper."
"Wow, how could I turn this down? Do I have to sign something?"
"No, but I will need you One Card. As I told you, there's no charge; this just enters you in the system as having taken the pledge." Ellen took out her wallet, doing her best to conceal her slight hesitation; this was the one piece of plastic she just couldn't allow to get into the wrong hands. But Flowerette simply slid the card through the scanner next to the metal door handle, and handed it back to her. The light blinked green, and the door slowly opened. "Welcome to University Underworld," said the fantasy professor.
Ellen stepped into a brighly lit cave the size of a large concert hall. Her eyes widened as they took in her surroundings.
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