Author's Note: This idea has been kicking about for ages, but only now have I finally gotten around to writing the thing. This is my first real venture into the world of present tense. I've never really written anything in it before, and it's a real weak point in my writing. I'm not too fond of the tense, but it's something I ought to be able to do. This is practice. Also, I put this in drabble form, due to my not having a cohesive storyline/plot. So behold the present tense drabble, a combination of two of my worst methods of writing. Let's see how it turns out, shall we?
Disclaimer: The Mysterious Benedict Society was not written, published, or printed by me and I have absolutely no ownership of any part of them, aside from my own, much loved copies of the books.
He is running, gasping, trying not to be seen. Behind him the police are closing in, and quickly, too. His lungs are about to pop and the cold air stings them, but he keeps going anyway.
Why are they chasing me? Mr. Benedict thinks, rounding a corner and skidding on a patch of ice. His brain is beginning to short out, as more and more of his oxygen is going to his muscles and less is getting to his head. Now he can barely think straight, as much of a genius as he is.
He would be asleep right now, if Constance hadn't cured his narcolepsy. Now, however, he can keep running, though barely. He has a heart condition that he never knew about before his narcolepsy was cured. It cuts off oxygen to his brain when his heart rate ascends too much. But before his narcolepsy was cured, he fell asleep before his heart reached that critical pace.
Mr. Benedict feels his heart rate climbing fast, far too fast, and knows he needs to stop soon. He knows he will be caught, but if he doesn't stop he might die.
He slows and stops, then turns around, his back to the brick wall of a store's back. He knows he can't fight for long, but he knows he has to try and hold the police off of him for a while for Number Two's sake. He prepares himself for what will probably be a short, unpleasant fight.
Then just as his pursuers round the corner and spot him, his limbs start to seize up. He can't move. He's petrified, but rather than drawing strength from his fear he is paralyzed by it.
What's going on? Mr. Benedict thinks. He had never been this scared before. He always fell asleep before this happened. What should he do? He stands and can barely even move for fear when they set upon him.
Mr. Benedict needs to move quickly. He is running again, but this time not from the police. Now his only enemy is fire, and it is catching up to him. He runs alongside Constance, and though she could run far faster, she slows for him.
He is very proud. She has grown into a very kind girl, and though she still hungers for candy and other such sweets she has matured so much. But unfortunately, Mr. Benedict realizes as they glance behind them to see the fire licking up furniture behind them, she won't mature much more unless they get out of the building, and quickly, too.
Constance coughs from the smoke inhalation, but not nearly so much as Mr. Benedict. His heart condition is acting up, and with rising panic he feels his heart rate go up.
Constance, of course, notices, but she knows they can't stop until they get out of the building. If only we had Kate with us, she thinks furiously. Oh, why hadn't she come along? Even with all the smoke Kate would be able to tell how far away they were from the door. She was good with floor plans.
"Constance," Mr. Benedict gasps, "We have to stop. I can't keep going."
But Constance has seen the door, a light patch in the smoke filled hallway, and they're nearly there. "Just a few more seconds," she shouts over the roar of the fire, her voice hoarse from the smoke.
The fire is catching up with them. Constance can sense the heat growing hotter and knows that they cannot make it. So she does the only thing she can think to do.
Mr. Benedict is running through the smoky world, and then somehow he is outside, bleeding. Everything is confusion. His face is covered in fur and his hands are covered in needles. His back is on fire, and his front is covered in ice.
Then things begin to click into place. He was lying on his stomach, his face pressed into frost covered grass. His back is still hot from the fire, and his hands are bleeding from shards of broken glass. He rolls painfully onto his side and sits up. His heart rate has gone down slightly, though not much.
Mr. Benedict is still in a state of total confusion. Looking at the building, he sees that what he thought was the door had really been a window. But he is still confused. How had he made it in time?
And then his confusion gave way to something very different: panic. Where is Constance? He looks about frantically, but he sees no sign of her. Did she push him out of the window? He leaps to his feet.
Thinking as quickly as his oxygen-starved brain allowed, he realises what must have happened. His foster daughter pushed him out of the window, saving his life at her risk. A lump forms in his throat, and he prepares to dive back inside and save her.
But then indecision sets in. Would it be right for him to risk his life after Constance risked hers so that he wouldn't have to? What if she had, in fact, escaped? What if she hadn't?
And it's just like that. He can't move. He can't think. And this time he knows that it has nothing to do with his brain not getting enough oxygen. He just doesn't know what to do.
"What's wrong with me?" asks Mr. Benedict. He sits at his desk in his mansion with his face in his hands, surrounded by his concerned friends and family. "Why couldn't I have just gone in and saved her?"
Rhonda puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. "You were scared," she says simply. "It happens to all of us."
Mr. Benedict shakes his head. He's been scared before, but only one other time had he felt so utterly unable to do anything. It had been almost like paralysis, but for all his brilliance he can't seem to figure it out. There doesn't seem to be a good scientific solution to why he couldn't prevent the terrible injuries that had been inflicted on his youngest daughter.
What he needs is someone truly empathic, someone who understands him well enough to be able to tell him about himself. But Mr. Benedict doesn't know who fills that.
His mind flicks to the quiet boy who once played chess with him so many years ago. Reynie would be able to read him. He had been good at things like that. But Reynie no longer lives in Stonetown, and hasn't visited for three months. He can't help, Mr. Benedict realizes. The only person he has who can truly help him is Constance, and she won't be out of the hospital for weeks.
Mr. Benedict is scared. He doesn't want to be unable to act again, paralyzed by his own fear and indecision. He doesn't want to be frozen.
Mr. Benedict is not running now. Instead he calmly sits at his desk once again, fiddling with some gadget or another, faithfully neglecting the small violet that remains on his desk. It is very dry and shrivelled, and he is planning to water it tomorrow.
There is the sound of footsteps on the old, creaking staircase, and a moment later there is a knock on his door.
"Come in, please," says Mr. Benedict, placing the little device aside and calmly folding his hands on his desk.
The door creaks obligingly, and a small, thin man creeps inside. "Hello, sir," says the man quietly.
Mr. Benedict stares for a moment, incredulous. Could it really be? "Sticky?" He asks incredulously.
The man smiles. "Actually, I've been going by 'George' recently. It's so I can adjust more easily at my matrimonial ceremony. I'm changing my last name to 'Wuthering.'"
Mr. Benedict laughs and stands up, extending his hand and grasping George's. "It's quite wonderful to hear from you, Sti – George. I'm so glad to see you – and you say you're engaged?"
"Yes. Katherine Wuthering. She hates her last name, but she hated mine more. So we came to an accord: we'll use her name. We're getting married next month. I actually came to invite you all." He hands Mr. Benedict a piece of folded pink and white stationary.
"I would be honored to attend your wedding."
George sighs, as though he had been worried that Mr. Benedict wouldn't come to his wedding. "Thank you," he says happily. "Reynie's going to be my best man."
"How is young Reynie lately?"
"Very good, sir. He's teaching at Harvard now."
"I'm glad to hear it. I haven't heard from him for seven months."
"He's kept very busy." George – Mr. Benedict still has a difficult time refraining from calling him Sticky – says with a smile.
George seems to have fared very well in the years that have passed since he moved away from Stonetown. He is dressed in a dark blue suit that sets off his light brown skin very well, and a small gold ring – his engagement ring – glitters on his hand. He has kept his head bald, though he has also grown a small, thin beard. As Mr. Benedict looks over the tall man standing before him he can only think of how small and timid Sticky – George – had been back when they had first met.
"I was wondering – where are Kate and Constance? I didn't see them downstairs."
Mr. Benedict slumps in his seat, as though the air has been let out of him. "I take it you didn't receive the telegram I sent you? I suppose not. Well you see, Constance had a bit of a mishap, and she got quite badly injured in a fire. The Monk Building, actually. She's still recovering in the hospital. She should be out in a week or so. You could visit her if you want. As for Kate, she's gone off on a mission again."
George frowns. "I wish she wouldn't. Last time I visited she was away, too. I haven't seen her for years."
"And we haven't seen her for a month. Though from what I hear from Milligan she's quite good at what she does."
George smiles. "I have to say that I'm not terribly surprised. Well, when she comes back she's invited to my wedding too. I was hoping to have the entire society back together. How is your heart condition doing? I hope it's not acting up?"
Mr. Benedict tries not to let any anxiety show on his face. "A little bit, but I'm mostly alright. That dreadful day when the police were chasing me down and the day when I got trapped in the Monk Building were the only times I really noticed it."
George nods. Mr. Benedict had told him about the police incident previously. He stands around, slightly awkward, for a few moments, trying to think of something to say. He eventually straightens to his full height and says, "Well, thank you very much, Mr. Benedict. Moocho has invited me to dinner, so if I may I'd like to."
"But of course you may stay! Please, please."
George smiles gratefully. "Thank you. Now if I may excuse myself?"
"Why certainly, dear boy. Dear man, really." Mr. Benedict continues to look fondly at the door long after it had shut. Well, at least I don't freeze up when I'm happy. Only when I'm in danger. Apparently happiness didn't make him as confused as when he was fleeing a building.
Mr. Benedict sighs and turns his attention to his somewhat brown and crispy violet.
The problem, thinks Mr. Benedict as he steps out of the van and onto the soft grass of the Midas National Park, is not his heart condition. Yes it's part of it, but it's not the whole thing. Mr. Benedict runs a hand unconsciously through his hair, rumpling what had that morning been perfectly trimmed and combed.
He looks around the large field, squinting slightly in the brilliant sunlight and trying to make out the people there. He spots George almost at once (he's being attacked by an over-enthusiastic Kate) and his soon-to-be wife a little after that. He plans on greeting them soon, but first he wants to have a word with the one person who might be able to explain his freezing to him.
He wants a word with Reynie.
He had asked Constance about it as soon as she had gotten out of the hospital, but she hadn't had much of a clue either. His only hope now is Reynie, for if he can't tell Mr. Benedict why he freezes then no one can.
"Hello, sir!" cries a voice from the crowd.
"Reynie!" Mr. Benedict smiles broadly as the average looking man in the tuxedo approaches him. "It's wonderful to see you. How are you doing?"
"Very well indeed. I'm happy to see that Sticky found someone who appreciates his 'pulchritude.'"
"I hear you're best man?"
Reynie nods. "He's really quite excited."
"As he should be. But listen," says Mr. Benedict, drawing slightly closer and lowering his voice so that no one else can hear. "Did you get my letter detailing my problem?" Mr. Benedict feels bad about springing this topic up during such a happy occasion, but he needs to know why he freezes sometimes and he needs to make it stop. Narcolepsy he could live with, but this paralysis is something else entirely.
"I got it," whispers Reynie. "I've been doing some thinking on it, actually. I suspected you might ask me about it here."
Mr. Benedict smiles gratefully. "Thank you. Did you come up with anything?"
Reynie frowns uncertainly. "I came up with a theory, but I don't know if it's right. I don't even know if it's possible."
Mr. Benedict looks at him expectantly, waiting for him to continue.
"Well, before Constance fixed your narcolepsy, you never had to deal with being really sad or really scared. Not to say that you never felt that way, but you always fell asleep before the emotion really took over. Right?"
Mr. Benedict nods. "Correct."
"Well, you never learned how to deal with really extreme emotions. You only really experienced them for a moment, and your way of dealing with them was falling asleep. I'm not saying that you were running away from your emotions – I know you had no say in the matter – but you never learned what the normal thing to do in those situations is. You just don't know what to do."
Mr. Benedict frowns and runs his fingers through his hair again. "So when I was running from the police the reason I froze up was that I didn't know how to express my fright?"
"Exactly. You didn't know if you should curl up into a ball or fight or run, and you never had the opportunity to find out before what you would do in such a situation."
"And when the Monk Building was on fire…"
"Then you didn't know what do decide. You can make quick decisions – I know you can – but there was no way that you could have done it when you were in that state of panic and facing a serious heart disease. You don't know how to make decisions when you're panicking. You just never learned how to react."
They stand for several minutes, Mr. Benedict thinking hard and Reynie waiting patiently to hear what Mr. Benedict has to say about his theory.
After several minutes pass, Mr. Benedict finally speaks. "Reynie," he says thoughtfully, "I believe that you really are the most talented child to ever have taken my tests."
It is night. It is cold. It is windy. Inside the mansion, though, it is warm and cozy. Mr. Benedict smiles at his violet, which has finally put forth another bud.
Reynie was right, he thinks to himself. He simply had never learned what to do in those situations.
But no matter how little he knew of anger and panic and fear and sadness, he at least knows what to do now. Mr. Benedict smiles.
Mr. Benedict sleeps.
Author's Note – Blech! Present tense! I ended up writing almost the entire thing in past tense by accident, then having to go back and fix it. Almost every other sentence had to be corrected. Please tell me about any tense issues I have. Present tense messes me up, and I'm sure I have at the very least one mistake. Please review! I need to know what I did wrong (what I did right would be useful, too). Thanks!