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“I was shocked to learn that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.
I thought it was three of them.” ~ B.S.

The Incomplete Worlds Of Billy Shakespeare | BillyShakespeare.com: It's like Shakespeare...only in English.

Who’s Gonna Read This, B.S.?

short short stories

"SPELLING, B."
a story by Billy Shakespeare

Fifteen year old Brian Spelling walked through a pair of opened glass doors and into a crowded foyer. The entrance to the convention center was dense with spectators, leaders in the field of education, journalists from various types of media, and of course other contestants. He stood to briefly watch the blur of people in motion, watching as people hurried from one end of the hall to the other. Just ahead he could see larger doors that opened into the convention center’s main auditorium. He could see banners and balloons and evidence of a pending media event in the works. This was no ordinary day for an Honor Student like Brian; this was the National Spelling Bee.

Brian, like most all of the other spelling bee contestants, was a product of the greatest prep school halls in American academia. Today was the culmination of almost two month’s of eliminations in spelling contests all over the nation. Only the best spellers from each of the fifty states were being allowed to compete against each other here in Washington, D.C. in this final round. Only twelve spellers now remained, as the others had been eliminated in less-publicized competitions earlier in the week. Brian was one of the twelve left standing. And very soon he would be standing under the white-hot glare of auditorium lights in the unblinking focus of network television cameras.

People started to brush past him as if he were no more than a potted plant, one person almost knocking his slight form to the ground in his haste to grab a good seat to the day’s event. They shifted his attention to where he needed to be: the registration booth. There had been a much longer line here earlier in the week, but now Brian stood alone. An elderly woman in casual business attire sat behind the booth and stared up at Brian without speaking.

“H-hello,” Brian stammered. “I, uh, need to register for...that is, I’m one of the contestants tonight.”

“Well, congratulations, young man. What is your name then?”

“Spelling.”

“Alright. Give me the spelling, then,” she said picking up a clipboard.

“No. My name is Spelling, ma’am.”

The older woman made a checkmark on her clipboard, then reached over to a box of official-looking name badges. She picked one out of the box and studied it. “Is this a joke,” she said, giving Brian an accusing stare. “Spelling Brain? Your name is Spelling Brain? Your parents had very early hopes for you, did they?”

Brian sighed and looked to the woman, exasperated. “They told me they were going to correct that. It’s been wrong all week. It’s Brian. B-r-i-a-n. Brian Spelling. Not brain.”

“I’m not amused,” the woman said in an angry tone, then passed the badge to Brian. “We take this contest very seriously, young man.”

“But it’s...” Brian sighed. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

He stepped away and shoved his badge into his pants pocket. He would add it to his growing collection of “Spelling, Brain” name badges back at his hotel room. He drifted toward the front doors of the convention center in hopes of feeling some of the evening’s cool breeze. He wondered why his mother had chosen a sweater vest of all things for him to wear. He was baking inside it already, and it would only get worse when he took his place onstage. He had told her it was a bad idea, but nobody ever listens to me, he thought. More and more people began brushing past him, and suddenly there was a vibration in the floor that interrupted his thoughts. He felt a hand pulling on his arm, pulling him quickly out of the path of a fast-moving crowd. Brian turned, then looked down. A boy younger and smaller than Brian had just saved him from being trampled by a news camera team.

“First time, right?” the younger boy said.

Brian looked the boy up and down, then back to the rapidly diminishing camera crew that had nearly run him down. They, along with other news teams, were scurrying to the main convention arena.

“Thanks,” Brian said at last. “I think you just saved my life.”

The smaller boy laughed through his nose as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from an inside pocket in his suit jacket. He tore the cellophane off the pack with clenched teeth, then with practiced skill he indented a bottom corner of the pack to allow a few cigarettes to poke upward through a hole in the foil packing. He proffered the pack to Brian.

“Uh, no thanks,” Brian said. “I don’t smoke.”

The younger boy snorted again as he lit his cigarette from a Zippo lighter with what looked to Brian a naked woman on the case. He closed the lighter with no small flourish and it immediately disappeared into a coat pocket. “This is your first year,” he laughed. As if to bolster his theory, another boy came up from behind and tapped the smoking boy’s back.

“Cigarette,” the new boy said. “C-i-g-a-r-e-t-t-e. Cigarette.”

Without looking back, the smoker snaked his hand around to pass the pack to the boy behind him. “Time for introductions, I guess.”

“They gave me a badge with my name on it," Brian said. "I guess I should put it on.” He lifted the hem of his sweater vest and dug into his pants pocket. He pulled the badge out and clipped it to his shirt’s pointed collar.

“Is that a joke?” the smoker asked as he pointed to Brian’s badge. “Spelling Brain? Your name is Spelling Brain?

The newest boy peeked over the smaller boy’s head. His cigarette stuck straight out of his slit of a mouth, the tip a glowing cherry. “Brain,” the boy read. “B-r-a-i-n. Brain.”

Brian sighed. “No. It’s a typo. My name is Brian. B-r-i-a-n. Brian Spelling.”

“Nice to meet you, Spelling Brain.” the smaller boy laughed as he held out his hand. “My name’s Really Smart Fucker, and the idiot behind me dropping ashes on my suit is, uh, Joe Dictionary!”

“Dictionary!” the boy in the back repeated. “Good one! Joe Dictionary! D-i-c-t-i-o-n-a-r-y. Dictionary.”

“Just pulling your leg,” the smoker relented. “Sorry. Marty Pantoliano’s my name. Nice to meet you.”

The boy behind Marty took the cigarette from his mouth and reached his other hand over Marty’s head to shake Brian’s hand. “I’m Ed...E-d. Back home they call me Fast Eddy ‘cus I talk kinda fast. F-a-s-t. Fast.”

“Um, do you always do that?” Brian asked he let Ed’s moist hand slide away from his own.

“Do what? W-h-a-t. What?” Ed stuck the cigarette back in his mouth and inhaled sharply. Brian looked down to Marty with question marks in his eyes. Marty nodded, then shrugged and inhaled on his own cigarette.

“Gee, you guys seem kind of young to be smoking like that. How long ago did you start?” Brian asked as he watched his new friends bring their cigarettes to a fiery glow.

“Three years ago,” Marty answered.

“Four. F-o-u-r. Four.”

“Is this your first year at the National Spelling Bee?” Brian asked.

“Third,” Marty answered.

“Fourth. F-o-u-r-t-h. Fourth.”

The noise in the foyer began to grow suddenly. Brian could see that there were two men and two women all wearing sashes over their finery. These were the judges and moderators for tonight’s event. There were flashbulbs going off and TV journalists pushing their microphones forward trying to get a soundbite for their evening report.

“Looks like it’s showtime, folks.” Marty said as he pushed open a glass door that led outside and flicked the remains of his smoke into some nearby grass.

“Showtime! S-h-o-w-t-i-m-e. Showtime.”

They could see the judges moving into the auditorium now, being followed by journalists, contestants, and spelling bee staff members. The three boys were almost the last to enter the auditorium. They were spotted by a man with a clipboard wearing an official maroon suit jacket with the spelling bee’s emblem on the breast pocket. He was almost pushing them forward and onto the stage up ahead. There were twelve chairs in a line behind a single microphone stand. As each boy took an empty chair, the man in the jacket checked their name badge and made a mark on his clipboard. Brian was the last to sit down.

“Is this a joke?” the man in the jacket said. “Spelling Brain? Your name is Spelling Brain?”

“No! Brian. B-r-i-a-n! Brian. They told me they were going to fix it!” The man ignored Brian and waved his clipboard to another maroon-jacketed woman standing beside the stage. “What’s the problem?” she asked when she came up to them.

“I’m not sure,” the man said. “Someone may be playing a joke on us. Look at this.” The man snapped the badge from Brian’s collar, popping a small button from Brian’s shirt.

The woman studied the badge, then looked at Brian with a cross look on her face. “Is this a joke? Spelling Brain? Your name is Spelling Brain?”

“It’s BRIAN! B-R-I-A-N! Brian! It’s been like that all week! They told me they were going to fix it!” Brian could see he was once again being ignored as they two adults were talking to each other in harsh whispers.

“We can’t announce him that way. We’ll look like fools!”

“Just use his initial.”

“Spelling B? His name is now ‘Spelling Bee!’ That’s worse!”

“I’m going to have to get a ruling on this.”

The man turned angrily to Brian, shaking the name badge in his fist. “Do you think this is funny? Is this your idea of a good time, Mister Brain?”

“Brian!” he shouted to the man’s now retreating form. “B-r-i-a-n! Brian!”

He could see that the man was now conferring with the four adults with the red, white, and blue sashes. The most senior of them, an old man with small wire-framed glasses peered intently at Brian as he listened to the man in the maroon jacket. The other adults leaned toward one another and Brian could only hear angry tones, but no actual words. The old man said a word to no one, and Brian could see that his skin color was turning a dark shade of red, as if the old man were holding his breath. Brian watched as the old man stood and slammed his hand down hard on a thick dictionary that lay open in front of him. The sound carried through the entire auditorium and silenced the rest of the judges as well as a few television journalists who were in the middle of taping their news segment. The old man stormed up to the stage to face Brian.

“Never...in all my days as a judge...” the old man sputtered. “Young man, do you have any idea how seriously I am considering having you thrown out of this competition? Let me ask you, young man: was it worth it? This practical joke of yours...has it provided sufficient amounts of laughter for you? Making a mockery of this institution...showing contempt for the American education system...was it worth it, young man? Mister Spelling Brain?”

“Brian,” he corrected him meekly. “B-r-i-a-n. Brian.”

“I’m not finished with you, no, sir. Not by a long shot!” the old man was now expectorating with each of his words. “Now it’s far too late in the proceedings to have you tossed out on your ear, but – by thunder! – I’ve got half a mind to do it anyway!”

“Thunder,” Brian heard from somewhere behind him. “T-h-u-n-d-e-r. Thunder.”

“If I were ten years younger I would be bouncing you out of here like you were on fire myself! Am I getting through to you, young man?” The old man paused as Brian slowly nodded back at him. “I’ve decided to allow you to stay this evening," he said calmly. "You’ll be allowed to compete for one of this great nation’s highest academic rewards!” the old man was shouting again. He then leaned in very close to Brian’s ear and whispered evilly. “And I hope you return to your parents the miserable failure of a human being that you have shown yourself to be.” The old man took himself offstage and once again sat with the other judges. No one spoke a word. The old man looked to the man in the maroon jacket and nodded once. The man returned the nod with a slight bow, and then came up on the stage to escort Brian to the only empty seat left. Brian and the other contestants knew the seat well. It was known as “First Position” formally, or “Casey At Bat” informally. It was the Dead Man’s chair. Brian would be first up.

Music came up as the man in the maroon jacket stood at the microphone, his clipboard no longer with him. Brian felt nauseous, and the man’s words seemed to come to his ears through thick bales of cotton or from underwater. He was catching only indistinct mumbles as the man spoke to the crowd, the contestants and judges, and the live television cameras. Brian watched as he made a gesture toward the contestants and he could hear the audience responding to it by giving the young students onstage a thunderous applause. To Brian’s muffled ears, it sounded like microwave popcorn.

He began to feel the lamps burning intensely overhead. Though positioned forty feet above him, it felt to Brian as if he was being burned by sunlight under a magnifying glass. His turned his head to see Marty and Ed beside him in their chairs. Marty gave him a quick thumbs-up and a wink. Only Ed, sitting immediately to his left, seemed to be sharing Brian’s sense of terror. Brian could see him staring straight ahead like a deer meeting impending automotive execution.

And then there was silence. Brian could hear each word distinctly now as the man in the maroon jacket pointed to him with an open hand. “Ladies and gentlemen...our first contestant.”

“Contestant,” Brian could hear Ed muttering behind him as he stood. “C-o-n-t-e-s-t-a-n-t. Contestant.”

Brian walked toward the microphone stand and took his place at center stage. With the television camera lights turned on, it was impossible to see the faces of the judges as he had before. But Brian could feel that red-hot glaze just as intensely as the camera lights or the auditorium lamps above.

“Our first contestant,” the man announced to the audience and cameras, “will be spelling brain.

Brian’s sigh carried extremely well over the microphone. “Brian! B-r-i-a-n!’ BRIAN!” There was complete silence in the auditorium until Brian smacked his forehead against the microphone with a very audible thud.

“Fuck.”

“Fuck,” Brian heard from behind him. “F-u-c-k. Fuck.”