As those of you who follow me may know, I submitted a short story into the Nota Bene writing competition–a literary anthology that the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society puts together every year. I was one of the lucky few who won a spot in the collection! The story that I entered was called The Ultimate Measure, and before it was included in Nota Bene 2017, it was available in my own collection, We Are Humans. In honor of Nota Bene 2017 getting published this month, I’ll share the story here as well as a link to the digital copy of the anthology collection so you can check out everyone who entered. Also! After the story, check out a special announcement.
The Ultimate Measure
Danny’s finger traces the page, outlining every word. He blinks away the sleep in his eyes and bites his lip to dull the quivers, the dim bedside light glinting off his glasses. “I have a dream…” he whispers, slowly turning the page. Pursing his lips and pulling his blanket tighter, he leans into the book to peer at the illustration of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Memphis, Tennessee. April 4th, 1968.” Two of Danny’s fingers brush over the photo and slowly move down to a quote beneath. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“Boy, what you doin up at this hour?” Danny’s mom surprises him from his doorway. He leaps at her voice, accidentally slamming the book closed in the process. “Hush now!” She whispers. “Baby girl’s finally sleepin’.”
“Sorry, mom, I – I…was just doing some homework.”
“Yeah? And what were we studying?” She asks skeptically and glides to Danny’s bedside. He holds up the cover of his textbook – The African American’s United States History.
“It’s for Black History Month. Mr. Humphreys is making everyone read through the chapters about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. They were both assassinated…”
“Mhm, I know it,” his mom answers somberly, sitting on the edge of his bed. “Are you enjoying the read?”
“I guess,” Danny shrugs. “I don’t get why somebody could be so…angry.”
“You mean Malcolm X?”
“No, no, the people who killed them. What could drive someone to do that? I see things at school that make me stop and wonder — like that Carter kid always getting to share his essays first in Mrs. Allen’s class, or even Mr. Humphreys letting the other black kids talk a little more trash than..well, than Carter.”
“I haven’t heard you mention any of this before?” His mom sits up a little straighter, concern washing over her eyes.
“Well… I mean, I never thought anything of it until now. I knew it was wrong, I guess, but not worth taking up arms over. And definitely not worth killing for.” He taps the book with his knuckles. “It’s gotten worse this month, too, and Mr. Humphreys said the other day that he wouldn’t even teach on Black History Month if the school didn’t require it. He says it only causes discord, forces people to look at their differences instead of acknowledge that we’re all just human beings.”
“A lot of people feel that way, boy. I happen to think acknowledging we’re all the same at heart is as important as acknowledging that African Americans have a powerful and important history. Has anything happened to you that you haven’t told me ‘bout?”
“No, not to me… Darrius got called the N-word one time by the Hernandez twins. And Chanelle had something duct taped to her windshield after school a month or so ago.”
“This all happened at school? And I didn’t hear about it?”
“Chanelle reported it and the school handled it pretty quietly, and the Hernandez twins were reprimanded and put in detention for a week. It’s not a big deal-”
“It is, too,” Danny’s mom speaks over him. “Those things shouldn’t happen! Sometimes folks of other colors–”
“Mom,” Danny reclaims the conversation, putting his hand on her shoulder. “Mr. Humphreys says that people who make ‘blanket statements’ about other races are just as guilty.” His mom stops and stares at him with a frustrated expression.
“Well…” She breathes. “I just wish that things were different, baby boy. I wish that high school wasn’t harsher on certain peoples that it is on others.”
“Carter gets just as much crap as the rest of us, mom… Before dad — I mean — before he died he always told me that no matter what happened to me that I was to stand up for others who had it worse, to be the bandage for another even when I was being cut.”
“A military man would tell you that…”
“I think…I think that if we really want change it’s going to take effort from both sides. Maybe there will always be those people that act out against us and us against them, but if we put in the effort and meet those that stand up for us halfway we can really make a difference, like Martin Luther King, Jr. did.”
“It’ll take time and work,” his mom says quietly.
“All great things do,” Danny responds with a smile before reopening his book and pouring himself into it again.
Some Mordecai and other book news:
An artist friend of mine named Matthew Myslinski created a beautiful image of Mordecai, the African American half-elf and titular character of Mordecai | Epiosde One: Bloodthirsy. This summer I will be running another giveaway for Mordecai EI as I ramp up to release the second installment of the series — and as part of the giveaway I’ll be including a poster rendering of Myslinski’s incredible artwork! More details about the giveaway and a sneak peak at the artwork will be coming soon. To check out Matthew Myslinski’s current body of work, take a look at his Driftwood Archives.
Additionally, I’ve mentioned that I’m working on a short story collection! The working title is Life’s Too Short. That could change, but either way, the collection will contain stories from three different realms of thought: faith, love, and humanity.
Follow this blog (and follow me on all my social media pages) to stay tuned for more info on Mordecai and on my other works-in-progress. And I’ll see you next week (or rather, later this week, since this post got delayed until Sunday)!
Also, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! Tell your mom you love her today–or your dad, or someone important to you. Just spread the love!
What did you think The Ultimate Measure? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and follow for more content!
Weekly Writing Prompt:
It’s Mother’s Day! Write a card.