Great Thirst by Mary C. Findley

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This story began life in 2013 as a NaNoWriMo project. Someone challenged me to put together some of the issues we cover in our nonfiction works — History, Science, and Secular Humanism, into a contemporary fiction work. I wanted to make it an archaeological mystery. I also wanted to include public school education, but in a small town where people think they are “safe” from government control. The book will be released serially in about 100-page segments. Here’s Chapter One:

Chapter One – “Mr. Safety”

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“Hey!” Keith Bradley shouted. “No cars in the bus lot, and what kind of car is that, anyway?”
Keith waved off an incredibly red and shiny thing that didn’t seem to make any noise at all as it tried to slide past him into the bus lot at Bradley Central School on Tuesday morning, the first day of the new school year.
“Oh, no! The bus lot? I feel like such a doofus.” The driver pulled over to the curb and rolled down her passenger window. “It’s a Tesla.”
She was even more incredible than the car. Her highlighted brown hair framed a face that looked about sixteen and she pulled off some designer sunglasses that didn’t look like knockoffs.
“A whatsla?” An eighth-grader, Jermaine Tufo, gawked around Keith’s shoulder.
“A Tesla?” Keith repeated. “You’re kidding me, right? As in, the most awesome electric car ever made? Are you a new student?”
“Student? Are you hitting on me, kid? I’m the new English Lit teacher. Ms. Ramin to you.”
“You? A teacher?” Jermaine asked.
Keith pushed him toward the building and pointed him in the direction of the side doors. “Cafeteria, Jermaine, until 07:50. You know the rules.”
Jermaine ambled off.
“I’m a teacher, too,” Keith said. “Keith Bradley, science. The car parking is up at the other end of the building.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Thanks.” Ms. Ramin pulled a tight U-turn right in front of the last arriving bus. The car buzzed away.
Yeah, buzzed, Keith repeated to himself for emphasis. A Tesla? That’s like a $100,000 car, minimum!
Keith had somehow been pegged as “Mr. Safety” since junior high, when he’d made the mistake of thinking it was a big honor to be appointed to the “Junior Safety Patrol.” Twelve years later he was the science teacher at Bradley Central. The building had been renamed in honor of his late principal grandfather. Keith still stood out in the parking lot, breathing diesel, shouting at kids to get on the right bus or get out of the way of –
“Who was that crazy woman and what was that crazy car?” Veronica James, the driver of the bus the Tesla had almost pasted itself to, hollered out to Keith.
“New teacher, Mrs. James.” Keith spread his hands out helplessly. “Ms. Ramin, English lit. The car is called a Tesla.”
“Some new Japanese thing, huh? Anyway, she ain’t settin’ a very good example for the children, drivin’ like that. And you’re the Safety Director. I hope you’re going to speak to her.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Keith saluted and Mrs. James pulled her bus into the offload circle, much to Keith’s relief. Yeah, like I’m ever going to talk to … to … that! He glanced toward the student entrance to make sure all the kids got into the building as the warning bell rang.
A squeal of tires sent Keith sprinting back toward the street. Up at the car parking lot entrance he saw a tall black van with dark windows narrowly miss the Tesla as it turned in at the upper lot. The Sprinter spurted past the school, ignoring the reduced speed limit.
What just happened? Keith stared at the vanishing tail of the Tesla. That Ramin woman might be kind of a crazy driver, but Keith could have sworn the Sprinter was trying to hit her, not avoid her. He shook his head and headed inside.
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Fourth period, Keith led his ninth grade earth science class into the auditorium for the annual “Welcome to Bradley” assembly. He cringed when he saw Ms. Ramin and her class already seated in the section where his bunch was supposed to sit.
“Mr. Bradley, tenth grade is in our seats!” hissed Sonja Gray.
“I see. I see. Hush, Sonja.” Keith counted rapidly. “Just go in here.” He waved them down another row of seats, the ones the tenth grade should have taken. A dozen students felt compelled to make comments about these being the wrong rows, as hard as he tried to hush them up.
“The sign’s right there by her elbow,” grumbled Tim deLuca. “Man, I thought English teachers could read.”
He said this as he plopped down beside Keith, right in front of Ms. Ramin. She appeared to come out of a trance and looked over at the sign next to her that said, “grade nine.”
“Oh,” she exclaimed, jumping up and windmilling her arms. “Class! Everybody! We’re in the wrong seats. Get up! Get up! We need to move to – ” Her eyes flicked over to the “grade ten” sign at Keith’s elbow. “Up there. Come on!”
“Ms. Ramin, it’s okay,” Keith said. “It’s fine. Look.” He reached out with his long legs, hooked the signs with his ankles, and shuffled them until the “grade nine” one stood next to him. “Sit back down. It’s fine.”
She collapsed back into her chair, red-faced. “I lost a contact,” she confessed. “I have no idea where – ”
Keith risked a look into that little almond-shaped, almond-colored face and found some big brown eyes staring back at him from under her soft gold and chestnut bangs.
“Oh, I see it,” Keith almost shouted, forcing himself back out of the depths of those eyes and taking a breath. “It’s the right one, right? It’s back up in the top corner there.”
“Really? I can’t feel it!” She whipped out a lighted, magnifying compact and peeled back her eyelid.
Keith heard and felt rather than saw the reaction of the tenth graders. He gave them the Eyeball, a look perfected and passed down through three generations of Bradley educators, and they subsided into relative silence and motionlessness.
“Yeah, no, it’s right there – You got it!” Keith crowed. Ms. Ramin nipped the contact out of her eye, pasted it to her tongue, and popped it back in.
Every kid for six rows said, in unison, “Eeewww!” But not very loudly, and shut up instantly with the application of another “Eyeball” treatment.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Brady,” she said. “I have been trying all morning to find it. All my classes tried to help, didn’t you?”
How can that many kids all roll their eyes at the same time? Keith somehow managed to keep his expression bland.
“It’s Bradley!” muttered someone.
“What was that?” Ms. Ramin asked.
“It’s not Mr. Brady, it’s Mr. Bradley. The school is – y’know – like, named after him or somethin’,” a voice supplied.
“Oh, you’re Mr. Bradley? Everybody said at the in-service that you’re the go-to guy if anybody needs help, and they were so right!” Ms. Ramin stuck out a hand, rattling metallic bangles and displaying multiple rings –
Keith stopped looking at her arm, her fingers, her perfect little hand, and shook it. He turned back around as a voice boomed over the feedback shriek that always signaled an assembly getting underway.
“Welcome to Bradley Central!” Keith’s father, the principal, called out. “Returning students and teachers, no falling asleep. Don’t care how many times you’ve heard me give you ‘Bradley’s Best’. You still might miss something, especially this year, because we have something brand new and very special for our high school students. If you miss that very special announcement, you will miss out on an opportunity to make history.”
Make history? How’s Bradley Central ever gonna make history? Keith couldn’t help it. This tiny town, and this tiny school, would never matter to anybody. But as he looked around the auditorium, he sat up a little straighter.
A stranger prowled along the side wall. It was a blonde in a fedora, tinted glasses, and one of those “business-sexy” outfits he never expected to see in real life.
Who is she? An extra microphone had been attached to his father’s podium and a cameraman flanked her. The blonde looked bored but perked up whenever the camera angled her way.
A reporter? For the first day of school at Bradley Central? Keith realized he had better try to pay special attention to a speech he had been hearing since Kindergarten, because between Ms. Ramin and this “making history” stuff, something was definitely up.

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Image credits:

Cover credits: Book One: Professional man and woman images (Keith Bradley and Natalia Ramin) from iStock
“Couple-waiting” (teens in “have faith” shirts) image from uploaded by Wright Artistry

Artifact image from Iranian Historical Photo Gallery source for Darius I Persepolis Gold Plates
These plates were found by archeologists in 1938, in Persepolis, near modern day Shiraz, Iran. There were two gold plates and two silver plates in a stone box, written on in cuneiform script. The plates date to 518 – 515 BC.
Tesla Roadster (chapter header image) 13 April 2010 Author Thomas Doerfer Wikimedia Commons
Fingers with dust (section divider image) from user Unsplash

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