Snakes and Pills

059 - knee plan

"Welcome to the Saint Elizabeth Township mountain climbing license examination," the stout man at the front of the room said happily. Of course he was happy--he would not be taking the exam today. The thirty-odd students in the classroom that the man was addressing did not seem to share his glee.

One student in particular shifted and fidgeted in his seat uncomfortably. He was incredibly prepared for this exam. He had spent the past six months studying all the pertinent guide books and manuals, the contents of which would form the basis for this examination. Yet Eli had to admit to himself that he was nervous.

Even better than mere studying, for the past two summers Eli had worked as an apprentice on the slopes of Mount Saint Elizabeth, under the tutelage of the one and only Arthur Foyle, renowned the world over as perhaps one of the best mountain climbers to have ever been.

Eli knew mountain climbing wholly, both in theory and in practice. This exam then should have been a piece of cake--he could reasonably expect to ace it. But as he looked around at the other examinees, he wondered to himself why none of them looked nervous. They all seemed to be sitting there, albeit not happily, but comfortably, listening to the proctor discuss how to correctly fill in the bubbles for each answer.

His leg was the one that was rocking incessantly and uncontrollably. His face was the one that had gone almost entirely pale. Eli just couldn't understand why he felt so nervous.

The man had finished his little speech and began to hand the examination papers out. As they shuffled back through the rows and finally reached Eli in the very back of the classroom, his heart was beating something fierce. He picked up the paper in his hand and leafed through it.

It was nothing deadly, nothing to be feared. Just words on a few pieces of paper. But Eli couldn't ignore the huge opportunities that waited for him. Opportunities that were hinging on whether or not he passed this exam.

The proctor instructed them to begin filling out their information at the top of the score sheet, which consisted of printing their full names in block letters and then bubbling in those letters so that their names would also be machine-readable.

As Eli picked up the pencil to begin writing, he noted how it too also shook slightly. He tried to calm his nerves and his muscles, but as the lead made contact with the paper, the letters he formed were not his own. They seemed to be written by some child with only the basest of understandings of the written word.

Even the bubbling in of the letters seemed difficult. His lines were uneven and occasionally strayed outside the boundary of each bubble, while sometimes they did not entirely fill the area at all. Eli started to fear that perhaps he would get disqualified on his poor bubbling alone, and that only made matters worse.

His entire life, he had dreamed of being a professional mountain climber here in Saint Elizabeth. It was all coming down to this moment. Eli knew he had scaled some of the scariest peaks known to man, but now this number two pencil and this sheet of paper seemed to be the most insurmountable peak of them all.

"You have one hour," the proctor said. "Begin."

Everyone quickly whipped the exam open and just as quickly began filling in bubbles on their answer sheet. Everyone, except Eli. He moved slowly. Holding his breath as he flipped the cover page open, he finally exhaled upon reading the first question.

He could do this.


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