The Hidden, Episode 5: An Influence

Enjoy Episode 5 of The Hidden by audio or text below. If you missed the previous episodes, read Episode 1 here, Episode 2 here, Episode 3 here, and Episode 4 here.

Written by: Lee L. Krecklow, Voiced by: Mallon Khan

Prentice didn’t know where they were going. He was just a passenger, and that was never a comfortable feeling. When he wasn’t in control, he could be taken anywhere, or placed in front of anyone.

It was the day after the anniversary party, and his mom had just minutes ago pulled him from his room. Prentice had stayed hidden most of the day, needing time alone, time to process what had happened the night before, the brawl Pacey had described, the images and words he’d himself seen online. He felt so much hurt for all those people. Without even being near them he could feel the hurt. Plus, selfishly, he couldn’t believe he’d passed out again. And again his friends were there to help him. This time, when he came to, his head was in Tasha’s lap. Her face was the first thing he saw.

The morning was supposed to be spent working on the essay for English class, the Jekyll and Hyde essay, which was due tomorrow, but he couldn’t focus on that. To make things worse, the fight raged on virtually. Prentice was on his computer following every blow, scrolling through every slander and cruelty.

Now he stared out the window of the car, not sure where they were going or why. “I’m not in the mood for surprises, Mom,” he said when she came to a stop at a red light.

“I know you’re not.”

“And I’m not really in the mood to talk about anything yet.”

“I’m not asking you to.”

She drove on in silence, and Prentice pulled out his phone. There were some messages from Pacey, who was texting updates on the condition of some of their classmates. A guy named Ron had broken eye socket. An eye socket? How does that even get fixed? A girl named Karen broke her wrist when she was pushed to the ground. Another guy, the same guy with whom Prentice nearly fought at the pep-rally, Brett, spent the night in jail; he’d been drinking, got arrested, and his parents didn’t come to get him. Prentice’s head spun.

Finally, his mom pulled into a parking lot outside of what looked like a warehouse. A mural painted on the side of the building said “Rock City.” The letters were made to look like jagged stone.

“What is this?”

“I know you’ve been trying to get out of the house a lot lately,” she said. “I know we drive you crazy. I get that. There’s a lot of people in our house.”

“You don’t drive me crazy …”

“Ha! I don’t believe that. They drive ME crazy, Prentice, and I chose this life. You were born into it.”

“It’s a lot sometimes,” he said. “And yeah, sometimes I don’t want to be around people. Any people.”

“Well, that’s okay. It is. I get it. And look, I don’t know where you go when you leave. I don’t ask. I trust you’re making good decisions. And I know soccer didn’t work out …”

“Mom, get to the point. Now you really are driving me crazy.”

“Before I had your sisters I climbed. I thought you might want to try it. It’s quiet. It’s exciting. It’s a great place to think.”

“Like rock climbing?”

“Exactly like rock climbing.”

“Why didn’t I know this about you?”

“Probably because nobody asks me things.”

Inside, the walls of the warehouse were lined with rock walls, different colored hand holds stuck to stories-tall strips of gray, like candy dots on long sheets of paper. Ropes hung from the ceiling and people hung from ropes, swinging as others lowered them to the ground, and there were clouds of chalk dust and indistinct voices echoing in the air.

A staff member was fitting a harness onto Prentice’s waist and thighs when he noticed a quote painted onto wall. “Bouldering isn’t really a sport. It’s a climbing activity with metaphysical, mystical, and philosophical overtones.” It was attributed to John Gill. Prentice looked out into the warehouse and eyed the climbers.

“Who is John Gill?”

The staff member gave the harness one last tug and said, “A climber. Famous boulderer actually. That quote is from a Jon Krakauer book.”

“You’d like Krakauer, Prentice.” These words from his mom, who was standing behind him. “You’d especially like Into the Wild.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a book about a young man who decides to run off to Alaska and live alone in the wilderness. As far away from other people as possible.”

“What happened to him?”

“Read the book.”

The staff member giggled.

Apparently Prentice was on the outside of a joke.

His mom started putting her coat back on.

“Aren’t you climbing?” Prentice said.

“Nope. Not today. I’m just dropping you off. I’ll be back in a few hours. You settle in and see how you like it.”

Prentice got the tour of the facility, was shown how to use the auto-belays—machines that kept the ropes tight and lowered climbers to the ground automatically—and then he was set free. He did a lap around the room on his own, trying to find his place, but instead of going right to a wall, he reached again for his phone. Tasha was on her way to a girl named Peg’s house. Peg was the subject of a circulating picture in which someone drew a pig nose and ears on her and called her a sow.

Why were people so awful?

He couldn’t look anymore. He needed a break.

He snapped the carabiner onto his harness and looked up at the wall stretching high over his head. The wall had an “easy” rating, though it looked nothing of the sort. Still, he took hold of an orange rock, one dirty with the sweat and grit of hundreds of climbers before him. Then he set his foot inside another and pulled himself up. He reached and found another hold, then another, using his legs to lift and his arms to balance, just as he’d been advised. His forearms were burning before long, and his breath became short.

But at the same time, his head was clear.

He looked down and noted that the higher he got, the more alone he was: further away from other people; further away from his phone; further away from horrible news; further from dark thoughts. And, like in the woods, with distance came clarity. Here it was a physical clarity, with his body focused, and his mind occupied with the only task at hand. He had a purpose there.

He climbed on, but soon there were no more holds. He’d made it to the top and held himself there, muscles aching now, the air so different at the ceiling than down below. He turned and looked around the room. The waves of emotion among the other climbers were calm and satisfied, their bodies loose and thoughts free. They were huddled in groups on the floor, exchanging words, surveying climbs as a team, then one at a time, a single climber would leave the group and pursue their own singular pursuit, alone, but with the support and encouragement of everyone else. No competition. No ridicule. No judgement. No fear.

“Hey, kid, you need help?”

Someone was calling up to Prentice and he became aware of those beneath him waiting to make the climb.

“No, I’m okay.”

His fingers were straining hard and his shoulders were ready to give out. He looked at the auto-belay and realized that his life was now in its hands. To get down, he needed to let go. He needed to trust the machine to lower him to safety, which he suddenly found a near impossibility.

“You’re okay, buddy. You just need to trust it. Put yourself out there.”

He looked down again at the group and saw that they were there for him. Their waves of encouragement formed a cushion support beneath him, pad to fall upon. He closed his eyes, held tight to the rock with one hand and with the other he gripped the rope.

Then he found the courage to let go.

*

“The assignment last week was to write an essay about Robert Louis Stevenson’s intent when writing Jekyll and Hyde. We were supposed to discuss duality. I got some interesting responses. From those of you who actually submitted something I mean. But one essay in particular caught me off guard. It never even mentioned Stevenson or any of his characters. Though it does touch on duality, I suppose.”

Prentice felt the blood rush to his face. Was she really going to call him out in front of the class? Maybe he’d made a terrible mistake. Maybe he never should have listened to Tasha. Sunday, after climbing, he went back to his room with the intent to finish his essay. But still, he couldn’t get his mind on it. Tasha texted him, checking on him, and he explained how he couldn’t be productive, couldn’t focus on anything. Her advice was to write what was on his mind, to channel his confusion and put it on paper. She told him to ignore the assignment and write for class what was important to him. So he did.

“I’m not going to mention any names,” Mrs. Klein went on. “But I am going to read part of this essay.”

Prentice swallowed hard. He turned and looked for Marlow’s eyes, but she didn’t give them to him. Prentice sneered at her and grit his teeth.

“I don’t write this now because I have answers. I write this because I have questions. I write this because I see things, but I don’t understand them. I write this because I see you. I see you better than you think. But I don’t know you. Often I don’t know myself. I write this because I wonder why you don’t ask the same questions.

“I write because I don’t understand what makes a different school an enemy. I see that we live in the same city. What do you see? I see that we are boys and girls and black and white and so many things between. Do we hate North Central because fifty years ago they were named Wildcats and we were named Falcons? Are we in stitches and casts because we live three miles apart? Are we being arrested because our survival depends on our violence? I’m writing because I don’t know these things. Do you?

“I’m writing because I don’t understand how we could ever get along with another school when we can’t get along with each other. I see that we are neighbors. What do you see? I see that most of us have known each other for ten years or more. I see that we all just want to be accepted. Do you? Do we abuse each other because some of us have learned to throw a ball and others have learned calculus? Do we ridicule each other because our bodies are different shapes? Why does it feel so good to make others feel so awful? Are we not able to live our lives if we allow others to live theirs? I’m not writing because I’m innocent. I’m writing because I don’t know these things. Do you?

“I’m writing because I don’t know how we can get along as a school when we can’t get along with our friends. I see you, who plays a sport you hate so that you can keep being a star in the eyes of the team. I see you, who sends pictures of herself to boys so that they want you. I see you, making others feel weak so that your friends think you’re powerful. I see you, afraid to be yourself because you might lose your membership in a club that makes you feel safe. If we all have the same fears, can’t we all decide to let them go? If we’re all afraid of being judged, can’t we decide to not judge each other? I’m writing because I don’t know these things. Do you?

“I’m writing because I don’t know how we can get along with our friends if we can’t get along with ourselves. I see that we all want to be respected as individuals, but try so hard to blend in with everyone else? Is it our nature to be a different self for each person we know? Then who are we really? Do you love yourself? Who is the person you keep hidden?

“I’m writing because I see you, but I don’t know you. And I want to.”

Mrs. Klein lowered the paper she’d read from, folded it, placed it in her briefcase. “I’ll stop there,” she said. “But the essay doesn’t stop there. Horrible things happened last weekend. I know a lot of you are still dealing with it. This is a student who is feeling a great deal. And my hope is that these words help you all find answers. I’ll be reading this in all of my classes today.”

Prentice looked around the room, trying to gauge what everyone felt. It was quiet. It was still. He searched people for emotions, tried to read their waves, felt at the air for some sensation.

There was every feeling imaginable.

He felt love and hate and anger and happiness and loneliness and comfort and confusion and clarity and sadness … it was impossible for Prentice to understand. He couldn’t make sense of what effect his words had on everyone. Everyone was different. There was no one thing to focus on.

That is until he saw that Marlow’s eyes were on him.

*

Prentice watched her from a distance.

The yellow balls flew at her fast, and as each approached, she shifted her weight, took a small step forward and swung the bat.

Crack.

Another pitch.

Crack.

Another pitch.

Crack, each ball driven into the net above the pitching machine. When the machine stopped throwing, he went to the cage.

“That’s a powerful swing,” he said.

Marlow opened the gate and got a water bottle from her backpack. “Thank you.” She didn’t even look up.

“When did you learn that?”

“It’s a beautiful game. I’ve loved it all my life.”

“Did you ever play?”

She lifted her eyes to him. “What can I do for you, Prentice?”

He held her eyes until he couldn’t any longer. “I just wanted to talk. I’ve been wanting to talk. And you’ve been ignoring me.”

“I haven’t been ignoring you. I told you I was giving you space. There’s a difference.”

“Yeah, well it feels like ignoring. And I’ve needed somebody to talk to.”

“Really? Because it seems like you’ve been talking to Tasha an awful lot.” She went back into the cage, dropped a token in the machine and took up her bat.

Pitch.

Crack.

“I don’t understand. Are you mad at me?”

“Why would I be mad?”

Pitch.

Crack.

Prentice felt the tension crawling on his skin. There was no lavender in the air.

“I can feel it, Marlow.”

Pitch.

Crack.

“I’m not mad. I didn’t say I was mad. Can we talk about something else please?”

Prentice sat on the bench and watched her swing. “You knew that was my essay today.”

“Of course I knew.”

Pitch.

Crack.

“What did you think?”

“I don’t know. What did you think?”

“Marlow, don’t be my therapist here. Be my friend. I came here to talk to you. If you want me to go, I’ll go. Just tell me.”

Marlow turned and looked at him.

Pitch.

Clank against the fence.

“I don’t want you to go. I’m sorry … I’m just in a bad mood.” She left the cage and sat next to him on the bench. “I thought your essay was beautiful. I’m glad so many people heard it. It felt important.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.”

Clank against the fence.

“Why does that make you afraid?”

“Because I don’t want to be in control of something that’s important. I don’t want that responsibility.”

“Sometimes you don’t have a choice. History is full of leaders who had leadership dropped in their laps. They didn’t ask for it. But they couldn’t get away from it either.”

“And you’re always full of fun facts.”

“Isn’t that why you always want to talk to me?”

Clank against the fence.

Prentice stood and grabbed Marlow’s bat from her hands and went into the cage. “You’re right about one thing. I didn’t ask for it.”

Pitch.

Prentice swung and whiffed.

Marlow giggled. “That swing looked awful.”

“No laughing.” He took a practice swing and lined himself up for the next pitch. “Just tell me what you think I should do.”

“So you want me to make the hard decisions for you? I’m supposed to be letting you make decisions for yourself.”

“I just want your help.”

“If I don’t help you’ll probably just go talk to Tasha.”

Pitch.

Whiff.

Prentice turned and eyed his friend. “What’s up with you today? Do you really have a problem with me hanging out with Tash?”

“You can do whatever you want. Look. I think as many people as possible should read what you wrote. I don’t know how. But if you want my opinion, I think you need to own this. Not enough people stand up for what they believe in. They stay quiet because they’re afraid. You have a chance to be brave now. You have a chance to influence people.”

“My dad would say I’m not loud or exciting enough to be an influence.”

“Well you didn’t come to talk to your dad. You came to me. And I’m telling you the strongest, most respected leaders are usually the quietest. Would you like a list of them?”

“No. I wouldn’t.”

Pitch.

Crack.

“Nice hit,” she said.

Prentice dropped the bat and stepped out of the cage.

“Then I’ll end on a high note.”

*

The next day, Prentice’s phone was blowing up before the first bell even rang. He was getting comments. Shares. Likes. Retweets. Some positive, calling his words brave. Others negative, calling him pretentious. There were trolls, too, of course; people there only to disrupt and discourage the dialog. And all this made Prentice unsure of his decision.

Last night he couldn’t sleep. Which, of course, wasn’t unusual. He woke at 2:00 AM, then stared at the ceiling for hours, turning over and over in his mind everything that had happened to him over the last month: meeting Marlow at his lowest point; the soccer disaster; the woods; finding his new powers; the pep-rally; Tasha and his parents’ party; the fights; the hurt caused by so many, to so many. And while he thought about those things in the darkness of his room, one thing became clear: there was no avoiding his role in any of it.

He got out of bed and went to his computer. He created a new email address, a new blog, a new Twitter account, all of it under the name “FifthHidden,” a phrase nobody would associate with him, except the other four, those who knew him best. And on his new, anonymous blog, he posted his essay. It was styled plain. White background with ink-black type. He left comments open, encouraged them even, hoping to start a conversation. He was looking for answers, after all. Then, using the new accounts, he started blasting it out. When he was finished, he crawled back into bed and slept as hard as he had in months.

Before school, it was easy to forget about what he’d done, convenient to dismiss it all as a dream, until the comments started flooding in.

At lunch, he noted how he walked through the cafeteria—the same space that used to overwhelm him and make his head spin—with much greater ease. He took deep, practiced breaths, disappeared inside himself, shut out the distraction, and navigated the space feeling completely unaffected, totally unseen, Hidden.

He ate with his friends, too, in relative comfort, but the discussion eventually turned from video games to the anonymous essay, those words put into the world by a person unknown. He listened to his friends talk about the ways they thought the words were true and the ways they thought the words were false. They relayed to each other the ways they’d been hurt by others, and once or twice, even admitted to the ways they were the ones doing the hurting. In the end, they were all glad the essay was written, but decided that unless the writer did more, it would have little impact.

Then that familiar smell of lavender drifted past Prentice’s face, and he felt a tap on his shoulder, just as he had so many weeks ago now. He turned and saw her.

“Meet me in the hall,” she said, before turning and disappearing into the crowd.

“I’ll be right back,” Prentice said to his friends.

Marlow was waiting in the hall, leaning against the lockers. “I’m proud of you,” she said.

“Yeah?”

“Yes. But you’re still doing it wrong.” She smiled when she said this.

Prentice did, too.

“I suppose you can tell me how to handle it better?”

“Maybe I can.” She stepped toward him and wrapped her arms around him, gave him a hug and whispered into his ear, “I do think you can have an impact. But you’ll have a greater one if you don’t hide.”

Prentice squeezed her back, took a minute to think about her words, then said, “I’m not sure it’ll make any difference.”

“Me neither.” She stepped back from him, turned and started walking down the hallway. “But I think you might be the type of person who’s strong enough to try.” Then, as he imagined she would, she vanished.

Back in the cafeteria, he found a place to sit alone. He took out his phone and spun it on the table, thinking hard about Marlow’s words. He had no reason not to trust her. Everything she’d shown him to this point had proved true. Still, there would be no going back.

He entered the password on his phone, went to his new blog and went into edit mode. Down at the bottom of his essay, where he’d signed it “FifthHidden,” he highlighted the text and deleted. In its place, he typed “Prentice.” He clicked save.

Then he stood, turned, and disappeared into the halls.

Author Bio: Lee L. Krecklow is a fiction writer and father of three. He’s the author of the novel “The Expanse Between,” and his stories appear regularly in literary journals. He won the 2016 Million Writers Award for his short piece “The Son of Summer and Eli,” which is the story of a troubled marriage as seen from the perspective of a 4-year-old. He lives with his family in the Milwaukee area.

Discussion Questions

We hope you enjoyed The Hidden: An Influence, the fifth episode in an exciting series of stories. Please use the following questions to help facilitate discussion about the story and the topic of introversion.

  1. Prentice seems to find a peace in the sport of rock climbing that he failed to find in soccer. In what other sports can you imagine Prentice excelling? In what activities do you excel?
  2. What do you know, or what can you discover, about Jon Krakauer’s book Into The Wild? How do you think the book might relate to The Hidden?
  3. Do you feel differently about Prentice’s relationship with his mother after Episode 5 as compared with Episode 1? Why or why not? Do you think Prentice feels differently?
  4. Can you summarize the excerpt from Prentice’s essay in your own words? He’s asking questions, but also seems to be driving at a point. Where does he believe conflict begins? What might the rest of the essay go on to say?
  5. Marlow shows a more human side than we’ve seen in the past. What are the emotions she’s dealing with in this episode? How does she deal with her difficult feelings?
  6. Strong reading and writing skills are some of the noted, real-life strengths of introverts. Prentice discovers an ability to reach people with his words. Do you, or does anyone you know, share this ability? If not, what abilities do you share with members of The Hidden?
  7. In the end, Prentice makes himself highly visible by putting his name on his essay, but the last line of the story says he “disappeared into the halls.” How do you explain this contradiction?

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