In Exactly 350 Words
Glitter sighed, tapping her Water Faerie Pen impatiently on her open notepad and glancing out the window.
Stifling a yawn, she tried to stay awake as the President of the Writing Club droned on and on about the importance of the 350th issue of the Neopian Times. The speckled Nimmo had been at it ever since their meeting began, starting from the humble beginnings of the Times, which he had meticulously researched prior to the meeting. It showed in the extremely long scroll of paper he had unrolled and which found its way underneath the desks at the very back of the clubroom.
The faerie Acara leaned to her right and nudged the treasurer, a blue Usul who had resorted to reading a book under the long table the officers shared.
“When will he finish, Dominic?” Glitter groaned.
The Usul shrugged. “You know Justin. Whenever he researches, or makes a speech, he gets carried away. Actually, he does sort of get carried away all the time.”
“I was hoping he could put that to good use in this activity we’ve got for the big three hundred fifty. Unfortunately, this has got to be the most boring and clichéd one yet. If you hadn’t kicked me under the table yesterday, I would have fallen asleep during the officers’ meeting.”
“Don’t be so pessimistic,” the treasurer reassured her, shutting his book with a snap that was lost in Justin’s ongoing verbiage – which, thankfully, was drawing to a close, or so they thought. “Besides, Miss Secretary, weren’t you supposed to be taking notes on his speech?”
Shooting him a dirty look, Glitter replied, “I could always ask him for that impossibly long speech of his. As if he cares that this record will be verbatim.”
“A record is a record; he can’t complain about that,” agreed Dominic.
“Now,” Justin proclaimed with a flourish, dramatically tossing his speech over his shoulder and failing, as its sheer length just caused it to drape over his shoulder, “in celebration of the three hundred and fiftieth issue of the Neopian Times, we are going to write what it means to us, how it is important to us... in exactly three hundred and fifty words, no more, no less.”
“Wait,” a red Ruki from the back called out, “that means we can write whatever we want, a poem, a set of poems, an essay, even a really short story...”
“As long as it’s exactly three hundred and fifty,” answered the Nimmo, nodding and adjusting his glasses. “The deadline is on the day issue three hundred and forty-nine comes out. That should give us another week to work on banners or whatever we can add... oh yeah, and if the budget allows for it –”
Dominic raised his paw. “I think the budget will allow for anything you think of, Mr. President.”
“We’ll compile a small book of all the pieces written for the occasion,” said Justin, smiling widely.
“But what about dressing up as famous Neopian Times characters and parading through the corridors?” a cloud Kacheek asked. “Won’t we do that again this year?”
“I get to be Jeran!” a blue Lupe crowed.
“No fair, you always get to be Jeran,” the electric Gelert beside him complained aloud.
“You better not cancel that parade, Justin, or else all of Neoschool will run you out of town,” warned a shadow Bori, standing up with her paws on her hips. Many of the members, including Glitter and Dominic, agreed with her, and the cacophony began to escalate as talk turned to the most awaited spectacle.
Justin flapped his arms, trying to get everyone to be quiet and nearly knocking his glasses off his face in the process. “Umm... yeah, we’ll talk about that once all the literary pieces are in or maybe even before the deadline. Anyway, you have a lot of time; we’ll be accepting your submissions anytime... get others to write too...”
But Glitter was no longer listening, and resorted to flipping through her notepad at her previous compositions. She perked up when Dominic discreetly poked her shoulder.
“What did you have in mind instead of this, anyway?” he asked.
“I wanted us to do something... something like the Storytelling Competition, only with poetry. A story that rhymes that we all keep moving for as long as we can. I mean, I want something that’s much more fun than this. But no... listen, Dominic, I’m not joining. It sounds boring and clichéd, like what all the grammar classes usually...”
“It might not be what you had in mind... but it’s not boring. At least Justin didn’t tell us all to write essays. You could write a poem, or a story... Glitter, you could probably even interview your owner!” interrupted the Usul.
The faerie Acara grinned crookedly. “Kat’s answer to a single question would go over the word limit. Like I said, I’m sitting this one out. And, what could I write that’s exactly three hundred fifty words?”
* * *
“You’d be surprised. You could write a poem, or a really, really short story, or – “
“Don’t even say the e-word,” muttered Glitter. “You’re just like Dominic.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Dominic is a very nice boy,” said Kat, scanning a sheaf of papers. “Ah, yes, here it is! I can’t believe I almost lost the draft! Now I don’t have to start all over again!”
The faerie Acara sighed. “Are you even listening?”
“Of course,” answered the girl, extracting her draft and setting everything else down on the dining table. She reached out for a pencil and started scribbling notes in the margins. “Listen, they may be able to limit the number of words, but they will never be able to limit the number of ideas. If there’s one thing they can’t restrict, it’s the imagination. You’re the only one who can control your ideas and imagination, anyway.”
“You’re right. And I’m going to control my ideas by not joining. Maybe I’ll wait for the parade and the less boring things,” said Glitter with finality, walking away from Kat, who was flipping through her papers again. The Acara strode into the living room and plopped into the couch beside her sister, a white Aisha too busy perusing a past issue of the Neopian Times to notice that Glitter was now sitting beside her.
Gazing up at the ceiling, Glitter lost herself in her thoughts.
What was wrong with my idea, anyway? Why didn’t Justin choose it? I mean, it’s all right... Dominic was all for it, and so were Shali and Rissa. Unless I haven’t exactly been a very productive secretary and missed something... but Justin said that he would consider...
He considered, all right.
He considered not going with my idea. I mean, this is the big three-five-oh! The NT has been around for that long! Just that is a big achievement in itself...
She shook her head, no longer wishing to entertain any more notions related to the Neopian Times.
But it was hard, especially since Fluffy was just beside her, now picking up the latest issue of the Times and reminding Glitter that their club activity had a deadline.
As if I’m making that deadline, the Acara thought derisively.
* * *
“I finally have an idea! I’m going to make a set of haikus that total up to 350 words. Besides, they count the syllables, not the words. What do you think?” said Dominic proudly. “So, Glitter – oh yeah. You’re still not on that writing hiatus of yours, are you?”
“It’s not exactly a hiatus. I’m just not going to join this activity for the 350th issue of the Neopian Times. Besides, it’s not like it’s the only thing I can do,” replied the faerie Acara. She paused, glancing around the hallway, and dropped her voice when she saw a purple Meerca walk into a classroom in their corridor. “That was Shali, wasn’t it? Did she hear me? She’s always agreeing with Justin, even though for a while she considered –”
The blue Usul shook his head. “She’s too far away. Besides, she usually doesn’t care about what you think, or what we do. Anyhow, are you really serious? Time’s ticking and before you know it, the deadline’s just around the corner.” He reached out, twiddled the combination lock on his locker and stepped back as it swung open. A book plopped out from the magnificent mess inside, but Dominic quickly swept it up and shoved it back into an already crowded corner.
“Of course I am. Look, can you hurry it up? We’ll be late for class.”
“Are you sure about this?”
Glitter scowled. “Does this look unsure to you?” She turned and strode forward, and Dominic had to jog to keep up with her as they walked into their classroom. Her expression still didn’t change as she plopped into her usual seat, one of the closest chairs to the window. Their teacher, a sleepy-looking brown Chomby, instantly started the lesson, but Glitter’s mind wasn’t on the tedious lesson at all.
Her notepad was open, and on top of one page, she started absently writing the words “Issue 350 – In Exactly 350 Words” in curly script.
She looked up to see the Chomby scribble notes on the blackboard, but when the Acara looked back on her notepad, she gasped.
“Something wrong?” asked the Usul, who turned around in his seat to look at her.
“No – nothing. And, you’ll get caught if you keep staring back here.”
* * *
“You look like something the Kadoatie dragged in. Lighten up.”
“Go away, Angel,” grumbled Glitter, waving the yellow Quiggle away. “Can’t you see I’m trying to do my math homework?”
Angel stared at the paper his older sister was tapping absently with a pencil. “That doesn’t look like math to me. It just says, ‘Issue 350’.”
The faerie Acara gasped, quickly opening the nearest notebook and stuffing said paper inside. “Look – just leave me alone, all right? I can’t study with someone breathing down my back.”
“I’m not breathing down your back,” said Angel, pouting as he wandered off. “And I thought you finished your math during the meeting with the Writing Club.”
“I was checking!” Glitter called out after him. But when she was alone again in the dining room, with the table all to herself, she pulled out the sheet from her notebook and gazed at it intently, as though hoping something would come out of it.
“This is stupid,” she mumbled, crumpling the paper and tossing it at her feet, along with all the other rumpled balls. “Why do I even bother?”
“Maybe it’s because you want to.”
Abruptly standing up and shoving her chair aside, she faced the one who had spoken. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Kat leaned against the chair. “You never miss anything the Writing Club does. I think no matter how boring you might think this is, you still want to –”
“What?” Glitter whined.
“You did ask what I meant.”
“We do a lot more than just submit 350-word pieces in the club. You know that. I don’t have to miss the entire thing. Besides, the deadline’s in a few days – not that I care.”
The girl bent over and began picking up the papers scattered on the floor. “I see. But it looks like you have a different problem. And I don’t mean littering.”
“You litter when you work on your Neopian Times stories, you know,” the faerie Acara pointed out. “Whether you miss the trash bin, or you forget that there’s even one.”
“The point is, littering is not the point,” said Kat. “Talking helps clear things up; haven’t I told you a thousand times before?”
Glitter plopped back into her chair, preferring to talk to her notebook and pen. “I don’t want to talk about it. There’s nothing to clear up.” She quickly began shoving all her things into her backpack. Once the table was clear, she breezed past Kat and stomped up the stairs.
There was a distant slam, and then silence, as the Acara flung herself onto her bed, glaring up at the ceiling as though it chastised her as well.
Why... why couldn’t it have just been my idea? Then I wouldn’t be –
No, wait, I am not writing anything for his stupid idea.
* * *
A whole group of members crowded around Justin as he entered the clubroom, all handing in their pieces for the celebration of issue 350. Dominic was one of them, and after he let go of his set of haikus, he took his seat at the long table reserved for the club officers.
“I assume you still won’t submit anything?” asked the Usul nonchalantly, taking out the record book and flipping through it.
“Do I look like someone who’s ready to pass her work?” Glitter grumbled, leaning back against her chair. “And you better not tell Shali or Rissa...”
“I won’t. They’re too busy collaborating on a single piece, anyway. They said they won’t be finished till the deadline itself –”
As if on cue, a red Eyrie swooped down into the other seat beside Dominic. “Hey, you two, have you passed your stuff yet?”
“I have,” said the blue Usul, swelling with pride.
“I haven’t,” was Glitter’s simple answer.
“Oh,” said Rissa, nodding. “Well... I’m sure you can think of something. But... Justin said he wants to talk about the other stuff we’ll be doing for a bit, and you’ll be –”
The faerie Acara cut her off. “Taking notes, I know. It’s my job.”
“After this, you can have all the time you want to brainstorm!” Dominic nodded in agreement, and Glitter kicked him under the table. He cleared his throat, and added, “Remember your idea? Maybe we could stick it into the week’s itinerary! I think it’ll be a hit.”
“It’s the storytelling thing, right?” asked Rissa. “Shali and I think it would be good if you could suggest it now. Maybe Justin wanted you to save it for...well, like now.”
“What if he...”
The Eyrie shook her head. “Glitter, you really don’t know what Justin’s thinking. I don’t either, but that’s the idea. If you think he’s going to reject your idea –”
“I don’t think that; I think he’ll get so caught up that he’ll forget to listen to me.” Glitter sighed, glancing at the Writing Club President, who was hurriedly arranging submissions with some help from the other members.
Rissa and Dominic were about to say something, but they both clammed up when the speckled Nimmo took his usual place in front, standing before the entire club. Shali the purple Meerca stood dutifully behind him.
“Good afternoon, Writing Club! Today, we would like to get suggestions for the week’s festivities. One week before issue 350 is pretty long, and we’re going to make use of all that valuable time! The floor is open...”
“You heard him, the floor is open!” mumbled Dominic from the corner of his mouth. But Glitter just brought out her notepad and pen in reply. As members began firing several ideas, some arguing and some even stepping up beside Justin to get the club’s support, the Acara jotted down every last detail, preferring to stare at the page she was currently writing on. There were some good suggestions – and yet there were some that made absolutely no sense at all. Justin and Shali sat down with the rest of the officers, speaking up only when the members were done.
Though Dominic and Rissa also commented on the ideas given, the secretary of the Writing Club kept her pledge of silence, letting her pen speak for her. The blue Usul glanced at her, but before he could say anything, a member asked him a question that he had to answer about the treasury.
She sighed, twirling her pen before flipping to the next page of her notepad. The faerie Acara decided to raise it into the air...
“All of you have some great suggestions for our week’s itinerary,” Justin suddenly announced, standing up and adjusting his glasses, which almost fell off when he moved abruptly. “Now... it’s my turn to give one. Actually, this isn’t my idea at all. It was conceived by our secretary...”
Glitter nearly dropped her precious writing tool, but she kept her jaw from dropping. The blue Usul and the red Eyrie nudged her together with matching grins, and all she could do was smile weakly, surveying the audience, who hung on to every word the speckled Nimmo was saying about her idea... and he spoke nothing but praise and recommendation for it.
And everyone else seemed to agree.
* * *
“Hey, Glitter, what’cha writing now?” asked Angel, passing by the dining table and seeing his sister at work again.
But she was too busy furiously writing, editing and erasing to answer, so the yellow Quiggle just looked at the title written on top of the notepad page.
Issue 350... In Exactly 350 Words