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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices / The Teen Scene named 2024 Non-Profit of the Year by North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Silent Scream: Eight Years After

He opened his mouth, but his vocal cords would not vibrate.

He could only watch. Robert grabbed the end of one of Eleanor’s blonde pigtails and dipped it into a bottle of ink, likely purloined from the local antique shop. He liked Eleanor, dreamed about her at night, and wanted to scream “stop.” He knew that he should, wished it, then willed it with all his might — but nothing came out. Then Miss Dinkins asked him a question about the electoral college.

He knew the answer, for it was an easy question, or used to be. Everyone in his senior civics class knew the expected answer. But Miss Dinkins was asking him, staring at him, and so was the rest of the class. He was never popular but thought for a moment it would be nice if Eleanor noticed him.

To his peers, his answer hung in the air inchoate. Would he ever give it birth? He felt the answer turn in his abdomen and desperately wanted to deliver. He opened his mouth, but his vocal cords would not vibrate. There was an urge, but the words would not form. His mouth still agape, he glanced at the flag in the corner: Three intersecting rings of stars beating back the stripes. Was he the only one who mourned?

He pictured himself outside the U.S. Capitol observing. A feral cat with black and orange stripes darted by and scurried under a bush trying to avoid the shuffling feet of the throng. Atop a lightpost, a man in fatigues waved a megaphone, yet still he could not hear. Men pumped their fists and waved upside-down flags, some red, white and blue, others with hissing snakes. He saw Eleanor’s face in the crowd and tried to move toward her, but the hole closed.

Men wearing bandanas pushed forward with machetes and axe handles. Some waved flags, others flashed signs. He could not read the words but could feel the symbols and the flames of war. This was not the Civil War he had read about in history class, but something different: A silent movie, but in color. One man takes a lighter and sets another man’s hair on fire — blond hair dyed blue, then orange flames. There should have been shouts and sirens, but there was only silence. Was he dreaming again, or just remembering?

Eleanor turned her head, the tips of her pigtails now tinted blue, and winked. He wanted to answer the question and tell her and the entire class about his vision. He felt it was life-and-death vital. Maybe he could save them if he could speak up. He realized that he had had this waking dream before and now a sense of déjà vu filled him with foreboding. The hair on the back of his hands stood up; his knees trembled. If he could speak, would they remember, and if not would they even listen? If they did listen, calamity could be avoided, though he would appear a fool.

Did anyone believe soothsayers anymore? How could he be certain this vision, this premonition, would come true? Or had it already?

As if on cue, the teacher and his classmates turned their attention away from him. Outside the window, daytime fireworks sparked in the cold distance over the trees. When he was seven years old, he remembered seeing fireworks at night on July 4th and hearing the sparkles and booms. But that was then, and this was now, eight years after, and the fireworks always began at noon on January 20th, the birthday of the new republic.

Still he could not hear the sparkles or booms, or his classmates, though he could see their cheering. He felt no allegiance to this newfangled flag but rather overwhelming nostalgia for the America he and his parents once knew and what everyone now called the “old country.” His patriotism had remained alive for that red-white-and blue, even though the world had turned truth gray, justice purple and courage yellow. There was only one answer to the question, even if it had been distorted by the three-ring circus of 51 states.

When the class settled, the teacher asked him again. He waited for Eleanor to smile, but then didn’t care that it wasn’t genuine. His voice was strident. He gave the only answer he knew should still be true:  “Two hundred seventy electoral votes as decided by the will of the people of each state.”

At the teacher’s direction, two linebackers sitting in the next row escorted him to the principal’s office, and he was expelled from school. When he arrived home and explained what happened, his parents celebrated his newfound freedom.

Image credits: Flag composition by Chuck Bins. “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.






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About the Contributor
Charles Bins
Charles Bins, Writer, illustrator
Charles Bins is the author of Quirky Stories & Poems: Backwards, Forward & Upside Down published in the fall of 2023. The book is about many things – real and fictional accounts about growing up, pleasure and pain, good and evil, as well as quirky insights into human nature.  As a marketing PR pro, he wrote hundreds of articles for clients on topics spanning business, technology and consumer products. Early in his career, he was a syndicated entertainment columnist, interviewing celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Kenny Rogers and Patty Duke. He lives with his wife, Mary, two cats and a cockatoo in Leland, N.C. Learn more on his website.


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