Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 12

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,

making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5

Mennix

Eleanor sucked in her breath and squeezed her eyes shut, expecting great pain, but instead there was a moment of bitter cold followed by the sensation of heavy material being draped about her. She opened her eyes. A wool coat that extended well past her dangling toes was being fastened around her by a second metallic being. The fire in its eyes was green. “Your disguise, Peasant Girl.”

The panic dropped out of her. Surely this was a rescue arranged by Silversong. She smiled in relief and looked around her. The windows in the small dwellings below glowed with yellow light. Smoked curled upward from their chimneys and the snells of cooked meats and yeasty treats with them. Ahead, tall structures stretched toward the sky, their curves and straight lines outlined in cold, white lights. In the distance, dim lanterns illuminated wooden ships.

Wichita, KS

Principal Sokolova stood at the west bank of windows on the third floor of the school, looking down on the red-tinted river and, near it, a pen of sheep. The sun seemed to rest on the deep green trees of the city before removing its light from this place to shed it elsewhere.

She held a half-full goblet in her hand; one finger tapped the glass in time with the scherzo her daughter danced behind her.

The door creaked open. “You needed to talk to me?”

Danny.

The finger stopped tapping.

“Shut up, Google,” Talia called out. The music stopped and Talia grabbed a towel from the barre. “Hey, Larry,” she said, smiling.

Mr. Washington smiled at her uncertainly before she stepped out of the room. When the door had shut, Mr. Washington turned toward Principal Solovenka. “Why does she call me Larry?”

Principal Sokolova threw her free hand in the air. “No idea.” She cleared her throat. “I see you’ve turned our top dancer into a shepherdess.”

“It was in the reports.”

She grunted and looked back out the window.

“It’s only for ten weeks.”

“Ten weeks she could be training.”

“These children aren’t automatons; they’re human beings. I want them to feel that, I want them to begin to understand it. They need beauty and history and they need music that is something more than a taskmaster. They need nourishment for their souls, an understanding of their deep worth and how they are connected to the soil and the river and galaxy they belong in. If one breaks, I want them to know that we won’t throw them away. They need to learn to care for others, for themselves. I think caring for sheep is the best way to teach Miss West.”

“There’s a lot of pressure on me, Mr. Washington. To produce top performers. To build the school’s portfolio. To win competitions. To win prize money, frankly.”

“Then walk way, Ninette.”

Her heart seized. This was not the first time Danuwoa Washington had said these words to her.

A sycamore tree. Cicadas singing. Lightning bugs pulsing on the green campus lawn. “I know that it’s not good for me.”

The feel of his sweater on her wet cheek. His words in her ears. “Then walk away, Ninette.”

“To where?”

“To me.”

“I want to.”

“But?”

“I need to go to the studio one last time.”

Danny had urged her not to. “Just call Stevens. Resign over the phone.” But she went. And she should not have. And the shame and the anger still burned down deep within her. She clutched the goblet in her hand and set her jaw like steel.

“You’re dismissed, Mr. Washington.”

His footsteps on the wooden floor echoed in the large room. When the door was shut again, Ninette hurled the drink at the door. The goblet shattered against the transom and the red wine trickled down the wooden door, staining it forever.

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 11

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” – Proverbs 1:32-33

Mennix

Eleanor awoke to an ear-piercing siren, the stench of smoke, and a metallic hand pulling on her bare arm. “Hi-ya, Peasant Girl! Wake up!”

Eleanor’s eyes fluttered open and beheld two black, glass globes that contained small, red fires. These “eyes” were embedded in a silver disk. She backed away from the hovering disk from which thick arms extended toward her.

“Hi-ya! This is a prison break!” A flashing light illuminated Eleanor’s small, puke-green cell. She looked down at her puke-green smock. Yep, she must be in prison. That’s when she realized that the burning smell was coming from one of the walls of her cell. Part of it was obliterated; a hole yawned into the starry night beyond.

Before she could react, the being grabbed her arms, whisked her, feet dragging, across the floor, and together they swung out into the night sky.

Wichita, KS

Eleanor’s grandfather met the fifteen passenger van at the curb where she was unceremoniously dropped off. Eleanor had thought that she was in control of this situation, but her grandfather registered no surprise at her sudden reappearance; he was having the same slightly bored reaction as Mr. Washington.

Eleanor and her grandfather walked into The Foundry, the homeless shelter that he and her grandmother administered, and stopped by her grandmother’s office. Her grandfather handed her the day’s mail. “Thank you,” she said, looking up from her computer. “Hi, Eleanor.” No surprise registered on her face, either. Just “Hi, Eleanor,” as though she had been expecting her.

Eleanor followed her grandfather back out of the shelter. They walked down the street together, over to Douglas, and then north on Market, into the heart of downtown. Her grandfather took wide, purposeful steps that she had to keep catching up with. He veered at a tall building simply denoted as 125 N. Market. Eleanor glanced at the swanky lobby and was disappointed when her grandfather passed by it and opened a less grand door to the side.

Inside, a mirrored wall reflected a group of young professionals passing through. Her grandfather passed in front of them, walking straight for the wall like a crazy man. Eleanor cried out, “Papa!” without thinking about how baby-ish it would sound. Than, amazingly, a panel of the mirror pushed in; it was a door. Eleanor stood there, blinking.

One of the women passing by winked at her, jarring her to her senses. She ran through the open door and hurried up an escalator to catch up to her grandfather.

At the top of the escalator, they walked out onto a skywalk where her grandfather stopped. He leaned against the railing and looked down at the passing cars.

Eleanor waited for him to say something, but he was quiet. It was strange, really, that this existence—the downtown traffic, the people walking around in suits and polos, the goings on at the government buildings, even the perfect symmetry of the walkway windows—was carrying on parallel to all the activity happening a few blocks away at the Farmer’s Market. This was a grid work, a sheet of graphing paper to her as compared with the color, music, and food smells being pumped out into an electrified atmosphere at the market. Why was she here and not there?

When her breathing returned to a normal rhythm, she broke the silence. “You expected me to quit, didn’t you?”

Her grandfather nodded.

“Did you know about the sheep?”

He nodded.

“What a stupid thing to spend funding on,” Eleanor said.

“Your grandmother and I paid for the sheep. The sheep were my idea.”

Eleanor swung and faced her grandfather. “What?!?”

“Calm down, now,” he said in a quiet voice, still looking down at traffic. “I just walked through a door you thought was a wall. Right now, you look at those sheep and all you see is a wall, but I see a door, a door that will take you to a higher level, a door that will open up a larger world. Your mother loves you, Ellie; she took good care of you while you were a little girl. But you’re not a little girl anymore. It’s time to grow up.”

“I don’t understand.” Arms folded across her chest, she regarded her grandfather with an icy gaze.

“You took a personality test to get into Mr. Washington’s program. It showed us that you have an aptitude for leadership. What is the job of a leader, Ellie?”

“To make decisions. To give instructions.”

“And to look out for the needs of the people she leads.”

Eleanor bit her lip and looked back down at the traffic. “I see,” she said. “I don’t want to see, but I see.”

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 10

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“. . . when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.”Proverbs 1:27-31

Mennix

Eleanor stood before the Mennix magistrate with her shoulders thrown back and her head high, ready to file her complaint. She played the role of strong and defiant, to be sure, but terror was choking her. Mennix was not at all what she had expected. She had spent her whole life in their little archipelago, assuming the rest of the world was just the same. Stone. Grass. Wood. Wool. And the webs of the golden dargofonn.

The great hall of the magistrate was lit by small suns, trapped in glass globes; it was brighter inside the cube-shaped building than outside. The magistrate sat on a throne elevated to the height of two formassia trees stacked on top of each other. The collar of his black robe was white, tastefully illuminated, and rose five feet above him in a half moon shape, as though he were one of the twelve governing moons. In the center of the ceiling of each room, including this one, was a very strange configuration of three enormous glass bells, each artfully designed with primary-colored paisleys. But despite their beauty, there was something ominous about them—a darkness reaching out from them.

The magistrate rose and stretched out his hand. “You have no voice here.”

Silversong side-stepped, dance-like, and bowed. Then he struck the floor with his staff, jingling the bells he had affixed to the staff that morning, but remained bowed down.

Eleanor remembered Silversong’s warning to respond as he did to the magistrate since he was well-versed in their traditions, but heat flashed across her face. She stretched out her neck, opened her mouth to speak, and then was struck by a powerful sound wave that knocked her out cold.

Wichita, KS

Eleanor stepped up to the horse trailer and stood next to Mr. Washington. Through an opening between the metal slats, she could see a flock of black and white sheep. Their hooves clanked against the metal floor of the trailer. One lamb stood up against one wall for a moment and then got back down. “They’re so cute,” she thought, “But they smell so bad.”

“They are yours, Eleanor,” Mr. Washington said.

She looked at him, expecting laughter, but his large eyes were serious. Eleanor fell backwards but then grabbed for a slat of metal on the trailer with one hand so that she just landed a little clumsily on the cement. Rage mounted within her briefly before she exploded.

“I didn’t apply to this school so that I could listen to your stupid Indian stories or work like a slave in the cafeteria. And I definitely did not sign up to handle a bunch of mangy, stupid sheep! I am a dancer! And if I can’t dance, I quit!”

She expected Mr. Washington’s jaw to drop in astonishment, but his eyes registered ‘slightly bored’ as he replied, “Okay. I will take you to your grandparents. It’s been a pleasure knowing you.”

“You don’t know me!” She screamed, but Mr. Washington didn’t seem to be in the mood for a fight; he was ushering her to the van. As he opened the driver’s side door, he called to Cezario, telling him to keep an eye out for the others until he returned.

“We’ll have to make one quick stop along the way,” Mr. Washington said as he buckled in. He glanced down at his phone and then started the van.

Eleanor had the distinct feeling she was being played and she didn’t like it. Mr. Washington pulled out of the Farmer’s Market complex and then pulled into an alleyway. Io’s unmistakable red Afro practically glowed in a shaft of light breaking through a crack between two buildings. She stood in the middle of the alley, unmoving, looking upward, even as the can van parked right in front of her.

“See that Fitbit on her wrist?” Mr. Washington asked “Her parents’ only hesitation about enrolling her was her knack for getting lost. I used grant money to buy that and I have it connected to my phone. Pretty cool stuff. It’s a great way to keep her from getting hurt until she learns a few more things and grows up a little more. I just wish there was an app for other kinds of lostness.”

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 9

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you . . . “ Proverbs 1:24-26

Mennix*

Silversong’s vessel, the Shairi**, was an altogether different creature than Eleanor’s agricultural boat and her father’s swift cruiser. While theirs were used for quick day trips, the Shairi was designed for long, diplomatic missions and therefore had cabins, a galley, and other various rooms and compartments that Eleanor never saw nor cared to see.

Silversong had strongly recommended that Maurice come along to guard her, but she was still upset about Maurice’s reaction concerning the tower and refused to heed Silversong’s advice. As she stood before the mirror in her cabin now, she imagined the awe she would inspire in the people of Mennix when she disembarked the Shairi, wearing her father’s royal robes; the light would illuminate the golden fibers and cast a great brilliance upon her hair, face, and arms.

Wichita, KS

Brightly colored flowers popped. Easy-up tents snapped into place. A group of dancers in black leotards and tights jumped to the beat of drums. Eleanor wondered how she could have been missing out on this all summer; her grandparents ran a homeless shelter just a few blocks away. If only she had wandered over here with Grandma West rather than landing here now with this rag-tag troupe of lunatics.

Eleanor was flanked by Cezario and Jaqueline. Jaqueline wore a black and white striped shirt, black pants, and had her face painted white. As she walked, she stroked her pretend cat. They walked into an open square, following Mr. Washington. Eleanor spied a manhole cover that she was contemplating removing in order to escape from this humiliation when they passed a man and a woman hammering together two-by-fours.

“Jack!” the man cried out.

The woman looked up and came running at Jaqueline, arms wide, and hugged her, but then stepped back, alarmed. “Beanstalk!”

Jaqueline extended the pretend cat to the woman for inspection.

“We’ll get you a hammer, Jack,” the man said. “This is our best set so far.”

Just then, a guy from the Tallgrass Film Festival tent called out, “Cezario!” He passed by Eleanor like she wasn’t even there in order to fist bump Cezario.

A memory flashed before Eleanor: Her mom’s green eyes, her Pantene-perfect hair, and her alto voice saying, “It’s okay with me if you want to keep learning under Mrs. Denny via Zoom, but I was looking online at dance studios in Wichita and it looks like there are some great offerings. This new job I’m getting will pay enough for any of these. It’s up to you, Ellie-Belly.”

Eleanor winced—at the nickname and her own, stubborn stupidity. She turned away from the warm communities that “Jack” and Cezario were already enmeshed in and watched as Mr. Washington walked up to a horse trailer and started speaking to whoever, or whatever, was within.

*Name inspired by an ancient African port, Meninx, on the southeast coast of what is now Tunisia. This area was famous for its purple dye. A fun fact for you: Tunisia was once the ‘breadbasket of Europe.’

**Pronounced “Shy-Uhnee” (Swahili for “poem”)

***When looking for a good last name for Eleanor’s dance instructor, I googled founders of Seattle and found this interesting tidbit: In 1851, a group of immigrants from Illinois, led by one Arthur Denny, arrived at Alki Point on the eastern shores of the Puget Sound. The settlement they created was named Seattle in honor of a helpful local Indian leader Chief Sealth.

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 8

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.’” Proverbs 1:20-23

Isle of the Rising Star

Silversong stood before her, holding the scroll, reading.

“Detestable,” he said.

A cool wind blew in through the open window. Eleanor drew her royal robes more tightly about her. She looked out at the moons in their various forms. Was that what she was? A moon in a particular form? Ever waning and waxing? She wanted to be as sure as the sun in its course, not a reflective, dead object, but a pulsing, life-giving force, moving ever forward.

“You say these pirates were women?”

“Yes.”

“Armed women?”

“Yes.”

“And how many of your flock did they pilfer?”

“Forty-three. And they had many more on board.”

“No doubt enough to account for all that have been rustled since the rain.” Silversong set the scroll on the desk and paced the room. “Did you reveal your identity?”

“No.” Eleanor ran her finger along the grooves on the desk’s middle drawer. “Why didn’t they take my vessel and all of my flock?” There was a long pause. “Not that I wish it.”

Silversong did not answer. He was looking at a map affixed to the far wall. After some time, he turned on his heels. “It is time to sleep, Your Highness. We must travel tomorrow.”

Wichita, KS

The eight freshman ate their breakfast in a quiet corner of the kitchen, separated from the din of the student body by swinging doors and refrigerators and sizzling deep fryers where two women worked, dropping frozen hash browns in and pulling them back out.

Eleanor had hoped that she would begin classes this morning, but it wasn’t meant to be. In fact, none of the freshman would attend traditional classes in the mornings for the first eight weeks. After breakfast, the freshman wiped down the tables in the cafeteria, swept, and followed Mr. Washington out to a white van in the parking lot.

“I want to die,” Eleanor muttered under her breath as they climbed in.

“Is there a problem?” the guy with the blue -rimmed glasses asked, buckling in beside her. “Is her royal highness not used to earning her keep?” He looked out the window as she tried to form a retort. The van was loud with Mr. Washington blaring classical music on the stereo and the loud guy with the bushy eyebrows imitating Will Ferrel.

A few blocks into the trip, the guy with glasses turned back to Eleanor. “I get it, for whatever it’s worth. My name is Cezario The name of a king, right? A ruler. And that’s what I thought I was.” His voice dropped to a whisper and he looked away, back out the window. “Until this summer.”

Eleanor was locked in her own little pain room and it didn’t have windows. She crossed her arms, looking straight ahead. She didn’t think that anything could pull her out of her funk, but then the van turned a corner onto a brick street. A large white banner with purple writing was being hoisted above the street that read “Final Friday” and everywhere her eyes looked down the street of warehouses-turned-venues, there was a pulsing, artistic energy that made something in her glow again.

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 7

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse”- my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.

For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” Proverbs 1:10-19

Isle of the Rising Star

The spray of the cold water felt so good on Eleanor’s hot face. She stood with her feet fixed on the gunwale of her vessel, not wanting to feel either the physical or emotional warmth of the muvvons today. But the muvvons were not offended. They jostled against each other, ready to bound off the ship and onto a grassy island chosen by their mistress.

Her red peasant smock whipped in the wind as her vessel sped along. They soon arrived at a favorite and oft-frequented island that Eleanor affectionately called “Xeric Veld.”

Here she propped up the little bridge for her flock from the boat to the shore. The sound of their hooves clacking on the old, wooden board did not lighten Eleanor’s mood, but it was some comfort to her to be back in a routine she knew.

That’s when she spotted the pirates on the horizon.

Wichita, KS

“This has been the most amazing day of my life,” Portia exclaimed as the four girls got ready for bed in the locker room that night.

“Do you remember what ‘Minisa’ means?” Io asked, rubbing a washcloth over her face.

“Red water at sunset,” Portia said.

Mr. Washington had taken the freshman on a walk along the Arkansas River and shared some of the Native American influences of the area with them. Eleanor hadn’t really listened. Now, standing at the sink, she did the thing she had dreaded the most about attending a boarding school: she took out her Air Optix Color Fusions brown contacts.

Io stopped talking in the middle of a sentence about missing her siblings to say, “Eleanor, I didn’t know that you had green eyes.”

“When I lived in Seattle, I was too black to fit in with the white kids and too white to fit in with the black kids. When I moved here, I fixed that.” The words had come out cold and hard and Eleanor was just fine with that.

“Hey,” Io said gently. “We’re not Seattle.”

“She’s right,” Portia said. “However God made you is fine with us.”

What does it matter what you think, freak show? Eleanor thought bitterly. I don’t care about you guys. It’s the upperclassmen I’m concerned about.

Jaqueline’s eyes darted back and forth between the three girls. She had taken off her smashed top hat and was now washing off the clown make-up.

“Why don’t you talk?” Eleanor demanded of her icily.

“I st-st-st-stammer.” Tears formed in Jaqueline’s eyes.

And, suddenly, Eleanor did care about these girls.

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 6

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” Proverbs 1:8-9

Isle of the Rising Star

Eleanor was in the kitchen before the sun was up. Maurice was chopping vegetables at the counter.

“Silversong is expected to arrive tomorrow, my lady.”

His words unnerved her. How did he know what she was going to ask? Now that she had decided to rule, she realized that she desperately needed her father’s steward to guide her. What exactly did her father do each day? What were the countless documents? The trips? There were countless things to attend to, but she had no idea where to start. Actually, there was one thing.

“I do not wish to have anything to do with the tower. They are now your responsibility, Maurice.”

Maurice’s veins nearly popped out of his skin as he dropped the knife, grasped it like a weapon, and stuck it firmly into the cutting board. “If you leave me in charge of the prisoners, I will release them all.”

Tears blinded Eleanor. She’d had no idea that this faithful, quiet servant felt so passionately about the tower. She felt her way out of the room and ran to the stables.

Wichita, KS

On the first floor, the girls walked past a hallway filled with racks of pictures of previous graduates. Eleanor quickened her pace. She didn’t even want to think about her parents’ photos being in this building where she now lived.

Eleanor turned her thoughts to the cafeteria; she hoped it was something like the Alhambra ballroom, teeming with several hundred young prodigies. Maybe a young Billie Holiday would be warming up her voice in one corner of the room while a very serious Langston Hughes, Jr. sharpened his pencil at a table illuminated by one of many crystal chandeliers in the hall. Why not cling to one last, ridiculous dream? she thought as she and her “roomies” rounded the last corner into the actual cafeteria.

“Wow,” Portia exclaimed. “It’s beautiful.”

“Lots of light,” Io agreed, nodding.

The hobo formed her mouth into a perfect “O”, imitating their awe.

“It’s okay,” Eleanor conceded. The wall of windows was nice enough, but there was practically no one in the long, non-ornate room filled with round tables. Four boys with laptops sat at one table with game controllers in their hands, trash-talking each other. And it was 9:59.

The girls seated themselves at a table near (but not too near) the boys just as the groundskeeper entered the cafeteria with a clipboard in one hand and an empty box in the other.

“Good morning, guys,” he said, sitting down on a chair between the two tables. “I’m Mr. Washington and I think you know what happens next.” He put the box on the table and, with heavy sighs, the students started placing all of their electronics in it—laptops, phones, smart watches, ear buds, fitness monitors, handheld gaming devices, tablets, cameras, printers, and a cat collar.

“The cat will have to go in, too,” Mr. Washington said.

The hobo looked up at him in horror and clutched her imaginary kitten more tightly to her.

“Just kidding,” he said. “How are you today, Jaqueline?”

She waved her arm and produced a bouquet of fake flowers.

“I’ll take that as a ‘fine.’” Mr. Washington put a check on the clipboard. “And how are you, Miss West? Do you have any electronics to deposit in the box?”

“I don’t understand.” Eleanor’s voice was a high wire, taut enough to hold a host of aerial acrobats.

“I’m sure you read it all in the paperwork. You’re going to be going off electronics for the next eight weeks. It’s part of the mental health aspect of this experimental program.”

Eleanor swallowed hard. “Experimental?” Her voice cracked.

The boys failed to stifle chuckles. A boy with thick eyebrows said, “Um, Mr. Washington, maybe you should start from the top for those who were too busy to read the application in its entirety.”

Mr. Washington cleared his throat. “North High School has been producing some of the finest talent in the Midwest for three decades now, but we have a problem. Many of our brightest stars get into their thirties and start breaking down psychologically.”

“You mean, we kill ourselves.” The words came from a guy with red-framed glasses.

Mr. Washington set his jaw. He nodded slightly. “I have proposed a program to help young, gifted people develop an emotional framework for supporting their unique load.”

“The crushing burden of my crazy, genius self.” A large kid grabbed his curly hair in mock agony, but the guy with glasses kicked him.

Mr. Washington cleared his throat again. “You eight are the guinea pigs. Congratulations. So, Miss West, any electronics?”

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 5

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7

Isle of the Rising Star

The smell of oil overpowered all else as Eleanor wielded the five foot torch, thrusting it into the great pyre before her.

Each day now, she cared for the muvvons and then gathered all that she could find that was dead, decaying, and dry into a heap on the portico, lighting it as the sun sank, watching it until the last embers fell silent and cold.

On this particular night, the rain-heavy clouds finally parted, the twelve moons rose, and a thought occurred to Eleanor: At what point do I stop waiting for my father and start ruling in his stead?

With a weighted heart, she realized she should have been doing that all along. Her people should always be her priority.

The stars were out now; they would lead her father home—if God was willing.

Wichita, KS

No amount of pleading had convinced Eleanor’s grandmother to take Eleanor away from this mad house. At nine forty-five, with map in hand, Eleanor made her way toward the cafeteria on the first floor. Her roommates walked several steps behind her. Eleanor blocked out Portia’s prattle and thought only about the gold folder she deserved. A small hope grew in her that the rest of her class might actually be sane, that maybe she could change dorm rooms and everything would be okay. Then she turned a corner on the second floor.

There, before her, stretched a long hallway. At the end of the hallway was a wall of glass. The morning sun shone in, outlining a single, unmistakeable figure with big, curly hair, a homemade dress that hung on her, reaching to her knees, and a generally lost, but awestruck, posture—her head cocked back, looking around. Her thin legs scissor-stepped.

Eleanor put her head down and turned around, toward the stairwell.

“Eleanor!”

The girl’s sweet voice was like a bouquet of daisies; guilt knifed Eleanor’s heart. A proverb flashed through her mind: “A friend loves at all times.” She turned guiltily back to her one actual friend on planet earth, walked over to her, and hugged her. “Io,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

Eleanor looked at her friend in the full light. Io’s red, curly hair was meandering around much like its owner. The dark freckles everywhere on her face were beautiful, different from any face than Eleanor had studied, and her almost purple eyes were as large and probing and inky as the eyes of octopuses in children’s movies.

“Currently, I’m hopelessly lost.” Io declared, extending the key in her hand.

Portia rolled up next to them and held the key up to the light. “Roomie number four!”

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 4

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. – Proverbs 1:5-6

Isle of the Rising Star

Eleanor clapped her hands over her ears. It had rained for two thousand years. The raindrops bored through her skull.

“Bored” was the operative word and two thousand years may have been stretching things, but one thing was certain: Eleanor’s father had been out in those waters, helping their people, and Eleanor couldn’t see him, couldn’t feel his warm hand on her shoulder, couldn’t smell the ink on his hands. His voice didn’t ring in the halls of their small, dark castle. There was only the sound of rain . . . rain . . . rain.

The rising waters were gaining ground on more than Eleanor’s island; they were threatening to drown her soul.

Wichita, KS

The door swung open and a rainbow in human form burst in, her dark eyes more like a sunrise when she saw Eleanor and her grandmother.

“Hi!” The girl looked around the room. “Wow! This is amazing! Can you believe it?” She leaned back a little and her heelies rolled her into the room. Her braces gleamed, reflecting the fluorescent light. A giant red and yellow bow sat erect atop her head, supported by a thick, blue headband. “My name is Portia—less like the car, more like Shakespeare.”

Eleanor and her grandmother stared for a moment until they shook out of their stupor. At the same time they said something akin to, “Oh, uh-huh, nice to meet you” along with their names.

Portia beamed as she set a wooden case on a desk. She pressed a button. It slowly opened and two staircases of art supplies rose to her waiting fingers. She slid out a brush. “So much wall space.”

Suddenly, there was a fourth person in the room, standing right between Eleanor and her grandmother, dressed like an old-school hobo, stroking a pretend cat. She winked at Eleanor and pulled a Fun Size Hershey bar from behind her ear.

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 3

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“(Proverbs) to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth”- Proverbs 1:4

Isle of the Rising Star

The little girl in her red, peasant smock shifted keys just as the sunlight streamed into the grotto. The audience gasped and smiled, but the real prize was the smile that Eleanor received from her father.

Then thunder rumbled.

Eleanor, her father, and the audience glanced ceiling-ward. Their smiles grew tight and polite. No one had seen this storm coming, and during this time of the year, it was worrisome. Many of them had traveled some miles, leaving their flocks behind. It was possible that Eleanor and her father would need to share fuel to speed their people back to their homes.

The little girl wisely ended her song, bowed, and prayed a brief blessing over the people in her small, sweet voice.

Wichita, KS

Eleanor took mental notes on everything happening in front of her in line, trying to learn something about her competition. Doh! she thought. I mean ‘community.’ My future friends. She wondered if she should break out in a rousing chorus of “Kum Bah Yah” just to get the mood right—her own mood.

She also took note of the color-coded folders. Gold to some. Blue to others. Red to a few . . . “Grandma,” she whispered, “Look at the folder colors. This whole place is built around competition.”

Her grandmother’s brow furrowed. “Surely not.”

Eleanor shrugged.

When it was her turn at the table, Eleanor put on a brave smile. “Eleanor West.”

The young woman at the table, her hair in a tight bun at the back of her head, smiled an actual smile back at her. That’s when Eleanor recognized her as Talia Sokolova–an American by birth, but an internationally loved ballerina by years of hard work.

Talia Sokolova smiled at me! Eleanor thought to herself. But then the groundskeeper was there, handing the woman a consolation-prize-white folder.

“Oh, thanks, Larry! Here we go, Eleanor. Your folder–which includes your room key, a map of the campus, and your schedule for the day. Meet at the cafeteria at ten o’clock sharp for orientation.”

Eleanor stared at the white folder.

The young woman was already smiling warmly at the next student in line. Larry waved Eleanor and her grandmother toward the stairwell. “Third floor, Miss West. See you at ten.”

***

Eleanor and her grandmother passed lovely wooden, double doors that spilled out sunlight, music, color, and laughter when opened.

There’s still hope. My dorm room might be really cool, Eleanor thought.

And then they arrived at a single, metal door. Green. With a white number stenciled on: 326. Eleanor tried to squint and then go cross-eyed, willing the number on the door to be different than the number on her key. But no such luck. The key slid in the lock easily. Inside, she and her grandmother ran their hands along the cement block walls, searching for the light switch.

“Here we go,” her grandmother said, flipping the switch.

A florescent light with crumpled fins flickered to life above them, revealing four beds suspended on black angle iron. One end of each bed was against the cement block wall. At the other end was a metal locker. Beneath each bed was a desk sporting a patina look decades in the making and a chest of drawers, squat and industrial. Not a single window.

Her grandmother cleared her throat. “Let’s get your things out. A little color is what this room needs.”

Or a molotov cocktail, Eleanor thought.

That’s when they heard another key in the door, slowly turning.