A Debater Disappears
Nikki wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. The spotlights shining on the stage of the high school auditorium felt like tiny burning suns. Under her Westlake Debate Team t-shirt her armpits were sticky with sweat. She twitched uncomfortably and tried to focus on what her opponent was saying.
“And in conclusion, I propose that the federal government should increase its budget for solar, wind, and bio-fuels research.”
Her opponent was arguing the affirmative position in the debate, which meant that Nikki was stuck with the negative position. It was the semi-finals of the Wisconsin State High School Debate Championships, and Nikki’s nerves were getting the better of her.
They were debating whether the Federal Government should spend more money on renewable energy. Nikki had spent the past two weeks stuffing facts and figures into her head. Solar power was expensive. That was her main point.
She cleared her throat and nervously shoved her long dark hair away from her face. It was her turn. This was her second rebuttal, which meant that this round of the debate was almost over. “It is a well-known fact that solar power, a main component of renewable energy, is um, expensive.” Nikki winced. Jeez, that was a clunker. She had to get it together or she wouldn’t make it into the finals. She paused, fiddling with the note cards on her podium. Normally she didn’t need to refer to her cards at all during a debate, but today her brain seemed to have purged itself of all facts ever stuffed into it.
Nikki cleared her throat again, and then she made her fatal mistake. She looked at the audience. This was her first time at the state championships. At local debates the audience generally consisted of her mother and maybe a janitor sweeping the floor. Here at the state championships the auditorium was filled to capacity. Hundreds of people looked back at her as she stared out at the crowd. Her mind went blank. Nikki could feel the seconds ticking away as she struggled to pull herself together.
“And that’s time,” called the judge.
The clock had run out.
Nikki felt her face turning red. She couldn’t believe it. Her first time at State and she’d bombed. She gathered up her note cards with shaking hands and darted through the curtains at the back of the stage.
She heard her debate teacher calling her, but she ignored him and pushed through the stage door. She found herself in a noisy hallway filled with debate students practicing their arguments. She dodged through the crowd, looking for the girls bathroom.
“Hey, Nikki. Wait up.”
Shoot. It was Tina, the captain of their team. The last thing she wanted was a lecture from Tina.
Nikki ducked behind a group of boys who were folding their note cards into paper airplanes. At the end of the hallway she spotted a door marked “Utility Closet”.
She yanked open the door and darted inside, coughing as the smell of ammonia and wet mop hit her nose. She shut the door and stood in the dark, peering out through the tiny glass window cut into the door at eye-level. Tina’s frowning face swam into view, then disappeared down the hall.
Nikki let out a sigh and groped around for something to sit on. A cardboard box full of what felt like old newspapers was pushed against the wall. She lowered herself onto it and leaned her head against the wall, the cold cement wonderfully soothing after the hot lights of the auditorium.
Maybe she should just stay in here for the rest of the day, Nikki thought. It was better than facing the debate team. Her screw-up had probably kept the whole team from advancing to the finals. It was also better than facing her mother. Her mom was a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin, and she had set high standards for Nikki from the first grade onward. Nikki had been only six when her mom had first started to teach her how to do scientific experiments. How to create a hypothesis and support it with data. How to think logically, research carefully, and defend your point with valid arguments. She’d been so proud when Nikki had been put in her school’s Advanced Placement chemistry class even though she was only fourteen. And she’d been even prouder when Nikki had been selected for the high school debate team.
Nikki sighed. Her mom was going to be so disappointed in her. She was contemplating spending the night in the closet, when suddenly she jerked upright.
Voices. She’d definitely heard voices. Not from out in the hall, but from inside the closet, somewhere near her feet. She jerked her feet up onto the box and listened, her heart beating in her ears.
“You’ve woken her up. She’s gonna be mad. She’ll probably stomp on us with her big feet.”
“Shhhh. Be quiet, Fuzz. She’s not going to stomp on us. She’s a very nice young lady. I can tell. I’m sure she’s the one we’re looking for. I’ll address her politely and I’m sure she’ll listen.”
Nikki heard what sounded like a tiny female clearing her throat.
A sputtering sound hissed through the darkness. “Don’t call her madam,” said a tiny male voice. “She’s obviously a young girl. If you offend her she’ll stomp on us.”
The tiny female voice cleared again. “My apologies, Miss. My companion is better at seeing in the dark than I am. Just give me a moment.”
Nikki heard a scratching sound and breathed in a sharp whiff of sulfur. A flame appeared at her feet. Holding a flickering match was the strangest creature Nikki had ever seen. It was roughly two feet tall, with straw-colored hair, a very long nose, and pale skin. It wore a long dress made of grey wool with blue embroidery on the sleeves. Beside it stood a similar creature, slightly taller than the first, with short brown hair and darker skin. The second creature wore a linen shirt, an embroidered vest, and brown woolen trousers. He sported a precisely combed goatee.
The female creature bowed to Nikki.
Nikki pinched herself on the arm. The pinching didn’t wake her up, so she tried again. Nope, she was still sitting on a box of newspapers in a janitor’s closet, staring down at two extras from a Disney cartoon. Maybe it was all the cleaning chemicals she was breathing in. She was just about to bolt for the door when the male creature spoke.
“Cut out the bowing and just ask her already. I want to get back to the Realm before more people from this world come in here and stomp on us with their big feet.”
The female creature elbowed him in the ribs. “Pardon the rudeness of my companion, Miss. Let me introduce ourselves. My name is Athena, and this is Fuzz. We are imps from the Realm of Reason. We were sent here by the ruler of our land, King Tertullius the True, to seek assistance from the great thinkers of this world. The king’s all-knowing advisor, Maleficious the Wise, looked into his crystal sphere and saw that a gathering of great minds had congregated at this place of learning.”
“Great minds? Place of learning?” Nikki asked dazedly. “You mean the debate at the high school?”
“Yes, Miss. And we can see by your garment that you are one of the wise. One of the debaters.” The imp whispered the last word with great reverence. “You are just the person to help us. You must come with us, quickly, before all is lost.” She took a step toward a dark corner of the closet, gesturing for Nikki to follow her.
Maybe it was the ammonia fumes. Maybe it was just a strong desire to avoid facing her mother, her debate teacher and the rest of the debate team. Whatever it was Nikki found herself following the little creature into the darkest corner of the closet.
The imp held the still-burning match above her head. Its flickering light shone on the carcass of an old metal boiler, long ago replaced by a modern heating system. The coal door of the boiler hung open on its hinges. The two imps hopped into its dark interior.
Nikki watched the tiny flame getting smaller and smaller. She gave one last look behind her and then climbed through the boiler door.
When Nikki Murrow failed her first High School debating match she did what anyone would do – she hid in a closet. She found comfort hiding among the mops and cleaning supplies, but she also found two imps – tiny creatures from a magical kingdom who lead her on a strange journey into the Realm of Reason. There is Fuzz, an imp with a fondness for breaking the rules. And Athena, a model of impish manners, decorum and spotlessly clean clothes. Together they convince Nikki to join them in the battle against the king's evil advisor, Maleficious. In her debate class, Nikki learned the value of logic and reason, but who knew her ability to formulate a hypothesis would help a mud-splattered Knight redeem his tarnished reputation? Or that her knowledge of logical fallacies would rid the Realm's Haunted Hills of ghosts? Maleficious's hold on the king is strong, but Nikki and the imps are determined that the Realm will not fall into his clutches. Will their mastery of logic rid the kingdom of the ignorance Maleficious is spreading, or will the inhabitants of the Realm fall back under the sway of centuries-old superstition?
When Nikki Murrow failed her first High School debating match she did what anyone would do – she hid in a closet. She found comfort hiding among the mops and cleaning supplies, but she also found two imps – tiny creatures from a magical kingdom who lead her on a strange journey into the Realm of Reason.
There is Fuzz, an imp with a fondness for breaking the rules. And Athena, a model of impish manners, decorum and spotlessly clean clothes. Together they convince Nikki to join them in the battle against the king's evil advisor, Maleficious.
In her debate class, Nikki learned the value of logic and reason, but who knew her ability to formulate a hypothesis would help a mud-splattered Knight redeem his tarnished reputation? Or that her knowledge of logical fallacies would rid the Realm's Haunted Hills of ghosts?
Maleficious's hold on the king is strong, but Nikki and the imps are determined that the Realm will not fall into his clutches. Will their mastery of logic rid the kingdom of the ignorance Maleficious is spreading, or will the inhabitants of the Realm fall back under the sway of centuries-old superstition?