In today's story, The Academy a shimmering door leads students to their futures
Today's prompt was inspired by the Academy Awards. While I'm not one to watch award shows, they do dominate the news. Seeing the word over and over led to the realization that "The Academy" could be a great writing prompt.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 56 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is The Academy
As a reminder, here’s how this podcast works: I write a bit of fiction from a simple prompt, with no planning and very little editing, and then I share the story with you.
Today’s prompt was inspired by the Academy Awards. It oddly fascinates me that the Academy Awards—arguably the biggest award in film—is more often called the Oscars.
I know that’s the name of the award statue but have no idea why and haven’t been curious enough to look it up. Anyway… in considering that, I started thinking about the word academy. What it means and how it might be a good story prompt.
Here’s where that thought led:
The Departure Chamber reminded Gerrit of a train station. It had an arced ceiling of glass above windowless, stone walls. Yet, instead of having a rectangular shape or a set of tracks running through, the Departure Chamber was nearly square with a single door frame set on a dais at its center.
The door frame was arced to match the ceiling and glowed from within as if filled with sunlight. It was a large, imposing door frame that encased a hazy shimmer, almost like the rippling surface of nearly still pond. The head of the doorway, on both sides, was emblazoned with the words The Academy.
It did not specify what academy because the Departure Chamber’s central door led to all the academies. Gerrit understood that, just as he understood that he would not know which academy he would be attending until he stepped through that doorway and found himself at his home for the next five years.
The prospect was both exciting and terrifying. Especially for Gerrit who had no idea where he might end up.
As he stood among the milling graduates of his intermediate school, nervously adjusting the pack on his back, Gerrit envied his closest friends. Though there were no guarantees, Liliana’s excellence in chemistry and transmogrify was sure to have landed her a spot in The Academy of Alchemy. Arash’s mastery of animals would likely lead to a place in The Academy of Majestic Creatures, and Tamra’s flair for words and music would undoubtedly make her an ideal candidate for the The Academy of Bards and Minstrels.
Gerrit had no defining quality that would suggest an ideal school assignment. He did well enough in his classes, perhaps with glimmers of exceptionalism here and there. There was the time his Apothecary professor praised the efficient organization of his tinctures, calling his work a model for the other students. He was also frequently complimented for the neatness of his bookbinding during his incantations class, but that wasn’t quite the same as being good at spellcraft.
“Did you bring your silver tuning fork?” Lilianna asked Tamra nervously, her question drawing Gerrit out of his pensive trance.
“Yes,” Tamra answered with a halting smile.
They’d been told to only pack essentials, as any particulars needed for their assigned Academy would be provided upon arrival. Yet many students packed a small item representing their preferred placement. These items were treated as sacred talismans and generally kept secret, except from one’s closest confidantes.
“I brought my Hessian crucible,” Lilianna confessed with a hushed giggle before turning her violet eyes on Arash. “And you brought…?”
Arash cast his gaze toward Gerrit, then swiftly down to his leather boots. When he looked up, there was a firm set to his jaw.
“Why try to tip the scales?” he asked with feigned indifference. “None of us know where we’ll end up and anything we need will be provided.”
Liliana’s eyes gleamed impishly.
“A farthing says there’s an ivory curry-comb in your bag.”
Tamra flushed as Arash sent her a scathing look of reproach.
“I didn’t think you’d mind Liliana knowing,” Tamra explained weakly, while Liliana hurried to assure that she wouldn’t tell a soul outside of their group.
“It’s not that,” Arash began, then stopped, pointedly keeping his eyes from Gerrit.
“It’s all right,” Gerrit laughed. “I haven’t packed a talisman, but I approve of those you’ve chosen.”
“You could be a fine alchemist,” Liliana assured, grasping his hand warmly. They had been lab partners in chemistry, and she had spent the last few months of school urging him to embrace her love of science.
“I could,” he agreed cheerfully, knowing it was a possibility but feeling no desire pulling him toward that profession.
“And you have a lovely voice,” Tamra chimed in kindly. “I would love to have you with me at—” She stopped abruptly, flushing at her audacity, before saying, “I mean, perhaps you would do well as a bard.”
“But you’re daft with animals, mate,” Arash laughed, breaking the emotional tension. “I say you’ll end up at The Academy of the Royal Army. Someday we’ll see you as a knight at the king’s table.”
Before Gerrit could respond, a horn sounded through the chamber.
“Oh! It’s time!” Liliana hissed, hands eagerly clasped before her chest.
After a short speech by the High Scholar, students began queuing before the glistening Academy Door. Gerrit and his friends joined the procession after giving each other encouraging smiles.
Gerrit had hoped to pass through the door after his friends. He wasn’t sure why, but he wanted to see them step through the passageway and disappear into their bright futures. Instead, he found himself jostled ahead of them and, before he knew it, he faced the Academy Door.
Up close, the doorway’s glow felt slightly warm, as if it really were made of sunlight. Gerrit lifted his eyes to read the words he’d studied from a distance: The Academy. It gave no clue of his personal destination. He could end up at an Academy with one of his friends—Lilianna perhaps—or find himself with strangers studying to be a baker or a bricklayer.
Not for the first time, Gerrit rued the tradition of being placed without his input. The idea of a magical doorway funneling him into his future, without so much as a question about his own preference was galling. Not that he would have a preference if he were asked…
Aware of the anxious line behind him, Gerrit hitched his pack on his back, took a deep breath, and stepped through the shimmering light.
Blinking in the sunlight, Gerrit found himself in an open field across from an imposing stone building set high on a hill. A tall woman in deep blue robes waited patiently as he gazed around his new surroundings. A wide path led toward the stone building, while a smaller path branched off toward what appeared to be a small village in the valley below.
“Where are the others?” Gerrit asked blankly.
“Others?” the woman questioned in return.
“The other students,” Gerrit clarified. “Loads more passed through the Academy Door before me. Didn’t any of them turn up here?”
The woman smiled with her eyes. “We rarely accept new students.”
“Oh,” Gerrit looked around again, seeing no indication of where he might be. “So, um, where are we?”
The woman’s smile reached her mouth as she said, “I wondered when you’d ask. This is the Academy of Time Stewards.”
“The what?” Gerrit was sure he misheard her. He’d been given preparatory classes for each of the academies and there had been no mention of an Academy of Time Stewards.
“Our existence is not widely known,” the woman explained. “This is where we train Time Stewards, a select group of diplomats who manage the sanctity of Time itself.”
Gerrit looked around the field again, then back at the stone building.
“What are you talking about?” He tried again. “The sanctity of Time?”
“It’s a lot to take in,” the woman agreed. “You’ll come to understand soon enough. Before long, you’ll have the ability to move through time yourself.”
“Move through time?” Gerrit shook his head, sure something had gone wrong when he stepped through the doorway.
“It’s a rather solitary existence,” the woman continued. “Outside of our group, we rarely interact with the rest of the world.”
Gerrit thought of Liliana, Tamra, and Arash. He thought of his parents and his two brothers.
“What if I don’t want to be a Time Steward?” he asked belligerently.
The woman sighed. “None of us chose our future. We are sent where we belong.”
“No,” Gerrit shook his head again. “There’s a mistake. I don’t belong… here.”
He searched the quiet grounds again, looking for any other students or any people at all. The village must mean there were people about… somewhere… but he felt utterly alone.
And then an idea occurred to him.
“What if I learn to move through time and I go back to the Departure Chamber? Or back to the beginning of intermediate school? Couldn’t I try the Academy Door again?”
A knowing smile graced the woman’s face, this time not quite erasing the sadness in her eyes.
“How do you know you haven’t already done that?”
Gerrit felt as though he’d been splashed by icy water, but the woman merely gestured for him to join her on the path.
“Come, Gerrit,” she invited. “This is where you belong.”
Thanks for listening. If you liked this story, please share it with your friends. You can also connect with me on social media, learn about my novels and other projects on my website, SusanQuilty.com or support my writing through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]