Young Adult Fiction on Tall And True

Back to School

Back to School

Chapter Six - Another Chance

The headmaster sighed and shut out the old memory. He leaned forward on his desk. "Edwards, your marks and behaviour this year have been poor enough to earn expulsion several times over." Hamilton watched the boy's chin drop. He shook his head and sighed again.

"However, I am prepared to give you one last chance. I will set a series of tests. Study hard and pass the tests and do not appear in my office again for any reason. If you can achieve this, I will support your decision to return to school next year."

Charlie's chin lifted, and a broad smile lit his face. "Thank you, Mr Hamilton. I promise to do my best with the tests. And this is the last time you'll see me in here, sir."

The headmaster picked up his pen and started writing again in the discipline file. "Good, make sure you keep your promises," he said without looking up. "Now, Edwards, I don't know about this premonition business. I still believe the cause of your dream was something you saw or read. But whatever its cause, you may consider the dream a warning if you wish. You've shown maturity coming to see me today. And it's because of this that I'm affording you another chance to finish your education."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, Mr Hamilton. I won't break my promises," Charlie said, feeling better than he had since the dream last night.

Hamilton stopped writing and looked up at the boy. Perhaps there was hope for him. Maybe the dream, his premonition, had taught him something. To use his brains and make something of his life. Or else!

"Let this be a lesson to you, Edwards. Don't play the fool, knuckle down, and keep trying, and you will earn another chance. Otherwise, that dream may well become your nightmare." Hamilton paused to let his message sink in with the boy. "Now, get back to your class and start delivering on your promises."

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The headmaster returned his attention to the discipline file. He made a final note and closed it, reaching wordlessly for a pile of paperwork. Charlie turned and left the office, feeling much happier than when he had sat on the bench.

That night Charlie broke the good news to his astonished parents. He had seen the headmaster and would be going back to school and sitting his final exams next year.

*  *  *

Charlie felt tired when he went to bed. But he had a good night's sleep and only dreamed once. When he woke early in the morning, the headmaster's words were still fresh in his mind.

"Old Heavy-Handed Hamilton was right," Charlie said to himself, softly, so he didn't wake his wife beside him.

He crept out of their bedroom and down the hallway, past the doors of his sleeping kids. Charlie opened the front door and looked at the van. Rather than start the engine and wake the family, he decided to walk to the shops for a newspaper.

Charlie would check the job ads in the newspaper. He hadn’t gone back to school as a sixteen-year-old, but he'd keep trying as a husband and father and earn himself another chance.

© 1992, 2017, 2021 Robert Fairhead 

With thanks to Linda Toman from Pixabay for the Back to School blackboard image.

N.B. This short story is also available on the Tall And True Short Reads podcast.

I wrote the original version of Back to School when I lived in England in 1992. In the handwritten draft, the working title for the story was A Second Chance. But when I typed it up on my old Amstrad PC, I changed the title to Another Chance. 

Like Charlie in the story, I left school when I was sixteen and worked for a while in the building trade. For many years in my early adulthood, I dreamed of being sixteen again and back at school, imagining different alternatives had I sat my final exams. One day in 1992, I decided to exorcise those dreams and give myself “another chance” by writing this short story.

When I shared the story on Tall And True in 2017, I renamed it Back to School. By now, I was a father with a fifteen-year-old son about to enter his final years of high school. And around this time, my dreams of being back at school returned. Only now, I dreamed of being my middle-aged self, sitting in a classroom with my son, studying for our exams. And this prompted me to rename the short story, Back to School.

I’ve been fascinated with exploring the cross over between dreams and reality for many years in my writing. Perhaps I was inspired by Franz Kafka. Or by the tale of the 3rd century BC Chinese philosopher Chuang Chou, who dreamed he was a butterfly. Afterwards, Chou was left confused. Was he was a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man?

In Back to School, I leave it to you to decide if the sixteen-year-old Charlie dreamed of his future as an unemployed father or whether the adult Charlie dreamed of a past visit to his old headmaster’s office. Maybe there’s a third option, and the two Charlies exist in separate realities?

Truthfully, I’m not sure of the answer— and I wrote the short story!

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Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.

Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.

He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou

Tall And True showcases the writing — fiction, nonfiction and reviews — of a dad and dog owner, writer and podcaster, Robert Fairhead. Guest Writers are also invited to share and showcase their writing on the website.

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