Playing cards

Melissa Ann Howell Schier
6 min readApr 12, 2024

Filly swiped the screen on her phone to answer the call. She smiled again. She nodded. She would be there soon. But first she had to get to the school. She leaped the last two steps to the top of the landing. She padded barefoot across the tan carpeted floor to her wooden built in desk in the right back corner of the room and looked at her computer screen. She always checked it first.

It had turned off and the cord that charged the battery was not attached. It must have died. She remembered that the cord was downstairs so she turned around and went back down to retrieve it. The cord was taped at the end, holding together the wires and the part where it plugged into the computer. It was loose and she had been afraid it would stop working so she had duct taped it. Duct tape fixed everything right?

When she went back upstairs, she plugged the frayed taped end into the back hole in the computer and the screen eventually lit back up.

But what was on the screen was not what she had typed on there the night before. What was on the screen was from several months ago. The screen said “monsters chasing us”. The dates on all of the tabs from searches that were showing were from four months ago. It was April and the tabs were from January.

In one sense it was strange but in another sense weird things like this were not unusual. She got “signs” like this all the time. And she did not believe in Monsters. As a little kid she was afraid of monsters. Things that seemed scary were monsters. But now she knew that fear was just a suggestion in her thinking. If something seemed to have power to hurt, like a monster, it was just a thought and could not do anything if she did not believe it. And she did not believe in monsters.

There was barely time for Filly to get to her school and then follow up with the person from the phone call. She was close to being finished with the training she was doing at the school. It was like an internship. Some of what she was learning seemed useless and some of it seemed really important. It was not a traditional school and it was not a traditional building. But since she had decided not to participate and join Jack, and the rest of the people in the neon green car earlier, she was back to finishing school. The right decision.

She put on her black air-force ball-cap with the eagle on one side of the brim and zipped up her lightweight black jacket over her black “freedom” shorts and slipped on her not very white Hoka shoes that were well worn and tied with orange laces. Back down the stairs one more time.

She hopped in her car and drove out of the tree lined streets. A truck rumbled by that said “Refinish your door” which could be literal, as her door was in need of a new coat of varnish, or it could be hypothetical as in representative of the door to her data and what guarded it. She would think about that later.

At the school, when she entered, were a cluster of men in the far corner. They were huddled together talking. Most of the people at this school who were teachers and who were students were strong, built men, friendly but serious…guys who all seemed to be straight shooters… and a few ladies like herself, fit, intelligent, and resourceful. Pretty much everyone kept to themselves.

But in spite of that, while she talked to her professor, she noticed that the men sitting in the corner were watching her from across the room. Some of them seemed to be looking at her as though they were seeing her in a new light, as if she had somehow gained an invisible level of respect for some unknown reason. As if they knew her innermost thoughts and approved.

She wondered if she had been summoned and was there to be “inspected” and was on display as she talked. As if the reason for her being there was different than what she had thought originally.

She listened to what was being told to her by the professor with one side of her brain focused on the conversation, and the other side of her brain focused on watching what the men who were across the room were doing. Three of the men were sitting in a casual circle of desks, like what kids used in middle school, only adult sized desks, and the men were talking and planning. And three more were standing alongside, also talking, with books and papers on the desks.

One guy shifted in his chair, pushing back, so that instead of looking into the circle where everyone else was looking he was facing towards her. It was like the group had come to a general consensus and he was the leader. He was a thick guy with a heavy neck but a sculpted face. He had on a short sleeved golf type shirt that was loose fitting and a pale blue color. He had ruddy skin but it was smooth and clear and freckled and his hair was reddish brown and thick and short and wavy, cropped very close by his ears almost like a military cut.

His shoulders were wide and his face was sincere. He had something in his hands and he motioned towards her with the hand that was holding something that looked like cards.

She finished listening to the professor and then walked towards the man, someone she had not seen before, because walking that way was how to get out the door to leave, and because she wanted to see what he had in his hand. When she got close, he leaned towards her, and without getting out of the desk, handed her about five or six jagged cardboard pieces.

“Here Filly, he said, these coupons will help you out… there are at least five dollars here”. The “coupons” looked like they had been torn off of cereal boxes. But instead of being cut carefully with scissors, they had been ripped off…not trimmed. She did not know the value or the purpose of these cards. But, he knew her name, and he had said it the minute he opened his mouth. She took the cards into her hands and looked back at him.

She thought about the monsters screen … because one of the “monsters” suggested, could be a serial killer. Was this another sign? A get out of jail free to protect her from “cereal” Killers?

There was meaning in everything and plays on words and acronyms and separate levels of meaning everywhere… part of what she was learning in school. She could not read the coupons because they were in tiny print and they were not facing out but facing inwards. All she could see on the outside was cardboard, as well as the pleasant and friendly but respectful face of the strong red haired man. She believed that he was saying without words, that he was a friend. If she ever saw him again she would recognize him instantly. Though he was sitting, she guessed he was about five feet eleven inches tall and about 220 pounds.

Friendship, she understood, often came from those who knew her but whom she did not know, and it was one of those lovely intangibles that she had learned to recognize. It was the behavior she recognized most; behavior that did not command compromise to evil, that allowed for choice, space and distance, but that also came from a foundation of a shared moral compass, and it was indeed a gift.

She smiled and nodded. She too was respectful and appreciative. He nodded back. She did not know his name but for some reason, he was there in the school and he gave her something that had some meaning. Each time she had visited the small concrete building that housed the school, there were different people there yet he was easy to pick out in a crowd. He was memorable. She wondered why. But she was patient. And she was resolute. One day at a time.
Time to go respond to the phone call.

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Melissa Ann Howell Schier

HoustonWorkout on YouTube, mom of five, journalist and artist and conservative who values life.