Writing collaborations with an entire class of students who enjoy writing different genres of fiction?
In this Sandbox assignment, our teacher opened a Google Document for the class and began a story with a single sentence. From there the class could take it anywhere we wanted, with only a few rules: (1. Students may add three sentences max in a single post (individual sentences inside quotations not included), (2. No student could post back-to-back with him/herself, (3. Students should shoot for cohesiveness, (4. Everyone must post at least once before class, and (5. Everyone must add their last name in parentheses after each post.
The great thing about this was how quickly it changed into something totally different from the implied setting, and how quickly the story expanded with so many people working on it. The hard part was the sentence limit (we broke it several times), staying consistent and keeping up with all the new information everyone else was adding, and the general lack of communication we had at any given time with everyone else.
After a week, though, we fifteen students managed to write twelve pages’ worth of a fantastic (and somewhat random and inconsistent) piece. Here is our lovely long “short” story.
To find the blogs of the other contributors to this piece, see the names under the right panel: “This Ain’t Hogwarts.”
Lacey closed the Shakespeare book and gazed out at the trees through the second-story library window. (GAINES) She couldn’t help but sigh that they weren’t real trees—they’d died away a long time ago with most other lifeforms—and Lacey wanted to close her eyes and pretend, just for one moment, that the rustling was the wind and not some computer’s random simulation behind the ancient holograms. But she did not let herself, no, she couldn’t go back to pretending and daydreams when staying alive meant staying alert. Her hand instinctively checked for her blaster as she crept out of the dilapidated building into the dying city. (TAN)
It was dark outside and dust coated everything, creating a thick layer of fog over the city. Lacey crept along the sides of the buildings, careful to stay in the shadows. She glanced around, tense and uneasy. (ELLIS)
“If you’re still looking for something nice to enjoy here,” a voice suddenly echoed from the alley beside her, “you realize you’re looking in vain.”
“I know,” Lacey replied tersely, hand moving away from the weapon by her side as she recognized the ragged figure immediately; “Your presence only proves that.”
The voice laughed tauntingly, harshly; and a dark girl seemed to take shape from the blackness itself, her bright eyes intelligent yet starving, her thin form lean yet battered, her long hair uneven yet also somehow beautiful — a diamond raised from the ashes, a warrior born from death — and with a background, Lacey knew, nothing like that of the once-spoiled girl standing here now who used to prioritize wasting her time on trivial things like beauty. (WONG)
Lacey sighed and leaned against the wall as she stared up at the grey sky overhead, “Edith, what are you doing here?” It was uncanny, and admittedly annoying, how she could just appear like that.
The girl shrugged, “Orders. I’m supposed to be here.”
Lacey eyed Edith, fingers twitching on her blaster, “Vague. As usual. Why are you supposed to be here, though?” (WILLIAMS)
“Is protecting humankind a satisfactory answer for you, Miss Princess?” Edith sighed, spinning the gun-like piece of metal in her hand effortlessly. “Or would you rather me say something like, ‘I’m trying to plant flowers in this awful desolate place to remind you a little bit of what your sunshine-rainbow world used to be like before your country started a nuclear war’? Would that make you feel better?”
“First off,” Lacey snapped in defense, “the U.S. didn’t start the war; it takes more than one to start chaos like this. Secondly, I’m still trying to play my part, so if you would stop picking on me just because you’re from a lower and poorer class, maybe social discrimination wouldn’t be so much of an issue.” (WONG)
They stood there silently, staring at each other, each extremely interested in figuring out how to shoot the other without getting in trouble. Suddenly, a foreign sound fell upon their ears, causing both to look up in alarm, as their thoughts were interrupted. A repetitive thrumming that drowned out the wind and the humming of machines, a sound that each recognized as soon as they heard it: helicopter blades. (WILLIAMS)
“The Federation,” Edith said grimly, pulling out a second blaster as the red insignia of a crown became apparent on the side of the chopper. Her own weapons bore the blue seal of the League’s eagle; since World War IV nearly five years ago, the major world powers had not only relieved the planet of most of its natural wildlife through nuclear warfare and technological development; but the two countries with the most influence at the time, China and India, had also virtually split the world into two alliances: the League and the Federation, which were made up of countries such as China, the United States, South Africa, Japan, and the United Korea; and India, Canada, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Russia, Germany, and France, respectively. Other lesser countries had been forced to join a side for fear of being snuffed out from the map completely, and so the struggle for complete control ensued as both sides struggled back and forth in a game of chess and never-ending bloodshed. (WONG)
Silence ensued as the faint shadow passed over their frozen faces. “Well, that’s my cue, none of the Red Fed’s are allowed to get past me, even in a neutral zone such as this, and our remedial light, barely seeping through the darkness, can only last so long.”, Edith spoke solemnly before running off towards that machine of the sky. (TAING) ‘Arrogant fools,’ Lacey spat out, wishing for more firepower, wishing that she could simply reach out and crush the defiant enemy forces with her bare hand… but no, Edith was the trained one, the foreign one, the one now running towards an airborne chopper by herself (she would not destroy it, for all her bravado, but she would find a way to keep it from flying further inland). Despite her barbed comments about status and wealth, Lacey often wished that she’d been in the Chinese girl’s place instead, the talented naturally and with even more skills learnt through the government initiative, deployed to patrol one of the most dangerous ‘neutral zones’ in the world. But here she was, just an ordinary nobody in a filthy factory city overshadowed by the old Mexican Wall. (TAN) As she traced her hands along the cracks of the wall, she came across a crooked inscription carved which read:
The darkness fell, yet it’s still falling
Onto those who hear their calling:
To find the truth within the scars
To find themselves among the stars
Believers of hope, once deemed wise
Now only seen as tellers of lies
Fall down to their forgotten fears
Drown within their frozen tears
Until they are nothing but gray
July 28th, 2216 (TAING)
A cold feeling settled in Lacey’s stomach as she read the inscription, her hands shaking as she traced over the fading words etched in stone. How true those words had been and how prophetic; and yet how ironic given their situation. Turning, Lacey looked away from the inscription, bitter towards all that had happened, and on an impulse, she ran after Edith. (ELLIS)
Edith loaded her blaster and took aim, hesitating for a split second as she heard suspicious footsteps behind, and then, ignoring them—the helicopter lurched downwards, blazing in flames, but then pulled away in the last moment only to crash into an abandoned building. A soft thud landed in the darkness, and Edith spun, finger on trigger, blaster to kill… ‘Stop!’ the figure exclaimed in a voice strangely vulnerable and honest. ‘If you have to shoot me, let me finish talking first…’ A moment of not dying seemed enough for him to continue, ‘My name… doesn’t matter. I am… I was… from the Federation… and I’m here to warn you.’ (TAN)
Edith lowered her blaster, ever so slightly, eyes narrowed in suspicion. The chances of someone from the Federation coming to warn the League about something, for whatever reasons, were low; for all she knew, it could be a trap. This could all be a set up- an attempt to gain entrance into the base so that they could obtain important information.(WILLIAMS)
Lacey, though, had fewer qualms in this matter and joined the two, saying, “Who are you?”
The young man blinked, obviously startled by Lacey’s lack of suspicion. He was not much older than herself, with an honest, but nervous look, and he was dressed in the faded uniform of a Federation soldier. (ELLIS) Hesitantly, he shook his head, mouth moving, but no sound coming out; the man staggered, and in one swift movement, Edith clipped one of her blasters to her belt, and stepped forward to catch him as he fell.
“He’s exhausted,” she said grimly, “Who knows how long his flight was.”
Lacey bit her lip, knowing Edith might disagree, as she usually did, with whatever she said, but she made the suggestion anyways, “We could take him to headquarters. They might know something about it, and besides we don’t have enough supplies here that will help revive him.” (WILLIAMS)
“Oh, that is a wonderful idea!” Edith said sarcastically. “I’m sure my superiors will completely understand why I am bringing in an unconscious Federation soldier and you.” She said the last part like it was some insult and Lacey huffed indignantly, but Edith wasn’t done. “They will just love it, I assure you. After all, who doesn’t love receiving enemy soldiers! I just love it!”
“Do you have a better idea?” Lacey shot back, unable to contain her annoyance and when Edith made no response, she smirked at her and said, “I thought not. Let’s go.”
Edith didn’t look happy, but she acquiesced and after a long walk, the two found themselves stooping down to enter into a bunker hidden in shadows, still lugging the soldier’s body with them. (ELLIS) Lacey straightened once she was inside. The interior of the bunker was dimly lit with black lights running along a long corridor that took no turns for about thirty feet; by the end of the corridor, there was a fork where one had the option to either turn right, or left. By instinct and practice, the two girls turned left, where the corridor opened up into a room that was whirring with machines and echoing with the commands of people that were constantly active. (WILLIAMS)
“Edith, what is the meaning of this? Who are these people?” A stout, burly man demanded as he caught sight of them.
“Sorry Papa, but the man is exhausted. There was nowhere else to take him.” (INGE)
It was Lacey who’d spoken, and Edith, who disliked being ignored when she was the addressed, didn’t wait for the base commander, Lacey’s father, to respond. ‘We have an enemy hostage,’ she said coolly. ‘This might be important. I’ll be needing an interrogation chamber. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of the rest.’
Commander Axelon eyed Edith with a level gaze, but whatever he’d been looking for, whether sureness or confidence or responsibility, it satisfied, and he waved them off dismissively, saying ‘Chamber three is yours. I believe that you’re perfectly capable of not messing up, and I’m counting on that.’ (TAN)
“I still say we shoot this kid,” Edith huffed, pushing her black hair out of her face as she and Lacey continued to pull the Federate soldier to the small third chamber, shoving him unceremoniously onto a chair. “Nothing good can come of this. You realize we just brought him straight to our base? He might have a tracker on, or some kind of camera, or some kamikaze-like weapon. He looks more than capable of something that.”
“He looks exhausted,” Lacey snapped, “and any time you want to stop being violent, maybe we could get something more done than just killing people. There’s this thing called talking, and it’s saved thousands of lives before, believe it or not. Maybe you could try it some time before blasting a person to bits.” (WONG)
Edith’s eyes blazed as she fumbled with the straps and secured the man into the chair. “Talking I can deal with, but I am not going to trust him.” She jabbed a finger at Lacey and snapped, “You are too trusting, Lacey. Not everyone is sweet and innocent. No one is as perfect as they seem. It’s all a mirage, a smokescreen intended to deceive. The sooner in life you realize that, the better off you will be.”
Lacey stared at Edith in shock, stunned by the girl’s harsh view on life. “I may be too trusting, but at least I can trust. You’ve lost the ability.” (ELLIS)
‘Trust is a luxury people in war cannot afford,’ Edith retorted—growing up poor under a different rule had taught her such a lesson the hard way—but she new better than to lose her composure over a useless argument; turning to prod the young soldier awake, she said to Lacey, ‘You can argue later. We have a job to do first.’
‘You’re in an interrogation chamber,’ she explained curtly, as if that explained everything for him, ‘I know you didn’t plan to go back to the Federation. You navigated an unmanned, outdated, chopper to the edge of the neutral zone, then destroyed it, and if you’re telling the truth, then you’re either very capable or very desperate, but I don’t care about that. Right now, you’re alive here and not bound in some prison cell because of me; it is an extension of my trust, so don’t make me regret that. Right now, I want you to explain, very concisely, how you know about this threat, what the threat is, and why I should believe you. Understand?’ (TAN)
Lacey rolled her eyes at the other girl’s dramatic speech. She stood behind Edith, facing the young soldier, her head tilted as she studied him. His blue eyes held a depth beyond the fright – no doubt he had seen the same sorrow and bloodshed as the girls – and his blond hair (he was most likely of German descent, Lacey decided) was cut short to complete the military look. (MARLIN)
“Before we start,” the young soldier wheezed slowly, “Could I…maybe have…some food first?”
Edith’s eyes grew wider than the diameter of the chopper explosion. She drew back her hand, then-SMACK!!! It collided fiercely with the young man’s face. (LAGUNA)
“你是不是想死？” Edith demanded, and ranted a string of Chinese curses at the man while Lacey tried to step between the two. [Tr: You want to die, don’t you?]
“It’s just food!” Lacey protested, trying to fend off the furious girl, but mostly in vain as Edith managed to land another punch before apparently being satisfied that she had avenged the audacity of this upstart Federate. Several minutes later, the young man brushed the stale bread crumbs off his lap under the deadly glare of Edith, then took a deep breath and finally began his story. (WONG)
“My name is Jakin. The ‘threat,’ as you put it, is a weapon.”
Edith scoffed and said, “A weapon? Why is that a concern?”
“It’s not a gun or rifle. It’s a group of soldiers that were, well, altered. They were modified to be unstoppable; to be super-soldiers. They’ve all been trained and built into machines of war. They were made to wipe out the League. I know about this because I was a transport shuttle pilot. I had to carry these things around to the different bases. But when I saw them unleashed onto one of the smaller League towns I… I couldn’t keep doing it. I deserted.” (ELLIS)
“You dare lie to me?” Edith remarked, letting her hand spread wide ready to slap the young man. Suddenly, she felt her hand stopped, and she looked in disbelief as Lacey had grabbed it from the air. Lacey was not looking at Edith though; she gazed into the man’s deep blue eyes, and she felt a sincerity that was lacking in the war-stricken people she encountered every day. (BURKHOLDER)
“Would you stop it?” Lacey shouted, angrily squeezing the hand she still held within her grasp, having lost her temper to this girl who so desperately wished to think ill of all. She softened, releasing her grip and looked Edith in the eyes, begging her to understand, “He’s quite sincere, don’t you see? Not everyone is out to kill you.” (BALDON)
Edith pressed her lips tightly together, hands clenching into fists. Perhaps she was judged harshly for how she acted, most people likely thought she had her own agenda and couldn’t care less about anything else – most people, however, had not gone through the horrific experiences she had that had resulted in her being this way. “You are lucky to still be alive, with how trusting you are,” stated Edith evenly, dark eyes burning with memories, “trust, in a war, gets you killed. Let’s make one thing quite clear, I will be the one asking the questions. Got it? Good,” turning to face the young man, she inquired in an unforgiving voice, “I doubt you are telling the truth. However, it’s your lucky day. I happen to be in a splendid mood, and am willing to humor your story. Why should I believe you? What benefit does it give you? And if, you are in fact telling the truth – which I highly doubt, how much destruction can these super-soldiers do and at what capacity are they making them?” (DEAN)
“They will destroy the world,” came his worn, yet emphatic reply.
“Right. As if it’s not already burned to pieces,” she remarked. “You better have more to say than that.” (BALDON)
“Look, I don’t know what to tell you to make you believe me,” Jakin sighed, shaking his head as Edith moved closer to him and narrowed her eyes.
Lacey ignored her partner’s intimidation methods – she knew Edith had good reason to be so hard, even if she didn’t approve – and focused on the young man. Beyond the sincerity in his eyes, there was a spark in them, something Lacey had not seen in a very long time, and something that made her like him as well as trust him: hope. (MARLIN)
‘It’s a viable weapon in the hands of madmen,’ Jakin sighed, hoping to explain the viability behind the truth, ‘Yes, if they wanted to destroy you, they would have developed the next big bomb, but even madmen know that a foolish choice twice is more than the world could take.’ Mutually assured destruction should have prevented the world’s current mess in the first place, but that required rational thinking—something the leaders that started the war lacked, and something none of the subsequent ones inherited. ‘Listen, it makes little sense to wipe out one’s enemies—war all too often makes no sense—but the point is that they now have the means to do so without endangering themselves, so the impossibility of yet another nuclear war isn’t going to save anyone.’ (TAN)
Lacey took a step back and sucked in a short, hollow breath in shock of the information she and Edith were just given. Now, Lacey was doubtful, but it all made too much sense. Why would a young, smart, handsome – wait, what? – soldier put himself at risk – to the point of death – by deserting the Federation, and then make up a story like this one? And if these “super soldiers” were coming to destroy the little left of what they knew, when would they be coming and how could they possibly defend themselves?
Jakin was putting everything on the line to warn them, and Lacey decided they had to trust him. “Do you want me to go get Papa?” she asked, turning to Edith.
Edith quickly turned her head to face Lacey and responded tersely to her question. “Did you not hear him before? No mistakes. We can take care of this ourselves.” Lacey sighed and watched as Edith turned back to their captive, eyeing him with a scrutinizing gaze. (MANERI, Marlin, Williams)
Her eyes twitched as she scanned him up and down. Lacey stood a few feet back contemplating in her mind what she should do. She truly believed Jakin was out to help them. He had a way about him, a sense of sincere peace that led Lacey to desire hope more than she ever had. And that was just it, she felt it when he talked and could hear what the geniuses was in his voice: hope. They had to trust him, what if they didn’t and then all went to hell?
It would be completely my fault… her mind fell into a place of fear and anxiety. “I have to tell papa,” she whispered, “I have to”.
“LACEY,” Edith waved her hands impatiently in the air while calling her name in an irritated tone, “help me!” She motioned for her to come. And that’s just what Lacey did. She came to Edith to help with whatever her control freak untrusting heart wanted to do; all with the intentions of going behind her back later and asking her papa for help. She had to, she didn’t know what else could be done. She couldn’t let this fall into her hands if it went wrong, there was too much risk involved. (FIERRO)
Lacey looked to Edith, scattering her thoughts into thin air. She went to Edith with the curiosity for why she sounded so frantic. “What’s going on?” (CHAN)
“Something’s wrong, I don’t know what happened,” replied Edith, alarm pervading her voice, “He was talking, and then it’s like he just passed out.”
Growing worried, Lacey rushed over to Jakin and placed her ear close to his face. After a few short moments, she darted her eyes toward Edith, gasping, “He’s not breathing. Check the pulse monitor.” (LAGUNA)
Before Edith had a chance, a long beep pierced the air. “Get me a medic in here!” Edith raised her voice, and a small scrawny boy flew through the door, an AED tucked under one arm. Forcing the boy to the side, Edith ripped open the box and prepared to shock Jakin yelling, “Clear!” (BURKHOLDER)
The young man’s body jerked briefly as power surged through the machine, but even as Lacey leaned down apparently to give CPR, something in Jakin’s chest sparked — “Machinery?” Edith said in surprise — and the defibrillator began to smoke before finally erupting in a small explosion. Lacey, Edith, and Yuuki, the boy who had brought the AED, covered their faces, coughing, and when they looked back, Jakin was unmistakably dead.
“What…” Edith gingerly pulled the steaming ragged uniform off Jakin’s chest to reveal a Red Crown chip implanted in his skin. (WONG)
Lacey knelt by Edith, examining the chip that rested in the palm of Edith’s hand; the Federation chip was about as large as a beetle, but it was surprisingly light and thin; behind a thin layer of plastic, a red light was blinking at them dully, “Was it what was killing him?” Lacey asked
“I don’t think so,” Edith stated, as she rolled the piece between her fingers, “If this was designed to kill him, then it most likely would’ve been destroyed in the process. My guess? It’s a tracking device.” Her eyes widened, glancing at Jakin, “Which means… Oh man, we’ve got to destroy this before they pinpoint our location— they probably already have…” she added as an afterthought, mind racing. (WILLIAMS)
‘No.’ Lacey exclaimed, without really thinking, but just intuitively sensing that something sounded off, something had to be wrong. ‘That wouldn’t make sense. If the Federation sent him, then they wouldn’t kill him and reveal themselves; he’d be lying anyway if he were on their side, so killing him would just alert us of their play and merely silence the misinformation being given to us. Killing Jakin means that he deserted, which means that they only know where he is, not that two random people brought him to a secret base—it was my idea, and how could anyone have predicted that. For all they know, he could be in an abandoned factory, or a toilet, but deserting would still be enough to kill him… which means, Edith, that this can’t be a trap.’ (TAN)
Edith paused, eyes staring at the chip as she processed what Lacey had said; deep down she had a feeling that the Lacey was telling the truth, and just because it was a tracking device, didn’t mean their base was discovered. Still… she felt she had to argue with Lacey, tell her that the girl was somehow wrong, “But what…” she muttered, “What are the odds, that they sent him to one of the most dangerous neutral zones in the world, on the same day that I’m told to be here, and say this…” she turned to Lacey, “Just pretend for a moment that it was my idea to bring him to the base, because he said that he was warning us about something. Say he was lying about what he just said, and that he died from some sort of pill, the Federation didn’t kill him, but he did- because he knew that if we found out he was lying, there was no way we could forgive him. Then,” Edith stated, “We have something to worry about, because if they sent him, then where he’s at now would be there best bet at where we’re at.” (WILLIAMS)
‘And just because you’re a special agent on this end of the border doesn’t mean you’re famous, Edith,’ Lacey retorted. ‘How many agents of the Federation do you know? How about none—since we both know that the only stuff that crosses the borders are missiles, helicopters, and death threats, not information—which again shows this to be nothing more than a coincidence, not something you could plan.’ (TAN)
Edith clenched her fist, reluctantly agreeing with Lacey, “We need to somehow wipe them out — we can’t let that threat hang over our heads.” (WILLIAMS)
Pressing her lips tightly together, Lacey tried to think of some way to solve this problem. Another problem – there were always problems. Ever since the world had basically lost its marbles, it seemed like humanity could not catch a break anywhere, and she was getting tired of it – always fighting, never ending war; depressing news after more depressing news, when will it end? she asked herself, when everyone’s dead? No. We’ll stop it before then, somehow. There’s always hope, and that is a very powerful thing. (DEAN)
There was a lot of excited buzzing around the base as Lacey and Edith left the room, leaving Jakin’s body there for the moment. As one of the men passed by, Edith grabbed his arm and demanded, “What’s going on?”
“We just heard from the Federation,” he said, barely pausing as he continued to rush along; “Apparently they’ve asked for a treaty. We’re trying to see why to make sure there’s nothing fishy going on.” (WONG)
Some Indian military commander was speaking on an encrypted video message replaying on the screens; he was by no means old, but his features were worn and weary, and his voice carried a crisp sense of tiredness. ‘We thought it was some mere nobody that attempted a border run when we detected a lifeform on an unmanned helicopter…but Jakin Evans was no ordinary defector… he was a lead scientist that disappeared years ago while working on some project to create a new, more powerful soldier… we thought he’d gone rogue after he disappeared when we shut the program, but the kill signal we intercepted implies that he was made to work against his will. The chip in him was not Federation sanctioned—we outlawed that years ago—and we fear that a rogue faction in the Federation plans to take over and destroy both the League and most of the Federation… We can’t stop them ourselves, and neither can you, so we ask of you, as equals: will you accept a treaty, work together, to survive?’ (TAN)
To be continued…