Broken Branch Falls
by Tara Tyler
Gabriel Thorntry needed a challenge.
As he sat in the middle of the small auditorium he had trouble focusing on Professor Hardaway’s lesson. He forced his eyelids to stay up and watched the white tufted, wrinkled, faded green goblin hunched next to his intricately carved, oak stump podium. The professor’s arms were folded at his chest and he bore a stony expression. Behind him was a white board filled with quotes and drawings.
Through round, gold-rimmed glasses the wily professor studied the array of diverse faces and chose his next victim. “Elmore. What is the main concept we learn from the Great Human Wars?”
“That guys with different brains can’t get along,” the elf shot to the professor with a finger gun and a wink. Petite Paula Pansy giggled and waved at him from across the room. Gabe shook his head.
The professor gave Elmore half of an annoyed smile. “Not exactly. Misunderstandings among those with different customs eventually lead to hostility and hatred. The root of the human wars stemmed from their inability to accept cultural differences and their desire to change each other. They prove we should not stray outside our species or force others to conform. Though we should respect others, harmony with our own kind spawns harmony in life,” he concluded.
“He said spawns,” an ogre said, elbowing his neighbor. They both guffawed.
Professor Hardaway ignored them and stepped behind the podium where a large tome was open. “Now we will continue our study of the Third Human War. Turn to page 283. Cyrena, would you please begin?”
Gabe only half listened as Cyrena read aloud from her volume of “Fantastic Fables of the Human Race.” No one knew if humans ever existed. They were the product of legends and folklore. He had trouble digesting Professor Hardaway’s philosophy about them. He considered an alternate view of the human struggle. Too often he witnessed strife and discontent within the breeds, not just against other species.
Ginkgo High was the only school in the area that integrated for education. Most of the outlying schools catered to individual communities. Like the griffins in Skylaria, the trolls of Subrooten and the dragons in Cinderlair Caverns. Residing in the city of Broken Branch Falls, Ginkgo High catered to four sects. How could adults throw them all together and expect them not to interact?
“Mr. Thorntry!” Professor Hardaway shouted.
Gabe was jarred from his thoughts. “Sir?”
“Please answer the question,” he demanded.
“Sorry, sir. Could you repeat it?”
“Jocklyn, tell Mr. Thorntry what the question was,” he instructed. He waved his hand and looked away like he was ridding the air of a foul stench.
“What was the primary goal of all the human wars?” Jocklyn repeated. The dark haired, purple hued pixie impersonated the professor perfectly. She even twitched her ear like he did and shooed at Gabe. Some of the students chuckled.
“Oh,” he frowned. He thought a moment before responding. “I believe the answer you are looking for is that they were selfish and wanted everyone to be like them or serve them. They wanted more land, more followers, more power,” he began.
Professor Hardaway was quick to agree, “Quite right, Gabe. Now…” Before he could go on, Gabe cut him off.
“But I believe the authors of these stories wanted to show the humans’ desire for freedom and equality among the different nations. And to get it they needed to rise up against the self serving leaders. Good humans wanted to be free to make their own choices and be treated equally based on their merit, not on their origin,” Gabe concluded.
The class laughed at him.
One of the ogres in the back row displayed a disgusting grin with remains of breakfast stuck in his rotting teeth. “Humans is the dummest things alive,” he chortled. That brought hoots and giggles from the students. The professor snickered in spite of himself, more for the irony.
“That’s why they’re ex-stinky!” added his buddy. More laughs.
The bell rang.
“Finish reading the selection and answer the questions to turn in tomorrow,” the professor mentioned as they packed up. “You’re dismissed. Mr. Thorntry, please see me for a moment before you go,” he requested.
Gabe grimaced and slouched over to Professor Hardaway’s desk.
“I believe you have some studying to do,” he started.
“Yes. You are mistaken in your interpretation of the human story’s purpose.”
“Am I not allowed to have my own opinion?”
“Not in this environment. When you go to college you can express your opinion and come what may. But here at Gingko High we cannot abide individual thinkers. Do you understand?”
“I guess so, sir.”
He explained further. “The potential for your words being misconstrued and then acted upon could lead to a volatile situation,” the professor warned and looked over his glasses at Gabe. “We are trying to keep peace here at Ginkgo. Even though we learn together, that is where it ends.”
“Ok,” he accepted. He respected what Professor Hardaway had to say. It was easier to take, coming from another goblin. But he still disagreed with him.
“Ok. You may go.”
Gabe walked out into the teaming hallway and was immediately biffed in the head by a passing ogress.
“Sorrr-eeey,” she called, tilting her head back to the ceiling without pause.
A group of elves standing nearby at their lockers saw it. They tittered and pointed. Then they resumed their huddled whispering.
Gabe continued down the hall, unfazed. He stopped by his locker and someone flicked the tip of his left ear. His pointed protrusions were enormous, even for a goblin. He turned left and no one was there. To his right he heard a couple of pixies laughing. Droll.
He finished threading through the halls without further incident. As he was about to enter his next class, he was accosted by three jumbo size ogres. And ogres were generally twice his height to begin with. The largest ones were on the football team. They picked him up and threw him into the bathroom.
The leader hefted Gabe by the front of his shirt and held him against the wall, hand blower sticking into his back. “Where’s my homework, Gabby?” he spat at him. Literally.
Gabe almost fainted from the malignant breath. It was lethal to smaller creatures. But these oafs didn’t intimidate him. He went through this on a regular basis. “If you put me down, I’ll get it out for you, Recker,” he scolded, like a parent to a spoiled child.
“Good. If you didn’t, I’d’ve had to mash you!” His friends haw-hawed and pounded their meaty fists as Recker set him down.
Gabe opened a folder and pulled out a paper. He handed it to Recker.
“It ain’t a A, is it?” he asked scrunching his gruesome face at it. He would’ve broken a mirror if there were any in there.
“A high C at best,” Gabe assured him. “May I go to class now?”
“Yuh. Just watch yourself, Gabby. Don’t make me mash you!” he repeated. Gabe left them as they tried to figure out the completed assignment. He slipped into class as the tardy bell rang.
Ogres grated on Gabe’s every last nerve. They were so frustratingly stupid. He reasoned that the size of their brain was the direct inverse to the size of their bulk. He had a hard time understanding why such a massive, hulking figure was given such a miniscule intellect. And why he was forced to deal with them.
He took his seat. Last period was his favorite class of the day, Honors Math. A class filled with only goblins. He was surrounded by his friends and they greeted him with smiles as the teacher began the lesson.
“Psst!” Argus whispered. He was a few hairs taller and a deeper shade of green than Gabe. A fine specimen of goblin. “We still meeting tonight?” he asked out of the corner of his mouth.
“Yeah,” Gabe whispered back, without taking his eyes off the teacher.
“I’ll be there,” Jordy added. He was smarter than most of the students at Ginkgo, but below average for a goblin.
“I might be late. I have to write a paper for Stonetta,” Hope informed them as she looked down pretending to search for something in her pencil pouch. Hope was the brightest of them and a cute goblin girl. Gabe caught her peeking at him. She’d been acting strange around him since the beginning of school.
“You have to come. We need to finalize our plans!” Argus urged. He drew Ms. Shurshot’s attention.
“Something to share, Mr. Klefurt?”
“No, Ma’am,” Argus answered, slinking down in his seat.
“Mmm,” the dubious centaur doubted. “On to the assignment, then, class,” she directed.
The friends grinned at each other and got to work.