Tedieval Times

by Kristen Bealer

"Wow, look at this place!"

The high-pitched voice interrupted Ted's concentration as he scanned the school library shelves in an unsuccessful search for cookbooks that included gum recipes.

"I wonder what it is," the unseen person continued. After a moment's thought, he realized the voice belonged to Brittany.

He peeked around a shelf and saw that she had just come in with her gentleman friend, who replied, "I think it's the library, babe."

Apparently the two of them found the thought of educational institutions very romantic, as the revelation caused them to express their appreciation for each other in a very physical and enthusiastic manner. Ted began to feel like he was intruding, and backed out of view to give them some privacy. As he did so, he heard someone else leave the library. He was just thinking he should do the same when the world collapsed around him in an explosion of noise and pain.

Although Ted was back in school the next day with superficial injuries--mostly scratches and bruises--he couldn't stop shaking every time he thought about the library roof caving in on top of him. Sitting in Mr. DeMartino's class that morning, he jumped in terror every time the teacher raised his voice...which was very, very often. Ted was extremely relieved when Ms. Li walked in and interrupted the lecture.

"Good morning, young people! It is my sad duty to announce that the library will be closed until further notice."

Ted grabbed the sides of his desk to force himself not to leap up and run out of the room at the mention of the library.

Ms. Li continued, "In order to raise money for the repairs, Lawndale High will be presenting a Medieval fair to simulate life in the Middle Ages."

The thought of a Medieval fair instantly distracted Ted from his panic attack. Life in the Middle Ages? I suppose we could synthesize the bubonic plague in science class, but could we get government approval? And how will our positions in the feudal system be assigned? Oh dear! Will I have to start bathing less often? He watched the principal and listened intently, waiting for clarification.

"Volunteers are desperately needed," she was saying. "Those who--"

"Excuse me, Ms. Li?" Ted called out. "I'd like to volunteer to be a gong farmer!"

She faltered in her speech and blinked at him a few times. "A...a what?"

"A gong farmer." Ms. Li was acting as if she wasn't familiar with the phrase, so Ted decided to help jog her memory. "The person who would dig out human excrement from under the privies and dispose of it."

The few students in his class who understood the word "excrement" let out cries of "Ewww!" and "Gross!" but Ted just shrugged. "It paid very well! Although the night hours and social ostracization were probably a bit of a downside." He looked back at Ms. Li. "So what do you think?"

She looked slightly ill. "Er...Mr. DeWitt-Clinton, although your enthusiasm is greatly appreciated, perhaps you might consider trying out for the play instead? I believe Mr. O'Neill is organizing a performance of 'The Knight's Tale' from the Canterbury Tales."

As the principal hurried out the door, Ted considered the idea. I've loved Chaucer since I was eight years old. And the opportunity to learn a new skill by acting in a public performance, too? This is going to be the best Medieval fair Lawndale High has ever had!

"Whilom, as olde stories tellen us, Ther was a duc that highte Theseus; Of Atthenes he was lord and governour, And in his tyme swich a conquerour, That gretter was ther noon under the sonne."

There was silence in the auditorium as Ted paused to take a breath. Before he could begin reciting the rest, Mr. O'Neill interrupted. "That was...very interesting, Tad."

"Ted," he cheerfully corrected.

"Right. But, um, what was that?"

"The opening to 'The Knight's Tale,' of course." His smile faded as he saw the blank faces all staring up at him. "I thought I had it memorized correctly, but perhaps I made an error? I suppose my Middle English may not be as good as it could be."

"It's...fine. I think." Mr. O'Neill looked confused and a little nervous. "But I think...perhaps...um...."

Ted studied the teacher's body language for a moment. "I'm not getting the part, am I?" he asked.

Mr. O'Neill gave him a relieved smile. "No. But thanks for trying out!"

Walking off the stage, Ted sighed. I guess I'm not cut out for an acting career. Which might be just as well, if what my parents have to say about the entertainment industry is true. He shuddered. I wonder if soul removal is something they do all at once, or if it's a gradual process.

Even though he would be neither a gong farmer nor a soulless thespian, Ted arrived at the school that evening before the Medieval fair even began. He was full of excitement until he looked over and saw the school library, surrounded by construction barricades and wreckage. He even thought he saw another piece of the roof tumble to the ground.

Instantly he began to tremble and found he couldn't make himself stop. His brain was full of images of falling rubble and crashing sounds. He was sure he could hear the screaming of other victims being crushed under the weight--

No, hold on. Those are happy screams. It's just children running around, enjoying themselves.

Ted's mind cleared. Forcing himself to take a few deep breaths, he decided he needed to find something to distract himself.

He looked around and saw a purple tent with a woman dressed as a fortune teller inside. The advertized price was $2 for girls and $20 for boys, and Ted reasoned that the boys' fortunes must therefore be more accurate. He entered and paid.

The fortune teller looked up as he sat down in the empty chair, and he recognized his science teacher, Ms. Barch. "Oh! I didn't realize that you were also trained in the art of divination! It seems rather at odds with your career in the scientific field, doesn't it?"

"Shut up," she replied with a glare.

Ted shut up. He belatedly remembered that Ms. Barch was very short-tempered, particularly when reminded of her ex-husband. He'd once tried to work out exactly which particular things reminded her of him, but so far he'd been unable to narrow down the list from his starting point of "everything" and "Y chromosomes" underlined three times.

Keeping her eyes on him, Ms. Barch leaned over her crystal ball (Ted saw it had a thrift store price tag on the bottom, but decided not to mention it). "I see brutality, ignorance, and cruelty. I see the strong taking advantage of the weak. I see--"

"Huh?" Ted blinked in confusion before looking behind him at the Medieval fair. "Oh! You mean the Middle Ages. But I think you're supposed to be telling me the future, and this is all the present." He stopped to consider the situation. "Well, technically I suppose it's also the past. Although I have some serious doubts about the authenticity of--"

"Shut up."

Ted shut up again, but this time Ms. Barch just folded her arms and glared at him until he got up and left.

As he walked out of the tent, he was nearly knocked off his feet by a couple of young boys who were shrieking loudly and pummeling each other as they ran. The shock of the near-miss, combined with the loud noise and violence, forced Ted's memory of the library incident back into his thoughts. He staggered forward, breathing quickly and looking for a new distraction to calm his nerves.

Suddenly he found himself face to face with a banner that read "JOUST WITH THE BLACK KNIGHT."

"Jousting!" he cried. "I've always wanted to try that!" Between reading old manuscripts and playing the virtual reality games at the arcade, Ted had mastered swordplay, but jousting was something he'd never had the opportunity to practice. He got in line, signed a waiver, and soon found himself entering the jousting area.

"Excuse me?" he called. "I have some issues with the realism of this activity. I'm fairly certain Medieval knights didn't wear roller skates. And this lance appears to be made of plastic. And it has foam cushioning on the end!"

"What an unexpected surprise!" the black knight said, lifting his visor to reveal the face of Mr. DeMartino. "One of the few students at this school who isn't completely brain dead!"

"Oh, hello!" Ted greeted him cheerfully. Do you know if they have any steel lances left?"

Mr. DeMartino chuckled. "I'm afraid not, Mr. DeWitt-Clinton. But don't worry--as one of my better students, I intend to go easy on you!" He clapped the visor back down and began to skate forward.

Ted shrugged and rolled forward as well, holding the lance in the position he'd practiced at home many times. He kept his mind on all of the techniques and advice he'd uncovered in his research. Upon reaching Mr. DeMartino he aimed, drew his arm back, and lunged his lance forward in a quick, fluid motion.

Yelping in surprise, Mr. DeMartino flew backwards and landed with his legs in the air. "Ooof," he grunted as his back hit the ground. After a few moments he carefully got back on his feet.

"That was fun!" Ted cried, waving the plastic lance in the air.

Mr. DeMartino raised his visor. "You seem to be as skilled at jousting as you are at answering questions in class," he conceded. "It appears I underestimated--ack!" He was cut off when Ted charged forward again and drove the lance into the teacher's abdomen with full force. He fell over backwards again, and didn't move for almost a minute.

The thought occurred to Ted that maybe he'd hit him just a tiny bit too hard. But, he reasoned, in the classroom he always demands high quality from his students. And he seems so disappointed when anyone falls short of his expectations! I wouldn't want to upset him by putting in only a mediocre effort.

At last Mr. DeMartino staggered back upright. "Well done," he wheezed, his words barely audible. "Let's give...others...chance to try...." Still gasping for air, he skated unsteadily to the side of the stage and began whimpering softly.

"Oh. I suppose you have a point," Ted replied. Raising his lance in salute, he turned and left to find something new to try.

As he walked through the fair, he heard someone playing music and looked around to see where it was coming from. It didn't take long to locate the red-haired boy in the garish jester's costume. He appeared to be playing a lute and singing to an increasingly disgusted-looking girl.

Ted could only hear bits and pieces of the song, but as he got closer he was able to catch some of the chorus: "I am a minstrel; my name is Sir Chuck / Come here, my lady, and...."

Ted wasn't quite able to make out the rest of the line, but the girl apparently found his musicianship lacking--she slapped him hard across the face and stalked away.

Huh. I guess he must not have been able to come up with a good rhyme for "Chuck."

He turned his attention the other way, where he saw a Ferris wheel. Now, this is getting silly, Ted thought in surprise. The modern Ferris wheel as we know it was invented barely over a century ago. There's no way this is even remotely authentic!

He began to make his way over there to complain when the operator caught his eye. He immediately recognized him as the virtual reality game attendant at the arcade. His objections forgotten, he raced over to greet him.

"Do you remember me?" he asked excitedly.

"Dude. You come to the arcade, like, three times a week. Yeah, I remember you," the young man replied, rolling his eyes. "You getting on or what?" He jerked a thumb behind him toward the Ferris wheel.

"I actually was a little concerned about the appropriateness of having modern technology at a Medieval Fair, which is why I came over here in the first place." He looked up at the wheel, which from close up actually looked like fun. "Well, why not?" He paid the operator and took a seat in the basket.

Just before the ride started, another boy got into the basket with him. Ted recognized him as one of the more popular boys in his grade, although he couldn't immediately recall his name. The boy looked very nervous, constantly looking around and fidgeting.

"Good evening," Ted greeted the boy politely. "I'm sure this structure is quite safe, as I have no reason to think it was actually built during the Middle Ages. So you have no cause to be worried."

"It's not that," the boy replied, his voice shaking and cracking as he spoke. "I'm looking for someone." Suddenly he buried his face in his hands and cried, "Stupid! I'm so, so stupid!"

Ted awkwardly patted the boy's shoulder. "It's not stupid to look for people. How else would you find them?" He suddenly smiled. "And you found me! Well done! See? You're actually quite good at this."

The boy looked up at him in confusion, but before he could reply the Ferris wheel began to turn. As their basket rose into the air he leaned forward eagerly and scanned the crowd. "There's this girl I was hoping I'd see today. We went on a date the other night and I want to ask her out again because I really really like her but I don't know if she's interested and I'm afraid that if I call her right away she'll think I'm desperate!"

He rattled off the words at such a rapid pace Ted was a little worried he wasn't taking in enough oxygen as he spoke. Ted opened his mouth to reply, but didn't get a chance.

"So I thought I'd look for her here and try to, you know, casually bump into her or something and see if she's doing anything after but oh no what if she thinks I'm stalking her or whatever and it scares her off?"

Ted nodded sympathetically. "I--"

"Do you think I came on too strong on our date? I asked her a lot of questions about herself and I laughed at all her jokes and complimented her outfit, but maybe I paid too much attention to her, you know? Like she thinks I'm some kind of obsessed freak?"


"I just wish I knew what to do! How do I get her to be interested in me?" He turned to look at Ted, who was keeping his mouth shut after being interrupted so many times. "Well, are you going to help me or not?"

Before he could be silenced by another verbal barrage, Ted quickly replied, "You should completely ignore her."

The boy stared at him. "What?"

Seeing that he now had his full attention, Ted elaborated. "Shortly after I started attending this school, I became very popular for a short time. Quite a few of my fellow students wanted to spend time with me. At the time I didn't really think much about it until one day, when they all just...stopped seeing me. It was like I was invisible. Suddenly, all those people I'd been taking for granted became completely fascinating to me. It was a mystery that I just had to solve! So if it happened to me, I don't see why it wouldn't happen to this girl you're interested in."

Intrigued, the boy leaned back and thought about his words. "So...if I pretend I don't see her, she'll want to know why and I'll become irresistible to her? Will that really work?"

Ted nodded. "I can say from personal experience that it will definitely work."

The boy's face lit up as the Ferris wheel ride came to an end. "Wow, I'm so glad I talked to you!" He started to get out of the basket as it stopped, then turned back. "Oh, and thanks. My name's Bret Strand, by the way."

What now? Ted wondered as he left the Ferris wheel. Oh! I know what would be fun!

"Ah, Mr. DeWitt-Clinton! I see you've decided to try your luck again! Well, this time I'm going to give you a real challenge!" Mr. DeMartino was smiling, but his voice was shaky.

The teacher lowered his visor, raised his lance, and began skating toward Ted as fast as he could. He pulled his arm back as he approached and prepared to thrust the lance forward...only to find himself sprawled on his back again, short of breath from having the wind knocked out of him. Ted's face appeared above him, smiling down. "I hate to complain, sir, but I'm really going to have to ask you to make it a little harder than that. It's just not as entertaining when you make it this easy for me."

Mr. DeMartino's only response was a quiet, shuddering groan.

Afterwards, Ted stepped out of the jousting area and saw two young boys running toward him. They were holding plastic lances of their own, as well as plastic shields. Before he could react, the boys began hitting him with the lances and screaming, "Burn the heretic! Burn the heretic!" at the top of their lungs. The blows and shouting sent Ted's mind racing back to the day the library roof collapsed and he staggered to his knees, gasping.


As abruptly as it began, the attack ended. Ted looked up in time to see the boys chase after a young man in a green dragon costume, who was still roaring as he led them away.

Gradually Ted's heart rate slowed down and he managed to calm himself again. "Well," he told himself weakly, "it's not every day that a dragon saves someone in distress from knights."

"That's Mack for you." Ted stood up and turned to see his fellow yearbook staff member, Jodie Landon, sitting behind an information booth. "Always ready to leap to someone's defense," she continued, then winced as Mack suffered a particularly intense blow from one of the boys. "Even when it's not the smartest idea."

Ted came over to the booth. "Hello, Jodie! How are you this evening?"

"Fine, thanks." She looked at him warily. "But how are you? I saw your face when those kids came after you. You looked terrified. Are you okay?"

He sighed. "Not exactly," he replied.

"Anything I can help with?" she asked.

Ted smiled at her. "Hey, good idea! This is an information booth, after all. Can you tell me how to cope with the aftermath of my recent ordeal during the library disaster? Ever since the roof collapsed on me, I've been going through a very difficult time. In addition to my recurring emotional distress, I've been experiencing physical symptoms like rapid heart rate, extreme dizziness, tremors, and shortness of breath. What do you recommend?"

She blinked at him. "I'm not really sure that's the kind of information I'm qualified to offer," she said slowly.

"I'll take anything you can give me," Ted pleaded.

She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples for a minute, thinking. "Okay, look," she began. "I haven't gone through anything like what you did, but I do know a thing or two about stress and anxiety. All I can tell you is what works for me: take things one moment at a time. If you start to feel overwhelmed...."

"...take a few minutes to calm down and relax?" Ted guessed.

Jodie let out a sharp bark of laughter. "If I ever have time to try that, I'll let you know how it works," she replied. "What I was going to say is, if you start to feel overwhelmed just ignore it and work even harder. If you keep yourself busy, you'll be able to just stay in the moment and you won't have time to be upset."

"I see," Ted said. "Well, thanks, anyway."

She shrugged. "Sorry I couldn't be more helpful. This information booth is really meant to be geared more toward facts about the Middle Ages, though."

His eyes lit up. "Hey, now that you mention it, there are a few concerns I have relating to this fair and the authenticity of its portrayal of the Medieval Era. Perhaps you'd like to discuss some of the more glaring anachronisms? I've actually put together a fairly sizeable list, but to start I'll point out that...."

Twenty minutes later, Jodie held up a hand. "Um, did you know that the play is about to start? If you don't hurry, you might miss it."

"I'd forgotten about the play!" Ted glanced at his watch and jumped in surprise. "Thanks! I'd better hurry!"

"No problem," she replied, waving with relief as he hurried away.

Entering the auditorium, Ted accepted his turkey leg and sat down to enjoy the performance. The curtain went up and Ted watched as a red-haired girl in a pink gown performed what appeared to be an odd impersonation of Mr. DeMartino. She's doing a pretty good job with his strange inflections, Ted thought, but without the eyeball effect it just isn't convincing. He settled into his seat, figuring this must be some kind of pre-show entertainment.

Before long another boy appeared onstage and began reciting what Ted recognized as a modernization of "The Pardoner's Tale." Oh! he realized with a start. No wonder I didn't get the part! I was auditioning for the wrong story!

"Stop!" the girl suddenly screeched, and the audience started to laugh. Ted didn't understand the joke, but before he could worry about it a man stood up and began yelling at everyone.

I definitely don't remember this from the Canterbury Tales! Apparently the rest of the audience didn't appreciate the interruption, either, because someone threw their turkey leg at him. More chunks of poultry quickly followed, and as the food rained down Ted's immediate reaction was to panic. He was once again trapped in a building full of chaos and violence.

This time, however, he reminded himself of Jodie's advice: stay in the moment. He looked at the turkey leg he was still holding and decided to join in the fun. He hauled back and launched the meat high into the air, where it sailed in a perfect parabolic arc before neatly whacking the actress's hat off her head.

"Of course!" Ted said to himself. "This must be a performance with audience participation!" He began snatching turkey legs out of other people's hands and throwing them in all directions.

As the food fight ran out of ammunition and came to an end, Ted felt exhilarated. I came to the brink of disaster again and this time I was victorious! he thought, panting and grinning at everyone. Hey, maybe that's it--having blows rain down on you is just part of life as a high school student!

The play seemed to be over, so Ted made his way to the exit. And speaking of which....

"Oh, no. No, no, no, no! Please, God, not him. Anyone but him!"

Ted watched in surprise as Mr. DeMartino began to run in the opposite direction--an especially amusing feat given he was still wearing roller skates.

"Don't worry!" he called after the rapidly-retreating teacher. "I think I've figured out what I was doing wrong before, so it should actually be a real challenge for you this time!"