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The Mind Master Chronicles: Puppet on a String

Twelve-year-old Aronade plays a lot of games. But they aren’t games of her own design. These games have been crafted by a man who goes by the name, “The Instructor.” He creates these mind games called scenarios in order to teach Aronade “lessons” about how the world truly operates. But when Aronade discovers a nearly drowned teenage boy from the outside world at the complex, she soon discovers that the Instructor’s games may not be so harmless after all. In fact, they may be deadly.

The Mind Master Chronicles: Puppet on a String

ACT I

Chapter 1

11/1

Dear Diary,

I don’t really know what date it is. I think it is November 1st. Anyway, I’m surprised I’m even bothering to write down my thoughts. I’ll have to end up carrying my notebook with me and holding it close to me, so he doesn’t get his hands on it. If he did, he’d think me such a fool for exposing my innermost thoughts like this. But Nan, my caregiver, mentioned in passing having a diary as a girl, and it got me to thinking. The thing of it is, I’m sick of just having thoughts trapped in my head with no one to share them with. (I’m looking around the room now.) I’m always feeling as though I’m being watched. Crazy, right? He said in passing he’d respect my privacy in my room — which is where I’m writing now. But doesn’t that imply he doesn’t elsewhere? I was tempted to ask the Instructor whether these suspicions were true, but I decided against it. First of all, who knew whether he would tell me the truth. Secondly, even if it were true at that one moment doesn’t mean it would stay true later on. It would be just like him to change that reality to make another example of me. So instead, I’m keeping my eyes and ears open — waiting for him to slip and reveal that he is aware of more than he should be — to find out when he spies on me and when he doesn’t bother to. But I have to be careful not to tip my hand and let him know that, for once, I’m testing him. Subtly is key. For instance, I already know he’s watching me somehow during the scenarios. And it isn’t just feedback he’s getting from the actors that lets him know things either. He knows what I do — how I respond when no one else is with me. Still, even as I congratulate myself for how clever I am to have figured this out, I could kick myself for having this need to express my feelings honestly. If I were smart, I’d just be writing down meaningless things to throw him off. But alas! Fundamentally, I am a person who feels too much and falseness wears on me. So, if I accept myself the way I am, at least I can give myself credit for choosing the least dangerous way to vent my feelings. So long as he doesn’t start noticing I’m using more paper or noticing the new bulk under my clothing where my diary is hidden … As for the danger I mentioned, I’m not implying mortal danger …

“Aronade!”

That’s my name. Nan is calling me.

Nan acts as though I have been hard to find. She had looked for me in my room earlier, and I hadn’t been here. She is accusatory, as though I have been avoiding her intentionally. I haven’t been. Doesn’t matter. I think the whole conflict is silly. I always end up in my room eventually. Most of the time, I am in my room. I am particularly here a lot in the winter … which for all intents and purposes is happening now. I always seem to wind up catching a cold or something else in the winter. Most of the time, after I recover, I will spend extra time in my room. It is here that I work up my nerve to start it all up again. After all, once a scenario starts it could take awhile to stop. But eventually, the boredom of just staying in this room does wear on me, and I head to that same doorknob again and venture forth.

Unlike my doorknob, most of the other doorknobs in this place open to a different room — a different world seemingly — every time. It is amazing how much things can change in a matter of hours! Just as though in a dream, the entire landscape can be transformed. The architecture of the new spaces juts out in almost perverse angles. And yet, just as the man who designed it, there is a sense of purpose to the display. The edging of the rails smoothly curve together; no knots or holes are visible. Obviously, the Instructor spends quite a bit of time on the construction of the layouts — it is merely the moving of the already-finished pieces that must take such a short time.

But what is the purpose of the scenarios? To entertain me? To distract me? Or, is the enjoyment for him alone? Am I merely to be watched as a rat in a maze would be? Usually, though, I don’t mind these episodes. I like exploring. I also enjoy the distraction.

Speaking of the Instructor, he is why Nan has come. I am to go see the Instructor; he is expecting me.

The Instructor … I wring my hands. Why does he want to see me today? That is always the question I ask myself when he summons me. What does he want now? What is he up to? I can remember the first time I became wary of him. I was very young when I was first introduced to him. I was expecting some sort of parental figure — someone to welcome and reassure me. What I got instead was a distant man who analyzed me with cold detachment. Though I would conclude he wasn’t out to harm me, he also had no interest in showing me any marked kindness either. He hasn’t even told me his real name. Instead, the only other things — besides food and the roof over my head —he gives me are the lessons. He teaches me lessons on how the world works in his view. And when he feels I can’t learn well enough by words alone, he has scenarios set up to demonstrate what he is trying to impart.

It didn’t take me long to come to dread my meetings with him, which oftentimes, but not always, involve some elaborate dinner. These meetings would generally come up out of nowhere — their timing sporadic. It certainly made it impossible to anticipate them or completely let my guard down either. But then again, the value of not letting one’s guard down was one of his lessons.

I head toward the room where I usually meet with the Instructor. I wonder what the lesson he has for me could be this time. I am considering this when I become aware that I have eyes upon me. He is sitting in the same high-back chair he had been in the last time I saw him. When I look at him, he is eyeing me with curiosity.

“Won’t you have a seat, Aronade?” he offers.

As I pull back the chair that he is motioning to and prepare to sit, I feel the need to say something.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting.” I tell him.

Part of me wants to break the awkwardness of the moment.

“How could you know I would summon you today?” he returns with a dismissive wave of his hand.

I sit down.

“That is true.” I admit.

“Anyway, this will be a short meeting …”

I wait.

“I’m going to be traveling for a while. I thought this would be a good time for you to continue with your studies. You will be permitted access to the library. If you find the time, you might explore as usual. But remember, you aren’t allowed to leave the grounds.”

“Of course.”

The Instructor takes out a pocket watch and checks it.

“Given that I did not expect it to take so long to find you, I am afraid I will not have the time to eat with you today.”

“Of course.”

He leaves without further word.

This isn’t the first time he has disappeared. I had never had any warning before, though. I just grew accustomed to his unpredictable schedule. Sometimes I’d see him many days in a row; other times months could pass without word. I learned rather quickly to avoid asking Nan what was going on. The one time I did, she glared at me with ferocity. When I didn’t catch on right away, she cleared her throat and turned from me.

“So, why tell me now?” I wonder when I am assuredly alone.

It isn’t as though I would have known that he wasn’t around somewhere in the vast estate. In fact, I would have assumed he was still here. Is he going to be gone a particularly long time? Or, does he just want me to believe he is gone? There is no way to know with him. And yet, I am determined not to let my guard down and risk another lecture. This is particularly true now that I have something to hide (my diary). The only question is should I go to the kitchen to retrieve my lunch — which was probably what is expected of me — or head off to my room for some much-needed time to myself?

I decide it is best to do what is expected of me. I head toward the kitchen. Not surprisingly, Nan is waiting for me. Of course, the Instructor hadn’t told me to go to the kitchen, but years of experience here told me that I wasn’t welcome to loiter in the Instructor’s spaces after he left. In fact, it was Nan who taught me that. I had lingered once, and she had come to fetch me with her, by then, usual display of displeasure. She doesn’t hurt me, but she does scare me a little. Maybe if I had enough reason to, I’d be willing to stand up to her. But it isn’t the time; it is still time to lie low.

“You are to eat. I will then take you to the library as the Instructor charged you.”

Nan likes to pretend she is in with the Instructor, but many times I can tell she knows less than I do.

“All right.” I agree.

I can always sneak out from there later. The sooner I can get away from Nan, the better.

“You’re awfully compliant.” she suddenly accuses.

I look up at her. I remember then that I can’t afford to underestimate this woman.

“Maybe you are finally ashamed of how you behaved this morning?” she chides.

“How was that?” I mutter.

Nan stops peeling the potatoes and glares at me.

“The Instructor pointed out that there was no way that I could have known I had been sent for. I’m allowed to wander around.” I remind her.

That shut her up. Nan continues to peel; her face twists into a sneer. Eventually, she slides a bowl of soup in front of me. She doesn’t bother to look at me again.

“Eat up. Then, I’ll take you to the library.”

“I’m done.” I later proclaim.

There is no noticeable reaction.

“I can find my way to the library on my own.” I tell her.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2020

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