The small door shut behind her with a rather loud clang. The room in front of her buzzed with activity.
Her hands were sweaty, her heart racing. She knew where she was, but it didn't help the nervous factor.
There she was faced with the large circular room, crowded with people she didn't know, Ideas she'd never faced before, and Philosophies that strolled the room looking to try to smash anyone who didn't side with them in some way or another, whether it was by not dressing the way they wanted, or answering a question correctly when asked.
A brief glance down assured her that she had a Bag of Things, including her own small personal Philosophy who quickly climbed out of her Bag and sat on her shoulder, hidden under her hair.
"You can do this, Hydie!" JC, the Philosophy, whispered reassuringly in her ear. "You're dressed fine. You have four days! It's time to learn what you can!"
She gulped, rubbing her hands on her pants. This was it.
However, when she took a step into the room, nothing exciting happened. There was no stopping of activity. Instead, the activity she had been observing seemed to swarm until it encompassed her and she was in the middle of it without having moved another step.
Upon her second step, a sign sprang out of the floor pointing to her right.
"All Music Education Students to the right." It said in a lyrical voice, its melody tantalizing her ears.
Before following the sign's direction, she pulled a small map out of her Bag of Things, checking the compass in the top left-hand corner to make sure the sign was telling the truth. She'd heard that these signs could be devious when they wanted to be. It was correct. With a sigh of relief, she stepped to her right, following a small river of people all carrying musical instruments. Hers was on her back.
"Take lessons with me!" A violin-carrying, older lady cried over the sounds of the crowd. "I will help your musicality grow through the instrument on your back!"
Without hesitation, Hydie asked the woman to teach her. The woman gave Hydie a book of music.
"I'll see you at lessons!" She said, and before disappearing into the crowd added, "Practice what I've given you!"
"Have some Aural skills! They're useful for getting you through the rest of the room as a music student!" A young woman with the sign "Professor" sang out.
Hydie noticed that every person was stopping at the table.
"You'll need that." JC confirmed.
She stepped up to the table, paid the price and tucked the Aural Skills into her Bag of Things.
The Music Theory table was next, as were several other musical tables. She stopped at each and picked up one of everything. Her Bag of Things was starting to weigh a little more.
With every step she took, her head swam a little more. It was tiring carrying around a Bag that just kept getting heavier, and she still didn't know anyone. There were a couple Students with whom she'd exchanged brief conversation, and whose names she knew, but she still wasn't sure that they'd help her out if she needed it.
The crowd around her started to murmur. Three Somethings were sweeping towards them carrying with them sounds of glorious music and sheets of paper. The Somethings fluttered to a halt, and one of them began speaking.
"Come, play music with me!" It said, waving its paper in her direction. "We'll have fun and make music that will cause people to weep and laugh at the same time!"
Hydie breathed deeply. This must be the Orchestral Spirit she'd been told about. This was something she'd been excited about and eagerly waiting for.
With a quick glance at the others around her, she headed towards the Orchestral Spirit and was surrounded by strains of music that made her see colors, smell sweet things, and caused her brief pain. Her instrument, a violin, rose off her back, carried along by the music, and set itself under her chin, begging to be played and practiced.
So she took two hours out of her first day to practice her violin, reading the music given to her by both the Orchestral Spirit and her Violin Teacher. As she practiced, sure enough her ability on the instrument grew by leaps and bounds. When her Violin Teacher appeared at her shoulder to give her pointers, she was not lacking, but had met the sufficient requirements for the first days' lesson.
As she continued along the room, music running through her head, a Philosophy stepped in front of her, menacing at her.
"Is it ever right to abandon friends?" It asked her growling as it did so.
"Not unless they abandon you first." She answered back, hoping it was the right answer.
"Good answer." JC whispered in her ear.
The Philosophy pulled from its multi-colored coat a pin that said "Loyal" on it and pinned it gruffly to her shirt, before patting her on her arm and stumping off to frighten another Student.
Hydie shook briefly. It had been her first encounter with a Philosophy and she had passed. She hadn't had to fight it.
"The day has ended." An ethereal voice said over the intercom. "Please find a place to tuck in for the night. If you have finished your fourth day, please exit through the door of your choice. You have ten minutes before the light goes out. See you in the morning."
"Only ten minutes?" Hydie asked, frustrated.
"I know seriously!" A Student, Martha, agreed. "What's with that? It feels like we just got here."
"I guess we just need to find a corner to sleep for the night." Hydie looked around, spotted a relatively un-crowded area, and headed towards it.
After taking out her blanket and pillow from her Bag of Things and spreading them on the ground, she pulled some food out, fed JC, fed herself, and then lay down, with JC protectively tucked into her side, watching the other Students around her do the same before the lights extinguished any vision she had.
The second day, the lights popped on quite suddenly, causing Hydie to squint as she went about getting ready for the day. She had another ten minutes before things started happening again. When she picked up her Bag of Things, it was lighter, and looking inside, everything she bought the day before seemed to have vanished. JC tugged on her sleeve, pointed to her clothes and then clambered back on to her shoulder to hide under her hair again. To her surprise, everything she had bought the day before had become part of her clothing. Apparently she had learned something from each thing she bought.
The line of tables that greeted her sleepy eyes seemed similar to the line of tables she had gone through the first day. Different people hawking the same wares, though as she looked closer, the wares were slightly different and more challenging from the ones she had bought the previous day.
With JC's encouragement, she purchased the ones she needed, placing them in her bag. Her bag didn't seem to get any heavier than it had the previous day. Her Violin Teacher met her at the beginning of the tables to encouragingly hand her some music to practice.
There were many, many faces she knew and recognized, and many names she remembered, many people she conversed with.
And then the best time came. The Orchestral Spirit swept in, followed by the two other spirits. Once again, she gravitated towards the Orchestral Spirit, but as she went, her attention was caught as several of the people whom she knew gravitated towards the other two Spirits. Why would they go towards a Spirit they could not hear? She wondered, but was soon captivated by her own Spirit.
However, things were soon disrupted as a Philosophy broke through the sound of her music.
"You are not dressed right!" It roared at her, and tossing her instrument from her hands, it swung at her.
The music shattered around her, and as she ducked a second blow, she scrambled to secure her instrument to her back where it would be safe.
"How am I not dressed right?" She screamed back at it as it lumberingly took another swing at her. With every step it took towards her it seemed to grow larger.
"You should have worn one purple sock and one green sock!" Its voice was deafening.
Hydie glanced down at her feet. Both her socks were red.
This distraction gave the Philosophy enough time to swing and hit her on the arm, soundly breaking it.
Crying in pain, she managed to duck another swing.
JC, who had been watching to see how she would do against this Philosophy, decided it was time to step in.
She collapsed to the ground, holding her arm, as JC swung off her shoulder, rapidly growing larger and larger. Soon he bigger than the other Philosophy, and as the other Philosophy swung again, JC put out a hand and caught the fist of the other Philosophy, gently tearing its arm off in the process. The Philosophy let out a shriek of rage and disappeared, dragging its arm with it.
Then, shrinking back to a size that would be comfortable for Hydie, he moved towards her. Taking her arm in his gentle hands, he sang over it, healing it in a painfully gracious process.
As soon as her arm was healed, he helped her to her feet, gave her some water, and shrank again, climbing back under her hair, though before he hid completely, he pinned a button that read "Taken" to her shirt, besides the "Loyal" pin.
A little shaken, but emboldened by the pin blazing on her front, Hydie continued through the rest of the day. She couldn't play her instrument because the Philosophy had taken up that whole time, but she focused instead on learning the names and faces of the people around her before the spectral voice announced that the day was over and that the lights would be going out in ten minutes.
This time, instead of bedding down by herself, she spread her blanket and pillow out next to several friends, Martha, Eliza, Susannah, Thomas, and Matt. She fed JC, thanked him profusely for saving her life that day, fed herself, and once the lights went out, slept.
The third day was exciting. The Knowledges and Ideas she had picked up the previous day had also become part of her clothing, and her Bag of Things was light again. The row of tables looked exactly like they had the day before, except again the hawkers and the wares had changed, if only slightly.
Her Violin Teacher, joined by another teacher that Hydie had seen around, once again met her at the beginning of the tables and handed her some music.
"This is the Viola Teacher. You will learn from him today. Keep practicing! I missed you yesterday and will see you tomorrow." The Teacher said, before disappearing.
At each table, according to JC's encouragement and those of her friends who were walking along beside her, she stopped and picked up one of each ware. About half way through the line, she noticed that one of her friends had a button on his shirt that looked just like hers. His also said "Taken."
"JC," she asked, slightly startled. "Is he one of yours?"
"Yes." JC said simply.
I should get to know him. Hydie thought.
Sure enough, the young man joined her walk through the tables.
The program changed slightly as the table hawkers began to heavily emphasis educating others.
"Hi!" cried a small voice from inside her bag at one point, causing her to jump.
"Who are you?" Hydie asked, pulling open her bag as something Not-So-Vague clambered out.
"I'm an Idea." It squeaked. "I was in the education book you bought a table or so back."
"What's your idea?" She asked, holding the Idea in her hand.
"No child should be left behind. Every child should get the same even education. Even in large classrooms." Its voice suddenly took on a very demanding tone.
"How is that possible?" She asked, puzzled at such a large task. It seemed almost impossible, even at first thought.
"I don't know." The Idea shrugged and hopped off her hand and onto the clothes of another Student. "You're going to be the teacher! You figure it out!" It called, as it climbed into the Student's field of view to torture him with its impossible idea.
For the rest of the day, this Idea bothered her, sometimes catching her eye and thumbing its nose, other times she'd see it chattering to some unsuspecting Student, giving them a hard time.
But then the glorious part of each day happened. The Orchestral Spirit swept towards the students, accompanied by the glorious music, beckoning to be joined in its creation of music. It wasn't until she once again saw some of her friends heading towards the other Spirits that she wondered, for a second time, why they would head towards Spirits that they couldn't hear. Then she noticed another thing. The Spirits were speaking. Their mouths were moving as they beckoned, but it was she who could not hear them.
"Please, Orchestral Spirit," she asked, "Why can I not hear the Band Spirit and the Choral Spirit?"
"Because you are not supposed to play with them. Your path of growth lies through me." It said, graciously handing her music and demonstrating for her to join in.
Willingly she picked up the viola she now carried and joined, stumbling on the unfamiliar instrument, but quickly picking it up as the music carried her along, with the encouragement and teaching from the Viola Teacher.
The voice announced the end of the day as the music came to an end, and Hydie found a place to lie down near the young man, whose name was Sam. After the lights went out, they spent the night talking to JC who had much to say about the Room, and the Tables, and Philosophies, and Ideas. When the lights came on the next morning, neither of them had gotten any sleep, but they were better for it, knowing more about each other, and about life.
Together they started the day, facing again the same row of tables that had greeted them each day.
This day, Hydie's Violin Teacher greeted her, handed her music, and said cheerfully, "Practice this! Soon you will get to show me how much you have learned."
She walked down the rows of tables, picking carefully at each table that which she wanted to learn. One table she came to, the hawker, instead of shouting answers, sat and asked questions.
"Is this Knowledge valuable to you? How much are you willing to own it for? What will you do with it?" As the woman sat and asked questions, a tiny Gorilla stalked back and forth on the table, stopping occasionally to scratch its head and shrug its shoulders. This was, by far, the most intriguing table of the day.
"She speaks wisdom." JC breathed in Hydie's ear, so she went closer.
"If I learn what you have to offer, will it make me a better teacher?" she asked of the lady.
"Everything in this room that is offered to you could in some ways make you a better teacher." The woman crowed. "It all depends on what you do with the Knowledge that is given you."
Hydie nodded. It made enough sense.
As she reached for the Knowledge, the Idea from the previous day flitted across her field of vision and then was gone.
With a second's hesitation, she reached again for the Knowledge, and once she had paid the price, found that instead of merely telling her things and letting her absorb the Knowledge, it was full of questions, just as the woman had been.
Idea after Idea squeezed to the front of the line to shout a question at her, and yet, as each one questioned her, she found that for every question, with JC's help, she had a reasonable answer.
"Why is education important?"
"Because if people are not educated properly they are slaves."
"Should every child be given the opportunity to equal education?"
"Yes, but that doesn't mean we should force those who don't want it to take it."
"Is it possible to teach every single child equally?"
"No, each child learns differently."
"When teaching, what should be the foremost thing on your mind?"
"Each and every time, it should be the student, the learner, the one you are teaching."
"Is this possible?"
"Only with very great help, and not all the time."
"As a teacher, how will you teach?"
"I don't know yet. I haven't gotten there."
Finally she stuffed the Ideas and Knowledge into her Bag of Things and continued down the line. She would take them out later to look at and think about.
A Philosophy stumped past, glanced at her, and then quickly kept moving.
"JC," she asked quietly. "Why haven't any other Philosophies stopped me or tried to harm me?"
"Because I healed you, you are mine." JC explained. "If you had refused my help in healing you, then I would not have been able to place my button on you. But because you willingly let me heal you, you are now mine, and I am now yours. Philosophies can't disturb you if you're already claimed by another Philosophy."
"But Philosophies can only claim someone if they've healed them?" she asked, puzzled.
"Yes, but the person can always refuse if later they want another Philosophy." JC patted her shoulder under her hair.
"Thank you, JC." Sam, who had been listening to the conversation, murmured quietly.
As the Orchestral Spirit swept up to them, music straining, both of them moved towards the music, pulling their instruments out to join the multitude already there.
Half way through the music, Hydie's Violin Teacher stepped in, gesturing towards a door.
"This is the last half of your last day. As an Education Student, you must walk through this smallest room with another Teacher before you can exit the larger room. It should take the rest of the day. Before you go though, demonstrate for me all that you have learned on your instrument."
So Hydie played, demonstrating with fervor, the musicality and love she had developed for her instrument. As her bow drew the last sound from her violin, the music she had just played continued, dancing around, and then finally, like all the lessons and Knowledge she had be acquiring throughout her previous three days, it attached itself to her clothing, resulting in a splendid cloth of brilliant patterns and colors.
Then with her instrument secured to her back, she looked at this new door. It was a single door, standing alone in the middle of the room. It looked like someone had set up a door and frame by itself without attaching walls and a room to it. The door stood open, and the new Teacher stood waiting to take her hand to lead her through the room.
"I can't go with you. I still have a whole other day." Sam said when she looked over her shoulder at him. "You have JC with you though. He'll take care of you."
Hydie nodded with a grimace. A whole new room waited for her.
"See you on the outside." She said, before taking a breath, and grabbing the hand of the Teacher.
Together they plunged into the new room, the Teacher with all her previous experience, and Hydie with her clothes of many colors, her Bag of Things, full of Ideas, and JC.