“The Amulet” a short story

“The Amulet” by Sean Boyd

He was the smartest man to have ever lived in Herkimer County.  Though he could have moved away and become one of the famous, great thinkers he returned to his small town after graduating college.  He had an impressive library with shelves filled to overflowing with technical books in physics, math, engineering, chemistry and biology.  He had read them all.  His memory was photographic, and he had all the knowledge that entered his library in his head.  

His name was Mordecai and he had moved to the small upstate town as a child when his parents and he immigrated to the United States.  The desert village where he was born was not a place for Mordecai’s already obvious intellect, so his parents seized the first opportunity to emigrate.  By the age of seven he was already showing the signs of genius and his head was filled with knowledge.  His parents didn’t know where the knowledge came from, but were amazed when he filled page after page with complex formulas and their solutions.  When other kids were finger painting and learning the most basic of motor skills, he was manipulating symbols and figures that were far beyond the knowledge of even the smartest in his community.  His childhood peers would draw simplistic representations of houses and trees, while he would fill a page with mathematical equations.  When asked what it was he would explain that it was a bridge or a skyscraper.

After moving to the States his father worked as a traveling salesman and whenever he visited a large city he would go to used bookstores and buy all the textbooks he could carry to bring home to his son.  Thus while Mordecai finished grammar school he acquired more knowledge than most do in a lifetime.  He never showed off or used his brilliance to impress.  In fact, as soon as he recognized that he was gifted, he endeavored to hide his abilities.  He would purposefully do unremarkable schoolwork, and otherwise obscure his talent.

At college, he received a degree as an educator of math and returned home and got a job at the local elementary school.  He was a very effective teacher.  A few of his students went on to win awards and scholarships to the best universities.  He cared, and could see where his students were having difficulty so was able to guide their learning in a deft manner.  The other teachers recognized his skill and said that he had the touch.

He never told anyone about the amulet.  Before he was five years old he hadn’t shown the same degree of intellect that he began to exhibit soon after finding it.  He attributed his mental faculties to the amulet.  While playing in the garden behind the family home in his native country he had uncovered it.  A shiny trinket of no apparent value, it attracted his attention while digging in the dirt.  Having few possessions, he contentedly put it on an old shoestring and hung it around his neck.  As soon as he did he began to feel different.  Somehow he felt enriched.  Within two years he was exhibiting genius abilities and his parents moved to America to give him the opportunities they thought he deserved.

He used his knowledge in a wholly benevolent manner.  Content with a simple life, he didn’t look to receive praise or recognition for his abilities.  He would help his local community by coming up with solutions to problems, but would always give the credit to the county engineers.  He would also contribute to the work of researchers by sending anonymous letters with solutions to their complex problems.  Most researchers shamelessly claimed responsibility for the work, but some admitted the help they had received and included invitations to their anonymous helper in their published papers.

But he wasn’t interested in recognition.  He loved knowledge for its own sake.  It made him feel satisfied to be able to contribute to the great flow of knowledge, but was happy to be an unknown teacher in a small town.

* * *

Scott was ten years old, and what most people politely referred to as learning disabled.  He was a slow learner and his teachers would have been happy if he graduated the eighth grade by the time he was twenty.  Luckily he went to a small school where the staff could focus special attention on slow learners.  One of his teachers suggested to his parents that they should enroll him in a ‘special school’ but his parents knew that to send him to such a school would leave Scott in the ranks of the uneducable and resisted the idea.  His other teachers didn’t mind spending a little extra time with him and knew that Scott would be happiest to stay at his hometown school.

He was two years behind when he made it to the sixth grade.  There were some jokes, but most of his fellow students were supportive and did their best to make Scott feel comfortable.  Sixth through eighth grades were taught in a separate building from the lower grades, and students moved from one classroom to another throughout the day instead of receiving all their lessons in one room from one teacher.  The math and science room had always attracted Scott.  Not that he understood what the charts on the wall or the equipment on the shelves were for, but they were attractive to a boy’s mind — even one with learning disabilities.

The math and science teacher was well loved by all the students and shared his enthusiasm for his subjects with all the children.  He obviously enjoyed his job and greeted his students each day with a hearty, heartfelt smile.  His air was casual, and he always made it seem that math and science were things they were discovering together, not something he was teaching them.  He also had a unique request that his students address him by his first name, Mordecai.

Scott stumbled through the sixth grade and barely passed due to the charity of his teachers.  He was far behind in terms of state-wide aptitude tests and had been held back twice, but was dedicated and had achieved a lot, albeit it at his own pace.  His teachers were supportive and aimed to let him graduate elementary school without holding him back again.  He would have difficulty when he reached high school but there was not much more they could do for him, and making him repeat anymore grades would leave him significantly older than his classmates.  In particular Mordecai spent a lot of time with him.  Scott was focused and extremely interested, but he had trouble understanding the concepts.  He could manipulate the figures and ideas once they were laid out for him, but could never understand which rules to apply.

Mordecai was frustrated with his ability to help Scott.  Though he was the slowest student in his classes, he was the most interested.  Other kids were concerned with social issues and playing games, but Scott would often stay after school to work on his studies.  Mordecai wanted to help.  One day in an act of tremendous charity Mordecai offered Scott the amulet.   Scott felt uncomfortable accepting the gift but with his teacher’s insistence he put it around his neck and took possession of its power.  The effect wasn’t instantaneous.  His fellow students and Mordecai himself saw Scott continue to apply himself with the same enthusiasm he had always shown and didn’t notice an abrupt change.  The first change that Mordecai noticed was his own abilities started to deteriorate.  He wasn’t concerned because at the rate of decay he would live out his days still a very smart man.  Also his calling to teach elementary school didn’t require his vast faculties.  

When four years had passed and Scott would have finished his sophomore year of high school curiosity drove him to call on Scott’s home.  He knocked on the door and was ushered in by Scott’s mother.  She thanked Mordecai profusely for the patience he had shown as Scott’s teacher.  As a mother will, she had always believed that her son was smarter than he appeared and had prayed for his intellectual blossoming.  Mordecai asked how Scott was doing in high school and his mother got a proud smile and asked, “You haven’t heard?”  Mordecai hadn’t heard anything about Scott since he had graduated the eighth grade, with honors.  “He has been given a full scholarship and early admittance to Stanford University’s Physics Department.  He has already headed out west and is very excited.”

Mordecai had a whimsical smile as he left Scott’s home.  He had done it.  The job of a teacher is to share the love of learning, and to offer his knowledge to his students.  With the gift of the amulet he had made the most dramatic difference in a student’s life any teacher could ever hope to make.