Rumpus Original Fiction: Career Day


Take Your Parent to School Day. Future Day. Capitalism Day. Career Day.

Lucy’s dad had lots of names for the two-hour period in which all the available parents came to class to talk about their jobs to a bunch of nine-year-olds with their fingers up their noses before lunch. After the parents had explained the ins and outs of their job at the bank, the mall, the post office, the precinct—that’s when the important part would begin. That’s when Lucy and her classmates would get to spin The Wheel of Fate.

Technically it was a button you pressed and not a wheel you spun, but when you pressed the button, the wheel would spin and then the slim rectangular screen below it would light up and your future career would flash, like: VETERINARIAN. FULL-TIME PARENT. GRAPHIC DESIGNER. LAWYER. MARRY RICH.

No one knew where The Wheel of Fate came from, just that it worked.

Lucy’s much older sister Aria—a professional poker player in Vegas, just as The Wheel had predicted—told Lucy about the boy in her class years ago whose result was INCONCLUSIVE. He stayed local for college, graduated with a philosophy degree, and drowned in the lake when his boat flooded at age twenty-four. He’d never learned to swim.

“He certainly wasn’t going to be an Olympic diver,” Aria said, clicking her teeth on the phone. “Wouldn’t even walk the mile in gym—forged a doctor’s note,” she snorted. “Put Dad on. I want to make sure he’s not going to embarrass you.”

Lucy wanted to work at the aquarium, like her mom, cataloging fish and supervising private feedings. She liked how cool it was inside, sitting on a bench watching sharks do lazy loops in the dark, their teeth tucked safely in their mouths. Sometimes she wanted to touch their fins, stick her hand in the water and feel a creature touch back. Her mom mostly did paperwork, but she got to learn about new additions, new species entering their inventory, before anyone else.

Mostly, Lucy liked the dark. It was the bright lights at school and the sunny playground she hated. She liked sleepovers with her friends and camping in the backyard, telling scary stories into a flashlight and twigs snapping beneath her bare feet.

“What was that?” she’d ask her friend Maria S.

Maria S., her favorite of the Marias in her class, liked scary stories too. She’d open her mouth, lower her jaw, and make a creaking sound with her throat. Then they’d belly laugh and howl in Lucy’s tent outside until it was late, until Lucy’s mom would call out the second-story window, “Girls, it’s enough!” And Lucy’s dad would grumble, “It’s too much, you ask me.” 


Lucy’s teacher Ms. Hatcher placed The Wheel of Fate on her desk. It was big and bulky but not heavy. It had small scratches at the edges from years of wear. Ms. Hatcher was in her early forties and wore large gold hoops and dresses with full skirts. Today she wore a special dress. She called it her Future Dress, and it was lined like notebook paper. Each line had the words Carpe Diem in cursive, as if handwritten. One long sentence repeated: CarpeDiemCarpeDiemCarpe.

Maria S. passed a note to Lucy. They sat one seat apart. It said: What does her dress mean? Lucy stage-whispered, “I think it’s a kind of fish?” Lucy had worn her lucky bracelet, which was hemp and had a shark tooth—a gift from Aria. A wild thing for a wild thing, the paper gift note had read.

“Class,” Ms. Hatcher said dramatically, “welcome to Career Day. This is my favorite day all year: when your future reveals itself to you.” The kids let out a collective gasp. “I know,” Ms. Hatcher beamed. “Your parents will be here soon, and in the meantime, I’d love to know what careers you have in mind for your future. Anyone?”

Maria B. shot her hand up from the back of the class. “ACCOUNTANT!” she shouted.

“Please wait to be called on,” Ms. Hatcher said. “But nice, thank you, Maria B.”

The shorter of the two Kyles raised his hand. He was barely visible behind the taller Kyle, but Ms. Hatcher saw his fingertips and said, “Yes, Kyle L.?” He wanted to be a basketball player. A few kids laughed, but Ms. Hatcher said, “You never know! Only The Wheel knows.”

After a few others stated their dream careers, Ms. Hatcher told the story of the very first Career Day that included The Wheel of Fate. It was hers. “I sat right here in this room, like you,” she told them, perched on her desk, facing the class. “When it said TEACHER, I knew. This is what I was meant to do. I hope for a similarly exciting fate for all of you.”

“Ms. Hatcher,” the taller Kyle said, about to ask the same question every kid wondered at some point for all the years fated by The Wheel. “What if I don’t like what I get?”

Ms. Hatcher smiled. She closed her eyes, nodded, sage. “My teacher told me: You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Lucy’s eyes widened. Ms. Hatcher went on: “I didn’t know if that was an instruction or a threat.” She chuckled. Lucy thought it might be both.

She thought about INCONCLUSIVE. And then the parents arrived at the open door.


Lucy’s mom was busy taking notes on a new school of fish, so only Lucy’s dad came. He told the kids how fulfilling it was to own a hardware store. He said, “I don’t know how much I believe in all this Wheel business, but I know I love what I do and any of you can, too.” It was inspiring, even though Lucy found it embarrassing. Maria S. whispered, “Cool,” with genuine excitement when he mentioned he could get hammers at cost. “Remember,” he said to the class, winking at Lucy, who cringed, “you can be anything.”

The taller Kyle burped. “Almost anything,” Lucy’s dad said. Most of the kids laughed, even Lucy.

Ms. Hatcher thanked him for sharing and Lucy’s dad sat on the windowsill with the other parents. Maria S.’s mom talked about being an optometrist and handed out mini eye exams for the kids to take home. Isabel, who sat in the front row, nodded along as one of the parents talked about being a beekeeper. Maria S. was allergic to bees. The idea of keeping bees on purpose was enough to give her hives.

When it was time for The Wheel of Fate to do what it did best, Lucy felt faint. She counted her fingers and toes in her head, thinking about the aquarium and whether her mom had visited the stingrays yet today. She loved to watch them skate by, flat and perfectly gray. She yelled at anyone who tapped on the glass. “There’s a sign,” she’d say, like her mom told her. She wanted even the most captive creatures to be respected and cared for, to feel at home.

The taller Kyle went first. His sneakers squeaked to the front of the class, where Ms. Hatcher waited beside The Wheel, like a magician’s assistant.

“So I just . . . press it?” he asked, looking down at the floor. Ms. Hatcher nodded. He hovered his thumb over the black button, looking back at the parents. His mom wasn’t there. She couldn’t get the time off from her job at the supermarket. He wanted to be a painter, but couldn’t say it earlier to the whole class. He only told his mom, who said maybe The Wheel would give him something that came with health insurance.

He pressed the button and squeezed his eyes shut. He stood in front of it, blocking the screen from view. “Move over!” Isabel shouted, and the taller Kyle said, “Shut up.” He sounded like he might cry. But he took a step to the right, so the screen was visible to everyone when it lit up with the words ANIMATION. He blinked.

“What is that? That’s not a job,” Maria B. said.

“Yeah, it means like, movies, right, Ms. Hatcher?” Maria S. asked.

The taller Kyle was relieved. Whatever it meant. It didn’t say DOCTOR or FAILURE, but he worried about what to tell his mom. He could lie, but he would one day inevitably become ANIMATION, and so what was the point?

“I believe so,” Ms. Hatcher said. “I think that’s terrific. Kyle R., you can sit down. Congratulations on a great spin!” Push, Lucy thought. Press.

From there, more kids became VIOLINIST, POLITICIAN, PHARMACIST, ACTOR, and THERAPIST—the last one given to Kevin, a boy who could write very well but never spoke in class. He had a note from a doctor that said he didn’t have to do any public speaking, just written assignments.

There was no dreaded INCONCLUSIVE. When Lucy’s turn came, her dad announced, “You can do it, Luce,” and she actually wished he could hold her hand as she pressed the button. As if The Wheel of Fate would look kindly on a kid with parental authority attached. But she didn’t ask him to. She looked back at him, both of their expressions soft, like they were in a hospital waiting room instead of school.

Ms. Hatcher nodded at Lucy, it was her turn, she could do this. Lucy read the cursive lines on Ms. Hatcher’s dress and thought about the fish her mom supervised and studied, the glass that always kept them apart. Away from her, maybe even safe from her.

She pressed the button and, instead of closing her eyes, she looked back at her dad. But he was looking at the screen, suddenly afraid of it. Even as he claimed not to believe in its power as some kind of oracle. It was just a thing from nowhere, really, and what did it know about Lucy? About any of them?

And then. WEREWOLF.

Ms. Hatcher narrowed her eyes. She shook her head, hard, looking around the back of the desk, like The Wheel must need a reboot. But it had no cord, nothing to look back at. A couple of the parents gasped.

“Is this some kind of a goddamn JOKE?” Lucy’s dad barked. No one responded. None of the kids laughed. It was only funny if it was a joke and The Wheel didn’t joke. Did it?

Maria S. yelled, “IT’S OKAY, LUCY! I’M GOING TO BE A DOCTOR! I CAN FIX THIS!” Or maybe Lucy only thought Maria S. was yelling because Lucy felt dizzy, because her head was heavy and she felt the ground spinning toward her. Did she need fixing?


It was like a movie, the kind Kyle R. would one day animate. Lucy opened her eyes to the crowd standing over her, her dad’s hand waving above her face. He was saying her name over and over.

That’s how Career Day ended: WEREWOLF, then fainting, then the silent car ride to the diner, where her dad ordered curly fries for them to share and told her, “It’s just a stupid wheel, Luce. It doesn’t mean anything. How could it know who you are?” She thought it wasn’t so bad, considering she could’ve been INCONCLUSIVE. A werewolf instead of doomed.

She sipped a peanut butter chocolate milkshake. Career Day wasn’t supposed to go like this. There was no one for her to shadow, no adult to show her how to be a werewolf. She would have to teach herself and hope for the best.


During dinner, Lucy’s mom cried. She couldn’t help it. She also wanted Lucy to work at the aquarium with her, though she’d never said it out loud. She didn’t want to force her into anything. But now that WEREWOLF was in their house, she let herself cry. Even as she did, she told Lucy, “It’ll be fine, don’t worry, you can’t possibly be a werewolf.”

Lucy was confused though, the more she thought about it. “But didn’t you say I could be anything?” She looked at her dad.

“I mean, within reason. Come on, Lucy.” He was getting agitated. A werewolf? She honestly thought she could be a werewolf?

Lucy went to her room and shut the door. That’s when she called Aria, who said, “I’m not worried about you. But I don’t know what you…do now. You know?” But Lucy was far away, thinking about the books and movies that could help her figure out whatever it is that werewolves do all day. Or all night.

She called Maria S.’s house, and her mom answered and said, “I’m so sorry, Lucy, I heard about” But Lucy cut her off, said, “Yeah, thanks, is Maria around?” She asked Maria S. if she wanted to come over on Friday night and camp in the backyard. She said maybe she could practice. Maria S. didn’t even ask what she meant. She knew. They were best friends.


The rest of the week passed slowly. Lucy managed to find a book on the macabre in the school library, but it was badly illustrated and old, so old. It was hard to figure out if it was meant to scare her or educate her. It read like a fable. She asked the librarian if she had any books like this in the nonfiction section. The librarian said, “That’s only for things that are true.” Lucy didn’t understand the distinction. She just wanted to know what werewolves ate, how long they slept, whether they were allowed to watch R-rated movies.

Behind the librarian there was an inspirational poster that said: BE YOURSELF. EVERYONE ELSE IS TAKEN. Lucy took it to mean she should be whatever kind of werewolf she could be, not whatever kind of werewolf was hidden inside a book she couldn’t find.

On Friday night, her parents thought Lucy was moving past whatever she’d been going through since The Wheel of Fate. They ordered pizza, Maria S. came over, they all watched a movie about a family that goes on a road trip where everything goes wrong.

The whole time, Lucy was thinking about her tent in the backyard, the flashlight that had different discs that could shape the light into ghosts, pumpkins, skeletons, bats. Maria S. brought a dog whistle from her brother’s closet and a box of unopened Oreos. They were ready to practice Lucy’s new career. WEREWOLF flashed in both of their minds.

With her parents upstairs in their room, Lucy turned to Maria S. in her tent, held a flashlight under her face, and whisper-growled, “Are you ready?” Maria S. laughed, but then she said, “What are you going to do though?” Lucy turned her palms up, like, No clue.

And then she started howling. From deep in her stomach, a low sound emerged long and full, like it had been there all along. Awakened. Maria S. stared at her, unsure whether she should start howling, too. She didn’t. She watched her friend open her mouth wide, crouch down on all fours, and make sounds like a wild dog.

Lucy’s dad rushed to the window, afraid that what he thought he was hearing was indeed what he was hearing. “You can’t make any money as a werewolf!” he shouted down from the window, almost begging.

Maria S. called back, gently, “It’s okay, Mr. Peters, I’ll give Lucy some money when we grow up!”

He smacked his head with his palm. “Just SHUT UP, would you, girls?” He slammed the window shut. Lucy quit howling and laid down on the floor of the tent, curled like a woodland creature.

“How was I?” she asked Maria S.

And Maria S. said, “Really good, I think?”

Lucy tried to tear open the box of Oreos with her teeth, but it hurt her mouth. Maria S. opened it for them, but Lucy pawed at the silver paper inside until it tore and three cookies fell out. She leaned down and scooped one up with her mouth, chewing loudly, messily. Maria S. laughed. She held one in her hand and ate like a human.

“Do you want to be a doctor?” Lucy asked.

Maria S. shrugged. “I don’t really care. I like the idea of a white jacket. I wouldn’t have to think about my clothes as much, I guess.” She thought for a moment. “Plus, I feel like I’ll get to see a lot of blood.” They nodded at each other. Blood was kind of cool.

“Do you want to be a werewolf?” Maria S. asked Lucy.

Lucy took a breath and let out three short growls, a staccato howl. Some questions didn’t need an answer. They needed to be felt in the body and released. Maria S. blew the dog whistle, but Lucy couldn’t hear it. Maybe one day she would.


Over the next week, all Lucy could talk about was being a werewolf. It was driving Maria S. nuts. She wanted to support her friend, especially because like Lucy’s dad said, there was no money in being a werewolf. Lucy needed her doctor friend to help her in the future, probably.

But Maria S. needed her friend now, too. And what if Lucy couldn’t really become a werewolf? She’d be disappointed.

Maria S. was suspicious—of The Wheel of Fate itself. Like Lucy’s dad, Maria S. thought, logically, that The Wheel couldn’t possibly know everything. Did she even have to become a doctor? Or was fate dictating itself, turning its own unseen wheel, moving class after class of kids forward?

If Lucy hadn’t been distracted by her own predetermined future, she might have wondered if INCONCLUSIVE could’ve had a different destiny.

Maria S. decided to steal The Wheel.

A week after Lucy’s first werewolf practice night, Maria S. stayed after school to ask Ms. Hatcher some questions about the math homework. Ms. Hatcher thought this strange, because Maria S. had been pretty good at the current lesson. Some of the questions were even a little stupid, though she’d never tell a kid that. Maria S. asked her so many questions that eventually Ms. Hatcher needed to use the bathroom. When she left the room, Maria S. took The Wheel of Fate from the big bottom drawer of Ms. Hatcher’s desk and shoved it into her backpack. It barely fit, but it fit.

“Thanks for answering my questions,” Maria S. said, a bit too quickly. “Career Day really got me. I’ve been distracted.”

Ms. Hatcher said she understood. It was a lot to take in, especially at such a young age. She gestured around the empty classroom and said, “I didn’t know I wanted this until The Wheel told me who I was supposed to be.” Something about that didn’t sit right with Maria S. DOCTOR seemed as good a fate as any, and much better than INCONCLUSIVE. But she knew without a doubt that TEACHER wasn’t for her. For one thing, she hated writing on the chalkboard. The dust made her cough. How many kids were heading toward careers they might not want if given a choice?


Tell her I’m not home, Maria S. mouthed to her mom. Lucy was on the phone, wanting to come over and practice getting around on all fours, more howling. Maria S.’s mom did as her daughter asked, disappearing back into the kitchen with the phone.

Maria S. sat on the floor of her bedroom, cross-legged on the blue rug she’d spilled root beer on the summer before. She set The Wheel of Fate down and pulled herself back, away from it. Staring into its blank screen, she wasn’t sure what to do with it now that it was here, hers to break or interrogate. Would just pressing the button be enough? What if it just said DOCTOR again? What if it got angry and gave her something worse?

She thought of Ms. Hatcher in the empty classroom, living a life she hadn’t chosen. It didn’t make her life bad. It didn’t make her life anything other than what it was, which in her case was TEACHER. That’s what TEACHER looked like on Ms. Hatcher. What would DOCTOR look like on Ms. Hatcher? What about WEREWOLF?

Maria S. bent forward again, held her open palm against the button, her other hand covering it. Like she was preparing for an explosion. She pressed it. The wheel spun.


Maria S. gasped. She took The Wheel in both hands and shook it, shouting, “I’M. ALLERGIC. TO. BEES.” But The Wheel didn’t care.

She pressed the button again. LAWYER.

Again, faster. ACTOR.


“This thing is RIGGED,” she hissed. She shoved The Wheel away and smacked her clammy hands against her thighs, enraged. But her anger quickly turned to confusion. Then, an idea. “This thing is rigged,” she repeated quietly. Or, what if, what if—



In Lucy’s unfinished basement, the same room where they once superglued their hands together during a sleepover, Maria S. put The Wheel of Fate at her friend’s feet.

“I’m telling you, it’s not fate, it’s a lie—” Maria S. said, her voice breaking. “It’s a toy.” She pressed the button repeatedly, the screen lighting up with several possible futures, though WEREWOLF never reappeared.

After a long moment, Lucy opened her mouth, but closed it without a word.

Maria S. stared at her, waiting. She drummed her fingers on the concrete floor. “Well?

Lucy looked away.

They told her she could be whatever she wanted.

She thought she wanted to work with her mom. That future made sense. It was possible, logical. Predictable. She could study the fish and record every movement the stingrays made.

But after Career Day, she realized she would never know what it was to be the creatures at the aquarium, locked inside their finite universes. Tap, tap, tap. Whole ecosystems contained by humans. Controlled by them.

She pressed down on her palms, lifting her seat off the ground. Hunched over, she opened her eyes and started to growl. Spit pooled in her mouth.

She looked at her friend, but didn’t see her.

“You don’t have to do that—that’s what I’m saying,” Maria S. said, startled. Lucy dropped back into her seat and pounded her palms on the floor. “Are you listening to me?” Maria S. croaked, hot tears forming. She picked up The Wheel and slammed it down. The screen cracked, splintering like a spiderweb.

It was too late for Lucy to be whatever she wanted. All she could do was be herself.

Lucy bared her teeth and lunged.



Rumpus original art by Elly Lonon

Jiordan Castle is the author of Disappearing Act, a true story (2023), and the poetry chapbook All His Breakable Things. Her work has appeared in HuffPost, the New Yorker, and elsewhere. She is a contributor to the food and culture magazine Compound Butter. More from this author →