Tommy Gillespie fought hard but couldn’t break away. He was tangled in the grasp of George Turnboat, a 6-foot meaty giant, who flashed a grin that could make grown men buckle to their knees and the Stitcherton High girls swoon. At first glance, Tommy appeared courageous, a superhero standing up to the evil villain for every other bullied fourth grader in his school, but that wasn’t the case at all. Rather, his stoic expression was the pizza rising back through his esophagus, and his puffy chest was simply severe Marfan Syndrome. In reality, Tommy was a flea against an elephant, a child against a yeti. He knew very well this wasn’t a battle he could win.
George forced Tommy against the freshly painted lockers, staining Tommy’s backpack and elbows bubbly crimson. “You scared, Mutant?” snapped George, spitting in the boy’s matted chestnut hair. As George released his grip, Tommy fell on his ass with a thud. “Stay away from my girl, or we’ll see if your insides are as red as Stitcherton red, pussy.
For the moment it took George to march out of the main hall, Tommy remained still and reserved. A stream of wet red paint streaked down his forearm and fell off his wrist. “This must be what it looks like if I slit my wrists,” he thought somberly. “Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea, after all.” He waited until the metal doors clashed shut, when he was alone with the welcoming silence, before he lost himself.
Tommy wiped the tears away, striping his cheeks crimson. Never in his life had he talked to George’s girl, Natalie. The only one he ever talked to was his brother, but not even his twin could help him in such a hopeless situation. When George Turnboat wanted to beat the living hell out of the school’s deformed weakling, nobody could stop him from doing just that.
A cellphone vibrated in one of the lockers behind Tommy’s head, reminding him to check his own. And sure enough: “Three missed calls,” Tommy blubbered. Each were from unknown callers. He sat still against the wet lockers for a few more minutes, just crying. With his cherry face, he resembled the Stitcherton Devil mascot suit — flaming red, stinky as fuck, and empty on the inside.
Tommy found his brother sitting atop the monkey bars at the playground, chewing on a wad of bubble gum. “Hey, David,” Tommy sniffed, rubbing the dark welt rising on his throat. “We can go home now.”
David hopped off the bars and landed in the soft grass, trampling the recently sprouted wildflowers. “George again?”
Chuckling, David added: “In the main hall? Y’know Mr. Harris is going to be pissed when he gets back tonight to see your pack print in the lockers.”
“Fuck him,” rasped Tommy. Following his brother to the sidewalk, heading towards home. “Did you know they’re calling me Mutant?” He rubbed his nubby sixth finger on his left hand, kicking gravel into the ditch as he walked.
David beamed. “Started that one myself. Figured it was better than Titty Tommy.”
A semi raced past the duo, stirring up dust and a crumpled page of Stitcherton Daily. When the soot settled down and the boys moved farther from the dirt road, Tommy patted the dirt from his hair and whispered, “He called again.”
David stopped. “Did you answer?”
“How many –”
“Three,” answered Tommy. “It’s not stopping like you thought it would.”
“Whatever. Let’s just get home before Mom grounds us for life.” David’s attempt at quickly changing the subject had no effect, as neither of the boys could escape the thought of what was to come should they continue to ignore the blocked calls.
“It’s going to come again,” warned Tommy.
“And when it does, we’ll be ready.” David swallowed his gum. “As long as we have a bathtub….”
Tommy hid his panic behind a quivering grin. “…We have a fighting chance.”
He fought hard but couldn’t break away. With one hand knotted in his dark, curly hair, my other submerged his head deeper and deeper. He threw and rotated his arms to the side desperately searching for a something, anything to latch onto. His revolving, clamped fists sketched imaginary ovals in the air as he struggled to breathe. His body turned and writhed, his stomach constricting and releasing, under my heavy palms.
I could hear him try to speak, his fragmented pleas floating to the surface as air pockets. But I remained emotionless, just like the other times.
Then, when it was time, I heaved him from the tub, his small figure meeting the bathroom floor in a loud slap. In between asphyxiated gasps, he coughed and spat at his feet. And after wiping his mouth on the front of his shirt sleeve, he looked at me with glistening eyes – his cheeks flushed and his lips curved in a mischievous smirk. “It’s your turn now,” he said.
I am the gentle grace of a monarch butterfly spiraling the base of a great oak. While coarse familiarity lays in my wake, my antennae point me to the sun, to greater heights and beautiful discovery. Others flock to my presence, awestruck by my stunning, glimmering aura, but saddened as they realize they could never match such splendor. Though, as I reach the pinnacle to the pool of sweet sap, my wings wilt and the mystic charm fades. I am reborn.
I am the fury of a bellowing dragon. Surges of darkness I endured from the deceiver turn to fangs of sizzling embers and fallen elegance. A scaly tail crashes upon them, ruining the imaginary perfection that plagues the youthful minds. They shoot me with their flimsy arrows and cast their immobilizing incantations, yet I still reign. With a roar shattering every unwitting patriot, incapacitating the threads of civil carnage, I land atop an incandescent tower. I am indomitable.
I am the dark of the moon, my enveloping shade sought only in moments of true corruption. As swindlers worship the neon demon they produced, I rest perched above them all. Unfortunate souls scale the entirety of the pearl castle to beg me for forgiveness, to release them from the riot they so callously began. They cry for cleansing tears to wash away filthy ultimatums and neglectful judgment. And I cast them away, for they do not deserve to drink of the everlasting pool. So I continue to rest in the confines of my great oak, sipping of golden sap and broken hearts. I am supreme.