“John! Wake up! It’s 8:30! Schools in 15 minutes! Out of bed, let’s go!”
John ambled out of bed, rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and stumbled into the same pair of pants he wore yesterday. He stretched for a balled-up shirt lodged between the corner of his bed and the wall, next to a folded shirt his mom laid out 25 minutes earlier.
“This is how you decide to go to school? Really? Jesus, John. You’re late. I have to get to work, you need a ride?”
“Na, mom. I’m fine.” John raced to the front door.
“Have a good day! Love you! I left $10.00 on the counter in case you want to see a movie or something.”
“Ok, mom. Bye.”
He was already halfway down the walkway.
John’s social life was…non-existent. The Hamilton John’s mom left would still be on the counter when Doris got home, as it was every time she left “go-out” money for John. He tried talking to some guys in class on a few occasions, but they’d always make some dumb joke about his last name.
“Can’t hear you, Chicken, you keep saying ‘bwak bwak bwak bwak’!”
“Yeah Chicken, go away, I don’t have any feed.”
Or the one in particular that bothered John,
“Haha…yeah! And…go…go…fly away, Chicken!”
Everybody laughed at it, but it was so stupid. It didn’t even make sense—chicken’s don’t fly. It wasn’t funny, it was dumb! How were those guys friends with stupid asshole Frankie before me? Why did they laugh?
It went like this all day: the kids making jokes, small pokes and hard stabs alike, and John just dealt with the shit as it came. His clothes made teachers concerned and gave his classmates something else to rag on him about. John wore the same thing most days out of apathy, but it turned into more ammo for bullies.
“Chicken dresses like a pig!”
His only reprieve came during gym, when some of the classes blended together for larger social interactions between kids. The only boy close to a friend, Sam Fish, met John at gym every day and together they endured. Sam, like John, caught his share of bullying and jokes, both because of his awkwardness and his last name. During gym John had an ally in Sam, no matter how frail Sam looked. When one saw the other take a verbal firestorm, they’d stand closer together to know they’d have backup if it came to needing it. Sometimes, it did.
“Last pick. Chicken or Fish. Do I have to? I’d rather starve! …I pick the Chicken—but don’t lay an egg, weirdo!”
John liked not being last for once. Sam Fish lit up like a playful puppy when dodge ball picks came down to the final few. He loved to play, dude just wanted to fetch, but was always picked last. And when the whistle blew to start, Sam played his heart out until the bell rang to go back to class, sometimes with a sweat-soaked shirt—it made afternoons for Sam unbearable.
John’s strategy was stealth; knocked four out of play with precise throws, and most laughed every time. He didn’t have a strong throwing arm, but John liked to think he was accurate. His body jerked, sometimes his glasses came flying off, but the ball made it out of his hands and nailed his target most times. He was no Justin Jomunga though—that kid was the reason girls and boys couldn’t play together anymore.
“He broke Laura’s arm and she had to wear a cast because he threw it so hard at her. I saw it, it was during my gym!” John burst to his mother, who immediately called the school to find out why there wasn’t enough supervision during gym. The 2nd grievance received since school ended for the day.
When the bell rang and gym ended, John and Sam would perform their secret handshake and face the jokes alone for the rest of the day. They’d meet up after school and hang out, only talking about the B.S. on bad days when it just wouldn’t stop.
“I wish I coulda punched that asshole Frankie in his ugly fuckin’ face today. I hate that asshole.” John would say, or Sam…sometimes about Frankie, other times about other boys.
“He’s a dickhead. Cherie told Marcus that she heard he’s got a small dick.” Sam didn’t hear anything about Frankie’s junk, but thought it might cool John down a bit.
“I’d still punch him in his small-dicked, ugly fuckin’ face.” John’s anger couldn’t be subsided by Frankie’s shortcomings.
“Take it out on Brawl.” Sam’s plan B were videogames, and it usually seemed to do the trick.
“I’m gonna kick your ass.” John said after a moment, a devilish grin as he looked up from his angry thoughts.
“You ain’t got shit.” Sam replied, sure of himself.
They almost made it to John’s house without incident.
“Awww, the little fags found each other after school. Chicken and Fish. Dinner’s served!” James and his crew, Frankie included, surrounded John and Sam in a semi-circle, ready to pummel.
“Fuck you, James.” John rarely voiced his aggression, it was typically saved for videogame therapy, but this dude was a real big piece.
“What did you say to me? Chicken finally growin’ a set? Becoming a rooster?” He shoved John, holding his shirt with one hand and taking a lighter out of his pocket with the other, sparking it in front of John’s face, “maybe it’s time we cook this chicken?”
Sam shoved James off of John.
James shoved back, his gang closing in on the two.
Punches flew from all directions.
John and Sam were outnumbered.
And by the end of it, both were on the ground, close to each other, writhing in pain.
“I can’t take this shit anymore, dude.” Sam staggered to John.
“We don’t, Sam. We fight back.”
“Well fuck that. We lost.”
“Yeah, but we’ll hafta win one of ’em.” John’s own optimism was fading, but he struggled to hold on to any light he could.
Just then, a large tanker stopped in front of the boys, and the driver rolled down her window.
“Oh my god! Are you boys alright? Who did this to you?!”
She barely got her question out when a texting teen blew through a red light and nailed the tanker right in the belly, spilling its liquid cargo all over the road, sidewalk, and the two boys.
For John and Sam, everything immediately went black.
“…GOD, PLEASE SOMEBODY HELP. THESE BOYS ARE STU…”
Still unconscious, John heard a familiar voice.
Who said that? John responded to himself.
Who said THAT? A voice responded in his head, to John.
It would take a full day before the boys finally came to at the same time. A full day spent without bullying. A full day of confusing back and forth thoughts. A full day before they would be forced to face a whole new world of bullying…
TO BE CONTINUED