“Sam! Wake up! Jesus Sam you were supposed to be gone 20 minutes ago! You’re late! SAM! Get out of bed! NOW!”
Sam pretended to be asleep as his mother continued to shout, hovered over his singular body.
“I don’t wanna…” He finally nagged. Sam hated school, he hated everything about it. The kids picked on him, he was never on a teacher’s pet list, and he wasn’t interested in anything they had to teach him.
“Get out of bed NOW.” She took his blanket and tossed it off him. Like most mornings, Sam looked down at his body first, silently hoping he’d wake up somebody else—at least not a Fish. His days typically started with a grimace and heavy sigh and usually got worse from there.
After Sam’s sigh, Patricia looked at him with angry confusion, “Sam you’re 11 years old. What could you possibly have going on that’s so difficult?”
Sam was silent. Not because he didn’t have an answer, but because he was shocked by his mother’s question.
Among the swirling thoughts of bullies, punches, kicks, insults, slurs, and loneliness, the only word Sam could think was “Really?”
Sam slumped out of bed and into clothes from his dresser. He moved his body downstairs and to the kitchen table where he poured himself a little cereal, a lot of milk, and temporarily drowned his sorrows and Frosted Wheat Clusters before getting onto the bus.
“Try to have a nice day, Sam. I want to see more smiles from you, mister!” Patricia tried changing his mood before he hit the front door, but he was down and out after 15 minutes of waking life.
“Ay fishy fishy fishy!” Jakub said from somewhere near the back. Sam looked down when he got on, always did.
“Faggot!” Another voice yelled, probably Mike.
The bus driver, who insisted on being called Miles instead of Mr. Williamson, nodded to Sam before pulling a lever, closing the doors, and sealing him in with the pack of wild animals.
Like John, Sam was silent until called on by the teacher, at which point he’d give 1 or 2 word answers and go back to forced solitude. Even his answers could sometimes become cannon fodder for stooges like Mike or Jakub. Sam rationalized that he’d rather look dumb than get his ass kicked for knowing something.
Sam was always the last out of his classroom—a strategy employed to keep people from tripping him, whispering curses at him, or yelling them from their place in line. Mrs. Alderoon understood and let Sam stay behind until she wrangled the rest of the class into the gymnasium. Some days, Sam would find somebody waiting for him as soon as he slumped between the doorframes, shoving him hard into a wall or to the floor. John’s hand would usually find its way towards Sam to help him up.
Sam was thankful to find a friend in John but was jealous of his popularity. True, John was bullied pretty harshly, but really anything was better than Sam’s standing in class—dead last. Sam sometimes thought of what it’d be like to be John. John, who at least talked to Gladys, had somebody to talk to when Sam wasn’t around. Sam had nobody. He tried but found that something about him—everything about him, was not “cool”. Tried changing a bit, but changing’s hard for an 11 year old who hasn’t quite figured himself out yet.
Most days, Sam and John walked home together and tried not to mention the crap they endured throughout their days. John knew not to complain, aware that Sam had it a little rougher than he did. Sam didn’t either, wanting instead to pretend it didn’t exist until the alarm sounded at 8:20 AM. Most days they just played videogames and talked about South Park.
After their lost fight with Mike and his dickhead gang, after the tanker stopped to ask if the boys needed help, and right before being drenched in metallic gel that would fuse the two together, Sam thought “Thank you” before closing his eyes and waiting to open them again somewhere far away, hopefully high in the clouds.
I don’t know John. We had to leave though. No more bullies. No more pain.
“Goddamn it, Sam! Talk to me out loud!”
You can’t hear me?
“That’s not the fucking point! It’s…it’s weird.”
Then I guess it’s just like me.
Sam remained silent. As they shuffled along the shadows of Franklin Park, John still couldn’t figure out what, exactly, he was in control of.
Whatever was happening, John didn’t like it. Whatever Sam had in mind, John wanted nothing to do with it. He just wanted his mind back—alone. With that, John stopped his legs, for the first time taking charge of their body.
What are you doing, John? We have to keep moving.
You want to be a fucking experiment?
What DO you want?
Myself back. Alone, Sam.
At that moment, John suddenly thought of Sam’s days at school with vivid recollection. He could hear every shitty thing, much worse than he got throughout his day. He saw the shoves, the cuts, the blood. He saw Sam crying in his bathroom or under his sheets. He never thought it was that bad.
I am NOT going back there. Do you understand?
John knew Sam gave him that memory. He knew he wanted him to see what he dealt with, but John thought the plan was to escape being lab rats; the memory didn’t make sense to him.
Going back where?
Sam didn’t respond. He looked forward until John lost control of his legs and continued forward through Sam. He’d never been more scared in his life.