“You fucking asshole! I told you not to ask! I told you I’d fucking kill you!” Joel screamed at me with spit flying from his mouth. He flew towards me in a blind rage, his fists clenched and ready to explode the second he got close enough.
I didn’t think in that moment, I reacted. Grabbing hold of Peter Chapman, who was walking beside me, by his scruff of the neck and the belt of his pants. I launched him head first at the oncoming storm known as Joel Knight.
The rest of my life would be spent trying to figure out three things about this fight. Where did the idea to throw Peter come from? How did I find the strength to throw him? Peter stood five two versus my five eleven at the time, but weighed the same. And why did my brain decide to throw he solved the problem at hand? Instead of running away or using Peter in a human shield role. No answers I could dream up ever provided a satisfactory answer.
My missile of destruction, otherwise known as Peter, flew through the air and struck with deadly accuracy. The crown of Peter’s head hitting Joel’s face with his nose at the centre of the collision.
A horrible cracking sound filled the air as cartilage in Joel’s nose shattered and blood and snot expelled under great pressure. A cut opened on his forehead and his lower lip split. Each wound contributing the bloodbath all in proximity to the collision was exposed to.
Peter’s short blond hair was now crimson red with black lumps of snot mixed in. His face covered in blood splatters compounded with streaks of blood running down from his hair would only look good in a horror movie.
Joel’s own hair did fair much better, but the black colour helped hide the fact. His face was much worse. Blood streamed from his nose, lip and the cut on his forehead covering his entire face.
Two girls had been standing a few feet to the left of them when the impact occurred got doused in a fine mist of blood particles, most of it below the waist.
The physics equation came out in favour of Peter and Joel’s upper body started backward while his feet continued to run forward. The second impact was Peter’s chest on Joel’s chest and face, pushing him backwards and downwards.
Joel’s body got familiar with the hard grassy surface in front of the school. First his head bounced off it, then his body landed with a thump. Followed up with Peter landing on top of him. Knees crashing first into Joel’s stomach, extracting a loud grunt from Joel, the air forced from his lungs.
Joel’s head shot upward from the brute force of the impact and Peter bounced forward. His crotch riding through Joel’s head, slapping it down again and causing another spray of blood. Peter’s own face mowed through the grass while he struggled to get his hands free from his trouser pockets. Hoping to arrest his forward motion.
The final resting place of the two of them had Joel flat on his back with his arms stretched out to his sides trembling. Peter legs where astride of Joel, pinning him down, with his crotch covering his face. Peter’s remained planted in the ground with one hand still in his pocket, the other was out but caught on the pocket lining.
Extracting his hands, Peter pushed himself off Joel and rolled to his left onto his side. Joel spluttered and heaved, turning on his side before he started to expel vomit. Most of it collected on Peter’s backside, lower back and hips. The front of Peter’s trousers was a complete mess now. The front soaked in blood, the back covered in chunks and soaking up the liquid vomit. He would never wear them again. Joel collapsed onto his back after he’d finished vomiting. His only movement coming from his shallow breathing. Blood continued to flow from the cut on his forehead, the broken nose and his split lip. Mixing in with the vomit stuck to his face.
What the fuck had I done? All around me I heard gasps of horror from people, but they didn’t turn away. No, they instead collected in a ring around us instead. Two girls who had been close by when this started where kept inside the ring. Standing about two feet to the left of the carnage, they started to scream as their eyes traced the trail of blood from the Joel across Peter and ending with them. One of them started to vomit herself, adding to the mess covering Peter and leaving a trail to her own feet.
One kid, standing beside me, promptly dropped to the ground. The kid, I would learn later, always fainted at the sight of blood. When I did find out, I shook my head wondering how someone could be so stupid as to rush over and check out the fight scene when they knew what would happen to them.
The pounding of my heart blocked out everything other sound as I surveyed the carnage I’d caused. The kid out cold at my feet. My two, probably former, friends were a mess, covered in blood and vomit. The two girls, both sprayed with blood and one wiping away the remnants of vomit from around her mouth.
Peter rolled onto his back and shakily climbed to his feet. I’d seen old men have an easier time getting to their feet than he did in that moment. Every muscle and joint looked to be causing him much pain. Several people raised hands to cover their gaping mouths at the sight of him.
Blood ran down Peter’s face from his now crimson red hair. His dark blue blazer and white regulation shirt were blood smeared and splattered. The collar of the shirt had absorbed so much blood it almost looked like it was cutting into his neck. The lower down his body you went, the worse it got. Centred on his belt buckles was a large blood stain going up to his shirt and down around the crotch area of his trousers. On top of that was puke stains at the hips along with the chunks that clung on, fighting gravity’s pull. From a distance the optics were of someone who had peed himself.
To say Peter was angry would be an understatement. His face contorted into one of pure hate. His body trembled with rage and the fists, his hands formed were accented by the white knuckles partially covered in blood smears.
Like a showdown in a cowboy movie, the pair of us stared at each other. Partially for me, in horror at the scene in front of me. But also to get a read on if he would attack me.
Behind Peter, blood continued to stream from Joel’s disfigured nose, the cut and from his split lip. A substantial amount of swelling was now visible on his whole face. It was especially bad around the nose, including his mouth and eyes. Blood continued to pool there. A massive stain emanated from his crotch and slowly growing. The cause wasn’t blood but urine. Joel bladder had relaxed and urine was now staining his trousers.
Unconscious and supine, I worried Joel would end up choking on his own blood. I’d wanted to make sure that didn’t happen, but I didn’t see Peter letting me past anytime soon.
The showdown with Peter ended with him stepping forward on shaky legs to confront me. His left leg gave out after a single step and quickly found himself falling to his hands and knees. His face draining of colour as he fell.
A large hand rested on my shoulder and although I couldn’t hear it, I knew someone was talking to me. The pounding of my heart created a throbbing in my ears and a light shake in my hands.
The stench from the vomit reached my nostrils creating the same reaction as smelling salts. Breaking me from my trance, bringing me back to the world’s sights and sounds. The hand on my shoulder belonged to Mr Davis, my math teacher. His voice held some urgency, “ ... okay? Mister Jones, are you okay? Can you hear me?”
“I’m okay,” I stammered out softly. So only he caught what I was saying.
Removing his hand and stepping in front of me. He looked into my eyes while asking, “what happened?”
As he asked, the crowd around us parted and allowed a two teachers to get to Joel and Peter. They knelt down beside them to check the pair out.
“Joel was charging at me with his fists clenched,” I mentioned him in a low voice devoid of emotion.
“I kinda used Peter to protect myself,” I continued, shaking my head in disbelief as the words flowed from my mouth.
“Somehow I threw Peter into Joel,” I finished then looked over to the bar and away from my teacher’s inquiring eyes.
I desperately wanted someone to tell me what I’d done was okay, was the right thing to do. But, nobody told me that, they instead asked more questions. Questions delivered with urgency by Mr Davis, “I saw that from across the playing field. Why was he that angry? Why did he come at you?”
“I honestly don’t know. He’s my friend, or was anyway,” I answered, while Joel rolled onto his side with the help of a teacher. Moving his hand to tentatively feel out the damage done to his nose and mouth.
“Mister Jones! Go wait outside the headmaster’s office. Tell I’ll be along as soon as we get this sorted,” Mr Davis instructed with a composed authority.
I nodded and trotted slowly off, passing Peter and Joel without looking at them. The crowd surrounding us parted for me to get away. The looks on the student’s faces betrayed their fear of me. An entirely new experience for me.
The headmaster and another teacher came storming through the doors to the school almost catching me in the face. Shocked, I watched them continue on to where I’d come from. One of them had a first aid kid in hand.
The rest of my day saw me spending time either inside or outside the headmaster’s office. When inside, I spent my time recounting how the fight from my point of view. The head, the deputy head, a police officer and via phone to my mother all got the story first hand from me in that room. When sitting outside the office, I seemed to be everyone’s favorite exhibition. Students and teachers passing by staring at me without saying a word. During the whole time, nobody would tell me what had happened with Joel and Peter.
Ten minutes before the final bell rang the head escorted me to the bus. Taking the time to brief the driver on why he’d brought me. Ensuring I would sit up front so that he could keep an eye on me.
Everyone gawked at me when they got on the bus and walked past me. The afternoon outside the headmaster’s office had prepared me for that. I did get surprised by one of the school bullies when he tried to high five me. My sister and Joel’s didn’t gawk, instead they tried to walk by without looking at me.
When the doors closed on the bus there was two people missing, Joel and Peter. On the walk home from the bus stop, my sister informed me the pair had been taken to hospital by ambulance. While we talked, I took the time to glance across the street, to check out Joel’s sister. Wondering what she thought of everything that had happened today.
The sight of her triggered a thought. The reason he’d been angry even if I didn’t understand why. You see, I’d finally caved to her not so subtle ongoing pressure to get me to go on a date with her. Could this be what set him off? I’d asked him about it months ago and he’d said he would prefer I not do it. And was confident even if I asked she would say no, I’d laughed at that. For the record, the final push that got me to ask her, out came when she recruited my sister to put the screws to me.
I hadn’t even got through the door when mom barked out orders for me to go to my room. That night they only allowed me out of it to eat and for a discussion about my behaviour with her and dad.
With little to do, I turned out the lights early and tried to get to sleep. My sister interrupted that when she came into my room and handed me a letter. It was from Joel’s sister, Danielle or as she preferred Dani. The note basically said the fight had made things difficult and she wouldn’t be able to make our date. She hoped with a little time her parents would calm down and we could then reschedule. I sighed and figured that would never happen.
They didn’t expel me from school. Every adult I knew gave me a lecture on fighting, but Joel’s rabid screams before he charged at me had alerted Mr Davis. His statement confirmed the ‘fight’ started when Joel attacked me and I had only acted in self defense. Albeit in a very unusual manner.
The school I returned to seemed like a far different place than the one I’d left the previous day. The general populace avoided me when they could. The bullies didn’t see prey when they looked at me. A few girls that liked bad boys started giving me a second look but I wasn’t interested. The friends I shared with Joel and Peter confirmed that the pair no longer considered me one by ignoring me. I figured that it is mostly a numbers game. Lose one friend or lose two or put another way, choosing quantity over quality.
All this happened with Joel and Peter out of school. Both of them had bad concussions to deal with. Peter’s was serious and would take time to heal. Joel also dealt with a broken nose, a cut on the forehead that needed four stitches, a split lip and bruising on his face that had swollen so much his eyes had been forced shut. Joel would return two weeks after the fight and Peter two weeks after that.
When the pair returned to school had to deal with a lot of grief from their peers. Were the bullies removed the target from my back, they seemed to double the size of the one on Joel and Peter’s backs. Their stock had definitely dropped during their absence.
I figured my time in school would be a lonely one given the only ones interested in talking to me where the bullies. Thankfully, one kid didn’t follow the new guidelines and avoid me. My namesake, Andy, dropped into the seat beside mind at the start of math class on the second day after the fight. He placed a handwritten business card onto my desk, it read, “The Invisibles Club, Andy Jones, Member No. 2.” He held up a similar card while offering his other hand for me to shake.
Andy Wisniewski came from a single parent Polish home with a mentally handicapped little brother. His mother barely scraped by with her job as a dinner lady in a local primary school. That meant hand-me-down clothing for him. Even in a school with a uniform policy, you could tell the kids from poor families and he was one.
I’d been one of the few to treat him with respect and he paid me back now. He came to my side when the rest of the school turned its back. That included my own sister, the girl that created this mess and my old friends.
As time went by, we occasionally had the company of the school’s only openly gay student. I knew Lucas French because he lived in our neighbourhood and his father worked with mine. Which is probably the wrong way to phrase that, my dad worked for his dad.
The exile didn’t come without perks for my new friends. The school bullies steered clear of the three of us. Which meant two of their favorite targets were no longer on their radar. That perk helped cement my friendships with Andy and Lucas.
A few months passed and we came to the long weekend. Andy needed to stay home. His mother had a job for the weekend so he would be babysitting his little brother. She denied permission for him to have friends over.
I spent the first day hanging out at Lucas’s house. He lived close to our house as the crow flies, but thanks to how the roads were laid out it took a good ten minutes to walk.
We spent the morning working on Lucas’s hobby. Before you ask, because I know your mind is in the gutter, his hobby was not sex. He was an amateur magician and I played the role of his ‘beautiful’ assistant in the morning. We had a blast, he taught me the tricks worked and then we would perform them. There was one trick I wasn’t happy with, it revolved around a floating broomstick. The trick called for me to pretend to be in a trance, but the pain involved made that next to impossible. Anyway, time flew by working through the tricks and before we knew it, it was lunch time. Lucas provided a cheese and ham sandwich, but only had water or milk to drink. I didn’t fancy either.
After lunch, I’d suggested we head over to the corner store. I wanted to pick up a fizzy drink, either a Coka Cola or a Dandelion and Burdock. Plus, it would give me a chance to check out the latest comics. Marvel comics were the ones for me and especially the American ones. I don’t know why, but the British comics where black and white, while the American ones were in colour and smaller in size.
We never made it to the store. As we crossed the grassy area in front of Lucas’ house Danielle appeared. Seeing us, she rushed over and wrapped her arms me. Clinging tightly to me to kiss me gently on the cheek before releasing me and stepping back. Looking into my eyes, she proclaimed, “I should never have broke my date with you.”
They were the first words she had said to me since the fight. I aware of how sincere she was being, but it was reinforced when I noticed the tears forming in the corners of her eyes. I wiped them away with my thumbs and kissed her on the forehead, “Don’t worry about it.”
I wasn’t sure I truly believed that, but she did need to hear it I think. Looking closer, I also realized she’d been crying earlier too. I was about to ask about it when she sighed, “No, I really am sorry. You’re such I nice guy and I backed away because of Joel. Because of my parents. I knew they’d stop me seeing you.”
“Well, we’re going to the corner shop. You’re welcome to join us if you want. I’ll buy you a sweetie if you want by sweet one,” I said with a cheesy grin plastered on my face.
“I would love that,” she answered, grinning from ear to ear. The three of us turned to continue our trek to the store. Danielle beside me, her arm looped through mine. Lucas followed behind us singing something about Andy and Danielle sitting in a tree.
We heard his rants long before we saw him. Repeatedly he barked out his sister’s name. You couldn’t help but feel the anger and venom each time he called out. The noise came from the direction of their house, the direction Danielle had appeared from moments earlier, and was growing louder and louder. Fear washed over Danielle, she seemed so small and so vulnerable.
We all knew the moment he caught sight of Danielle with me. The barking call out for his sister stopped and we watched his face contort from annoyance to surprise before settling on anger. I probably shouldn’t have smiled, but I did and it caused Joel’s anger to grow. He grew red, his body stiffened and his knuckles whitened into tight fists. I figured next would be his clothes ripping and a cry of Hulk Smash, but sadly it didn’t happen.
Predictably, he launched himself towards us. Charging with the mindless rage like a bull chasing a matador’s muleta. Without concern for myself, I stepped forward, putting myself between him and Danielle and Lucas.
I readied myself for him to unleash a torrent of fists. It came as a surprise when he pulled up instead and allowed his training to take over. His wild eyes staring at me, sizing up his options, still confirmed his anger.
Joel spent years going to Judo lessons. Obviously, at least from my point of view, he’d missed out the mental part. The part where you learnt to control your temper. He stood before me in a stance I assumed to something he’d learned during his Judo lessons, trying to decide his best course of action.
I wouldn’t have the advantage of surprise this time. There would be no throwing Danielle or Lucas at Joel.
Looking past me, Joel barked out at Danielle, “Get your ass home! Do it now and I won’t tell mom you were with him!”
I laughed at him. His red face, his intense stare and the saliva frothing from the corner of his mouth seemed so comically absurd. It, of course, did nothing to calm him down, his face almost turned purple, veins popping out on his temples. Jesus, what was wrong with this idiot? Why was he so protective of his sister? Surely he knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t hurt her? He did know that, didn’t he?
“Leave me alone Joel! Leave us alone!” Danielle cried out from behind me as Lucas tried to guide her away from Joel and I.
“No! It’s my job to watch out for you!” He growled.
“Bullshit! Go home! Andy’s a real man,” she hurled back at him as Lucas wrapped his arms around her waist. Lifting her off the ground and walking her away from the fight.
That last sentence seemed to be a trigger for Joel. “Man” was still coming out of her mouth when he charged forward with the same reckless abandon that had ended in disaster last time. This time was a little different, he didn’t try and punch me, but instead looked to tackle me to the ground.
I tried to back away from him, but wasn’t fast enough. His arms wrapped around my hips rather than my waist with his head driving into my crotch. I kept backing away, pounding on his back. He wouldn’t let go and I couldn’t back up quicker than he was driving forward.
I toppled backwards, Joel follows me down. His head crashing into my groin when we landed. Grunting loudly in pain, my eyes squeezed tightly as I hit him once more on his back. This time with a lot less force than the previous one.
Joel lifted his head and I started to punch it, causing him to lower his head again and bite my cock. I screamed in pain, arching my back upward. This wasn’t going well.
Grabbing to fist fulls of his hair, I yank violently on it. Forcing him to release my member and lift his head. With his face again exposed, I release one hand and used to start pounding Joel’s face again. Joel braced his legs and drove himself head first into my chest. It was my turn to release my grip as I fell backwards.
Joel rolled off me and then scrambled behind me. A fist full of hair in hand, he pulled me upright, then dropped behind me and wrapped his arm around my neck. Using both arms to choke me, while I pounded my elbow into his ribs repeatedly, but it seemed like a futile effort.
Reciprocating, I braced my own legs and kicked myself backwards into Joel. The crown of my head smashed into the underside of Joel’s jaw. He released his hold and pushed me off to the side while screaming in pain from the hit to jaw and the pain in his knees from the way his legs had bent.
My breathing was labored at this point, my face flushed almost purple in colour. I would have liked to rest a moment but couldn’t. I scrambled into position and returned the favour by pulling him into a choke hold.
Joel tried the same tricks I did, but to no avail. He started instead to claw at my arms as I pulled the hold tighter. At this point, I vaguely aware of Danielle as she screamed at us to stop while tears are flowing down her cheeks. Lucas still held onto her, keeping her from the fray.
The distraction caused me to loosen my grip a little, enough to allow Joel to somehow get free. He rolled to his side, struggling to catch his breath. I left him alone, figuring that the fight was over.
With a little effort, I stood up and started to walk towards Danielle and Lucas. She screamed a warning, but I was a little too slow reacting. He kicked with all he had into the ball of my knee. He had me in another choke hold the moment my knees landed on the grass. For this one he had all of the leverage.
Time to return the favour from earlier, I reached behind me and grabbed his cock. Squeezing as tightly as I could through the shorts he wore, pushing my nails in as deeply as I could. I then pulled and twisted with all the might I had remaining.
He screamed loudly and let go. His hands flying to his crotch to protect himself from my onslaught. An elbow into his stomach brought him to the ground. I scrambled again and had him back in the choke hold I’d had before. This time the bastard wouldn’t be getting free.
“Why won’t you leave me the fuck alone?” I growled into his ear, pulling a little harder. Completely oblivious to what I’m doing or what’s going on around me, I continued to pull my choke hold tighter and tighter around his neck.
It came as a surprise when I felt the strong arms of two adults as they pried arm away from Joel’s neck. One of them then kept me pinned while the other pulled Joel away from me. He crawled a short distance, coughing hoarsely before collapsing to the ground and rolling onto his back. I noticed his face was almost purple.
“What happened here?” One of the men asked while he looked around at the four of us. Joel was lying on his back. I was sitting with my knees up and arms wrapped around them. Danielle was on the ground to crying with Lucas’ arms wrapped around her, offering comfort.
“He attacked me,” I answered between deep painful breaths.
“So you decided to kill him?” The other asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Not kill. I just wanted it to stop. I wanted him to leave me alone,” I stuttered out, my mind starting to clear a little. Had I tried to kill him?
“You were going to kill him not teach him a lesson. Son, you need to get your temper under control. If you don’t, you’ll end up having a miserable life,” the first one said. His eyes told me his words came from personal experience.
I nodded at his words, my mother had said much the same, but they seemed more real now. The guilt I might have killed him started to wash over me. Tears flowed as I started to repeatedly chant, “I wanted to be left alone.”
Danielle was crawled over to me, her tears dripping to the grass. Her hand brushed my cheek as she kissed my lips before she told me, “I have to go. Take him home and make sure mom understands that he started it. I also want her to understand she needs to make sure he leaves you alone. And she does the same. I’m sorry I can’t stay.”
She tussled my hair once she was upright, then walked over to him. Once there, she barked out instructions, “Get your sorry ass up because it was time to go. I get to explain to mom why you look like shit and then ensure you’re punished for this bullshit!”
I sat there silently as he struggled to his feet and then plodded silently behind Danielle. They headed towards their house and mine for that matter.
When she disappeared around the corner, I looked around. I saw the look on Lucas’s face and knew I’d lost another friend, he was scared of what he has seen me do. I bid him farewell and told him I’d had fun being his assistant in the morning. Not wanting to follow Danielle and Joel, I choose to head to the corner shop for a drink and to look at the comics. Maybe I’d buy one.
Time passed and the summer holidays came along. I settled into three day regime for the summer.
Day one, I’d cycle a circuit roughly ten miles long. My first run was a pitiful thing, taking me two and half hours to complete and for a few inclines I’d had to walk beside the bicycle rather than ride on it. My last run, I had cut the time to an hour and no longer needed to walk my bicycle up any inclines.
Day two, I’d cycle over to Andy’s house, something his mother had finally agreed to. We’d hang out either at his house or go into the larger town his house was on the outskirts of. The town was the shopping mecca for the surrounding area. To me that meant better shop choices for comics and computers, but there was also a sex shop. We never went into it, but did spend hours sitting at the bus stop across the street some days. We’d watch the customers go in and have fun making up stories about them. Stupid really, but it passed the time. Only once did the true story look like it eclipsed the one we’d made up. The man, looked a lot like Columbo, entered the store nervously. Looking around to make sure he wasn’t seen. Half an hour later exited with woman customer. Her attire consisted of three items. A leather skirt that barely reached past her behind. A leather jacket that was open at the front, revealing she had nothing on beneath it. And, black high spike heeled shoes that lifted her height an inch or so above his. Wait, I forgot to mention one accessory, she had on a black leather studded collar complete with a leash. The man had control of the leash. When they exited the shop, they headed back up the hill in the direction he’d come from earlier. We saw them minutes later when he drove by and waved to us. She had her face buried in his crotch.
The other nice thing about that town was the movie theatre, but it was a hard task persuading our parents to pony up the money to frequent the joint. We manage the task a few times but would have liked to have gone more often.
Day three, I’d hang out in the park. Either playing tennis if I could find a pickup game or more often than not, practising my serve. Occasionally, I’d get invited to play football.
This day was a tennis day, while I practised my serve I kept an eye on two girls using the court next to me. They struggled mightily, but seemed to at least be enjoying themselves. After a while, I stepped in to offer my services. Which they readily accepted with a smile and a giggle.
Minutes later, I found my body pressed into one of the girls. One arm wrapped around her waist and the hand of the other around her hand on the tennis racquet. Her friend throwing the ball while I guided her arm, though how to swing the racquet properly. After a few times, I switched to her friend and did the same with her. The closeness of her body was a wonderful change from the loneliness I’d suffered since that first fight.
Once they were comfortable with their swings, we played a game. The two of them versus me. We only served under arm and I wasn’t allowed to smash the ball. All told, we had a blast. They managed to hold their own, partly because I was distracted watching them move about the court.
At the end of the day Debbie, the more outgoing of the two, kissed me on the lips and thanked me for my help. Her friend, Susan, just nodded her head to acknowledge she felt the same way.
They had barely escaped the courts when Debbie turned and ran back to me. Kissing me a little more passionately while Susan watched on in mock horror. When we broke for air, Debbie and I exchanged phone numbers, plus agreed to meet here tomorrow. I walked home happier than I’d been since all this craziness had begun. I smiled like the Cheshire Cat while my mind brought back images of her long blonde hair, her sparkling blue eyes or the warmth of her body pressed to mine. I really hoped she was about to become my girlfriend.
All the day dreaming blinded me to my surroundings, unfortunately for me that included the two boys trailing me.
Getting home meant making a choice between two routes. The first was by street, zigging and zagging to eventually get home or secondly, walk along the river bank, down a narrow access path, and then a short walk on our housing estate. Route one dealing with lots of traffic and pedestrians, route two often meant avoiding the odd bicyclist or dog walker. Two were the quicker route by far and the one I’d picked.
In the city or even a bigger town, route one would likely be the choice of anyone looking to avoid trouble. However, in our idyllic little town, it wasn’t really a consideration. Sure, there was one point that was perfect for ambushing the naive. That place being a point along the river where it turned sharply, and for some reason the town’s ancestors choose that point builds a bridge. The bridge started a thousand feet from the river, running over the park. The arches leading to the water’s edge used to store park equipment, funnelling the people in the long, almost tunnel like, archway that the river itself also flowed through. In our town this wasn’t an ambush point, but where the kids went to smoke cigarettes or drink beer, they’d appropriated from their parents.
Humming a happy tune, I’d entered the tunnel without a care in the world. It wasn’t until I was halfway through before I realised that I was in trouble.
The echoes of a metal pipe scraping along the ground broke me out of my daydream. Tracking the sound of the pipe back to its origin, to see him standing there. Blocking my way forward. Joel wasn’t alone either, sandwiching him in where two menacing kids. Each of them wore a smile that telegraphed their intent to hurt me.
Armed with a tennis racquet, I figured there was a decent chance I’d be able to battle my way through them. My other choice would be to turn tail and run. Either option assumed my endurance and speed would be better than theirs, an afternoon of tennis reduced that likelihood.
The crack of wood on wood echoed through the tunnel, originating from behind me. My two shadows stood there with grins on their faces and the thick sticks in their hands. Running was gone as an option.
A stone pinged off the side of my head, above my ear, causing me to turn back to Joel. I rubbed the spot and noticed the smattering of blood on my fingers afterwards. Getting out of this was going to be difficult.
The two with him marched towards me, he followed slightly behind them. Readying myself for the fight, I raised my racquet only to defend myself. No sooner had I done that than a stick smashed down on my wrist causing me to drop it. There was no time to deal with pain before the other kid swung his stick into the back of my knees. I dropped forward onto my knees and then my hands as well. More pain surged through my wrist as I did so.
I sprung forward into one of Joel’s friends and started to swing my fists into him. I’d landed a single punch, close to a second, when the stick hammered away at my lower back and the back of knees again. Dropping me once more to the ground.
What followed wasn’t pretty. While I curled into the fetal position, trying to protect myself, they used their boots, the sticks and the metal pipe. Pounding away on my body, but thankfully leaving my head alone.
That is until one of them, I’ve no idea who, struck the back of my head with his boot. My whole body relaxed in that moment and the world disappeared into a blissful black.
The burning sting of the icy cold water brought me back to the world. They’d thrown me into the river and now laughing loudly were walking away happy with the outcome of our altercation.
Struggling to keep my head above the water was the first order of business. It was proving harder than it should be for me, after all I was normally a good swimmer. After the initial shock wore off, I calmed down a little and found it a little easy to coordinate myself enough to find my bearing and head toward the shore. Several times, the world had disappeared as dropped below the surface of the water before hitting the bottom and kicking upward during the fight to get to the water’s edge. It seemed to last forever, but likely lasted only minutes, I finally found my hands on the banks of the river.
I clawed the muddy bank at first to keep from slipping back into the water. Time and effort was needed to pull myself onto the grassy verge. Out of the river, I laid there and tried to figure out how much badly they had hurt me. A drum pounded continuously in my head, blocking any chance of clear thought. My arms and legs felt like wet noodles. My lungs burned with every breath I took. My back felt like it had been used as a punching bag, which thinking about it it had.
Don’t really know how long I was lying there, but no one came by. It was up to me to get myself home. With a great deal of effort, I managed to get myself upright.
Now that I was on my feet, I realized that I’d pulled myself out of the river about forty feet down river from the bridge. I wondered how close I’d come to not getting out of the water at all then shook my head and pushed that thought out of my head.
Slowly I limped home, the pains aggravated as the mud set and my clothes started to rub on my body. And we’ll say nothing of the mud that worked itself inside my clothes.
Adding insult to injury, my sister laughed loudly and for a long time when I finally walked in the door. My mother made me strip in the backyard, then hosed me down out there before sending me upstairs for a bath. The bitterly cold water from the hose added to my misery.
Once I’d settled into the warm bath, my mother entered the bathroom to get my side of the story. She then called his parents and he denied it. The police came next, but it came down to my word against him and his friends. The end result was Joel avoided any repercussions for the attack on me, while it took weeks for me to heal. The headaches taking the longest to subside.
An angry Debbie called intending to dress me down after I’d missed our tennis date, but calmed down and showed concern once I’d had a chance to explain why I wasn’t there. She visited me a few times over the next week, but lost interest when she found a very different person to the one she’d spent the afternoon playing tennis with. By the time I’d got my head out of my ass it was too late to do anything about it. Not that I could anyway, I’d lost her phone number to the river and there was no caller ID on the rotary phones of the day.
The bicycle run was the only one of my activities I resumed once I was feeling better. The solitude offered me time to think. I still had no answers for why Joel acted the way he did. It really made no sense and talking to other people about it didn’t help. They seemed to assume I’d done something to trigger his reaction.
If I wasn’t on my bicycle, I was at home and in my bedroom. Not that I had anywhere to go really. Andy was always busy with his brother, I’d got a single phone call from Lucas to say he hoped I got better soon. My mother worried, and tried to find ways to get me out of the house. Which was why latched onto my taking an interest in using the point and shoot camera we normally brought out only for holidays. I’d seen some squirrels in our backyard and had grabbed the camera, finishing off the roll on the sneaky fast animals. She rushed off to town to fetch fresh film for me and took the roll I finished to be developed. Locations were suggested to me in an attempt to get me out and about again.
In the final week before school started back, I caved and did just that. A local park by our house was my first destination. Pictures were snapped of the wild flowers and butterflies. I’d been there half an hour when I noticed the arrival of three girls. In the middle of the pack was Debbie.