Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Free Fiction: Biting Back

I've been reading a lot about bullying lately, including a compilation of writers' memories and fictional accounts of bullying while they were in school. This made me remember a Flash Fiction piece I wrote for someone else's blog, using the opening line seen below. At the time, I experimented with using the line not only as an opening, but as a closing. I hoped to show that the meaning changes depending on what the context is. At any rate, here's a piece of free fiction for you to enjoy.

by Pat Henshaw

“Do what I tell you and everything will be fine.”

The arms of the guy behind me banded around my torso. Déjà vu of high school nightmares. I knew who it was and now ten years later could beat him at this game.

When he took a breath, I elbowed him in the chest, whipped around, and kneed him in the groin. Bernie went down with a thud.

Before I could have it out with him, the restroom door opened, and a vision of handsomeness entered, his glance going from Bernie on the floor clutching his groin to me standing over him.

“Joel?” the vision asked.

“It’s not what it looks like.” My fury eased as I recognized him. “Stephen?”

“Uh, Steve now. Can I help?”

I grinned, looked down at Bernie, and laughed.

“Nope. Think I’ve got it under control.”

Since Steve had been another of Bernie’s victims in those long ago high school days, we shared a laugh as we stared at our groaning harasser.

“Should we kick him?” I wondered.

“He’d do that to us,” he muttered.

“So which is better? An eye for an eye? Or let bygones be bygones?”

I walked to the sink, keeping my eyes on Stephen’s golden brown hair, his sturdy build, the beautiful abs being displayed through his mohair sweater.

“If I’d known you were going to be here at the reunion, I’d have brought the book with me.”

“What book?” I was confused. Weren’t we talking about Bernie on the floor?

“Your book, silly.”

Oh, right. Wait. He'd bought a copy of my book?

“I’d get your autograph.”

While my mind swirled around the knowledge he owned my book, I washed my hands and listened to Bernie’s moans ease. Was he going to try the assault again?

Then the door to the restroom opened again. This time vice-principal Martin came in. Back then he’d earned the name “vice” as far as I was concerned.

He stopped and stared down at Bernie, whose groans were getting softer.

“Is there trouble here, boys?” He glared at me and Steve. “What happened?”

“Tripped,” I said as much as I could like Bernie had each time I’d been on the ground and he’d been standing over me. Now, however, I was taller and broader than Bernie.

Steve started laughing beside me. Martin couldn’t do anything to us now. Unless Bernie wanted to press charges—what kind, I had no idea—we were at a standstill.

“Bernie? What happened?” Martin’s voice sounded confused.

And there it was. The shoe on the other foot. Tit for tat. Was Bernie going to roll over like he’d always wanted me to do? Or was he a scrapper like I’d been?

His mouth hung open and saliva was dripping down his chin. His hands still sheltered his groin. He had to clear his throat a couple times before he could speak.

“Nothing happened. I tripped. I’m fine. Everything's okay.”

Let’s see. Steve and I were standing. Mr. Martin was standing. Bernie was in a fetus roll on the filthy high school bathroom floor. And everyone was all right?

The years of abuse and resentment eased themselves from my mind and my soul. I’d survived Bernie. I’d survived Mr. Martin. I was successful, and from the looks of him Steve had both survived and was successful too.

With a shake of his head, Martin left. He gave us one evil eye before letting the door shut behind him.

Bernie held up a hand.

“Help me up?”

I extended a hand and hoisted him to stand, ready to retaliate if he decided to continue his harassment.

On his feet, Bernie shook himself like a dog coming in from outside.

“You don’t understand, Joel. I never meant to hurt you. I just wanted to be your friend.” His voice whined, and his body slumped.

“Funny way of showing it.”

Steve put his arm around my waist.

“So are you going to autograph my copy of your book?” As he pulled me closer, he more or less snuggled into me. “I think they’re playing our song out there.”

I glanced at Bernie who looked completely nuked.

I slung my arm over Steve’s shoulders. “Yeah, you’re right. They are playing our song.”

As we walked out the door, Steve growled, “Do what I tell you and everything will be fine.” 

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