We blew something up today in chemistry–a gummy bear. It reminded me of Virgil.
He’s a lot like that bear–sparking and firing off like a firework.
Or a volcano.
Yeah, a volcano’s much more like Virgil. It takes so little to set him off–which is why I’d locked my bedroom door this morning. I’d been locking it all week because there was one thing I’d learned about alcoholics: They blow all of their money on booze and still–no, always–want more.
I set my head against the lab table, as my partner–a preppy girl named Alexis Smith–did the experiment. (It was a personal rule of mine to stay away from hydrochloric acid.)
The chemistry teacher–Mr. Erwin–was giving instructions of some kind (something about a pH strip), but my mind wasn’t on the lesson–heck, my mind wasn’t even on school.
I was thinking back to Monday, and I couldn’t help but dig my head more deeply into my arms.
And–big shock here–Virgil was root of my problems: Virgil, with his large, protruding stomach and shirts with permanent stains. I’d never seen him without a five o’ clock shadow, and his eyes looked like little pools of beer: brown and watery.
Whenever I thought of Virgil, I saw him at the dinner table, shoving potatoes down his throat.
And I would see him again tonight. If I had my choice, I’d lock myself in my room and never come
down: not for school, not for Virgil, not for anything.
But Mom likes “eating as a family” (yeah right), so I always came down.
I jerked slightly at the mention of my name. Mr. Erwin was standing in front of me with crossed arms, looking at me through glasses that–I was positive–could pick up cable. They had thick yellow lenses that made it impossible to see the color of his eyes. Yellow was a color that described Mr. Erwin: his entire persona seemed to have a dried, old-looking sense–like parchment. He was a short, fat man with balding hair, and he loved to give out detentions almost as much as he loved pop quizzes.
“Everett, sleep at lunch.”
I gave a nod, but that didn’t seem to satisfy him.
“Did you hear me, Everett?”
“Yes, Mr. Erwin.” I leaned my elbow against the table and turned toward Alexis as he walked away, “Whaddya want me to do?” My voice was so monotonous that–at first–I didn’t recognize it as my own.
Alexis shook the hair out of her eyes and stared at me through her goggles. I thought they made her look like a praying mantis since she’d chosen to wear green today. “Just sit there, Everett.” (Most people called me by my surname; at time I wondered if they even remembered my name was Todd.)
“I have to do something or else Erwin is going to chew me out.”
“Just write down what I tell you.”
I raised my eyebrows in response, and picked up my pencil, waving it expectantly.
“pH is about 2…”
I rolled my eyes, and began filling in the data.
Luckily, class was over fifteen minutes later. Unluckily, I was stuck cleaning up because Alexis had a “cheerleaders’ meeting” or whatever. Mr. Erwin eyed me derisively as I put away the beakers. (I’d somehow managed to get on the wrong side of all of my teachers. I couldn’t understand why–I’d practically been a teacher’s pet in middle school.)
“Everett, you sleep again during a lab and it’s detention.”
But high school’s the seventh circle of Hell, right?
“Okay, Mr. Erwin.” I turned toward the sink to rinse out one of the test tubes. Another junior was doing the same. He was a student whom I knew only by face–
And what a face it was.
He was the only goth that attended Agenton High, and it took every bit of self-control I had not to stare at him: He was clothed entirely in black, complete with mascara and nail polish. His dark hair was long and stringy, and his right ear was filled with earrings.
I cleaned the tubes, staring resolutely at the sink. I hated cleaning this stuff out–I always felt as though the chemicals were going to eat through my skin.
I set the test tubes to the side, and squirted a liberal amount of soap onto my hands.
“I’m OCD like that, too.”
I looked up. The goth was looking at me expectantly.
I shrugged in response.
“I hate having chem before lunch. I’m always afraid I still have acid on my hands, then I’ll eat it, and my internal organs will burn.”
I looked up.
He was smiling–it was difficult to tell that it was a smile because there was a ring in his lip.
“I thought that would get your attention.” He grinned again.
I returned it, and began to scrub my hands more harshly. Some how, I no longer felt hungry.
“Actually, I just hate chem,” he continued. “When are we ever going to use any of this?”
I shrugged. I wasn’t trying to be rude, I just couldn’t talk to… him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give a reason without sounding like a complete jerk.
We were both silent for a long while. He was washing his hands, too, his face contorted in slight concentration.
“You comin’, tomorrow?”
I looked up, confused.
“Writer’s Oval? You comin’?
I raised my eyebrows in understanding. Writer’s Oval was the only extracurricular I was a part of. The actual name was Writer’s Circle, but everyone in the club called it Writer’s Oval. This was because whenever we arranged our desks into a “circle”, it always came out looking more like an egg. Hence, “Writer’s Oval” was born.
“Yeah, I’ll be there.” It took me a moment to remember he was also in the club. “You?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there.” The goth turned and got himself a paper towel. He passed me one, and I muttered a thanks.
“No problem, Everett.”
“You do know my name is Todd, right?”
“Really? You have a first name?”
It took me a second to realize he was joking. By
the time I had, he’d already waved me away and walked
toward his books. Mr. Erwin was watching him suspiciously, but he continued to talk. “I was just wondering what happened next.”
The goth walked back to me, and leaned against the table. “Yeah, with your Man In The Shadows. He was stealing something from Cyrus, right?”
I knew I looked surprised. I hadn’t realized that anyone was actually listening to my story. I never honestly listened to the other stories, I just liked getting some feedback for my own.
Great, now I felt guilty.
“Yeah, he was getting a disc,” I said uncertainly, watching the goth carefully.
“Alright, what’s the disc supposed to do?”
“I… can’t tell you.”
“Yeah.” (Truthfully, I didn’t know what the disc was for either.)
“Okay, dude. Will I find out tomorrow?”
“That sucks.” The goth shrugged, standing straighter. “Let’s go before Erwin over there uses his laser vision to kill us on the spot. I’m telling you, that’s what those glasses hide.” He mimicked raising a pair of glasses from his eyes, and spread his hand outward. “Zap!”
I grinned again. “Yeah, I guess…. I look forward to hearing your story, too, uh–” (Man, I don’t even know the kid’s name.)
The goth seemed to falter slightly in his friendliness, but then he shrugged it away. “It’s okay. I’ve got a weird name. Most people call me by my last name too–annoying isn’t it?”
He laughed (at least I think it was a laugh; it was rather harsh and throaty). “Sucks. Anyway, for future reference, I’m Reb.”
“Right, Reb. Sorry, I just… blanked,” I lied.
“Hey, it’s Friday eve. No one’s brain is working. I’ll be lucky to get to my locker without stumbling into a pack of wolves or tripping in quicksand.”
I didn’t ask why wolves or quicksand would be in Agenton; I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. Reb seemed to have a pretty strange sense of humor, and I didn’t think I wanted to understand it.
“Well, I’ll see ya’, Todd. Today’s chicken nugget day, and I haven’t had my daily dose of artery-clogging goodness.”
“Yeah, see ya’.”
Reb left, and I followed not long afterward, Mr. Erwin staring after me as I walked into the hallway.
If you live in a city, then there is no possible way that you could ever understand a town like Agenton. There aren’t any subways or neon signs. The tallest building’s a whole whopping three stories, and road rage is defined as being stuck behind a tractor on a back road. If you’re used to taxis, pigeons, and malls, then Agenton will be the equivalent to Mars on Earth–completely alien.
If, on the other hand, you’re familiar with the rolling green fields of nothing and the monotonous song of solitary cows, then you know exactly where Agenton is: the Middle of Nowhere.
Agenton is–quite literally–surrounded by cornfields, and I don’t use that phrase lightly. The only things that interrupts the farmland are the silos–
And the occasional deer that inspires every male within a half-mile radius to reach for a rifle.
I am not one of those males. I think there may be three of us in the entire school who don’t like hunting. Needless to say, we’re a minority.
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to blend in when there’s only three hundred people in the high school.
It’s even more difficult to blend in when you’re a freak of nature like me. The only person who may be weirder than I am would be Reb–which is probably why I’d chosen Maria Wayde and Alvin Brady for friends.
“Ew! Alvin, that is so gross!”
“No, Maria–I have Gatorade on my fries all the time–just need to add some pepper….”
Actually, “friends” is a very hefty word. The only reason I hang out with them is because don’t usually realize I’m there.
“Alvin, quit it!”
I’d learned long ago that “Alvin! Quit it!” was Maria’s secret code for “Alvin, you are so amusing!” Maria gave a squeal, and Alvin laughed stupidly. Maria was extremely thin with long, stringy black hair that brushed her face every time she moved to watch Alvin.
I’d realized that it was just better for me to bring my composition book to lunch. To most people, lunch was the best time of the day: time to relax, not worry about teachers, and hang out with friends.
But I’m not most people. I mean, I never claimed to be normal, which is one reason why I always felt angry whenever someone called me a freak. Or a dork. Or–my personal favorite–a loser.
“Hey, whatcha got there, Shakespeare?”
And then, of course, there were the names that Alvin preferred: In the past few years, I’d been called “Charles Dickens”, “Aesop” and “Matt Twain” (because Alvin could never remember the name was actually “Mark”).
Recently, however, Alvin had referred to me as a playwright from the Elizabethan era. Probably because Alvin thought I was as interesting as a guy that’s been dead for four-hundred years.
I raised an eyebrow, closing my book as inconspicuously as possible. “Nothin’, Alvin. Just the same old stuff.”
“What’re you writing that’s more important than talking to us?”
Shoot. Well, the momentary vacation from Idiocy Central had been nice–short-lived, but appreciated.
I sighed, ruffling my auburn hair in a way that I hoped conveyed casualty.
“I’m just writin’, you know.”
“Yeah,” Alvin mused, looking at Maria through his heavily lidded eyes. They seemed to convey a simple thought through the gesture, though I wasn’t in on the message. Not that I was usually “in” on anything.
I’d grown to expect the exclusion, and didn’t get my feelings hurt. At one time, Alvin and I had actually been pretty good friends. We’d spent the night at each other’s houses, worked together in group projects, and all sorts of things. Then, came high school, and he met Maria, and… well, I think you can assume what happened.
“Let me see it.” Maria reached across the table so quickly that I didn’t have time to react. It was rare for the two of them to even realize that I existed, let alone take an interest in what I was doing.
Which meant one of two things: Either I’d stepped into a parallel universe, or their motives were far from friendly.
“Give it back, Maria,” I groaned, sitting straighter in my seat. I held out my hand, but Maria just scrunched her nose as though she smelled something nasty.
“What is this chicken-scratch?” she asked, flipping through the book nonchalantly.
“I believe you need a translator,” Alvin grabbed the book from her hands, upturning his nose in a would-be-debonair way.
“Ooh, can you decipher it?” Maria asked.
“Man!” Alvin rolled his small, brown eyes. He sat his scrawny self forward, his slightly curly brown hair sticking up on end. “What do you call this? It looks like… Greek or somethin’.”
I pursed my lips. Any sort of logic never registered in Alvin or Maria’s mind. Not unless that logic involved Metallica.
“Just give it back to me, Alvin.” I resisted the temptation to roll my eyes. Instead, I leaned back in my chair, crossing my arms.
“What is this, man?”
“It’s just a story I’m writing. Now give it back, man.” I found the word slip easily from my mouth. I felt like Jane Goddall–I’m surrounded by chimps, hence I must learn their language.
Yeah right. I’m not that naive: peer pressure–plain and simple.
“Ah, come on, man.” (Alvin had noticed my frail attempt at “fitting in”). “I just wanna know what you’re writin’ about.” His eyes had grown large, which was quite a feat considering how small and beady they were.
“It’s nothing, and what do you care?”
“Dude,” Maria said, “We’re just talkin’.”
I shrugged. “It’s the same story I’ve been writin’ for years.”
“Yeah,” Maria said. “What he’s been writin’ for years, Alvin.” She opened her mouth, looking rather like a fish gulping for air. “Like, you should’ve
“The one you read to those dweeb friends of yours after school.”
“Yeah, I do, as a matter of fact.” I raised my chin higher, only to fall back into my seat when Alvin sent me a cold stare.
“Matter of fact? Who says that?”
“You been hangin’ around your grandma, Shakespeare?”
“No, now please–book, now.”
To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t been hanging out with anyone–not my grandma, not my “dweeb friends,” not anybody. I literally felt like a square peg–everyone else fit in somewhere. Maria and Alvin fit in perfectly with the metal-heads. Then there were the jocks, the preps, the punks, and a few other cliques I wasn’t sure how to name.
That still left me alone, attempting to slide into the only role that seemed to accept me–the writer.
“You hear that, Maria? The book–now.”
I collapsed into the chair, sighing. “Fine, meander through it. See if I care.” My tone was without the sarcasm I’d hoped to convey. Instead, I just sounded weak.
Shoot. I’m not even a square peg. I’m more like a square peg that’s been tossed into a fire, slowly burning into nothing more than black ashes.
“Meander? You tryin’ to sound smarter than us, Shakespeare?”
Well, you don’t make it very difficult.
If I was braver, I would’ve said it aloud. That would have been the perfect comeback.
But, instead, I just shrugged.
“Is this that stupid Shadow Man story?”
I tensed immediately, muttering, “Man In The Shadows.”
“Yeah,” Alvin, said, his head bobbling. “Because ‘Shadow Man’ sounds completely stupid.”
Maria laughed. It was a laugh that was slow, and usually complimented by a snort immediately afterward.
“What is up with this?” He turned the page sideways, eyes squinting. “Listen to this, Maria.” He cleared his throat, and began to read, “‘Before the failed assassination, but after the counterfeiting. ’”
“Before the failed assassination?” Maria laughed. “What’s going on up there, Shakespeare?”
She reached over, hitting my head for emphasis.
“You took that completely out of context,” I murmered.
“Yeah, probably because that was the only thing he could read!”
“I swear, man,” Alvin threw the book back to me. “Your mind is a scary place to be.”
“Ooh, yeah,” Maria agreed.
I grimaced. For the briefest of instants, I imagined my head turning into a giant volcano and then erupting. My face would turn blood-red and flames would leap into my eyes.
But no, I didn’t. Instead, I breathed through my nose, and opened the book once again. I could erupt–
–but I wouldn’t.
I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.
Instead, I comforted myself by saying that everyone must’ve thought Edgar Allan Poe had a scary mind, too.
I wasn’t sure whether that idea made me feel better or worse.
I was glad that my next class was study hall. I never got a lot of writing done at lunch–even when Alvin and Maria ignored me (like they usually did). Normally, I would just sit there and doodle in the margins.
I bumped into Reb on my way to study hall. He was pouring over his own notebook, his hand stained with black ink that matched his attire.
“Hey,” he said when he recognized me.
I gave a half-hearted grin in response. I don’t know why I felt so uncomfortable around Reb. I mean, he was nicer to me than Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb–otherwise known as Alvin and Maria–but I couldn’t
bring myself to actually look at him.
I felt like it would be rude not to respond, so I said, “What’re you writing?”
Figures: goths and their poems.
I nodded. “I can’t do poetry. It just… doesn’t come out.”
Reb gave another one of those strange grins. “Wait til you get really angry. Then it just… pours.”
“Not really. More bored. You know what they say: ‘Boredom is the mother of Invention.’”
“I thought it was Necessity?”
“Nah, Boredom creates Necessity, which creates Invention.”
Reb turned a corner, toward the art room, and I continued to walk straight.
Somehow, I’d actually understood what Reb had said.
Study hall was held in a much smaller classroom–there were only four tables and one computer. Most people either aided or went to the library, so I was usually in there alone (save for a freshman who normally slept).
Like Mr. Erwin, the study hall teacher–Mrs. Braydon–didn’t like me either, so I tried to avoid eye contact. I sat at my assigned seat, and flipped open my composition book. In the margins, there was a pair of eyes (which I’d begun to draw at lunch) staring back at me. They were soul-less and cold.
I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that they belonged to Cyrus.
I kept my head down so that it was almost touching the paper, and closed my eyes, waiting for the familiar feeling.
Sometimes it came, sometimes it didn’t.
Today, it came quickly.
I don’t think I could describe it, though. It’s like a pulse, but more…
Quick? More powerful? More… rushed?
I don’t know. I couldn’t really pinpoint a word. I don’t think there’s really a phrase to describe falling into another world, opening a door to a part of your mind that only you have the key for.
It’s like your soul is alive, and it’s taken complete control of your body. There aren’t any inhibitions, or logic. All that exists is whatever you’re writing.
I guess I could say that I completely lose myself.
And it feels good–really good.
As I flexed my hand, I couldn’t help but let my thoughts wander to Maria and Alvin. My throat began to burn, so I refocused my attention to my story.
This is how I erupted.
And it felt great.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020