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White With The Hidden Sun
By Nick Wenzel
The cars rushed up and down the steep rain-slicked road, all in haste for Thanksgiving preparations. A group of children ascended the hill together. The sidewalks bordered numerous apartment complexes, each one separated by patches of grass and fences sloping downhill until it leveled out in a thick clump of woods. The children were on their way home from school and were about to turn into the next apartment complex on the right. All of them wore backpacks and puffy winter coats with hoods pulled up over their heads. And those that had no hoods wore wool hats.
The rain had stopped falling hours ago, but the sky remained gray and cloudy. In the middle of the road were strips of grass housing bony, leafless trees. Being that this was an area mostly populated by Microsoft employees, the majority of faces one could spot on the roadside walking or waiting for buses belonged to Indian people. The group of children walking was no different in that their smooth, cherubic faces were the light brown color of caramel. Walking along, they chattered in the language of their fathers and mothers. They were not the only ones hiking up the hillside, though.
Following behind them at a distance of twenty-odd feet was another determined figure. From a bird’s-eye-view this lone encroaching form resembled a hungry wolf loping behind an oblivious herd of buffalo calves.
The wolf in this case was actually a human boy: perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old. He was lean and somewhat tall for his age. Unlike the children he trailed his skin was the color of Appalachian cream, and though the boy himself had never set foot on West Virginian soil, he retained a blood-echo of all the grit and stubborn character of his not-so-distant relatives. By one look into his surly dark eyes it was clear that the boy came from a rough line of stock, and furthermore that no amount of socialization would alter what bizarre attitudes and leanings murmured within his veins.
Nor was it these brooding eyes alone that gave away the boy’s outlaw ancestry. His appearance, as a whole, spoke volumes and in rather deafening clarity too – so that any curious passerby that laid eyes on the boy might easily find some cause for alarm.
He had a short round head, the hair buzzed down to mere peach-bristles. Two large ears, like an ork’s, stuck out beside the boy’s sharp and prematurely wizened face. In fact, he resembled more of a spry old man than a teenage boy. However,the distinction became obvious in the way the boy dressed. That is not to say he dressed like an average youth, but there were clues: namely the saggy, silky red basketball shorts and the red and white high-top sneakers. As far as a shirt or coat was concerned, the boy had none; his torso was bare except for the single strap that ran along his spare ribs holding the red backpack in place upon the sharp blades of his shoulders. Bouncing as he hiked up the hillside, a wooden baseball bat was tethered slantwise to the backpack by two cords of elastic, giving him the strange distinction of some displaced warrior sent forth from the past to stalk deadly through the modern world -- likely in order to conduct some grievous task.
And though these details alone ought to have been enough to warrant concern, it was the business of his hands that may help to escort home the menace of the boy’s practically naked march up the hillside. His head bent low over his chest so he could better scrutinize their work, he held a long stick in one hand while the other furiously scraped the stick-end with the blade of a hunting knife, whittling it down, until it formed a suitable spear-point.
His name was Brady Gumtree. And for what purpose he prepared this weapon was anybody’s guess.
And so on he went – walking and sharpening, sharpening and walking – his deranged progress not once molested by a telephone report to the police, nor by the bravery of some worried mini-van owner.
Having turned into the parking lot of the Pine View apartment complex, the group of bundled up school kids wandered over and settled by the big community dumpsters to talk and pass the time before they would separate, and go back inside to the warmth of their family apartments for the night. Giddy and free from strict observation, the voices of the children now formed a clear shrill chorus that resounded like nested birds into the air. It was as though there was not one point of discussion, but four or five loudly sung soliloquies scrapping for dominance.
Brady turned the corner and moved towards them. His spear good and sharp now, he thumbed the steel blade of the hunting knife back inside of the handle and slipped it into the side of his shorts, the shape of the knife now jostling against his knee in the great depth of the shorts pocket.
The noisy school kids were too absorbed in their own activities to notice Brady approaching. He strolled closer, eyeing them suspiciously until finally he stopped beside them and listened: leering, unobserved, over their heads. The foreign language acted like a discombobulating poison on his mind. His face frowned and creased at the brows as he tilted his head aside and squinted with one eye only, his plump lips parting to expose a questioning darkness. As he strained to make sense of the words his frustration increased, causing him to press his thumb down, unthinkingly, upon the sharp end of the stick.
Then when he realized he was doing this and that his thumb had already begun to bleed he grew angry, flung his wounded thumb down to his side, and snapped at the gabbling school kids.
“What in the hell is you sand-niggers talking bout, anyways? You all sound like a bunch of cartoon monkeys.”
The only sound after that was of the cars growling up and down the road, like a river of mechanical sludge.
Not liking the silence, Brady kept on the offense and filled the stunned emptiness with a fierce, antsy cackle: the kind a hyena would make after cornering a group of neglected lion cubs.
Relishing this superiority, he was suddenly taken aback when one of the Indian boys from the group answered him with a curse, in English, with which he was familiar. It was a boy of nine or ten years old, and the nobility of the boy’s face coupled with the eloquent coldness of his delivery caused Brady to scramble for a rejoinder, one that he hoped would be equally piercing in its simplicity. But this proved an uphill battle, for now he was shaken by the tidal wave of jeering laughter that rushed out at him from the united front. And the more Brady looked on them the more his mind and vision seemed to blur into a nightmarish tableau of laughing brown faces and brown fingers pointing up at him from the puffy sleeves of winter coats.
Outnumbered and desperate, he countered with the first thing that popped into his mind:
“Yeah? Well your mothers a stanky, ol, pumpkin-breath!” Immediately upon hearing his own words, Brady wanted to flagellate himself: Pumpkin-breath? Why, that’s the damn dumbest thing I ever said, he told himself.
The leader of the school kids paused, turning the insult over in his mind to see if it held any weight. Meanwhile his friends waited for the verdict. A second later, after deciding the insult was meaningless, he replied in a cool, sure voice:
“Yes. But this is better than your mother, who is a prostitute, and who sleeps all of the day and does not love you.”
The words stung at Brady’s mind. His cheeks grew hotter and hotter, like the smooth side of a teakettle. Staring back at him now, Brady’s enemy retained the same leisurely hateful expression his face had made the moment he’d spoken, his thick, dark eyebrows slanting and his arms crossed to give him a solid and steady appearance; behind hi,, the row of cinnamon-colored faces pointed and laughed at Brady for having a dissatisfactory home life.
Brady didn’t know what to do. His mind moved in many directions at once – feeling one bitter feeling after the next. And before he knew what he was doing Brady had plunged the sharp stick into his enemy’s stomach.
So well had he sharpened the stick that it pierced first through the puffy winter coat then entered the victim’s stomach muscles, about an inch and a half deep, where it stayed suspended even after Brady let it go.
The air suddenly felt charged by a tense electrical current. And there followed a moment of pure confusion while every one, including Brady, but especially the victim, tried to make sense of what had happened. The stabbed boy’s eyes grew huge and white, each with a perfect brown circle of terror floating in the middle, as he looked down at the stick jutting out from his belly.
The girls all screamed when a dark flow of blood ran out from under the winter coat and onto the victim’s pants. The victim staggered then fell onto his backside, like a man too drunk to stand, his mouth open in a noiseless scream. One of his braver friends stayed with him but the rest of the kids, including Brady, ran off across the parking lot like startled cats, until they had all disappeared inside their families’ apartment to hide.
Slamming the front door of his mother’s apartment shut, Brady leaned his back into it and panted hard from having run up the steps, pale and startled by what he’d done.
Down the hallway the TV threw flashing light onto the wall above the couch and Brady could hear the sounds of a courtroom drama from the speakers. He swallowed the lump in his throat then turned round quickly and locked the door, spinning the deadbolt and latching the metal chain. He started along the hall, running his palms up and down his forearms where goosebumps had formed, and breathed in loud measured bursts to get warm.
On the couch there was a big pile of blankets. At the far end was his mother’s head. Her bleached blond hair hung down over her face. As per usual, she was asleep and probably had been for most of the day. On the coffee table there was an overflowing ashtray, several open prescription bottles, and loose pills scattered between empty bottles of beer. Brady shook his head but knew better than to wake her with his troubles.
Instead he walked over to the TV and switched the knob, the dark gray screen shrinking into a white dot before it snapped quiet. His throat felt dry and like he couldn’t swallow his spit. But the pounding in his chest had slowed since when he’d first come in from the cold.
Looking around now at the dark and cluttered apartment, Brady felt sad and like he didn’t want to be there very long. He stepped into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. A half-eaten chicken from two days prior had stunk up the whole inside of the fridge, causing Brady’s nostrils to twitch in disgust. He snatched a large bottle of orange-flavored pop off the rack and hurriedly shut the door so that the odor of the chicken would be trapped inside, and so he would not have to smell it anymore.
Guzzling pop straight from the bottle, his Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. When he finished drinking he let out a loud sigh and set the bottle down on the countertop. Then he noticed the wound on his finger from where he’d poked it with the stick. The blood had congealed by now and formed a crusty smear on the tip of his thumb. He squinted at it before sticking the whole thumb into his mouth to suck at.
“Brady? At you, Brady?” called his mother, her voice groggy and issuing from some strange realm between sleeping and waking.
“Yeah, Ma,” Brady growled, staring resentfully from the kitchen over at the mound of blankets. “Go back to sleep! …Jesus!”
“Okay, honey,” replied his mother, shifting her weight on the couch and nodding off again.
Muttering curses and shivering with cold, Brady went into his bedroom and rummaged through the clothes hamper lying on the floor. Eventually he put on a loose-fitting, cotton Seahawks jersey, a gray fleece vest that he zipped up to his sternum, and a red Seattle Mariners hat.
When he’d reached the kitchen again he put the orange pop back in the fridge, stole two bottles of his mother’s beer which he stashed in his red backpack along with a bottle opener, and then headed for the front door. His intention in leaving was partly to avoid being alone with his mother, and partly to see what had happened to the boy that he’d stabbed.
By the time Brady could see the dumpsters where he had committed the crime, the ambulance had already driven the Indian boy and his mother to the hospital. The sky was growing darker and the bottoms of the clouds glowed white with the hidden sun. It was quiet again, save for the rush of cars on the road.
Wondering if there would be a spot of blood on the ground, Brady started over to the dumpsters. But he found no blood there, so he changed course and began walking past the dumpers, over the sloping patch of lawn towards the trees: the place that he usually drank the beers he’d steal from his mother.
Once Brady had vanished through the tree line, a man came down the steps from one of the apartments.
He was tall: about six-foot three. He wore an orange bubble-vest over a flannel shirt – the sleeves rolled up to his elbows; a pair of dusty, faded blue jeans, mud-caked cowboy boots, and a green and white mesh baseball cap from which black and gray spikes of coarse hair shot out like porcupine quills.
By staring down through the window of his unlighted apartment the tall man had witnessed everything from the argument to the attack; he had even stuck around to watch the paramedics lay the Indian boy in the stretcher and drive him and his mother out of the parking lot. More than once, while watching, he had had to suppress his laughter.
Crossing the parking lot now, with his hands buried in his jeans, the secret witness stepped up over the curb and casually sauntered after the boy, moving along the grassy slope for the woods.
From his secret place in the trees Brady could see all the colored lights of the tall buildings down in Bellevue. It resembled a glass city, rising like panpipes into the bruised plum-colored sky. It seemed to Brady a place of pure evil, chock-full of fools and money. He sipped the stolen beer, swallowed it down, and then spat in the direction of the glowing skyscrapers, his face twisted in a scowl. Then turning away from the view he ambled over the dirt and hunkered down upon a rotting tree trunk that was lying on its side in the brambles.
His knees bent up near his chest, Brady continued to nurse the bottle of bitter tasting beer. He didn’t love the taste but he knew he would grow used to it if he drank enough. More importantly he enjoyed the way it made his head feel light and goofy.
Once he had finished the first beer, he chucked the empty bottle off into the trees before reaching into his backpack to find the other. There was a rustling in the bushes behind him, and Brady was startled when a voice called out to him:
“Hope ya got another one of those brews fer me, cowboy.”
Jumping up from the tree trunk and craning his neck, Brady saw the tall man ambling out from the darkness and moving towards him with a large toothy grin that lit up the shadows clinging to his face. The unopened bottle he’d taken from the bag was still rolling across the dirt.
“I’m just kiddin,” said the tall man, patting at his chest, “I got m’own.”
The tall man reached under his bubble vest, searching at the breast pocket of his flannel, and soon his hand came out with a metal flask, which he began to unscrew.
“Like my daddy’d say, ‘Never leave home without it.’” The tall man chuckled and then raised the flask to his lips for a drink.
“Ahhh! Damn that’s good!” he yelped. “Y’want some?” He held the flask out towards Brady who, by this point, had back-stepped to put a good distance between himself and the leering stranger.
Raising his long leg over the fallen tree trunk, the tall man stepped further into the clearing, coming to rest beside Brady’s backpack. By the lights of the city, Brady could make out the tall man’s features. His nose was long and sharp; there was a band-aid across the bridge to help him breathe better, or perhaps to combat allergies. He hadn’t shaved in a few days and there were grayish circles under his eyes – the whites of which were massive and shiny in the dark that fell down from his hat-bill, and inside each eye there was a black pin-prick that must have been his pupils.
“Nah-no thanks,” said Brady, stammering. “I gah-gotta go home now.” And he made a motion to leave.
Sudden and blunt, like the falling of a guillotine blade, the tall man spoke out.
“I seen what you did. I seen you stab that Indun boy. Seen him go off in an ambl’ance and ever’thing…”
Brady stopped in his tracks, his eyes training acidly on the tall man.
“Yep. I seen it all…and I’ll even bet a million dollars there’s people’d like to know who done stuck that little Indun boy. Huh? Huh?”
Brady let fly a few very bad words.
“Whoa-ho-ho there buddy, what kind of a way is that to talk to someone who’s got something over on ya? Come on now. Why don’t you juss settle on down. We’ll have a drink and iron this whole thing out. What do you say to that?”
“I said I gotta go now,” Brady hissed, his voice ornery and covered in thorns. Then his eyes traveled down to settle on the backpack still resting by the tall man’s cowboy boots.
Watching the boy’s eyes, the tall man looked down too, and then he chuckled. “Well alright then. If you gotta go then you gotta go. But, say – ain’t this yer bag here?” Stooping from the knees the tall man gripped the backpack, dangling it by his side as he stood up.
It was as if he was being dared to admit something he didn’t want to.
“Yes,” said Brady.
“Listen, I was juss kiddin’ you earlier about tellin’ on ya – fact, I got a real kick outta watchin’ you stick that other boy.” The tall man laughed and held Brady’s backpack out to him, stuffing the other hand inside of his vest pocket then rocking back and forth on his boot heels. “Shit, you ack like you never been teased before, boy! Here ya go. Here’s yer bag back – I won’t bite ya or nothing. Heh-heh. Seriously. Go on and take it, if ya have to leave so bad.”
The beer mixed with his hesitation and Brady started to feel lethargic, unsteady on his feet and in his judgment. As fast as he could, he debated on whether to take the backpack, or just leave it behind and try to run past the tall man for home. His logic felt clumsy, like a prosthetic he was still learning how to use. His mind swarmed with images of his mother and of the Indian boy bleeding on the ground. Brady’s every limb felt weighted down and faint, almost as though he could be pushed over by one finger. Suddenly he was jolted outside of his head once more, yanked from his stupor by the screech of anger now crackling through the tall man’s voice.
“Shit, boy! Take 'er already,” he said, snorting with impatience. “I ain’t got all damn night juss to hold this, while you stand there pussyfootin’. Now take ‘er!”
Brady hardly knew what he was doing before he raised up his hands and had done it; his fingers clutching at the backpack, he went to yank it free, only to find it didn’t come loose right away. The same instant that Brady felt the urge to pull the backpack harder, the tall man’s hand glided out of the vest pocket and, with a tiny crackling spark, dug the stun gun into Brady’s ribcage, releasing a 19,000,000-volt charge through the boy’s body.
Brady’s eyes bulged and rolled wildly in their sockets, his whole body twitching and convulsing like a trout on dry land. His legs went weak. The red baseball hat came off his head as he plummeted into the backpack that hung still from the tall man’s grip. His frail body came down hard on the tree trunk, so that his arms lay strewn in the dirt on one side while his bare legs rested on the other.
Splayed and helpless, Brady heard the tall man mumbling and snickering above him, his voice hovering off, and then starting up again, louder, from behind. It all sounded vague, and like it was happening in some other place far removed from the conscious part of him. Like a dwindling flame, Brady’s eyes soon fell shut and his resistance was lost, carried off under the waves of black that poured down through the trees.
Some time later, the tall man emerged from the woods and hiked up the lawn, putting himself in order as he walked and whistling cheerily all the way to the parking lot. Then glancing up at the window from which he’d once spied, he found now that it was lit up with an amber-colored glow.
His head fell cocked to the side as he stared up at the lighted window, his mouth letting through a glimpse of a pearly white canine tooth. A shadow was cast on the wall inside of someone plodding around and tending to things about the apartment after a long, tiresome journey. He watched a moment more, and wondered if he should go up and ask about her trip to Florida. But figuring he would hear all about it at their mother’s house the following night, over turkey dinner, he decided not to go upstairs. His mind made up, the tall man turned to the side and resumed his whistling as he struck off to his truck. It was starting to drizzle.
A minute later the headlights of a pickup truck came on, casting a yellow glow onto the branches of drooping fir trees. The tall man put the truck in gear, pulled out of the parking lot, and headed off down the road.
#Unreal #Bullying #Racism #Abuse #Neglect #Teenagers #Schoolboys #Violence #Creepy #Disturbing #Hate #Evil #Predator
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