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"I'm going to write one hell of a story," he confided to his empty apartment. It was presently joined by the blowing winter draft, a constant companion. He joined in with the draft's mirthful shriek and laughed nervously at the apartment's imperious silence. "I'm just going to call it, 'How I Spent my Summer Vacation; a theme by Michael Anderson.' Simple, direct. That crazy teacher is going to know exactly what to expect when she sees this crap, and then BAM! Knock her out of the park. How the hell do you write a theme, anyway?
Did you know that certain types of moisture will make books swell up? I always thought that was hilarious. Just imagine, a textbook, called, A Road to Revolution filled with all these facts, and then it gets pregnant on this moisture!
So here's how I'll start off the paper.
For my summer vacation, I was dead in an attic. It was the last day of school. I had two of my books with me: Practical Physics and Roads of the Romans. Moss grew on them both, and they swelled up the size of Sears' Catalogues! I was what? How old? Let's say I was ten, so I guess it was in the summer of-- here he hesitated, and the draft intensified, as if in answer, and he nodded-- you're right,fifth grade. Yeah, I was going into fifth grade. I was a smart little sonofabitch back then, yes sir!" he told the draft, and laughed at its answer.
It was two weeks before the end of the summer when the cops finally found me in the attic of that abandoned house. Why don't you kick back and sip a cup of coffee? Pour me a cup too, if you don't mind. And yeah, if you want to slip a little whiskey in it, I'll look the other way. Nothing wrong with giving your drink a little extra zing.
I hadn't thought about Alex in over a decade, even though we went to the same schools before he dropped out, hadn't considered him at all, even though he'd left a scar on the fleshy part of my hand where the thumb meets the index finger. The swelling had gone down, but the flat pink line never went away. That was before the incident in question, and the scar had swollen like, well, like a book filled with moisture, and it stayed swollen until Alex dropped out of high school. It's started to swell up again, steadily growing.
When you die, you lose a lot of your memory. With some people though, it comes back (I mean, I guess I can't be the only one). It doesn't come 'flooding' back. These bizarre memories unwrap themselves one by one, like malign tricks pulled out of a hat by some mystic. Now, at least, I remember how it happened. See, I'd mouthed off.
Benny wasn't really a friend, he was just someone to hang around with so that I wouldn't look and feel so stupid. I was sitting in the classroom during our fifteen minute break, trying to explain to Benny the fundamentals of superheroes, as he never saw the need to read comic books. When I asked him if he thought Superman and Spiderman were essentially opposites in their make-up, he replied only with a dumbfounded expression, his mouth hanging open like a snake's before a meal.
What's your problem?" I demanded. "You look like Alex Renson after a teacher asks him a question. Honestly, that kid's almost too dumb to exist."
I didn't realize how loudly I'd spoken. I hadn't even meant to say it, Alex had already cut me once, and I was cocky, not suicidal. The remark just flew out of my mouth, like a cork that pops out of a bottle of champaigne. The room was silent. Benny gasped, and my words hung in the air, palpable like the June humidity. I didn't bother to look around to see Alex's expression. It would have served only to terrify me, and I couldn't afford to lose my nerve if I was to have any chance of escaping.
I ducked into the bathroom during lunch and sprinted out into the hallway towards the classroom. Alex caught me, and I guess he didn't have his switchblade on him. Maybe he'd just decided that simpler measures were called for. When he punched me I heard my nose break. The pain was there, but I was away from it. Much more monumental was the sound: obnoxious, crunching and wooden, like splinters. I fell backwards against the lockers but I didn't get up again, just covered my face and pressed. Staunching the blood flow wasn't nearly as important as stopping the tears that squeezed out of the corner of my eyes, friendly, like they were saying, Hello, Mikey! We've come out to play! And we're gonna screw with you! Getting into a fight at school was pretty bad, but getting knocked out with one punch and then crying about it was horrible beyond belief. I lowered my hands and watched the blood crawl down my T-shirt and rest in the crotch of my jeans, residing there like a stubborn cat.
"Little Mikey's got his period!" Alex turned and repeated the message to everyone in the hall, lest someone had missed it, or heard it and forgotten. Without thinking about what I was going to say or how it could possibly save the situation, I opened my mouth, but fifty-two people exploded in laughter and I closed it again. Fifty-two pickup! trilled my sing-song-head-voice. I didn't bother looking around for a teacher; they tended to steer clear of Alex. If faculty were around they wouldn't help, even if they decided to intervene. I closed my eyes. Hopefully Alex would get tired of beating on me, and hopefully I would die. I think my silent entreaty must have been answered. The bell rang. Thank Christ for small favors.
I took refuge in the janitor's closet. The janitors didn't use it anymore. They'd acquired a new one, with sofas and cleaning supplies. All the girls avoided it because of the way they stared and whistled softly when they walked by. On the left wall hung a mirror with cracks that spread their tentacles across its surface. I hunched over the sink and stared into the mirror. The cracks sliced my face in half, diagonally, like light that cuts across the tops of buildings. My nose was still bleeding, swollen. Tip of it leaning toward my eye, same way a kid would lean, uneasy, against a wall. It was my fault really, I shouldn't have expected anything else. Alex was a bad guy, and he was a lot bigger than I. I was lean and ferrety, quick from constantly dodging Alex, truant officers and my dad. Maybe Dad would stop chasing me and be a little more respectful once his son outgrew the threats.
I didn't bother coming out until the final bell rang. Tried to think of it as a day off, but I spent the whole time waiting for it to be 3:10, so it really wasn't different from any other day. I didn't like walking home with Alex still on the loose, and if not him, there was always someone else who might decide to read an offer into my scrawniness. (Hi! Wanna smash my face in?)
That's where I go back. All memory lost. When I came out I was sure I had died. I kept telling them to find the person who killed me, but they kept using words like 'traumatized' and 'confused.' But I did die. When they brought me out of the attic six weeks later, my still-broken nose was as swollen as the books I'd brought with me. Just didn't want to read them anymore, so I took them back to my dad's office. Tried to shove them back into his bookshelf, but they didn't fit, too swollen, so I ripped off their covers.
Michael Anderson finished typing and scribbled at the top of the page, in big, childish letters:
"How I spent my sumer vacation, a theem by Michael Anderson"
He wiped his sweaty hands on his faded, bloodstained jeans. Then he rocked back and forth as his audience, the friendly draft and the austere but listening apartment, gave him their critiques. He laughed into the silence.
"It feels good to hear you guys and then laugh. Usually I only laugh at like.......comic books. They're the only things I read now."
He paused again, as if expecting his friends to comfort him. But they had left. He lay back in his armchair and rocked, responding now only to the rhythmic, swollen silence.