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Pre-Algebra

I was walking to pre-algebra with my head bent down, as always, to make it look like I was watching my step. That isn’t very unbelievable considering my 13-year-old body is tall and ungainly, and my center of gravity is virtually non-existent. In reality, though, the only reason my head was bent down was simply to go unnoticed to Them.
They were scarier than anything in this town; scarier than Mr. Newberg, the gym teacher, when he yelled at a student; scarier, still, than my parents when I got a C on a paper (I never did THAT again, let me tell you!)
Passing Them suddenly made the hallway feel as small and cramped as a janitor’s closet with cleaning supplies all pushed up against you. The only thing I could do was shuffle along, hang my head, and try not to drop my books anywhere near Them. Right then one of Them shouted to someone, and I recognized the voice that belonged to whom They called BoBo. I was nearly positive he wasn’t shouting at me, but I shuddered anyway, and shuffled a bit faster. I could see my classroom door up ahead, and that comforted me a bit. Just a little farther…
“Hey! I’m talking to you!” He shouted again. I shuffled even faster, now actually needing to watch my step so I wouldn’t have to be out here any longer.
“Hey, Bigfoot! Get your butt back here!” Uh-oh. Even my adorable, innocent little sister made fun of my unusually large feet, and there was no way I could ignore Them without getting in it worse with these bullies. They were telling me to stop, after all!
I stopped walking. My math class was so close I could see Aleighsha K. right inside the door. I always thought she had the softest skin, though I hardly ever got close enough to touch her, let alone smell her strawberry perfume. She was inarguably pretty, but honestly, not that smart. The only reason she was in pre-algebra was because her father, Seth K., was the principal of Round Lake Junior High. She preferred to sit in the back, where she was least likely to get called on for an answer. That’s beside the point, though.
Should I make a run for it? I knew that if I did They would be sure to find me after school. If I didn’t, on the other hand, They’d make me late for class, and would probably give me a black eye in the process. I had a split second to decide before They came after me, and I decided to chance it.
I don’t think I’ve ever had such a huge adrenaline rush before. That, though, was only one of my smaller fascinations. I was surprised like you wouldn’t believe when I found myself inside the classroom, with all my books and limbs intact! When I slammed the door behind me, it made such a loud sound, that all 26 students --27 including Aleighsha-- stared at me. Their eyes followed me as I went to my seat, and soon Mrs. Quilting went on with the lesson.
As soon as she did this, all of the attention was redirected to the lesson, and I could begin to think of ways to escape this hopeless situation. I didn’t come up with much, considering our school bullies had never, in the history of Their existence, let a kid go for ignoring them so blatantly.
All day my hands were shaking, and as soon as I sat down to lunch, I was immediately grateful that They all had lunch detentions. Again. There were only about 500 kids in this school, I reasoned. It was only a matter of time before They got bored and started going after some of the more invisible people in this school, and They had finally singled me out.
Speaking of bullying, there are some pretty nasty rumors about what They did to some of the other, smaller kids. Some people say that They invited some fifth graders to a party, led them to a graveyard, and left them there to walk home, alone, in the dark. Some other stories were much more violent. One day a boy by the name of August Earflower came to school with two black eyes and a broken arm, and swore that he fell down a flight of stairs, though everyone knew that wasn’t the case. Who knew that They wanted to do to me!
During recess, while the rest of the kids ran and did cartwheels in the grass, I sat in a corner and watched and marveled at how they could be so oblivious to all those parasites that were in that innocent-looking lawn. While I marveled, I explained my new troubles to Narwhal. His full name was Ryan Narwell, but he hadn’t used his real name since he was seven. When everyone learned what a narwhal was in science, the nickname stuck.
When I was done sharing my story, Narwhal put in his own opinion.
“You’re in deep donkey muck no matter what you do. Do you want to know what I’d do if I was you?”
I was about to say, “No, and I don’t really care,” but once Narwhal gets going, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.
“I’d go right up to Them and ask Them what They wanted. They’d be scared stiff! No one’s ever stood up to Them ever since the first poor kid got hurt.”
I reflected on that horrible week. Not only did a little boy get hospitalized, but all week long every girl in this school started to cry at the smallest things. It was hard to get just one word out that didn’t make them bawl. The culprits weren’t punished, either! It didn’t occur on school property, so there wasn’t anything the teachers could do about it.
I don’t even know of anyone that knows Their real names. They are just called “Them,” or by Their individual nicknames that the rest of the group gave Them. There are about five of Them, and besides when They are bullying, They pretty much keep to Themselves.
I was still deliberating on whether or not to take Narwhal’s advice seriously. It was already ninth hour, and since I walked home I was at more of a risk than if I rode the bus. Unless Narwhal took me to his house, I was on my own. It was the last hour, and Narwhal’s parents are notorious for planning simple things for weeks on end. I would have to walk the half-a-mile route to my home.
I was still nervous as I walked home, and with each step I took the pressure seemed to build. With each step I took I could feel beads of sweat forming on my forehead. With each step I took I felt as if someone were watching me, waiting for me to pass right by him so he could snatch me up. Maybe I’d explode from the anticipation of it all. Though I decided as I walked, that if They really wanted to meet me again, They would catch me on my short route home.
They really wanted to meet me again.
“Hey, Stupid! You too chicken to talk to us in the hallway?! You’re in big trouble with The Man!” It was BoBo again. Apparently he was out looking for new, more exciting people for The Man to mess with. Though the way BoBo was in such a rush, it looked like HE was the real one in trouble.
“He sent me to come get you.” He smiled a cruel smile, “You won’t be going home anytime soon.” He sounded as if he was in on a private joke.
“W-where are we g-going?” I stuttered. No way could I have EVER walked up to Them with courage, though it was a good idea, considering it came from Narwhal. Just walking with BoBo made my knees quake and my teeth chatter like it was below zero, when really it was only mid-October.
We went to the elementary school playground, which wasn’t too far away. It doubled as a hangout for anyone that wants to go there. It was “open from dawn till dusk” as the sign on the chain link fence in front of it said. As we went to the black top that was used for the amateur kickball games and games of tag that always ended with a scraped knee or bleeding head, I vaguely recalled my experiences here, though there wasn’t much to remember.
There was the corner of the blacktop, near the door my class always went in, where I usually sat during recess. It had a great view of most of the games that went on, and was almost always shaded while I was there. Throughout my entire grade-school career, I had been considered a reliable, unbiased source of information for what truly went on with things like fights and girls calling each other ugly names.
Anyway, BoBo led me to the newer playground, where I could see a couple of people doing crazy stunts on the monkey bars. I couldn’t make Them out individually in the setting sun, but They all looked a little too threatening from here.
One of the dark shadows began walking toward us, and BoBo stopped, making me run into him from behind. Still I am convinced to this day that he had planned it.
The Man was the one that was walking toward us, and I suddenly wondered if I needed an inhaler. He came closer and closer, until finally he stopped ten feet in front of us.
“I hear you ignored my right-hand-man, today. Isn’t that right, Bo?” he boomed.
“That’s right, Boss. He managed to escape somehow.” I could tell by the look on his face that even BoBo was a little intimidated.
The Man was close enough now that I could see his muscles as he flexed them in the dying light, and they stretched against his shirt, which was tight against his chest to show off his body. For some reason, though, I didn’t feel very envious of it.
“You know, Bo,” he chuckled, “there are bad things coming for people that try to run from Us. What do you say we do to him?”
“It’s your call, Boss.” BoBo said sheepishly. “Whatever you want to do to him.”
“Don’t be a perverted freak, Bo! Or else you can take this shrimp’s place for him!” Wow. I swallowed back a squeal. This guy wasn’t messing around!
I half expected The Man to bring out a knife just for me. My imagination made a run for it and went on and on about how that knife’s blade would be crusty with old blood, and how dull it would be. The day-mare went so far as to think of which limb he’d like cut off first. I stopped it right there though. There was no need to make him even angrier by puking all over his shoes.
All of a sudden, I heard someone scream. It was seconds later before I realized that the sound was coming from me, though surprisingly it didn’t have anything to do with The Man or his gang. I stopped screeching as I ran out of breath, and did not dare to breathe in as I watched a shadow come up behind me, while a single light illuminated the now-sinister park. The lamp made the shadows dance and appear distorted.
Maybe my mom came looking for me. That thought scared me all the more. The last thing I wanted was my mother to be here with Them. My mother was frumpier even compared to this squashed shadow, and though I didn’t dare turn my back to The Man, I realized even in the bobbing, twisted shadow, that this was not my mother. A second later my thoughts were confirmed. A huge man in a brown uniform walked over and stood over to the side, though between The Man and myself, in a way that gave both of us the ability to size him up without actually turning our bodies toward him.
“Hello, boys. It’s dusk, and this playground is officially CLOSED.” The man said it with an authoritative air and a strange finality. With this and his brown uniform and faux cowboy hat, I assumed that it was a police officer. He had a look on his face that was almost like he was bored, though he had an undertone of seriousness that made all of us know not to mess with him. He was much taller than I was, about 5’10”, and if I were about to break the law, I would be afraid of him. Maybe more so than They were, and that’s saying something!
“What’s going on here?” the official said, probably putting the why-is-this-puny-boy-with-an-angry-mob pieces together. “What are you doing to this boy?” he said, the puzzle finally making sense to him. “What’s your name, Boy?” This time I slowly turned, and faced him. He was a state officer, not from this town, so he wouldn’t have met Them yet.
“Abraham Mulroney, Sir,” I said tightly.
He motioned for me to come to him, and I joyfully ran to him, my knees shaking as if I were standing on a dingy in the middle of the ocean. I stepped behind him, and I felt safer as soon as I was out of Their direct line of fire.
CRICKET… CRICKET… They just stood there, obviously surprised that any adult was interrupting their plans. This was the first time in at least a year that anyone interfered with Them. I hoped this officer got an award for what he just did. There was just one problem: how were They going to react? More importantly, how was I going to get out of this alive?! The seconds that led up to Their reaction were stretched longer than I could have ever believed possible. CRICKET… CRICKET…
“I’ll lead you gentlemen out, and then I’d like to have a talk with this young man. Could you guys head home for me, then?”
They were so dumbstruck that all They could do was nod, and he waved his hand impatiently toward the front gate. One by one, They filed out of the dark playground, leaving me alone with the state officer.
“Thank you, sir.” My voice was absolutely saturated with gratitude.
“It’s about time someone took care of Them. Did They say what They were going to do to you? You seemed pretty scared right then.” His voice softened into concern as he directed all of his attention toward me.
“You have no idea. I’m fine, though. Thanks.”
“Okay. Let’s get you home then. My car is right over there.”
After this exciting day, They never bothered anyone ever again, especially me, since I knew the entire story of Their demise. They were almost openly afraid of that state officer, and They had finally let the face of Their cowardice show for the first time since They began to bully poor kids like me, and that changed them dramatically. The entire gang got Their grades up, and with the help of Their new, fabulous tutor, your beloved Abraham Mulroney, They were all perfect, straight-A students by the end of the school year. They talked with all the other students, and soon people began to forget Their reputation. I was, as it turned out, also Their new best friend, and we got along wonderfully. Nobody new to our school would have ever guessed that They would ever hurt a fly, or would even steal a pencil from a fellow student. All of this happened, essentially, because of my insistence on being on time for my math class.





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