The Axel Higgenbottom Files Volume Two: The Revenge Incident

March 20, 2014
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Note to self: Make sure no one is recording your conversation on an iPhone before admitting you set a building on fire, whether you are in shock or not.
Note to self2: Make sure no one is recording your conversation on an iPhone in general.
Note to self3: Mark the location of small objects with orange sticky tabs.
I look around at all the moving orange blurs around me and wonder why I didn’t think of the sticky tab idea sooner. I’m wearing an orange vest, too. It makes no sense whatsoever that felons are required to wear bright orange and yellow vests while doing community service, it’s not like we’re going to go anywhere; we’re all either blind, in wheel chairs or disabled in some other way.
There’s one bright side to being legally blind – no prison. Just 100 hours of cruel physical labor.
After the Arson Incident a few weeks ago, everything seemed to go by in a flash. The hours in court, the paperwork, the doctor’s appointments. If it weren’t for my photographic memory I doubt I’d even remember the exact minute I was sentenced to hours upon hours of raking leaves and weeding gardens.
At 3:57 PM just two weeks ago, the judge’s gavel sealed my fate with a vociferous and resounding clank. After hours of my lawyer arguing with Her lawyer, it all ended with that one sound. Everything is a blur in my memory – well, everything’s a blur in general - but that one sound stands out more than anything. Even more so than the feeling of satisfaction when Her sentence of 30 hours of community service was given to Her. I like to imagine the shocked look on Her face. Maybe Her jaw dropped, maybe Her eyes bugged out. Maybe She had a mild panic attack.
It took two different lawyers, but we finally got Her for breaking a probation that was then still intact. It may have been proved unfair, but She still knowingly broke the law. Sadly, it will be hard to enact my revenge since my community service occurs in the morning when most people my age are in school, and Hers is in the afternoon after school. We’re not allowed to see or talk to each other.
The hot, Colorado sun beats down on my face and the dust swirls into my eyes like smoke. Choking, blinding smoke that is always the precursor to the burning hot fire getting into my face, getting into my eyes, singeing my skin, finishing the job.
I drop my rake and claw at my face, trying to get the smo- dust away from me. I can feel it filling my lungs…
“Axel, are you okay?” It’s Cindy, the supervisor. I turn to her distinctive blur. She’s wearing blue today, that’s all I can tell about her. Her hair is cut short, so I can’t see what color it is, and there’s no way I could even imagine her eyes or any other part of her face without getting just centimeters away from it, and that could be awkward.
“I’m fine. It’s just the dust. The rake is making it proliferate, and it’s choking me.” I say, casually waving my hand in front of my face.
“I think I’ll go get the counselor, just to make sure you’re okay.”
“No, really, I’m okay. I don’t need the counselor. I’ll just wait for the dust to clear a bit, and then get back to work.”
“Axel…there’s no dust over here, we’re in a garden.”
* * *
PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A mental condition caused by a terrifying or life threating event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, feeling emotionally numb, having trouble concentrating, irritability, and thoughts about the event. And in some cases, hearing or seeing things that are not there.
“No more outdoor work for you, Axel, we’re transferring you to an indoor graffiti cleaning and trash removing community service group.” The counselor says. She has a very high-pitched voice. I imagine her face is pinched and very pale. But there is one thing about which I am sure – she wears incredibly red lipstick. “It’s not a disabled group, so if anyone picks on you, you’ll tell me right?”
“Of course, Sharon,” I lie. If anyone, as she so eloquently puts it, picks on me, it won’t take long for them to realize their terrible mistake and stop.
I leave Sharon and Cindy to talk over my new arrangements. Luckily, Sharon keeps her office clean, so I don’t trip over anything. The walls in the hallway are light blue. Every few feet I pass by smudges of color. I pause in front of one of them. I see red and green. The frame is shiny and golden. I wish I knew what the painting was. From now on, all paintings will be abstract for me.
The air outside is warm and crisp with a faint trace of flowers beneath the acrid scent of the baking parking lot. I sit on a hard metal bench outside the office and wait for my mom. She won’t be here for a while, since I got off early. My community service sheet won’t be signed today for the same reason. I used to like to sit in front of my computer to do my thinking, but recently I’ve been taking to sitting in the sun. I find the warmth helps me focus. I’m going to need a lot of focus for the plan I’ve been concocting to work. This plan is much simpler than my last. It doesn’t require much effort on my part, but it will succeed in making Her life as miserable as mine.
My mother pulls up in front of me 12 minutes ahead of schedule. Either Sharon or Cindy must have called her. My mom stops the car, turns it off, and opens her door. Rushing over to me, she says, “Axel, honey, are you all right? Sharon called me and said you had some sort of fit?”
“I’m fine, Mom, it was nothing.”
“That’s not what the counselor said.”
“Who are you going to believe, me or the counselor?” I imagine the look on her face. She’s probably biting her lower lip and looking off to the side. She does that when she can’t decide if a mere fifteen-year old high school graduate is smarter than a college-educated adult or not. “Are we going home?” I ask so she doesn’t have to answer.
“I have to run to the store real quick for eggs,” she answers. I see her hand fly up to her mouth, trying to catch the words before I hear them. I was trying to make eggs this morning, but I kept missing the pot, cracking the eggs all over the stove. But it’s not my fault, the stove top and the pots are all the same color.
Time again for the daily battle with the car door. Mom moves to open the door for me, but I catch her sleeve. “I want to do this by myself this time, Mom.”
“Alright, dear.” She backs off to supervise.
I can see where the red of the van door meets the window, so this is where I commence my hunt for the handle. Careful to use my unscathed left hand, I slowly drag my fingers down the door. I feel the kinks from several years of running into the garbage bins, and finally find the handle. I pull it open and slide into the car.
My mother can’t help herself; she applauds before getting in on her side of the car.
* * *

After the store visit, we’re back at home. It’s just barely two o’clock when my cell phone rings. Fortunately, I can see well enough to tap the answer button on the touch screen.
“Hello?” I say.
“Axel, it’s Cindy. Tomorrow for your community service, you’re going to be removing graffiti at Wanton High, okay? See you there?
“Sure, Cindy, I’ll be there.”
“Great! Bye-bye.”
“Adieu.” I hang up the phone, and have my computer read my e-mails to me for the rest of the day. I have a lot e-mails.
* * *
The next day I’m scraping at the bright colors that supposedly say words that I probably wouldn’t be able to read even if I wasn’t mostly blind. The sound of my scraper against the metal of the lockers resounds deep in my skull. Crrrchk crrrchk crrrchk. It makes my teeth itch. Or, my teeth would be itching if there were skin on them. As it is, teeth actually don’t have the unmyelinated nerve fibers necessary for the itching sensation that is actually only found in the skin.
I’ve been scraping this one spot for twenty minutes, and as far as I can see, there’s been no difference. I turn to my new supervisor, Paul. “It’s not coming off,” I inform him.
He directs his answer at all of us. “That’s because it’s not supposed to come off. If you would stop vandalizing school property, you wouldn’t have to take the time to scrape it off.”
One of the girls on the team makes a clicking sound in the back of her throat. “You mean if we wouldn’t get caught vandalizing school property.”
“I’m not a vandal, though, I’m an arsonist. Shouldn’t I be inspecting the fire extinguishers, or changing the batteries in the smoke detectors?” I say in a completely reasonable tone. A tone that Paul for some reason finds disagreeable, because before I know it, he’s inches away from my face. He has blue eyes. The first eyes I’ve actually seen in weeks.
“Wise guy, eh?” he sneers.
I take a step back to get him out of my personal space. “I was not attempting to be humorous; I was just asking a logical question. If the punishments of my fellow graffiti scrapers fit their crimes, why am I not completing a service related to my crime?”
Paul does not take this statement better than the former. “There’s a graffiti wall of flame in the gym, why don’t you go clean that one?”
“Gladly,” I say and start in that direction.
Before I even get to the gym, I hear the sounds of stamping feet, clapping hands, and pitiful little rhymes being chanted. Cheer practice must be going on. The same cheer practice that She must be attending. The court said we’re not allowed to see or talk to each other. Seeing won’t be an issue for me, and I certainly won’t be talking to Her, so technically, I’m not breaking my probation by entering. Plus, I actually would be breaking my probation if I didn’t go in to clean the wall of flame.
Mind made up, I open the door, and immediately abandon the scheme I’ve been creating for the last several weeks for a new one. The cheer squad is currently in the process of throwing several people in the air, where the flyers accomplish amazing flips and spins before falling safely back into the arms of the catchers. Their movements are so big, even I can see them! It’s perfect!
Perfect though it may be, it will take much longer than my original plan, but I think I will be much more satisfied with the results. I scan the yellow walls in search of red and orange smears. Upon finding them, I casually stroll across the polished fake-wooden floor.
“Hang on everybody!” I hear Her familiar voice say. “Jamie, can you go ask Axel why he’s here, in the same room as me?”
Apparently, her friends know all about me, because the person I’m assuming is Jamie walks up to me in a manner not associated with someone trying to make friends.
“Excuse me,” she says impolitely. “What are you doing here?”
“I am here to clean the graffiti off the walls as part of my community service. Don’t worry, you can tell your friend I’m not going to talk to her, look at her, or attempt to harm her in any way physically, emotionally, or psychologically. I’m just going to keep my back to the room and scrub the walls.”
“Did you hear that, Candy?” Jamie yells.
“’Kay.” She flounces back over to her team to continue practice.
I do exactly as I said I would and begin to sponge away the flames. As I predicted, it doesn’t come off easily. I’ll be here cleaning the walls for a while.
* * *
“I just don’t get it, why isn't it working?” sighs Jamie during my second week of washing the fire. It’s already half way gone. I’m making excellent progress, which means it is the time to execute my plan. The ladies, and two gentlemen to be fair, have gotten used to my presence over the days, now is the perfect time.
Jamie was referring to a special kind of trick that they’ve been trying to master since before I started coming. Some kind of throw that ends in a flip. For once in my life, I don’t know the technical term. But what I do know is physics.
“I couldn’t help but overhearing,” I say. “May I make a suggestion?”
Jamie says yes at the same time She says no. I answer Jamie only, of course. “Would you please tell your friend she isn’t supposed to speak to me?” I see Her flip Her hair to the side, and imagine She’s rolling Her eyes. “The problem with your jump is that your flyer needs to readjust her torque by several degrees to the left.” I don’t get a reaction. “She needs to twist leftwards a little bit,” I explain.
“Ohhh,” says Jamie. “Try it, Jenna.”
“’Kay, but I don’t think it’s going to work.”
She tries it. It works.
I smile and return to my paint removal.
* * *
It only takes two more days for Jamie to tap me on the shoulder. “Listen, Axel, we’ve been having another issue. We’re in a cheer competition in a week-”
“Are you now?” I interrupt. Of course, I already knew that.
“Yes! We really want to win, so we need a few more great jumps. We drew diagrams of what we want; we just need you to make them work.” Her tone is pleading; I imagine a similar look is on her face.
“You drew diagrams?”
“I’m blind.”
“Oh yeah…” She shuffles in place a little bit. “Well, we could just tell you then. Please?”
“Alright,” I say after a pause. I don’t want to seem too hasty. Timing will be everything from now on. “You’re going to have to talk it over with Paul.”
“Paul? Like, the football coach?”
“He’s my community service supervisor. I suppose it could be the same person. I need his permission. If I’m helping you, I can’t scrape paint.”
She immediately rushes into the hallway. A few tense moments later, she’s back. “HE SAID YES!” she screams as she rushes in. She nearly runs into me in her haste. “He said he’ll sign off helping us as a substitute for removing graffiti!”
“Fabulous,” I say as I sit down on the bleachers. Jamie pauses in her step. “What?”
“I’ve just never heard a guy say fabulous before.”
“Would you prefer I say foudroyant?”
“What does that mean?”
“It means dazzling.”
Her grin is so big I can see the whiteness of her teeth. “You can never have too many words for dazzling.”
“You can never have too many words in general.”
“You can as a homework requirement.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never done homework.”
“You’ve never done homework?” She sounds positively aghast at the idea.
“I had a private tutor. He didn’t believe in homework.” I shrug.
“I’ve graduated.”
“Indeed. Are we going to come up with new tricks now?” I say, leaning back slightly. Suddenly, she’s sitting really close to me.
“Oh! Sure.” She scoots back over to an acceptable distance. “Hey! Get over here!” she yells to the rest of the squad. Immediately, they gather around.
They explain the jumps they want to perform to me, and I offer technical explanations for how they can accomplish said jumps. They follow all of my suggestions for the first two, and land every jump after about three tries. It’s the third jump that I give incorrect instructions for.
They get in position for the third jump, the two boys at the base supporting the lighter girls, who are in turn trying to flip an even smaller girl off their shoulders onto the ground, where she will land in a back hand spring. They’re just about to twist in the way I told them, which will cause the smaller girl to lose her balance and fall, spraining her ankle at least. With the injury, they won’t be able to go to the cheer competition.
“Wait!” I say suddenly. It’s a surprise even to me; I didn’t plan to say anything. “Lean back just a little,” I tell one of the girls. She complies.
The smaller girl lands the jump without a flaw.
Revenge, I can do. Hurting an innocent bystander, I just can’t.
Back to plan A.
“Thanks so much for helping us, Axel. You want to come to our pizza party Saturday? It’s at Cand-“ She pauses. “Well, maybe you shouldn’t.” She looks shyly at the floor.
“It’s fine; I’m not one for parties anyway. Besides, this was just a business deal. Usually those only get me a fruit basket or a time share at some golf park.”
“I have an orange in my lunch bag,” she offers.
I flinch just a little bit. “No thank you.” I nod to the team and leave the gym.
* * *

I walk out of the school just as the other delinquents are leaving.
“Hey, guys, look. It’s the one who got out of work,” says one of the boys. I think his name is Braxton. Instantly, I’m surrounded by a bunch of sneering teenagers, all of whom are in better physical shape than I. “The little puppy can’t even look me in the eye.” Braxton continues. I think I’ve been staring at his lip ring.
I feel the primal need to defend myself. “I don’t know where your eyes are,” I say calmly, slowly roving my eyes up his face in search of the organs in question.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I’m mostly blind.”
I can hear his demonic grin. “Hear that?” he asks the others. “The walking dung can’t turn us in.” He advances. I curiously lift an eyebrow. I’m generally interested in what he’s going to try. He raises a fist behind is ear, ready to throw it in my face. One more step forward, and I raise my own hand. My arm snakes out and I jab my fingers right behind his collarbone and easily push him to the ground. He’s hissing in pain as he crumbles. I release him and say, “Now that that’s out of the way, do you want to get out of scraping graffiti or not?”
I’m getting the distinct feeling that he’s glaring at me. I turn to the others. “Anyone? You only have to do one thing. Each, of course. You are all quite qualified for the tasks I have in mind.” They all inexplicably take a few steps back.
Braxton climbs to his feet. “You can really get us out of it?”
“Of course,” I say. “It’s not like the Colorado Justice System Incorporation has a great firewall or anything.”
“If it’s so easy, why are you still doing service?” A girl with dyed purple hair dressed all in black asks.
“The sudden dropping of 100 hours community service would be too noticeable. You probably only have ten or twenty, am I right?” She nods. “And you’ve already served how many?”
“About four,” she mutters. Hmm. She must have been ditching.
“Paul’s lazy enough not to be suspicious. You can get out of 16 hours of this just by doing one thing for me,” I say temptingly. I can tell that the rest of the group is starting to consider it.
Braxton spits to the side, “What’s the thing?”
I can’t keep a smile from creeping across my face.
* * *
Saturday afternoon I’m comfortably situated in front of the array of monitors in my bedroom. I can’t see what’s happening on the screens, but my noise-cancelling headphones are supplying me with plenty of information via my delinquent counterpart.
We got lucky. One of the cheerleaders is some kind of do-gooder trying to get Madeleine, the purple-haired girl, to revert to the good side. She weaseled her way into an invite to the party.
After telling the malefactor my plan, it was easy to see that she thinks I’m insane. She wouldn’t dare turn me in, though. Honor amongst thieves or something like that. Or maybe she’s just worried I’d do something similar to her, which I probably would.
Madeleine is in position. I can just barely make her out on the screen. She’s ringing the doorbell. The door opens, and She waves her in. The rest I’ll only be able to hear over the microphone surreptitiously attached to Madeleine’s shirt. After about 30 minutes of regular party jabber, I suddenly hear a sharp cry.
“Candace! What is this!?” squeals a voice over my headphones. My ears immediately begin to ring, but I can’t take them off, not when it’s just getting good.
“What is what, Coach Daisy?”
“I don’t know how they got there, Coach, honest!” I hear panic in Her voice.
“You must know how they got here; they were in your jacket!”
“But they weren’t there when I put it on this morning, I’m sure of it!”
“You know I don’t tolerate smoking on my team, Candace.”
“I’m not smoking!” The panic transforms into fear and a little bit of tears. “They’re not mine!”
“I’m sorry, Candace, but the evidence is against you. You’re off the squad.”
“What? No!” Now it’s desperation. “I can’t be, not with the competition in a week. Please.”
“I was being merciful letting you stay on even when you were being tried for a crime, but this is just too much. I’m sorry Candace. I’ll hold your spot for you. Get your act together, and you can have it back. Now, where are your parents?”
So it’s true what they say. Revenge is sweet.

In a room lit only by a small fire a woman sat, nursing a warm cup of tea, her small form swallowed by a large leather arm chair. Her short black hair was twisted into a bun at the back of her neck, not a single hair out of place. Her pale face was filled by startlingly green eyes and a small ruby red mouth. Her nose was proportional to her dainty lips, and the fingers around her teacup were slender and graceful. She was looking at a small flat screen mounted above the fire. It showed a blond teenage boy walking home from community service.
The woman turned to a large, incredibly bald man sitting next to her in an identical arm chair. He, however, was not swallowed by it. “It doesn’t matter that he’s blind, he’s still useful. Despite his handicap, he just succeeded in getting revenge on that young lady.” She paused to take a sip of her Earl Grey. “I’ve made up mind. Contact him, he’s perfect.”
“I had a feeling you would say that,” came the gruff voice of the shiny-scalped man. “I’ve already printed the letter. All you have to do is sign it.”
The woman pulled a tiny pen from her sleeve, and brought it down to the page. She autographed the paper with a flourish.
Two words were written; her first name, and her last name.
Violet Dunhart.

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