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I knew it was trouble from the moment I saw them. The three of them, standing on the edge of the baseball diamond, clustered together, laughing like hyenas. I was on the other side of the field, huddled around the elderly adults watching over us, their jowls drooping, like benevolent buzzards. I never strayed far from their wary eye. I was small, and they could only see so far.
I stood guardedly by the bleachers, all my friends inexplicably absent from recess -later I would discover there had been a field trip of which I was unaware. The second grade class went to the zoo- and I was orphaned on a sea of AstroTurf. The field was roughly two hundred yards in length and traced with faded white lines, hints of white overtaking the vibrant green, like the roots of old men’s hair. Decrepit soccer goals stood on both ends of the field and a batting cage on the corner of the diamond. On a cloudy day, it was a depressing sight.
I sat, alone, trying to ignore the bursts of guffaws coming from the baseball diamond. I rested on the corner of the hard wood bleachers and distracted myself by looking around the field, desperate for a comrade to keep me company. The rest of the field was peppered with other loners, those who neglected to turn in permission slips due to lack of interest or just plain apathy. Since I had never been informed of the trip, I was stuck with the people who didn’t want to go on a field trip. That was enough to make me nervous in its own right.
An especially loud cackle pierced the air. Once more, I glanced at the shady pack. It looked like they were picking up rocks and throwing them violently to the ground. One had a stick. I began wringing my hands together. They weren’t the kind of company I was in the habit of keeping. Despicable and smug, they were under the fascinating impression they were revered by their fellow school mates. Yet open hostility towards the pack was rare. In fact, there was a rather disturbing feeling of anxious chumminess towards them. I just avoided them altogether.
But I was stranded, a loner among loners, watched over silently by droopy teachers. The point of interest on the field was in the corner, and it was dominated by three large boys with sticks and stones. But there were no other people worth spending my time with and I was not about to waste a recess. Besides, I was curious.
As I walked toward the pack, my stomach churned wildly, first words jumping into my head, then hastily discarded. Even their backs were intimidating. The tallest stood in the center, his bulky build overpowering the smaller two, both of which were much larger than I. He carried a sleek complacency about that gave him the air of authority. He was the de facto “leader” of the group. He was the one who initiated most of the bullying. It was probably his idea to do what I was about to witness.
I meekly approached the hulking figures and cleared my throat.
“Wha-what you guys laughing about?” I asked hesitantly. All three turned swiftly, their giggles sharply severed. They sized me up and down, nailing me to a label.
“What do you want?” the middle one asked, deciding I was a boneless loner. His language far surpassed that of a normal second grader and if his size wasn’t enough to daunt me, his speech would certainly do the trick.
I shrunk back, realizing I should have remained at the safety of my bench.
“I-I was just,” I stammered, twisting my hands together. “Wondering what you guys were up to?” I took several steps back, ready for an onslaught. The buzzards couldn’t protect me now. But instead, one of the smaller ones piped in. He looked like a turtle.
“Hey! Pork! Hey, Pork! Lookit the stupid thing!” He sniggered into his hand, pointing at the ground. I looked around Pork to see what turtle boy was referring to.
My stomach lurched unpleasantly. Lying on the ground in the general path of the kid’s bony finger was a bird. It lay in a heap in the disrupted soil, one of its wings twisted at a gruesome angle and bleeding from several lacerations on its skin. It was trying to prop itself up with its good wing and limp away on its wounded legs. Its beak was cracked and appeared to have survived a great fall. Its eyes were a deep, terrified black. I stood staring at it, my stomach in knots, frozen. Pork laughed harshly.
“Stupid thing!” he said, poking at it with his stick. The bird tipped and fell back to the ground. The three boys burst out laughing, while I looked on, wide-eyed and horrified. “Look at it try to crawl away! Watch it try to crawl away!” he said to the other boy. The snake-faced boy snorted like a pig and threw a pebble at the bird. I had tried to crawl away once again, but this rock sent it back down to earth. More howls.
I gaped at the bird, unsure what to do. I looked behind me towards the rest of the kids. I considered swiftly scooping it up and bringing it to the buzzards, but the pack would quickly overtake me, that I was sure of. I was inching backwards, staring fixedly on the wounded creature when Pork grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and pulled me back.
“Hey, punk,” he said, punching me in the shoulder. The blow stung and I fought tears of pain and bewilderment. “Hey, why don’t you give us a hand? Why don’t you help us with this stupid bird? Here.” He placed a large rock in my hand. It was heavy, smooth. It felt warm.
I stared down at the rock, then looked back up at Pork. He had a malicious grin on his round face and the little slits of his eyes blazed at me. I shook my head, my eyes round as tennis balls. The snake-faced kid jabbed me in the back with his thin finger.
“C’mon,” he said. “Throw it. It’s lots of fun!” He looked at Pork, his face searching for approval. Pork grinned appreciatively and hit me again.
“Throw the rock,” he cajoled, as if it were the most reasonable request in the world. I clutched the stone between my hands, rocking back and forth from one leg to the other.
“Uh-uh,” I said. “Uh-uh, I can’t, I gotta go,” I spluttered, trying to back away. Pork roughly grabbed my shoulder.
“Throw it,” he whispered, deathly quiet. The turtle faced boy giggled enthusiastically. I looked down at the bird and my stomach somersaulted again. It was looking at me. Its tiny black eyes stared at me with what, to me, looked like deep clarity. It started shuddering madly, trying to move away from the fearsome pack, but only succeeding in stirring dust and garnering guffaws. I fought back tears.
“Here’s the deal,” said Pork, putting his heavy arm around my shoulders. “If you don’t throw the rock, I’ll tell everyone you’re a stupid little chicken.” I stared at him, stunned. That was a low shot, even for him. “And that’s not all,” he said, waving his finger in my face. “I’ll also tell everyone you love Mrs. Arbuckle.” Snake face and turtle face stopped laughing and stared at Pork, perplexed. Mrs. Arbuckle was an especially gruesome buzzard and a comment like that was rock bottom dirty. I spluttered something about it being a lie and I wasn’t a chicken, I wasn’t a chicken. All the while I held the rock in my hand, the sediment getting warmer. Pork just smirked like a shark, his arms folded, confident.
For a few moments, we just stared at each other. The stone heavy in my hand and his words weighty in my mind. The other two boys were making tentative chicken sounds, looking from Pork to me and back to Pork again, wondering what they would see. His menacing figure stood over me like a vulture and I shriveled away like his rotting dinner. He grabbed me and pushed me so I was standing right in front of the bird.
“Do it,” he whispered. I looked at the other two boys, hoping for some sort of miracle rescue, but they just stared with stupid curiosity, clucking. I looked down at the bird. It was lying on its back now. Its good wing was splayed out, as if pointing far away and its other was stuck beneath it. Its legs were mangled and its eyes stared at me, pleading. I squeezed the rock. I’m not a chicken… I thought to myself.
I let out a shuttering sigh. Then, I gripped the stone firmly in my hand, raised it over my head and threw.