Silently Screaming

BREAKING FATE PUBLISHING

Published by

Breaking Fate Publishing

 

http://www.breakingfatepublishing.com

© 2017 by Breaking Fate Publishing

 

All Rights Reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.  Please purchase only authorized electronic and print editions, and do not participate in or encourage any form of piracy of copyrighted materials.  Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Please visit us online at http://breakingfatepublishing.com
Edited by Kim Young

Copyright © 2017

 

Silently Screaming
by Jason R. Davis

            “Billy, Billy, what a little willy,” Troy said in a sing-song voice as he circled around the boy.

Billy’s tears flowed. He tried to get away, but couldn’t as they all circled him. The moment he tried to get past one, a rough hand pushed him back into the center. Even Lisa, who was smaller than he was, pushed him, taunting, “Hey, Billy, do you even have a willy?”

“He should be using the girls’ bathroom,” Sarah laughed.

“Yeah, he’s a girl,” Mike smirked, pushing Billy forward. Billy didn’t turn to look back at him.

They all chorused their agreement, then started their chant again.

Billy tried to push away the voices. This was all his fault. He shouldn’t have gotten caught, but Troy played sports and was so much faster than he was. Rich had joined in, both pushing him down so the rest of them could catch up. It was all his fault. Always his fault. It would always be his fault.

Troy hocked a loogie, spitting it right into Billy’s hair. He just pulled his knees in tighter, rocking back and forth as the circle tightened.

“What now?” Sarah asked. She tried to copy Troy’s loogie, to no avail. Instead, she pushed Billy, who had to reach out and stop himself from sprawling along the grass.

He probably deserved that, too. Billy was used to it. Ever since his family moved to town last year, he had been picked on. Being the new kid was never easy. They had only been there two days before Troy singled him out. He wasn’t sure what he had done, but suddenly found himself being chased for two blocks until he had made a wrong turn into an alley that dead ended at a wooden fence. Slamming him into it, it was the first time Billy had met Troy’s fist and got covered in his phlegm.

A year later, Troy still picked on him. The only change was how many followers he had amassed, his influence growing…either from force or terror. Billy was definitely afraid of him, but it was never the right kind of fear as he was never anything more than the object of their torment. He was their plaything, the mouse to their cat, endlessly trapped in their claws.

“Hey, Billy Willy, that a new bike?” Troy peered at the bike Billy had been riding when they knocked him off. He risked a glance at his prized possession, something he had worked hard for, saving up his allowance. He had hoped the new bike might get him some attention. Maybe having something nice like that would stop some of the teasing and they’d all want to be his friend instead of Troy’s.

The bike was a Magna, the large letters emblazoned on the center bar. It wasn’t as nice as the more expensive BMX freestyles the pros on YouTube used, but it was black with red flames along the frame. The chrome shined, and he smiled the moment he saw it. He had known immediately it was the one he wanted.

With that bike, he knew he was born to fly. He could see himself racing down the hills around town, taking off down the creek banks. There were all sorts of things he could do. He could ride it to the park and let everyone check it out.

He hadn’t been able to go out the first two days because it was pouring, but the sun came out today. It was finally his day…until Troy saw him on his new bike, kicked him off it, then chased him down.

He looked over at where he had first fallen off his bike. He shouldn’t have run away from it, but Troy had an angry look on his face, clearly upset that Billy had something he didn’t. Troy walked over, standing the bike up.

“This is such a sweet bike. Mind if I have it?” Troy said, a devilish smile on his face as he looked at Billy. “I mean, since we’re such good friends and all.”

“That would be stealing,” Billy blurted. He quickly regretted it as unseen hands shoved him. He returned to looking at his knees.

“Not if you give it to me. That’s what friends do, right? They share, and I think you should share this bike with me. I mean, we’re friends, right?”

They weren’t friends, and they never would be. Billy wanted to yell and scream at Troy. He wanted to hit him, pound his fists into him until Troy did whatever he wanted.

“We’re not friends.” Billy’s voice was barely a whisper.

“What’s that?”

“I said, we’re not friends.” It was a little louder, but still not loud enough for anyone other than Lisa, who was closest to him, to hear.

“He says you’re not friends.”

Troy smiled, then stuck out his lip, mockingly wiping away tears. “I’m hurt. And here I thought we were friends. Well…” Troy let Billy’s bike fall. “If we’re not friends, that makes me angry. I like to break things when I get angry.”

Troy started stomping on the rims of the bike, repeatedly pounding his foot down on the spokes. The kids around him cheered. Their chants grew louder and the group seemed to fall under a hypnotic spell that wasn’t broken until a faraway honk made them turn around. Billy did, too, afraid he might see his mom coming at them.

The car must have been on the other side of the park because Billy couldn’t see it. He turned back to see Troy hovering over him, still smiling.

“Have fun riding your bike home. Next time, don’t get one with messed up tires.”

Troy walked away, the other kids following. Sighing, Billy looked at his bike. From where he sat, he could see the bent rim, the front tire trashed. There was no way he could ride it home. It was going to be hard enough just to walk it home.

Two days. He only had the bike for two days. That was all it took for Troy to ruin the best thing Billy had in his life.

A fresh wave a tears wet his cheeks. He didn’t try to wipe them away or stand and walk over to his bike. What was the point? He had no desire to see what he could salvage. Maybe he’d just stay in the park and let the ravens tear away his flesh. They fed off dead things, right? If he stayed really still, maybe they would come for him.

He wasn’t sure how long he stayed there before he stood and shambled over to his bike. It felt like hours in the time warp of his tears, but it had to have only been a few minutes. Troy was on the basketball court on the other side of the park, tossing around the ball and shooting hoops. Occasionally, Billy would see them look over at him and laugh.

If only he were bigger, stronger. He could run over there and push them around. See how they liked being the ones getting picked on.

Billy stood his bike up and, keeping the front tire elevated, started to walk home.

 

* * *

“How bad’s the other guy?” Mr. Hanlan asked as Billy passed. However, with the man’s strong southern accent and lisp, it sounded something more like, “How bad’th the utter g’y?”

Mr. Hanlan was Billy’s neighbor and talked nice, but he had this seriousness about him that always set Billy’s shoulders up. He was an older man who hunched over, favoring his left leg. His face was heavily scared, his lip stretched thin. His nose looked like it had taken a few blows in his lifetime, and Billy was certain the man had once been a fighter. He didn’t think the old man he saw sitting on his front porch could hit someone, but his eyes told Billy the man could still hurt him if he wanted to.

If he were being completely honest with himself, Mr. Hanlan scared him, but he never could figure out why. Billy never met the man’s intense stare, often finding himself looking down when he tried to talk to him.

“I’m fine,” Billy mumbled. He was only a few yards from the driveway of their condo.

“Well, you dun’t lurk fine, n your bike’th a meth.”

When Mr. Hanlan got up to walk over, Billy wanted to hurry home, but if he did, the man would know he was trying to avoid him. He could run, but that would be even more obvious. He stopped as the old man reached out a hand, lifting Billy’s head so he could see the streaks in dirt on his cheeks, the path of the fallen tears.

Billy took a quick look at Mr. Hanlan’s face, seeing the scar running along his left eye and the discoloration underneath. He forced his eyes away, looking to the sky rather than holding the man’s glare.

“You need ta fight back.”

Billy didn’t reply as new tears formed. The older man shook his head, the sorrow on his face confusing Billy as Mr. Hanlan let his hand drop.

“Takth a quick shoth to the knee. Man can’th walkth, man can’th fighth. Stand up t’ a bully onceth, he’lth leaveth ya a’lnth.” Mr. Hanlan turned away, walking back to his porch. “You’re g’d boy. Justh n’d ta stanthd ‘p f’r yurselfth. Sock a bully in the peck’r ev’ry now and ‘gain, they’ll leavth you ‘lone. That or nev’r havth childr’n restth their life.”

 

* * * *

 

Billy put his bike in the back of the carport behind the garbage cans so when his mom came home, she wouldn’t see it. Then he rushed inside, up the stairs to their condo, and to his room. There, he burst into tears, a fresh torrent he had saved for the moment he was away from everyone else and in his safe place. He could cry and say whatever he wanted here.

He threw himself onto the bed, pulling his pillow to him and burying his face.

“Death, dying, psychotic fantasies fill my mind. Death, dying, psychotic fantasies fill my mind.” He kept chanting, knowing he was alone and no one would hear him. As he repeated it over and over, he kept seeing flashes of them as they stood over him and spit on him.

Now, he could change the outcome. He watched as he grew taller, stronger, soon strong enough to stand high above them. He was a giant, and as he looked at their scared faces, he laughed and brought his large foot down on all of them.

 

* * * *

 

“Hey, Billy. You home?” he heard from the other room. It was quickly followed by more sounds alerting him to his mother’s entry. She set her purse on the table, fought to close the front door because it would sometimes stick, then the jingle of her car keys as she set them next to the purse. Her footsteps got closer and she opened his door. “Why’s it so dark in here?”

Billy pulled the covers over his head, trying to block out everything, including his approaching mother. If they can’t see you, they’ll never know you’re there.

“Hun, did you make yourself supper?” she asked. He watched through his thin blanket as she turned on the light, flooding the room with it, the only darkness being the little trapped with him. “Tom needed me to stay a few extra hours, and I really needed the extra tips. I did stop by Goodwill on the way home and got you something.”

He quickly rubbed his eyes, wiping away the tears before the covers were ripped off him.

“Why are you in bed? You feeling okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just feeling a little sick.”

“Do you have a fever?” she asked, placing her hand on his forehead, then his cheeks. She tried his forehead again before pulling her hand back. “Nope. No fever. I’ll get supper started. Try that on,” she said, tossing something dark and leathery on the bed. “I want to see how it fits.”

She left the room just as a new tear fell down his face. If she noticed, she didn’t say anything. Billy sometimes wondered how he was able to get away from her scrutiny. She could tell when he hadn’t brushed his teeth or scrubbed behind his ears, but was oblivious to hidden tears. Maybe he was getting better at hiding them from her.

He looked at the pile of cloth next to him. It wasn’t black, like he had first thought, but a dark brown with fur on it. What was it? He reached out and lifted the coat covered in patches, fur around the collar. It looked like something out of that old movie he loved to watch, The Tuskegee Airmen. His mom wasn’t even sure where they had gotten the DVD, but he had watched the movie a hundred times. He was sure the jacket looked just like the ones the pilots wore. He could be an airman!

 

*

 

It wasn’t long before Billy rushed into the kitchen with the bomber jacket on. It was a little big, but he would grow into it. That just meant he’d be able to wear it longer. How had his mom been able to find an airman jacket that was so small? Its previous owner must have been really short. Could it have belonged to Billy Roberts? In the movie, he was a smaller guy, and also Billy’s favorite. They even had the same name.

“Woah… Slow down there flyboy. I take it you like the jacket.”

“It’s awesome.”

“Good. I’m glad you like it. Now, put it in the closet so you have it for tomorrow. Weather’s supposed to drop down and you can wear it for school.”

She turned back to chopping the ham. He saw the large pot on the stove and could already smell the horrid stench of the ham and bean soup. He hated it, but he knew if she was cooking that, the power was probably close to getting turned off again. They were behind on bills, and the soup was easy to make, lasting forever. Within a few days, his stomach would ache from eating so much of it. He grimaced at the thought.

But he had a new coat…

“Can I keep it on? Just a little longer?”

“Just as long as you remember to put it up so you’ll find it. I don’t want to get a call from the school because you’re late again.”

“Okay.”

 

* * * *

 

“Wow, nice jacket.”

Billy didn’t turn around as he quickened his pace. Not having his bike, he was already running late for school and didn’t have time to deal with Troy. He had his new jacket, though. Maybe Troy…

No, Troy would just steal it. Billy had to get away.

Before he had a chance, Cameron, Troy’s older brother, stood in front of him.

“Wow. I can’t believe you found a coat bigger than your fat ass. What? Is it triple fat ass?”

“More like tyrannosaurus.”

Billy tried to get around Cameron, but Troy was right behind him, kicking his knee so he fell to the sidewalk hard.

“Wow. Where’d ya learn to walk?” Cameron snickered, looking down at Billy lying at his feet.

Troy laughed. “He hasn’t. He’s still just a baby.”

Billy glanced across the street, seeing a man watching…and wearing a coat eerily similar to his. He felt another hard shove.

“Yeah, he’s a baby just learning to crawl.”

“He can’t even do that. Look at him. He’s just flailing around.”

The man across the street shook his head, watching Billy try to crawl away from the two kids. When he made it to the grass, he pulled his knees up, burying his tear-stained face in them. Billy looked back over at the man. Why hasn’t he done something? If he called out, he was sure Troy and Cameron would leave him alone.

When he glanced across the street again, the man was gone.

Another person to disappear on him. Life was all about the bullies and the ones who ignored them. And then there was Billy, the one meant to always be bullied.

He just wished it would stop. This time, the next, all his life… When would it all be over? It couldn’t end soon enough.

Death, dying, psychotic fantasies fill my mind, he chanted in his head as the two dominated his outside world. He closed them off and let the tears fall until they finally had enough and left him alone.

 

* * * *

 

Billy ran into Goodwill. He knew it was the one his mom had bought the coat from. She had been going to the same second-hand store since they moved there. It was close to the diner where she worked.

He had to get rid of the coat. Maybe he could trade it in and get something else, something he could use…something he could use for revenge.

He stopped just inside the door, a little out of breath from running there after school. School, his day of ridicule. Every class he had with Troy contained some new punishment. By now, Billy thought Troy would have been tired of shooting spitballs at him or kicking his chair. It never ended. Whenever Troy was bored, he always returned to Billy, his main source of entertainment.

It was during his B block of classes that he thought he would snap. P.E. was never one he enjoyed, but it wasn’t because he didn’t like playing the games. Troy and his squad were in the same class. They always found new ways to call him fat. He was now the “Fat Bomb, farting his way across the sky to fall on people”. They had pushed him into Angie, who he had a crush on, causing them both to fall, him landing on top.

“Fat Bomb strikes again.” It became the chant for the rest of the day, all because of this new coat his mom had gotten him. He had to get rid of it.

He hoped she wouldn’t notice, although she was gone so much for work lately, he barely saw her.

He saw a woman at the counter, crying. It looked like she had been talking to the cashier for some time, but judging by the bored look on his face, Billy got the impression she had started repeating herself. He knew the cashier, seeing Sammy a few times after school. He was cool. He actually talked to Billy like he wasn’t some dumb loser. He was nice.

“Please. My daughter donated it by mistake. It was my husband’s coat. I… Everything else was lost in a fire. That coat was everything I had left of his. Please,” the elderly woman pled. At one point, she tried to reach out and grasp the man’s hands in hers, pulling back before making contact.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Stuff is donated and sold all the time,” Sammy said, fussing with some items near the register.

The woman turned away, exasperated. When she saw Billy, who had moved to stand behind the glass case across the counter from where she stood, she gasped.

“You!” the woman screeched. Billy turned around, seeing her eyes wide with crazed excitement. He couldn’t stop himself from taking a step back, preparing to bolt for the door.

Sammy stepped from around the counter. “Ma’am, please, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“That’s the jacket! That’s my husband’s.”

“Um… My mom got it for me. She thought I needed a coat, but it’s too big for me,” Billy said quietly, keeping his head down, not able to meet the woman’s gaze. He looked up at Sammy, who already had an apology in his eyes. “Can I return it and get another?”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t take it back looking like that. It looks like you’ve been through a war zone.”

Billy’s eyes fell back to the floor in disappointment as he tried to ignore the woman now walking toward him. She reached out and touched the scrapes on the coat, one of the rips coming when he was pushed to the ground.

“You get hit by a car?” she asked.

Billy pulled away from her and looked at the cashier. “Please.”

Sammy shook his head. “Sorry.”

“I’ll buy the jacket,” the woman said, looking back and forth between the two. Billy watched as Sammy’s eyebrows shot up. He motioned to the woman in a “there ya go” gesture, but Billy couldn’t help but look at this woman skeptically. Just who was she?

“I need a new one.”

“We’ll look. I’ll buy you a new one.”

“Okay…” He wasn’t sure why he agreed because the woman made him uncomfortable. He couldn’t bring his eyes up to meet hers, but found himself walking with her among the long rows of men’s clothing. They made their way to where all the jackets hung on hangers.

“So you don’t like the jacket?” the woman asked. When Billy looked up, shocked she was talking to him, she nodded at the coat he wore.

“It’s cool.”

“Then why sell it back to me? You don’t want it?”

“Because.”

“Because?”

“It’s too… Well, it’s too big.”

“It was too big for Simon, too.” She chuckled, then stopped and looked at him. She grasped his arms, her arms outstretched like she was studying him. “Wearing that coat, you look so much like him.”

“Really?”

“He was a good man. Hated violence, but was always there to help others. He was a protector. He called himself a guardian and said that God put him here to look out for those who couldn’t look out for themselves.”

“I’m sorry my mom bought me this coat.” Billy took it off, handing it to her.

“It’s okay.” She held it up, studying it, then the boy. “You do look so much like him. I can almost see him in your eyes. He used to love to go to the park. I go there sometimes to talk to him.”

“You must have loved him a lot.”

The woman nodded as she pulled a different coat from the rack and held it up to Billy. She shook her head, putting it back.

“You know what? You keep the coat.”

“What? Are you sure?”

“Yes. He would want you to have it. It would just sit in my closet at home. It will be good for you.”

“Thank you.”

With tears in her eyes, she pulled Billy into a hug. It took him by surprise, and he couldn’t believe he found himself returning the embrace, tears of his own streaking down his face.

“He’ll watch over you and protect you, too. He was a good man.”

Billy could hear her sniffles as more tears came. He hoped she was right.

 

* * * *

 

Billy didn’t know what to make of the older woman. She let him keep the jacket and still bought him a new one. As they talked, she told him stories about Simon. He hadn’t been a Tuskegee airman, but they had saved his life a time or two. Billy could tell she liked talking about her husband, and he liked hearing stories about him.

As he walked toward home, Billy didn’t pay attention, watching his feet like he normally did, only vaguely aware of the world around him.

When he heard a voice call out, he realized his mistake. This way took him by Troy’s house. Billy looked up to see Cameron and Troy, who held a football. They had obviously been throwing it around before something more exciting came along. They both looked at him, smiles wide.

“This is just our lucky day. We get to have fun twice,” Troy said, tossing the football back to Cameron, who caught it without taking his eyes off Billy. He started to feel like a mouse watching two cats close in for the kill.

Where were their parents? They wouldn’t pick on him in front of their own house, would they? What if their mom or dad caught them?

It was obvious they didn’t care because they both walked toward him, no concern on their faces.

“Ha, yeah. Let’s see… What should we do to him?”

“We could strip him down, hang his underpants from the flagpole.”

Billy tensed and took a step back. Suddenly feeling a presence behind him, he stopped.

“Or we could just hang him from the flagpole.”

“How would we get his fat ass up there?”

“Don’t run. If you do, you will always run. Stand up to them.”

The voice came from directly behind him. It was so close, Billy swore he could feel breath on his neck. He quickly looked over his shoulder, seeing no one. Tossing the football back and forth, Troy and Cameron continued to bicker about what they would do to Billy as they walked toward him, as if he weren’t there.

“Stand up to them. Stand your ground,” the voice said into his ear.

Billy eyed the approaching brothers, the raw hate he had for these two burning in his chest. Tears welled in the corner of his eyes, and he felt how he wanted to tear them apart, rip their arms from their bodies, laugh over their howls of agony. He closed his fists, thinking about all those things Mr. Hanlan always said to him. He needed to fight back, “pop ‘em in the nothe”.

He took a step back to steady himself, getting ready to put whatever strength he had into that first punch.

“I think he’s getting ready to run,” Troy said, laughing as he tossed the ball back to Cameron.

“You going to run, rabbit? Huh?” Cameron tossed the ball back.

The world went quiet around him. All Billy heard was the sound as each caught the ball. Flap, flap…flap, flap.

“Don’t hit them. Fighting them will only make you sink to their level. Stand up to them,” the voice said.

Billy swiveled his head. There was no one around him. He heard the two boys break out in laughter as they watched him turn frantically. He stopped and looked at them, terror in his eyes. It had finally happened. He had lost his mind.

He spun and ran away. The two boys didn’t follow.

 

* * * *

 

Once Billy got home, time flowed strangely. It seemed to stretch on, the clock taking its time to tick away the seconds. At one point, he started to read a book, lost in the chapters until his bladder felt like it would burst. As he rushed to the bathroom, he looked at the time. He’d only been home an hour? How could that be? He was halfway through his book, and it looked like it had started getting dark outside.

He relieved himself, a headache coming on. Dizziness had overtaken him, the world spinning. It was like he had been in a dream, but when he rushed to the bathroom, he had abruptly pulled himself out of it and hadn’t fully awakened yet.

He washed his hands, looking at himself in the mirror. A man, wearing his bomber jacket, stood behind him.

Billy spun, but the man was gone.

He knew he was alone in the house, but he kept hearing voices. He tried to go back to his book, still hearing their taunts.

“We’re going to get you.”

“Yeah, we’re coming.”

“You’re just a fatty. Why you so fat, fatty?”

Billy buried himself under his covers, letting the book fall to the floor. The tears flowed as he tried making himself as small as he could in the corner of his bed. If he made himself small enough, maybe everyone would think he was just a pile of dirty clothes or garbage that needed to be thrown away.

“Fat Bomb… The Fat Bomb coming in for an attack.”

He cried himself to sleep.

 

* * * *

 

 

 

Billy didn’t know how long he had been asleep. It felt like it was late, but he didn’t hear anyone and didn’t know if his mother had come home yet. He had a headache, pain left over from crying himself to sleep. Emotionally, he felt spent; physically, he was exhausted. He wanted to go back to sleep, but what good would that do? He’d still wake up in the morning and have to do everything all over again. What was the point?

He got up and shuffled to the bathroom, vaguely aware he was in his underwear. Sometime while he was asleep, he must have undressed himself.

“Let’s hang his underwear from a flagpole.” Troy’s words were still fresh in his mind as he turned on the bathroom light.

He looked at his tired face in the mirror. What if he didn’t have to get up in the morning?

He opened the medicine cabinet and looked at his mom’s prescriptions sitting on the top shelf. He pulled out the closest one he could reach and closed the mirror. The man suddenly stood behind him again. This time, Billy could make out more details.

He was a little taller than Billy, but not by much. He was of medium build and had a kind face. His sad eyes considered Billy’s reflection.

“Don’t,” the man said. He recognized the voice from earlier. It was the one he had heard right before he ran away from Cameron and Troy. Billy didn’t ask who he was. He already knew.

“Why not?”

“Why?” The stranger’s voice and face were filled with pain, his eyes showing compassion.

Billy looked at the pills. What was he doing?

“Maybe they’ll help me lose weight. Maybe I won’t be so fat.”

“And what does that solve?”

“I won’t be picked on. They’ll be my friends or just leave me alone,” Billy choked out between his tears.

“Do you really think what you look like is the reason you’re picked on? There are other large kids. Are they picked on?”

“No… Yes… I don’t know.”

“You don’t see it.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Sure. I never see anything.” Billy’s eyes lowered to the ground. He put the bottle of pills back into the cabinet.

“Stand up to them. You’re pushed around because you let them.”

“But you said no fighting.”

“You don’t have to fight to stand tall.”

Billy looked up in time to see the man fade away. In the distance, he heard the front door slam closed and his mom calling out to him. He quickly grabbed a towel and wiped away the tears.

 

* * * *

 

When he went to the park, Billy hadn’t expected to see the elderly woman from the pawn shop. It was a sunny day, probably one of the few remaining before fall, and he had gone there to… Well, he wasn’t sure. He had hid in the condo the last few days, rushing home after school to avoid Troy and the rest of them. After so many days, he just had to get out. He couldn’t stay home all day on a Saturday.

He knew the park was dangerous because he never knew if he would see Troy. It wouldn’t be so bad if he saw Mike or Lisa. When Troy wasn’t around, they were actually kind of nice to him. They’d sometimes talk and even play with him. Even though he never felt fully accepted, they weren’t overtly hostile. At least until Troy appeared.

Today, none of them were around. He just walked, tossing his baseball up into the air and catching it. He was all alone, and he loved it. Or so he told himself.

When he saw her sitting on a park bench, he wondered if he should walk over and say hello. He still wore the coat. Was the man he had seen her late husband?

She watched as he approached, her face lighting up in recognition. as he neared.

“Simon used to come here. He would sit for hours and watch the kids play. He liked it here.”

“Was he… Was he in the military?”

“Yes, he was. Air Force. How’d you know?”

Billy didn’t answer as he watched a bird peck at the ground. He looked at it, but wasn’t focused on it. He had thoughts swirling around in his head, having no clue as to how he should put them into words.

“He was a good man. He loved to help people, but don’t ever expect him to remember to take out the garbage or do the dishes. He was a good man, though…” The woman broke into tears. She brought up a well-used Kleenex she had been holding in the palm of her hand.

Billy heard much of what she said, but wasn’t paying attention. He was trapped in his own thoughts, working out what he wanted to say. When he noticed her crying, he wasn’t sure what to do. He barely knew the woman, didn’t even know her name, but he did know what he wanted to ask her.

“Did he ever get into fights?”

Her sobs dissolved into a little chuckle, wiping away the wetness from her cheeks. “No. He would never fight anyone. He was the peacemaker. He just had a way of knowing how not to fight. Sometimes, he’d piss people off so much, they were too mad to fight. No, no. He was never a fighter. Why, hun? Are you a fighter?”

Billy shook his head, staring at his hands. “I just get picked on a lot.”

“Ah, I see. If you fight, you’re no better than they are, but if you don’t, they walk all over you.”

Billy nodded

“Well, Simon would say to just stand up to them, but that’s hard. You sometimes need someone to stand with you in order to stand tall. There’s no shame in needing help.”

Billy felt his shoulders droop. It hadn’t been what he hoped she’d say. Having the jacket, he felt like there was someone else with him. He remembered the dream last night, the stranger in the mirror, and hoped it was a sign he’d finally be able to fight back, maybe knock Troy and his goons down a few pegs. Today, he didn’t feel as confident.

“Thank you,” he said, standing.

“No problem, hun. It’s been nice seeing you again. I sense that you’re a good boy. Stay that way. Don’t go off and do something foolish. There’s all these kids nowadays doing stupid things, like taking guns and knives to school. Stay good. Be a good boy.”

He nodded and started walking, having no idea where he was going.

 

* * * *

 

“Hey, Fat Bomb,” Billy heard. Before he could turn, he found himself being shoved forward, falling to the ground. “Why aren’t you home eating another horse?”

Sprawled on the ground, Billy turned to see Troy, Mike, and Sarah. They formed a circle around him. Billy twisted back and forth, trying to keep an eye on all of them. As he turned from one, he got pushed by another.

Frantic, he tried to get away from the endless assault, but no matter what he did, there was more shoving. He felt the tears starting, but he also felt something else. His awakening rage. He thought about how much he wanted to hurt them, to chase them down and do more than just push them. He wanted their blood. He wanted it to cover the ground.

His fists clenched as he felt that burning in his chest. He started to plan. If he hit Troy low, he might be able to push him back, maybe even knock him to the ground. Then he could start pounding on him. Billy was big. He could use his weight to his advantage. Once he was down, Mike and Sarah would have a hard time getting him off. He would be able to pound on Troy for as long as he wanted, as long as the rage burned.

As they started circling him, Billy repositioned himself, waiting for when Troy was back in front of him.

Billy felt Simon’s presence.

“Don’t. Stand tall. Stand up to them. Don’t run.”

When Troy stopped in front of him, Billy felt a rough push forward. It was probably Sarah because he was sure Mike was more to his left. This time, Billy caught himself, keeping his sights on Troy.

“Stand up to him.”

Billy stood up and walked forward until he was nose to nose with Troy, staring him in the eye.

“Whoa, fat boy. What’s this? Going to hit me?”

Billy clenched his fists again.

“Don’t hit him,” Simon said, still behind him. Feeling him there gave Billy strength.

Then he began to realize something as he watched Troy, the two of them close. Could it really be? Was what Billy saw real?

“Come on then,” Troy said, the waver in his voice making Billy certain. Troy was afraid. Billy stayed standing there, holding the boy’s gaze. Then Billy noticed how Troy started to get nervous, his fingers fidgeting.

“You going to hit me or what, fat boy?”

Mike was behind Billy, getting close. He didn’t see him, but some sixth sense told him Mike was reaching out to pull down his pants. Billy turned to glare at him. Mike stopped and stepped back, hands raised in surrender.

Billy turned back to Troy, who took an involuntary step back, looking away. He looked at both his companions as they walked from behind Billy to join Troy. They all looked uneasy. Billy wasn’t sure what to make of it. They had never done this before, no matter how much he begged and pleaded with them. They never stopped until they were ready to.

Then Troy shrugged as he turned, walking away. “Yeah, whatever.”

“Yeah,” Mike said, hurrying to catch up. Sarah quickly joined them, all walking toward the basketball courts.

Billy took a deep breath. It felt like something had changed. His tormenters had finally backed off. Either they were scared or finally bored.

His bullies were gone, although he knew those wouldn’t be the only ones in his life. He saw how his mother’s boss treated her, bullying her so she worked long hours. The elderly woman had been bullied by Sammy, even though the man was just doing his job. Then there was Mr. Hanlan. He always said Billy needed to strike down his bullies and put them in their place. Mr. Hanlan always talked tough, but the moment his son came to visit, calling him old and feeble, he’d stay in his house.

Everyone had their bullies. Hitting them never did any good. You knocked one down, another popped up. Once you get embroiled in that mentality, people started to seek you out, looking for a fight. Once the fighting began, it never ended.

Billy kept walking. This time, when he got home, he wasn’t going to cry. There was nothing for him to cry about now…until his mom got his report card. Then he was sure there would be plenty of tears and a sore butt.

“Good job, kid,” Simon said, watching him go. The ghost faded away. Billy was on his own, and he kind of liked it. He could take care of himself. He was sure of it.

 

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