by Xenophon Hendrix
When I woke up Friday I no longer felt exhausted, but I did feel spacey, like reality had become somewhat less real. Ursus assured me that my stamina would grow with practice.
The weather wasn't exactly good, but it was good enough to ride our bikes. Before I left for school, Mom asked me, "When are you going to get the shit out of your drawers and write your letter to Father Christmas? Your brothers and sisters finished theirs a week ago." Writing letters indicating what we wanted for Christmas was a family tradition. This year, Mary had helped the two youngest.
"I'll write it tonight."
"Your father and I will be starting our shopping tomorrow. If you don't get it done, you'll be getting sheep shit and a shovel."
The big school event of the day was the collection of the note cards for our term papers. Other than that, it followed the lately established pattern. Al avoided me. Carol glared at me. Donbo kept to himself at post-lunch recess. And Kirsten didn't hide the fact that she liked me. The last item on the list counteracted the first two and made me feel warm inside.
During our end-of-school-day hug near the coat hooks, I got a kiss on my cheek, too. I had a happy thought. "Would you like to come over to my house after school?"
"I'd love to meet the rest of your family, but I have to ask my mom."
"We can tell Mary and Sean the plan. I'm sure they won't mind stopping by your house long enough for you to check."
The four of us headed to Kirsten's. On the way past Mom's van, I confirmed my assumption that having Kirsten over would be fine.
Kirsten went in her house for a few minutes. I noticed that she had changed and was now wearing jeans. She never wore them to school. I wondered how her butt looked in jeans, but her coat was too long to see. As Kirsten was getting her bike, Mrs. Kennedy stuck her head out the door. Mary and I waved. "Hi, Mrs. Kennedy."
She looked at Sean. "I don't believe we've met."
I motioned with my head, and we went into the garage. Kirsten said, "Mom, this is Sean MacDougle. He's a friend of Arthur's and is in our class at school. Sean, this is my mom."
"Pleased to meet you, Sean."
We were all getting back on our bicycles when Kirsten noticed that her friend Pam Derbyshire, who lived across the street a couple of doors down, was out. "Do you mind if I ask Pam to come along?"
"Not at all." I was being honest. I knew that with my friends and family, there was zero chance that Kirsten and I were going to get any privacy, nominal or otherwise, so the more the merrier.
When Pam got her bike, I noted that I was no longer the only one present with a short bicycle. Finally, we headed down Dale Lane, Kirsten's street. As we crossed Regard, the street Jewel Staid Elementary School was on, I thought I saw Carol Flagler and his buddy Pat heading perpendicularly toward us, but I didn't acknowledge them, and they said nothing. A few seconds after we crossed, I looked over my shoulder, but I didn't see them.
I don't like that, thought Ursus.
Neither do I, thought Arthur. They both live west of here.
They could just be visiting a friend, I thought. The other voices in my head agreed, but none of us felt confident.
As we approached Sean's place on Bradley near Topiary, I asked, "You coming over later?"
"It depends if my mom needs me for anything."
As we rode down Twine, I saw that Danny was out. "That's my friend Dan. We'd better stop and say hi." We turned into the drive. Danny had bicycle parts spread all over the garage floor. Jenny immediately headed for Mary.
"Dan, this is Kirsten Kennedy, and this is Pam Derbyshire. They're both in my class at school. This is my friend, Dan Lukowski. He goes to Lager Junior High."
"Hey." He looked at Kirsten. "So you're the fox that has my man Artie feelin' all squishy." Gee, Dan, thanks.
"I don't know about the fox part." Kirsten looked at me. "Do I make you feel squishy?"
"Something like that."
She took my hand and looked at Danny. "I guess so, then."
"Cool. Artie, do you still want me to build you a bike?"
"Yeah. I'm feeling the need for something taller."
"I'm trying to sort out my parts to see what I can use to build a pedal car, and I want to set aside the parts for your bike. You want something faster, too, right?"
"What, you starting a new project?"
"Yeah. If I make it right, a pedal car with two riders and a plastic covering to cut the wind ought to be able to go faster than a bike, and it would kick ass."
"Flipped out." The Arthur part of my brain thought it was a splendid idea.
"Anyway, let's pick out the parts for your bike. I have some almost new 26-inch wheels over there, and I can make you a ten-speed." So we spent a few minutes picking out bike parts.
"Pay for the paint, and I'll make it any color you want."
"Flat black. Do you need the money now? I'd have to go home to get it."
"Nah, tomorrow's good."
"I need to get going, Dan, or my mom's going to start to worry."
"See you later, then."
After we were moving, I said, "Sorry about the delay, but when Dan is in the throes of creativity, it's best not to derail him."
"I know the feeling," Kirsten said.
Mike and Terry were out, so we had to go through another round of introductions. Terry said, "Amazing! Artie in the company of three pretty girls."
Pam looked embarrassed. "I don't think I count," said Mary.
"Don't sell yourself short," said Mike.
"I just meant that I'm his sister. There's nothing amazing about him being seen with me."
"Oh, so you accept the pretty part. It sounds like you're getting a swollen head."
"And I see you agree with being amazed about the pretty girls, too" added Terry.
"I didn't mean anything like that!"
"Sure you didn't. We know that you secretly think that it's amazing that Arthur's in the company of non-relative females," said Mike.
"And we've also learned that you're getting conceited," said Terry.
"You two are awful. Horrible. Despicable."
I stepped in. "Yes they are, and you should know better than to mess with them when they're managing to work together." I said to the Prestors, "I'll see you guys later. You should go talk to Danny about his latest plan."
We put our bikes in the garage, and I brought Kirsten and Pam in to brave the clan. By the time we hit the kitchen, the mob had formed. "Pam, I don't think you've met my mother. Mom, this is Pam Derbyshire, she's in Mr. Dean's class, too." I then introduced the mob.
"Rich says you're Artie's girlfriend," said Susan.
"I don't know," replied Kirsten. "We've never really said."
I would have preferred better circumstances, but I didn't see a way to delay the issue gracefully. "Kirsten, do you want to be my girlfriend?"
"I guess I'm going to have to think about it." My face must have looked awful, because she immediately grabbed my hand and said, "I'm so sorry, Artie. Of course I do. Will you be my boyfriend?"
"Well, it's official," said Mom. Mary actually bounced on her toes and let out a little squeal.
Susan looked at Pam. "Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Don't be so nosy," Mom said as she picked Susan up. "You're getting heavy."
"Before we do anything else," I said, "Kirsten has to see my bear." She smiled. So literally everyone headed into the bedroom I shared with my brothers. I shut the door so the poster-size pair picture was visible.
I thought it was a fine piece. Danny had sketched it out in pencils and then had gone over it in pastels. A rampant polar bear, seen from three-quarters, was standing atop a peninsula of ice. It looked as if he was snarling his defiance at something just beyond the edge of the picture. A couple of birds were in the sky and a seal's head could be seen sticking out of the water. "It's called Kayaker In Trouble."
The title earned a couple of chuckles. "That Danny guy we just met did this?" Kirsten asked.
"Yes, he drew it for me when I told him that "Arthur" meant bear."
"That was nice of him. He's good."
"Be careful of him, girls," Mom said. "Danny is a purveyor of bullshit and dangerous to know. The only reason I let my son near him is that Artie is cantankerous, stubborn, and thinks for himself. Someone more tractable could get into trouble."
Wow, that was almost a compliment, sort of. Did Mom actually trust me? Sounds like it, thought Ursus. We admired the picture for another minute. "We have a rec room downstairs," I said. "Do you want to see it?"
So everyone but Susan and Mom tromped downstairs, with Mary taking a detour to drop off her schoolwork in her bedroom. I put my pack full of homework on the old kitchen table. "Would you like to shoot some pool?"
Mike and Charlie declared that they were going to play, too. In the past, I might have argued with them, but Ursus's influence was continuing it's mellowing effect. We ended up playing eight ball with teams of Kirsten, Charlie, and I versus Pam, Mary, and Rich.
Kirsten broke and sank five balls before missing one. She was a better player than Mary, who was better than I. Charlie sank the eight in that game. Sean showed up about then, and I let him take my place on the team. I fetched my guitar from the non-office and ran through the nine chords I'd practiced so far and a couple of scales.
"You are making fast progress with that," said Kirsten. "I'm impressed."
"Thank you, I've been working on it steadily."
"Keep it up, and we'll be jamming in no time."
"I've started to teach Mike and Terry, the two smartasses you met next door, too."
"Isn't that the blind leading the blind?"
"Perhaps. Mostly, we're just working on open chords. Anyone can hear if a chord is sounding cleanly."
"I want to learn the piano," said Mary.
Wonder of wonders, Rich volunteered to sit out the next game. We played pool and BSed until Kirsten said, "The sun will be going down soon, and my mom doesn't want me out after dark."
"All right, I'll ride home with you," I said.
"I'll come, too," Mary said.
So the three girls and Sean and I headed out. As we passed Danny's house, I noticed the Prestor's bikes outside. It was then that I made my big mistake. I was wary already about Carol and his buddy hanging around outside their natural environs. I should have stopped and requested an escort from my friends, but I was lazy about it and, to be honest, a little afraid of losing face. Ursus didn't like it, but he let the younger part of me have its way.
Sean dropped out of formation at his house to shouted, "see yas," and the rest of us continued on to Pam's and Kirsten's without incident.
When we got to Kirsten's, she said, "Come here for a minute, Arthur."
I wheeled up on my bike.
"Get off your bike." Oh.
She gave me a hug and then stepped back a little with her face turned up.
Kiss her, Ursus said. She's inviting you to kiss her.
I suppose there are far more romantic settings for a first kiss than standing in a garage with one's sister in the driveway. On the other hand, we had declared each other girlfriend and boyfriend an hour or so ago. I was nervous, and it wasn't particularly impassioned. Still, when we gently brushed lips for a few seconds, my heart soared.
We stepped apart. Kirsten looked a bit flushed, and she was breathing hard. I suppose I was in the same state. She gave me a huge smile, said, "See you, Artie," and went inside.
I managed to get on my bike without hurting myself. If Mary said anything to me, I didn't hear it. We headed south on Dale toward home, riding beside each other.
I was jolted out of blissful reverie when we got close enough to the intersection with Normal road to see who were sitting on their bikes in the back corner of the high school yard. (The high school's grounds were huge, stretching a half-mile from Cord to Normal.)
"There he is!" Pat yelled. Carol Flagler and their other buddy looked up.
My second mistake was not doing any scenario planning. The Arthur portion of my brain couldn't have been expected to be familiar with the concept, but Ursus knew better. We really should have had some pre-made plans about what to do if it hit the fan at various places between Kirsten's house and mine. I desperately needed a plan. I didn't have time to figure out the optimal plan. I needed the right-now plan.
The first priority was making sure Mary didn't get hurt. There was no way we were going to get past Carol and his crew if we tried to make it to Bradley, so going left was out. Turning right was faster that turning around, so turn right. "Turn right, Mary."
"Just do it. Those guys want to kick my ass." We turned right. There was just a short stretch until the intersection of Normal and Cabin Drive. Cabin ran parallel to Dale. "Go up Cabin." We turned right again to head north on Cabin, increasing our speed all the while. I could hear Carol and his friends hollering as they chased us.
"Go as fast as you can," I shouted. "Head for Kirsten's house and get help." Cabin led to Regard, and we could take Regard back to Dale. I really, really didn't want to get Kirsten's parents involved, but Mary's safety was paramount, and I had no idea what Carol and his friends would do to her. If they were crazy enough to attack me when my sister was present, they might just go ahead and smack her around, too. How could I be sure they wouldn't?
I was in high gear and pedaling as hard as I could. Mary was just ahead of me. If she were going as fast as she could, she could easily outdistance me on her bigger bike, as I knew from our impromptu races. "Don't hold back. Go!" She still held back. "Go! Go! Go!" Finally, she went.
I had an excellent chance to make it. Mary and I were already moving, and Carol and his friends had to go from a standing start. They were farther behind me than the last time they tried to catch me.
Unfortunately, Cabin was Donbo's street. Doubly unfortunately, he happened to be in his driveway shooting baskets. Triply unfortunately, he did, indeed, want revenge. He made a perfect throw with the basketball.
He put it right under my rear wheel. The damn ball even managed to get partially by the whirling pedals before it was hit. The wheel went over the ball and into the air, and the bike jackknifed. I hit the pavement as the bike went spinning and tumbling. I came to a stop when I slid into the curb. Fortunately, I had managed to keep my head from striking anything.
Please, Mary, don't turn around. I shouted as loudly as I could as I took in the situation, "Keep going, Mary." My bike had spun into the other curb. Donbo was walking across the street toward me. I wasn't yet feeling any pain.
We have to get to our feet, thought Ursus, as he took over primary control. I rolled up to my feet--OK now I was starting to feel pain--just as Donbo closed. I could see Carol and his friends coming to fast stops behind him. Four against one were potentially fatal odds. I had no room for mercy. Even though they were just punk kids, I had no choice but to cut loose totally. I hoped to hell that the protection spell was working.
Donbo threw a right at my head. I ducked as I half-spun outside to his right. I feinted an eye poke with my two left middle fingers, and then side kicked his left knee with my right foot, passing it right behind his leading right leg. I shifted some weight behind the kick, and my feint had forced Donbo to put most of his weight onto his left leg. Knees don't bent sideways. Donbo shrieked and went down.
I used the impetus from the kick to speed my move toward the first of my pursuers. It was the guy whose name I didn't know. I didn't even consider running. My body simply wasn't built for speed, and they would catch me from behind like a pack of dogs.
Nameless threw a right at my ribs. I threw a straight right palm jab at his nose. My protection spell must have been working, because his punch missed my ribs and grazed across my back. My jab hit, but he manage to partially dodge it so that it struck on his forehead above his left eye. Palm strikes concentrate force to a smaller area than a fist. He went stumbling back.
At about that time, Carol threw himself on me in a high tackle. I was distracted by my brief battle with Nameless, so I didn't handle Carol's attack as well as I might have. "No chicken-shit faggot is ever going to disrespect me," he yelled as I again skidded across the pavement. My head struck the pavement this time, but it didn't hurt much. I also had a brief moment of enlightenment from Carol's words, but I was too busy to think about it.
My right arm was pinned between our bodies, but my left was free enough so that I could cup my hand and slam it against Carol's right ear. I noticed the blood running down my arm from the scrape in my palm. The angle wasn't quite right for his ear to receive full force, but that blow hurts--a lot--and can puncture an eardrum. He reflexively turned his head and drew up his shoulder to protect his injured ear.
That movement freed up my right arm slightly. I yanked his curly hair with my left hand and crushed his balls with my right. He screamed and did his best to roll to my left.
My position exposed part of my back and right side, and Pat kicked me in it. Without the spell, there would have been a good chance for his strike to be disabling. With the spell, it hurt, but I could continue fighting.
Pat was drawing back for another kick. As soon as Carol cleared my body, I rolled through Pat's supporting leg and forced him to stumble. I used my momentum to help get me back on my feet.
Nameless was back in action. I backpedaled to make sure I could keep my two effective opponents in view. Pat was just getting to his feet. Nameless was approaching cautiously. Donald was writhing and screaming. Carol was writhing and whimpering. My hands were scraped. Blood was running freely from the hole eroded through the right arm of my coat and shirt. The knee was torn out of my pants, and a bloodstain was spreading down the right leg. My right butt cheek felt like it was burning.
"Leave!" I shouted. They didn't leave, but they didn't charge. I had at least put fear into them. Pat assumed a classic boxer's stance. It looked like he knew what he was doing. Shit.
I moved laterally to get out of the street. If I could keep them intimidated long enough to get to a house, I'd either run inside or at least ring the doorbell.
Nameless must have guessed what I intended, because he moved to intercept me. He was a big guy, but he wasn't a good fighter, or at least the spell made him look bad. He threw a left cross at my chin and missed. I stepped toward him and countered with a right-hand palm strike right on the button. His chin was tucked in, so I couldn't put any upward lift to it, but it still was enough to put him down. I kicked him in the side for good measure just as Pat closed.
He landed a combination to my torso, a left hook to the side of my head, and dug his right fist into my ribs. I backpedaled and felt the wind from another left as it passed my face. I had little doubt that I would have been in bad trouble without the spell helping me. His near miss unbalanced him for a second, though, and I tried a low left kick to his lead leg. He dodged it and threw a straight right when he was little off balance.
That gave me the opportunity to circle inside to my right. He threw his left again, but I managed to deflect it by hitting the inside of his arm with a right sword hand. I followed up with a left palm strike to the bridge of his nose as he was throwing right cross at my head. I could feel his nose break. His punch landed with no force, and he staggered away holding his nose with both hands.
I surveyed the situation. Three of my opponents were down, and the other looked like he was out of action. I was somewhat battered, but all my body parts felt functional. My breathing was hard, and as the adrenaline surge started to wane, the pain began to wax.
Oh, fuck it all, thought Ursus.
We seem OK, thought Arthur.
We'll be physically OK, but my study of this society leads me to believe that the shit hammer has fallen and we are about to be splattered.
I took a look at Donbo's house. Should I go ring the doorbell, or should I just split?
The cleanup from this little disaster has just begun, thought Ursus. If we leave, it will look bad. Go get help.
I walked a bit slowly over to the door. Every time my knee rubbed against the material of my pants, it hurt. Damn it! I was still in my school clothes. I was about to ring the bell when a car stopped in the street, blocking it. Carol and Don were still in the road. Mr. Kennedy got out of the car. "Arthur, what is going on?"
"These guys attacked me."
"All four of them?"
"What did you use on them, a bat?"
"No, I was lucky not to be badly hurt. I was just about to fetch one of their mothers." I rang the bell. Don's mother came to the door. School rumor said that she was divorced. "Don is hurt," I said as I pointed in the right direction.
"Ohmygod!" She ran over to him. Mr. Kennedy was crouched down beside Carol. I stayed where I was and took a seat on the edge of the porch.
Say as little as possible, thought Ursus. There is no way the authorities are going to stay out of this mess.
About a minute later, Mrs. Beauchamp--or whatever her name was--came rushing toward me. I stood to get out of the way. "You little bastard!" She gave me a push as she hurried by to get into her house. I guessed she was calling an ambulance.
About another minute after that, my dad pulled up in his car as he came from the opposite direction as Mr. Kennedy. I went to meet him. After he got out, Mr. Kennedy approached him. "Mr. Kennedy, this is my father, Warren Powyr. Dad, this is Mr. Kennedy, Kirsten's father."
They shook hands. "Call me Fred," said Mr. Kennedy.
"Warren," said Dad.
Dad looked at me, "Your mother just received a telephone call from a frantic Mary. Are you hurt?"
"I have several scrapes, but nothing seems badly damaged."
"What in hell is going on here?"
Mr. Kennedy went back to comforting the fallen. I told Dad everything, starting with Carol's and my altercation at the lunch table, continuing through the first time he and his friends chased me, and ending with the fight. Of course, I left out Ursus and magic. As I was talking, Don's mother ran back out to her son.
"You took on four guys and won? Did you use a bat?"
"No, I didn't have a weapon."
He looked skeptical. I could see the pain in his eyes when he said, "Arthur, let me look at your coat." I handed it to him, and he went through all the pockets and then squeezed it all over. "Turn out your pants pockets." I did so. The only thing in them was the small pocketknife I had consecrated as my athame. I always carried it with me ever since. He put the knife in his own pocket and patted me down.
"I'm sorry I had to do that, but it's hard to believe that all by yourself you beat the living shit out of four guys in a fight. Did you have help? Did they leave?" He gave me back my coat. I noticed that Pat was now sitting on the lawn beside Nameless, who had regained consciousness and was holding his jaw.
"No, it was just me." Dad looked around the street and lawns. I was hurt that he didn't believe me, but I understood how unbelievable my story was. A car came up, and the driver blew the horn. Mr. Kennedy briefly spoke to him. The car turned around and left.
It was almost dark before the ambulance showed up. It had its lights on but not its siren. The medics checked on the four boys. A few minutes later, parents started showing up, then another ambulance, and finally a police car with two officers. The officer's started taking statements. The older one walked over to Dad and me.
"Are you his father?"
He asked for ID. Dad gave him his driver's license. I didn't have any ID. My school didn't issue cards. After writing things down and asking a few question of my father, he said, "I need parental permission before I can question a juvenile your son's age. May I do so?"
"Go ahead." Ursus didn't think it was wise to talk to the police, but none of my consciousnesses knew the local rules. Ursus thought to us, you do the talking so we sound more like a normal eleven year old, but pay attention when I warn you. Stay calm, and stick just to the facts. Give no opinions.
The other parents had moved their cars. The officer said to Dad, "Is that your car?"
"Go clear the road please." The police officer guided me so that we were underneath a streetlight, but he didn't ask me any questions until Dad came back.
One of the medics came over and shined a light on me. "Are you badly hurt?"
"May I check out your son?"
"I'm not that hurt," I said.
The medic ignored me and did a fast check, lingering a bit on the bloody spots. He addressed my father. "He seems OK, but I can call for another ambulance to be on the safe side."
"Dad, I'm just scraped up."
"No," said Dad. "That's all right." The other ambulance left. The parents with hurt kids had apparently cleared out with their children, but Mr. Kennedy was still talking to the younger officer.
The older one said, "Tell me what happened here, Art." Ursus kept me calm, and I told the officer all the facts but refrained from editorializing or name calling. He took notes. He then went through them and had me confirm everything he noted.
"Where did you put your weapon, son?"
"I had no weapon, officer."
"Do you expect me to believe that you severely beat four boys and didn't have a weapon?"
"I can't control what you believe, sir, but I had no weapon."
"Have you had any training in unarmed combat--karate, maybe?"
"No," said Dad. "He's never studied anything like that."
Mr. Kennedy got in his car and left. The two cops stepped away and conversed briefly. The younger one got a big flashlight out of the police car and began searching the ground.
The older one made me go through the story a third time in great detail. I told him exactly the same story. He addressed Dad, "May I search your son?"
"I already did that."
"I'd like to do it myself."
He put me against the police car, just like on television, and searched me thoroughly. When he was finished, he asked Dad, "May I search your car, Mr. Powyr?" Dad told him to go ahead. He didn't find anything there, either.
The younger one came back and talked to the older one again. Finally, the older cop said to Dad, "I don't believe your son's story, and it will be compared to those of the other boys once they have received treatment. Given your son's age, though, we won't be taking him to juvenile hall for the night, and I'm releasing him to your custody. Until the prosecutor's office decides if he is to be charged, he is not to leave your premises, other than to attend school or to receive medical treatment. Do you understand?"
Shit, I was being grounded by the police. "Yeah, I understand." The officer gave Dad some documents to sign.
When we were free to go, Dad and I loaded my bike into the car trunk and went home. Shit hammer, indeed.