A Short Story by Scott Semegran
The little boy sat on the floor in his room surrounded by his toys--Micronauts action figures, Hot Wheels race cars, Star Wars action figures and vehicles, Evel Knievel doll and motorcycle, Shogun Warriors in various sizes, and a pile of Legos intermixed from various sets. His name was William. His mother called him Billy, just like his uncle who died ten years earlier in the Vietnam War was called, but he liked to be called William. More than anything, he liked to play in his room all by himself with all of his toys surrounding him on the floor. In his room, he was safe. He liked that.
He had a vivid imagination and enjoyed introducing the different toys to each other, intersecting their fictional worlds into one. The few times that other neighborhood children were allowed in his room, they had an issue with that, the fictional worlds colliding.
They all said to William, "Micronauts don't fight Star Wars people!"
"And why not?" William said.
"Because Micronauts aren't in the movie Star Wars, dummy!" they all said.
The other neighborhood children weren't allowed in his room after that. William spent most of his time after school in his room although he would occasionally venture into the back yard, a large grassy area with a tall oak tree in the back near the fence, a mostly completed treehouse perched up in its canopy. With two rooms to play in--one inside and one outside--his world seemed rather large; there wasn't much need to go anywhere else except for school. School, to him, was an evil place. He hated going to school.
William stood up one of his Shogun Warriors, the one called Brave Raideen (the tall one painted red and black with a bow and arrow and a crazy, silver mask that made him look like King Tut or something), and he said, "What are you going to do about that jerk Randy at school?" William made his voice as low and gravelly as possible to speak like what he thought Brave Raideen would sound like.
"I don't know," William said in his normal voice.
"You should do something to scare him real good," Brave Raideen said.
"Like what?" William said, curious.
"You should get the thing in your mommy's nightstand. That'll scare him real good!" said Brave Raideen, then laughing an evil laugh.
"Yeah!" William said, jumping to his feet. He tossed Brave Raideen to the side, opened his door, and ran down the hallway to his parents' room, his long, lanky arms swinging like those of a spider monkey. His mother heard him running and called out to him.
"Billy? What are you doing?"
"Nothing, mom!" he said, entering her bedroom and running around the queen-size bed to where her nightstand sat. He laid down on his stomach in front of the nightstand and reached under the bed. "Randy is going to be sorry he messed with me."
He wrapped his hand around the metal railing of the bed frame then slid his hand down the length of it until he found what he was looking for: a small key wedged between the mattress and the frame. He propped up on his knees and looked at the nightstand--a cheap Sears piece made of particle board to look like oak with various things of his mother's on top like a bottle of nail polish, a women's magazine, a lamp, an alarm clock, a remote control for the TV, a framed photo of William with his step-dad--then he slid the key into the keyhole above the handle of the nightstand drawer.
"I hope this still works," he said, whispering to himself, turning the key to the right, and then turning it to the left. The lock popped and he slid the drawer open. "Yes!"
Inside the drawer were three things: a Bible, a vibrator that looked more like a skinny curling iron than a sex toy, and a 25-caliber American Derringer pistol. That gun was considered a "lady gun" by firearms enthusiasts, but to William, it was James Bond's gun since it looked similar to the 9mm Walther pistol in the Bond movies. He picked up the gun and held it tightly, aiming at an imaginary target on the wall, picturing Randy's stupid face looking scared in his mind.
His mother called to him from the other side of the house and said, "Billy? Are you in my room?"
"Yes, mommy!" he said, putting the small pistol in the pocket of his shorts and closing the drawer. "I needed a tissue!" He locked the drawer and placed the key back where he found it then ran to his room.
"Please respect mommy's privacy and stay out of her room!"
"Yes, mommy! Sorry, mommy!"
Back in his room, he returned to his place on the floor and propped up Brave Raideen, restoring his majestic stance in the middle of the toy congregation.
"Did you get it?" said Brave Raideen, his voice as menacing as William could make it.
"Yes, I got it," William said. He pulled the gun out of his pocket and showed it to Brave Raideen.
"I have taught you well, young Shogun Warrior."
William smiled at Brave Raideen, pleased with himself.
William attended Crestridge Elementary School in Converse, Texas. He was in the second grade. Like most of his schoolmates, William lived in a nice, suburban neighborhood and he rode his Huffy bike to school almost every morning, unless it rained or was overly foggy. William didn't like fog. He worried the fog would eat him if he rode his bike into it. On the front of his bike, strapped to the handlebars, was a wire basket which he used to carry his lunchbox. The metal lunchbox had a cartoon image of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia on the side--Luke wielding a lightsaber and Leia brandishing a blaster--while Darth Vader loomed over them from the sky. Inside the lunchbox was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bag of Fritos, a Little Debbie cupcake, a Thermos of juice, and the 25-caliber American Derringer pistol. The gun rattled inside the lunchbox as it bounced up and down on the ride to school.
"I'm going to scare Randy real good," William said to himself as he briskly peddled his bike.
Later that day, while William stood in line for lunch, he knew he wanted to move the pistol from his lunchbox to his pocket so he could take it with him outside to recess, which immediately followed lunch. He asked his teacher, Ms. Brookshire, if he could use the bathroom before going into the cafeteria.
"Yes, you may William. Don't forget to wash your hands afterwards," she said.
"Yes, Ms. Brookshire," he said, then departed the line for the bathroom.
Inside, he locked the door to the last toilet stall, opened the lunchbox, and pulled out the small pistol. It's black, gunmetal shined brightly under the fluorescent lights in the bathroom, and he could see the muddled reflection of his face in its side, an unrecognizable, smeared facsimile of his face. He admired the pistol for a few seconds then slipped it into the front pocket of his Levi's Jeans. It fit snuggly in his small pocket. Again, he was pleased with himself then left the bathroom to rejoin his class for lunch. When he got back in line, he accidentally bumped into Darren, a plump kid with frizzy hair, freckles, and a sassy mouth.
"Hey, watch where you're going, you dufus!" Darren said, irritated, then shoved William with his elbow.
William didn't apologize. He put his hand in his pocket and held the pistol grip tight, thinking of the look he hoped to see on Randy's face when it was time to confront him on the playground after lunch.
Behind the school and beyond a long stretch of blacktop basketball courts, the playground equipment majestically stood in the sun, waiting for the children to come out for recess. The school bell rang loudly and a sea of kids poured out of the back doors of the school, flooding the playground with laughter and screams and chatter, red balls bouncing and flying, and teachers huddling to gossip. Everyone enjoyed the respite from the school routine--kids and teachers alike--except for William. He dreaded recess every day because of that jerk Randy. Instead of playing, William stood at the corner of the playground, peering across the blacktop, keeping an eye on Randy's whereabouts around the swing set or jungle gym. Randy was not in William's class but their classes shared a segment of recess together, a twenty minute period of torture. After scanning the entirety of the playground, William eventually found Randy on the opposite end, wearing his usual fascist uniform--blue striped t-shirt, brown corduroy pants, white tennis shoes, short-cropped hair--and shoving a girl to the ground. William slipped his hand in his pocket and gripped the pistol grip.
"I'll show you!" he said, stomping across the blacktop, his face red. "I'll show you real good."
William beelined for Randy, both hands in his pockets, his face searing with anger and resentment and hurt. Any kid in his path quickly moved out of it, looking at poor William with confusion since he was generally considered a sweet boy by all the students and teachers. Randy, too busy laughing at the crying girl on the ground, didn't notice William until he was right next to him, huffing and puffing and panting and sweating. He looked at William's red face and laughed.
"You eat a hot pepper or something?" he said, stepping over the girl toward William.
William just stood there, huffing and puffing, his hand gripping the pistol in his pocket tightly, thoughts rushing through his mind like scenes in a movie. The visions in his brain caught his attention and the scene in front of him blurred out of focus. He imagined blasting Randy in the gut with his pistol and felt satisfaction while watching him crumple to the ground, his arms wrapped around his midsection, writhing on the ground in agony. The daydream faded to black with explosions like fireworks in his eyes. The next thing he knew, he was on the ground, his back in some gravel, Randy on top of him thrashing him about, then Ms. Brookshire lifting Randy by his shirt collar, scolding his bad behavior.
"You are going to spend some time in the office, mister!" she said to Randy, a sour look on his face. "You go right now. I'll see you there in ten minutes."
She released his collar and he sulked off, kicking a rock innocently sitting on the blacktop. Ms. Brookshire knelt next to William and helped him up. He dusted himself off, his face still red but red with embarrassment, not anger.
"Are you all right, sweet William?" she said.
"Yes, Ms. Brookshire," he said. He did his best to hold back the tears but his eyes sprung a leak.
"Don't you worry. I'll make sure they punish that rascal real good."
"Thanks, Ms. Brookshire."
She instructed her class to line up to go back inside. William got in the back of the line, embarrassed and dejected. As his class made its way inside, William watched Randy approach the door closest to the principal's office. William didn't know what was going to happen to Randy but whatever happened, he hoped it involved a paddling and a call to his parents. He slipped his hand in his pocket to make sure the pistol was still there and hadn't popped out during the ruckus. Feeling its cold, metal body gave him a sense of relief while he followed his classmates back inside the school.
After school and in the backyard of his home, William dragged Brave Raideen with one hand across the grass toward the tall oak tree with the treehouse up top. In his other hand was a wad of action figures--Han Solo, Spider-Man, Batman, a Micronaut missing his head and one leg--cinched at the wrists by a rubber band. When he reached the base of the tree, he set the wad of action figures on the grass and placed a dangling rope hanging from the tree around the neck of Brave Raideen. Up in the tree, a pulley attached to the treehouse waited for William's queue to work and so he pulled on the rope to lift up Brave Raideen. William wasn't strong enough to carry Brave Raideen with him up the wooden ladder attached to the side of the tree. After Brave Raideen reached the top, hanging stiffly in midair like a condemned criminal with a noose around his neck, William shoved Spider-Man (his favorite) in his pocket while the other action figures held on to the rubber band so he could climb the ladder to the treehouse. Once up and inside, he pulled Brave Raideen into the treehouse with an old wooden cane then released him from the noose. He was setting up his toys when his mother called for him.
"Billy?" she said, yelling from the back patio, her floral-patterned kitchen apron around her waist, her auburn hair in a tight bun at the back of her head. "Billy? Are you in the treehouse?!"
"Yes, mommy!" he said, calling back.
"Come in when it gets dark, please."
The treehouse was a six-foot by six-foot wooden structure, mostly enclosed, and sparsely furnished inside--a two by eight wood plank was attached to the wall inside to function as a bench, a milk crate was turned upside down and used as a table, a throw rug that smelled like mildew and old dog lay under the milk crate, tying the room together. It wasn't much but to William, it was a boy's heaven. The doorway to the treehouse faced the back patio to his family's house and the window, the single portal on the opposite side of the treehouse, faced the wooded area behind William's house. The window's sill also served as a stage for William's dramatic reenactments of comic book or movie scenes, his action figures the pawns in his make-shift plays. He set Han Solo, Spider-Man, Batman, and the Micronaut on the window sill while Brave Raideen watched from the floor.
"Almost ready," William said.
Outside in the woods, some colored movement caught his eye. He reached under the milk crate for a pair of military binoculars--a wonderful present from his father last Christmas/Hanukkah--and he examined a tree in the distance with a strange blueish blob near its trunk. He discovered a face peeking at him, a face he was familiar with: Randy's face. Still wearing his blue-striped shirt, he peered around the tree at William's treehouse while William peered through his binoculars at Randy. And to his absolute, utter astonishment, Randy waved at him, a wilted gesture of surrender. William dropped the binoculars and rubbed his eyes. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. It was as if he was witnessing Darth Vader handing Princess Leia a bouquet of beautiful flowers as a peace offering, just plain weird. He picked up his binoculars and looked some more. Randy gestured if he could come over and William reluctantly nodded. He turned and sat on the floor, all his toys around him, and braced himself. 'What have I done?' he thought. 'What does Randy want?'
A few moments later, he heard the sound of someone scaling the tree. At the threshold of the doorway, the familiar short-cropped hair and blue eyes cautiously appeared, and then slowly the rest of Randy came in the treehouse, sitting on the floor and looking around curiously.
"Wow! This is so cool," he said. "I've seen this treehouse before but never inside. You're so lucky."
William smirked then looked up at the ceiling, an open space where the roof was unfinished, some leaves and branches poking through, and he sighed.
"Yeah, but Steve is too busy to finish. He works all the time. He's my step-dad."
"At least he does something for you. All my dad does is--" Randy said, then he started to cry. William was shocked at the sudden display of emotion from his bully. Randy turned his head to reveal a bruised spot on his jaw near his ear lobe. It was pretty clear, even to William, that he had been slugged and it looked like it really hurt. Randy sniffled then wiped his nose on his short sleeve. "I just wanted to say I was sorry for shoving you at school today."
"It's OK," William said, embarrassed.
"No! It's not OK. I don't know why I did it. I guess I was tired of being bullied by my dad."
"Your dad?" William said, surprised.
"When the school called and told him what I had done to you, my dad got real mad. He said I was no good. It hurt so bad when he hit me that I knew I must have hurt you bad too. So I wanted to say I was sorry. Do you forgive me?"
"No one made me come here and do it. I just feel bad is all."
"OK. I forgive you," William said, smiling.
"Yeah?!" Randy said, delighted.
"The Secret Crestridge Handshake?" Randy said, extending his hand out to William. He was happy to finally be offered the opportunity to perform the secret ritual (which he knew by heart) with another student. I would tell you the choreographed steps to The Secret Crestridge Handshake but then it wouldn't be a secret anymore. The two friends completed the shake flawlessly and laughed. "We did it!"
"What is that?" Randy said, pointing at Brave Raideen.
"That's Brave Raideen. He's a Shogun Warrior."
"Oh. Why is Han Solo standing next to Spider-Man?" Randy said, pointing at the window sill.
"I don't know. I like to make up new stories with all my toys," William said, sulking, waiting for a disapproving sneer from Randy.
"Oh! That's neat. Let's make up a new story together!"
Surprised, William smiled and handed Han Solo to Randy. They rearranged the toys together, setting the stage for a new story.
William's mother pulled the meat loaf from the oven, set it on the stove to cool, and then wiped her manicured hands on her apron. Her husband Steve, William's step-dad, would be home from work soon and he was almost always on-time--something William's natural father never was. They divorced when William was a baby and William spent some time in the summers with his natural father; the rest of the year he lived with his mother, Pam, and Steve (whom he called Steve, not Dad). Steve liked to eat as soon as he got home from work so he would have time to watch the evening news and deflate from his stressful day by drinking a cold Pearl Beer. Looking out the window, Pam realized it was getting dark and that William (or Billy, as she liked to call him) was still out back, playing in the treehouse. She hadn't heard him come back inside and decided to fetch her son. She turned off the oven and went outside.
On the patio, she could see William's head bobbing around in the treehouse. She was about to call his name when she noticed another head in there, leaving her bewildered.
'Does Billy have a friend up there?' she thought. He didn't mention to her about having anyone over. How could she have not noticed? She called to William and he appeared, standing in the doorway of the treehouse.
"Yes, mommy?" he said, calling back to her.
"Do you have someone up there with you?"
"Yes, mommy. My friend Randy from school."
"Randy?" she said, sorting through the list of names of kids she knew from the neighborhood or from the school. The name seemed very familiar to her but she couldn't place his face. "Does Randy need to go home? Or does he want to eat with us?" she said.
"I don't know. Let me ask him," he said, disappearing back into the treehouse.
She scratched her head and pondered some more. 'Randy? That name sounds so familiar,' she thought.
A moment later, William appeared in the doorway, this time with his friend Randy, whom his mother had never seen in person before although she had heard William describe the bullying he received from Randy many, many times before. Not putting two and two together at that very moment, she was pleased to see her son playing with another child.
"Randy wants to eat with us!" William said.
"OK, come inside then," she said, raising an approving thumb.
The two boys quickly huddled and discussed something that Pam couldn't hear. When they were done, they separated, gave each other a high five, put about a foot of space between each other, and then braced themselves to jump. Before Pam could scream for them to stop, immediately worried that they would hurt themselves, the two boys were airborne. They dropped to the ground, quick and heavy like two sacks of potatoes, and when they touched the Earth, a loud bang rang out--the discharge from the 25-caliber American Derringer pistol in his pocket--startling the slumbering birds in the woods behind their house, setting them in flight. Both boys crumpled to the ground. Randy quickly got up. William did not.
Pam ran to her son who was laying in the grass in a fetal position. She knew he wasn't dead because he was moving but a large blood stain covered the majority of his right thigh. He was bleeding profusely and, not having any foresight whatsoever that this would happen, she didn't know what to do.
"Oh my god!" she said, violently shaking. She knelt next to her son and picked him up, wrapping him in her apron. She quickly took him in the house while Randy followed her inside.
Pam stared at her apron while she waited for her son in the lobby of the emergency room. Randy sat quietly in a chair next to her, playing with a Rubik's Cube she had in her purse, something she kept with her in case William ever got bored. She stared at the blood on her apron and marveled at the sheer amount of it and how it changed the colors of the floors from white and yellow to a dingy, brownish maroon. After William was taken away by some nurses, Pam asked Randy how William came to have her pistol in his pocket, but Randy didn't know. She wasn't quite sure what to think of that and, mostly, she felt extreme anguish for what had happened to her son and couldn't help but think that it was all her fault. She had purchased the pistol for protection in the years between divorcing William's father and meeting Steve, when there wasn't a man around to protect them. Once she married Steve, she thought of getting rid of the pistol but never did, being swept up in the busyness of newfound love. All of this was lost on Randy who was immersed in the perplexed profundity of the Rubik's Cube. She placed her hand on his shoulder and said, "Are you thirsty?"
"No ma'am," he said, not looking at her, still twisting the colored cube diligently.
"Should I call your parents?"
"I don't remember my phone number."
"You don't know it?" she said, puzzled.
"Well, I'm sure they'll understand when I tell them what happened."
"I'll probably get in more trouble," he said, sniffing.
"Why? It wasn't your fault."
"I'm always in trouble."
Just then, a doctor entered the waiting room, standing in front of Pam and Randy, a couple of fingerprint-sized smears of blood on his shirt, a clipboard in his hand, and a stethoscope around his neck. His name tag said "Dr. Masala." Pam quickly stood up while Randy continued to play with the toy.
"Ma'am, your son is going to be fine. The bullet went straight through muscle and didn't hit any bone or tendons. William is very lucky," he said with a slight Indian accent.
Pam raised her hands to her mouth, sighing heavily.
"Thank god!" she said, holding back tears.
"Let me ask you a question. Why did your son have your pistol in the first place?"
Pam stood there, stricken by guilt and shame, and didn't know what to say. She didn't know how her son got a hold of the pistol so her mind was a black hole that she was looking into for answers but not finding any.
"To be very honest with you, I have no idea how he got it."
"Mmm hmm," he said incredulously. "And why didn't you keep it locked up?"
"It was locked up in my nightstand, I swear."
"Mmm hmm," he said, scribbling something on the paper on the clipboard. "Well, when these types of incidents occur, we are required to call family protective services. You will be getting a call from them in the next few days."
"Oh, OK," she said, perturbed.
"You can see your son now. Have a nice night," he said, then turned and walked back into the emergency room.
Pam looked at Randy and said, "Do you want to go see Billy with me?"
He looked up, confused. "Who is Billy?"
"I mean, William," she said, putting her hand out. Randy gave her the Rubik's Cube then followed her into the emergency room.
A few days later, William sat in the cafeteria at his school, scarfing down his lunch--a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bag of Fritos, a Little Debbie cupcake, and a Thermos of juice. He finished his lunch before all the other kids then sat at the end of the table, excited to go outside for recess. Sassy mouth Darren looked down at the brace around his leg, put there to keep his leg straight, and said, "How do you walk with that thing on?"
"I put one foot in front of the other," William said, smiling.
"Boy, you're a real genius. You know that?"
William didn't respond. He was too excited.
When the bell rang, William bolted outside as fast as he could with his gimp leg, heading straight for the playground. Waiting for him by the jungle gym was Randy who was wearing brown corduroy pants, white tennis shoes, and a red Spider-Man t-shirt. Behind Randy, a few feet away, stood his teacher Ms. Benedict. She watched William limp his way from the back of the school to Randy, who was patiently waiting for him. Concerned that Randy was going to start trouble, she decided to intervene. She stepped next to Randy and put her hand on his shoulder.
"There's not going to be any problems today, is there?"
"No, Ms. Benedict. We're the best of friends now," he said, smiling. "Really!"
"Well, that's great."
When William reached Randy, he put his hand out and they commenced giving each other The Secret Crestridge Handshake. Ms. Benedict was pleased seeing their little friendly ritual. Randy whispered something to William, and he agreed then limped to the other side of the jungle gym. He stepped on top of a short, cement wall, spread his legs into a stiff, heroic stance, raising one arm straight up, his finger pointing to the clouds. He indicated that he was ready.
"All right! Here I come!" Randy said.
"What is William doing over there?" said Ms. Benedict, shading her eyes with her hand, squinting.
"That's not William!" Randy said, scoffing. "That is the great and powerful, BRAVE RAIDEEN! Not even a bullet can keep down the Brave Raideen!"
"And who are you supposed to be?"
"I'm Spider-Man. Duh!"
Randy left Ms. Benedict behind to join his friend on the other side of the jungle gym.
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