The Bullied Die Young
The crunch of the gravel beneath his feet drowned out by the depth of his thoughts. He was planning the letter as he walked across the school grounds that afternoon, running through the possibilities.
'To whom it may concern...'
None of them seemed quite right. Maybe he should just start with the message. But what would he say? That he wished it had been different? It was his choice after all.
He didn't see them when they approached, fists trailing by their sides like the guns of cowboys in bad Western films. They came slouching forward with their blonde highlights and designer jeans, phones poised at the ready.
He didn't notice the danger looming beyond the troubles of his musings and the crunch of his worn school shoes against the gravel. They jeered at him, mocking his glasses and dorky shirts which, on one of them, might have been considered cool. His gait was slumped, worn down after years of slamming against lockers and retrieving fallen possessions.
Still he didn't notice. He was searching for the words to say goodbye while he crunched past the school buildings. Usually, he would be watching his surroundings; examining the decaying buildings with a detached interest, perhaps remarking over the irony of their aging and intimidating appearance with links to his own miserable experience within the school. On a normal day, he would have seen it coming when they swarmed, seemingly sensing his presence from a hundred kilometres away. Ordinarily, he would have seen the sausage-fingered brute coming for him before his school bag was ripped from his shoulders.
His head snapped up, just in time to receive a tight-fisted punch to the nose. He fell to the ground, silently cursing the gravel as the dagger like rocks cut into his face. The humiliating dirt invaded his senses, ravaging his glasses and assaulting his taste buds with its sickening flavour. Blood flowed freely from his jagged nose. His heart pounded furiously as he pushed himself from the ground, wiping his vision clear, as though seeing clearly would help him in the futile battle.
The leading tormentor's taunting face loomed above his. The boy's cocky smile accompanied a mad glint in his eye, no doubt from the adrenalin rush of facing down his defenceless opponent. Another boy ripped his bag open, trashing his school books by tearing out the pages and throwing them roughly onto the filth ridden ground. Book after book hit the ground, they laughed harder at each one. Their crude and harsh swearing penetrated his mind like the painful jabs to his body.
He had carried every book and every last flimsy sheet of paper in that bag. Their keen eyes observed the action, quick to exploit the differences between them. Unbeknownst to them, he had emptied his locker that day for a terrifying reason; so that his mother wouldn't have too.
Spectators circled like sharks, laughing carelessly as yesterday's homework was caught by the wind and carried from the newly formed ring of people. Eagerly they watched for the next move, a kick or a punch. This would be today's entertainment and tomorrow's gossip. In the days following, they would find new ways to torture him; mocking and ignoring his pathetic form until they grew bored of tiresome lives, demanding yet again the flow of blood in the schoolyard. Or at least, they would have - given the opportunity.
The girls watched too. Some pretended to disapprove, calling out to the tormentors. Their fake pity was patronising at best. When the violence was over they laughed mercilessly at his crumpled figure, they admired the physical specimen responsible for inflicting the damage.
He found the words.
After all the loneliness and misery, I am to find peace and rest. I love you. Please don't think for a single moment that I am not grateful to you. I know that you have worked so hard for me. I only hope that in my death I give you back your life.
I was watching that day. I watched as the sweat gleaned, trickling down the brow of his tormentor, a boy with his own troubled life getting in the way of his judgement. I saw a pretty, petite girl wrapping her arms around the tormentor's neck, as if congratulating the boy for the performance like she would after a football match.
Meanwhile, his pasty skin was caked with dirt. He battled the aches of his body to retrieve the few remaining papers and the mutilated folders left lying on the ground. No one helped.
I didn't help.
I had a legitimate excuse, I thought, not wanting to get involved in the complicated politics of the schoolyard. I didn't want to paint a target on my forehead. Of course, I couldn't have known what he was planning.
But that's not an excuse either.
Slow steps carried his tired body and battered possessions past me that day. As he drew closer, our eyes met. Mine had trailed his pitiful form since the beating; his darted from face to face, now weary of further attacks. His eyes were hollow, endless - I felt captivated by his accusatory stare. But in a blink the expression had disappeared, replaced by the hopelessness that engulfed his mind. An autonomic smile tugged at the corners of my lips, forming a reluctant grimace. Gentle words of friendship caught in my throat.
Too little, too late.
He left the school with the crunch of the gravel beneath his feet and the mark of dirt upon his face, never to return.
This short story is based on the song Hero by Superchick. Please let me know what you think and how it can be improved.