Darkness crowded the inside of the locker, wrapping Simon tightly like a blanket on a cold night, protecting him from the harshness of the laughter on the other side of the locker door. Simon felt more at ease and at home trapped inside than he did with the kids on the hallway side of the door. They were cruel and stupid, and none of them had a true passion for knowledge or understanding. They lived every day of their pathetic lives to please somebody else, to stay part of some imaginary crowd that would evaporate upon graduation, leaving them more alone than he felt now. In the darkness, Simon had all he needed, his mind. Simon could spend hours calculating the strength of the piano hinge that held the door closed, and with just enough pressure, in just the right space, he'd easily be free of his prison. The first time he had been there, it was trial and error, but equation after mental equation led to the perfect placement of his knee to breach the door.
"Told you that you'd pay for talking to Shelly," Brent whispered through the vents in the locker.
"Ha-ha! Yeah, nerd! You've got nobody to blame but yourself. He told you not to talk to Shelly!" Clyde exclaimed from behind.
Simon knew Clyde was incapable of conjuring an original thought and chuckled at the sound of him trying to echo Brent's macho ego. Brent was the alpha male to his two-dog pack, well, three, if you counted Shelly, Brent's she-wolf.
"I know I don't hear laughter coming from in there, you geek! It must be crying. Yeah that's it. Is baby afraid of the dark?" Brent's voice teased from the hallway.
Simon leaned forward and rubbed the metal slats of the door with his cheek. He was so close to Brent he could smell the chewing tobacco on Brent's breath through the openings.
A whisper snaked its way through the vented slats and sent chills down Brent's back. "I don't know, Brent. Why don't you come in here with me? There's a thousand ways to die in the dark, and you never know what's lying in wait for you."
Brent stepped back from the door trying to process what he had just heard, wondering if he had even heard it at all. Could it have been just his own mind playing tricks on him?
"Let's get out of here, Clyde, and let this geek think about how off limits Shelly is. She's out of your league, freak!"
"Yeah, freak, she's out of your league!"
Simon chuckled again, hearing Clyde's echoing.
Simon leaned back against the wall, once again alone in the dark. He retreated into his mind, mulling over the decisions that he had already set in motion. Simon wrestled with what he knew had to take place. He thought his entire endeavor had led to this very moment. In just a few hours the sum of the equation he had been struggling with would be reached. He knew it was futile to change direction now. After all, to do something different now would ultimately change the sum of the equation he had been committed to so tirelessly, or worse, leave it void of a sum at all. What would life be if two plus two didn't equal four? To leave even one equation unfinished would throw the world mathematically off balance. The equation had to be totaled. Altering the problem to be solved would bring all his work crumbling to the ground.
Suddenly, Shelly's soft voice penetrated the darkness, bringing him back to the fact he was still in the locker. Simon felt the blood vessels in his eyes filling slowly, as a tear slid from the inner corner of his left eye, and then one from his right. The very sound of her crushed Simon more than all the insults previously hurled at him by Brent and Clyde.
Simon's mind whisked him away to the summer between eighth and ninth grade, where he had found himself sitting on the hill overlooking their secret kingdom. It was a time of simplicity and innocence of childhood that was quickly ruined by the cruelty of adolescence. Her voice had once been the brightest light in his life, and sadly, the lack of it, had created the darkest void within as well.