6. Deaf Kid

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The stark shadows on Darren's face jumped.

To the left stood Jack Geffrey and to the right was the same Mark Haynes that Mum used to know. Raj and Dale held my ankles.

There were five or six others whose names I didn't know. One was Darren's girlfriend. One was his secret boyfriend, Ervan. He was terrified, but something held him back from coming to my defence.

"They're not gonna help you," Darren snickered. A wicked grin took over his face and he laughed to himself every time he eyed the lit match between his thumb and forefinger. "They all came here to watch, you little shit."

My chin wobbled again and I turned my head away. I didn't have any words that might save me, and even if I did, I barely had the breath in my lungs to say them.

Darren took my face by the chin and forced my head back around. The strength in his fingers crushed one of my molars inwards. But as he moved the lit match closer towards me, my teeth were the least of my problems.

He rammed the match into my ear.

And the nausea as my eardrum exploded was like nothing I'd never known.

Even though I didn't hear it, I felt it go off like a party popper inside my head. Agony. Screaming. A deafening ringing in my ear that didn't exist. The flame seared the whole of my aural canal. It singed my hair on the one side. Blood trickled down my neck and I wailed until my throat grew scratched and raw with the breath I didn't have.

"Make him stop!"

It was Darren. His voice broke with panic.

"I didn't think it would do that!"

"Get him up."

"Shit, he's bleeding."

"Make him stop!"

"Shit, what did you do!?"

"Rain!" Darren shrieked, climbing off me. He patted my face to try and bring me around. "Rain, this wasn't meant to happen, man. Get up. Please, get up."

"Look at his ear."

"He won't stop bleeding."

"What are we gonna do with him?"

"I don't know. I don't know. I didn't mean to... Rain. Stop. Please."

Hands and legs freed, I sprang back into my ball again. My screaming had died down into pathetic whimpering and I buried my face into my sleeves. I didn't know what to do. If I stood up I was scared the cloggy rushing acid feeling would get worse and the phantom trills echoing inside my head would get louder. I brought my fingers up to my mangled ear. It was excruciating and bloody to touch and it didn't even feel like an ear anymore.

I knew I needed medical attention, and I think Darren knew too.

He jostled me about, trying to get a good look at my face. Perhaps he was making sure I hadn't passed out or died or something, but I wasn't concerned for his concern.

"Rain," he pleaded again. "Rain, come on, man. Get up. Please don't do this on me. Don't do this. Don't..."

I cried the whole time Darren Worter and Ervan Marriway carried me to Accident and Emergency, four miles away.

Even though that was a year ago now, I always kept my word to Darren and never told anyone, not even my Mum, that it was he who beat me up and jammed a lit match down my ear for entertainment

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Even though that was a year ago now, I always kept my word to Darren and never told anyone, not even my Mum, that it was he who beat me up and jammed a lit match down my ear for entertainment.

I stuck to the story that I was wandering around that night and got ambushed by a man, and that Darren and Ervan found me curled up and bleeding like that. I'd never really been much of a liar until that point, but I thought I was doing the right thing by protecting them.

When Mum got the police involved I had to tell the same agreed lie over and over, and sometimes even pretend I couldn't remember all the exact same details because the shock was to be expected, or something like that. The lying ate at me something awful, because everyone was so serious about what had happened, and I couldn't tell them the truth bursting out of me.

And when the initial shock and all the embarrassing times I burst into tears finally ebbed away, I grew cold, uncooperative and self-destructive for weeks afterwards.

But I couldn't help it, because it was around then that I realised I would never be the same person that I was before that night. I couldn't forget what he'd done to me and I could never forgive him.

The police still have the case open, looking for a man with the made-up description I gave them. I feel bad that the hospital staff and the police were so kind to me, and yet all I did was sulk and lie and be super stubborn about wearing the stupid bandages around my head.

I feel horrible that Mum made such a guilt-stricken fuss of me for days after I'd told her massive porkies just so Darren Worter wouldn't get sent to juvi.

She even let me watch her X-Files box-set with her in the ward, and I felt even worse because I'd already seen it.

I never did hear again in that ear, and the ringing inside my head almost negated the genuine sound from the ear that had survived.

The doctor told me the damage to my ear drum was irreparable. He tried to let me down gently when he added that there wasn't even much remaining of my inner ear to attempt a repair anyway.

They grafted some gauze over my burnt and disfigured ear so the healthy skin could grow, but I'd had a lucky escape there, they said. The burns weren't so bad that the outside couldn't be reconstructed, but it sure hurt like a bitch.

I couldn't lie on that side of my face for ages after the grafts, but eventually I got used to the feel of it. Apparently I had good healing skin, and the scars would be almost invisible by next year. My hair grew back pretty quickly though, which was also a relief, even if it was sorta wonky-looking for a while. Mum even treated me to a new haircut so that both sides were even again, and it actually looked cool.

But best of all, though, when I got out of hospital, there was a piece of wrapped-up birthday cake waiting for me on the coffee table.

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