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Charles

Writing The Moment

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First short story I've done in a while. There might be some errors in there because I keep redoing it to change narrative perspective.



I drew in steady, rhythmic breaths. My chin began to descend to my chest; as the two drew closer together my entire body began to tremble as it succumbed to pain and exhaustion. At last I collapsed with a sigh, too tired to continue. I could now do fifty-two sit-ups--exactly five more than I could do at approximately the same time last week. That’s forty more than I could do when I first started training. I was a beast.

“Almost there, I said to myself, “Almost there.”

A burning sensation scorched up and down my torso, leaving me feeling heavy and sore. Lost in the excitement of the moment, I neglected to wipe the beads of sweat that had collected on my brow. Instead, I awkwardly rushed over to my official training log, hampered by fatigue. My hand shook as I scribbled in my results. Not to blow my own whistle, but the day has been a productive one. Yep, aside from my sit-up milestone, I had jogged five laps around my block (the largest in my neighborhood). I even enjoyed moderate success at jumping rope for fifteen minutes, an exercise I usually failed miserably at.

The taste of progress was a sweet nectar that made me drunk with ambition. It is still a feeling that is hard for me to convey properly--it was just awesome. It was like, for the first time, I had become the artist of my own destiny and I was able to paint everything I saw with a varnish that made even the most depressing features of my life look slightly better than they had previously. The dull, dusty complexion of my room no longer depressed me. Even the posters adorning my walls of various rock bands (whose names that I can’t even remember) that I had adopted in an attempt to reach out for some faux attempt at normalcy, no longer screamed with hypocrisy. At a time when kids constantly question who they are--measure themselves up against their peers just to find some self worth-- I was becoming square with myself.

It meant a lot.

Outside my window the night had reduced the world to mere shapes. But, my reflection appeared clear in the middle of it all and for the first time, I liked what I saw.

I was sweating, but was not a cold sweat. Satisfied with myself, I could finally sleep.

Nearly every day for the past six months, a guy named James Pullman had waged all kinds of war on me. He was known as Jimmy, “The Rock Star.” Back then, almost everyone was in a band, but Jimmy’s band was the band. “The Pullman Porters“--that’s what they were called. I have to admit, they were crazy good. They played at every school function and an entire assembly had even been dedicated to one of their concerts. Jimmy was even going out with the hottest girl in school, Rebecca Connelly. Everyone wanted to be like Jimmy, unless, of course, they had been targeted by him.

Tall, thick and imposing, Jimmy was naturally suited for conflict and intimidation. In my case, there was no clear motive or reason for the harassment. I did not fulfill the criteria of a typical bully victim. I was not tall, but I was not sure for my age either. I did not wear thick glasses, dress outlandishly, or speak with a lisp. My grades were neither exceptional nor poor. I even had friends--not a lot of friends, but enough. There was no doubt about it, I was endowed with normalcy almost to a fault.

I awoke to the shouting of my alarm clock. Time was 7 am and I could feel it in my bones like old people feel bad weather--it was the day. I rolled out of bed and pulled out what I considered to be my best casual clothes. They were slightly worn from wash, but they were serviceable. I held my shirt in my hand and stroked the fabric as if it were a cat. I stared at my sneakers as if they belonged to a stranger. I trudged downstairs and ate alone. Mom had left for work at 5am. She worked two jobs at the time.

I sat alone on the school bus. I leaned back and my nerves chipped away at my determination like a pickaxe. I had never been in a fight before. Everywhere was music, so I listened to that instead of my own conscience. The offbeat chatter of other students. The rough grind of the bus engine, struggling in its old age to pull its load. Finally, the school loomed over me like a monolith and I would not be deterred from my mission. In fact, the first thing I did when I got to school was make a line straight for Jimmy. I wanted to ride a wave of adrenaline. Didn’t want to give my mind a chance to rationalize things. Didn’t want to chicken out.

Next thing I knew, my fist was screaming from the impact as it smashed against the face of my tormenter. I fell into him clumsily and our bodies lurched toward one another. It was happening and I could hardly believe it. The concoction of fear and excitement was so potent that it formed a lump in my throat that I could hardly swallow.

It all happened so fast. Everyone stopped what they are doing. People pretend that they don’t like violence--peace on Earth and all that crap. But, the loud thud of flesh under attack will always take top priority and snap people from their programmed routines. Books fell to the floor, like casualties of war. Yep, nothing like a good ol’ fight to bring people together. Friends, strangers--they all swell around the combatants like one big ball of energy. We were like the pulse in the center of it all.

Jimmy’s face told a lot of stories at that moment. His mouth formed an “O” of surprise. I noticed anger in his‘ eyes. Crimson pain spread across his face like a bad spill. It was the last part that made everyone, myself included, feel a perverted sense of satisfaction, of all things. Suddenly, I had become a marionette for the masses. They wanted more--they craved the realest kind of disaster--human disaster--and my fists wanted nothing more than to sate their collective appetite.

I felt alive. Better than alive. I was living in technicolor.

Oh yeah, Jimmy was a big bruiser, but he was done for. He was big, but he was slow. Be it from stress or surprise, he was breathing heavily. Sucking in more air than he could use. It was all like a dream. I was almost a spectator watching myself as my fists became birds of pray that rode a wind of excitement and fed upon my enemy’s pain. Jimmy wasn’t looking like a winner anymore. He was hunched over, not even trying to fight back anymore. Just covered himself up as I wailed on him in a frenzy. My peers danced to the beat.

Only problem was--that was as good as it was going to get for me. I had seen it all in my head a million times and somehow the reality of it all did not match what I expected. It was like a stranger I thought he knew. Someone I had aspired to be only until I got to know the real person--and suddenly, I was disappointed.

Jimmy is began to cry. Not so tough, after all. Come to think of it, he had never physically struck me. Maybe he was all smoke and mirrors. After all, he had publicly humiliated me on a daily basis. Like most people, I had always wanted to avoid confrontation, so his threats were all he ever needed to impose his will on me. Mind games. Jimmy’s bottom lip began to quiver, his tears began to betray his reputation.

People were practically climbing over themselves to see a legend fall. Jimmy “The Rockstar” reduced to a sniveling mess. I strick him again without hesitation and this time, it really hurt. The roar of the crowd rose.

Jimmy leaned against me. My support was the only barrier stopping him from fully crumpling onto the battlefield. I looked over at the crowd and smiled easily. At that moment, I saw Rebecca’s face buried in her hands. She looked up at me with disgust and I felt a moment of clairvoyance in the pain and madness. Time and space suddenly slowed to a near-halt, almost as if reality was catching up with itself.

It should have been my crowning moment but my soul was having an epiphany that my mind could not quite grasp. It was like trying to follow instructions in both Chinese and Latin, all at once. But, somehow, the tone was all I needed. A ball of sickness manifested itself inside my stomach. A ball tighter than any fist I had on that day.

I stood above my defeated foe, my powerful arms still pulsed with adrenaline. My defeated combatant finally sank to the ground. With that, I gazed upon the hot faces of my classmates. They screamed for yet more violence; they pumped their fists in the air, demanding more to talk about. I knew that as the months passed my name would fade again, I would become a transitory breath during some lunchroom conversation until people found something new to talk about.

I watched as Jimmy blew bloody bubbles out of his nose, his face became lost in wrinkles as he the floodgate collapsed. He wailed with shame and fear. Rebecca ran to him. She was crying too.

And still, I felt no remorse as my seventh period chemistry teacher placed a hand on my shoulder, looked at me gravely and said, “Come on, let’s go kiddo.”

It was a moment I should have enjoyed but I just couldn‘t . It was milk too sour to be mixed with honey.

The sad irony of the moment towered above me.

I suddenly felt strangely flattered that someone had noticed me at all. Without provocation, someone noticed some distinguishing quality about me that was motivation enough to earn me special attention. Without an enemy to motivate me to revenge, how would I have faced the days as they folded into one another--every one the same as the last?

I realized then, that I was a vain, selfish creature--and that, perhaps, is what made the reality of my circumstance so hard to bear.

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.....That was so good. It reminded me of my school days, when people would, out of there way, make fun of you. It reminded me of my first fight, but thats for another time.

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Thanks for the feedback. I've decided to update this thead with another draft, if anyone is interested. It retains some elements from the original, but there are significant changes.



Nearly every day for the past six months, a guy named James Pullman had waged all kinds of war on me. He was known as Jimmy, ?The Rock Star.? Back then, almost everyone was in a band, but Jimmy?s band was the band. ?The Pullman Porters?--that?s what they were called. I have to admit, they were crazy good. They played at every school function and an entire assembly had even been dedicated to one of their concerts. Jimmy was even going out with the hottest girl in school, Rebecca Connelly. Everyone wanted to be like Jimmy, unless, of course, they had been targeted by him.

Tall, thick and imposing, Jimmy was naturally suited for conflict and intimidation. In my case, there was no clear motive or reason for the harassment. I did not fulfill the criteria of a typical bully victim. I was not tall, but I was not short for my age either. I did not wear thick glasses, dress outlandishly, or speak with a lisp. My grades were neither exceptional nor poor. I even had friends--not a lot of friends, but enough. There was no doubt about it, I was endowed with normalcy almost to a fault.

And then, it occurred to me one day that I must pummel James Pullman.

I was in the school cafeteria . I had just finished stuffing my face with a slice of greasy pepperoni pizza when I decided to share with my best friend, the violent designs that had formed in my mind so suddenly.

?Caroline,? I said, ?I'm going to punch Jimmy today. Right in the mouth, I think.?

She stared at me and said nothing. An uncomfortable silence followed. Her eyes were as black as her hair; when they caught light in the right way, they resembled the kind of clear, twinkling night that makes for the best kind of post card. Of course, I was madly in love with her.

?What did you just say,? she asked as if I had just openly farted on a first date.

It was a question, but she wasn?t asking. Mom used the same tone with me when she was angry. I looked around anywhere in an attempt to avoid her eyes, now. Normally, I would have succumbed to my own insecurity, but for some reason, in the cafeteria, it was always easy for me to bear my thoughts. The sticky floors, the sloppy student-made posters adorning the walls--perhaps it was the substandard nature of these surroundings that made me feel so comfortable. The insubstantial d├ęcor didn?t compete with me for grandeur. It was as if I had never left home.

I escaped my thoughts and grasped for something to say.

?Y-yes,? I managed to stammer.

?Yes? How does that answer my question? Hello? Earth to Brian,? she said, ?Is anyone home??

She playfully knocked on my head.

?R-right,? I said, ?Sorry 'bout that. I'm going to fight him. Jimmy. I have to do it.?

Caroline could not restrain her laughter.

?Don?t be dumb,? she said, ?You?ll get suspended.?

?I don?t care,? I said all bad-like, ?I can?t just sit here and take his crap forever. You know that.?

My continued string of defiance seemed to ennoble me. I raised my convictions like a shield and prepared for the worst. Now, I anticipated the argument. I wanted to see what kind of verbal spar she would throw my way next. Instead, I was disappointed.

She rolled her eyes and whatever she was about to say was interrupted by the shrill ring of the bell.

?Listen, I have to get to math,? she said, ?Meyers? quiz is going to kill me on Friday. We?ll talk about this later you lunatic.?

Caroline?s eyes scanned my face with affection, but her features was stone-smooth. She lifted herself from the edge of her chair and eased her backpack onto her shoulders. Her legs were long, as if they belonged to some insect. Glancing heavily upon the room, with the monotony that precedes a great task, she ran her finger on the brim of my baseball cap, which hung, head down, like an omen on the top of my chair.

?Remember,? she said, ?Anger dwells in the bosom of fools--Albert Einstein.?

?Yeah, yeah,? I said.

She grinned and then she was gone. Caroline always had to disappear while wrapped in wise words.

Suddenly, for some reason, I felt a profound sense of loneliness.

For the rest of the day my nerves chipped away at my determination like a pickaxe. I had never been in a fight before. I couldn?t stop thinking about what Caroline said. It wasn?t the remarks themselves, but the offhand, distant tone in which she said them that dug deep, intensifying my misery. The brief conversation had brought with it a revolving door of doubts for sure but it was my appetite for revenge that beckoned to her the loudest in a voice that was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. It spoke directly into my mind, in a fevered pitch, demanding the attention it so rightfully deserved.

In English class, my teacher talked about mood and tone. I thought about the time when Jimmy gave me a flat-tire in the hallway. I tripped and fell down face-first. Quickly, as if they could smell my humiliation, everyone was looking at me with one single, probing eye. They were laughing, their mouths opened so wide I couldn?t tell them apart. I just saw mouths everywhere shouting laughter at me. People still talked about that. Mood: Sick. Tone: Bitter.

Spanish class was much of the same. While everyone else was conjugating verbs, I could still feel Jimmy?s spitballs pelting me in the back of the neck during last year?s ant-bullying assembly. Caroline saw me get up and leave. I whispered to her that I had to use the bathroom, but I think she could see the tears in my eyes because she looked like she felt sorry for me. I felt sick then too.

Those memories pushed aside my lunchroom conversation with Caroline. A passionate, deep feeling had overtaken me. It was a matter of agency. I defined myself by what I did--or in this case--didn?t do. The laughing, the ridicule, feelings I never knew mingled together, swelled up inside me, grabbed me by the wrists and told me to be a man. The feeling seemed all the more sensual and real because it was filled with a sense of urgency.

For the most part, I sleepwalked through the drudgery of gym class. The offensive outbursts of students playing dodgeball, however, rang in my head like a social commentary. I watched as passive kids--shy kids were pelted unmercifully. They shuffled off the court, not disappointed, but relieved to be free from scrutiny and humiliation.

I awoke to the shouting of the last bell. The time was 2:35 pm and I could feel it in my bones like old people feel bad weather--today would be the day. I rolled off my gym shorts and pulled my casual clothes from the cold jaws of my locker. I held my shirt in my hand and stroked the fabric as if it were a cat. I stared at my sneakers as if they belonged to a stranger. I trudged into the halls and stalked in the general direction of Jimmy?s locker.

Caroline met me halfway, as if she had been waiting in ambush. However, I would not hear her pleas for rationality. I brushed her aside and ignored her. Persistent, as always, she tugged at my sleeve and urged me to walk her home.

And then I saw him.

He was at his locker, collecting his books.

I sucked my teeth and yelled, ?Hey Rock Star!?

He jerked his head toward me. When he saw me, he screwed up his mouth and glared.

?Whad?you want,? he said.

I took a deep breath and filled my lungs with the hot, fetid hallway air.

Next thing I knew, my fist was screaming from the impact as it smashed against the face of my tormenter. I fell into him clumsily and our bodies lurched toward one another. It was happening and I could hardly believe it. The concoction of fear and excitement was so potent that it formed a lump in my throat that I could hardly swallow.

Immediately, everyone stopped what they were doing. A crowd formed around us. People had been lured by the powerful pull of the disaster. They smacked their lips as the loud thud of flesh under attack snapped them from their daily routines. Books fell to the floor, like casualties of war. We were the pulse in the center of it all.

Everything sounded like it was underwater.

Jimmy?s face told a lot of stories at that moment. His mouth formed an ?O? of surprise. A red blotch of pain spread across his face like a bad spill. I felt a perverted sense of satisfaction, knowing that I was responsible for the blemish. I had become a marionette for the masses. They wanted more--they craved the realest kind of disaster--human disaster--and my fists wanted nothing more than to please them.

I felt alive. Better than alive. I was living in technicolor.

Oh yeah, Jimmy was a big bruiser all right, but catching him off guard worked to my advantage. He was big, but he was slow. Be it from fear or surprise, he was breathing heavily. Sucking in more air than he could use. It was all like a dream. I was almost a spectator watching myself as my fists became birds of pray that rode a wind of excitement and fed upon my enemy?s pain. Jimmy wasn?t looking like a winner anymore. He was hunched over, not even trying to fight back anymore. Just covered himself up as I wailed on him in a frenzy. My peers danced to the beat.

Only problem was--that was as good as it was going to get for me. I had seen it all in my head a million times and somehow the reality of it all did not match what I expected. It was like a stranger I thought he knew. Someone I had aspired to be only until I got to know the real person--and suddenly, I was disappointed.

Jimmy began to cry. Not so tough, after all, I thought. Come to think of it, he had never physically struck me. Maybe he was all smoke and mirrors. After all, he had publicly humiliated me on a daily basis. Like most people, I had always wanted to avoid confrontation, so his threats were all he ever needed to impose his will on me. Mind games. Jimmy?s bottom lip began to quiver, his tears began to betray his reputation.

People were practically climbing over themselves to see a legend fall. Jimmy ?The Rockstar? reduced to a sniveling mess. I struck him again without hesitation and this time, it really hurt. The roar of the crowd rose.

Jimmy leaned against me. My support was the only barrier stopping him from fully crumpling onto the dusty floor. I looked over at the crowd and smiled easily. At that moment, I saw Caroline?s face buried in her hands. She looked up at me unblinking, barely breathing. She gazed at me pitifully, her one eye invisible through her unkempt hair. Caroline looked smaller than she ever had.

She brought me a moment of clairvoyance in the pain and madness. Time and space suddenly slowed to a near-halt, almost as if reality was catching up with itself.

It should have been my crowning moment but my soul was having an epiphany that my mind could not quite comprehend. It was like trying to follow instructions in both Chinese and Latin, all at once. But, somehow, the tone was all I needed to get the message. A ball of sickness manifested itself inside my stomach. A ball tighter than any fist I made on that day.

I stood above my defeated foe, my powerful arms still pulsing with adrenaline. My defeated combatant finally sank to the ground. With his submission solidified, I gazed upon the hot faces of my classmates. They screamed for yet more violence; they pumped their fists in the air, demanding more to talk about. I knew that as the months passed my name would fade again, I would become a transitory breath during some lunchroom conversation until people found something new to talk about.

I watched as Jimmy blew bloody bubbles out of his nose. His face became lost in wrinkles as he the floodgate collapsed. He wailed with shame and fear.

I looked for Caroline again, but she was gone. I cleared my throat, wiped my sinewy lips on the sleeve of my shirt, and tried to call after her but it was no good.

My seventh period chemistry teacher placed a hand on my shoulder, looked at me gravely and said, ?Come on, let?s go kiddo.?

It was a moment I should have enjoyed but I just couldn?t . It was milk too sour to be mixed with honey.

Sad irony towered above me.

I made an observation. I actually felt strangely flattered that without provocation, Jimmy ?The Rockstar? had noticed some distinguishing quality about me that was motivation enough for him to give me special attention.

I realized then that I was a vain, selfish creature--and that, perhaps, is what made the reality of my circumstance so hard to bear.

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