Read Strikeout of the Bleacher Weenies Online
Authors: David Lubar
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For Tom Doherty, a smart man with a big heart. Thank you for starting it all, and for supporting the work and nurturing the careers of so many writers.
From the instant
heard about PeaceJoy Charter School, I knew I had to go there. I'd spotted a big article about it in the newspaper my parents were reading at breakfast. There was a headline on the front page of the local section:
BULLY-FREE SCHOOL SET TO OPEN IN SEPTEMBER
Wow. A school without any bullies. According to the article, students from anywhere in the city or the surrounding suburbs could apply to go there. I closed my eyes and pictured it. I smiled as I saw smart, unathletic kids walking safely and happily through hallways decorated with inspiring posters about working together and being friends with everyone.
Imagine thatâa school without a single bully.
Better yetâimagine a school with just one bully: Me. All those pathetic little losers would be at my mercy. They say bullies feel bad about themselves. Not me. I feel great. I'm strong and powerful. And I'm smart. Smart enough not to get caught. Smart enough, at times, so that even my victim doesn't realize he's being bullied.
Yeah, that's how good I am at making little whiny rodents feel fear and misery. I can make them tremble, blink back tears, and look in vain desperation for an escape route. But, as good as I am, nobody is perfect. I'd coasted through sixth and seventh grades without getting caught, but some of the teachers at my middle school had started to look at me like they were suspicious. When I walked through crowded hallways between classes, most kids tried to avoid getting too close to me. I had a feeling I'd end up in trouble before I finished eighth grade. I was afraid that my reputation for being a troublemaker would follow me to the high school, which was right across the street. So, it was time for a change, and for new hunting grounds.
I'd convinced my parents to fill out an application to PeaceJoy. That was easy enough. They aren't all that smart. Sometimes, I wonder where I came from. Maybe I had a great-great grandparent who was related to some brutal warlord or military genius. I sure didn't share any traits with my parents. I could twist them both around my little finger. They'd do anything I asked.
I had to write an essay as part of the admissions process for the school. That was a joke. I knew exactly what they wanted to hear. I tossed in phrases like “tired of being picked on,” “peer pressure,” and “self-esteem,” and capped it all off with “I just want to be allowed to learn at my own pace in a fear-free and nurturing environment.” It was priceless. I laughed the whole time I was writing it.
I got accepted, of course. The letter from PeaceJoy came two weeks before school started. I would be a member of the first graduating class. I'd walk the halls along with fifty-nine other students drawn from sixteen different middle schools in this part of the state.
I couldn't wait.
My dad dropped me off in front of the school the first morning.
“I'm proud of you, son,” he said. “It takes a real man to admit his weaknesses.”
“And strengths,” I said as he drove off.
I merged with a group of kids going up the steps, and looked around, wondering who would be my favorite target this year. Maybe I could trip someone on the stairs. That was always fun. But it might be smarter to wait until I had a better sense of my classmates.
I went tumbling.
Someone had tripped me.
I looked around as I got up, but I couldn't tell who had done it. It had to be an accident. Nobody here would dare do that on purpose.
I went in through the doorway.
“Hey!” I shouted again as someone smacked the back of my head. I looked around. Once again, I couldn't tell anything. But as I took a good look at the kids near me, I realized something disturbing.
I wasn't towering over the crowd.
This wasn't the way I'd pictured things. This wasn't the fantasy that had entertained me ever since I'd learned about PeaceJoy. Most of the other kids were my sizeÂ â¦ or bigger. There were one or two runts, but they didn't look scared. Their expressions were tough. They seemed alert, like they were looking all around for any source of danger. Or maybe they were looking for targets.
The teachers, who were waiting inside, led us into the auditorium. I got hit twice more before I took a seat. I sat in the last row, so there'd be nobody behind me. I noticed a banner over the stage:
PEACEJOY CHARTER SCHOOL: MAKING SCHOOLS SAFER EVERYWHERE
That didn't make sense.
A huge kid sat on my left. He was so big, at first I thought he was a teacher.
“Give me your lunch money,” he said.
I didn't even try to argue. That's how scary he was. Right after I handed over my money, the kid on my right said, “Give me your sneakers.”
He was even bigger.
I looked around the auditorium, wondering who I could steal lunch money and sneakers from. That's when it hit meâand it hit me so hard, I almost threw up. I wasn't the only kid who realized it would be great to be the one bully in a school full of victims.
Everyone had that idea. Every bully in sixteen different schools. And, based on the banner, the people who ran PeaceJoy already knew it. They were making schools safer by stuffing all of us here. Other schools would be safer. But not this one, for sure.
It was going to be a rough year.
There's a poem my
grandmother taught me:
Little bugs have lesser bugs
Upon their backs to bite 'em.
And lesser bugs have smaller bugs,
And so on, ad infinitum.
Being as I was a young lad when I first heard this, she had to explain to me that “ad infinitum” meant infinitely. And, of course, she then had to explain what “infinite” meant. But I understood the basic idea that the small bugs that bit people had their own smaller bugs that bit the people-biting bugs. And those smaller bugs had even smaller bugs to deal with. And so on.
It seemed fair.
I mention bugs because the place we moved to isn't all that clean. The bugs don't really bother me. But it's hard not to notice them as they scurry in the shadows or dart beneath the cabinets.
On the bright side, the people around us are interesting. From the start, I could tell it was a lively neighborhood, filled with the scents of exotic, spiced foods and the sounds of rhythmic, pulsing music. One person, in particular, caught my eye. Her name was Lolana. Pretty name. Pretty girl.
She noticed me, too. The first day there, when I was walking to school, I could tell that I'd caught her attention as I moved past the stoop where she and her friends were gatheredâwaiting, I assume, for the last possible minute before heading out. I didn't react in any way that would reveal how keenly I was aware of her response. Though I allowed myself a smile once I'd moved past her.
She played it cool. So did I. We didn't even exchange glances for a week. And those first glances, when they came, were fleeting, as if a lingering gaze would admit too much interest.
Eventually, knowing she'd never be the first to break the silence, I spoke.
That was all. An opening.
Another week, and we were walking to schoolânot really together, just side by side. She told me very little about herself. I told her less about my own past.
We became friends. Not boyfriend and girlfriend, but a boy and a girl who were friends. This was better, since I would eventually betray her. No, betray is not the right word. I guess “exploit” would be better. Still, she'd feel a wound in her soul. But the wound of a friend's betrayal stings a little less than that of a beloved's deceit. Even so, I felt sad about that eventual wound. I hoped she would get over it.
Two months passed before the rumors started. First, a homeless man was found in an alley between a barber shop and a tattoo parlor. His death was attributed to blood loss. Though there was no spilled blood at the scene.
Two weeks later, a girl from our high school disappeared. The police believed she'd run away. But her friends swore she had no problems at home and no reason to leave town.
It was time.
“Let's have an adventure,” I said to Lolana after school.
“Like what?” she asked.
“Let's pretend we're running away. I'll make sandwiches. We'll go off to the woods for a moonlit picnic.”
She raised one eyebrow. “Are you asking me on a date?”
“No. I'm asking you on an adventure.” I gave her my best innocent smile.
She touched my arm. “I'll make cookies.”
I met her on the corner about an hour before sunset. I had a flashlight to help mark our way and matches to make a campfire when we got there. She had a container of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.
I have to say, her face looked radiant and bewitching in the light of our fire. I love the dance of light and shadows cast by flames. We sat and ate the sandwiches and still-soft cookies, and I waited for him. I knew he'd come. I just wasn't sure when or how. I hoped he wouldn't hurt her. That would make me sad.
The voice came from above. Good. Some of them are silent, prizing stealth. The talkers are easier to deal with. They allow themselves to get distracted by their own words. I looked up. He was perched on a tree branch overhead, his figure silhouetted against the quarter moon.
Lolana let out a gasp and clutched her chest with one hand, just below her neck. I doubt she realized the significance of this gesture.