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Metus Chapter 3: The Girl

“Really, no really. Can’t you cut me some slack,” Joshua roared in anger at nothing in particular. The universe maybe? Or whatever god was available to listen to his angry pleads. Joshua walked to the block his mom had dropped him. If he could only get his hand on a cell phone then he could call his mom to pick him up. That’s as good a plan as any. There were small shops up ahead, he should be able to borrow a cell-phone. Josh came across an antique store towards the entrance of the Plaza. He’d not remembered seeing the shop before. He’d driven through this section of town quite a few times. The store must’ve just opened, he thought. Maybe he’d just not noticed. Mom was always complaining that he was in his own world. Nothing wrong with that. His own world didn’t include bullies and a student body laughing at his abuse. Funny, he remembered going to that same pizza parlor next door to the antique store. But for some reason hadn’t noticed the creepy looking place. The closer he got the more his skin crawled.

Josh was strangely attracted to creepy places and creepy things. Living in Jax, short for Jacksonville, he’d had pet frogs. His mom hated the idea of a snake in the house, so he was forbidden. The frog was bad enough, she’d said. What others thought as creepy, he always considered with a different perspective. His taste was simply more peculiar? Yes, peculiar was the right word. Another word might be unique, like a gentleman sipping a 50-year-old whiskey while watching over his killer sharks from the comfort of his living room. Something he’d seen on TV. That was not creepy at all. Just a matter of perspective. What was really creepy, not to mention scary, was going to those school dances and flopping around like a jellyfish. Do they even dance at those things? Kids probably just stand around in their tuxedos looking like a bunch of penguins.

Either way, he needed a cell phone and he needed it quick before the rain began. The closer Josh got to the store the more the hairs danced around on his arms. There was something definitely creepy about this place, he thought. For a brief moment, he forgot his troubles. He became entranced by the mystical place he was about to walk into. His pace slowed. He became weary of his environment. It was as if someone or something was watching him. Must be his imagination. He’d recently sneaked watching the Stephen King movie ‘IT.’ Josh half expected a demon clown to poke its head up from the manhole. Something impossible for a regular human being, but totally possible for ‘IT,’ Pennywise or whatever ‘IT’ was. Josh had never before felt like this. He thought of going to another store. The pizza shop next door seemed a far safer prospect, but his curiosity was piqued. Joshua set his face into firm determination, strode up to the door, and kept walking hoping no one saw him make a fool of himself. He couldn’t go through with it. His logic overrode his curiosity. “Stupid, I am so dumb,” Joshua said to himself disgusted at his own cowardice. There was nothing to be scared of, but he was afraid. The creep factor was way off the charts for that store. He’d find a cell phone somewhere else.

A voice called out behind him, freezing him in place, “Hey, hey you!” It was the voice of a girl. A sweet voice. It was kinda melodic, as though she about broke out into song and dance. It frightened Josh. Had she seen him walk up to the store, reach for the handle only to shy away in complete horror? Joshua’s thoughts escaped him. Turn around. No, don’t turn around. He felt his head might split in two from the sheer embarrassment. He knew this was foolish. But after literally bearing his soul to 15 of his classmates, he wasn’t quite ready for anymore socializing. He knew he should at least respond, as that would be the polite thing to do. A reasonable response was as far as a kite stuck in a tall tree. Adrenaline, run and hide, fight or flight; or just keep walking, pretend he didn’t hear her. But then he remembered how he tried running and hiding all day and what that got him; deep sea diving in the boy’s toilet. He has to make a stand, here and now. No turning back. A girl is not a runaway train you fool, he thought. What is he so afraid of? He heard footsteps, the approach of a dangerous female tiger. No, not dangerous, just a girl. He could imagine the great cats on the plains of the Sahara. His tongue instantly cleaved to the top of his mouth. If it’s just a girl, why was he so nervous? He became instantly parched. Of course, this would happen when he needed his voice the most.

“Hi, I saw you walk up to the store just now. Was there something that caught your attention? Maybe I could show it to you,” Josh turned, locked eyes, and nearly gave up the ghost. She was gorgeous. She smiled sweetly at him; perfect teeth and the cutest dimples. Josh’s heart melted in his chest. This is not happening.

“I, I, I, just, just, ahh” words, were are the words. Oh no, he thought, I’m making a complete fool of myself. The pretty girl chuckled. Josh’s heart broke. Great now, she’s was laughing at him. A small fire welled up within him, “what are you laughing at?” Josh spoke more solid, the anger sparking his courage. She must’ve seen the look on his face. Her own face echoed the horror.

“Please, I wasn’t making fun,” she said, hands raised with a slight look of embarrassment. She smiled and Josh’s belly did backflips. “I just thought you were kinda cute.” Stunned! Totally stunned! All thoughts escaped him. Her smile wide, warm, reaching her eyes. She was amused by his total bewilderment. It melted Josh’s icy fears to mere puddles.

“I was only looking to borrow a phone,” he tried explaining. His words came out jagged. He wondered if he made any sense.

“Oh okay, sure, my cell phone is in the shop,” the pretty girl turned and started towards the shop’s entrance. She turned and looked back at him. “Are you coming?” Her words were like a spell releasing Josh from his cursed stupor. He trotted after her, nerves bubbling, heart pounding.

Metus Chapter 2: Flush

Josh had only a block’s walk to school. As soon as the car was out of sight he went in his bag, pulled out a hoodie, and slipped it over his head. He placed the hood low, shading his face. He couldn’t keep the hood up during his classes, but that was not his concern.

Thankfully, the day rolled on without a hitch. Josh’s plan to remain inconspicuous had worked. He had to stay out of the cafeteria and going on a forced fast was a small price to pay for his life. The day was almost done. His nerves had finally lifted when he walked into a solid wall of muscle.

“Hey, watch where you’re going,” the muscle said, it was a voice Josh knew all too well. It was the very voice he’d been avoiding all day. It was the voice of the one who would bring about his untimely death. It was Ronnie. Ronnie, the six feet six inches, 235 pounds, big man for the school basketball team, Ronnie. Oh crap, it’s Ronnie, who has a 3.5 GPA because he beats up on other kids smaller and smarter than himself to do his school work. You mean Ronnie, the person for whom Joshua had not finished the term paper due last Friday. It is more than likely that Ronnie will suffer a debilitating blow to his grade in his English class. Yup, it was certainly Ronnie, Josh’s future murderer. Joshua’s heart sank.

“Oh, ahh, sorry,” Josh did an about-face without looking and ran into another wall of muscle. Funny, that second wall wasn’t there before. This one more wiry but musclebound nonetheless. Crap, he’s in deep. It’s official, the crap is rolling downhill. No, not rolling. It’s a freaking avalanche crashing down on his head.

“Hey guys, look it’s Joshua Patterson,” the wiry wall of muscle known as Mikey said. This is not going to end well.

“Oh, what a pleasant surprise, Joshua Patterson,” Ronnie said with a crooked smile plastered to his face.

“Hi guys,” Josh said, giving a little wave; unable to hide the tremble in his voice.

“Funny, I’ve been looking for you all day. Thought I’d see you in the cafeteria and for a while, I thought you’d be out again, but to my surprise, here you are,” Mikey gave a little chuckle at this.

“Yeah, here I am,” the words dry on Josh’s lips.

“Now, I distinctly remember my English paper being due last Friday,” Ronnie spoke as though Josh wasn’t even there “I showed up to class fully expecting an award-winning essay. And you know what I had guys?” He was just having a casual conversation about the weather. “I had nothing. This jerk off didn’t show,” Ronnie’s voice slowly grew, sounding more and more pissed.

Every word from Ronnie’s lips sent blobs of spittle sprinkling Josh’s face. Eeck, one got on his bottom lip. It took everything he had not to try to wipe it away. He didn’t want to geode the muscle-brain into thinking he was trying to make a move. This is really not going to end well.

Josh had gotten food poisoning, probably from a bad pack of ramen or something. Not that it would matter to Ronnie and his goons. They only wanted an ‘A’ in English so they could keep playing basketball.

“You know guys, a funny thing happened,” Josh started.

“Oh please, tell us all about it,” Ronnie retorted, suddenly very interested in everything Josh had to say. “Yes, let us hear the amazing tale of heroism and crap you had to go through why I don’t have my term paper which has now landed me a lowsey C plus in Ms. Trotterfields class.” To Josh’s horror, he realized no excuse would do. He was sure Ronnie stood at a comfortable B and this paper, if done well, would have put him at a B plus. With a few more completed assignments, Ronnie would have been well on his way to an A. But all that was gone. He could probably get back to a B, but an A seems out of the question. It was all Josh’s fault. He screwed up big time.

“Well…there was this bad package of ramen and…I puked all over the floor,” Josh stuttered.

“Yes…yes, go on. Please, feed us all the bull we can stomach,” Ronnie splayed his arms which highlighted a growing crowd.

“I was sick…yeah, I was sick,” Josh finally got the words out.

“Sick huh? So sick you couldn’t email it you dick weed,” Ronnie said through gritted teeth. His pale white freckled skin went red. This is going to be bad. Josh felt as though he’d be sick right now. His heart pounded so hard, he fully expected it to protrude from his chest.

“Guys what should we do to this little dick weed,” Ronnie turned slightly, addressing the growing crowd.

“Atomic wedgie,” one kid shouted.

“Yeah and take his wallet as payment,” someone else said.

“No,” a pretty young blond strode up to Ronnie. “I know what you should do.” She whispered in his ear and Ronnie’s eyes lit up.

Moments later Joshua’s head was being flushed down the toilet of the middle stall in the boy’s restroom. Josh must’ve had particularly good luck, there were no floaters or used toilet paper in the bowl, and much to Ronnie’s disappointment. To make up for this obvious failure, the boys took the opportunity to relieve themselves in the same bowl Josh would eventually be baptized head first. And for good measure, they took his clothes. Joshua was left naked and afraid.

The walls of the restroom were blue and white subway tiles. Varying students had taken the opportunity to illustrate colorful words, declarations of love, and cartoon drawings of penises. His skin was no barrier to the cold which crept into the restroom. “What did I do to deserve this,” Josh said to no one in particular. Not loud enough for anyone to overhear. He had to be careful not to slip up again. Someone might overhear and report it back to Ronnie which would land him in even more trouble. “I hate those guys. I sincerely hate those idiots.” He thought of telling his mom. She would more than likely get him out of this crap school and put him somewhere the student body wasn’t complete buffoons. He hated them all. No one had even offered to help. No one said a word. They all stood there, phones out recording him being dunked into piss stink water. No one cared enough to do anything to help him. The welts on his forehead burned. He’d hit his head a few times against the porcelain.

He was alone in the boy’s restroom with an hour before the end of school. Josh knew at this point that he wouldn’t make it to its final class. He was so dumb to get caught by a bunch of monkeys with the IQ of goats. He would find some way to get back at them. He was tired of running and hiding. It did him no good to hide. Being the fly on the wall was only an invitation to being smacked. But no more. He would die before he’d hide again. For now, he would keep his peace and pine away in the middle stall of the boys’ restroom. But this will never happen again, he assured himself.

It wasn’t until 45 minutes after the final bell rang when Joshua felt safe to exit his fortress of solitude. He walked the halls, bag tightly covering his privates, quietly praying no one would see him. The halls were empty. Joshua sneaked into the boy’s locker room, found his gym clothes neatly tucked away. He donned a pair of sweatpants, a jacket, and sneakers. Without a moment to lose, he dashed out the front doors of the school. He’d missed the school bus and would have to catch a city bus to get home. He cursed at the thought. All his money was in his other pants and who knows where those douche-bags put those. It’s probably apart of their secret stash of boys clothes they use to get aroused, Josh mused. Images of Ronnie taking deep whiffs of his pants flashed through his mind. His cell phone was gone too. Now what, this day couldn’t get any worse. As if some strange fate was out for spite, Josh heard a rumble in the sky. The sun was gone and there was nothing but gray skies. Rain clouds drew to him like flies towards a half-eaten honey bun.