|by Steven R. Zellers|
watched placidly out of the window as the school bus wound
its way up the thin mountain road and came to a stop at the dirt driveway
where my Mom and my sister Jessica stood waiting for me. There was
a slight chill in the Autumn air and the gloomy, overcast sky reflected
my dark mood as I stepped off the bus.
''See you tomorrow, freak!'' a blond-haired fat boy yelled out the window when the bus driver finally found the right gear and made the yellow bus lurch forward, leaving me in a cloud of black smoke. Typical, I thought. Just typical.
''Who was that boy?'' Jessica asked, genuinely concerned. ''I can take care of him if you want.''
''Jessica! ... What did I tell you about using your magic to hurt people?'' Mom said and took me by the hand.
''Moo-om!'' I protested, a little embarrassed that she wanted to hold my hand. I mean I was thirteen and not a baby anymore. She smiled knowingly but didn't let go until we stood in front of our trailer.
''Can I go fishing out by the pond?'' I asked.
''OK Joey ... just be home in time for supper.''
''Alright Mom,'' I said and ran off into the woods.
* * *
I didn't really want to go fishing, but lately I spent as much time outside as I could. Since Grandma died a few months ago, Mom and Jessica scared me. Mom was always reading from Grandma's big brown book that she'd left to us and saying things that didn't make any sense. Sometimes when she was in her bedroom, I could hear her talking to people; even though I knew no one was in there. Jessica tried to do the things that Mom did, but she didn't seem nearly as dark as Mom did sometimes. Besides, Jessica was always there for me and made sure that none of the big kids in school picked on me.
I picked up a handful of rocks and started chunking them in the pond like I always did. When I ran out of rocks, I sat down on an old wooden bench and watched a water snake as it skimmed its way across the pond.
''Joey! Help me catch that snake!'' Jessica yelled, scaring me half to death. She must have snuck up behind me. She was always doing junk like that.
''What for?'' I asked.
''You don't want people at school calling you names do you?''
''What does that have to do with the snake Jessica?''
''Come on!'' She yelled and ran to the other side of the pond where the snake had slithered up on the bank.
I went around the other way and cut off its path so it couldn't get back in the water. Jessica crept silently up to it. The snake saw her and started to squirm away.
''Freeze, serpent,'' she said loudly. Her voice echoed through the woods and came back three times before it faded away. I watched in disbelief as the snake lay as still as at tree branch. She bent over and picked it up, smiling as it gently wrapped around her arm.
''What are you going to do with it?'' I asked.
''You'll see tomorrow ... Don't tell Mom,'' she said and put the snake in a rusty coffee can, carefully poking holes in the lid so it could breathe.
I knew she meant well, but I didn't want her to hurt anyone. Since she learned to use Grandma's book, bad things seemed happen to anyone who made her mad.
''Jess,'' I protested. ''You know how Ricky Kramer is ... he's just a big bully. I don't think you should hurt him.''
She stood directly in front of me and looked right in my eyes. Her eyes sparkled with that familiar evil glow that I'd come to hate. I loved her a lot, but when she got like this, she really scared me. I knew she planned on using her magic on Ricky. Suddenly I felt sorry for him and wished she hadn't heard him call me a freak.
''Joey,'' she said, smiling softly, '' I promise I won't hurt him ... okay?''
''You promise you won't?''
''I promise I won't.''
''Okay,'' I said, feeling a little better. ''Let's get home before we're late for supper.''
* * *
That night, before I went to sleep, I said a little prayer for Ricky. I asked God not to let him go to school tomorrow. I don't know why I felt sorry for him. I mean, he'd been mean to me all year, calling me freak, stickboy, hillbilly, all kinds of names; but they were just names and didn't really mean anything. I knew he picked on me because he was afraid of Jessica. Everybody was, except for her friend Marsha Teek. If you ask me, she was the only freak I knew.
The next morning I went to homeroom and looked for Ricky Kramer. To my relief, I didn't see him. Maybe God answered my prayer, I thought.
Later that day, I saw Jessica and Marsha standing in the hall laughing.
''Hi, Joey,'' Marsha said.
I didn't like her much so I started to walk away, but Jessica grabbed my arm. ''Joey ... have you seen Ricky Kramer yet?'' she asked. That evil glow was back in her eyes.
''No,'' I answered and got a sick feeling in my stomach. She let go of my arm and I went to science class. To my surprise, the water snake from the pond was in a glass aquarium at the front of the classroom.
''Class ... today we are going to dissect a water snake graciously donated by Jessica Harper,'' Mr. Hollis, the science teacher, announced. He smiled and handed me a scalpel. ''Joey ... since it was your sister who caught the snake, I'm gonna let you do the honors.''
Cautiously, I reached in and pulled the twisting snake out as the class watched. My stomach jumped up to my throat when I heard its tiny scream, ''JOEY! ... NO! It's me! ... Ricky Kramer!'' *
copyright ©1998 by Steven R. Zellers <Sharkhtr@aol.com>
Sharkhtr's Home Page: <http://members.aol.com/Sharkhtr/index.html>