Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Fearful (08/23/07)
TITLE: Walking Scared
By Marita Vandertogt
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His coat had a hole in the pocket, and every time he shoved his hand inside, his finger hit the hole. He tore at it with a dirty fingernail until it was big enough to shove his whole fist through. Stupid hand-me-downs, he thinks, as he walks along the sidewalk, kicking stones against the curb. His left runner is worn thin at the toe from kicking against anything that gets in his way. His motherís voice echoes in his head, threatening, you wear out this pair and thatís it till Christmas. Big deal, Christmas, he thinks. Never anything under the tree anyway, much less a pair of runners.
But today, Sam kicks at the stones a little harder. Today is his 16th birthday. Heís celebrates it the same way as any other day, walking down the street looking for loose change, or some empty bottles to cash in, on the way to school. He knows Ben and the boys will be waiting for him at the end of this street, but he keeps walking straight for them anyway. Heís decided heís not going to put up with them anymore with their stupid threats and bloody nose punches. That was his birthday gift to him. Iím not going to be scared anymore, he told his reflection in the mirror this morning, pulling his face muscles tight, stretching his lips across his mouth in a grimace meant to intimidate. Iím not going to back down if they want to fight. I can do this. The voice in his head is full of bravado. They arenít going to mess up my life no more, he spoke silently to the face in the mirror, tipping his ball cap to one side, then smiling a skinny lipped smile at his new found attitude.
Just before he headed out the door that morning, heíd tiptoed past his father, spread out still snoring on the living room couch. As usual, he got in late the night before. Real late. He didnít expect a birthday cake, maybe just a few bucks from his dad which he took from the wallet that had slipped out of his pocket to the floor. Thanks pops, Sam said, rolling the bills up, careful not to shove them in the pocket with the hole. Maybe Iíll buy me a new jacket, or that pair of shoes. Sam decided not to be scared of his fatherís rages anymore either. After all, he was 16 now, and he could handle the old guy. He was sure he could. He was a man now, wasnít he? And men werenít scared of anything.
Sam learned the feeling of scared, long before he learned the names of his breakfast cereals. He learned through the yelling of his fatherís voice at his mother, and his mother yelling back. And he learned through the long nights spent in the apartment alone, a little boy hiding in the dark till they finally came through the door in the early morning hours.
Sam kept walking down the street that morning, kicking at the stones, harder with each one, till he finally got to the end of it. To where Ben and the boys stood waiting, in their usual spot by the tree.
Sam never came home from school that afternoon. And nobody went looking for him, not right away anyway.
They found his body early Sunday morning, in a ditch off the old back road. His ball cap was still tight against his head, but pulled down over his lifeless eyes.
Church bells sounded off in the little town at the discovery. The cold hard clang of steel against steel. A picture of his motherís face was splashed across the local paper the next day, the anguish of a grieving mother captured in black and white. I donít understand what happened to my baby, she sobbed words at the reporter. He was always such a good boy, a quiet boy, never bothered nobody.
Samís room is closed off now, by his mother. She kept the jacket and shoes in a plastic bag on top of the bed, the roll of bills he took from his fatherís wallet still in the pocket. She can hear her husband ranting in the kitchen, yelling for his supper. She slides down the bathroom wall to the floor, and sobs.
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