1. Because it would take the patience of a saint or Dalai Lama to smilingly turn the other cheek to those six savage boys day after day, to emerge unembittered from each new round of psychological and physical assaults; whereas I, Jared Shumsky, aged sixteen, have many things, like pimples and the bottom bunk bed in a trailer, and clothes that smell like cherry car air fresheners, but no particular strength or patience.
2. Because God, or the universe, or karma, or Charles Darwin, gave me a different strength, one that terrified me until I learned what it was, and how to control it, and how to use it as the instrument of my brutal and magnificent and long-postponed vengeance.
3. Because I loved Anchal, with the fierceness and devotion that only a gay boy can feel for the girl who has his back, who takes the Cosmo sex quiz with him, who listens to his pointless yammerings about his latest crush, who puts herself between him and his bullies so often that the bullies’ wrath is ultimately re-routed onto her.
4. Because after the Albany Academy swim meet, while I was basking in the bliss of a shower that actually spouts hot water—a luxury our backwoods public school lacks—I was bodily seized by my six evil teammates, and dragged outside, and deposited there in the December cold, naked, wet, spluttering, pounding on the door, screaming, imagining hypothermia, penile frostbite, until the door opened, and an utterly uninterested girl opened the door and let me in and said, “Jeez, calm down.”
5. Because it’s not so simple as evil bullies in need of punishment; because their bodies were too beautiful to hate and their eyes too lovely to simply gouge out; because every one of them was adorable in his own way, but they all had the musculature and arrogance of Olympic swimmers, which I lacked, being only five-six of quivery scrawn; because I loved swimming too much to quit the team—the silence of the water and how alone you were when you were in it, the caustic reek of chlorine and the twilight bus rides to strange schools and the sight of so much male skin; and because of those moments, on the ride home from Canajoharie or Schaghticoke or Albany, in the rattling, medicine-smelling short bus normally reserved for the mentally challenged, with the coach snoring and everyone else asleep or staring out the window watching the night roll by, when I was part of the team, when I was connected to people; when I belonged somewhere.
6. Because I had spent the past six months practicing; on animals at first, and after the first time I tried it on my cat she shrieked and never came near me again, but my dog was not so smart, and even though his eyes showed raw animal panic while I was working him he kept coming back every time I took my hand away and released him, and pretty soon working the animals was easy, the field of control forming in the instant my fingertips touched them, their brains like switches I could turn off and on at will, turning their bodies into mirrors for my own, but I still couldn’t figure out a way to harm them.
7. Because once, while she slept, in my basement, engorged on candy and gossip and bad television, I tried my gift on Anchal, and it was much harder on a human, because she was so much bigger and her brain so much more complex and therefore more difficult to disable, and even though I tried to only do things that would not disturb her, her eyes fluttered open and then immediately narrowed in suspicion and fear, the wiser animal part of her brain recognizing me as a threat before the dumb easily-duped mammalian intellect intervened and said, no, wait, this is your friend, he would never do anything to hurt you, and she smiled a blood-hungry smile and leaned forward and said, “How the hell did you do that?”
8. Because Mrs. Burgess assigned us Edgar Allan Poe’s “Hop-Frog” for English class, which helped my vengeance take shape, and because none of the boys had read it.
9. Because Anchal did read it, and came to me, after school, eyes all laughing fire at the ideas the protagonist gave her—Hop-Frog, that squat, deformed little dwarf who murdered the cruel king and his six fat ministers in a dazzling spectacle of burned flesh and screaming death, and her excitement was infectious, and we worked on my gift for hours, until turning her into a puppet was as easy as believing she was one.
10. Because Carrie came on television that same night.
11. Because I am an idiot who still hasn’t learned how stories and movies mislead us, showing us how things ought to end up, which is never how they do; and because stories are oracles whose prophecies we can’t unravel until it is too late.
12. Because Anchal worked long and hard on the revenge scenario, sketching out all the ways my gift could be used to cause maximum devastation, all the ways we could transform our enemies into an ugly spectacle that would show the whole world what monsters they truly were.
13. Because I didn’t listen when she said we would have to kill them, that they were sick sons of bitches and would never stop being sick sons of bitches. Because I still believed that they could be mine.
14. Because Anchal, equal parts Indian and Indian—Native American and Hindu—always smelled like wood smoke, lived with her Cherokee mom in a tiny house barely better than a cabin, and so I thought that she was invincible, heiress to noble, durable traditions far better than my own impoverished Caucasian ones, and that she could survive whatever the world might throw at her. And because she was beautiful; because she was smart and strong; because boys flocked to her; because she knew that if there was one sure thing we could depend upon, it was that teenaged boys were a lot more likely to make dumb decisions when lust was addling their brains.
15. Because Spencer, alone among my swim team mates, would smile at me for no reason, and speak to me sometimes when the others weren’t around, and because some tiny actions gave me hope that he too was gay, and that we were each other’s destinies.
16. Because Rex, on the other hand, an ogre of rare and excellent proportions, thick-headed but shrewd when it came to cruelty, served as the ringleader, and just as they had all obeyed him in his plan to pour Kool-Aid into Anchal’s locker as punishment for stopping them from stomping my skull in, so I knew that he was the linchpin, the only one I would need to work, and that once I had him, the others would fall.
17. Because coach was sick that day, and our next meet wasn’t for a week, so we had the day off from practice, an unheard-of gift of free time, and I knew that this was our shot, and we couldn’t waste it, so I texted Anchal We are GO and then after school, while Rex was alone in the weight room, I stood outside in the hallway and called her cell, and said in a maybe-a-little-bit-too-loud voice, “Hey, so, I got a couple hours to kill, wanna meet me by the slate quarries in an hour, maybe bring some of your mama’s vodka?” and she said, “Yes,” and I said, “Great,” and whistled while I walked away.
18. Because I hid myself in a darkened classroom where I could watch the weight room through the window in the door, and I saw how Rex called them all into a huddle when they arrived from their own classes, and they rubbed their hands or licked their lips or punched each other in the arm in glee, and then they left, as one, and I knew the bait had been taken.
19. Because they had their bicycles and I had mine, and after they left I let five minutes go by, and if I had stuck to that timeline everything would have gone exactly according to plan.
20. Because as I was about to unlock my bike I heard someone holler my name, and I swooned at the sound of it in Spencer’s mouth, and I stopped, and saw him standing sweaty and tank-topped at the cafeteria window, smiling, nervous, looking exactly like he always did in the dreams where we finally told each other our separate, identical secrets, and said “Can I maybe talk to you for a minute?”
21. Because I have an easily-duped mammalian intellect of my own, and because if there’s one thing you can depend upon, it’s that teenage boys are a lot more likely to make dumb decisions when lust is addling their brains.
22. Because I went to him, and said, “Hey,” and he said, “Hey,” and we stood there like that for a second, and his pale skin had the same faint green-blue tint as mine from soaking in chlorine four hours a day for months, and his eyes were two tiny swimming pools, and somehow there wasn’t a single pimple anywhere on him. And he said “That Edgar Allan Poe shit was pretty fucked up, wasn’t it?” and I laughed and said that yes, it was, and my heart was loud in my throat and it had hijacked my brain and I could not disobey it, through several long minutes of small talk, even while I knew what it meant for Anchal.
23. Because he smiled and said, “Do you think I could, I don’t know, come over some time?” and I grinned so hard it hurt, and said “Yeah, yes, sure, that’d be great,” while my mind scrolled through a zoetrope of blurry images, heavy petting on the bean bag chair in my basement, pale skin warming pale skin, us walking hand-in-hand through the hallowed horrible halls of Hudson High, me and Spencer against the world, my heinous monastic celibacy broken.
24. Because his phone buzzed, then, and he took it out and looked at it and then looked at me and said “Yeah, uh, so, I should be going,” and I saw at once that my plan had been seen through, my timeline tampered with, and I knew what even these six minutes of delay might mean for Anchal—and I left him in midsentence, and ran for my bike and pedaled as hard as I could, heading for the slate quarries.
25. Because the long rocky road in to the quarry was littered with giant jutting slabs of slate, obscuring my view and slowing me down, so I didn’t see her, or any of them, until I arrived at the top of the quarry and saw Anchal standing her ground, the five of them in a semicircle around her, but nothing between her and a drop to the jagged rocks and quarry lagoon below, and her face was bruised and bleeding but she was still on her feet and holding something in her hand, and she turned, and saw me, and saw Spencer coming close behind, and knew what I had done, how my weakness had hurt her, how only her own strength had saved her from the horrific fate I abandoned her to, and she knew, in that moment, exactly what I was, and what I was was a sick son of a bitch just like the rest of them.
26. Because Rex had taken off his jacket, and his sweater, and his shirt, even though it was mid-December twilight, and he was freezing, and goosebumps armored his torso, and he turned and smiled when he saw me ride up, and said, “Hold on for a minute, boys, let me just take care of something first.”
27. Because I tossed my bike to the ground and advanced on him, unafraid for once in my life, because guilt and shame over how weak I was had overpowered the fear of physical pain that usually held me back, and one of them laughed with surprise at my aggressiveness and said, “Damn, Rex, look out,” and I yelled, “Get away from her you pigs!” and Rex laughed and said, “Or what? You’ll take us all on? All six of us?”—for Spencer had taken Rex’s spot in the semicircle—and I said, “I’ll kill you all,” and I knew, hearing myself say it, that it was true, that Anchal was right, that there was no way not to kill them, that being a threat was who they were, and only death would make them cease to be one.
28. Because Rex said, “Come on then!” and I reached out for him, and he evaded me, and I reached again with the other arm and he leapt back, and I wasn’t throwing fists because all I had to do was touch him, bare skin to bare skin, to possess him.
29. Because the terrible thought occurred to me, when Rex had successfully dodged several of my grabs, and threw his arm out at me, not in a fist but in the same extended-finger grip as mine, What if I’m not the only one with this gift?
30. Because our fight looked more like a ballet than a battle, ducking and leaping and flinging our arms out, and I was gaining ground, pushing him back toward the circle and the ledge, and his friends were laughing but in a nervous kind of way, and because I knew that he was thrown off balance by trying not to make eye contact with any of his fellow thugs, but that so was I, in my efforts to avoid looking into Anchal’s eyes, for fear of what I’d find there.
31. Because Anchal’s arm shot out then, and sprayed the little mace canister in Rex’s eyes, and he stopped like someone pushed pause, and I struck his bare shoulder with one triumphant palm.
32. Because his scream of pain was cut short in that instant, and we stood like that, frozen, touching, for a solid thirty seconds, while I battled Rex for control of his body, and I saw how ill-advised this plan had been, because only the pain and confusion caused by Anchal’s mace kept him from easily turning my gift back on me, and if any of his friends had touched me my control would have been broken and I’d surely have died that day.
33. Because none of them did touch me.
34. Because once I had Rex, the rest were easy.
35. Because I reached out my left arm and Rex reached out his in a precise mirror-motion, and touched it to the right arm of the boy standing beside him, and now when I reached out with my left arm both boys reached out with theirs, and touched the next boy, and so on, until all six boys, including Spencer, were linked hand to hand with me, and every move I made, they made.
36. Because my gift had established a field of control that no longer depended on mere touch, and when I took my hand away the boys were my vassals, my puppets, unable to move or speak on their own, free will gone, their hearts pumping at precisely the same rate as mine, their lungs taking in and casting out air in perfect rhythm with my breath.
37. Because I, on the other hand, felt nothing at all beyond the slight tension of the muscles that I always felt when I used my gift.
38. Because I raised my arms and they raised theirs; I jumped and so did they; I let loose a wolf call matched by six baying voices.
39. Because their eyes, I was surprised to learn, retained their autonomy, and the semicircle now showed me an impressive ocular display of hatred, fear, pain, anger.
40. Because Anchal stood up, and looked at me, and unlike my captive animals her eyes told me nothing, and she ran, silently, into the dark, and when I called her name those six boys said it too.
41. Because I let a long time pass, standing, listening, waiting for her to come back.
42. Because she didn’t.
43. Because it is not a simple thing, to kill a man who mimics your every move.
44. Because Anchal chose the slate quarry for just that purpose.
45. Because I squatted, and they squatted, and I picked up a heavy rock, and their hands closed on nothingness, and I stood, and they stood, and I hoisted the rock over my head, and they raised their empty hands up just as high, and I threw the rock as hard as I could at Rex’s head, and they made the same gesture.
46. Because Rex could neither flinch nor blink nor budge as the rock struck his face, nor even snap his head back to soften the impact by moving with the rock’s inertia, and blood covered his face in seconds, and in the darkness we could smell the blood but not see the extent of the damage, and now every emotion other than terror was gone from those eyes.
47. Because I spoke, then—I shouted, and their screams formed around my words, a ghastly chorus of doomed men, echoing: “Once I dreamed of being one of you, of having your bodies, of moving so easily and fearlessly through the world, of belonging so effortlessly to a group of friends—but now that I can taste it for myself, now that I have your bodies, now that I am you, all of you, I see it for the horrid meaningless thing that it is.”
48. Because the speech was not for them, and I’d spent a long time practicing it, and I was proud of it, but its intended audience was gone, fled, betrayed and hurt, by me.
49. Because suddenly my anger was gone, replaced by shame, and I had no more energy for our plan of a moment ago, of slowly but surely inducing them to bash each other to bits, to leave a grisly mess for forensic scientists to spend decades puzzling over.
50. Because the water at the bottom of the quarry was still an eerie blue with the light from the sky, even though the sun had already slipped past the horizon.
51. Because they were all standing so much closer than I was to the uneven lip of the quarry, and I reached out my arms and clasped my hands on air, so they were linked up in a human chain, and I ran and leapt and they went over the edge but I still had another three feet of solid ground ahead of me.
52. Because I stepped forward and looked down and there they were, far below, their backs to me, waist-deep in water and looking down into it, still holding hands, some of them unable to stand on broken legs, and there was blood in the water.
53. Because it was more from weariness than anything else when I lay down on the ground, head pressed to the dirt, and I knew even though I couldn’t see them that they were all fully underwater, and I opened my mouth and breathed in that sweet cold December night air and then breathed it out, breathed it in and breathed it out, until the tension slackened in my muscles and I knew the field was broken, because they had drowned.
54. Because I got up off the ground knowing I had lost her forever, that she had seen straight through to the cold twisted heart of who I was. And in seeing who I was, she had shown me myself.
55. Because I had been too dumb to see how this power, this privilege I didn’t want but had nonetheless, far from helping me to see, had blinded me to the truth of who we were.
56. Because in the movie, Carrie’s punishment for killing her foes was to die, and mine was to live.
57. Because Anchal knew what I did not: that we are what we are, and we act it out without wanting to, and only death can break us of the habit of being the bodies we’re born into.
© 2013 by Sam J. Miller.
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