Oh What Fools These Bullies Be
The first time I put on the cap was…interesting.
It was the day after the package arrived from my uncle. I was in a bit of a rush—partly because I had to take the scenic route home from school in a failed attempt to avoid my semi-daily run-in with Art Garvey and the Jock Brigade. I also had to work the evening shift at Simon’s Subs for my best friend Griswald. Trying to save as much time as possible, I stuffed the cap into my bookbag and more or less forgot about it as I ran out the front door, pulling on my bright orange Simon’s Subs polo.
I’d love to say all sorts of crazy stuff happened at Simon’s, but it didn’t. It’s just a dumpy little sandwich shop in a small town. I spent most of my eight-hour shift wiping the counter and counting the layers in the sliced onions like they were tree rings.
See? Boring. So, you can probably understand how something as ordinary as a green baseball cap in my bag could slip my mind. God only knows how long it would have stayed forgotten, pressed between my American History textbook and my AP Bio lab manual, if three of the more proactive members of the JV baseball team hadn’t decided to lock me in the janitor’s closet behind the auditorium.
“Think you’re pretty smart, huh?” the big one said.
“Messing up the curve for the rest of us,” the dumb one added,
“Y’know we can’t play if we don’t keep our grades up,” the big, dumb one concluded.
I can’t help it if I find the Progressive Era particularly interesting. I blame my dad and his union job. I was going to explain all of this, or offer up some other kind of clever retort. I was, really. But that’s when the pushing started. Even if this part of the building was crowded with students and teachers—which it usually wasn’t except during first and last period—I’m pretty sure no one would have paid much attention to three members of the championship baseball team strong-arming a skinny little nothing down the hall.
Welcome to small-town America, ladies and gentlemen.
Maybe, just maybe, I’d have avoided the whole thing if Griswald and Casey hadn’t bailed on me for band practice. Actually, probably not. Griswald is skinnier than I am and, between his long hair and his two left feet, tends to give klutzes a bad name. And, while Casey has stood up to these guys more than once, she weighs less than one of their sneakers. I admired her moxie. Really. But, like I said, odds are moxie—hers or anyone else’s—wasn’t getting me out of this.
So, that’s how I ended up locked in the janitor’s closet with three jocks-in-training laughing at me from the other side of the door. It’s a credit to my imagination that the janitor’s closet smelled pretty much like what I imagined a janitor’s closet to smell like—dusty, mildewed, stinking of bleach and floor polish. I’m pretty sure I could have charged those weird kids who hang out under the bleachers twenty bucks for a chance to spend five minutes locked in a confined space with these kinds of fumes.
Me? I wanted to get the hell out as soon as possible.
Step one: light. I needed light. I reached into my pocket before I remembered the text that Casey had sent me between third and fourth period, and that I’d dropped my cell in my bag after replying. So, my phone—and the light I hoped it would provide—was somewhere at the bottom of my bookbag.
“Okay, guys. Very funny,” I called to the three members of the Custodial Awareness Committee on the other side of the locked door. “I’ll certainly consider a career in janitorial engineering. Thanks.”
That should do the trick.
Their response? More laughter.
Back to the cell phone hunt. Twenty seconds later, I came to the conclusion that I have way too much crap in my bookbag. Notebook, out. American History textbook, out. What the hell? Something had come out with the history book and flopped down to the floor. Oh, right. The baseball cap Uncle Bryan sent me. It might not be the most awesome gift I’d ever gotten, but it was a gift, and I couldn’t just leave it on the floor of the janitor’s closet. So, I did what anyone would do: I just put the silly thing on my head.
The first thought that popped into my head was Whoa!, followed by These fumes have finally gotten to me.
My whole body was kinda numb and pins-and-needly. I could move, but it didn’t really feel like I was the one controlling my body. Plus, there was a voice. It was smooth; reassuring and mocking at the same time. And it was whispering in my ear, urging me to do and say everything I’d ever wanted to do and say but didn’t because of the consequences.
Consequences no longer apply to you, it said. See. Want. Take.
What I saw was a locked door. What I wanted was to get the hell out of this closet. What I took was a running leap at the door.
I hit the door. Hard. Really hard. But, it didn’t budge. I could still hear laughter from outside. I had to get out. Like, now. It’s a good thing I finally found that sledgehammer. I have no idea why a high school janitor would need a giant sledgehammer. Or how I’d known where it was in the dark. Or—and this was the weirdest part—how it ended up in my hands when I didn’t even remember reaching for anything.
What I did know was that it was going to make short work of this door. And those three losers on the other side. Whoa. What? Okay, okay. I won’t be using a sledgehammer on those three—
Why not? Because it’s wrong!
—but this door is a whole different story…