The sun was setting.
He was late.
His only hope of making it home in time would be to cut through the stretch of land at the end of Oak Dr..
15-year-old Lee McCraney was running at a pace that he couldn’t sustain. He was taking a risk by heading into the woods at the end of Oak because there were a group of older boys who hung out there, and they had a reputation for being mean. He doubted that they were as bad as their reputation, but it was best to avoid them if at all possible.
There was a path of sorts, but the ground was uneven and the brush thick. This forced him to slow down to the point that he was starting to wonder if the short cut would save him any time.
He had been down the path before, but never at
dusk. He knew he must have been getting to the halfway point where the path opened up onto a large field.
"Just my luck." he said quietly, as he heard voices up ahead.
As he approached the edge of the field. he heard three distinct voices... and there was someone else.
Crouching low and moving slowly, he couldn’t quite make out who it was, but he definitely knew what was happening...
"Hey! Retard! I’m talking to you!"
They were in the field, and not on the path, so he was able to stay low and move past them. As he did, he could see that there were three older boys and another about his size.
Of the three, one was clearly in charge, probably because he was taller, fatter, and louder. He couldn’t see the faces of the other two, but one was wearing a red hoody, and the other one was in some kind of poncho.
Lee considered for a second whether to help the boy, but decided against it. The kid was taking the same risk that he had coming through here, and there was no reason for the both of them having to pay for his bad luck.
"We told you to stay out of here. Didn’t we? Are you deaf?” shouted the one in charge.
The boy said nothing.
"Get out of here freak!"
"Good," thought Lee, "...as long as he doesn’t run this way." He turns to see that the boy hasn’t moved. "What is he doing?” he wondered momentarily.
"Not my problem..." he mutters, and he returns to moving down the path.
"Just a little more." Lee whispered as he approached the end of the field. Soon, the woods would provide enough cover for him to pick up the pace. "Almost ther-", something caught Lee’s eye. Something moved quickly in his peripheral vision. He turned to look at it, and it was
gone. He searches the dense canopy of the trees around him.
He had the distinct sense that it was a human figure he saw moving, but it couldn’t be, not twenty feet up. As he searched the treeline, he didn’t see the dip in the trail, and one misplaced step sent him to the ground. The sound of disturbed brush could be heard clearly on the other side of the field.
"Did you hear that?" came a voice from over in the field.
Lee is motionless, breath held, silently cursing himself.
"The only thing I hear is this retard... What the hell is wrong with you?” said the leader.
Slowly he gets to his knees.
"Come on, it’s getting dark, let’s get out of here.” added one of the other boys.
Crouching low, he continues down the path.
"Not yet...” was the reply. "I think we need to teach this kid a lesson first."
"A lesson?” Lee whispers as he turns back.
"Grab him!” shouted the fat one.
The two other boys move towards the kid as he starts backing up.
"Run!” Lee thinks. "Run!"
One of them lunges at him and grabs his wrist.
It’s at this point that Lee realizes who the kid is, because when his hand is grabbed, he screams... loud.
Lee knew the distinctive scream because it belonged to Brad Connors. Brad went to his school, and was in his grade. Lee heard a teacher refer to him as a high functioning autistic once, but he mainly just came off as odd. People thought he was dumb when he first came to school. He wouldn’t look at you if he talked to
you, and half the time he would start talking to you in gibberish. Turns out it was Russian, or sometimes Chinese. Lee didn’t know if his family moved around a lot, but sometimes he would forget what language to respond in.
The other weird thing about him was that he didn’t like being touched.
Brad was screaming and trying to jerk free, but by this time the kid in the poncho had a hold on him too.
"This is not my problem, I need to get home.” Lee thought to himself.
"Shut the hell up!” said the fat one as he hit Brad hard in the stomach. Lee winced.
"Why did he have to hit him?” Lee muttered as he turned, and started walking back across the field.
"Hey lard ass!” he called out. When the big one turned around, he continued, "Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?"
"What is going on tonight?" The leader said in disbelief. "I don’t remember putting out the welcome mat. Will one of you two get rid of him?"
Poncho boy lets go of Brad and heads straight for Lee. Lee is walking with a determined stride. With every step, his anger is building. As the two draw closer, the size difference becomes all the more evident.
"You picked the wrong night to go for a walk in the woods." said poncho boy as he comes to a stop in front of Lee, blocking his way. Lee continues his pace as if he were walking straight through him.
"Looks like someone is asking to get hurt..” he says as he takes a swing at Lee. Lee deftly ducks the blow, and comes in hard with all his might. He hits him squarely below the belt. Poncho boy doubles over in pain, and falls hard on his side with a whimper and gasping for breath.
Without missing a step, Lee continues towards Brad.
"Christ! Do I have to do everything myself?" says the big one as he starts out to intercept Lee. Hoody lets go of Brad, and follows.
"Good," thinks Lee. "Now if he would just take off running, we could both get out of here..." Brad slowly started getting to his feet.
"...No such luck."
"I can’t take both of them," he thought, "so my best chance is to use my speed to get in a few hits and keep them distracted until Brad can get away."
Lee picks up the pace as he continues to taunt the two, "You two are even uglier up close."
Lee feints to the right, then sails right into a meaty left hook. The fat one was faster than he looked.
The solid punch sends Lee stumbling back. "Wow! I’m impressed...", Lee says as he
tries to regain his footing. "You can hit almost as hard as my grandma..." His eyes watering, Lee glances over to see Brad wandering off. "Finally" he mutters to himself.
"Grandma, huh?" said the big one as he advances. "That’s funny"
Lee, still wobbly, starts backing up.
"You remind me a little of me..." The big one has made up half the distance between them and is towering over Lee. "I seem to remember making a few wisecracks too right before I got my first real beating." He grabs Lee and pulls him in close.
"From the look of you, they couldn’t have been that wise..."
Goliath smiles, "Yeah, just like that." and he punches Lee hard in the stomach. Lee drops like a rag-doll. "This really does feel oddly familiar." He drags Lee up by his collar and cracks him with a hard left to the jaw. Lee is on the ground again, this time with a few loose teeth and a lot of blood in his mouth. "It’s sort of
like deja vu... but from another point of view." He kicks Lee hard in the side, bends down and grabs his hair and twists his head to face him.
"Is that all you got?" croaks Lee, his face covered in blood, dirt, and tears.
"Come on guys, I’m getting hungry", he says as he heads back across the field.
Lee can see poncho boy limping towards him. A hard kick to the ribs flips him over on his back.
Hearing this, the big one looks back. "Hey! Leave him alone, I like that kid, he’s funny."
Poncho boy, defeated, limps away mumbling something about "next time".
Lee can’t move, everything hurts. As he hears the sound of the three leaving the field, he stares into the darkness of the nearby treeline. From the darkness emerges a human figure. He can’t make out any details, but the shape is unmistakably human. Unable to move his hands
to clear his watery eyes, he can only blink, trying to focus better on the shadowy figure above. Even this hurts.
Just then the figure drops down and out of his field of vision. From that height, Lee thought, he should have heard him hit the ground, but there was nothing for the longest time... then the distinct sound of footsteps approaching.