A small boy knelt on a flat surface of grass in Southern Washington, glancing to his right at the Columbia river. There were windsurfers out on the water, but none of them could see the blood running down his face; they were too far out. A large boy, his same age, stood before him with a baseball bat, his blood drying on it. Another boy hovered behind him and one more held the young boy’s hands behind his back. He couldn’t see out his left eye because of the blood.
This larger boy, looking down at the smaller boy over his round belly, was the leader. It was how he carried himself and how he talked in a demanding, sergeant-like tone. He held the bat in his right hand as if it was a rifle placed firmly under his arm. Some of the smaller boy’s blood smeared on his shirt.
Besides the windsurfers on the river, there was no one else around. This small patch of grass was isolated from the highway that stretched to the small boy’s left, behind the copse. The whir of the wind and the traffic was a constant white noise that either made you crazy or calm. It drove the small boy mad as blood pumped hard in his ears. Even if he had the strength, there was no escape. The larger boy’s minions would detain him and hold him down for another blow to the head with the bat. Or maybe to the back this time, cracking his spine. The little boy didn’t care where, he didn’t think he could feel any worse pain than he was feeling now. Those two boys faced the situation like statues, waiting for an order, consisting of the same hard stomach and morals as the larger boy.
The small boy on the ground was two months away from being thirteen years of age. He was a middle-class kid, judging by his appearance of a cheap collared shirt, frayed shorts, and new sneakers his mother bought him yesterday. His light brown hair was cut short, a birthmark the shape of a rat visible on his left temple. His eyes were a piercing green, not the kind anyone would suspect would be in the position of the victim, with blood hooking on his chin and the grass making criss-cross imprints in his numbing knees. The formula of violence found in middle-class children ranged from “bullies” to “losers.” This didn’t mean there were exceptions for the “average” middle-class kids that excluded him from ever being a victim, however.
While sun reached high noon, the hovering boy behind the trio’s leader stepped away to the right, away from the swing of the larger boy’s baseball bat. The boy restraining the one on his knees also moved away. Even though his hands were free to move as they wanted––to defend himself or to wipe the blood away from his eyes––the boy didn’t dare get up and run. As soon as the larger boy made his move with the bat, the other two would break out into a run, away from the scene of the crime. The boy on his knees wasn’t given any kind of bandana to cover his eyes. Taking in the scenery, he looked out to the river, at the windsurfers, noticing the water lapping up against the boards and the sails. A kite caught his eye above, a red butterfly with an assortment of ribbons trailing it. How wildly it flew in the wind! he thought.
He closed his eyes to fixate his last thoughts on his mother. The sniggering boys behind him, the smacking of the bat in the leader’s hand, the howling wind, the tangled branches––everything a tortuous distraction to his last remaining moments in the present. Then suddenly his attention was stollen by a new distraction, dispelling the thoughts of his mother. Like a string of high-pitched notes grating against his eardrums. After a second, the screeching noise blared again, finger nails on a chalk board; a screen door always swinging close and never slamming on its destination. He anticipated each high-frequency as if it was the ringing in his ears, growing more intense––chaos before the end, before the black, before his death. The noise occurred more and more often with each sentence and in larger volumes, as if an audience was screeching at his oncoming death, peeling the skin off the back of his neck. He was afraid he’d cry out. What he heard was a lazuli bunting, one of those songbirds he read about in his collection of bird books.
Foster Farquhar was an average boy in every area of his life. Although his mother avoided informing him of this at all costs, he came from a long line of drinkers, smokers, and fornicators. If anyone asked Foster himself, he was the son of a much-referred-to hairstylist who smoked on the front porch and only if the window was rolled down in the car. Foster excelled in science in his class, gaining a particular affinity for birds and other animals. Under circumstances unable to be recounted here, Foster wasn’t allowed to bring home the class pet, no matter what it was––not a rat, a lizard, or a hamster, nothing. That lead him to take the class pets home at his own liberty, failing to inform the teacher of his plans to take Mr. Skinner home for the weekend. As soon as he was caught and punished with a week’s detention, he took up taking his classmate’s pets home for the weekend.
One Saturday afternoon Foster and his mother were enjoying the warm temperature and changing of leaves on the front porch. His mother was catching up on the latest scandals in a magazine and he was studying the tree in their front yard, his birdwatching notes on his lap. A classmate of his––a girl, even––rode her bike up to the porch and hopped off. Only too happy to see that her son had a friend––a girl, even––his mother went inside to get her a drink, mashing her cigarette in the ashtray before entering. While his mother was gone, Foster inquired of the girl about a piece of gossip which had been circulating in their class throughout the week.
“Eddie is staying at the front of his house every night until he sees the car that hit his dog,” she said. “He swears he’s going to kill whoever killed his dog. I heard him say it myself.”
“Where’s his house?”
“Happy Valley Street.”
“Does he know what the car looks like?”
“He said it was a red truck with a Gonzaga sticker on the back.”
“What if someone has seen a truck that might look like that?”
The girl recalled, “I see that truck on the highway every day, driving by the river.”
Foster’s mother came back with a tall glass of Kool-Aid, which the girl drank in small gulps. She thanked her, got back on her bike, and went back down the street from where she came. Foster knew she was one of Eddie’s friends.
As the bat propelled to Foster’s head, he flinched backwards. The bat connected with his nose, making his face swing to the right with the force. As bones in his neck cracked, he collapsed onto the grass, unconscious. Seconds later, an intense pain exploded into his side. Another wave of pain shocked his body, sending exhausted and overworked chemicals of adrenaline into his fuzzy brain. He felt nothing but the torrent of blood running from his broken nose. His heart beat rapidly in his chest, though it was beating too fast for him to feel. Light pried his eyes open and instinct surged inside his joints in an instant. As the bat swung downward again, he rolled away from it, the swing missing his head by mere centimeters. The momentum made drops of his own blood fly off the bat and splatter onto his face. The light became brighter and he opened his eyes wider, regaining the present and shooting to his feet. Being killed with one swing of a bat, he thought, I can live with that. What I can’t live with is being chased and beaten slowly to death. I don’t want to die slowly.
Though he wasn’t entirely in his normal frame of mind, he realized he was trying to run. Deciding that he was going to be chased––but not beaten slowly to death––he willed his feet to move faster, with one in front of the other. How much easier thought than done! But it didn’t take long for adrenaline to take over every part of himself and he began to run as fast as he could. What the adrenaline couldn’t mask, however, was the magnified agony in his head. The very first shot to his head hurt worse than his pulsating nose, which was now a bloated mass of blood and flesh in front of his face. He ran towards the river, towards the windsurfers. His final destination was to be his house, less than two miles away, where his mother had a day off and was most likely safely taking nap at this very moment.
As he ran toward the river, the world revealed itself more clearly to his five sense than ever before. The wind danced over his bruised skin violently; it tasted like dirt and smelled like fall. He heard the dry grass crunching under his new sneakers like potato chips, each step echoing in his thudding ears. Every tree and every bush he passed he counted all of the bugs and birds that occupied them. Three lazuli buntings were perched in one tree; dozens of bugs––potato bugs, black beetles, brown wolf spiders, orange, yellow, and red ladybugs––scattered under the thorny bushes, as if running away from him; the sun beat down on the top of his head unrelenting, uncaring of his vicious plight. A squirrel zoomed across his path in a frenzy, the hair on its back standing on end.
He turned his head to see the three boys running after him, the largest one with the bat positioned far above his head with one hand, prepared to strike at will. The river was now less than fifty yards away. Instead of going straight, Foster veered right. Something flew right past his head as he turned. Looking back again, he saw rocks in the other two boys’ hands. All three played on the same baseball team. The one who threw the first rock was the pitcher. Not only was he the pitcher, he was also on the all-star team. All-star pitchers never missed, but he did this time, and that was most important.
While he continued to his right, a growling sound ripped into the windy air. Even though he didn’t hear what was said, he knew what that low tone of voice meant.
“Hit him! Catch up! Don’t let him get away!”
He ran faster, the wind screaming on both sides of his beaten head. When he got to his road, the three behind him knew that they weren’t going to catch up. He was too fast. Except, he wasn’t far enough away that a stone couldn’t slow him down.
He’s not going to miss again, he rationalized. They have so many rocks, there’s no way I can run away from them all!
A big rock clattered onto the pavement next to him, then another on his left, missing by no more than two inches. Rocks twice the size of his fists. There was no way they could throw stones that big now. Smaller rocks were going to pelt him next, and more of them.
The world threatened to blur and disappear in front of him. He held on with every fiber of his bloodied being to stay awake, to stay running. Rocks landed inches behind him, then feet, then yards. Next thing he knew, he was lying on his front lawn. Another shower of rocks woke him up and forced him up the front steps. As soon as he stepped on his front porch, the firing stopped. The small porch was like a force field. A broken window with an adult inside had “grounded” written all over it. Taking those last few steps to the front door felt like a marathon, like miles. When he reached his door, his tongue lolled out of his mouth like a dog. He tasted the blood on his chin and wrinkled his nose, sending one more shockwave of pain down his spine. His head hurt even worse. Placing a hand lazily on his forehead, he shut his eyes.
Hearing the commotion outside, his mother opened the door with a sleepy expression on her face. She let out an exacerbated scream as she caught sight of her son. His weight moved backward then forward, into his mother who had no choice but to catch him and soak up the fresh blood on his face.
Foster Farquhar was a friendless loser, as if he had been struck in the pterion, right behind the rat shaped birthmark on his left temple, killing any chance he had with any friend. He had been beaten and lowered in the twelve-year-old middle-class system on a grassy patch of land near Columbia River.ns 126.96.36.199da2