Ethan hid in a dark doorway, panting, while he considered his options. No way Caulb and his felons in training would give up once they figured out he outsmarted them. Shouts echoing in the cavernous hallway alerted him. Danger was closer than he’d thought. Great. Weren’t schools supposed to be crawling with staff members looking out for the welfare of the students? Yeah, right. Too bad, he’d left his cell phone in Leah’s car. Not that it would have done him much good since the school used a dampener to keep students from texting in class.
If high schools were a theme park, then tenth grade was the roller coaster. It started uneventfully. The most stressful part of it had been fending off all the helpful staff members who wanted to redirect him to the middle school, assuming, since he was shorter than a good portion of the girls, he wasn’t old enough for high school.
The voices veered off to the left, down the science corridor. A window of opportunity opened up. Ethan shot up the hallway to the gym where the wrestling team practiced earlier. His father had nagged him to try out for the wrestling team. Even the coach asked him to give it a go because they needed someone in his weight class. He told him most of his matches would forfeit due to not having anyone in his class or he’d end up wrestling a girl. No thanks. He already had enough things to be teased about.
The dimly lit hallway stretched as if it were endless. Maybe this was a dream and he’d wake up soon. Caulb’s voice filtered down the hallway. His bass timber was menacing enough without the eerie quality of it bouncing off the metal lockers and taking on an almost machine quality. Caulb was a deadly droid on the mission of annihilating anyone who didn’t conform to his standards. Unfortunately, no tip sheet existed to specify what his standards were. All Ethan knew was he didn’t meet them.
The gym doors came into view. Sanctuary. He swung the door open with a gasp, unsure of what he was going to say. All he had to do was stick close to the coach. Maybe he could say he needed to use the phone to call home. His eyes darted around the empty gym. Where was everyone? An image of the wrestlers in their spandex suits came to mine. They were dressed in their team apparel when he’d seen them earlier, which meant they were probably at an away meet and why no one was in the gym. The lights illuminated the wooden floor and abandoned mats.
He took a few steps into the gym, stopped, and turned slowly, seeing no sign of following bullies or an almost friend who stabbed him in the back. His lips pulled down into a frown, remembering the different expectations he’d had for the night, much different. The choir teacher, Mr. Zimmer, asked him and Brendon to practice for Saturday’s choral competition. The man was almost giddy at the prospect of the two of them taking gold. Washington Heights’ reputation didn’t involve any of the arts. The saying about the school of hard knocks must have originated with Washington Heights. There might be an adult inside. His hand was the locker room door when he heard Caulb.
“Look, the little faggot is heading for the boys locker room. No surprise.”
Ethan’s blood froze in his veins, paralyzing him. No telling what would happen to him with Caulb and his crew. Mr. Zimmer had left in a rush when he received a call from his very pregnant wife. A janitor should be around, but none in sight, and no telling when he would get there if he screamed for help. Ethan couldn’t even count on the non-existent janitor’s help. With his luck, he’d probably be the father of one of the four boys approaching him.
Caulb taunted, while flexing his oversized arms. His arms belonged on an Olympic weightlifter on steroids. The football team would have benefitted from his brawn, but he, unfortunately, would have to pass a few subjects to qualify.
“Look at the little queer. Too scared to move. Probably pissed his pants.”
His small group of bullies in training laughed hysterically. Of course they laughed. Their only goal was to keep Caulb from turning on them. Brendon trailed them, looking apologetic and lost. Well, at least his almost friend wasn’t going to end up beaten to pulp.
Caulb fisted his hand and pounded it into his opposing hand as he came closer. As a threatening gesture, it worked. The only thing Ethan had going for him was his intelligence.
“Time’s up, gay wad. Don’t even know what a dick is for.”
In a moment of calculated bravado, he used the gossip he’d overheard about the bully’s mother. “That’s not what your momma said last night.”
The other boys snickered as Caulb turned red. He ran straight at Ethan with death in his eyes. It wasn’t hard to guess whose death it was going to be either. Ethan waited until the last minute, dropped, and rolled away from the charging bully. Gaining his feet, he rushed out the door, listening to Caulb curse after punching his fist into a steel locker room door. An outraged bellow sped his flight toward the exterior door. The sound of running in all directions indicating his posse was scattering for safety. It was hard to say whom the enraged bully would turn on.
All he needed to do was outpace the rest of them, similar to outrunning a lion on the savanna. The slowest antelope would be the one caught. It wouldn’t be him today. Part of Ethan hoped it wouldn’t be Brendon. Hitting the door bar, he burst out of the school at full speed. A setting sun gilded everything with a golden light.
The glowing sight stopped him in his tracks. His nightmare scenario should be composed of deep darkness with flashes of red. Instead, everything outside the school was normal. The grunts of the football team practicing reached his ears, along with the sound of a reedy soprano singing about returning to the Goddess. He recognized that voice. Leah, his sister, sat in her vintage compact car singing along with the music. Of course, she was supposed to pick him up. Rescue.
He startled when one of the exterior doors opened, it only took him five strides to reach the car and pull the door open.
“Go, go now. Burn rubber.” He slumped down in his seat as if his personal bogeyman might start peppering the car with machine gunfire.
Check back in a couple of days and I'll have the rest of the chapter.