All text pertaining to this story is copyright protected. Copyright 2002 Bridgette Hayden
He left Sanders' office feeling the way he always did when he visited, humiliated and sore. But the upside was that he'd also gotten a doctor's excuse to take three days off from school, due to 'acute excessive anxiety'. He didn't like missing classes, but he wasn't ready to go back.
When he got home, there was a message for him on the machine. A familiar voice: "Hello, I'm calling to speak with Sonny. My name is Ronald Shore. I'm the counselor at Silver Springs High, and I simply want to encourage Sonny to stop by my office if he ever feels the need to talk. He is an exceptional student and has my full support. I'd be happy to speak with Mr. and Mrs. Preyer as well. Please give me a call." Shore left his number.
Standing in the den, Sonny braced himself and pretended he had never heard the message. Dread told him it had something to do with yesterday's episode.
He spent his three days off cleaning out the garage for his father, and adding a new coat of paint to it. Outdoor work calmed his spirits. His parents noticed. Amber gave herself a couple of vacation days to spend with him. She talked him into helping her place new stepping stones in the flowerbed. Weeding around her gladiolas, she asked Sonny, "Have you put any thought into seeing Mr. Shore?"
Caught measuring, trying to gauge a comfortable distance between the stones. He stopped.
"I spoke to him myself yesterday". She raised up from the ground, brushing the weeds from her hands. "He seems like a nice man."
Sonny kept his eyes on the tricolored stones, the imprint of leaves etched into their grainy surface.
"I want you to see him. Try to talk to him. He's more understanding, more knowing, than I thought he would be."
Amber recognized her son's locked stance. "You don't have to go into detail about things, just vent. Get the frustration out. He has some very encouraging things to say. I think you'll find him helpful."
He did not relent. He went back to measuring the stepping span. Amber went back to the weeds.
He returned to school on Monday, dropped off with Dom's encouragement. "Don't let 'em get to you, Son. You're better than the whole lot of 'em."
Not exactly sound advice, but Sonny knew he meant well. Not even out of the car yet, and it seemed to him that he was getting stares. He couldn't be sure. Even before the incident, people looked at him sideways.
First and second period passed uneventfully. As he'd always done, he made his way from class to class, carefully avoiding eye contact and trying to stay out of everybody's way. The onrush of the student body swept past him in its various fashion dramas, foul banter, and survival of the fittest display. Everything seemed to be normal.
But that tentative conclusion was put to rest when he opened his locker before third period. There, eye-level on the shelf built into the locker, sat a small blue box, the kind everyone was familiar with. In bold, white letters across the front, it read, 'Tampons'.
Sonny stopped breathing.
Paralyzed, he didn't have to turn around. He knew he had an audience behind him. Sure enough, stifled giggles became roaring laughter.
He slammed his locker and turned to go, but someone grabbed his shirt.
"Hey man, lighten up! It was just a joke."
It was Jason Cole, his lab partner, and behind him, Erik Hall was grinning from ear to ear. Sonny flinched. These were the only two guys who gave him the time of day. Not his closest companions, he had none. But they were willing to talk to him occasionally.
He'd done homework for both, in exchange for the bribe of free movie passes from Silverscreens Theater, where both Jason and Erik worked over the summer. Since then, they were willing to acknowledge Sonny in public, but didn't get carried away in front of other kids, unless they were playing their practical jokes, and giving him a hard time. There was protocol to keep.
Sonny kept walking, followed by both boys.
"What the hell happened last week?" Jason coaxed. "Donna Smith said you like, had a hemorrhage or something."
Erik backed him up. "Yeah, some other kids said there was blood all over the place. You don't look like nothin' happened, just weird as usual."
Sonny indulged them. "Rumors, guys. It was a busted blood vessel, no big deal." He had thought long and hard about what he would tell people. The lie wasn't plausible, but he figured the average jerk wouldn't know that.
"Shit! Did it hurt?" Jason sounded somewhat concerned.
"Not much." He wasn't fooled, he knew that by lunch the hemorrhage rumor would turn into some kind of penile aneurysm, gory and worthy of even more stares. But at least, no one suspected the truth. Anything but that.
"What'd you run out like that for?" Erik came up from behind, keeping pace with him. "That freaked everybody out."
Sonny slowed. "Guys, I should remind you that you still don't like me, remember?"
"You still mad about that water balloon thing? Jesus Son, that was supposed to be fun. We included you."
"Six guys with an arsenal of water balloons, against one who has none, isn't exactly inclusive."
"We warned you what would happen if you took Edgewood home."
"I live on Edgewood."
"Oh yeah. I can see where you ran into a problem."
It happened three weeks ago. His father was having new rotors and brakes put on the car, so he'd been forced to ride the bus. Dropped off a block away from his house, he was ambushed by Jason, Erik, and four other guys. They chased him, cornering him on Old Man Keller's property, between the storage shelter and the brick foundation of the man's house. There, they let loose. One or two balloons wouldn't have been so bad, even harmless. But they had a rusty wagon with a box full of ammunition. They had no intentions of playing like children. In a testosterone frenzy, they wanted a war. They had just been waiting on easy prey to come along.
Sonny always thought that water balloons were harmless, laughable child's play. He didn't know that there was more than one way to play with them.
Multiple hits in a steady succession pinned him against the bricks. Even when he was drenched, the boys continued to fire away. They cursed and shouted at him, trying to outdo one another. He turned his body as several balloons to his stomach knocked the breath out of him. They stung through his shirt when they burst against him. The stretched rubber sacks popped against his skin like snapping rubber bands.
He shouted at them to stop, his cries muffled by the wet impact of a succession of six-manned balloons, all thrown with the determination to break them upon impact. If a balloon didn't break, the pitcher delivered the next one that much harder. Sonny's only recourse was to slide down the bricks, in hopes that they would see they were hurting him. For some reason, this incensed them all, and they took hold of him, dragging him away from the wall and onto the ground. There, they pummeled him with the last of their supply, firing in a final frenzy, their voices lifting in celebrated triumph. Sonny had held his breath the whole time, clinching his abdomen against their assault.
The balloons stopped, but not because they had ran out. When he looked up, four ashen boys were watching two of their team try to pick themselves up from the ground. He almost didn't recognize the man shoving Dock and Eric like they were rag dolls. Then it dawned on him what Doctor Shore looked like in his street clothes. The school counselor looked dramatically different without his dress jacket and khakis. The plaid shirt he wore hung off of him like a lumberjack's, it's sleeves rolled to reveal muscular forearms covered in fine black hair.
"What do you boys think you are doing?" Sonny would never forget the counselor's proper pronouncement, in contrast to his wayward appearance and obvious anger. "Do you think yourselves brave to pit yourselves against this defenseless one?"
None of the boys answered. Eric made as if to stand, but the threat in Shore's eyes stopped him. He stayed on the ground. "We were just playing, weren't we Sonny?"
Shore didn't wait for Sonny's reply. He took Sonny by the arm and gently pulled him to his feet. "Are you all right?"
Stunned, Sonny nodded. What was Shore doing there?
The counselor raised his voice, his jaw tight as he spoke to them. "If I ever see anyone of you mistreating this student again, you will have to test your bravery against me. I promise you, none of you will be laughing then."
He turned back to Sonny. "Go home. Rest." It sounded like an order. Too disgruntled to question the man, Sonny resumed his walk home, his clothes wet and dirty. Looking back, he had no idea what Shore was saying to the guilty looking guys standing there. But whatever it was, it made a difference. Before he reached his house, all six of the boys caught up with him. "You okay, little man? We didn't hurtcha, did we?" Dock Martin, a Point Guard for Silver Springs, tried to dust off the grass that still clung to him.
"He's okay. He can take it. Right, Sonny?" Jason's voice quivered a little, as if he might've been uncertain.
"That still rocked!" Erick held up his hand for a high-five. Two of the guys complied. "Hardass Shore is looking for a goddamn lawsuit, putting his hands on me like that. You know we were kidding, right Son?"
Sonny was still trying to catch his breath. He couldn't believe they didn't have a clue that they had just tried to kill him. It wasn't a game or a joke, and they knew it. He wasn't about to laugh it off.
Jerking away from Dock's touch, he held his bruised stomach. Bruised all over, it was this vulnerable area that demanded the most attention.
"It's just water balloons, for crying out loud." Dock appealed. "How harmless is that?"
Harmless. Balloons delivered with all the deft and force of a Fastball. He backed away from them, not trusting himself to speak. At home, he took off his shirt and looked at the half-mooned shaped bruises and raised welts all over his skin, which continued to sting.
Now two of the perpetrators were walking on either side of him, wanting to know how he was doing. For all Sonny knew, those balloons could've played a role in the bloody nightmare that took place last week.
Erik put his hand on Sonny's shoulder. "You know, Sonny, think of it as a test, an initiation, which you totally failed. If you weren't such a wimp, you'd be alright."
"I guess that's my fatal flaw. Excuse me." He made a forty-five degree turn and left the two of them staring after him.
Before his fourth period class, he stood outside the counselor's office, at a crossroads. He'd been given specific instructions to meet with Ronald Shore at eleven thirty, ditching English Literature. But he didn't want to go into that office. The gold plate on the door, etched with Shore's title and name, gave him an uncomfortable feeling. What was he supposed to talk to the guy about anyway?
He turned and headed for the Lit. class, the lesser of the two evils. He wasn't looking forward to being gawked at in there either. Ignoring the stares, the whispers, he took his seat by the window overlooking the parking lot. Ten minutes into Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and the school secretary's voice cut through the P.A. system.
"Would Sonny Preyer please report to the Guidance Office; Sonny Preyer."
Three shades of red later, Sonny slid out of his desk. The teacher, Mr. Wright, nodded his excuse, and all eyes watched him gather his things.
Now it was Shore's turn to stare at him. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, who wore tailored jackets. Black hairs flecked his unshaven jaw. His hair, longish, lay against his shoulders. This was unusual for a member of faculty, but tolerated.
The look on his weathered face did not strike Sonny as friendly. Yet he couldn't tell if that was the case, or if the man was simply in need of a vacation. There were deep lines around his eyes and mouth, and Sonny guessed him to be closer to forty than thirty. It was hard to tell. But his features, dark brown eyes, and a wide, firm mouth, were not unpleasant to look at. With a shave, he might've been handsome.
He quickly chased this thought away as soon as it had occurred.
Seated across from him, Shore had greeted him civilly enough, but now he didn't seem to be too bothered by the ensuing silence that stood between them. He allowed it, to Sonny's great discomfort.
They were mostly strangers, barring the balloon incident. He still thought of Shore as a new addition to the school, having arrived only a year ago, replacing the previous counselor who retired. Shore bothered him from the start, seeming misplaced, an imposter. His reverent way of carrying himself did not mesh with the rest of the disarrayed faculty. He didn't talk like them, and he didn't seem to take the student body for granted the way they did. Instead, he kept some distance, watching the kids as if he expected to learn something from them.
They had never spoken before the balloon fiasco, but it seemed to him that Shore had a propensity for catching his eye and holding his stare, even outside of school. More than once, in public places, he'd turned to find the man at a casual distance, watching. Always watching. And now, they were face to face.
"Thank you for coming, Sonny." Shore cupped one hand over a fist, unsmiling. "I regret that it has taken this long to meet you formally. I'm here to assist the students at Silver Springs, but I try to do so as unobtrusively as possible."
He gave this time to sink in. He spoke in a calm, low tone. His words poured forth at a deliberate pace as he looked through Sonny, as if he were using them to skillfully pry open a lock. There was no force, just patient intent.
"Unless the problem is serious, I wait for some measure of welcome in their manner before I approach. You, however, have remained closed to me, though you are in need of my help. I can no longer wait for your consent."
He looked evenly at Sonny. "It is you who I am really here for. Your body is changing. Your inheritance is manifesting. There is an acceleration taking place in your DNA as we speak."
Talk about breaking the ice. It lay in pieces all around a stunned Sonny.
"You have been very stubborn. That is not surprising, but you are causing yourself harm. You stare at me innocently, yet the greater part of your mind knows of what I speak. It is time that the rest of you knew. It is time that you acted as a whole, and not as a fragment."
Sonny blinked. His mom had actually spoken to this guy? "Uh... What are you talking about?"
Shore brought his cupped hands up as he delivered his words. "I'm preparing you. This is what's going to happen to you, and you must allow it. Very soon, a series of fevers will come upon you. It will appear that you are ill, and no cause will be found. It has started already. But it will get worse. You will issue no more blood, for your cycle requires that the Anora stay within your body, to be synthesized. What normal females lose every month, you will keep."
Sonny's mouth dropped.
"Tissues will break down, and proteins will become reabsorbed into your bloodstream. This will result in high concentrations of toxins, which glandular activity will try to cleanse and purify. There will be a modification of certain glandular functions. You will notice a change in your saliva. You will feel great physical discomfort where you have not felt it before. At times, you will be overcome with exhaustion for no apparent reason."
"Wait a minute-"
"Your outward appearance will change, your hair and skin. Your voice will open. And when it does, you must be careful of what you say. The timbre in your vocal chords reaches this plane from another, and the inhabitants of this dimension are not used to hearing that sound. You will attract unwanted attention."
Sonny raised his hand to stop Shore. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"All the more reason why you should listen closely. In the last stages of your transformation, your grasp upon this plane will be loosened altogether. It is my duty to see to that. You have been here long enough. Though your sleep began with a curse meant to kill you, you continue to slumber willfully, in spite of all the love that surrounds you, calling to you. You also have a duty, a promise to keep. And you cannot use death to escape it. I can't let you."
He was frozen to his chair.
Shore reached under his desk and brought out a long blue cloth. Laying it down, he made sure Sonny was watching him. He pulled the folds back, revealing something that looked to Sonny like a miniature sword.
It was no more than a foot long, and very thin. Strange markings decorated the handle, and the white-silver blade looked to have the precision of a surgical instrument no wider than an ink pen, but very flat like a blade.
"This is the Dagger of Latha. Take a good look. I do not want to use it, but I will if it comes to that. I have been given charge to do so. All that I ask, is that you accept what is happening to you, and that you take what is offered to you when the time comes. You will know of what I speak."
Sonny felt suspended over a precipice.
"Go now. And think on what I've said, for these things are upon you."
He left Shore's office, trembling. It was lunchtime, and the corridor filled with students. Getting his lunch from his locker, he found a table by himself near the window. He had no real appetite. It was simply a bid for normalcy, a plea for the last fifteen minutes not to have happened, not to have meant anything at all. Did Shore just threaten to kill him?
His hands shook. Carefully, he lifted his turkey and swiss sandwich to his mouth, taking a bite. Halfway into it, his table lifted up off the ground, nearly tipping his food into his lap. Sonny choked, looking up to see a grinning mass of acne-scarred, gum-chewing, crew-cut Tyler Croner.
"Did you get your period in gym class last week? Are you on the rag now?"
Sonny felt sure that it was Tyler's plan to attract the attention of the whole school. It worked. The lunchroom got quiet.
"On your planet, do all the aliens blow sludge out their holes, then run out the door crying like little girls?"
Sonny said nothing, feeling his cheeks flush. No. He didn't want this.
He knew it was hopeless. Let Tyler have his little show.
"What's the matter? Forget your Kotex? Oh, excuse me, it's the dry weave for you."
This got a laugh, from those in the know.
"Hey, Preyer, I don't have a problem with it. It proves my point. I been tellin' people since sixth grade you're a damn girl."
"That's enough, Tyler. Grow up and leave him alone." This unexpected resistance came from a female voice behind Sonny. He didn't turn around to look. He couldn't take his eyes off of the other boy.
"Feeling sorry for him, Brecca? I wouldn't. He cost me a whole season, pushing that damn button on purpose! Accident my ass. That was my scholarship, you asshole."
Absently, Sonny rubbed his temple. He was so tired of this. Tired of being singled out, tired of the jokes. And now the worst thing in the world was starting to happen. That familiar burning in his eyes told him it was already too late.
Everyone in the cafeteria saw a slight, underdeveloped boy, sitting motionless as tears spilled down his face.
No. Stop it! Don't you dare cry.
Disgust appeared on Tyler's face. "Be a man, you little pussy. Jesus. Don't you have any fucking pride?"
Sonny dared to stare deep into Tyler's eyes. Not because he wanted to. Something in him needed to, needed to make contact with whatever shred of humanity was left in the boy.
"That's my whole point. You should be in one of them schools for special kids. You sure as hell don't belong here, freakin' alien."
Just when Sonny thought he would explode from feeling angry and helpless, white lightning flashed in his brain. He saw only white, heard only silence. For a timeless span, he was weightless, without mass, lost and caught in the white nothingness that filled his awareness. How long it lasted, he wasn't sure. Be he knew when it ended.
When he opened his eyes, he was lying on the cafeteria floor. Someone was shouting. Student body and faculty alike appeared to be hysterical. He saw Helen Carter, the Geology teacher, sitting in one of the folding chairs directly across from him. Head in her hands, she sobbed openly.
Mr. Gross, football coach and math teacher was waving his arms over his head, shouting at everyone to be calm and to go on to their next classes immediately. Several people appeared to be huddled on the floor, on the other side of the table where Sonny had been sitting.
"What have you done, Sonny?" The question came above his head. Raising his eyes from the scene before him, he strained to roll them up as far as they would go, to see who was talking to him.
"Do not worry. Accept. Accept, and all of this will pass quickly. Do not be afraid."
A face appeared. Brown eyes beneath a heavy, dark brow, stared down at him. He recognized the upside down face as Shore's. The counselor's fingers touched the top of his head, stroking.
Don't touch me. You're crazy. I don't want this, I don't.
These were his last thoughts before everything disappeared into darkness.
Go to Chapter Four
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