3: The Strange Becomes Stranger

“My mom says they’re lying.”

“Bullshit.”

A long-haired, big-boobed brunette and a flat-chested redhead whispered by the bleachers during P.E.

It was my first day, and I had gone through the motions of talking to my teachers about what assignments would transfer and what ones I would make up. None of that was nearly as interesting as the whispers and muffled voices that surrounded me all day long. From what I gathered, everyone knew about this Lawrenceville Slasher that I’d seen in the paper Brad had dropped. I assumed that no one was allowed to talk about it and that was why they all had to do it in such quiet voices. Perhaps that was why Brad and Seth had been so serious. Maybe they were afraid I might report them for finding the paper in our room.

Through my eavesdropping, I learned very quickly that “the night”, “it”, and “the thing” were all codewords for the Lawrenceville Slasher. Contrary to my normal disinterest to the blah blah blah that the kids at school talked about, I wanted to know what this was all about.

“No, it’s true. My cousin’s an officer downtown and says that it’s more like the eleventh or twelfth.”

This was one of the more clever conversations about the Slasher. They didn’t even need a codeword.

“The Lawrenceville Post said it’s only the sixth,” the redhead insisted, in an equally quiet whisper.

“My cousin says that the Mayor is trying to keep everyone from panicking, so he’s telling the papers less, so it won’t look so bad.”

The redhead eyed the brunette suspiciously, as if she didn’t want to give her the benefit of the doubt.

The brunette’s eyes flashed to me. She must have felt my gaze burning against her face. She gave me a furrowed brow to let me know that I wasn’t invited into their little conversation...or anything else for that matter.

Bitch.

“Alright everyone! Huddle up!” Coach Williams came onto the field, carrying a soccer ball. He was a beefy, round man with a face of stubble and a naked scalp. He looked like he was in his late 30s, but a few Twinkies and a pack of Camel had made him age in dog-years. He wasn’t all that different than Coach Michaels at St. Luke’s.

Why do they always make the fat ones P.E. instructors?

We gathered in a circle around him. Seth and Brad, who happened to be in my P.E. class, were standing on the other side of the circle, slightly outside of it. They had been easy to get along with as roommates, mainly because they were rarely ever around. I didn’t know what they were off doing, but I didn’t really care. I liked the privacy, and I was glad to have roommates who didn’t want to be in the same room with me.

They stood next to a small, mousy-looking blond. She had a tiny nose and tiny hands and was about two feet shorter than Brad, making Seth look like he wasn’t all that small. Other than her size, it was interesting seeing her standing next to Brad and Seth. They seemed confident and sur. She looked around uneasily—like she felt uncomfortable about being out around people. I guess if I were a mouse, I would too. No one likes to be stepped on.

Coach Williams divided the circle in equal halves for teams. Seth, Brad, and the mousy girl were put on the opposite team as me.

I wasn’t a big sports guy, and I wasn’t really interested in playing a game. Even for a grade. I was just gonna do what I’d always done in P.E.—go with the crowd and pretend to give a shit.

Coach Williams reffed the game as we went back and forth for a few minutes.

Sweat poured down Brad’s brow. As he raced across the field with Seth, pit stains in his grey shirt grew larger and larger. Brad and Seth had intense gleams in their eyes. Almost everyone else was like me: pathetic. They didn’t give a shit and wanted to get this class over with so they could go home.

Seth and Brad plowed through our team, scoring on us three or four times, regardless of who had the ball to begin with. Seth had the speed. He’d catch up with the ball and swipe it from whoever had it. Or he'd just use his quick and (I’ll admit) impressive foot-play to keep it. Brad acted as the brick wall that anyone who wanted to get to Seth had to get through. So that never happened.

Midway through the hour, Brad and Seth were looking even fiercer than when we'd started. Our teams stood on opposite sides of the field. Brad kicked off to our team, and the brunette backed up to get it. She was the only one on our team that really cared. By the way she played, I figured that she played sports too. She nabbed the ball and headed down the field. Brad was heading straight for her. She headed straight for him, not seeming to be intimidated by his brick muscles. It looked like a game of chicken. One of them was going to have to let up eventually, but who was it going to be? The rage that filled Brad’s eyes made it clear that it wasn’t going to be him, and unless she had been misled about the laws of physics, I was pretty confident that it was going to be her. Her boobs and Brad’s pecks jiggled simultaneously as their bodies’ jetted down the field.

The brunette kicked the ball through Brad’s legs and ran around him. He didn’t have the reflexes to turn around and get it, and the brunette must have known that. What she didn’t anticipate, which I knew she should have, was that Seth was right behind Brad. He kicked the ball right passed her and it flew back towards us. The ball was just a few feet from me. I went for it.

I’ll admit that I was trying to steal some of Seth and Brad’s thunder. After all, what gave them the right to act like they were all high and mighty in a P.E. class. This wasn’t a real game. This was a way of passing the time. I wanted to show them up, or at least give it a shot.

Me and Brad raced to the ball simultaneously. His muscles bobbed up and down under his shirt and the veins in his neck popped forward. I kicked the ball just passed Brad and slipped around him. He was still turning his mega-body around when I caught back up with the ball.

Seth was right there, as I knew he would be, to swipe the ball, but I gave it a quick kick to the other side and chased after it, racing down the field.

Seth was right on my heels. I was running as fast as I could—and maybe even a little faster. I wouldn’t have much chance if I didn’t get this in. We weren’t going to win. That was evident. But I wanted to make it clear that if I wanted to, I could play on the caliber that my two overachieving roommates were playing at.

I neared the goal where the mousy girl was goalie. Her green eyes were big, making me think of the anime eyes from the brochure of the kids from St. Lawrence’s. Of course, she didn’t look nearly as enthusiastic as those kids did. She started to cower as I rapidly approached. I laid into the ball.

POW!

I felt a blow to my ankle, like I’d just kicked a brick.

“SHIT!” I cried out, dropping to my knees.

Seth had come up from the side and kicked my foot, then made off with the ball.

“Goddammit!” I snapped, feeling the sore spot on my ankle.

I turned to see if Coach Williams had noticed Seth’s asshole move. Coach Williams was turned away from the game.

Go figure.

The mousy girl eyed me worriedly. I wasn’t sure if she was worried about my foot or me kicking her friend’s ass. Either way, she needed to be concerned.

Seth made down the field with lightning speed and scored on us. I stood back up, still feeling the sting in my foot and knowing I wasn’t going to be able to walk easily. I ground my teeth and hobbled to the middle of the field, where everyone was huddling.

Brad and Seth high-fived. Brad had that cocked grin like when I’d first seen him. It was even more annoying when it was at my expense. But I had another goal in mind: Seth. I went right for him. I was going to trample his ass and then let Brad trample mine. I must have had some kinda look on my face because as I was passing through the others to get to Seth, I caught a glimpse of the brunette and the redhead, who were staring at me in horror. Yeah. Well, they should have because someone was going to get hurt…real bad.

Seth turned to me and flashed an arrogant smile, his brow raising victoriously. I thought I might start barking like a dog I was so mad. I was just a few feet from him, my eyes fixed and my fists clenched. Brad knew where I was heading and stepped in front of his friend. It was a good day to die.

“Okay kids! Next game!”

Coach Williams slipped right between me and Brad. I froze in place. His massive round body broke my concentration. It was clear by those dumb eyes of his that he was oblivious to what was going down and just wanted to get the next round started.

I could feel my breathing. It was fast and unsteady, a combination of rage and the intense game-play. My face was hot. My muscles relaxed and my adrenaline dipped. It was good that Coach Williams had stepped in when he had. Not that I didn’t want to kick Seth’s ass. I’d just realized that rather than committing suicide by having him and Brad beat the shit out of me, I could get him the same way he had gotten me—in the game.

As our teams split onto our respectful sides, I gave Seth a vengeful look—a warning to let him know that I was coming for him. He stared back at me blankly. It wasn’t that he wasn’t concerned. It was that he wasn’t going to show me that he was.

Everyone on my side of the field stood in their regular positions, expect for the brunette who had stepped off to the back. She knew that I was taking the front for this one. Everyone but Coach Williams knew.

Seth and Brad stood side by side on the other end of the field. Seth watched me with dead-serious eyes.

There was a moment where I thought there should be some humor in all this. After all, it was ridiculous that I wanted to kill this guy over a P.E. soccer game.

Brad kicked off the ball. It soared across the field, went right over my head, and landed by the goal. The brunette came in beside it and whipped her leg around, kicking it straight passed me. I followed behind till I caught up and maneuvered it down the field. Seth was speeding right at me. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to make it passed him, as I was still slightly crippled from the blow to my ankle. But I was going to find a way to get him.

We were moving closer and closer. I figured we looked something like the brunette and Brad when they were charging each other with their jiggling body parts.

Soon, he was right in front of me with his attack-dog eyes. He lunged at the ball. I did a quick move and slid past him. He kicked between my legs, pushing the ball out of my reach.

We raced toward it. I turned to see where he was and caught a glimpse of Brad racing at me. He was coming full-force, without any chance for stopping. He was just going to take me down.

I made it to the ball first and kicked it into Brad’s path. Seth leaned to the side to kick it just as Brad rammed into him with everything he had.

CRUNCH CRUNCH!

“FUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKK!!!!”

Seth’s cry echoed across the field as his Brad’s body drove Seth’s heel into the ground. I wasn’t sure what had made that awful crunching sound until I saw the back of Seth’s knee slam into the ground. His shin swung like it was on a hinge so that his tennis shoe almost smacked him in the face. Seth’s eyes winced and his face was red as Brad fell into him. The crunching sound continued like firecrackers till Brad’s body covered Seth’s.

I stared in horror as I could only imagine the condition Seth’s body was now in. What I had thought was going to be an uncomfortable tackle had turned into dismemberment.

I was frozen in place, shivers rushing up and down my spine. Everyone else was the same. They stared motionlessly at Brad and Seth. Even Coach Williams, who I know had to have seen enough accidents in his time as a coach to not be surprised by much was standing with his mouth hung open.

Brad rolled off of Seth. Seth’s jeans were drenched in blood. A sharp thing, that I could only assume was bone, looked like a giant pencil poking out from under the jeans.

The mousy girl raced from the goal toward us. Her eyes were still wide, but now for an entirely different reason.

Coach Williams called an ambulance, and class was dismissed. Brad went with Seth to the hospital. I went back to the dorm. I couldn’t even imagine what Seth had gone through. Sure, I wanted to kick his ass, but I’m not a maniac. I wouldn’t have wished something like that on him.

I lay in my bunk, breathing heavily as that haunting CRUNCH rung in my ears. I was there for hours in the pitch black, wondering what Seth was going to do. Was he going to have to be in a wheelchair? Was he ever going to be able to walk again? Would he blame this all on me? Would dad blame this all on me? My chest was tightening and tightening, like a hand was clawing at it, when I heard a click at the door.

My face went white. It was probably Brad, returning from the hospital. Was he going to be mad as hell? Or was he going to want to kick my face in? Either way, it was going to be awful.

The door opened, revealing a dark silhouette. I knew it wasn’t Brad. It was too small, but there was no way it was Seth.

The silhouette flicked the lights on. It was Seth. He stood in the doorway. He looked completely serene. Like nothing had happened. But there was still that huge stain on his jeans where the blood had been. I lied, propped up in bed, staring at him with my mouth hanging open, just like Coach Williams’ had been on the field.

Seth stared back. “Hey Jason,” he said calmly. He walked into the room.

I felt the color in my face drain even more. I hopped out of bed. It was like seeing a ghost.

“Wha—what?"

Brad had stepped in from the hall. I hardly noticed because I was still so overwhelmed by the sight of Seth.

They stood there, in the doorway, just looking at me.

“Wh—wh—”

“You okay, man?” Seth asked, feigning concern. He was clearly just toying with me, but I was too bewildered to be bothered by it. “You look kinda sick.”

He stepped toward me.

Brad closed the door and locked it. He looked at me, shaking his head with scorn.

A nagging feeling in my stomach made me think I’d just found another rat. But this time, I was sure that I wasn’t going to have a chance to find another.