The Final Chicken
By Joshua A. Spotts (Final/Stare/Elated)
Ben Bean glanced around the corner. They were there. He pressed his back tight up to the wall, so tight that he felt the indents between the linoleum tiles. He inhaled the pungent mix of cologne, sweat, perfume, and shampoo. A football player and a cheerleader, how original, he thought. He almost choked on powerful scent, but he stopped himself from coughing. He heard their footsteps approaching. It was time to run.
His sneakers squeaked as he bolted from his hiding place. He heard their gruff shouts. They were giving chase. The hallway seemed to shake with their pounding feet. The sneakers squeaked again as Ben made a sharp turn to the right. He dodged into a bathroom. The door swung shut. The picture of a stick figure is a dress smiled at Ben’s pursuers as they barged into the boys’ bathroom.
Glad it’s after hours. Ben thought as he unlatched the narrow window close to the ceiling. He grabbed the outside ledge and pulled himself up from the sink where he had stood. He tumbled face first toward the ground. He flipped and landed on his feet like a cat. One hand went deep into the dirt and he brushed it off on his pants. As Ben mounted the bus he saw the bullies rush from the school. “Get back here, you chicken!”
The bus pulled away and headed up the street. I may be a chicken, Ben thought, but I’m still alive. He eased his skinny frame into the torn, vinyl bus seat. His heart’s pace slowed. It no longer ran a marathon. It rested, but Ben knew it could not rest for long. Tomorrow they would chase him again and he would escape again; at least, he hoped he would.
The next day crept in much as it always did for Ben. His alarm screeched in his ears and his eyes snapped open, welcoming his mind back to consciousness with the picture of his little sister standing above him with a syrup container. “Emily!”
She giggled and rushed from his room. Ben felt the cold panels of the wooden floor beneath his feet as he stumbled over to the closet mirror. He saw a reflection of himself, the zombie version that is. He ran a numb hand through his hair. He patted it down and stumbled down the stairs, following the scent of his mother’s waffle iron. He rounded the corner, elated that she was not making her infamous blueberry waffles. Those were the ones she always burned.
The bus came at the exact same time as it did every day. So far, so good, Ben thought as he sat in his seat. But something was different that day. There, in his seat, right beside him, sat a girl. He had to glance at her twice before he fully realized that she was a girl. She did not dress in the same promiscuous way as the other girls. Her hair was pulled into the gentle pony-tail, brown and long. Ben could not help but stare at her.
“Excuse me,” Ben choked on his words, coughing into his sleeve.
“Pardon,” she turned towards him, as if noticing him for the first time.
“I said, ‘excuse me,’ but I do not remember ever seeing you on this bus before.”
“You haven’t.” A twinkle vanished from her eye the instant it appeared. “I am Claire, Claire O’Carie that is.”
“I am Ben Bean.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“I am sure, gah.” Ben slapped his forehead. “I didn’t mean to say that.”
Claire chuckled, it wasn’t high-pitched, but it wasn’t disturbingly deep either. In fact, it was perfect. “You are funny, Ben.”
“I try.” Ben blushed and turned away. “You’re new to the school then?”
“Would you like to be shown around today?” Ben knew he might be involving her in his own war, but he didn’t realize it until the words escaped.
“That would be wonderful. How generous of you,” Claire declared.
Isn’t it? Ben mused.
He exited the bus before her, glanced both ways and then, in a bold move, grabbed her hand. Before she could object he pulled her into the school. She jerked her hand from him, but felt a small tingle in her heart. She reprimanded him. “What do you think you were doing?”
“I don’t know what I’m doing currently.” Ben told her. The sincerity in his eyes informed her that she needn’t worry about his strange behavior. After all, there is a story behind everything.
The couple made it through most of the classes that day. Claire laughed several times at Ben’s witty comments and Ben felt calmer around her. He stopped glancing over his shoulder. He was at peace. He had broken every line of his personal security that had once governed his existence. He did not know it, but he was about to break the final line.
When the classes ended that day, Ben stepped from the classroom. Claire grabbed his hand, entwining her fingers with his. They were there. They stood before them. The bullies had ambushed Ben, something that would not have happened before. “Hello, chicken! Why don’t you run?”
“I am done running. This is the final line I am drawing. It is here that I will stand.” Ben quoted from one of his own poems. He squeezed Claire’s hand. It gave him courage and purpose. It gave him a reason to stand up for himself and break that final line he had established.
The head bully gave Ben a hard shove. It sent him stumbling back, but he did not fall. Claire upheld him. Ben Bean squared his shoulders and gripped her hand. The bullies slapped him around a bit, but he stayed upright, Claire was behind him. The head bully spoke. “Come on guys, this isn’t any fun anymore.”
His minions followed him away and Ben Bean and Claire O’Carie lived on in peace.