I wrote this short story as an exercise for an online writing group that gives a different “starting prompt” each week.
While it is not in my usual Tulip Fiction style (Can you believe it? No romance!) I thought you might enjoy it anyway ~ Rachel
Mitch Logan scowled at the younger kids waiting at the bus stop in their ironed school shirts and shorts, their black shoes gleaming. “Spoilt babies,” he thought, “Bet mummy even brushes their hair for ‘em.”
The three boys edged away as Mitch took up his usual position against the metal signpost. He leaned back, crossed his arms and watched them. Apart from a few nervous glances in his direction, the boys ignored him and returned to whatever dumb thing they’d been talking about.
Mitch’s eyes narrowed as he glimpsed the brightly coloured toy that passed between them. The blond kid tried to cram his hand into his shorts pocket but with one step Mitch grabbed his skinny wrist; the younger boy’s grip no match for his strong fingers.
“So what’s this piece of junk?” Mitch taunted, holding aloft the toy he’d pried from his hand. The kid jumped to reach it but Mitch elbowed him back. He’d seen those new action figures on the telly. They lit up inside and even talked when near another one. There were some in the toyshop window downtown, but he’d never seen one up close.
“So what does he do?” he sneered down at the pale kid. “Does he fly?”
The boy shook his head, wide-eyed with fear.
“Watch - I can make him fly!” Mitch let the toy drop toward his foot, smiling in satisfaction as he executed a perfect drop kick. The action figure tumbled through the air and landed on the asphalt right under the wheels of passing semi-trailer. Seconds later, only smashed pieces of colourful plastic remained.
The boy burst into tears. “I’m telling! I’m telling on you, Mitch Logan!”
“You reckon?” Mitch heard fabric tear as he grasped the boy’s collar, “You say anything to anyone and tomorrow morning I’ll drop-kick you in front of a truck!” He pushed the kid backwards and shook his head. “You’re a baby, cryin’ over a stupid toy.”
Mitch turned and squinted up the road for the bus. It wasn’t that he looked forward to school but it was better than being stuck here with these spoilt brats.
The blond kid was still sniffling behind him when the bus pulled up, and Mitch heaved himself on board. A big boy in a black t-shirt stuck out his foot to trip Mitch as he passed in the aisle and Mitch retaliated with a swift kick to the shin and a few of his father’s favourite obscenities. If that boy wasn’t the biggest in the school, he’d have done more than kick him. Mitch was sick of being treated like dirt.
There was an empty seat up the back with a bag on it, its owner paying attention to nothing except his book. He looked up though, when Mitch dumped his bag to the floor and took its place.
“Hi, Mitch,” he said and moved the bag under his feet, “Have a seat.”
Just what I need this morning, Mitch growled to himself, A bus ride with Kyle Brooks, the religious nutter. They were in the same year at school, but had never been in the same classes. Kyle was a brainy kid and definitely not the type Mitch hung around with.
The bus lurched forward; Kyle lost his grip and his thick paperback fell into Mitch’s lap. Mitch flung the book back at him angrily, glad to see the cover crumple when Kyle tried to catch it.
“Keep your stupid book to yourself. What is that rot, anyway?” Mitch asked when he caught a glimpse of swords and dragons as Kyle smoothed the cover.
“Fantasy. It’s about this warrior who --”
“Shut up already!” Mitch cut him off, then groaned in annoyance when Kyle zipped the book inside his bag. It looked like he was going to talk to him . . .
“I’m having my birthday party on Saturday if you’d like to come.”
Mitch stared at him and then demanded: “What? Why are you askin’ me for?”
The other boy met his distrustful scowl without flinching. “Mum said to ask. One of Dad’s friends is borrowing a mobile rock-wall from his work so we can do climbing and we thought you might like it. We’re having a barbecue for tea and a bonfire afterwards, too.” *
Mitch knew Kyle’s parents. They ran the bakery in town and Mrs Brooks always waved when he walked past. Once Mr Brooks had asked Mitch to help him unload some sacks from his car. He’d paid him five bucks, too.
He never got to do fun stuff like wall climbing that the other kids talked about - maybe the party would be all right after all.
“Who else is going?”
“About five of the boys in my class, and a couple from church. Some of my brother’s friends are coming too.”
Kyle’s brother Kurt was in high school and Mitch had seen him play in the under 15’s football team at the oval on Saturday mornings. He was good. Their father was always there too, watching and cheering. It would be nice to have a family like that, who did things with you, Mitch thought. Not that he wanted his dad to do anything with him, the less his father was home the better.
Mitch was just starting to think how much he’d enjoy the party - then remembered it was for Kyle’s birthday. He’d have to take a present for a birthday party - everyone would laugh if he didn’t. Fat chance he’d have of getting money out of his dad for that.
“Nah, I wouldn’t want to come,” Mitch said and stood as the bus slowed in front of the school. “What would I want to hang around with stupid kids like you for?”
He picked up his bag and stomped down the aisle to the front of the bus. Still thinking about Kyle and his family, Mitch forgot to watch out for the kid in the black T-shirt and went sprawling over his outstretched foot.
The laughter of the younger boys ringing in his ears, Mitch brushed himself off and glared at the kids in the bus. He hated them all and one day he’d be so big that no-one would dare stand up to him. Then he’d make them pay.
Mitch swung round at the sound of a man’s voice, hands clenching at his side. What was he getting the blame for now?
“Got a few minutes?” It was Mr Brooks calling from the door of the bakery. “I was hoping you might give me a hand.”
Mitch followed him through to the back of the shop. Kyle mustn’t have spoken to his Dad yet or he wouldn’t be asking him to help.
“The back window of the shop got smashed last night --” Mr Brooks began.
“I know,” the man patted his shoulder. “I wondered if you could drive in these screws while I hold the board in place? Have you used an electric drill before?”
“Yeah, of course,” Mitch lied.
“They’re all a bit different, so I’ll show you the way this one works, okay?” Mr Brook’s voice was quiet and he didn’t seem to think Mitch was dumb like the school teachers did. After a few tries Mitch had the hang of it and he was soon screwing them in all by himself. He hardly realised a whole hour had passed when Mr Brooks thanked him for his help and handed him twenty dollars.
Wondering if he’d given him the wrong note by mistake, Mitch stuffed the money into his back pocket. “How come you asked me to help and not Kyle or Kurt?” He hoped it was because he was so much stronger.
“Kurt’s at football practice, and Kyle,” Mr Brooks shook his head and chuckled, “he’ll be no use until he’s finished that book he’s reading.”
He opened the door of the shop and looked down at Mitch. “Kyle said you didn’t want to come to his party. I’m sorry to hear that. I was hoping that you might be able to come early, I need another strong boy to give me a hand setting up that climbing wall before everyone else arrives. Anyway, if you decide to come - just turn up here around two. Mrs Brooks can bring you when she shuts the shop.”
The toyshop was still open when Mitch walked home. He remembered the twenty dollars in his pocket and went in. Twenty bucks, just the right amount for one of the action figures he so desperately wanted.
His heart pounded with excitement as he stared at the row of boxes and tried to decide which one to pick. Then he saw the poster of the dragon on the wall. It reminded him of the cover of Kyle’s book and it was only five dollars. He could buy it for Kyle’s birthday . . . but then he wouldn’t be able to buy an action figure for himself.
Mitch sighed and took one of the boxes to the counter, disappointed the thrill of buying it had gone. He was just about to hand over his twenty dollars when he noticed an identical box with a sticker for fifteen dollars.
“Why’s that one cheaper?”
“The box is broken - see?” The shopkeeper turned it over to show the masking tape that held it together. “The toy’s fine, but everyone wants a nice box.”
Mitch chewed his lip. He didn’t really need the box . . . and he could buy Kyle’s present too. He grinned, suddenly looking forward to Saturday.
The little boys looked daggers at Mitch when he walked up to the bus stop on the following Monday morning, but they stood as far back from him and the edge of the road as they could. No-one had said anything to him about smashing the toy, so they obviously hadn’t told anyone. Still, he couldn’t trust them. Best to keep ‘em scared.
He leaned against the post, not hating Monday morning as much as usual. Maybe because he hadn’t been home much over the weekend. After the party Mr Brooks had phoned Mitch’s dad and arranged for him to sleep over. The next day he’d gone to church with the Brooks family, and when they’d dropped him home they’d given him a few bags of left over bread and rolls. Mitch didn’t usually bother with breakfast, but this morning he’d eaten a couple of rolls on his way up the street. For once he wasn’t starving hungry as he waited for the bus.
He put his hands in his pockets and his stomach tightened as his fingers closed around the new action figure. He’d played with it for hours the night he bought it, but after a while he got bored lying around, pretending the toy was real. It wasn’t, it was just made of plastic.
The little boys were still glaring at him, although when he straightened up they took another step back. The action figure was really meant for young kids like them, kids who weren’t old enough to do real things like using electric drills and climbing rock walls.
Just as the bus pulled up, Mitch turned around to the blond kid.
“Hey, I’ve got something for you.” He pulled the action figure out of his pocket, but the boy didn’t come any closer, looking up at him with distrust. “For cryin’ out loud, you baby - take it!” Mitch threw the toy to him. The weird look the three boys gave him made him laugh.
He climbed onto the bus and before he had to pass the big boy who had it in for him, Mitch heard his name called out from a seat near the front.
“I’ve saved you a spot,” Kyle said and put his bag onto the floor before returning to his book. It was a different one this time, with a strange winged creature on the cover.
He probably wouldn’t like it as much as the last book, thought Mitch. He knew Kyle’s favourite things were dragons. That’s what Kyle had told him when he’d given him the poster for his birthday.
© R. L. Brown 2006
* Translation of Australian Terms:
A barbecue tea "tea" = the evening meal "barbecue" = food cooked outdoors over a grill ( Please let me know if any other terms need explaining in this or other stories.)