By Marlene Moss
By Marlene Moss
All he had to do was make it to the fence. From there, he could sneak into Mrs. Panagos’ yard and hide under her porch. He’d be invisible there. But . . . what if they saw him jump the fence? He couldn’t risk losing that hiding place. If they were close, he would have to keep going.
The fence. He drove every shred of energy remaining in his body toward that singular salvation. Why did they pick on him? He wasn’t ugly, poor or stupid. Just little. What power could be gained by smashing the face of a scrawny ten year old? Especially when it took three of them.
Today’s assault started at recess. He swung happily, pumping higher and higher. One day he would let go and fly. Fly away from school. Fly away from bullies. Fly away from teachers who didn’t see, didn’t care. Fly away from parents who refused to believe fifth graders had the ability to hurt each other.
Did he look too happy imagining his escape unfettered by gravity? Something drew their anger. As one, the three husky boys stopped their game of basketball-dodge ball and turned.
No, no, no! Please keep turning, find someone else this time. Just this once.
His inner pleading became a magnet. The boys locked eyes, the basketballs bounced once, twice, then they lurched toward the new target. A moving target. So much more entertaining.
Wham! The first ball hit the chain and careened into the playground. It still had enough force to vibrate the chain painfully in his hands.
I could just let go. Fly right over their heads. Over the school fence. I might be small, but I’m faster than those lunk-heads.
Wham! His head slammed into the swing chain, which momentarily captured a strand of hair. His ears rang with the hollow ping of the basketball.
Keep swinging! Be ready to kick. Don’t be an easy target.
A recovered basketball was drawn back and aimed right at his head. He could see the pebbly surface that would soon force its negative into his forehead.
“Boys. Be nice now, we don’t want anyone getting hurt or losing recess privileges.”
Or heads. Don’t want to lose heads. Doesn’t she see what they want to do to me? Recess privileges? Yes, please, lock me in a classroom.
The bell rang. A reprieve! But they didn’t leave, just stared at him, slowly bouncing their balls. A threat. This was not over.
Each breath hurt more than the previous; a sharp pain deep in his lungs. Finally, he risked a backward glance. They were still there, but back far enough that he might be able to risk aiming for Mrs. Panagos’ porch. Never mind the spiders and the rotten smell of decaying leaves. He just wanted to end the day with his nose where it belonged.
The fence. There. Once more block. From here, the white picket fence was merely a thick white line. But it was so much more. A fence low enough to be jumped and behind it, a dark space masked by a white lattice. He knew one side was loose, in seconds he could disappear.
Half a block. He threw another glance over his shoulder. They were closer! Another burst of desperate speed. The fence was right there, across the street. He had no choice; he could run no further.
He leapt the fence—almost cleanly. Only his left foot dragged and he dropped and rolled through the leaves. He continued rolling to his feet and staggered around the porch. The lattice was just loose enough for someone of his size. He squeezed inside.
He scrambled to the deepest depth of the cave and held his hands over his mouth to muffle his ragged breathing.
Shadows moved past the porch. Was he safe?
Big deep breath through his mouth. Then another through the nose that remained attached to his face.
A beady eye squinted through the lattice.