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The Anxious Hero, Chapter 4

Foreman Becomes Formerly Alive

By Charles BoydPublished about a year ago 24 min read

Content warning: The fact that this story features an under-18 protagonist does not mean that it is necessarily suitable for younger kids. It contains strong profanity, sexual humor, significant violence, and depictions of bigotry by unlikable characters.

Note: Reading previous chapters first is highly recommended.

November 2015

Randy’s day was not off to a good start. He was in the middle of being dangled upside down by Kurt Foreman in the schoolyard. It was somewhat humiliating but not altogether surprising. Randy was all of five foot three and one hundred fifteen pounds and still highly passive. Kurt Foreman, by contrast, was about five foot ten and two hundred well-muscled pounds. In Randy’s view, people like this were the reason that prisons had been invented. Waldo always said that prisons were overcrowded because of the needless, racist and classist incarceration of drug offenders. In the old man’s view, the solution was to legalize drugs. Then, there would be room for all of the rapists, murderers, and other dangerous criminals. The high school junior felt that bullies should be added to the list.

Kurt dropped Randy to the ground. For a second, Randy thought his neck had been seriously injured, but thankfully the physical trauma seemed to be limited to “only” something on his head that was likely to turn into a lump.

“Foreman!” exclaimed a voice, sternly. Randy looked over and to his immense relief saw Ms. McGregor. An blond, pale-face science teacher presumably in her early thirties, McGregor was known by most of the students at Blaine High School to be “polysexual.” That is to say, she was attracted to anything with a penis. In fact, she had almost been fired last year after taking her sophomore biology class, of which Randy had been a member, to the zoo and being overheard by several students muttering about how sexy the crocodiles were.

“Foreman!” she snapped. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Kurt smiled smoothly, walked over and kissed the biology teacher’s hand. “I’m so sorry, Ms. McGregor. You see, the truth is, I…I did this to impress you.”

McGregor rather inappropriately giggled. “Well,” she said, blushing and smiling. “Just don’t do it again.” With that, she walked off.

Something snapped inside of Randy. I’m not taking this anymore! Not from this jerk and not from anybody else. He slowly stood up, moving gingerly in case he was more hurt than he realized. He knew better than to fight Foreman the traditional way. That would only end in a worse beating. But he had another idea. He was trying to think of the best insult to hurl Foreman’s way when the bully snarled, “Do you want some more?”

That’s my opening! “Is that all you got?” taunted Randy. “I barely feel hurt at all! You’re telling me you can’t do any better than that?”

Foreman momentarily gave him a look of disbelief that quickly turned to rage. Then he backed up and charged at Randy as if he was making a football play. I’ve got to time this exactly right! Randy thought. When Foreman was about three feet away from him, Randy darted out of the way, praying that the larger boy would not be able to stop himself quickly. His prayers were answered. Foreman crashed headfirst into a locker, landing on his back on the floor. Not waiting to see if Foreman was unconscious, Randy ran until he found Mike and Terkel.

“Holy shit, Randy, are you O.K.?” asked Terkel.

Randy quickly filled them in on the details of the incident, crowing a bit when he talked about outsmarting Foreman.

“That son of a bitch,” Terkel fumed. “This isn’t going to happen again. Is this the first time he’s attacked you?”

“No,” said Randy, sadly. “He’s been doing it over and over again this year.”

Mike put his hand on Randy’s shoulder. “Why didn’t you say something? We’d have nipped it in the bud.”

Randy sighed. “I don’t know. I guess you guys had already done so much for me, and I didn’t want to be any more trouble.”

“Randy, you’re never trouble,” Terkel said. “You’re our friend, and part of our job is protecting people anyway.” She snickered. “When Tank hears about this, he’s gonna probably try to eat Kurt.” Randy knew that Terkel was exaggerating, but the image of Tank devouring the bully still put a smile on Randy’s face.

“Anyhow,” Mike said. “That’s pretty fucking awesome how you outsmarted that bastard! I bet he literally didn’t know what hit him!”

“Yeah,” said Randy. “But it’s only going to work once. And when he wakes up, he’s going to be out for blood.”

“This time, we’ll be ready for him,” promised Mike.

He was late to sixth period due to the attack and the aftermath, but he looked so put upon that his teacher, Ms. Artonzo, did not scold him.

“Randy, what’s up?” asked a voice.

The small boy realized that he had been staring out the window and had missed the bell signaling the end of the class. He nearly had a heart attack when he realized that the person speaking to him was none other than Maggie Scarsetta, a tall, paunchy nineteenth-year old girl with long, black hair and brown eyes. Maggie was the oldest student at Blaine High School due to a combination of an October birthday that had always made her one of the oldest students in whatever grade she happened to be in and the fact that she had been placed in “pre-first” between kindergarten and first grade

Randy had been in love with her for the past two and a half years. It had all started in freshmen year. Or, if one viewed all events in life as interconnected in a chain, it had started at age four, when Randy had shocked his family by reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Waldo still had the picture framed. Since then, it had become clear to everyone around him that Randy had a knack for reading. As a result, when Randy had been in ninth grade, he had been placed in a sophomore English class. Most of the students either ignored him or bullied him. Maggie, two years and eight months older than him, was the only one who had been nice. She had talked to him and seemed legitimately interested in how he was doing. They had also bonded over a mutual love of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and American History, particularly the abolitionist movement. Since then, Randy had been in love with her. Sadly, however, his social disability made it difficult for him to ask her out, and that was probably a good thing. Asking her out would probably result only in more ridicule and humiliation.

“Y-Y-Yeah sure!” stammered Randy.

Maggie looked at him skeptically. “Well, O.K. Take care.”

Randy proceeded to ride home with Mike and Terkel. He was so preoccupied with attempting to process the day’s events that they did not talk much. When Randy rang the doorbell to the house, he immediately felt a paintball slam into his chest. The paint-filled balloon exploded, and Randy toppled to the ground, wheezing. The wind thoroughly knocked out of him, he saw Tank quickly come over. “Sorry, little buddy!” he said. “I was just testin’ my paintball gun, and I didn’t know you were coming in right when I shot it. But it works!”

“We know,” Mike said, rolling his eyes. Then, his face lit up. “Does that mean we can play paintball?”

“You know it!” Tank answered. Looking down at Randy, he asked, “You okay?”

“I think so,” Randy said as Tank helped him up, hoisting him as if he were a toothpick.

“Say, you skip school today?” Tank always asked Randy that question. As usual, Randy responded “No,” and as usual, the huge polar bear looked profoundly disappointed.

“You’re too much of a model citizen, kid,” said Tank. “Wanna play some paintball?”

“No thanks, I got homework,” Randy replied, and Tank sighed and shook his head. But before Randy could go upstairs, Wendell ran into the room. The massive dog bounded toward Randy and began planting a series of slobbery kisses on his face. The teenager grabbed the railing to avoid being knocked over and stroked Wendell’s fur coat. Unintentionally or not, the St. Bernard had a knack for making a bad day better.

As Randy worked on his homework, he found himself having a new thought. All my life, I’ve wondered if I was going to be a magician and help Waldo, Terkel, Mike, and Tank fight supernatural threats. It’s looking more and more like I’m never going to have magic powers. But what if I can still help them? He kept thinking back to how he had managed to maneuver Foreman into essentially knocking himself out. In other words, while Randy would have never been able to defeat the bully in a straight fight, he had been able to take advantage of his greatest asset—his ability to think outside the box and come up with plans in emergencies—to defeat Foreman.

Waldo got home at around six o’clock from a meeting at the Portland NAACP. “So, Randy, how was school today?” Waldo asked his grandson.

“Not bad,” Randy replied. “But I had an idea I wanted to talk to you about. This is a bit of a long story, but this guy, Foreman, was picking on me, and—”

Waldo’s eyes widened. “Hold on a moment, grandson. You have been getting bullied at school?”

“Yes, but that’s not the main part—”

“Randy, I wish you had mentioned something about this earlier. I am going to talk to your principal about it tomorrow. It is absolutely unacceptable for you to be experiencing this.”

“I know, and thank you, but there’s something else. After he’d roughed me up some, I got an idea. I taunted him into charging at me, then I moved out of the way at the last second. He couldn’t stop fast enough and ran headfirst into a locker. I think it might’ve knocked him out.”

Waldo smiled, wryly. “That was good thinking. Good thinking indeed.”

“And it got me thinking about something else. We know I’m never going to have magical powers, but—”

“Now, now, we do not know that for sure yet, some magicians take a long time to have their powers develop.”

“Are there any cases of magicians who get their powers after age sixteen?”

Waldo fell silent, and Randy continued. “But today got me thinking: what if I can help you guys on cases without having actual magic powers? What if I can help you guys in other ways by thinking outside the box?”

Waldo stroked his beard, apparently in deep thought. “That is an intriguing idea. Perhaps even I may have been exhibiting a bit of unconscious prejudice by assuming that your ability to help us on missions would be contingent on you being a wizard yourself. And you do indeed have a real talent for unorthodox thinking. I do have to warn you that you will be in very serious danger going on missions with us without magic powers.” He looked at Randy ruefully. “Then again, you are in very serious danger anyway. Modified training with me might actually help you to more effectively protect yourself. It will certainly be different from any other training I have given in the past, but there is a first time for everything, as they say.”

Five minutes later, they were down in the basement, where a mat was laid out on the floor. The old man was wearing what resembled a uniform from a martial arts dojo.

“We are going to practice martial arts,” the old man explained. “Even for most of those who do have powers, it is not wise to rely completely on magic during a fight. If you are comfortable with it, run toward me.”

Randy groaned and ran at his grandfather. He did not particularly want to go up against Waldo, especially given the fact that the old man had fifteen inches of height on him and was a martial arts expert. Still, the boy was eager to please.

“Allow me to demonstrate the Irish whip!” the old man exclaimed, moving out of the way, grabbing Randy by the wrist and slinging him onto the sofa. “Excellent move for novices, providing minimal risk of injury, except to the attacker. Try again.”

Randy lunged again. This time, Waldo swept his right leg around into Randy’s two legs, flipping him through the air and onto his back. The ancient mage then dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around Randy’s throat in a chokehold without applying the hold in such a way as to damage the throat. After a moment, Waldo released the hold. “This is one of a variety of chokeholds that I can teach you. I would never keep it in place long enough to make you pass out, but it can cause someone to lose consciousness. It can also kill someone if it is applied a different way.” He pointed at a dummy. “This is meant to simulate a real human.” He delivered a sideways right hand to the throat of the dummy. Instantly, the head flew off. Waldo then stuck the head back on and delivered a punch, knocking it through the air yet again.

“There are many ways to incapacitate someone without even using magic. The problem is, you have to gauge their size and strength.” He walked into the closet and dragged out a much larger dummy. This one was as tall as Waldo, with green skin and sharp-looking fake teeth. “Watch this,” Waldo aimed another chop to the dummy’s throat. This time, the dummy momentarily arched backwards, then sprang forward again like a jack-in the box. Instantly, a boxing glove shot forward from the manican’s arm socket, but Waldo ducked.

“Come at me again.” Very reluctantly, Randy obeyed once again. Again, his grandfather grabbed him by the wrist. But this time, instead of whipping him around, Waldo twisted Randy’s arm around and swung his leg around, knocking the boy off balance. “Improvise,” suggested Waldo. “Do anything you can think of!”

Still in an arm-lock, Randy aimed a kick at Waldo’s groin. The old martial arts expert simply grabbed Randy’s foot in mid air and bent over, crossing his ankles and putting them on his grandson’s buttocks. He then wrapped his legs triangularly around his practice opponents left leg and pulled it to his chest. Immediately, Randy felt pain coursing through his joints. He felt as though his grandfather were about to rip his leg off. “Uncle!” the boy cried. Immediately, his grandfather released the leg. “Is—is it possible to break out of that hold?” Randy asked. Waldo laughed and waved a hand. “Not usually,” he replied. “But later, I can teach more about how to avoid getting caught in a hold like that. Right now, I want to teach you some about kicks. One of the most effective techniques against a larger opponent is a spinning kick to the knees. The patella, you see, is the largest sesamoid bone in the human body. Break it, and the fight is often over.” To demonstrate, the rangy old man spun his right leg into the dummy’s knees. Immediately, Randy heard a cracking sound, and the dummy’s torso fell to the ground. Almost immediately, however, the model reassembled, as if by itself. “Now you try,” Waldo instructed. Randy tried to sweep his leg around, but unlike Waldo, he simply lost his balance and fell to the ground.

One of the things that Randy learned that night was that he was even more uncoordinated than he thought. Each time he tried to perform a spinning kick, he ended up falling on his posterior. When he tried to kick the dummy in the sensitive that Waldo showed him, he missed and felt a jolt of pain. Even when he finally hit his mark, he could not get up enough strength to do any damage. After awhile, Waldo said, “I think that will be enough for tonight,”

“How did I do?” Randy asked.

“You did just fine. Remember, you have just started training. Most of my other trainees started earlier, so you should not feel bad about having difficulty with your training right now.”

When Randy got upstairs, Tank, Terkel, and Mike were seated at the kitchen table playing poker. Tank had dragged the sofa into the kitchen to sit on, as any of the chairs would have crumbled under his weight. Wendell was sitting at their feet, but his head perked up when he saw Randy. “Hey, Randy, wanna play?” Tank asked.

“Sure, sounds great!” Randy replied. “No beer, though,” he added, preempting Tank’s next question. He was not thrilled with how he had done in training so far, but perhaps a poker game could lower his stress a bit. He sat down on the sofa next to Tank and began playing. He was not a good enough poker player to feel inclined to play with any actual money. Instead, he used miniature Oreos. Mike was the best poker player in the group, with Tank and Terkel tied in second place behind him. When Waldo occasionally joined in, he was usually not quite as skilled as Tank and Terkel. Randy was the most inexperienced and least skilled, but that had never stopped him from loving the game.

Waldo and Randy sat on one side of the desk in the principal’s office at Blaine High School, the institution where Randy had begun his education two years ago. On the other side of the desk sat Principal Aaron Taber, a rotund, balding man in his late-forties known for generally ignoring bullying and paying attention to test scores. “Well, you said this meeting with me was urgent,” Taber said. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Well, as I explained over the phone,” said Waldo. “My grandson is the target of repeated bullying from a fellow student here, Kurt Foreman.”

“He is, huh?” Taber asked, looking positively bored.

“That’s right,” Randy said. “It’s been going on since the semester started.” Over the past month and a half, Kurt had threatened Randy six times, called him names a dozen times, and physically attacked him twice. I’m not getting the impression Taber thinks this is important, Randy thought.

“What kind of bullying are we talking about?” Taber asked.

“He’s threatened me and called me names a bunch of times, he shoved me into a locker, dangled me upside down, and dropped me practically on my head,” said Randy. “He charged at me to hurt me some more, but I got out of the way last minute.”

“I believe that explains why one of the lockers has a dent in it the size of a human head,” said Taber sternly.

“I’m sorry about the locker, but he didn’t leave me much choice,” said Randy.

“So he only got physical with you twice?”

Waldo was still not raising his voice, but Randy could sense growing frustration from his maternal grandfather. “Two times too many, I am afraid. And the repeated threats certainly indicate that he intends to attack Randy again. That is to say nothing of the other verbal—”

“Yes, yes,” Taber said, holding up a hand. “But the point still stands: he only actually got physical with Randy twice. That doesn’t mean there’s a long term pattern of it.”

“But surely you would agree that there is a clear pattern of bullying?”

Taber shrugged. “What is bullying, really? I’ve always liked the old adage about sticks and stones, personally. I never quite bought into the idea that words could be a form of bullying. When I was a kid, we called each other all kinds of names, and nobody went running to adults complaining about it.”

“So you do not believe in the concept of psychological abuse? There is a clear impact of verbal and emotional abuse and bullying on people, especially youth.”

“We can’t deal every mean thing kids say to each other. At some point, kids, including Randy, have to learn not to let little barbs like that get under their skin so much. It’ll make them a lot better prepared for the real world.”

What an asshole! Randy thought. I knew he didn’t care about bullying!

“So if Randy were to call you or one of the other members of the staff at this school a bag of goat feces, would you also say that adults should not let that kind of thing get under their skin? After all, it would just be words.”

“Calling a peer a nasty name is different from calling an authority figure a nasty name,” Taber said. “The other staff members here and I are authority figures. Kids have to learn to respect authority, just like they need to learn to deal with other kids saying mean things to them.”

“I suspect that they will learn the opposite lesson about authority with you in charge. It might be one of the only good things about your administration.”

Taber scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Never mind. Let us set aside the issue of verbal abuse for a moment. Kurt Foreman did, in fact, physically attack Randy twice and make multiple threats to him.”

“Were they death threats?”

“No,” Randy said, finding it unusually hard to keep his temper under control. “He was threatening to beat me up. Which he did.”

“Twice. If he had beaten you up a bunch of times, it might be different, but there’s no demonstrable pattern here. Kids fight. It’s part of life. If he starts beating you up over and over again, come back and talk to me then.”

“So you are not going to do anything to handle this situation?” Waldo asked.

“Not at this point,” Taber said, flatly. “Randy is going to have learn to sort his own problems out. Now on that note, this conversation is over. I don’t see how it can serve any further purpose.” He motioned for Randy and Waldo to leave.

Outside the office, Waldo whispered, “If you would like for me to use mind control on him, I would be happy to do that.”

Randy sighed. “We probably shouldn’t do that. I know it’s not ethical to use mind control except in very extreme situations.” I wish I wasn’t this ethical.

“Very well. I will ask Mike and Terkel to be especially on their guard going forward to try to protect you from Kurt Foreman. But if you change your mind about wanting me to use mind control on either Foreman or that sorry excuse for a principal, please let me know.”

“I can’t believe you got fired from being a principal in a week, and he’s had the job since I got here,” Randy whispered.

Waldo laughed and shook his head. About twenty years ago, Waldo had been offered the job of principal at a school for magicians in New York City. It was very rare for parents to send magical offspring to schools for magicians. The vast majority of magical children were trained one-on-one. But there were four schools in the United States that a very small number of magical trainees went to. Waldo had been offered the position of principal due to his reputation after defeating Magog. What the school’s board of directors had failed to take into consideration was the fact that Waldo being an extremely an extremely powerful wizard and formidable duelist did not translate into him running the school the way they wanted it run. Among his first changes as principal included abolishing the dress code, making all bathrooms gender neutral, banning collective punishments, having students address both himself and all other staffers at the school by their first names, adopting a new more multicultural curriculum, and replacing the desks with bean bag chairs. In the end, Waldo had kept the job for a grand total of six days before the board voted to remove him. “Clearly, if I had not instituted any of my reforms and instead turned a blind eye to bullying, I would have kept my job,” Waldo said, sarcastically.

Kurt Foreman lay on his back, gasping for air. A tall, powerfully built man had one foot pressed against Foreman’s throat, causing him to gasp. He had no idea why the Hell he was being held hostage in the sewer, but he was becoming fearful for his life. As he was getting off the bus, he had felt some sort of irresistible mental pull forcing him to follow the tall man. By the time the mental hold on him had been released, he was in the sewer, lying on his back and unable to move. He was not in pain, merely immobile. Not that the lack of pain made the situation any less terrifying. There was something that made it even more terrifying, though: Foreman knew that as of now, nobody was going to be worried about where he was. His mother had abandoned him ten years ago, and his father was always passed out drunk by three in the afternoon. It would be at least tomorrow morning and quite possibly later before anyone noticed that he was missing, let alone called the police.

“Do you know why you’re here?” the tall man asked.

The pressure on Foreman’s throat prevented him from speaking without great difficulty, so he simply shook his head. The tall man smiled. “Do you know the story of Abraham and Isaac?” he asked.

Kurt wracked his brain trying to remember. He thought he recalled some story from Sunday school many years ago involving two characters with those names.

“Vaguely,” was all Kurt managed to get out of his mouth.

“So in the story, there was a man called Abraham who tried to do whatever God commanded. God chose him to start the Jewish religion. One day, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham agreed to it, but at the last minute, God sent an angel telling him not to go through with it. So Isaac was spared, and everyone lived happily ever after. Except, God still demanded that someone’s blood be spilled. So Abraham had to cut the throat of a sheep.” The tall man moved his foot a bit so that Kurt could talk more easily.

“B—B—But, it’s still a happy ending, right?” Kurt asked, not knowing what else to say. “It was just a damn sheep.”

The tall man chuckled. “Just a sheep indeed. A harmless, innocent sheep. But that part doesn’t matter. The story is considered happy, because the one who was important survived. What happened to the entity who wasn’t important is basically irrelevant. And that, my boy, is one of the best insights about life that the Bible has to offer. Animals and most people for that matter aren’t important. They’re like the sheep in that story. But they also serve a purpose. The sheep’s purpose was to die so that Isaac didn’t have to. Did you know there are some religious scholars who think the sheep was the true hero of the story? Because his death allowed Isaac to live. Personally, I think that’s bullshit. You don’t become a hero by being chosen as a sacrifice.”

“W—W—What are you going to do with me?” stammered Kurt.

“Good grief, you’re even thicker than I thought. You, my friend, are the sheep. Your life doesn’t matter. You’re only a means to an end. I told you the story of Abraham, Isaac, and the literal lamb to the slaughter, because I wanted you to have some understanding of why you’re about to die. I don’t think you’ll be able to wrap your mind around it, but I’ve done my best. If it’s any consolation, I want you to know that I appreciate what you did to Randy Gowen.”

“Randy Gowen? How do you know—”

“I’ve known about Randy Gowen since he was born. I came across the little bastard once a few years back, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on him. No matter. I’ll apprehend him in due time. If you’ll stop interrupting me, I was about to say thank you for beating Randy down metaphorically and literally. You undermined his confidence, you added to his pain, you gave him a bitterness he probably doesn’t even know he has yet. That’s going to make my job easier going forward. I’ll always be grateful for that. Unfortunately, this is the end of the line for you. Your role in the plan is to be the sacrificial lamb. And when history looks back on the accomplishments of Magog and myself generations from now, nobody is going to care about what happened to you.”

Kurt’s heart was pounding. But as Adolphus finished speaking, Kurt felt his heartbeat gradually slowing. And he realized exactly what was happening to him. He could feel his heart slowly shutting down. “I still don’t understand!” he pleaded.

“And you never will,” Adolphus said. “For one thing, you’re about to be dead, and for another, you don’t have the mental capacity to understand. Goodbye.”

For a long moment, Kurt wailed in anguish. Then, he fell silent as his heart stopped beating.


About the Creator

Charles Boyd

I'm a dog dad, historian, activist, and writer. I taught for 3 years and am starting a History PhD program. I write fantasy, mysteries, and historical nonfiction. I'm proud to get blocked by white supremacists, antigay activists and TERFs.

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