The Anxious Hero, Chapter 5
Goodbye Old Bully, Hello New Bullies
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.
When Randy got to school the next day, Mike and Terkel escorted him inside. Since Foreman shared first period with Randy, Mike and Terkel planned to wait outside the first period classroom and confront the bully. Today, however, there was sign of Foreman. When the bell rang, Mike said, “Little fucker’s not here, apparently. Maybe he transferred. It could be an early Christmas miracle.”
“Maybe he heard we were going to be here,” Terkel said, cockily.
“We’ll see you later today,” Mike said, and he and Terkel set about patrolling the hallways.
In fourth period, he overheard two students talking about Foreman. “I heard he didn’t show up for class today,” one student said.
“Yeah, nobody’s seen him all day,” the other commented.
This day’s off to a good start, Randy thought.
In second period, almost as soon as Randy had sat in his desk, a new student walked in that caused the heads of almost every girl and a couple of boys in the class to turn. He was six feet even, with finely chiseled features and glossy black hair. His build was athletic, his expression arrogant. All in all, he matched the typical profile for the jock that loved harassing Randy. Just don’t attract attention, the junior thought to himself. No such luck. “Hey there, you little shrimp,” the larger, older boy said to Randy. “I think you’re in the wrong class. The middle school is a few blocks down.”
Randy simply kept his mouth shut and tried to avoid a conflict. I don’t want to find out in real time if I can outsmart him like I did Foreman. The imposing newcomer seemed determined to pick a fight with a hundred fifteen pound classmate in order to prove his manhood.
“You look at me when I’m talking to you!”
Miserably and slowly, Randy turned his head to look. The newcomer promptly walked over to the chair, grabbed Randy the collar and slung him to the ground. He next grabbed onto Randy’s underwear, pulling it over the smaller student’s head. Instantly, Randy felt the pain course through his loins as he stumbled about the room trying to keep his balance before failing and crashing into a globe. The agony and humiliation was palpable. At that point, he heard footsteps walking into the room. For a moment, he felt a glimmer of hope. If his teacher, Mr. Watkins had shown up, he was saved.
“Randy,” Mr. Watkins said, sternly. “What on Earth are you doing, fooling around like that?”
This unfairness was too much for the boy to bear. “Mr. Watkins—” he began to protest.
“I think,” the teacher said, interrupting him. “That since you like your underwear over your head, you can keep it there for the entire period.”
For the rest of the class, Randy was painfully aware of the fact that at least some of his classmates were silently laughing at him. When the period finally ended, he thought that he could at last extricate himself, but the new student suddenly whispered behind him, “If I see you without that underwear over your head for the rest of the day, I’ll kill you.”
Unfortunately, Randy could not find Terkel and Mike at the end of class. For one thing, they were rotating around campus “patrolling the perimeter,” so to speak. For another, he could not see a thing, bumping into several walls and people almost falling over. Finally, he matched to make it to his next class, which mercifully, he shared with Maggie.
His crush helped pull the underwear loose, amidst giggling from other students, and the boy gratefully sat down. The joy, however, did not last long. While Randy managed to avoid any more humiliation in class, he was forced to walk across the hallway. To his horror, no sooner had he walked out of the classroom than he saw the new senior standing next to a locker. Randy tried to change direction, but it was too late.
“Well, well, well,” the bully said, smiling. “I thought I told you to keep your underwear over your head.”
There was no other option but to run. No teachers were in the vicinity. Mike and Terkel were in a completely different part of the school. No students would dare to help. There was no way that Randy could defeat his adversary in a fight. So the small boy started to run.
“Don’t you move a damn inch!” the bully snapped, lunging forward and grabbing Randy by the collar of his shirt. At that point, Ms. McGregor appeared on the scene. For a moment, Randy thought that she would intervene, but instead she whispered to the bully, “Hey Richard, we still on for Saturday night?”
“You know it,” Richard whispered back, and the biology teacher continued walking. So now, running was no longer an option. “Let him go!” snapped a voice. Turning his head, Randy felt a surge of relief to see that Maggie had appeared on the scene. With some luck, she and Randy might be able to overpower Richard. The senior boy, however, seemed unfazed. “You know,” he said. “You’re pretty hot. Why don’t you forget about the little dork right here?” Randy noticed that, rather than forgetting about his victim, Richard set him to the ground and placed his Nike on Randy’s solar plexus. “Don’t be disgusting,” Maggie replied, disdainfully. “I said let him go!”
At this point, Randy capitalized on the distraction and punched Richard in the groin as hard as he could. The slight junior possessed almost no strength, but Richard still groaned in pain. Randy thought in the back of his head that he might have impressed Maggie, but he was not going to stick around to find out. He had only immobilized Richard momentarily, and when the big senior recovered, he would come after his prey with a vengeance.
“Good bye, everyone!” Randy called out, running away as fast his chicken-like legs would carry him. When he was made it outside, he careened into Mike. “Whoa there, buddy!” Mike said. “You look like you’re on the run from a debt collector, what happened?” Randy could see Terkel readying herself for a fight.
“There’s a new bully!” Randy practically squealed. “I’ve never seen him before, and he’s taller than Foreman!”
Mike stepped in front of Randy. “It’s okay, Pal, you’re safe now. Let’s get home.”
On the car ride home, Randy summarized recent events for Mike and Terkel. “What are the odds?” mused Terkel. “One bully’s gone, and on the same day, another one shows up and immediately start gunning for you.”
“I’m not sure it’s a coincidence,” Randy said.
“What do you mean?” asked Mike.
“What if it’s someone Magog sent there?”
Terkel frowned. “I guess that’s possible, but it doesn’t seem likely to me. If Magog was sending someone else after you, I feel like they probably wouldn’t beat around the bush like that. They’d snatch you at the first opportunity instead of doing shit like giving you wedgies. Guys like Magog expects a certain level of professionalism, and this ain’t that.”
When he finally got home, his heart was pounding. “Well, Randy,” Waldo said, jovially. “How was school?”
“A new bully,” Randy said. “And he gave me a wedgie.”
Tank bounded into the room, knocking a table over. “Nobody treats my buddies like that! If I see that rat bastard, I’ll rip off his underwear and make him eat it!”
“I say we let Tank do that, nothing like a talking, magical polar bear to set a bully straight,” mused Mike.
Before anyone else could comment, Dafna appeared in the room. She had been gone for longer than usual this time, about two weeks. Her usually upbeat facial expression had been replaced by a somber look. “Kurt Foreman is dead,” she said.
Confusion hit Randy. “Dead, what on Earth happened?”
“That I cannot say for sure,” Dafna said. “His spirit is not exactly in the most talkative of moods right about now. And we still do not know how much purification he needs before being able to enter Heaven. He certainly needs some, but I do not yet know whether it is going to be a few hours or a few centuries. In any case, I am more worried about you, Randy, than I am about him. I do not know how, but I fear that what happened to him has something to do with you. There is a limit to how much I will be allowed to tell you even if I do learn it, but I will tell you everything I can.” She looked at everyone else in the room. “In the meantime, you all need to protect Randy as much as you can. I am afraid that he may be in more danger than he has ever been in.”
Everyone murmured in assent, and Dafna smiled a bit for the first time since she had reappeared. “But Randy, you need to keep living your life. Be aware of the danger, but do not let it dominate your life.”
“I’ll try to do that, but you know I’ve got a lot of anxiety,” Randy said.
Dafna smiled, sadly. “That’s an added burden you have to struggle with. And I so wish that we could take it off of you.”
“Is there a spell that could remove it?” Randy asked. “Or remove my other Asperger’s symptoms?”
Waldo sighed. “Regrettably, that is too dangerous. Spells that alter the human mind to that degree risk causing severe, irreversible brain damage. As painful as your anxiety is, the impact of a spell to remove it could be much worse.” He put his arm around Randy. “As for your Asperger’s more broadly … you never know when it might come in handy.”
For what, letting everyone know I’m an oddball? Randy thought.
After dinner, Randy and Waldo continued training. “You know,” said Waldo. “It is possible to incapacitate an opponent without actually fighting them directly.”
“How?” Randy asked eagerly.
“Through mind control,” Waldo replied. “For some wizards, it is possible to utterly take over someone’s mind. You can distort their vision of reality completely.”
“But I’m not a wizard,” said Randy.
“True, but there’s a trick that can serve as an alternative to mind control.” He smiled. “You see, hypnotism can actually be a substitute for magic. When most people think of hypnotism, they think of a person sitting in a chair for twenty minutes. But in fact, it is possible to hypnotize someone almost immediately. All you have to do is create a blank space in that person’s mind. Then, you fill it.” He extended a gnarled hand. “Once you achieve a certain level of power, you can control a person’s mind without speaking. When I extend my hand and say hello, you automatically say hello and extend your hand. But, if you break the chain of events, you open a void in the person’s mind. Then, if you call out a word immediately, while focusing your energy on controlling their will, you can put them in your power. Try to greet me.”
“Hey, Waldo,” Randy replied, extending his hand. Instead of greeting him back, his grandfather immediately replied, “Freeze!”
The boy instantly felt thoughts, images, reactions crowding into his brain. Before he could collect himself, he was lying on the ground. Randy clutched his head. The room seemed to be spinning. “W-What happened?” he mumbled incoherently.
Waldo smiled. “I swept your legs out from under you while you were distracted.”
Randy frowned. “But that wasn’t magic. You just confused me.”
His mentor shrugged. “The lines can be blurry. People who are regulars may gain the ability to perform the trick I just showed you. Itoffers a substitute for actual magic that, as you just saw, can be rather effective.”
When Randy went to bed that night, he was utterly exhausted but also encouraged. He was already learning a number of tricks that could allow him to help his family and even perhaps defend himself against supernatural threats without being a wizard. It’s not always the hand you’re dealt … He thought as he drifted off to sleep.
When Randy went to school the next day, Terkel and Mike walked him to class, stayed by the door until the teacher walked in, then set about patrolling the perimeter again. Before they left, Terkel said, “We’ll be back in forty-five minutes to walk you to the next class,”
“You guys be careful,” Randy said.
Mike grinned. “Don’t worry about it. We’re old hands now.”
When Randy sat in his chair, he saw Maggie smile at him a few seats to his left. Richard was sitting a few seats to his right and gave Randy a death stare.
He can’t do anything while the teacher’s in here, he can’t do anything while the teacher’s in here, Randy thought.
When the bell rang, signaling the end of class, Randy felt confused. He had gotten quite used to how much time passed from the start to the end of a class, and in his gut, he felt that class was only about two-thirds of the way done. Other students were staring, seemingly in confusion also. Watkins blinked several times, looked at his watch, and muttered, “That’s odd. My watch must be slow,”
Students began filing out of the classroom. Randy slowly got up and walked to the door. Mike and Terkel were not there. His heart skipped a beat, and he stood in the doorway, trying to figure out what to do.
“Randy, what are you doing standing in the doorway?” asked Watkins irritably. “Go on to your next class!”
Something’s wrong! Randy thought. The bell must have gone off early. Mike and Terkel aren’t back yet!
“Randy, didn’t you hear me?” snapped Watkins. “Get going!”
Randy walked out of the room and began looking around. He considered screaming for Mike and Terkel, but depending on what part of the school they were in, they might not hear him. He turned around several times, praying that he could find his friends. When he still no sign of them, he concluded that the only thing left for him to do was begin walking to his next class alone. About halfway there, he heard a new voice shout, “Randy!” Randy turned to see a student several feet away. He was 6’2” and heavyset with frizzy, blonde hair. Randy guessed that he was probably a senior. And the senior was eyeing him like a cat looking at a bird. “Oh, um, hi there!” Randy said. “I don’t think we’ve met, my name’s Randy Gowen. Did you by any chance see a mid-thirties, 5’10” black man with dreadlocks and peach fuzz and—” The senior promptly grabbed him by the collar of the shirt. This won’t end well. “Hey man, what did I do to you?” Randy moaned.
“You sucker punched my buddy Richard in the family jewels!” the big student replied. “I’m gonna take it outta your hide!”
“Oh, Tank, thank God you’re here!” Randy exclaimed. The trick was the best thing he could think of in the moment, and surprisingly, it worked. The senior let go off him long enough for Randy to bolt, only to run straight into Richard. There was no escape now. “Hey, kid,” Richard said, grinning sadistically. “I see you met my friend, Vann.” He motioned to the beefy boy. “Yes, we’ve met,” Randy muttered miserably. The first punch from Richard caught him squarely in the ribs, and he saw that Vann was rolling a swivel chair over. “Richard,” Randy wheezed. “Can’t we talk about this? You probably just broke one of my ribs!” Richard laughed derisively. “You’re fine, you little wuss. But you won’t be when we’re done with you.” He promptly stomped on Randy’s groin. The pain was incredible. The young wizard felt as though he were about to die. “You like that, you little shitrag?” snarled Richard. “You think you’re going to get away with punching me in the jewels and then running like a jackrabbit?”
“Would it help if I said I was sorry?” Randy asked. Vann stomped on Randy’s groin a second time, then snarled, “Now get your ass out of here!”
Richard smiled again. “Let’s not be too hasty. I think Randy wants to make it up to us!” He pretended to think for a moment, then said, “Why don’t you give us a laugh? Vann, tie him to the chair!” Immediately, Randy shoved the chair into Vann’s ribcage and bolted. He carried far less body weight than either bully, but he was still not particularly fast, and his legs were much shorter. He leaped down the stairs, nearly falling on his face and turned a corner. Then it happened. As Randy made a turn, he was grabbed by the arm and pulled into a closet. For a moment, he was unable to figure out what was going on. Then, he turned to see that he was staring Maggie straight in the face. This day had instantly gone from being one of his worst to one of his best. He was trapped in a closet with his dream girl. “Maggie,” he breathed, trying to keep from revealing that he had a crush on her. “I can’t tell you how—”
“Shh,” Maggie whispered. At that moment, Randy caught Richard’s voice. “The little bastard has to have gone somewhere,” the dashing senior commented.
“I don’t know,” Vann replied. “It looks like he dropped off the face of the Earth.”
“Man,” Richard seethed. “When I get my hands on him…”
Randy backed up against the wall. He noticed that he could smell Maggie’s perfume. This day was getting better and better.
Vann snickered. “I actually kind of like this kid. I don’t know of a lot o’ guys that size that would have the balls to kick you in the balls.”
“You’re getting soft, Vann. When we find him, I’m going to make him bleed like a butchered pig.”
Maggie took a deep breath. Randy, for his part, nearly wet his pants. It terrified him that Richard wanted to leave him a bloody mess.
“Face it, Richard, you’re not going to find the little rat,” argued Vann. “He’s gone.”
“Damn it, Vann, you’re getting soft!” Immediately, Randy heard pounding on the wall. “Come on, Randy! I know you’re in there!”
After a couple more minutes, Randy heard Richard and Vann walking off. “What just happened?” Randy asked, slowly.
Maggie sighed. “I couldn’t let Richard and Vann pound you into the ground. I am a witch.”
Randy gasped. He had not been expecting this. Had Maggie been the one who had started the rumor about him killing Kurt?
“Look, Maggie,” he whispered. “You’ve got to believe me. I didn’t kill Kurt.”
“Randy, I know that,” she replied. “I don’t know who started that rumor, but it wasn’t me. Anyway, when I saw that Richard and Vann were about to beat you up, I had to do something, so I used a spell to make this closet invisible and sound proof.”
“Maggie,” Randy said. “Thank you. I think you just saved my life.”
The witch sighed again. “Unfortunately, this means that I’m going to have to erase your memory.”
Randy’s good mood evaporated. “Whoa,” he said, panicking quickly. “No need for that! I’m from a family of wizards! So there’s really no need for any mind wipes.”
“Wait,” the senior girl began. “You’re…”
“Yes, my grandpa is Waldo Finch, my maternal grandma and mom were witches,” Randy replied, quickly. “I know it’s surprising, and I don’t have any powers, but I’m very familiar with the existence of magicians, I can promise you. And I’ve been training in alternative tactics to magic in order to help Waldo deal with dark supernatural entities.”
Maggie nodded, smiling, and extended a hand. “Alright, then. I look forward to working with you.”
Randy almost fainted. He was going to be working with Maggie. She was looking forward to it. Then, it occurred to him. They were trapped alone in a closet together. Now would be the perfect time to ask Maggie out.
“Maggie,” he began, nervously.
“Yes,” the witch asked.
Randy took a deep breath. “Do you want to go grab some pizza some time?” he asked.
To his immense surprise, Maggie actually smiled. “Sure,” she replied.
Randy almost fainted from shock and pleasure. “That’s great!” he replied. “When do you want to go?”
At that point, the door swung open, revealing Richard and Vann. The spell had apparently worn off. “Does Saturday at seven sound good?” Randy shouted to Maggie as he fled.
“Sure,” Maggie replied back. “Do you know where I live?”
“Just shoot me an email!” Randy yelped back as he skirted across the hallway with Richard and Vann in pursuit.
About the Creator
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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