The Virus

The Virus

By Gregory Shipman. 

I see him standing there; barely a silhouette against the angry night sky. His stance is challenging as though he dares anyone to doubt he belongs in the middle of the high school football field. The rain beats down so hard that drops form on everything like sweat on a steelworker’s brow.

Standing under the slanted overhang of the clubhouse, I’m protected from most of the rain. But walking here from my house has turned me into a puddle waiting for a crashing rain boot. I shiver from the rain, thunderclaps and the figure on the field.

This craziness started months ago… a Sunday, I think it was. I’m in the eleventh grade. I’ve been there for two years. In January of the first year I developed a virus. It came two days after I found a glowing rock that fell from the sky. The impact created a little crater in our backyard. Though it glowed it wasn’t hot, and I took it to my room. It stopped glowing when the virus came. It left me with an emaciated body and an overworked imagination. The shrink said it was imagination but, for me, I know what I see and I know what I hear. My parents agreed with the shrink, I agreed with my senses.

So in my second year of grade eleven I went from normal high school kid to a punching bag with tennis shoes. Any Neanderthal dimwit wanting to impress girls or brain-dead buddies considered me fair game. Bullies tend to look for victims; these jerks looked no further than me. Such is life, I told myself.

But then one night in late October, a voice inside my head said, ‘Bullshit’! Not the kind of voice that everyone coughed up in their head. Not like the ones that whine when you’re sick or cautions you about that third piece of cake. This voice was real… as real as the cheerleader who laughs at you because you think she’ll speak to you because you speak to her.

Anyway, that first night was a short conversation, and I remember it was a stormy night with thunder, lighting and shadowy shadows.

Why do you let those assholes beat on you?’ it asked.

Because they can… and do.’

Fight back,’ it said.

With what?’

The voice laughed… I mean it really laughed. My bed shook as it did. It shook like there was another real body camped on it and not a lush cheerleader one either. I was scared. Even after the voice went away, I was scared.

I got beat up three times before the voice came again. It was raining that night too… raining hard. Thunder boomed like it was performing in a rock concert. The pain from the last beating hung around as though it was paying rent.

Good evening, Oswald.’

In case I hadn’t mentioned it, Oswald is my name. Oswald Thurgood. Laugh if you want, I’m used to it.

“So you’re back?” I replied. I was talking out loud as though the voice were sitting in front of me instead of cohabiting inside of me.

I’ve been around,’ it said, ‘mostly watching you get your ass kicked. You’re entertainment at that school, and you’ve got another year after this one. I don’t know about you but if it were me, I’d give serious thought to Operation Payback.’

“Why are you here and where do you come from?”

I’ve got a mission and that’s why I’m here. Two questions in one sentence is greed, and I’m sure you don’t want any of that. Besides, wherever I come from, I’m not there now so the questions…  greedy as they are… have no relevance.’

“Am I crazy?”

I’m not your shrink, Oswald.’

“What are you?”

Tired of your questions is what I am. I’ll see you in school tomorrow.’

“In school? Tomorrow? Why?”

You need help, Oswald, and I do help real well.’

“What’s your name?”

‘You can call me Amiker?’

“What does that mean?”

‘It means you can call me Amiker.’

Before I could say anymore the smart ass was gone.

His name is Patrick, but they call him Dutch. Don’t ask me why. Dutch kicked my ass with the regularity of Ex-Lax. His friends loved the shows. I’m not his friend so I didn’t love the shows. As soon as I saw him and his entourage coming my way, I knew what was coming with them and it wasn’t Christmas in July.

“Hey, Ozzie! Where’s Harriet?” That was always his opening line. Did I mention he was bright as a blown bulb?

“Hi, Dutch.”

“I’ve been looking for you.”

“Why, Dutch?”

This is pretty much how it always went. He and his friends laughing… I wasn’t. It was going to be over soon, and then I’d limp to class.

“I’m upset with you, Ozzie.”

“And I should give a flying fart?” The words passed between my lips but they weren’t mine. I was shocked. From the look on Dutch’s face, so was he.

“What did you say, Runt?”

My voice again but not my words. “Are you deaf as well as stupid? What the hell did your mother have to screw to spit your idiotic ass out?” Everybody standing there knew I’d be dead. Include me in with the ‘everybody’.

Dutch weighed in at 235. It was all muscle on muscle… none of it brain matter. He wasn’t a gorilla, but on the evolutionary chart, he came before them. His snarl was real, his eyes dead red and he was moving faster than a preacher leaving town with the collection box.

Before I knew what was happening, before he knew and the crowd knew what was happening, my fists had beat on him everywhere but the bottom of his feet. Dutch swung more than a few times but wherever he swung, I wasn’t.

His face was starting to resemble a crushed tomato. My tiny fists were Paul Bunyan-esque in their punishment of this ‘no-longer-bully’. The crowd was still. The ‘what-ever’ inside of me wasn’t. But just like that Amiker was finished with Dutch… the almost-dead Dutch… and finished with me… for now.

I didn’t get home ‘til six. The vice-principal called my dad at two. The cops got there at one-forty; the ambulance at one-forty-seven. A couple of the girls went to the nurse’s office. A pretty pissed janitor, named Rufus, cleaned their upchuck deposits from the floor. The excitement may have been over, the aftermath wasn’t.

I wasn’t arrested or detained. The two cops had seen ‘ground-meat’ Dutch and ‘shrunken-scarecrow’ me before getting witness statements. Both probably figured the witnesses had serious high-school-weed-inhalation-syndrome. Just past five-thirty the cops told my dad he could take me home. Oswald senior gave me, Oswald junior, a quick side glance. He didn’t look none too happy about the cops’ willingness to let me go with him, but God frowned on abandoning your child on the school steps.

Amiker visited me numerous times over the next month. In that time period I was no longer the punching bag at school. In fact, it was rumored by some that I was now doing the punching. Never at school, mind you. Every Tom, Dick and Harry bully in school met Dutch’s fate… usually in dark alleys or other light-less places on dark nights. Rumors often have some grain of truth to them, this one didn’t. I wasn’t doing the punching. I was there, but Amiker did all the punching. I was like a car with a driver. I was hurtling along but it wasn’t my foot on the pedal.

I remember the last night Amiker spoke with me. ‘I’m out of here, Oswald,’ he said.

“Where you going?” I asked.

I don’t need you anymore.”

“Did you do this to help me, Amiker?”

‘If that makes you feel good then knock yourself out with that belief.’

“You’re a strange one,” I said.

‘Pot calling the kettle black,’  he replied as he faded away.

Night before last, Hugo Stevens was killed. Horribly killed. The police put body parts in plastic bags. They thought they had them all, but they left it up to the coroner to do the jigsaw puzzle thing. Hugo used to be the biggest bully in school, now he’s just bags of body parts.

Something compelled me to come here tonight. The silhouette on the muddy football field is Amiker. I know it is, and I now know what he is. Hugo, I’m sure, knew what Amiker was before he was massacred.

The silhouette waves at me, both in greeting and farewell. I know there will be many dead bodies in his wake. I’m not naïve enough to think they’ll all be bullies. The bullies were just the beginning.

Quite a few kids have been out of school with a virus. No one seems to know what’s going on. The virus is like a pregnancy, and in my case I was like a birth mother for Amiker.

Something is forcing my next action. The barrel of my dad’s thirty-eight has been pressed against my right temple since I got here. I know it’s time to squeeze the trigger.

I do.

Photo by Scot Nelson.

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