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The Beast in Me (completed)
That night -- the last one before I would turn sixteen -- I lay in bed letting the events of the day pass by my mind's eye again. It wasn't actually because anything out of the ordinary had happened or that I was excited having birthday tomorrow. I think, by now, I had grown up in a sense. Presents, parties, and being the center of attention for no special reason didn't seem so important any longer. I had started watching the news on TV lately and found myself reading more than just the sports pages in the paper (even being somewhat unathletic myself, I did admire professional athletes to some extent and checked out how our local ice hockey team was doing in the league). It was dawning on me that the world was more than what was going on between Baskerville and Toronto. People were worrying where the world was heading, what we were doing to our environment, that climate change was going to affect our lives in inconvenient ways in the near future. Things seemed to be getting bad but how could I do anything about it? Geez, I felt so powerless before such challenges.
Frank's father, he had power. In more than one sense. His family had gotten rich by exploiting Canadian oil fields, building and owning electric hydropower plants, and now there were rumors that his company was prospecting for substantial uranium resources in the area. He was in the energy business and there was of course a high and growing energy demand that kept it profitable. There were those who hailed him as a great member of our little community and others who hated him because his company policies seemed to neglect environmental rules and precautions. Take for instance the dam, officially called the Cheenkenovah Reservoir Dam, which his company had taken over a few years ago. The town government had hoped that his company would overhaul the aging concrete structure that needed reinforcement but instead a series of lawsuits had been filed over I-don't-know-what issues. In the mean time, the situation was deteriorating and still nothing was being done. Except for shutting down one of the generator turbines of course. That made many people mad when they found their electricity bill surging. So Gene Sawatski wasn't included in everybody's well-being prayers.
Mr. Henderson, for instance, liked bashing him verbally whenever he got a chance, mom was telling me. Right, mom told me he came over when I was at school. She only smiled strangely at me when I asked what on earth made him risk his life and push himself over to our yard holding onto his shaky walking frame. At least her stomach seems to be better, telling from the way she was humming this afternoon. Didn't even scold me for getting detention. I suppose I'm getting a bit of a “birthday leniency” here. Strange old man, Mr. Henderson. Usually didn't even give me the time of day but after school he caught me on my way home and started chatting as if we were old friends. That's when we heard the detonations again and that got him all heated up.
“There they go blasting in the hills again. Darn that Sawatski Mining Corporation! He's gonna bring doom and damnation over all of us one day.”
I looked out over the valley. There was nothing unusual to see. The excavation activities were hidden behind woods and hills.
“What are they doing out there anyway? Isn't that where the dam is?” I hadn't seen anything suspicious the last time when Jim and I had been biking around there.
“I don't know what the hell they're up to, them bastards. But it wouldn't surprise me if that dam comes crashing down and the town gets flooded, drowning us all!”
“Don't worry, Mr. Henderson, if that would happen, you're quite safe up here.”
“You think I'm worried for my own sake, boy? I'm an old man, I've lived my life. But you young people shouldn't be at the mercy of a cutthroat small-town tycoon like Sawatski. -- Don't you go in the same class as his boy... what's-his-name?”
“Frank...” I mumbled, his name conjuring up the memory of what I had witnessed earlier today.
“Frank Sawatski... yeah, heard that name. Tell me, what's he up to, boy? Tell anything about his folks? But maybe offspring doesn't always come after their parents.”
Frank was a rotten egg, that I knew for sure by first hand. So maybe kids did take after their parents more than Mr. Henderson hoped in this case. But it didn't feel right talking badly about people behind their backs.
“Uhm, well he's not one of my closest friends, you know. Suppose he's struggling with his... special status. Got a lot to live up to...”
“Well, he's got my pity. Father like Gene Sawatski can't be easy to have. Known him since he was a boy... Garp Sawatski's.”
I suddenly realized again how old Mr. Henderson actually was. He must've known the old Garp Sawatski, Frank's grandfather who had died a few years ago. Garp Sawatski was the one who had actually built up the Sawatski company and had ruled it like a king until his dying day. So these Sawatski's were a sort of dynasty, actually, I mused. But what did it matter to me? I was only worried about what Frank was driving innocent kids into. I just prayed that I wouldn't get into his fangs one day. Apart from that, I didn't really care what his old man was up to. I figured, his company was liable to adhere to the laws like everyone else. That's what I hoped at least. Geez, was I getting paranoid like Mr. Henderson, now?
“Well m'boy, wouldn't want to keep you too long on a day like this. Big day tomorrow, ain't it?”
I raised my eyebrows, wondering what he meant, a fraction of a second before I remembered that he was alluding to my birthday.
“Say hi to your mom, from me, Byron.” Then he started turning around with his walking frame and I watched warily whether he would keep his balance.
I turned on the other side in my bed. My alarm clock told me it was past 11 p.m. I wasn't really tired yet. I knew mom would wake me earlier tomorrow morning, just because it was my birthday and she wanted to “surprise” me with a cake, presents and good wishes. I sighed. I guess she was figuring there weren't so may opportunities left for her, now that I was also nearly grown up, so she better take her chances. But catching up on sleep by going to bed early never worked for me.
I tried to create a pleasant mental image. I came up with Mandy. I had this crush on her since secondary school. It had only gotten worse. Somehow I never mustered the courage to ask for a date. There had always been a hindrance, an excuse, somebody else she was dating, or if she wasn't, I became unsure if I really was serious about it. But then it only got worse when she was apparently seeing someone else again. Now she was dating Frank, something that everybody had been seeing come before they even knew themselves. A kind of self-fullfilling prophecy. The king and the queen. The alpha male and female. Now was a bad time to make a move, reason said.
I saw her outer beauty, her perfect features. I dreamed of her inner qualities when I was alone. A girl so perfectly beautiful naturally had to be a wonderful person.
“She's a bitch, Byron, everyone knows that!” Jim said. I didn't listen. I gazed in her direction at lunch time. “Forget her!”
What did Jim know? I sighed to myself.
“I know that she sneered at you in class when Kilcoyne was telling you off this morning.”
“Serves me right, I wasn't getting a grip on me.” I explained as if to a small child, still following her every movement with my eyes.
“OK, but God help you, if you get into Frank's claws. For Christ's sake, they're dating, stop fooling yourself!” Jim was always so rational.
Now I saw Narnia and Dalia who were on each of her sides doing their servant duties, like filling up her empty glass or picking up the fork she dropped. For a second I suspected she did such a thing on purpose but I reconsidered. Not an angel like her.
“Damn it! You look at her, like she's some kinda angel!” Jim admonished me. “Next thing, you're gonna join her brainless fan club, too.” He pointed his thumb at Narnia and Dalia, who were known as the “no-brainers” of the class for a good reason. I knew that they were hoping to catch some of the splendor that radiated from Mandy just by constantly sticking as close to her as possible. I didn't care. I was completely wasted by my overwhelming feelings for her. I got up and went towards the food counter to get a second helping. Not that I was particularly hungry -- although my appetite today was greater than usual somehow -- but it gave me an excuse to venture closer to the source of my admiration. My head turned as I walked past Mandy. She didn't glance up when I did. Absent-mindedly I shoveled some food onto my plate and slowly returned to my seat.
That's when I saw that Mandy was upset. Was she holding something in her hand and yelling at Dalia. People were looking their way now. What was wrong?
Frank wasn't close by now but I could smell that he wasn't far away. I should've been suspicious of my unusual abilities by now but I was too concentrated on eavesdropping on Mandy whose voice had dropped to a whisper. I was fifty feet away in a noisy school cafeteria. There was no hope for a normal human being to catch a whispered conversation from that distance. I didn't care, my ears were recording every breath she took.
“It's gone!” Mandy's voice said, her superiority all but vanished. Her hand was empty, emphasizing the loss of the missing piece.
“Maybe you just dropped it on the floor. I can look!” That was Narnia who immediately ducked under the table and crawled on the floor. What was the precious thing that she had lost and made her so upset, I asked myself. Her first scream had been blood curdling. I was too focused to move but just stood there like a statue, holding onto my food plate and using my radar ears.
“What if someone stole it? Frank can't find out! It was a family heirloom, he'd kill me.”
“I thought he loved you?” Dalia said somewhat stupidly. Mandy only glared at her.
“It's valuable, desirable! Didn't you see the other girls' looks when I was wearing it? They all envy me! Somebody must've stolen it! Oh God, I should've been more careful!” Mandy whined. My heart cramped. I wanted to help. What was she talking about? But then my mind reeled back the events of the day like a video recording on fast rewind. Every second was there to analyze. I should've gotten suspicious but I just took what I was given. I was focused to save the situation. I could smell Frank's scent closing in. He was out in the hallway together with his buddies Toby and Hogan.
“I'm hungry as a wolf!” Frank said making big strides towards the cafeteria. “Let's get some muffito before I starve!” He was using his made-up language again. I just had a few seconds before they would enter the cafeteria.
Then I saw it with my mind's eye. The very first image of Mandy this morning when she had gotten off the bus I missed. As if a butterfly had permanently settled on top of her head. There it was shining in her hair, sparkling like diamonds. Damned if those weren't actually gemstones in that hair clip of hers. So it had been a present of Frank's, I figured feeling a sting of jealousy in my heart. But there was no time for that now. My mind reeled forward. Suddenly, images of Mandy appeared in my head where the hair clip was missing on her. I reeled on to make sure. It took only fractions of a second but from that point forward I found that the clip wasn't any longer in Mandy's hair. She must have not realized her loss until a few minutes ago here in the cafeteria. So where had she lost it? Had someone taken it? Mentally, I went back to the point in time when I first saw Mandy without the piece... and then back to where I last saw her with it. OK, so now I knew when it had happened but how was I to find out what exactly had happened in between when I hadn't been watching. It all went so fast that, again, I didn't wonder how on earth I was capable of such things. My audial memory kicked in at that point - I realized that I could use my supersensitive hearing in retrospect (which actually is a bit of a misnomer here: retroaudicity is my humble suggestion for this phenomenon). So everything that happened within my earshot - and that was saying something - was available in my memory even if I hadn't paid attention to it at the time. So I followed the to me “invisible” Mandy between those two events in time using my hearing memory. Something I had never done before but what appeared to me as natural as breathing right then and there that I still did not react, as I should have.
Instead, I listened to her sparse conversation with Narnia and Dalia during class.
“You look particularly beautiful today, Mandy!” Narnia said when Mr. Douglas, our math teacher had turned his back to them. I heard Mandy smiling smugly - yeah, strange, I know, but it's the best way I can describe my memory. She exhaled.
“Dalia, why do you always wear that stupid jeans skirt? Denim does nothing for you... pathetic.” Mandy addressed her other servant. Dalia blushed - OK, that's a guess but I'll be darned if that sound could've been anything else. Narnia smirked and threw her long mane back in a gloating manner.
After that followed a few minutes of bored scratching with the pencils on their papers without a word from them. I wondered if they were actually solving math problems. Then a sigh. It was Mandy. With her chin in her palm she supported her elbow on her desk.
“What time is it? How much longer?”
“Fifteen minutes, Man!” Dalia said quickly. “Then it's over! Want help?” As if Dalia had anything to offer.
“Cheer up, it's actually only thirteen minutes, to be exact.” Wow, they were fighting on that level of accuracy now.
“I need to pee...” Mandy said flatly. I felt the tips of my hair on my neck rise - something I hadn't noticed at the time.
“Mr. Douglas won't let you during class, I'm afraid... but it's not so long now.” Narnia tried to console.
“Mr. Douglas!” Suddenly, Dalia was waving her hand fervently in the air. Mandy and Narnia looked at her as if she had lost her mind. Our teacher approached her.
“Got a question about the exercises, Miss Saclay?” He asked under his breath when he was standing in front of her. I remember glancing at them for a bored fraction of a second. Mandy was actually eclipsed by him therefore it hadn't appeared in my visual memory of Mandy. I saw Dalia blushing just before I turned back to my book and continued with the next exercise. Strangely, they seemed so simple and trivial to me today. Calculus must be my thing, I wondered, suspicion never touching me.
“It's not that, Mr. Douglas... but I need to go to the ladies room.”
I heard him inhale sharply but Dalia continued, “Female emergency... if you know what I mean... please...”
“Oh! I... sure! Go ahead!” He must've turned red like a tomato comparing to the sound that Dalia's blushing had made earlier. I also felt more hair stand upright on my neck than before.
“Can I take Mandy along too, please!” Dalia amended.
He didn't even turn to look but just nodded silently when he went back to the head of the class. The two girls snuck out of the class room under the jealous eyes of Narnia and some other kind of looks by a few of the boys. Frank's lips curled over his lips when Mandy walked past but I only looked up when she had already disappeared behind the door. The door was shut and their breathing noises became very unclear in my ears. I had to concentrate with all my might to single out the sounds that came from the girls.
“`Female emergency'?” Mandy tittered, “Never heard of that! Smart move though - he fell for that completely.” Now that was no challenge for my ears when she spoke at normal conversation level even if she was going down the hallway and it was coming through a closed door. Dalia smirked - lips do make a special sound... you get the point -
“He's got his weak points. He's a math teacher.” Dalia said enjoying the points she was taking back with Mandy. Well then they found the restroom and things took their natural course - at least I suppose so, it was the first time I was actually intruding on someone's privacy like this, unintended. I skipped over the private details and my attention surged again when I heard Mandy washing her hands in the basin. Dalia had been waiting outside for her and had been boring herself in the empty hall - I suppose there was not much going on internally that could challenge her brain.
“You done? Go back?” Dalia conveyed tersely.
“Yeah, just a sec!” Mandy said impatiently, whirling her head around towards the door. Then I heard the faint clinkedy-cling. The hair clip had gotten loose and fallen onto the floor, skidding a few feet and the bumping into the tiled wall where it settled. Laying there underneath the washing basins it was inconspicuous to the casual observer and probably was still at this place at this very second - the second Frank shoved the cafeteria door open.
There was no time to verify this point. Frank would see Mandy any second now and disaster was imminent so I had to make a move. And move I did. The tray balanced precariously on the food counter when I dashed towards the open door past Frank, Toby, and Hogan.
“Whoa!” Frank huffed when I swished past him. I doubt he recognized me at that speed. I was heading towards the ladies room to pick up the hair clip that Mandy had lost. Most of the kids were in the cafeteria at this hour so it was quite easy to maintain a decent pace in the empty hallways. On the other hand, I almost bumped into Mr. Lavender and caught me thinking that running him over would - at the very least - probably earn me an extension to my booked detention that afternoon. I managed to avoid a collision but the air drag flipped his tie up over his face so that he lost balance and spilled coffee over his suit. I heard him curse,
“Who opened that damn window?” Obviously, he hadn't registered me as the origin of the wind gust, thank goodness. I managed to pity his ruined suit for a nanosecond.
The restroom was empty I found to my relief, so no extra explanations for being a boy in the ladies room had to be invented. And there the shiny, brilliant piece lay waiting for me. So I snatched it and dashed back. I circumvented Mr. Lavender at a larger distance on my way back but he turned when he felt the wind anew,
“I shut the window, didn't I?” He muttered to himself.
Then I caught the cafeteria door just before it was too narrow for me to pass. Frank and his stooges hadn't moved more than two yards when I was standing behind Mandy and said,
“Hi, Mandy! Looking for this?” Mandy whirled around in astonishment.
“My hair clip! Thanks!” A big smile broke loose on her face. Narnia crawled back from under the table when she heard that and bumped her head when she rose in surprise.
“Hey, wait a minute! Where did you find that?” Dalia asked suspiciously. Mandy was putting back the hair clip into place when her smile froze. She was back to her superior self again, now that the danger was over.
“You stole that, didn't you?” Narnia accused me groundlessly when she got up and was rubbing her head - I think it sounded quite hollow when she hit it but my ears work differently now.
“Who stole what?” Frank bumped me to the side and looked at Mandy. She smiled back at him, obviously relieved that she didn't have to confess the loss of his gift. She pointed at me,
“Don't get upset, Frankie. He's stealing my time.”
He turned to me, put his flat palm against my chest and shoved me away,
“Beat it! - We'll talk later...”
I didn't resist. I tried to catch Mandy's eyes but something had broken inside me. I think it was my heart.
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