Up in his room, Chad dragged himself through the de-cluttered environment without even noticing the abnormality and flopped on his bed. After he made sure that the door was shut, he called tentatively, “Guys? Hello? It’s me; you can come out now.”
Nothing stirred. The room stood in stark silence, as if the very walls were ignoring him.
“Zandor? Voxx?” Chad even tried thinking his words, but it felt like they stayed in his own head, like there was no one listening.
He grimaced as a lump formed in his throat. Just what he needed, after the terrible day he’d had!
It had started just before the bell rang. He was walking onto the school yard when he noticed another boy using the chalk to draw pictures on the pavement. They were neat pictures, full of detail. Chad had immediately introduced himself.
“Hi, I’m Chad.”
The boy looked up, tossing his head to move the stringy blond hair out of his green eyes. “I’m Eddie,” he said. He nodded to the chalk. “Do you like drawing?”
“Yeah!” And Chad squatted down next to him and picked up a piece of chalk. The two boys became acquainted while they worked.
“Whose class are you in?”
“Cool! We’re in the same grade! My teacher is Ms. Desser.”
“She looks really nice.”
“She is. I think I like her best of all. What’s your favorite class?”
“Music; I like to play the piano.”
“I like art.”
Eddie stopped to observe the drawing Chad made, of Voxx and Marquiam. “You’re pretty good at it,” he noted.
Chad blushed, “Thanks.” It was the first time at school somebody besides a teacher had complimented him. Just then, he caught sight of Dune, leaning against the brick wall of the school and fingering her hackey sack. Her weird black eyes seemed fixed right on him. Eddie noticed that he was looking in another direction and followed Chad’s eyes.
“Dune Fraiser?” He asked. “Isn’t she one of the kids who hangs out with Justice Greely all the time?”
“Yeah,” Chad gulped. He sighed and added a few more lines to Marquiam’s armor. “They… they beat me up a lot.” Boy, it felt good to finally tell somebody about it!
“Well they shouldn’t!” Eddie replied staunchly. “Have you told a teacher?”
“I’ve tried a couple times,” Chad admitted. “But I’m afraid of what they might do if I keep trying.” He watched Eddie for a while; Eddie looked like the kind of boy Chad wanted to be, the kind who just ignored bullies, and bullies ignored him. Maybe if he started hanging around Eddie, Justice and the others would leave him alone. Maybe they only picked on him because he never had any friends around.
The chime of the bell echoed across the schoolyard, and the kids ran instantly into line like well-trained animals.
“See you at lunch!” Chad called to Eddie, who smiled and waved as they walked to their respective classrooms.
The day was relatively the “same old story” from there. Again, Ms. Desser talked about the upcoming talent show, even sharing some of the acts that various students were going to do: Charity Putnam from the fourth grade had a trio of singing crickets; some boy was going to perform a dance on stilts, and Franklin, a first-grader, was a child prodigy at the “sport” of speed cup stacking. Chad only half-listened. He would just be passing out programs, anyway. He didn’t need to get excited about the show.
When the lunch bell rang, Chad fell into line, excited to see Eddie in the class ahead of his. He wanted to wave, but Eddie never turned around. When Chad got his tray, he entered the cafeteria and eagerly looked around for Eddie. To Chad’s delight, there was an open seat next to the boy.
“Hi!” he cried as he sat down.
Eddie’s eyes flicked to him and back down to his tray. “Hey,” he muttered quickly.
Just when Chad was going to ask what was wrong, Justice pushed through the chairs and came up behind them.
“Well, look who decided to join forces,” the burly boy crowed, giving both Chad and Eddie a subtle but not so gentle shove in the back. “I hope you know this doesn’t change anything, Shrimpy!” He glared at Chad.
“Hey!” Eddie looked up, “Stop bullying him!”
“Who’s gonna make me?” Justice grinned, keeping his face pleasant under the watchful eye of the staff members monitoring the cafeteria.
“I’m going to tell the teachers that you’re bullying!” Eddie raised his hand to get the attention of the nearest adult.
“You do and I’ll make you regret it,” Justice snarled. “I know where you live. Just ask Chad; I’m a pro at finding snitches and giving them what they ask for!”
Eddie glanced at Chad, the fear plain on his features. “What?”
“See you around, suckers!” Justice and his cronies moved on.
Chad sighed; suddenly he wasn’t very hungry anymore.
“You didn’t tell me they could find out where I lived,” Eddie accused him. “If my mom sees me fighting, she’ll ground me for a month!”
Chad shrugged guiltily. “They always jump me on my way home,” he said. “They would never do it while a teacher’s watching unless they knew they could get away with it.”
Eddie was so scared he was almost in tears. “Great! Now I’m a target, thanks to you!” He planted his elbows on the table and let his face fall into his hands.
“Wait a minute,” Chad said, “what about telling a teacher?”
“What good will that do?” Eddie shot back, voicing the same question that had plagued Chad all year long. “No; as long as we’re together, we’re sunk. I don’t think we can be friends as long as Justice is around. Sorry, Chad.” And with that, Eddie cleared his tray and ran outside to recess.
For the rest of the day, Eddie stayed as far away from Chad as he could. Once again, Chad provided an easy target—only now it was worse, because he had made friends with a “snitch.” Justice had taken special care to demolish anything that looked remotely exciting—including permission slips and homework pages Chad had tucked away (he thought) safely from any puddles. The ground was dry, but Justice ripped the papers with his own hands.
“That’s what you get, Shrimpy!” He yelled as Mando and Tyler pressed his face into the grass.
Chad’s only consolation was thinking about coming home and playing with his hero friends again—but now, they weren’t even responding. Everyone had deserted him. He was alone and powerless.
High up in the rafters of the attic, a dark figure with glowing eyes and battle armor studded with glittering crystals listened telepathically to the sobs of the despondent boy and grinned. He stepped out to an open part of the room and stretched his limbs. The crystal on his chest flickered, and the figurine seemed to grow till he stood about three feet high.
Yes, his plan was going very well, indeed.