2 (rough draft)
Casey Little had an accident at eighteen months. Some say he should have died, some say he did. In the buzz and mix of any social clines and colors, Casey often wished he had. Alone in his room at night, the streetlight sneaking in around the curtains, Casey would watch himself in the mirror, turning just so, the shadow erasing his deformity, that he could see himself whole, undamaged.
What could have been.
Upon first meetings, adults would shrink away, politely averting eyes. Often, in a store or the supermarket, taken by surprise, an adult, looking down, would blurt out: “Good God in Heaven. What happened to him?”
By the time public school rolled around, Casey had internalized a personal image likely much worse than his appearance deserved. He knew his father wouldn’t look at him, drinking beer, looking any other place but at Casey when his father offered wisdom down from the mountain. “People make fun of you because they’re jealous.”
“It’s your soul that makes you beautiful, not your face,” his mother offered from the same lofty perch.
Casey’s mirror washed all the platitudes away. Not only the mirror, but the reaction of those he encountered. The kids in school were afraid of him.
“Afraid of me?” he asked his mirror. Up until the fall of 3rd grade, Casey felt nothing toward the other kids. He pendulummed between apathy and ambivalence, moving amongst the crowd, going through the motions, the class assignments and projects, life at home, interacting with his parents and brother how he thought he should interact.
In turn, the other kids were apathetic to ambivalent toward Casey, mostly ignoring him. His teachers did the same. Like his parents, people didn’t know how to interact with Casey so they didn’t.
He lost himself in books, any books. He particularly liked the paperback books he bought at the corner sandwich shop near the high school, Hunter’s, a dime novel his favorite, a bit of sci-fi trash about the end of the world, peppered with too much explicit sex not to be called pornographic. The theme that a loser in regular life could rise up and be special, even loved in the aftermath of the near total destruction of the human race warmed his spirit, living and reliving the book.
3rd grade, the day before Thanksgiving was a half-day. Casey wasn’t looking forward to the long weekend, family and extended family crowding in the house, pretending nothing was wrong. He wanted homework, and lots of it, that he could make an excuse to hide in his room so the extended family didn’t have to avoid him.
Steve Walker, a wise-mouthed boy of Eastern European decent with his straw hair and azure eyes, proud of his heritage and his possessions, toward the front of the class, whispered: “Frankenstein.”
Casey wondered how the kid knew the novel sat on Casey’s bed stand, waiting to be read.
Giggles popped up around the class. “Frankenstein,” drifted on the air again.
Casey glanced the class from his desk in the back of the room. For the first time, he felt the attention of the crowd on him. He was no longer invisible.
The teacher hovered over the class, her eyes darting, offering questions not asked. She dismissed the class with: “Have a safe holiday.”
Two girls lagged, as a couple kids often did, talking with the teacher. Casey finally left his desk, the other kids cleared out. When he found daylight two flights down, pushing open the glass doors, he discovered a dozen kids, mostly boys, waiting at the bottom of the concrete steps, clogging the sidewalk.
“Frankenstein!” they cheered.
Casey hunkered down, tightening his grip on the strap of his backpack and descended into darkness, his only route home. Frankenstein pealed three more times before he hit the resistance with his shoulder, pushing into the crowd.
Hands reached him, pushing, shoving.
With gnashing teeth, he kept his feet working, tears forcing through clenched eyelids.
Casey did not pause, pounding on the unforgiving concrete, high strides like an Olympic runner in the 100-yard, his backpack slapping his shoulders.
The crowd followed haphazardly, lacking the intensity of flight the prey possessed. No longer a yell, just a call, “Frankenstein” rang in the air, chasing him. Casey misjudged the curb, his ankle twisting, Casey crumbling to the asphalt as if shot. The twelve were on him like holiday shoppers on a Black Friday at a sale case, pushing, kicking, yelling “Frankenstein!” repeatedly.
The safety, a 6th grade crossing guard, stood on the corner in wide-eyed wonder. Maynard Abbott, from the other 3rd grade class, grabbed a convenient kid, pulling him back by fistfuls of shirt. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” he called to the safety, the safety jumping into action.
Maynard pulled another kid back, tripping him to the street as the safety announced: “Cut it out, now! You’re all on report!”
The crowd scrambled away like cockroaches when the light comes on, revealing Casey, balled in the fetal position.
The safety clocked the growing crowd. “Principal Eisenhower is going to want to see any photos you took.”
No photos from phones would be turned in.
Casey spent three minutes attempting to explain to his mother what had happened. She said: “Sticks and stones will hurt your bones, but names will never hurt you.” Later that night, his father said: “Boys will be boys.”
Even the three girls in the crowd.
Over the four-day weekend, Casey read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Casey’s apathy and ambivalence toward others metamorphosed into fear and apprehension. Monday morning required the sheer force of will just to enter the school.
Fear and apprehension would pendulum to contempt and hate for humanity. He wanted nothing to do with anyone, withdrawing as far as reasonable, brushing others only when he had to.
At the age of fourteen, on the third day of school, as he stood in the shadows off to the side of the main entrance examining his schedule for the umpteenth time, plotting the quickest route between classes, laughter touched his ear.
The laughter was free, unencumbered by anything human, what Casey imagined an angel would sound like, delicate like a butterfly on the calm air of mid-summer. He glanced the flow of people, quickly scanning for the source of the unworldly song.
There she was with three other girls, the four girls alone in the crowd. She laughed, obviously at something her friend said, a sad child. Her entire face smiled with the laugh, eyes becoming crescent moons, her light brown sugar hair flowing around the soft ocher flesh of her face. She didn’t walk. She danced, her short tan skirt dancing with her.
She took his breath away, literally.
Then, she was gone, swallowed by the school, yet the six seconds of watching her changed his life. He checked his watch, noting the time.
The next morning, hidden in a dark brown hoodie, Casey stood vigil, leaning against the school’s exterior thirty minutes before the appointed time. He did not examine his schedule, his attention on the flow of students.
Steve Walker, Casey’s nemeses since 3rd grade, piled on weight each year. Karmically, Steve took serious ribbing for his size, but that failed to instill any sense of empathy. Walker’s teasing of Casey amounting to Walker yelling “Hey, Frankenstein! How’s it hanging?” when Walker saw Casey. Casey ignored Walker, like Casey ignored most everyone else.
A tiny child with soft red hair, looking more pixie than human, hurried through the flow of students, books clutched to her chest, eyes down. Like a comical storm cloud, Steve Walker gave chase, two steps behind. In the hum of the crowd and because of distance, Casey couldn’t make out what Steve was saying.
It didn’t matter. Casey knew Steve offered up crude jokes about red hair, freckles or both.
“You need new material,” Casey muttered to himself. Casey wanted, wished for the courage to step up and defend the out-of-place child. She appeared to be no older than eight years old. Casey knew she had to be older to be in The Region.
Suddenly, Steve Walker was face down on the concrete, his books scattered, the child with the red hair scurrying away, the vast array of children moving like the river’s flow. Maynard Abbott crouched near Walker, stood, walking off. He noticed Casey, smiled, shared a wave, approaching.
“Hey, Casey. How was summer?”
“Eh, okay. You?” Casey hid in his hood.
“Pretty good.” He thumbed over his shoulder. “He’s not been bothering you?”
Casey shook his head no.
“Anybody bothering you? You’d let me know?”
A crowd of four surrounded Maynard and Casey, Casey watched his feet, his stomach in knots.
“Nice move, Nard,” the tallest of the four girls said. “I was on my way. Lucky for that asshole you got there first.”
Maynard laughed. “That’s why I moved so quickly. Too early in the school year for you to get suspended.”
“He sees me coming, heads the other way since that unfortunate incident in the mall last year.”
“Candice told me about that.”
“Nobody picks on my October.”
“He only shoved my shoulder,” the soft brown-haired girl said.
“That’s why he got the beat down.”
“Maynard,” the soft brown-haired girl said.
“Who’s your friend?” October stepped under Casey, looking up into the hood. “Are you okay?”
“Shaking. Almost crying? Is not okay.” Her backpack dropped to the concrete.
“He’s really shy, October.”
October held his eyes. Casey couldn’t turn away, though every grain of his being wanted him to, humanity so close.
“Shy? This is terror. Raw terror.” October reached up, taking either side of his face, her right hand taking his deformity, a deformity mere mortals couldn’t look at, now embraced. “What are you so afraid of?”
“It’s the –”
“Shut up, Maynard. It’s a rhetorical question.”
Candice, Maynard’s sister, touched Maynard’s arm as the three girls, with Maynard, took a step back.
The tallest of the girls put a finger to her lips, whispering, “It’s the closest thing you’ll see to a Vulcan mind meld in real life.”
“Candice told me about this.”
“I’m October Ferguson,” she said matter-of-factly. “You are a beautiful human being with a wonderful soul. My life is better, richer just because of this moment. My friends call me Ockie. That’s what I want you to call me.”
Casey’s knees buckled as he slid down the brick wall. October wrapped her arms around him, taking his head to her right shoulder.
She smiled warmly as he sobbed.
Amaretto Stayman, harsh makeup and white flesh, black hair nodded to Candice, Brigantine, the tall girl and Maynard. “We’ll catch up. I think we’re going to be here awhile.” She wrapped herself around October and cried with Casey.