From the archives, a dust-coated origin story I completely forgot I wrote... probably for good reason... back in high school...
Valley of the Lost
Children can be very cruel. Especially school children.
But they can also be very sympathetic.
The classroom fell silent when Lucy entered. It took a few minutes, but when the silence fell it was complete. A dozen private discussions, debates, conversations and even a few try-hards struggling to understand what the teacher was saying shut down and turned their attention to her.
She was crying.
Tears, unheeded, coursed down her cheeks.
She was not sobbing or sniffling, and silently took her place. Tears splattered on the lacquered bench and turned patches of her open notebook grey. She moved a lock of dark hair from her eyes but did nothing else to change her appearance. Her breathing was loud and ragged.
Whispers began around the room. ‘What happened to her?’ and such variations on that theme. Lucy was composed, clever, competent and other such nice words beginning with C. For her to be crying her eyes out generally seemed unheard of. And whatever could make her cry couldn’t be good.
And it might happen to the rest of them as well.
But Harry didn’t think of this.
He looked at Lucy and felt the worst feeling he had ever felt before.
* * * * * * * * * *
Harry had been attracted to Lucy since he first set eyes on her, at the start of Year Seven. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Simply hanging around her seemed like a coffee injection into his main artery. She made the day go so fast and seem so cool.
Of course, the back of his mind wearily reminded him he was just a horny teenager and would probably have begun a similar infatuation with linoleum if Lucy hadn’t been around.
Either way, he felt wretched to see her like that.
But he couldn’t, for example, rush over the class room, embrace her and try to take away her pain.
He didn’t want people to think he was gay or anything.
Besides, Carrie and Phoebe were already asking what was wrong in that way only girls can do convincingly. Mad Dog had sent over Tegan to work out what all the fuss was about while he make a pyramid of Maths Study Notation cards. Harry would have to wait for the girls to cheer Lucy up. Then, of course, everyone would know what was wrong and his chances of being Lucy’s confidant were stuffed.
Damn it! Why didn’t he just tell her how he felt about her?
Because, that back of his mind chipped in, then she would reject him. She would scream at him to leave her alone. She would politely tell him they were ‘just friends’. He would be left alone. No, better to stay like this, frustratingly on the sidelines than lose it all.
* * * * * * * * * *
The end of the school day came far too quickly and soon Harry was mingling in the crowd outside the front of the school as they waited for the 600-series busses to arrive. He hadn’t managed to find out what was wrong with Lucy, but the current theories included her just discovering she was either an orphan, pregnant, an illegal immigrant or under arrest. Possibly all of them.
But, there she was!
And looking oh-so-sad!
Harry shoved his way towards her. His entire knowledge of the English language and human communication customs stayed by the bus stop. As Harry reached her, he couldn’t think of a thing to say. And she’d just looked up and noticed him!
‘See you tomorrow, Harry,’ she said in her soft, precise voice.
Say something! screamed the back of his mind. ‘OK,’ he said out aloud. Not good enough! ‘Uh, Lucy?’
She looked back at him. Christ, she was pretty. Harry bet even the Supreme Being had a photo of her.
‘Uh, w...what happened, if you don’t mind me asking? Today, I mean. With the crying and...’
Her eyes flashed with anger, and then glistened with more tears. Oh, no, he’d made her cry again. Damn it. Harry felt his self-esteem drop through the floor. Dante would have to invent a new level of hell for him – the child molesters certainly wouldn’t want to be anywhere near Harry.
‘It’s stupid Jackson! That...’ She sobbed. ‘Racist jerk...’
She turned and ran off, her gait awkward as she covered her eyes.
Harry watched her go. Expressionless.
He no longer felt miserable.
He felt angry.
Very, very angry.
* * * * * * * * * *
Harry ignored time passing. He ignored the weather. He ignored that pleading look his piggy bank gave him before he smashed it open with his father’s lump hammer. He ignored the suspicious look the shop keeper gave him as he bought the special indelible ink spray with a freezer bag full of silver coins.
He was angry and for once he was going to do something.
He returned to school, when the building was deserted and lined with shadows. The sky was a burnt orange as night bruised the horizon. Harry moved through the silent walkways until he faced a large, blank space of walls. The sports teacher Mr. Thomas would make uncooperative pupils count the bricks in this wall at lunch time and recess. Well, now those uncooperative pupils would have something to read.
Dennis Jackson – substitute commerce teacher who had suddenly become a permanent part of the faculty. Smart. Unfriendly. Possibly the same Dennis Jackson that Book of the Unexplained insisted had vanished in the Peruvian jungle sixty years ago. And his handwriting was a bitch to read.
Lucy was tough. Slurring her ethnicity wouldn’t reduce her tears.
Which meant he had done something else besides.
Something that Lucy couldn’t deal with.
Harry tried not to imagine what that was.
But he knew Jackson wasn’t stupid enough to do something he couldn’t cover up.
Cover up this, Jackson, Harry snarled in his thoughts.
* * * * * * * * *
Harry strode out of the school, leaving the spray can where he had left his mark.
He was starting to feel doubts, paranoid suspicions that this was not the best way to deal with things. He should have been sensible. Spoken to his parents. Rung up someone who actually knew how to do things. Spoken to Mr. Thomas – if there was ever a teacher who had had some kind of previous life it would be him. But it was too late for that.
The dice had been cast.
Harry hurried home.
* * * * * * * * *
MR. JACKSON IS A RACIST SCUMBAG!!!!
You had to admit, it got to the point and didn’t beat around the bush. It said what it meant to and everyone understood it. And when Harry was dragged out of roll-call the morning after he had written it he knew his not-at-all-well-laid plans had gone awry.
The principal was angry. So was the deputy. The cleaner was beside himself.
The eponymous Racist Scumbag wasn’t too happy either.
Harry didn’t care.
Sitting outside the principal’s office was Lucy. And she glared at him with undisguised hatred.
‘You stupid bastard,’ she muttered to herself as he passed her.
After that, the rage of the administration didn’t seem at all worth paying attention to.
* * * * * * * * *
Harry sat on the steps, hugging his knees to his chest as he watched the grumbling cleaners add yet another layer of beige paint across his graffiti – slowly but surely blocking out his slanderous lie. Every so often one of the cleaners would notice him and spit in his direction.
Harry politely asked the Supreme Being to let the earth swallow him up.
No luck so far.
He had been suspended for two weeks – not that home had been particularly comforting. The rages his dad had gone into were nothing compared to the quiet disappointment of his mother. He’d explained. Many times. But it wasn’t good enough. Now he was back here, and most of the kids weren’t talking to him.
Lucy had got into almost as much trouble as if she’d written the graffiti herself. Apparently Jackson had just flunked an essay of hers and the whole ‘racist’ thing was a bit of spite on her part. How was she to know what Harry would do? No one was interested in the question of how was Harry supposed to know that Lucy had been lying to him.
He sighed. His eyes were sweating.
‘Afternoon, Harry,’ Mad Dog said in his soft Celtic voice. With surprising agility he dropped down from the curving walkway around the greenhouse and landed beside Harry. His bright blue eyes twinkled under his ragged ginger fringe.
‘Hey.’ Harry couldn’t summon up the energy to be terrified of his year’s resident sociopath.
‘They let you come back, then?’
‘Obviously,’ Harry mumbled in reply.
‘Feeling pleased with yourself I hope?’
‘Pleased?’ Harry spat incredulously. ‘Pleased?! I nearly lost Mr. Jackson his job! Lucy hates my guts! I now have a police record and the whole school knows I’m a gullible moron!’
‘You’re young, Harry,’ Mad Dog replied smoothly, leaning back to enjoy the sunshine. ‘It’s all right to make mistakes now. Otherwise everyone would be screwed. Did you kill anyone? Did you do any lasting damage?’
Harry glared at him. ‘No, I didn’t. Yes, the graffiti can be painted over. Yes, Mr. Jackson has got off the hook without a stain on his character. Yes, everyone can embrace the pain and move on!’
Mad Dog favored Harry with a feral grin. ‘You see? No harm done.’
‘No harm done,’ Harry laughed bitterly. ‘I was completely wrong. I shouldn’t have done anything.’
‘Besides, what if you’d been right, hmm? You ever thought about that?’ Mad Dog leant forward close to Harry’s shoulder. Harry flinched. Mad Dog smelled of lemonade and Guinness. ‘If Jackson had been – and, forgive me if my language is excessively technical on this point – a racist scumbag? Would it have been best to pretend nothing had happened and go on with your life?’
Harry rolled his eyes. ‘No!’ he snapped.
Mad Dog returned to his horizontal position. ‘There you go. Did you do it because it was the right thing to do at the time – or was it just to get into Lucy’s pants?’
Harry didn’t reply. True, had been anyone other than Lucy he doubted he would have done it. But he would still have thought of it – and considered it a bloody good idea. ‘I thought... at the time, I mean, it... it was the only thing I could do! If Jackson was corrupt, Lucy would never get justice!’
‘And this way everyone gets justice!’ Mad Dog beamed. ‘You learnt a valuable lesson about not rushing in. Lucy learned not to shoot her mouth off at impressionable suitors. Mr. Jackson has learned he needs to seriously lighten up if he wants that sort of slander to be even remotely unbelievable.’
Mad Dog looked Harry right in the eye.
‘You did what you thought was necessary, for the greater good and didn’t let fear get in your way. How many other people in this school can say the same? How many people heard what Lucy said and did sweet eff-ay about it? You might have got your facts wrong, but you did the right thing and didn’t run away from the consequences.’ He lowered his gaze. ‘I’m rather envious, Harry.’
Harry smiled. ‘Cool.’
‘Isn't it just?’ the shaggy figure replied. ‘Come on. Class will be starting soon. Us social pariahs ought to stick together.’ He rose and held out his hand.
Harry took it and Mad Dog hauled him to his feet. Together, they turned and walked off to class.
‘Did I ever tell you about the time I ate a pigeon?’ Mad Dog asked.