Christopher Smith



When I was seventeen and starting my senior year in high school, my father’s friend, creepy Jim, gave me a gift that was surprising for two reasons.

First, like my drunk father, Jim wasn’t exactly the generous sort. He was tight. What little money he had was spent on cigarettes, his daily 12-pack of Bud, the occasional bag of weed he bought from my cousin, Maury, and whatever bills he needed to pay in order to keep the mortgage current on his shithole of a trailer, which was overrun by cats.

Jim gave them shelter and water. Since his trailer was tucked deep in the Maine woods, he let the cats fend for themselves when it came to catching their own dinner. He said he wished he had enough money to give them proper food, but he didn’t. Least he could do was give them a home. Jim felt good about that. He thought he was a great man for having such a big heart.

Thing is, if you saw the rotten, stinking condition of that trailer, you’d wonder if Jim’s act of kindness was actually a form of unintended cruelty. Nobody should be allowed to live in that rectangular firebox from hell that he called home. Not Jim, who’s actually not a bad guy. Not the cats. Not a rodent. Not even me.

The second surprise was the gift itself. It was a necklace, of sorts-a string of rawhide looped through a curving piece of bone that was the remnants of someone’s skull, which looked to be the case, though what the hell do I know? Could have been a thin, smooth piece of rock. Whatever. He said it was an amulet, which kind of shocked me because I didn't know creepy Jim's vocabulary went beyond the white-trash dictionary he and my parents favored. Still, calling it an amulet made it kind of cool. It also wasn’t often I received a gift, so I was happy to take it.

He told me it was old-like, really old. He said it was “ancient.” He told me soon I’d understand why he gave it to me. He told me never to lose it because one day “it will help you.” He said it helped him when he was a kid growing up, but now that he didn’t need it, he was passing it on to me because he’d seen in one of those weird little visions he had that I was going to need it more than he ever had.

When I asked him what he meant by that, creepy Jim told me that I wasn’t going to have an easy life, which pretty much already was about as obvious as a slap across the face. No shit, Jim. Congratulations for being coherent enough to pay attention to the fact that my life pretty much is a barrel of suck.

I was about eight when I figured out that my life was going to be a smashed house of cards. My parents were alcoholics. We didn’t have much money. They lived off the state because they managed to convince some idiot doctor in Bangor that they were disabled, though with exactly what was in question. Laziness? I’d bet my life on that.

And then there was me. I’m not your average-looking kid. I’m tall and skinny. I don’t have good clothes. I’ve never had the latest “thing.” I’ve got a face full of zits, my hair is dark and wiry, and I’m missing a tooth thanks to good ol’ dad, who sometimes loves to use the back of his hand.

People call me a loner, but they don’t understand why. I’m not a loner by choice-I’d give anything to have a friend. I’d give anything to have somebody I could hang out with and confide in. But that’s not how it worked out for me. Instead, I’m a loner by default. When people see me, all they see is poverty and awkwardness and the fact that I’m shy. I’m never up to their standards. And worse, they don’t see me as a friend. Instead, they see me as something of a gift.

Apparently, I was put on this earth to make them feel good about themselves and to be their target. So, yeah. I won life's lottery.

It’s been this way since I can remember and it’s only gotten worse. When creepy Jim isn’t half in the bag, he used to tell me that I needed to fight back. “Don’t take it from them,” he’d say. “Hit them back. Hit them as hard as you can and then hit them harder than you dare. They’ll stop.”

What he didn’t understand is that I wasn’t being targeted by just a few people. I was being targeted by most everyone in school. Rise up against one, be pummeled by twenty. I’d tried to fight back before, but that turned out to be a losing proposition, and so for me, the best defense was to retreat. Do anything not to be seen. Make every effort to disappear.

During lunch, I’d slip into my locker, close the door and hide in there until the bell rang because going into the lunch line was as random as it got. You never knew who you were going to fall next to in line. Usually, it was one of the kids who hated me and so they bullied me. They pushed me. They called me “faggot.” They told me they were going to kill me after school. They let everyone know that my parents were a couple of drunks. They said my father spent the better part of his day at Judy’s, which was a bar in town that sold cheap breakfasts throughout the day, though that was just a front for the bums who sat their fat asses in there.

Those people, like my father, came for the beer. The only thing sunnyside up in their lives was the fact that people kept making beer. The kids who bullied me said all of this just loudly enough so everyone could hear. They humiliated me and, in a way, they kind of killed off a part of me-that belief that people could be as kind as Jim’s cats, which I fed on my own, though I never let him know it. I’d been through so much, I found it hard to believe that there were good people in the world.

At least, not around me, there weren’t.

The teachers were no better than the students who targeted me. They watched what happened to me in those lunch lines, in their classes and after school, but they did nothing to intervene because the teachers also can’t stand the sight of me.

I was unacceptable to them. They knew I came from rage, alcohol and filth. Teachers are supposed to be here to guide you, and while a few do, my experience is that most are just there for the paycheck and the popularity. They’re there for the validation. Have a popular class? Get on well with the right students? You’re good as gold. Popular with the wrong students? You might want to check that and fix it quick. I’d learned long ago not to go to them for help, because I knew they’d look the other way.

One time, years ago, someone punched me in the face on the playground and I was stupid enough to think that one of the teachers on duty would do something about it. She didn’t. Instead, the old bitch looked down at me and my bloody nose, and told me I probably deserved it. She actually said this to me. She was surrounded by her favorite gaggle of ass-kissing girls and she said I deserved it. I kept it to myself, but I never forgot that moment. And I’ve never forgotten her.

My name is Seth Moore. I’m one year away from the end of my personal high school hell, but I know now that the end won't come without me spilling a little blood.

Over the past few months, I’ve done things that would appall most people, but everything I’ve done was necessary to survive. I’m about to tell you things I’ve never told anyone. And I’m glad I can finally tell someone, especially my new best friend. That would be you, journal, which people can find and read if I don’t survive.

This is my story.

This is how I fought back.

And this is what happened when I fought back.

And let’s just say that creepy Jim was right. Turns out that amulet is gold. Turns out, there’s something about it that gives me an edge, though sometimes I go too far with it, and that’s a problem. A big one.

But we’ll get to that.

A war is building now and I need to prepare for it.

People are coming for me. And there’s one person who knows exactly how to take me out. If he’s smarter than me, he might just do it, too.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before I’m gone, here’s how I got to where I am now.

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