thought about it and decided it didn’t make sense. He was new in school. He didn't know me.

Maybe he really was looking for a friend.

I walked over to creepy Jim, who looked like a skeleton hiding behind a gray beard. He looked like hell but truth be told, I felt more comfortable around him than I did with Alex. This is where I belonged. It's where I'd always belonged. I didn't belong with the good-looking, affluent crowd. I belonged tight with the likes of creepy Jim and everyone else like him.

'What's up?' I said as I came near him. 'What are you doing here?'

'Got something for you.'

Rabies? A staph infection? Tuberculosis? 'What's that?'

'Just something I've been meaning to give you for awhile, but haven't.'

Was he shit faced? Was he messing with me? The only thing creepy Jim had ever given me were the creeps.

'Who were you walking with?'

'I don't know,' I said. 'He's new here. Name's Alex or something.'

'Why was he walking with you? Nobody walks with you.'


'You know what I mean. I ain't here to bust your balls, Seth. Just something off about it.'

He was right. It didn't make sense to me either. I shrugged at him.

'There's something I want to give you.'

'You've already said that. Look, I need to get inside. The bell is going to ring soon. If I walk in late and there's no seat for me, do you have any idea how that's going to go down?'

'That's sort of what this is all about,' he said, reaching into his pants pocket. He pulled out a blue velvet bag and kept it cupped in one hand. With his free hand, he took a swig from whatever was in the brown bag. He coughed and there it was-a rush of whiskey. Six feet separated us and I could smell it from here. 'You know,' he said. 'I know you have a tough time of it. Not just at home, but everywhere.'

I really didn't want to hear this, especially from a drunk. I had enough of those in my life.

'But this will help you.' He lifted the velvet bag. 'I wanted to give it to you years ago, but you were too young for it. My daddy gave it to me when I was your age and going through the same shit.'

'What are you talking about? Jim, I gotta go.'

'Not yet, you don't. I want you to watch something.' He dipped into the bag and pulled out a necklace. He lowered his head, put it on and then I could see what was dangling from the end of it. It either was a flat piece of rock or a piece of bone. It was tough to tell, but Jim was thumbing it. 'Been a long time since I wore this. Maybe twenty years. Gives you a little rush. I'd forgotten that.'

What was this? Voodoo? What was Jim going to do next-skin squirrels? I didn't have time for it. He saw I was about to speak and held up a finger. Then, he turned that finger so it pointed at students leaving the buses and walking toward the school. 'Tell me which one picks on you the most.”

'We'd be here all day, Jim.'

'Just pick one.'

I wanted out of there. I turned and looked over the crowd. Coming off one of the buses was Jake Tyler, who was right up there with Mike Hastings in treating me like a piece of shit ever since I'd first met him in grade school. 'Him,' I said. 'The one getting off that bus over there. His name is Jake. He's been after me since I can remember.'

'If anything could happen to him right now-something that would humiliate him-what would you choose?'

Jake was now walking with a handful of friends, all of whom had joined him in turning me into the person I was today. A nothing. A nobody. The last person you wanted to be seen with. The first person whose ass you wanted to kick. Just watching him laugh and walk with that swagger of his was enough to make my cheeks flush. Like Hastings, he'd won life’s lottery. Nothing touched him.

Without even knowing it, I said, 'I'd like to see him break his nose.'

'You sure about that?'

'Why not? He's done enough to me and others over the years to deserve it. I know he's even dished out a few broken noses of his own. I'd like to see him trip over his feet, smash his face on the pavement and come up crying like a baby while his broken nose bleeds all over his new clothes.'

Jim slid off the hood of the car. He reached out and touched my forearm, and I noticed how warm his hand was. 'He pick on you a lot?'

'He picks on me.'

'Wonder what he'd look like with a broken nose?'

'Probably still better than me without a broken nose.'

'Only one way to find out.'

His hand was growing warmer-and then it got hot. I looked at him and he appeared to be somewhere else. His eyes weren't right-they were shiny, glossy. And though it was daylight, there was something else about him-he was slightly glowing.

'Watch,' he said. He parted his lips and blew a rush of air.

I looked over at Tyler, who suddenly tripped over his feet and fell face-first on the pavement. He hit it hard. Those around him stepped back in surprise, then drew closer when he started screaming.

I turned to Jim. 'What-?'

'Just watch.'

Tyler rolled onto his side and his hands flew to his nose. Blood spilled from between his fingers and dripped down his face, curled over his mouth and chin, and then onto his new clothes.

Jim released his grip from my arm. I pressed my hand over the spot where it had been and found it still hot. Unbelieving, I watched one of the teachers rush out of the school and stop beside Tyler, who was crying like a newborn, just as I'd imagined it. His eyes were squinted tight and he was blubbering uncontrollably.

Suddenly, creepy Jim was all business. He took off the necklace and gave it to me. 'Put it on.'

'What did you just do?'

'Something I shouldn't have done, but given what you said, he probably deserved it.' He shot me a sidelong glance. 'And you wanted it-don’t forget that. If you ask this necklace for anything, you’d better want it. There’s no turning back.' He nodded at the necklace just as the bell rang. 'Put it on.'

'I don't want it.'

'You got a long year ahead of you, boy. Why not make it tolerable. Think twice about it. Put it on.'

'What is it?'

'It's an amulet. It can help you just as it helped me.'


'That's the thing,' he said. 'It's different with everyone. Might not even work for you. But if it does, you'll need to figure out how it can help just like me and everyone else before me did. There's no training manual. There's no directions. You work it with your heart and with your head. You'll figure it out. But don't misuse it. Don't give in to all of it. Most times there's no need for violence-you can handle a situation another way. A positive way. Sometimes, you can't and that's that. Sometimes, you need to go to war. But that's rare.' He reached out and took my chin in his hand. 'You hear me? That's rare. Respect this and you'll have a friend in it. Put it on.'

I put it around my neck and couldn't help but feel a jolt of energy when I did. Jim reached forward, pulled out the neck of my shirt and dropped it inside so no one could see it. 'Wear it like that. No one ever should see this on you.'

'What's at the end of it?'


'From who?'

'Hell, boy, I don't know. It's a piece of someone's skull. Native American. That's all I know. That and the fact that it will help you. Just don't go crazy with it. Don't show your hand. Use it only when you need to. Once you get how to use it, understand that it could be used for good or for evil. Use it for good. The other will call for you-it'll come hard for you-but ignore it. Use it for good.'

I looked over at Tyler, who was still crying, still bleeding and now being helped up the school's steps by a

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