Short Stories
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Dark Son

Another reposted story from There by Candlelight:

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Marty Lucas walked into the principal’s office like he was about to receive an award, maybe something for bravery or valor — a citation for standing up to a bunch of punk bullies who thought they could get away with beating the candy out of every kid who was weaker, smaller and different from what they thought was ‘cool.’ The difference in posture was transforming: most of the kids who knew him in class wouldn’t have recognized him. Marty normally walked through the world with his head down, his hands stuffed into the pocket of his tan jacket, his eyes on the street, lost in his own thoughts. Today only, he walked like he owned the place, like he was a foot taller and could take on anyone who gave him the wrong look.

The school secretary, Nina Collington, looked distinctly bemused as she observed him. Nina was saucy looking redhead in her mid-thirties with short page-cut hair and mod cat’s eye glasses who has worked for the school for the past two years. Before that moment she couldn’t have told a soul what color the boy’s dark eyes were, no matter how many times he’d been sent to the office. Although only a Freshmen in High School, the stamp of troublemaker was already firmly attached to Marty Lucas. He had a talent for visits the administration building.

Nina sighed. “Mr. Lucas, may I say how disappointed I am to see you this morning?”

The young man pushed the dark curls out of his eyes and looked at her. He had a sly smile on his lips. “Sure, if you like.” He walked over closer to the table. “Are you going to?”

Nina paused with her hand on the phone to call the principal. “Am I going to what?”

“Say how disappointed you are to see me this morning?”

Nina narrowed her eyes at the young man. He wasn’t actually flirting with her, was he? She was used to that from seniors with no damn sense, but a Freshman? “Principal McIntyre is expecting you, I assume?”

The young man snickered. “Naw. I’m just here lurking in the hopes you’ll come to your senses and leave your husband for me.” He delivered the line more smoothly then most of the seniors would have.

Nina frowned at him. “You’re fourteen, Mr. Lucas.”

He grinned broadly. “I know, I know — you’re a little young for my tastes but just this once I’ll make an exception.”

Nina Collington pointed to the glass window that said ‘Principal’ on it in neat gold helvetica. “Through there, Mr. Lucas. Now.”

The young man drilled his fingers across the table as he passed her desk. “It’s okay, I know you’ll pine for me in the meantime.”

She stared after him and shook his head once the door was closed. “Puberty,” she said as if it were a curse word.

————————

Principal Fendleman was a middle-aged and thin man with an easy smile in spite of having to constantly deal with the eclectic demands of the School Council and local parents. He was popular with students on the grounds that he usually left them alone, but there were always exceptions. He was leaning back in a cheap Office Depot executive chair when Marty walked in, and quickly put aside the rubber band he was using to launch paperclips into a cup. “Marty, take a seat.”

The young man lost a lot of his swagger and replaced it with belligerence. He was pretty sure he knew how this was going to go, and he wasn’t here to receive any medals. He glanced down at the chair and snickered. “You sure? Won’t you need these later? What if another student wants to sit down?”

“Very funny, Marty.”

“I thought so.” After a bit of a cat staring contest, Marty finally sat down. He looked like it was an act of will not to put his feet up on the desk.

The principal looked at the young man for a moment. Marty was the sort of young man that schools feared; angry, bitter, quick to internalize that into a seething rage that sometimes has kids coming to school with guns in their backpacks. He was too smart for his own good, a bit of a geek, prone to being right and making sure everyone knew it. He was small and thin and looked sensitive.

Chum for the sharks, by all accounts.

Which is why the principal was more than a little baffled by the account sitting in his e-mail box. He moved the mouse to turn off the screen saver and looked at the brief account from one of the nurses. “Do you know what I asked you here, Marty?”

“Need someone to teach Chemistry?” Marty offered. He leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial voice, “Just between you and me, Mrs. Washington doesn’t know the difference between H2O and H2O2.” He gave Fendleman a ‘I told you so’ nod and then leaned back in the chair again as if he had just won a debate.

The principal frowned. “You’re here because four students were at the nurses’ station last night with bruises they claim you gave them in a fight.”

Marty Lucas didn’t hesitate. “Maybe they’re clumsy.”

“Clumsy.”

“Sure.” Marty jabbed his hands into his jacket pockets. “Fell down the stairs, ran into a doorknob. Clumsy.”

“Are you going to tell me what happened?”

There was silence as Marty examined the light fixtures overhead. He looked back down to the principal, giving Fendleman the distinct impression that Marty was managing to look down his nose at him. “That was a rhetorical question, wasn’t it?”

“Marty, I can’t help you if you won’t give me anything to work with.”

The teenager’s smile was amiable. “Great! You’re off the hook.”

“How do you figure?”

The smile faded. “I don’t need your help.”

Fendleman sighed. “I think you do. Marty, you’re a smart boy. All of your teachers see it, yet the only class you’re passing is shop. Since the start of the school year the only homework you’ve turned in was an oral book report.”

“That was a mistake.”

“It was?”

“Yeah, I didn’t realize it would count for credit; I thought Ms. Fredericks was asking for my opinion.” He then added in his defense. “I always score 100% on all my tests.”

“Homework is half of your passing grade.”

Marty’s stare was blank. He either didn’t seem to understand the consequences of that statement or, Fendleman thought more likely, he just didn’t care. Marty said, “And?”

“And? You’re failing your classes.” Fendleman studied the young man. “We offer grief counseling. I’d like to recommend it. You seem to be having a more difficult time adjusting than your brother.”

At the mention of Marty’s brother, the young man’s eyes grew hard and he looked away. He didn’t answer.

“Your mother’s death wasn’t so long ago. This can be difficult-”

“You think that’s what’s wrong with me? I’m torn up because my mom died in a car accident?” Marty looked at the principal with concept. “ You’ve got no idea.”

Fendleman ignored the tone for the moment. “It’s normal to go through a rough patch. Expected, even. This can’t be easy for your family.”

“People die.” The boy shrugged as if they were talking about some tragedy that took place on the other side of the planet, something that didn’t involve him personally at all. One leg was tapping on the ground in a nervous rap and he was no longer making eye contact with Fendleman.

“She was your mother.”

The boy looked over then. He locked stares with the principal. Fendleman couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen anyone with eyes so…dark. He couldn’t see where the pupil stopped and the iris began. Looking into Marty’s eyes was like looking into nothing, in a great endless black…

“Everything dies,” Marty said, his voice little louder than a whisper.

Fendleman broke off the stare that time, saying nothing, wiping his brow as he realized he had broken out in a cold sweat. It was cold in the office too, almost meat-locker cold. He could almost imagine his breath would frost the air.

“Why don’t you tell me what happened with those four boys?” The principal asked, eager for a change of subject, suddenly feeling ill at ease and out of control. A fourteen-year-old boy wasn’t supposed to get the better of him like this. In twenty years at the school, no one ever had before.

Marty smirked, breaking the mood. “We’re back on this again?”

“It’s the whole reason you’re in my office. What happened? Why did you attack them?” Fendleman didn’t stop to consider how insane that notion was. A boy like Marty didn’t attack four older boys. It just didn’t happen, or if it did, the boy could be reliably expected to have the stuffing beat out of him, left sobbing in a bathroom with a wedgie and toilet water soaking his hair.

Marty seemed to find the idea equally ridiculous and he scowled. “Oh yeah, because when I pick a fight, I make damn sure I’m outnumbered four-to-one to make sure the other guys stand a chance.”

“And yet, you’re not injured. They are. How do you explain that?”

“It’s my healing factor.” Marty wasn’t bothering to hide his sarcasm. “So it’s my fault they can’t throw a punch? Maybe if Rob and his buddies spent more time in the gym and less timing boning the cheerleaders they wouldn’t have this kind of problem.”

Fendleman rubbed his forehead. He felt tired. He felt old. There was something going on here he didn’t understand. Was Marty covering for someone else? But if he was, why hadn’t the other students mentioned it? They had all been explicitly clear that their attacker was Marty. Only Marty. It made no sense. “For all I know, you attacked one of them when he was by himself and his friends showed up to defend him.”

The dark-haired boy smirked. “I guess they didn’t do a very good job then, did they?”

“You’re not helping your case any.”

Marty’s stare was cold. “Not trying to.”

Fendleman inhaled deeply. “Marty, you leave me no choice. Your father will be called to pick you up.”

Only then did a look of confusion steal over the boy’s face. “Pick me up? For detention?”

“No, for your expulsion. Fighting is strictly against school policy. I might have been willing to look the other way if you had some kind of explanation for what happened — four against one are not nice odds — but you clearly have no intention of cooperating in any way. Your attitude is belligerent and rebellious and you clearly cannot control your temper. This is not the first incident and you are unwilling to make any effort to improve your behavior. Thus, you’re officially no longer our problem. Goodbye, Mr. Lucas. You know the way out.”

The aggressive, superior look the young man had worn all through their meeting crumpled in front of Fendleman’s eyes. He looked alone and lost and defeated. So intense was the expression that Fendleman wanted to change his mind, wanted to tell him it was all a misunderstanding, but the next moment, Marty’s expression hardened. That moment of vulnerability was past, and Marty looked at Fendleman with such malice and hate that the principal found his breath trapped in his throat as he flinched.

He only realized when Marty left, slamming the door behind him, and Fendleman remembered to breath.

——————————-

Marty had walked into the administration building like a man about to receive a medal, but he left it like a man sentenced to the chair. The role was only reinforced when he saw his brother Steve waiting for him outside.

Steve never really had any of Marty’s problems. He was a popular kid who did well enough at school to be on the honor’s list but not so well that he came off as a nerd. He had been in football since elementary school and it was taken as granted by virtually everyone who knew him that he’d be on the football team in High School and he’d probably end up as a quarterback one day, maybe even go college and later, pro. He was already tall and broad-shouldered, with golden blond hair and pure blue eyes. He was popular and easy to like and made friends almost effortlessly.

The punch line to that joke was that they were twins.

“You okay?”

Marty kept walking, and Steve fell in next to him, unwilling to let his brother go without wresting every detail of his humiliation. No doubt he’d already heard the rumors of Marty’s fight and was just dying to find out exactly how bad the punishment would be.

“Hey, I’m talking to you.”

Marty stopped on the sidewalk. “They kicked me out of school.”

Steve may have wanted to mock another round of detention, maybe even rub Marty’s nose in how bad he was going to ‘get it’ from dad for a few days’ suspension, play the martyr as he offered to collect homework he knew Marty would ignore and no doubt tell everyone at school what a chore it was to put with his brother’s rebellious behavior, but he hadn’t been expecting this – truthfully, it almost made the moment worth it. Steve’s eyes widened and he blinked at his brother in surprise. “What?”

Marty started walking again, hands jammed in his pockets, shoulder’s hunched. “You heard me.”

He heard footsteps as Steve ran up behind him to catch up. “But I don’t understand! You’ve gotten into fights before. Hell, you blew up the chemistry lab! They never expelled you.”

“This time was different. Lucky me.” He glanced over sullenly. “I swear the chemistry lab was an accident.”

“Dad’s going to shit.”

Marty’s lip curled. “Dad’s going to say ‘Why am I not surprised?’ and then order me to help him out in the shop. It’s what he wants, anyway.”

“You can’t just quit school.” Steve made it sound like it was basically unthinkable, like Marty has just suggested it was possible to ignore gravity.

The darker brother shrugged. “What do I need school for anyway? I know more than any of the science teachers there. I know more than any of the math teachers there. I just know more than they do.” His voice took on an angry cant at the end.

“Marty—“

Marty whirled on his brother. “Why do I know more than them? Nobody taught me calculus or chemistry. I just know it! It’s not supposed to work that way!”

Steve’s jaw worked silently as he regarded his brother. “I think it’s like the other stuff,” he finally said. “What we can do.” He shook his head then. “But you’ve got to learn to control yourself.”

“I did,” Marty sneered. “You know damn well that if I wasn’t in control, Rob and his bratty friends would be corpses right now.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Oh I do.” Marty took a deep breath. “It would have been easy.” He waved his hand and a layer of frost and ice crystal began to form on his fingertips. The air around them grew colder and there was a sense of darkness.

Steve put his hand over Marty’s. He could feel the heat from Steve’s hand, melting the ice so it dripped down to the sidewalk as water drops. “Stop it,” Steve hissed. “Anyone could see us right now.”

“ Aren’t you tired of hiding?” Marty said then. “ Aren’t you tired of pretending to fit in when we don’t? We’re not like them!” He jerked his hand away from his brother and made a dismissive gesture towards the school he’d only been at for a few months but had already come to despise.

“Hiding? Is that what you call what you do?” Steve looked disgusted. “Because you’re not trying very hard.”

“Why would you want to?” Marty stepped close and lowered his voice, so at least his brother couldn’t say people would hear them. “You care so much what people think about you, but if they knew what you could do, if they really understood, they would run screaming. They would hate you. Why can’t you see that?”

Steve just stared. The horror behind his eyes was all too obvious, and after a brief pause Marty couldn’t stand it anymore. He turned from his brother, jammed his hands into his pockets, and began walking to where there father would pick them both up.

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