In sixth grade, Austin's favorite class might have been P.E., not because he licked sports but because almost everyone he knew had P.E. fifth period. The exceptions being: Joe and his brother Ben who both had it the first period and Sarra who had it eighth.
His teacher is John Sheldon, the man looked like a German bodybuilder, six feet tall, blond hair, blue eyes, a fantastic suntan year-round. Sheldon expected everyone to show up for his class dressed in the school colors; orange top and black bottoms. Everyone was also supposed to wear shoes that were all leather, black, water-resistant and oil proof. The school gave out catalogs where all of these things could be ordered. Phil, once asked he John had some sort of stalk in the company that sold this stuff. Chances are he did.
Sheldon counts heads as people step into class, as the class lines up for roll call Sheldon shouts "I have 28 names on my roll call list and I only see 13 heads, where is the rest of my class?" no one speaks up. Sheldon looks up and down the class speaking names aloud as he marks them off of his list "Bohoch, Bobby. Shunk, Jake. Shunk, Mandy. Holms, Kathern. Langshun, Kirk. Walker, Phillip. Brown, Randi. Fader, Austin. Cremax, Robert. Binx, Zackary. Hons, Kenneth. Fly, Preston. Rosenbush, Nathanial."
As rollcall is going on Rob, Randi, Phil, and Austin have huddled up. Rob looks around the gym "ya'll know, every class looks like this today. Like, half the school is out sick or something." The group, all nods in understanding, "are Katy and Mandi the only girls left in our class?"
Randi looks to Rob "No, I don't think so."
John calls out after taking down the names "I don't feel like trying today. Let's play 911." More than a hand full of the kid cheer. 911 is just about everyone's most beloved games in Sheldon's class. In large the rules are the same as dodgeball; two teams, a diving line, five balls on the field, you are hit you are out, catch an opponent's throw they are out. So, what has changed? Team captions may cross the dividing line in an attempt to grape an 'out' team member and tag them back in. Is the game fair? Not remotely. But everyone seems to like it nevertheless.
"Bohotch, Cermax. You are team Captains. everyone else lines up!" Sheldon orders.
Bobby Bohatch is the kid everyone thinks they want to be. Always has the trendiest clothes, he has stunning hair, a winning smile, and his dad is a cop. The problem is Bobby also prone to violent mood swings, he sometimes yells inconsolably. Most of the kids in school love Bobby, not one of Austin's friends are amongst them.
Sheldon pulls a coin from his pocket. He lets Rob and Bobby inspect the coin to make sure it is real. "Bobby, call it. You win you get first pick." Sheldon throws the coin
Bobby calls out "Tails"
Sheldon grabs the coin from the air and slaps it down on the back of his hand before reeling the toss. "Tails," Sheldon explains
Rob stomps and complains "Dammit."
Sheldon points at Rob "Watch it." Sheldon looks to Bobby "you get first pick."
Robb counts out the number of people in the class and works out the pecking order "wait, that means he also gets the last pick, and there is an odd number of kids here right now." Sheldon nods having worked out the same thing.
Bobby points out "Jake."
Sheldon waves Jake over to Bobby's side. Jake has been Bobby's wingman all year, he is a stringy looking kid with a rattail haircut, he had freckles and sunken in eyes. It is common knowledge in the school that Jake and Mandie's mother is in prison for drug trafficking. Jake is a special needs kid, not that he ever shares that with anyone, Jake has a brain disease called Tourette syndrome. At least that is the roomer.
Sheldon waves Rob to take is pick. Rob points at Austin waving him over.
Bobby points to Mandie. Mandie is a husky girl, she is large and robust compared to any girl, she is even big next to half the boys in the class. Mandie and Bobby got to know each other due to a behavioral disorder. Mandie has spent more than a hand full of days with Bobby's dad do to disorderly conduct.
Rob whispers with Austin "Phil or Randi next?"
Austin points "Phil, Bobby will not pick Randi, Phil he may." Rob waves Phil over
Phil is the only mulatto in town as far as Austin knows. Phil is heavy, but not much bigger than Austin. Phil has a reputation as an attention hog. During the Razzberry festival last summer he cut a one-gallon ice-cream bucket into the shape of a knight's helmet and jumps onto a float dressed in a girls tank top with 'American Made' spray-painted on his back. Yes, Phil is strange, but the type of 'strange' Austin likes.
Bobby waves for Nathen next. Austin doesn't know much about Nathen outside of the Nathen, and Austin's dad's friend Bob Evens are somehow related.
Rob waves for Randi.
Bobby picks Preston next.
Rob Picks Kirk at Phil's recommendation. Kirk is sick a lot, very few know how sick. Kirk was born with Parkinson's Disease and autistic spectrum disorder. No one expected Kirk to live this long. That being what it is Kirk tries to hide in the back of the room and not get involved. He would much rather sit and play with is electronic toys then risk getting pummeled by kids three times his size. That may be why Kirk often tries to hide behind Phil in games like this.
Bobby picks Kenny next.
Rob takes Katy. Katy is a 'dits,' she has almost purple hair, and it is fanned out like a that of the girls from the movie 'Hairspray', she giggles a lot and often trips. Katy has no known relationships in the school. Rob has taken pity on her more than once and offered to invite her into their group. Katy is beautiful, but she is uninterested in making friends it seems.
That leaves Zack on Bobby's team.
Once the teams are chosen Sheldon offers one more quick pep talk. "Captain's, be smart. Know who your team is. Place your Ace's in their places. Play to your strength. Push your opponent off balance. Be smart! Be a winner!"
Phil, Randi, Rob, and Austin make a dynamic team. But they do all know one thing after their last game. Kirk is unique, Kirk has an almost superhuman ability to see small things, and the ability to extrapolate data. Given a moment to huddle up Kirk watches how Bobby oranges his team and offers a counter attack.
Kirk talks slow, he can't help it, he struggles not to shake as he is talking "Rob, you have to play the white mage. That puts you in the third rank. Austin can't throw a ball to save his life. But he can catch. So if you hide behind Austin, Austin will cover you. Austin, if you catch a ball hand it to Randi or Phil. Randi is rouge class, Hand Randi A ball and he will pick off the back row. Phil is our fighter, he will block Bobby if he tries to rush us. Katy and I are your black mages. When someone goes down one of us will jump in to protect the line."
Rob nods "we are talking 'Zulu's Bull,' Austin you and I stand center brother. Randi and Phil, you are my horns. You need to break the line. Kirk and Katy, you are the hooves, you stomp on anyone that the horns can't hit."
Phil pats Kirk on the head "what can you tell us about what Bobby is doing?"
Kirk lowers his body to look at the enemy team "Jake is the fastest kid on their team. He will play interception for Bobby. Mandi has all the power on the other hand. Bobby is making his way to the fourth rank, he is a 'Red Mage'… there is something weird going on over there." Kirk looks uneasy.
Katy rises a hand "what is this 'White Mage, Red Mage, Black mage stuff?"
Phil proclaims "I got this. Black mage is someone that always attacks from the back line. They go for long throws. A Red Mage pretends to be a Black mage but is really a fighter. He will start from the back line and act like he is going for a long throw but run up to the line and attack from the front. White mage is the reverse. The White mage will start from the front to defend a teammate then will drop back to hide behind the front line. Rogues are the last part of this lineup, they are tricky. A rouge will jump back and forth between back line and front line."
Katy looks back and forth between her teammates, "and you all know this?"
Phil, Randi, Kirk, Austin, and Rob all nod.
Katy rolls her eyes "you are all dorks."
911 can be a brutal game, it would not be hard to foresee such a game devolving into a fistfight between serval of the boys if Sheldon wasn't there to keep the peace. When the whistle blows, Randi is the first to jump into action. Randi has a grudge and takes aim at Bobby. No one could have guessed the ferocity Randi's attack. Rob's team takes an early lead. Under Kirk's guidance, Rob wins the first round.
The second round is not nearly so clean. Bobby please dirty, at the start of the round he takes a ball from Jake and runs into enemy territory. Bobby just short of punches Randi across the side of the face with the ball as a glove. Randi is knocked down to her knees, the strike having cut open an eyelid. Randi is sent to the nurse's office. The Ranks broken Rob's team is overwhelmed.
For the last round of the day, Bobby gives Mandi to Rob to keep the teams even. After a long back and forth the round comes down to Phil against Jake. Jake is smaller, faster. Phil puts up a fight, but Jake throws more quickly than Phil blocks. In hindsight, if Phil had gone for a catch instead of trying to win by elimination the day may have been his, but it isn't.
The class is let out fifteen minutes early. John does this to give the kids the change to get showered and changed after the game. The locker room is a mess, it has been since the school's drama club 'rented' the PE storage locker to store crafting stuff. So sporting gear is stacked up on-top of lockers instead of in storage.
Bobby is gloating about how he led his team to victory in today's game. In a fashion that is common for slightly older boys, Bobby walks around snapping a towel laughing. Kirk and Phil are off to one side of the lockers Kirk showing off to Phil a portable gaming system he found. Rob complains about how Randi got knocked out of class. "If Randi was here we totally had that." Rob punches a locker.
Jake and Bobby set their sights on Kirk to harass him next. Austin in an uncharacteristic act of boldness moves to intercept. Bobby pulls back the towel to slap Kirk with it, Austin sidesteps in front of Kirk and thrust an arm out to shoulder-jam Bobby. Bobby is infuriated.
"Back off Dude." Austin orders.
Bobby pulls back a hand to smack Austin, Austin thrust his arm forward again to stop the attack by Jabbing Bobby in the shoulder a second time. Jake takes notice. Tension mounts, a brawl is imminent. Jake grabs Austin by the wrist from behind and stomps on one of his knees to make Austin kneel.
Bobby is shaking with anger, Kirk and Phil back away. Something terrible is going to happen, and there is nothing the two of them can do to stop it. Bobby wraps the towel around Austin's head, he twists the sheet to start to choke out. Bobby twitches, overwhelmed by madness. No one has ever laid a hand on Bobby, and Bobby doesn't know how to deal with this. "Dude, you just killed my jolly."
Rob whispers to himself "hell no, this is not going down." Rob briskly walks over, he grabs a hockey stick from atop a locker as he walks. Rob Jabs Bobby in the back with the stick to get him to look back. Rob flips the stick around gripping it off to one side of his body like a katana. "You getting crazy! Come on punk, get crazy with me!"
The moment's distraction gives Austin the opportunity to throw an elbow ack to push Jake off of him then thrust his hands out to use Bobby for leverage to push himself up to standing. Austin's hands are up in an instant. It is time to fight.
From the offices in the locker room, Sheldon takes notice of the fight start, this fight is terrible, one of the most heated he has seen in the last three years. John jumps to his feet and yells out into the hallway "Swanson! Get in here ." John Swanson is the school counselor, he is a lanky fellow with a bowl haircut and scars hands and face that are tall tale of a man that drank more than he should have in his twenties. Swanson rush to aid Sheldon
How did Sheldon know Swanson was standing out in the hall and would hear Sheldon yell? That is unclear. The fight between the boys is mantic, it is just what you would expect. Both Bobby and Austin have some amount of training in hand to hand combat but after the first punch is thrown the two are rolling on the floor struggling for dominance. Between Jake and Rob, it is much more of a bitter fight. Jake puffs out his chest and waves Rob on shouting vulgarities, Rob stomps forward threateningly.
In a moment the two John's are running over to break up the fight, Swenson pulls Austin and Bobby apart. Jake drops his guard as he sees Sheldon approaching. Rob takes the moment of opportunity to make good on his threat, Rob spins in and brakes the stick over Jake's back.
The idea that the son of a cop was involved in a fistfight makes for complicated paperwork for the counselor. Bobby's father shows up as Austin is sitting in the councilors office. Every kid in PE is called to the office to explain the relationship between Austin and Bobby.
Clearly, Bobby's dad is not happy without he hears. There is no doubt in Austin's mind that everyone kid had the same thing to say 'Bobby threw the first punch.' Or 'Austin stepped in to protect Kirk.' And once Bobby's father meats Kirk his head drops in discussed, his head shakes and he rips up the papers he is holding. "my idiot boy picked a fight with a cripple." Austin overhears.
Austin is the last person brought into the closed office. Bobby's dad has nothing to say, no question to ask, he leaves without another word. Swanson folds his arms on the table. The two of them know each other Swanson has been monitoring Austen all year due to his anxiety disorder.
"I talked to your mother." Swanson explains "I told her you were in a fight. Do you have any idea what she said?"
"No." Austin is to the point
"She said 'Good.'" Austin is confused, what could that mean? Swanson goes on "we are just going to sweep all this under the rug. You can get back to class."
"Jake and Randi?" Austin asks.
Swanson chokes down a laugh "Jake's head is full of rocks. He is fine. Randi is still in the infirmary getting stitched up. Go ahead and head back to class. Sixth-hour bell should be ringing any second now."
Austin leaves Mr. Swanson's. There are no windows in the school's main hallway, the place is dark. At some point in time, there was an add-on to the school placing a strangely misplaced window in the hall between the math and science wings. The window has had an aluminum backing added to it and a brick wall past that.
As always Austen everts his gaze as he walks past the reflective surface. His event at his father's house has now justified his neurotic behavior. Lights flicker, the near-silent hallway growls from the sound of pipes under the floor rattling. A sound that resembles heavy berthing whispers in Austin's ear.
A voice shouting ahead shatters the quiet. "Austen!" Randi runs up from behind, and grips his shoulders jumping. "word on the bet is you just about punched Bobby's head off. I wish you had told me you were going to do that. Bobby broke a balloon filled with wee over my head a few days ago, and now I feel I owe he a punch to the dick."
Austin shakes his head "I wasn't planning that or anything, it just sort of happened…were did Bobby get a balloon filled with pee?"
"I don't know. Maybe he and his boyfriend worked on it together?"
Austin looks to Randi "I have chess class tonight. Did you want to meet me at the switch station after school?"
Randi nods. The two of them walk to their next class together. The rest of the school day passes uneventfully. Chess is the next thing of interest, chess is the only after-school activity that Austin and Kirk share. Austin tries to invite Kirk to the switch station, Kirk is unavailable. That or there is no way his mother would let him hang out with a bunch of boys in a condemned building.
The stop at the switchyard is short, Austin meets up with Rob and Randi there than the three of them make their way to the apartments on Aquila street. Randi parts ways from them, Rob slaps Austin on the back reminding him that he has plans for them.
Rob grabs his walkie-talkies. The two of them brake into the maintenance room, then it is up to the roof. Austin tries to tell Rob about the monster he had seen at his father's house. But the words just don't come to him. Rob pulls the face plate off an electrical panel then unscrews the switchboard underneath.
Austin now needs to know what Rob is doing. "what is this all about?"
Rob points up "that is a radio tower, right? Phones work off of radio. So if I plug the walkie into this panel, we should be able to hear everyone in the building talking."
Austin laughs "why would you even want to do that?"
Rob pulls out some wire then opens up the back of the walkie "I don't want to do it I want to see if it can be done."
Austin places a hand under his chin thinking "do phones work off of radio?"
Rob nods "they gotta', what else can they be doing?" Rob ties a piece of wire around the antenna of the walkie, then a bit of wire around the battery, without another thought he screws the wire into the ground cable of the switch box. There is no resin this should work; every part of this methodology is wrong.
Yet, somehow, something starts to happen, the walkie starts to tune itself, the lights on the roof turn on, music starts to play. The melody of an ice-cream truck resonates from the child's toy of a communications device.
Rob looks to Austin smiling sassily. Austen seems confused. Both turn their attention to the radio as a voice comes from it. A deep manly voice, grainy, growly. "I am going to kill you all!" it shouts starting to laugh "I am going to watch as you go mad, then I will kill you!" screaming starts to echoes across the roof. The music grows louder.
Rob is visibly disturbed by the sound, Rob drops the radio and turns to run back inside with only a moment's hesitation. Rob opens the door to go inside and finds his path blocked. An eight-foot-tall monster wider then the door blocks the path; head like a rabbit, teeth like a dog, the body of a bear, standing upright like a man. Some form of totem monster. The eyes slowly slide open to reveal the candle's glow in its eyes.
Austin gasp and falls over looking up at it. Rob staggers walking backward, he is shaking his head in disbelief. This thing can't exist, there is no room in this world for a chimera-like this one to manifest.
A paw swings out, claws grip the cloth of Rob's shirt and take it from his body. Rob falls over joining Austin in crawling along the floor away from the monster as it lumbers onto the rooftop with them. The beast drops onto all fours, menacingly it creeps towards the boys.
Only now does the monster notice the second boy on the roof, its eyes turn looking at Austin, as their eyes lock the bear becomes the centipede confirming in Austin's mind that they are one in the same monster.
The music box melody still plays as the centipede becomes the bear again. The oddest idea comes to Austin's mind. Do the lights only started to dim after the walkie was plugged in? Austin shouts to Rob "throw the walkie off the roof!" Austin jumps to a crouched position then runs at the monster. This goes just as one would think. Austin punches the Centipede, the beast can't seem to hold a shape, it reaches out with four arms and grabs Austin around the chest, it starts to lift him into the air, stretching itself to being over 10 feet long.
Rob unplugs the walkie and throws it off the roof and into the pool four stories down. The monster becomes ethereal dropping Austin as it seems to no longer have a grip on this world. For the moment.
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