Michael MacRuddy was punching my brother again and there was nothing I could do to help. I was too small, my arms too thin and feeble. Barry was bleeding from a cut over his eye and there were some other kids standing around chanting the names. "Barry, Barry," and "Mikey Masher, Mikey Masher," like it was television.
Every day Michael picked a different kid to beat up on. Barry once told me that Michael's punches were like the piledriver they use at building sites to compact the earth before laying foundations. Barry's chest gets compacted until it's a mottled pigskin black.
Mom called the school one time and Michael got a two day suspension. Most parents don't call because most kids just shut up, keep their shirts on so their folks can't see their damaged torsos. Michael pounded Barry almost to dust the day after the suspension. Barry didn't tell Mom then. He had trouble breathing for a few days, his ribs were so sore and he could hardly lift his backpack. That was when I first started digging my hole.
Marble Heights Elementary backed onto a national forest. Five thousand acres of Ponderosa pine inhabited by owls and cougar. There were mountain bike trails ground into the earth, and stone outcrops and faded and tattered orienteering markers.
Mom had long ago given up on the garden and let Mr Tarbin do all the yardwork, so the tools from our shed were never used. I took the old spade and started digging in the forest, in a clearing by a rotting, fallen tree, amongst the grasses and ferns.
I knew it would take a while, with my weak pencil arms, but I had the time. Most days I would see Michael picking on some kid, but most days my hole became a little bigger.
I would cover the hole with sedge and pine branches each time I left, but before I covered it I would lie down on the freshly turned earth to check the size and depth.
I started wearing one of my Dad's old motorcycling rings, with a big skull on it. I kept the ring in my pocket while we were in school.
Some nights Dad would call from Indianapolis or Tampa or somewhere in Maine and ask how we were doing. Then we'd go watch TV while Mom yelled at him. He never sent her any money. Barry would put his arm around my shoulder while Mom yelled.
"It's gonna be all right," I said.
"Michael won't beat up on you anymore."
"Sure. When we go to junior high, he'll just be another little bully. The big kids won't let him get away with it."
"Yeah," I said, knowing that Michael wasn't going to make it through the summer.
"You're getting bigger." He squeezed my arm. "Must be some kind of growth spurt."
"Mmm." My arms were thicker now from all the digging. The hole was three feet deep now. I had cut down an old pair of Dad's overalls to keep my clothes from getting filthy. Mom would ask.
Soon after I stood in the hole and it came up to my eyes I knew it was time. Only a couple of days later Michael decided that it was Barry's turn again.
Some kids were waiting after school, as usual, expecting something to happen. As Barry and I walked out the gate, Michael pitched down from the cinderblocks and grabbed him in a headlock.
Before he could land any blows on Barry's chest, I took a slug at Michael's face. My fist connected and Dad's ring tore Michael's skin, gouging a line of red across his cheek.
Michael howled and dropped my brother. I was surprised at how effective the blow had been. My hand stung, especially the knuckle where the ring had dug back, but I felt hyped and my brain was racing.
Barry got to his feet as Michael staggered back. Michael looked at me with black furious eyes.
I dropped my bag and fled.
"You little fuck." Michael screamed after me.
"Tony?" Barry called.
I glanced back. Michael was holding his face, but then he dropped his hand and sprinted after me. Some of the kids started following.
I only had about thirty yards head start, but I knew exactly where I was going.
"Tony!" Barry hollered.
I flipped myself over the fence, back to the school field and kept running for the forest. I didn't look back again. It would only slow me down and if he caught me I wouldn't be able to make any difference.
In the trees, the heady scent of pine rushed through me. Birds fluttered out of the brush ahead, launching themselves with squawks into the forest.
I could hear the kids shouting and coming after. Barry was still calling my name.
I came to the grave.
First I cleared it off, then grabbed up the spade. I looked behind me and Michael was right there, still moving fast. I swung the spade and caught him under the arm. His momentum carried him over and he twisted into the hole. While he lay crumpled on his side, moaning and bleeding, the first kids arrived.
With all the others there, and my brother, nothing went quite like I'd expected or planned. I had been going to heap the earth on top of him, but with him cut and groaning like that we all just stood staring. Later it turned out that the spade had dislocated his shoulder and torn through muscles and tendons and arteries. Specialists tried to fix it but the arm turned grey and died while still attached. I got in a lot of trouble, but Michael MacRuddy couldn't beat up on anyone anymore.
"While He Lay Crumpled"
Copyright: © 2009 Sean Monaghan
Sean Monaghan loves the smell of forests and enjoys walks in the abandoned plantation pines disappearing into the expanding dunes at the beach near his hometown. Sean has recent stories in Static Movement and Flashes In The Dark. He tutors in creative writing and works in a busy public library. More information about Sean and his writing at his website – www.venusvulture.com.