* * *
My friends and I walked towards the gate, talking, glad that the monotonous day was over. It was the highlight of the day – Home-time. Then Jason suddenly appeared, out of breath.
“Hey guys, C’mon, let’s go check it out! Hayley’s being beaten up!!!” he said excitedly, the words tumbling out of his mouth.
Jason was an inquisitive classmate. Always wanting to know everybody’s business. The nosy little bugger. But this time I was grateful and glad to know this piece of news that was doing the rounds. Hayley was the most popular girl in my grade. Everybody liked her, and those who didn’t, pretended that they did anyway. Her flawless skin shone radiantly, long eye-lashes and a petite figure, she was always the number-one-student of the class, while I followed right behind her as second-best. She knew exactly what she wanted from life. But what drew me to her was how down-to-earth she was, and she never made anyone feel inferior. Like, last year, she gave a week of her time after school every day, so that she could help the janitor with some of his chores. She had even persuaded a few of her friends to stay too. A generous soul. Those are the instances that attracted me to her. With enough luck, I might have mustered up the courage to ask her to the prom! Even though I was a timid guy, I was said to be a people’s person and yet, quite coy around the female species. Hayley and I were in Chemistry and Math together, so I knew she hadn’t been on a single date in her entire schooling career. And with the school dance around the corner, I had hopes that would change. A tall, sweet and good-looking guy like me, why wouldn’t she say yes?
We quickened our pace, right behind Jason, as he led the way to where the action was happening. Thankfully it was still on school property, that meant we could call for help. I saw her on the floor, lifeless, four guys beating her, all of them simultaneously throwing punches and relishing in the glory of kicking her. It was insane. The looks of pure excitement mixed with hatred and power, were visible on their menacing faces as they enjoyed every second of it. We hustled passed the crowd to reach her. I told my best friend to go for help as I headed towards Hayley. A look behind me showed that Jimmy was still standing there silently, his face pale as he stared on, wide-eyed. He’s one of those that weakens at the sight of blood and even the smallest drop was enough to leave him swooning.
“Go get help, call the teachers and the guards!” I shouted, while the guys next to him nudged at his shoulders and sides, eventually bringing him out of his reverie. With one last look, he ran off, while I prepared myself for what came next.
I slid in front of her just before a hard blow could land onto her covered head, I pulled one guy aside, bringing them all to a halt as they were distracted by my arrival.
“Well, look what we have here boys! A hero come to save the damsel in distress!” Devon chuckled to the rest of his cronies.
They shoved me aside but I moved back in front of her, trying to shield her from further attack. A glance to Hayley saw no movement still. Heart pounding, I prayed it was not too late.
“Leave her alone,” I said, “can’t you see that she’s practically dead?” A brave front, because I felt my nerves coil into knots underneath my crawling skin, and I hoped that this did not register on my face.
A look of concern flickered across their faces but only for a split second.
“Oh, and what you gonna do about it huh, punk?” Devon said.
Closer to them now, I recognized the rest of the guys; Devon shoved me towards Ian who shoved me to Jed who in turn pushed me to Tyson, mocking me. They were toying with me for their amusement. Their irrational faces told me I was done for, especially if Jimmy didn’t come back with help soon.
I tried to maintain my stance which was difficult because I had never been one for sports, or any athletic activity, a decision I regretted so much at that very moment. My eyes darted around in search of Jimmy, who was still nowhere to be seen. I tried to dodge punches in the cat and mouse game they were enjoying, and if they all came at me in one go, it would be over in an instant, I knew. They did too. Trying to hold my ground, I threw in a few punches that connected occasionally, but not enough to stop the brutality. I blocked their advances as best I could, but they grew hungrier and more impatient, becoming fiercer, and then I could no longer feel the ground beneath my feet. Crunching bones as I hit the hard tar, which added to my excruciating injuries. Well, at least the focus was off Hayley now.
Ramming into me, they tackled me ruthlessly as I tried pointlessly to shield myself. This was the punishment for cutting the attack on Hayley short.
“Nobody says no to me, you hear? Nobody! Especially not some know-it-all little bitch!” Devon shouted as he lunged towards me. “She got what she deserved, and so will you!”
I held my hands in front of me in defense, with my back on the cold, hard asphalt, too afraid to think about what would happen next. I watched in horror as he reached into his blazer pocket, the others all stopped and were staring then, sniggering.
“No!” I screamed in vain.
“And you, you twit! You had to go and be the great savior huh, show everyone you’re a man? Well, who’s the man now, uh?” Devon said, as he got down on all fours beside me, like a tiger ready to pounce upon its prey.
As I peered through my fingers, I saw the expression on his face, contorting into ugliness as his veins popped, chills ran down my spine.
“I run this school, no one else. I can do what I want, when I want, ain’t nobody gonna stop me. I need to make you a lesson, for other sissy boys like you. Nobody goes against me,” he said, glaring at me through glassy eyes.
I had enough sense in me to know not to make eye contact then.
The thrust of the blade was hard and swift, and in an instant, my body tensed and the warm blood flowed freely as my drenched shirt clung to my body. I clutched my side in angst. Then, Devon struck again moving my hands aside and then not caring if they were in the way. Repeated stabs made their way into my abdomen, even through my hands. I lost count after the fourth blow when the knife twisted inside me. Reeling in agony, tears streamed down my face and I found myself unable to scream, my throat was locked as if a huge boulder sat on top of it. There was no hero to save me. Not a single soul came to our aide. I could not understand human nature, were we not human like the rest of them? Devon would not have stopped had his friends not lifted him off me. He had that mad look in his eye.
With blood everywhere, one could not tell where the flow of mine met with hers. The pain intensified with each breath. Inside I chuckled to myself, now I knew the literal meaning of that phrase: it hurts to breathe. I felt myself slipping away. Willing my eyes to stay open and trained on something, to keep from drifting, proved an impossible task. I turned my head slightly, my body was starting to numb all over. Hayley lay there, tears gushed down her face, her half-closed eyes were blinking at me, all in slow motion. She moved her hand towards me, reaching out to grasp mine. I tried, and failed to touch her, she was too far away for my slashed hands to meet hers.
Just then I heard a commotion and I craned my neck to see Jimmy, screaming, rushing towards me, teachers and guards in tow. I smiled up at him as he reached me, he knelt beside me and in a hoarse voice I said,
“You did good, boy.” He had not let me down.
I blinked my tears away while his fell onto my face, my cradled head in his hands. Drooping now, my eyelids became heavier with each second and I struggled to keep awake. He soon mixed in with the darkness that I seemed to be falling into. I looked towards Hayley, still unable to move. Damn Devon and his mates for doing this, they will surely be punished, I’ll see to it. At that moment, the sounds of the world grew fainter and eventually stopped, and I succumbed to the inevitable.
I eventually came to, putting my hand to my head, I steadied myself. Looking around, I found myself wandering in a strange place. No Jimmy, or Hayley. I must have been dreaming because I saw myself floating above the ground. I wandered on for hours, or days… it seemed too long. The dream was surreal. It was neither day nor night but something in between and the unnerving darkness tried to control me. However, the light drew me closer towards it as I hung in limbo, not knowing in which direction I should continue... but then I heard it, straining to listen:
“Josh! Josh, how could you leave us like this, why did you have to go?” Mom cried out.
I swooped down towards her. Clearer then and in between sobs, I saw my mother as she battled to keep upright, leaning against my only brother for support. His tear-stained face; ashen. I dove in further to get closer but lost my footing and landed on the grass, right alongside my mom. Nobody took notice, although, they were startled by the gust of wind that accompanied me. There was no thud, and even though I closed my eyes and waited for the painful jolt of my body as it met the ground, nothing came. I brushed my clothes nonetheless, peering inside the open coffin as I rose… a gasp escaped my lips. This was definitely a nightmare. Unable to cope with the sight of myself lying inside the casket, my eyes roved around seeking an aversion, and landed on my grandparents who stood near mom, eyes red, they were silenced in shock. As my eyes skipped over their pitiful faces, they fell upon Jimmy, whimpering at the far end. He was unable to keep erect in moments like these so he stuck to his chair in grief. She was there too, her left arm and leg were tightly wound in bandages and a cast, and yet she remained as gorgeous as ever. Her eyes were blank as she stared across the distance but caught me off-guard as they rested on me for a moment. My hands lifted in half a wave as she turned away, with a frown on her beautiful face. Did Hayley see me? Did she know I was there? How could she? Nah, I was being ridiculous. Realization dawned on me. I really was dead.
I heard my mom say that bullies took the life of her son away. She planned to start a campaign, to help prevent others from going through the same ordeal. They would make an urgent appeal to parents around the world to let their kids know that every life counts. Young or old, sick or healthy, rich or poor, human or animal, all lives were precious and none were for our taking. I longed to reach out and hug her. I couldn’t. Nobody could see or hear me.
A shifting shadow caught my eye and I looked towards the figure who had its arms extended towards me. It looked so much like my father. Were my eyes deceiving me? Rubbing them, I quickly looked away but a second glance confirmed it. He was there. I ran over, right into his arms but was met with the disappointment of being unable to hug him. We were both translucent and only sparked when we came into connection with each other.
An eerie silence.
“Dad, is that really you?” My eyes were ready to pop out from their sockets. Unsure of this new development, my brain was unable to register anything else. I staggered backwards. I must have been hallucinating. I opened and closed my eyes a few times, to bring myself awake. But he remained there.
“Yes son, it has been long.” His blank face gave nothing away, just like his unfeeling voice.
His ghost had appeared out of thin air, it must have been some type of ghost sense, seeing as I was a ghost now too. That explained the ominous gusts of wind that was brought forth, first when I dropped down next to mom and again in that moment.
Disbelief filled the empty spaces inside me. I had not seen my dad in five years, since he was taken from us in that haunting, armed robbery.
“Why are you here, Dad? I know that I’m dead, a ghost. Are you… are you taking me to heaven… or?”
He looked at me forlornly.
“No son, we have unfinished business here. We cannot attain salvation until all the wrongs are righted. It was not our time to die, therefore, we have to spend the remainder of our ‘life-span’, here on earth.” He took my hand.
“I have taken it upon myself to punish those who get away with evil and now you are here to help me.” he steered me away from our loved ones who slowly faded into the distance…
* * *
Hayley would never forget that day, she felt as if she was living on borrowed time. She was at the funeral that afternoon, paying her last respects, but she was unable to shed a tear, not because she didn’t want to, but because she couldn’t. She could not accept the fact that the boy she had been crushing on throughout her senior years of high school was gone. He saved her on that horrific day, but he took a part of her with him too. Had she been dreaming at the service that afternoon? Josh had waved at her. She must have been wishing so much that he was there, that her mind had conjured up an image of him at the graveyard. Maybe she should have agreed to go to prom with Devon, even though she didn’t want to? But no, she made the right decision in saying no. A part of her was glad that she had stood her ground but she was devastated that it had been at the expense of Josh’s life.
Devon had just turned eighteen so he would be duly punished by law, but did he really realize the consequences of his actions? He was one of those that thought they ruled the world. They felt that they were entitled. What gave them the right to control somebody else? What gave them the right to think that they owned someone? How exactly did they feel that they were more important than others? Bullies like Devon needed to learn that every person was equally significant, but sadly, there was no remorse to be felt over their actions. She wondered about how somebody could live with themselves making the victims feel the way they do…
Hayley clung to the hopes of the Campaign – it would have to be a success and she hoped that all the Hayley’s and Josh’s would be saved, by diminishing all the Devon’s of the world, one day at a time.
As she stared out of the window now, tracing drops of rain falling on the pane, her heart broke into a million pieces and shattered in rhythm, with the rain drops. Loneliness engulfed her like a flame of fire to a wick.