a short story
by Graham Pockett © copyright 1994
All characters in this story are fictitious; and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Warning: contains language which, I believe, is appropriate to the characters in the story.
I was scared.
The threat was real, very real, but this wasn't the first time I'd been in danger.
I can see him even now. George, the big fat aggressive lout, the school bully. Ranked by four confederates, he preyed on weaker students, abusing his strength with aggression, building his ego on the shattered remains of his victims.
For months I watched him and his cronies pick on younger boys, separating them from their friends and beating them up.
I knew what they were doing I and everyone else at the school but they were left to rampage in peace, no-one standing up to their truculent tactics as they savaged with apparent immunity.
We were all equally guilty guilty as George and his fellow perpetrators. We should have stood up to them collectively, nipped their aggression in the bud, put them in their place. The longer we stood back and accepted their behaviour and the longer they were able to rage throughout the school, the stronger they became.
The five toughs came for me one winter's morning. I'd been smoking an illicit cigarette in the middle of the school oval behind a masking curtain of fog that hid all but the intermittent red glowing points of nearby smokers.
Big George and his four outrigging cronies loomed out of the fog, swaggering aggressively as they'd formed a crescent of belligerency.
"Keith, you four-eyed toad," the bully said. "It's your turn."
Such simple words, so much unsaid. I didn't need any further explanations; I'd seen others after they'd had their 'turn'. It hadn't been a pretty sight.
Tactics used were invariably foul: a knee to the groin; two holding while George hammered the victim with massive meaty fists; the boot going in while the unfortunate was writhing in agony on the ground. No blow too cruel, no technique too crude.
They were artists in this field, artists of hate. In time they would have inevitably progressed beyond schoolyard aggression, sinking lower into the anti-social mire of the criminal underworld. They'd never be leaders, just thugs. They'd been well schooled in this art.
To say I was scared of the imminent attack would have been an understatement I was petrified. Overshadowed by five leering thugs, I knew that even in a fair fight I couldn't possibly win.
This underweight pre-adolescent David had been facing five physically mature Goliaths five louts who tried to be rogues.
The fog swirled around us, isolating our little group. It was immaterial whether anyone else on that oval knew of the intended attack. Prior intimidation had ensured privacy.
I sweated in the still cold air, knowing what was waiting for me, wondering why he didn't just lash out and ended this mockery, this teasing.
I hadn't realised then that he'd had to work himself into a frenzy so he could just hit, and hit, and hit. He liked hitting, but needed the frenzy, the bloodlust.
"What's up, Toad? Don't ya want ya pretty face all smashed up? Bet yer shittin' yerself. Ain't ya?" A cloud of halitosis-soured steam was ejected towards me. It was bitterly cold that mid-winter's morn, but only the fog and the steam registered on my numbed, frightened brain.
"Why don't you leave me alone? Go annoy someone else." I took a last puff on the butt and dropped it at my feet.
"You throwin' your butts at me, Toad Face?" he snorted, searching for any excuse to start hitting. I didn't want to give him an excuse.
He stood there warlike; hands on hips, wearing his ill-fitting school uniform like a grey cloak of rags. Stomach fat erupted through ragged holes in his once-white singlet, apparent through the gaping shirt that was held together by two straining buttons.
"Don't be silly, just dropped it at my feet," I whined, not at all mentally prepared for the inevitable assault.
"Don' call George 'silly', Four Eyes," one of his cronies piped up. "Or I'll flatten yer me self. C'mon George, give the twerp a hiding an' let's piss orf. Too bloody cold down here with this shit," he added with a snarl.
"You call me silly, did ya? Bloody pansy. An' ya can run to the teachers all ya like, see. I ain't 'fraid of them. Bloody poofters."
I'd never even wondered why school authorities put up with him, never even thought that they too might have found this overbearing lump of flesh a little too much to handle. School fights happened; sometimes students went home a little worse for wear. Probably nowadays the parents would sue the school, but in those days...
"Didn't call you silly, just said I didn't throw the butt at you."
I was answered by a heavy push in the chest, the first sign of physical violence. Staggering back, it was followed by another from the aggressive George. He stepped back up to me, face-to-face, leering, the four henchmen close beside, crowding me.
"Won't ya stay and fight?" He spat little flecks of spittle at me but I dared not acknowledge them. "Bloody little coward."
He'd been right; I was a coward, so scared I couldn't run, even if I wanted to, even if there'd been somewhere to go. Inside, the-little-boy-who-was-me quaked in abject fear. I silently choked back sobs, fighting to hold back tears of terror. The panic controlled me; I stood dumb before my tormentors, cowed.
Again the palms of his massive hands stabbed at my chest and, again, I staggered back. I felt the impact of his hands long after they'd arrogantly returned to his hips.
The five bravados closed back up on me as we danced further away from the futile protection of the school buildings and deeper into that ghostly shroud.
I felt my grip on reality slipping further and further away. My only consolation, that the fog prevented my defeat being witnessed, from others seeing my shame.
Not that George and his mates wouldn't let everyone know how well, or poorly, I took the hiding. There was a certain perceived honour in taking your licking 'like a man'.
I hadn't felt like a man, and had been sure there was little honour in George.
However, I couldn't hide behind a curtain of fog for the rest of my life. It had been time to stop the hopeless sparring. It had to be all or nothing. I preferred nothing.
"George," I started uncertainly, but from nowhere an idea rushed into the vacuum of my mind. I had no confidence in my intended ploy, but anything had been worth a try. I doubt anything I said then could have added to the impending hiding.
Putting on a brave face, I firmed my voice and looked the outsized buffoon in the eye.
"I know you can beat me, don't doubt it at all." The tremolo in my voice betrayed the confidence I tried to engender. "But George," I added, "just remember one thing. When I hit the ground, so too will your front teeth. I'll get one punch in you know I will and that punch will be directed right for your front teeth. Is beating me up worth losing your front teeth?"
I was being optimistic: secretly I doubted even that one punch; doubted even if delivered I could have knocked out any of his teeth.
I'd been all bluff. Maybe I still am.
The reaction from the overweight George was almost comical. Suddenly it was the bully who backed off, looked lost, looked everywhere but at his bewildered compatriots or me.
"Er... er..." he stammered. "You're not worth the effort, little toadying pansy like you. Wouldn't waste me spit on ya. Garn, piss orf, piss orf before I changes me mind and pounds the shit out of ya." His command of the English language was on par with his courage.
Now I was the one standing aggressively, hands on hips, watching the fast disappearing forms of the bullies as they beat a hasty retreat into the swirling fog. Cocky in my arrogance, I spat a final farewell at the wet grass behind them.
It had been the most rewarding victory of my life, standing there on that field of honour, knowing I had vanquished the mighty, invincible George.
I wanted to shout it out to the rest of the school, but that murky cloak of swirling cloud had hidden George's defeat from everyone and who would have believed someone like me? Everybody knew I couldn't beat the bruising George
My mind switched off that recollection, jumped 40 years to the present, to the here-and-now.
I was sitting nervously at a sombre business dinner.
Corporate heavyweights surrounded me, trying to bend me to their will. Tatty school uniforms were replaced with immaculately tailored business suits, halitosis with the sweet aroma of expensive cuisine, the overt threat of violence with an undercurrent of raw power. Things hadn't changed.
As before, I was the underdog, the potential victim. These smiling men were planning on beating me far worse than the luckless George could ever have imagined.
Here I was fighting for my life, my business life, and for the future of my family and myself.
I could lose everything. I felt too old to start again.
These smiling piranhas had planned on chewing me up and spitting out the bones. I had come to a moral and financial crossroad in my life, and it was time to either stand up and fight their smirking aggression, or lie down and die like a dog.
I thought again of George the bully, remembering how quickly he'd collapsed after my assertive stance.
Clearing my throat, I looked squarely at their arrogance.
"Gentlemen," I began, an idea rushing into the vacuum of my mind...
This perrmission is freely given for schools and other educational institutes.
The following is from the KGB Answers Website:
ANSWER: "The Bully" is an excellent short story by Graham Pockett. It can be accessed at [http://www.thecockatoo.com/bully.html].
Acts 3:19-20 NIV
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