The Boy With the Pale Skin

Some decisions, though not flawed, nor even wrong, can haunt us. They can plague our days and disturb our nights. They can drive us completely mad, or partially demented. Their aftermath can affect us from without. Can deviate how we are perceived.

April, 1975

Eleven-year old Thomas ‘Stitches’ Sinclair was walking home from school. He used the paths and gullies that ran along a creek on the fringe of what to him seemed to be a large forest. A forest into which one could travel forever, living off wild onions, blackberries, and panfish. He liked to walk that creek on warm summer days and catch crawdads to sell to the bait shop. They paid a nickel apiece, and a nickel bought two giant jawbreakers. And a giant jawbreaker could generate enough spit to launch a stream clear across the road. He didn’t even mind teasing off the leeches that attached themselves to his leg after a day of wading. Oh, that first time he looked down and saw the black, slimy worms stuck to his ankles; he came as near to crying as he could remember. Stitches didn’t cry though, he was tough, like the Chicago Mafia guys he'd seen on the news.

He lived sixty miles southwest of Chicago, a mysterious place full of tall buildings and endless lines of people walking. He’d gone there, to the Field Museum on a school field trip. He was both astounded and fearful of that place. Compared to his home, essentially fifty miles of corn fields in any direction, Chicago was chaos. Another planet, like those in the comics he enjoyed reading.


For some reason that afternoon, Stitches deviated from his usual path home. He left the familiar banks of the creek, breached the forest edge, and emerged at the top of a steep set of stone stairs leading way, way down into a valley that bordered a small park.

These stairs must be a thousand years old, he thought, conjuring up images of warriors with swords rushing down both slopes to meet at the bottom with a terrible noise. He went down carefully. He was a careful young man, having experienced the reality of physical pain and death already.

Cutting through the park, instead of the clank of sword against shield, he heard a pitiful wailing. Worse than a crying girl, he thought. And then he heard laughter. Laughter from several boys. Voices he recognized.

Stitches was the school bully. He was big for his age, exceptionally big, and quick to fight. Stairs he approached carefully, but fighting aroused in him not a moment’s hesitation. He veered over to investigate the racket.

One of those voices belonged to an older boy, a boy who had beaten Stitches to the ground barely a month earlier. He had not seen him since, Stitches was still in elementary school, and this boy was in the junior high building.

He walked around a row of large hedges and, some might say, faced his destiny.

There, in the middle of a small clearing, five boys were taunting one very pale skinned, oddly constructed boy by tossing a notepad in the air above his head. As soon as the pale boy turned and started toward whoever held the notebook, they tossed it to someone else.

On closer inspection of the boy, Stitches saw that not only was he the palest, clumsiest moving person he’d ever seen, but he also had only one eye. He wore a patch over the other—a lightly colored patch that blended in quite well with his unusually pale skin.

Eleven-year old Stitches didn’t realize it, but at that moment he stood at a crossroad. Fate had confronted him with a choice, a decision. He would face many decisions in his near future, some more painful and riddled with death than those already experienced in his short life. But it would be from this one decision that he drew strength in the coming turbulence.

Stitches was indeed a bully. Five years earlier, his father was killed in that faraway place called Vietnam, fighting a war that apparently no one felt anyone should be fighting. His mother did not take it well. Not well at all. After losing their home, she moved them back into a little field worker's house on her parents' farm. She was the youngest of eight brothers and sisters, and though they tried to help her stabilize, she still made a poor decision.

She remarried to a man who was as wild as a weed seed in a strong wind. A garrulous, bullying, hard-drinking roustabout more at home in jail than in his own bed. He made good money working pipeline construction at nuclear plants; it kept him away for a month at a time, and those were Stitches' favorite months. When the stepfather was at home, it was a nightmare. His idea of fatherly instruction was a frequent and quite solid beating.

At age ten, Stitches, after having one or more of his teeth loosened one time too many, started fighting back. Apparently that was the lesson his stepfather wanted him to learn, because he finally showed him a little respect. He started calling him Stitches, instead of ‘Kid’. They still fought, not roughhoused—fought. With fists, and feet, and wild, launching attacks that sent both to the ground in a mass of struggling bone and muscle.

This interaction sparked a profound difference in the way Stitches behaved when faced with something he did not like. He'd become extremely confrontational. Not the kind of bully who demands others' lunch money, or steals the pineapple upside down cake from their school lunch tray, which by the way was delicious, and one of the few things churned out of the school cafeteria that would ever merit such a compliment. No, just very sensitive to the errant comment, the nasty glare, the threatening posture. To mention his dead father in any way not absolutely respectful guaranteed an immediate punch to the head no matter where you stood or who was watching.

After several sessions where Stitches calmly walked into his office with a note, then bent over the desk for his punishment, the principal of the school was out of options. He had tried paddling the boy, which had no noticeable effect. He had tried stern discussions, to which the boy responded logically and forthrightly; and finally, contacting his mother, which proved fruitless. He was concerned, but in light of what happened to the boy’s father, he remained patient, and lenient.

So it was with an innate sense of the conditioned scrapper, that Stitches quickly analyzed the scene before him. Five boys, one he did not like at all, against one weird looking, deformed, probably retarded kid. This decision was never in question, nor was it the important one.

He waded into the center of the boys and initiated a devastating attack against the older one he’d lost to previously. Three solid punches, one well aimed kick to the shin, and a two-handed push to the chest sent the older boy to the hard ground. One of the punches had landed at that sensitive spot on the bridge of the nose that seems direct-wired to your tear ducts, and before the boy realized fully what had just happened, the water was flowing down his cheeks.

Stitches didn’t see this as he had already turned to the next boy, the one currently in possession of the notebook—the one who dropped the notebook and ran, followed closely by the rest of the pack.

Stitches was disappointed. His young body fully-charged with adrenaline, and now he had no one to drain it on. After looking around, reassuring himself that none of them were creeping up to ambush him like in the westerns he watched, Stitches stared openly at the strange boy.

The boy had for the most part stopped his wailing, only occasionally making a pitiful noise that caused his entire body to spasm. He was thick in the torso, but his legs and arms were incredibly skinny in comparison. His skin was as pale as a peeled onion. Stitches had never seen anyone like him at all.

The weird looking kid stared fearfully at Stitches. His single eye switched back and forth from Stitches to what was presumably his notebook still on the ground; bent and battered, but still intact.

Stitches felt strangely uncomfortable beneath the frightened gaze of this odd kid. Not threatened uncomfortable, more of a generalized discomfort, like when he knew he should be studying and instead chose to walk the woods.

“Go ahead, get your book,” he said.

The boy made a sound that could have been a word, but if it were, Stitches did not recognize it.

The boy continued to stare.

“What are you, deaf? I ain’t going to hurt you. Get your book. Go home, before those fairies surround you again.”

That said, Stitches turned and left, warily following the path the boys had taken when retreating. Maybe they were waiting to spring a bushwhack, and that was all right with him.

He never looked back to see whether the weird kid had gathered his book and skedaddled. He wanted to, but the kid made him nervous.

Stitches kept walking, crossing the road and cutting through a patch of field already planted with the corn that would rise to ten feet and cover everything around anywhere he went. Now it was too early and only scattered plants had poked through the soil. He loved it when the corn got tall and he could run the rows pretending he was a famous explorer searching for lost tombs full of treasure.

To his credit, Stitches didn’t jump when the strange boy with the pale skin appeared from behind a mailbox. Stitches had just crossed the last street before he made the final hike to his grandparents' farm.

“Hey, what are you doing here?”

The boy held forth the tablet. Stitches didn’t take it, but looked instead at the open page. On it was a drawing of the boy clutching his notebook to his chest and smiling so wide, it appeared that his face was all teeth. It was an excellent caricature, There were oddly formed letters underneath the drawing, but they spelled nothing Stitches could read. Nevertheless, Stitches knew what that picture said. It was a ‘Thank you for getting my notebook’ picture.

“You are welcome,” Stitch said, exaggerating each syllable as if talking to his grandma who couldn’t hear nothing. “Now go home.”

The boy flipped another page and it showed the two of them walking together, surrounded by trees. Again, there were crude attempts at letters, but they were indecipherable.

Stitches stared at this drawing a little longer, then realized it was the kid wanting to hang out with him. Be friends. Stitches started to laugh, but he was not a mean boy, so he remained silent, thinking. He’s got one eye, can’t hear, can’t talk, can’t even walk too good. He cries like a girl, has white skin, and looks funny. Thus catalogued, Stitches did something he rarely did, he lied.

“Yeah, we’re friends,” he told the boy, whose single eye lit up with unalloyed glee and formed a smile wide enough to swallow a hot dog whole. “We’ll hang out. Now go home.”

Stitches didn’t wait to see if the kid left, he turned and continued walking to his house. He had no intention of ever seeing the kid again. That realization made his stomach tumble around as he walked home. By the time he got there, he had no appetite for his favorite food, fried chicken. He had trouble looking his grandpa in the eye when he asked him how things went at the school, and he skipped desert, apple pie, excusing himself from the table to go study.

Passing the television, he went straight to his room and tried to reread a Doc Savage book, but he couldn’t concentrate and kept seeing the look on that goofy kid’s face when he told him they were friends.

 

Comments:
 
Nyronus   Nyronus wrote
on 5/4/2008 9:15:50 AM
Very good. I'm curious to see were the story goes from there. It sounds almost like the beginning of a Stephen King novel.

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Synopsis
The story of a young boy and his odd friend. One of them may save humanity.
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Chapter One This book has an estimated ship date of May 15, 08
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