THE THINGS WE’RE MADE OF
Ben felt another nauseating crunch as Jack’s heavy fist slammed again into the cartilage of Ben’s nose. Ben’s arms kept flailing, trying ineffectually to push the much heavier boy off his chest. He knew he couldn’t, just had to wait it out, but his useless arms moved on their own. As much as the beating hurt, and the pain was as extreme as any Ben had felt, he mostly just wondered when it was finally going to be over. At that moment, he felt bored.
It had happened so fast. One of the other kids, he didn’t even remember which, had snatched his Guns N Roses hat again. Ben flipped, trying to get it back. Jack got pissed, telling Ben to calm down, but Ben had felt justified. Not that Jack understood. No one played keep away against a two hundred and fifty pound fifteen year-old who could bench close to that. In any event, one push when grabbing the hat back from Cynthia, who admittedly was only twelve, and suddenly Ben was on his back, on the ground, and Jack was hammering his full weight into Ben’s face.
Shock. At first, Ben didn’t know what was happening. Then there was fear as it dawned on him. Pain. At the same time, the pain was mixed with shame because everyone would loathe him for hurting a girl but not Jack for beating Ben.
It just seemed to keep going, one crunch slamming into Ben after another.
He couldn’t see. He didn’t think he was blinded. Blood spurted out of his smashed nose, but it wasn’t in his eyes. It seemed like he squeezed them shut, like he was pulling away from Jack any way he could. The weird part was that he couldn’t seem to open them, because other than the actual pain he honestly had started to feel numb.
It didn’t help that Jack paused to wheezingly scream: “HOW DOES IT FEEL TO DIE!?”
Self-preservation told Ben he should have been afraid anyway, but it was just so fake. Dorky. Even with the beating, Ben cringed at how it sounded, Jack somehow being phony and contrived despite his steroid-like rage. Really, Ben wished Jack had just kept beating him instead–which Ben couldn’t ignore was a pretty stupid thing to worry about during a beating.
Danny was just as bad, kicking Ben’s head and screeching about Ben hurting his sister. Ben outweighed Danny by almost as much as Jack outweighed Ben. Those weak little kicks just emphasized how puny Danny was. Pathetic. Ben didn’t know why Danny even bothered.
As he waited on the ground, in pain, Ben started to space out.
His nose was definitely broken; he was sure of that much. Since he couldn’t see what was happening around him, he found it odd that he could see so clearly what was going to happen. In the immediate, he imagined how he’d stand in front of the mirror later that night, spellbound by the sight of the multi-colored dark bruises on his face and poking his swollen yet flattened nose. It wasn’t like his appearance could really be hurt much, and the roughness of it would make people treat him with more horrified respect than Ben usually got. For once, though, respect seemed idiotic.
Ben knew how everyone would respond. No one had pulled off Jack yet, because Ben realized they were afraid. Even not directed at them, that much rage paralyzed. Even the adults. It was like sheep shrinking against a fire while a wolf devoured an outlier. The sheep understood the other sheep more than the wolf, no matter what the other sheep had done to deserve it, but they couldn’t act.
At first, they’d shun Ben. He’d picked on a girl and gotten stomped for it. Even with his own parents, he’d be in the wrong. No one would support him. But, even his parents wouldn’t do much to punish him since he’d already gotten thrashed so severely.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the beating continued.
Later, however, the other kids would distance themselves from Jack. Ben would start hanging out with the stoner kid from the other side of the building who Jack didn’t allow in the circle of kids. Eventually though, the other kids would gravitate over. When it came down to it, they’d be afraid Jack would snap on them one day. Muscle gave status, but not a comfortable one. They wouldn’t be able to forget.
Jack wouldn’t be in trouble for jumping Ben, even though it had gone too far. Once Ben was on the ground, it was done…but Jack’s parents wouldn’t punish him since Jack had been defending the girl.
As time went on, though, they would be uneasy around Jack. Everyone would. Even Jack would be ashamed and uneasy, somewhat, because he’d know that he’d been unable to stop himself. The sheep part of him would be afraid of the other part he’d lost control to.
Ben couldn’t believe that was what he was thinking as he felt bone and flesh crush and tear. Still, he was. Besides, it wasn’t like there was much else he could do. It just didn’t matter.
And then, it did finally stop. Jack was getting off and Ben’s dad was roughly tugging him inside the apartment building. It was over.
Ben was kind of in trouble and Jack kind of not and later it would switch. However, Ben didn’t care any more. Maybe it was because of the beating, but it all seemed so tiresome. The only thing he was glad of was that he wasn’t getting hit any more.
“Get cleaned up and then sit in your room and think,” his dad snarled quietly enough that no one else could hear, pushing the stumbling Ben ahead of him. Ben did as he was told, but he almost mumbled: Whatever. As he was about to, though, he didn’t bother. He realized that his father disgusted him as much as any of them.
David S. Atkinson is the author of Bones Buried in the Dirt (River Otter Press 2013). His writing appears in Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Interrobang?! Magazine, Atticus Review, and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.