By James Goodman

John sat at the table, hands in his lap. He stared at his food. There were always problems associated with moving to a new school, but he didn’t expect to encounter them so soon.

“ He didn’t do anything.” Mary tugged at her boyfriend’s arm. “Just leave him alone.”

“ Hell no! Somebody needs to teach his punk ass some manners.” Steve shook free of her grasp. “He’s gonna learn his place, even if it means--”

“ His place? Can you hear yourself?” Mary turned away. “This is a lunchroom, not your royal court.”

“ This is our table.” Steve pounded his fist on the center of his chest. “It has been passed down from class to class for years. I’m not about to let that tradition be trashed on my watch.”

The rest of the young men at the table stood, ten in all. They straightened their Letterman’s jackets, nearly in unison and glared at the intruder.

“ Let’s drag him outside and make an example out of him,” one suggested in a low voice.

The silence in the cafeteria was tangible. All eyes were on the starting offense for the nearly famous Lake High football team. Not even the teachers seemed willing to interfere as the events unfolded.

“That won’t be necessary, gentlemen.” John finally spoke. “I’m new here, I didn’t know--”

“Well you should have asked someone.” Steve leaned over the table bringing his face closer to John’s.

“ I didn’t know what to ask. There was an empty seat and I took it. I’ll find another spot.” He stood, gripping both sides of his tray.

“ Sit your ass down,” Steve snarled. “I’m not through with you yet.”

“ Which shall it be then?” John barely suppressed a smile. “First you don’t want me at your table and now you want me to sit?”

Nervous laughter rippled through the lunchroom.

“ Ah, we have ourselves a comedian, boys.” Steve’s laugh sounded forced; his cheeks reddened.

“ Steve, he said he didn’t know. Please…just drop this.” Mary dropped her gaze to the floor.

“ Stay out of this. He’s my problem and I’ll deal with it any way I see fit.”

She inhaled sharply. Her eyes ventured up to meet his.

“ Then what are they doing?” She motioned to the bristling crew standing around the table.

Steve’s face clouded. He brought his hand up over his mouth, wiping it down slowly as he exhaled. It flicked out and away like the tongue of a snake, connecting squarely with her jaw. Mary fell to the floor, eyes wide.

“ You won’t make me look like an ass in front of my friends.” He jabbed a finger at her.

“ You son of a bitch!” She pushed herself to her feet and stumbled from the room.

“ Now, Steve--,” Mr. Wilson, the English teacher began.

His voice died in his throat as Steve spun around, glaring down at him.

“ Mind your own business,” he said in a calm voice. “If you have a problem with what’s going on here, maybe you should take it up with the principle. Mr. Anderson was one of the first who called this table their own.”

Mr. Wilson open and shut his mouth several times. John watched the maelstrom of emotions dance in the teacher’s eyes as he looked over the expectant faces that crowded around him. Mr. Wilson ducked his head as he turned to leave.

“Yeah,” Steve grunted. “That’s what I thought.”

“ Look, this is getting way out of hand.” John watched the teacher disappear in the crowd. “This is my first day here. I didn’t know there was a special table just for football players--”

“ This isn’t about players. This table’s reserved for the elite,” Steve proclaimed, earning nods and murmurs of approval from the others around the table.

“ Ok, then I didn’t realize this table was for the elite. So, if you’ll excuse me--” John reached for his tray again.

The broad faced boy to his left wrinkled his nose, sucked snot and saliva into the back of his throat and spit it on the tray of food.

“ Yeah…it’s not going to be that easy.” Steve’s laugh sounded like rocks jostled in a plastic bucket.

“ I see,” John said, returning the tray to the table. “You really don’t have to do this.”

“ Oh, but I think we do.” Steve tilted his head from side to side, filling the air with the crackles of his neck popping.

“Come on, man. Look around. These people are scared shitless of the whole lot of you. There’s nothing else to prove. Your regime is safe. We could just chalk this up as a lesson learned and leave it at that.”

“ We could,” Steve agreed, a smile seeping onto his face. “I really just need you to do one more thing before we go our separate ways.”

Something in his voice made John grip his tray a little tighter. “What’s that?”

“ Bleed!”

Steve lunged at him over the table, but John flipped his tray up, launching into the face of his attacker. He leaned back; barely avoiding Steve’s grasping hands. He swung the tray hard and to the left. It smashed into Broad Face’s nose with a wet thwack. His feet were churning even before the tray clattered to the floor.

“ Get him!” Steve roared, dragging himself the rest of the way over the table.

John made a beeline for the woods behind the school. He never slowed as he glanced over his shoulder; only the elite followed him. I guess everyone else is too scared to watch and too scared to do anything about it. It was a good two hundred yards, but he was sure he could make it before they caught him. A chest-high barbed wire fence separated him from the protection of the trees. He was nearly on top of it before he leapt, his arms held above his head. He almost cleared it; his pants leg hung on one of the barbs, dropping him to his back on the ground.

“ Son of a bitch!” He gritted his teeth. “I could have done without that.”

He felt blood trickle down his leg as he resumed his flight. The laughter that floated behind him let him know they had seen the fall. He had a feeling they wouldn’t make the same mistake. He barely slowed as he pushed his way among the branches. Briars grew rampant between the trees, tearing at his clothes; he pressed on. The scratches burned as the branches and briar took their toll on his skin. He could hear the angry curses of his pursuers as they entered the woods. God damn, but they’re tenacious! I wonder how far they’ll go?

The branches gave way to a small clearing. John trotted out to the center; spun, eyeing the closely-knit trees that surrounded him. He could see nothing of the school, his pursuers or anything but the trees whose branches intertwined like old lovers, holding hands.

He bent at the waist, letting his hands rest on his knees as he gulped in air. Can’t run forever. This is as good a place as any…let’s get this over with. He dropped to his knees in the soft grass and waited for his tormentors. I guess it’s time for the piper to collect his due.

“He’s over here!” A voice yelled from behind him.

He didn’t bother to turn around. He knew they would catch up to him eventually.

“ Are you lazy or just stupid?” Steve stepped in front of him. “If it was my ass on the line, I could have run all day.”

“ You don’t want to do this--”

“ You mean you don’t want us to do this.”

“ Well, that too--” John smiled up at him.

“ On your feet,” Steve ordered, motioning with his left hand.

“ I don’t know…I’m pretty comfortable right here.”

“ What? You think I can’t beat your ass just as easy with you on your knees?”

“ If you’re going to beat me either way, what difference does it make if I’m standing or not?”

“ Suit yourself.” Steve drew back his fist.

“ Wait.” John held up a hand. “Are you absolutely sure there’s no other way to settle this?”

“ What do you think?” Steve punched him in the forehead, sending him sprawling on his back.

“ So, I guess that’s a no.” John sighed heavily as he watched the small section of sky he could see above the circle of trees.

Steve pounced on him, straddling him as he rained down blows. He used both hands, pummeling him. Blood splattered on the grass as his knuckles broke open the flesh over John’s cheeks.

“Steve! You’re gonna kill him.” His friends grabbed him by the arms, pulling him to his feet.

“ Oh shit! He’s gonna die. Look at him…he’s convulsing.”

John’s body twitched and jerked. His limbs thrashed violently. He rolled to his stomach, moaning. The flesh along his arms began to split. Blood oozed out of the wounds. The flesh fell away in chunks, leaving darkened sinew and muscle exposed.

“ What the hell?” Steve took a few steps back.

John’s shoulders rose and fell as he heaved. His moan turned into a growl of pain. Claws burst through the ends of his fingers; dug into the ground. He turned toward his attackers. His face contorted with agony, eyes squeezed shut. They opened, revealing yellowed orbs with black slits running down the center of them.

“Oh, my G--,” Steve choked on his words when John’s growl turned to laughter.

John threw back his head, mouth agape. His teeth extended, long and pointed. His sweeping gaze covered them all as he licked his lips.

“ Every time I do that…it still hurts like the first time.” He sprang to his feet in one fluid motion.

“What are you?”

He clasped his hands behind his back, pushing his chest out as he stretched. The sound of bones cracking into place along his spine reverberated in the little clearing.

“ Hungry!”

John sprang into the air, locking his knees on either side of Steve’s waist. He clamped his mouth over his throat and yanked. The head fell to the ground with a sickening thud.

The others fled in all directions. Their screams competed with the sound of breaking branches. John caught them, one by one; drug them back to the clearing. He tore them limb from limb, feasting on the flesh of the self-entitled.

When he finished with them, the sun had nearly set. He dropped to his back, exhausted but sated. His teeth and claws retracted. His eyes closed. His breathing was shallow as his flesh slid across the grass, fusing once again with his body. His lids fluttered. He sat up. His arms spread wide, palms up. His breathing stopped. When he opened his eyes, they were clear and blue. He turned them towards the heavens. He slowly rose to his feet; dusted himself off. A smile spread across his face. He turned west. He walked with the steady stride of a man with a purpose.

“Next stop…Washington High.”


James Goodman was born in Dover, Delaware in 1971, but has traveled extensively. Some of his travels around the world have been in service to his country, others have been in service to his family, but most have been in service to his heart. He now resides in the suburbs of Tulsa, Oklahoma with his loving wife and wonderful son.
James is an avid reader, writer and blogger. His novella, Drums of the Nunne’hi (Cyber-Pulp Press) will be released December 1st, 2006.
For more information, visit his website.

Return to Fall 2006 Table of Contents

© 2006 SPINETINGLER Magazine - All rights reserved

Baby Love
If It Bleeds
Behind You!
No Help For The Dying
A Kind of Puritan
A Thankless Child
A Certain Malice