“They – they did that to you again?”
Dr. Hector sat frozen in his armchair, gaping at the sequence of events that his patient was retelling with panic and fury.
“Yes. It’s the fifth time I’ve been unable to eat my lunch at school this month. I couldn’t even munch down on an apple this time.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah and it gets worse.” Jeremy Phillips cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry – you wouldn’t happen to have any sweets would you? My blood sugar is getting dangerously low.”
“Of course, I have butter scotches.” Dr. Hector took a bag out of a drawer in his desk and handed one of the wrapped candies to Jeremy. Jeremy unwrapped it and quickly popped it into his mouth.
“When you’re ready, continue.”
“So anyway, there’s this teacher who sometimes sits in at lunch, in the cafeteria. He’s a phys-ed teacher – Tim Cork. All the other kids love him. He’s buddy-buddy with everyone; everyone wants to take his classes. But he really is the type of guy to play favorites. The athletes especially – you’d think he was their older brother who buys them beer every weekend for how much they fawn all over him.”
Dr. Hector winced. “I think I see where this is going –“
“Yeah, so me – the gangly diabetic who’s never so much as touched a football or hockey stick? Not so much his favorite. He makes that really clear every time that gang of assholes finds me in the cafeteria and starts hassling me.”
“Well, every time those guys and I get into a fight – and I am never the one who starts it – he calls me over to reprimand me. Never any of the other guys. They get to stalk me and abuse me till the Landon High Cows come home, but I raise my voice for one second, and he’s on me like ants on a dropped ice cream cone.”
“Have you brought this up with anyone else at the school?”
Jeremy shot a glare of disgust. “Who do you think’s gonna listen to me against Mr. Cork? Anyway, things got a little heated between me and those other guys again today; they found me even though I thought I did a good job blending in with the other kids. And then ol’ Corky, sitting just a few yards away and in clear view of everything, wags his finger to summon me and tells me, ‘Time to go.’ That’s it. He throws me out! Doesn’t say anything to anyone else!”
“Does he know about your medical condition?”
“Yeah, the fucker knows I have diabetes. He doesn’t care. In fact, I know this is gonna sound nuts, but I’m convinced he actually wants me dead.”
Dr. Hector’s eyes bulged. “He wants you dead? What makes you think that?”
“You remember last year when during social studies class I made those stupid musings about gun control and school shootings, and got called into the principal’s office? People thought I was looking to become the next Adam Lanza?”
“Of course I remember that, but Jeremy, we got that all straightened out with the administration. It was a misunderstanding, and they admitted that.”
“Hmph. So they say. These kids that hassle me in the cafeteria didn’t seem to get the memo. That’s the main thing they torment me about. King Jeremy the Wicked, I am. They keep asking me about my dad’s gun collection and whether I’ve got an escape plan for when the SWAT team arrives.”
“But – what does this have to do with Mr. Cork wanting you dead?”
“I think he believes them! That’s why he singles me out! He thinks that I’m a threat to the school and so he’s gonna have someone try to murder me!”
Dr. Hector sat in silence, watching as his patient’s breathing became more labored. He offered him another butter scotch, hoping against hope that it would help. It didn’t.
“You know Jeremy, there are other kinds of medication that we could try.”
“Medications for what? You have a pill that will make me immortal or something?”
“No, but there are several we could try that can help with these kinds of thoughts.”
“You saying I’m being delusional? Don’t you tell me I’m being delusional! This is real! Everyone at the school thinks I’m dangerous! Probably even the folks in charge! And they have a duty to protect their students!”
“But, that doesn’t mean they have to kill you.”
“Well they can’t expel me, they have no evidence! Of course they think they have to kill me! Mr. Cork has probably got a hit man lined up to ice me any day now! I could be walking home from school and come face to face with a goon pointing a .45 at my face!”
“I think a meeting with Mr. Cork and the administration might be in order here.”
“Over my dead body. Which is literally where the meeting would be held.”
“Would you like me to try to get in touch with someone there and argue on your behalf?”
“Wouldn’t do any good. I’m telling you, Mr. Cork is untouchable at that school.”
Dr. Hector stood up and walked to his desk. “I think we’re at the end of this session. I really think we should discuss making some changes to your medication.”
“No! I refuse to take any pills that will make me pliant and stupid! That’s just what they want! I can’t let my guard down!”
“Shall I schedule you for our usual time for next week?”
“Yeah sure, go ahead, but just be forewarned that I may not be able to make it in, on account of being dead.” Jeremy stormed out of the office suite and darted his head nervously as he left the building and headed down the street.
He walked to the next Stop sign and turned right before heading out of the main business district. His home was only a few blocks away, but in that cold November air, with all of the recent events weighing on him like a lead blanket, it felt like the journey would be for miles. His blood sugar once again was dragging low, so he hustled in order to make it to his mother’s fridge as soon as possible.
The traffic was light and the scene was quiet, which made it easy for Jeremy to hear the ambient chatter of the few other persons milling about.
“Hey, I think that’s him. Teal-striped shirt, straight jeans, messy hair – “
“Are you sure?”
“Definitely. Looks just like the photo. Fancy that, seeing him this early on.”
“Well, they told us where his appointment would be. And the school’s records don’t lie.”
Jeremy heard the words, but had no idea where they came from. As he glanced around and did not find any clues, he began to grow even more apprehensive.
“Kid have anything to eat today?”
“How should I know? But frickin’ insulin baby won’t put up much of a fight.”
Jeremy hastened his pace, growing disheartened at the dearth of traffic and pedestrians in the new block he was entering that was lined with thick trees and the scattered houses far removed from the road.
“I don’t see anyone else around. Just a house here and there. Lots of cover.”
“Then you are cleared to engage.”
Jeremy abandoned energy conservation and began a full-on sprint, racing down the street just as a small projectile whizzed behind him with the boom of a cannon, striking the fence on the other side of the road with the loud splintering of wood. He froze, darting about in shock.
“What was that?!” There was no sign of the shooter anywhere.
He immediately realized the folly of standing still right there and resumed his race home, just as another shot rang out and another bullet zoomed from behind only a few feet past his head. He looked back and jolted as a large man stepped out into the street, wielding a black pistol in hand. It was the most frightening image of Jeremy’s life and he knew it would haunt him to the rest of his days – or minutes if he didn’t make haste.
His metabolic deficiency betraying him at the worst possible time, he began to lose all his remaining energy and struggled to move further down the street. He weaved in a zig zag, trying to become a more difficult target, but was not able to make much forward progress. Finally, he leaned behind a thick oak tree to catch his breath, his head feeling lighter than a helium balloon.
Jeremy had barely enough sensory awareness to notice the hand placed on his shoulder. He turned around to see his grinning assailant at the ready with a .45 handgun.
“Who – who are you?” Jeremy wheezed in resignation of his fate.
“Let’s just say Tim Cork’s a real nice gentleman. He wanted me to help him make a problem go away. I like making problems go away.” The man raised his weapon and pointed it at Jeremy’s head. “Bye bye, King Jeremy the Wicked.”
Jeremy closed his eyes, feeling like his bad dream was about to be over. Just then, he heard another voice scream out from behind.
“Hey what’s going on there?!”
“Oh crap. See ya later kid!” The hand left Jeremy’s shoulder, and he opened his eyes to witness the man dashing down the street in the direction he emerged from. A head turn to the left revealed the presence of two motorists who had happened upon the scene – a middle-aged man and woman standing outside their running car looking in bewilderment at the teenager.
“You okay, kid?”
“Aaaaahhhhhh!!!!!! Just get away from me! I didn’t do anything!!! Nor am I gonna!!!!” Jeremy’s energy returned to him as he raced away from the passersby and made a mad dash the rest of the way home, praying that he would not chance upon the gunman again. Fortunately, no second meeting occurred, and Jeremy made it home and slammed the front door behind him as he dashed up to his room, his legs nearly losing their ability to hold up his body and his lungs almost reaching the point of violent rupture.
“Jeremy?” His mother called out to him from the living room. “You okay?”
“Yes Mom, I’m fine!” He locked himself in his room and heaved heavily, ever grateful for the stash of chocolates hidden in his desk drawer. He feasted on the confectionaries, knowing how close he came to not being able to enjoy them.
He would never be able to tell anyone about what happened. His parents wouldn’t believe him. Dr. Hector wouldn’t believe him. The cops wouldn’t believe him. And once Mr. Cork found out his scheme failed, he would try again, and it would be lights out forever.
Jeremy groaned in agony, wishing that Dr. Hector was right and that it was all just a fantasy that psychiatric medicine could free him from.
* * *
There were still a few minutes left before the bell would ring to mark the start of homeroom. Students were still hanging out in the halls, and Jeremy kept his head down low to avoid creating a high profile among them. Entering the school that day took every ounce of willpower he had, and he dreaded every second he stood within its walls and among its students and faculty.
He walked to a spot on the wall that was empty of flyers and other postings, and opened his backpack to take out one from the stack of papers contained inside. He quickly taped it to the wall, then scurried away and moved on to another wall to place up another sheet. He was barely able to finish taping it up when a familiar group of voices cornered him.
“Well well well, what you doing there, King Jeremy the Wicked?”
Jeremy did not even look at them. “Leave me the hell alone, Greg.”
“Oh look, you’re putting up flyers! Well what do they say?”
“Learn how to read, asswipe. I’m not talking to you.”
Another of the boys ripped the flyer off the wall and looked at it. “Ahahahaha! This says that Mr. Cork tried to have him whacked!” He handed the paper to the rest of the group, who chuckled at it loudly.
“You guys can have that one. I got lots of others. I’m getting my message out there even if no one believes me.”
“What message, that you’re mental? I don’t think there’s anyone here who doesn’t already know that!” Greg grabbed the backpack before Jeremy could close it, and scattered the rest of the flyers around the hallway. His buddies cackled evilly as Jeremy fumed at the mess.
“Well? Clean it up! C’mon Diabetes Boy, it’s good exercise for ya!”
Jeremy decided not to take the bait this time, opting instead to pick up as many of the flyers as he could as he figured his tormenters would have to leave for homeroom soon. As he squatted down to retrieve the papers, he felt a hard push on his back, and he collapsed face-first onto the floor. The boys were now laughing at him uproariously.
“Get down, Columbine Killer! They’re gonna smoke ya!”
Jeremy felt himself collapse under the weight of everything that had been happening to him. His throat turned bone dry, tears streamed down his cheeks, and his vision turned crimson red. He could no longer process anything except the rage and despair that consumed his entire mind.
“WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR PROBLEM?!” He screamed at over a hundred decibels as waterfalls gushed from his eyes onto his beet-red face. “I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING TO YOU ASSHOLES! WHY DID GOD MAKE YOU SUCH WORTHLESS PIECES OF CRAP?! I WISH HE WOULD FUCK YOU ALL OVER ONE TENTH AS MUCH AS HE HAS FUCKED ME OVER! WHY DON’T YOU BASTARDS GET A LIFE AND LEAVE ME THE HELL ALLOOOOONNNNEEEE!!!!!!”
Jeremy continued to sob loudly, with saltwater and mucus dripping onto the floor, as his assailants stood in silence looking awkwardly at each other. Other students had noticed the goings-on and were now watching with curiosity and concern.
“IT’S NOT FAIR! I DON’T DESERVE THIS! I DON’T DESERVE TO HAVE EVERYONE HATE ME SO MUCH!”
“Jeremy, c’mon, let’s go to the office right now.” It was a voice that was very familiar to Jeremy, and the last one he wanted to hear.
“YOU!!!” He whipped his head around and shot Mr. Cork a death glare that would have fazed the toughest drill sergeant. “YOU’RE THE WHOLE REASON FOR THIS! YOU TRIED TO HAVE ME KILLED YOU SON OF A BITCH!!”
“What are you talking about? Calm down and we can talk about this somewhere else; you’re disturbing everybody.”
“I DON’T CARE! ONE OF THE GOONS YOU HIRED CORNERED ME YESTERDAY ON PEYTON AVENUE AND SHOT AT ME TWICE! I WAS ONLY SAVED BY A PASSING CAR THAT SCARED HIM AWAY! YOU ARE NOT GONNA GET AWAY WITH THIS, YOU MURDERING PIECE OF HUMAN SCUM!”
“Jeremy, I’m here to help. Just calm down and we’ll go to the office.”
“FUCK YOU!” Jeremy launched his fist directly into Mr. Cork’s cheek, delivering a haymaker that caused the phys-ed teacher to stagger backwards and the student body to gasp in shock. Jeremy shared in their surprise and, knowing that he had just crossed the Rubicon, left his backpack behind and dashed through the nearest doorway, down the stairs and to the main entrance of the school. There were few others present as he raced out of the building and away from the campus unopposed.
He knew he could never go back there, nor could he go home – his parents would make him return. He continued down the street with no destination in mind except to put as much distance as he could between himself and his life as he knew it.
* * *
The young man with the messy hair and wide sunglasses sat silently at the table in the coffee shop, taking small sips of the Frappuccino he had purchased with the change scrounged up at a nearby bus stop. It was neither healthy nor particularly tasty, but he badly needed it. He had been on the run without his insulin for five days now, and his savings were fully tapped. Every source of sugar was precious.
There was a TV in the café, which he normally paid no heed to, except when mention of local news came up. His ears perked as he heard the newscaster intone into her microphone.
“And in local news, there is still no sign of Landon High School student Jeremy Phillips, who has gone missing since an altercation broke out between himself, a teacher and a few other students last Wednesday. That teacher, physical education instructor Tim Cork, has been placed on administrative leave pending a police investigation into allegations that he solicited the murder of Phillips. The school has reported that six other students have been suspended in connection with the harassment that Phillips suffered, and the Landon High community continues to be shocked and saddened by these unfortunate events. We now go live to Tricia McManus on the scene…”
Jeremy’s carb-deprived mind struggled to process the bulletin. But, he found little comfort in it. So long as his school hated his guts and his tormenters still walked the Earth, it would not be safe to return home. He took another sip of Frappuccino and moaned quietly.
“Wow, a teacher ordering a hit on a student?” Another café patron remarked. “That’s something only a madman could dream up.”
“Look at the country you’re in,” another customer said. “Only a madman could dream of a society where kids have to wear Kevlar vests to school. It doesn’t have to be sane for it to be real.”