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It took three months of passive endurance, but finally they came for her. There were five of them. One she knew was called Randy, the fat thug with a face like a squashed potato, but she didn’t know the others. She’d never really taken much time to get to know her classmates.

“The hell do you think you’re going?”

They started following her after PD. She’d walked away, back towards the front of the gymnasium. Not running, but leading, leading them to somewhere isolated, somewhere that had cameras. Actions spoke louder than words, and video evidence exonerated fast.

“I said where the hell do you think you’re going?!”

He threw in a few profanities that would have made other people jump but which to her slid right off. She made herself ready.

“Are you deaf? Are you deaf, you cut-faced freak?!”

“No,” the girl replied curtly. She turned to face them. They’d boxed her in, or so they thought. She put her back against the wall, keeping them all in view.

“Oh!” Randy chortled, a sound like a wet rag slapping cement. He was clearly the ring-leader. His posse echoed his laughter behind him. “The freak speaks.”

The girl said nothing. Randy’s face darkened. He took a step forward.

“You’re not welcome here.” Low and murderous, echoed by the mutts behind him.

“I don’t want any trouble.” Not true. She wanted trouble. Her chest was a pounding drum of fire, and she had a lifetime of frustration and rage ready to set loose.

“You don’t have a choice.” It was funny how one of them always seemed to do the talking. “We’re sick of you.” Murmurs of agreement. “Sick of you sneaking around. This is our school. Our neighbourhood. You’re just a parasite.”

“I don’t want to hurt anyone.” Again, a bald-faced lie.

The five of them howled with laughter, the smell of alcohol wafting on underage breath. The girl readied herself.

“I am legally entitled to take whatever measures I feel are reasonably necessary for the protection of my person,” she articulated, clear and concise. She sounded like a robot, but sometimes that sentence alone, the strangeness and artificiality of it, was enough to make people take pause.

Not this time. “Screw you. Screw the law.” Randy’s snarl turned silver as steel spread down his arms. Behind him, powers arced across his companions.

The girl rippled her fingers and snarled. “Bring it on.”

*****

“This type of behaviour is not acceptable at our school.” Headmaster Garren’s tone was severe, his moustache trembling. He didn’t show it much, but he was afraid. Good. “We don’t condone it and we cannot allow it.”

His deputy nodded her agreement, slapping a stack of letters down on the principal’s desk.

“We’ve received numerous complaints. Parents simply don’t feel safe with your daughter here. Randy Misch’s mother, in particular-”

Randy Misch?” any competent parent would have interjected, “The boy who attacked my daughter unprovoked with a gang of four others? Has he been expelled yet?”

The girl’s father said nothing.

“-feels that, given her son’s… condition… allowing your daughter to remain a student here would be…” The deputy’s sentence trailed off. The headmaster picked it up.

“The boy has suffered severe cardiovascular trauma. He was only this morning moved from intensive care. He’s going to have to be fitted with a pacemaker. His football career is essentially over.”

He tried to kill a lightning thrower with a body made entirely of metal, what the hell did you expect?”

The words unsaid, the silence pointed. The cowardly moustached man behind his cherrywood desk began thumbing through a stack of papers.

“Billy Thompson has 3rd degree burns to 70% of his body. Juan Alvarez needed three pints of blood before they could close all his lacerations. John Chu’s femur is fractured in two places. And Mark O’Donnell is possibly going to lose his genitals to frostbite – the doctors are still uncertain.”

She always liked it when they laid out all her accomplishments. It was like reading the sports highlights.

“Now in light of the, ah, nature of the incident, the school will not press charges-”

Because you know it was self-defence. Because you know you did nothing to stop it. Because you’d lose.”

“-but nevertheless we feel it would be better for everyone if your daughter…” The principal looked at the girl for the first time since they’d walked in there. “…finds alternative education arrangements.”

She looked at her father slumped in the chair beside her, unshaven, bleary-eyed. Smelling of soot and oil and grease. He wasn’t looking at her. He wasn’t looking at them. He wasn’t looking at anything.

“We’ll go,” he said simply, finally. Relenting. Like he always did. Backing down from a fight.

He pushed himself out of the chair, and they left.

*****

“They attacked me.”

“I know.”

“They were trying to kill me.”

“I know.”

“Or worse!”

“I know. I know, I know, I know.”

They drove in silence. The rain poured down the truck’s windows. This was the first time he’d picked her up from this school since she started.

“It’s not my fault.”

“It’s never your fault.”

“It never is!”

“I wasn’t being facetious.” Her father’s old, tired eyes never left the road – just stared straight through the rain and the wish-wish of the wipers. “I know you didn’t ask for this. For any of it.”

But even though they both knew it was true, it didn’t sound like he believed it.

More road and more silence.

“We’ll find a new school. There was a flyer in the mailbox about this place in Northridge.” A pause. “Give that a go.”

“Great.”

“And just-” her father’s voice suddenly rose, “-look, I know it’s not your fault, and I know you’re not doing this on purpose, but please, just-”

“Just what? Keep my head down?!”

“Keep your head down, stay out of people’s way, just try and-!”

“I am trying!”

Well try harder!” The shout echoed around the cabin, ringing and reverberating into nothingness. And then there was only silence. The girl leant back in her seat, a harshness in her throat and a stinging in her eyes. She stared away, watching the raindrops trickle slowly down the window.

Her father sighed. Ran a hand through his fading hair.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to… I just… I’m hanging by a thread at work, I don’t need this, I can’t… we can’t…”

He paused, and for the first time in a long time, turned to look at his daughter.

“I just need you to do this. Just this once. For me. Please, Jane. I’m begging you.”

They drove on in silence through the rain. The rusted, broken man and the fierce, beautiful girl with the “E” tattooed on her cheek.

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About the author

Benjamin Keyworth

  • Australia

Bio: Born and raised in Newcastle, Australia, Ben is a lifelong writer currently studying his Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Technology Sydney. An avid fan of the weird and wonderful, he has wanted to be a writer since he was five years old (before which he wanted to be a dinosaur).

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