Here’s a short piece I wrote for possible submission to an anthology. You get the first look. Comment, please! How good is it, really?
The P.E. Coach did it. Not the murder, that would come later, but the taunt.
“Slow bo’. Move it, slow bo’. Can’t make it once around the track. Need a motorized wheelchair?”
Jonathan’s cheeks burned. Around him, a hundred boys and girls laughed. “Slow bo’, slow bo’,” they chanted.
So I don’t have speed. Or lungs. Or legs. I got asthma. Bad. I can’t do this.
He balled his fist and glared at the coach. He tensed his shoulder and twisted his pencil-muscled arm. Lips parted, his breath hissed through the ivory walls of his teeth. He wanted to take a swing at his tormenter. But since that was Coach, he knew better than to start a fight with an adult. As for the asthma, he was lying to himself.
Sixteen, never been kissed, except twice. Both girls were drunk. Stuck on first base but most often thrown out, Jonathan was rangy. 126 pounds stretched over five feet, nine inches of bone. Thick waves of dirty blond hair undulated around brown eyes and lobe-less ears. He grew it long to cover both. His mane flopped to his shoulders and curled along his upper back.
“Twice around, slow bo’, or I fail you.”
He resolved that day to get in shape.
Gracie stood on the couch and barked when Jonathan came in the door. He grinned. It was her way to say hello. He stretched out his hand to scratch her ears. She backed away, but jumped in excitement. As he lowered his hand, she plunged to the floor, reared up, and walked on her hind legs toward him. She pawed at his chest.
He grabbed her head and moved it side to side as he scratched her ears. “Want your ball, baby?”
He slung his backpack on the couch and went outside. A green, dirty tennis ball lay on the ground. He picked it up and threw it. Gracie ran after the ball. She scooped it up, came back to him, and dropped it on the ground. He threw it again. Gracie took off. She snatched the ball, sniffed at the ground, and spread her legs.
He laughed. The ritual was complete.
Midnight. Jonathan lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. He recounted the conversation he had with his Dad. You gotta run, boy. Build yourself up. He imagined the sneer on his Dad’s face when he spoke those words. The secret fear of his childhood dripped cold water through his loins. Can’t be my son. Not this spaz. He heard those words in his mind although they had never been spoken.
He felt the rib that flared out on his left side. Tears crinkled in the corners of his eyes. As one drop dragged down his face to fall on his pillow, he clutched his right fist. He pounded the sheet. I’ll show them. I’ll show them all. I will get into shape.
Hot sun seared Jonathan’s shoulders and arms as he stood in front of his house. Gracie wandered about the yard with her ball in her mouth.
He inhaled deeply. Already his sleeveless t-shirt clung to his back from the copious sweat he exuded. He scratched his chest. The incoming hair itched. Long, baggy shorts draped his legs. The hem kissed his knees.
Gracie dropped her ball at his feet.
He picked it up and threw it. He would have preferred to do this instead of what he had purposed, but the Coach’s taunt rang in his ears. “Slow bo’.” He ran after his dog.
Three houses later, he stopped. Gracie was back. Both panted.
Sampson jogged along the street. As he came into view, Jonathan marveled at the sight. That’s what I want to be like.
Curly black hair licked around Sampson’s ears. 32, tall—about 6 feet, 3 inches, athletic, and shirtless, Sampson’s sweat clung to the crevasses that outlined his deep pectoral muscles and abdominal six-pack. The damp triangle on his cotton shorts that barely dipped below crotch level darkened the blue of the fabric.
Jonathan gaped in envy.
Sampson waved at the kid as he swept by.
Jonathan squeezed his eyes, grit his teeth, pumped his arms, and took a step. And another. And another. He forced himself down the block until he had to slow to a walk. For the first time in his life, he cursed.
It became a daily ritual. Sampson waved at Jonathan as he ran by. He noted that Sampson was often accompanied by one or two women as he ran along the street. Jonathan ceased to notice Sampson’s physique in the presence of bouncing sports bras, swishing hips in mini-shorts, tanned legs, and tight bottoms when he gazed behind him after they passed. His envy increased as he felt his shirt outline that rotten left rib that stuck out.
Each day Jonathan ran as much as he could. Soon he could go around the block without stopping. Gracie ran with him. He was glad. Having a friend along made the ordeal much easier. As he sweat like a pig, he began to carry a gallon milk jug to swig from as he forayed through the streets. He waved to Sampson and the women as they passed.
Gracie bounded alongside. She loved to dash ahead, return, chase squirrels, and investigate each sign post, often leaving a mark of her own.
Jonathan progressed. He now was able to make two circuits around the block without stopping, although he was slow and plodded more than ran. The day came when he decided to run through the neighborhood streets as far as he could to see how much distance he could cover.
Overhead, dark clouds boiled up to blot out the hot, summer sun. Gracie pawed at him. He threw the ball and ran with his water jug in his left hand.
Waves of humidity shimmered from the asphalt pavement. He downed a quarter of his jug and kept running. His shorts were soaked with his sweat. He felt additional rivulets slide through his waist, negotiate his nether region, and drip down his legs. He grinned. He hated to run, but the actual exertion gave him a pleasure of physicality he had not known before. Next time I’ll steal second.
Gracie came back to him. He pushed her away with his leg. He felt icky to have her fur smack against his sweaty leg.
He slowed to a crawl to greet Sampson.
“Run fast today,” Sampson said. “Fifteen minutes a mile is a walk. Ten minutes, you’re still too slow if you can talk. Get it under eight. That’s a rough storm overhead.”
Jonathan nodded. He swigged from his jug and offered it to Sampson, who shook his head.
“Gotta go. Run fast. Get under cover.”
Thunder rumbled. Jonathan looked up, shuddered, and took off. Gracie ran behind him.
Several streets flew by. The darkness put the neighborhood under shadow. A cold wind burst through the area. He chilled. Goose pimples puckered his arms. A greenish glow emanated from the dark clouds.
He looked around. He was off course. He had always avoided this part of the suburban sprawl that covered several hundred acres. He thought he knew the way, but everything looked different.
Huge drops of rain pockmarked the street. He ran. He gasped, but he still ran.
Sheets of rain wavered across the street to collapse against the houses. He bolted. Gracie barked.
Jonathan sucked at the air. The water jug slipped from his hand. He bent over and grabbed the hem of his shorts as his chest heaved. Rain crashed around him. Lightning struck nearby. The thunder smote his eardrums. He twisted his head to locate the target of the bolt. Gracie looked for her ball.
“In here, boy, in here!”
He saw a man wave from the safety of an open garage. With jerking steps, he rushed toward safety.
Gracie hung back. Her barks shattered the downpour. Lightning tore through a nearby pecan tree. 30,000 amperes sheared the main fork. With a grinding squeal, the wood screamed its protest. Gracie yelped and dashed after Jonathan. One-third of the tree slammed to the ground. The garage shook.
“Thank you, mister.” But the man was gone.
A motor hummed. A chain clinked. Jonathan turned around to stare at the garage door, which descended to trap Gracie and him in the garage.
If you like it, I’ll develop a novel.