The first time it happened, Dave Warrick nearly scared himself to death.
He was two days shy of his fourteenth birthday and, like nearly every other day of his young life, he was running home from school. If his father hadn’t run out on him and his mother three years earlier, Dave was sure he would have told his son, “Don’t run. Fight. Stand up for yourself!” But Dave was lacking a strong paternal influence. All he had to fall back on were his mother’s assurances that his high school tormenters were just “jealous of your good grades” and “one day you’ll show them all when you’re a lawyer or a doctor … or president.”
After he had received his third bloody nose of the school year, Dave quickly decided to ignore any and all of his mother’s future pep talks. She couldn’t seriously believe what she was telling him. His mother had to be reciting from a list of platitudes in a chapter of The Handbook for Parents of Terminally Awkward and Relentlessly Bullied Children.
It would be nice to believe that, at some future date, he would encounter one of his high school classmates and that they would be genuinely penitent for all they had done to him when they were younger. Maybe they’d try to enlist his aid in finding a job–“starting quarterback” was nice in high school, but it didn’t exactly stand out on a resume. He would nod and smile and promise to “try my best,” promptly forgetting the encounter.
Sure, he thought. That would be great! Of course, he added, tumbling back to reality like a skydiver denied a parachute, success will be beyond my grasp if my next beating–and another beating was inevitable–leaves me a drooling, incontinent mess living solely for my next serving of lime Jell-O.
None of his mother’s kind words or her hopeless optimism that he had, on rare occasions, found himself believing could remove him from his current situation.
He was still that scrawny kid with long, skinny arms and legs and feet that seemed too big for his body. The kid who, if he wanted to see more than five or six inches in front of him, had to wear glasses whose thick, Coke-bottle lenses made his brown eyes look almost bug-eye. The kid with acne and braces. The kid who found comfort in the fact that his last name granted him a seat in the back of class, safe from the spitballs and paper airplanes: The preferred classroom arsenal of his tormenters. The kid who was, again, running for his life.
“Why you botherin’ to run, Davey?” a voice called from behind as, for some reason known only to his primitive, reptile brain, Dave turned onto the narrow path that led from the school’s courtyard to the athletic field.
His heart was pounding in his chest; his blood roared in his ears. Sweat poured from his tousled sand-colored hair and stung his eyes. He gasped, his lungs burning, his adolescent muscles starving for oxygen. Then, like the instinct of a hunted animal, an idea materialized: If he could get into the gym, maybe he could double back through the locker room and make his way back to the courtyard before his pursuers figured out where he had gone.
It was a pretty good plan; it was a plan worthy of Hannibal or Caesar…or Braveheart. It was, he told himself as his skinny arms and legs pumped, propelling him around a bend in the path, quite a cunning ruse. He continued to revel in his strategy as his sneakers squeaked on the gym’s polished parquet floor.
Dave continued to mentally pat himself on the back even as he slammed his right shoulder into the unyielding locker room door. He shifted his knapsack to his right shoulder and tried the door again with his left. It was no use; the door was securely locked from the other side and, even if he used every ounce of his eighty-five pound body, that would not change.
Dave swore, stringing together a sentence using every monosyllabic, guttural word his mother had told him did little to illustrate his intelligence.
The gymnasium door flew open, banging against the wall with a hollow thud that echoed off the tiled walls of the gym, and the three boys who had chased Dave Warrick from eighth period history stepped through–each one his physical superior.
“It woulda worked Davey,” the boy in the middle said, shaking his head, “if Coach didn’t lock that door every day.”
The three boys advanced–Eric Slater, broad-shouldered and blond, was in the lead. He was flanked by stocky, dark-haired Mike Burnett and Jason Grey, who wore his red hair in a ponytail and had a sparse teenage goatee. Each boy was the epitome of what it meant to be popular and successful in high school. They were each on the baseball and the football teams–Eric was the captain of both teams. Each boy wore the latest clothes and sneakers, had perfectly styled hair and wouldn’t know a pimple if one reached up and bit them on the nose.
Dave pressed his back against the locked door, bracing himself for his daily beating. He hoped it would be quick–yesterday, Mike decided to give him a lecture as he was punching him in the stomach; it was some ridiculously tedious James Bond-villain speech about why they beat him up every day. He hoped it would be painless. But, most of all, he hoped that tomorrow he’d be able to make it home before they caught him.
Home: That was all he wanted. To just be home. In his kitchen; in his living room; in his own bed.
Dave felt a tingle run up his spine and down his arms, radiating out to each of his fingertips. This tingling, not entirely unlike the numbness of pins-and-needles, was a part of his daily ritual. He called it the “anticipation tingle.” Most likely, and biology was not his best subject, it was a reaction to a release of adrenaline or some other hormone. However, the strange light that was creeping across his field of vision was a new phenomena.
The white light seemed to envelope him as Eric Slater reached out to grab him. Shit, Dave thought, I must be having a heart attack! Or a stroke! I’m dying! He closed his eyes and braced for the first punch. He felt a warm tear trickle down his cheek.
When he opened his eyes, Dave thought he’d find himself sprawled on the floor of the gym, the metallic tang of his blood mixing with the vile taste of the lemon and ammonia mixture of the wax used on the gym floor. As the blackness subsided and the white spots blinked out of existence, the last thing Dave expected to see were the poster-covered walls of his own bedroom. A million questions bubbled to the surface of his brain but they were all swept aside by an inescapable desire to close his eyes again and sleep.
He took off his glasses and, after dropping them over the side of his bed, closed his eyes and let the darkness of unconsciousness embrace him.
Dave was willing to write the whole experience off as some kind of neurological post-traumatic defense mechanism. Until it happened a second time. The third time Dave Warrick warped space and time, he realized something interesting was happening to him. He would lie in bed and think of getting a snack from the kitchen downstairs; his arms and legs would start to tingle, the white light would slowly cloud his vision and he’d be standing in front of the refrigerator. If he were running late for school, he’d just think of the deserted stairwell next to the cafeteria and, in a blink, he was there.
He wasn’t sure exactly what was happening, but he knew one thing: Eric Slater was never going to beat him up. Not. Ever. Again.