Courage (Free Fiction)

Courage

A.J. Brown

Carrie rounded the corner and came to an abrupt stop. Several kids—older than her, she thought—ran toward and by her, most of them looking back. She didn’t need to ask what was going on or why everyone was running. She could see.

Patrick Mason held his lunch box in front of him as a shield, Spongebob on the lid. His green eyes were big ovals full of tears. His bottom lip trembled, and a whine came from his throat. His back was pressed into the corner, his left shoulder taking a poking from one of Marty Hatfield’s meaty fingers. The big bully towered over him, his long brown hair hanging along the sides of his face. His shirt and pants were a matching black and a chain ran from his back pocket to a belt loop on his hip. 

“You watch where you’re going, wimp,” Marty growled. He leaned down until his nose was inches from Patrick’s. “Do you understand me or are you too dumb for that?”

Patrick didn’t move. Neither did Carrie. She stared at the bully and the victim, her eyes as big as Patrick’s, her hands clutching tight to the straps of the little pink book bag on her back. Her heart pounded. She wanted to turn, to hurry around the corner in hopes that Marty wouldn’t see her.

That hope fled when Patrick’s eyes shifted from the bully to her. Marty turned in her direction. His brown eyes were slits, and his lips pulled down in an angry frown.

“What are you looking at, pigeon toes?” he yelled. Spittle flew from his mouth.

Though Patrick didn’t speak, his eyes begged, Please help!

“Nothing,” Carrie said, shaking her head quickly. She’d seen this type of thing layout before. Angry monster and weak victim. Family life had showed her that scenario all too often. Interfering with the monster meant attracting it’s wrath. 

“That’s right, little girl. You haven’t seen a thing. Get out of here.”

Carrie shook her head and retreated the way she came. She half hobbled, half ran, her feet pointed in, as they always had. She rounded the corner and continue along the hall, her heart in her throat, fear tapping her on the shoulder until she reached the exit and pushed on the door. It opened with a loud, metallic clank and she burst through it and started down the steps, her legs carrying her as fast as they would go. Halfway down, she stopped. Her breaths came in labored gasps, her heart thump thumped, and tears fell down her cheeks. She leaned over, her hands clutching tight to her knees.

“I’m safe,” she said between breaths. “I’m safe. He didn’t … he didn’t …”

Carrie looked back at the door so suddenly she almost pitched sideways. That would have been bad. With at least seven more steps to the bottom, the fall would have been painful and worse, she believed, than Marty Hatfield smacking her once or twice. The door was closed. There was no Marty there. He hadn’t had second thoughts about the little girl who saw him beating up the special needs kid who didn’t bother anyone.

“I’m safe,” she said and took a deep breath.

What about Patrick?

She shook her head. “He’s not my problem.” 

Carrie made her way down to the sidewalk, got a few feet onto the lawn before she stopped again.

She recalled his wide eyes, the message in them: Please help. He was scared, and she left him with Marty Hatfield. “I can’t help him. Marty’s much bigger than me, and he is mean. I’m not mean. I’m just … me.”

But Patrick is little and … and …

Carrie looked back at the school. Its red brick structure looked uninviting. The steps looked like a long white tongue; the doors like a giant mouth, hungry for little girl flesh. She thought the halls were the monster’s throat and Marty waited in its belly to finish off what the teeth of the giant beast didn’t. A shiver traced up her spine, sending chill bumps along her arms, legs and neck.

“There’s nothing I can do.”

lockersCarrie looked down at her feet, ashamed for leaving the kid behind, but terrified of the bully who had everyone else running, too. Her toes pointed inward. Her shoes were heavy clod hoppers, the insoles soft foam pads to support her high arches. She hated that she had been born with ‘defected’ ankles and legs. She was a  ‘pigeon toed brat’ as her dad put it once when he was in an alcohol fueled grumpy mood.

Defected. 

Pigeon toed.

She frowned. If the only thing wrong with her were a couple of turned in feet and she got picked on for it, how much worse was it for Patrick, who was small for his age, frail in some eyes, painfully shy and who often found it difficult to talk?

Can’t someone help him?

With that thought came a second, more powerful one. You’re someone.

“But … but …”

Carrie’s shoulders sagged. Her conscious was right. No one else would help Patrick. Everyone ran. But she had seen him cornered by Marty, had seen that fat finger poking into Patrick’s shoulder, had seen those sad green eyes begging for her to help him.

She looked up to the sky as tears tugged at her eyes. White tufts of cotton hung in the canvas of blue. An  airplane flew by high enough she couldn’t hear it. “I’m only ten,” she said. Her eyes remained on the sky, on the airplane that quickly faded from view, as if waiting on something from high above to tell her ‘it’s okay, Carrie, don’t worry about Patrick, he’ll be all right.’ No voice came, and deep inside she knew Patrick wasn’t going to be all right.

“Okay. Okay.”

Carrie took a deep breath, let it out and wiped at her eyes. She started back toward the school. At the steps, she looked up into the mouth of the beast, never minding she was already on its tongue. She took the steps one at a time, reached the landing and then the door. The handle was cool in her sweaty palm.

Another breath.

I can’t do this, her mind screamed. Her father would have left Patrick to his own devices. He would have called him a little wimp who needs a good beating to right his ship. She hated her dad. He had been a bully, just like Marty.

“I have to,” she said. “No one else will.”

She opened the door and took several steps up the hall, her shoes clopping hard on the floor. Carrie looked down at the black and white shoes, the heavy soles and toes made it impossible to walk quietly. She sat down, unlaced them and pulled them free. With a shoe in each hand, she hobbled up the hall, her toes pointed in, her hips and shoulders swaying with each step.

She heard crying, even before she reached the corner. No doubt Marty had hit Patrick by now. Her heart sank into her stomach. Her skin felt cold. Her breaths were sharp and quick.

The sound of a hand on skin stopped her short of the corner. Her heart stopped right along with her feet. More crying came, and one strangled word was mixed in there, “Please.”

“Please what!?” Marty yelled.

“Please.”

“Please what?!” Another slap came. 

“Please.”

“Please what?” Marty yelled again.

Her breath came back to her and she forced herself to round the corner. When she did, her stomach knotted and she thought she would throw up.

Marty stood over Patrick, his hands clutched into fists. Patrick’s lunch box lay open on the floor, its contents spilled out. Patrick lay in the fetal position, his hands over his head, but not doing a good job of covering it. His bottom lip bled and there was a red hand print on the side of his face.

“Please,” Patrick said.

“Please what!?” Marty raised his fist.

“Please stop!” Carrie yelled.

Marty turned. His face was red, but Carrie didn’t think he was embarrassed. Maybe surprised, but not embarrassed. She thought he looked joyful, like her father had when he beat her mom. “Look at you,” he snarled. “Little pigeon-toed girl coming to save the special needs kid?”

Anger raced through her veins. Heat filled her face and ran into her neck. Her heart sped up. The look of fear she saw on Patrick’s face was the same as the one on her mom’s before … before she fought back, before she finally did something about the monster terrorizing them. “Leave him alone,” she growled.

Marty stepped over Patrick and glared at Carrie. His hands were still clutched into tight fists. “What if I don’t?”

She didn’t know how to answer that question. She just knew to act, and she did. With all the strength she could muster, she slung one of her heavy shoes at Marty. This time surprise bordering on shock appeared on his face. The heavy heel of the shoe struck him in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. He stumbled backward. His feet bumped into one of Patrick’s legs. His arms pinwheeled as he tried to keep his balance. He fell, landing hard on his bottom. His head struck the wall. Both hands went up to the back of his skull.

“Get up, Patrick,” she said and tottered over to him. She held one hand out. He took it and stood. He looked down at Marty, who still lay on the floor holding his head. “It’s okay, Patrick. He’s not going to hurt you anymore.” To Marty she said, “Are you?”

“I’ll get you for this,” Marty said. All of the intimidation he exuded seconds earlier was now gone.

Carrie thought of her dad, of her mom and the fear she experienced because of him. She knew Marty meant what he said and he could be even more dangerous now. But he had been bested, by a girl at that. He would threaten her, but that was all he would do. She knew this as surely as she knew her dad would never lay another hand on her mom. 

“No, you won’t,” she said and took Patrick’s hand. “You’re going to leave me alone, and you’re going to leave him alone. You’re going to leave everyone alone. ‘Cause if you don’t, they won’t find you, just like they won’t find my dad.”

Marty’s eyes grew large. There was now fear in them. His jaw hung open and one hand still rubbed the back of his head. 

“Do you understand?”

Marty shook his head slowly. 

“Let’s go, Patrick,” Carrie said. 

The two rounded the corner and left the building without looking back. Outside, she wiped his mouth with the sleeve of her shirt.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice soft. It was the first time she had heard him talk.

Carrie smiled, shrugged her shoulders and tussled his brown hair. “You’re welcome.”

Like her mom, Patrick no longer looked scared.

__________

This story was based on a simple prompt: Courage. It was a contest entry, one of several thousand entered for one monetary prize. Sadly, this piece didn’t win the story, but that is okay. I got a cool story about a bully being stopped in the act of terrorizing a smaller kid. 

If you enjoyed Courage, please like, share and comment. I truly appreciate it.

Courage, the Cowardly Lion Said

There is a scene in the movie The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, where Gandalf finds a small sword in a cave.  He leaves the cave and gives it to Bilbo Baggins.  If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know what happened next.  If you haven’t, it’s okay.  You don’t need to have seen it to get what Gandalf tells Bilbo a few seconds later.  You don’t even have to know what the movie is about to understand the context of what Gandalf says.

To preface the statement, Bilbo tells Gandalf he had never used a sword in his life, and Gandalf tells him he hopes he never has to and (here’s the statement):

“True courage is about knowing, not when to take a life, but when to spare one.”

I’m not going to tell you what happens, but if you’ve never seen the movie, that particular line comes into play later.

That leads me to my topic today.  I want to talk about courage and compassion for a minute.

True courage.  It takes courage to be a soldier in any military, especially during times of war, which seem to be never ending.  It takes courage to be a firefighter, especially when you have to run into a burning building to save someone.  It takes courage to face something you are afraid of.  Afraid of heights?  Get on a rollercoaster or look over the edge of a high rise building or a mountain.  It takes courage to step outside your comfort zone and do something you’ve never done.  It takes courage to ask that pretty little girl out to the prom knowing she might say no.

It takes courage to be who you are.

The next few lines of what I am about to write may or may not offend some folks, but I’m going to say them anyway.  If you will, just stick with me through the next few lines, and do it with an open mind.

In today’s world it takes courage to be different.  Think I’m wrong?  How many people have come out as gay or lesbian and immediately been scorned by their family or friends or co-workers or local religious group?

How many people have had a differing opinion than those around them and immediately been threatened with hateful words or deeds?  You want an example?  Okay, here you go:

Bruce Jenner, a.k.a. Caitlyn Jenner.  I’m going to be honest with you here.  I have no clue what’s going through his/her mind.  I don’t understand what made him choose to go from being a man to being a woman.  I don’t know.  And here is where I will get completely honest with you:  I don’t care.  What he/she has done is really none of my business.  It doesn’t have a direct effect on my life or my children’s lives.  What he chose to do is between himself, his psyche and his God.  It has nothing to do with me. Do you know what that means?  My opinion on the matter, well, it doesn’t matter.  And it shouldn’t.  As I said up a few sentences, I don’t care what he does.  It is his life and the only person/people this really effects is him and his family.  End of story.

You wanted an example.  I gave you one.

Here’s what I do know:  people are quick to criticize others.  They are quick to point out everything they have done (or are doing) wrong.  They are quick to try and change those they feel are doing all these wrong things.  They are quick to judge.  Do you know how many times I’ve heard otherwise good people make comments like ‘that person’s going to hell’ or ‘this country’s going to hell in a handbasket’?  Maybe it is, but does it do any good for someone to criticize others for things they have done that do not affect the person doing the criticizing?  I don’t think so.

People are critical because they don’t understand a person’s motives or a situation.  They don’t know what’s going through someone’s head when they decide to do something.

Okay, I guess it’s time to anger some folks.  Criticizing something or someone because you don’t understand it or them is weak and narrow-minded.

If you haven’t clicked off the page, yet, I appreciate it.

The human mind is a very defensive thing.  When it doesn’t understand something, it makes excuses for not trying to understand it.  It allows the fear mechanism to kick in.  I’ve stated it here before, but F.E.A.R. stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.  I learned that a few years ago at work.  (It’s a long story I won’t go into now.  If you want to know about it, drop me a line and I’ll explain to you where I got it from.)  When our defenses kick in we are quick to judge, to react, and to criticize.  Sometimes that leads us to talking bad about people.  Other times the defenses are so strong that we would rather break someone down, cuss at them, lie about them, beat them or bend the truth to fit out needs.  We’ve seen it happen a lot over the last few years.

Fear makes people do stupid things.  We’ve seen all the horror movies and the display of stupidity that takes place in most of them.  Funny thing about real life, sometimes the movies aren’t too far off.  Fear is a critical part of our psyche.  If we fear something we will get away from it and avoid it as much as we possibly can.  I am absolutely terrified of snakes, so I stay away from them.  If I see one in the woods, I back away slowly while keeping it in sight.

A buddy of mine used to have a couple of snakes and he went to take one of them out of its cage and asked me if I wanted to hold it.

‘If you want that thing to stay alive, you might want to put it back in its cage.’

I was not kidding.  It would have been very bad for me, the snake and my friend if he wouldn’t have put it back in its cage.

On the other hand, if we don’t run from the thing that scares us, we attack it, which I mentioned several ways how above.  Criticism and hatred are two of the biggest ways to attack someone you don’t like or understand.

What is the opposite of Fear?  I believe it is Courage.

Courage.  It’s what the cowardly lion wanted in The Wizard of Oz.  It’s what we all want.

It takes courage to be different.  Even more so, it takes courage to defend someone different than you, even if everyone else disagrees with you.  It takes courage to show compassion to someone who wouldn’t show you the same compassion.  It takes courage to do the right thing.  In this day and age, in the world we live in, very few people want to do the right thing.  They want to do their thing.  If it can benefit them, even if it’s not necessarily right or fair, then there’s a chance people will do it.  Like I said, it takes courage to do the right thing.  None of us are always courageous in our decision making.  None.  Of.  Us.

Let’s go back to that quote from The Hobbit and let’s change it up a little.

“Courage is knowing, not when to criticize others, but when to show compassion to them.”

Compassion is concern for others.  It’s helping someone shorter than you reach something on the top shelf.  It’s helping someone struggling to carry something heavy by taking part of the load.  It’s seeing a need and trying to address it, but without stipulations.  None of the ‘I’ll do this, but you have to do this’ nonsense.  No, that’s not compassion.  Compassion comes with no strings attached.  It’s a genuine feeling of concern for someone to the point that you want to help them without expecting anything else in return.  It’s a woman giving a young couple 20 bucks so they can buy a kiddie pool for their young son because they couldn’t afford to do it themselves.

Compassion.  There’s not enough of it in this world.  There needs to be more.  Much, much more.  Courage.  The cowardly lion wanted it, but it wasn’t given to him.  He developed it when he did the right thing and tried to save Dorothy and his friends from the wicked witch.  It takes courage these days to show compassion and understanding, even in the face of things we may not understand.  But it takes neither courage, nor compassion to criticize and break people down because they think differently or choose differently or believe differently or look differently than we do or if they make decisions for their lives that hurts no one that we don’t agree with.

Everyone is different.  Everyone has their own idea of how things should be.  Why should it matter to someone if someone else doesn’t have those same beliefs?  It shouldn’t, but for some reason, it does.  I’ll never understand it.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another…