BULLYBOYS • by Nathaniel Johnson

At school, Caleb suffered the bullyboys because he would not join in and play ball. His parents said, “Ignore them, they will stop.” His teachers’ answer never changed. “Bully them back.” After school, Caleb took a secret route, and disappeared.

“Where does he go?” asked Billy, the largest bully.

“To the woods,” mumbled Bobby, the dullest bully.

“To talk with the animals,” giggled Ben, the smallest bully.

Caleb had secrets. He would go to the woods to meet his true friends: the wolves and the black bears, the coyotes, and cougars — all were his allies, but none offered solvents for the meanness of man.

One day, the bullyboys ganged up to lay down some rules. They grabbed Caleb and made their demand: Be at the ball field Saturday night, or beware.

“Why should I?” cried Caleb.

“Because you haven’t played ball,” Billy furled his shirtsleeves to show muscles.

“Because you’re a dweeb,” mocked Bobby.

“Because your clothes are so weird, and so is your hair,” muttered Ben.

“Be there, or be dead!” Billy growled, giving Caleb a shove. The bullyboys snickered, and went on their way.

On Saturday evening, Caleb answered the summons, and came to the ball field where the bullyboys were gathered, grinning, and waving their bats. It was early in June, on the night of a full moon, and though Caleb was frightened, he stood fast.

“We thought you’d wimp out,” said Billy, flexing his chest.

“I’m not afraid.”

“You must be,” said Bobby, caressing his bat.

“You will be,” Ben said with a glower.

“I won’t be,” said Caleb, returning their glare.

“Now step to the plate,” said Billy, forcing Caleb to bat. “Stand tall and play ball,” Billy strode to the mound. Caleb walked to the plate and shouldered his bat but before he could blink, a ball buzzed by, nearly hitting his head.

“Stee-RIKE!” gloated Billy with glee.

“I wasn’t ready,” Caleb said. Without warning, a second ball screamed past, narrowly missing his knees.

Stee-rike-TWO!” bellowed Billy.

“Not even close,” shouted Caleb.

“I’ll show you what’s close,” raged Billy as a third ball flew straight into Caleb’s belly. Grabbing his stomach, Caleb keeled over, gasping in pain.

All went silent. The moon rose and groans broke the air, growing to yowls heard all over town. Unholy mewling came from all sides and when the bullies saw them, they went pale. Out of the twilight, limping shadows loped onto the field, their mouths pink and wet, their eyes radiant coals. The rumbling grew fiercer until Caleb yelled “Silence.” The bullies stared at Caleb, standing fearless and proud.

“Tell them to go,” demanded Billy, trembling.

“They want you for dinner,” said Caleb, unsmiling.

“We never meant harm,” said Bobby, weeping.

“You have not spoken,” said Caleb pointing at Ben. “Give us your answer, before they get hungry.” The animals circled, watching the bullies with eyes smoking, their choler was rising.

“I’m sorry,” said Ben, shaking in shame, his trousers gone wet.

Soon, a convoy rode out from town; villagers heard the strange sounds but when they arrived, they saw only bullies, cringing and sullen. They laughed at the one with soaked pants, another quivering, white as chalk; a third kneeling – his hands clasped in prayer. When told the tale of fierce creatures, folks reckoned the bullies were drunk, turned away, and drove off.

Caleb never came back, nor did his congress of friends. His parents said he had gone traveling; his teachers dismissed him — no more trouble at school. Yet, the village remembered, for once every year, on a warm night early in June they hear animals calling… and high overhead, a young boy’s laughter. They search, but see only the moon.

Nathaniel Johnson lives in Rockport, Massachusetts, and is active in local writers groups and online at Francis Coppola’s Zoetrope Virtual Studio. His most recent works have appeared in AlienSkin and Boston Literary Magazine, Writer’s Stories, SNM Horror Magazine, Bewildering Stories, Every Day Fiction, and Absent Willow Review.

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