The Boy with the Shadow

He didn’t know why but Kenny wasn’t able to make friends easily, he had to work at every relationship he had. It had been this way ever since he could remember and he was used to it. People would walk past him in the street without batting so much of an eyelid. He was a nobody and he had grown to accept that. When he was younger he thought things might change, but a teenager now and he still hadn’t found a single friend. He lived a routine, one which was like clockwork. He would get up each morning, shower, get dressed and make his way to school either by foot or bike. He used to take the bus to school but spending fifteen minutes being tormented and ridiculed; he decided that making his own way to school was his best option. Of course he never told his Mum what happened so she would still give him his bus fare every morning which he would use to buy penny sweets on his walk home. Kenny saw it as a win-win situation, his Mum was happy believing Kenny made his way to school in the safety of the bus whilst Kenny avoided the school bullies whilst feeding his sugar cravings.

 

                It was an ordinary day and as usual, Kenny was at school on time and before his teacher, Miss Levi had arrived. He always made sure that he was in class before anyone else so that he didn’t have to play the seat game. The other children would always make sure there was nowhere for him to sit and he would have no choice but to sit by himself at the back of the class. Whereas by arriving early, he would be guaranteed a comfortable seat closer to the front and Miss Levi was then able to keep an eye on him and ensure he wasn’t picked on throughout her lesson. He had never complained to anyone about the behaviour of his classmates but recently it had started to really make him feel down. He was slowly losing his confidence and self-worth and had begun to blame himself for his lack of popularity. There was one boy in particular, Benjamin Harris, who wasn’t only the biggest boy in Kenny’s year, but also the nastiest. He had taken a dislike to Kenny when he joined the school in Essex from Hampshire, two years ago. Benjamin had a close group of friends, all boys and all of whom were bigger, taller and older than everyone else in the year and because he was new and had a different accent to them, Kenny became the number one target. He had never experienced any bullying before joining the school and so he wasn’t prepared for the onslaught. It was always the verbal intimidation in particular that was dragging him down. Kenny’s nickname was Fat Face Kenny and that was often followed by them slagging off his little sister or mother, knowing all the right strings to pull to get Kenny worked up. There was one time that they threatened to stone his mother’s car, so Kenny retaliated verbally and had been living with the threat of their revenge ever since.

 

Kenny chose a seat in the third row, comfortable distance from Miss Levi, yet still in ear shot of what his spiteful peers may have been planning for him. Miss Levi arrived shortly after Kenny, she said good morning and started to prep her first lesson.

 

“How are you today Kenny? Did you have a good weekend?” Miss Levi asked. Although she was aware of Kenny’s inability to make friends at the school, she had never formally addressed the subject. She had taken a liking to the small boy when he first joined and felt a great amount of pity for him. She knew what teenage boys could be like and hated that he wouldn’t open up to her.

 

“Yes, thank you Miss, only it always passes too fast.” He replied. Kenny liked Miss Levi. Unlike other teachers at school, she seemed to have time for the children and their problems. She cared for the individual and didn’t tarnish them all with the same brush.

 

Within ten minutes, the room began to fill and Benjamin and his gang arrived and sat on the other side of the room in the second row from the front.

 

“Good morning class. Today we’re going to be looking at poetry and focusing on one of my favourite poets, Keats. Can anyone tell me anything about this very famous poet?” Miss Levi asked, looking round at her pupils who all looked back at her blankly. “OK well turn to page 32 and can I have a volunteer to read the poem, Ode to a Nightingale?” No one put themselves forward. “OK, Benjamin, can you please stand and read from the beginning.”

 

Benjamin stood, and whilst he fumbled for the page, he turned and nodded at his pal, Jason; they clearly had a plan.

 

“My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains …” he begun. “My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk…” he continued.

 

Jason caught Kenny’s eye from the other side of the room as he leant across his table to Benjamin’s bag and got out a small piece of white paper. Kenny could see that it had writing on one side and as he desperately tried to see what was on it, Jason deliberately dropped it on the floor. Something didn’t feel right as Jason looked across at Kenny and grinned and as he did, he caught the attention of Miss Levi.

 

“Jason, what are you doing? What is that?” She asked, bending down and picking up the enigmatic note. She slowly opened it up and besides turning a deep shade of pink, anger devoured her face.

 

“Benjamin, please stop.” Miss Levi demanded, “Who did this? Jason was it you?” She said as the lanky boy shrugged in response. “Come on, it’s not funny, who drew this?” There was silence among all of the students and no one admitted to the crime however, everyone seemed interested to know what was on the paper.

 

“OK, I have my suspicions and if no one will accept the responsibility, you will all be held back in detention for the rest of the week. You have until tomorrow morning to decide amongst yourselves who is going to admit to this filth and in the meantime, I will be showing Mr Letchworth.” The student’s knew that Miss Levi was serious and that whatever was on the paper was serious too. As Kenny looked around the room, he caught the glint in Benjamin’s eye. There was no doubt in his mind that what was on the paper was to do with him and he knew that it wasn’t pleasant.

 

It seemed like an eternity that they all sat in silence until the bell rang when all of the students stood, packed up their bags and exited the room. Kenny stayed back. When everyone had left and it was only him and his teacher alone in the classroom, Miss Levi looked up at him.

 

“Kenny, are you being bullied?” She asked with the kindest tone. “You know you can tell me if you are, I can help you. We can help you; you just need to open up to me. No one has to put up with being picked on by anybody.”

 

Kenny stood in silence; he didn’t know what to say.

 

“Kenny what I found today was an explicit drawing of you and I, and it appals me to think that you are the centre of some kind of sick joke. It really does sadden me and hurts me more that you feel there isn’t anyone on your side, because there is. You don’t have to admit it but just remember my words, OK?”

 

Kenny said nothing but inside he felt relived at what Miss Levi had said. He had never opened up to anyone about what he was going through, not even his Mum or Sister. He was ashamed and embarrassed of his life. Miss Levi’s words meant that he didn’t have to open up, she understood him and his problem and that was enough to make him feel supported. Perhaps now he did have a friend, even if she was twice his age and Miss Levi. He smiled at his teacher, grabbed his rucksack and walked out of class happier than he could ever remember feeling.

 

When he arrived home later that afternoon, no one was home, so he grabbed himself a bar of chocolate, jumped onto the sofa and put on his favourite channel. He finally felt as though someone understood him and he hadn’t needed to be a grass to achieve that. He had felt alone for such a long time that now, finally, he felt like he wasn’t unaided and someone was on his side. He knew that his Mum would be there for him but she would want to involve the head teacher and Kenny knew that this would only make life harder for him which is why he had let everything build up inside.

 

                It was getting late and Kenny was tired, his Mother wasn’t home from work but being a nurse and working shift hours, this wasn’t unusual so he made himself a sandwich and headed off to bed early. As he drifted into a peaceful sleep and he dreamed of Miss Levi and his Mum and living in a safe place. He didn’t know why but he knew that from now on, things were going to be different

 

*****

 

                Kenny woke slowly the following morning, the sun had risen and the birds were chirping on a beautiful spring day. Kenny reached for his watch which sat in it’s usual place next to his bed and to his alarm it was already 08.30am. It was the first time in years that he had slept through his alarm clock. He jumped out of bed and threw on his school uniform. He flew down the stairs and rushed passed his Mum, Kathy, who was sat at the dinner table.

 

                “Mum why didn’t you wake me!” He demanded rhetorically. “I’m going to be late for school!” He moaned as he slammed the front door behind him. He had no choice but to ride the bus to school to get there on time. As he ran down the road he saw the bus sitting in the bus stop. As he approached the bus, he clung onto the steps and threw his cash into the pot. As he made his way to the back of the bus, he noticed that no one was blocking their seats or forcing him to sit by himself, they all kept their eyes occupied reading, chatting or checking their mobiles, so he sat down next to Gill, a small red haired girl who had always been polite to him.

 

                “Good morning.” Kenny said, but his gesture was unrequited.

 

                He laid his head back into his seat and enjoyed the peace. Even though all of the children were chatting and busying themselves around him, he managed to block out the sounds and relax. For some reason today, like no other, he felt content, unable to find a worry to occupy his thoughts. He thought about the boys at school and the torment he had suffered over the years and how he had managed to hide it from the people he cared about most. He thought about Miss Levi and the way she defended him yesterday. He thought about his Mother and how she didn’t deserve to be kept in the dark and that he should have let her know months ago when they first moved to the area that he was being bullied. Perhaps now that he felt the situation may have been resolved, he would be able to confide in his Mother, the woman who had supported and been there for him his whole life.

 

                Before he knew it, the bus had stopped and he was sitting outside the busy school gates. He lifted his backpack and walked through the double swinging doors. As he walked into the large hallway, which was usually buzzing with children running to and from their lessons, he was hit by a stark silence and empty foyer. He looked along the corridor,

 

                “Hello?” He asked, but there was no answer, just the distant reply of his echo.

 

                He looked into the school secretary’s office and that too was empty. Where was everyone? As he walked further into the hollow lobby, the front doors slammed tight behind him. The only sound above the silence was the ticking of the school clock. He made his way to the canteen doors which he had to walk through to get to Miss Levi’s classroom; for some reason today he felt too nervous to enter. Before now he had always been early for class and thought that perhaps all the other students did the same, which would explain the fact that there was no one around. He pushed open the steel framed door and made his way into the large, abandoned canteen and much like any other day, he had his head down and walked a speed which would get him out fast but this time it wasn’t because of harassing children, it was because all of the children were missing. When he got half way across the room he could hear very quiet footsteps following behind him but each time he turned to investigate, there was no one there. Something move in the corner of his eye which made him stop in his tracks. Although he was alone, he could see something or someone following him. He turned quickly to catch whoever it was. but all he could see was his shadow. He continued on his way at a faster pace and as he did, the footsteps quickened behind him but each time he tried to catch the culprit, all he was greeted with was his shadow. Not even I can be scared of a shadow, he thought.

 

                As he pushed his way through the reclining doors at the opposite end of the hall, he was summoned by the hustle and bustle of ordinary school life with children shouting and running and their teachers trying to control them. A smile grew on his face as he was relieved to be back to reality. He made his way to class without so much of a stare from anyone and when he entered the room, Miss Levi was already writing on the black board. All of his peers were at their desks, and as he looked around, he was astounded that none of the other children so much as blinked an eyelid at him, all that is, besides Benjamin; he hadn’t taken his eyes off of him from the moment he walked into the room. Perhaps because of the threat Miss Levi had given to him and his friends yesterday, he was beginning to realise that you shouldn’t behave the way he had towards others. Kenny looked to find an empty seat and saw that there was one next to Gill who had her head deep in a book. He had never had the courage to sit next to anyone during lesson before but after the success he had had that morning on the bus, he decided to try his luck again and planted himself on the small plastic chair beside her. He dropped down his bag and faced the front where Miss Levi began to speak.

 

                “Today we will be looking at…” her words trailed off as she turned her head abruptly to the door. “My goodness it’s cold, are any of you cold? Please keep this door shut, it lets in a draft.” She said as she got to her feet and closed the door.

 

                Kenny sat watching Miss Levi but could see Benjamin staring at him. He turned to face his foe and although he looked the same, hardened boy he always did, he looked unwell, pale and in fact, Kenny pitied him. He knew that deep down the reason he was being bullied was because they were unhappy themselves, not content with their own lives, using him as a punch bag to make themselves feel better. This made all of the heartache and pain Kenny had suffered over the months, easier to bare. He smiled briefly at his rival and turned back to face the front, taking in every word that Miss Levi said.

 

                It seemed only minutes had passed but in fact it was hours and the school bell rang. The children all raised from their seats and pushed their way out, like magpies fighting their way to a carcass. Benjamin was the first to leave and usually Kenny would be pleased to see the back of him but today, he wanted to speak to him. He hurried passed Miss Levi and made his way down the hectic corridor. As Benjamin’s pace increased, as did Kenny’s who was desperately trying to catch up with the boy who had tried to ruin his life for the last few months because he finally wanted to know why. He began running after Benjamin, along the corridor, through the canteen, which was full of scathing bodies this time round, back through the entrance lobby and out through the heavy front swing doors.

 

                “Benjamin, wait! I only want to talk to you. You’ve never ran from me before.” Kenny shouted, and his objective stopped in his tracks. “Look, I don’t know why it is you hate me so much but I don’t care anymore, if you have something to say, say it to my face and if I don’t like it, I’m going to tell Miss Levi. I’m not scared of you anymore, I’m tired of your torment and abuse. I’m sick of being your pin cushion. Just leave me alone.”

 

                Benjamin just stood, motionless, pale and with no intention of reacting. He didn’t take his eyes off Kenny for an instant, his eyes were locked, paralysed on his fiend.

 

                “And the way you’ve been staring at me all day, some people might say you have a thing for me. Quite frankly, it’s creeping me out.” And with that, Kenny turned on his heel and headed out of the school gates and onto the bus to grab his ride home which, for the first time, he was looking forward to doing.

 

                The drive was peaceful and as he watched out of the window at the passing streets and fields, he felt an immense satisfaction. It was the first time in as long as he could remember that he had been to school and not been picked on or teased or tormented and he no longer felt too afraid to ride the school bus home. To him, this was a huge achievement.

 

                The bus stopped down the road from his house and he jumped off and made his way down the road with a spring in his step. He had decided that he was going to share with his Mum the secret he had been hiding for so long. That he didn’t go to school with his best friend and wasn’t captain of the football team, in fact, he was a nobody and no-one wanted to know him. That now, finally he had accepted this and was happy with his life and the way it was going. He thought it was about time he let his Mum have the relationship she already thought she had with her son.

 

                As he put the key in the lock and pushed open the front door, he could hear his Mum talking to someone in the lounge at the back of the house. As he moved closer, he could hear that she was crying. She was on the phone,

 

                “I know I won’t move on from this Sam, how can I?” She said whilst wiping the streaming tears from her face.  “I have failed, failed as a mother and as a friend, how could I ever learn to live with such pain?”

 

                Kenny stepped into the room where his Mum was pacing. Her face was swollen, her eyes almost shut through tears and swelling. She wasn’t just crying, she was sobbing.

 

                “Mum?” Kenny asked. “Mum what’s wrong?” It was as he asked the question that he felt cold, freezing cold and he suddenly sensed someone stood beside him and as he looked down all he could see was his shadow but how could it be there when he was stood inside a dark house. It was his shadow, the shadow that had been with him earlier that day. The dark figure pulled and tugged at his leg until Kenny dropped down to his knees, grabbing at the entity trying to force it to release it’s grip and when it finally did, he looked up and he was no longer at home, instead he was stood in a hospital room. A bed at the far side with his mother and her sister gathered around. He moved closer to see what they were looking at and it was then that he saw himself, laying on the bed with tubes coming out of him and attached to a life support machine.

 

                “I’m sorry Ms Lacy but it is very unlikely that your son is going to wake up and if he does, he won’t be the boy that you knew.” The doctor explained. “It’s been too long now for him to wake up unaffected. You know what I would suggest but it is your decision entirely. I will leave you alone to discuss what you’d like to do.”

 

                “I’m in a coma.” He remembered.

 

 

*****

 

                His chat with Miss Levi after class had given Kenny an unusual sense of confidence. He didn’t want to hide anymore, he didn’t want to run home and cry into his pillow, he wanted to confront the boy who had made his life hell for almost two years and for no good reason. He knew that confrontation with Benjamin would be a little dangerous so made sure the plastic knife in his bag was still there and easy to grab; just in case anything got messy. He knew that if he ran quick enough, he would beat the bus back to Grange Road, Benjamin’s stop, where he would walk through the large park onto Bakers Road and reach home. He sat for five minutes waiting for the bus to pull up. When it did, Benjamin jumped off alone and made his way slowly to the park gates and as he did, Kenny followed him. As they reached half way across the empty field, Kenny decided to make his move.

 

                “Benjamin can I talk to you?” Kenny asked.

 

                “What do you want?” He demanded. “Actually, have you followed me here? What do you want, to get your wicked way with me like you wish you could with Miss Levi.” Benjamin said with a snigger. “Go on, go home before I make you leave.” He threatened.

 

                Kenny just stood in front of him, staring, as his eyes filled with so much hate and anger that he couldn’t speak.

 

                “So you’re going to run home and cry to Mummy, or why don’t you run back to Miss Levi. I’m sure she’ll be excited by your return. Now tell me, does she look any better naked than she does with clothes on because she looks pretty terrible dressed.”

 

                Before he had finished speaking, Kenny grabbed the plastic knife he had in his back pocket and ran at the bully, knife raised high in the air above him. Everything happened so quickly, Benjamin screamed and fell to the floor. Kenny jumped on top of him, holding the knife high with both hands, ready to launch it into his chest, pushing it deep and slow through the flesh, severing arteries and vital organs whilst watching a mountain of thick, red lava pulsate out from the messy wound; but something inside stopped him.

 

                “You’re not worth it. You look so pathetic laying there, crying. I wish I had a camera to show everyone at school what a cry baby you are.” He said, standing up and throwing the plastic knife to the ground. “Go home and cry to Mummy, that’s if she even gives a damn about you which I doubt she or anyone does.” He turned and walked away, leaving the fragile boy on the ground sobbing.

 

                When he arrived home there was no one in. The house was empty yet for the first time, he didn’t feel alone. The relief he now felt and the comfort of knowing that someone understood him was all he had ever wanted. He had been planning today for a long time but now he was able to do it with a smile on his face. He had been taking a few pills at a time out of his mother’s cabinet so that she wouldn’t notice them missing. He knew that now he had enough to have the effect he wanted. He took them out from under his bed, went down to the kitchen and placed them on the table alongside a glass of water. He got himself a pen and paper from the kitchenette top and sat at the table to write his Mum a letter.

 

Dear Mum, I hardly know where to start or what to say but I think perhaps you deserve the truth. After moving to this town, I just haven’t been able to make friends, no one likes me and the boys in my class go out of their way to terrorise me. I won’t go into the details but life has got too much to bear. There is just one thing that prevents tears from falling whilst writing this to you and that is today someone listened without me having to say a word. My teacher, Miss Levi knows what I have had to put up with and she could see the evil in those boys.

 

You would be so proud of me Mum, I stood up for myself today against the bullies and although I think it may have repercussions, I’m not afraid this time as I won’t be seeing any of them again.

 

I love you Mum and I’m sorry for any pain this may cause you. Always remember it was never your fault and I am at peace now.

 

                He left the note on the table and made his way up to his bedroom, taking the water and tablets with him.

 

*****

 

Now that he could remember, it all made sense. That’s why Benjamin was so afraid seeing him earlier because he knew that it must have been a ghost. That’s why Gill never minded him sitting next to her and the children in class didn’t stop him from residing next to them because they couldn’t see him. He was dead. No-one could see him, not even his Mum.

 

His shadow pulled him closer to his hospital bed and as he got there he could see that his mother was holding his hand and by the look on both women’s faces, he knew they had made the decision, to let him finally rest. As the doctor came back into the room, Kenny looked down at his shadow for support and as the doctor reached for the power switch, Kenny noticed that his shadow had left him, closed his eyes and smiled.

 

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© Stephanie Boddy