Going Bad

[today we are privileged to have a guest post from our long time friend PD Allen. Copyright, all rights, all ANYTHING belong only to him]

In second grade, Daniel was well-liked. He even had a girlfriend, Lynn Paulson. The other kids liked him for his imagination and his sense of humor. Mrs. Walker, his teacher, once said she expected he would be a famous writer some day.
Cory, on the other hand, was the most unpopular boy in the class. He was slow and he got into lots of fights.
One day in the previous year after being excused to go to the lavatory, Cory could not button his pants. He came to the teacher, Mrs. Copenhaven, for help. She sat at her desk grading papers and ignoring him. Standing in front of the entire class, Cory’s pants fell down, exposing the longjohns he wore underneath. The class roared with laughter, while Mrs. Copenhaven did nothing about it.
Daniel felt embarrassed for Cory. He looked at Mrs. Copenhaven with sharp disapproval. She was the teacher, the adult in the room. She should have done something instead of grading papers. She should never have let this happen in the first place.
Mrs. Walker would not have let something like this happen. The first black teacher in the school, if there was one thing she aimed to teach her class, it was compassion.
One day she drew Daniel aside. “Daniel, I want you to look after Cory. He has some problems and he needs a friend. Can you hang out with him at recess and make sure he doesn’t get into trouble?”
“Sure.” Daniel would have done anything Mrs. Walker asked. She was so much sweeter than Mrs. Copenhaven.
At recess, he found Cory around the side of the school building, where they weren’t supposed to go. He tried to draw him back to the playground, but Cory wouldn’t budge.
“We gotta stay here. They’re comin for us. We gotta fight um.”
“Who’s comin?”
“They are. They come every day. They’re gonna get us.”
Daniel looked toward the playground, around the corner of the building.
“We gotta fight um.”
Daniel braced himself. Sure enough, several boys came around the corner. And they weren’t coming to play.
Most of them circled Cory, who faced them down with his back to the wall. But some went after Daniel. There were too many of them, coming at him from all different directions.
Daniel held his arms out with his fists clenched and began spinning in circles. A couple boys tried to reach him, colliding with his fists and backing off.
He was a superhero, the Human Tornado. And these were the villains he must defeat.
He moved to the side, hitting some of the kids who had Cory hemmed in. Then they were coming at him from every which way. Daniel’s fists ached and he was growing dizzy, but he had to keep spinning until they were all gone.
Then his fists connected with soft flesh — the belly of an adult. He continued spinning and punching until someone grabbed him and shook him.
A short while later he was sitting in the classroom, alone with Mrs. Walker.
“Daniel,” she said. “I’m very disappointed in you. I told you to befriend Cory so you could show him how to behave. Not the other way around.”
“I’m sorry,” Daniel said. He felt terrible about disappointing Mrs. Walker, but he couldn’t explain to her. What did she expect? Cory was right. They came after them. Daniel and Cory had to fight them.
Cory was removed from the classroom. Daniel never found out what happened to him. The other students shunned Daniel. A couple weeks later, Lynn broke up with him.
He was playing by himself on the monkeybars one day, pretending to be the wolfman. Lynn passed by with a new boyfriend. She gave Daniel a disdainful look.
Daniel lost it. He leapt from the monkeybars and attacked the boy, baring his teeth and growling. He tried to scratch the boy’s eyes out.
Once more he found himself alone in the classroom with Mrs. Walker.
“What has gotten into you?” She asked him. Daniel looked back at her silently. He felt empty.
“I never should have paired you up with Cory. Daniel, you’ve got to let this go, or you’re gonna turn into a bad seed.”
Daniel didn’t want to be a bad seed. He had already let it go. His anger had washed out of him, leaving him tired and worn out.
As the weeks passed, Daniel came back to himself. Though he had many more fights in years to come, he never started another one. But the tarnish was there. He was a bad seed, and a bitter disappointment.

~ by yearzerowriters on February 28, 2010.

16 Responses to “Going Bad”

  1. You must have gone to school with me. I had Daniel in my class. But for the life of me, I couldn’t have written him up like that. Very, very well done.

  2. I like PD’s style – the quiet understatement which makes the end quite hard-hitting. There’s a mystery about this piece which makes me curious, and keen to read more of PD’s work. Good piece to choose as a sampler!

  3. I never met a Daniel in school. There was always a Cory, though.

  4. Thanks for the comments. This piece was dredged up from my subconscious while I was working on Quasimodo. I never had a character get under my skin the way Quasi does. I had to take a break from writing it.

  5. Fantastic. I like to think it was Daniel who was bad all along, starting trouble and getting yet more blame for Cory. But that may be because I have a thing against the popular kids. I never yet met anyone popular at school who wasn’t sly, vindibctiev and egotistical away from the teachers’ gaze.

  6. I attended Catholic School in the second grade, The boys were all Daniels because no Cory’s were allowed to develop.

    The only ones who were comin’ for any of us were…well, you know.

    Very much like the tone and soft flow here.

  7. Do you remember the dread words – Paul Allen COME OUT TO THE FRONT!

  8. I’m going to refrain from commenting directly on the story, because I want readers to make their own interpretation.

    I will say we had a Daniel in our class who the clown to the athletes. I always found his humor a bit imbecilic.

    He was from my neighborhood, so I ran into him enough. But he wasn’t the one I modeled Daniel after. Hey, remembering him puts me in mind of incidents for another story.

  9. Bitter-sweet and brilliant. Love the quiet flow of the language. The ending made me feel very sad for the kid. 😦

  10. Well done and really nicely paced. It is true that too many kids believe themselves to be what they’re labeled by adults, and internalize what the other kids say about them. Hard to hold on in that kind of storm when you don’t know who you’re yet.

  11. You already know I dig this story. A lot.

    Are there daniels even left in schools today? i don;t think there is that innocent fantasy life possible any more in the generations that have followed ours. They are saturated with data and images and preconceptions. I dunno. Doesn’t detract from a great story though.

  12. I dunno. I still run into kids who have that innocent fantasy life. But by age 7 it’s usually blemished by modern technology and media.

    The thing that bothers me is that kids nowadays don’t have the freedom we did (at least in the US). We were able to wander all over town, and explore every woodlands we could reach.

    Now parents dare not let their children out of sight. Kids don’t know that freedom anymore. They are used to being regimented and told what to do, with false and framed input to make up the majority of their environmental stimuli. And they don’t even know what their missing.

  13. It makes me really concerned. This means that your characters have touched me just as if they were real. The youth worker in me wants to reach out to Corey first of all. The parent in me longs to comfort Daniel to get him back on the long and narrow.
    Well written.

  14. i enjoyed the complexity that daniel “couldn’t explain it to mrs. walker.” i’m a natural talker (really, it’s true) and i couldn’t imagine not explaining every single detail of an incident; and yet i’ve come into contact my entire life with people who just could have had a shot if they chose to communicate what was on their mind. with children it’s so much more important that they learn to communicate early. so i’m glad to see that you portrayed daniel in the realistic light that many kids experience: inability or lack of capacity to explain their intentions.


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