Barnaby looked up from his library book to see two boys snickering as they poked at his shoes with a stick. The taller one had lank hair that shrouded his eyes and the smaller: a pair of badly scuffed knees. Lank Hair made mewling noises and mumbled something about Barnaby belonging in the circus. Scuffed Knees guffawed loudly and mimicked his larger friend in parrot-fashion. There were no teachers about and only a smattering of students hurrying from wing to wing. Barnaby sighed and pretended to continue reading.
The stick poking continued for the entire first term of Barnaby’s first year at high school. Sometimes it escalated to water bombing in the toilets or, if he was especially unlucky, a rock to the head, chest or stomach, as he made his way between classes. One fateful day, Barnaby discovered something foul-smelling and feculent in his pencil case; most of all—he wondered how they’d managed to get it in there without soiling the outside.
The Year Advisor witnessed several of the regular assaults yet never offered any sort of assistance. The Principal, Mr. Payne, often slapped Lank Hair and Scuffed Knees on the back amiably as they passed him in the halls. Barnaby began to feel increasingly dark about the whole thing and he was worried that one day he might lose his cool and chew one of the bullies out. He was raised to be a good boy and a good student and he had no desire to disappoint his family. His mother had oft told him of the trouble her and Barnaby’s father had endured in becoming parents in the first place. She was so haunted and sad all of the time.
Things changed when Barnaby’s antagonists took things too far. They cornered him behind the toilet block and began taunting him. They pushed him back and forth like they were playing some perverse game of tennis. Lank Hair yelled out things like: “Barnyard Baby! You should go back to the barnyard!” Not to be outdone by his wordsmith companion, Scuffed Knees followed up with: “Yeah Beany Baby! Eat some... beans!” The pair pushed and tugged at their victim with growing aggression, then Barnaby heard an evil crunching sound.
His arm lay on the ground, still writhing and twitching and the bullies fled. The boy calmly crouched down and picked up the limb. His father would be annoyed. This would be the sixth time his folks had needed to stitch their son back together in as many weeks. Barnaby picked at the stitching momentarily before throwing the arm into his backpack and running toward home; if the thing was left off for too long, it would become untenable. That would mean more digging in the cemetery late at night—how his mother hated it. Father enjoyed the books and the utterances and the ritual of it all, though—all that backward talk.
Barnaby suddenly heard footfalls moving in time with his own. He hazarded a glance over his armless shoulder and saw two familiar figures running after him—maybe Mother wouldn’t have to dig tonight after all.