by Brian Taylor.
It was a warm, sunny Friday afternoon in mid-April. In fact it had been unseasonably warm for days and the students of Spurthorpe County High were relieved when the bell rang and brought to an end the last class of the week - the first week back after the Easter holidays.
As usual, 9NM were making an attempt on the world record for squeezing twenty-nine teenagers through a normal classroom door as quickly as possible. On this occasion, however, the attempt was brought to an abrupt halt by a loud shout from Mr Morton, their form teacher, "Not you Turner! Stay behind. I want to talk to you."
James Fredrick Turner - nickname Tug - stopped dead in his tracks. As he was the fattest, as well as the tallest, boy in the class, he proved a formidable obstacle to those in his wake. They were now forced to flow around him to get to the door. When the rest of the class had finally escaped the classroom, Tug turned around, dumped his old haversack on the nearest desk then shuffled down an aisle to the front of the classroom. When he got there he said nothing, just stood patiently and waited, his small, deep-set, piggy eyes following the pendulum like motion of Mr Morton's right arm as he cleaned the whiteboard.
When he had finished, the teacher returned to his desk and perched on the edge with his face no more than thirty centimetres from Tug's large, round, red face. "Do you know Turner, you disgust me. You look like a tramp. Your shoes haven't seen polish since the day they left the factory. The bottoms of your trouser-legs are ragged. Your shirt's never tucked in properly, there are nearly always buttons missing, and your tie looks as if it's seen more gravy than your mouth. You're a disgrace to 9NM and to the school. Now smarten yourself up from next Monday on or else you'll be experiencing the joys of regular detention. Now go!"
Tug never argued with teachers. He had learned that to do so was pointless since he always came off worst. So, with a listless "Sir" in acknowledgement of the rebuke he turned and lumbered back towards the door. As he made his way between the desks, Tug noticed a card lying in the floor just in front of him. As he bent down to pick it up Mr Morton bellowed, "What are you up to now Turner?"
"Picking up some rubbish, Sir," he replied, "Keeping the room smart." Mr Turner ignored the clever remark and Tug thrust the card into his trouser-pocket without looking at it. He picked up his bag, slung it over his right shoulder and left the room.
By the time Tug emerged from the building into the Spring sunshine, the school grounds were almost deserted. A few older children were still making their way to the school gates, but none of the smaller, younger boys whom Tug liked to pick-on: no one whom he could throw to the ground and use like a Whoopee Cushion.
Lost for something better to do, Tug reached into his trouser-pocket and pulled-out the card he'd put there only minutes before. It was a party invitation. Gemma Gibbins-Smythe, a very pretty blonde girl, whom all the boys in the class secretly adored, was celebrating her fourteenth birthday. The party was at her home the following day, Saturday 26 April and the invitation was addressed to Neil Downs. "So," Tug muttered to himself, "the Jesus freak gets an invitation to the party and I don't. We'll see about that. One way or another I'll be there. After all, I must have a look at Smythe Mansion with its swimming pool and tennis court that our popular, little, rich girl is always boasting about."
That evening, Tug doctored the invitation. He carefully blotted out Neil’s name with Tippex and wrote James Turner over the top. The forgery wasn't at all convincing, but it was the best he could do. He persuaded himself it would be good enough to get him into the party, as no one was likely to look at it very closely.
While wolfing down his Saturday lunch of beans on toast, Tug casually let drop to his mum that he'd been invited to a party that evening. "Oh! that'll be nice for you son. But I can't give you any money to buy a present." she said.
"Oh, that's okay Ma. I don't have to worry about that. It says no presents on the invite." lied Tug. He then gave her all the details except the fact that he hadn't actually been invited.
Tug decided it would be best if he at least tried to make a good impression at the Gibbins-Smythe's. So, as soon as he'd finished washing-up the lunch things he had a bath. He washed every where three times to make sure he was as clean as he could be, and shampooed his hair twice. When he had finished, he got out of the bath, dried himself, and then liberally dusted himself down with his mum's talcum powder. By the time he had finished, he smelled like a posy of Lilies-of-the-Valley. He also made an effort with his clothes choosing his newest trousers and pullover. Whilst he smelt pleasant enough, he still looked shabby.
It was about quarter to five when Tug popped his head round the sitting room door, "Bye Ma. I'm off now. I think I should be back by about .. er .. ten."
Mrs Turner waved an arm. "Bye son. And mind you behave yourself."
As he left the flat, Tug took a detour via the kitchen where he helped himself to two cans of his elder brother's beer from the fridge. He did this even though the invitation clearly stated 'No alcohol. Bottles of soft drink welcomed.'
Tug couldn't afford the bus-fare, so like an aircraft carrier in an Atlantic swell, he slowly rolled the mile and a half across town to Thwaites Park. The last thing he wanted was to arrive there soaked with sweat. As he got closer to his destination, his confidence in what he was doing started ebbing away. He thought he might get a rough reception, might even be thrown out by Gemma's dad. To build-up his courage, he stopped and drank one of the cans of beer. He didn't particularly like the taste and screwed up his face after each mouthful. But he persevered. He had no other source to call on for a bit of Dutch courage.
When he at last turned into Chestnut Avenue, the street where the Gibbins-Smythes lived, there was no mistaking the house even at fifty metres: balloons and streamers decorated the front gates and loud pop music filled the evening air. The closer Tug got to No 6, the greater the feelings of doubt that bombarded him. For a while, he hesitated on the pavement opposite the house debating with himself whether to cross the road and join the youngsters he could now hear. It was the smell of the food wafting on the early evening breeze that helped quash the doubts and persuaded Tug that he should at least try to get into the party.
Just as he was about to cross the road, a red Rover pulled up in front of No 6 and out stepped Kevin Pritchard, the class computer whiz. When the car had pulled away, Tug shouted, "Spotty! Wait up." Kevin turned, parted the long curtains of hair that fell over his face and peered through glasses that were as thick as the bottom of a milk bottle.
"Oh! It’s you Tug."
"Right on." said Tug, "You going to the gig?"
"If you mean Gemma's party. Yes! But you're not … are you?"
"You bet your sweet software I am." laughed Tug, waving the doctored invitation in front of Kevin's nose. "And guess what, I'm going with you."
Kevin gave an audible groan as his apology for a left arm felt the squeeze of Tug's podgy right hand. The pair turned into the gravel drive and crunched their way past a silver-grey Jaguar and a midnight-blue Range Rover and on towards the large oak front door. Though Tug was feeling brave now that he had company, he suddenly stopped. "You know what, Spotty, I think we'll .. er .. go round the side of the house into the back garden and just mingle. That way there'll be less chance of me being noticed."
"You! Not noticed." moaned Kevin, "Fat chance."
Tightening his grip on Kevin's arm, Tug whispered through clenched teeth, "Just shut up! And do as I say."
Kevin was, of course, right. Tug’s presence was noticed as soon as he stepped onto the patio at the back of the house. And the news that he’d gate-crashed the party spread like lightning. The whole of 9NM was there and they all knew that Tug hadn’t been invited. They had needed little persuading to keep it a secret since no one liked him; indeed most of them were frightened of him. Now, students stood huddled in small groups trying to work out how the form bully had found out about the party.
When Gemma heard that Tug had turned up, she stomped off to look for him. She finally found him sitting at a picnic table on the lawn with the petrified Kevin. "What are you doing here?" she demanded.
"Well Kevin? C'mon answer the lady. Don't be shy." smiled Tug.
"Not him. You."
"Me? Well … I accepted your invitation of course." Tug grinned.
"There's only one small problem with that you liar. I didn't invite you."
"Then what's this?" Tug triumphantly held up the invitation.
Gemma snatched the invitation out of Tug's hand and studies it. "Huh! You've made a very bad job of forging my mother's handwriting. And I can see it was Neil's invitation. He said he'd lost it."
"So .. er .. what you going to do about it?" taunted Tug.
"Get my father to throw you out."
At that point Tug squeezed Kevin's leg very hard under the table. Kevin got the message. "Don't do that," he gurgled, "I'm sure Tug'll behave himself. I can keep an eye on him!"
"As if." said Gemma as she turned to go. Then looking back over her right shoulder she said, "You can stay … for now … but any hint of trouble and you're out. Do you understand?"
Tug smiled. "Yes Miss! I'll be good Miss! Won't I Spotty?"
"Yes" squeaked Kevin.
When Gemma had gone, Tug took the second can of beer from his pocket, opened it and said, "Watch this, nerd." With that, he tilted his head back, closed his eyes and began to pour the beer into his mouth. When the last drop had drained from the can, Tug swallowed hard, grimaced, then let out a great belch. He turned to Kevin … only Kevin wasn't there any more. He was thirty metres away heading for a door marked 'SWIMMING POOL' as fast as his skinny legs would carry him. Annoyed at being abandoned, Tug heaved himself to his feet and set off in pursuit.
On route, a table full of food distracted Tug. He decided Kevin could wait a few minutes but his stomach couldn't. Tug walked around the table shovelling food into his mouth at such a rate that those standing around stopped what they were doing and looked on in amazement. It looked as if he hadn't tasted food for days.
After spending 5 minutes gorging himself, Tug continued his journey to the pool. As he entered the door, he saw by the poolside a much more relaxed Kevin deep in conversation with Laura and Dan. Kevin was still telling them about his lucky escape when a fat hand grabbed his wrist.
In a split second he was bent over with his arm twisted up his back.
"So we meet again Mr Pritchard. Now why did you run away from friendly Mr Turner?"
"Let go" pleaded Kevin, "You're hurting me."
"No more than you deserve for running out on me, my spotty playmate."
"Ow!" cried Kevin as Tug twisted his arm even harder.
"Let him go." chipped in Dan, "You're hurting him and making a fool of yourself. Try to be a little civilised for once."
"Or what?" said Tug.
"Or you'll have me to cope with … and the other guys." he added, hoping the threat of numbers would persuade Tug to stop.
"I'm not scared of you or your army." taunted Tug.
Just then Neil Downs walked up.
"Oh Look," said Tug, "it's the cavalry, or should I say the Jesus freak? What do you want?"
"C'mon Tug, let him go." said Neil calmly.
"Or nothing. I'm just asking you to be reasonable and stop making a scene."
With that Tug let go of Kevin who quickly moved out of arms reach while Tug grabbed Neil by the back of the neck. "I suppose you'd think it reasonable if, like your Jesus, you could be a stand in for old Spotty over there?"
All this was too much for Laura. She rushed at Tug beating her fists on his arm and crying, ‘"Let him go you … you … you bully."
Tug did let go of Neil and as he turned to ward off Laura's blows he caught his foot in the shallow drain that ran around the edge of the pool. It was just enough to throw him off balance and he went over like a felled tree. To all those watching, the next three seconds seemed more like three minutes. As he fell Tug's head bounced off the rail of the pool steps like a ball off a wall. The sickening crack echoed all around the pool. Tug continued his fall, hit the edge of pool with a thud and rolled into the pale green water sending a gentle wave down the length of the pool. As he floated face down on the surface the others looked on in stunned silence while Laura screamed, "It serves you right you big fat ugly bully."
For once Tug didn’t answer. He wasn't listening or moving. He was starting to sink.
To be continued ...
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