Fiction · 01/25/2017

The Bullies

There were six of them — none taller than five feet or shorter than three feet. They were a pack of black eyes and bloody lips and spiky hair. Every time Walcott drove by them he looked the other way — he never wanted any trouble. He just wanted to go home, eat dinner, and watch TV until he fell asleep. The next day — go to work, and then do the same thing. He had been successful for a long time — he hadn’t crossed their paths for a year. Sometimes Walcott took detours, and other times, he was able to park in his driveway without any worry because they were fishing at the levee just outside of the neighborhood.

He had been lucky up until five weeks ago — as he pulled into the driveway and stepped out of the car, he found himself surrounded by the bullies. They had been waiting on the side of the house he couldn’t see — a blind spot, and he usually made sure to drive past the house to check the other side, and then back up and pull into the driveway. Walcott wasn’t thinking clearly that day as it had been a long day at the office.

They threw steaming mashed potatoes at his car, and then at him. They hit his knees, and his face, and his stomach — it burned. The mush was in his hair and eyes, and when some hit his nose, he fell to the ground, screaming and jerking around trying to get the mashed potatoes off. Every now and then, between the pelts, Walcott saw his car covered in the vegetable, bits and pieces sliding down the driver-side windows.

As he was on the ground, they went up to him and pointed and laughed. Some kicked his feet, while others made sure the mashed potatoes had covered any clean spots of skin. There were a few seconds of silence, and then Walcott felt a warm liquid being poured all over his body. Some went into his mouth — gravy. He had to make sure that he didn’t choke on it.

With each kid grabbing onto his legs and arms, they dragged Walcott into the front yard and rolled him around in the grass. He tried to stand up, but the bullies had too much of an advantage and were able to keep him down. He wasn’t sure how long the torture lasted, but at one point, when he opened his eyes, there was no one around. Walcott went inside his house and cried in the bathroom before calling the police.

Walcott showed the female officer his wounds — his cuts and bruises, and some spots of burned skin. He showed her his car and the mashed potatoes on the driveway. The officer asked Walcott if he could describe the gang — he told her that they were short and skinny and that they all had spiky hair and they wore colorful T-shirts and shorts. He said that they were probably not older than six or seven years old, and the police officer laughed. Walcott said it wasn’t funny. He said that he wanted some kind of protection. The police officer wrote it all down and said she would ask around and investigate.

Walcott never heard back from her, and the neighborhood was quiet for two weeks. Sometimes, he would see his neighbors coming and going from their houses, but none of them ever looked at him. They knew not to. They knew they could be next.

Last week, Walcott saw the bullies riding around on their bikes — some with training wheels, while others had moved on up to the standard bicycles. They stared at him as he passed them by. They were smiling, and they all started shouting, “Hot potato!” and pointed at him. Walcott sped up and made the corner, screeching and swerving, almost driving into his living room. As he ran into his house from the car, leaving the driver-side door open, he saw the kids making the turn around the corner. All of the doors were locked — the front door, the side door, the back door. Walcott was safe. They could have done whatever they wanted to his car — drenched it in spaghetti or noodle soup. He didn’t care as long as they weren’t able to drag him into the front yard.

The morning after, Walcott found a note on his windshield, reading, “Dinner will be served.”

Walcott didn’t want to live in fear anymore. This week, he bought a pistol — he kept it in the glove compartment. He took shooting lessons. At the office, the boss had brought his seven-year-old-son in to see what his job consisted of, and Walcott hid under his desk for two hours, until the boss’s son left. He kept thinking about the boy’s spiky hair. Walcott stopped going to the park, too — he just couldn’t be around children without thinking of mashed potato. He was going to sign up for PTSD counseling, but he wanted to a quicker way to ease his mind. He thought that purchasing a firearm was the easiest solution.

Yesterday evening, when Walcott pulled into the driveway, he saw the six bullies standing in the front yard and their bicycles leaning on kickstands on the sidewalk. The bullies stood with their arms folded, except for one: the leader, who was shorter than everyone else but stockier. He wore a tank top, and set on the ground before him was a large pot full of steamed vegetables — carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, corn. He slowly stirred it with a wooden spoon. Walcott could smell the dish as he rolled up his window. He took his pistol from the glove compartment and put it in his pocket before stepping out. He didn’t look at them. He didn’t say anything to them, and he tried to walk towards the front door. The bullies stepped in front of him, not saying anything. The bullies’ heads barely reached Walcott’s stomach. He tried to move around them, but one of the bullies tripped him, causing Walcott to stumble into the bullies’ bicycles. The leader picked up the pot of vegetables and poured it over him. As Walcott stood up, he pulled out his pistol, but the bullies were just as quick, and each kid pulled out their own guns and aimed at Walcott. He tilted his head to the side and looked at their firearms, and just as he was about to pull the trigger, the bullies shot their guns in unison. Two seconds later, Walcott lay face first in the front yard with spots of red forming on the back of his neatly tucked in button-up shirt. The leader picked up the large pot and they all got back on their bicycles and rode away.

When the police arrived ten minutes later, Walcott’s house was surrounded by his neighbors. The officers asked them what they saw, but they all looked down, or away, or said that they hadn’t seen or heard anything. The front yard smelled of steamed vegetables, but the police force couldn’t find any leads. They went back the following morning, including the officer who had been there for the mashed potato incident. The officer looked around and saw a group of kids riding their bikes — they waved to her, and she nodded her head and waved back, telling them to be careful and to watch out for cars. The bullies kept riding their bikes until they reached the levee, where they pulled out their fishing poles and looked for turtles and frogs.

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Shome Dasgupta is the author of i am here And You Are Gone (Winner Of The 2010 OW Press Fiction Chapbook Contest), and The Seagull And The Urn (HarperCollins India, 2013) which has been republished in the UK by Accent Press as The Sea Singer (2016). His stories and poems have appeared in Puerto Del Sol, New Orleans Review, NANO Fiction, Everyday Genius, Magma Poetry, and elsewhere. His fiction has been selected to appear in The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing (&Now Books, 2013). His work has been featured as a storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Story, nominated for The Best Of The Net, and longlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50. He lives in Lafayette, LA and his website can be found at www.shomedome.com.