A Friend

Justin Coogle, M4, Class of 2019

Justin Coogle is a published writer of the Kingdom Come series.


1 year before the events of Kingdom Come

I MISS MY old school, this new one is too lonely. No one is interested in being friends with me here, it’s probably because I came in late. I used to try to sit with a group of other boys during lunch, but they kept ignoring me. My teacher is really nice, her name is Miss Flora. She says that she is a master gardener and that we are her valuable flowers. I don’t like being called a flower. Flowers get stepped on a lot. The bell is about to ring for recess and my hands are sweaty. I can’t say I want to use the bathroom this time, I just went a few minutes ago. Maybe if I said I was sick? But I don’t look real sick, and I don’t want Miss Flora to think I am a liar. I really don’t want to go to recess. There is no where I can hide from them.

Doon. Doon. Doon. The bell sounded off through the speakers. Students threw down their notebooks and pencils, rushed to the front door, and lined up. They all looked so excited, they all talked so fast. I wonder how they have so much to talk about. I looked down at my notebook. There was no math or history notes in here, I spent the entire day drawing. Again. I hope she doesn’t tell my parents. Again.

“Lee.” Miss Flora approached my desk. “The bell rang, recess is starting, time to get in line.”

It was hard to say no to her kind smile. I shuffled towards the back of the line, my eyes never leaving the ground. I didn’t want to see their stares, it never felt good.

“Okay class follow me!”

I picked my usual spot in the playground, a soft patch of turf under the big yellow slide. Here I would normally play with some wood chips and pretended they were super heroes. Superheroes were scared of nobody. Superheroes had tons of friends.

“Hey ching chang, what are you doing down there?”

I didn’t look up. He normally walked away if I just ignored him. I let out a yelp of fright when I felt a tug on the back of my shirt collar.

“Hey, didn’t you hear me. I asked what are you doing down here ching chang chong?” His friends giggled, the joke never seemed to get old.

“My name is Lee.” I don’t know why I said that, now he will never go away.

“What’s that? Sorry ching chang, I can’t understand you. This is America. Why don’t you try speaking our language?” I hated how he said that. My English was fine and he knew it. I tried to keep playing with my woodchips but his friend pulled real harder on my collar. I tried not to cry and managed to stay sitting.

“Hey Ralph why don’t you make fun of his fat mom?”

“Yeah Ralph yeah”

“Hey chingy, why is your-” I didn’t wait for him to finish. I jumped on his face and began to claw at whatever I could reach. I knew immediately this wasn’t going to go well. His friends came to his rescue, they pulled me away and began to punch or kick me. I tried so hard to stay quiet, I tried to muffle the pain, but the screams wouldn’t stop coming out of my mouth. The teacher ran over, I think there was blood on my arm.

* * *

“Lee how did this happen?” Mom always asked the same questions, and I always said the same answers.

“The white kids bullied me.”

“Well why didn’t your friends help you?” I told her I had many friends at school. I didn’t know what hurt more, to keep lying to her or that I actually had no friends.

“They were busy getting me snacks. They love to share with me.” She gave me a face. I never could read what it said. Maybe she knows I’m lying? Maybe she is just sad. She would come to school with me if she could, but I’d rather die than let her embarrass me like that.

“Since when did 3rd graders beat each other up? And why do you let them? Lee you need to stand up for yourself. Your friends need to stand up to them. Somebody! Must be some worthless friends.” My father always knew what to say to make me feel worse.

“Jin! Don’t say those things.”

“What honey? The boy is weak. His grades don’t even justify the bullying, his studies are mediocre too. Where did we go so wrong?” He went into the kitchen. But I know where he was really going. He always grabbed a bottle of that foul smelling stuff and locked his office door. A few seconds later I heard the clang of bottles, the shuffling of feet, and his door slamming.

“Yeah, well, stay in there! Useless drunk. Don’t listen to your father Lee, he’s the mistake, not you. I should have listened to my mother.” Mom stood up and walked away mumbling to herself. She was probably heading upstairs to call her mom, or someone. She spends a lot of time on the phone. I don’t have drinks or phones to occupy me, no one has time for me.

I walk upstairs to my room, passing the various decorations lining the stairwell.

Love is patient, love is kind. I liked that one, I don’t know where it’s from though.

All things are difficult before they are easy. This one I rarely looked at. It was painful.

It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways. I think that one was an old Buddha saying. It seems pretty complicated.

I lay down on my bed and try not to think of tomorrow. Sleeping was very hard, I only had my thoughts to entertain me, which did nothing but make me hate myself. I tried to think of good food, my favorite food – delicious beef marinated in mom’s special sauce. Great, now I’m hungry.

Hey, are you okay?”

Shivers went up my skin and I dashed under my blanket. What was that whisper? Who was in my room? I’m so scared, I’ve never been so scared. Mom. Mom!? Where are you!?

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you! You just looked so tired. Tired of the world being so mean.”

The world has been pretty mean. Ralph at school is very mean. Those bottles make my dad very mean. Even mom, when she talks about dad, gets mean. I wish more people were nice.

“Do you wanna talk?” the voice asked again.

I couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from, but he seemed nice. He hasn’t tried to punch me, tell me to get out of the way, or judge me. Maybe we could talk for a little? Maybe we could even be friends.

“I-I-I can’t see you.”

“I’m over here behind the door.”

There was no one behind the door, it was just shadows.

“There is no one over there, are you lying?”

“No, I would never lie to you. I’m very small, I look like a shadow! No one else likes me because I’m so small, they all bully me. Tell me I’m weak. Tell me I’m no good at my job.” He sounded so sad.

“Yeah, nobody likes me either. They call me ching chang, I think they don’t like me because I’m Chinese. I wish I was born white. I don’t think you’re small. I think it’s cool being a shadow.”

“Thanks Lee. And I don’t think you should be ashamed of being Chinese, you’re way cooler than them.” Wow, I’ve never been called cool before.

“Can I stay here?  Can we be friends?” The voice asked so nice.

“What’s your name?” There was a long pause. The shift was almost icy. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked.

“Dima,” That’s a pretty name. I like his name.

“Nice to meet you Dima, I’m Lee.”

“Thanks for letting me in Lee, I’m sure we’ll be great friends.”

* * *

Dima started to follow me everywhere I went. I think he lives in my shadow because I still never see him but I talk to him. It’s like having my best friend wherever we go! I’ve never been happier. He is always listening to me, asking about my interests. He never judges me or makes me feel bad, he encourages me and tells me that I can be powerful. That I can be strong. That I don’t have to listen to anyone, that I can be the boss. I’ve never heard those kinds of words before, it was nice.

“Ok class line up in an orderly fashion please! No cutting!” Miss Flora was trying her hardest to keep order. I hope she wins teacher of the year. I didn’t need her prodding this time though, I wasn’t afraid of recess, not with my new friend to play with me!

I went to my usual spot and told Dima all about superheroes and how powerful they were. I began to introduce each of my woodchips to him and what superpowers they had.

“That is silly. Those are just pieces of wood,” said Dima.

“Nuh uh. These are superheroes! They can do anything.”

“No Lee, those are woodchips. But you. You are greater than these imaginations. You don’t need these to comfort you. You can have real power.”

“How?”

“Let me in, let me help you.” I don’t know what he meant by let me in. Before I could answer, Ralph and his gang showed up again.

“Hey ching chang chong, playing with your stupid chips again?” His friends began to laugh at me. I wasn’t scared anymore, I just had to wait for them to leave, then me and Dima can get back to playing. I just have to wait for them to leave. Don’t say anything to them. Don’t even look at them. They are bullies.

“Hey ching chang, I’m talking to you,” I felt his arm on my shoulder but then I heard screaming. But this time it wasn’t me screaming. Who was screaming? I turned around to see Ralph on the floor, clutching his eyes. There was blood pouring out from between his fingers and his screaming grew louder. All his friends freaked out and I was joining them. What happened? Miss Flora and the gym teacher showed up and they were awfully scared too. Miss Flora was asking who did this. Nobody knew.

“He won’t bother you anymore.” Dima whispered.

I didn’t like Ralph much, but I didn’t enjoy seeing him like that.

* * *

Things began to change after that day in school. The other kids never looked me in the eyes. I would hear them whisper, murmur when I was near.

“Did you see it?”

“I’ve been having nightmares.”

“I wish he would go away.”

They talked behind my back but never tried to pick on me again. I was fine with it, they never wanted to talk to me anyway. I had Dima now, he always talked to me, and he was right about me being strong. No one would question me, no one picked on me, it was almost like they feared me. It was a nice change.

Me and Dima grew closer. I didn’t even have to talk to him anymore, I could hear him in my thoughts. If I wanted something I had it, if I needed something I’d demand it.  My boundaries were endless, nothing stood in my way anymore. Not the dog next door, not the kids at school, not even my parents. Dima was the greatest thing to happen to me and he kept telling me how it would only get better! He said he just needed a little more time and then the big day would come. On the big day there would be no more pain, only power. I liked that. Pain wasn’t nice.

I sat on the sofa in my living room flicking through TV channels. My mother never used to let me do this but she doesn’t come in the room if I’m there anymore. The doorbell rang.

“Jin could you get that?” My mother shouted. Silence from my father’s office.

“Jin! Jin— dammit fine.” I heard my mom head to the door. I turned the TV volume a little lower. People visiting us without mom knowing was a rare occasion.

“Hello, can I help you?” My mom asked.

“Hello! My name is Katie and this here is Travis. We’re part of an initiative from the church to see the needs of local families! Would you be interested in taking a survey and just answering a few questions?” Her voice was nice and bubbly, it reminded me of Miss Flora. I peeked around the wall to see them. Mom was blocking most of the door, but I caught a glimpse of the woman’s blonde hair and long white and purple coat. The man standing next to her was pretty tall and had cool hair. Before curiosity took over I was filled with fear. My palms started to sweat and the desire to run consumed me. What was wrong with me?

These are bad people.

That’s nonsense, she sounded very nice.

We need to run Lee. They are out to get you, to bully you, to take away your power.

Could he be right? Dima was never wrong before.

Mom let them in and was looking over a small stack of papers that miss Katie had handed her.

“Do you mind giving us a quick tour of your house? It’s so rare to meet someone with such fine asian decorations! Oh my goodness what is that?” Mom was excited about Katie’s interest. She was so nice, maybe Dima was overreacting. But the man, he had the eyes of a hawk. He kept slowly moving his eyes all around the house until they settled on me. His eyes opened in what looked like surprise and he tapped the woman on the shoulder and whispered into her ear.

“Quick hold up on that tour, who’s this sweety?” Miss Katie approached me.

“That is my son Lee, he’s in the third grade. Say hello Lee, these are church people.”

I couldn’t look her in the eyes, not so close. For some reason it burned. I instead looked at the ground, fighting the growing impulse to run away. To run. To yell. To do anything to keep them away from me.

“Well hello there Lee. My name is Katie. Nice to meet you!” She bent down and stretched out her hand. I was so scared. Why was I so scared? She was nice.

We have to run!

She just wants to say hi.

We must go!

She said she wanted to help the neighborhood. I reached for her hand.

“Ow,” I pulled my hand back and sucked on my finger. It started to bleed. That’s weird, how did that happen?

Miss Katie immediately stood up and whispered something into the tall man’s ears. He said goodbye to my mom and left the house.

“Sorry for being so sudden, but seems we must go. However, we would love to come back with some food! We could share a meal and you could show me more of your beautiful home and family!” My mother agreed with excitement and miss Katie left. Why did she leave? Did I frighten her?

We need to leave now.

No, Miss Katie is going to come back for dinner.

If we don’t leave now, we will miss the big day. You don’t want to miss that do you?

I almost forgot about the big day. Was that really today? I guess I didn’t remember. My finger started to hurt more. Now it started to burn. Oh my goodness. It hurt so much. Now my other fingers too. They’re bleeding! Help. Help! Mom!“Mom, my hands!” I rushed to find my mom but she locked the door to her room and the shower was running.

“Mom! Mom! It hurts so much! Mom!” I was so scared. And it hurt so bad.

I can make it stop, but we have to hurry. Or we will miss the big day.

Anything, I just want it to stop. I want the pain to stop.

She did it. They both did. The woman and the man, they hurt your fingers.

No, impossible. She was so nice. She wanted to shake my hand, to touch me. To say hi.

She was lying. Now go, quick, we must run to the river.

The pain was growing worse, it became unbearable and I screamed. I burst out of my front door and ran down the road. The river wasn’t far. It was two blocks down. I heard the kids talk about it. They said to never go there. They— OW, it hurts!

It hurts because they’re chasing us.

Who’s they? I turned my head and saw miss Katie and the man chasing after us with strange goggles on and hoods. The man had two things in his hands. They didn’t look nice at all! Dima was right. I have to run!

My screams got louder, my train of thought wavered from the pain. Everything seemed to get darker, but I couldn’t tell if it was because of the pain or something else. It was getting harder to see.

“Travis get him! He’s taking him to the river!” That was miss Katie. When did she become so scary?

We just need to get to the river.

Dima’s voice was so soothing.

“Travis!”

“I’m trying but he’s too fast!”

We are almost to the river. You trust me right?

I couldn’t even feel myself running anymore, the pain was slowly going away. It was like Dima was carrying me, holding me close. He was right all along. I should have trusted him.

“Travis!”

I heard gunshots being fired. I heard roaring. A scary, deep roar like from a monster. What was that?

I’m in pain too, but soon we will both be free. You trust me right Lee?

I do.

“Katie I can’t reach him!”

“Lee don’t listen to it! You need to fight it! Lee!” Miss Katie?

I heard more gunshots, screaming, yelling, from who I couldn’t tell anymore. As long as Dima was with me, I was safe.

Lee.

“Lee!!”

“Lee, fight it. Don’t listen! Your future’s so bright! Don’t buy into its lies!”

Lee. His voice was growing faint, he was in pain! Lee, you’ve done well. You set me free Lee and now I am strong.

“Lee! It is a demon! It’s lying to you! Don’t — No!!!”

Everyone kept calling my name, but we’re already above the river. I can see my feet off the ground, being carried. I looked up to see my friend, the one who held me close.

Thank you Lee. I’ve been so lonely and so hungry for a long time.

Why does he look so scary? I gazed at miss Katie and her friend peering over the bridge, but they got farther and farther up, higher and higher away. Why was she crying? I was happy, the pain was finally gone.

If you find this short story intriguing, I suggest you check out Justin’s book, Kingdom Come, on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Come-Justin-Coogle-ebook/dp/B077XM5JMK.

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