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A fourteen-year-old orphaned boy, sentenced to a term in a mountain jail, learns the biggest lesson of his life.
© 2012 James Musselwhite
Musselwhite, James E.
1. Fiction - Young Adult.
2. First - Person Narrative.
3. Adventure, Coming-of-age.
This title is only available from the author.
I first saw the mountains up close with my face squished against a rear window of a battered old school bus, held by a boy roughly my age, but definitely bigger than me. Not that this was unusual in any way - every boy my age was bigger than me, and one way or another, treated me roughly.
I saw trees, rocks, rivers, and the odd run-off waterfall. There was snow high in those mountains - but here, alongside the road we were traveling, it was early spring, the snow had gone, and the trees and grasses were yellow and bare. It was not the view I had imagined a year ago as I sat on the edge of a city-side hill, looking at the mountains on the horizon, and comparing them to the size of my thumb.
I'd always wanted to see them up close. I've always wanted a lot of things, but mountains… they're real, you know, not like most of the things a kid like me dreams about. I used to look at them often from on top of my special hill, off in the distance like a painting, knowing they were real, but so far away.
There are different kinds of mountains. Back when I lived in foster homes, I thought the mountains represented freedom. Later, they seemed like barriers to be crossed, the ups and downs of a rocky life, the goals to reach, the summit where you finally planted your flag. But it's all about perspective, you see; a lot of things that seem really big to you at one point of your life can seem smaller later - and vice versa.
The noise level had risen in the bus, mostly because of three boys near the front arguing with the guard by the door. It was a ploy, really. A distraction to hide what was happening in the back.
“Let me go! Let me go!” I yelled, over and over.
He replied by mocking me with my own words. “You let me go! I'm not holding you!”
“You're hurting me!”
“Stop banging your head! Stop banging your head!” he said, banging my head against the window.
My glasses were knocked off of my head as the guard yelled out, “Hey, back there! Let that boy go! Now!”
He let go, and as I bent down to the floor to fetch my glasses, he whispered in my ear, “Freakin' little dweeb,” and stamped on my hand.
I yelled, and the guard said to the driver, “That's it! Stop the bus!”
He said, “You're dead,” as the bus stopped with a screech of old rusty brakes.
The guard led the four kids outside, lined them up along the side of the bus as if in a firing line, and yelled at them, threatened them, bullied them.
I stared out the window on the other side. Some kids got school field trips, some got to go to camp in the summer. I got a bus ride to jail.
Next to the other kids on the bus, I felt small. My head was too big for my body, my glasses showed the kind of crookedness that came from being bent and unbent many times. Everyone else was fourteen plus. I was fourteen minus, except for my head - I've seen too much in too short a time.
A little while further along the almost deserted two-lane highway, some kids started to plead for a bathroom break, and the bus pulled into a roadside gas station. I waited until everybody had left before I went to stand in line. Fifteen boys, uneasily waiting for their turn in the can, were trying to look cool, trying to be tough, but their bladders made them dance a little. I thought they looked ridiculous.
The kid who had bullied me had pushed his way up the line, making all the other kids wait longer. The boy at the front of the line took a swing at him, and he just shifted his body to the side, grabbed the guy's arm and twisted it around, throwing him to the ground. It was so quick, yet everyone saw him do it, including the guard and the driver who collared the two of them and forced them back onto the bus.
I left my place, unseen and silent, and took off behind the gas station, through the lot behind it, climbed over the chain-link fence, and dove into the trees.