Volume 20, Number 2

Blood and Revelation

Dave S. Shearer

The boy's hands were shaking, so he kept them low at his sides, his fists clenched hard so the tops of his knuckles went white and the tips of his fingers glowed richly with the blood beneath the skin. Around him a tide of adolescent boys chided and howled like a horde of masterless beasts, their jaws yapping and sneering as they paraded around the locker room that would soon become a playground of primal aggression. He could feel uneasiness churning in his stomach. It was unpleasant and nauseating, the product of fear and uncertainty. His blond hair dripped with sweat, which settled on his tense shoulders.

He stared forward, his eyes devoid of the nervousness that gripped him elsewhere, unblinking, head held back in defiance. Across from him stood another youth with wild dark hair, his stance nearly identical to the blond boy's, each denying the other a glimpse of the anxiousness that existed beneath the other's façade. In between them was a 5-foot no-man's-land in which none of the other boys trod. This area would be the calling ground, the place where each would measure himself as a man, or as they believed a man to be, for manhood was still so unfamiliar and far away; and so they would perform as young men often do; at the bidding of their peers.

Inside the hollows of his youthful chest he felt his heart pumping like a mass of living iron, heavy and hard, twisting and flooding his veins with igneous smelt. In contrast his spine tingled at the base of his trunk and he felt a glacier's frost creep through his vertebrae. It was this conscious feeling of hot and cold that consumed him, and he did his best to ignore it, wondering if the other boy were feeling any of the strange mad sensations that he was.

An insult had been hurled during the course of the school day. It had been silly and juvenile and by no means either relevant or particularly piercing, and yet at the behest of a charged accumulation of hormonal antagonism the situation had grown to the need for a trading of blows. Word had spread amongst the boys around school and a good many had skipped classes to join in and witness the fight that would take place in seventh-period gym.

Here they assembled and showered the boy they liked better with instructions of specific methods of violence to utilize as well as taunted their friend's adversary and his collective ensemble with insults intended to destroy the other's confidence. The boys had segregated themselves into factions that occupied either side of the locker room, each one consisting of the friends of each prospective combatant. Those who felt no loyalty or allegiance towards either of the two boys mixed themselves in with the others and stayed silent as the jeers echoed through the room.

The insults continued as the air became charged around the two boys, a thick and intangible static. There were now at least twenty-six boys in the room, including the two who would fight, and the noise would raise alarm with the school's authority figures soon enough, likely starting with the staff gym coach outside in the adjacent gymnasium.

In sensing this, the group of boys began to shout for the match to begin. Each waited anxiously for that ever-satisfying first punch, the action that would shatter the anticipation and release the rush and exhilaration of violence. Their voices merged into a single rumpus, rising and growing in a crescendo of bloodthirsty hunger until the two boys could no longer hold back against that mad tempo and erupted in a flurry of whirling fists.

The blond-haired boy struck first, though he only grazed the other boy's forehead as he came in for a strike of his own. The other boy’s fist clipped his jaw, but it had caught him with the soft knuckles and he did not fall. They unleashed a barrage of left and right hooks, circling around each other as the young onlookers cheered in joy. There were no combos, no strategy as one would see in the contest of seasoned fighters, just a whirling dervish of crashing fists and the thudding resonance of bone hitting bone.

The blond grabbed the other boy in a headlock and began to smash his fist into the boy’s wriggling face. After a moment the other slammed an elbow into his stomach, catching the area directly below the end of the rib cage, and he released his grip as he staggered back, the wind knocked out of him. The other boy charged forward, shooting in and grabbing the blond around the thighs and tackled him to the floor. The boy then grabbed him in a headlock and began to drop heavy blows to his face. His nose took a vicious strike and began to stream blood over his lips and chin. He raised his fists to his face to defend against the incoming barrage of blows. Writhing on the cold tile floor of the locker room, he was able to break free of his opponent's weight and wrestled the other boy's arm off his head.

He let out a scream of anger, frustration, and rage as he thrust all of his weight onto his opponent’s body. He pushed the boy to the floor and mounted him, tucking his feet into his prone sides. The other boy grunted and struggled beneath him but the position held. The blond released another harsh bellow of rage and then thrust his right hand into the other boy's face, striking him hard with the strong first two knuckles of his hand. He did the same with the left, and then the right again, as he blasted away, screaming and cursing his opponent as he beat the color into his face, a pallet of deep crimson, purple, blue and black. The other scrambled beneath him, digging his hands into the blond’s body, ripping at his shirt, trying to get enough leverage to buck him off. All the while the crowd cheered.

At that moment a large man wearing a sweat suit with a whistle dangling around his neck burst into the locker room, followed by a middle-aged woman in similar attire.

"Break it up!" he shouted in his deep voice, a voice of authority. It cut through the higher-pitched jeers of the crowd and the onlookers began to back away from the fight. Two more men, these in blazers and khaki pants, rushed into the room and now the crowd began to scatter, some boys ducking out into the hallways as a few circled around the men back into the gym. The adults, lead by the gym coach, moved over to the fight.

The gym coach grabbed the blond-haired boy and hauled him up off the other young man. "Come on, break it up! Let's go!" The woman reached down and picked the other boy up off the floor as one of the other men shouted to another to go get some tissues or paper towels and an icepack. The adults separated the boys, who had become slack and disengaged, their eyes both fixed on the grey tile of the locker room floor, now speckled in blood and the shreds of torn clothes. One young man, the last of the onlookers, had just started to try to walk out the doorway when he was grabbed by one of the men in khakis and whisked away to be interrogated. The other man in khakis returned, along with the school nurse and vice principal. The latter saw that the boys' injuries were attended to and then began to lead them down the hall, one at a time, to his office.

As the blond-haired boy walked with the vice principal down the long stretch of hallway to his office at the front of the school, he was asked his name, and why he was fighting, and what was the other boy's name, and so on. He was asked who his parents were and if he knew their phone numbers. After this he was brought in silence to the principal’s office where he was scolded and told of his punishment, which would include suspension. His parents were called and about a half-hour later, his father walked in. After a short conversation with the vice principal his father walked over to him, looked down at him expressionlessly and said "Come on...." They left the school and got into his father's truck and started home.

After about a mile his father began to speak, asking him many of the same questions the vice principal had asked. Who was the other boy? Why were they fighting? Who else was involved? The boy answered them the same as before, only the more he stated the reasons and the circumstances surrounding the event, the more absurd and meaningless the whole thing sounded to his own ears. Finally his father asked him what had happened in the locker room. The boy began to relay back the events as they had happened, starting with the insult earlier in the day and continuing through the brawl, describing each and every blow as they had seemed to him. He told him how they had traded punches and how they had grappled on the cold tile floor. He told him how he had screamed and yelled and beat his fists into the other boy's face. He did this without pride and a slight measure of shame, feeling stupid, knowing that to an adult how childish it all sounded.

He began to tell him about how he was pulled off of the other boy when he looked up into his father's face. His father, though driving the truck, was listening attentively, his eyes fixed on the road and his ears fixed on the boy. The boy saw something in his father's eyes. It was a youthful gleam, a gleam that belonged to wonder and excitement. It was the same gleam that had shone in the eyes of the other boys as they had danced around him, drunk on the glory of violent carnage, screaming for blood.

The boy stopped himself mid-sentence, looked down, and spoke no more.