On the surface, it is about the new and brutal ACT forced upon Bobby, Jeremy, William, and David. On the inside, it is so much more.
William “The Perfectionist” Russell is the essence of the effort of being in the right place at the right time with the right intentions towards the right people for the sake of feeling right; he is a yellowbellied runt. Being a slim figure whose height will never exceed five feet and an inch, he finds the courageous acts of coming up with impressive innovations quite difficult, especially when it defies the paradigms of society. He instead undertakes the more difficult task of doing and being what the existing groups and subgroups want him to be and do, depending on what group or subgroup he becomes a part of.
Obeying the wishes of his current institution, Kalamazoo Central High School, his foot sinks into the filthy ground rapidly turning to mud from the sky’s flood of urine. Instantly, a blast of icy chills snake up his leg as the mud seeps into his brutalized shoe. A loud clap of thunder startles all but William who continues on in his painfully sauntered gait, crushed by the weight of his locked and loaded backpack, along Styx Street to a pathetic little intersection laden with legions of trees’ twigs snapped to bits by the thunderstorm. Considering the condition of his dressy, presentable clothing, he can only hope that his teachers will accept his ruined attire. Fretting consistently, his foot sinks into a heap of mud again, this time into a neglected pothole. His boulder of a backpack slides down to his left, sending it and him crashing to the ground in a pitiful mess.
“Be careful man!” rings a weak, boyish voice similar to that of a fourteen-year-olds’: short, sweet, humorous, and to the point; William couldn’t help but smile because the voice belonged to a good friend of his.
He rises to acknowledge the voice, but finds three hardy young men in their late teens cackling at him instead. They almost sound heinous, but what else is to be expected from four best friends who go way back into the antiquated days of elementary school? Their rowdy behavior arose from their numerous trials of lunacy and indoctrination and they, in return, tend to direct their derision towards everybody, friend or log. If somebody were to question the point behind their mockery, they would say that it serves as the only coping mechanism they could use to hold them together; any other method would fail them because, after all, they are only a band of rowdy young men who are fed up with their school, or the planet for that matter.
The one who jeered at William, Jeremy Tank, hoisted him to his feet, straining from the effort of stopping himself from laughing more.
“Man, you look worse than I do! Got stuck in the mud again?!” he teased. William could not help but feel grateful towards him for being a little nicer than the other two. Of course, William was not surprised by his kindness because he knew he was one of those labeled as people of faith as opposed to the bigots of religion; he always presented himself, even now, in modest, mundane clothing from head to toe. The only thing abnormal about him this time is the absence of a ragged Bible hooked in his right hand. Instead, a blood-red umbrella takes its place, firm as a rock.
“Shut up. I get it. I fell, big deal,” he growled, brushing huge chunks of mud off of his backpack.
“Chill dude. I was just playing. You know I was,” Jeremy replied as he helped William hoist his backpack onto his shoulder. Having only been required to carry a binder or two inside of his own backpack, Jeremy could only feel concerned for the condition of William’s back, seeing that he has to carry the load with him everywhere he goes within the premises of the school, stairs and all.
“You’re doing too much, man. Why do you carry all of this crap to school? Can’t you just leave some of this crap in your locker?” he asked.
“I can’t. I need all of this stuff for all of my classes, which are AP classes, mind you. I can’t afford to leave a textbook or two in my locker. Ergo, I am not doing…”
William inserts a quick pause and a sarcastic, blank face to instill a humorous sarcastic effect.
Jeremy, at once, lights up from his eyes to his hands. He tends to figuratively glow and make vehement gestures with his hands whenever he gets ticked off.
“You are doing too much! You are a senior, dang it! You should use your last year of high school to store up worthwhile memories and chill!”
William, again, stares blankly at Jeremy in an effort to make him feel like an idiot.
“Sir, I don’t think you understand how important it is for me to maintain my vigilance. You see, the very moment I choose not to work is the very moment I fail. Here’s a little proverb for you. I’m sure you heard of it before in some form or another in that little book of yours: ‘do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare.’ Now, I may not believe in the Bible, but I’m pretty sure that little proverb is valid in the society we live in today. Don’t you agree? You should! It’s in the Bible! Your Bible!”
Out of the corner of his eye, William catches one of the young men, an intimidating jock with a football player’s frame, staring at him as he listens to his rant intently. His eyes quickly skim over the man’s bony, blond head, his thick, maroon Kalamazoo Central jacket, and his sleek, black jeans before checking back to Jeremy and his deluded self.
“If I work, I’ll get those A’s. I need those A’s!”
Jeremy returns a stare similar to that of William’s but with a strong hint of authoritative calmness.
“Yes, but for whom: yourself, or your parents, teachers, and school?”
The jock sluggishly turns to face William, exposing a marred Kalamazoo Central ID swinging loosely from a dirt-stained, maroon lanyard. At first glance, one would assume that the ID belonged to a prisoner of a top-security penal complex erected from the bowls of hell-on-Earth; the jock in the photo on the ID is cast in murky darkness, his face hard and downcast in bitter irritation. He may as well have surrendered his face for a mug shot. Displayed below is picture is his name: David McBone.
His voice comes out in a southern drawl.
“Bah, don’t worry about this goody two-shoes scrub too much; he’s just pissed because he’s getting pissed on,” he sneered. “He’s so busy being a teacher’s boy he forgot to pack a ‘brella.”
Unable to contain himself, William snaps into a rage.
“YOU KNOW WHAT?! WHY DON’T YOU SHUT THE—”
“Hey! Quit it, you three! Now!”
They all whip around to look at anybody who would have dared to speak. In this case, it was only their powerhouse of a friend, Bobby Gaston, muscularly two-fifty in a black, menacing leather jacket and intolerant of any division within his circle of close friends. He knows that aggressive arguments between his friends spontaneously erupted many times in the past and he knows he was the one who broke every one of those arguments apart. For that, his friends dubbed him with the nickname “i-Resistor,” the dismantler of all things conflicting in their circle of friends. He also knows that after every heated argument that ever erupted between them, all four of them developed individually and as a group; heated argumentation contributed to the forces that molded them into who they are today. Bobby was merely afraid of failing to stop a heated argument from tearing the friendship apart.
“Listen, I know that we’re all pissed that we have to go to this stupid school in the rain again, but come on guys! We only got sixteen more days of this shit! We get out on the thirtieth and then, we’re outta there! Now, the three of you get a grip or, I swear to God, I will beat the shit outta all three of you! Don’t think I won’t; I did it before and I’ll do it again if I have to! You got that?”
David reddens like a red-hot wire and turns to advance towards Bobby in a fury nothing short of a rage. His hands are clenched into stones of flesh capable of ending the life of anybody two-hundred eighty pounds or lighter, even a heavyweight bruiser like Bobby.
William’s hands, on the other hand, begin to vibrate like a cold mouse.
“Can’t I just hit this guy once? Just once! You know he needs it!”
“I said Mr. McBone, you GOT THAT?!”
Bobby’s words sail out into the grey horizon in a booming echo, causing the other three to jump back as if hit by a shockwave packing a strong left hook. Following the aural residue is a sickening silence disturbed only by the falling rain and the agitated breaths of the four. It is only then that they begin to take in and appreciate the amazing tumult of the thunderstorm raging all around them; if they can stand in a middle of a mass of swirling rain, gusts of savage wind, sharp twigs, and startling explosions of thunder and enjoy it, then surely there must be an “i-Resistor” big enough to stop them from dissipating in the chaos. After a conflict, Bobby becomes a figure big enough to keep them together because he is seemingly unbreakable in both his physical prowess and in his aim to maintain a sense of peace between all of them.
Naturally, they sink backwards and nod in defeat like subdued children.
In the heat of the guilty silence, Jeremy turns to William in an effort to receive a visual confirmation of his willingness to remain friends with him. William, in return, gives a weak smile and looks toward the street.
“William?” Jeremy asks after several seconds. “Why do you put so much into the school?”
“I really don’t know. I just don’t want to be wrong, that’s all.”
Jeremy cannot help but compress his face in an effort to keep himself from laughing.
“You cannot stop yourself from being wrong, especially when you’re trying to satisfy it. Don’t get me wrong, school is an essential resource to use in preparing yourself for our American society, but you have to figure out how you can make it benefit you…and speaking of making it a benefit, did you find a girl to go to prom?”
Looking at William’s all-too-familiar sarcastic and surprised face, he almost wishes he did not ask that.
“Me?! Oh hell no! Trust me, I have no hope. I’m a nerd, dude. I’m a scrawny nerd. I’m not exactly the athletic superstar…”
William heaves his hand towards David, catching his attention.
“…that most girls would want to hang with on a first date, let alone in the prom. Most girls wouldn’t want to hang with intellectuals. ”
“You would be surprised.” Jeremy said in an effort to reassure him. “I’m going to prom with a girl who happens to be impressed with my brains.”
“Yeah, well, she’s just one girl. Come on, do you honestly think that I would be able to walk up to a girl and ask her to go to prom on the merits of my brains alone?”
“Barely anybody could pull of a stunt like that with any girl, William. Most guys ask girls that they’ve been good friends with for a while to the prom or dances that are related to it. Do you, at least, have anybody in mind that you would like to ask to the prom?”
Not surprisingly, William blushes a little bit. Seeing the faint red hue spreading across his face, Jeremy smiles and waves his index finger at him mischievously.
“Aha! I knew there’s somebody! Come on then, who is it?”
A Moment of embarrassing silence passes before William sputters in his laughter.
“Come on William. Who is it?”
“Elizabeth Grover!” William squeaks through his silent laughter. The world seems to pause in shock and smash a goblet of psychological glass in the minds of all four of them before they fill the street with the sound of their raucous laughter. Even William, embarrassed as he is, doubles over as if he was nailed in his pelvic area by a kick of humor.
“Yeah, you have no hope!” Jeremy croaks, recovering himself.
“Hey guys. That’s the bus.” Bobby interjects. Despite everything, the storm seems to thunder a little more brightly.
Sure enough, the four pick up the sound of the distant, rapidly approaching roar of a bus engine to the left. They see nothing but the faint lights of the bus growing stronger and stronger through the heavy rain, lighting only but a car’s length ahead of it.
As the pair of lights draw nearer to the intersection, Jeremy begins to notice that the bus’s headlights are distinctively reddish, quite different from the yellow headlights it usually uses. He also notices a second reddish light shining towards the middle of the bus’s side, suspecting the inconceivable.
It pauses for a moment before making a quick right turn onto Styx road, roaring loudly like a garbage truck. As it decelerates to a stop, Bobby, David, and William display vexed expressions of awe at the bus pulling up in their usual bus’s place while Jeremy displays a stern and fearful expression, the same expression a prisoner would hear before accepting his death sentence.
Crouched in front of them with its door swung wide open stands a bus with the same frame as their old bus, but with a sickening coating of tasteless grey; it seems to blend into the pavement and the raging storm like a civilian in a concrete jungle. Only the red lights flashing in their usual spots on the top and sides of the bus stand out. Unconcerned about the new bus, Bobby, William, and David proceed to enter the bus as if it was any other bus. Jeremy, on the other hand, continues to take in the fullness of the bizarre nature of the bus; flashing on the side of the bus is not the usual stop sign, but a crimson, angular six enclosed inside of an upside-down pentagram. His stomach collapses upon taking in the six digit number sprawled in the place of his bus’s usual number, one-hundred seventeen. Nevertheless, he proceeds to follow his friends through the doorway of his new bus, passing underneath the new bus number: