Dusk closed in on the backyard of the little red Cape Cod house as the 10- year- old boy watched. Nothing stirred in the October scape except a few leaves that dropped from the overhanging apple tree and scattered in the worn area under the tire swing that Matty so loved.

              He listened intently but the only sound he heard was the creaking rope of the swing as it rubbed the bark of the old tree where the boy had tied it at the beginning of the summer. Beyond, in the upper branches of the blue spruce, the shadows grew and draped the tree like a funeral shroud as the last light abandoned the boy.

              He slowly closed the window.

              They were all gone and the youngster knew that he must face the consequences. His terror had brought death into his life in an almost impossible way, and visited it upon the very thing he loved so much and that which had given him comfort in the past two months.

              He did not understand the reason, but had hatched a plan so that one day he might… Already, the books were taking him places he never knew existed, and his quest had given him new words. They were strange words that he must decipher if he was to live in this world. Words like deviance. Pathology. Psychological. And, an important one, he thought- homosexuality.

             The words formed little rafts in his head and the rafts floated on the dark waters of a silent marsh as he closed his eyes each night, and asked forgiveness for his wicked nature and deviant thoughts, always clutching the tiny silver cross that hung from the fine chain around his slender neck.

            Tonight, his thoughts would keep him awake, long past the time that the harvest moon arced  across the autumn sky and  melted into the tree line of Indian Hills that lay to the west of the schoolboy’s house. Tomorrow, he hoped, the plan would give him the answers to a burning question.

           What had he done that made the man angry enough to hurt him that way? 

           He pulled the large stuffed bear with the missing eye close to him and snuggled his face into the worn neck. It was nearly midnight before his eyes closed and he drifted off into a restless slumber.

MATTHEW…  Would you please come to the front of the class?

          “Yes, Miss Logan…”

          “Class, I’m leaving Matthew in charge while I address an important issue in the office… I expect you to treat him as though he were me, in my absence, and continue the reading and discussion of chapter 3 …”

           The perfumed lady put her hand on Matty’s shoulder and handed him the ‘master’ textbook with all the answers and a lesson plan as well, and whispered to the boy, “Matty, just continue with the questions in this margin, and  choose different students to answer. Try to keep everyone involved. I shouldn’t be too long… I trust you to do this. You’re the best student in the class- maybe some day you’ll be standing here as a real teacher,  just like me…

            “I’ll do my best, Miss Logan, don’t worry!”

            With that the dark- haired lady gave a stern look to the bubbling class of 5th graders and snappily made her departure, the heels from her shoes ‘clacking’ on the polished linoleum- tiled floor …

            Matty stood dutifully at the front of the old classroom and surveyed his 5th grade counterparts. He felt a chill run down his spine as his gaze settled on the sneering face of  the boy everyone knew as KG…. His sole mission in life seemed to be the torment of younger or more vulnerable school kids even tho at 1st glance the notion seemed absurd… You see, he wasn’t an overly large kid in relation to his victims, but what he lacked in size he more than made up for in pure meanness. He was strong, but his real weapon was uncertainty… fear of the unknown- for he had proven, time and again, that he was capable of the cruelest behavior and lacked the remorse that most had when his actions resulted in injury. In fact, he seemed to enjoy his status all the more, when someone was actually hurt. He was, in one word, a bully…

            KG… The initials of his name, but also a fitting moniker. He seldom paid for his crimes, and all the smaller kids knew that. The look out of the corner of his eye, followed by the nonchalant stalking… then, the strike on the unwary victim… the pain, and then the ‘cagey’ denial if accused… He was always ‘innocent’ and it was that aura that so disturbed young Matty- only the teachers seemed oblivious. Every child in town knew how dangerous this boy was.

         And now, he sat there, conniving and reveling in the vacuum created by the missing adult.

        Matty glanced back down at the book and traced his finger over the list of questions in the margin… He had never seen a book like this!  All the answers were posted to questions that had appeared on the quizzes that the kids suffered through every day! It was a kind of ‘cheat sheet’ for teachers! His eyes widened as he scanned the questions, because many were new, and might form the body of the next quiz… THIS was way cool…

        He begun, doing his best to be precise and firm- to set the standard, so that order was maintained.

       “Margie, would you please read the 1st paragraph of chapter 3, ‘The Quest for the New World’ ?”

        The 10 -year- old pupil stood up with the heavy textbook and started to read… She was one of  Matty’s favorites- a sweet and caring girl with a real intellect, and one of the best students in the 5th grade. Miss Logan often complimented her on her thoughtful questions and her ability to analyze facts in a way beyond her years. She was the female version to Matty and the boy had a blushing crush on her. She was smart.

        She also sat directly in front of KG, and standing with the history book in front of her, blocked from view the disconcerting face of the boy that Matty despised.

       It took only 10 seconds of reading before it all started. Margie was intently working her way through the 1st paragraph when she shrieked and almost dropped her book. She spun and looked behind her at the dark- haired boy who now sat, leaning back in his chair in an exaggerated devil- may- care posture with his palms facing upward, as if to say, “WHAT???”

       He was fooling noone, but that wasn’t the point… Margie’s face went pale and she appeared shaken…

      “Margie, are you OK?” Matty queried.

       She  nodded, unconvincingly. “I guess so…” Then, she turned, and glancing at Matty, lowered her eyes and continued to read. But this time, it took only one sentence before she jerked uncontrollably and yelled again, turning to look at the snickering boy. “Stop that! Don’t touch me!”

       Matty surveyed the class… Most of the kids had a sick look on their faces. Almost a look of despair, because all of them had witnessed this before, and things were starting to escalate.

      “Kenneth! Leave Margie alone! You have NO right to put your hands on her! Just because Miss Logan’s not here doesn’t mean…”

      “Miss Logan… Miss Logan… Who gives a shit?” the boy interrupted. “And, what the hell do you think you’re going to do about it, MATTHEWWWW? the boy sneered. With that, he took his sharpened pencil and jabbed the petite girl in the back of her arm.

       Margie recoiled and screamed, backing away from the sudden attack and the class gasped in unison… This was bold, even for KG… His attacks were usually less obvious, and more carefully planned, but now he glared defiantly at the tall boy at the front of the classroom, and their eyes locked.

      “Yeah, you’ll make a FINE teacher someday, you big pussy…”

Matty felt sick to his stomach at the scathing description, as all the eyes in the room searched him, laying him naked for a response. He stood, as his mind reeled at the insinuation and he felt his knees buckle as his thoughts became dark and confused. ‘Homosexual’. ‘Deviant’. ‘Pathology’.

       The words cut him again and again, as he met the glare of the boy who spoke the new words. ‘Pussy’… ‘Freak’…’Yellow’…

       It was all too much, and the pain of acknowledgement turned to rage as the book fell to the floor, landing with a startling ‘smack’, as it closed on itself. The class twitched and went silent.

      Never before had this side of the blond boy been exposed and it was both strange and unsettling…

      Matty walked down the isle, his fists clenched at his side, and reached the boy’s desk.


      “Go to hell…”

      “Apologize, you jerk!”

       Kenneth glanced up at the towering, thin boy and scowled, but something was different. His eyes betrayed a growing uncertainty… He had never been confronted like this, so it was new territory. Still tho, he DID have a reputation at stake, so he clenched his jaw and replied, “Screw you… when pigs fly…” Then suddenly, as was his style, he jabbed at Matty with the yellow pencil he clutched in his right hand, breaking it in the process as the thin boy tried to avoid it, the tip embedding itself under the skin on the heel of the 10- year- old’s left hand.

        Matty reacted instinctively, and brought his injured hand in a backhand, slashing motion that connected on the right temple of the sneering boy, almost knocking him off the chair.

        But something had snapped in the slender boy for now he saw only one thing- an adversary who had tried to hurt him… He lunged at the off kilter trouble- maker and grabbed him by the shirt, wrenching him from his seat in one violent motion. Only 5 feet away was one of the large windows in the ancient classroom, and the enraged boy dragged the stunned  miscreant to the low, cast iron radiator under the window and trapped  him between it and his body as he yanked up on the heavy sash…

       Ten feet below the second floor window,  the autumn winds had swept a bunch of bronze colored oak leaves into a cascading pile that clawed at the foundation of the brownstone building. Matty shoved the off -balanced boy through the opening backwards to the chants of a now energized history class… “Do it… do it… DO IT!!!”

       The dark haired boy’s yells became pleas and then cries for help as Matty suspended him upside down, only his feet and lower legs still inside the room as he desperately fought for a purchase on the frame of the huge window… But, every time he came close, the blond boy pushed him further away demanding, “APOLOGIZE, YOU JERK!”

        The din became a roar as Matty’s classmates cried for revenge… KG was in tears and as Matty shook him by the legs, now holding him by his ankles, the slender boy noticed a growing wetness on the front of the boy’s pants. KG stopped crying and their eyes locked. Matty held tight but the eyes of the tawny boy had changed. The desperation was still there, but now there was also  a strange sadness, as though he had given up the will to live …

        The class quieted as the tall 10- year- old boy pulled the young bully back inside… The boy curled up at Matty’s feet and  started to sob. Matty pulled the window sash down and kneeled by the shaken boy. He lifted him from the floor and sat him back on the maple chair. There was not a sound to be heard except the sniffling sobs of the once proud tormenter.

        Matty stood in front of him as his pounding heart slowed and asked him one more time. “Apologize, and promise you’ll never hurt anyone again…”

        KG didn’t answer but nodded his head, as a few boys giggled… Matty looked at them sternly and left the boy alone. He went back to the front of the class and retrieved the dropped book, and opened it. The slender boy stood there with his head bowed and when he looked up it was as if the entire class was waiting for him to speak, but he couldn’t… He didn’t know what to say or how to explain his rage, or the thoughts that had careened through his brain as he dangled the smaller boy from the second floor window. He felt the tears rising in his eyes as the door suddenly opened and Miss Logan appeared.

        “Matthew… Was that uproar coming from my classroom?? What’s been going on?

         Matty swallowed hard and brushed a tear from his eye. “Miss Logan, I think Kenneth needs to use the bathroom.”

        “Why Matthew… what on earth…” She glanced at the distraught boy at the back of the classroom and then leaned down and whispered to the boy, “Did he ask to be excused?”

         “Uh… He waited too long, I guess…”

         “Thank you, Matthew, you may return to your seat…” She ‘clacked’ her way down the aisle and whispered something to the dark- haired boy and he nodded and rose, shielding the front of his pants with a book, and made a hasty exit to the hallway… He did not return to class that day.

         The remainder of that autumn day was a strange mixture of adulation and confusion for the slender, blond boy. Matty winced at the notion that he had done something brave, because in an odd aftermath of the incident with KG, he couldn’t forget the awful look in the young boy’s eyes as he gave in to the seething anger of a stronger person. It felt to Matty that he had crossed over, to the side of evil where the Others smugly watched, as the young catholic boy soiled his pledge and became one of them…But noone would listen, and the day went on as his happy classmates anointed him with praise and the teaching staff struggled to ascertain the truth of what had really happened…

         At 2:45 he was certain of only one thing- he needed to be alone, and the ‘plan’ provided the perfect escape, as the early dismissal for the 1st bus riders was announced, and the tall 5th grader asked to be excused, so that he wouldn’t be late.

         “Are you riding the bus today, Matthew?”

         “Yes, Miss Logan,” the boy lied.

         “Well then, you may be excused, but remember to take your assignment home with you. I expect to see the 1st twenty questions answered for tomorrow’s class!”

         Matty nodded and slowly left the hubbub behind him, glancing back at intervals, just to make sure that he wasn’t being watched. Then, he exited by the back door of the school where the bike racks were, and quietly retrieved his red Schwinn, and walked it around the building, ducking down as he passed the administrative section of the brownstone schoolhouse…

         He was safe, at last, and so he climbed aboard and pedaled quickly down the long concrete sidewalks until he was at the bike racks outside the town library. The young boy parked the trusty red machine, and entered the brick building. As usual, because of the early dismissal, he was the 1st child from his school to arrive… It was a critical part of the strategy. He wanted no witnesses or questions from his friends at school, about his recent ventures to the library ‘stacks’ that held the adult reading material, and the keys to his survival.

         His quest was nearly complete. In only a few more days, he would understand. He felt sure of that, and now, more than ever before, he needed those answers. Things were starting to happen. Bad things- death, dangerous and uncontrollable anger, lies… It was really weighing on the soft- spoken boy who considered these things foreign to who he was, and desperately wanted to return to the boy that he had been before. If only he knew…

         So, he greeted the bespectacled librarian at the head desk with a wink (the secret signal) and made his way to the men’s room, and the library ‘stacks’ that  were located in the adult wing of the library. Where children were not allowed without supervision…The bathroom excuse had worked like a charm for the past week, and today was no exception.

     The copy of the most recent text he had bookmarked, was still in the hiding place, so he retrieved it quickly from the dark recesses of the ‘stacks’ and after checking to see that the coast was clear, found the chapter in the book where he had left off the last time.

      It was a chapter designed for the consumption of a concerned parent, as the famous author wove his strategy around the importance of staying calm and understanding that even differences like homosexuality … there was that word again… and other maladjustments could likely be dealt with, given the right approach. Matty shuddered. ‘Dealt with’. Everything he had been reading in the past 4 days was leading him into the same, dark places, and he was getting more and more scared about what it all meant.

         One thing was certain, tho- homosexuality was not a normal thing. Otherwise, why would a prestigious doctor, who had appeared on shows that even Matty had seen, be telling everyone who bought his book, that this was a type of defect? A disease of the mind?

         The 10- year- old scholar read on, until he could stand no more. In the distance, he could hear the clamor of the after -school crowd as they blew into the quiet library in the children’s wing, and were being corralled by the vigilant staff.  Soon, the din was more of a buzz and the drained boy slid the book back onto its shelf and shuffled slowly down the hallway connector, deep in thought. He needed time. To think. To plan. To decipher the message of a learned man so that he would know the way foward. Back in the children’s section, he sat for a while and did his homework, while a few kids roamed around, looking for the latest releases of the ‘Hardy Boys’ mysteries. As dinnertime approached, Matty gathered his books and  said his goodbyes to the two ladies behind the large, mahogany desk. The boy braced himself, and left the building through the children’s entrance. He pulled his bike out of the rusted steel rack and turned it towards home.

          The sun was struggling to stay above the roofline of the high school across the street and a brisk wind now buffeted the youngster as he turned his jacket collar up and shuddered. His warm bedroom beckoned him, so he walked the bike towards the dirt path and started to mount it…

         He was startled out of his stupor by a stern challenge…”MATTHEW!!”

         The blond boy turned towards the female voice… It was a familiar voice, because it belonged to his 5th grade teacher, Miss Logan…She was sitting in a little red car on the side of the road in front of the library… Her window was rolled down, and now she beckoned the young boy with a crooked finger.

         Matty’s heart dropped. The plan was starting to unravel…He walked to the car and stopped. Miss Logan did  NOT look pleased…

        “Matthew, I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to be truthful… I always considered you to be one of my most trustworthy students and I feel like something has happened. Now, I don’t know what to think. You see, it has come to my attention that you left the school grounds today with your bike and not on the early bus like you told me you would… I know there has to be a good explanation for why you chose NOT to tell me the truth, but I don’t know what it is.  I want to be able to trust you like before, so I’m going to ask you  just one time to tell me why you disappointed me this way.”

         The dark- haired woman sat there and studied the boy… Matty raised his head and glanced at her. He noticed that her eyes were moist and he couldn’t bear to look at her directly  anymore. His heart was pounding and his breath was labored as he struggled with the lies that were building in his head. There was no escape. Just shame. For not living up to the expectations of so many people. For the anger and the deceit, but most of all, for the evil person that he was and the life that he did not deserve.

         He raised his head again and with tears in his eyes, spoke. “MMiss LLogan,” he stuttered. “I lied to you about the bus and I’m very sorry. It was wrong f-for me to do t-that… But I can’t tell you why I did it either… I’m s-so s-sorry…”

         The boy stood there with tears rolling down his face, as the weight of his lies pushed on his shoulders and knotted the muscles in his back. He didn’t know where to turn or what to do, so he lowered his head and prayed… silently.

          It seemed like an eternity. No words were spoken, until a soft hand touched his face and wiped the tears away with a perfumed handkerchief.

          And then, the stern lady spoke, in the most gentle voice. “I won’t ever speak of this again, Matty. I think I know you well enough to understand if you could tell me, that you would… I’ll ask you only one last question… Are things all right at your home? I mean, are your dad and mom OK? Your brothers and sisters?”

         Matty nodded, without looking up.

         “OK  then, I have to get home. It’s getting late and soon it will be dark. You should get home as well, so that your parents won’t be worried…

          Matty nodded and sniffled. It was over, but just beginning, as he mounted the red machine and slowly made his way down the dirt path. He pedaled over the wooden bridge under which the waterfall cascaded onto the ancient rocks, taking with it, what was left of a little boy’s innocence.

         Only time and hope would heal the wounds.

                             And the  boy in the swamp cried…