Note: To read The Wishing Map from the beginning, click here.
The Wishing Map
Chapter Fourteen: Two Spoos
Previously: Having accidentally scattered the mysterious Objects all over Ismara, Gina and Zack blamed one another. Now the sense of isolation is eating them up.
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The next day the double moon disappeared, and now there was no way to get back to Ismara. They knew because they tried. Unbeknownst to one another, they each rolled out the Map at separate times and attempted to wish themselves back.
Middleton Middle School’s “Back to School Night” and Erhard L. Minzer High School’s “Go, Settlers! Orientation Night” were both that Tuesday evening, so it was decided that Dad would go with Gina and Mom would go with Zack. Dad and Gina drove, but Mom, who never missed a chance to get in a little exercise, said, “Let’s take our bikes!”
Zack rode ahead, brooding over the last few days… Arman, who’d finally returned from Armenia, had slept over Saturday night. The moment they were alone Zack had exploded like a Zack-in-the-box with his account of a giant bird named Aviar, a lethal pixie princess, and being kissed by a Cloud Shepherd. Arman was delighted, and Zack was relieved…until he realized Arman thought it was a Zachary Zinn story: “I get to play Aviar, OK!”
Well, at least he still likes to pretend, thought Zack. So, why do I feel so alone?
Zack brought El Furioso to a halt at the Mid-Mid bike racks, stashed his helmet, and sprinted toward the entrance gate. The moment he got there, Michael Wassen and Casey Egger came out from between the 200 and 300 buildings, suppressing suspicious coughs. They stopped, as if waiting for someone. Zack watched in silence, hoping they wouldn’t see him, and they wouldn’t have if two events hadn’t occurred in hideous simultaneity:
First, Pierce a.k.a. “Fierce” Fischer, the meanest cool kid (or coolest mean kid) at Middleton Middle School, stepped out from behind the building, took a final drag on his cigarette, his “Fierce!” tattoo glowing in the ashlight, and tossed it toward the gateway.
Second, Mom came from the bike racks, calling, “Zacky, you shouldn’t leave your helmet with your bike. It could get stolen!”
Fierce did the “look at who I’m laughing at” laugh. Not everyone at school looked, of course, just eight or nine million. Taking a cue from their new role model, Michael and Casey let out a string of fiendish guffaws.
Zack turned, his ears burning, and walked away. Mom hurried after him, calling, “What’s going on, honey?”
An hour and a half later, while Mom was finishing her chat with Pre-Algebra teacher Mr. Ito, Zack pulled on his helmet, hoping to beat a sweet retreat for home. Then he heard Fierce’s voice:
“Uh-oh, the little boy lost his mommy!”
“Oh, no!” Michael echoed.
“Hey, wait, guys. I think we were wrong about him!”
Michael and Casey’s faces rippled in confusion.
“I mean, look at how short he is, and look at that long pretty hair. Dudes, this ain’t a guy, it’s a little girl!”
Casey jumped in with his signature, “Yeah!”
Michael followed with one of his weird high-pitched laughs, but suddenly realized he sounded like a girl and choked it off.
Zack ripped off his helmet and hurled it to the ground. “I know a guy who’s only four inches tall who’s more of a man than you’ll ever be!”
There was a moment of silence, then Michael asked, “Where? In one of your fairy stories?”
“Did you say four inches?” Pierce snorted, “’Cuz you’re like, what, three?”
Michael and Casey laughed with calculated abandon.
“Ohhhh, I know,” Fierce went on, “he means his dolls. You still play dress-up with your dollies, little Zackarina?”
“Yeah!” added Casey.
“Hey, what’s that under your feet, Casey?” asked Zack. Casey looked down. “Oh, no, it’s a puddle of brain!” Zack knew he needed to stop talking, but he couldn’t. He turned to Pierce and said, “My friend Aviar is twenty-three feet tall, and with one sweep of his wing he could—”
“Oh, goody!” Michael interrupted. “He wants to play pretend! Oh, please, please, please tell us a story, Zacky! We’ll all put on our jammies and have a sleep-over and pretend we’re riding on your flying horsey. What’s his name again, El Dorkioso?”
“Yeah, let’s all play pretend!” Casey chortled.
Fierce grinned. His disciples were learning fast. His formula was simple: separate someone from the herd, and brand them un–cool. Once you made them the brunt of public scorn, everyone else was off the hook, which made them grateful that you hadn’t selected them. Which made you cool. Bottom line: for someone to win, someone had to lose, and that someone, Fierce had determined, was Zack Dore. Zack realized with chilling clarity that this was a preview of the school year ahead; Fierce would not stop until he was destroyed, or worse, turned into a cyborg like Michael and Casey.
“Zacky?” Mom called as she approached the exit gate.
Fierce tossed his cigarette at Zack’s face. Zack batted it away.
“Ooo! Ooo! The hot puffy almost burned my pretty blonde hair!” Fierce sniggered. Then he issued a stentorian
“C’mon, men” and walked off.
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Thoughts: Like wolves, bullies cut people off from the herd, then search for a weakness, an insecurity to attack.
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