A Helping Hand
Cassie Power walked out of the school building and said goodbye to Mrs. Hall, now that the amiable teacher had commented she never saw Cassie at the door anymore. Mrs. Hall had a habit of standing by the front double doors and saying goodbye to all the students. Small town, small school.
A light breeze played with Cassie’s hair as she stepped into the sunshine. It was a chilly breeze, and she hoped summer would last just a little longer.
She walked down the school path and turned the corner. Out of sight from everyone, Cassie would hide behind a tall oak and use her jumping powers to transport herself home before the bullies followed her.
Then, something reached out and tripped her. She lost her balance and, in slow motion — at least to her — fell flat on her face, and onto the hard cobblestone.
Laughter erupted around her, and through watering eyes, she saw Becky, Kendra, and Paula guffawing. Cassie tried to pick herself up, but someone pulled her leg from under her and she went down again.
Tears stung her eyes as the mocking laughter filled her ears. Kids everywhere gazed at her and pointed, smirking. They encircled her and jeered at her. Every time Cassie tried to stand, someone pushed her, and she fell. Cassie’s hands and cheek stung from the falls, and she was certain her jeans had ripped — Dad could not afford new ones — and she had scraped her knee.
The rage and humiliation rose and spilled as tears; these tears only made the bullies laugh harder. The laughter entered her ears and multiplied in her brain. It blocked her mind and turned Cassie into a mockery of an automaton, like the wind-up monkey that clapped the cymbals. Up and down, again and again; this loop of humiliation and mockery with neither clear nor graceful exit ensnared her.
Then, the most curious thing happened, the laughter ebbed away until only a few snickers remained.
Cassie lifted her eyes off the floor and saw a hand reaching out to her. The hand was rough and strong and reminded Cassie of a bear’s claw. She traced her gaze over the wrist attached to a brown, muscled arm. Then along a square torso and up into the smiling blue eyes of the kneeling, long-haired, bearded young man before her.
He winked at her, and Cassie placed her grateful, tiny hand on top of his thick fingers. The powerful arm helped her rise, and Cassie thought he could lift her off her feet with that arm. The man also rose, until he almost touched the clouds gathering overhead, like the giants in the fairytales she still read in secret. He was taller than anyone Cassie had ever seen; taller than Adrian, and taller than Dad.
“Are you all right?” The man said in a deep, rolling voice.
Cassie nodded, blushing, “Yes, thank you.”
The man gazed at her for a moment and Cassie thought he looked familiar. Something in his piercing blue eyes caught her attention, and reminded her of… but the cool breeze blew the recognition away.
The man then glared at all the surrounding bullies, now silent.
“You all sound like hens,” he said and turned on his heel.
Cassie dusted herself off and tried to hasten after him, but Kendra pushed her. Cassie regained her footing and spun around to face the enemy. Kendra’s lips stretched into a mocking grin, she threw her head back and… clucked.
Kendra gasped and placed her hand across her mouth.
Paula and Becky opened their mouths to speak, “Cluck, cluck, cluck.”
An instant later, the small circle of desperate bullies was clucking with panic in their eyes. They jittered in place and walked in circles, like, well, headless chickens. The thought brought a smile to Cassie’s lips, though she fought back her own laughter lest she also turned into a silly hen. Also, Cassie knew too well the jagged, salty taste of humiliation.
Instead, Cassie hurried, hoping to catch up to the man.
“Wait!” she called, “What’s your name?”
But there was no sign of him, only a cat lazing atop the hood of a parked car gave her a disinterested yawn.