Not yet lunchtime and the bullying was already in full swing. Cassie’s cheeks burned and hot tears stung her eyes. She had gotten the answer wrong, and the class had burst into a collective guffaw at her mistake. To her credit, Mrs. Nash scolded the laughing class. But Mrs. Nash knew nothing of what went on behind her back, by the lockers, in the bathroom, behind the gym.
“Say something and you’re dead meat!” The threat boomed in Cassie’s mind like a broken record.
Cassie shrank in her chair and begged the earth to swallow her. She grasped Ethur, dangling from his chain around her neck, and pushed the hot tears back. She recalled the time the strange young man had turned all the bullies into chickens. The bullying had died down, and it was a welcome respite. But the weird incident seemed forgotten now, and little by little, the bullies were regaining confidence and increasing their viciousness.
Cassie dared not talk to Mrs. Nash or her father because she knew the consequences: more bullying. She squeezed Ethur tight and wished for Adrian to swagger into the classroom and sit by her. But Adrian was in school himself, and deep inside Cassie understood she should not expect Adrian to always be her knight in shining armor. He has his own life, his own problems, she reasoned.
The laughter subsided, and Mrs. Nash continued with the lesson, but Cassie could not focus. Mean stares bore into her back, and nasty giggles reached her ears. A quick glance around the room showed many leers directed in her direction.
“Cassie,” Mrs. Nash called on her again, “can you repeat what I just said?”
Cassie shook her head, fearful her voice would squeak and break with embarrassment. Mrs. Nash scowled at her, sighed, and then, to Cassie’s relief, proceeded with the lecture. Cassie now wished for that strange man that could turn bullies into chickens. She closed her eyes and felt Ethur awakening in her fisted palm. She loosened her grip as the tiny obsidian horse stirred and stretched his legs.
“They bully you out of fear,” a soft voice whispered in her ear.
Fear of what? Cassie thought.
“You, they fear you,” the soft voice replied, now booming in her head.
But I am nobody, Cassie answered in her mind.
“You’re different,” The voice stated.
And Cassie’s heart skipped. She gazed down at the little obsidian figurine, rearing up on his hind legs, his stone hooves tapping on her palm.
“You’re a witch.”
A sudden and unspeakable rage erupted from her feet and bubbled into her eyes when a spitball hit her on the cheek. Sniggers pricked her skin. Another spitball landed on her forehead, and Cassie shook with wrath.
The classroom darkened; thunder and lightning clapped. Heavy rainfall slid down the windows and drowned out the sneers. The classroom quieted, astonished at the sudden cloudburst on an otherwise sunny and cloudless day.
Cassie’s eyes fixed on Becky, the spitball culprit and her eternal arch nemesis. Their gazes locked; Becky’s lip curled into a smirk, but Cassie fixed her hot and flashing pupils on the girl. Becky’s smirk faded; she wanted to rip her gaze away from Cassie’s icy stare, but an unexpected fear paralyzed her. Thunder boomed and lightning flashed so near the walls creaked and the windows warped. All gasped in surprise. All except Cassie and Becky locked in their glaring duel.
“Becky!” Mrs. Nash’s anguished cry broke the spell.
The storm stopped, and all heads turned towards Becky, who sat in a swelling puddle trickling from the seat of her jeans onto the floor in a yellowish pool.