The filthy gang of boys led by Tommy Keeler rumbled down the hillside toward Adam, their yelping mouths smiling wickedly underneath dull, close-set eyes. Adam watched them descend, a sweaty, heedless avalanche of hooligans, and the shock of impending humiliation and pain turned the frail boy to stone. He stood still, a statue waiting to be desecrated, the talking dog cowering behind him.
The slope gave way to flat land and Tommy Keeler slowed to cocky walk, the other boys following him in a 'V' formation, lending him their mobbish energy. "This is a dumb place, to hide, A-dumb." Keeler's cohorts praised his vapid wit with their chuckles. "That's yer new name, A-dumb. Like 'd-u-m' dumb."
The talking dog couldn't resist. "Learn to spell, moron," he barked from behind Adam's legs. The talking dog regretted it immediately.
"Whaddya just say, A-dumb? A--" Keeler shoved Adam's chest, "dumb."
Adam's skinny body stumbled backwards, toward the forest trail, the trail with the plastic wall on the other end. The eyeless yellow monolith watched the boys, sensed the tension. Reveling in the insults and the violent possibilities, it pulsed, radiating a wave of doomy light toward them. The light burned Adam's neck like a hot, evil sun. It happily pulled apart his pores and crawled in, marching into his veins, pulsing through his body and, with every beat of his heart, filling him with a demented animal electricity. Tommy Keeler and the boys felt the glow, too. It sneaked in, little particles finding holes, a swarm of nastiness leaching in through the gang's flesh.
"Hey A-dumb. Hey A-dumb!" twisted by the light, Tommy Keeler's voice warped and boomed. "Ya think ya can hide from me down here in the jungle?" Keeler's eyes twitched, their red veins bubbling and popping to the surface, bloody fury clouding his vision.
As the moronic syllables shot like daggers from Tommy Keeler's mouth, Adam felt something alien growing, coursing within him. The ire of every bully's helpless victim filled him, balled his tiny hands into fists. He wanted to blow a hole in Tommy Keeler's chest, tear out his heart and feed it to him. He wondered if his own eyes throbbed with vicious indifference, if he too looked like a bald gorilla hell-bent on destroying the guy who took his hair.
The forest's foul yellow glow brightened yet again and shivered through the talking dog like an earthquake of fear, the tremors becoming more treacherous as the rays intensified. He wanted to pull Adam away, to sneak him into a dark cave, a safe place, and hide in the black until the light was snuffed, but he knew rage had hypnotized the kid. He saw it swell in the boy's boney arms; almost a decade of unused anger. The poor kid never stood up for himself. He'd always just given up, ignored the name-calling, handed over his Doritos without a fight. Not even an anthropomorphic canine could pull him away from this battle. Whimpering, confused, paralyzed by dread, the talking dog flopped onto the ground, rolled onto his back, and played dead.
Tommy Keeler stepped closer to Adam, his thugs following in lock-step. "A--," Keeler's shoved him again, "dumb!" The two syllables clapped Adam's ears. Keeler pushed Adam again, harder, sending a stiff bolt of mindless lightning into his tiny ribcage. "A-dumb!" Keeler's voice drove through Adam and into the forest, the leaves on the trees rustling, blown by the wind of dull-witted abuse.
Without warning, the skin on the back of Adam's neck ripped open and the light from the forest danced in, a maniacal orgy of rage saturating his every organ, quenching his body's thirst like a lone well in the Sahara. He opened his mouth and a cannonball of sound launched into the air. Tommy Keeler tipped his head and smirked, subtly approving Adam's transformation. Bits of malice raced across Keeler's smug mouth, scenes from a nightmarish movie he'd been filming for a decade. Adam's hands became metal hammers, blunt, unaware, seeking destruction. He lifted them up and shot himself at the bully like bottle rocket, aimless, explosive.
What followed was the beautiful and grotesque storm of justice. Tommy Keeler's arrogant, ever-sneering face split into chunks of meat and a spray of red. His lips sailed through the air, still smiling, mouthing the syllables, "A-dumb," and a torrent of blood rained on his compatriots, drenching their grey and blue flannel with crimson splotches. Keeler's hands grabbed at the place his head used to be and his body, flaccid, collapsed to the ground.
Adam tried to shrink away from the carnage, from the gang of toughs who stepped forward to avenge the life of their leader. He wanted to get smaller than he'd ever gotten before, so small he'd be gone forever, so small that the mark of his existence would disappear with him, but he couldn't shrink, he could only step back, he could only watch Tommy Keeler's body writhe and twitch on the ground. He took another step back and nearly stepped on the talking dog, who lay supine on the ground shaking, eyes closed. Adam's watery eyes looked pleadingly at the talking dog, and a solitary tear fell from the boys face, reflecting the solemn grey whisper of the clouds overhead as gravity pulled it down toward the cold, unforgiving earth. The droplet landed on the talking dog's nose, startling him. He saw Adam's face staring at him, asking him for comfort, for help.
"Kid, I'm sorry," the talking dog said quietly through his teeth, "I couldn't, I can't, I'm a pacifist."
"What?" Adam's arms, limp and weak, hung at his sides, lost, apologetic. Two more tears fell from his confused face, landing on the talking dog's nose
"Oh, kid." The talking dog felt Adam's innocent tears seep into his matted fur, but there was little time for sympathy. Jimmy Keyman and the pack of ten-year-old bullies were creeping in, encircling them, "OK, listen, I'm scared too, really scared. Things are gonna be alright, though. You have to trust me." The bullies stealthly pressed forward, "Don't look now, but here they come."
"But wha--" Adam looked at the talking dog and started to sob, "what? What do I do?"
"You'll do what you have to do, what has to happen. Certain things have to happen. It'll be alright. Trust me Adam, trust me." With that, the talking dog sprang up and ran deep into the forest, shouting, "You'll find me later!" as he hustled to safety.
Adam's mind swam off in seven different directions and he started to cry, an uncontrollable river of tears cutting across his face. Jimmy Keyman didn't even hesitate, "What's the matter, crybaby? What's the matter A-dumb?" The other toughs joined in, closed in on Adam and repeated Keyman's question, choking the air around the fragile, skinny kid, squeezing the space away from him, trapping him. Adam could see the light from the forest pulse again, bathe the boys in its essence. He only saw it for an instant before he was tackled by blackness, suffocated at the bottom of a pile of fourth-grade hooligans, bloody, threadbare flannel, and cheap husky jeans.