Adam sat in a sterile, vacant limbo, the walls unsettlingly white and empty. The loneliness and despair of the place peeled sound from the air, leaving only the ringing in his ears, a field of crickets chirping accusations, reminding him of Tommy Keeler's bloody fate. Adam saw his tiny fists charging into the air, cutting molecules to bits as they flew toward their target and freezing for a moment, contemplating the late Keeler's face, searching for a reason to blast it, explode it into a juicy red mushroom cloud. What if he could have talked his hands out of it, stepped away from the fight, walked away peacefully with the talking dog, the world a motionless picture behind them? He and his new friend would escape, exploring, looking for a new photo to step into, a new world without bullies or anger or deadly fists. Fate dangled magical possibilities in front of him, but only offered him the cold reality of punishment.
Beyond the walls of the room he could see his trial: "Detention, suspension, expulsion, or death?" Principal Windsor asked the parents, the children, the teachers. The mother of Tommy Keeler, her face grey and crying, looked up for the first time since her son's murder. Her tears boiled off of her cheeks, a cloud of steam, a smoke signal calling for vengeance, and she shouted, "DEATH! Give him DEATH!" A sympathetic wave of angry screams rippled through the crowd, condemning the boy.
Adam felt leather straps locking him to the electric chair, the crowd watching, hungry for justice. Dressed in black, Tommy Keeler's poor mother shot him a fiery look, burning into his wretched soul as he sat waiting for thousands of fatal volts to zap his body, a sting only slightly less torturous than the mournful mother's cursing orange gaze.
The pulsing, anemic glow of the fluorescent lights tainted the walls around him. Adam looked around the room. He sat alone, no parents, no teachers, no mob, no electric chair, safe for the moment. The emptiness of the room seemed too cold and unfeeling, too palpable. The reality of it all squeezed Adam's head.
He let the room get bigger and bigger until he was a tiny speck in the middle, the four naked walls stretching out forever around him. Principal Windsor would have to walk for decades to find him here. He'd be old and decrepit by the time he reached Adam. Just as the punishment would start to creak out from under the principal's brittle, gray beard, the old man would fall over and die, taking the death sentence with him. Adam pushed the walls out farther, the door disappearing on the horizon, traveling to another country, maybe China. No one in China saw what happened, let the door go to China, let Principal Windsor walk from China. The door nearly sank away and then Adam heard a noise. In the distance he saw a shiny knob twist and... SNAP! The room came racing back, the door opened and Principal Windsor stepped inside.
"How are you feeling, Adam?" Windsor pulled up a chair and sat down gently, trying not to disturb the room's delicate silence. The principal's starched, clean shirt balanced on his tall frame neatly, a monument to order. "Those guys really roughed you up, little guy."
Adam's little body was a map of scrapes and bruises. He looked at a fresh hole in the knee of his pants. Blood stains around the frayed edges of the tear painted patches of purple into his blue jeans.
"Listen," Windsor leaned in, "Things are going to be all right, but I'd appreciate it if you told me what happened down there."
Adam tugged at one of the blood-stained threads, pulled it until it quietly released itself from the rest of the fabric. The fiber shook in fingers, blown by the winds of distress. He wanted to talk, to say something, anything, but as soon as he opened his mouth, his throat tightened, water came to his eyes, and he started to cry.
"Adam, calm down, calm down. It's going to be OK. You're OK."
OK? Was this some sort of ploy, a trick to weasel a confession out of him? Adam's sobbing slowed and he glanced up at Principal Windsor's face. The man looked genuine.
"We've all been bullied before. Everything's OK now. You're safe."
Surely Windsor had seen Tommy Keeler's headless body on the bloody ground. Surely he knew Adam murdered the boy, minced his meaty head and sent it flying. Surely he knew everything was not OK. "What about Tommy Keeler?"
Principal Windsor shrugged, "What about Tommy Keeler?" The matter-of-fact words came out like bits of science. Did he know Keeler was murdered, killed, decapitated? Maybe he didn't see Tommy. Maybe no one saw him dead by the forest. Maybe the talking dog ran in during the confusion, dug a big hole with his tiny paws, dirtying his already ragged trousers, making a grave big enough for Tommy Keeler. Maybe the talking dog nosed Keeler's limp body into the hole, and filled it in before the adults charged in to break up the fight.
"Adam, I assure you, Tommy Keeler's not coming back to this school. No one will ever bother you again."
Confusion raked Adam's mind. Principal Windsor knew Tommy Keeler was dead? Principal Windsor knew Tommy Keeler was dead, but Adam was OK, safe? Did the principal consider the murder self defense? Was he willing to overlook the heinous, vicious bloodbath that downed the bully? Or was this an attempt at comfort, confidence, a ruse designed to make Adam spill his guts about the gory details, to justify his execution? Nothing will bother you again, Adam, because you'll be as stiff and dead as he is.
"Are you hungry Adam? Would you like something to eat or drink? You can have anything you'd like."
His final meal already? The hand of justice sprinted at Weisburg Elementary, not pausing for a drink or a breath. Adam read about prisoners on death row, nasty fat Texans ordering entire buffets, gorging themselves before lightning melted them. He saw the diodes coming closer to his temples, felt the rough leather straps of the electric chair cut off circulation to his hands. The blackness and fire of death tumbled in the sky, a thunderhead ready to split. He needed to break out, run away from Weisburg, the principal, Tommy Keeler's mother, the zap of death. He needed the talking dog's help.
"Do you have any carrots?" the words feebly floated out of his quivering mouth.
"Carrots? Nothing to eat or drink, just carrots?"
"I'm not really that hungry."
The principal's head bobbed with uncertainty and he smiled, "I'll be back in a second with the carrots." He stepped out of the room, carefully closing the door behind him.
Adam saw the talking dog's cryptic words move around like pieces to a puzzle. You'll do what you have to do. His nine-year-old mind mapped out the details, the escape plan, what had to happen.
Principal Windsor walked back into the room, carrots in hand. He handed them to Adam. Adam took a bite and looked up at the man's shrewd face, wondering if he knew talking dogs liked carrots, if he sensed any of Adam's plot. "Principal Windsor, may I go to the bathroom?" Nerves shook the boy's voice, made it come out in tense, revealing pieces, a staircase of answers.
The principal nodded and held open the door. Adam leaked out of the room into the hallway, surprised that there were not guards to escort him, no shackles or cuffs to restrain him. He looked over his shoulder at the principal, whose hands buried themselves in their pockets, whose eyes looked the other way as if to say, "Escape, little boy. This is your only chance. Run far away, as far as you can go. The bully deserved it, run away before the mob comes to feast on your death." The principal remembered torture at the hands of bullies, the ridicule, the purple nurples, the ever-present power they held in their thick hands. Everything made sense now. The principal knew Adam was OK because the principal was part of the plan. Adam silently thanked the man and hustled toward the bathroom.
He slunk down the hallway, passed the bathroom, and found a corner to turn. He scanned the corridor. Empty. His pace quickened, fueled by fear and guilt; guilty of murder, guilty of deceit, enough guilt for weeks, possibly years of running. He looked back again. He saw nothing, no one, but he sensed them, every one of them, every parent, student, teacher, janitor, slowly following him, marching, chasing down the murderer. He turned around again, certain they stood inches away, torches, axes, rifles in hand. No one. They must be hiding. He picked up his pace, began to jog down the hall, an endless tunnel of painted cinderblock. Then he heard it. A quiet gallop broke out behind him. One of them had broken away, a fast and sneaky one, but Adam sensed it, heard its steps and he ran faster. Principal Windsor could give Adam a chance to run, but he couldn't guarantee safe passage.
His pursuer quickened his pace, determined to catch the tiny criminal bounding down the hallway. Adam wanted to look behind him, to see get a glimpse of his opponent. Maybe it was the dead kid's older brother, another more evil Keeler, rope in hand, ready lasso and hang little Adam. Whoever it was, he didn't get tired easily. Adam's skinny legs hit full stride, and he blazed down the hallway, guilt pushing his leg muscles. Artwork and dental-hygene posters flapped, tape barely keeping them on the walls as Adam's tailwind swept behind him. But like a sports car shifting into high-gear, his pursuer locked in and buzzed up behind him. Adam wanted to push harder, shoot through what was left of the hallway like a rocket, but he had nothing left. The chase was over. He was caught, prepared to hand himself over to his untiring pursuer, to justice at the hands of the town mob. Adam slowed his pace and waited to be roped, cuffed, or tackled. Behind him he heard heavy panting and from below knee level, his follower spoke, "Don't slow down too much, we're not outta here yet." Adam looked down and there he was; the talking dog, galloping beside him, a piece of his torn khakis wagging with every stride. A burst of excitement charged through Adam's body. The talking dog found him, just like he said. Adam held a carrot out for the talking dog to see. "Alright, kid. Now we're talking. Let's get outta here." With that, the two became dizzy lasers and shot through 24 walls, 68 desks, two water fountains and a urinal before escaping from the bowels of Weisburg Elementary and the impending doom within.
Adam walked alone with the talking dog to the edge of the empty playground, to the forest. A gentle breeze played around the trees and birds sailed above them, singing without worry or restraint. It was a world at peace. Everything seemed perfect, right.
"Something here is wrong, very wrong" the talking dog spat the top end of a carrot on the ground and trotted over to woods, to the path that lead to the strange plastic wall thing hidden amongst the shadows. "It's gone."
Adam walked over and saw that the wall had vanished, a shaft of light breaking through the canopy above, taking its place.
"Oh, kid, this is gonna be harder than I thought. We have to find that thing."
"What is it?"
"It's hard to explain. It's terrible, awful, giant, scary. It gets inside you, feeds on all the bad parts. It's gonna take guts to face it, but we've gotta do it. You've gotta do it."
"I don't know." Adam looked up at the school, a brick beast sitting on the hill, its belly ready to digest him. He thought of all the people who'd be clamoring inside in a few moments, searching for the genius murderer, the little brainy fugitive.
"Toss me another carrot."
Adam lobbed a carrot into the air. The talking dog leapt up, snagged it with his mouth, and waddled into the forest. Adam hesitated and looked into the cool woods. Around every tree, in every shadow, was hope, fear, danger, and excitement. He stepped in and the school, the playground, and the people behind him dissolved, adventure and possibility taking their place.
NOTE: Here ends the sencond chapter of the Alone with the Talking Dog story. I'm being pretty ambitious with this one and I'm going to keep writing with the hopes that something more substantial (possibly a novel) comes of it. Please let me know what you think so far as I plan to revise chapters 1 (part 1) and 2 (parts 2, 3, and 4) and repost them as full chapters. Thanks to everyone who's helped me work this through so far. You guys rock.