By Eldon M.
Chapter 1: Something to Tell Him
This story is about a boy named Oscar. He was not a very special boy, or we should have no reason to be studying his life. It is often the case that the most interesting people are not as interesting as they seem, because their uniqueness comes from what they are, instead of what they do. For instance, this story could be about a very tall, brown-headed sports star who wins a championship game of some sort or the other, despite various circumstances working against him. This would be the sort of story you might read in the newspaper. It might encourage you to push the limits of your own strengths, but that would be the extent of the influence. The story you are about to read, however, is not about a strong character who becomes stronger in the area in which he was strong in the first place.
Instead, this account concerns a very ordinary boy who did not have any particular strengths, or weaknesses, for that matter. Oscar had a very average temperament, and was more or less average looking, with a small face, green eyes and red hair that stuck out prominently on his head, punctuated dramatically by a small white spot on the very back. He had seen several doctors concerning this curious feature, all of whom had agreed that it was just a genetic problem with the follicles. His mother had initially wanted him to dye it to match the rest of his hair, but Oscar had declined. He liked the spot; it was very distinctive and one of the few things that really set him apart. There were no other spectacular features to speak of in his repertoire, though he was only thirteen years old on the fifth of September, leaving plenty of time for him to acquire some. This is where our story begins.
Oscar was very bored. He had come to school that morning very much against his will, forced out of bed at an unearthly hour by his mother. After arriving at school, discovering his locker, and sitting through a boring orientation by a large man with no public speaking ability, Oscar had found himself in a stuffy classroom with an educator whose collection of interesting material was exhausted within the first five minutes of class. It didn’t help, either, that his teacher had no idea how boring she was. If she had, Oscar might have at least had the privilege of feeling sorry at the vindictive nature of the educational establishment, but all he was presently able to do was groan repeatedly as the day dragged slowly along.
“And this, of course, is how starfish were named. The unique ‘star’ shape is consistently repeated throughout the different varieties, which tells us many things about their sociological state as they relate to other sea creatures. Can anyone tell me what some of these might be?”
Oscar’s teacher, Mrs. Fangle, peered expectantly out over her lethargic class. She surveyed their various facial expressions, which ranged from “very bored” to “comatose,” looking for some sort of sign of comprehension concerning the topic at hand. Oscar sat in the corner, glad that he was not in her direct line of sight. Just to be sure, he slunk down along with the rest of the class, most of whom, surprisingly, had no idea what the sociological implications of a starfish’s shape were. Oscar guessed it probably had something to do with harmony (every previous question the teacher had asked thus far had), but he wasn’t sure whether he would be praised for his answer or sent to the principal’s office for insubordination, so he kept his mouth shut.
“Don’t be shy, does anyone have an idea? Yes, Fenton!”
A bespectacled boy in the corner had hesitantly raised his hand. Mrs. Fangle waited hopefully, but Fenton seemed to have lost his nerve. He put his hand down, muttering something about harmony.
Mrs. Fangle was ecstatic. She clapped her hands very loudly and stood up, knocking over the banana-shaped lamp that had been balanced precariously on the edge of her desk. This caused only a momentary pause in her jubilance, which resumed as soon as she had replaced the lamp on her desk.
“Very good, Fenton! The star shape is instrumental in keeping other sea creatures from attacking it. Its shape keeps it in harmony with other creatures. There are other implications, of course…” she added abruptly, “but they are not approved by the so-called school board. Some people are not comfortable with things they do not understand.”
She finished this statement with a lofty frown, and then moved on to geography, talking about the hidden glaciers in South Africa. Oscar chuckled softly. It had been talked of quite openly how boring this teacher was, but he had never heard about anything nearly as wild as what he was seeing now. Checking to see if she was looking (which she was not) he leaned over and pulled a small pocket calendar out of his backpack. It was a small, black book with Oscar’s initials engraved on the front. He carried it with him wherever he went and made comments in it whenever anything interesting happened. It was nice to look back every once in a while and remember what a particular day had been like. It was like a journal, except there was little obligation to make an entry if nothing important had happened. On the space marked “September 1,” he wrote,
First day of school. Loony teacher.
Stowing the calendar once again in his backpack, he ruffled his hair absentmindedly and stared out the window.
It was Oscar’s first day at the South Bringham Elementary School in San Diego, California. He and his parents had recently moved from Colorado to a nice house out in the suburbs of San Diego, where they were busily starting a new life for themselves. The move had taken place two months ago, immediately following Oscar’s thirteenth birthday. Oscar considered the new house to be very nice, much nicer than the apartment they had left in Denver, which had boasted a total of one leaky bathroom and barely two bedrooms. The new place had all the luxuries Oscar could have hoped for: a swimming pool, wonderfully refreshing air conditioning (a necessity in California heat), and a huge bedroom for Oscar to play with his new friends.
…Which he would get anytime now, Oscar thought regretfully. He had not made any friends so far and was getting desperate. During the remainder of the summer after moving, he had always said that he would make friends when he got into school. Now that he was in class, however, it seemed like a much more difficult task. What was he supposed to do, walk up to a stranger and say, “Hello, my name is Oscar. Will you be my friend?”
What was he thinking? It wasn’t like that at all. He just had to be natural and talk to someone. He could do it. He had nothing to be afraid of. In fact, Oscar thought resolutely, he would start a conversation with someone on the way home…
Then he remembered. He had to hurry home; his dad had something to tell him. He had told Oscar that morning…it was something important and he had to get home right after school. “Oh, well,” Oscar thought. “There’s always tomorrow.”
The bell rang. Oscar jumped. Mrs. Fangle was packing up her books, looking somewhat vindicated. Oscar speculated vaguely as to what homework she had assigned while he packed up. Pushing his books into his backpack, he wondered if he should tell his parents about the teacher. No, someone else would. He was sure there would be enough outrage from parents without his getting involved. Besides, he thought excitedly, his dad had something important to tell him. Something very important.
Bursting into the sunlight, Oscar hurried through the parking lot out toward the road. He had grown quite a bit lately and was nearly as tall as some of the ninth-graders. Red hair stuck out prominently on his head, punctuated dramatically by a small white spot on the very back. He had seen several doctors concerning this curious feature, all of whom had agreed that it was just a genetic problem with the follicles. His parents had initially wanted him to dye it to match the rest of his hair, but Oscar had declined. He liked the spot; it was very distinctive and one of the few things that really set him apart.
He had figured it would be a waste of time to ride the bus; his house was less than three blocks away. The sidewalk was littered with leaves from the variety of trees that lined the yards of the neighborhood. Oscar hurried through the leaves, getting more and more anxious as he moved along. What was his father going to tell him? What could be so important that he couldn’t have told him that morning? Just wait, Oscar told himself. He would find out the answers soon.
As he approached the intersection, Oscar saw something that made his heart skip a beat. Three very tall, very rough-looking teenagers were walking toward him, brandishing their beer bottles for the world to see. Oscar wasn’t sure what to do. They probably wouldn’t attack him in broad daylight, would they? But they looked drunk; were they thinking clearly enough to recognize that roughing up kids wasn’t looked upon favorably by society?
But no one was around, Oscar realized with a shudder. Even though he was in a suburban neighborhood, no one seemed to be watching. He could be beat to a pulp before anyone found him. What could he do? They hadn’t seen him yet; they were ambling along slowly, laughing loudly and occasionally screaming obscenities at lawn ornaments. Oscar looked around desperately. Something caught his eye; a tall maple tree stood out prominently on the lawn he stood in front of. The trunk was too skinny for him to successfully hide behind; however, the foliage grew thickly, providing ample concealment for anyone who managed to scramble up the trunk.
Oscar threw caution to the wind and bolted for the tree. He stuck his backpack behind the base of the trunk and started to climb. It was more difficult than it looked; the lowest branch was a full two feet beyond his reach. He jumped and caught it, struggling to hang on and pull himself up. Kicking his feet out, he worked his way slowly along, holding the branch tightly and trying hard not to look down.
After rolling himself up onto the branch, Oscar paused to take a breath. The branches were more closely intertwined further up; it would be easy from here on. He turned to look across the lawn at the sidewalk. The fence now obscured his view of the intersection, but he could still hear the loud, raucous yelling coming steadily closer.
As he began working his way further up the tree, Oscar chanced a peek down at the ground and instantly regretted it. He wasn’t afraid of heights per se, but the few feet that stood between him and the ground already seemed like a mile. Reaching out quickly for the trunk, he steadied himself and wondered if there was enough foliage at his present height to conceal him. Another quick glance told him that there wasn’t. He would have to climb up at least three more branches to find a spot that put enough leaves between him and the sidewalk.
Taking a deep breath, Oscar began working his way slowly up. His limbs seemed reluctant to move, as if they too feared the increasing distance between themselves and safety. Forcing himself to move, Oscar clawed his way up the second and third branches, breathing slowly and trying desperately not to look down.
The fourth branch, upon closer inspection, appeared to be very spindly and altogether unsafe. Oscar pressed gently on it before climbing further to make sure that it would support him. It did; he set himself down gingerly and turned to see if the teenagers were within view yet.
They were. Having crossed the intersection without causing an accident (as far as Oscar could tell), they were rambling along toward no particular destination, looking very drunk and very wild. They walked along in single file, now and then throwing beer bottles at houses as if to dare the inhabitants to come out and stop them.
Oscar flinched as a stray bottle crashed into the trunk of his tree, spraying bits of glass across the lawn. Why had no one come out of their houses? Maybe they had called the police instead, he thought hopefully. Maybe the police would come screeching around the corner and take the drunks away, allowing him to continue on home.
As if to affirm this idea, sirens blared from some distance away. The teenagers started and began yelling at one another, attempting to hide the rest of the rest of the bottles in their jackets, which proved a futile task. Oscar breathed a sigh of relief and listened as the sirens came closer.
As they did, something peculiar began to happen. The branch beneath him began to shake. In fact, the whole tree was shaking. Oscar instinctively grabbed the trunk to steady himself, hoping against hope that he did not look down.
The shaking increased, and as it did, sirens began blaring from all directions. Oscar realized what was happening. It was an earthquake. He had never been in one before, but he realized almost instantly that the last place he wanted to be was in that tree.
The tree shuddered violently as Oscar began working his way quickly down. He could hear loud crashes somewhere off to his left, accompanied shortly by screams and shouts. The shaking, which had started out subtly, was increasing in intensity and Oscar could feel the tree swaying back and forth, until…
Oscar kicked off the branch, flew through the air, and just as the tree came crashing to the ground, his leg collided with a branch, turning him head over heels. The sky flew by momentarily and he knew no more.