I've always been a good speller. Some people just have the knack, while others struggle their whole lives to spell even the most rudimentary words. With the advent of the internet came widespread apathy towards proper spelling. I'd just as soon join the masses but I'm sure I'd never forgive myself—not after everything that's happened. Allow me to explain.
In sixth grade there was a spelling bee at my elementary school. Long story short I won. It wasn't fair, really, considering the fourth and fifth graders were involved, but I didn't let empathy sour the moment. My classmates were thrilled and offered their sincerest congratulations. Up until that point I hadn't been much of a standout kid, but now I was a champion of sorts. It was a moment I long to relive.
As the winner, I was invited to compete against local schools then possibly advance to regionals. Exciting as it all was, I couldn't help worrying since I tend to freeze up when put on the spot. The first spelling bee was no problem; it was at my own school, which was small, with only some other students and teachers there. But now I would have to stand up in front of people I didn't know and try to keep my cool.
My first challenge was at a much larger school. I was relieved to find that despite the competition taking place in a sizable auditorium, it would have a small audience of just parents and a few teachers—no bratty kids to heckle me. Being on stage was a little disconcerting but—having been forced to perform in a school play—it wasn't entirely unfamiliar territory. The other kids didn't look too bright and I figured they came from schools where nobody could spell for shit. This was going to be easy.
Before we began, the usual rules were dictated by the pronouncer. I won't bore you with the specifics but she made it a point to emphasize that there would be no homophones: words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Usually, when given a homophone, the competitor would simply ask for the definition. However, in this particular spelling bee I was to expect no homophones at all—not a one. I could push them completely out of my mind. Homophone? What's a homophone?
Things got off to a good start, as expected. Naturally, the words started out simple and gradually became more complex—not enough to stump me though. I was right about the other students being pathetic spellers. Two of them were eliminated early on by some really basic words. My confidence was skyrocketing and an effortless victory seemed within my grasp. But then, out of nowhere, this bitch did the unthinkable: she gave me a fucking homophone.
Now you're probably thinking, "Whoa, that's pretty harsh considering you could just ask for the definition." Well, you're right. I could have asked for the definition. Oh God, why didn't I just ask for the definition? My eleven year old mind struggled to understand why someone would be so insistent and then completely contradict themselves. She said there would be no homophones. No... fucking... HOMOPHONES! I felt like I had been thrown under the bus. You could hear a pin drop and a wolf howl in the distance as I stood there like an idiot trying to untie the knot this woman had just fastened in my brain
The word was either "colonel" or "kernel". I never found out which. I was too preoccupied with the whirlwind of questions orbiting round my head. Which word am I supposed to spell? Why did she give me this word? Why did she say there'd be no homophones? Why is she doing this to me?! I wanted to scream, to run, to cry, but I did nothing. After a painfully awkward and seemingly endless silence, I was told to hurry or I'd be out of time. Afraid of being disqualified, I spit out the only thing my tangled mind could scramble together: a combination of both spellings.
"I'm sorry, that is incorrect."
I was mortified. What the hell just happened? Did I really spell it that way? Why did I do that? Why the hell did I do that?! No, it was that bitch's fault. She lied to me! This was my chance to show everyone that I was special, and she just ripped it away like a greedy troll snatching bread from a hungry child. I wanted to protest but I couldn't make a sound—paralyzed by denial, confusion and embarrassment. They had to play me off, so to speak, like some dazed fool.
I was clearly distraught but no one seemed to understand how severely. My father attempted to console me but he didn't try that hard. I suppose it was futile, or maybe he was just bad at that type of thing. I pleaded to that stupid woman but of course she dismissed it like it was no big deal. I kept telling my dad, "She said there'd be no homophones!" I wanted him to confront her, to do something about it. Instead he just shrugged it off. She knew what she did, though. That bitch knew.
Everyone at school was sympathetic about my loss, which only made me feel worse. Now and then I'd imagine that dumbass kid who won the spelling bee smiling with his shit eating grin as that evil woman pats him on the back. It was obvious that I was the better speller, so how in God's name did they let that moron win? At least they were from different schools; I'd never have to see them again. Still, my anger didn't fade, permeating into every facet of my young life. I stopped caring about my grades and started acting out in class. The teachers were surprised, and my parents were worried.
Maybe it's unfair to blame everything on that one experience, but the humiliation I fostered kept growing and mutating as I refused to let go. By the time I entered high school, I just didn't care anymore. It's a slippery slope once you give up on life, and it's not unusual for people to start going downhill in their teens. Bad grades, bad relationships, bad choices—that was the road I traveled into my twenties. Roads like that don't lead to places worth going.
I'm in my thirties now and things are worse than ever. I can't keep a job, I'm undateable, and I piss off everyone I come in contact with. Not too long ago, something happened that I thought would change everything. It was easy to convince myself, to give in to the anger that I'd been bottling up for all those years. I didn't even know what I'd been waiting for until it fell right into my lap.
I was on line at the supermarket when I heard her voice. There was something familiar in the tone and the way she enunciated. I glanced over as she reached for a package of frozen corn from her shopping cart. A small tear in the bag got caught on the head of a spray bottle and corn started leaking out.
"Oh, darn," she said. "Kernels everywhere!"
My ears caught fire. The way she said "kernel", it just had to be her. She kept saying it over and over as if she were mocking me—laughing and joking with the cashier about "a kernel here" and "a kernel there". Apparently, she thought she was funny. Something inside me snapped and all I could think about was how to wipe that stupid grin off her face.
I don't remember thinking about what I was doing, it just kind of happened. One moment I was in the parking lot, and the next I was following her home. I had to know where she lived. As she pulled into a driveway, I made note of the house number and continued on while looking straight ahead. I repeated her address over and over to myself, spelling out the street name each time.
Every day, I drove around that neighborhood, passing by her house several times. It started as a hobby, and then grew into an obsession. Sometimes at night I would sit in my car and watch her family through the windows. No one seemed to notice me. Her smiles and laughter served to further cultivate the inescapable hatred I felt. I'd mumble as if she were listening, utilizing every manner of profanity to express my disgust. Eventually, I found that I had memorized her work schedule, and her husband's as well. It was only a matter of time before I confronted her, alone.
It was freezing that day. Most people were keeping warm inside but I still wore a ski mask so that no one would be able to identify me, and gloves of course. I parked my car a few streets over and walked casually to her house. I'm not sure what possessed me to go there in broad daylight, but I knew her husband would be at work so I took my chances. In a bold move, I went right up to the front door, knocking impatiently. Soon, I heard footsteps and a woman call, "Just a minute!" As raging rivers of adrenaline surged through my veins, the door swung open and I came face to face with my sworn enemy.
"Can I help-" Before she could finish, I punched her in the throat and shoved a wet rag in her mouth. Then I rammed the bitch with my shoulder, sending her backward and giving me room to close and lock the door. She tried for the rag but I hit her in the stomach. I got behind her and wrapped my arm around her neck, then dragged her into the kitchen as she floundered and flailed. Red faced and wild eyed, I smashed her head into the counter and threw her to the ground, planting one foot firmly on her throat. She tried her darndest to remove it, but she just wasn't strong enough.
Knives, knives everywhere—I had to find the biggest one. I needed to terrify her—make her beg for her life. It seemed her arms were getting tired so I lifted my foot and proceeded to kick her in the head repeatedly. She tried to get away but I kicked her in the ribs. I just kept kicking and kicking. The rag was coming loose so I took a break and jammed it back in her mouth, then I sat on the floor to watch her struggle for a moment. There was something beautiful and innocent about it. I wondered why my face hurt; I was smiling too hard.
The petrified woman was now incapacitated from pain and exhaustion. I climbed on top of her and waved the knife around in a childish manner, close to her face. My body was shaking, and so was hers. This was the moment I had been waiting for. I felt like a God, and judgement was at hand. What I did next still troubles me.
"You pour thing," I teased. "You're looking rather pail. Do you knead some heir?" My enemy tried to respond but her voice was muffled and crowded by coughs and gurgles. "Hmm... you sound a little horse."
"Frmk yrm!" she bellowed through the pain.
"My deer lady... is that any weigh to treat a guessed? You can mown and grown 'til you're blew in the face. I'm the won in control hear." Her eyes revealed a sense of defeat—not much of a fighter. "That's write... know reason to be so tents. Wheel get threw this... together. Okay?" She reluctantly nodded. "I'm going to remove the rag. Wood you be sew kind as to knot make a sound?"
I pulled the rag slowly from her mouth while I grinned and gazed into her frightened eyes. She seemed relieved to breathe freely again. I waited for her to settle down, then pointed the knife below her chin and began my monologue.
"I bet you think I'm sum sort of cereal killer. Sorry to disappoint you; I'm just a regular guy. A guy who mist his chance at greatness. Since then I've bin searching for piece of mined. But I just can't seam to fined it. As daze go buy, it gets harder and harder. Nobody nose how much pane I'm in. I can't bear it any longer. I don't live anymore, I just weight for death."
The woman was silent. "Does my tail amuse you?" She shook her head slightly. I wasn't sure what to do with her. "I'm starting to get board, how about you?" She said nothing. Then I had a brilliant idea. "How about we play a game? I'll give you a word and yule spell it. If you get it write then you can go free. If you get it wrong... then you dye." I could tell she wasn't happy about the game. "Can you dew that four me?" She nodded slightly. "Good, good."
I acted like I was searching for the perfect word, but I already knew what it was. I just wanted to savor the moment, to breathe in the fear and soak in the redemption. I smiled again, trying not to laugh. Briefly, I questioned my actions. Was I really going to kill her? Was this really the same woman that ruined my life? I didn't care. All that mattered was the moment, and so I delivered the challenge.
"Your word is... colonel." Or did I say "kernel"? Honestly, I don't even remember. Our unblinking eyes were locked in battle as I waited patiently for her response. The woman took a hard gulp and a deep breath, then she spoke.
"No, no, NO! You have to SAY the word, THEN spell it, and THEN say it again! Don't you remember how a spelling bee works?!" I was furious that she had forgotten the rules. I let us both calm down, and she made another attempt.
"K-kernel... K... eh-E... w-wait... which spelling?"
I burst into hysterical laughter. "Witch spelling, indeed!" I was so proud of myself. The tables had been turned. I had put this bitch in the same position she put me in all those years ago. The only thing left to do was watch her squirm. With the blade to her face, I leaned in and whispered, "I'm not telling."
"B-but... that's not fair..."
"Not fair?!" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "You dare lecture ME about fairness?!" Everything came to a head and I could no longer cage the beast. The knife seemed to move on its own, slicing from her left eye to her right cheek. The woman shrieked in pain and grabbed at the wound. There was so much blood. Maybe I cut her more than once but everything's a blur. I'm still not sure if she's alive or dead. In all the panic, I got spooked and ran, and I never stopped running.
Another state, another name, another life—no one really knew me back there anyway. It's easier to disappear than you might think. I guess in the end I'm just a coward. All those years letting myself rot away like it was someone else's fault. Part of me regrets what I did, but in a way it was necessary. I know now that I'm still that kid who lost the spelling bee. I wouldn't let myself be anyone else. Perhaps, I never will.
I wish the story ended there, but I overheard this woman the other day with a hauntingly familiar voice. She was going on and on about how Kentucky Fried Chicken keeps hiring different actors to play their mascot, Colonel Sanders. Long story short—I followed her home.
Written by Umbrello