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After years of fighting and intrigue worthy of a spot on reality television, Mike Roesen’s parents had finally separated, and you can be sure this was truly devastating for the boy, who loved both his parents immensely. In the aftermath of their break up, Mike became bitter and disillusioned, and to cope with these emotions, he did what any kid his age would do under similar circumstances: he dyed his hair black and started listening to Linkin Park. He put on a mask of indifference, pretending the world didn’t matter and that people were just stupid, and in the following months, this attitude led to some teasing from his fellow classmates.
Mike didn’t care about them, though, because he knew his time with them was very limited, as his dad was sure to get the custody, and old Mr. Roesen had made it absolutely clear that the two of them would abandon their lives in Maryland and head for Delaware. This promise came true, and while it certainly was saddening to leave his first home behind, Mike showed no signs of regret or remorse. He had to boycott emotions, after all. They made him look weak.
Perhaps we have Mike’s newfound identity to thank for his quick integration into the rural municipality, between the giants Dover and Wilmington, as the area for some inexplicable reason was flooded with unhappy teenagers. Perhaps there was something about the fields of gold – or genetically modified corn – and the fresh air that enticed people to settle here for their second chance at life, bringing their sons and daughters with them.
On Mike’s first day at his new school, his bleak view on life worked like an electromagnet, pulling likeminded individuals towards him, thus forming a clique. This clique was a gestalt entity, something greater than its components, for each of the members had some valuable skill or attribute to add to the mix. We had Paul, the brawny kid, who could have put his muscles to use establishing himself as the tyrant of the school, if he hadn’t had shit for brains. There was Donnie, who was an encyclopedia on 80’s horror flicks like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Then there was Johnson, the silent badass of the group, who wouldn’t take shit from anyone, and who would only be called by his last name.
Mike saw himself as some sort of superglue, sticking everyone together and keeping them from drifting apart. He also enjoyed occasional leadership, when the crew was bored out of their minds and desperately needed something to pass the long afternoons with. He would suggest they check out abandoned houses and hang around at the graveyard, not because Mike himself was actually all that crazy about such adventures, but he had to stay in character, and suggesting something kiddy like walking through the fields would land his ass in a trash barrel.
Once at the graveyard, the gang would brainstorm spooky activities, like pretending to be zombies and stumble about, rasping “Brains” and scaring the mind out of the occasional kindergartner riding by on her three-wheeled bicycle. The other guys thought it was hilarious to pull such pranks, but they left Mike with a bad taste in his mouth. It might have been during one of these pranks that Mike first realized he wasn’t like them. While he certainly possessed a morbid sense of humor like the others, Mike thought that Paul, Donnie, and particularly Johnson went too far in some of their endeavors. The gang quickly became infamous around town, as they would paint pentagrams in red marker on the walls of people’s house, send threatening letters to old folks addressed from recently deceased, and just straight up harass random passersby.
It got Mike into a lot of trouble with his father, who would ground him for days and give him the awful silent treatment, which Mr. Roesen knew pained his son greatly. Mike would then sit in his room, feeling guilty but at the same time having to maintain his façade in front of his peers. When Mike got to see the clique again, they would always be expecting some kind of rebellious comment like “Pops can go screw himself. I’m a fucking adult now”, or “If don’t get grounded again soon, I’ll be a very sad boy”, and saying these things also caused Mike much internal suffering.
On several occasions, it struck Mike that he should cut his ties to the clique, but then he would be all alone, and his old friends would probably pick on him for being a deserter or something. So he stuck with them, hoping against hope that their attitudes might change over time to be more ordinary, less rude and vile. It didn’t happen, of course, and it probably never would have, but at the time, Mike really thought there was hope for them.
When Donnie one day managed to get hold of a wild pheasant, trying to flee into the fields, the boys had their most grotesque entertainment of all time. Johnson stood with a stick in his hand, the Shaft of Leadership, as the boys had come to call it, for whoever possessed it could beat the shit out of the others and thus get his way. He started poking the pheasant’s stomach with the butt of the stick, and the poor thing beat its wings wildly, struggling to get free of Donnie’s grasp. Paul marveled at the sight and thought it was hilarious, and Donnie laughed as well – though whether it was joy or the feathers tickling him, Mike couldn’t tell.
It pained Mike to look at, and he wanted it stop. “Don’t poke the fucking pheasant!” he shouted, for the first time directly objecting to an action of theirs.
“Don’t be such a pussy, Mikey,” Paul retaliated, then turned his amused gaze back to the pheasant.
“It doesn’t ha belong to anybody, so we can ha ha do with it as we want,” Donnie added.
“Johnson, please!” Mike pleaded. “It’s a helpless fucking animal! Can’t you see it’s in pain?”
Then Johnson stopped the poking for a short while, presumably having second thoughts on the whole thing. Paul and Donnie looked at each other in confusion, wondering if the gang’s badass had gone soft, but then Johnson lifted the Shaft of Leadership and slammed it down hard on the pheasant’s head, breaking its neck. The blood spewed on Donnie’s and Johnson’s clothing, and the former let go of the pheasant’s cadaver, so that it fell to the asphalt of the small road. Mike let out a high-pitched scream, horrified at the new extreme his friends had gone to, and he clenched his face in his hands, not wanting to look.
The chronically quiet Johnson actually spoke for once, and it was to Mike, “It’s dead now, Mikey! It can’t feel a goddamn thing anymore. It’s probably in bird heaven now, or KFC, whichever is the most fitting place for a maggoty fucking bird.”
Johnson then handed over the stick to Donnie, signaling a change in leadership. Donnie wanted a piece of the action, too, so he started hammering the pheasant’s corpse with the stick, smashing bones and splattering the insides as if they were water balloons. The sounds were driving Mike crazy, so he knelt down right there on the road, gaze turned away and ears covered. He cried intensely, and his friends evidently didn’t mind. “They know I’m weak,” Mike thought. “This isn’t surprising them in the slightest.”
At some point, the stick must have been handed over to Paul, for when Mike after a few minutes of shock turned back to the grisly scene, the gang’s muscleman was using his great strength to reduce the pheasant to an unrecognizable pile of meat and feathers. It was with great struggle that Mike got to his feet again, and with dizzy steps he tripped up his friends, out of touch with his surroundings as though in a dream state.
He was suddenly pulled back to reality when something crooked, long, and brown appeared in front of him. It was the Shaft of Leadership, meaning it now was his turn to hit the bird – or what was left of it. Shaking as though in a spasm, he placed his fingers around the stick and took it from Paul’s hand, unsure of what to do with it. He stared blankly at it, doubting the actuality of the situation, because this simply could not be true, but unfortunately, it was.
Something was expected of Mike, and as he stood there, looking down at the puddle of blood at his feet, he felt about to collapse. That was when Johnson put his hand on Mike’s shoulder, and he whispered into Mike’s ear, “Just one strike, Mikey. One strike, and we can all go home and eat ice cream and play video games and suck each other’s dicks.”
“One strike?” Mike asked vaguely, seeking confirmation.
“You shouldn’t be so frightened by these things, Mikey,” Johnson told him. “Animals are just machines. They eat and shit and fuck and die, just like nature has programmed them to. There is no difference between unscrewing a computer and cutting open a puppy with a pocketkni-”
The Shaft of Leadership was firmly planted in Johnson’s face, breaking his nose and sending the badass on a trip through the land of dreams. Mike then smacked Donnie’s balls with the stick, and he too was soon on the ground, clenching his crotch and crying in pain. When it came to Paul, though, Mike was overwhelmed by the brutish strength of his adversary. The stick was wrenched from him, and now it was Mike’s turn to receive a beating.
Mike cried and writhed in fetal position right there on the asphalt. Donnie got up and joined in on the fun, kicking Mike in his stomach and face. They continued this for a while, until Johnson eventually came to himself, and bleeding profusely from his nose, he stepped over to the three of them, eyes bloodshot.
“Are you alright?” Paul asked the injured badass.
“Give me stick,” was all Johnson said.
“We should leave this worm and get you some help,” Donnie suggested.
“I said give me the fucking stick!” Johnson shouted, and Paul handed him over the Shaft of Leadership as a squire would hand his lord a sword. Johnson stood with the stick in his hands for a while, eying Mike with cold hatred.
“You really loved that bird, didn’t you?” Johnson asked with the ghost of a smile. “You wanted to fuck it, I’ll bet! A freak like you is probably into that kind of stuff, and I can certainly help you fulfill your wettest dreams. Just pretend this is the pheasant’s cock – it’s got most of the damn bird on it, anyway.”
Paul and Donnie took that as a signal to pull off Mike’s pants, and the boy struggled to escape the horrible fate awaiting him. Mike was wailing in a deep neurosis, screaming for help and begging for mercy, but his gang wouldn’t listen. Johnson looked at Mike’s ass for a second, giggling a little, and then he shoved the Shaft of Leadership in. He pushed it deeper and deeper, and it didn’t look like he was ever going to stop.
The burning sensation of Mike’s whole body being torn apart by the intense force of the stick was extreme, and the sheer humiliation equally painful. Paul and Donnie sat on him, forcing him against the road, against the blood of the pheasant. He could see the bird’s cadaver just lying there right in front of him, and the sight was unbearable. Mike fought a desperate battle to break free, but it was no use, and all he could do was cry and flail his legs around, as if he was just a helpless animal.
As if he was the pheasant, actually.
Eventually, Mike was broken. He stopped struggling, stopped moving, and practically stopped breathing. He was alive, but not quite, and it was with dead eyes that he now looked at the feathers and blood. Nothing around him seemed real anymore, and more than anything, he felt disconnected. All alone, tired, and empty.
When the gang realized the fun was over, they drew their smartphones, took some pictures, and then they headed back to town, padding each other on the backs for a job well done.
And right there, on a desolate road, next to a dead pheasant, with a stick in his ass, lay Mike Roesen, who would grow up to become a monster as apathetic as his tormentors.
Written by Resident DeVir