"There's got to be a trick."
Trent Howard folded his arms over his chest and fixed his round, beady frog's eyes on Jim's homemade solar surfer. It lay on the ground between them, a thin layer of dust over the engines, cooling after Jim had decided to ride it to school. Save some time. Avoid the pressing crowds at the coach stop. Now he had an even larger crowd pressing in around him, spreading out to the left and to the right and behind Trent and behind Jim, pushing closer to get a look at the surfer. To catch a glimpse of the fight that was sure to start.
"Hawkins flew in on that cheap surfer of his!" one boy called out. "Howard saw him."
"Is there gonna be a fight?" The question was echoed by several voices, stamping a smug grin on Trent's face, furrowing Jim's brow till his eyes were almost hidden in shadow.
Firmly ignoring the weight of Trent's stare, Jim bent down to pick up the surfer, slinging it over his back with a carefree flip that drew a chorus of impressed and derisive and jealous twitters and chuckles and giggles and grunts. Jim bent his head low, hiding the grin that had formed on his lips, long bangs obscuring his face. He meant to push his way through the crowd, ignore Trent, flip him one rude finger once he was well on his way. Trent had other ideas.
A soft, somewhat spongy chest came up against Jim's face. Trent smirked down at him, his arms still folded, feet set firmly apart. Dodging him proved to be out of the question. The Benbonian simply followed wherever Jim went, his long, flexible limbs much more graceful than Jim's short, human build. After three attempts at sidestepping him, Jim glared up at Trent.
"I'll be late for class," he muttered. He didn't need the mocking laughter that rang out to tell him how lame that sounded.
Trent's smile widened. "Late for class, Hawkins? You?" He favoured the crowd with a sweeping gaze. "That's so unlike you," he drawled. Laughter had now become the norm. The crowd had settled in for a show. It was fifteen minutes till the homeroom bell, and anything could happen in fifteen minutes.
A little glint appeared in Trent's eyes. "Aren't you going to tell us what the trick is, Hawkins?" He cast the tip of the surfer that peeked out from Jim's back a dismissive look. "You're not going to tell me a fourteen-year-old looser like you can actually fly a surfer correctly?"
"You saw me fly in," Jim said hotly. Then added, with a tinge of pride. "That was a camel back loop I pulled off." He paused, eyes locking on Trent's. "Correctly."
The Benbonian stepped back, the action signalling the crowd to spread out their circle. A clap rang out, followed by a whistle. Several murmured chants of fight drifted out, seeming to come from nowhere, but echoed by everyone present. Jim tightened his hands into fists and scanned the crowd. Most of them seemed to be Trent's friends, and would likely pin all the blame on Jim if asked how the fight had started. Not good. No sign of the sophomore class moderator, though. Only rumours would reach the headmaster. That was promising.
Trent surprised everyone-Jim not least-by not putting up his fists. Instead, he gestured at the solar surfer. When Jim didn't react to his rather imperious wave of the wrist, he frowned and downright pointed at it, then at the ground. It was several more impatient, yet curt hand gestures before Jim figured out that Trent wanted him to set the surfer down on the ground. A look of distrust crossed Jim's face.
"What do you want with it?" he said testily.
"I just want to look at it. See what you've done to it. You must've set some sort of magnetic field on it."
Jim battled down the urge to laugh. Magnetic field? This guy must have been reading old science books, echoing outdated theories of building air boats that would never capsize, held in place by the opposing charges of a magnetic field generated around the boat and Montressor's own magnetism. Prototypes had been tested out at Planet Arrakis for six years, then brought to Montressor. What the scientists did not counter for was the strange fact that the electrical and magnetic fields in the Montressorian atmosphere were volatile and highly unstable, fluctuating from negative to positive on a whim. Several boats put out on the market had either crashed straight down or been hurled out into the sky, spinning madly, before the idea was officially labelled a failure and consigned to the Benbow Local History Museum. Jim could tell Trent was serious, however, and figured that laughing would only make the situation worse.
Slowly, he slung the board forward and set it along the ground. With a calculating look, Trent bent down to look all along the surfer. It was all Jim could do not to push him away as he poked and pried and pulled, flipping it over carelessly. He tapped at the twin booster engines, attempting to scratch at the red enamel letters Jim had painted out on them, luck off. He wedged his fingers into the groove that housed the solar sails, and Jim winced as he heard a deep, tearing sound ring out. He found himself stepping forward.
"Don't do that!"
Silence settled over the crowd. Twenty-two expectant faces turned from Jim to Trent, waiting. Someone let out an excited yeah, but was rapidly shushed. Nothing should interfere with the fight. Surely, there would be a fight this time. Trent had begun to scowl, rising to his feet. Jim had been scowling throughout the entire ordeal, his tightened fists now rising to chest level. Trent folded his arms and fixed Jim with a look of disdain and superiority.
"I am a junior, Hawkins," he intoned. "Your senior. You will not speak to me that way."
"You can go jump into a den of poisonous malachae for all I care. Don't touch my surfer!"
A snap rang out. Trent's foot lay over the tip of the surfer, pushing it down into the ground. "Or what?" he taunted. He hadn't caused any damage, but Jim could see from the way he ground his heel against the wood that he would do some damage, if Jim provoked him. Anger seethed behind Jim's eyes. It took all of his will power to lower his fists, the snide whispers from the crowd burning into him. Coward. Sissy. Chicken. Loser. Jim bit his lip.
Smirking, Trent kicked the surfer towards Jim's feet. It bounced against his boots, rocking slightly. Jim wanted nothing more than to pick it up, but he couldn't allow himself to look that desperate in front of the crowd. Trent was grinning from side to side, his wide face stretching out grotesquely. Jim itched to land him one good punch between the eyes, but held his place.
Trent opened his mouth, ready to speak, when the bell tolled out. The Benbonian snapped his mouth shut with considerable annoyance. Embarrassment as well, Jim was pleased to notice. The older boy composed himself quickly, however, and threw Jim a withering look. A tangible wall of support had built up around him, twenty-two faces echoing and augmenting the imperious expression on the frog boy's smug face.
"I challenge you, Hawkins. Bring that surfer of yours to the track field in two days, after school. We'll take turns riding it." He tossed out a mocking grin. "Then we'll see how much of a loser you really are."
"James Pleiades Hawkins," Sarah said.
His full name. This couldn't be good. Jim prodded the door to the kitchen open with his foot and peeked out at his mom. Arms folded tightly over her chest, one foot beating out a steady rhythm on the floor, a look that could only be described as stormy on her face. Definitely not a good thing. Jim squared his shoulders and shuffled out of the kitchen and into the empty inn. His jacket was draped over the kitchen counter, out of reach, denying him the steadying action of burying his hands in his pockets. He folded his arms underneath his apron instead.
"Doppler came by," Sarah began. Her tone was painfully logical. "He told me an old friend of his, a Professor Sutter, had some things to say about you." Sarah set her lips into a pinched line. She knew exactly who Sutter was. Jim's arithmetic teacher. "Seems this Professor Sutter saw you picking a fight with another boy."
Jim jumped in before his mother could quite finish. "He started it!" For the second time that day, he was struck by how lame his words could sound. "He was picking on me," he mumbled weakly.
"I don't care who started it." Sarah raised a warning finger. "Jim, did you pick a fight with that boy?"
He trailed the toe of his boot along the floor. "No."
"He picked a fight with you?"
Colour rose to his face, his fingers knotting underneath the apron. "He made me look like an idiot. He tried to make everyone believe I can't really fly my surfer." He turned his face away, a deep, indignant frown on his face. "That it's a trick."
Sarah's stance softened. She kept her arms folded sternly, however. If Jim had fought with that boy, she couldn't give him the idea that pride justified it. His solar surfing, though. The one thing Jim prized above everything else. Sarah wouldn't be surprised if this other boy had gone home with a broken nose. She steeled herself.
"And?" she said, waiting.
"Nothing happened." Jim shrugged helplessly. "He didn't want to fight. He just wants to prove I can't surf." He shot his mother a pleading look. "I swear, mom. Nothing happened. Snoozer's just getting on my case again."
Ignoring Sutter's nickname, Sarah ran a hand down the back of her neck. A smile of relief peeked out, echoed hopefully by Jim. Sarah reached out to muss up his bangs, her smile widening as he drew back in protest and immediately began to rearrange them.
"So there was no fight?"
Jim combed his fingers through his bangs, making sure not a single hair was out of place from his centre part. He gave his mom a grin from between his fingers and hair. "Not a single fist flew." He pushed his bangs back, reaching to smooth out his ponytail. His hand froze as Sarah walked towards the kitchen, still speaking.
"And you promise me you won't get into any more trouble with that boy?"
A cold little hand clamped itself over the pit of his stomach. Lying to his mom was always so hard. Guilt was a very persistent thing. He pulled at his ponytail and made his voice as cheerful and innocent and sincere as he could. Sarah had begun to hang up her apron in the kitchen, so she could not see the guilty look that had firmly stamped itself out on Jim's face.
"No need to worry, mom," he said. "The guy won't even know I exist anymore."
Dr. Delbert Doppler uncovered his steaming plate of poached Bonzabeast eggs and took in several deep, noisy, and thoroughly delighted sniffs. His canine snout fairly quivered with relish as he lifted a hearty forkful.
"My compliments to the chef," he said, directing a wide-toothed smile at Sarah as she passed by his customary window table, her arms laden with trays of porridge, toast, home fries, and juice.
Sarah chuckled. "I'm afraid I can't accept that compliment, Doppler. The eggs aren't mine." She expertly slid three plates piled with scrambled eggs, toast, and extra crispy Kraftsen worms onto a waiting table. As she straightened, she winked at Doppler. "It was Jim."
Bits of egg flew out of Doppler's mouth as he spluttered his surprise. He quickly dabbed his lips with his napkin, fixing the eggs with an incredulous stare. His eyebrows were threatening to join his hairline. "I just can't believe it," he muttered. "Jim? Eggs? How?"
A backpack thudded down across from him, and the doctor jumped. Bits of egg lay scattered over his lap and shirt. Delbert considered it a great pity, and began to pinch them between thumb and finger, eating every scrap. With a start, he realized that a very familiar pair of clear blue eyes were looking at him in a mixture of amusement and annoyance. Jim reached forward to pluck a stray speck of egg from the doctor's hair.
"Enjoying your meal?" he deadpanned. "Not poisoned I hope?" He had to grin at the look of utter terror that crossed the astrophysicist's face. "I mean, after ratting out on a certain someone yesterday," he said casually. He allowed the words to stretch out, enjoying the way Doppler was attempting to put two and two together. When a light finally dawned in the doctor's eyes, Jim sat down across from him. It was still a few minutes before he had to be at the school coach stop. Definitely no flying in on his surfer today.
"Professor Sutter," Doppler said. "He saw you with your fists raised against another young man." His eyebrows knitted together, his voice taking on an air of patient lecturing. "Of course, I informed your mother. It simply doesn't do for a young troubl-teenager like yourself to be picking fights with your schoolmates, now does it?" He didn't wait for Jim to respond, leaving the boy's mouth hanging open in mid-word. "Of course not. It's unbecoming of you, Jim."
Having finished his lecture, Doppler turned back to his breakfast. It made up somewhat for the doctor's lecture that he still seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the eggs. Jim folded his arms over the table and allowed his head to slump forward into them. He wondered how much he should tell Doppler. The man seemed determined to believe every rumour that flew about linking Jim to a burgeoning life of petty crime. Jim, the Juvenile Delinquent.
"There wasn't any fight," he heard himself sigh. "That stupid Trent Howard was just having a grand old time humiliating little ol'Jim Hawkins in front of everyone so Professor Snoozer could once again just so happen to see little ol'Jim Hawkins being his usual anti-social self." With a martyr's sigh, he buried his head between his arms. That definitely wasn't how he envisioned telling Doppler.
"Trent Howard?" Doppler said. The odd way he said it, as if rolling the name around his tongue, made Jim look up. "That name sounds familiar," the doctor continued. "Now where from ...? Cerulean Space Station? Academy Days? Tidily-Winks Association of Montressor? No, no. A bit farther than that..." Forkfuls of poached egg disappeared as Doppler continued to mull over the name out loud, oblivious to the way the Benbonian family across from him were beginning to stare.
Just as Jim had begun to lose hope that he'd ever remember, Doppler suddenly straightened, a victorious glint in his eyes. "Ah! That's where I remember it from! Trevor Howard. International Campus Athletics Meet." He fixed Jim with a look of good-humoured curiosity. He seemed not to notice that Jim had begun to work a scowl of betrayal over his face. "You're in school with Trevor Howard's son? No, no, you can't be... Mortimer would be Sarah's age. Grandson, then?"
"Don't know," Jim muttered peevishly. "Could care less."
Doppler dabbed at his lips, pushing away his empty plate. "I think you might care a little."
"Well," Doppler said, his voice taking on a delicate sort of caution that made Jim's head cock to the side in apprehension. "Trevor Howard was a pretty darn good solar surfer. Regional champion, several medals, international victories. He represented Montressor in the Intergalactic Olympiad once, and..."
One look at Jim's face, and Doppler decided it would be best if he made a hasty end of his soliloquy. In the years he had known both Sarah and Jim, it had been one of the doctor's idle hobbies to catalogue the many ways in which mother and son were different. They did share several common characteristics, however. Chief among them the stormy and rather mollifying appearance of their faces when angered.
Doppler rose to his feet, fumbling with his coat buttons. "I, uh, think I left a perpetual motion machine, er, running at home. Well, er, of course, I mean, erm, it is, after all, perpetual, but it, er, climbs over the bookshelves..." It was pointless to continue. Jim's scowl was only developing from storm into hurricane. With a warbled and nervous goodbye, the doctor beat a hasty retreat.
Left alone, Jim's fingers curled around the tablecloth in disbelief. "Solar. Surfing. Champion." His stomach had sunk somewhere into his feet, his heart sliding down into the space where his guts usually were. A sinking sensation had begun to hum itself out in the back of his head.
Then we'll see how much of a loser you really are.
A wad of soggy toilet paper caught the back of his neck as he made his way to English. A total of nine paper airplanes had crash-landed on his desk, you're going down scribbled out over the side. An anonymous and rapidly disappearing foot tripped him on his way back from arithmetics. Shouts of "Hey, Hawkins!" seemed to come from every corner. A junior girl--a heavily freckled human--stood right in front of his face and let out one big laugh. Jim wiped spit from his cheek and reminded himself fiercely that boys just didn't slugger girls.
He dropped heavily onto the ground during lunch, his arms spread out to either side, the bitter smell of crushed grass rising into his nostrils. He thanked the stars that no one had yet discovered his hidden lunch spot. It was, after all, outside of school grounds. A No Loitering, Strictly Enforced sign strained under a sharp wind, rattling upside down in Jim's view. He sat up and unwrapped the cold sandwich his mom slipped into his bag every morning. Aw, mom, I'm not a kid anymore. He'd dearly miss it if she ever took him up on his words.
"This day just couldn't get any better," he mumbled in between bites. Feeling as if his words were tempting fate, he quickly scanned the area. No sign of police-bot cars anywhere. Good. At least that was turning out in his favour. "The etherium knows nothing else has."
It was a matter of minutes after his return--slipping underneath a gap on the chain link fence--before Trent caught up with him in the halls. A grinning purple squid flanked the Benbonian, joined by a sallow skinned human girl, and a tall rock boy. Smugness was written over every face. Jim steeled himself, his fingers tightening over his backpack's straps.
"Well, hello there, Hawkins," Trent sneered. "Ready for tomorrow?" He allowed for a few snickers to drift out. "You shouldn't even really bother. Whatever modification you make to that shoddy little thing of yours will be obvious. Not to mention removed."
He pushed Jim out of the way, making his way down the hall. The squid widened its grin, tentacles slapping against Jim's shoulders as he passed. The rock boy made a great show out of apologizing for stepping on his toes. The girl snapped her gum in his face. For the second time that day, Jim wiped away spit.
"Go home and practice," she called out, her voice thin and nasal. "Not that it'll do you much good."
Jim tightened his fingers over the straps, concentrating on the way the harsh fabric bit into his skin. A thousand snappy comebacks rattled through his head, a surprising amount of them containing words Sarah would balk at. He wouldn't give them the satisfaction of seeing him that way, however. He fixed a cocky grin on his face.
"We'll see about that!" he called back.
No, this was definitely not his day. Shoulders slumping, he turned to face Professor Sutter. The tall, hunched, balding human blinked patient, watery blue eyes at him.
"That is not the proper tone of voice to use out in the halls," he said, a hint of twang colouring his words. "The bell for Writing will toll in less than two minutes, Mr. Hawkins. If I am not mistaken, you are several halls away from that classroom. Should you not then be headed in that direction?"
Accepting the tardy slip the professor handed him, Jim shuffled on his way. His legs felt incredibly heavy, boots dragging over the wood floor. His mind was in such a haze of anger and indignation and embarrassment, that it wasn't until he reached Writing that he noticed that Trent had somehow pinned a paper to his back.
"Hey, look, it's Loser Hawkins!" a plump turtle boy called out.
Laughter rained down over him, the professor furrowing her heavily lined feline face in disapproval, yet remaining at her place, still demanding the tardy slip. Jim slumped into his seat and fervently wished for an errant comet to strike Montressor.
A thick cover of clouds obscured the stars, turning the night sky a dirty shade of mottled red. Normally, Jim wouldn't bother to sit out on the roof if he couldn't see the stars. But he probably wouldn't have noticed them anyway tonight. His face still burned as he remembered all the pranks and insults and shoves and elbows that had been thrust at him that day. He was tired. Bone deep tired. It worried him.
They've got me so ragged up, I might just lose tomorrow.
It was a frightening thought. He had no clear idea how long the mocking would last if he lost, but he was willing to bet the word months figured heavily into it. No, he couldn't lose. If it was the last thing he did, he would wipe that smug grin out of Trent Howard's face. Trent and his solar surfing champion grandfather. He dearly hoped the old coot would fall down eighteen flights of stairs. Guilt caused him to have Trent fall down eighteen flights of stairs instead.
Sighing, he leaned back against the window, toying idly with a few bits of debris at his feet. The scrape of the pane as it was pushed open caused him to turn his head. With some surprise, he saw it was his mother. She grunted, her nightcap knocked off by the ledge, and swung first one leg, then the other out onto the roof. She squatted in an uneasy huddle, then scooted a bit on her feet, perching herself to the right of Jim. Tremors ran down her hands as she rotated her chest, a bit awkwardly, and reached back for a bundle she had balanced on a bookshelf in Jim's bedroom. Jim didn't know what to make of the sight.
Sarah pushed back at her bangs, unfolding the bundle to reveal a covered casserole on her lap. She drew in a few breaths, shutting out the sight of the ground several feet below, before she held it out to Jim.
"You didn't eat much at supper. Thought you might like a go at the leftovers."
He took the casserole without a word. As he worked his way through the fluffy white rice and steamed vegetables, Sarah leaned back, steadying herself against the window ledge with a worried little oh. Jim felt a smile split his lips. "Plant your feet firmly against the roof, mom, your back against the window," he chuckled. "That should keep you in place."
Her face was a bit white as she nodded, a little yelp shooting out as she shifted a bit. She pressed one hand against her heart and let out a dry, nervous laugh. "I swear, Jim, I don't know how I let you do this."
"Probably because you've seen me run over this roof more times than you can count." He pushed aside a soggy looking magenta stalk and took a large spoonful of zucchini. "That and the fact that you're usually asleep when I crawl out."
"I've always known you crawl out, young man. I've learned to live with it." She smoothed out her long nightgown over her legs, then pressed her palms firmly against the roof for extra support. The vertigo was considerably less that way. She spoke at length, taking comfort in the sound of Jim making a much more hearty meal of the leftovers than he had of the actual supper.
"Is anything... bothering you, Jim...?"
He paused. The word mom--peppered with all the indignation his fourteen years could summon--rattled through his head. He was out on the roof, however, moping. Looking back, he had been kind of moping ever since he shuffled into the inn from the school coach stop. He couldn't really remember any details until he had crawled out onto the roof. He covered the now empty casserole and set it between them.
"It's nothing, mom," he said, forcing more conviction then he felt into the words. "Just getting heckled in school again."
"That boy that doesn't believe you can really solar surf?"
Sarah looked closely at the way her son's eyelids lowered as he nodded. She wanted desperately, at that moment, to look up that boy and personally give him a piece of her mind. That would only make Jim even more miserable, however. Would probably cost him days of ridicule. Days that would feel like months. She remembered all too well. Dirt-poor little Sarah Walcott, you gonna wear that same gingham again tomorrow? Sarah, however, had eventually found Leland, had taken strength in the fact that he wore the same, coal stained pants to school every day and still looked out at the world with pride. Jim--although it pained her to admit it--had no one.
She reached out a tentative hand, placed it gently over his shoulder. Vertigo threatened to overcome her senses, but she pushed it firmly away. "Hey," she said softly. "If it means anything, anything at all, I believe... I know you're the best solar surfer Benbow has known in quite a while."
"Better than Trevor Howard...?"
Combing her fingers through his bangs, she laid a hand over his cheek. "Trevor was a long time ago, Jim. Almost thirty years ago. Right now, at this place in time, you're the best. Everyone says so." She chuckled. "Even the ones who mutter about you breaking your neck."
He turned his face towards her, a hopeful little smile lighting up his face. "Really...? People say so...? And here I always figured they had me pegged for shiftless punk..."
Despite the bitterness underlying those words, Sarah smiled. She stroked his cheek. "You have a great talent, Jim. Don't let some bully take that away from you."
It was a while before Jim allowed his reaction to those words to show. He sat, lost in thought, feeling the warmth of his mother's hand against his cheek. Thank you. He should say thank you. Closing his eyes, he leaned sideways against his mother's shoulder. He felt her shift, move her arm so that she could hold him close. He could feel tremors running along her arms, still uncomfortable at this height, sloped. He searched out her free hand and twined his fingers around it.
"It's okay, mom," he said. "You're not gonna fall."
"Hawkins." Trent Howard drawled out the word, till it sounded puny and ridiculous.
A crowd of almost sixty people had gathered at the track field. Most of the sophomore class, all of the junior class. It hadn't taken long before Jim and Trent had ceased to be themselves and had somehow become their respective classes. Whoever won that day was guaranteed an anecdote on the yearbook. Several students had brought cameras, an enterprising canine girl in pigtails holding up a holovideo camera. Jim turned a blind eye to all of them. All he could see was Trent.
The Benbonian had dressed for the occasion. He wore an old-fashioned tight fighting suit, one Jim recognized as the solar surfing uniform from three decades ago. Grandpa's old rags, then. Impressive old rags. Jim's old jacket and cargo pants and faded black shirt suddenly felt threadbare, ridiculous. He cocked his eyebrows and studiously kept any traces of the envy he felt out of his face. That didn't stop Trent from smirking at him anyway, striking a pose for the admiring crowd.
"This is how it will be, Hawkins," he intoned. "Mordecai here will first inspect the board," he gestured at a short mole with blinking eyes and a pair of thick goggles perched on top of his head. "Then, once he has identified whatever devices you have placed on it, he will remove them."
"Good luck finding any."
Trent continued, nonplussed. "You will ride the board first. Small fry's privilege." He flashed his teeth. Jim very much wanted to ram them down his throat. "The rest should be fairly obvious."
Raising his hand, he snapped his fingers. Mordecai came forward, scientific curiosity peeping out from behind the goggles he had lowered over his eyes. He muttered to himself, humming a little, reminding Jim forcefully of Doppler, as he bent over the board. It was with some relief that Jim saw that Mordecai, unlike that toad Trent, was actually treating the board with respect. He ran a long yellow prod all along the surface, front and back. The sails flipped out, inspected carefully, to the last patch. The boosters were scanned with what resembled a little black box, cradled in Mordecai's hand and emitting shrill little beeps. Several more tests were carried out before the mole straightened, pushing the goggles up his rounded forehead.
"Well?" Trent said, a hint of impatience creeping out.
Jim could only look at his surfer. It was humiliating, watching someone run all those tests on it, no matter how reverend they looked about it. A good, long rubdown with oil, he promised it silently, and at least six hours of unapologetic, high-speed surfing along the canyons. Maybe pull out a few death spins, just to keep the boosters happy. As Trent's question snapped out, he turned weary eyes on Mordecai.
The mole pocketed his equipment, the bulk of it disappearing into pockets Jim hadn't even realized were there. "Nothing," he said, a lisp accompanying his words. "It's completely and utterly tamper free."
Oh, for a picture of the look on Trent's face. It seemed to go an odd shade of splotchy purple. Jim could've hugged himself. Round One, Hawkins. He made sure to keep his face straight as Trent whirled an annoyed glare towards him. He pointed at the surfer, then stomped away towards his friends. The sallow faced girl rubbed his shoulders and snapped her gum at Jim from across the distance. Before he could stop himself, Jim had shrugged in her direction. Her eyes flashed. Deciding that gum snapping was preferable to whatever she could dish out while insulted, he placed one foot on the board.
"With or without sails?" he said plainly.
"Without, of course," Trent snapped. "It's harder. That's where the real skill is."
The purple squid stepped forward and held up a bright orange flag. He raised it above his head. Ready. Trent raised his chin as the squid shot Hawkins an unkind look. Set. The flag lowered in a snap of fabric against air. Go.
Jim shot forward at a good thirty miles per hour, his heel working expertly over the pedals. He circled the track once, rising as he went. With a bend of his knees, he pushed the board into a vertical position, streaking up towards the sky. Scattered applause followed him, a few claps and whistles mingled with it. Several cries of boo as well. The rushing wind soon stripped all of that away. Jim guided the surfer up, till the ground was a good fifty feet below him. With a hasty prayer, he went into free fall, spiralling out into an inverted death spin. The world became a blur of motion, spinning out from his stomach. He felt the wind slap at his face as he saved himself just in time, inches from the ground, one arm trailing out for balance.
There was no mistaking the stunned silence. They were impressed. Jim grinned, battling down the cry of cock-sure bravado he longed to let loose.
Dirt scattered into the air as he brought the surfer to a full stop in front of Trent. He was panting slightly, almost unaware of the wide smile on his face. Trent shoved him out of the way, and the smile faded.
"Beginner's tricks," the frog boy muttered. "Any runny nosed kid can pull off a death spin like that."
With a potent glare in Jim's direction, Trent took off. Dust blew out behind him, catching Jim's face. Everything became a blur as he rubbed his eyes, straining to see Trent. He was circling the track, gaining momentum in much the same way as Jim had. As he rose into the air, he held his arms down by his side, seeming to guide the surfer only with his feet. Jim felt his heart sink.
"That's my baby!" Trent's girlfriend cried, clapping her hands above her head. Her excitement was echoed by most of the crowd. Nobody boo-ed. Growing numb, Jim watched as Trent weaved and dipped and flipped in the air above, streaking across the sky easily. Just streaking. Jim frowned. Just streaking. He cupped his hands around his mouth.
"Hey, Trent! Any runny nosed kid can fly a surfer in a straight line." He edged out a grim little grin. "You're so fond of challenges, how's about this? I challenge you to a death spin, immediately followed by a camel back loop. Twice the impressive wattage of anything I could whip up, don't you think?"
Silence snaked its way across the crowd, reflected in Trent's eyes as he hovered in the air. His eyes never left Jim's face. He seemed to have forgotten how to smirk. Jim folded his arms over his chest. Time ticked by, undisturbed. Finally, a voice broke through the stillness.
"Come on, Trent! Show that little dish washing pipsqueak some real surfing!"
"Yeah!" echoed a blond Benbonian girl. "Show 'im how it's done!"
Feet began to stamp, rhythmic clapping rising up to fill the silence. In a few seconds, it was obliterated under a barrage of claps and shouts and whistles and feet stomping and adrenaline rushing and Jim's eyes never leaving Trent's face. Neither could quite keep the tension out of their gazes. At length, after what seemed like hours, Trent tore his gaze away and fired up the boosters. A deafening roar welled up. Jim's heart hammered against his ribcage.
A thin trail of smoke drifted out as Trent shot upwards vertically. A collective breath was held as he hovered in the air, for a split second, before diving back into free fall. Jim's fingers bit into his palms as he watched Trent go through the death spin. His heart seemed to have stopped, sound filtering away into a monotonous ring. Then, with a snap, sound rushed back in.
Trent had spun out of control.
Cries of dismay rang out, several students following the movement of the surfer as it hurtled out towards the left. Jim felt sick. He found himself running with a group of boys, arms outstretched, hoping to catch the Benbonian as the surfer slipped away from him and he began to fall. He was maybe twenty, eighteen feet above them. More boys joined the group, a few girls running in as well. They linked arms and kept their faces upturned.
"Move left! Left! Keep those hands tight!"
Jim was surprised to hear his own voice rise in an affirmative grunt. Everyone seemed to have become one, nerves on edge as hands were stretched taut, waiting. Trent crashed down with a teeth-shattering jolt that sent the ground screaming up Jim's legs and into his skull. His ears rang as several bodies collapsed over him, the students who had actually caught Trent pushing people out of the way.
Trent's face was livid as a feline girl rushed forward to check for injuries. A few bruises and one cracked rib was the total. The purple squid shouted out for a stretcher, and the sallow faced girl fell on her knees beside Trent. "Oh, baby," she kept saying. Jim had to look away.
He pushed his way silently through the crowd, scanning the grass. After a few minutes, he found his surfer. It had shot out towards a fence, cut its way clear through it. It lay in a heap on the floor. Jim bent down beside it and ran a hand along its length.
"I should've known," a voice croaked out. Trent leaned heavily against his girlfriend's shoulder, one arm draped around her neck for support. "Had to make sure your precious surfer was unharmed."
Jim squared his shoulders, rising to level his gaze with Trent's. "I wasn't the one who called this challenge." He placed one foot along the surfer's tip and flipped it upright with a practiced nudge downwards. "I hope you know what the trick is now."
Trent narrowed his eyes. "Enlighten me, Hawkins."
If he sounded cocky, he didn't care. He felt he owed himself some pride. It was a simple death spin, after all, and Trent had found himself crashing down. If he wanted to blame Jim, he could. But Jim felt he knew the truth.
"The trick," Jim said, evenly. "Is knowing how to do it."
They caught up to him in the bathroom. He hadn't really expected anything else. They pinned him up against a stall door and drilled their fists into his stomach. He could see Trent's face, swimming in a sea of knuckles and knees and bursts of white. In a strange, surreal haze, he felt his body drop to the floor. As they pummelled into him, fists and feet raining down like stones over his head and shoulders and back and ribs and stomach, Jim felt an odd sensation creeping up his throat. Warm and bubbly. Carefree.
He was laughing.
7 April 2003. My new apartment is now almost completely organized. The computer is back on its old desk, anyway. No more typing on the floor. It snowed today. Classes at St. John's were cancelled, and I decided to finish this story, which I began during my lunch break at the library where I work.
I had been meaning to write something about Jim's school for quite a while, and, somehow, knew it would include a bully. I actually wrote the last paragraph before anything else. Hope it turned out coherent. Trent Howard started sounding like Malfoy at one point, didn't he...? No? [cough]
Now, onto the usual suspects: disclaimers. Arrakis is [of course, to all of you Frank Herbert fans] none other than the planet Dune, which firmly belongs to Mr. Herbert. The theory of magnetic fields keeping things from capsizing is actually a reality. I had to make up a volatile atmosphere for Montressor in order to have the idea be unreliable. Kudos to my roommate for the quick physics course. And, lastly, Sarah's surname [Walcott] is utterly made-up. If any official surname has been provided by Disney, please give me a holler.
© 3-7 April 2003 Team Bonet. Treasure Planet © 2002 The Walt Disney Co. The characters of Jim and Sarah Hawkins are © 1881 Robert Louis Stevenson.