"Eat dust, four-eyes!"
Dodging the blow before he saw it coming, Brad spun around, blocked the attacker's arm with his left arm and counter-attacked with his other hand in one single motion. His fist hit the stomach of the other boy. With a tormented sound his opponent crashed to the ground. Immediately he was above the blond boy he knew only fleetingly from school, pinning him to the ground and letting his fist strike down again. This time he aimed for the nose. It crunched and the hit boy yelped in pain. Blood shot out of the maltreated organ and sprinkled on Brad's white shirt. He raised his arm again.
"Hey, leave him alone," someone yelled close to him. A hand caught his next blow, several hands dragged him away from his victim.
"Are you crazy? You're killing him! "
The two companions of the brawler pushed him away and helped their friend to his feet. Dust clouds raised as they yanked him up and scraped his feet across the floor. The injured boy kept his hands pressed to his face and whimpered. One of the other two pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to his friend. It turned red immediately.
Brad was sitting on the floor and watched the three other boys attentively. The small stones of the sandy place stung uncomfortably through the thin fabric of his pants. It was bloodstained as well. He would have to wash it when he got home. The scorching rays of the July sunshine, which burned down on everything and everyone, would do the rest. He felt a drop of sweat trickling down his back before the fabric of his shirt absorbed it. Tomorrow he would be able to wear the clean clothes at school again. Like every day.
"You won't get away that easily, freak!" The bigger one of the two cronies barked as he turned to face him again. The smaller one clapped his hands enthusiastically.
"Yes, go! Show him! "
But the other boy hesitated. Brad looked up at him and felt another drop of sweat running down his back. The salty liquid began to gather under the edge of his glasses and bite in the corners of his eyes. This was not a good starting position for a fight. Nor was his inferior position on the ground. He quickly got to his feet and stood firm on the sandy ground. The three knew now that he was by no means as defenseless as they had thought. But they were three. This would not be a piece of cake, after all. An indefinable sense of danger tickled the edge of his consciousness, but he repressed it before it could become too important. He needed his concentration for the fight.
He waited. Hated to wait. Why didn't they attack?
Suddenly he noticed that the eyes of his once determined opponents had become restless. They slid past him into the shadows of the houses behind him. He suspected a trick. Did not turn around. They were still in the dead end he had been maneuvered into. Behind his back there were only the almost windowless, yellow walls of the backyard decorated with garbage bins that reeked because of the brooding heat. His shirt was sweat-soaked now, his fists damp from the inside. He resisted the urge to brush his forehead. Fearing they would interpret it as a weakness. The tingling of the violence hanging in limbo made him tremble.
"Let's go," the smallest of the group hissed. He turned to make a run for it and pulled his injured leader by the shoulder. "Come on. This means trouble. "
The other two hesitated to follow him. They slowly crept backwards, their eyes still fixed on the shadows behind him. Then finally they turned around and took flight. He was tempted to exhale deeply, but didn't. The sense of threat became stronger. He clenched his jaw, his thoughts running through his head. What was he to do? Flee as well? Or stand against what lay behind him? Even before he quite knew what he was doing, he spun around with a determined face and raised his fists.
The shadows stared at him. Sweat burned in his eyes, but he did not dare to blink. Despite the stifling heat, the hair on his forearms raised. His breathing became faster. He swallowed. His throat was suddenly dry, parched. Something was there. Moving in the shadows. Approaching him slowly.
He felt the movement rather than seeing it. As if something was displacing the air around it and pushing it forward like a bow wave. The massive shape that began to emerge from the shadows was absurdly large. Like a giant from a fairy tale that came to snatch away the naughty children. The man stopped at the border between shadow and light. A ray of sunshine fell on carefully polished boots, followed by a pair of khaki trousers and jacket. The chest was adorned with badges. A uniform without a doubt. Military haircut, shaved on the sides, a neck like a bulldog and massive paws he dropped repeatedly into each other. He applauded?
The giant grinned and bared teeth that would have put a shark to shame.
"Bravo, my boy," he said with a nod. "I'm impressed with how you finished the lads. My congratulations, Bradley. "
Brad jumped as if the giant had hit him. How did the man know his name? Involuntarily, he stepped backwards. The watery blue eyes of his counterpart followed every movement.
"Bradley Crawford, born on November 20, 16 years old. Son of..."
As he spoke, the giant stepped out of the shadows, picked up a fist-sized stone from the ground, threw it into the air once and caught it with one hand. Brad's eyes were glued to the stone, while the giant's words spilled into his ears. Something about this stone alarmed him.
"Size 5 feet 6 inch, weight 64 pounds ..."
As if by accident, the giant began to wander around, drawing a perfect circle around the boy in the middle. A circle that was getting tighter and tighter.
Two steps, throw the stone and catch it again.
"Student of the West Barringa High..."
Two steps, throw stone and catch.
"Grade average 1.0..."
Two steps, throw, catch.
"Favorite food...", he stopped and looked at Brad with his head slightly tilted. "Do you have a favorite meal, Bradley?"
"Brad," he breathed. "My name is Brad."
The giant clicked his tongue reproachfully. "My my. That's not the name your dear mother gave you. You should honor your father and mother, you know that?"
"Don't talk about my mother!" Brad snapped, clenching his fists again.
"Oh, so tense today?" The giant asked cheerfully as he came to a halt near his starting position. "That's good. Very good, Bradley. And do you know why? "
He did not wait for an answer, but continued instead: "It's like this: I know something else about you, my dear boy. I know that you can foretell the future."
As he spoke the words, he took the rock and hurled it at Brad. Everyone else would inevitably have been hit on the head, but Brad avoided the missile and whirled around at the same moment. As fast as his feet carried him, he ran away from the terrible man who knew so much about him that it took his breath away.
He took five steps before the ground seemed to turn into tar. His legs no longer obeyed him. There was a constant bluster roaring in his ears, colors and lights danced before his eyes. He squinted them, trying to focus, but in vain. The world around him was spinning wildly in a vicious swirl. His stomach began to rebel, urging him to distribute its contents on the street. Bitter bile sloshed into his mouth. He choked it down again, tried the next step, stumbled, fell to one knee, pushed back up, only to fall down again.
"You can not fight it," he heard the giant's voice from far, far away. "Better give up before it gets embarrassing."
"Never," Brad said between his gritted teeth. With pure willpower, he fought the dizziness, got up one last time before he collapsed into the dust on the road.
The last thing he saw was the face of the giant leaning over him. His mouth twisted into a broad, smug grin.
"And by the way, my name is Vertigo."