A one shot for now. Let me know what you think. Enjoy
"I am the outlaw
Who dies in the clock tower
And on the subway
on the last train out of town."
A few of Arnold's classmates clapped, the rest remained in their transfixed states of boredom. Harold's drool was atypically thick and viscous today... like a waterfall. Then Arnold was gone, his body once again a slave to the visions of the mind. He was in the jungle, clad in a leather jacket and a fedora, a bullwhip and a satchel hanging at his side, a thick bush knife in his hand. A snake dropped from the canopy, its jaw wide, it's tongue a bright shade of red.
He grabbed the snake by the neck and threw it out of his way, it landed on the ground and slithered away. He trekked on, hacking at limbs and vines with the bush knife, climbing over rocks and fallen trees, until he finally reached his destination. A giant waterfall stood before him.
It was in the shape of the head of a large child, and water cascaded between the jagged rocks that resembled teeth. A rainbow formed on the rock child's lip, and Arnold stood in awe of the beauty.
Then suddenly, the ground around him began to shake. Arnold looked around rapidly in panic, but could not find the source of the tremors. He threw himself to the ground, and covered his head with his arms.
Then, he heard rocks cracking. Looking up slowly, he discovered the source of the earthquake. The waterfall's head was closing, spraying water in every directions as the teeth clamped together.
Then, to Arnold's utter horror, the rock face smiled.
"Arnold?" Harold's voice rang in Arnold's ear.
Arnold looked up slowly, discovering to his extreme embarrassment that he was lying on the floor, covering his head with his arms.
"What's wrong Arnold? HAHAHAHA!" Harold taunted Arnold in that baby voice the boy so despised. Arnold didn't know what to say, the whole class was laughing at him, even Gerald. Well Helga wasn't laughing at him. To Arnold's shock, she almost looked sad.
The laughter went on and on, it seemed like it would never end. Arnold felt about ready to cry, but then Mr. Simmons came to his rescue.
"Arnold would you please come with me?" Arnold didn't have a choice. Mr. Simmons grabbed him by the arm, and soon they were standing in the hallway.
Mr. Simmons shut the door behind them.
"I'm sorry Phil," Mr. Simmons said to Arnold's grandpa, "But the hallucinations are getting worse and worse... for the boy's sake, I refuse to have him in my classroom until he is diagnosed."
Arnold barely heard the rest of the conversation through his bedroom floor, but he got the gist of it. Something was wrong with him. Something serious.
Arnold thought back to when it all began. He had always been a day-dreamer, and his imagination had always been quite vivid... but up until recently they had stayed separate from reality.
Sure, occasionally it would take more than Helga's yelling or Gerald's polite elbow to knock him loose from his imagination, but that's what it had always been, just his imagination.
A few months ago, he found himself throwing a base-ball bat like a tomahawk at Eugene, putting the boy (albeit unsurprisingly) in the hospital. His friends shrugged that off, Eugene was a glutton for punishment anyway.
But things got worse...
It was getting to the point where he couldn't go a whole day without attacking someone, or arguing with street lights, or what have you. Where once he had pretended to be crazy, all his friends thought it to be true now.
Maybe they were right, maybe he was crazy. He left the floor and hurriedly slid into bed. He had heard his grandpa's slow footsteps ascend the stairs.
"You awake short-man?" Arnold contemplated not answering. He thought about just pretending to be asleep, facing whatever dark news his grandpa surely bore tomorrow.
But inside he knew he couldn't do that.
"Yeah..." He uttered softly. The stairs dropped slowly, and his grandpa climbed into his room.
"How's it going pal?" There was no humor in Grandpa's voice. The healthy old man rested his laurels on the end of Arnold's bed. Rubbing his hands across his thighs, he seemed to be thinking about what to say.
"Listen, Arnold... I was talking to your teacher... and well..." He cleared his throat, "How do I put this? Mr. Simmons thinks that there is something, well something off with you... so tomorrow I'm going to take you to the doctor, and get you um, diagnosed."
For a few moments, nothing but solid silence passed between the two. Then finally, Arnold spoke.
"Alright..." Then he began to cry, and from under the covers, he threw himself at his grandfather, "I'm so scared Grandpa."
Phil wrapped his arms around his tender youth.
"Shhh, it's okay Arnold..."
The old man stared up into the starry night sky.
"It's going to be okay..."
Helga G. Pataki sat on her bed, looking out into the starry night. Several things were seriously bugging her this evening, and try as she might she could not sleep through them.
Her first dilemma was Arnold's poem.
As a proud patron of prose, and being a poet herself, she was fascinated with the simplicity yet depth of Arnold's poem. It had taken her years of practice to construct a poem of that caliber and here Arnold had done it in a matter of hours, with only the teachings of the less than stunning Mr. Simmons as a guide.
He knew nothing of the great works of Shakespeare, of Frost, of Ginsberg! Yet he was able to create something that tugged at the very core of Helga's soul. It seemed to be a poem written specifically for her.
It was obvious what it had all meant, and it had only taken Helga a few minutes of dissection to realize it.
"I am the outlaw, who dies in the clock tower, and on the subway, and on the occasional last train out of town." She repeated to herself softly. In four lines, Arnold told a story. Here was a woman/man, who always plays the bad guy, they have no choice. They are doomed to fail, doomed to die.
And although they always lose, sometimes they get so close to escaping their fate, so close to leaving the town and all the bad memories behind, that it almost redeems them. But they know they can never leave and that almost escaping is enough for them, enough for eternity.
She was the outlaw, the bully, and although she constantly berates Arnold and puts him down... she has died on the train more than once.
And for now, being there for Arnold... being a silent protector, was enough for her.
Which brought her to the other dilemma: what had happened in class today. Rolling over on her soft bed, she faced the ceiling of endless off-white. Helga had been watching Arnold carefully over the past few months, ever since the incident with Eugene. He was losing contact with reality, something wasn't right in that cute little football-shaped head of his.
Today in class, he had snapped. Lost it again, in front of everyone. One minute he was reciting his beautiful poem, the next he was swinging one arm as if he held a sword in it. Then he looked around, visibly frightened... then he threw himself on the ground at Harold's feet.
The whole class had erupted in laughter, and Helga could do nothing to protect her beloved.
No, that was a lie. She could've stood up and rushed to his side. She might've squeezed him tight in a warming hug. She should have at least yelled at Harold for starting the whole thing... but that would mean cracking her shell, and revealing at least some of her many feelings for Arnold.
She blinked her eyes, but blinking would not wipe the guilt from her brain. She couldn't have both, she couldn't love Arnold if she wouldn't actually do anything for him... in public, where it counted. She had to tell him, she had to tell the world.
But tonight she had to fall asleep, and soon she did.
Arnold stared hatefully at that little round pill, his little anti-psychotic. The cold porcelain sink beckoned to him, and if not for the fact that his Grandpa stood watching over him, he would've flushed the darn thing down the drain.
"You okay short-man?"
Arnold nodded, and tossed the pill into his mouth. He reached for his glass of water, but by the time the cold fluid filled his mouth, he had already swallowed. He looked up at his grandpa, who nodded at him somberly. The boy took this as permission, and grabbed his backpack.
"I'll see you after school Grandpa."
Arnold left the bathroom, leaving his grandpa staring at the tiled floor. His mind felt numb, almost empty... as if imagining that the stairs were covered in lava wasn't even possible. They were just wood, and soon he opened the door, which was just a door.
He opened the door, and his friend Gerald turned to face him.
"Hey man..." Gerald said softly. Arnold said nothing, and started walking to the bus stop. Gerald followed him.
"Listen Arnold," he said, "I didn't mean to laugh at you yesterday bud... it was just, I was so caught up in the moment..."
"It's okay Gerald." Arnold said, "Seriously, it's cool."
Gerald didn't like the tone of his friend's voice, it seemed hollow, devoid of life.
"You sure man?"
Arnold smiled at Gerald, but Gerald still didn't feel right about the whole thing. Nevertheless, he followed Arnold on to the bus and shortly after, they arrived at school.
Helga sat anxiously on the steps of P.S. 118, twiddling her thumbs in anticipation. All the confidence, all the resignation had left her. Arnold was getting off the bus now, and she wasn't sure if she could tell him. In fact, she was certain that she couldn't.
"Well if it isn't football-head and tall-hair boy." She said grumpily, earning an eye-roll from Gerald. Harold and the others stopped talking, and walked over from the dumpster where they were standing.
"Hey Arnold... listen, Mr. Simmons told us about you being sick... me and the others, we just wanted to, uh... wanted to-"
"Apologize!" Sid spoke up.
"Yeah," Stinky said, "We are utterly and dearly sorry."
Arnold gave them a half-heated smile.
"It's okay guys..."
The bell rang, and Gerald and the others ran inside, patting Arnold on the back as they passed. Only Helga remained outside with him.
"Yeah?" Arnold said.
"What was up with that poem yesterday?"
Arnold thought to himself for a moment.
"Oh yeah, my poem... what about it?" He asked.
"Well, what was it all about? Pretty dopey stuff if you ask me."
"Well Helga," Arnold said calmly, "The poem is about redemption, never ending hope, and triumph over evil."
"It was three lines long, how could it possibly be about all that?" Helga started laughing, and Arnold ascended the steps to go inside. Just before he entered the building, he half turned his head and spoke.
"Huh, you know Helga, for some reason I thought you would understand... guess you just keep on surprising me." The door closed quietly behind him.
"Oh, but I do understand Arnold... I do." She said to herself. She stared at her locket for only a moment, before she too went inside.
Mr. Simmons stood before the class, holding Arnold's doctor's note in his hand. This was good, he thought to himself, better he be diagnosed then go unprepared through the rest of his life. At least he was being treated, now he could have some semblance of a normal life. He placed the note on his desk.
"Thank you Arnold." The boy nodded and took a seat. "Now class, in continuation with our writing unit, today we are going to write letters to each other."
No one in the class seemed too particularly cheerful at the prospect, but they took out their papers and pencils regardless.
"Now class, I want you to all write a sort of thank you letter. This letter can be to anyone in the classroom, and at the end of class they will be read aloud by the person they are sent to."
"That's stupid," Helga muttered to Phoebe, "I'm just going to write a few words okay? Make me sound like I wrote a book alright?"
"Then they will be turned in for a grade." Mr. Simmons said.
"Well there goes that plan," Helga said, "Alright Phoebes, I guess I'll really have to be nice to you won't I?"
Helga smiled at Phoebe, and she smiled back.
"You have 30 minutes. You may now begin."
In half an hour, all the pencil's stopped moving. Mr. Simmons collected all the letters.
"Alright, now let's see. Sid, here's one for you... why don't you go first?"
Sid shuffled hesitantly to the front of class. Taking the letter from Mr. Simmons, he cleared his throat.
"Um, Dear Sid," He began to recite, "Thanks for the time you bought me an ice-cream sandwich from the Jolly Olly man. Next time I'll have money. I swear. From Gerald."
"That was very well written Gerald. Everybody give Sid and Gerald a round of applause."
The rest of the letters went as expected, the girls mostly thanked each other, and since Gerald had thanked Sid, no one thanked Arnold. Then, immediately after Helga had sat down from reading Phoebe's thank you, she was called to the front of the class again.
"It would seem you have another one Helga." Mr. Simmons held the last thank you letter in the air. Helga shrugged and stood up, feigning utter apathy over this new letter.
Yet, her mind was racing trying to figure out who wrote it.
Taking the letter from her feminine teacher, she cleared her throat before reading.
"Dear Helga," She started strong, "Thanks so much for not... laughing... at me. It means... a lot." She looked up, but Arnold was staring out the window, a sad expression on his face.
"I owe you one... Arnold." Just then the bell rang, and the class cleared out, leaving Mr. Simmons and Helga alone in the room.
"Well they all sure left in a hurry... can you just leave that on my desk Helga? Have a nice recess."
"Um... " She said quietly, "Actually Mr. Simmons, is it okay if I keep this?"
Mr. Simmons looked up from his desk.
"Helga why on earth would you-" Staring into her eyes, and seeing the immense sadness there, he stopped questioning her, "Yeah... you can have it Helga."
"Thank you." Helga hugged her teacher and left the room, leaving Mr. Simmons alone and confused.
Arnold sat against the dumpster, watching the rest of his classmates play tether ball from a distance. He didn't feel like playing today... he didn't feel like doing anything today. He had only discovered a few minutes ago that he had never taken his back pack off.
Pulling it off his shoulders, he let it slump against the dumpster beside him.
Looking up, he saw Helga standing next to him, holding a sheet of paper in her hand.
"Oh, hey Helga." He absentmindedly pulled his backpack into his lap, and unzipped it.
"Um... how are you?"
Arnold gave Helga a strange look before replying.
"I'm fine... why?" He began to push his hands through his backpack, uncertain what he was actually looking for.
"Oh, no reason... I was just wondering."
Again, Arnold gave her a strange look.
"Do you want to sit down?" He asked.
"Um, sure." She said nervously. As she sat down beside him, he pulled a black mole-skin journal from his backpack.
"Huh," He said, "I forgot I had this thing."
"Is that a mole-skin?" She asked.
"Yeah... what do you know about mole-skin?"
Only that the greatest poets, writers, and artists who ever lived used them! She thought to herself.
"I... I have a few." She said.
Arnold nodded and placed the mole-skin on the ground. Reaching deeper into his backpack, he pulled out another mole-skin, this one a bright pink color. Helga's heart all but stopped.
"Forgot I had this too." He flipped through the pages, "Never did figure out who wrote it... if memory serves me, you used the last page as a spitball."
Helga smiled and laughed nervously. Arnold opened to a random page, and read for a moment.
"You know I didn't really want to say it, because the other guys would make fun of me... but these poems are really good." He said before placing the book on the other mole-skin.
"If only I knew who it was..." He said almost to himself.
"What if she is terribly ugly?" Helga asked.
"Well I don't really find any of the girls at our school ugly... and I'm pretty sure one of them wrote it."
Helga's left eye twitched slightly.
"Well what if she was terribly mean?"
"Helga," Arnold said, "Do you really think someone who is mean could've written this?"
The bell rang once more, and the children returned to class, leaving Arnold and Helga alone for a moment.
"I better go Helga," Arnold grabbed his backpack and headed toward the door, "See you inside."
The door closed almost silently behind him.
"Oh Arnold... you and your endless kindness! If only you could see, if only you could see how much I care for you! How much I love you!"
Then she looked down, and noticed that Arnold had left both journals on the ground.
Arnold sat at his desk, staring out of the window sadly. The world was a far less interesting place without imagination. Then Helga dropped the pink mole-skin on his desk, and he forgot his dilemma.
"You left this outside football-head." Helga took her seat.
"Arnold? You still have that thing?" Gerald asked him, holding back laughter.
"We never did figure out who it was..."
"And we never will" Gerald said sternly, "Just throw the thing away, it's only gonna bug you!"
Arnold nodded, and put the journal in this back pack. Then something occurred to him.
"Helga, where's the other mole-skin?"
"The what?" The girl asked angrily.
"The other journal..."
"I have no clue what you're talking about head-boy. Now leave me alone, or I'll clobber you." Helga turned her attention back toward Mr. Simmons, who began handing back the graded letters.
"Where's my letter Mr. Simmons?" Arnold asked when all the letters had been passed out, and his desk remained empty.
"Well, I'm afraid I uh... lost yours Arnold... You get an A for participation." Mr. Simmons smiled at the boy and sat at his desk. Arnold shrugged it off, and returned his attention to Helga.
Why had she taken the journal? Why had she lied about knowing about it? Arnold scratched his head. If there was one thing he knew, it was that Helga was full of surprises.
Arnold sat on the stairs to his room. He was wearing his pajamas, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to go to sleep. In his right hand, he clutched the pink mole-skin. He hadn't been able to throw it away like Gerald said, and it hadn't left his sight since he got home. There was something about the poetry, something that touched him, now in his state of depression, more than ever. He opened it up, to read through it for the third time that day, when the door bell rang.
Knowing that the rest of the boarders were playing bingo, he went down to answer the door for them. Only half-remembering he was in his pajamas.
There was no one at the door, and after waiting a few seconds, Arnold was prepared to go back inside. But then he looked down and saw his black mole-skin lying on the stoop. Smiling, he picked it up and walked back to his room.
Lying on his bed, he opened the mole-skin to take in the beauty of a blank canvas, but to his surprise every page was written on. He stopped, and closed the book. Rubbing his eyes for a moment, he flipped through the book again... every page was covered.
Taking out the pink journal he compared the handwriting... and it was a perfect match.
He turned to the first page of the black mole-skin, and began reading.
He read through it three times before going to sleep.
Hope you enjoyed it.