Authors: Elle Casey
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To Caroline, one of the strongest ladies I know.
Sometimes we don’t know how strong we are until the universe challenges us beyond our limits.
Chapter One: Malcolm
FOR AS LONG AS I can remember I’ve brought nothing but misery to those around me. Pain. Sadness. A loneliness so bone-deep it smothers any thoughts of joy or hope that might try to seep in from reality.
I don’t do this on purpose. In fact, I’d do anything to change it, this effect I have on people. Some kids might think they want to be an agent of darkness, so they dress up in black clothes and dye their hair and do drastic things to their wardrobes, shocking people with their angry, outlandish attitudes. But if they were to walk a day in my shoes, they’d change their minds in a second. They’d join the Latin club and study hard and do everything they could to make their parents proud. No one truly wants to be me; they just think they do.
I call myself that - the agent of darkness - but I don’t really know what I am or what my problem is. What I
know is that it’s real and it’s nothing I can control. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve done everything from smiling entire weeks on end until my face ached with it, to hiding out in my house and cutting off contact with the outside world. But nothing works.
My own happiness and attitude have nothing to do with how others feel in my presence; I can be smiling like a Girl Scout who just offloaded a thousand boxes of Thin Mints for cold hard cash, and the Miserables would still dive into the depths of despair without a second thought after being around me for a while. That’s what I call them: the Miserables - those people who
to be sad for some strange and entirely effed up reason.
I’m not a Miserable. I’m immune to the sadness that I deliver in spades to the innocents around me. It’s kind of a sick joke on me, how I can be working so hard at being happy while I make everyone around me want to jump off a cliff.
Hiding doesn’t work. No matter how invisible I try to be and no matter how hard I try to stay away, the Miserables come and find me anyway. They seek me out and haunt me, refusing to leave without a fight. I’m rarely alone. Sometimes there are whole groups of them flitting around me like angry black butterflies, and other times it’s just one person.
Case in point: my latest unwelcome acquisition, Caden Kucharski. His friends call him Kootch for short. I don’t call him anything because I’m trying to get rid of him, but the kid is miserable with a capital M, and he wants nothing to do with happiness. He’s been all over me like a fly on shit since last month.
“Yo, Malcolm. What’s up, man?” He stood waiting for me at my locker. Again.
I just stared at him hard for a few seconds, wishing he’d take the hint and get lost. I spun the combination of my lock, focusing all my attention on it, hoping he’d see I was blowing him off. It was a wasted effort, though. It always is.
The problem with Miserables like him is they never get the hint. Sometimes it even seems to make them happy when I’m mean like this, which is really sick and twisted. Lots of times I have to force myself to be nice, when all I really want to do is scream at them to fuck off and leave me the hell alone. I mean that in the nicest way, though. I’m just trying to protect them from me, from the effect I have on them. I wish I could have friends. I just … can’t.
My hard look had zero effect. Kootch smiled. “That good, eh? Yeah, me too. Just got out of Chem class. That asshole Pritchard is a real prickard. Get it? Prickard? Guy’s a prick?”
“Yeah, I get it.” I shut my locker and spun the dial on the lock. I sighed heavily, knowing I was going to be peppered with Kootchisms all the way to my next class.
“So what’s up after school? Going anywhere? Wanna hang out?”
“Oh, you’re busy again, huh? That’s cool. Seems like whenever I ask you to do something you’re busy, but hey, you can’t blame a dude for trying. I downloaded some new music to my nano, you should check it. Hardcore metal, man.” He held out his mp3 player towards me.
I didn’t even look down. “No, thanks. I don’t like metal.”
“Really? That’s surprising. I figured … well, who cares. I don’t like it that much either. I’ll probably delete it off today anyway. What music do you like? What’s your favorite band?”
“Are you asking me on a date?” Sometimes if I play the homo card with guys it makes a difference and scares them off. I should probably feel bad about playing on people’s phobias to save myself, but I don’t. I know it saves them too.
“Ha! That’s funny. No, man. I’m straight. I like the ladies and believe me, the ladies like the Kootch. Check this.” He lifted up his hand and held it out towards a girl coming our way down the hallway. “Yo! Melissa! Give me some-a that sugar.”
She scowled at him and walked by, making sure to stay far away from his outstretched hand.
I tried not to react, but I couldn’t help it. I laughed.
“Bitch,” he mumbled, letting his hand drop. “Chicks in this school are so friggin stuck up.” He cheered up instantly. “But the chicks over at Eastman? They’re hot and willing for the Kootch. All up on me and shit when I’m at the games.”
“Whatever you say, Caden. Listen, I have to go to the bathroom. See you around.” I made a sharp left turn into the guys’ room and quickly locked the main door behind me. Luckily, no one else was in there.
The sound of Caden hitting his forehead on the door echoed out into the wall-to-wall tiled room. “Hey, man, did you lock the door? What’d you do that for? I need to take a shit.” He laughed. “Nah serious, I don’t need to do that, but I could take a piss. I got the urge to purge. Open up. And hey, you can call me Kootch, by the way. All my buds call me Kootch.”
I dropped my bag on the floor and sat down, resting my head on my forearms crossed over my knees. This was the only thing that worked - waiting them out. Even the Miserables had to heed the call of the school bell. I’ve racked up a record amount of tardies in my high school career, but it’s better than being molested in the bathroom by a million questions and one-sided conversations that made me want to drown myself in the toilet.
The bell rang, interrupting Kootch’s inane chatter. He was quiet for all of two seconds. “Oh, dude, you’re going to be late. Don’t worry, I’ll cover for ya. I’ll tell Adams that you’re constipated or something. Talk to you after class! Or you could text me in class. I’ll risk it for friends like that. Later!”
And then he was gone.
I sighed and stood in front of the mirror, taking a few seconds to look at myself. I try to be unnoticeable. I dress average - not in fashion and not out. I don’t wear black or paint my nails. I wear my hair in a boring cut, not too long or too short, and keep it the natural brown I was born with. I tried the emo thing for a while, dressed all in black and tried to look forbidding and dangerous so people would leave me alone, but the Miserables loved it. They ate it up. It attracted them to me in droves, so I had to stop. Now the name of the game for me is to be plain. Unremarkable. Invisible.
Grabbing my backpack off the ground, I sighed at what my life had become. Hiding out in the bathroom again, fending off the friendly advances of another Miserable soul.
I walked over to the bathroom door, counting to ten slowly once I reached it. I had to make sure I couldn’t hear Kootch anymore before turning the lock. Miserables can be really persistent and tricky when they want to be. I’ve been hijacked by a few who held their breath so I wouldn’t hear them. They can be freaky intense in their need to be unhappy sometimes.
When I was sure he was gone and the nearby hallway empty, I unlocked the door and walked out. I turned left to go to English Lit class, the wide corridor stretching out in front of me and beckoning me forward. It’s a sick joke. The hallway calls me to something I can never have - a normal day in high school, filled with gossip, friends, jokes, and maybe even a crush on a cute girl. There will be none of that for the agent of darkness. None of it. I’ve given up on being sad about it. It’s just my reality, nothing more, nothing less.
The second bell rang right next to my head. To me it’s not just the sound of being late. It’s the sound that reminds me I’ll never fit in here or anywhere people are. I’ll never have any friends. I’ll never be able to live a peaceful life until I go so far, far away that no one will ever find me. I have three months left before my eighteenth birthday. Three more months before I can cut out of this place and disappear forever. I’m counting the days.