The House of Secrets
A Whale of a Tale
Abel spins a yarn of a high school bully who gets his comeuppance when his taunts of an overweight student hit too close to home.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall,” the portly gentleman in the blue suit said as he posed before a full-length mirror, “who’s the handsomest one of all?”
“It sure ain’t you, Butterball,” a hollow, spectral voice intoned from the depths of the mirror.
“W-well!” Abel snapped, aghast. “I’ve never b-been so insulted in all my life!”
“You must have been,” the mirror insisted.
“Hmph,” Abel snorted, turning away from the mirror. “S-smart-alecky hunk of beveled… Oh, hello,” he said, brightening. “I didn’t see y-you there. I hope you didn’t witness that dreadful exchange between myself and that crystalline critic on the wall over there. You d-did? What a pity. Well, people who are glass shouldn’t throw stones, I always say. You know, it reminds me of a story you might enjoy — the tale of a young man who judged people according to their outward appearance, and learned too late the folly of such prejudice.”
“Hey, everybody out of the way!” the handsome boy cried, flattening himself against the wall. “Here comes the Whale! Thar she blows! Look out, or you’ll get flattened!”
The handsome boy’s friends laughed at his taunts. The crowd in the school hallway parted as an overweight boy made his solitary way down the hall. His name was Andrew Roca, but the school knew him better by epithets such as Whale. He was about sixteen years old, with straight dark hair and large, bulky glasses. He wore a dark brown sweater that did little to hide his bulk; he did his best to walk straight and upright, but his more than two-hundred and twenty pounds, crammed into a five-foot-six-inch frame, made it impossible to do much else but waddle. He carried his books under one arm and stared straight ahead of him as he walked. He did not let his eyes flinch to the left or the right; he purposely avoided the stares and sneers from the other students. Everyone let him pass without stopping him.
“There he goes,” Tommy Rodgers, the handsome boy, hooted as the overweight boy went by. “Hey, Whale, what’s new in the ocean?”
“Tommy, you’re a scream!” a pretty blonde girl next to him giggled.
“I am, ain’t I, Jodi?” Tommy asked smugly.
“Mr. Rodgers,” a stern voice from behind said, “don’t you have anything better to do?”
Tommy turned around slowly, nonchalantly, to face Mr. Pritkin, the English teacher. “Not at the moment, Mr. P,” Tommy said.
“Boys like you are pitiful,” Mr. Pritkin said. “You have to resort to teasing anyone different from yourself, in order to justify your own existence.”
“Woo, big words,” Tommy said, waving his hands in mock fear. “If you don’t like me teasing the Whale, Mr. P, why don’t you do something about it?”
“You’re old enough that you should have more sense,” Mr. Pritkin said evenly, trying to control his temper. Tommy knew that he was threatening with an empty gun. Three years before, a student’s parents had sued the school when the student had been expelled for teasing another student. The court had upheld that the student’s freedom of speech had been infringed, and the student was reinstated. His victim, apparently, had no rights at all.
“Yeah, well, I have sense enough not to be a lard bucket!” Tommy jeered. “Come on, gang, let’s get out of here! Bad enough we have to listen to Pritkin one hour a day!” Tommy and his friends turned and walked off down the hall, laughing and joking with each other.
One girl in the group, a dark-haired girl named Laura, silently felt that Mr. Pritkin was right, that it was cruel to tease Andrew the way they did. But she felt that she had no choice. Tommy and his friends were the popular clique in school, and she didn’t dare say or do anything that might exclude her from that group.
Mr. Pritkin returned to his desk and sat down with a sigh. When he had been in high school, a teacher was a fearful, godlike figure, commanding respect. Not so anymore. He pitied the Roca boy so. He was a straight-A student, the kind a teacher dreamed of having. And yet he took no interest in extracurricular activities. He played no sports, he belonged to no clubs, student government did not exist for him. Mr. Pritkin felt he knew why. Andrew Roca spent seven hours a day being teased and taunted by his classmates; why should he volunteer for any more of that? Mr. Pritkin silently cursed parents like Tommy’s, who raised little monsters like him who got their perverse jollies from crushing the spirits of those weaker than themselves. He hoped, someday, somehow, Tommy would get what was coming to him.
At lunch, Tommy and his friends shared a table and spent the period laughing and joking, trading rude comments about the teachers and the unpopular students. “Hey, Tommy, take a look!” a redheaded boy said, pointing. Andrew Roca was, as usual, sitting at a table by himself. He was reading a paperback book, apparently oblivious to the activity around him.
“Get a load of the Whale!” Tommy sneered. “Ignoring everybody else, with his nose in a book like he’s too good to notice anyone else!”
“Teach him a lesson, Tommy!” Jodi squealed.
“You bet, babe,” Tommy said. He stood up, pushed his chair back, and sauntered over to Andrew’s table.
“Whatcha readin’, Whale?” Tommy asked, plucking the book from Andrew’s pudgy fingers. He flipped it over to look at the cover. “Foundation and Empire. Huh! Doesn’t look like a cookbook!”
“Give me back my book, please,” Andrew said in an even monotone. Tommy just stared at him in disbelief. He had expected a whiny, begging tone, or perhaps an angry, outraged one. Instead he got nothing — a flat, emotionless request.
“You want it back? Sure!” Tommy ripped the paperback in half, and dropped the pages onto Andrew’s tray, in the middle of a plate stained with tomato sauce. “Enjoy!” He turned around and walked back to his table, laughing. His friends applauded, as though he had done something laudable. Andrew only sat and watched him go, not saying a word.
“Tommy, stop!” Jodi giggled. “Not here!”
“Why not, babe?” Tommy asked, as they embraced in front of the lockers. “Nobody’s gonna care!”
“Well, I care,” Jodi said, playfully. “I’m no exhibitionist!”
“So, when?” Tommy asked.
“Cheerleading practice ends at nine tonight,” Jodi whispered. “Meet me in the gym at ten after. Everyone else will be gone!”
“You got it, babe,” Tommy growled.
Three lockers away, Andrew silently put his books in his locker and nodded to himself.
“Oh, Tommy,” Jodi breathed. The gym was dark; pale moonlight slanted in from the high windows. She reclined on a hard bleacher seat, feeling Tommy’s mouth on her neck. He tugged the blouse of her uniform high up over her breasts; his left hand cupped her right breast and squeezed.
Suddenly, a bright flash erupted, illuminating the room. Jodi gasped in fear. Tommy, startled, turned to look in the direction from which the flash had come. “Whale!” he exploded, seeing Andrew standing there holding a flash camera. Andrew had no expression on his face; his mouth was a straight line.
“Tommy, get him!” Jodi screamed. “If my parents–! Get that picture!”
“You’re dead, Whale!” Tommy snarled, leaping off the bleacher. Andrew turned and ran. Tommy gave chase, expecting to overtake the fat boy quickly. To his astonishment, Andrew kept a good distance between them. How could Whale run so fast? Before Tommy knew it, Andrew had led him into the pool. The fat boy ran right out onto the diving board, over the deep end of the pool, then stopped. He turned around slowly and stared emotionlessly at Tommy.
Tommy grinned malevolently. “Nowhere to run now, is there, Whale?” Tommy beckoned with a crooked finger. “Come and take your medicine.”
Andrew only stood there silently. Tommy waited a full minute.
“Last chance, Whale!” Tommy snarled. “Get out here now, and maybe I’ll go easy on you! If I have to come out there and get you, you’ll wish you’d never been born!”
Andrew remained where he was, his expression not changing.
“Fine!” Tommy growled. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” Cautiously, he walked out onto the diving board, moving slowly down the length of it, inch by inch. Soon he was within reach of his adversary. “You’ll regret makin’ me drag you off’a this board, you fat tub of–” Tommy made a lunging grab, but to his amazement, Andrew was not there. The force of his lunge carried him right off the board; with a scream of fear, he landed in the water at the deep end.
“Help!” he shouted, treading water. “I can’t swim! Help! Get me out!” The cocky, arrogant boy was desperate with fear now; he could feel the depths of the water tugging at him, pulling him down. He looked up and saw Andrew standing on the edge of the diving board, looking down at him with that bland, emotionless expression on his face.
“Whale!” he cried in fear. “Wha — Andrew! Andrew, get me out! I-I’ll drown! Please! Get me out!”
Andrew let Tommy tread water for several long moments, and then, with a single leap, he dived into the pool. His leap took him well past Tommy’s floundering form, and he cleaved the water nearly in the middle of the pool. Tommy was too afraid to marvel at the dive; he continued to tread water, waiting for Andrew to surface and help him. But Andrew did not surface. He remained underwater for a long time, longer than any human being could, and live.
“Andrew?” Tommy shouted in fear. “Andrew? Where are you? Where — what’s that? What’s that?” Tommy had spotted a shadow below the surface of the pool. The lights were out for the night, and the pool was as dark as the gym; the water was like black glass. But, dimly, Tommy could make out a large, dark shape near the bottom of the pool. It glided through the water with the speed and grace of a dolphin, but it was too large for that — much, much too large. It turned and circled in the water, like a sea lion putting on a show at an aquarium. Tommy watched it in horrified fascination. Then it turned and started rocketing toward the surface, headed right for Tommy. As it came closer, it grew clearer, more visible. Tommy saw the sleek black and white skin, the tiny, cruel eyes, the gaping jaws with the rows of sharp, pointed teeth.
“No!” Tommy screamed, his last breath in life, before the monstrous jaws closed on his body, tearing him in half.
“And that was the end of one school bully,” Abel said without remorse. “Tommy had been proud of the nickname he had chosen for his victim. But sometimes, such c-comments can come back and bite you when you least expect it, can’t they? And n-now, if you’ll excuse me…” The portly storyteller bent down and picked up a large gray rock the size of a softball. “…I have an editorial dispute to settle with a certain haughty piece of home furnishing.” Abel walked back down the hall, tossing the rock up and down like an apple, whistling a merry tune.