Underdog (A short story by Tyler Scott Hess)
“Go get it, Dirk!” shouts Susie.
“Tell him to get it himself,” he shouts back as the other boys congratulate him on a job well done. “It can’t be that hard for the freak to reach.”
She scowls back at him, but soon gives up hope that their classmate would should mercy. Enzo’s little sister has always acted as his mouthpiece, but the boy is sent walking back home with only one shoe this afternoon. The other one dangles high above the street, cruelly tied to a telephone wire, hanging just out of arm’s length.
“Don’t you worry,” she tells her big brother as she helps him hobble home. “Papa will take care of everything when he gets home. How did Dirk even get that shoe tied up there so high? Did he have a ladder?”
Enzo shakes his head, wiping away the last of the muddy tears from his face.
“Well, what was it then?” she asks as they approach home.
But Enzo shrugs his shoulders as he slings his shirt off of his tall, slender body, revealing the cuts and scrapes he received during the course of today’s scuffle. He is no less than a foot taller than any of his classmates, but short on friends or allies in the new neighborhood. There’s a rumor going around school that he’s a mute, and there is little if any evidence to disprove it, but Susie knows his silence goes much deeper than that.
It will be hours before their father will get home, however, and Enzo does not want him to know that he lost another shoe to the whims of the class bully. Dirk is short and stocky, but has enormous political clout for a ten year old. There is not a soul in the fourth grade who is brave enough to tell him no, though Enzo has come the closest, being the only one to fail to say yes.
“Knock, knock,” Susie says outside of Enzo’s door, rather than actually knocking. “What are you doing in there? Can I come in, Zo?”
Like usual, there is no verbal answer, but there is something different. The door usually opens at her request. This time Susie only hears faint background noises. She wonders what he is up to, but doesn’t have the patience to wait for him to open the door.
“Fine!” Susie says. “Be that way then. I’m just trying to help, you know.”
Enzo knows perfectly well what she is trying to do, but he has his own plan this time. His room, typically organized from wall to wall, is now plagued with possessions scattered about the floor. He needs the boxes for something else this evening. He throws them out through his open bedroom window one by one, before sneaking himself out through the opening.
“Knock, knock,” can be heard from the outside. Susie is not known to be a quitter. It doesn’t matter, though, because he doesn’t need her help for this.
Enzo stacks the boxes as efficiently as he can, though when he picks them up, it proves difficult to see in front of him. He drops them back on the ground and rearranges them in a way that he believes to be a better fit for the trip back down the road.
It must be dinner time by now, he determines, and the other boys are surely too busy eating to be concerned with his plan. The sun is still above the hills and won’t come down for some time, so this is his only chance to recover his shoe before he is hounded.
When he reaches the spot, he looks up and thinks his shoe to be further from the ground than he remembers. He prays that he brought enough boxes, and hopes they are sturdy, but he must act quick or he might not make it back in time.
The largest box is set directly beneath the shoe. Enzo stands on it to see how much further he has to go. His hand isn’t is close. He sets the next one and discovers that he is nearer his target, but it will be more difficult to climb as more boxes are stacked upon each other. He thinks for a moment before determining how to set up the next box, before settling on an answer and carefully placing it down.
This has to be high enough, he thinks, looking back up to his shoe. He steps on the edge of the first box, then the second. The next two are trickier as he pushes his knees to the top. The ground seems to wobble, but it is only his legs that are shaking. He plants his shoeless left foot on the box and slowly brings the right foot around to stand up tall.
Enzo takes a deep breath as he looks all around him. It’s a long way back down the ground, but he must retrieve his lost shoe. He is relieved to see that no one is around. He reaches up, but he can’t grab it. He takes a deep breath and stands on the tip of his toes, then grasps the end of his shoe. The telephone lines are flexible enough that he can pull his shoe closer within reach, but the knot is complex and foreign to him. He regrets not bringing his knife. He has a backup set of laces at home, but it is too late for that. His arms begin to tire as his fingers attempt to unravel the tangled mess that Dirk had left in his wake.
“What’s wrong, freak?” a voice shouts from across the street. “Can’t figure it out?”
Enzo panics, but determines to get his shoe down before it’s too late. Dirk calls out for his friends. He wouldn’t dare approach Enzo alone. Enzo tugs and yanks his shoe down before falling hard to the pavement. It will leave a bruise in the morning, but there’s no time to worry about that. He slides his shoe on and ties its laces.
It’s too late. He tries to stand, but Dirk pushes him down. Enzo wants to cry, but there’s no time. He tries to stand again, but down he goes just like before. He hears Susie shouting from a block away, but he doesn’t need her this time. He sees Dirk look confidently over to his friends and that is when he strikes.
Some would have used their fists to end this battle, but not Enzo. Others would have kicked, elbowed, clawed, or run away, but not Enzo. He has other ideas. Enzo stands tall.
“What are you doing, freak?” Dirk scoffs.
“Take them,” Enzo says.
“What are you doing?” Susie shouts as she approaches the scene.
“Take them, Dirk,” Enzo repeats, surprising everyone that he can speak. Please, take them.”
“I don’t want your stupid shoes,” Dirk says, pushing Enzo, who remains steady and unmoved.
“You must want my shoes,” he says. “Otherwise you never would have taken them. So please, take them.”
Of course, Dirk doesn’t want Enzo’s shoes. They are much too big for him and will be for years to come. He wants power. He wants proof of his power. And that is why he balls his fist and throws it at Enzo’s face.
But Enzo ducks and repeats himself. “Take my shoes. Please.” Dirk swings his fist again and misses. Enzo repeats himself. Dirk pushes Enzo, but Enzo doesn’t move. Dirk looks over to his friends, but they are too stunned to do anything. He pushes Enzo again, but to no avail. He is, after all, a giant among boys.
“Get out of here, freak,” he says. But Enzo remains unmoved. Dirk, huffing hot air through his nostrils, motions for his friends to follow him. But they stand there in silence and watch him yell foul thoughts into the wind.
Enzo looks over to his sister. He motions for her to help him pick up his boxes, but when he turns around he sees that they have already been stacked and lifted by one of the other boys, who then hands them to him without a word before walking away.
“Let’s go home, big brother,” she tells him. “Papa will be home soon.”