Author's note: Thank you to Lillith, for inventing Palmer.
T H E M O R P H I S T
by Silva Noir
Chapter 9 : Palmer
“These are yours.” Round-rimmed glasses found their way to the open palm of David’s gangrened appearing gimped appendage. “Are you alright?” The holder of the lenses took obvious notice of the discoloration of stiff, curled fingers.
“No.” He stole a glance at the frivolous plastic band-aid the nurse placed on Palmer’s cheek that didn’t have a chance of matching the skin tone, barely covering the blossoming bruises. “They didn’t send you home?” For some reason David thought the minor black-and-blue’s the other had suffered worse than his own terrifying experience only an hour or so earlier.
“I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t feel like explaining to anyone…. No one was home to pick me up anyway.” He shrugged as if the near beating was a daily occurrence, that he was sick of fighting and had grown to accept and keep quiet about it.
Sadly, David reflected from the distance in the others voice and eyes along with the way he’d been taunted that it may indicate just that. “Why were they so intent on using you as their personal piñata anyway?”
“They were playing basketball and I was…” he uttered the next word quickly if it were a great sin, “watching”.
“And?” There had to be more to it than that.
“And they don’t like it when I watch them.”
“So? It’s not a crime to LOOK at people.”
“It is when I do…” Palmer became aware he might be offending David in the same way he had his attackers and diverted his gaze to the grimy floor tiles. Pulling his hands inside his long sleeves he gave the impression he wanted to disappear like a turtle into its shell. “...I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” David titled his head and stepped in front of the other boy so that he forced him to look at him. “Keep acting that way”-he pointed out Palmer’s shy stance-“and you’ll assure your place as a victim. This has happened before, right? It will keep happening unless you show them you’re as strong as they are, if not stronger. Stand up for yourself. You must be able to out with them or outdo them in somehow. Then they’ll back away. Simple logic: survival of the fittest.”
Palmer instead looked at the various posters, flyers and signs on the wall. He sighed. “If it’s survival of the fittest... I’ll be extinct soon.”
David went back to walking beside instead of in front of him and stretched. “At any rate, they won’t be bothering you for a while. I took care of it.”
That didn’t reassure the withdrawn teen one bit. “Why?” He looked straight into David’s eyes for a moment with brief flashing anger and fear then lowered his head and voice again. “They were right, you know. I was asking for it. I knew they’d catch me eventually…” He kicked at a wooden triangle that had been left on the floor. Somewhere down the hall a door was missing its doorstop. It slid and rattled out of the way after a few swift boots. “I shouldn’t have gone to the games. I’m not one for school spirit, you know? It was too obvious… they knew what I was doing. I had the camera… but it’s not like I could pretend I was snapping photos for yearbook. They know better. They knew I was watching…”
“You were watching and taking pictures because…” David’s curiosity had the best of him now. When the coyote of a boy in gray didn’t answer, in the aspiration of getting his new acquaintance to open up more he added, “I like to watch people sometimes. Who they are and what they do is interesting. I look at them and wonder what it would be like if I wasn’t me, if I was normal. All in all, it’s a bit depressing to do.”
“Yeah... I know what you mean.” Palmer pulled a chair out at the lunch table and say down, continuing to make as little eye contact as possible with anyone else in range. “Truth is I was watching because… swear you won’t think I’m strange?”
“This whole day feels like a distorted dream. Nothing you say could possibly make it any stranger than it already is.” David sat down beside him and leaned his head on his folded arms. The shirt he wore had a slight distinct remnant of a light and airy magnolia-scented perfume. He dearly hoped no one else noticed he was wearing girls’ clothing and not his own, especially not the young lady from whomever Elizabeth had pilfered them from.
Ruffling his slightly spiked, unruly moss brown hair, Palmer divulged in a hushed bout of bravery, “I like to see the different ways their bodies can move. If I can, I try to capture it on film, to preserve that image. It’s an art in itself, it’s like music, the way the move. They’re strong and fit, good looking, admired, and accepted. The town takes pride in them. They can walk down the street and smile. I wish I possessed what they do... that I could have that.”
“Why not be yourself, what’s wrong with that?”
“No, its not that.” He shook his head. “I… you know, forget it. Forget I said anything, ok? Thanks for your help and all. Bye.”
David moved quickly to grab a hold of Palmer’s sleeve, successfully keeping him from fleeing the scene. “Where are you going to go? You can’t run away from all your problems. Hiding and living in fear,” the image of Ruth popped into his mind immediately, “Well, it’s no way to live. I’ve lived that way all my life. Isolation from other people… stinks. And just when I open up to someone, they take advantage and try to hurt me, or just don’t understand, or abandon me. But I still don’t want to hide. I’d rather make them pay for what they’ve done, or have failed to do.”
Palmer’s expression changed from timid and confused to that of disappointment and disgust. “You’re going to solve violence, intolerance and hatred with more of the same?”
“Sounds like a good plan to me.”
“You’re as bad as they are then, if you don’t care about hurting them.”
But I do care about hurting them, David thought silently, I care because it’s fun and they deserve it. He said aloud, “No one made them do what they do, they chose to. They can suffer for it; they bring it upon themselves. They chose to treat others awfully. I’m just throwing their own ugliness back in their face and making them taste it.”
“They use the same excuse. Because I am what I am and act the way I do and enjoy what I do they think it gives them the right to single me out and punish me for it. They’re afraid and hostile towards anything that isn’t like them, that doesn’t fit into their pattern of living.”
“When they don’t understand there are other ways of living out of the boundaries of what happens within a majority of a population, they seek to either convert it to their ideals or destroy it instead of letting it be what it is…” David stopped when he saw the other gazing at him with soft doe eyes. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No, not at all. You’re saying what I wanted to hear… I guess. I mean, no one really agrees with me much on anything. I feel really alone here in this place. There doesn’t seem to be anyone who likes the same things I do. Unless you do…if you’re different…too? Or you just know someone who is…or something? I’m not trying to say anything, it would just be nice to talk to someone else that is like me, but I haven’t found anyone yet. I guess I got hopeful there for a second.” He fidgeted with his hands nervously. “I’m not saying you are or anything, or trying to insult you, so don’t take it the wrong way. I just thought maybe since you took the time to talk with me that maybe you almost kind of liked me. I mean….” He pulled his hands inside his sleeves again, curling up as much as he could in his chair.
“I guess you could say I’m different.” David shrugged, half-heartedly chuckled. “Although right now I’m tired. Don’t worry about scaring me off. You seem like an OK guy to me. I don’t mind talking to you. Just right now… tired… very tired… ” He yawned and snuggled into a nest of white sleeves again. After all he had been through in the past days he was more than ready for a peaceful nap.
The voices of the other students strewn across the cafeteria blended into an ocean of mumbles and waves of louder conversations and individuals that would occasionally break the surface with a holler. David thought of nothing but those sounds, and focused on his own breathing. His mind swam through it, drifting far from shore into a world beyond reason. He took no notice of the slightest touch moving his hair away from his eyes. Many had the urge to touch it to see how soft it was, or what it was spun out of. He usually ducked away, but at the moment didn’t care who was doing it or why.
Ten minutes of peaceful rhythms were shattered by an unapologetically shrill bell. It was a rude awakening, to say the least. “A fire drill, now? Why me? Can’t I get any sleep?” David grumbled but refused to budge.
“Well… it’s a good opportunity to skip out of class,” Palmer shrugged, taking his hand back from where he was playing with the other’s white gold hair.
“I’ve done enough of that… with Sue. Not as fun as it sounds.”
“You’re part of THAT crowd?” The surprise in Palmer's voice was plain. “I thought you were better than that.”
He was puzzled at the accusation; he wasn’t a part of any group. Everyone knew he was a loner with no permanent attachments to anyone beyond his own mother. “What crowd?”
“You know… the ones that hardly ever go to school, sit in the back row, party every weekend, write stuff on the walls and on the desks and book, real jerks to anyone else but each other, flunk almost all of their classes. That crowd.” He pointed out to David exactly where they sat towards the sports drink and snack food vending machines. They were psyched at the promise of leaving school grounds during the day without risking detention or suspension for once.
“No, not really. She was just the one to talk to me when I moved here. So I guess she was sort of my friend.”
Palmer shook his head. “She’ll talk to anyone if she think she can get something from them. She’s not a good friend to have. She’ll talk behind you back, spread rumors whether they’re true or not for the hell of it, she’s really double-faced and all. Trust me when I say: don’t trust her. Why do you think people know about me in the first place? I was trying to keep it secret, but she has a big mouth.”
“What do you mean? I haven’t heard anything bad about you.”
“Well, you’re probably the only one then.” He smiled, just a little. “Hey listen, if we don’t get up and out of here, they’re gonna say something to us. I already got in enough trouble for today.”
“Yeah… me too.”
“So much for lunch.” Palmer crumbled a bag of chips and tossed the yellow and white foil into the nearest bin.
Students unenthusiastically filed out the cobalt double doors in the back. Wise adolescents held their breath while walking quickly past rank, fly-circled dumpsters filled with remains of inedible school dishes and lord knows what else. Surly lunch ladies with peppered schnauzer hair in lopsided elastic nets along with ill complexioned janitors in blotchy jumpsuits looked them over like drill sergeants inspecting an out of shape corps. Sue Hardy was right along with them, bumming a cigarette in exchange for a crumpled dollar bill. Meanwhile on the field, an irregular hewn square of people was gathering around the cleaner pressed authority figures.
The principal, whom the front of his hair was a solid wall of gel making him look like a third rate Elvis impersonator in a large padded shoulder ghost gray suit, calmly addressed the mass before him. Dazed and listless, the crowd paid little attention. Skies were blue and clouds were white. The whole world smelled of freshly cut grass and the first spring flowers on the breeze. It would be difficult to catch any young person’s interest on a day like this, especially after lunch. Used to this treatment he clapped his hands, craned his neck, and shouted all the louder in a thick Boston accent that was often imitated by jokesters, “All right! Lets get in order now! No need to be alarmed!”
“This is only a test. If it had been an actual emergency we still wouldn’t tell you because we like to fuel as many conspiracy theories as we can,” David finished the thought for him.
Undaunted by the lack of respect, the principal continued, “There has been an accident in the west gym. A few boys were injured and ambulances are on their way…”
Stepping back from his friend in renewed fear, Palmer stuttered, “But that’s… did you…What did you do?” In the process of wide-eyed questioning he nearly tripped over a girl sitting nearby. She had been pulling blades of crab grass and clovers from the lawn and weaving them into loose knot chains. He apologized profusely for almost tumbling them both to the ground. Only mildly annoyed she got up, dusted herself off and moved to where a few purple thistles and bright yellow dandelions were sprouting in another part of the field. He blinked, confused, while holding out a green plant bracelet she’d left behind. Shrugging he put it on his own slender tanned wrist when she didn’t come back for it.
Playing dumb, David joined in another conversation already in progress of nearby preppies to ask, “What do you think really happened?”
She shuddered with a circle of her friends around her for protection. “Oh, I hope it’s not one of those shootings… or another bomb scare. You just moved here this year, right? You weren’t here back in the day. Remember when we were in Divine?” she asked of those who dressed and stood so much alike they could have been clones. “In fourth grade and Diana found that pipe bomb on her neighbor’s lawn? I was so scared that I didn’t go outside for weeks. …Whatever happened to Diana, anyway?”
“I think she went to Blue Hills for nursing,” one of the members of the circle replied squeakily.
As if sensing his territory was being compromised, a redheaded boy in a fleece vest pushed David out of the way to talk to the girls. “I heard there was a lion loose in the school. Someone’s illegal pet they set free and got in through an open door. It must of thought the school was a good place to hunt, lots of fresh meat!” He curled his fingers like claws and snarled, enjoying the girls’ cringing reactions. He was known for being the most notable class clown in the high school’s history, as well as many other undesirable acts he wore around like a badges of honor. Even the well dressed yet dimwitted ladies in his presence knew better than to take him too seriously.
“Nuh-uh, get real.” One girl rolled her eyes.
“You’re kidding right?” another of the circle rebuked.
He reveled in the moment, adding with a maniacal smirk, “I heard it chewed Steve’s leg off.”
“No way!” Pastel frosted lips hung open in horror.
“Ewww…” The one pondering Diana’s whereabouts scrunched up her face after receiving that mental image.
Rumors were confirmed by the Corporate-Elvis principal who put them in politically correct and non-sensational terms as possible. Steps to create a spin that would prevent panic did little to keep the student body organized and calm. A majority simply walked away, either not taking the threat to heart or wanting to get as far away from the building as possible. As expected, the usual band of wise guys attempted to sneak back in to see for themselves what the hubbub was about. Local police whose office was conviently located behind the school field and had taken no time at all to arrive on the scene stopped them. Orange barricades and lemon-toned caution tape were going up at every possible entrance. Animal control stood up in arms by their newly purchased white van. They were used to dealing with pesky raccoons and smelly skunks. Wayward man-eating lions were far out of their league of expertise.
David felt his wounds being poked at by curious fingers. A voice asked of him timidly, “Is that how you… did the lion get you?”
“Yyy-yeah.” David winced and hummed on the ‘y’, deciding it wasn’t too far from the truth of what had occurred. He hissed back the air through his teeth.
“Why didn’t you tell me? That’s an amazing story!” Palmer exclaimed in wonder.
The tall blonde laughed nervously, “So amazing you wouldn’t have believed me if I’d told you.” He tacked on too low to be heard, “and you don’t know the half of it.” He wondered what the young and budding psychopath Elizabeth was doing to remedy the escapade. She had been right, as had Ruth. He was getting careless. At least he had been in similar feline forms when he’d attracted the eye of the news media. They would look for a lion and not an entire array of chrome zoo creatures. A menagerie of morphs would still be at his disposal as long as he made sure he didn’t cause an uproar with his presence.
Yet, even David couldn’t hide his shock when it was declared the animal in question had been cornered somewhere deep within the labyrinth of the halls. How could that be possible, when he was standing right here? All in the area were told to evacuate for safeties sake as it was brought out. Standing stiff in place David had to be physically dragged away by the only one worried about what happened to him at the moment. He only got a glimpse over his shoulder of a team of large men pulling the corpse of a deceased big cat, fur spray painted to match the silver that had surely been in the description of the various people it had terrified.
Not far off yet out of view a fair-haired young maiden in a blood spattered Sunday best dress tossed a small can into to a now empty steel cage in the back of a bus, flanked by a few well-trusted accomplices.
<-- Back to the main page Chapter 10 -->