Distorted Blame

Listen to Distorted Blame on Bob’s Short Story Hour.

Seager Sampson opted out of breakfast, electing to skim his notes to feel as confident  as possible for a history final he was set to take that morning. Math and science aligned closer to his logical thought processes, requiring him to put forth extra effort for his As in subjects like history. Just a freshman in high school, Seager voiced exerting energy towards what the future had in store for humanity, like the economic effects of climate change, was more productive than memorizing significant dates related to America’s racist-riddled history.

Roy, his younger brother by five years, slurped the remnants of his Frosted Flakes, disrupting Seager’s concentration on comprehending the importance of the Louisiana Purchase.

“Roy,” Seager softly said to no avail.

Seager exhaled audibly before asking, “Roy, can you please do that quietly? I have an important test soon I’m studying for.”

Roy removed the bowl from his face, failing to wipe the milk off his lips, and glared at his older brother. He stuck his tongue out and whined mockingly, as if that was how Seager sounded.

A few years back, Tom and Patrice, their parents, revealed doctors considered Roy to be on the spectrum. They explained to Seager his younger brother possessed deficiencies none of them could fix. After learning about his diagnosis, Seager consciously adopted a forbearing approach in his dealings with Roy. Certain times were more challenging than others; right now was one of those times, amplified by hearing his parents heckle each other upstairs. From the sound of it, this one was because of his dad’s impromptu business trip.

Over their stomping, Seager heard his mom ranting to his dad about how he lacked the desire to witness their children grow and didn’t care to assist her with the hurdles Roy presented, which there were a plethora of. Tom countered with the typical spiel detailing how if it weren’t for his hard work their family would be on food stamps. Seager understood his point, but considered his assumption harsh; he didn’t think his mother should be that underestimated. Seager’s opinion didn’t matter, though. It was evident they were together to maintain an image and for the sake of their children. Seager accepted their dysfunction.

Hurried steps shuffled down the stairs, an indicator Tom and Patrice would make their grand entrance at any moment. Soon enough, everything with the Sampson family would appear peachy.

“Good morning, my sons,” Tom said, giving both Seager and Roy playful noogies. Roy laughed and Seager feigned a smile.

Their mother kissed both their cheeks and asked, “How are my loves doing this morning?”

“Good. Just reviewing before my test,” Seager said.

“Oh, Seags,” Tom said as he poured cups of coffee for Patrice and himself, “don’t worry too much about it. You always do great.”

“I know. I’m not worried about my test,” he said. If either Tom or Patrice observed his subtle attempt to strike up the conversation about what caused him to fret, they didn’t care for him to elaborate, demonstrated by swiftly moving to the next topic.

“As you shouldn’t be. I have to get to the airport for a business trip, so I’m going to take you to school a bit early. That ok, bud?”

Seager peeked at Patrice as Tom mentioned the airport. His mom acted too absorbed with Roy’s grotesque shenanigans to pay it any heed.

Knowing he didn’t have a choice, Seager lied and said, “Yeah. I can get there early. That way I can study more.”

Tom smiled and thanked his eldest for being so accommodating. Seager felt his stomach turn.

Arriving at school forty-five minutes before his first class commenced gave Seager’s adversaries an abundant amount of time to work with. Physically, Brock and Harlan were much more mature than Seager. Both were nearing six feet while Seager stood at a measly five-three. Mentally, Seager had the advantage, but that didn’t help him combat their abuse.

Brock nudged Harlan on the arm when he saw Seager hop out of his dad’s car. Even if they wanted to stop bullying him they couldn’t. He was easy prey and lacked the moral fiber to retaliate, too timid to rat them out to school officials or his parents.

Seager plodded towards campus in hopes it would delay the inevitable. On this particular morning, Brock and Harlan were more punctual than usual. Once Seager made eye contact with both antagonists, he lumbered over to their designated spot in a tree-covered creek passerbys had no visibility to.

With his hands on the straps of his backpack and chin digging into his chest, Seager’s first battle, attempting to stop himself from hyperventilating, began. His goal was to suppress it as much as he could in an effort to appear like he had some courage, but the grins across their faces told Seager they thought he was pathetic; a notion he couldn’t deny.

“Sup, pussy,” Harlan said before socking Seager’s shoulder, causing him to tumble down. Brock and Harlan erupted in laughter and kicked fallen leaves and tree branches in his direction.

“Oh come on, get up,” Brock said.

Once Seager stood up and shamefully turned himself towards them, he knew what to do without them muttering a word. He set his backpack down and took his shirt off before accepting the piece of tape Harlan handed him. Seager slapped the tape over his mouth and extended his arms so Brock could tie his hands together, so tight Seager felt like the rope would snap his wrists off.

“All right. Ready?” Brock said, taunting him since it didn’t matter if Seager nodded his head yes or shook his head no.

Brock went first, wailing on Seager’s ribcage with consecutive impactful punches. Brock belabored him so vigorously his knuckles promptly swelled. Seager’s undeveloped body turned black and blue; he felt like his ribs were disintegrating each time Brock’s manly fists smashed into them. The first part of his beating happened too briskly for Seager to realize he was on his back with Brock hovering above him, swinging at free will.

“Hey, my turn,” Harlan said.

Brock spit on Seager’s stomach before handing the reins over to his counterpart. Harlan lifted Seager up and pressed the victim’s chest against a tree. He advised staying put unless Seager really wanted to get his ass whooped. Harlan then five-starred his back five uninterrupted times. 

After the final thumping, Seager’s limp body collapsed to the ground. His agony was so ubiquitous the tape nearly wasn’t enough to muffle his cries. Tears poured out of his eyes, wetting the dirt beneath him. Brock and Harlan snickered and bumped fists.

Brock waltzed over and rolled his eyes as if Seager was burdening his day. He ripped the tape off his mouth and said, “See you around, kid.”

Seager laid there to collect himself until he was positive they were out of sight.

Beating the bell by seconds was uncharacteristic of Seager, but his morning’s one-sided skirmish put him out of sorts. No matter how much effort he laid forth, he couldn’t move fluidly. From their seats in the back of the class, Brock and Harlan monitored Seager easing in his seat in the very front. Mrs. Campbell’s, their history teacher, head tilted and eyes squinted  when she discerned Seager’s tentative movements. She made a mental note to keep an eye on him.

Seager, attentive and engaging most mornings, purposely avoided making eye contact with Mrs. Campbell as she iterated the test’s protocols.

Mrs. Campbell decided to pass out a test to every student except Seager. Ater doing exactly that, she kneeled next to his desk and asked, “Seager, can you please join me outside?”

He nodded and shot up too quickly, noticeably clenching his teeth. Brock nervously bounced his leg up and down; Harlan anxiously tapped his pencil against his desk.

Once the student and teacher were outside Mrs. Campbell asked, “Seager, honey, you look like you’re in pain. Did someone hurt you?”

His eyes were too bloodshot and glassy and movements too unnatural to camouflage his body’s strain, but he couldn’t confess what he just endured. Doing so would put him in more danger with Brock and Harlan. Besides, Seager was an observational learner; his parents taught him repressing problems was the most efficient way to manage them. Divulging anyone else with them would be cowardly.

“Thanks, but I’m fine Mrs. Campbell. Just a little nervous.”

Mrs. Campbell let a minute pass without responding, praying it would be enough time for Seager to change his mind and disclose what happened. To her dismay, his lips remained sealed.

“Ok, then. I just wanted to check. You’re free to go back to your desk,” she said.

Seager muttered his thanks and stolidly headed back.

“Harlan, stop tapping your pencil and begin your test,” Mrs. Campbell told her son.