Derek felt miserable. The knot in his stomach was tight. He wanted to hug himself and double over to get rid of the feeling, but he couldn’t. He was sitting in front of Mrs. Killian’s civics class in the seat of shame, again. It wasn’t his fault; it was all because of Bill Castles, who forgot all about him until third period.
Bill was everything that Derek was not. Bill was popular, athletic, good looking. Derek was uncoordinated and prone to enormous outbreaks of acne. He was probably the smartest kid in school and made straight A’s, but his discipline record kept him off of the honor roll. Everyone flocked around Bill; people treated Derek like he was sewage or forgot him altogether. It was all or nothing.
He never responded to the taunts. It had gone on for so long that he almost couldn’t remember being treated any other way. His reputation as an outcast started gelling when he began crying in front of his third grade class. His teacher shamed him for not wanting to read Doctor Dolittle. Hot tears rolled down his cheeks and he actually sobbed. Everyone saw. By the time he got to middle school he was the “weird kid” in class, always the one that didn’t have the right backpack, wore clothes that never seemed to fit right, stumbled around at recess ruining kickball games. When they weren’t making him miserable they left him out of everything, sitting invisible at the edge of the playground or cafeteria all alone Now that he was in tenth grade and growing tall, gangly, and even more awkward, the teasing was endless, at least when he was visible. Thoughtless teenage girls pointed and giggled at him when they saw him. Of course he wasn’t in on the joke, and didn’t understand their mirth. The boys would knock his books off his desk, or walk up behind him and let long drools of spit slop onto his neck when they saw him. When he wasn’t in front of them, they forgot him completely him. It fed his anger, burned itself onto his heart. He held himself in, pushed down the hurt, and became withdrawn. His entire posture was bent, shoulders hunched, head down. He just wanted to be something, not a nothing or a pariah. He wanted to be all evil or all good. Even in his own mind there was no in between.
Bill sat in the middle of the classroom, right behind Derek, but only because Mrs. Killian was strict and assigned the seats alphabetically. Since Derek was always in his sight there, Bill made it his crusade to “fix” him. He would poke Derek to get him to sit up straight, tell him to smile, and call attention to him. “Hey Melody! Derek’s lookin’ good today, isn’t he?” He’d shout out across the room to Melody Rateree who was on the cheerleading squad. It didn’t matter if Derek had a volcanic pimple on the end of his nose, or had stepped in a mud puddle soaking his sneakers- Bill made it a point to single him out, put him and his awkwardness on display. Then everywhere else Bill didn’t even seem to know he existed. Derek hated him for it.
So that day, when Bill slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hey dude. Come on and sit up straight like a man,” Derek exploded in anger. He shouted and sputtered incoherently, flailing his arms at the other boy.
Of course Mrs. Killian immediately pulled Derek up to the front of the class and pushed a desk next to hers. “This is almost becoming a habit, isn’t it, Derek? One more outburst like that and I’ll send you to the vice principal.” She slid her eyes over to him as he sat in the too-public desk, opened her book, and started droning her lesson.
The warm mid-October air drifted through the pine trees then the open windows. The sweet smell surrounded Derek who kept his head low, near the surface of the desk, his hair flopping down over his eyes. He couldn’t bear to look up at everyone in the class staring at him and snickering, but the scent of the needles and the sap took him out of the room, out of the building, out of school completely. Flying through the woods in his mind tickled his soul. The sky above was blue beryl and deep, cloudless and clear. His red hot embarrassment gave way to a sense of careless freedom. He didn’t look up in the class so he could stay skimming around aimlessly outside.
“Derek! Are you listening to me?” Mrs. Killian stood next to the desk of shame.
“Yes ma’am.” He cocked his head in her direction.
“Then what did I just say?”
“You were telling us how a bill becomes a law. You just told us about presidential veto, and how it’s overridden.”
Mrs. Killian put her hands on her chair and leaned in close to him. “I’m watching you, mister.” She whispered close to his ear, then continued her lesson.
“At least you remember me.” Derek thought, then continued his flight through the woods.
The bell finally rang despite Derek’s dread and hope that his trip wouldn’t end. But at least fourth period was his library period, and he could escape into the papery spice of the stacks of books. Most of the other kids spent their time sitting around the library tables, whispering and getting shushed by the librarian, texting on their phones, or sleeping. They didn’t bother to look at the books, really. They sneaked and used their phones to find pre-written reports, paste and copy from Wikipedia, or to use any number of ever-changing social media sites to humiliate each other and spread gossip. But no one ever bothered to torture him online. If he wasn’t in front of them in real time, he didn’t seem to exist to them. He was invisible to them, and he couldn’t decide if he cared about that or not whether he hated it or loved the solitude. Being a target or a nothing- both were bad things to him. When they were bullying him he existed in the school, even if he didn’t fit in.
If I died, nobody would even know I was gone. He wrote that phrase over and over in the margins of so many books around the library that he lost count. He searched through the shelves finding titles that no one had checked out in years, opening each one, inhaling the musk of the book, then writing in it hundreds of times.
One day he found a really old book. It wasn’t like the hundreds of unread titles he had already scribed with his mantra. This one wasn’t Silas Marner or Pilgrim’s Progress. It didn’t contain a biography, history, or some obscure and out of date science text from the 1960s. This one was something else. This one was leather-bound with Grimoire de Tenebris Anima. He opened it and found page after page of strange handwriting and weird, scratchy diagrams.
There was something very different about it. He used Google to find out that a grimoire was a book of magic. This one, whose title meant Magic Book of the Dark Soul, didn’t have a Dewey Decimal number on its spine or even a library card. Derek stared at it for days, the browning script winding around yellow pages, thumbing through it again and again. He didn’t have the heart to ruin its strange beauty by writing in it.
That day after Mrs. Killian’s civic class where he flew over the pines he found the drawing that made sense to him. There, in the middle of the book was the answer to all his problems. He poured over it over the next few days during fourth period. Not until the day before Halloween did it occur to him to actually take the book. Since there was no way to check it out, he slipped it into his backpack. The librarian who checked everyone’s bags before they left didn’t even notice it. Derek figured she just saw an old brown book, not library materials. He took it home that afternoon, and spent half the night drawing on the floor under his bed in chalk, carefully placing candles, and reading the words as best he could make out. The next day when he woke up, he knew the spell had worked. It was Halloween and he felt different. He felt powerful. Everyone was going to treat him differently. They would remember him for certain, even when he wasn’t in front of them.
Bill was already sitting in his desk when Derek strode into third period civics that morning. “Hey You’re standing up straight! You finally taking my advice?”
Derek walked over to his desk without saying a word. He stood and stared at Bill and a slight smile crawled across his face. He didn’t raise his voice. “No. I didn’t.”
“You look different. It’s a good thing. I was getting tired of the emo act.”
“Like goth or something?”
“Like King of the Maladjusted.” Bill grinned. “It’s about time you decided to join the human race and not be so emotional.”
“Do you sit around thinking of ways to make me feel bad? What do you really care, Bill? What do you really care about me? The only time you ever talk to me is when I’m in this class. This one class. Did you know I’m in your algebra class? I sit in back. You and I take the same English class. Ever see me there?”
“No. Not really.”
Derek spoke in a monotone. “What does ‘not really’ mean? Either you remember me there or you don’t. In fact nobody remembers me unless they’re making fun of me to my face. When I’m not in front of them, nobody sees me. Nobody thinks about me. Nobody friends me online. Nobody even bothers to talk about me behind my back. Nobody. I don’t exist. I just want everyone to remember me.”
“Huh? What is all that? I was just going to say you looked kinda happy today.”
“Derek, take your seat. The second bell is about to ring.” Mrs. Killian tapped a pencil on her desk.
He sat in his desk and turned around to Bill. “You’re going to remember me from now on. Everyone will. I fixed it.” He looked forward and took a deep breath. Sizzling and popping started coming out of his feet. Blue-green sparks came out of his ears, and his head pulsed larger then smaller over and over. Smoke poured out of his mouth. His entire body inflated then exploded in a spray of blood and gore all over the classroom. Entrails and flesh splattered everywhere.
Everyone remembered Derek after he was gone. He got his wish.