To the out-of-town visitor, Fistwood Public School might have been a charnel house given its austere brickwork and overhanging sense of dread. It contained five equally austere rooms, four for the student body, one for the teachers. Three grades were compressed into a single class, so first to third grade shared a room, fourth to sixth shared a room, and so on until twelfth grade, meaning the tiny cunts playing hopscotch and wall-ball shared the same building as the lanky, pot-smoking, adolescent cunts. As for me, being eight, I got placed in the first-through-third class.
Now let me tell you something. I may have been a kid, but I wasn't a dummy. I'd read my Ovid, my Goethe, my Joyce, even Anna Karenina in its original Russian. These brats, they couldn't make a proper turkey with their fingers. I felt overqualified, out of the loop and out of their league. But rather than acknowledge this, rather than move me up a grade or two, my teacher, a buffalo of a woman with floral print and a necklace of pearls each big enough to clog a firehose, decided to keep me there among these kids.
You're probably thinking: Tornado, if you're so badass, why didn't you lynch that bitch and book it? I'll tell you why. The state made sure that if I didn't go to school, my mom and pop would be put away for shabby parenting. Now in my mind, it ain't shabby parenting to keep your kid on the farm, and it ain't shabby parenting to let him tend the crops and milk the cows and maybe blow up some beehives on the side. What shabby parenting isn't is making your kid sit in a stuffy room full of fucking disease and stench and body fluids where he'll maybe pick up some worthless fucking trivia if he's not coiling in on himself with loathing and disgust. This for seven hours a day; now repeat it every day for the rest of your childhood and tell me the state didn't stamp the best years out of you.
If there was one good thing I could take out of that first week at Fistwood Public School, it would be the fact that every soul from first to twelfth grade knew me as the "Bear Kid." Those who feared me didn't approach me. Those who respected me came forth to tell me so. I remember one group in particular. It happened during recess one day while I was doing one-handed pull-ups on the geodesic dome in our playground while reading Finnegans Wake.
Four ratty-looking kids a couple of grades my senior came up to the dome and laced their arms through its iron bars while giving me a leisurely, curious look.
"Tornado, right?"one of them asked. He looked to be their leader, since he was the tallest and undoubtedly the oldest.
"Cute shoes," I said. His were velcro. "I'm glad they make 'em for slow kids now; no more tripping over the laces."
He chuckled dangerously. "Whatever they say about you, Jackson, you got courage. Nobody in town talks to me that way. You got spunk."
"Spunk, huh?" I switched arms. "You come here to suck it outta me? Your mother's got first dibs."
"The hell are you reading, Jackson?" piped one of the others.
"Cat in the Hat," I said. "Now fuck off, all of ya."
"Come, come," crooned the leader. "There's no need for nastiness." He climbed up the dome to where my hand clung the bar and sat beside it, then looked down at me with a smile. "I feel we haven't properly introduced ourselves. My names Jimmy Thorn, and these here are members of my crew, the Dragonflies."
"Ain't heard of you," I said. "That's probably for a reason."
"Ain't heard of us, huh?" said a Dragonfly. "Everybody's heard of us."
Jimmy nodded. "Luke here's right. We're a big bunch, forty strong, and always looking for new members. But we don't just look anywhere, you see." He hopped up-right, and slowly arced his way into a standing position, with each foot carefully poised on a bar. My hand now clung halfway between his feet. "We want fighters and biters. The rowdy kids, you know, kids whose folks never gave a damn. We're like the Lost Boys, only we deal in real spears and arrows. If you want a place to go, a place beyond you rotten school and rotten home, come see us sometime, Tornado Jackson. We'll make you plenty welcome."
At this, he hopped off the dome and clicked his mouth to summon his cronies.
"I've seen sewers less full of shit," I said, just as they were walking away.
Jim looked over his shoulder, smiling, and said, "Baker Street at midnight, any day. We'll be waiting."
And with that, they disappeared.