The boy felt his fist hit Lars in the stomach, then his other fist.

Even as he was pulling back for another punch he knew he’d pay for this later. They’ll pin me down and beat me when no ones around, he thought to himself.

His arms kept swinging as if they had a mind of their own.

This was not like him, the boy thought, how many times had he meekly done nothing when he was being beaten or picked on, why was this time different he wondered.

The girl was the difference, her mismatched socks scrunched around her ankles, sobbing, her new dress, her first time in her life new dress that she’d been so happy about even though it was to big for her like the old worn mismatched socks scrunched around her ankles, Lars had pushed the girls lunch tray into the girls chest sending the hot and cold food running down her front.

The boy didn’t even remember leaving his seat, all he knew was that Lars had to pay for making the girl cry.

He wasn’t aware of Lars falling to the ground, or sitting on top of him, the boy was only aware that he still felt rage, that Lars needed to pay, but he was being carried off, probably to the principals office.

The boy sat mutely, they wanted him to explain why, but he didn’t know why so how was he to explain.

The resource officer came in, the boy had broken Lars’s nose.

The boy stared down at his feet, his overalls worn, patched, and frayed ending several inches above his ankles, dirt was under his ragged toenails, and his flip flop was torn. He’d end up taking a beating for tearing his flip flop.

The adults talked over his head, they wanted to reach his parents but there was no phone numbers, not even a cell number listed, just an address out near the swamp.

Eventually it was decided that the resource officer would take him home.

The boy stuffed the paper that spoke of his suspension into his left front pocket, it was the only good pocket, as he shuffled out to the waiting car, he was missing music class, he liked music class, not because he was good at it but because the teacher was nice and always had the nicest things to say.

The ride was long, at first the officer tried to talk to the boy but the boy stared mutely out the window wondering would today be a good day or bad day when they reached the shack, his home.

The officer stopped his car on the rutted dirt road, a rusted pickup was blocking the way, they walked the remaining distance on foot.

The officer let out a low and startled “You live here?” as they reached the shack, it’s front window broken, covered with plywood, weeds almost higher than the window, and the screen door on it’s side against the small broken porch.

For the first time the boy saw his world through someone else’s eyes and was ashamed, he’d known there were nicer houses, but he’d never felt ashamed of his home before. Head hanging like a dead weight he shuffled up to the door and opened it. The stale air reeked of old urine and vomit.

He led the officer across the small space to the old table on the peeling linoleum and stood still. The boy had already sighted the turned over bottles and the small pool of amber liquid on the floor, today was a bad day. On bad days the man was mean.

The boy pulled the paper from his pocket and set it on the table, the man and the officer were talking the man was standing and reaching for his belt.

The boy felt something inside snap.

He was running, he didn’t remember leaving the shack, but he was running.

Here in the swamp the trail was dark and narrow, if you weren’t careful roots would trip you he didn’t slow.

There was a fort, way up a tree, but it was deep in the swamp.

Did he remember where it was? Could he reach it before dark? What about the gators, could he avoid them.

The lights flashed red and blue against the trees. Men and women carried flashlights and called out the boys name.

An officer stoops to scoop something out of the water, and carries it back to the cars and their lights.

It’s half a chewed flip flop, there are no words, only sad faces they all know the dangers of the swamp.