Come on, you know it’s true. There’s no doubting it. I am the one – the coolest kid in school.
When I woke just now, I had this smile on my face. I always do. You see, every morning I wake up having dreamt the same thing. Fighting with bad guys to save the world; being rich, getting famous, having everything I ever needed ‑ and everyone recognising me, wanting to be me…
“Don’t forget me when you’re famous,” my brother would say.
“No way, little bro.” Considering all the crap that’s happened to us. “I won’t leave you behind.” I swear it. You and Mum will be there when I become President – Prime Minister doesn’t sound as cool – or some kung fu movie star, flying through the air, striking them down one by one before the final showdown with the big boss. It’s always the same villain in my dreams – the one with the terrible scar on his face. But he’s never a match for me, and afterwards the hot babes come rushing to my arms. So you see, it’s no wonder I’m smiling when I wake up.
Speaking of babes, the one on my new poster is looking pretty fit. Sunlight’s streaming through the side of the curtain and stroking her soft skin. One day she’ll get to know me. They all will. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got to close my eyes and think of her snug under my duvet…
There’s a knock at my bedroom door. “Freddy, it’s time to get up.”
“I am already, Mum.” Of course I lie. Wouldn’t you?
Mum’s gone… Maybe I should get ready for school… I roll over and sit on the side of my bed. Yes, let’s do this. With the music turned on, my head bobs to the rhythm and my shoulders get into the groove. I can’t help myself – this is disco funk after all.
I slip on some fresh underpants before pulling up one white sock and then the other. That’s it, baby. Now move those feet and dance around the bed; pull back the curtains to let in the light. Hit that bass. I sprint out to the landing and dive into the bathroom, gliding across the tiles in my socks. I’ve done that a thousand times. I’m humming the tune as I brush my teeth at the sink. Sure, I don’t have a six-pack, eight-pack or whatever-pack. But with a face like that in the mirror who needs it? I smear gel in my hair. The strong stuff. And then I brush my locks, sweeping it all back. Hmmm – looking fine, Doctor Love.
Now, let’s see. Need to find some trousers to fit with my new shirt. Something… tight. Opening the closet, I have to reach past the singers dancing in front of the clothes rack, moving their bodies in time with the beat – those sexy ladies always appear when the music starts. Cool, don’t you think? Yup, those trousers will do. The singers smile at me, nodding. They clap to the tune and do a twirl. Yes, I was right – come on, touch those trousers. They’re so tight. You know you want to. Everybody does.
Okay. All set for another awesome day at school.
At the breakfast table my brother is eating his cereal.
I grab a bowl and join him. “Hey, little bro.”
“Hey,” he says back.
Mum enters the kitchen, looking dead tired. She always is, having to do long shifts at work. “Well, someone has to pay the bills now your father left us,” she complains most weeks. I tell her, “Don’t worry, Mum. I’ll become rich and famous, and everything will be okay.” She says she doesn’t believe me. But I know it’s true, I know it’s going to be all right. And anyway, whatever happens we’re still better off without him.
I finish my breakfast and put the bowl in the sink. Good, Mum hasn’t noticed my new shirt – she told me to save my pocket money but I need to be seen in the coolest clothes. Still I better leave quickly just in case… Maybe these trousers are a bit too tight…
There I go. Down the street, heading to school ‑ body pumping, arms swinging out in front. Not a cloud in the sky; birds chirping in a nearby tree. And then, as if by magic, water sprinklers in the neighbourhood switch on one at a time when I skirt each lawn. I know, it’s hard to believe, but this happens to me every single day.
Mrs. Mackenzie is all puffed up in her dressing gown, saying goodbye to Mr. Mackenzie on their front doorstep. She spots me, stares. She always does. Yeah, she knows I’m the one.
Other kids are following behind me. I’m like the Pied Piper leading them to the Promised Land. They all know who I am.
Another sprinkler turns on, spraying a fine mist all over my trousers. There’s a wet patch on my crotch. Go on, douse me down – the hot babes love that sort of thing.
And so here we are – the school hallway, the place where it all happens. The centre of my universe. On our left we’ve got the nerds and the geeks, and hiding behind a pillar are a couple of goths. Over there, hanging about by the lockers, are the jocks ‑ directly opposite the popular girls on the other side of the corridor. It makes me laugh how the jocks pretend not to pose, yet the head one is casually leaning against a locker, legs splayed wide. His trousers are definitely not as tight as mine.
“Hey, Freddy,” one boy calls out from the group of nerds.
Ignore him – it’s only Stevie. I used to let him hang with me for a while. “You’re so last year,” I told him last year. Nah, he’s no friend of mine. There’s no way I can be seen with his type.
I walk off down the hallway.
See those trophies in the display cabinet? My name’s on them all. For football… swimming… wrestling. The other kids are amazed at how good I am at sport. “He must have powers,” they say. Well, they’re right – I’ve got kung fu powers. I’m not some loser like my dad. No way. Look, my name is on that cup too. Hockey, I think. Anyway, whatever it is, I won it.
There she is – the prettiest girl in school. She’ll be mine soon.
“Piss off. I told you I wasn’t interested in someone like you.”
I wink at her. It’s for show, of course – she’s only saying that in front of the other popular girls. God, how I love those luscious lips. They’re always pressed firmly together when she gets angry. I watch her bottom twitch when she turns round and storms off with her friends. Hmmm.
I’ll be dreaming of her tonight, together with those hot babes and the girl on my poster.
“Collins.” Mr. Simpkins towers in front of me, blocking my view. “I hope you’ve completed your overdue assignment.”
“I’ll get it to you soon, sir.” He doesn’t understand – none of them do. I’ve got more important things in my life to get on with.
Inside my locker I check my hair in the mirror. Looking good. I know it’s hard to believe but I never used to be this way. There was a time when I was nobody; standing at the back, the last chosen for one of the teams; alone at my own party when no one else showed up. Mum said I was special. Well, Mum was wrong. She should know better. She should understand you’ve got to be someone to be special. You’ve got to stand out from the crowd.
I grab my sunglasses from the locker and put them on. I’m no nerd treasuring his comic book and action figure collections… I used to have those things but not any more – my bastard father stole the lot from my bedroom and sold them off.
I adjust my sunglasses in the mirror. Yes, I’m somebody now.
My backing singers appear on both sides of the locker. I nod. They’re ready.
Okay, it’s time.
The music starts and I begin to tap my foot, do a little shimmy. Feel me, baby. I turn to face down the hallway and snap my fingers.
All at once the other kids drop their bags and line up to dance.
I step to the right. Clap, clap. And then I step to the left. Clap, clap. Yeah, all good.
The singers, the kids ‑ everybody’s doing it now, tapping, clapping to the music. Okay, and… change. It’s the electric slide next. Yeah, baby. Glide with those feet.
My turn. Watch, I’m going to do some disco freestyle. Check out the moves. Spinning. Splits. Even a cross kick. How many guys can do that in tight trousers?
One of the girls swoons at my feet. Yes, I know – it’s too much for some of them, but I just can’t help it.
Now the teachers are joining in. Miss Stevens strides out of her classroom, opening her bun to let her hair fall free. She turns her head and smiles at me. Yeah, I told you the hot babes dig me.
The hallway darkens and a rotating disco ball lowers from the ceiling. Reflected lights bounce about and glitter on the walls, the lockers, the floor, all over our bodies.
Wow, Miss Stevens, you sure can shake your booty. Right on!
Okay, time to switch tempo.
I click my fingers again and all the honeys queue behind me.
Let’s get it down. I strut along the corridor like a peacock in full feather, stepping on the coloured lights flashing around the dance floor. Oh, yeah. The girls follow me, right hands pointing up, then down and across to their left side, wiggling their hips.
And how about you? Come on, your turn. You can’t say no to me. You know you want to…
Yes, that’s it! Feel the beat, the rhythm. Shake your shoulders. And now roll those forearms. I knew you couldn’t help it. No one can.
Everyone is dancing around me now. A mass of bodies, all heaving, sliding up and down against my body, pumping. The girls are ogling me. Yes, touch those bright, spangled trousers of mine. Caress them. Smell the scent of my oiled body, and make love, sweet love.
Everybody knows me. I’m Freddy Collins, the coolest kid in school.
They all want to be me. They all want me…
“Hey, nerd.” The head jock has followed me into the boys’ toilets.
His posse surround me. They’ll be my posse soon.
“Yeah, what is it? I’m busy.” I’m always busy.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Mincing about in those sunglasses.”
His posse presses in on me.
“But I’m the coolest kid in school.” How could they’ve forgotten that? Look at me.
“You, an ugly little retard with no mates – the coolest kid in school?”
I’ve got mates… I scan around – the singers have gone. I’ve got…You’re my friend, aren’t you?
One of the boys raises his clenched fist towards me.
“You better stay back. I’ll use my kung fu.” They’re no match for me.
They laugh again. And not just the jocks. All the others from the hallway, including the nerds and geeks. The teachers. Even our neighbour, Mrs. Mackenzie. Everyone is laughing at me.
I’m shoved up against the toilet stalls. Hey, you can’t do that to me.
Someone snatches my sunglasses and chucks them into the urinal.
It doesn’t matter. They can’t harm me – I’m a superhero, invincible.
As two of the boys hold me back, the head jock punches me in the stomach. What do you call that? That’s nothing. These kids don’t know how to hit someone. I’ve seen much worse… felt much worse. I know real pain.
Like when my father came home drunk again and bashed Mum in, beating me and little bro too when we tried to stop him. He looked like the villain from my dreams, a terrible scar on his face. He smashed our heads in. “Take my hand, little bro.” Even though I could barely get up, I tried to help him with my powers and make the pain disappear. It didn’t work.
The next morning Mum wore sunglasses to hide some of her bruises. And I remembered how Mrs. Mackenzie stood on her doorstep gossiping with one of the other neighbours, watching Mum head off to work.
No, this isn’t pain. I feel nothing.
“Leave him alone.”
My eyes open. Stevie’s there. He says something else to them, but there’s ringing in my ears and I can’t hear very well.
They take off.
“Are you all right?” he asks me.
Why does he have to ruin everything for me? Why can’t he just clear off like the rest of them?
“Piss off, Stevie. I don’t need your help.” I don’t need anybody’s help, do you hear me? No one ever helped us out with Dad. We … I can cope by myself.
“Fine, Freddy.” He leaves me alone.
I can’t feel the pain in my body as I stumble over to the urinal and fish out my sunglasses. I’m invincible, remember? Although I wash the shades at the sink with lots of soap and water, they still stink.
It doesn’t matter. Facing the mirror, I put them back on again. Yes, I’m ready.
Outside, all eyes are on me. I find it difficult to walk and have to limp down the hallway. The others keep staring at me. Stevie stands there. He looks at me in a strange way, holding out his hand. No way. I cross over to the other side of the corridor. Can’t be seen with someone like him.
I stop and adjust my sunglasses. I’ll show them all. I can do anything. Be someone.
Don’t worry, little bro.
The singers are waiting near my locker.
I will become rich and famous and look after you and Mum. It’s going to happen. After all, I am the coolest kid in school.
Good – the music’s starting to play again.
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
EXIT EARTH includes the short stories of all fourteen finalists of the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature) and additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), and exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.
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