Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Carson lay still, blood oozing from his battered mouth onto the playground, his ears ringing as they laughed.

“Come on freak, get up and fight.” Quentin Taylor, the quarterback had landed the last blow, arm ratcheted back in a hail mary that had exploded into Carson’s jaw.

“For the extra point.” Carson turned just in time to see Petrov the kicker closing the distance in a brisk measured sprint, his geared and sprung hip winding noisily. He tried to roll to one side, but Petrov’s boot caught him full in the ribs, flipping him over with the crunch of fracturing bone.

“Stand him up, knock him down, kiiiiick his ass!”  The Yonge twins pranced around, making lift and punch gestures with their hands before stopping to jump up and down, finger tips exploding into long coloured streamers, wrists spinning in pinwheels of colour.

Carson could barely breathe. For a moment, he drifted out of consciousness, the voice of his father and the smell of the ethanol fields replacing the dust and jeering of the schoolyard.

“I know you’ll play in here,” his fathers hand on his shoulder, cellulose stalks rising skyward in neat rows stretching to the horizon, “but you must mind the harvesters.” The voice gentle, but firm. “There’s no driver watching out for you, they’re just dumb machines following each other, and they’ll run you down without a thought.”

Rough hands shook Carson back to the present, pulling him to his feet and pushing him back into the circle.

“Present for ya, farm boy.” Bennie, the boxer had his hands off, and his gloves on. The sun shone dully off the polished chrome of his forearms, shirt sleeves rolled up over bulging biceps. “Smile farm boy.” The material was supple, but not soft, the first impact snapping Carson’s head back viciously, his vision blinding white.

“If you get caught, and the harvesters are on you, remember you can’t run around them, they stick too close together.”

The shuffle of feet, a glimmer of blue sky and then another sharp blow to the face sent him reeling again.

“If you’re quick, run away, but if you’re trapped,” he could feel his father squeezing his shoulder, “remember your safety son, otherwise they’ll cut you up like last nights dinner.”

“Had enough yet freak?” Carson could feel gravel bite through his pant legs into the flesh of his knees. Quentin’s face again, so close he could feel him spit the words. “Never enough for you freak.” Two of the wresting team coiled elastic arms around his chest, pulling him up and holding him fast. “If your parents can’t buy you parts, how’s about we rip a few off ourselves. Maybe Medicaid will screw a rake on for you, eh farm boy?”

“Please… don’t…” He felt it then, the heat in his chest triggered by the rising levels of adrenaline and cortisol in his system.

He knew if he let them, they’d tear him apart.

“I’m sorry.”

There was a rushing sound, like a wave crashing a shoreline, then for a long moment there was nothing. The arms holding him disappeared, dropping him to the ground. Carson squeezed his eyes shut as he heard the stunned silence replaced with screaming; scared, angry, helpless.

He forced himself up, unsteady as he looked at the scattered bullies and spectators littering the ground; powered arms and twirling streamers stunned motionless, once powerful limbs stilled.

Carson ignored the wailing, retrieved his backpack and set off on the long walk home.

He’d need to charge his safety before visiting the fields again; before he changed schools, again.

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