It was late November, the last of the leaves had fallen, and Mrs. Hollister's classroom was holding its annual show-and-tell. The students were to bring in bayonets.
Every boy and girl in the class sprung at this opportunity, scampering to one of the nearer bayonet supply stores shortly after the 3:00 siren bled. Many fine-looking bayonets were purchased. One student bought a neon-yellow plastic bayonet. Another student bought an aluminum bayonet, covered with small stickers of unicorns. With these purchases, the students were learning much about bayonets, and developing healthily.
That is, all the students except Freddy, the class slouch. Freddy was the class slouch and he was the class troublemaker. The other students hated Freddy and the teacher hated Freddy and everyone on the school's faculty hated Freddy. (Those who knew him, at least.)
If one looked at Freddy under a large magnifying glass, a fine layer of lint became obvious. What attracted the lint to Freddy (or Freddy to the lint) was unclear. However, everyone agreed that the lint was there. Everyone also agreed that they hated Freddy.
Rather than scampering to patronize the fine bayonet shops or bayonet shoppes around town, Freddy waited and loitered and slouched. He lay around in a linty daze for many hours and weeks, until the deadline for the show-and-tell was approaching forthwith. Only then did Freddy pull himself up, but still he did not visit one of the fine and glittery bayonet shops and shoppes around town. No, Freddy walked lintily to the Shop of Magic and Macabre.
Behind the counter was a swarthy Romanian type, and all around the store were items of interest. Some items were shocking, and some items were ghoulish. However, all the items were interesting—there is not a person alive who wouldn't get a thrill out of hearing only the briefest description of some of this inventory.
Freddy trod to the nearest aisle, and let his fat hand fall thuddingly onto the nearest bayonet, a chippy gold number with a point long dulled. He held his eyes to the ground with a fierce disinterest and trudged as he brought it to the counter. The swarthy Romanian type, who manned the counter, raised his eyebrows and yelped a small yelp.
“You cannot be buying this!” the shopkeeper said. “It is an accursed bayonet, one that fills me with dread and fear. No good will come to he who purchases this bayonet!”
The shopkeeper was right. The bayonet was haunted, and had been haunted for many centuries. It was inhabited with ghosts and spectres, and vampires. It was also inhabited with zombies.
Freddy bought the bayonet anyway and brought it to school the next day, whereupon he received a C+ for his effort. It is unknown what his grade would have been if he had not been so universally hated.
After the 3:00 siren bled that day, the other students, like the good little boys and girls they were, quickly lost interest in their bayonets. Most deposited them in the classroom wastebasket. By 3:15, there were enough bayonets in the small wicker basket to staff an entire army platoon, back in those quaint and lovely days when armies used bayonets.
Freddy, however, wouldn't or couldn't part with his chippy gold bayonet, and at 3:20 absently trudged to the corner greengrocer. (It was not usual, and perhaps even “unusual,” for him to do this—it was as though he were transported there by spectres.) Freddy was hated by the greengrocer, and had to hide his presence. As he circulated about, Freddy trudged with softer-than-normal footsteps, and dug his chin into his flabby sternum. He remained unseen, and was nearly invisible.
Freddy trudged and glid to the greengrocer's orange stand, where he picked up an orange. He picked up an orange in his right hand, as the bayonet was in his left, being held in an ever-intensifying grip. But mostly he picked up an orange. As soon as Freddy grasped the orange, the grip on the bayonet intensified, and intensified against Freddy's will. As if guided by unseen, ghostly appendages, Freddy squeezed the bayonet with increasing pressure, until finally the tips of his fingers were white, the back of his hand ached, and his angry wrist shook with fatigue.
It was all beyond Freddy's control, and before he knew it, he had plunged the bayonet into the orange. A light rain of juice coated the lint on the back of Freddy's arms.
For the first time in years, perhaps since the day he was born, Freddy shuddered. If caught, he would probably have to purchase the orange, something Freddy feared with a deep linty intensity.
But Freddy regained composure, extracted the bayonet from the now-depleted orange, in its current state resembling a deflated volleyball or crescent moon, and glid out of the greengrocer's stands with heavy, low trudges. Freddy's steps were punctuated by sharp, darting looks behind his lumpy shoulder. After an eternity of suspense, he finally passed onto the sidewalk and dove around the corner. Looking down, Freddy saw that the dull golden bayonet was coated with a thin layer of the orange's juice, much like the coat of lint on Freddy's hand that held it.
Freddy's trudge quickened into a rapid shuffle, as he continued on through many fraught streetcorners and intersections and stoplights, first escaping, later rambling, until he looked up and saw himself standing in front of the local supermarket. The supermarket was a mammoth building wherein townspeople could buy both fruits and vegetables, as well as cereals and meats and greeting cards. The greengrocer's market, if stacked properly, could fit inside this supermarket forty or fifty times over. With only vague awareness, and with a latent flabby apprehension, Freddy entered the store and found himself again in front of oranges, oranges piled together in a pyramid on a friendly inclined plane.
With uncharacteristic venom, Freddy snatched one of the glowing orange wonders. He let it rest in his left palm as his right pricked the bayonet tip against the fruit's skin, and then pricked it again. What struck Freddy at this point was that he was now in complete control of his actions. He had shed the evil ghosts and spectres and vampires, and also zombies, that haunted him. Freddy thought this idea as he held the dull bayonet point against the skin of the orange. He lifted the point, and put it back. Then he tried to cough, and then did. Yes. Complete control of his actions.
But still, the vibrancy of the color and the texture of the skin transfixed Freddy, changing his usually dull, milky eyes into red titanium hammers of obsession. His right elbow ached as Freddy held it in position, dancing the bayonet point around and around the fruit's skin, in ever-decreasing circles. The supermarket's flat fluorescent light rained down without end. He drew more tiny circles, as sweat poured across his linty, fat face. Finally, the rope broke, the hammer fell, and Freddy again plunged the bayonet into a neon, pulpy abyss. He stabbed and thrust until the orange was no more than a threshed corpse. Damn, thought Freddy. He wasn't in control after all.
He threw the threshed skin skyward, and ran, stumbling back outside in a brisk, stumbling daze. Freddy took a chilling breath and cursed his bayonet. To reiterate the situation to the reader, he wasn't in control after all. His bayonet was haunted, and it was the bayonet that made him do this. Freddy never felt worse, as though someone was wrenching his stomach with pliers, or perhaps a Vice-Grip®. His nose ached with pressure, and his mouth was supernaturally dry. Freddy heaved the bayonet into the oceanesque parking lot, and it perhaps flew for ten yards, or maybe fifteen. It skipped twice and came to a stop behind the back-left tire of a car, a 1996 mid-size coupe.
Freddy stood pitifully for many seconds, whimpered, and then retrieved his bayonet.
He walked through the lot, down the sidewalk, and continued trudging, a damneded soulless shuffle over cement, a shuffle like a cat on a leash, for many miles and many hours. By the time he reached the town's sole hypermarket (a combination supermarket-department store), the sun had long set, and Freddy stood a lone figure at the base of the bleak and sprawling parking lot.
The hypermarket was more than mammoth. Ten or eleven of the supermarkets could be placed inside the hypermarket, if anyone had the desire and capability to do so. There were probably a thousand oranges inside, each with a pulpy, whimpering heart.
Freddy eyed the structure with a distinctly un-linty helplessness. The bayonet froze to his left hand, and his right hand froze into a fist. His forearms froze over with the orange's juice. Freddy stood bound and rigid at the base of the parking lot, as the wind blew, the ghosts churned, and his terrible destiny hovered, imminent.
Freddy took two steps onto the parking lot, and fell. He broke three ribs.
He lay in a bloated, broken shamble for hours. The cold cement soaked through his knees, like icewater through a boot. At that moment, Freddy finally knew for certain the principal truth of his life, that they would hate him forever.