Greetings, Loyal Reader!
We continue the preview of my new work-in-progress Dash: Into Space! If you need to catch up, read Part 1 here. Last episode Dash was in a strange place. We resume the story at Plainsville High School…
Chapter 2: Getting Schooled
Plainsville High School
“You’re dead, Garnet! Dead, dead, dead!”
In his peripheral vision, Dash saw a soccer ball coming his way. It was too late to duck. The ball rebounded off the side of his head and shot straight up at a ninety degree angle. Dash stumbled against his car, an ancient, dented, silver Toyota Tercel. His armload of textbooks flew in every direction.
“Oh, man! Nice shot!” whooped Billy Crudd.
“Smoked it!” shouted Johnny Biff.
Before Dash can run, they are on him, Max Gorbins and his moron buddies, trapping him between the cars. Max was a cornfed brute with a flattop, a letter jacket, and biceps like bricks. Dash was none of those things—skinny, uncoordinated, native to the library, not the athletic field.
Max grabbed Dash by the collar and shoved him roughly against the car.
“What did I do now?” squealed Dash, his voice cracking as if he were thirteen, not sixteen.
“What did you do?” Max laughed. “You exist! That’s enough!”
“Yeah!” said Johnny. He was a stout blond boy, even bigger than Max, but not as fit. “Yeah! You exist!”
“And you drive this stupid foreign crapmobile!” Max pounded another dent into the Tercel’s roof with his fist.
“Yeah, stupid crapmobile!” said Johnny.
“Better mileage than your dumb pickup,” muttered Dash.
“Are you dissing my truck?” demanded Max, slamming Dash against the car again. “I can’t believe you would dis my truck!” Another slam. “You wouldn’t do that, would you, Garnet?”
“No! No!” said Dash. “You have a nice truck.”
“Glad you think so. And thanks for offering to pay for my gas, since you’ve got so much extra cash with the great mileage on your crapmobile.” His sidekicks laughed. “Billy, get his wallet!”
“Yeah, his wallet! Yeah!” said Johnny.
Billy had red hair and wore a scruffy fuzz of a beard. His eyes never quite seemed to be in focus. Grinning like a hyena, he reached into the pocket of Dash’s jacket, extracting his leather wallet.
“Give me that!” said Dash, grabbing in vain for the billfold.
Billy said, “This? You want this? Sure. Take it.”
Dash reached for the wallet, knowing what would happen. With a harsh, barking laugh, Billy yanked the wallet back.
“Enough fooling, Billy. Get the money.”
“Aw, he’s busted!” said Billy, holding the wallet open to prove it.
“What?” Max slammed Dash into the car again. “You broke, Garnet? Spend all your allowance?”
“Yeah, spend all your allowance?” echoed Johnny.
“Johnny,” said Max.
“Yeah, Max?” said Johnny.
“You don’t have to repeat everything I say.”
“I know I don’t, Max. But I like to.”
“Well, knock it off! Your getting on my nerves.”
“Can…can I have my wallet back now?” asked Dash.
“Sure!” said Max. “Billy, give him his wallet.”
“No problem.” Billy grinned his snarling grin and held the wallet out to Dash. Knowing again what would happen, Dash reached for it anyway. Billy snatched the wallet back, turned, and hurled it high across the parking lot. It sailed in a lofty arc above the cars, hit the trunk of a tree planted on the far side of the lot, and came to rest on a branch almost twenty feet above the ground.
“Nice shot,” said Max, nodding approval.
“Yeah, nice—” Johnny shot a worried look at Max. “I mean, yeah, that’s good,” said Johnny.
Billy raised his arms high. “Nothing but net!” He rounded on Dash. “Hope you’re part monkey, monkey boy!”
“Come on, guys, leave me alone,” whined Dash.
“We’re not done,” said Max, leaning in close. “I heard you were talking to Astrid. Is that true?”
“We’re…we…we were assigned as partners in biology! That’s all!” said Dash. “I swear!”
“Monkey boy wants to be her biology partner,” said Billy. “Dash and Astrid sitting in a tree!” he chanted.
Dash blushed. Astrid was, no argument, the single hottest and most beautiful and perfect girl at Plainsville High. He thought about her all the time. He had picked his seat in Mr. Randall’s Biology class specifically for the view of Astrid. Getting assigned as her lab partner for the whole semester was an unexpected bonus. Dash knew he would never, ever, not in 3.2 billion years, get the nerve to even speak to a goddess like Astrid Castor otherwise. Now he had an excuse to talk to her every single day. But none of that would matter if her hypersteroidal jealous boyfriend killed him.
(Well, ex-boyfriend as of last week. Or so he’d heard from Jessie Rinaldi. But dead was dead either way.)
“Listen, you stay away from Astrid, dweebo, or you’re dead!” said Max. His breath smelled like stale Skoal.
“We have class together. That’s all! I heard you guys broke up anyway.”
“See, he does want to teach her biology!” howled Billy.
“Yeah, teach her biology!” said Johnny.
Billy smacked the back of Johnny’s head. “Hey, don’t you start repeating after me now.”
“Sorry,” said Johnny. “It’s just so hard to think of things to say.”
“Quiet, you two!” Max yanked Dash forward until they were nose to nose. “We only sort of broke up,” said Max. “Not that it’s any business of yours, buttmunch.” He smacked Dash’s sweat-drenched forehead with the heel of his palm. “With you helping her, dumb bunny might actually pass the class, so do your stupid lab! Do her homework even!”
“Just don’t do her!” said Billy. He doubled over laughing at his own joke.
“Yeah, don’t get any ideas, bookworm!” said Max. “I’ll be watching you. Every step you take. Every move you make. So don’t make any! Got it?”
“G-got it!” stammered Dash. So they did break up! Rumor confirmed.
“Then we’re done.” Max shoved Dash toward Billy, who tripped him. Dash sprawled on the asphalt, scraping his palms. The three bullies laughed.
“All right, come on guys!” said Max. “We’ve got to find that new kid, whatsisname. Wren something.”
“The one with the funny haircut who just moved here from the big city?” asks Billy. “All into music and dancing and stuff?”
“Yeah, him. We need to have a conversation, me and him. I heard he was talking to Astrid too.”
“Astrid sure talks to lots of guys,” said Johnny.
Max gave Johnny a cold stare. “Johnny, I think I liked it better when you were repeating everything I say.”
Johnny beamed. “Yeah! Repeating everything!”
All three stepped on Dash as they walked away.
Dash collected his books. He didn’t look up as his best friend Gil approached, green sneakers, mismatched socks and all.
“Hey, Dash. You okay, man?”
“Do I look okay?” snapped Dash. “Thanks for the big assist, by the way.”
Dash stood and punched Gil lightly in the shoulder. “Never mind. I would’t get between those gorillas and me either.”
“I’m glad you see it from my point of view.” Gil grinned. “Seriously, you okay? You should report those guys. Zero tolerance, man.”
“Zero tolerance doesn’t apply to jocks,” said Dash.
“There is that.”
They threaded their way through the cars to the tree where Dash’s billfold was balanced on a branch. Only a corner of dark leather was visible from the ground.
Gil shook his head. “Pretty high. You’ll never climb that.”
“I could,” said Dash. “But I don’t have to.”
“You gonna call the custodian? How long will that take?”
Dash picked up a piece of gravel, stepped back, took aim—and nailed it on the first throw. The stone dislodged the wallet, which fell neatly into Dash’s outstretched hand.
“Whoa, Deadeye Dash!” said Gil.
Dash shrugged. “No Xbox, no cable, no internet. I throw a lot of rocks at fence posts.”
“We get you a Glock, you could take out Max and the morons with three shots,” said Gil, making a pistol with his finger and thumb. “Pow! Pow! Pow!”
“Hey, don’t talk like that!” said Dash. “Zero tolerance.”
“Right.” Gil holstered his imaginary weapon.
“Just picking up that rock was probably a felony.”
“At least,” agreed Gil. “Anyway, are you coming over Saturday? I downloaded the new Realms of Battle sourcebook and I’m running one of the adventures. Stu and Clark are in. They shall need the good right arm of Tauric to survive the perils I have planned!”
“I’ll have to ask Uncle Hans,” said Dash.
“So that’s a no then,” said Gil.
Dash shrugged. Uncle Hans had a long and growing list of farm chores for him to complete this weekend. Gaming with his buddies was definitely not on the agenda. Dash’s character in Gil’s fantasy role-playing campaign was Tauric Strongbull, war captain of the Red Bull tribe. Tauric’s strength was doubled when he drank the special tribal potion. If the dice were kind, the Red Bull potion also granted him wings and flight powers.
Lame joke. But that was how they played the game.
Tauric would easily hang the scalps of Max and his friends upon the trophy wall of his war lodge. But here in the real world that wasn’t going to happen. And to escape to Tauric’s world for a few hours, Dash would need a very creative excuse to join his friends at their weekly gaming session.
“I’ll do what I can,” Dash said.
“Sure,” said Gil. “Hey, did you hear about the crop circle over at the Martin place?”
“No,” said Dash, who had already tuned Gil out and was mentally rehearsing how he would greet Astrid in second period biology. Should he be all casual: “Oh, hi Astrid.” Or more confident, like: “Hey there, Astrid.” Or should he play it cool, wait for her to speak first? Maybe just smile and give her a nod. Or a wink? No! Too much. And he couldn’t say anything that might get back to Max. This would be a challenge.
“—and guts everywhere!” Gil said.
“What?” said Dash. “Whose guts?”
“Cattle guts, man. From the cattle mutilation. At the Red Cloud Ranch. That I just told you about.”
“Sounds awesome! It had to be aliens! Don’t you think?”
“Sure,” said Dash. “Aliens developed a propulsion drive capable of sending their ship across interstellar distances and used it to travel thousands of light years to Kansas and butcher some cattle at the Red Cloud Ranch. Makes total sense.”
“You got a better theory?”
“Hungry, hungry hobos.”
Gil rolled his eyes. “Sure.”
Dash laughed. “Come on, let’s get to class before the goon squad finishes with the new kid and comes back for seconds.”
That’s it until our next episode, when Dash says: “Oh, um, hey. Hi.”
More to come! Thanks for reading!