I am in my basement, and I am practicing darts. I am twelve years old. I do not care about mastering the skill. I have no intention of competing. It’s not the bulls-eye that interests me.
I am training. Training to hit number five, over and over. I must be precise. Deadly. An assassin. Like him.
Twenty students we number, in Mr. P’s homeroom. Twenty slices on the dartboard. Perfect. Perfect for Mr. P, ever the jokester, to inject some friendly competition into the morning routine.
But not all here are friends. There is a predator among us. Across the room, B smiles a jack-o-lantern grin, and licks his lips. Into this innocent contest, he has sunk in his fangs, and injected venom.
Each morning, one dart throw appoints one of us teacher’s helper: The chosen one collects the lunch orders. They take the attendance sheet upstairs. And the next morning, they lead the Pledge. Then, they throw, choosing the next helper.
B knows I dread leading the Pledge. We all know it. My loudest voice seems barely a murmur to their ears; their slightest snicker seems a roar to mine. B has made me his target for a year already, but never, until now, in the literal sense. However unwittingly, Mr. P has gift-wrapped and delivered me to my adversary.
It is child’s play to match number to name, for anyone who cares to. Ten is mine. And B is no roulette player. Ten is where he aims. He throws. He connects. He smiles in mock surprise.
B gives me what I want the least. Attention. A solitude-seeker, I placed myself in his crosshairs. He strikes, without laying a finger, but with warfare of the mind. He fires in the shadows, under breath, out of sight, ever present to remind me I am different. Here, where the rules are so many, we do battle in a lawless land.
But I have long since surrendered. Retaliation has proved futile. Fists and words alike backfired, my frustration only became his fuel. Still he baits me to react. I retreat into passivity, a mask for concealed rage. He has implanted in me a demon seed of self-doubt.
Now, the game is darts. And it occurs to me… Yes, two can play. The thought has crossed my mind. But in my defeatist mindset, I hesitate. Should I? Isn’t it in vain? I’ve never landed a blow against him. But for once, I find myself with a weapon in my hand.
And so I am practicing, into the evening. Sixteen. Three. Eleven. No, I must keep trying. Nine. Twenty. Twelve. Getting closer. I will not give up. And finally… Five... Five... Five. I have done it. But can I hit my mark when it counts?
The next morning, I fulfill my duty.
“I pledge allegiance, to the flag…”
My words freefall through empty air. Seconds stretch into an eternity. Until at last, a chorus fills in behind me, a parachute ripcord.
“…of the United States of America…” And then, it is done.
I approach the dartboard and draw. I take my position. I aim. And I throw.
And from across the room, an incredulous sneer.
I show no emotion. I cannot. But inside I am brimming with joy. One arrow pierces powerlessness. And for one day, the prey has battled the predator, and won.