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A Short Story by J. Deschene

Three AM was the perfect time. The wee hours of the morning. No one was out on the street---except me---and every window in every house had been dark for hours. I waited at the end of the lane, concealed in the thicket. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. My heart pounded.

Any minute now....

Light footsteps came nearer. I turned my head and there he was. Johnny Stopes was a high school freshman, though you'd never know it. Absolutely everything about him was behind. He was short, scrawny, and socially awkward, failing to understand even the most basic social cues, taking almost everything at face value. That's what made it so easy to gain his trust, and to lure him from the safety of his bedroom out into the night.

I adjusted my mask and stepped out from my hiding place. "Johnny," I said. "You've come."

Johnny started slightly at the sight of me. He paused as if he'd forgotten his reason for coming. At last, he found himself again and spoke. "Yes, sir."

I smiled. "Are you ready to have your wish fulfilled?"

Whatever fright Johnny felt seemed to disappear. "Yes, sir. I am."

"Good," I said. "Now come with me."

I placed an arm around Johnny's shoulder and led him through bike paths and backstreets to the one place he seemed to love best of all.

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"The basketball court?" Johnny asked, the quaver returning to his voice.

"Yes," I said. "Of course. Isn't your wish to play basketball with the other boys?"

His eyes took on a faraway look. I could have sworn I saw tears form and reflect the moonlight. "Yes," he said. "I ask them every single day, but they never let me play." The pitch of his voice dropped. "Damon tells me to go away. He always says I'm too short... and too stupid...."

"Are you those things, Johnny?" I asked.

"No!" he answered quickly. "I know I'm not too stupid! You don't have to be smart to play sports!" His earnestness and total lack of irony almost made me laugh out loud. Thankfully, he spoke again before I had the chance to. "But," he added, "I'm definitely too short." He drooped his shoulders and hung his head dramatically, the way a character might in a cartoon. Typical Johnny style.

"Well," I said. "Cheer up, Johnny. Because you're in luck. Tonight, we are going to make you taller!"

His eyes grew wide and a smile crept across his lips. "Really? How?"

I removed a rope which had been been tied around my waist and held it up for Johnny to see. "With this!" I said. "We're going to stretch you out."

Johnny's smile faded. He blinked for a moment, clearly trying to understand how such a thing would work. At last, he asked me, "Will it hurt?"

"It's never hurt anyone I've stretched out before," I said.

This was all he needed to hear. His smile returned and he let out an elated laugh. Poor, stupid, young Johnny.

I told Johnny to stand and wait as I rushed over to grab a wastebasket that sat nearby. I turned it over and positioned it right underneath one of the basketball nets. The branch of metal that connected the backboard to the post seemed sturdy enough for our needs. Finally, I called Johnny over.

"Now," I said. "Hop up onto this basket." The boy did so like a trained dog, eager to receive his treat for obedience. "Very good," I said. "Now, take this rope and tie one end of it right above you." I watched carefully as he did this. "That's right. That's right. Now give it a tug. Is it sturdy? Good." I could feel the excitement coursing through me. Almost there!

"Now," I continued. "I will tie the other end around your neck."

"My neck?" Johnny asked.

"Well, yes," I said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "How else do you think we're going to stretch you out?"

Satisfied, Johnny put up no resistance as I wound and knotted the rope around his neck.

"Now, Johnny," I said, pumping as much drama and suspense into my voice as possible. "When I remove the waste basket from underneath your feet, you'll be stretched out and perfect for playing basketball! Are you ready?"

"Yes," he said. I could see that he was shaking. The time to act was now, before he changed his mind.

A kick sent the wastebasket flying. The rope pulled taut. The empty basketball court echoed with a loud crack before everything went silent.

The next day, the whole town was in mourning. Poor little Johnny had killed himself, they said. Why would he do such a thing? No one could wrap their heads around it. Johnny, the silly little boy who only wanted to be taller.

They held a memorial for him at the high school. The principal choked as he addressed the student body. "I know," he said, "that Johnny Stopes was able to touch many people in his short life."

I snickered. I couldn't help it. "Short!" I repeated under my breath. The only thing that stopped me was a swift elbow to the ribs. I turned to face the glare of my friend, Peter.

"Shut up, Damon," he whispered.

I relented. Staying quiet and faking respect for another few days would be worth it as long as I could play basketball in peace from now on.

Written by Jdeschene
Content is available under CC BY-SA