(I had to write a short story for my Creative Writing class. This isn’t necessarily autobiographical, but at the same time, I imagined what would happen if I was in high school again and had to fight a gang of marauding mestizos. Also, Mr. Cambria makes a guest appearance … This is my first attempt at short-story, so take it easy on me folks. At the same time – I’d appreciate any criticism, even grueling and harsh.
I just ask you to consider two things. 1. I’ve aimed this at high-school aged kids, so it’s not going to be overly-sophisticated. And 2: I wanted to be politically incorrect without necessarily pushing too many buttons – I hope to reach the kids with the heart of the message, without turning them off. Thanks for any input. – Scott T.)
~ War Drums of Old Europe ~
Alex lived in an area full of hurrumphers. Just now, he was listening to his teacher Mrs. Schultz hurrumph about the lack of school “diversity”. She learned how to hurrumph from the principle, Mr. Broadly, who, in turn, learned it from various members of the school board; and who knows where they learned it? Probably from higher bureaucrats, who learned it from yet higher bureaucrats, who learned it from television.
But even those at the bottom of the heap were learning to hurrumph. This was true of the beautiful Bonny Lou, one of Alex’s classmates, who mimicked Mrs. Schultz’ hurrumph with all the ease of a well-disciplined pupil. Alex was unable to hurrumph. His nose wasn’t uppity enough and he couldn’t manage his face into the proper twist of derision. Besides, he didn’t understand why a lack of “diversity” was a problem, and he certainly never felt the need to sniff and huff in frustration at anyone.
He wished Bonny Lou would notice him, but worried that if she did, she’d see his failings. She might hurrumph at him. Then what would he do? He’d be humiliated. So Alex spent the average school day trying to both gain Bonny’s attention and shun it to avoid humiliation.
One day principle Broadly’s voice exploded over the intercom. He proclaimed that a flock of “diverse” students had arrived from Mexico and were to be enrolled immediately. Everyone was excited about receiving the new students…everyone but Alex, who heard some of the older boys talking about vicious Mexican gangsters, and wasn’t eager to meet any. The teachers, of course, were so busy with their self-satisfied hurrumphs they failed to notice this new and potentially violent situation.
Shortly after their arrival, the Mexican boys had, through violence and intimidation, cowed the other students into submission. The latter learned to keep their heads down and avoid notice from the new crop of bullies. And so the school, at least for the students, was transformed into a place of fear, suspicion, and stifling tension.
While leaving one afternoon, Alex saw Bonny Lou standing alone by the front steps. He decided to work up his courage and say “hello”. Instead of a curt dismissal (as he half-expected), she answered him with a fluttering voice:
“Hey Alex, would you mind walking home with me a little ways? You don’t have to go all the way if you don’t want,” she said, with something very close to a blush, “…but, I have to go behind the old strip-mall, and I hate walking back there alone.” Alex was amazed, and he stammered a little as he accepted the task.
Off they went, with Bonny Lou making small talk and Alex, trying his best not to make a fool of himself. As they rounded the back of an old theatre (which was on the far end of the strip-mall), about ten of the Mexican boys emerged from behind a row of trash dumpsters. They were wearing t-shirts, blue bandanas, and all manner of gang paraphernalia. One even had fake gold teeth and painted tattoos.
“Was sup, homies?” asked the boy in front. “What choo doin’ comin’ through our turf?”
“I come through here all the time,” said Bonny, in a defensive tone.
“Ohhh…look at choo”, he replied, eyeballing her from her legs up to her wavy blonde hair. “You hot, mama!”
An ancient prejudice stirred in Alex’s soul. Something about the boy’s smirk and the way he looked at Bonny, turned his stomach.
“You watch your mouth”, he said.
Their sneers and laughter died away being replaced with hate-filled stares.
“WHAT HOMIE?” one screamed. “What did choo say???” Without warning, they attacked. With punches and kicks, they overpowered Alex, who was too afraid to move. Humiliation flooded over him with every punch, and as he was cast to the ground, he watched them grab Bonny Lou.
With her, they regained a semblance of friendliness, though a mocking semblance. Taking her by the hand, they pushed a “gangasta-style” ball cap down over her blonde locks, and demanded she accompany them to the food court at the mall; she grudgingly accepted, and laughing at their jokes (as if trying to appease them), left, pausing only once to glance back and see if Alex was alright.
Alex lay dazed on the filthy, wet pavement, stunned and frightened. He wondered if he should get help. She left with them freely, after all; and “diversity” was a good thing (so he had been taught) right? Maybe it was good for them to have taken her? Would she even want him to intervene after being so humiliated? Would she want to be seen with him? Would she laugh at him, and mockingly hurrumph the next time she saw him?
As soon as he thought it, the primal force in his gut returned, powerfully so, and with it, the realization that, somewhere close by, a series of deep-throated “booms” were rumbling his stomach. These bass drums were beating quickly, as if rallying troops for a war march.
He realized he was outside the old “Man of Harlech” theatre. In its day, the “Man of Harlech” featured Shakespearian dramas and other old-European fairy tales. It had presented stories of heroism, virtue, and chivalry to children of every age, and delighted people for miles around. Sadly, it had been forced to close.
All Alex knew was that it was supposed to be empty. Maybe they were re-opening and the drums were part of a new show? Deciding to get help, he approached one of the service doors, and to his surprise, found it open.
It was dark inside and the booming of the drums was much louder. He made his way through dusty props and old set materials, moving toward a faint, reddish light. Without warning, he stumbled through curtains, and out onto the main stage. All the red light was coming from the hall, which was lit by hundreds of candles. On the stage, he saw the back of a man, standing straight and proud. He was holding up a skull and staring into its dead eyes.
“Who are you?” the man asked, with his back still towards Alex. As soon as he spoke, the drums stopped, and in their place, a tense silence filled the room. It seemed the entire theatre was waiting to hear Alex’s answer.
“Who are you?” the man asked again, more forcefully.
“Sir, I uh…need some help” said Alex, hesitating a little.
“Stop” he said, turning around and setting the skull onto the floor. His face startled Alex; it was pale and his expression was stern. “I’ll tell you who you are, if you’re willing to listen.”
“You don’t know who you are boy”, he continued. As he came closer, he pulled out a rag, knelt to one knee and wiped the blood off Alex’s face. His speech was strange and had an archaic flare – it was hard to understand at first, but as he spoke, it became easier to grasp.
He began telling Alex of a God king; a mighty hero who ruled with a passionate love unmatched by any the Earth had ever seen. Alex lost his sense of alarm, and a strange calm came over him.
This God king suffered and died for His people, and by doing so, made their salvation sure. He was the man of sorrows – the prince of peace, who frustrates the speculators and brings the haughty low.
Then the man spoke of the people who fell in love with the man of sorrows, and mixed their blood with His. He spoke of the rolling hills of the New Jerusalem, and of lords and ladies and knights and castles (they didn’t hurrumph back then). He taught Alex the rules of courtly love, and of the ways of chivalry. On this last topic, Alex was especially interested, and when the man saw his excitement, became more adamant.
“Here”, he said with a grin, handing a theatre prop to Alex. “Take up this sword, and let me show you the use of it.” Alex, lost in wonder and having lost all sense of time, did as he was told. “Hold it like so,” said he, “…and place your feet as I have mine”. He then directed Alex’s attention to three interlocking circles chalked onto the floor. “These are your zones of combat”, he explained, and proceeded to teach the basics of fencing.
The story he told had many parts, but all were connected. All the wars, all the adventures, all the lovers gained and lost, were part of the tale of this Man of Sorrows who rescued His people from darkness. With every new tale of adventure, Alex was swept more and more into the thrall, and periodically during the telling, his host would break into bouts of action, and the two would practice sword play.
Finally, the man ceased his tale, though Alex begged him to continue.
“It’s up to you, boy, to carry on this story where I’ve left off.” He said this last with a hint of sadness. “Besides, I’ve kept you here long enough; there are those who need your help… a pretty blonde lass in particular, eh?”
Alex turned red. He thought of Bonny Lou often during the man’s long tale, but hadn’t managed to shed his feeling of humiliation at being so terribly insulted in front of her. He looked down in shame.
The man picked up his heavy wooden sword, and brandishing it forward, struck an expert blow that narrowly missed Alex’s jaw; there, he stopped it, and lightly touching it to Alex’s chin, forced him to lift his face until he was staring into the empty auditorium, with his shoulders back and head high…
“Never yield,” he said. “Never yield.” And as he said it, somewhere, deep in the bowels of the theatre, the war drums began again, though faintly at first. “Never yield, boy”…The man turned the sword around and handed it, pommel first, to Alex, who accepted it with awe. The drums grew louder.
“Go now,” he said, “…avenge yourself and honor the Man of Sorrows.”
With that, he pushed Alex through the door, and before shutting it, shouted over the drums: “DUM SANGUINEM MANET!”
The sudden light disoriented Alex. He saw the Mexicans, with Bonny Lou in their midst, still walking away. They seemed to be only a few yards further than when he last saw them. “How could that be?” he thought, “…I haven’t seen them for hours!”
His new-found sense of chivalry wouldn’t allow him time for contemplation, however. He hefted his wooden sword and charged after the group. The drums were beating wildly and Alex could hardly hear the startled cries of the ruffians as he approached.
When they saw he was armed, they stopped their laughing. When they saw the fiery look in his eye, they became frightened.
“This cat loco…” said one.
“Is dat a sword?” said another, with a nervous chuckle.
“He’s ‘bout to a get a serious beat down now,” said a third.
Alex heard none of this. The war drums were loud and set his blood boiling. His imagination swirled with the stories and passions of Old Europe. He sought out Bonny Lou, and when their eyes met, he noticed hers were wet with tears; tears of relief. She pulled the “gansta-style” ball cap off her head, and a smile of hope appeared on her cheeks. Alex’s heart leapt.
At the same moment, the boys attacked, only this time, instead of stunned submission, they were met with a crazy gringo yelling some Latin phrase at the top of his lungs, and swinging a thick wooden sword over his head.
The parties clashed, and Alex parried and thrust, just as the man in the theatre taught him. He wielded his wooden blade with precision, knocking a head here, a knee there, and smacking faces as best he could. The boys, nevertheless, were many, and strong, and passed his defense.
He took punch after punch, and heard something in his stomach crack (accompanied by a jolt of pain), but on he fought… He wouldn’t yield.
Seeing they were passionately opposed by a force they couldn’t understand, and after being repeatedly hit with Alex’s sword, the boys broke and ran; as they retreated, so did the sound of the drums.
Alex limped over to Bonny Lou, who had a look of stunned concern on her face.
“Are you going to hurrumph at me?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said, in a slow, hesitating voice. “I was thinking of giving you a kiss”.
They both blushed.
In the days that followed, Alex was assured by everyone, even by the owner of the “Man of Harlech”, that no one had been inside the building for months. The hurrumphers at Alex’s school, including Mrs. Schultz, suggested that maybe he had been hit on the head a little too hard, found the wooden sword in a trash heap, and assaulted the poor minorities out of spite. They were so persistent in their disbelief that even Alex began doubting his story.
“Maybe they’re right, and I really did imagine it?” he said.
“That’s not true!” said Bonny Lou, as she set down her copy of C.S. Lewis’ “The Silver Chair”.
“And even if it was, that world you imagined must have been a lot better than this one …”
“Thanks” said Alex, with sincerity. “At least you believe me, Bonny, and that’s all I really care about.”
“No problem,” she said, smiling. “And, hey! You never told me,” she paused…
“Told you what?” asked Alex.
“Who was playing those drums, that day? I couldn’t hear a thing!”
“Drums”…snorted Mrs. Schultz. “Hurrumph!”
 Getting their way never stops a hurrumpher, it only changes the tone of the hurrumph from a dissatisfied snort, to a satisfied and throaty grumble.
 It was discovered later that these tattoos were painted by his mother, who, as a reward for excellent school attendance, made good on her promise to paint him up with tribal markings. Rumor has it, his grandmother also helped.