The Penalty


The Penalty

by Eric Poirier

Everything was motionless. Outside, the every day lives of Smith Falls’ residences had stopped dead at 1:31 pm on a Monday afternoon. Normally on a beautiful, cloudless summer day, the streets are filled with noises from the town’s liveliness. Now they were in a con of silence. The many birds that had taken flight that day were now suspended in midair. The vehicles on the streets had stopped; exhaust clouds were also suspended in midair. People on foot could no longer walk, frozen in mid-stride. The ones who were in pleasant conversation could no longer speak; their mouths were open without any words coming out. Everything was still. When time would start again, the twenty thousand people in the city, along with everybody in the world, would continue with their lives, unaware that their very existence had temporarily been paused.

During the world’s silence, Jerry Paterson came out of Mike’s Sport Shop with a smile on his face, humming a tune to himself. This tall handsome fellow of seventeen, athletically built with an air of confidence, walked over to his parents’ car and opened the trunk to put inside a pair of hockey skates that he had taken from the store. Already inside the trunk was a six-hundred dollar CD-changer stereo from Wal-Mart. He closed the trunk, got into the car, started it and drove down the street, dodging the other cars that were motionless. He zigzagged around them at a slow speed, trying not to scratch his parents’ Hyundai. He looked at his wristwatch; still 1:31 pm, and had been for the last two hours.

Jerry could not understand how he got this incredible power. Or why? All he knew was that it was something he could use to his advantage. It was two months ago when he had been thinking in his French class during an exam how great it would be if he could freeze time and look over the answers while everyone else was suspended. This was the exam that would decide if he was to repeat his grade-11 French. For the entire year, his grades in almost every class had been dropping since he was picked to play for the city’s junior A hockey team. Throughout the year he had been telling his friends he needed a miracle to pass the year. And he finally got it. The second he thought of being able to freeze time, a blinding flash expanded over the entire room. When Jerry could focus again he had seen that his miracle had come true. The entire classroom was still and quiet. The hands on the clock did not move and the pencils, which were moving at desperate speeds, had stopped. At first he thought it was a dream. It took him several minutes before he did anything. He could only look at his motionless classmates. When he finally did move, he copied the answers from the class’s over-achiever in the front row. When he was finished, he simply thought for everything to return to normal. The blinding light returned and everything and everyone moved again.

He kept his ability a secret. For a while he only used his mysterious gift to complete his late assignments and cheat on his tests. By the end of May, his grades in every class had skyrocketed. He hadn’t bothered to question his new ability. He only wanted to know that he could use it anytime he needed. How he had gotten it or where it came from, were pointless questions for him. He didn’t care. With his power, he could do anything and take anything he wanted.

In the last weeks of school, there was no need to study for any final exams. So while his mates locked themselves in their rooms or in libraries, Jerry spent his time, or stopped-time, to take things he really wanted but could not purchase. His room was filled with all sorts of items. Knowing his parents would get suspicious, he kept his bedroom door locked and used the excuse that he was studying for finals. He had one new twenty-four inch televisions, brand new hockey equipment, a brand new pair of alpine skis, piles of new CDs and BlueRays, and much more. He knew very well what he was doing was wrong. But hey, who was going to catch him!

On one motionless day, he walked up to the patrolman who had given him a $100 dollar speeding ticket last year and spat in the man’s face. The uniformed gentleman, next to the window of yet another victimized motorist, was scribbling on his pad, Jerry’s snot-filled saliva slowly dripping from his face to his chest above his nametag. Jerry stood off to watch as he put the world back into motion; basking in his self-satisfaction as he the patrolman, suddenly stunned, looked up into sky and all around him. The officer was in such a hurry to return to this cruiser to fetch some Kleenex that he let the speedster off with a warning and double-timed it back to his car.

On this sunny Monday afternoon, Jerry drove home to add new items to his collection. Once he dropped off his stuff, he returned to school to find it in the exact way he had left it; a swarm of students frozen in the process of crowding the hallways with their books in hand, heading for their next class. Some were staring endlessly inside their lockers. Others had stopped while coming out of the bathrooms and classrooms. Many students were just sitting on the ground.

A little ninth grader was caught in midair at the end of an atomic wedgie. The seniors inflicting it also suspended in the act. Further down another freshman was almost vertical, facedown, in midair, his arms stretched out, dropping his books which were also frozen in their fall. Jerry stopped to look and giggled at this scene. He looked over and saw that the boy was being pushed from behind by one of the school’s many bullies, Brent Callaway, a near dropout who was in his third time around the twelfth-grade. Jerry despised this arrogant jerk, for he too was pushed around by this Neanderthal when he was younger. He walked over to the bully and gave him a quick right hook across the left side of his face. Callaway’s head turned to the right with the blow of the punch and remained still at the end of its motion.

Moments later Jerry was at his locker, just about to unfreeze time, when he saw her. The beautiful Amanda; tall and well figured with long dark hair and beautiful green eyes. She was standing with her friends, near her opened locker, down the hall from Jerry. He walked over to her. He caressed her cheek. She did not budge. He was thinking about kissing here or even touching her. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t violate Amanda. The thought had crossed his mind numerous times and the temptation was so agonizing with some of the female college students he came across in town that he couldn’t resist. He wasn’t acquainted with them. No one would know. He knew stealing was wrong, but this was much worse. Even though no one would ever know, not even her, his conscience was too strong. He was a man of good sense. But…no one would ever know! It was Amanda, the girl of his dreams. The girl he couldn’t even talk to in real time. Even despite his popularity she was an intellect before whom he crumbled. Jerry looked around him, knowing full well what he would see: people frozen in time. He looked back at Amanda and slowly scanned her from head to toe. Just this once, he thought. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. He raised his right hand towards her chest. Inches before touching her left breast the voice of an old man echoed throughout the hall.

‘Beware the penalty,’ the voice said.

Jerry quickly turned around to see the same thing he saw the first time he turned to look: the world waiting to start again. Who else could be here talking? Did someone else possess the same power? Or was his power slowly fading and everybody was starting to move again? No, everybody was still motionless. He turned and resumed his intimacy with Amanda. He heard the voice again. Only this time it was laughing aloud. Jerry backed away from Amanda, frantically looking all around him.

‘Who are you?’ Jerry screamed. ‘Show yourself.’

‘Over here boy,’ the old man’s voice said.

He looked down the corridor to see an old man appear from the lockers and stepping into the hallway. His face was covered with a long beard. He had thick, dirty, gray hair that reached his shoulders. Only his eyes were visible. Beneath the tattered rags he was wearing, he seemed to be a skinny, athletic man who walked and stood upright with very little difficulty. Jerry guessed he looked about seventy years old. He approached Jerry and stood before the young man, equivalent in height. Jerry poked the old man’s stomach, thinking his hand would go through it.

‘Oh, I’m quite whole,’ the old man said.

‘Who are you?’ Jerry asked.

‘It won’t matter.’

‘What?’

‘I see you’re taking advantage of this young woman. I wouldn’t do that if I were you. You’ve already abused this power enough. Any more and you’ll bring it to you.’

‘What? Bring what?’ Jerry demanded. ‘Man, who are you?’

‘We’ll come to that in time. For now you have a lot of listening to do, my son.’

The old man firmly grabbed Jerry by his arm, dragged him into an empty classroom and sat him down at one of the desks in the front row. The old man began to pace the room while speaking.

‘Ah…it all goes back so far,’ the old began.

‘What does?’ Jerry asked.

‘Quiet and listen.’

Jerry sank further into his seat and listened. The old man’s strength and command was becoming intimidating.

‘This power you are abusing is like…a family possession…or more like a curse. It’s been around us for hundreds of years. Unfortunately given to us. But as long as we don’t abuse it, no harm can come to us. I found a loophole you see.’

‘Us,’ Jerry interrupted. ‘What are you, my ancestor or something?’

‘Or something,’ the old man calmly replied.

‘Come on! You expect me to believe this crap?’

‘You don’t have to believe me. Simply be careful. Do not abuse this power or suffer the consequences.’

‘What consequences?’

‘The penalty.’

Jerry stared at the old man, his left eye-brow slightly raised.

‘I don’t abuse my power,’ the boy finally said.

‘Oh no? You seem to be gathering quite a collection of stolen goods in your room. And you seemed quite eager to touch that young, defenseless girl, as you have others in the city. You must learn that negligence has its price. Your desire is to have everything. And have it easily. You think this power is a gift to achieve the things you want? That’s why it was put upon us in the first place; to lure us. Our greed has been our own undoing. This power to create an alternate reality is bait to bring us into a world where it lurks.’

‘And just what is this penalty?’ Jerry asked with a hint of sarcasm. ‘A spank on the bum? A slap on the face? No, much worse…another lecture. Noooo!’

‘You mock. But you won’t if you continue. Time will tell.’

‘Yeah right. Whatever.’ Jerry was now slouching in his chair with impatience.

Jerry simply stared with a ridiculous expression that he purposefully put on his face in order mock the old man. He stood up and made his way out of the class room, letting out an exaggerated sigh, stretching out his limbs in an exaggerated manner, than yawning out loudly. Before Jerry could release a second fake yawn a sudden shock of force hurled him face first against lockers. He let out a cry of pain. He couldn’t move. It took Jerry several seconds to realize that the old man was pinning him against the lockers, actually holding him up. The old man brought his face up to Jerry’s, breathing onto his cheek, his beard tickling the side of his face that wasn’t pressed up against the lockers.

‘You’ve been warned, my son,’ the old man whispered. Above his whimpering, Jerry could hear a growling noise from down the hall.

‘It has already come for you. You’re abuse is already irreversible. You’ve made the same mistakes.’

Suddenly the pressure holding Jerry up against the lockers released him. His feet touched the grown and he stumbled backwards. His entire body ached. He spun around to face the old man but he was alone.

Jerry stared down the hallway at the motionless people and could not see the thing making the noise. He looked back into the classroom. The old man was gone. The growl drew closer. But Jerry could still see nothing. Behind the jumble of motionless students, a dark shape lingered about. Jerry, terrified, backed up against the lockers the old man pinned him on. Still unable to make out the shape, Jerry could see that it was massive. The growling grew louder as the shape drew nearer. Jerry ran down the hallway, through a set of doors and down a flight of stairs to the woodshop on the first floor.

He could hear the creature coming down the stairs. Without thinking, he ran inside the woodshop. Many mechanical tools were strewn about on the floor and on benches and tables. He quickly dashed to the center of the room where a rack of handsaws was located. He grabbed a handsaw and gripped it tightly in his right hand.

Suddenly the atmosphere in the room grew denser. The smell of wood was replaced by a strong, foul smell Jerry could only identify as wet dog and blood. The air grew muggy and everything became silent. Jerry felt a presence enter into the woodshop.

Wait a minute, he thought. If this creature lurks in the world of time frozen, I should just start time again.

At the thought of starting time, nothing happened. There was no blinding flash. The clock on the wall in front of him did not move. The students in the room were still frozen along with time. Instead, the students slowly faded and vanished. Jerry never felt so alone.

Sensing something behind him, Jerry spun on his heals, swinging the saw, but only cutting through air. The room still looked empty. It was very quiet. The sound of his footsteps pounded his eardrums. He walked over to the door leading into the hallway. He stopped, sensing something behind him again. Thinking it was his imagination, he continued to advance. The second Jerry’s left foot crossed the threshold separating the woodshop from the hallway something wrapped around his neck and picked him off his feet. As Jerry began to choke, he was slowly turned a hundred and eighty degrees to face a creature the size of a stallion. A dark brown coloured beast, covered in a secretion stared into Jerry’s soul with beady, yellow eyes. It stood on four legs. Its paws were huge with sharp claws. Its back was hunched with a row of sharp, long blades protruding from its spine. It had a single brown tentacle-like limb coming out of its chest. Its head was shaped like a dog’s, with pointy ears, a long snout, and a mouth crammed with razor teeth; there were so many of them that they jutted in every direction.

The tentacle brought Jerry closer to the beast. Even though the periphery of his vision began to go white, he could smell its strong, bodily stench and its foul breath. Before loosing complete consciousness he quickly raised the saw to the tentacle and began to cut in. Green blood poured out over the saw and his hand. The creature screamed in pain and threw Jerry across the room with the tentacle. Jerry hit the floor, dropping the saw. The blood-covered blade slid away from him and underneath the electric sander table.

The creature leapt into the air and landed directly on top of Jerry, its front paws on either side of his head. The creature looked down on him, bringing its snout inches away from his face. Jerry’s hands searched the floor for anything he could use. The creature was about to make its move when Jerry’s hand fell upon a hammer that somebody had carelessly left on the floor. He grabbed it and dug the fork end into the creature’s left eye. More green blood poured out and onto Jerry’s face. The creature stood up on its hind legs, bellowing in pain again. Jerry rolled out of the way as the angry beast came down to claw him. Sparks ignited as it scratched the floor. Jerry this time used the hammer to hit the creature on top of its head. The creature bellowed in pain again and swatted at Jerry, hitting him and again sending him across the room, but this time towards the exit to the hallway.

Jerry quickly stood up and ran out of the woodshop room, screaming ‘HELP ME!’ The creature pursued him out into the hallway. Jerry stopped and turned to face it. It stood there looking at him, ready to pounce. Jerry slowly walked over to the wall and slowly placed his hand on the lever of a fire alarm. The creature continued to watch its prey with the one eye it had left. Jerry thought since it looked like a dog, it might have a dog’s sensitive hearing. It was only a guess, but it was all he could think of. He pulled the lever and the fire alarm burst into life. Once again the creature stood on its hind legs bellowing in pain. Jerry ran past the creature and back into the woodshop towards the rack of saws and picked up an axe that was leaning against it. Good old Mr. Handleburn; he was the most lazy disciplinarian among the teachers. At least on this day, his inability to instruct the students to put away their tools was coming in handy. The creature followed him, still roaring in pain and anger.

The creature saw the weapon Jerry picked up and dashed towards him. Jerry lifted the axe over his head and threw it at the oncoming beast. The axe completed three flips as it flew through the air before digging into the creature’s head. The beast fell to the ground, dead, in front of Jerry’s feet.

The sound of hands clapping together echoed in the room. Jerry looked up to see the old man applauding him from the woodshop entrance.

‘Well done, my boy,’ the old man said.

Without Jerry thinking of it, the blinding flash spread over the room. When the flash cleared, the old man and the creature were gone. The axe, clean and shinny, was lying at his feet where the creature had laid defeated. He looked up at the clock to see the hands moving. The room was filled once again with working students who stood looking at him, wondering who this kid was that suddenly appeared out of nowhere in their class.

‘Where did you come from?’ Mr. Handleburn asked.

The school year was almost over. Jerry had yet to use his ability since the ordeal.  He had failed nearly all of his exams. The twelfth grade would have to be repeated. He knew he would have difficulties if he didn’t stop time occasionally to copy answers. And Amanda now seemed all but untouchable. In regular time he could never compete for her affection. Jerry still felt as alone as he did in the woodshop when the frozen students simply vanished before his eyes. The week following the exam Jerry, without permission, sped away from his house in his parents’ car, escaping an argument he clearly lost: there was no way mom and dad were buying him that second-hand car they spoke about after failing his year.

On the day of graduation, Jerry was forced to attend the ceremony and sit in the bleachers in the school’s soccer field to watch his peers receive their diplomas.

‘Amanda Clayton,’ Principle Tardif called out from behind the podium. A group of students cheered as the beautiful Amanda gracefully appeared on the stage to receive her rolled piece of paper. How fast can that graduation gown come off if she’s frozen? Jerry thought.

What penalty was there left if Jerry had killed the dog? Surely he had accomplished what his ancestors couldn’t do before? So the power was no longer a curse but finally a gift to use? It was certainly worth a test. The old man had warned him. But he could have his dad’s handgun at ready in case; he knew where it was hidden. What mistake had Jerry made to deserve being mauled by a giant creature? He didn’t make a mistake; surely he must have pained the penalty for someone else’s mistake? Or was the mistake yet to be made…

Copyright Eric Poirier 2013

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