Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
March 16, 1987
March may be the most mixed month of the year in southern Michigan. Sometimes itís cold and snowy, winter hanging on by its fingernails against the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere. A few days later, it can be warm and balmy, with optimistic teenage girls outside in short shorts and tank tops.
Shae Kirkendahl planned to be one of those girls on this warm afternoon, just as soon as she could get home and change clothes. Normally she would have had softball practice, but the coach was sick or something; she wasnít sure and didnít really care. Although one of the schoolís leading stars at basketball and volleyball, she was at best an average fielder; she could hit the ball a ton when she hit it at all Ė which was rare Ė so wound up spending a lot of time on the bench. But she felt like she had to repay some of the girls who supported her during basketball and volleyball seasons.
Although she knew it was nice outside right now, it would probably be cool in the morning, so she decided to take a swing by her locker to grab her jacket before heading out to the old Chevy Monza her dad had bought for her to drive to school. She reached the fire doors at the end of the annex; they were closed, so she hit the crash bar and ducked down a little. For whatever reason, these doors were lower than most, and sheíd cracked her head on them any number of times. Being almost six feet eight inches tall had advantages on the basketball court, but it was troublesome at many other times. And it wasnít going to get better; her family doctor was of the opinion that she wasnít quite done growing, yet.
It didnít take much of a shove of the crash bar to open the door. The hall ahead was empty, as would be expected half an hour after school was out Ė but after the door slammed behind her, she heard a metallic banging noise, and a faint voice crying, "Jesus Christ, why wonít anyone help me?"
What the hell?
The noise was coming from down the hall, so she picked up her pace. A ways down the hall she determined that the noise was coming from a row of lockers up a side hall. She turned the corner; no one was there, but the banging was louder now Ė and she recognized the voice. "Denis?" she said loudly. "Itís Shae. Where are you?"
"Get me the fuck out of here!" he moaned.
Oh, shit, Shae thought. Someone stuffed him in a locker and locked it. As small as he was, it would still have been a tight fit in that narrow space. "Take it easy," she said loudly. "Where the hell are you?"
"Over here! Please! It hurts!"
Even with the noise Ė and he was clearly crying Ė it took a minute to figure out what locker he was in. "Denis!" she said loudly. "Is this your locker?"
"Fuck no, mineís out in the main hall. Get me out of here!"
"Denis!" she said, "Just calm down. Iíll have to go get someone with a master key. Denis, relax, take a deep breath, Iíll be back as quick as I can."
"Shae! Please hurry!" she heard him say as she turned to go.
Her high heels were lousy for running Ė they made her run like a girl, she thought Ė but she headed for the custodianís office. Poor fucking kid, she thought. Jesus, why do those bastards have to pick on him all the time?
It was such a dumb question that she didnít have to think about the answer. It was because they could. Denis was small, shy, and funny-looking for a guy. A lot of people thought he was gay, or at least was going to be gay when he grew up. As far as that went, Shae pretty well agreed with that notion, although she would never have mentioned it to him. Sheíd known Denis for a long time, since early elementary school, and while he was usually pretty friendly, he could be very strange, there was no denying it. Worse, his dad was the manager at the General Hardware Retailers Distribution Center out on the edge of town; that meant that a lot of kidsí folks worked for him, and at least some resented him for it.
It may well have been that Shae knew him better than any other kid in school, because her father was distribution manager at General, which for practical purposes made him the second in command there. His folks and hers were friends, mostly because theyíd transferred in from other General offices at about the same time, so they were outsiders and not really part of the rather insular Bradford community. That meant that she and Denis had been thrown together at a young age Ė not really friends, but friendly.
She caught a little shit about being a kid of a manager at General herself, but nothing near as bad as Denis. Mostly, she got teased for being so tall Ė the tallest kid in school, boy or girl, and by a good margin but having been a star athlete since the seventh grade cut a lot of that down.
There was no one at the custodianís office, but she could see one of the janitors pushing a dust mop up the hall. "Hey!" she yelled, "Some assholes stuffed a kid in a locker and heís trapped in there. You got a master key?"
"No, youíll have to go to the office," he said. "I better go see about the kid. Whereís he at?"
"Down across from Mrs. VanHagelís room," Shae told him, rushing past toward the office, where she found the principal on the phone. "Mr. Ingersoll!" she yelled. "Do you have the master keys for the lockers?"
"Shae, canít this wait?" he asked with a frown on his face.
"Someoneís stuffed Denis Riley into a locker down by Mrs. VanHagelís room; heís trapped there. I think heís having trouble breathing."
"Itíll be all right, it can wait a minute," he said grumpily. "I have to finish this phone call. Close the door will you?"
That asshole! Shae thought angrily. Time and again things like this had happened, and what had he done? Nothing. And it didnít look like he was planning on doing anything very quickly this time, either. Anger rising in her, she quickly shut the door and turned to the secretaryís desk. She knew enough to punch nine for an outside line, then followed it with 9-1-1. The response was instantaneous. "This is Bradford High School," she said, in what she hoped was a calm and adult voice. "We have a child trapped in a locker, and heís having difficulty breathing. We need the rescue squad over here in the north hallway."
"All right," the dispatcher on the other end of the phone said. "Weíll get someone on the way."
It was only seconds before Shae heard the siren going at the fire hall downtown. Let that bastard Ingersoll try to cover it up this time, she thought. She hung the phone up quickly, and hurried out of the office back toward the north hallway. As she turned the corner, she looked but didnít see Mr. Ingersoll behind her. When she reached the locker where Denis was trapped, she saw the custodian standing there. "Did you find Mr. Ingersoll?" he asked.
"He said heíd be along in a few minutes," Shae said angrily, "If he can be bothered to get off the phone."
"I guess I better go get a pry bar," he sighed. "Stay here, try to keep him calm."
"Shae?" she heard weakly from inside the locker.
"Hang on Denis," she said. "Itíll only be another few minutes. I called 9-1-1 just to be on the safe side."
"Good," she heard weakly. "I . . . I canít get my breath."
"Denis, just try to relax," she said. "Please, Denis, try to stay calm."
It seemed like it took forever for the custodian to get back, carrying a couple of small, flat pry bars. "Jesus, I hate to bend up a locker door," he said. "They are hell to fix."
"Please, please," they heard Denis say. "Get me out of here."
The custodian looked up the hall. There was still no sign of the principal. "Guess I donít have a lot of choice," he said.
Back when Bradford High School had been built years before, for some reason the decision had been made to have very secure lockers, with three latches controlled by a single lock. The custodian was right; it was going to take a lot of bending to free the boy. He was just getting started when there was a cacophony of sirens outside, and a moment later a couple firemen in turnout suits showed up. By now, Denis was obviously having trouble breathing; there was a yell, and another fireman came running in the door, carrying a green oxygen tank and a face mask. Quickly, he popped the face mask off, shoved the hose up one of the louvers in the locker, and turned the valve wide. There was a loud hiss, and a sigh as Denis finally got some fresh air to breathe.
The custodian and the firemen were just starting a serious assault on the locker door when the principal showed up. "Whatís all the commotion?" he said.
"We got a kid trapped in this locker," one of the firemen said. "You got a key?"
"Of course I have a key," he snorted, pulling a key ring out of his pocket. "What the hell is the rush?"
"You have a kid damn near asphyxiated, and you ask what the rush is?" the fireman said.
"I was coming, but I had to finish up my call with Dr. Morris," he said, sticking the key in the master slot of the combination lock. "I donít think thereís any need to go crazy. Who called you, anyway?"
The door popped open. There was Denis, stuffed sideways in the locker, one arm bent up at a painful angle, head twisted to one side to fit under the locker shelf. His pants were missing; he was naked from the waist down. He was pale and having difficulty breathing, even with the fresh air. Instantly, one of the firemen grabbed the discarded face mask, hooked it back up to the hose, and put the mask over his face. "Just be glad someone did," the fireman retorted. "If your phone call had gone on a few minutes longer you could have had a dead kid here."
"Come on, itís not that serious," the principal said. "I donít think it requires all this hassle."
"I think what you have here is a clear-cut case of assault and battery, maybe attempted murder," the fireman said.
"Come on, at the worst, it was just kids fooling around."
"That would sound real damn good if you had to tell it to the coroner," the fireman replied.
"Itís no big deal," Mr. Ingersoll protested. "Come on, Denis, get out of there."
"I canít," the boy said with a painful grimace. "Iím stuck."
"You got in there, didnít you?"
"I got stuffed in here," Denis replied angrily. "The fuckers pushed hard."
"Who did this to you?"
"Brock and Brett Mansfield and Gary Apling. Scott Tyler and Larry Shaffer watched, but they didnít do anything, the bastards."
"Did you say anything, do anything to get them pissed off?"
"No, I just wanted to get out of here and get on the bus, but they thought itíd be fun. Just like the other times."
It took several minutes to free the boy. The problem was the metal door jamb; heíd been forcefully pushed through the door, but there was no way to get a good hold to pull him back out. Finally, the janitor found a couple of plastic mats that they were able to ease past the door jambs and pad the boyís body, to free him without taking off skin and possibly more with it. His shirt had been torn to shreds, and there were several abrasions where the door jamb had scraped him. While the firemen were working on him, Shae hunted around, and found his pants, underpants, books, and homework in a nearby garbage can.
"Are you sure it was those kids?" Mr. Ingersoll asked.
"Of course Iím sure," Denis said, still crying and visibly upset. "Who the fuck else would do anything like this?"
"Do you know if anyone else saw it?"
"Fuck no, I donít know, I was just picked up and stuffed in there. What the hell do you think happened; I tripped and slammed the door behind me? Thatís what those assholes would say happened."
"Can you prove it was them?" Ingersoll persisted.
"Fuck no, I canít prove it was them," he said, getting angry now. "Youíre not going to do anything about it, are you?"
"Well, Iíll talk to them."
"Like hell you will, you wonít do anything, and youíve never done anything except let those assholes get away with everything, and you damn near let me die this time, so fuck you and fuck the horse you rode in on."
"Denis, watch your language or youíre going to be on detention."
"Great, Iím on detention for minding my own business, and they get away free again. Thatís how it always works around here, isnít it?"
"Come on, Denis," Shae said soothingly. Somebody had to be the grownup here. "Iíve got your books, Iíll take you home.í
"Might as well," he snorted. "Nothingís going to happen here. Again. Just more nothing."
* * *
It was a couple of miles to Denisí home on the far side of town, and they were long miles. Denis was upset, still swearing, crying, angry, and fuming, all at the same time. Shae told him he had every right to be as mad as he was, but it was over now. This was more serious than most of the previous incidents; maybe something would happen.
The distance didnít do much for calming him down.
"Fuck!" he said as they were getting close to his house. "Heís not going to do shit about it, he never does. All of those fuckers are out on the ball field, but does he head out there? Fuck no, he heads back to his office and buries his head in the fucking sand again. Somebody needs to do something about those fuckers, this has gone far enough."
"Denis, calm down," she said, pulling to a stop in front of his house. "Look, I know you donít want to go to your folks on this, but this time I think itís worth it. Iím pretty pissed at him, too, and at least I can say that he sat on his ass while you could have died. Weíve got the custodian and the firemen to back us up on it; maybe your dad can get his attention with that."
"Fuck, it sounds good, but nothingíll happen; it never does. Those assholes get away with murder around there," he said, getting madder and madder, shaking with anger and tears. "Thatís the last time, Shae; I swear itís the last time. I will make goddamn sure itís the last time!" He flung open the door and raced for the house.
Shae thought about driving off, but decided she better not yet. She was pretty sure Denisí mom would be home and maybe his dad; she thought sheíd better stay to back up his story. She let out a sigh Ė damn it, she got teased a lot, but she didnít get a tenth of what poor Denis did. It was a damn shame; he was basically a nice kid if someone would bother to find out. Better do it, she thought, opened her door, got out, and stood up, just as Denis raced back out the door, carrying something.
Oh, shit, she thought, thatís a gun! "Denis, what are you doing?"
"Nobody else is going to do anything, Iíll have to," he said, still so angry the tears were flowing. He raised the gun. "Shae, give me your keys."
"Denis, no, you canít do this!"
"Give me the keys, Shae. I canít take it any longer. At least I can take some of them with me."
Oh, fuck, she thought. Ohhhh, fuck. Thinking quickly, she sighed, "All right, I guess I canít blame you," and walked a couple steps toward him, fishing in the pocket of her jeans for her keys. "All right," she said as she got close enough. "Here you go."
She pulled her hand out of her pocket, not with the keys, but with a quick fist. Her long arm flashed out, catching him near the eye. Her blow flung him backward, and the gun swung wide. With the flashing speed that had made her the best girl rebounder in the state, she dove for the gun, grabbed it, and gave it a hard heave toward some bushes at the edge of the lawn.
"Ohhhhhh, God damn you, Shae!" he yelled. "Even you wonít help."
"I wonít help you kill yourself and them too," she said, bending over to help him up, and then gathering him into her arms. She was a good foot and a half taller than he was, and it meant that his eyes were buried in her breasts. "Come on, Denis, get hold of yourself."
"I donít want to get hold of myself," he sobbed, as his father came out the door, followed by his mother, to see what all the commotion was. "Iím sick and tired of it, Shae. Iím sick and tired of being treated like shit. Iím sick and tired of being beaten up all the time because someone else thinks itís fun to beat on me. Iím sick and tired of being called creep, gay, faggot, and all that shit. Iím sick and tired of feeling like a freak all the time."
"Denis, Denis," she sighed as she pulled him tight, trying to calm him down, searching for the words to say. "Just who is the freak here, anyway?"
She looked down at him, seeing a confused look in his tear-filled eyes as he looked up at her. "But . . . but . . . but . . . " he stammered, "This is different."
"How is it different?" she asked soothingly.
"Shae, youíre tall, but youíre supposed to be a girl," he sobbed, and then, the words wrenched out of him, something that had to be said no matter how reluctant he was to say it: "Iím a guy, but I think Iím supposed to be a girl, too. Why couldnít I have been born a girl like I was supposed to?"
"Denis," she sighed, really searching for words now. "Thatís kind of how it happened, I guess."
"Then it happened wrong, and Iíve taken it in the ass all my life."
"Shae," she heard Mr. Riley say calmly, "Whatís this all about?" Quickly, she held up her hand behind Denis, to wave his father off, stay out of it for a second Ė and was barely aware when Mrs. Riley did the same thing.
"Denis," she said quietly, "Why do you think you ought to be a girl?"
"I donít know why," he sobbed, "I just think I should be one. All those people whoíve called me pussy, queer, a girl, all that shit Ė Shae, theyíre right. For years Iíve felt like I must be a girl trapped in a guyís body. I need to be a girl. Iím a girl inside. I like boys, but as a girl would, not the gay way. Iíve felt this way for years, and you know how feminine I am. I just want to be normal, and normal for me is being a girl. Iím tired of not being myself. Iím tired of being confused. I just want to be a girl. I have no future as a man."
"Son," she heard Mr. Riley say gently. "Iíve never heard you say that before."
"Why do you think Iíd tell you?" he cried, turning to look at his father. "Isnít that a hell of a thing for a son to tell his father, that he wants to be a girl? I mean, what the fuck do you think of me for saying that? ĎMy son, the queer who wants a sex-change operation?í That makes you feel real damn good now, doesnít it? I donít know why Iím saying it now except that I donít fucking care anymore. Wouldnít you be at least a little prouder to say, ĎMy son, who shot the people who beat him up all the timeí?"
"No, I wouldnít," he said. "If it comes down to that, Iíd one hell of a lot rather say, Ďmy daughter,í than, Ďmy son, the murderer.í"
"Shae, something happened today, didnít it?" Mrs. Riley asked.
"Yeah," Shae said, "A lot happened, and not much of it good. He got beat up again and stuffed into a locker so tight that I thought they were going to have to cut it up to get him out. I had to call the fire department to get him out since Mr. Ingersoll couldnít be bothered to do anything about it."
"Shae, thatís a pretty serious accusation," Mr. Riley said.
"I wouldnít have made it if it werenít true. You can ask the men from the fire department."
"I think we better go in, sit down, and talk about some things," he sighed. "I knew this was going on, but I didnít realize it was this serious. And Denis," he said, reaching out to put his hand on his sonís shoulder. "I donít think thatís all we have to talk about. Shae, would you mind sticking around? I think I need your input on some things."
"I sure will, Mr. Riley," she nodded. "Iím not a lot less mad about the way Mr. Ingersoll handled that situation than Denis is."
"Shae, and for that matter, Denis," he said, not raising his voice, "I think you are aware that I donít like to throw my weight around because it doesnít make a good image for the company. I had no idea things were this bad, and I will now take the steps I have to take. It will be dealt with," he said in a voice that was so hard that had Mr. Ingersoll heard it heíd start sending out resumés, but then continued in a gentler voice, "But I think we have something more important to talk about at the moment."